The Time Bug

Your rating: None
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

Terry Smith’s boots sank in mud to the ankles. All along the trench, his mates’ tense faces lit up when German tracers arced over No Man’s Land. Shells blew craters that edged closer like the footsteps of an invisible giant. Terry perched his rifle at the edge of his trench, secretly wishing his fever had lasted another day. Everyone stood ready to run like hell when Sergeant Holmes blew the signal. Holmes clenched his whistle in his teeth. Terry braced himself for his last action on earth: dodging barbed wire and bodies and running straight into German machine guns. The whistle blew. Terry’s mates shoved over the edge of the trench. Machine guns across No Man’s Land rattled to life and started mowing down the running figures. But Terry’s rifle sank into the mud. He had vanished.

Jean-Pierre stretched out under a tree at the edge of the field with his head in the lap of his young wife, Marcelle. She’d risen from her sickbed to bring his dinner of bread and cheese along with a heavy wooden bucket full of water for the horse. Jean-Pierre knew he must get back to work, but the day was fine, the plowing was going well, and it was sweet to close his eyes for a moment while Marcelle blew softly into his face. Jean-Pierre drifted off. He awoke to the horse lipping his chin, its green breath warm in his nostrils. He sat up. Marcelle’s dress and apron, stockings and shoes lined up perfectly under him as though Marcelle had slipped out of them. But his wife was gone.

Zhi-Ju Li straightened her jacket. She settled her cap on her head so the red star was perfectly centered. Chairman Mao himself was coming to town to review all the squads. Zhi-Ju had practiced and practiced with the other girls until they were perfect rows of perfect copies, alike in every way. When Zhi-Ju had gotten sick, Sergeant Chen had come personally to her home and ordered Zhi-Ju to get better quickly lest her absence mar the squad’s precise lines. Zhi-Ju had prayed to the ancestor candle her mother had hidden inside a crack in the wall. If anyone found out that Zhi-Ju’s mother clung to the Old Ways, her family would be in trouble, but Zhi-Ju was glad her mother disobeyed because the ancestors had answered Zhi-Ju’s prayers. Zhi-Ju closed her eyes to whisper her thanks, but when she opened them, she stood alone and naked on a giant, clear floor suspended above a deep valley. Overhead, people wearing shimmery silver skins flew aboard round, soundless devices. Zhi-Ju cried out and fell to her knees.

“What makes you think you’ve found a cure?” Robert asked his lab partner.

“Because I vaccinated Tina and then infected her along with three controls. The other mice disappeared. Tina stayed here.”

Robert stared at the undulating strand of bacteria rotating on Rebecca’s screen. Could Rebecca really have found a vaccine after three generations of researchers had failed to do so? If so, how could they get the vaccine to the first victim, the geologist in New Mexico who’d found the meteor?

Robert said, “But how will we know it worked? Nobody’s ever come back once they’ve gotten infected and slipped into the time stream.”

Rebecca folded her hands in her lap. “Rob, you know the only way we’ll know it worked is if none of this ever happens. This research station won’t be built. You and I won’t be born. Earth will change in ways we can’t imagine. Which means you and I will never know. But any future would be better than everybody on Earth being infected by the Time Bug and blipping to other times and infecting people there. Time doesn’t even exist any more! People from the past drop into the present, people from the future drop into the past—and it’s getting worse. Half the people on Earth are infected now. Pretty soon, nobody will be sending up supplies. We’ll be marooned.”

A deep furrow dug between Rob’s eyes. “How do we get the vaccine to 1973? You can only travel if you’re infected.”

“Then one of us has to get infected.” She swallowed. “I volunteer.”

“But you can’t carry the vaccine with you. Everybody who travels turns up naked.”

“I know. We can seal the vaccine in ampules under my skin.”

“But what if you go and the ampules stay here?”

“Then you’ll have to find another way.”

“You can’t control probability distribution! What if you land in an Ice Age? What if you go to the future?”

“Then you’ll have to try.” Rebecca laid her hand on Rob’s arm. “I know it’s a risk. But what other choice do we have?” The corners of her mouth turned up, but her eyes brimmed with tears. “I wish it could have been different, Rob. I wish we could have…had a life together.”

Rob’s throat swelled. “We can, Rebecca. We’re the only two uninfected people left in the whole universe. We could just enjoy the time we have left.”

“Could you enjoy it knowing we might have saved the planet? I couldn’t.” She stood. “Besides, who knows? We might be born anyway. We might find one another. It’s worth it to me, Rob.”

Terry Smith’s boots sank in mud to the ankles. All along the trench, his mates’ tense faces lit up when German tracers arced over No Man’s Land. Shells blew craters that edged closer like the footsteps of an invisible giant. Terry perched his rifle at the edge of his trench. Everyone stood ready to run like hell when Sergeant Holmes blew the signal. Holmes clenched his whistle in his teeth. Terry braced himself for his last action on earth: dodging barbed wire and bodies and running straight into German machine guns. The whistle blew. Terry’s mates shoved over the edge of the trench. Machine guns across No Man’s Land rattled to life and started mowing down the running figures.

About the Author: 
Delaney Green grew up in the American Midwest, where LOST IN SPACE and STAR TREK were staples of her TV diet. She is the author of JEM, A GIRL OF LONDON, a YA historical fantasy, and "Tsunami Surprise," published in BOUCHERCON 2014: MURDER AT THE BEACH. Find her at www.facebook.com/delaneygreenwriter