The older Kent met her in the corridor when she went off shift. He motioned for silence, and then led her to the chamber room.
As the door closed behind them, he said. “I’ve got a special treat planned.”
Tara shook her head. “I have to get some rest. The general is coming tomorrow and I have to be prepared.”
“You will be. Trust me. We’ll only be gone a short while.”
She melted under his coaxing smile. She did trust him. She had to. He was the one with knowledge of the future. And it wasn’t hard at all to put aside her worries.
Seconds after Tara left to catch some sleep Kent felt his own energies sag.
“Jerry, I’m off to catch some zee’s. I’ll be back in a minute.” His assistant nodded.
He checked the settings, and noted that the capacitor bank was still charging. “One of me has been at it again, I see.” He checked his pocket logbook, but there was no entry there for this time. “In the future then.”
“I just hope I know what I’m doing.” He scribbled an entry into his notes and then vanished into the past.
Tara put down her pen and stuffed her notebook into the wide pocket of her lab coat. The sound of Kent Shaw talking to the general gave her time to touch up her hair and straighten her shoulders. She was on her feet to greet them.
“And this is the team.” Kent nodded to the group. “Dr. Tara Lassiter, Dr. William Welch, Dr. Jerry Nemecheck, and of course me, Dr. Kent Shaw.”
General Hershey did a double take when Kent introduced his other self. “I don’t understand.”
The other Kent explained, “I thought a demonstration would be in order before we got into the details.” He moved to the transfer chair and sat down. “I will be going back in time to meet you as you arrive.”
Kent waved from the chair, pressed the button and vanished.
“And an hour ago, I got out of the chair, went to the security station and awaited your arrival.”
The general was impressed. Tara shot Kent a warm supportive smile as they went on to the conference room. Unfortunately, that was the high point of the general’s visit.
For the next few hours, Kent seemed to be apologizing.
“No, I’m sorry General, but the practical range of the time travel is limited to the day we first put the transfer station on-line. We can’t go back before it was created.”
“I’m sorry if I gave you that impression, General Hershey. We have not demonstrated the ability to change past history.”
“While I agree, General, that a radio message seems like it would have no mass, and thus it might be possible to send a message back to change history, in practice it doesn’t work. Information alone could cause a paradox and that shuts down the transfer.”
The general’s face became sterner as the meeting progressed.
“It’s an issue of money. This facility, and even your electrical bill, isn’t cheap. I can’t continue funding something this expensive without a hint of a real-world practical use.
“But you say that you can make paradoxes with gas particles? I’ll extend your funding another month. Show me better results by then, or I will put this place in mothballs.”
Kent nodded, feeling a surge of relief.
The door opened, and another Kent Shaw entered. “I’ll escort you to your car, General.”
He watched the two men leave. That was a good idea. Let the last impression be as thought-provoking as the first.
Bill let out a long sigh. “Squeaked by again. I thought for sure we had lost the franchise.”
Jerry nodded. “Hershey didn’t like being told what he couldn’t do.”
“I had no doubts,” said Tara. “I knew we would be renewed.”
“Hmm. Why?” asked Kent.
She beamed at him, “Because of you.”
Jerry raised an eyebrow. Had he missed something in the past few mixed-up days.
She waved her hands, “You’ve brought something new into the world. It’s one of the great wish-fulfillments of all human history—go back in time! Even if we’re not immediately successful, just the hint that we might be able to change our past mistakes is too great a prize.”
He laughed. “I thought that way, seventy million dollars, and seven layers of bureaucracy ago. Several rounds of frowning overseers have dulled the excitement considerably. Still, it’s nice to hear someone say it.”
Kent looked at his partners. “For just a moment, the pressure is off. How about an off-site meeting—say some place to eat that’s not our cafeteria?”
There were smiles.
Tara pushed her chair back. “That’s perfect. The casino restaurant in Beatty isn’t too far. I’m dying for a steak. Give me a minute to get changed.” And she was out the door.
Bill nodded. “It appears the motion is approved.”
The security guard was another of the crisply uniformed people who nodded and offered clipboards to sign. Kent didn’t recognize him. He left the facility so infrequently that there was little interaction between the military keepers and the inmates.
Tara was bright-eyed and dressed in a flashy yellow dress. They only had to wait five minutes for her.
“Do you mind if we take two cars? I desperately need to make a shopping run to Las Vegas after we eat.”
Kent nodded. “Sure.” The Strip was only about a hundred and fifty miles away.
Tara invited him to drive with her. She smiled and glanced over at him several times as they made their way towards Highway 95, and civilian soil.
“Kent, I’ve got a question for you. I want you to think about it.”
It caught him completely by surprise. He had expected a technical question. But the pleasant tingle he had suppressed at working with a pretty young female came raging back to the surface.
“That’s crazy!” He laughed. “What? No dates, no build up, no romance. Is this some new kind of zen-matrimony? Don’t aim, just shoot?”
She laughed with him. “Something like that. But think about it. We’ve been in each other’s hair for far longer than many engagements. We’ve definitely seen the worst behaviors, the short fuses, and the grooming nightmares.
“Just think about all the pleasant surprises we would have waiting for us.”
Kent shook his head. “You don’t know me.”
“Yes I do. Trust me on this. I know a lot more about how you tick than you can possibly imagine. We would be great together. Marry me.”
His brain was in a skid. Caught unprepared, he couldn’t get any traction on the idea. Logic was out the window. The only clear thought he could put together was right in front of him—her face, smiling at him. He liked that image.
He shook, as an unexpected chill had come over him.
“Uh, okay. Yes. Why not?”
She took his hand and gave it a squeeze. He caressed its warmth. Maybe doubts would come, but they hadn’t arrived yet.
Together, they leaned closer for a kiss.
Loud horns dopplered in from the side. Kent only caught a glimpse of darkness before the eighteen-wheeler truck on Highway 95 clipped the driver’s side of Tara’s car and they went sailing off, rolling several times before coming to a stop in the desert dust.