Blech. The coffee’d grown cold and whoever’d made it that morning had somehow managed to screw up the most basic of processes, leaving a muddy floor of silty coffee grounds in the paper cup. Louise grimaced. Seriously, it wasn’t like it was hard to make a pot of coffee decently. There were exactly two ingredients.
She almost spilled said bad cup o f coffee as she sat down, but it’s not l8ike it could’ve made the computer any slower. Louise spun in her chair. Thank God she got paid by the hour. The computer itself wheezed at her, as if it, too, was tired of this lifeless office. It flickered at her as it groaned to life. Disappointing. If it had stayed dead, Louise could’ve gone down to the basement and talked to the IT department. It would’ve at least given her something to do. But, no. She finished her last spin in the chair and plunked her password into the ancient keyboard. Boring, boring, boring.
Louise was dutiful, though, so as excruciating as it was, she logged onto her work email and read the message her boss had sent her about the project that was a.) already done and b.) that he didn’t seem to even understand. Stellar. At least he hadn’t held a meeting about it then.
She leaned back, swishing the dregs in her cup around and around. Nothing new ever started on a Monday, even though it was supposed to be the beginning of the week. Everyone was too tired from enjoying their weekend and then trudging back here.
Louise was about to take the last swig of her coffee-- she hated throwing the cup away if there was at all liquid inside-- when her computer page spontaneously reloaded and an email from a blank sender, simply titled “DON’T DRINK THAT” popped up at the top of her inbox.
Louise froze, and then craned her neck to look around the office. Most of her neighbors had today off, and those who didn’t were huddled behind their computers, buried so far in their screens that Louise couldn’t even see their faces.
Another email loaded on the screen faster than that computer had ever loaded anything before. It also had a blank sender, and was titled “Don’t Read That. Drink It.”
Another cursory glance told her that although someone was definitely screwing with her, it wasn’t anyone she could see. Out of curiosity, though, Louise raised the cup to her lips and sure enough, an email blinked onto her page: “DON’T YOU DARE”. Louise, however, started to tilt the cup back, only to be greeted with three more emails, back to back.
“LOUISE CASTRA KOZAK”.
That last one caught Louise off guard. She never told anyone her middle name-- derived from her late Great-Uncle Castor, she’d always thought it made her sound like a bimbo sorceress in a lazily written RPG. This’d been a silly prank before, but this… this was unnerving.
A fourth new email-- “Drink it now.”
Now Louise wasn’t sure she even wanted to-- this was all too freaky. She put the cup down on her desk decidedly, and suddenly everything-- time itself-- grinded to a halt.
Louise could move-- she could tell, because she felt her eyes go wide with the realization that she was now surrounded by utter silence. Horrified, Louise reached out. She could touch, interact with, feel her chair, the floor, the computer; the minute, however, that if she went more than a few feet away from the computer, however, a barrier, invisible to her, kept her from going any further. The computer behind her beeped, and Louise turned back towards it.
On the screen now flashed a red button, under which read “Accept?”
Louise hesitated and pushed back against the barrier again. Such an obvious button felt suspicious, stupid. She’d be a fool to press it, right?
She pressed it. The screen burst into light and sound and thrust Louise headlong into an argument.
“--ruining everything! You can’t turn it back after all my work to fix things!”
The speaker-- yeller, she supposed-- looked a little younger than Louise herself, although her clothes were so strange that Louise had no were so strange that Louise had no idea where she’d be from.
Her opponent in this argument, a middle aged woman with blazing brown eyes shot back “This is not the solution and you know it. I can’t believe you’d be so reckless.”
The tone in her voice sounded so authoritative and so familiar that Louise immediately felt herself be cowed.
The other speaker, however, didn’t back down. “At least I’m doing something. It’s like you don’t even . You’re just sitting on--”
“You know that we’re doing what we can, but there is no perfect solution, and certainly not causing a time--”
“But at least something would change, wouldn’t it?”
“Um,” said Louise, and for a second both other women ignored her, and so Louise repeated herself. “Um.”
The older woman glanced up at Louise. “I’m so sorry,” she said, as if that explained anything.
“What’s going on?”
Her eyes softened-- she looked familiar, comforting. “Don’t worry about it. It’ll all be solved soon.”
“Not if you’re unwilling to try--” the girl said, but she was cut off again.
“This is not the way.”
“Who are you?” Louise didn’t feel in danger, although she supposed she should.
“We’re from your future,” the girl interrupted. The woman glared at her. “What? It’s not like you weren’t going to turn her back anyway.”
“Turn me back?”
The woman seemed paralyzed for a minute, going back and forth between glaring at the girl-- her daughter, Louise suddenly decided-- and looking at Louise with sympathy. “No, you’re okay.”
Louise forced herself to take a breath. She’d clearly fallen asleep because work was so boring and the resulting dream was just hyperrealistic. Made sense. “You’re from the future?”
“Yep!” The girl looked annoyed, as if she was only explaining this to Louise to make her mother angry. “See, when you drink that cup of coffee grounds, you accidentally snort them up your nose, and then because you’re over-dramatic you think you’re dying and go to the emergency room and meet a man and--”
“Cleo, stop.” The woman pursed her lips. “You’ll just confuse her.”
Louise felt offended, but it’s not like the woman was wrong. She was confused. “So… I went forward in time?”
“No.” The woman refrained from rolling her eyes, which Louise appreciated. “No. You’re still in your time. You’re in a moment of your time.”
“So you went back in time?”
The woman refrained again, her lips a thin and tired line. “No, it’s not like-- you know how time is a sphere? So--”
The look the woman gave was suddenly so familiar-- Louise could see herself in it, explaining how to download a PDF to her own mother just last week-- that Louise knew who she was immediately. Oh. So that’s what was going on. If she never drank the coffee and never went to the emergency room, she’d never meet this woman’s father, and then she wouldn’t have received the email. What a fun dream.
The woman sighed, and Louise smirked. That’s why she’d looked so familiar earlier, those were her mother’s own eyes.
The girl-- Cleo?-- put her palm to her chin. “Fine. If you won’t let me try to fix it, at least get us out of here.”
“Wait, where? I thought we were in my time.”
Cleo didn’t refrain from rolling her eyes. “Yeah, you’re in your time, but we’re-- you know what, nevermind. If you’re going to close the gap, Mom, do it now.”
Close the gap? “Wait, what are you going to do to me?”
The woman looked exhausted-- Louise supposed family did that to you. “Nothing M-- Ms. Kozak.”
Good catch, kid.
“I’m just going to drop the connection and return you to before the first email, when the temporal net space was disrupted.”
What? “Sure. So you’re going to start time again?”
Both Cleo and her mother closed their eyes in frustration, the same way Louise did when she was tired of trying to explain her job.
“Yeah, basically. Close enough.”
Louise was too bemused by her progeny to be offended. “Alright, sure. And you’re going to erase my memory.”
“No, it’s because-- your brain structures-- yes. Yes, using future technology.”
“Yeah, okay. See you soon, kid.” God, she sounded exactly like her mother when she said that. Louise supposed that was the point.
The woman’s eyes widened and Cleo smirked. “See, I told you--”
Then the screen clicked off and for a second, the smile remained on Louise face as she--
Louise leaned back, swishing the dregs in her cup around and around. Nothing new ever started on a Monday. She took the last swig of her coffee and then immediately coughed and half of the grounds went into her nose.