Chapter 6: Just-in-time delivery

'This was fun' thinks Nina as she leaves the movie theater. After working way too much for a while, she had taken the evening off to watch a comedy along with a few of the girls from the university. Most of them were younger than her ... she is starting to feel old sometimes. Much too old to be this single. Yet they had a fun, all-girl evening and a hilarious movie. She is in a good mood as she waves goodbye and sets off for her car. It's a bit of a walk.

The parking lot is largely deserted and way too dark for her tastes. But she knows where her car is, at least. She has a good memory for details. Comes with the work, or perhaps it's the other way around. She steps away from the street lamp. And into a group of dark young men who emerge from the deeper shadows.

'This is not fun anymore' thinks Nina as one of the men – little more than boys, really – points a knife at her. The others seem to carry various implements of violence too. "You be all quiet missy." "What do you want?" "Cash." "Aww, we could use some fun too" says one of the other, and some grunt in assent. Nina is pretty sure that their idea of fun is very different from her own. "Look, I'll give you the money, just let me go, OK?" She is icy cold inside, and a part of her is surprised that she doesn't scream or try to run. Of course that would be outright dangerous, but she is already in danger. It is not at all obvious that they will let her live after she has seen them – even in shadow such as this.

Suddenly she feels strange. It is as if she is falling apart ... either she, or everything around her. Dissolving, very rapidly. She tries to draw breath, but she has no lungs anymore. She is just a pile of dust, or a smoke drifting on the air. And then everything changes. New lights, new patterns ... yet not new, no, familiar. Everything coalesces again, and she too. She inhales air again, but it is warmer and drier and smells familiar. She is back in her apartment.

"Hello Nina" says Markus politely. "I thought it safest to bring you here."

Her legs buckle under her, and she sits down on the floor while the room slows its spinning. She can feel every part of herself now, she is whole and fully real again. So this is what it feels like, to teleport. She rests her back against the couch. The world is stabilizing, but she is kinda queasy and shivering with an inner cold. She is not sure how much comes from the jump, though, and how much from the terror of being mugged.

As her dizziness fades, Nina stands up and sits down in the couch. "Thank you. That was a close one."

Markus nods. He is perched on his favorite spot, the back of the straight-backed chair. "I am sorry to say that you are right. I do not think they originally had intended to terminate you, but coincidences caused that to be the most likely outcome unless I intervened."

"You are saying they were going to kill me?"

"In order to cover another crime."

"The bastards!"

"Oh my god! They killed Nina!"

She manages a bleak smile at that. Then she suddenly remembers. "It is the 15th!"

"Indeed it is."

"And you said we would meet again today."

"This was what I referred to."

"So you knew all of this would happen?"

"In a general outline sort of way."

"Why didn't you tell me? I could easily have avoided the whole incident."

"If you had avoided the whole incident, I would not have known that it would happen, and so I would not be able to warn you. Therefore it would happen anyway, and I would warn you, and it would not happen, and I would not warn you, a closed loop of alternate reality. This is not good for the universe, and it is even worse for those trapped in it for eternity."

"Oh my god."

"That's not me, I hope."

"Definitely not."

"So basically I had to plan something that would still make the day remarkable enough that I would notice it in the past, but less remarkable than your untimely passing."

"You did a great job of making it remarkable."

"Thank you."

Nina looks around the apartment. It is in its habitual state of disarray. Every surface except the floor is covered with stack of books, magazines, plastic dinosaurs, or computer print-outs. Even had she wanted to tidy up the place, she would have nowhere else to store it all. And anyway, the sulphurous lakes of Hell would be frozen rock solid before she would tidy her apartment for Markus. Not just he is an old family friend from years ago, but also because he can see into the past. As far as she has gleaned, he can not even avoid seeing into the past ... it is as real to him as east and west, so even if he looks straight at the present the past will still be in his peripheral vision. And now, evidently, so is the future.

"So, is anything else remarkable going to happen tonight?"

"Not to us. I am going to move your car home, we are going to talk a bit, then I go home and you go to bed."

"Does it ever bother you, to see the future and the past?"

"It can be philosophically challenging. Most of our culture and language is based on the false assumptions that time is moving and that truth can be hidden."

"No, I mean emotionally bothering. Like hot and bothered. Rumor has it that you can see young girls in the shower, for instance."

"I can see anyone in the shower. Men and women, children and the old. I don't particularly notice, though. The body is the same whether or not it is in a shower. It is not like clothes hide a body to me anymore, you know."


"Your clothes, your skin, your skeleton, your veins ... it is all equally present to me. Inside and outside are just dimensions, potential energy states of matter. Does it bother you to see people from the left side? No, and it does not bother me to see them from the inside. You get used to it really fast."

"Heh. This is bound to be a great disappointment to some of your fans."

"It is a harmless illusion, insignificant beside the enormous illusions that hold all humankind in thrall. I do read, you know. And a couple of the fan sites have remarkable art."

"They still call you 'The Witness'?"

"I changed my screen name on request from the Watchtower Society. Evidently my core fan base has significantly less respect for Jehovah's Witnesses than I have. There is also the technical difficulties with renaming an ongoing newsgroup, not to mention prepaid domain names."

"And you read the stuff."

"Oh yes. It is quite entertaining. And, as I said, there are some great fan sites. 'Witness The Yaoi' comes to mind. I don't look half as good naked in reality as I do in those pictures."

"Yaoi? As in Japanese gay porn?"

"More like women's fantasies about men's erotic life."

"Uhm, yes. I know about Yaoi."

"You should, you live in California."

"Will California ever become a Japanese colony?"

"It will sink beneath the waves."

"That's a relief."

Nina's eyes stray to a beautifully sculpted plastic dinosaur. "Not to change topic ..."

"Please do."

"But how far into the past can you look?"

"Pretty much all the way, except it is not really looking in the traditional sense of the word."

"So you could look at a dinosaur bone fossil and find out things about the actual animal?"

"Easily. I cannot take you there, though ... going into the past is even more dangerous than changing the future."

"But you could tell me things about its life."

"I could probably show you, using photons from the present."

"Ooh! That would be great! You remember you promised to help me date fossils once?"

"Ah. So you did not mean going out with men 8 years older than you?"

"Perhaps those things could be combined?"

"Perhaps they could." He smiles. "If you choose a day, I can choose a location."

"How about tomorrow?"

"How about Paris?"


"Speaking of showoff, your car is back."


"All for the lady."

"Now you sound almost human."

"Must be the company I keep. But I believe we are to part company for the night now."

She yawns in agreement. "Thanks once again for saving my ass."

"With an ass like that ..."

"You have a care old man, or I'll bop you on the head with my lollipop!"

"Meet you at the lab tomorrow." He fades away. It may be her imagination, but it seems his smile is the last to fade.

She keeps looking for a long time at the empty spot where he has been. Dear sweet Hanna Barbara in a bathtub! What have I got myself into this time?