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- Any Coincidence Is - 10/17 -


Uncle Justin wasn't answering the phone. He shot somebody, but there was no one there to have been shot. Rhonda, having flirted with all of the men in Tranquil, had started flirting with her. Seeing things that weren't there, or if they were there, things she didn't want to know anything about. Losing jobs, getting jobs. Being caught up in a world that she could barely make sense of, running by so quickly by that there was no chance to catch up. Concerns of that general nature were making it tempting to rip the phone from the wall and throw it through the sliding glass door.

She settled for slamming the receiver down. Cecil jumped and skittered away. Julia, for once, was going to make this a three cigarette day. And smoke indoors. She grabbed her purse and scrounged inside for the pack. Her old one was gone, but a new one, wrapped in a red ribbon, was in its place. Had to be from Rhonda.

"Oh great," Julia muttered. Do I take it or not? It's not exactly red roses or from someone I'd want roses from, so if I take them, am I sending a signal I don't want to send, or... The debate could have lasted longer -- on a better day, it would have, but this wasn't one of those days. She ripped open the pack, jammed a cigarette between her lips, and flicked her lighter.

As the flame touched the end of her cigarette, a hand smacked it from her mouth, sending it flying over Cecil's head and onto the couch. The cigarette suddenly burst into a small fireball, sending a cushion up with it. As Cecil sped off for the safety of the bedroom, Julia grabbed her least favorite throw pillow and beat it against the flames. Whoever had just appeared next to her tossed a flower vase full of water (and one white rose) onto the cushion. With a sizzle, the fire died, leaving a burn mark and a pathetic flower on the center of Julia's couch.

"Well, this is the end of a perfect day!" she yelled, turning to whoever it was who had just appeared.

"I told you smoking wasn't good for you," Uncle Justin said, scratching his armpit with a clipboard. Julia figured that the worst thing she could do right now would be to have a temper tantrum, but decided to throw one anyway.

"What -- is -- going -- on?!" she yelled.

Justin shook his head and motioned with his hand to calm down.

"Look, this is going to take some explaining. Let's sit down and -- no, I guess we can't sit there now, can we?"

"I can hear it standing up! First, you're in the hospital; then, you're not. You shot somebody, but you didn't, and then you break into my apartment just as -- "

"I didn't break in," he interrupted. "I just that second got here."

"Without opening the door?"

"Without opening the door."

Julia took a long look at her Uncle's face. He wasn't drunk, and he wasn't lying.

"OK, maybe I do need to sit down," she said, sitting on the carpet and pulling her knees to her face. Justin grunted as he managed to get his body to sit (and not fall) beside her. They waited in silence for a minute.

"So what's going on?" Julia asked.

"Something to do with this clipboard," Justin said, handing it to her. "Flip to the front."

Julia read through the directions concerning Uncle Justin and the outline of how Julia could be removed if necessary. Someone would slip her some knock-out cigarettes.

"Knock-out cigarettes?" she asked incredulously.

"Well, from what I've seen, this isn't the most intelligent conspiracy in the world."

"You'd at least think they'd check to see if their knock-out medicine was flammable."

"Probably alcohol based."

"Why not just slip me a mickey, then?"

"How much do you drink?"

"Hardly at all. Occasionally when I'm with -- "

"What?"

"Rhonda must be in on this."

"Are you still hanging out with her? She's bad news. Her family owned Tranquil's only brothel about eighty years ago, and --"

"No ancient history lessons, please," Julia said.

"Well it wasn't ancient to my grandfather, who -!"

"All right, pax, pax! Sorry for using that word. So how did you get in here?"

"That's the gray section, towards the end."

Julia flipped through and tried to read them. "This is worse than 'Finnegans Wake'."

"You don't know the half of it. But as I was reading that, I got blipped to Wildwood Park."

"Blipped?"

"Pinged. You know, there one second, gone the next. Zap! All the way from Arizona to Wisconsin!"

"That's what 'blipped' is. OK, so what were you doing in Wildwood Park?"

"Hard to say. I was reading this over, trying to remember all the math I knew ten years ago, thinking about how I used to come up with ideas for class while I walked Roosevelt, about how we used to walk through Wildwood Park on Sundays, how I used to sit on that bench across from the swings, and next thing you know, I'm sitting on that bench looking at the swings!"

"So, you're saying that if I went through these pages and thought of, say, Nova Scotia, you would have blipped there instead?"

"Sort of. It's a set of equations that tells you how to travel anywhere instantly. It took a few more tries to get it to work again, but in the last few minutes I've been over half the globe."

Julia closed her eyes so Uncle Justin wouldn't see her roll them.

He tapped her on the arm, and when she opened her eyes, he handed her a brochure in French.

"From the Louvre," he said.

"I thought they'd be closed by now," she muttered.

"They are," Justin replied.

"You realize the damage this will do the economy," she said, flinging her hands in the air in mock exasperation. "No more gasoline, cars, airlines --"

"I don't need sarcasm right now, Jule," Justin said. "I need some help. Now."

"So," Julia sighed, "my choices are: either accept the possibility that you may have done the impossible, or ostracize you like a kook along with the rest of humanity despite the evidence of my senses. Right?"

"I think," Justin said, "you've finally figured out how the world works."

22. The Plan "If life doesn't offer a game worth playing, then invent a new one." -- Anthony J. D'Angelo

Denny walked into the interrogation room to find Neoldner and Kurt giggling inside a cloud of smoke.

"Oh cripes," Denny muttered.

When they heard Denny in the doorway, they stopped moving, slowly turned toward him, and starting giggling again.

Denny clenched his fists and exhaled slowly. "OK, Neoldner, why don't you take five?"

Neoldner nodded in agreement and stepped into the hallway, giggling all the way out. Once he had left, Denny gave Kurt a quick stare, and suddenly, Kurt's giggling stopped.

"Whoa, what did you do?" he asked.

"I had to remove whatever it was you didn't inhale from your bloodstream," he said. His legs suddenly felt limp, and his steadied himself against the wall. "It takes something out of you to work that precisely." Slowly, he moved toward the other chair and sat down.

"When am I going to learn to do that?" Kurt asked.

"If we had a clipboard, we'd start ASAP, but we're kind of screwed right now. Forrester's taken, along with his copy; Justin Nelson has another. We were making more, but our copier ran out of toner."

Kurt pondered this for a moment.

"What kind of organization is this?"

"The shoe-string kind."


Any Coincidence Is - 10/17

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