Return Engagements (Book One) PART 8… in which I learn why I was pulled through time, and in which my companion dies

Picking up from Part 7, in which I learned that this was not actually time travel, even though it seemed precisely that.

Within an hour Michael was past Madison and making good time on I-90. He ate one of the sandwiches he had purchased earlier. But he also knew that he lacked the energy to drive through the night, which was now falling.

He determined to drive to La Crosse on the Mississippi River and find a decent motel there. After a full night’s rest he’d be ready to pick up the trail, or as ready as he could be.

But Michael did have experience with this sort of thing… at least some. When he and Doreen were meeting discretely, back in 1917, he’d sometimes be desperate to find her, and he’d nearly always get to her by following his impressions wherever they led him. He realized now that he had been doing something very much like that today. And he also noticed that it had made him feel young, his present weariness notwithstanding.

* * * * *

Traffic was light, we were moving quickly toward Minneapolis, and the sun was declining in the sky.

“We’re running low on time,” I said.

“Then let’s get the basics done. Remember this: What matters now is that you improve this world, make it better than it would have been without you. If you were to make things worse, that difference would transfer over to your world. You understand the conservation of charge, do you not?”

“I do. Charges don’t go away. They’re always conserved somehow.”

“Yes, and by creating improvement here in this virtual world, you’re changing its charge, and that will transfer to the permanent universe in which you live.”

“And again that’s rough but useful language?”

She laughed and smiled. “Definitely rough.”

I smiled back. “So, if I change the balance of charges in this world, to the good or to the bad, that charge will be conserved and will transfer to my world.”

“Quite so, but I should add that the effects will be to the general spirit of the age, not directly to individuals. The changes you’ll make aren’t going to change who is born or anything direct like that. They will change the general feeling… like what you noticed going directly back to 1963. And they’ll begin at the present time in your world, not reaching back to 1963.”

“Okay, good. That saves me a lot of wondering.”

“And please remember that we’ve never done this before. So we don’t know how much effect it will have. It could be a lot or it could be little.”

“The people who gave you this technology… what precisely did they say to you?”

“Precisely what I’ve told you so far, though in different words. Remember, we’re not more technically advanced than your 2016 world… or we weren’t till some travelers stopped to help us.”

Just then, a sign for downtown Minneapolis came into view. Five miles. I looked at it and she followed my eyes to the same sign.

“You’re clear on what we’re doing here, yes?”

“Yes. I’ll get you near a good hotel, drop you someplace where I won’t be seen, and let you take care of your…”

“My death.”

“Yes. It’s just a hard thing for me to speak of it lightly.”

It was then that I realized how much I was coming to value this woman. She was my bridge to the larger universe, and she was a genuinely good person.

“Oh, I don’t think of it terribly lightly,” she said. “It will be very odd for me. But I am quite certain of how it will turn out. The advanced people who gave the technology to us convinced me of these things in a deeper way than I can share with you just now.”

I nodded my understanding and moved to the right lane, preparing to exit. Now was the time for careful action. I had gotten the information I needed from her and I’d remember it. I also realized that I’d want to take a few days to digest it all before I ventured back out into 1963 in hopes of improving it somehow.

But now I’d have to put on my mission mindset and get this done.

* * * * *

The biggest, oldest, and grandest hotel in Minneapolis appeared to be the Radisson. I circled the block and found an inconspicuous spot around the corner from its entrance. The sun was setting and foot traffic was thin.

“I’ll leave the bag of money here,” she said. “I’ve taken $100, which should be more than enough for a room.”

I nodded, feeling emotionally frozen even if mentally alert… an odd combination. She took a deep breath, getting herself ready to open the door and go.

And at that point I forced my emotions open and said, “Thank you for bringing me here. Whatever happens next, this is an opportunity beyond any I could have expected.”

“You’re most welcome,” she said, her eyes welling with tears for the first time… whereupon mine did as well. “I wish I could have spent more time with you. Perhaps we’ll have another opportunity in the future.”

“I’d like that,” I said.

“I need to go now,” she said. “I’m close to expiration already.”

“Go,” I said, “and thank you again.”

She got out of the car and headed for the corner.

I quickly but carefully looked around, scanning for anyone who might have noticed us together in the car. There didn’t seem to be any, so I drove a few blocks to a parking garage and pulled in. I found a discrete spot and took stock of my situation.

I was still wearing the coveralls from the morning, I had a bag of money, I had a good car that probably wouldn’t be noticed as stolen unless I alerted the police somehow… and I knew the future. Not the worst combination.

I took a few deep breaths, gathered the money and the men’s clothes I had bought earlier, and walked onto the quickly darkening streets of Minneapolis. The street lighting wasn’t nearly as bright as in my time.

I soon found a gas station with an outside restroom and changed clothes in it. I couldn’t pass as a businessman, but I looked respectable enough. I decided to save the coveralls and returned to the car to deposit them in the trunk.

While in the bathroom, I counted the money. It was only about $800. That was a lot of pocket money for 1963, but I’d have to think about work within a couple of weeks. There I was lucky: My electrical skills would transfer quite easily to North America in 1963, so finding a job wouldn’t be a problem.

As for improving the world, that would have to wait for a day or two. For now, I’d wait and make sure my friend’s plan went off. God forbid there was a problem, I would be ready.

* * * * *

On my walk toward the hotel I realized that I had shut off my emotions again but decided that it was probably best for now.

Soon enough I was standing on a street corner with a view of the hotel’s main entrance. I needed someplace from which to watch that entrance and still not draw attention to myself, and that meant a restaurant or a bar.

Once I thought about it, I realized that I was hungry, but I still didn’t want the restaurant option. It might be hours before I could be sure she was… finished with her process appeared in my mind rather than dead… and so I scanned the area carefully, finding a restaurant immediately next to me, then crossing the street to get a look at the storefronts across from the hotel.

Thankfully there was a bar in a good position.

Being a downtown bar, it looked clean and safe enough, and so I installed myself at the second seat from the window, with a good view of the hotel and with a baseball game on the radio… a rebroadcast of a day game if I’m not mistaken.

I ordered a beer and asked the bartender about food. He said he’d be sending someone out for burgers in half an hour. Knowing that I’d be drinking for a while – I’d need to, to fit in – I ordered a large burger and a large order of fries.

Over the next two hours I drank several beers, ate my burger and fries, and discussed baseball with the other patrons. It was surprisingly hard not to make references to ball players and games that I remembered but which hadn’t yet happened in 1963. I played a bit drunker than I was, just in case I slipped up.

At 11:30 PM a man who looked to be a doctor walked into the hotel. I had long finished my burger and had moved on to some kind of nuts, still sipping beers. There was nothing to do but wait. The bar was open till 4 AM, and I had to think this would be over by then.

At just past midnight, a car pulled up to the hotel and parked in a no-parking zone. The man who emerged from it and went into the hotel looked every inch a detective. I was becoming confident that she had finished her job.

At 12:21 AM, a station wagon with “Coroner” written on it pulled up and parked. I knew that was confirmation, but I decided to wait till the end and watch them pull her body out. I asked the bartender to take my last beer away and to give me both a water and a coffee.

At 1:20 AM, they wheeled her body out. The hour delay seemed senseless, but so it has always gone with officialdom. The body was covered, but it was clearly hers.

I waited till the coroner, the doctor, and the detective were all gone, sipped my water and coffee for another half hour or so and settled with the bartender. Then I headed back to the car, drunker than I liked but not so bad that I didn’t think I could drive. There was all but no traffic, and I tested myself several times as I walked. I was okay… maybe even 2016 legal, for whatever that was worth.

* * * * *

(Available now on Kindle)