Pertempus

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Pertempus LogoI knew it was going to happen.  I remember that I came awake and heard him tossing and turning.  We still shared a room then, even though I was too old for that and wanted my own.  We still slept in bunk beds.  He was right below me.  And I rubbed the sleep from my eyes and pulled myself over the edge of my bed and leaned down just in time to see him slowly vanish.

I didn’t even have time to think about panicking before he slowly reappeared on top of his sheets.  I knew his pajamas would be wet.  So I climbed down and woke him and helped him change into something dry, and we both tried to keep quiet so Mom and Dad wouldn’t come in and think he’d wet the bed because of bad dreams.  Even at that age, I knew better.  I wouldn’t have held it against him if he wet the bed because of bad dreams.  But Perry didn’t have bad dreams.  And Perry wasn’t afraid of monsters.  And anyway that’s not why it was happening.  These days, any competent doctor would know that the spontaneous urination was a result of the shock his body experienced when it traveled through time.

***

The weird thing is, it never seemed to happen when Mom and Dad were around.  I tried thinking of patterns.  Was it just when he was asleep?  Was it just when he was at home?  Was it when he was feeling scared, angry, happy, cranky?

We still don’t know what triggers it decades later, so what chance did I have when I was only twelve?

Still, I tried.  I started a couple of files on my computer where I wrote down my observations.  I began recording things like room temperature, Perry’s state of mind, the time of day, the time of year, whether or not he remembered anything when he returned to the present.  Only one thing seemed constant.  Perry did not travel when other people were around (except for me).  But then, he traveled once when the whole family had fallen asleep in the living room after an all-night horror movie marathon one new year’s eve.  After a while, I became even more sophisticated in my record-keeping, taking Perry’s body temperature, pulse, and other vital signs.  I kept a record of what he ate, every time he got sick or hurt, even every time Mom or Dad yelled at him.  I did that for about seven months, trying to sort the data in different ways to see if a pattern emerged.  Even now, when I look back at that data I gathered, I don’t really see anything.

I tried to read as much about it as I could.  But this was before the existence of spontaneous time travel was publically known.  I could find plenty of stories and rumors, but very little hard facts.  Very little official communication.  But it was real.  It was happening.  Perry and I were not imagining the whole thing.

When you’re twelve, anything seems possible anyway, so if you’ve seen that it’s possible that a person can time travel, then why wouldn’t it be possible to control that ability?

I told Perry that we needed to find a way for him to control it.  From what I could tell when I questioned him, he was mostly traveling into the future, and mostly just a little ways into the future.

I remember that the first time I saw it happen, I had thought he’d just turned invisible.  He was sitting on a stool watching me play “Defenders of the Dragon King.”  (I wanted him to wait till I finished off the level’s boss before I let him join in.)  I walked over to the stool, controller still in hand, and waved my arm over it.  So I thought he’d turned intangible too.  I kept waving my arm over the stool, and after a few minutes, I started getting worried.  I called out to him once or twice.  I felt the panic rising in my chest.  I heard Mom call up to us that she wanted us downstairs for lunch in half an hour no matter what level we were on.  And before I could have a full-blown freak-out, I felt a weird pressure and some kind of static charge above the stool.  It made me jump back, and slowly, Perry reappeared.

“How the hell did you do that?” I said, still scared, very relieved, and a bit irritated.

Perry looked uncertain.  It was the expression he got on his face when he wasn’t sure what answer I was looking for and didn’t want to anger or disappoint me.  I wonder if he would still do that now, or would he have grown out of it.

I calmed myself down, realizing something very big had happened and I had to figure it out first, before I decided if we should tell Mom and Dad.   We weren’t playing a game when Mom called up again.  We were still talking, me asking questions, Perry answering and looking relieved and even excited.  When he let his guard down, we were able to talk like that, like we were partners.

He had been trying to figure out how to tell me after he realized himself what was really happening to him.  It had been happening for about four months by that time.  Four months my nine-year-old brother had been traveling through time, a few times every month, without anyone knowing.  Four months ago was about the time that his bed-wetting started.  He hadn’t wet his pants when I saw him that first time.  (He usually didn’t if he traveled when he was awake, I later realized.)  He knew what was happening, but he hadn’t really defined it, hadn’t called it time travel.  He knew what time travel was, but his travel was so subtle he hadn’t thought of it as time travel.  He called it blinking when he went forward.  He’d blink and it would be seven minutes later.  On the rare occasion that he went back, he just said he’d gone back.  Actually, he said he had deja vu, which I found amusing.

He said there was one day when he traveled back half an hour and then forward again into the future.  I was up in my room reading my English homework.  He was sitting at the kitchen table, eating a sandwich, and watching some cartoon when he vanished and appeared in the kitchen half an hour earlier.  Our Mom was in the kitchen then and she turned around and saw him and yelled out.  She laughed at herself and pretend-scolded Perry for scaring her, then turned back around and continued chopping her eggplant while watching some nature show about bees.  Perry called her, knowing that she had to see him to believe him.  (Mom and Dad never seemed to believe Perry about stuff, even when he was telling the truth).  She asked him what he needed, but didn’t look at him, and he vanished again, shooting forward to the present, where he found his sandwich and the rest of that cartoon waiting for him as if it had been on pause.  I remembered hearing Mom yell out and then hearing her laugh it off.  I thought maybe some bug had startled her.

Nothing I tried could help him control his traveling.  I tried to make him meditate.  I tried to hypnotize him.  I tried reverse psychology (telling him he couldn’t time travel, because time travel was impossible).  And I watched him as closely as I could.  Nothing much changed.  I was still trying to figure out how to tell our parents.  Video evidence wouldn’t work.  They would think I’d faked it.  But without evidence, we were just kids making up a story.

And then one day, it happened.   He traveled in front of Mom.

Dad and I weren’t home yet.  I got home first and found Mom on the sofa with Perry on her lap, which was disturbing.  She had her arms around him and she had a scared and faraway look on her face.  I looked at Perry and he looked at me as if he were drowning and I was a life raft.

So I addressed him first.  “Did she see it?” I asked as I dropped my backpack on the ground.

Perry nodded and I could see the fear leaving his eyes.  I looked down at his pants and saw they weren’t wet.  Thank goodness.  It would have been creepier if he’d wet them and she hadn’t let him change.

I tried to snap her out of it, but Mom didn’t talk until Dad came home and that meant we had an awkward hour where I asked Perry if he was okay and brought him some food and drink while he was pinned helplessly against our mother.

She did snap out of it.  And she and Dad both understood why we hadn’t told them.  They admitted they would not have believed us if Mom hadn’t seen it with her own eyes.  People were starting to hear about it, but it was still kind of taboo.  As soon as my parents reported it to Perry’s doctor, men and women in dark suits came to the house and spoke to us, made my parents sign things, made me promise not to reveal my brother’s condition to anyone.  My parents just told us the dark-suited people were with the government.  Perry was given an injection that day, and he may not be afraid of monsters, but he hated needles.  I had to hear him screaming from the other room, because they wouldn’t even let me sit next to him.  The injection was to put a locater chip in his arm.  They told my parents it would only be turned on if they reported him missing.

Perry was taken out of public school and my parents were given money for tutors.  He was allowed to continue hanging out with his friends, but only at our house and only if supervised.  So pretty soon, the only one still hanging out with Perry was me.  And they told us that they would do everything in their power to help Perry with his condition, but until they could, we had to live like that.  And so we did live like that for a year.

***

There was definitely some change in the space that he occupied whenever he traveled.  After that weird pressure-static thing that happened the first time, it took me a while to work up the nerve to try and touch Perry whenever he traveled.  I couldn’t predict when it would happen.  But Perry and I did figure out that if he was sleeping, he would toss and turn.  It was probably because of what he felt just before he traveled.  When he was awake, he felt itching everywhere, such a terrible itching that he couldn’t even think of scratching it.  He just wanted to close his eyes and wish it away.  I did notice that he caught his breath and started shaking just before he vanished.  Sometimes, he did close his eyes.  I told him I wanted to try and see if I could touch him, and maybe stop him from traveling.

So one day, when we were just throwing a ball around in the backyard, he started itching and he yelled out to me.  I ran to him, and I grabbed his arm, and I felt that pressure-static.  I felt a crazy itching in my hand where I was touching Perry, and then he vanished.  And I was still there.  The palm of my hand felt tingly.  So much for that idea.  I told Mom and Dad and we waited in the backyard.  He reappeared about seven minutes later.

Mom and Dad gave him the requisite hugs and kisses before one of them went inside to report the incident and the other one stayed out to take measurements.  I don’t know why.  The government was probably using that chip in his arm to measure all the weird stuff that was going on in his body then.

When we were finally alone, I told him I was sorry I couldn’t hold on to him.  He smiled at me and said it was okay.  He said he felt me trying to keep him there.  He was sure he wouldn’t have come back so quickly if I hadn’t touched him.  So from that day on, if I could, I always tried to grab hold of him whenever he traveled.  And he started traveling more often.  Sometimes back, sometimes forward.  The more he traveled, the shorter the time—the temporal distance we call it now—that he would go.  Perry got used to it.  We got used to it.

Then one day, Perry disappeared for good.

***

We waited a few minutes, twenty minutes, thirty minutes, an hour.  He’d been gone that long before, not to worry.  We waited two hours, three hours, four.  And we began to worry.  My parents reported it.

Hours turned into days into weeks into months.

Kids at school asked me what happened.  Had he run away?  Had he been abducted?  Worst of all, had my parents done something to him, or had I?  I knew what had happened, but I couldn’t say a word.  All I could do was make a decision.  I had to find out where and when my brother was and how to get him back.

***

Two years before my brother began exhibiting symptoms,  there was only one scientist who knew about the condition we now call pertempus.  He went from being a respected—if not particularly renowned—exogeneticist and neuroscientist to being a quack overnight after his first talk on the subject.  He had never witnessed or measured the phenomenon of spontaneous time travel.  He only predicted that it would become prevalent based on his study of the human brain’s neural circuitry, the anatomy of thousands upon thousands of catalogued cadaver brains, and his discovery of a new type of genetic mutation.

In high school, I found and read transcripts of the talk he gave.  Strangely, there was no video or even audio records remaining.  I resolved to work with Dr. Wicke someday soon.  He never did publish any scientific papers.  So I familiarized myself with his talk.  I would read the transcripts over and over, especially specific parts.

Dr. Wicke: It’s not a mutation.  At least, it’s not just a mutation.  It starts with a mutation in what I refer to as command genes.  These are genes that are never transcribed and translated into proteins, but instead code for RNA strands that then attach to other parts of the genome and start switching on and off specific genes, leading to the growth and development of entire organs that would not typically exist.  The genes are normally dormant.  The command mutation only primes the genes and predisposes an individual to growing such organs.  A whole set of conditions following the mutation, a set of conditions that have yet to be explored and identified, is then needed for the command genes to become fully activated and for the command functions to start.

As the discussion continued, Dr. Wicke was challenged to show his research, which had not been published.  Apparently, whatever slides he was showing had no quantitative data, no information about his methodology, and no demonstration of how he had even conceived of the concept of these command genes.  And then he dropped an even bigger bombshell when a colleague asked a simple question.

Dr. F. Wicke:  My findings are preliminary, and I will need the cooperation and expertise of the entire scientific community if I am to explore all of the ramifications of this discovery.  I have thus far only predicted three or four potential aytpical organs resulting from specific command mutations.  These organs would give us extraordinary abilities, such as we’ve only dreamt about and written about in stories and read about in myths, teleportation, super strength, dramatically enhanced eyesight, even time travel.  Therefore, I refer to these organs as Latent Human Potential or L.H.P. organs—

Dr. G. Chen: Professor, just because you’ve come up with a clever acronym does not mean your science is valid.

[Light laughter from the audience.]

Dr. F. Wicke: Thank you, doctor.  I think the correct term is ‘initialism’ not ‘acronym,’ but I’m no grammar expert.  What I am an expert in is neuroscience and exogenetics—not to be confused with the same term in geology.  I use ‘exogenetics’ as the study of any outside effect on our DNA blueprint, be it natural or artificial.

Dr. L. Gates:  How could such a complex system evolve and only now be manifesting itself without our noticing? 

Dr. F. Wicke:  I don’t know.  Perhaps it didn’t evolve.  Perhaps it was engineered.

[Sounds of reaction from audience.]

Artificial.  Engineered.  Dr. Wicke said it first.  It sounded preposterous then.  But by the time I’d read his talk, it was something we were all afraid of.  That someone—our own governments, some say, or aliens, say others—engineered the organ that causes pertempus.  That we would see even more strange abilities and organs in our bodies in the coming years.  Some claimed that it was plain old-fashioned evolution, working in ways we did not foresee in our species because we are unique, or because of the particular quirks and problems that arise when one studies oneself.   Maybe once I got my brother back, those questions would interest me, intrigue me, and trouble me as they should.  But until then, I would be of a single mind.

Dr. Wicke had disappeared from the academic community.   He never answered the messages I’d sent him when he was still at the Institute of Human Genetics, the requests to meet and to be accepted into this laboratory.  It was rumored that he had left in shame right before his theories were beginning to be validated by experimental evidence.  But I wondered if he had been recruited by some government laboratory somewhere.  I was still resolved to find him someday.

The high school I went to was further out of my neighborhood, where most of the kids had never heard of my brother’s disappearance.  No one there knew I even had a brother.  I never spoke of him to anyone.  But when the first girl I thought I loved asked me why I had such specific plans for my college major and future career, I told her.  She thought it was romantic of me to go on this quest to find my long-lost brother.  And I was happy and relieved that someone knew and someone approved.

But she had never known Perry.  And it did not take long for my “romantic quest” to become “crazy obsession” in her eyes.  And we drifted apart.

***

My parents stayed together while I was still living at home, but when I went away to college, they separated.  And a year before I graduated with my first degree, they divorced.  I suppose their love was too weak to survive the loss of one son and the departure of another.

When spontaneous time travel was officially announced, I was already in graduate school.  The condition was traced to a small but distinct extra lobe in the right hemisphere of the brain, the pertempus lobe.  The principal investigator of the laboratory I was working in had discovered the command mutation for the development of the pertempus lobe.  It was in a gene he designated TMP47-alpha.  We were allowed to characterize pathways and research means of identifying potential time travelers, tracing a traveler’s voyage through time, and even removing the condition.  But the governments of the world had also announced international, national, and local bans on any research on controlling and directing time travel.

There were two stages to my plan.  First, I had to find Perry, which meant I had to develop or help develop a way to  track the time travelers.  Second, I had to bring Perry to the present.  I thought a physicist might be able to help with that.  They were studying the trans-temporal field that manifested before and during travel.  I might be defying the ban on directed time travel, but if my aim was to force a traveler back to the present, exceptions might be made by a government, by a world, that was scrambling to suppress time travel.  There was a third component, and this was the most difficult and worrisome.  Research takes time, sometimes it takes a lifetime, and sometimes it takes many lifetimes.  If the research outlived me, I needed to find a way to pass on my quest, my legacy.

There was a post-doctoral student, Jara, working in the laboratory who seemed particularly keen on my tracking research.  She was brilliant.  Her children would be brilliant.  If we became friends, and if I did enough for her family throughout her lifetime, perhaps she would feel indebted enough to do something for me and my family.

Our research was still basic, and therefore tedious and far-removed from real-world application.  So we would have conversations while running our routine assays and data compilations.

“I mean, how did we go from being Joe Schmoe Normal to Joe Schmoe Time Traveler?”  I said one day.

Jara smiled and set aside the report she was reviewing.  “So you think your hero Doctor Wicke was right, that our government engineered the pertempus lobe?”

“Our government seems to want nothing more than to shut down all time travel, undirected or otherwise.  Their sole focus is suppression.  But I’m sure they’re trying to have it both ways.  They’ve probably got some scientists and doctors—maybe even Wicke—locked up in some underground bunker somewhere, researching how to control the pertempus lobe so we could be the first to have time-traveling spies and soldiers.”  I sighed.

“So, if you don’t think our government made pertempus, you think…aliens?”

I shook my head.  “Some other government maybe, using us as test subjects?  You know, people have tried to compile comprehensive data on the time travelers, trying to find patterns, especially travel patterns, or connections to foreign countries.  If anything has been found, it sure as heck hasn’t been published.”

“Why do you suppose we aren’t seeing any other L.H.P. organs or command mutations?”

“That goes back to my point.  That’s why I think Doctor Wicke was right about the genetic engineering.  You would think we would see subtle changes first, psychic abilities, increased intuition.  But no, we’re suddenly traveling through time.  How is that even an evolutionary advantage?”

Jara raised her eyebrows and shrugged with a “don’t ask me, I just work here” expression.

***

It didn’t take me long to bring up the subject of my brother.  It was one day when we were discussing the possibility of using the location chips that time travelers are injected with.  I hadn’t realized I had let it slip that I needed to look up my brother’s chip code in my old notes.

“You want to bring back your brother who’s lost in time?”  She paused and looked at me thoughtfully.  “Even if you could get past the bans on temporal research, do you really think you’ll be able to do that in your lifetime?”

I remember clearing my throat to buy time to think of an answer to that question that would not sound creepy.  Why yes, my dear colleague.  I was planning on befriending you and encouraging your children to carry on my research.

All I could come up with was, “He’s worth it.  I’ll find a way.”

She shook her head.  “I admire your dedication.  I should let you know in the interest of full disclosure that I’m not close to my own sibling, my sister.  I love her and all that.  We were close once, but she’s one of those negative Nancy’s.  She could turn your smile upside down.  The glass is always half empty.  Every cloud has…an ulterior motive.”

I laughed.

It hadn’t occurred to me at the time that I might pass the legacy of my research and my quest on to my own children.  What woman would understand?  Maybe someone who’d also lost someone when she was young?  Lost someone to time travel?  And would we just have a love-less marriage because we had that one thing in common?  The quest, the obsession, to retrieve our long-lost loved ones.

I would not give up on my brother, but nor would I sacrifice my own life and happiness.  Perry would have felt irritated at best, betrayed at worst, if I were to do so.

But sometimes, things do work out.  Jara and I did become friends.  She did poke and prod me to make sure that my quest did not become an obsession.  She told me that finding Perry would require great leaps in technology.  And getting him back might not be possible, at least legally.  And perhaps even morally and ethically.  Because it might require directed time travel.  And that might not be possible.  And if it was possible, then as soon as it was, it would be stolen, misused, and abused, and the human race might end up obliterating itself, and Perry would still be lost.  I had to keep things in perspective.

That’s why I hoped against hope that Perry was in the future.  Because if he was in the near future, all I had to do was wait for him to appear one day.  He was at home when he disappeared.  Mom had seen him go.  So when my parents divorced and sold the house, I bought it from them.  And they probably knew why, but we never spoke of it.  And if by the time he appeared, someone had developed an effective suppression serum, then as soon as he appeared, the first thing I would do is grab him tight and pump him full of the stuff before he could vanish again.

But Perry might appear far into the future after I was long dead.  So I still needed someone to receive my legacy and honor it.

***

Jara and I got married.  We continued working together.  Team husband-and-wife on the tracking project.  We were funded and watched closely by the Department of Temporal Security.  We found how to track time travelers who had the most recent few generations of location chips.  But that did nothing to help me with Perry.  The research progressed so slowly.  And I kept wondering what I would do if I was able to track him and found out he was stuck in the past.  I had done research on our house and the land it sat on, going back as far as I could.  What if he showed up in the middle of the living room hundreds of years in the past, scaring some family, who chased him off to go beg in the streets or get run over by traffic, or who knows what?  What if he went so far back that the land was just a forest full of wild animals?

And what if he had traveled through space and not just time?  It was unusual, but not unheard of.

What if my little brother had shown up in the middle of the crusades on some bloody battlefield?  What if he had shown up in London circa the time of the black plague?  What if…?

Those were the times when I called Jara and just said, “I’m doing it again.”

***

The year the suppression serum was announced, Jara made her own announcement.  She wanted children and she wanted her own grants to do her own research, research on the TMP47-alpha gene and how its molecular pathways caused the pertempus lobe to develop and manifest the time travel ability.   It was insanely ambitious.  Impossible.  And she wanted me on her team.  The government still banned research on directed time travel, but lifted restrictions on studying undirected time travel now that suppression was assured.  Basic research on TMP47-alpha had dried up, because no one had been granted any funds on such research.  Money flowed into rapid identification of command mutations.  Genetic testing for the mutation was prevalent, but it took some time to sort out the complex genetics involved in command mutations.  And most of the grant money had gone to the private sector, to the study of suppression technology.  With the serum now developed, Jara believed some of that money might find its way back to the basic research.

For some reason, she thought she could write grants and I could write my thesis and we could still look after babies all at the same time.

Jason came along first.  And we had our first experience of genetic testing to screen him for the pertempus command mutation.  He was clear.

“If our kids exhibit interest in science,” Jara said as she sat in a wheelchair on the curb, holding our baby son in her arms, “then we can steer them towards our research, tell them about their uncle when they’re old enough, ask them—not command them—to keep fighting the good fight.  But only if they exhibit interest.  Otherwise, we find someone else to carry on your legacy.”

“Agreed.”

***

Our youngest, our daughter Petra, might be showing signs of interest in science.  It’s too early to tell.  She’s five.  She’s into bugs.  She thinks they’re “cute.”  She is particularly fond of ants and aspires to be an ant queen one day.

Jason is definitely not interested in science.  He is now nine-going-on-ten.  He is eager to hit that double-digit age.  He paints.  He swims.  He sings to his little sister.  And he reminds me of his uncle.

Jara is a principal investigator at Exogenetics International Corporation.  I work in her lab.  Our research has led to the development of tracking software that can predict when a future traveler will appear.  The where is determined by witness reports if there are any.  We have reunited families and friends.  Given people hope.  And others closure.  It is becoming rarer now that suppression has become mandatory, but we still find some travelers who went backwards, lost forever in the past.

We are finally able to track Perry’s pertemporal arc using that outdated location chip the government put in his arm.  One of our post-docs ran the data through twice.  Then Jara reviewed it and re-ran.  When Perry left, he was headed to the future.

I was so relieved when Jara looked up at me and nodded her confirmation that I almost collapsed.   But she had a strange look on her face.  There was something else.

“It goes far into the future,” Jara said.  “It’s definitely not bending back, but I don’t know when he will appear.”

“Not in our lifetimes.  The kids?”

Jara shook her head.  “I don’t know, honey.  I’m sorry.”

***

Our kids called to us with such urgency that I actually grabbed a baseball bat on my way down the stairs.  I didn’t play.  I just kept it by the door for protection.

And when I saw what they saw as I came down the stairs, I dropped the bat and ran to the living room and I dropped to my knees.

Perry.

It was only a few months after we had tracked him, after I found out I would never see him again.  He was dusty-looking, but he didn’t seem hurt.  He pulled something from the tattered brown coat he was wearing.  It was an old-fashioned leather-bound journal.

“I got the idea from you,” he said, “to write it all down.”  His first words to me in almost thirty years.  He sounded okay.  Not traumatized or victimized.  He sounded good.  And he recognized me.

“Perry,” I said in a whisper.  I did not sound so good.  All that I was prepared to give for him.  I had wondered if I were crazy, if I were being irrational.  It would have been worth it.  Our family had lost so much when it lost him.  Years and years, even the year we still had him with us.  “Are you okay?”

I remembered now vividly who he was, who we were.  My best friend, my blood, my brother.  He was back.

He smiled.  “Don’t give me that suppression serum.  I won’t vanish, I promise.”

I frowned and glanced behind me and saw my wife.  I have a wife.  I’m grown up.  She was holding the syringe filled with clear viscous fluid.

I turned back to Perry.  I shook my head.  “It’s the only way we can be sure we won’t lose you again.”

“Or you could believe me.”

I put my hands on his arms.  They felt so thin and small now that my hands were so big.  But he was older.  I could tell.  His voice was deeper.

“I believed you,” he said.  “When you told me that if I ever vanished for good, you wouldn’t stop looking for me.”

I don’t remember ever saying anything like that to him.  He must have seen that I was confused.

“It was maybe the second or third time I traveled in front of you.  You thought it might happen.  You were scared it might happen, so you told me that you wouldn’t stop looking for me even if it took you all your life.  And you didn’t.”  He shook his head then.  “It’s crazy how old you are.  You’re so old!”

I frowned then and tried not touch my hairline.  “Where—when have you been?”

He pulled out of my grip and put his hand on my shoulder.  “I have a lot to tell you.”

Copyright © 2014 by Nila L. Patel

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