Jeff and Mary Edge were getting a divorce and they didn’t want to talk about it anymore.
Mary’s parents suggested that they try marital counseling, but Mary was tired of Jeff’s drinking and Jeff was tired of Mary not getting a job to help with the family finances.
They’d had it with each other and they weren’t going to talk to Mary’s parents, a counselor, or anyone else about it.
Jeff and Mary didn’t even talk about it with their seven-year-old daughter Morgan.
Jeff was at the wheel and Mary was sitting, sulking in the passenger seat after meeting with the divorce lawyer. He was going to take Mary back to her parent’s house where she was staying for now, and pick up Morgan for their weekend visit.
Jeff was sober and would be throughout the visit. When he dropped Morgan back with her mother Sunday night, he planned to go back to his seedy one bedroom apartment and get roaring drunk. The hangover he’d have when he went to work on Monday morning would be worth it.
Dr. Carter Michaelson was in the basement of one of the university’s auxiliary school buildings near downtown putting the finishing touches on the scale model of the chrono projector. The full scale model, if he ever got the funding to build it, would, in theory, create a chronometric sphere enabling anything inside the sphere to travel backward or forward in time, depending on how the sphere was oriented.
The scale model was a working device, but just barely. It wasn’t expected to generate a sphere at all, citing power threshold limitations, but it would demonstrate to the Board of Regents, just how the machine was supposed to work.
Dr. Michaelson normally had steady hands, but he’d been awake for over thirty hours, working against a deadline. Making one delicate adjustment, his hand slipped just slightly. There was a momentary flash of light and then nothing.
“Oh well, no harm done.” He finished the adjustment and closed the access port. Maybe he could get a few hours sleep on the cot in the lab before tomorrow’s demonstration.
Jeff and Mary were driving past the basement lab where Dr. Michaelson had been working. There was a momentary brilliant flash of light. Jeff lost control of the car and reflexively hit the brakes.
Then it was night. They were on the same downtown street but there was only occasional traffic. How could hours have passed in just a second or two?
“What the hell happened, Jeff? Where the hell are we?”
“Hang on a second. I jumped the curb, I’ve got to straighten out the car.”
Jeff shifted into reverse and got off of the sidewalk but hit the brake again.
They looked behind them. A few meters or so in back was an after image, or was it a before image? It was them. It was their car, right before the crash.
“You bastard, you almost hit me!”
In the dark, neither of them saw the young woman just a few feet ahead.
“What the hell were you thinking, you fuck job?”
She was about twenty, dressed all in black, black hair, black eye shadow, black lipstick, black fingernail polish. What the kids called “Goth,” only this seemed over the top.
She was slurring her words and staggering. Jeff had been drunk too many times not to notice this kid was totally smashed or high.
Mary got out of the car. “We’re sorry. We didn’t see you.”
The kid staggered toward Mary and then stopped. She looked shocked.
Jeff got out and joined his wife, forgetting his animosity toward her in the face of these strange events.
“Who are you?”
“Dad? Mom? You’re so…so young.”
The young woman collapsed to the sidewalk, sitting and staring up at them.
Jeff and Mary crouched down.
“Why did you call me Dad?”
“Don’t you know me, Dad? It’s me. It’s Morgan. Your little girl.” She said the last two words with an edge of sarcasm.
“Honey, I think you’re confused. Our Morgan is seven years old.”
“Yeah, Mom. I was seven when you and Dad got a divorce. Do you know how much you screwed up my life? You didn’t even try to fix your problems. You just tossed your marriage aside and me along with it.”
Jeff and Mary were speechless. How could this be their little girl? It’s impossible. They’d have to be…thirteen years in the future.
The flash of light. One minute it was a sunny afternoon, and the next it was after midnight.
“Why did you have to come back now? Don’t you know it’s too late?”
“What do you mean, Morg?”
“You bastard, Dad. I got so tired of your drinking. You tried to hide it during our visits, but I knew. You cared more about your booze than you ever did about me.”
Jeff’s face flushed and he felt a wave of guilt wash over him.
“Don’t you think you get off the hook so easy Mom. At least Dad always had a job, he always made sure I was taken care of. All you wanted to do was sit on your fat ass at home and collect child support and alimony payments. If you’d seen a counselor when I was a kid, you’d have found out you’re depressed, and you wouldn’t have done what I’m doing now.”
“Doing what, Honey?”
“Just bought the drugs. Took ’em. Figured I’d make it back to my place before I ODed. Never figured…”
“She’s passed out.”
“Jeff, we’ve got to get her to a hospital. Somehow, she’s our daughter.”
“Wait. Look. The after image. it’s closer. A lot closer.”
“So what! She’s our baby. She’s dying. We’ve got to save her. Don’t you care?”
“Of course I care. I love her.”
“Not enough to stop drinking.”
“Shut up. Look. I think if we’re not in this car, right where we crashed when the after image catches us, we’ll never go home, never go back in time thirteen years.”
“But she’s dying now, Jeff.”
“Mary, what if we went back and changed things? What if we went back and made it different, so Morgan wouldn’t feel abandoned, that we didn’t make the same mistakes again?”
“Jeff, she’s barely breathing.”
“I don’t think we can save her now, but I think we can save her in the past. I promise. I will do anything to save her life, but we have to go back home to do that. It’s too late now.”
Mary hadn’t trusted her husband in a very long time. She looked at him. She looked at her future daughter who was dying in her arms. She looked back at the after image, almost close enough to merge into their car, into them.
“Alright. Let’s do it.”
Mary did one of the hardest things she’d ever done in her life. She gently set her daughter’s dying body on the sidewalk. “Don’t worry, sweetheart. Mommy and Daddy are coming.”
Jeff was already standing by the open driver’s side door. Mary stood, sat in the passenger’s seat, closed the door, and buckled her seatbelt. Jeff got in, shut the door and did the same.
Seconds now. Mary could hear Morgan’s death rattle. She lowered her head, sobbed, and prayed that Jeff was right and they could change all this. The after image merged with them. There was a brilliant flash of light.
Jeff almost lost control of the car but corrected at the last second and continued driving to the intersection. The light had just turned red. It was still light out, still late afternoon. They were home.
“Do you think we can do it? Do you think it was real?”
“Look at your hands, Mary.”
She looked down. Morgan’s, future Morgan’s dark makeup had smudged her hands. She lifted her palms to her nose to smell the cosmetics. There was no other way she could have gotten those smudges on her hands.
The light turned green. He pulled into the parking lot of a bank on the next block, stopped, and turned off the engine.
“I swear it was real, Mary. I swear that we can change it. We’ve been given a second chance for us, and for our little girl. I’ll do anything. I’ll give up the booze. I’ll do anything to save her life.”
She suddenly embraced him and started crying. “I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry. She was right. I’ve been depressed for so long. I’ll go to counseling. I’ll be a better mother, a better wife. I promise. I promise.”
Less than thirty minutes later, Jeff and Mary pulled into the driveway of her parent’s house. They sat their daughter down and talked with her. They promised her that she was the most important person in the world to them. She was their little girl. They’d do anything, even change the future for her.
Fourteen years from now, Morgan Edge at age 21 graduated Stanford summa cum laude with a degree in journalism, and for the next four decades, was the world’s foremost investigative reporter, always fighting to not only report facts, but to do the greatest good. Her parents taught her that. They taught her the meaning of sacrifice, of commitment, and of love. Morgan’s parents had been married over 67 years when they died. Morgan, her husband, her children, and her grandchildren all lived long and happy lives thanks to the legacy of Jeff and Mary Edge.