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Fred Burkle Takes a Trip ~ by Glassslipper

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Fred couldn’t understand why her professor seemed so uninterested in her thesis proposal. It was the third one she had come up with in the past two months, and Professor Seidel said the same thing this time that he had said before, almost word for word. He wasn’t even subtle about it. What he wanted was for her to study his topic, dimensional physics, with a focus on other space dimensions, despite the fact that what she was really interested in was the dimension of time. Fred knew that time travel had even less of a following in the scientific community than what her professor had in mind, but the studies she had been doing had convinced her that the topic wasn’t just for kooks. She just needed to prove it somehow, make Professor Seidel see that she knew what she was talking about.

Fred had purposefully allowed herself a lighter load for the upcoming spring semester, so she could have extra time to work on her thesis. She had only enrolled in two courses, and she was going to work as a teaching assistant in a third course to bring in some extra cash. This would leave most afternoons free to study or work in the lab. She even had a carrel assigned to her in the science library, so she could keep all of her textbooks in one place and not have to drag them back and forth to her apartment. Her parents didn’t approve of Fred living off campus, but she just didn’t fit in with the dorm scene. She wasn’t interested in sororities, and living with other students was just too distracting. She needed a quiet place to retreat to at the end of the day, where she could let her thoughts simmer undisturbed.

One of the nicest things about having her own apartment is that she was able to set up her own lab. It took up most of the bedroom, so Fred had taken to sleeping on the couch. It wasn’t as if she ever had any guests over. She loved her apartment. The place had a cozy feel, which was especially welcome during the chilly L.A. winter.

Today, feeling rather dejected after her meeting with her professor, Fred decided to skip her afternoon study session in the library and head home. The walk off campus seemed to take longer than usual, and the cold January wind whipped her hair around her face. She ducked into a neighborhood grocery store to warm up. It was her own fault for not dressing warmly enough, she supposed, but even after living here for years she had never gotten around to buying a real winter coat. Seemed like it should be unnecessary, in California. Fred made a few quick purchases – chicken wings, brownie mix, and taco fixings – and headed back out.

Out of habit, Fred checked her mailbox as she entered the apartment building. Empty. It wasn’t as if she was expecting any exciting social correspondence. But it would be nice, once in a while, to get a letter. Even from her parents. They meant well, but they really couldn’t understand what their sweet little girl was doing in the big city. They wanted her to come home. Fred’s last conversation with them hadn’t gone that well, and now she felt like she was getting the silent treatment. Silly, really, since she could call them up anytime, and they’d be happy to hear her voice, as always.

Fred dragged herself and her groceries up three flights of stairs, and unlocked her door. "Mrrat." Hypatia, her Siamese cat, greeted her as warmly as she ever did, winding around her ankles several times and then jumping gracefully up onto the countertop to watch her unload her bags. Sometimes Fred wished she could be her cat, just for a little while. Not care so much about everything, not worry about how you looked. Fred knew perfectly well how she looked – a skinny geek, with big glasses and dull brown hair. "That doesn’t matter, honey," she could hear her mother saying. "The right boy will love you no matter what you look like." Could be, but she certainly hadn’t met him yet.

A few hours later, after polishing off several large tacos and putting the brownies in the oven, Fred settled down to work. Tonight she was going to give the time travel proposal one more review. If she couldn’t make any progress on it soon, she would have to abandon it for something more to her professor’s liking. But she knew there was something there, she could just feel it.

She poked around in her closet, and pulled out a package wrapped in plain brown paper. Kind of cliché’d, she had thought when it arrived last week. On the web Fred had found a group of people who claimed to have discovered the secret to time travel. She didn’t think they were for real, but after corresponding with the head of their group for several weeks she had begun to change her mind. He had promised to send her his research on the topic. He also said he wanted to take her out for drinks next weekend, but Fred really didn’t know what to think about that. She figured he’d look at his work first, see what he was like, then decide about drinks.

Fred took the book out of its wrappings, tucked her legs under her, and began to read. Only the unpleasant aroma of burning brownies, hours later, disturbed her. She dumped the brownies, turned off the oven, and returned to the time travel book.

The next morning, Fred composed a quick e-mail to her professor: "Dear Professor Seidel. I am very sorry, but I am feeling under the weather today and so I hope we can please postpone our meeting. Sincerely, Winifred Burkle." She knew she was taking a risk, but she couldn’t stop now. She was on the brink of a discovery that could convince anyone, even a great scholar like her professor, that time travel was possible.

Sending the message off, Fred turned back to her reading. She had been through the research several times already, making notes after the first reading, expanding on the theory after the second reading. This time through, she hardly looked at the book at all, just her notes and piles of dimensional physics texts she had pulled from her shelves and strewn about her desk. Finally she grabbed a marker and attacked the large white board that covered one bedroom wall. She wrote and wrote, frantically erasing and re-writing, covering the space in her precise handwriting.

Later, looking at her work, Fred couldn’t believe it had taken her so long to find the answer. The formula was as graceful as her cat, and much easier to predict. She was certain it would work, and she couldn’t wait to try it out. She yawned, then, and realized she hadn’t slept at all. Fine, she thought to herself. A quick nap, a shower, and then she’d test her formula.

The next day, freshly showered and fueled with the best chicken wings the city could provide, Fred faced her next test. When in time did she want to go to? The future, for certain. As interesting as the past might be, Fred desperately wanted to know what would happen to her in the future. Would she be a science nerd for the rest of her life? And if so, would she be a successful nerd, or a forgotten one? Fred was also hoping that a little glimpse of her future might help her back in the here and now. Would she get anywhere tagging along after Professor Seidel, or did she need to break out on her own? Stay here, or go back to Texas?

Fred decided that she would like to make two jumps in series, before she returned to the present time. First she would go just two years ahead, see a little bit of what her immediate future would hold. Then she would jump ahead ten more years, and find out what was to become of her. The formula she was using would place her, geographically, wherever future-Fred was, in the time she picked. This was one of the advantages of this time travel method, as it relied upon an individual’s DNA and its relationship to the molecular makeup of the universe in orienting itself to its destination.

Fred dressed in her most comfortable pair of jeans, a pale pink long sleeve t-shirt, and a thick wool cardigan sweater. Fashions weren’t likely to change that much in twelve years, and jeans had been around a lot longer than that. The pale pink top was one of her favorites, and it looked nice under the ivory cardigan. She wished for the millionth time she had a warmer coat, but this would have to do. In her backpack she put her supplies: granola bars, for a quick pick me up, two bottles of water, a few notebooks, and another sweater. She was just going into the future, so she figured she didn’t need to bring food. Anywhere Fred Burkle was, refreshments should be nearby. Finally, she picked up the control unit and carefully programmed in the dates she had selected.

Fred had built the control unit yesterday. She had adapted her scientific calculator to store and control the time travel formula, and had already loaded it with all the information it would need, including the expression of her DNA sequence (she had been a volunteer in a DNA program last semester, so luckily this information was on hand). The control unit would also allow her to decide when to leave each future and make the next jump, although it was programmed to default after two days.

The time has come, she giggled to herself, to face the future. Fred checked her settings one more time, took a deep breath, and pushed "go."

Suddenly the world went dark, silent, and bitterly cold. Fred wondered if the darkness would last as long as it took to cough three times, like the "between" in a series of dragon books she had read as a kid. It seemed quite a bit longer, however, but eventually Fred became aware that she was somewhere else than where she had begun.

She was lying down, on the ground of what had to be a cave. Fred blinked a few times, but her vision was fuzzy. She clutched at her face, realizing in a panic that she hadn’t packed a spare pair of glasses. Stretching her arms out around her, she found her glasses, and slipped them back on.

The light was dim, but Fred could see a figure standing between her and the opening of the cave. It was a woman, dressed in raggedly clothes, writing frantically on the cave wall. Could that be me? Fred thought. Where is this place?

Before Fred could wonder any more, the woman froze, then flattened herself against the wall. She was clearly trying not to move, so Fred did the same. Soon she heard a deep, male voice. It sounded like someone was looking for the woman. "If we don’t find her, we’ll be the laughing stock of Pylea. No cow can be allowed to get away with this kind of behavior."

The noises of the men walking through the brush outside the cave opening grew louder. Suddenly Fred could see one of them – and he wasn’t human. The creature had green skin, and horns! She couldn’t believe what she was seeing. It was like a bad trip from her high school days, but she didn’t think this was just going to wear off. Thankfully, the green man didn’t seem to think that this Fred was in the cave, and he and his companion moved on. Fred stayed still until she couldn’t hear them anymore.

Cave-Fred seemed to relax at the same time. She sat down hard on the cave floor, and curled herself up into a ball, moaning softly. Fred didn’t know what to do. This couldn’t be right. How could she be in this place, only two years later?

"You there, thought you’d escaped, didn’t you?" One of the green men had returned, more quietly this time, and now he had cave-Fred by the arm. She didn’t try to get away, just went slack in his grip. "That’s a good cow, you know what to do. Come along, and you might even get fed tonight." The creature turned, talking to the other one. "Check the cave, maybe there’s more."

This could not be good. And it wasn’t as if she could get any information out of cave-Fred, not when she was being taken away by the green men. Fred quickly punched in the default time override, took a deep breath, and waited. Nothing happened. The green man moved closer. "Here, kitty kitty…"

Fred turned the control unit over. What had she forgotten? Did it still work? Oh, wait – go!

Again, the world went black. Fred tried to compose herself, she couldn’t imagine where she would be ten years after that fiasco. Would she still be in, what did that thing say, "Pylea"? What if she was already dead? Fred grimaced. She hadn’t factored in such a possibility. She hoped she wouldn’t end up in a grave on top of her rotting body. Ugh.

Thankfully, Fred soon found herself lying on a floor again, and it didn’t seem to be a grave. Please, let this make more sense, she thought. The floor was covered in a lovely red and blue oriental carpet, and, she was glad to discover, her glasses had stayed on. She didn’t hear or see anyone, so she sat up and looked around. She was in a warm bedroom, decorated tastefully with Shaker style furniture, the aforementioned oriental rug, and a simple white quilt on the four-poster bed. Several large windows let in the cold winter sun. Fred walked over and sat down on a cushioned window seat, and peered outside.

The victorian style farmhouse sat on an expanse of brown fields, with softly rolling hills in the distance. In the yard was a woman wearing a wool sweater and jeans, with a plaid blanket wrapped casually around her shouders. Soon a slender man approached, and handed her a steaming mug. They seemed to be laughing. Moments later, a darling little girl ran over to the couple, and the man quickly picked her up and whirled her around. What an angelic picture, she thought. Could that really be me down there?

Just then a car pulled up, a long black limousine that looked entirely out of place. Several men in suits got out, and someone inside rolled down a window. The man and woman went quickly over to the car. Fred couldn’t hear what anyone was saying, but before she knew it everyone, including the little girl, got into the car and drove away.

Now this was perplexing. Fred had felt pretty good about farmstead-Fred, until the men in suits came and took her away. She decided to explore the house a little more.

Upstairs, there were several more bedrooms, one of which clearly served as a nursery for the little girl. Fred investigated this room carefully, more out of fascination than any belief that it would give her clues as to her situation. One shelf in the little girl’s room held what must be her most treasured possessions: a shell, some pretty rocks, a light blue hair ribbon, and a book of children’s poetry. The bookshelf appeared to be handmade, with intricate carvings decorating its shelves. On the wall was a pencil sketch someone had drawn of the child when she was a bit younger.

Heading downstairs, Fred felt her stomach grumble. Well, hopefully farmstead-Fred wouldn’t mind if she helped herself to some food. It was dark now, and still there was no sign of anyone returning. Fred found the kitchen, but couldn’t decide what to eat. She wasn’t ready to sit down, there was too much to think about. She took an apple out of a basket, rubbing it absentmindedly against her sweater.

The front room was decorated much like the rest of the house. A wooden dollhouse took up one corner of the room, with all its little inhabitants tucked neatly into their beds. Except for one doll, who perched on the roof, looking for all the world like he was guarding the place.

The front door was ajar, letting in the cold night air. Fred wondered if the family had neglected to close it before they left. They had certainly taken off in a hurry. She peeked outside, and saw a broad porch, invitingly strewn with wicker chairs and a swing. Fred slipped outside, thinking about how pleasant this place would be in the summertime. Suddenly, Fred discovered that she wasn’t alone. Someone was standing at the far end of the porch, gazing up at the stars. His blond hair shone brightly in the moonlight. Fred thought about grabbing the control unit, but realized that she must have set it down in the kitchen when she picked up the apple. Uh oh.

"Don’t be scared, pet. I’m not gonna bite."

Fred wondered how a guy with a cool English accent had wound up on a country farm. Oh well, maybe it was a farm in England – they had them there, too, right?

"Want to talk?" the blond man said, coming closer. He was wearing a long, black leather coat, and walked as gracefully as her cat.

Fred decided she had better try to explain. "Well, actually, this is going to be kind of hard for you to believe, but…"

"You’re Fred from the past. We know." The man tilted his head a little, his blue eyes seeming to look straight into her soul.

"You know? How?"

"Can’t tell you that, I’m afraid." He chuckled. "You make a cute college girl, but that’s no surprise."

Fred realized this man knew her far better than she knew him. She tried to stop thinking about whether he really thought she was cute, and focus on her situation. "The Fred from this time, where did she go?"

"Come on, you’re smarter than that. She couldn’t very well hang around here and let you meet her, now, could she?" Apparently Fred’s face betrayed her confusion, because the man went on. "It can be very dangerous to meet yourself in another time."

"Oh no," Fred felt her stomach sink. "Oh, no, I knew, I mean I should have known that. Of course I knew that. It’s just, I just figured out how to make this work, and I wanted to see what would happen to me." She sat down on the nearby porch swing and sank her head into her hands. "I haven’t had much sleep. I’m so sorry. Y’all must think I’m stupid."

"It’s all right, pet." The blond man sat down on the swing beside her. "No harm done." He paused, again giving her a searching look. "I’m Spike, by the way."

She put out her hand. "Fred Burkle. But you knew that already." They shook. Spike’s hand was cool, like the night air. "Can you at least tell me how I’m doing?"

"How you’re doing? How do you mean?"

"Well, for starters, ten years ago I think I was kidnapped out of a cave by green men with horns. I’d kinda like to know how that turned out."

"Ah yes, the land of the little green men," Spike smiled briefly at his own joke. "Won’t do you much good to tell you. You were in a demon dimension, place called Pylea. But you got out all right. Went on to spend many productive years as super research girl, adding to the knowledge of the world and all that."

"So I did become a scientist? A good one? What did I study?" Fred asked curiously.

"Physics, magic, all sorts of useful things."

"Magic? There’s magic?"

"Long story, pet, and we really don’t have time." Spike stood up.

"Wait, why don’t we have time? You can’t tell me more?"

"’Fraid not." He looked at his watch.

"Tell me one more thing, Spike. I’m married? And that was my little girl?"

"That’s two, but yes, right on both. You don’t need to worry, you turn out just fine. Your future isn’t all rainbows and kittens, but you’ll get through the rough spots. ‘Fore you know it, you’ll be here." Spike reached into his pocket and pulled out what looked like a thin black flashlight. "Did you ever see ‘Men in Black’?"

"I saw it on video." Fred stood up. "Are you going to erase my memory?"

"I am. Ready?"

"How do you know I won’t just take another time travel trip tomorrow?" Fred asked, stalling for time. She didn’t want to leave, and she sure as hell didn’t want to forget the most successful research project of her life.

"Let’s just say your memory isn’t the only thing we’re going to adjust. Your apartment has already been swept for anything having to do with time travel research. When you get back, you won’t be interested in it anymore. You’ll have moved on to some other fascinating scientific endeavor which will occupy you completely."

"Who gave you the right to do that to me?" Fred demanded.

"Well, you did," Spike said, smirking. "Sorry, couldn’t help it." He held up the black instrument. "Now, be a good girl and look at the light."

Fred awoke to the sound of her telephone ringing. She heard the answering machine pick up, and her professor’s voice saying something about a meeting. She must have stayed up late last night refining her thesis proposal, because her head was throbbing. Sitting up, she saw her computer was still on, surrounded by mountinas of paper and books piled up on her desk. Sure enough, there was the finished outline: "P-Space Dimensional Physics – Truth, Not Fiction."