Rain in July; ripping the heat from the day. It had become intolerable; its weight was too much. A bin lorry crashes and bangs; an uneasy, unwelcome, intrusion. Water clings to the surface; the ground baked hard like clay. The tarmac reeks; rising fumes intoxicating. A cleansing of the air was in order.
The Central European Plain was awash. We were taking an indirect route, aware that time was on our side, so to speak. We travelled light, keeping us mobile. Our every waking moment was uneasy, but we were beginning to settle in to the rhythm of our journey. Without our tethers to the future and its technology we were able to see far more of the lands we were travelling through. The further we got the less our presence seemed to be questioned, even if our tickets were obvious forgeries.
We spent a week exploring the back streets of Vienna before heading back to Berlin. This would be a perfect base before we moved in for the kill. We couldn’t risk getting too close to Switzerland too soon else our ripples might be felt. We had chosen to stay amongst the less documented parts of the population, away from the eyes of history and the records of nations. We were hiding in plain sight.
Plain sight is far from plain sailing, it must be said. While her copybook remained unblemished I had had several run ins with local law enforcement, and had only just managed to escape with my real identity intact. There was a tacit agreement between the creative and legal communities that there was nothing to be gained from bothering each other, so I was let go with a furrowed brow and a few words of German disdain. For the most part I kept to myself, surviving on occasional petty crime.
We had tracked down the physical location of the disturbance with relative ease, but its temporal location was proving more elusive. We understood that a future event was the epicentre of the shockwaves we had picked out and tracked backwards; we didn’t understand well enough when.
Waiting was all well and good, but we were never very good at it. Yes, we were both far happier being early for an event than merely on time, but potentially being several decades ahead of time would put even our patience to the test. We had to keep our heads down at the same time as gathering more information on what was about to happen. That’s a pretty tough circle to square.
The heat of the summer was driving us crazy and we were starting to get on each other’s’ nerves. For all we had lived together for many years, we only ever spent this quantity of time together on holiday. The aches, the pains, the inability to wash as frequently as one of us would rather; these were all building and building on the resentment we were identifying our new situation with.
We got in to an argument with a street performer we were sharing a squat with. He had claimed that we had stolen a bottle of wine from him, and he was looking to extract recompense in some rather exotic ways. In normal circumstances such an external threat would force us together, but not this time. Accusations were thrown and we turned on each other instead. The juggler had never had a bottle of wine, we later found out. He did liberate from us a loaf of bread we had stolen, however.
She cried when she saw a girl in the street who reminded her of what she had lost. She cried in her sleep and I hugged her tightly. The separation was always too much for her, but without any hope of resolution it was just poisoning her from the inside. What could we do in order to survive this?
I hung from a ledge under a bridge. Beneath me was a fast flowing river and a long drop to get to it. We had discovered that a bubble of time existed under this bridge and we wanted to take a closer look. We had crossed this bridge on foot twenty years in our future, and it looked older now than it had then. The whole city of Cologne wore a face of darkness and ill repute. This was not what we had expected to find. Had some mis-step of causality led to a new quantum reality? It was possible.
The bubble had a silvery sheen, and rippled faintly. I had climbed down two ribs from where I would need to be; I returned to the surface and repositioned myself. As I made it to the correct rib I heard a voice which made me think I was dreaming. I heard the three of us, in our home. I heard myself and shuddered, but most importantly I heard our daughter. And then a familiar face appeared.
I grabbed her before she could fall, and helped her to the surface. A pregnant woman in slippers had made her way to her own future’s past. It took a matter of seconds for her future counterpart to ask her if she could take her place. Both of them seemed vaguely satisfied with the result. I wasn’t sure.
We were not the only people on this bizarre “quest”, but the others differed from us in several key respects: We were the only ones who had been sent back in a couple, but not the only ones who had been thrown back in their own time lines; we were far from the only people who had lost someone, but the only people who had had their child taken away from them. We were the only ones who had had any direct contact with the fabled temporal bubbles. That made us celebrities in this world.
People questioned her – an eighteen year old girl in a forty year old woman’s body – about what it had been like. She talked of clouds and of sticky endless days. The world she had come from was on pause, but she sensed that that had come to an end with her journey. Her version of me had made a similar attempt to trick the bubble, but he was returned to his reset position. She had not been.
News spread like wildfire, and I realised our mistake too late. While we were awash with information and leads, our identities were becoming better known. That meant moving quickly. Switzerland here we come; earlier than anticipated, but with a far better idea of what we were going to do there.