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Rated: E · Other · Other · #1951287
Baker's Dozen summary
There was so much blood, spreading in an ever increasing crimson pool from under the body. People had begun to notice, screams filled the underground platform of the circle line, in the heart of London. An atmosphere of tantalised horror, of fearful shock, rose through the screech of brakes and the din of commuter noise. In this Ella Terence, newly emigrated Londoner, stood motionless, her eyes fixed on the dying man, her hands holding securely to the small box he had pushed at her in passing, not ten seconds before he had collapsed. Suddenly the sirens sounded. It seemed to Ella as if a sudden moment of utter inactivity followed, a moment in which all was frozen and then, with an inaudible pop, the world exploded. People were running, screaming, pushing this way and that. Ella was left to simply follow, allowing herself to be carried by the tide of humanity. There was something almost surreal about this. No bomb had gone off, no one was running amok with a machine gun - but in the age of terror alerts the bleeding man on the subway floor had been a precursor to mass panic. And shouldn’t he be? It was a life lost, a future snuffed out. Why not panic? Therese were the thoughts going through Ella’s mind as she followed along in the stream of people. And then, almost without warning, she found herself in the wide open, in the fresh air above. The masses dispersing - no police on site yet to corral and question.

Some strange wind had taken over Ella, some strange entity possessed her. She who was known as the capable one, the one always organised, always ready to make a decision, simply followed in the wake of the person before her, walking aimlessly. Her mind seemed to be unable to let go of the image of the dead man, his eyes fixed on hers as something left them irrevocably. Ella had no idea how long she would have followed the man before her, or had long she had done so, but as he turned into a building, Commerzbank, on her right; she was all of a sudden left rudderless. Only then did she feel the little box in her hand again, felt the sharp edges dig into her skin, so tightly was she holding on. Looking at it, realising she should have given it to the police, feeling the strange sticky substance at one corner and realising it was blood, almost pushed her over the edge. For a moment there, it was impossible to breathe.

She found herself sitting on the stone steps, huddled into herself, a kindly older woman asking her what was wrong. She simply shook her head and, this being London, the other woman took the hint and left her there. Slowly, the steel band around her chest which seemed intent on robbing her of all oxygen loosened. She looked at the box. It was a simple little box, cardboard not plastic, almost like one of the ones in the better, but ethically conscious, jewellery stores. And the box was looking back at her. There were two little silver dots, almost like eyes on the front. Instinctively, or without conscious thought at least, her fingers brushed over them and, with a light snick, the box opened.

The first thing Ella noticed was the smell, a fragrance of fresh cut grass and forest meadows, not artificial but more real than anything she had smelled before. It’s very alienness so starkly contrasting to the foggy London morning. What did it say about her that she never, ever, considered calling the police before running her nail under the little gap, pushing gently upwards. What she found surprised her. A ring, embedded in dark blue velvet, a silver ring, intricately woven, set with a large, foggy midnight-blue stone. She knew that kind of stone - a blue moonstone, though she had not known they existed in such a dark hue it almost bordered on black. It was breathtakingly beautiful. Her fingers reached for it, to stroke it? To try it on? She did not know, she simply knew she wanted to touch it. But before she could, her phone chimed its instant, gratingly cheerful Nokia tune. She was a lawyer, she never even considered not answering it.
“Ella Terence.”
Her voice was surprisingly even, surprisingly unaffected to her own ears.
“You hold something of mine.”
The voice which answered hers was not. It held the fury of volcanoes, the power of glaciers - and it was distinctly non-amused, and completely unknown to her.
“Who is this please?”
“Stay where you are. Do not move. Don’t talk to anyone. I will be there in twenty minutes, less if traffic allows.”
Then he hung up, without another word. She stared at her phone in astonishment, non-comprehending what had just occurred. Had she possibly imagined this bizarre phone call? How the hell did he even know a) what she was holding and b) where she was? And he expected her to stay here? No way! She was going to the police. Now.

Ella pulled herself to her feet, noticing with dismay the moisture which had soaked through her coat and skirt, leaving her uncomfortably cold. At least, the consoled herself as she pulled the coat from her shoulders, her black skirt was not showing it. With that, she picked up her briefcase and headed to the next taxi rank.

The taxi driver’s scathing look, or cab driver as they were called here, was humiliating, but only half as much as the innocent question she heard from the little girl passing on her nanny’s hand.
“Annie, that Lady peed her skirt.”
Well, the black of her skirt clearly did NOT hide the water stain. She cringed, embarrassment in every pore. It mattered little that the young asian looking woman shushed her adorable, shirley-temple charge, throwing Ella a sympathetic look. The predatory enjoyment only young children, before they have learnt to don the cloak of social acceptance to hide their vicarious thrills, could display openly, was all that was needed to put a lid on her day. There was no point in telling the girl she had simply sat on a wet stair after receiving a mysterious box from a stranger, who promptly had then died at her feet. No point at all to mention she had then been threatened by a stranger on the phone and her only desire now was to reach the police station. So, with a sigh, Ella stepped into the black cab and directed the driver to the nearest police station.

Almost immediately her phone rang again. For a moment she seriously considered ignoring the call. What if it was mystery-voice again? But she was too much a child of the modern age, unable to let a ringing communication device go, So under the wary eye of the driver, surrounded by the cheap scent of pine freshener, she answered:
“Ella Terence.”
“Miss Terence”
Emphasis in every letter, annoyance in every syllable. She knew this voice, she did - but for a second could not place it at all. Then, all of a sudden, enlightenment dawned.
“Mrs Dalrymple.”
Mrs Dalrymple, never Miss or even Ms, always Mrs Dalrymple, though Ella doubted there ever had been a Mr Dalrymple. Her landlady was a tall women, stiff as a poker, without the slightest sense of humour. She was what Ella supposed the harshest Dominatrix would become when she turned 97. And the sudden image, the old witch in revealing leather holding a whip, was bound to give her nightmares forever.
“Miss Terence. I thought we had an accord. No Pets.”
“Yes, Mrs Dalrymple. We do.”
“There is a cat, and kittens. Remove it.”
Horror dawned on Ella. Last night, as she was sitting all alone in the brown drabness of her 70s decorated room, far from home, in a city which seemed to consist entirely out of cold and fog, a quality which also seemed to describe its inhabitants, she had heard a pitiful cry outside. Her room was a cellar room, and as she opened the narrow window an immensely fat cat had tumbled into her domicile. The feline had been black and drenched to the bone, her body a shaking mess, almost immediately had rubbed in adoring manipulation against Ella’s legs, purring with all its might. So she had fed it; and dried it. And then, when the little tiger of the night had fallen asleep on the towel, she had simply left her there. This morning, well …. It had been hectic, she had overslept …
“Mrs Dalrymple. I can explain ..”
“Remove it within the hour or you will be looking for your possessions on the front lawn, Young Lady.”
And with that the phone went dead. In moment’s like these, Ella truly missed the old phones; the dramatic peeeep peeeep peeeep of another person hanging up on you. Such a waste of a good silence.

So, instead of the police station, she had to take a detour to her own dingy rooms. The cab driver was very happy to wait - for a fee. Hurrying along the winding path (Miss Terrence, we do not walk on the grass!!), to the dark grey flint of the back of the house (Miss Terrence, we always use the back entrance!!!), she was already desperately formulating her excuses. She needed this flat. London was so expensive, and she simply had no time to find another abode already. However, she was never given the opportunity to actually voice any of the words she had so anxiously formulates in her mind. As she reached for the heavy brown door, it swung open, to reveal a supremely unimpressed Mrs Dalrymple. Her tight grey skirt was creasing under the impatient tapping of her high half-boots, her tweed blazer military straight and her nose disdainfully in the air, she simply handed a covered straw basket to Ella - and closed the door with a decided snick. The message was clear: remove it.

Ella stood there, frozen, one hand holding onto the little box, the other holding a basket which seemed to mew gently. Tears threatened, suddenly the world seemed to be incredibly large and she herself felt small and lost in it. But it was not in Ella’s nature to give up, to break down - not as long as there was a job to be done. Carefully, she peeked into the basket and was met with a truly breathtaking sight. One cat and 13 little kittens.
“Mei, you have been busy!”
She said conversationally to the troublesome feline. Well, she would have to find a place for them - after she had seen the police. For ease of carrying she dropped the little box into the basket with its precious cargo.

By the time she reached the police station, tears threatened again. The cab driver had demanded an additional fee for the felines, leaving her virtually destitute until the end of the month, when her first salary was due. As she got out of the car she had promptly stepped into a deep puddle, ruining her best pair of shoes. And then, as she stood before a disinterested policeman, who rather than turning to her was solving a sudoku, she realised she had forgotten her coat in the car.
Abruptly everything was too much for her. She began to sob, finally drawing the uniforms attention.
“He died, and he gave me the box and now I have 14 cats and I lost my coat…”
She was incoherent in her tearful outbreak. It took the poor man a while to make sense of all she said - but when he did he simply, practically, asked:
“Well then, where is the ring?”
Ella lifted the lid of the basket to show him. There were 13 kittens in there, an open box - and a very smug mother cat. The only thing Ella could say was:
“The cat ate it.”

Ella could feel the red tightness of the tear-wracked skin of her face. Some women might be pretty when they cried - she was not one of them. Who could blame her though? It was barely noon and she had already seen a man die at her feet, acquired a cat and 13 kittens, and, when trying to report the murder to the police, had realised that one of the main pieces of evidence, a ring, had been eaten by the aforementioned cat. And now she was standing in front of the police station, a basket full of kittens at her feet, smoking a cigarette when she had sworn to herself six months ago never to touch them again. Had she mentioned that the same morning had cost her all her disposable income for this month? Could the day get any worse? Apparently this question was tantamount to a challenge to the Goddess of Luck, for at this moment she heard a voice through the slightly ajar door to the police station behind her:
“Sergeant, where is the young lady? The one with the cats. There was just a call from higher up - apparently she is wanted for murder. Some guy at the subway.”
It would have been wrong to say that terror took hold of Ella, utterly incorrect to assume she was mired in shock. She had no time for either emotion - something hardwired in her: she grabbed the basket at her feet and ran before the last syllable had even died down. When they would ask her later why she had done so, rather than face questioning, she would say she had no idea. It was an instinctive reaction. Without a coat or even her computer bag, which she had left inside the building, wearing high heels - she ran.

In school she had been a good runner, in university she had only gotten better, regularly competing in pentathlon and running marathons. Instead of being a torture, the feeling off the even surface of the road, the regular sound of steps, the rhythm of her breathing all combined to give her back some modicum of rationality and control. By the time she had recollected her thoughts, had truly realised what she had done, she had reached the park. Out of breath, she let herself fall to a bench, shaking, finally frightened. What was going on? The basket was ominously quiet but before she could reach for it to check on its occupants, it rang. For a moment she was frozen in shock, then, in an epiphany worthy of a brow slap, she realised she had simply dropped her phone into it when she had checked her messages earlier. Poor cats.

Twenty-eight unimpressed eyes glared at her as she fished the vibrating little machine from its cozy, fluffy nest.
“Ella Terrence.”
“Check under the bench.”
The voice was cold, hard and utterly without inflection. Automatically, her eyes flickered to the right and she saw the white edge of a plastic bag, peeking out from just underneath the bench. Ella always had had two things in common with cats, curiosity and the future likelihood to be killed by it. So, even as she snarled into the phone, she grabbed the bag’s edge and upended it.
“Who are you? How the hell did you get this number?”
“Not important. Do you see the cheque book?”
Which cheque book? But as the voice said the words she saw it poking from under what seemed to be a coat. As she opened it a credit card fell out. Both the cheques and the cards were made out in her name - but not to her account.
“That is not my cheque book!”
She was not even entirely sure why she stated the obvious, other than that her mouth overtook her mind. Obviously, he knew that.
“No? Well, then you better return it. Go to the address on the card.”
Finally, anger came to her rescue.
“What is going on? Who are you? And who do you think I am? ”
It wasn’t quiet a shout, but only because the fury in her made it hard to speak.
“Miss Terrence, Do you want to live?”
“Oh please, have I suddenly taken a role in some spy drama?”
Snark, the eternal defence of the brazen and confused.
“Miss Terence.” Now he enunciated every word with deliberation. “Do. You. Want. To. Live?”
“That was my plan, yes.”
“Then come to the address. Do not return home. Do not speak to the police.”

She could hear, he was about to hang up, but there was one more question she needed and answer for:
“Who killed the man this morning? You?”
“No, Miss Terrence. You did”
Then there was silence at the other end. Her hand fell to her lap, the phone still in her hand. On the bench, she saw the card and read the blood red letters:
Palazzo Gregaria
Via Capella
One of the little kitten, an adorable little scamp in a black and white fur-tuxedo, had managed to extricate himself from his siblings and had climbed the rim of the basket. He mewed, showing her his sharp little teeth.
“Well, it looks like we are going to Italy.”
She said to no one in particular, or possibly, to the little scamp.

“You know what, until that day last week I had always said to everyone: “Bah! I don't believe in that whole Friday the 13th scary stuff. It's just a bunch a nonsense,"
The Taxi driver seemed blithely unaware of the exhausted discomfort weighing down his passenger as he argued on. “Until that day, I always thought it a bucket full of codswallop. But you should have seen that woman, blood everywhere. And the child. Unbelievable. There wasn’t enough left of her to even know how she looked, the little mite. Her mother was holding her screaming. You are looking a little like the young woman, same blonde hair. Such a pity, such a tragedy”

Ella was ignoring the man completely, too tired to care. After two days of travel, almost 24 hours of which she had spent in a range of trains, one after the other, she had finally arrived in Florence. In her possession only a credit card and cheque book with her name but not her account, a coat two sizes too large and a basket full of thirteen kittens in need of a home. She had left the station handing the card with the address she was headed for to the first taxi in sight, gotten in and had hoped the man was not an axe murderer, but realistically had reached a stage too tired to care. As it turned out he might simply talk her to death with the horror stories he was willing to impart to her regarding her destination, an old palazzo at the outskirts of the old town. He had asked her three times if she was sure she wanted to go there and asked her again when she got out. Looking up at the old stone building she was almost tempted to say no. A long winding path traversed a derelict garden, the hedges overgrown, the large tree on the right dead and bare. But the most ominous presence seemed to be the two large stone angels guarding the entrance, swords held high, faces forbidding. As Ella’s feet carried her along the stone plates towards the heavy wooden door, the detritus of autumn crunched under her shoes. It was eerily quiet, a silence as if even nature was holding its breath, permeating the garden. Ella felt as if she had stepped into a bubble in time and space.

Under the forbidding gaze of the two stone angels she reached for the heavy door knocker but the door opened as if on its own before she could even touch the ornate brass lion’s head. There was a dim darkness in the room before her in which not even the light coming from the open door seemed to make much of a difference.
She called, but no answer was forthcoming. Gingerly she stepped forward, only daring to enter by the smallest degree. The room was large, a foyer of some kind, two winding staircases leading on each side to the upper floors. On her right a door opened to a salon, furniture covered with large white sheets, evidence of the abandonment of the house. The draft from the door caught in the chandelier over her head and an eery twinkle filled the otherwise silent house. She would have liked to think it was truly abandoned, empty, without any reason to remain but in the dust before her were the distinct signs of life, the imprint of footsteps. Ella took a deep breath and stepped further into the room.

There were piles of dead leaves and little mountains of accumulated dirt everywhere, on second glance she realised that some of them consisted of the dead bodies of small animals, birds and rodents alike. In an almost detached manner she realised that they must be quite fresh still for the odour of the house was only that of a decaying building, not of rotting flesh. As Ella neared the back of the room, a large archway leading deeper into the house, she began to hear the wavering strands of music, a peculiar sound, its lure in its familiarity. She recognised her favourite song, the Dire Straits’s Romeo and Juliet. She followed the sound down the dark hallway, avoiding debris and dirt, noticing that the footsteps in the dust leaded this way too. They were small and dainty, such as were made by little patent shoes. At the end, she saw a sliver of light under the door, flickering and warm as only firelight can be. The music had increased in volume steadily as she neared. She knew she should have left, knew it would have been smart to never come here. A strange terror had taken hold of her, was constricting her airways, and still she had to reach for the doorknob, had to open this door.

A little girl stood in a room full of light, her white princess dress a work of art, her blonde hair in ringlets. A red sash was forming a bow at her waist and she was wearing red patent shoes. The little girl’s hands were stained with blood, the carcass of a rat at her feet, another held in her hand. At the noise from the door she turned her head and Ella suddenly looked into eyes of brilliant green, eyes so much like her own. She child smiled.
“Hello, Mami.”
She did not know this child, had never met her - but looking at that face, a miniature copy of her own, it was hard to deny the familial link. And there was something in her, some strange quality, a little thread, suddenly awoken, linking her to this child. The overwhelming love rising in her almost choked her. The little girl raised the hand holding the dead rat towards her, as if in offer:
“Mami, do you want it? It is my birthday present but I will share now you are here. Daddy said you would be arriving today.”
Ella was frozen in face of this child, the horror and wonder, the surreal quality of it all leaving her mind utterly blank, unable to answer the expectant child, unable even to decide if this all was dream or reality.

“Anna, Sweetheart, you know your mother prefers her food cooked. Be a good girl and finish your dinner. I need to speak with your mother first.”
The voice was decadent, deep and melodious, and coming from just behind her right shoulder. It did not surprise her - nothing really could anymore, not in face of this child, her child, there before her very eyes.
“Ella, please.”
A hand took her arm, tried to pull her back, but it was impossible to move, to step away from the sight of Anna. But the hand was insistent, drew her back into the dim darkness of the hallway and closed the door on the sight of the little girl returning to her meal of dead rodent. Robbed of her fix point Ella could finally turn to the man’s whose voice had been just as instinctually familiar as the sight of the little girl. All of a sudden they were surrounded by the suffocating darkness of the hallway, the ony light coming from the dirt encrusted window in what seemed to be a study to their right.
“Who is she?”
It still seemed the most pertinent question in the matter. Her eyes tried to penetrate the dark shadows as she asked the question, to make out the shape of the man, but the darkness held its secrets well. She could only make out a vague humanoid shape, taller than her by a good twenty centimetres, a brighter hue hinting at light, very light hair.
“She is your daughter.”
But she did know it was true.
His tone remained calm, collected to a fault, a studied attempt to soothe her. It only made her angry.
“I have never given birth to a child.”
“No, you have not - and she still is your child. She still was born from your body, and mine, five years ago on this day”

Her hands balled at her side, confusion, terror, and a strange joy making it impossible for her to collect her thoughts for a moment. He simply waited patiently. Finally, she was able to ask the one question her rational mind demanded, though she was afraid she knew the answer to it already.
“Is this a dream?”
“No. It is not a dream, or a fantasy. It is reality - of a kind.”
“Of a kind?” she asked exasperated.
“Who - No. What is she? She is not just a child.”
There had been something different, almost otherworldly, about this child - aside from her penchant of eating small rodents, that is. He was quiet for the first time and she sensed a hesitation, an uncertainty about him. Was he wondering how to go on? What to tell her? How to lie to her? Her voice was harsher than intended as she ordered him:
“Just tell me!”
“She is just a child. She just,” Here he paused again, hesitating, searching for words. “She just is not entirely human.”
“What does that mean?”
Ella wanted to laugh, wanted to call him a fool, a lier - but she had seen the child, had seen its human face so resembling her own, and she had seen the sharp pointed teeth. Those were not the teeth of a human - these teeth would have been more at home in the mouth of a predator, of a big cat, a leopard possibly.

His hand shot out, grabbed her wrist and pulled her into the room to their right. Under the dirty light from the broken window she saw him for the first time, saw the slitted pupils of his yellow eyes, the delicate tip of his ears and the wings, black and large, a bat’s wigs, glorious and breath-taking. He should have been frightening, should have terrified her, disgusted her - but there was enough of her daughter in him to fascinate. Instinctively her hand reached, stroked over the brittle looking edge of the one wing, felt the warm silk of the stretched skin. He shuddered under her touch, something akin a purr filling the room.
“How? What?”
She was not even sure which question she was asking. How was he possible? How was that child possible? What was happening?
“Because if we cannot safe her our daughter will cease to be.”

In some rational part of her mind Ella was surprised by the visceral terror, the icy tendrils of bone-chilling fear, penetrating her every pore. She had only just discovered the existence of a daughter, was not even sure she truly believed in the claim and still a potential threat to the newly discovered child terrified her immeasurably.
“What do you mean? If we do not safe her.”
The man, the creature, who claimed to be the father of the little five year old, the man she did not remember at all, wings and pointed ears, this man simply looked at her out of calm, alien yellow-slitted eyes.
“If we do not safe her then you will slaughter our child three weeks ago.”
Ella could not even process the second part of the sentence, so overwhelmed was she by the first.
The fear at the thought of a danger to Anna, to that strange little child, rose, mutated into uncomprehending panic. She stumbled backwards, away from this horror figure who resembled on of Dante’s demons, away from the confusing reality shattering all she knew. He tried to reach for her, his strong, elegant hands outstretched, his voice soothing - it only panicked her more.
“Shh, Ella. Clam down. There is no need to be frightened - we have all the time we need to change the situation.”
She did not listen, she needed to get away, simply away from all this craziness. The air of gentle decay suffusing the derelict old mansion had become a weight, molasses imprisoning her. The dust shimmering in the dim light from the broken window, spiderwebs ensnaring her. She had made it to the door when arms came around her, caught her and pulled her back against a warm chest.
“Ella, listen. Stop this. Just listen for … umph.”
Her elbow connected painfully with the hard plain of his stomach. The move, which left her own arm singing, barely seemed to impact him, his arms just closing more tightly. For a moment there, she went crazy. She fought, and kicked, even tried to bite him like a maniac. To no avail, he merely held on tightly, caught her wrists in his hands and immobilised her, pulled her back deeper into the room. She tried to break his grip, tried to simply let herself fall to the floor as she had been taught in self-defence when an assailant was dragging you, but he was easily able to lift her. In the end Ella found herself kneeling on the floor in his arms, her face pressed into his shoulder, as he rocked her. The scent of wild forests and high mountains emanating from him finally broke through her panic.

His arms loosened tentatively, carefully, as he felt her calm returning. Ella was still trembling, her mind still flickering between the inexplicable emotions, confused and shaken to the core, when he loosened his grip around her wrists and handed her a mirror. Automatically, confused and surprised she took the heavily ornate round her eyes finding her own reflection. She looked less disheveled than she had thought.
“Do you have the ring?”
Asked her reflection in a tense and anxious voice. Ella’s eyes jumped to those of the man besides her.
“I cannot see what you see?”
The question was becoming almost habitual.
“It is a magic mirror - the communication is intended for only you and therefore I will not know what is being said.”
She stared at him. Ella had no idea why, after rodent devouring children and winged men she would consider a magic mirror as the height of the outrageous - but she did.
“A magic mirror?”
Sarcasm dripped from her question and his lips twitched; but before he could answer her own voice sounded from the looking-glass again and she was not amused.

Ella seriously considered not answering the strange chimera on the glass but before she truly could make that decision the apparition caught her attention:
“In the house you lived in when you were five there was a loose floorboard. You hid candy there and never admitted to your mother the reason for the ants coming in.”
No one knew this. She had never told anyone.
“Yes, I have the ring.”
It was disconcerting to see the deep relief on her own face on the mirror, to hear the deep sigh.
“What is that ring?”
By now she truly wanted an answer.
“It is a temporal fix point.”
When she still looked uncomprehending mirror-Ella simply waved her off.
“Not important, Teren can explain that. What you need to know is that you will need it to safe Anna, and possibly humanity. I don’t have any more time. You need to listen to Teren.”
And suddenly the mirror went blank, before showing her a countenance still her own but a lot more dishevelled.
“So, I assume you are Teren?”
Finally her bran had given up on surprise and was going with stunned pragmatism. The bow he gave her was impressively elegant for a man on his knees.

“Alright, Teren. What the hell is going on?”
At her terse question she saw a smile flash, before he sobered again. He was still holding her hand but as she tried to pull it back his fingers simply tightened. Her eyes narrowed but he simply began to explain.
“What do you know about time?”
She glared at him some more.
“At every point in time there are million possible paths to take, all existing at the same time. When you chose a particular action, you close of those other time-streams for the person, the world, who has made the decision. At least that is how it works for humans. The Krell, my people, are not bound by time as you know it. But we played with forces we did not understand - and changed both our and humanity’s existence irrevocably.”

“What do you know about time?”
She glared at him some more.
“At every point in time there are million possible paths to take, all existing at the same time. When you chose a particular action, you close of those other time-streams for the person, the world, who has made the decision. At least that is how it works for humans. The Krell, my people, are not bound by time as you know it. But we played with forces we did not understand - and changed both our and humanity’s existence irrevocably.”
“A corollary to Bohr’s view of the Schroedinger principle. But it makes no logical sense. It would mean that at any time there are millions of me.”
“More than that actually.”
“So every time I sneeze another me comes to be?”
“No, a sneeze rarely changes who you are - but the decision to come here, for example, did.”
“So there are now two of me - one who came and one who did not.”
“Yes, and when you made the decision you separated the time streams.”
It was too preposterous, too alien to believe even for Ella.
“So you have had a daughter with many of these mes?”
“No, there is only one I.”
“But…. many mes. That makes then no sense.”
“It does if time is not linear for my race.”
“Nothing exists outside time - as shown by Immanuel Kant.”
His hand was lightening fast as it spanned her wrist, took hold and then suddenly, only for a second, the world went blank. In the next moment she was standing on a high gallery overlooking a large, ornate hall.

“Where are we?”
She was stunned. Through the intricate pattern of holes in the panelling which hid the upper gallery from the hall she could see enough to know he was right. She recognised this place, those tall arch-forming columns, the rich gold ornamented stucco, the glass ceiling over the vault. This was the battles gallery in Versailles. In wonder her hands found the smooth polish of the wood panelling. Full of curiosity she leant against the wood in the secure knowledge no one from below would be able to see her up here. It was breathtaking - almost literally. The first thing she noticed was the smell - not a stench as she had always supposed history would produce, but a smell of organic life, more earthy, more substantial than anything in the modern time.

Suddenly, loud fanfares sounded, making her jump in surprise. What had been a confusing mass of colours crystallised out into two separate groups of humans lining a large central arcade. Ella was utterly mesmerised, enough so that the sudden surreality of having entered another time paled. She had had a rational appreciation of fashions and customs of the Period of Classicism - but not to the extent that her mind would have been able to picture this. She had never seem more intricate, more beautiful, or more whimsical, dresses or hairstyles. The wide hoop skirts in brilliant colours were decorated with ribbons and sashes, necessitating their wearers often to go sideways to avoid each other, or a fit through a door. Almost exclusively the hairstyles were wigs, identifiably by the intricate styles regarding height and breadth.

A flash in her peripheral vision appeared. Little negro boys in turbans throwing rose petals and behind them she heard the sound of hooves on marble. Suddenly she knew what day this was, or at least which year. 1715. The reception of the Ambassador of Persia, Mehemet Riza, in Versailles. The treaties negotiated here would have set the foundation for France’s enduring wealth but much had gone wrong, much had been left undone. The king, the Sun King himself, was blamed by history in large part for the near failure of this mission. He dithered, out of some reason refusing to meet with the Ambassador for many months and even insulted him by not attending certain official functions. Louis XIV had been many things, vain, manipulative, arrogant - but he had been exceedingly clever and surprisingly attentive to trade. His inattention for the Ambassador of Persia had been noted as unusual by historians, normally attributed to the waning health of the monarch, who would die aged seventy-seven this very year.

“A pretty sight, is it not?”
A voice, rough from age and tiredness spoke besides. She had felt the presence step up besides her but had assume it to be her companion, now she realised her error. The man was old, of medium height, his head covered by a modest brown wig, his clothes of finest cloth in a dark blue matching his eyes. She recognised that face, recognised it from many paintings across many galleries.
She acknowledged.
“So, you are the young woman in whose hands our future rests?”
She did not know what to say to this, did not know enough.
“I am not sure I know how to.”
The king around his mouth, covered in a thick layer of power, stretched in a smile.
“No one ever does until they try.”
Louis XIV chuckled drily before turning back to the spectacle below.”

For a long moment they remained quiet. Then the king spoke again:
“If I go down there we will trade with Persia exclusively, if I do not we lose an opportunity, and as your friend here says gain a future dependent on your actions. What do you advice me to do, young Lady.”
“Sire, I do not even know what this is about, or what I should do. I have spent the last three days running all across Europe carrying a basket full of cats.”
Those piercing blue eyes found hers, held for a long moment, then a cough broke their contact. When the king could breathe again he bowed to her deeply, then repeated a shallower one to her companion before turning to a door Ella had not realised existed.
“I have always had a weakness for the power of woman”
He left, and the ambassador would find himself without an opportunity to see the Sun-king once again.

Ella turned back to her companion.
"He knew you."
"He did."
The assent was measured.
"Why does he think I will safe humanity?"
Those alien eyes were sad, lost as he looked at her.
"Because I broke time to safe our daughter - and only you can set it straight."
Time again.

“So, what do we do now?”
She looked at him as if he had all the answers in the world at his fingertips, this woman who held his heart, who he knew better than he knew himself - and who had no memory of him. It broke his heart. Before this all was over he had to gain her trust and then betray her in the worst way possible. He looked into her large brown eyes, into his world and felt love choking him. At least he would be able to give her tonight.
“Attend a party?”
Utter disbelief on her face as she laughed. She clearly thought him to be in jest.
“Come on.”
He dared to reach for her hand. Such an innocent gesture, shared uncountable times - before. Now she shied back instinctively, the automatic reaction of a stranger to an invasion into their personal space. It hurt, more than it should, more than he could understand, almost more than he could bear. But what had he expected. They were caught in a strange minuet of surreality in which only he knew the steps but he had one advantage, held one ace in his hand: if you were cautious, if you were clever there is no path quicker to a human’s heart, their trust, than through the vulnerability of sexual pleasure. So when she shied from his touch he stepped in closer, invaded her space now intentionally, caged her against the panelling behind. Her pupils dilated and he saw wariness, not fear but a beautiful expectant apprehension heightening her senses, turning all her attention onto him. She was his, if in this time-line or any other, and he had learnt to play with his toys very well.
“Do you know what is celebrated here? Today is Samhain and the true celebration of summer is down at the Chateau of Trianon, along the beach surrounding the lake. Let me take you there.”
“We cannot, Teren. We don’t have the time.”
It made him laugh - there were a thousand objections she could have brought but she chose the one of no importance for a being not bound by linear time streams. He grinned, saw her eyes drop to his mouth.
“We have all the time in the world.”

He pulled her into the colourful throng, a simple glamour hiding their differences to the eyes of the 18th century humans. Versailles in 1715 was the perfect place for a slow seduction. Among the hedonism and joy, the assignations and machinations, he gentled her to his caress with innocent little touches, undermined her wariness with laughter and wine. He had always loved Trianon in summer, loved the lake, the village, and that little pagoda, away from the hustle and bustle of the celebration, loved the soft fabrics and summer night air, loved the vagueness in her eyes, the heat as he pulled her close. His lips found the sensitive skin of her neck, felt her arch in his arms, as he knew she would. His hand caught her face, tenderly presented her for his kiss and in her eyes he saw the knowledge of what was about to come before his lips even descended. She met him on equal terms, not as prey but as a partner.

Her taste, so familiar and still so new, became the match to the kindling of his desire. Suddenly he could not get enough of her and what had been intended as a tender courting turned into a ravenous consumption of all she gave him. Only when he felt even her breath match his did he let her go. She stumbled back, panting, those huge eyes full of heat and shock.
“You are married.”
She accused him.
“I am - to you.”
“Not in this timeline.”
He stalked towards her, matching each of her retreating steps with one of his. When she stumbled and went down on the settee, he followed her bracketing her underneath his body.
“You are mine. No matter what time or place. And if you have forgotten that, then I will have to remind you.”
Her eyes burnt with heat, passion and anger to equal measure - but lacking that undefined quality of wariness which had defined her since he had found her again. Then it was him who was taken by surprise. In one quick movement she stripped her tube dress from her body. She was magnificent. Every time anew he loved those long lines, the soft skin. Like a starving man he fell on the vision before him.

Hours of touches, of taste and scent, of the sensation of her body underneath his. His teeth found her neck, found that place where a bite would draw a moan. Her breasts fit seamless into his hands, his mouth a well known heat engulfing her nipples. Her body had lost its composure, its tightly controlled calm. Her movements becoming restless under him. As she reached for him her caught her wrists, caught and held them. The whine coming from her lips was intoxicating in its own right. His fingers found her heat, circled her entrance spreading her moisture, before pushing deep. She was tight and hot, the mere thought of burying himself there bringing him close to orgasm - but he wanted her screams first.
It was demand and entreaty at once, caught by a moan as his thumb found her clitoris to play with. With every pass he drew another whine, the muscles of her channel clenching in time with his movements. Suddenly he paused, withdrew his fingers, his thumb hovering just over the sensitive nub. He stopped and paused until all her attention returned to him, until her body tingled with tension and she tried to lift her hips to increase the pressure, to finish what he had started. When he had her just where he wanted her, he sheathed himself in one powerful move and watched how her orgasm took her, forced away the world and delivered her into his keeping alone.

Thirteen days later Ella sat on the cheap polyester of a hotel bland bedspread and took a moment to simply collect her thoughts, something for which she had rarely found the time in those says. Instead she had spend them in a flight from forces she could not even understand. Well, she understood the men with guns, just not why they were following her. One moment she had been in Teren’s arms, the next he had bundled her into her clothes, told her urgently:
“You need the ring. Get the ring and go to the university. Don’t trust anyone else. Not if you want to save Anna.”
Then she had been shoved through time. It seemed to be the best way to describe the sensation. One moment she had stood in the Versailles of 1715, the next she had found herself at a street corner in Florence, her dress buttoned wrong, her feet bare. She had no phone, no money and no Italian vocabulary at hand and, to boot, the digital clock over the pharmacy across the street told her it was 3 o’clock in the morning. But she recognised the street name below, recognised the surrounding and knew her destination to be around the corner. The house was as she had left it the day before, old, dilapidated and abandoned. It was also empty. There was no child, no room full of light, not even a single dead rodent carcass. But in the little side room she found her basket, thirteen kittens, their reproachful mother cat and the box containing the ring, as if she had never left. For a moment there she thought herself as if in a dream, in the darkness of the room, the quiet of the house. Exhausted and utterly lost Ella curled up on the dusty settee, too tired to care about the dirt, the cold or even the audible sound of rustle under the floor boards. The only thought she managed to muster was to close the door partway behind her and to pull the basket of kittens to rest close besides her.

The morning light dawned too soon and she woke to the dust motes dancing in the first rays of brilliant sun. She was just feeding the cat when she hears footsteps, slow and halting, along the hallway as if someone was carefully shuffling along. As they came closer she was able to identify a second set out in the lobby. Ella did not know why she was not calling out, why she suddenly froze but something warned her. The man, for it definitely was a male tread, first pushed open the door to the room across and then halted before her room. There was silence for a few seconds and she could hear him breathe. Then a voice called:
“Lucio, have you found anything?”
The voice was full of gravel and demanding.
“Nothing. The bitch is not here.”
Ella jerked as the man before her door answered, slurring the words slightly as if he were drunk already this early in the day.
“Andiamo.” Let’s go. “Possibly the others will have found her. She won’t get past us if she tried to leave the city. We have a good two weeks before we have to have buried her.There are enough of us to find her in half that time.”
She heard a snick as if a flick knife closed and then he left. She remained, trembling and confused, kneeling on the floor besides the basket full of cats.

Since then she had tried to reach the university almost every day but each time she came close to one of the three in town she thought she recognised the voice of one of the men - or felt the cold sting of eyes in her back. Twice she was almost caught by two strangers as she tried to leave the city by train. If she stayed in the same hotel for more than a few hours she would invariably feel a strange restlessness rise, feel almost physically ill until she left. In various instances she did so just as she saw one or more of the men she began to recognise as her followers enter. Everyone had become an enemy, she had no idea anymore who to trust. And still she did not know why her life was in danger.

She reached for her phone, hesitated. Over the last thirteen days she had been taking it out again and again, this one picture she had of her child, snapped with the camera of her iPhone, and each time she had been too scared, too lost to actually call up the image. Today again, she sat there, her finger poised over the sleek plastic of the button. All around her little children were laughing, screaming dancing. The little birthday boy was excitedly jumping up and down in front of his cake. She had no idea how exactly she had had ended up in this place. This morning she had left her latest hotel and simply wandered through the streets of Firenze, the ever increasing heat of the day burning down on her. Twice she had sat down in a cafe for a cold drink and at noon she had bought a sandwich close to the Duomo. It was late afternoon when she had seen the sign for a Bed and Breakfast and had decided to spend the night there. Rationally she knew it was too early to settle down, too early because in the last ten days the men had found her whenever she stayed more than eight hours at the same place. But she had though she had reached the time to simply give up. She was tired.

Then she had walked into the little family run establishment, into the warm mediterranean colours and the noise of the birthday party, and had been caught. The mother of the family had taken one look at her and made her sit down at the table, a glass of warm milk in her hand. The little boy had shyly brought her some cake and that was it, suddenly she was part of the celebration even though she did not even speak the language. Laughter filled the room, the little boy’s white teeth a brilliant flash in a suntanned face. It was that smile, that glance of childish happiness which made Ella press that button, let her pull up the photo of the child she did not remember, her child. That little girl she had only met two weeks ago.

It took the phone a surprising amount of time to load the picture, every second passing like molasses. Then the pixels cleared and Ella stared stunned at the screen. There was the dilapidated room, the sunlight through the broken window, the rodent carcass on the floor. And in the middle, where she had focused the lens, where she had taken the picture of a little girls in a white dress and red sash - there was nothing. Not even an outline of a figure. Simply an empty room. The image blurred before her eyes, tears filling, overflowing, teardrops catching at her lashes. A shadow moved besides her and through the fog of her tears she saw a man take a seat across from her. A tissue appeared in front of her.

She had never seen this man before, his suit well-cut and neat, his hair a bland brown. His looks were entirely unremarkable - until one met his eyes. She knew these eyes. Yellow and slitted. Teren’s eyes - the eyes of the father of the child she had no memory, and now no evidence, of either.
“Where is she?”
There was so much aggression, so much venom in her own voice, it frightened her. He tried to take her hand but she moved it out of his reach, suddenly shaking with emotion.
“Ella, calm down. She is safe.”
Those few words allowed her to breathe a little again.
“Teren, I swear to God, that if you do not tell me within the next three seconds what is going on, I will kill you.”
He took a deep breath, she could see the nervousness in his eyes though his face remained entirely unmoving. Then he exhaled and began to speak.
“I was, am, a scientist. Ten years ago we met, we married last march seven years ago, in a different timeline. Then Anna was born and her development as half human, half elf has been difficult but amazing to watch. It was at that time when the elf council hired me to research the possibility of either fixing elves to particular time streams or limiting human free will so that no separate time streams occur. I found a way by creating a time focal which would allow for a time paradox to occur. I hypothesised this to lead to a time convergence.”
He suddenly went quiet, his eyes holding an agony barely containable.
“It worked, and did not. I created a paradox - but it did not converge time. It looped it. I had not counted on Anna. She is a paradox in her own right, born of a parent who is within time and one without. Time could not deal with her - so it looped. One time stream after the other. Everything I try, it fails. The council has decided to remove Anna from the equation in the assumption this will realign time. You were killed in the first attempt they made on her life - and I have been running with her from time stream to stream, finding you, trying to solve the paradox.”
Somehoe the most important questions still remained without answer.
“Teren, where is she? Where is our daughter?”
Ella held the phone to his face, tried to make him see her absence. He smiled - a smile which in its very alienness was so familiar.
“She has not been born yet.”
“When will she be born then?”
“9 months.”
She stared at him, her hand automatically coming to hover protectively over her womb.
“I am pregnant?”
He just nodded.
“But how are we going to make sure she does not create a paradox?”
“You will have to kill me.”

The comment left Ella speechless, unable to react, shocked to her core. How could he sit across her, among the laughter of the children celebrating a birthday, and declare in calm collectedness she would have to kill him, the father of her child? How dare he? She wanted to yell her outrage at him, let him see her anger, but conscious of the children surrounding them her only recourse was to clench her fingers around the table rim and glare at him. He ignored her entirely, or so it seemed. His head had come up, the disconcerting yellow eyes seemed to glow in the late afternoon light. Suddenly he grabbed for her hand, pulling her to her feet.
“We need to leave.”
“We are at a birthday celebration. We cannot just leave.”
It was an automatic reaction based on the years, decades really, of lectures on manners from both her mother and grandmother and it was proof perfect that even two weeks of having been on the run will not destroy childhood conditioning. Not unreasonably he ignored her, simply pulled her behind one of the tall potted plants in the corner.
“The ring?”
There was tension in his deep voice, and a distinct measure of relaxation as she showed it to him on her left hand. With an unfathomable smile he took her hand, ran a finger over the ring, back and forth, then lifted it to his lips. When she gave him a questioning look he only answered it with a lopsided grin. Even he remained an enigma to her.

Harsh voices speaking in Italian sounded from the front door. She recognised the slightly nasal tone of one of her pursuers - but simply could not believe they had found her so quickly. Until now it had always taken them more than six hours, not a mere 2, to catch up with her. Ella tried to tell Teren but as she turned to him their surroundings already wavered and swam. All of a sudden instead of the warm mediterranean colours of the birthday party they were surrounded by the dark green and blue of an entirely different place on earth.
“Where are we?”
She could nor get used to these sudden changes in geographical location, these mind-numbing jumps across time and space. She stumbled, disorientated to her core. His arms came around her, stabilising her, pulling her against the warmth of his body.
“And when are we?”
The second question made him grin, though he did acknowledged its pertinence in his answer.
“Same time. Skaftafell.”
“Iceland? You have taken me to Iceland? Why?”
Of all the places on this planet why had he chosen this most remote for their hiding place?
“They follow the magnetic signature of the ring, in the same way I travel. There is no place on this planet more confusing for us than this one. It is the combination of fire and ice, of glaciers over volcanos. I hope to lose them over here, at least until…”
“Until what?
But he was not telling her.

Instead he pulled her forwards, into the wilderness of iceland. She had heard of Skaftafell, one of the national parks of Iceland, and its majestic glacier reaching down from the mountains almost to the sea. Now ascending higher ever higher on its majestic flank she saw him. This was not the first glacier she had ever seen, she had skied in the alps before, but their civilised restraint was nothing in comparison to this, to the wild power and ancient presence she felt besides her. There was no malevolence here, but there was something, a presence, as fanciful as it sounded. In her mind she saw an old man, powerful but tired, in the mass of ice. As they descended ever higher she could see across its length reaching into the valley it had carved itself, craggy and grey with dirt in places, others formed of the blue clarity of of the clearest sky. Words failed her and they passed him in reverent silence.

This was iceland, the emphasis in the word definitely on ice, and even with the strain of climbing Ella soon started to suffer under the cold temperatures. Teren, who had dropped the glamour which had made him appear human with the argument he would be able to sense any human long before they would be able to see him, seemed imperious to the temperatures, his chest and wings uncovered in the cold. He had promised her to find some clothing for her as soon as they had reached a safe place. After crossing a swamp which seemed to teem with mosquitos unfairly eschewing Teren’s expanse of uncovered skin to nibble at Ella through her clothes, Teren suddenly led them downwards. A good ten steps behind him Ella was first alarmed when he seemed to disappear into a hole but as she caught up with him she was mesmerised. They had reached the rim of an almost circular opening in the earth, sheer stone walls leading downwards to a little oasis in the middle of the hard wildness of the land. On one side a high waterfall trickled to the floor, forming a small pond with eerily clear water. Surrounding it the lush vegetation of the created an impression of paradise. As Teren led her down a narrow path along one side the sharp wind from the glacier stopped reaching them and immediately the air warmed.
“We will be safe here for the night and I should be able to make us comfortable with what I can bring.”
Teren sounded absolutely confident.

If you had to be stranded somewhere, this was the perfect place. The high granites walls protected them from the cold without hampering the view of the star studded night sky. Teren had left for about half an hour just to return with a tent and outdoors gear. Now, a few hours later they were ensconced in warm four season sleeping bags, sitting around a merrily burning fire. He had managed to concoct for them a surprisingly tasty meal and had even brought a bottle of wine with real red wine glasses. The scent of the burning wood, the crackle of the flames magnified and reflected from the high walls, created an almost cosy atmosphere whilst the light playing over the waterfall added some magic. Ella sighed in contentment.
“You hated camping as a child.”
His deep voice, no matter how quiet he spoke, pulled her from her revery.
“I told you that?”
What must it be like for him? To be with a woman who looked like the one he loved, who had the same history up to a point, the same character but who had no memory of him or the child she had borne him.
“No. I found that out in summer camp when you were 13.”
“Teren, I have never been to summer camp.”
“Yes, you have. It was a cultural exchange, where the children of our two races met and were supposed to lose their prejudices. It is where I saw you the first time. I was giving various presentations on alien technology and you were adorably inquisitive. Though I saw you as nothing more than a little human nuisance then.”
There was a grin in his voice at that last. It was incomprehensible to her how he saw time, how he saw existence, how he could see her as the same person as the one he had married.
“Teren, that was not me. I never went to that camp. I only met you two weeks ago.”
His easy assent puzzled her even more.
“What do you mean - yes.”
“Yes, you have met me only two weeks ago and you had met me thirteen years ago. You are both, your memories are only window dressing. You are always you. When a time stream closes only your memories change, not you. You are made up of all that is you, all your experiences, all your desires in all the streams of time combined. It changes nothing. I love you not matter what.”
“You can’t. You don’t even know me.”
She saw the grin flash over his handsome face.
“I do know you. I know that you like peppermint tea, but hate camomile. I know you will fight the world to protect an innocent. I know you cry in sad movies and how you leave the toothpaste uncovered. I know that wistful smile you just gave me. I know you as much as I can know anyone, and I love you.”
“I don’t even remember you, Teren.”
He reached for her, his hand gently stroking that one strand of hair she could never quite tame form her brow.
“No, you don’t remember me, Ella. But you still love me.”
And that was exactly the problem. For a long time there was near silence, the only sound the natural noises of little animals going about their night and the calming rumble of the waterfall. Ella could feel the hot track of slow, silent tears on her face, the desperate sadness pressing on her mind.
“You said I will have to kill you.”
The tears were choking her words making them almost incomprehensible.
Suddenly she was lifted, pulled into the warmth of his embrace, held by his strength. The comfort allowed her to cry in ernest, not only in response of the craziness of the last two weeks but for a man and child she did not know. Whispered words of soothing in a language she did not know finally gave her a way back out of the tears.
“I am not going to kill you.”
It was an entreaty as much as a declaration.
“You have to. It is me or Anna, me or our daughter.”
“There has to be another way to solve the time loop.”
“There is not. With every second more time streams are closed and still the loop remains. And because the loop remains in a time stream in which our races had not yet met, our existence is being separated, all the medical and technological advances brought to both races by our association are being erased. People are dying of cancer again, war is common. We cannot let that go on. We have to remove the paradox and that means removing one component - me or our daughter.”
“Or me.”
Ella’s tone was suddenly stronger, hope in it.
“If I die the same thing will happen.”
His arms were so tight around her she could barely breath.
He let her go as she struggled out of his arms.
“Teren, it is not your choice alone. I should…”
But his finger came to rest on her lips, a bittersweet smile playing over his face.
“No, Ella. You don’t understand. I closed the time stream in which you gave birth to Anna already, now, she has not been born yet. She grows in you.”
Her mind was unable to comprehend that. The child she carried, the one she had forgotten about as it was only on his word she knew she was pregnant, that child was the little 5 year old she had met only a few weeks back. And then she understood. He had done this on purpose. He had manipulated her to ensure she had no choice, had no recourse. In the end, she would have to kill him.

She spent hours in his arms, that last night, under the iceland sky, northern lights flickering colourfully over them. It was a strange, companionable night. Tomorrow he would die, killed by her hand so that their daughter could live but this night was theirs, a night to rediscover and reconnect. Ella was comfortable and warm sitting on his lap, her hand protectively cradled over her womb where her child was growing.
“So, if we solve the time loop our daughter will be born into a time in which our races meet?”
Her voice was sleepy.
“Yes.” He chuckled. “She will be able to travel widely among the galaxies.”
That woke her up.
It was closer to a scream. He simply raised an eyebrow at her.
“Ella, where did you think my race comes from.”
Truly she had not really thought about it. They looked like a cross between elves and demons and somehow she had just thought they were mythical earth creatures. She felt stupid now and the heat rising on her cheeks told her she was blushing badly. So she tried to divert the attention.
“So she will meet lots of different races?”
She knew he knew she was changing the topic, but that was ok.
“Yes. When she is thirteen she will even go and live in one of the children camps for a year, together with children from across the galaxy.”
It alarmed her to think of losing her little girl that early already when she had not even given birth to her yet. He felt her anxiety and a soothing hand stroker over her hair.
“My son,” She tensed but he had told her about his ex-wife and their child, a son, before, so she did not interrupt. “He loved it but I was terrified. You see it is also their first experience with resources as they have to earn their own upkeep by doing internships with a wide range of professions and different races on weekends. I think he began to plan on what to do, who to meet when he was barely six. He was ready to join the colony on Pluto long before his 13th birthday, I was the one who worried incessantly. He had chosen the mines for his first month, fascinated as he was with the technology of mining. I had to keep myself from flying over there a hundred times in those first four weeks. But when he came home for the first weekend visit, he was so eager to tell me about Earth customs and all the other children he had met, he never even realised how frightened I had been. I don’t think he knows until this day.”
“Did it work - did he learn to appreciate other races through the camps.”
Now his smile turned proud.
“He works as an interplanetary culture attaché now - so yes.”
“Do I like him?”
Her voice was tentative, so quiet and unsure. Had she liked that child, had he liked her. Tomorrow she would kill his father, should she not know more about that young man? Teren’s hand found her chin, forced her to meet his serious gaze.
“You love him, and he loves you. He will understand what happened and he will be there for you, for you and our daughter.”
Her tears were flowing again and as he pulled her close again, sheltered her in his arms, they fell silent. He found her lips in a sweet kiss. The rest of the night was given to their closeness.

The next day found her standing on a subway station platform across from the one the whole episode had started only two weeks before. Teren had told her to shoot him as soon as he had handed the box containing the ring, the temporal fixation device, but not before. If she shot before then the timer would go off too late. The double paradox had to be resolved after the time device had been activated in close proximity to it - with other words, she and him had to be in close proximity, but Anna, her unborn child, the second paradox could not be close enough to be hit by the wave, which is why Ella stood on one platform looking across the tracks at herself. She remembered that day, it had only been two weeks ago when she had stood at the subway platform nervously waiting to go to the office, still too new at this for routine to have sat in. She remembered the man who had stumbled into her, had given her a box just to die at her feet. From fifteen meters away she saw the commotion on the platform, saw herself turn, her eyes widening in surprise as the man in the trench coat pushed something into her hands. From the distance she saw Teren’s eyes, large and calm. He smiled at her, a wistful smile so full of love. For a moment nothing else existed and as she raised the gun she felt the silent tears running down her cheeks. She realised in that moment that in the end, all the memories, all the history was just window dressing. She loved him, loved this man, the father of her child, with whom she had shared a life though she could not remember it. The gun was heavy and cold in her hand, the weight balanced well between her fingers. She smiled at him, put all the love she felt into that one moment, exhaled - and shot herself. Across the station she saw herself crumble and fall to the floor, a crimson rose blooming on her chest.

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