THE second hand on my watch slowly ticked off the seconds, and I counted each precious moment as it passed, wishing I wasn’t there. My mother was late again.
It wasn’t that I didn’t want to see her. She’s my mom; of course I wanted to have lunch with her. But her concept of time was skewed, so “noon” meant twelve thirty.
“I’m so sorry, Henry.”
I breathed a sigh of relief. Standing up, I saw her walking toward me. “I was starting to worry.”
As she rattled off her difficulties in getting there, I pulled out her chair so she could sit down. When the waitress came to get her drink order, she finally took a breath to look over the menu.
I didn’t inherit my mother’s gift of gab. As a teenager, I rarely came out of my room to talk, taking my meals in my room as I worked on my latest project.
“I keep hoping you’ll bring a boyfriend to lunch,” she said as the server left.
I groaned. “Isn’t this how we start every meal?”
“It will be until you show up with a significant other in tow.”
I tried to glare at her, but staring down your mother is like trying to stare down a cat; you might win but you will feel the burn of their contempt for days afterward. Well, my mom might forgive me if I apologize, but the cat won’t.
“Don’t give me that look. You’re my only child. I won’t rest until you’re happily partnered.”
“I’m married to work,” I quipped.
“Mom,” I said warningly. “Please don’t start. I’m working on a really important deadline at work, and this topic of conversation will just distract me.”
She wouldn’t drop it, but had she ever dropped a topic she really cared about? My father would say no. “I just want you to be happy.”
“I am. Happiness doesn’t come from having a partner. It comes from within, finding who you are and understanding yourself.”
“I was fine with the whole gay thing,” she said, continuing on like I hadn’t spoken. She was right. My parents had been fine about me coming out, even though my mom had bemoaned being deprived of grandchildren because I was her only child. “I just hate to see you alone all the time. Don’t you get lonely?”
She pursed her lips. “Henry Thomas Wallens, don’t lie to your mother.”
I sighed. “I go out on dates, but I haven’t met anyone I want to bring to you guys. Listen, can we drop this? I didn’t agree to lunch so you could give me the third degree.”
My mother started to argue, but luckily the waitress appeared with our drinks and salads, so the never-ending nag cycle was broken. After she finished doctoring her iced tea with huge amounts of sugar, she sat back in her chair and took a long look at me. “You look good, although it’s strange to see you without your glasses these days.”
“Thanks,” I said, taking a bite of salad. Getting the eye surgery to correct my vision was the best thing I ever did. If I ever got sweaty mid project, my glasses would slip down my nose. I couldn’t afford to make a mistake just because I couldn’t see without my soda-bottle glasses.
“You look so much like Tommy,” she said.
I wiped my mouth. Her statement came out of left field, and her sad expression tore at my heart. We all missed Tommy, my mother’s older brother. He’d been one of the military’s most brilliant minds and instrumental in fostering my love for science.
She rarely brought him up, but I said the same thing I always did when she told me how much I reminded her of him. “That’s because I got your good looks. What can I say? You have a good-looking family.”
She laughed and dabbed her eyes with a napkin. “You’re a sweet boy.”
“I’m hardly a boy now,” I said. “I’m all grown up.”
She sniffled. “Yes, you are, but you’ll always be my little Henry,” she said, turning to other topics that weren’t nearly as touchy with me, like how my Aunt Trish was doing after her horrible fall. But even after I left, my mind kept heading back to our conversation.
She was right, as mothers normally were. I was lonely. Spending nights at the lab was a regular occurrence, especially since I was so close to my presentation date. I had to have my project ready for the board of directors in six months but I would have the extra stress of having the founder of Leaf Industries there as well.
After marrying off nearly everyone we knew, Mom had decided to turn her matchmaking skills on me. On dates, if someone asked me what I did, ten seconds later, his eyes would glaze over as I rattled off terms most people would never begin to understand.
At least I got laid on my dates. It was one night I didn’t have to jerk off in the shower and I could give my hand a rest. I did want to find love, but I also wanted a partner who understood me when they asked me how my day was.
The men I went out with enjoyed my body, though. Once I’d hit my growth spurt and lost all my baby fat, I started running. I kept it up because it gave me more energy. Having all that extra stamina meant I could stay up all night if I hit a stride on my project. Like last night.
Back in the office, I hung up my coat and headed for my lab. It was cozy and messy, just how I liked it. My desk sat against the far wall, piled with parts from small electronic devices I’d ordered from companies all over the world.
On my bulletin board, I’d tacked up the latest schematics for the power source I was still working on. Beneath all of that was the chief science officer’s scrawl. Although he was a very busy man who traveled to his many companies worldwide and I had never met him, he was also the founder of Leaf Industries, so I knew I’d better listen to him.
I’d laughed when I read the note because I thought he was completely crazy. There was no way to squeeze every last piece of equipment I needed to regenerate power into such a small space.
That note had ended up back on my desk eight months ago. I’d spent day and night working on miniaturization, and just this past week, I’d managed to get it right. The battery fit into a small cell phone half the size of my palm, and I picked it up to check the battery life on it.
For a week now, the battery hadn’t gone dead. Tiny though it was, the energy inside would never die. The theories I had of self-renewing energy were controversial at best. Scientists had scoffed at the idea, and when I’d sent proposals after patenting it, rejections had piled in. But all it had taken was one yes, from a company I never dreamed would say yes.
Leaf Industries was the leader in green technologies, and I figured if I had been turned down by nearly everyone in the industry, I could be rejected by the best too. My excitement had known no bounds when I received their grant, along with an office and a shared secretary.
While creating this energy, I’d stumbled on a different technology, completely outside the energy idea. It was the project I never meant to create. This cell phone was no ordinary device. I twisted the last screw at the top of the device and took a step back to look at it.
It was a time device. The modifications I’d made to it, including the SIM card, caused it to create a temporal disturbance surrounding it. I’d found it when I tried to send an e-mail from the phone to my computer, and the date showed it had come from the future.
At first I had blown the e-mail off as some strange anomaly, until I tried it again and the same thing happened. I shut it off, and the device returned to our time, but once I started it up again, the same time shift occurred.
It wasn’t the power source. When I hooked that up to my computer, the power only lasted for hours. The tiny battery wasn’t large enough to run a desktop, especially with all the programs I ran on the power hog.
Before I turned in my data on the power project, I wanted to test this anomaly. After a few tweaks to expand the electrical field surrounding the handset, I found I could include items in the temporal field. I’d used the device a few times to send small things, like an apple and even a plant, to the past, and even into the future.
Once I concluded there was no damage to the plant and that a living entity could survive a time jump, I tried it myself. My jumps had been short, but this time I wanted to go all the way and go back years, not just months.
Picking a specific time would be hard because there were so many parts of my past I wished I could visit again. I turned off my lamp, knowing a decision like this was important, and after a day like today, I needed to sleep on it.