Packing up the machine to transport it to Garrison Hall was a time-consuming process and Nina left the men to it, Walter bickering with Bell as to what should go where in his station wagon. They argued with everything from sprockets to how much time the process should take and how much adrenaline should be administered. Other than their raised voices, Nina could not make out most of it. "Out, out!" Walter finally shouted and an annoyed Bell emerged from the inner office. He leaned against the desk beside her and crossed his arms, saying not a word as he stonily stared across at the open doorway. Muttering and cursing went on in the background and a few minutes later Walter emerged, his hair on end and said quite humbly, "Bellie, I need your help."
Hiding her smirk, Nina watched as Bell waited a good thirty seconds before accommodating him. She packed up the last of the spark plugs into a box and carried it out, helping where she could as they crammed everything into the car and climbed in. It was late and the campus abandoned, most of the students out partying, darkness curling in around them as they drove the narrow streets and drew up behind the Hall. "You must not give her too many drugs this time, Walter," she heard from the front seat; "we need her mind open to suggestion, not numbed to complacency."
"You would know something about that, wouldn't you? It's what happens to me whenever you are around!"
"It's not me, Walter, it's the damned pot you are always smoking! I warned you that would fry your brain cells; it seems as if I was right."
"HAH!" Walter turned the car down a side street and said, "You would benefit from a good smoke now and again, maybe then you wouldn't be such an arrogant ass!"
With a certain amount of good-natured ribbing, Bell asked, "If both of us were stoned out of our minds who would run the machine?"
Clearing her throat in the backseat, Nina said, "That would be me."
Both of them laughed and the mood lightened as they pulled up in front of the Hall. Walter parked the car and removed the keys from the ignition. His friend reached across and placed his hand on his arm. "Seriously, Walter," said Bell, "we mustn't go too far this time."
Nina's ears perked up. This time? What had happened that she was unaware of? Her mouth opened but they were already out of the car.
Garrison Hall was one of the oldest buildings in the district, so ramshackle that no one cared if anyone trespassed anymore, so there was no fear of being reported to the police. Remnants of overnight lock-ins and drunken parties were scattered about the crumbling foundation, beer bottles rattling underfoot. It was quite ominous and eerie at night and Nina felt a twinge of nerves as she stepped out, their flashlights revealing Amanda as she emerged from the shadows. She too seemed affected by the mood of the building, dark shadows beneath her eyes and uncertainty in her footsteps. Walter made certain not to look back at them as he went forward to lead her inside. "Oh, good," he said cheerfully, "there you are…"
Turning on her companion as he opened the back of the station wagon, Nina said, "What did you mean 'last time'?"
"Walter and I conducted an experiment his first year at the college that had unforeseen consequences." Brown eyes regarded her with an unusual amount of remorse. "You said when we first met that sometimes ethics must be put aside in favor of science. Our ethics escaped us and the result was unfortunate. That is when most of our arguments began, because I was shocked back into common sense by it and it only made him more determined." He drew one of the boxes out of the back and went inside, leaving her standing there alone in the cold. Nina bit her lip and considered, knowing what he meant; their last subject had been hurt. But she was a scientist and sometimes there was no room for conscience; what they were doing was important, so much so that it was worth the risk. Making up her mind, she shut the car door and picking up the nearest box of wires and parts, went after him.
The dusty hue from their flashlights bounced off the walls and Walter fumbled in the darkness, finding an outlet at last and turning on one of the floodlights. He guided Amanda into a corner and sat her down out of the way as they hurried to re-assemble the equipment. The girl wrapped her coat around her tightly and shifted back and forth on her feet, snapping her gum. The familiar sound caused Nina to pause and something stirred in the back of her mind. She started toward Amanda and Bell caught her sleeve. "I know you, Nina," he said. "You want to reassure her. Don't. For this to work, she must be in a state of agitation. You may comfort her later."
Doubt spread through her, an inclination that something was wrong, but she did not argue with him. Her fingers were nimble as she helped them hook up the machine, the endless wires and plugs finding their way into the right places as her mind recited everything they must remember. When it was all set up, Amanda was brought over and Bell leaned down to speak with her. "I would like to tie on a blindfold, to deprive you of your primary senses," he said. "Would this be all right?"
"Sure," she shrugged.
"If you want us to stop," Nina said, "at any time just give us an indication."
The blindfold over her eyes, Amanda gave them a thumbs up sign and spit out her gum. Walter slid his crazy-looking assortment of probes and wires onto her head and secured it. He glanced at his watch, indicating it was nearly time. "Amanda," he said, "I am going to inject you with adrenaline. You must not fight it; let your emotions take hold." His hand lingered on hers longer than needed as he released the contents of the hypodermic into her arm and fitted headphones over her ears. Nina stood alongside Bell at the control panel and with a swift movement he turned the machine on. The lights dimmed. His concentration was evident as he hesitated over a switch then pressed it. Amanda drew in her breath and her fingers tightened on the arm of her chair. Her breathing quickened and the lights flickered. Their surroundings shifted faintly, their perceptions altering as the energy around their patient expanded, her fear mingling with their anticipation. It was intoxicating, a rush that terrified Nina as much as it thrilled her and she watched in amazement as they flickered along with the lights, her hand wavering on the control panel.
The brain waves machine hooked up to their patient began to act erratically, Walter whispering, "She's doing it, she's flickering!"
The needle leapt across the page in wide swaths and then stopped, everything growing still. The intensity in the room was so concentrated that the outlet exploded and everything went dark, sparks cascading across the room. Nina felt Bell grab her around the waist and drag her to the floor as the control panel followed suit, the entire space glowing with an over-concentration of energy. When it faded, she felt him move away from her, his hands fumbling about in the darkness for the flashlight. "Amanda," he said, and feeling it with her hand, Nina snatched it up and turned it on. The light startled all of them, turning in the direction of the chair.
Dragging the machine off her head and ripping off the blindfold, Amanda exclaimed, "God, what a rush!"
Her giddiness faded as she found them staring not at her, but beyond her into the gloom. Pulling the hair out of her eyes, she turned to find someone flickering in the hall behind her, a ghostly figure with pale golden hair. Nina climbed to her feet and drew nearer, concentrating the light on the spectral form, but it shone all the way through. "Lauren?" she whispered.
The ghost lifted her hand, a look of shock on her face, and flickered away again. Nina shone the light around frantically, the beam glancing off the peeling wallpaper and faded dust-covered paintings. Walter took the machine from their patient, strangely subdued, and their murmuring filled the background. Nina stood silent, stunned. "William," she said, and there was such seriousness in her voice that he abandoned the others and came to her, "there has never been a death on campus, has there?"
"Not to my knowledge, no."
Pressing the flashlight into his chest, Nina took off at a run. She heard them shouting after her but ignored them, snow flying up around her feet as she sprinted down the street. Dogs barked and street lamps flickered, indicating her worst fears had been correct. She increased her speed as she ran across the campus lawn, past the half-melted snowman the freshman had built the preceding day, darting around the patch of ice that had formed at the foot of the statue of the school's founder. She slammed against the campus door and it opened inside, the flickering intensifying as she called out, "Lauren?"
Her voice echoed in the emptiness and she turned, knowing someone was behind her. Lauren stood there, shell-shocked, her eyes wide and one hand tucked inside her coat. "Nina," she said, stunned, and drew her fingers out coated in blood. She went down.
Nina knelt over her, feeling panic rising in her veins, attempting to stop the bleeding and barely aware that the door had opened behind her, letting in her companions. Walter stopped, stunned, and did not move, but Bell dropped to his knees. Amanda put her hand over her mouth and braced herself against the wall.
"She's convulsing!" Nina said, hanging onto her as the girl shuddered and thrashed against the cement floor.
"I don't know; she's a traveler… maybe the concentration of Amanda's energy…"
After one final violent spasm, Lauren became motionless. Nina drew in a shuddering breath and Amanda whimpered in the background and slid to the floor. Everything came crashing in around them, Nina staring at her without comprehending what had happened. She had made a terrible mistake, she had not seen what Lauren had needed her to see, all along she had been there under her nose but instead, Nina had pushed her aside in favor of other, more reputable friends. She was stunned but fortunately, Bell was not. Digging through his bag, he drew out a syringe, their backup plan in case Amanda had gone into cardiac arrest. Pushing Nina aside, he drove the needle into Lauren's heart. The liquid drained into her and he said, "Come on, Lauren… come back to us."
The bulb overhead continued to swing, casting eerie shadows along the walls. Nina's fingers were covered in blood. Silence surrounded them in a suffocating wave and then, miraculously, Lauren gasped as air filled her lungs, clarity returning to her eyes, the adrenaline forcing her upright. Her fingers closed around Nina's wrist hard and her eyes stared at them, wide and terrified. Walter still did not move, but Bell said, "It's all right. We're taking you to a hospital." He pulled her up off the floor into his arms while Nina maintained pressure on the wound across her abdomen. "Walter," said Bell, jolting his colleague out of shock, "you're driving."
"I'll do it," Amanda said, and took the keys out of his hand.
The bright lights of the hospital were jarring after the gloom; the questions frantic as the nurses laid her out on a stretcher and wheeled her into the emergency room. Nina released her with relief and allowed Bell to handle them, his quiet assurance that he did not know what had happened. She sat and waited with Amanda while the men paced, their silence speaking far more than words.
"This is your fault," Walter hissed. "You always want to take it a step further."
"It was not my machine," answered Bell. "I warned you to inhibit the energy field."
"How was I to know there was another one?"
Nina felt anger surge through her and moved upright, startling all of them. "If I have to listen to you to argue one more time, I swear to God both of you will be in the emergency room! Just… shut up!"
They stared after her as she stormed down the hall and entered the ladies' room. Slamming the door behind her, she pounded her fist into it and fell against the sink, looking at last at her reflection. Rows of empty stalls were behind her but all she could see was the dried blood that coated the side of her face. It was all over her hands and as she shrugged out of her coat and threw it to the floor, she drew in shuddering breaths. The water was cold, a welcome shock against the numbness of her emotions, of the grief spreading through her. When she finished and dried her hands, she realized they were shaking. "God, forgive me," she said, praying for the first time in her life.
"I rather suspect if He exists, He knows you did not mean what happened."
His scent was familiar, overpowering, even though he stood a short distance away from her.
Nina turned to him. "You told me it would be all right, that the only people involved would be the four of us."
"None of us could have known what might happen." He came forward and placed his hands on her upper arms, a hint of excitement entering his tone. "It worked, Nina. She transported. What happened to Lauren… is inexplicable."
"Is that what you are going to tell yourself in the middle of the night when you cannot sleep? That it worked?"
Frustration entered his countenance. "You are a scientist! You knew the risks."
"Yes, and I am so much a scientist I forgot to be a human being!"
The door opened and a nurse stuck her head inside, startled to find a man in the ladies' room. She took one look at their faces and ducked out again, the door swinging shut behind her. Drawing in her breath and turning away from him, Nina attempted to find composure but the most she could muster was to put her hand over her mouth. Bell put his hand on her shoulder and she shrugged it off. He took hold of her arm and turned her around, cupping her face in his long fingers and forcing her to look up at him. "Nina," he said, "I am sorry for what happened, but you cannot blame yourself. You are right; we should have shown more caution. But Lauren is going to live, either by some fantastic twist of fate or the hand of providence. Do not give up on science. There is so much we can accomplish together if you stay with me."
He rested his head against hers and she relented, knowing that her grief would eventually subside, if not the guilt. "What you want," she said presently and he looked at her, "how can you be certain it is worth it?"
"I can't," he answered. "All I can do is try and hope for the best. I need you. Walter needs you."
Her hair gleamed red in the fluorescent lights and she leaned against him, allowing him to put his arms around her. "Remind me," she said, "if we ever go too far, remind me of this moment."
"I don't think you will need reminding," he answered.
Nina smiled ruefully and he asked, "How did you know?"
"When you left me in the lab the other night, I saw Amanda's mother. She must have crossed into our present at the moment of the accident. If time is a continuous loop then whatever happened to Lauren brought her here. Do you think we will ever understand it?"
Guiding her to the door, he shook his head. "I don't know, but we will do our best. Now, you should go assure Walter that you are not going to abandon us. He is very concerned."
"I'll bet he is. You two really must stop bickering."
"Never, it keeps our minds sharp." He removed his arm from around her and opened the door, letting her out into the hall. Once again, they were pretending not to be what Lauren had known all along. Nina went to convince Walter she would not betray them in leaving and Bell followed carrying her coat. Relief coursed through Walter's face and he asked, "Does this mean you're not angry with us anymore?"
"Absolutely not, you are both incorrigible," she answered. "But I suppose for now, I will put up with you."
He nodded and went to sit quietly in the nearest chair, Amanda taking his hand and patting it. The nurse approached to inform them that Lauren was stable. "You found her on campus?"
"There was a similar incident not long ago, a young man with a knife. It looks like he got her in the stomach but for some reason didn't finish it." Catching sight of the policemen that had just arrived, the nurse ducked around them and hurried to report it. Bell and Nina stared at one another. Was it possible…?
"We may never know," he answered.
Stepping around him, Nina stared out into the darkness. "I think we already do."