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Science Fiction Horror Speculative

“Who are you?”

Areceli stopped wiping the water off the coffee mug in her kitchen sink.

I know that voice.

“Why are you in my house?”

Arecelli froze.  Maren did it. She didn’t think it was possible, but she figured it out. She knew what Cilian discovered, and she was determined to see it through. Areceli turned slowly and stared at her great aunt’s confused face. The mug slipped from her hand and exploded into pieces on the hardwood floor. She stiffened her spine, trying to force breath through her throat.

“Aunt Emylin, it’s Arecelli,” she said, “and you’re actually in my house.”


“I just want to find him,” Maren said. “He’s my father, and I want to know what happened to him in that temporal chamber. What’s wrong with that?”

Areceli sighed, closing her eyes to the lines of code on the computer at the workstation in front of her. They were in the brightly lit temporal lab, but it wasn’t buzzing with activity like it usually was. Not anymore. Not since Cilian walked in that chamber two weeks ago, and never walked out.

“The matrix isn’t stable,” Areceli said. “You can’t go in there. Nobody can.”

“What if he’s waiting for us to save him?” Maren asked.

Areceli pushed back from the station, her chair rolling back from the desk. “We don’t know if he’s even alive or dead.”

“He’s not dead!”

Areceli stood. “Alright, then he’s not in our time anymore. How do we know where to find him? In the past or the future? Or maybe the temporal matrix isn’t temporal after all, and it leads to alternate dimensions. We saw strange energy signatures when he disappeared. We have no idea what he did in there. How can we find him when we don’t have any clues?”

“Track his AI,” Maren said.

“It’s either offline or not transmitting.”

“Send in nanotech.”

“We did,” Areceli waved her arm at the computer, “it isn’t showing anything except strange energy signatures that I can’t interpret. Can you?”

Maren collapsed over her desk, her head in her hands. “He can’t be gone. It worked. I know it did.”

Areceli walked to Maren and laid a hand on her shoulder. “I know you want your father back. It was a horrible accident, and I’m sorry for your loss. You must accept that he’s gone. It’s time to let go.”

“You’re quick to give up,” Maren said.

Areceli pulled her chair next to Maren and sat. “I’m not giving up, they shut us down. I fought it as hard as you did, maybe harder. I’m sorry, Maren, but we’ve done all we can.” She leaned back. “And maybe they have a point. Maybe we shouldn’t experiment with temporal physics. We don’t know enough to do it.”

“That’s what everybody thinks,” Maren mumbled as she grabbed her tote bag and stormed out of the lab.


This is why you don’t work with family, Areceli thought as she sat behind the locked door of her study. Aunt Emilyn was asleep in her favorite recliner after a cup of coffee, seasoned with a sedative that one of the psychiatrists at the University gave her and Maren after the “unfortunate accident” in the lab a couple of weeks ago. She was still fighting her own pounding heart and churning stomach as she booted up her computer and logged into the work server to pull up the temporal readings.

It isn’t every day that somebody who died eleven years ago walks into your house, not realizing that they’re dead.

Or rather, not realizing that they jumped eleven years into a future where they don’t exist.

She swallowed past the lump in her throat as she surveyed the data. Maren had gone back to the lab and launched the chamber again. The temporal rift was larger this time. It only engulfed the lab last time for three minutes, but this time it was stable. The sphere engulfed the entire University campus, and surrounding downtown and neighborhoods for a five-mile radius. Her home was on the inside edge of the western sphere.

“Maren, what have you done?” She slammed her computer shut, shoved it in her tote bag, and burst through the house. She couldn’t shut down the chamber from here. She’d have to go to the lab and stop this before they were overrun with loved ones returning from the beyond. Or rather, from the past.

Areceli ground her jaw as she walked into the small carport and pulled open the door to her car.

I have to stop this before he comes back.


She looked up to see a face she hadn’t seen in seven years.

“Granddaddy?” she squeaked.

He looked confused. “What happened?”

She bent over and vomited on the concrete floor.


Areceli swerved around emergency vehicles and the cracking asphalt as she drove the short distance to the lab. Purple and green lights flashed through the sky as the ground shook. They were far too south for auroras, but when you destabilize reality, then anything is possible.

She found my code!

Arecelli wiped the sweat from her brow as she filtered the data stored on her neural chip. Maren hacked into her chip, probably when she was distracted with her long-lost aunt walking into her home, and had launched the search algorithm that Areceli had developed just before the administrators shut them down.

Another rumble shook the ground. A large square of asphalt broke in front of her car – her grandfather’s old car – forcing her to slam on the brakes. She looked up at the building lit by the auroras two blocks away. She was close enough. She shut off the car, grabbed her tote bag, and ran to the building.

This is why we don’t launch untested processes, she thought as she pushed past zombies wandering the streets, staring in wide-eyed wonder at the world disintegrating around them. The stars seemed to pulsate around the milky blur of the crumbling moon streaking across the sky. She braced herself against the doorframe as a violent quake rumbled the ground.

“Locate Maren Keanes,” she told her AI as she forced open the door to the building and bounded down the stairs to their basement lab.

“Maren Keans is in the temporal chamber. Her life signs are unstable,” the female voice said in her brain.

She burst through the stairwell, bumping into a tall, elderly man. He glared at her with pale blue eyes, his skin nearly translucent grey.

“Who are you?” he barked.

She backed away, swallowing a gag against the smell of wet dirt.

“Why are you in my lab? Who are you?”

She stood up straight and pushed the wrinkles out of her shirt. “I’m a doctoral candidate. I’m securing the lab.”

“You must be new,” he grumbled as he walked away stiffly.

She turned toward the lab, bracing herself for more company. Fortunately, this lab was usually minimally staffed. Research into theoretical physics was new since grants became available in 2100 to test the theories of multiple universes and temporal mechanics.

What was I thinking?

She was thinking of opening the world to new truths. To prove the unproven. To expand their reality and find the reason for life and existence.

Instead, she opened a door to things better left undone.

She burst into the lab, where the central temporal chamber flashed. She saw Maren frozen in the center of the tube, with neural connections taped to her head. She could see bones and muscles in the flashes of light.

“Please don’t be dead,” she mumbled.

“She’s fine,” a soft, male voice said from the control panel behind the temporal chamber.

Araceli swallowed as she walked slowly around the room. Cilian smiled as she approached.

“Hello, Arecelli. I’ll bet you didn’t expect to see me.”

“I’m glad you made it,” she said.

His face fell. “No, you aren’t. This failed because of you. I could have died. I did die!” he paused, his eyes darting around. “What’s happening?”

“What’s happening is that your experiment failed. We weren’t meant to tamper with temporal mechanics, or with reality. They’re theoretical for a reason: because they can’t be proven. Not safely, anyway.” She laid a hand over him, trying not to recoil from the icy flesh.

“You sabotaged the experiment,” he said.

She took her hand back. “You’re right, I did. But it was never supposed to be launched in the first place. You know my code had errors. Why did you go in anyway?”

He stared past her, at some point in space. “I saw forever.”

She sighed, staring at the limp form in the chamber. It was too late. The flashes of light were slowing now. She reached around to stop the matrix, but Cillian grabbed her hand. “No,” he said. “I need to fix whatever you broke to make it right.”

“There is no way to make it right!” she shouted, reaching around him for the control panel. He lunged after her, hitting her in the back of the head. She collapsed on the floor.

Cilian snapped a long, metal rod off the chamber that secured it to the ceiling and walked to Araceli. “You killed me. It’s only right that I kill you back.”

Arecelli looked up, her eyes drifting behind the desk to the power strip plugged into the wall. Could it be that easy? She reached up, yanking the main cord from the wall. Sparks flew, jolting her as the power surged one last time and flickered out. The room darkened. The emergency lights flicked on in the hazy, smoky air.

“Cilian?” Arecelli called from under the desk. She crawled out, looking around. “Maren?” She stood slowly, rubbing the back of her head as she coughed in the smoky air. The temporal chamber was broken. She looked around but saw no sign of Cilian or Maren.

“Is anybody here?” she asked. She stumbled as a dizzy spell shot through her head, leaning against the desk. Cilian must have hit her harder than she realized. The room spun, swirling in the stench of electrical burning and sparking wires as she collapsed in the broken glass and rods of the chamber.


“This is an exciting opportunity for a new generation of physics students,” the Dean said from his plush chair behind the large, oak desk. “What do you think, Arecelli? You’re at the top of your class and can be in the first class of physicists studying string theory and temporal mechanics.”

Arecelli looked at the offer on her tablet, waiting for a simple “yes” or “no.” It was exciting to study theoretical physics and being offered an opportunity to make it a reality was historical. She would open the world to an expanded reality. She would make her mark in history. She could change the world.

Who are you?

She froze as Aunt Emilyn’s voice rang in her head for the first time in ten years. It was more than a memory. It was actually like a voice from the past reaching out to her. Her stomach churned as her mind swirled with chaos.

“Arecelli?” the Dean smiled at her. “What do you think? It’s fully funded research, and the director, Cilian Keans, has personally asked you to work with him and his daughter on this. He wanted the top student in the Master’s program, and that’s you. You can continue with a doctoral thesis and be the first research team for temporal physics in the world.”

Dread crept up her spine as she recalled Cilian Kean’s cold stare. He had been one of her professors, and there was something cold about him. It was like a part of him was missing, broken away somewhere in the chaos of theory and reality.

Arecelli tapped “no,” tucked her tablet in her tote bag, and stood. “I appreciate the offer sir, but I decline. A master’s degree is enough for me.”

“But you did such excellent work! Your master’s thesis is instrumental in getting this process off the ground!”

“You’re welcome to use it to continue that research. It belongs to the University anyway, so I can’t stop you. But I don’t want to proceed with this any further.”

The Dean stood. “Why?”

“Because some things are better left alone,” she stared at the sun shining over the campus outside of his window and smiled, “and I want to live in this reality.” 

February 25, 2024 18:16

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1 comment

CG Casci
17:03 Mar 07, 2024

As part of the critics forum here are some comments; -You have a fertile and racing imagination that left me breathless to catch up -I am not entirely sure what many of the devices like Temporal Chamber or Energy Signatures are and could do with a small explanation -I liked the end and thought that maybe, to vary the pace, the conclusion at the end could be at the start and the story would explain how we got there - Aunt Emilyn confused me but I got it on a second reading -I enjoy your work very much, look forward to the next ( slower) offer...


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