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Let's Do the Timewrap Again! (We Make That, Too)

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All things must come to an end.

 

 

 

 

Your car.

 

 

 

 

Your house.

 

 

 

 

Fido and Fluffy.

 

 

 

 

Even you.

 

 

That's why at Veridian Dynamics we have declared war... on the passage of time.


Some scientists say that stopping time is impossible.

 

But who are they? Puppy and kitten killers, that's who.

 

 

 



 





The more things change, the more they stay the same.



 

 

***

Ted Crisp buttoned up his suit jacket and checked his hair in the mirror by his office door. He crinkled his eyebrows and touched a grey hair at his temple. He suddenly smiled in the mirror and turned away from the mirror to address the audience. "Change happens to all of us." His hand went self-consciously to his hair, and he grinned sheepishly as he continued, "Sometimes, it's good change. Like that time Maria in Accounting won the 7.1 million dollar lottery."

Dr. Bhamba poked his head in Ted's office and waved frantically. "Ted! I am sorry, but I might be in need of your help! You remember that sentient jell-o creature we were talking about last meeting?"

Ted stared. "No," he said firmly.

"Ah, yes! About that! I was thinking of talking to you about the theoretical, sentient jell-o creature I might have accidentally created in my lab using company supplies without their knowledge; instead of using words, I made hand gestures." Dr. Bhamba did jazz hands and a little shimmy by the door.  "But that is almost the same thing! Oh, the things the drugs do to me!"

"You're not actually a drug addict. That was just a ploy the company used to escape a lawsuit. Twice."

"--yes," Dr. Bhamba agreed quickly. "But, in all seriousness, my entirely theoretical jell-o monster might be almost 2 meters tall and trying to devour Sheila's desk."

"Oh. My. God!" Sheila's muffled shriek floated up from the cubical farm followed by a loud crash.

Dr. Bhamba turned and ran from Ted's office. "Sheila! Do not engage! It might interpret such aggression as a form of mating dance!"

Ted sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose before getting up and making his way toward his closet. "Sometimes," he broke the fourth wall again, "change isn't always for the best. Like that time Maria in Accounting won the 7.1 million dollar lottery and found out after she bought a new house, a boat, and a small island in the Caribbean that so had 59 other people." He rummaged in the closet and finally found what he was searching for: a sword. He pulled it free and closed the door. "...We don't like to talk about Maria very often. Just breaks everyone's hearts all over again." Ted gave the sword a fond shake and a smile. "This old thing? You thought I forgot about the whole Medieval Games in the basement, didn't you?"

"The point is, change happens. Sometimes, there are endings. Sometimes, there are new beginnings. We always expect change to happen... except when we don't."

Dr. Bhamba and Sheila both shrieked outside. Ted ran out the door.

"Drop them, you giant purple people eater! AHHHHHHH!" And he charged sword first down the hall.

 

***

Three months ago...

"Oh, cake! That's great, we never get cake--" Linda stopped midmotion on the way to pick up a plate of vanilla sheet cake with bright pink and green frosting. "--Wait a minute. This is some wacky office experiment, isn't it? There's some growth hormones or killer bee honey or some fake fat sugar substitute that might or might not turn me into the queen of the living dead in this thing."

"Really, Linda," Veronica tutted and held tight to her (entirely untouched) cake plate. "Queen is such a strong word."

Lem set down his fork before taking a bite, and Phil stopped midchew.

"Now, now. I bought the cake myself," Ted interrupted and patted Phil on the back. Phil swallowed, letting out a relived sigh. "It's from the bakery down the street that has nothing to do with the company. We're celebrating Nancy's retirement."

Linda looked up. "Yeah, the giant 'Happy Retirement, Nancy!' signs should have been a tip off."

"You know, I do not think I have been to a retirement party since..." Lem trailed off as he stared into space in thought. "Honestly, I don't think I've ever been to a retirement party here."

Phil piped up, "George Bacon retired three years ago!"

"George Bacon had a heart attack in the 6th floor bathroom and died on the toilet three days before his retirement," Lem corrected.

"Ah, poor Bacon. He did love his namesake triple deep fried and wrapped around all his vegetables." Both Phil and Lem sighed together and ate more cake.

"No one ever retires from this company?" Linda asked in confusion.

"Of course people retire from the company," Veronica explained. "Only real people, though. Not the drones."

"Why don't we go say goodbye to Nancy?" Ted suggested and steered Linda away from the general Not Veronica direction.

"Nancy," Ted informed the very broken fourth wall as he pushed Linda along, "was the executive assistant to the Veridian CEO for the last twenty years. She has survived six CEOs, four Presidents, and two attempted hostile takeovers. And at the very young 56, she is ready to retire."

"Are you talking to someone?" Linda asked over her shoulder.

"Hmm? Oh, look, it's...ah."

Nancy was perched on the copier, and it appeared she had ordered the interns to place it exactly in the center of the hallway to obstruct the most foot traffic. And by perched, Nancy was sitting on the glass, her skirt discreet but obviously pulled out of the way, and a pair of leopard print panties hanging from Carl the Intern's ear. Carl appeared traumatized yet flattered. Nancy had a bottle of scotch in one hand and champagne in the other. She was cackling between chugs. Nancy was a young and vibrant 56.

"Teeeed!" she cooed in glee. "Slightly Less Annoying Stick!" she addressed Linda with a smile.

"The copier seems happy!" Linda offered and tried not to look too long at the thousands of copies of Nancy's butt cheeks that littered the floor.

"Of course it's fucking happy. I've got the ass of 22 year old sorority cheerleader. Keep 'em coming!" Nancy shouted and sloshed the mostly empty bottles into Carl the Intern's hands. Carl made a hasty retreat to the refreshment table.

"Everyone was just telling me how no one gets to retire here," Linda grabbed at a subject of conversation, any conversation as Nancy started to give Ted a rather predatory once over. "But here you are, retiring early! That's great!"

"No one retires here," Nancy threw out as she reached for Ted's tie. Ted took a casual side step toward Linda. "You either quit or you die here. Pick which you prefer now, sweetheart. You've got to do some long term planning if want to look this good for this long."

"But...but you're retiring. Early." Linda repeated.

"I know where all the bodies are buried," Nancy whispered as she leaned in close to Linda, which also got her closer to Ted. "Careful of veggie stew Fridays."

"The veggie stew is people?" Linda gagged. "That's wrong on so many levels."

"Oh, Teeeeed!" Nancy suddenly cooed again and grabbed Ted about the shoulders, pressing his cheek against her cleavage. "I'll miss you most of all! You with your prefect hair and perfectly pressed suits with perfect manners. You know, I've got a boat. A big boat where no one can hear us--"

"Nancy."

Veronica appeared and cut off Nancy's lustful ramblings. Ted managed to extract himself and hid behind Linda.

"Oh thank God," both Ted and Linda whispered.

Nancy slid off the copier, flipping her skirt into place, and looking perfectly coiffed. "The Really Annoying Stick." As she and Veronica circled each other, Nancy smiled. "I'm glad I'm retiring now. I don't have to pretend I enjoy working for you once you shotgun your way to the top."

Veronica smiled. "Oh, Nancy, Nancy, Nancy. I respect you too much to let that happen: I would have had you killed long before I took that high and mighty office."

"Legacy," Nancy told her with a smile.

"Assistant," Veronica fired just as politely back.

"Why you--!"

"Oh, look!" Veronica pointed in the opposite direction. "An intern straight out of his first year of undergrad and ready to attack the world with his willing to do anything attitude and too tight pants!"

"Where?!" Nancy turned.

"Run!" Veronica shoved Ted and Linda, and the three of them high tailed it back to the safety of the cubicle farm.

"Damn." Nancy stomped her very expensive heel before summoning back up a smile and flouncing off. "Oh, Carl, dear!"

 

***

Six to eight weeks later...

Linda ran into Ted's office and slammed the door behind her, right in Phil and Lem's faces.

"Hello, Linda, nice to see you," Ted told her from across the desk. "Is this an emergency or--"

"I've got a secret but I have to tell someone and I want to tell you but you can't tell anyone else," Linda rushed out, braced against the door to keep out Lem and Phil.

"Linda," Phil called through the door. "We have a meeting with Ted right now. Not you," he said politely yet pointedly. "Us. Could you...wait a half hour? Could you?"

"Linda?" Lem jiggled the knob. "Our project only has a temporary window where we can soothe the super bees to sleep. Can you--"

"Woman, get the hell out of that office!" Phil shouted.

Both Linda and Ted blinked at each other, then Linda opened the door so they both could stare at Phil. Lem was doing the same thing, mouth hanging open.

Phil gulped and looked down. "I'm, ah. Sorry for my tone." He took a side step out of obvious view and ran down the hall, out of sight. Lem looked confused before he curtsied with his lab coat and followed after Phil at a more sedate pace.

"You tell me that wasn't weird, even for them," Linda told Ted as she closed the door and approached his desk.

"I'm giving them until the end of the week to tell me what is actually going on before I massage it out of them. Now," Ted closed his laptop and file folder, "you tell me your secret."

"I SOLD MY BOOK." Linda grabbed Ted by his lapels and yanked him out of his office chair, giving him a shake in the process.

"...like you sold Phil as a lemur?"

"No, you dolt!" She dropped him like a hot rock and waved her hands. "I got an agent and everything! She has a blog. That makes her real, Ted. A real agent!"

Ted open and closed his mouth several times. "But, doesn't that take months? To sell a book?"

"I know, right?!" Linda was bouncing from one foot to the other. "I got fast tracked! After the horror show that was Nancy and her retirement party, I decided that damn, I wasn't going to be Nancy when Veronica finally takes over the company. No creepy intern molesting for me! So, I had a manuscript I had been working on, but I hadn't sent it to my reading group yet. I went crazy, Ted. Crazy!" Linda did jazz hands to prove her point.

"Yes, crazy, I can tell. I mean, could tell! You're being perfectly normal right now!" Ted turned away from Linda and toward the audience from the safety of his desk drawers, "I like living," he whispered.

"Anyway! I sent this agent my manuscript, she loved it so much, she called me two days later, right after she finished reading it! When the hell do agents do that these days?! Never, Ted. That's when! And then, she started a bidding war! A bidding war! About my book! Hell yeah!" Linda raised the roof, old school style, while doing a bit of a chicken dance. "Who sold their book for seven figures today? Guess! And I'll go ahead and make it easy on you, it's me!"

Linda leapt across the desk and pounced Ted. They both crashed to the floor.

Veronica choose that moment to walk into Ted's office. She raised an eyebrow. "Really, people. It isn't even lunch hour. At least be civilized and wait until the company isn't paying you to screw around. I'll go make sure HR knows to deduct this from your time sheets." Veronica stepped out, not bothering to close the door. Then, she popped her head back in the doorway, added, "Oh, good form, Linda," and then started back down the hallway, grabbing an employee as she went. "You! What's your name! --I'm not asking your name. I know your name. Straighten your tie, and bring me chicken for lunch!"

Ted let his head fall back and hit the floor. "Oh boy."

 

***

Meanwhile, in the lab...

"Is it the spiders again? Did they try to colonize you?" Lem pushed his glasses up his nose and watched Phil pace.

"No, no, no spiders." Phil paused. "Though, may be if we introduce that super hawk with the laser shoting eyes to the backstairs, we might have less giant spider problems."

"Then, we'll have a super intelligent hawk with laser shooting eyes problem."

Phil sighed. "You're right, Lem. As always! I am a failure as a scientist yet again!"

Lem frowned. Phil was being even more dramatic that usual. "You're not a failure, Phil. We just haven't thought out the right solution to the giant spider problem." He patted Phil's shoulder. "It'll come. It'll come."

Phil fiddled with a pipette for a moment, looked up at Lem as if to say something, then snapped his mouth shut. He shook his head and turned away.

Lem bit his lip. "...wanna go and play with the unihorned platypuses? I hear they declawed all their pointy bits so there won't be a chance of accidental stab wounds as they cuddle sweetly against our cheeks this time."

Phil sighed again, swaying side to side as he weighed the pros and cons. "...oh, all right." He grinned at Lem. "I can't resist their little leathery beaks and soft underbellies. Who knew unihorned platypuses would be the most adorable mad gene splicing experiment we have ever participated in?"

"And who would have thought the pandas crossed over with koala bears would create such killing machines? It sounded so cuddlesome!"

"And yet, when mixed, koala-pans are more aggressive and deadly than twelve grizzly bears starved all winter. Mother Nature was jealous that day, Lem." Phil patted Lem's shoulder this time as the two walked down to the zoological containment center.

 

***

Ted walked down one of the many Veridian Dynamics hallways, taking papers from employees and returning them to others.

"It isn't that I'm not happy for Linda," he told the audience, breaking the fourth wall again (like always). "I'm incredibly happy for her! It's her dream, and she's finally made it happen. She's going to be a real, published author. It's..." Ted trailed off. "I really wish I had those comic book yellow boxes, sometimes."

"Daddy!" Rose ran out of the Veridian Daycare Center and tackled Ted around his knees. Ted went down in a heap, laughing.

"Oh, getting good there, champ!" He laughed and tossed Rose over his shoulder in a fireman's hold, his daughter giggling the entire time. "Rose has been a little down lately and asked to do more daycare here at the company," he explained. "Her mom just went off to save the rainforest in Brazil for the next year, so I think she's feeling a little left out."

"Daddy, what do you do about a bully?" Rose asked suddenly.

"Or, maybe I'm completely wrong!" Ted set Rose down and addressed her instead of the shattered fourth wall. "Is there someone bothering you in daycare, honey?"

"No, not in daycare. There's this girl at school. She says my hair looks like a noodle pot exploded and keeps asking me why I don't bring curly pasta for lunch every day." Rose was very matter-of-fact about the entire thing. "It doesn't bother me; I like my hair. And noodles. But I think she thinks that I should be bothered, and I don't know what to do."

Ted stared at his daughter and suddenly hugged her. "Sorry, honey, just give daddy a moment to be incredibly proud of your sense of self at age seven. --okay." Ted pulled back and framed Rose's little face between his hands. "How about we have a daughter and dad night and talk about it? You, me, My Little Ponies: Friendship is Magic, and a large pizza with extra pepperonis."

"Okay!" Rose agreed gleefully and hugged Ted around the shoulders. "You're the best, Dad!"

Ted smiled. "I love you, honey." Then he addressed the audience over Rose's shoulder, "I am filing all these away for when she's a teenager and hates my guts."

"Ted. Rose." Veronica appeared around a corner.

"Veronica!" Rose bounced over her father's boss and beamed up at her. Rose offered out her fist and the two of them shared a complicated fist bump, pattie cake style greeting. "You should come watch Ponies with us! There are unicorns, moral lessons, and cartoon style violence."

Veronica squinted down at Rose. "Do the unicorns have machine guns?"

"Not that kind of cartoon violence," Ted supplied. "I also have no idea what just happened."

"Woman secret," both Veronica and Rose said at the same time.

"You wouldn't understand, Daddy," Rose told him as she patted his hand.

"Like I wouldn't understand when you bought a boat?" Ted asked.

"We've moved beyond that, Daddy," and Rose ran down the hall, shouting for Linda.

"She's got a bully at school," he told Veronica. "I have to talk to her about it."

"Ah, her first bully." Veronica zoned off into fond memories. "I remember those days. The taunting, the toilet swirlies."

"She's being bullied," Ted corrected.

"Our Rose?" Veronica stopped walking and glared at Ted. "The victim? Never."

"She doesn't seem all that bothered by it. I think she is more concerned for the other girl, that she isn't giving her the reaction she wants. --And no, you can't teach my daughter gun play or martial arts to help solve the situation."

Veronica frowned. "I said nothing of the sort."

"But you were thinking it--"

"Ted!" Linda waved from further down the hall. "Come on! We're late for our meeting!"

Ted looked at his watch. "Huh. I could of sworn... right! This week, huh? Everything keeps speeding by. Let me drop Rose in my office, and I'll be right there. And no," he repeated and jogged after Linda.

Veronica shrugged. "Employees. Always jumping to the worst conclusions. 'You knew the cyborg had a preference for human flesh' this or 'You were experimenting on me against my will' that." She stoppd mid-step then continues back to her office. "Why does it suddenly taste like blue in here?"

 

***

Ted is behind his desk, and he looked rather confused to be there. "I don't know what it is this week," he told the audience. "Time just keeps getting away from me. I need to talk to Rose, to--"

Linda burst into his office. "Why haven't you congratulated me on my book?"

"--to Linda," he finished. "I have. I did! We hugged on the floor after our supervisor walked in and assumed we were having sex. Remember?"

Linda crossed her arms over her chest and cocked out her hip. "Are you jealous that I'm getting my dream?"

"What? No! Nothing like that!" Ted came around the other side of his desk and gave Linda's shoulder a little shake. "I'm so happy for you. This is your dream, and you've finally made it happen after working so hard at it."

"Then, what is it?" She looked sadly up at Ted.

"It's--"

Lem burst through the office door. "Ted, there is something wrong with Phil, and I need you to use your god-like powers to fix it."

Ted and Linda shared a look, then Ted sighed and let go of her shoulders.

"I may understand why you are postponing this conversation, but that doesn't mean I'm not still mad at you." Linda added an extra swing to her hips as she made her exit, and Ted didn't even bother trying not to notice.

 

***

"Veronica?" Linda knocked on the boss' office door but came in without waiting for an answer. "Can I talk to you?"

"No," Veronica said without looking up from her computer.

"I would just talk with my girlfriends or my mom about this one--"

"Then you should continue to talk to them about 'this one'."

"--but they don't have the insight into the company like you do," Linda finished. "Can I ask you something as a friend that happens to be my supervisor?"

"Not when your supervisor happens to be your friend."

Linda huffed. "I am thinking of quitting the company and touring the world for six months."

Veronica stopped typing and actually looked up at Linda. "...now you have my attention. Go on."

Linda slowly sat down, fiddling with the hem of her skirt before continuing. "I don't want to get into specifics as to the how, but I have come into some money. A lot of it. The kind of lot that means I don't have to work any more. So, I'm thinking, hey, why not? Why not just quit this job and go for it?" She looked up to gauge Veronica's feelings on the matter, but the other woman had her supervisor mask on. Or she was sleeping with her eyes open again. Linda plowed ahead, "But, if I leave, as sad as it is, I'll miss everyone. And all the insanity. It's been an insp--" Linda swallowed her words, "--never boring! And I don't know what to do, Veronica."

Veronica tapped her long nails on her keyboard, watching Linda before saying, "Goldilocks, I am going to very honest with you, and I'm never honest. At least, not entirely. Anyway: you need to do this."

Linda boggled. "Really? I mean, you really think so?"

"Yes, I do. And I've just thought up the perfect solution that will work out best for you, me, and the company in five seconds since you've told me you are having thoughts on leaving. It'll even let you keep your health insurance and pension."

"Oh my god, Veronica." Linda beamed. "Is there a chance I could get a raise?"

"Don't push your luck. Now, listen before you start getting all cheese crazy--"

Everything shuddered together for a moment and Veronica looked perplexed.

"--that's a brilliant plan!" Linda suddenly looked perplexed as well. "Did everything just taste periwinkle for a second?"

"I was thinking more deep blue mysef, but yes. Yes, it did." Veronica stood up and smacked her fist on her desk. "Something is going on that I don't know about it, and that makes me angry. Come, Linda. If it is something dangerous, I'm going to need a human shield."

 

***

"What in the world is going on?!"

Ted and Lem walked into the research lab and found utter chaos. There was scanning equipment rusting in a corner, plants that had grown to advanced forests in the span of eight hours. The fish tank now had a futuristic civilization with a scaled down statue of Phil protruding from the top.

Lem stared and open and closed his mouth several times. "I-- I don't know! Everything was fine early!" He waved his hands when Ted swung around to glare at him. "I mean it! We weren't doing any experiments. I came to talk to you because Phil has been so quiet and full of sighs! Nothing I tried to snap him out of it worked. I came to you for your perfect solution because you always have one."

A hamster in a tiny biplane flew over their heads, and they both ducked when the rodent crashed into lab office glass door.

"But why are there rodents flying planes down here?!"

"That would be my fault." Phil crawled out from under his desk and looked even more sheepish than usual. "I...I might have done something science was not meant to do."

"Phil." Lem helped him up and then frowned. "You were doing science without me."

"I know, Lem. I know. A betrayal of ten years of partnership. Please," Phil clutched Lem's shoulders and shook. "Please forgive me!"

"But, what were you doing?"

"And why are the lab rats staging a revolution?" Ted asked as reasonably as possible as he locked the door to the experimental animal cages. He wasn't sure if that would hold them for long.

"I..." Phil shuffled his feet. "I was playing with time."

"Time? But, how--?" Lem started to ask.

"You know those tachyon particles we made after that last Star Trek marathon?"

"Who could forget? I relived my youthful jealousy of Wil Wheaton and his fine sweaters and undeveloped relationship with a young Ashley Judd." Lem was getting sidetracked.

"You made up Star Trek stuff? Again?" Ted tried to get them back on track. "Didn't we have a long talk about this after that time you transported Debbie's plant partially into the wall?"

"They aren't actually tachyon particles," Phil explained. "Just, what we think tachyon particles should be like in order to cause plot points revolving around time travel and mismatched time streams."

"We didn't think it would work," Lem added. "We threw science at the wall, and it did not stick."

"But I...well, I threw science a little harder this time and..." Phil looked down. "I might have made some time vortexes by accident."

"Some time vortexes?!" Ted shouted then caught himself. "I'm not shouting. I am not angry. But I need to know more."

"I was trying to make time go backwards, you see!" Phil pulled them both over to his testing station and showed him glittering starlight caught in a glass jar. "But, every time I tried, it all just went forward. Sometimes, very forward." They all looked at the fish tank where the fish were now having a nuclear war. "I kept trying to undo it, and that only made more pockets of fast time and then--"

Ted interrupted, "How many pockets are there, Phil?"

"Um," was all the answer Ted needed.

"No wonder I couldn't remember Dad and Daughter pony night! Time has been speeding by me." He was already whipping out his cell phone, "Wednesday! It's Wednesday? Yesterday was Thursday!" He dialed up Rose's school, just to assure himself that everything was all right. As the phone rang, he pointed at both Phil and Lem, "I am not angry. But I need you both to fix this and fix it now before you age up my kid to 15 before I'm ready. Which, I never will be. But, get on this. Use any resources available to you. --yes, hello, this is Ted Crisp, father of Rose--" Ted paused. "Am I calling to say I'm going to be late? Yes, to the parent-teacher meeting I agreed to yesterday. Of course. Yes, I am running a few minutes late. I will be there as soon as I can." Ted stabbed END on his phone and was already heading out the door. "Get on this!" he shouted as the lab door slammed behind him.

Phil gulped. "Oh god, I've angered Ted."

"I've never seen him angry at us before." Lem pushed his glasses up his nose and turned to Phil. "It is both comforting that he has human faults like the rest of us yet disheartening to see his god-like image crumble before my eyes."

"I am still stuck on the fact I have angered Ted," Phil offered.

"But, I don't understand. Why were you trying to travel backward in time? You hate time travel tropes. You find them narratively boring and entirely unrealistic."

"Oh, Lem! I can hide nothing from you! At least, not for long!" Phil threw himself down at his work desk and rummaged around in a drawer before shoving a piece of paper at Lem.

Lem adjusted his glasses and tried to read the mangled fax page. "A 'speed divorce'?" he asked.

"My wife divorced me two weeks ago! A "speed divorce", she called it!" Phil popped up and began to pace, flailing madly. "I didn't even know she was unhappy! Just found this in the fax machine. She took everything! And it is all legally binding. I didn't even have to sign anything." Phil stopped and suddenly looked entirely shaken and small in his crisp, white lab coat. "I thought--" He gulped. "I thought if I could go back, maybe, maybe I could fix it. But, I seem to have conclusively proven that you can't travel back in time, only forwards."

Lem, very gently, took Phil by the shoulders and gave him a manful hug. "You have, in your sadness, committed real science, Phil. Einstein would have been so proud." The two men held each other for a moment then broke apart, shaking out their lab coats. "Right. Let us save the world from the mad science you committed in your grief. After, we will go to a bar, drink many beers, and talk about our feelings like people do on television shows."

Phil's red-rimmed eyes (which he entirely blamed on the chemical cleaners on Lem's shirt) widened. "Will there be wacky hijinks, Lem?"

"Maybe," Lem promised. "Maybe."

 

***

Ted was somewhere on the twelfth floor in December when he finally managed to get through to Veronica.

"Ted. What is going on? Linda is worried and I am tired of throwing her in front of me as we go around every corner."

Linda pipped up, "I'm not worried, Ted. I know you have a handle on this."

"Shut up, cheese eater," Veronica hissed.

"Veronica, Phil altered the time-space continuum and time is jumping all over the place in the building. He's fixing it, but it could take a while. Also, time travel tastes like blue. I, on the other hand, need to get out of here for a teacher meeting with Rose but I keep-- damn it, rats!" Veronica could hear Ted shouting "away, rats of NIMH!" before he lost his connection.

"Ted? Ted!" Veronica shook her cell phone and then threw it over her shoulder, beaning an employee. "Linda, we have to go."

"Why, is Ted all right?" Linda was already hurrying after Veronica. "Has the company finally done something that might cause the planet serious, permanent damage?"

"Yes, not that I know of, and," Veronica got into the elevator and pulled Linda in after her. "We have to go to a parent-teacher meeting."

 

***

"Okay, this is Rose's school." Linda looked out the driver's side window at the rather non-descriptive elementary school in front of them.

Veronica frowned next to her in the passenger seat. "Your car is very small, and I didn't know governments made schools this small. Why is everything so small?"

"I'm going to ignore your crazy right now and ask what the plan is."

"We go in there and attend this meeting for Ted and for Rose. She is having a bullying problem, and I will not have that little girl bullied." Veronica nodded her head and got of the car.

"Okay," Linda hopped out of the car and locked it, speeding after Veronica. "That is both an extremely sweet and extremely crazy plan. We're not Rose's parents. We can't even fake that we're Rose's crazy lesbian parents: the school knows Ted is a single father. They're not going to let us go in there and attend a meeting with a kid that isn't ours just because you say so."

"They've never meet me before." Veronica unpinned her hair and shook it out, a bright smile blooming on her lips. "Think razor back, machine gun fawn, Linda."

"...I don't know why I let you talk me into these things..."

 

***

The present...

"I never made it to that parent-teacher meeting," Ted explained to the audience. "Though, I did finally fight off that horde of rats. They made me their leader, and I released them into the dumpster rather than let their tiny, brilliant brains be cut open by the lab techs. There is suddenly no pest problem in the building any more." He smiled and shrugged. "But, because I had been in the heart of the time vortex explosion, as Phil and Lem described it, I got unstuck in time for two days. Everyone took care of Rose while I was gone, no matter how uncomfortable that makes me. Rose now keeps trying to do an 'evil scientist laugh' around the house."

Linda took a big bite of celebratory 'TED'S BACK and GOODBYE LINDA' cake, and explained around her mouthful,"So, then I bit a security guard while Veronica implied that we were both your mistresses and Rose's other guardians. Don't worry, I fixed it before I left. They only think I might be your girlfriend and Veronica is my girlfriend. The school is both pleased and flabbergasted by your open mindedness. More cake?"

Ted blinked slowly. "I'm... just not going to touch that one. But, what was the meeting about?"

"The girl we thought was bullying Rose," Veronica explained. Her cake was, yet again, untouched. "It turns out that the meeting was about explaining to Rose that the other girl liked liked her, and to offer "tools and guidance" on how to deal with the situation."

"Your girl is one in a million, though," Linda added.

"Yes, she is," Veronica agreed. "Rose said that didn't matter, and while she did not like the other girl that way, she would still like to make mud pies together. She made the other mother cry. I felt she deserved the large ice cream sundae we gave her afterward."

Ted got a little glassy eyed. "I need to go buy her a real pony."

"You did a good job with the super intelligent lab animals, though." Linda smiled, a bit of frosting at the corner of her mouth.

Ted smiled back and explained over Linda's shoulder, "While I was gone, Veronica brokered with the company for Linda to take a leave from her current job and travel the world, all while keeping a blog about her adventures. She would advertise and test out Veridian products, making sure to take lots of photos and videos of herself while doing it. It means she doesn't have to leave the company, and she can come back to our department afterward, if she wants."

"Ted," Phil stepped forward with Lem, looking bashful. "I'm sorry, in my madness after my wife left me, that I got you unstuck in time for two days. It won't happen again."

Ted shook his head and patted Phil on the shoulder. "Phil, it's okay. You got me restuck and you undid everything you did do. Also, you deleted all your notes and managed to fry all the ways you used science to destroy time out of your brain so the company can't use you for evil. That's more than I could ask for. In thanks, I'm taking you and Lem and who ever else you want out for dinner tonight."

Phil's eyes went wide, and Lem looked incredibly pleased at the prospect. "Can I have an adult drink?" Phil begged.

"Yes, you can even have an adult drink," Ted promised. "Rose liked staying with Veronica so much, she asked to stay another night, so I'm all yours." Veronica preened and dared take a bite of cake.

Phil got a little teary eyed. "There's something--I think some dust got in my eye. Excuse me." He made a hasty retreat around a potted plant to recovery himself.

"It works out, in its odd way." Linda still had cake a the corner of her mouth. "Phil is going to stay in my apartment while I'm gone so he can get back on his feet. Did you know his wife already sold the house? And gets pretty much all of his paycheck? Man, I want her lawyer. So, he won't be living under his office desk any more. Apparently, staring at the wads of used gum under there made him a little crazy and inspired him to try and destroy the time-space continuum."

"He meant it for the best."

Linda cleared her throat, then cleared it again even louder. Veronica blinked and looked at her watch. With terrible play acting, "Oh, look at the time! I am late for-- oh, hell with it." And she wandered away from Ted and Linda.

"Ted, I--"

"Linda, I--"

They both laughed.

"You first, Ted."

"Linda," he started. "I'm sorry I wasn't more excited for you. It's just, I knew you would leave as soon as you told me. And I knew I would miss you. You're the only sane person I can talk to around here, and I... I'll miss you," he finished.

"Me too," Linda whispered. "I... you never asked me what the book was about."

"Everything was just so crazy, I didn't, did I? I'm so sorry. What is it about?"

"It's sort of a modern fairytale. It's about a boy named Ned. And he comes from this very ordinary place where he is an ordinary boy, but he doesn't want that. So, he goes off on an adventure. He meets the most extraordinary and absolutely crazy people, like a doctor that happens to be a monkey and a fawn that likes to shot bazookas at the moon. He does all these crazy things, but he keeps running into this girl. He thinks he fell in love with her at first sight, but things keep happening and he never gets the chance to tell her. Finally, after all of his incredible adventures, he comes home, and when his dad asks what Ned did while he was away, Ned says 'oh, nothing much; may be I'll do something more exciting tomorrow.'" Linda fiddled with her napkin. "My publisher wants me to make it a series, so I wanted to travel, get more inspiration. Working for the company while I do it might not be the best thing in the world, but I think it sure will inspire me."

"Linda, I--"

"Hold that thought." Linda lightly touched Ted's suit jacket and straightened his collar. "I had all these things I wanted to tell you, but I think... I want to go do this. I want to go have an adventure, and I want it to be about me; not what might or might not be waiting for me when I get back. I'm going to be gone a while. So, I want you to hold that thought. And when I get back in about six months, you tell me what you were thinking. And you tell me what you're thinking right then, when you see me. Then, we'll talk. Okay?"

Ted swallowed and nodded. "Okay. Can I at least give you a hug?"

Linda laughed and threw her arms around him. "Yeah. Yeah, you can get that."

 

***

"That didn't go how I expected," Ted told Veronica later in her office.

"Thought Goldilocks was going to spring the l-word on you?' Veronica teased.

"Honestly, I don't know. Just, not like that."

Veronica actually laughed at him, then straightened his tie. "It's best for both of you, you know. She needs to do this for herself, and you need to know if you are sure. Not that I care about what happens to either one of you."

Ted watched her fingers for a moment then touched her wrist. "I never said thank you for what you did for Rose or for Linda. You did it again, Veronica."

Veronica raised her eyebrow. "I have no idea what you're talking about. Now, get out of my office. I have to prepare for a My Little Pony marathon and it requires a great deal of meditation and gun therapy."

Ted shook his head and exited. He smiled one last time at the audience, "The more things change, the more they stay the same."