by Matt Slaybaugh
"There's another one!" Angie whispered. "I swear, it was looking right at us!"
"Oh, it's just a shadow, or some smoke, or something." Said Brandon, not paying attention.
"That wasn't a shadow." Angie replied. The couple moved through the Arts quad, Angie looking over her shoulder. "Look. I've never believed in this kind of thing. Supernatural things. Paranormal things, but those were real."
"You think it's ghosts? Honestly? Sweetheart…"
"Don't ‘sweetheart' me…"
"Darling. Dear. I believe you saw something, but I do not believe that you saw a ghost."
A scream and the sound of running footsteps echoed from the other side of the quad.
They paused and looked at each other.
"A fraternity prank of some kind?" Brandon suggested. They entered the building devoted to the university's department of applied physics.
"You're the scientist." Angie answered. "You tell me what it is."
Brandon smiled at her with his lips pressed together, which meant he was ready to finish the conversation. She sneered at him, then asked, brightly, "Wasn't your advisor a ‘ghost hunter' or something?"
Brandon sighed. "I think he said he was a ‘gaffer', whatever that is, on some reality TV show. ‘Spirits of the Past' I think it was called."
"Oh. I remember that one."
"Don't tell me you watched that stuff?"
"Oh, me? No, no. Never. Just, I remember seeing an ad for it."
They took the stairs to the third floor and entered Dr. Duncan's lab in 302. "Sorry again." Brandon apologized. "I'm normally very vigilant about my wallet and keys. But my phone… If it isn't here we can just go on and I'll look more tomorrow. Have a look around the lab. Some interesting research here."
As they walked through, Brandon pointed out his fellow students' work areas. "Over there is one of Francis's mesh satellites." Brandon said. "And Merwyn's universal… something-or-other. Garza's machine vision thing… a shelf, a chair, a sink…"
They walked to a workbench scattered with electrical components. "Davis has been working on a functional light saber. It goes on but then droops and hangs limp after a few seconds." Brandon laughed.
They stopped at Brandon's table, bare except for a couple of laptops. "No cool gadgets, here, I'm afraid. Steganography doesn't lend itself to that."
Next to Brandon's table was another one, covered in snaking wires, a small camera, and two boxes, the larger of which emitted a bright pinprick of light.
"That thing is The Diachron. A fancy name for a not-very-useful table lamp." Brandon rummaged through his drawers.
"It's not really just a light though, is it? How could you possibly get funding for that?" Angie looked more closely at the device, a clunky, rather ugly plastic box with some knobs and a digital meter and a small lens that projected a cone of white light onto a sheet of paper taped to the wall.
"Well, it is just a light." Answered Brandon. "But the neat thing is that there is no power source. See how it's not plugged in to anything? No batteries, either."
"But how does it actually work?"
"Something something quantum something. I don't know. It has something to do with ‘passively magnifying ambient radiation'… Ahh! Found it!" Brandon pulled his phone from his coat pocket. "It's Marlena's project. She's very cagey about it. I think that's because she doesn't fully understand it herself."
"You had your phone in your pocket the whole time?"
"Well, yes. But I didn't think it would be in this pocket."
Angie pointed at the device. "What does this flickering mean? And why is the meter jumping around like that?"
"Hmm? What…?" Brandon put his coat down and peered at the light and the meter. "That's strange… Oh… Marlena needs to know about this."
He began composing a text on his phone when Marlena herself threw open the door behind them and ran up to her table. "What happened? Did you touch it? What did you see?"
"Uhh. No, we didn't do anything. Just the flicker, there. It just started… This is Angie…"
"Hi." Marlena smiled curtly at Angie. "A sensor in the machine is set to send me a text if the output changes by more than half a percent. Are you sure you didn't mess with it?"
"Yes!" Brandon replied. "I know better than to…"
"Look!" Angie pointed at the paper screen taped to the wall.
What had been a noisy disorganized scattering of shadows projected on the paper screen was now an image of two vertical blobs. The image flickered in and out and then disappeared.
"Were those people?" Angie asked.
"I don't think so." Brandon answered. "More Pareidolia."
"Please tell me this thing is recording." Marlena adjusted the small camera pointed at the paper. "Did that image look blurry to you?" She continued, focusing the image by adjusting the box, moving it slightly closer, then slightly further back.
"There they are again!" Angie yelled. "Or… are they different?"
Marlena moved the box again until the image projected onto the paper was clear and unmistakable: a young couple, looking back at them.
"Brandon, turn off the overhead lights." Marlena said.
"Uh. Okay." He walked back to the switches on the wall. "Marlena, what is this? Who are those people?"
"I don't know."
"Well, where are they?"
"Probably not too far, but I can't say for sure yet."
"So, is it like a web chat? Like a phone?" Angie asked. "They're calling us from another one of these things out there somewhere?"
"It's sort of like a phone," Marlena answered. "But not exactly. And they're not calling us."
"Look. At the image. There's another device," Angie said. "Right behind them. Look over the man's shoulder. It has a logo on it. It says your name, ‘Marlena' just like this one, but the printing is different."
"Whaaat…?" Marlena peered at the image, and then down to the meter. "We need to calibrate."
The faces on the paper, clearer now in the dark room, appeared to be talking.
"Is there any sound?" Angie asked.
"No. I mean, there could be. We need to know the exact frequency of the shift, otherwise we won't be able to understand it. It would sound like… whale noises or something."
The couple on the paper stepped back and stood upright, as though having their photo taken.
The three in the lab stared at the image for a moment. "What's that in his hand?" Marlena asked.
"A map?" Brandon peered closer.
"Map of where?"
"How can we talk to them?" Angie asked.
"Did you tell Duncan about this?" Brandon asked.
"We can't. Yet. And yes. He's on his way."
"They seem to be looking at us." Angie said. "What are they seeing?"
"I don't know!" Marlena blurted sharply.
Suddenly the couple in the image opened their mouths in surprise and the image disappeared, replaced with the overlapping shadows the trio had seen before.
Marlena studied the meter in silence.
"What is that!?" Brandon shouted, pointing.
In the air in front of the box next to the diachron was a whitish shape, like the outline of the upper half of a human figure. It leaned forward and lifted its arm as if reaching out, and then disappeared.
"You saw that, right?" Brandon whispered.
The others nodded.
"Believe me now?" Angie asked.
Marlena adjusted one of the dials and suddenly, images of people began appearing on the paper for fractions of a second.
"Ow, this hurts my eyes." Brandon said. "Wait. Was that one wearing a tri-corner hat?"
"I set it to cycle at fifty hertz. Fifty per second."
"This is too fast to make out anything. Can you slow it down?"
"I can halve it to twenty-five. If it's too slow we might interrupt the signal completely, like we did to that first one."
"Still too fast."
"Better." Brandon said. "They're repeating a bit. I mean, like we're cycling through a set of a dozen or so images. This is still hard to watch."
"That one couple looks like they're in period clothes from the 1960s," Angie said. "And that other one from the 1800s."
While the three stared at the images on the paper, Doctor Duncan quietly opened the door to the lab and peered over their shoulders before they noticed. "You've done it, Marlena." He said quietly. "I can't describe how pleased I am. How proud I am. This is so exciting!"
Marlena jumped back. "Professor! Have you seen?"
"Yes. It's amazing. I really didn't think we'd get this far so soon. What have I missed?"
Brandon summarized what they had seen while Marlena reached around the diachron to secure a cable running to her computer, which displayed an interface covered with numbers. She tapped her keyboard and the images on the paper slowed to one full second per image. "This is probably interfering with their experience, but we need this information. Do you see any dates?"
"Dates?" Brandon asked.
"Dates. Months. Years. Anything with a date on it?"
They all studied the image on the paper.
"There." Angie said. "'New Orleans, 1853'. Written on that card in the guy's hand."
"Hmm…" Marlena paused and the image blinked to a different couple.
"What does the meter read?" Duncan asked excitedly. "If we know one end of the time spectrum and the frequency, we should be able to extrapolate the start date."
"But…" Marlena paused, then read the meter.
"Don't you see?" Asked Duncan.
Marlena paused again. "Yesss. Alright, shut up everybody. I need to do some math."
Angie sat with Duncan on the other end of the lab, where the lights were still on.
"Does this have something to do with the ghosts?"
"We saw some outside on our way here. And there was one here in the lab!"
"Interesting…" Duncan thought for a moment. "Well, yes. I'm sure it does. I mean, yes of course it does! Although I can't say quite why or how just yet."
Angie stared at him for a moment. "But… What is all this?" Angie asked.
Duncan sighed and smiled. "I ate a lot of sweets when I was young. My grandmother had one treat she liked to give me. She called it "Pain au Chocolat", but it was just a chocolate bar in a hot dog bun. I ate as many as she would make for me. Once, I bit into one and had a terrible pain in my tooth. I told my father who took me to the dentist the next day and I got a filling."
Brandon sat down next to Angie and gestured to her to not interrupt.
Duncan smiled at him then continued. "Now, after that visit to the dentist, I began hearing voices. Yes, really. I asked my parents, my sister, if they heard anything, but no. I discovered that when I clenched my jaw a certain way I could make the voices louder, and if I moved my tongue over the filling I could change what I heard, often music, instead of voices. I thought I was going crazy. Hearing voices in my head? But these voices were not telling me to do bad things. They were telling me to buy a new car, or a new kind of gum. They were ads! Now, what kind of schizophrenic has the voices in his head interrupted by advertising?!
I really did think I was going crazy until I heard a D.J. give the station's call sign. It was a local radio station! Later, the dentist explained that metal fillings can sometimes act as radio receivers. I had a radio in my mouth, and the bones in my head were the amplifier! My father insisted we have the filling replaced and my superpower was gone. But that experience taught me an important lesson: that invisible signals are everywhere, all around us, all the time. We can't see them or hear them or feel them, but they are there. And with the right type of receiver and amplifier, we can make those signals apparent."
"OK." Marlena said from across the room.
Duncan stood. "We are surrounded by signals and Marlena and I have been building an amplifier."
The group remained quiet while Marlena entered numbers into her laptop.
Duncan offered his advice. "We need the coordinates of New Orleans so we can triangulate from here. The distance from there to here is probably equivalent to a day plus or minus."
Marlena continued working. "Holy Stromboli. They must be using terawatts of power. Petawatts!"
"Power. That's another way to ballpark the timescape." Duncan said.
"Dawes's Law." Marlena said. "Remember that one, Bran?"
"Uh… Yes." He answered. "The… power requirement will increase with the cube of the time delta."
"But that only helps if we know the strength of the signal." Marlena said to Dr. Duncan.
"Have you found any commonalities among the signals so far?"
"There are at least three signals that seem to have the same levels, and another set of four that are about the same."
"And what about the images? Are you seeing commonalities there?"
"A few of the backgrounds are the same," Angie said. "Or at least similar. Like, the ones with period costumes all have that desk on the right with the metal garbage can next to it."
"The same background locks in the origin location. Same levels locks in the time, unless…." Duncan thought a bit then said, "Brandon. Here is your time to shine."
"Part of why I asked you to be part of this lab was because of your aptitude in finding information hidden inside other signals."
"Well, yes. But the steganography I've been doing has been to track covert messages, nothing about quantum timescapes or whatever."
"Yes. But just like a digital photograph can contain concealed information about the time and place that the photo was taken, this signal may also have such information that is not visible to us, perhaps intentional, perhaps not. So, take snapshots of the images on the paper and do the analysis you've been developing to see if there is anything there."
"Ohhhh-kay." Brandon snapped some pictures with his phone and went over to his lab table.
"So, what does this have to do with the ghosts?" Angie said
"Ghosts?" Marlena asked.
"Doctor," Angie asked. "Please, what is all this?!"
Duncan sighed and smiled. "Let's step over here and let Brandon work. The others may have heard some of this before, but that experience with the radio filling I was telling you about gave me a lifelong interest in electricity and radio waves. I went to college and had finished my second year of an E.E. degree, electrical engineering degree, but was tired of problem sets and theory. I wanted to get my hands dirty. I wanted to build robots! Well, that Spring, I learned of an opportunity to do electrical work with a TV crew who happened to be shooting an episode nearby. So, while my classmates got internships with big tech companies, I was running cables and checking levels with this silly ‘ghost-hunter' show. The producers liked me, liked my work and invited me to join their crew and travel the country, investigating haunted houses and the like. It sounded like fun, and it was! I said yes, took a leave from university and had a very memorable year. One of the best decisions I ever made.
So, a few months in, at this one old house, small town, north of here, the sound guy, Alan, started complaining about a signal coming through the monitors that he couldn't find the source of. We were using a new type of digital filter that allowed very fine detection. What had seemed like just noise turned out to be a signal. This signal was interfering with the cameras. We never found the source. What made this more interesting is that the house we were shooting in was the only location we had been where most of us had actually felt something, something strange, like a presence… or saw a shadow or strange light, or something difficult to explain. We all knew that the ghosts we had been hunting weren't real. But this time was different. It was as though we could feel the signal, or maybe witness the manifestation of the signal, or of whatever was causing the signal. Anyway, there was a correlation. We fooled with the equipment a bit and at some point, someone opened a window, a gust of air blew in and the signal was suddenly gone.
We did a few more shoots at totally non-haunted locations, but at the next few ‘legitimate' places, the same kind of thing happened. The signal wasn't everywhere but did seem more common at locations where there was a famous story about the place, some well-known history. But the signal could be lost by a single gust of air from an open window. Alan and I eventually discovered that the signal couldn't persist in moving air or in the presence of bright light or near the electromagnetic interference from our power cables or pretty much any electronic equipment. So, when we detected a signal, we had to keep all the windows closed and all the electrical equipment away from certain rooms.
The producers were interested in what we were looking at, as evidence for the supernatural, and supported Alan and me in investigating further. We started looking online for anyone else who had seen this and that's when I found Arnold Meng's paper on atmospheric quantum lensing, and I developed my interest in academic research beyond what I had been doing in E.E…."
"Duncan!" Brandon shouted. "You have to see this!"
"That didn't take long." Marlena said.
"No. Because it's so familiar! I've seen this pattern a hundred times before, because I've made this pattern a hundred times before! Look!"
Brandon pointed at his laptop screen, which showed one of the photos of the images from the diachron: one man wore a suit and the other wore what looked like a police uniform. Brandon clicked his mouse and the image became almost completely black - all black except for a few dozen small white squares scattered across it. "This is the code you and I have been working on, based on the overlapping barcodes. It's the same kind of code!"
"And what is the information?" Duncan asked excitedly.
"Here's where it's not so clear. They are not using it the way we have. It looks like a more optimized and efficient method than we've been using. Unless I know some of the actual information, I can't tell which bits are supposed to represent date, or place, or whatever."
"Marlena, how can you get the start date?" Duncan asked.
"I don't know if I can. Not directly. Although… I guess we could infer the power draw based on the frequency and end date. But going from there to start date will be fuzzy. We need like 20 digits of accuracy, but this equipment isn't sensitive enough."
"Okay. But what's the estimate?"
"Based on everything else. These policemen are from… twenty-one years. Twenty-one years in the future."
Angie and Brandon looked at each other while Duncan stood beaming, nearly jumping with excitement. "Brandon, work with that. There must be something in that code that indicates the year twenty-one years from now."
"OK." Brandon got to work.
Angie stared with her mouth open. "What!? Explain, please?!"
Duncan stifled a giggle then got a drink of water, practically skipping to and from the sink. "So. I'll continue the story I was telling before. After a year of doing TV, I was ready for the warm bubble of university life and returned, switching my major to applied physics. I knew there was a signal out there and I was determined to find it and understand what it was, what it meant. We found that there were definite, measurable signals and the trick was to amplify them. I built scanners that looked across all frequencies, hoping to find that ‘signature' we had seen at those old houses. I visited more old houses, and cemeteries even. Cemeteries, I found, are completely devoid of spirit life, if I can call it that. The action is almost entirely in very old homes, built before electrification, with very still air, no drafts.
I managed to find some signal and knew the next tasks were to amplify it and measure it. It's taken many years and I've had to spend most of that time on other things, but here we are. Once I had my own lab and started getting grants I could get back into the hunt. Most of the projects you see here have nothing to do with the search, but a few do. The box Marlena built is a "lens" of sorts. Not a powered amplifier like with a radio, but a passive one, like my cavity filling. It magnifies the ambient energy that surrounds us but leaves no electromagnetic trace of its own, so doesn't interfere with the signal.
Once she and I finished prototyping her machine, we were able to amplify the signal, so the next task was to measure it. But no matter what we did, we could never get more than 10% of the expected signal. More like 8%. So, either our expectations were wrong, or the equipment was not working. We tested the equipment every way we could think of but found no problems. Then, one day a few months ago, as a lark, we tried simply reversing the detector. And we found the missing 90%. From the future."
Brandon jumped up. "Here! I've got it!" He pointed at his screen where he had coordinates, dates and times down to the millisecond. "And look." He pointed to a section underneath labeled, ‘notes'. "Cold case file B7-1193. They're trying to solve a case."
"This is enough." Duncan said. "We have enough. Is the repeater on?"
Marlena flipped a switch on the box next to the diacron. The image on the paper immediately became much fainter. "Brandon, step to your left. You're in the limelight."
"Oh. Sorry. Didn't know I was in the way."
"No. You're in frame. You'll be what they see on the other side."
Duncan cleared his throat. "This is a time tunnel. The tunnel is created in the future. The tunnel requires a tremendous amount of power, and more power for longer durations. All the power is coming from the future. We cannot create a tunnel into the future, but we can intercept tunnels that pass us as they go into the past. What we've been seeing are individuals in the future, creating tunnels into the past - the past prior to now. And we have been interrupting these tunnels, taking slices and displaying them on the wall. This was all theoretical until this evening. I don't know precisely what these individuals have been seeing, but they've been looking into the past. What we are now proposing to do is interrupt their signal completely and bypass their view of the past with us. With you, Brandon."
Brandon stood with his mouth open for a moment and then said, "Angie, come on, then." Brandon waved her closer. Angie grinned and jumped next to him.
"See the tape on the floor?" Marlena asked. "Don't go outside that box."
"Wait." Brandon asked. "How long has that tape been there? How could you have planned this?"
"We knew there would be a chance of projecting signal as well as receiving it." Marlena answered. "That's why I built the detector/amplifier as well as this thing, the transmitter/repeater. I didn't know until tonight when or how we would be using it."
"Is the scanner working?" Duncan asked.
"Yes. There are a few frequencies we can choose from. I'll just take the strongest one."
Marlena tapped at her keyboard some more and the image on the paper switched again, to yet another couple. The image stayed on this time. The couple's faces changed from happy, to confused, to angry.
"Brandon, wave." Duncan said.
Brandon waved. The couple on the paper waved back.
"Is there any sound at all, Marlena?" Duncan asked.
"No. I still can't get anything but the lowest frequencies."
The couple in the image spoke to someone off screen and the image went blank.
"OK. Something to work on." Duncan replied. "Brandon, could you get some paper and a marker?" Duncan asked. "Big sheets."
"Umm. OK." Brandon looked around the lab and found a fat marker and some printer paper.
"What about the whiteboard?" Angie asked, and she rolled over a portable whiteboard, setting it just behind the square of tape on the floor.
"Of course. Excellent!" Duncan said. "Places everyone! Let's do this again!"
Marlena scanned frequencies again, and again selected the strongest one. This time, the images of three young men appeared. Their expressions changed from disgusted to confused. They began talking with one another, although the group in the lab heard nothing.
"Brandon, start writing." Duncan commanded.
"Anything! ‘Hello' would do."
Brandon wrote and the men on the paper squinted and shouted silently. Brandon pointed at the whiteboard and began writing. "Where are you?" And then, "When are you?"
One of the young men pulled out a display tablet and wrote "Pasadena. 2034." He held the tablet close so the group could read it.
Brandon wrote, "March 9, 2020. Ithaca, New York."
"Sod off" read the next message and the signal was lost.
Duncan giggled. "Some things never change, eh? I think we have enough, don't we Marlena?"
"Enough?" Brandon asked.
"Enough data to continue on to stage 3: opening a time tunnel of our own."
"And we'll be tourists, too." Angie said.
"Tourists?" Marlena asked.
"Don't you see?" Asked Angie. "The maps, the period costumes? They are using these machines, these things you've built here, to visit the past. I bet that in the future, there's a whole tourism industry based on your technology. That's why their diachron boxes or whatever have ‘Marlena' stamped on them, why they're using Brandon's code thing."
Duncan paused, then smiled. "I think you're quite right."
"And those police, solving the cold case? They are going to try to witness the crime while it's happening!"
The four stood in silence for a moment, reflecting on the enormity of what they had done and what they were doing.
"Well." Duncan broke the silence. "Shall we? Brandon, get back in position."
Brandon again stood in the middle of the tape square.
"Marlena, do you have all the numbers plugged in?"
"Yes. I think we're set."
"And the repeater is set in reverse?"
"And what time and place have you set it to? Let's not be too ambitious on our first go."
"We simply don't have the power to go very far. I set it for here, in the lab, just an hour ago."
Marlena tapped the space bar on her laptop and the overhead lights on the other side of the lab flickered as a faint cone of light shone from the transmitter toward Brandon. Brandon tensed, not sure what to expect but then relaxed when nothing else obvious happened.
"What do you see?" Angie asked.
"Nothing? I mean… Wait. The light…" Brandon looked directly into the cone of light. "It's… It's us! That's me!" He reached out his arm to touch the images projected toward him when the light suddenly shut off.
"It's overheating." Marlena said. "This is drawing a lot of power. We need to find a way of cooling it down."
She pulled off the case cover and nearly burned her fingertips. "Ow! We need a bigger heat sink."
The four worked together to find components around the lab that would help draw excess heat away from the device. While they were working, Angie asked Marlena how she had gotten involved in this project.
"I didn't know it would result in this!" She replied, laughing. "I knew I was going to do something in the sciences and I had an interest in the scientific aspect of the project, as far as I understood it. But Duncan began asking me more about my personal life, what drove me. I mentioned my grandparents and how important they were for me when I was a kid, and how when my grandpa died it was really hard for me. Duncan told me some of his stories about his days on that TV show and at first, I thought he was making light of what I had been saying, but he was sincere and eventually made me believe that there was a chance, a tiny chance, but a chance, that I could see my grandfather again. Maybe not talk to him or interact with him, but at least see him. Now, I assumed he meant something along the lines that my grandpa was a ghost, that we would be able to detect somehow, or something. But I've come to realize that he meant I would be able to actually see my grandpa as he was, in his life. A lot of the work we've done has been very difficult and it's taken years to get to where we are. But it's the thought of seeing people I've loved again that has kept me going."
The new heat sink was in place and they took turns opening more time tunnels, each time a bit further back in time and a bit further away from the lab.
"Where are you now?" Marlena asked.
"Outside, I think." Angie answered. "This is still today, right?"
"Yes," Duncan said. "Earlier this evening."
"Oh, in the quad. I see… Hey, there's us!" Angie laughed as she saw an image of herself and Brandon walking through the quad. The Angie in the image looked up with a fearful expression.
"See, Ange." Brandon said. "I told you it wasn't ghosts."
For Marlena's next turn they created a tunnel going back to 3pm that day.
"No one's reacting to me."
"It's too bright." Duncan said. "The image is so faint that it can only be seen in darkness. Or could be too much of a breeze to maintain it."
Then suddenly, the transmitter's light turned off, the transmitter stopped humming, and the lights on the other side of the lab went out.
"Whoops." Marlena said. "Blew a circuit."
Brandon went to the door. "The whole floor is dark. How much power were we drawing?"
"I think we've done enough for tonight. It's very late and we've achieved so much more than I could have hoped for. Marlena and Brandon, let's meet at… 10:30 tomorrow morning to go over how we're going to publish this. Angie, you're welcome as well, of course, although it won't be as exciting as tonight has been."
The room was mostly dark, illuminated by a streetlamp outside, Marlena's and Brandon's laptops, and the cone of light from the diachron, which continued silently projecting static noise with an occasional image of a figure.
The group gathered their things and Angie cleared her throat. "Doctor. I still have so many questions."
"So do I, but please, go on."
"Why was the light from the diachron pure white for so long? From what you said, you waited months for tonight, for the light to settle into a signal you could make sense of."
Dr. Duncan cleared his throat. "The very first time we turned the diachron on, we were worried we wouldn't know whether it was working or not because we assumed the signal might be too dim to even know. But almost immediately after flipping the switch, the light was bright. Far, far brighter than I expected."
"It was almost like someone was purposefully broadcasting signal at the frequencies we were reading." Marlena said.
"Which of course, they are, or will be, rather." Duncan replied. "We now know that individuals in the future are broadcasting into the past, but you're right, the white light we saw on the diachron was even brighter than we would have expected just from intercepting tunnels, as it were."
"Maybe that will help explain." Said Brandon, pointing at the paper on the wall, still displaying the light from the diachron.
In the nearly black room, the noisy static of before had been replaced by one of the codes Brandon had solved earlier.
"What does it say?"
"Give me a minute." Brandon snapped a pic with his phone and loaded it onto his laptop. "Umm. It says, ‘paging Duncan, Marlena, Brandon, and Angie' and gives time coordinates."
"No location?" Marlena asked.
"No. It just says, ‘lab'. About five years in the future."
"Well plug it in!" Duncan said. "We don't need the power on to receive."
Angie stepped into the square of tape on the floor and gasped. She called the others over and the four stared into the cone of light at another group of four people. The group in the image laughed silently and pointed.
"Oh. Look at me!" Brandon said. "I've gotten fat!"
"My hair is so gray!" Moaned Marlena.
"You look well, doctor." Said Angie.
"And you as well."
The four in the image each held a sheet of paper and took turns placing them on an easel. Duncan was first. His paper read: "Still haven't cracked sound but there is some progress. We're being sued by the Gaming Commission, but I'm not worried. Get ready for the Paradox Trials – a very interesting month!"
Marlena was next: "Fission energy has finally been rolled out. So only just now do we have enough power to reach you Still, this is a $25,000 call ??"
Brandon: "Would wish you well but I know exactly how well you've been. But don't worry about the small stuff. Really. Just don't. Also, run the fan whenever you're in the bathroom. Call your mother"
Angie was last: "We're famous now. You're famous. Everyone wants to talk with us. Talk with you. Every undergrad with access to a Marlena device makes a point of trying to see the lab on the night of first discovery."
The future selves waved goodbye. The signal faded and the group stood quietly for a moment, then again got ready to leave. Duncan and Marlena went to the utility closet to turn the electricity back on and Brandon and Angie said goodnight and went outside. They opened the door to the quad and gasped as they saw hundreds of ghost-like figures standing in the quad. The ghosts did not walk closer but did reach out their hands. Angie felt their icy touch as she and Brandon walked past.
A group of undergrads were lying on the ground, to terrified to move. Angie walked over smiling. "It's O.K. It's alright." She said. "It's all O.K."
A sudden strong breeze blew through and all the ghosts faded away.