Perdita hadn’t thought about a bullet that travels through time and space, and she wasn’t sure how she would manage to do what she needed to do. When she had hooked into the sphere before the horse people, she had talked to the woman inside and learned that there were repercussions of killing off all the versions of herself, but at the same time, it needed to happen all the same.
The research lab was humming with the machines as she and Liam had fired them up hours ago to start work on their different ideas. She, of course, had started work on how to stop Perdita Prime and those like her that were taking the light from people and consuming it for themselves while Liam announced he was going to figure out how to separate two timelines that had been pushed together. Both had their own reasons for doing what they were doing. She of course, if asked, would have admitted she still was doing everything to get to her daughter. And he, of course, was trying to bring his own family back.
As they worked, Amara would walk the perimeter with Autumn, tend the garden, and gather oranges. Autumn had told Amara that she didn’t have to bring her guns but if it made her feel better, she could. It was a bright sunny day when Amara needed to use her guns but not the bright sunny day that Autumn and she had a picnic out in the orchard while the two scientists worked away on things that they couldn’t grasp.
There was a blue checkered blanket laid out under the short trees with a bottle of wine, finger sandwiches, cheesecake, and glass bottles of seltzer water. They ate in silence listening to the nature around them as it grew and changed and continued, ignorant or uncaring of the humans sitting there. No matter the dimension, timeline, or existence, the cosmos moved as it did and will until the end of time, if there was such a thing.
“This is where I would take you when you came the first time,” Autumn said. “Back then I was a lot younger, your age, actually.”
“And how old was she,” Amara asked leaning back on her hands.
“The same age as you are now,” Autumn said. “Thirty-something.”
“That’s correct,” Amara smiled at her. “Thirty-something.”
“How many of us have passed through here,” Amara leaned forward. “Just curious.”
“I don’t it’s a good time to answer,” Autumn said. “Let’s just sit here and let me enjoy you as I remember us.”
“Us,” Amara said looking at Autumn.
“We were married under these trees,” Autumn smiled.
“Oh,” Amara went stiff. “I didn’t know we were a thing.”
“Well we aren’t,” Autumn said. “You’re another version of you.”
“I mean I do think you’re absolutely beautiful,” Amara said. “But I don’t know you.”
“And you are as beautiful as you ever were,” Autumn said. “And I know everything about you.”
“I doubt that,” Amara said.
Autumn took a deep breath and told Amara about all everything about her own life before she was contacted by Perdita Prime. Then she did something that Amara hadn’t wanted to talk about because she couldn’t have explained it to anyone. But Autumn told her about those numerous lives she had lived inside the machine, she talked about how she had lived and loved multiple times.
“But the one you loved most,” Autumn said as Amara tried not cry. “Was a woman named Kara Williams.”
“Yes,” Amara poured her wine glass full and downed it. “I still miss her.”
“You guys had a secret word,” Autumn said.
“Okay, stop,” Amara said as she cleared her throat.
“A word that you used because you believed the word wasn’t enough,” Autumn’s voice trembled.
“I can’t do this,” Amara tried to stand up, but Autumn grabbed her hand.
“Yuanfen,” Autumn said. She squeezed Amara’s wrist.
Amara’s legs went and she fell on the blanket and began to sob. Watching Kara die of cancer as she sat beside the bed helpless to do anything but to watch and kiss her goodbye came back to her and she hated it. She hated that that life had existed, and she had come from it knowing that she was still alive, but back there in that place.
“It was a good word,” Autumn wrapped her arms around Amara. “We picked a good word.”
“We?” Amara looked at her confused. “What do you mean we?”
“You came back and saved me,” Autumn smiled and pressed her forward against Amara’s.
“I did?” Amara looked into Autumn’s eyes.
It was her. It was Kara. It was the woman she had adopted children with, buried two dogs and bought a home. It was the woman that she had married under a forest canopy in Washington with all their family standing among the trees happy and crying.
“You,” Amara pressed into her.
“Me,” Autumn said.
“How long have you been here,” Amara asked. “How long have I been gone?”
“You brought me here thirty years ago,” Autumn said. “And you left a month after that.”
“Why?” Amara asked. “Why would I leave?”
“You left because you had to,” Autumn said.
She pulled her Amara’s had into her lap and played with her dreads while she wept and cried. They talked about their life in the machine together. Talked about all their friends that were left behind and what Autumn had done since then. They laughed and cried and kissed. The hour picnic lasted four, but the scientists didn’t miss them. The only time they noticed something strange is when Amara didn’t lay in one of the beds, but they didn’t think anything of it.
For the first time, since the machine, Amara felt whole again. She laid in bed watching as Autumn/Kelly brought in breakfast. The sun wasn’t out yet and the morning light had yet come. They had always woke before the sun and spent the first two hours of the day lying in bed eating slowly on their breakfast and talking about things they only wanted to talk about. It was her favorite time, watching old television shows and eating food until the sun came up or they fell back asleep.
It was home. It was everything that Amara had wanted in every single life she had ever lived. And she had it again. As she watched Autumn get up and pull on her linen clothes she decided right then and there that she would not leave Autumn again. Even if it meant the death of everything. She needed her and needed her for the remainder of her existence, no matter what.
She visited the lab later that day to see how Liam and Perdita were doing.
Liam was asleep sitting up in a chair. Perdita was standing at a table wiping her eyes. When Amara made it to her, she looked down and noticed she was staring at a picture of a young girl.
“Is that her?” Amara whispered.
“Yes,” Perdita said. “She was murdered.”
“By who?” Amara asked.
“My desperate government,” Perdita frowned.
“What did you do to them,” Amara said. “To make them pay?”
“I left,” Perdita said. “Doomed them to a doomed world.”
“Do you feel like that was enough?” Amara asked.
“No,” Perdita whispered. “I want to see them all die. Be the reason that they die. With my face on their lips.”
“Then why did you not go back and do it?” Amara asked.
“Because I’m not a fighter,” Perdita said. “I wouldn’t know exactly what to do.”
“You know exactly what to do,” Amara pointed to the machines.
Perdita looked around and wiped her eyes again. She looked down at the picture of her daughter, nodded once and walked over to an empty table and began talking to herself. Soon she was pouring chemicals and mixing things that she didn’t know anything about, so Amara walked back downstairs and did her daily chores with Autumn. The sun fell below the horizon and Liam came down for food. He ate in silence with them for a bit before putting down his fork and looking at Amara.
“What did you tell her,” he asked.
“What are you talking about?” Amara frowned.
“Perdita,” he said. “She’s making some kind of weapon.”
“She was making a weapon to begin with,” Amara said.
“But this one is different,” he frowned. “What did you say?”
“Something she needed to hear,” Perdita said as she drank down some orange juice.
“Violence isn’t always the answer,” he said.
“Violence is the only reason you’re here,” Amara said.
Liam didn’t say anything. He ate the rest of his food, thanked Autumn, and went to bed.
“She needs to settle this,” Amara said. “And only she can.”
“I know,” Autumn said. “She needs to let go so she can build.”
That night both slept, without explaining, with their clothes on. At three that morning there was a loud noise above them and Liam screaming. Amara and Autumn made it up the stairs and into the research lab with Perdita standing in front of them with a bullet wound in her leg. Her hair was wet and messed up, her clothes were burnt and torn. In her arms was an eight-year-old girl. Unconscious.
“You did it,” Amara said.
“I fucking did it,” Perdita slurred. “Now I have to save my daughter.”
They carried her to the fourth bed and laid her down. Autumn and Amara set up an IV and monitor that had been placed in the closet while Perdita and Liam rushed off to the lab. They began working with notes that she had taken from the lab.
Whatever it was that was wrong with the young girl, Ophelia, it was nothing Amara had ever heard or seen in her life. It looked like something that would have been made up in stories that she would have read late at night. The girl screamed and bled and thrashed uncontrollably.
Autumn did things and moved as if she had seen this before. Anticipated everything that was going to happen.
“Is she going to die?” Amara asked.
“The last time she didn’t make it,” Autumn said.
“What’s different this time?” Amara asked as she cleaned the vomit off the girl’s chin.
“You brought Liam,” Autumn said. “Last time it was you and Perdita.”
“And before that?” Amara asked. She didn’t know if there was a time before.
“Just you,” she said. “Perdita didn’t come with you.”
“How many times,” Amara whispered.
“Sixteen,” Autumn said. “You never stay longer than a month.”
Perdita comes charging into the room with syringe in her hand. Without saying anything she injected it into the IV and stood there staring. The girl’s color, within five minutes, returned. Her whimpering and muscle spasms started to calm down and her breathing slowed.
“We did it,” Perdita said as tears streamed down her face.
“You did most of it,” Liam said.
“How did you do it,” Amara asked. “What’s different?”
“Liam suggested that this wasn’t natural,” Perdita said. “That the government did this to her to get me to focus on the task. If she was gone I had nothing to worry over.”
“Was he right,” Amara asked.
“He was right,” Perdita nodded. “And they’re all dead.”
They stood there in the bedroom together. Liam put his hand on Perdita’s back in admiration, love, and loyalty. He had never seen anyone work as hard as she had to save her daughter that was no longer her daughter but was still her daughter. Perdita took her daughter’s hand, felt the warmth of Liam, and understood that this didn’t change anything in her plan. She knew now that Perdita Prime, if she found out that her daughter Ophelia was alive, she would come for her even harder.
Amara took Autumn’s hand feeling as if something was completed. That maybe they didn’t have to experience any more horrible things. The silence of the outside came in and laid a blanket over them. Every single person in the room felt a weight of relief was over them.
They gasped when Ophelia opened her eyes.
This was the time that all of them would ever feel that content and happy ever again.