The Twilight Twenty-Five
thetwilight25 dot com
Flapity, Flopity, Flip!
The mouse on the Möbius strip.
The strip revolved,
The mouse dissolved,
In a chronodimensional skip!
- from The Space Child's Mother Goose
Young children do not generally know a great deal about mathematics. A child of five or six will probably be acquainted with her addition and her subtraction, and a particularly quick one might have started in on some low level multiplication. Sometimes, a clever little soul might have begun basic geometry, if she has a natural aptitude for understanding shapes and measurements. Occasionally, her father might catch her engaging - unknowingly - with the simple algebra of the everyday. But it's considered highly unusual for a girl of three to sit down with the intention of making a Möbius strip.
Nevertheless, there she was: solemn-faced Renesmee in the middle of the floor, playing with her book of coloured construction papers and her Crayola blunt-nosed scissors. Scattered around her were even-edged, perfect rectangles, long and thin, that she'd cut out herself.
Her father, a theoretical physicist named Edward Cullen, was sitting at his desk just beside her, working from home. He'd arranged to do that more often so that he could spend more time with his daughter. His wife had died not long after giving birth to Renesmee, having suffered through an extremely difficult pregnancy; and now the little girl was everything he felt that he had left.
He looked down at where she was playing - or, rather, constructing. She'd been quiet for so long, he was certain that she was getting into some sort of mischief. But when he glanced down at her, she was simply taping the two ends of one strip together, with a familiar kind of twist in the paper. That's funny, he thought to himself, she's tried to make a circle and gotten all mixed up and accidentally made that instead.
She looked up at him then, with wide caramel coloured eyes, and caught him glancing at her little project. So, with a little smile of patience and pride, she picked up one of her large chubby crayons and drew the path of the ant for her Daddy to see. A red line that met itself at the starting point, having gone over the entire length of the strip, without crossing an edge.
Edward was startled, pleased and dismayed all at once. Renesmee seemed fully aware of the model she'd just put together, and he'd always hoped that his child would follow him into one of the sciences, but for her to be exhibiting such intelligence so young…
It wasn't an easy thing to be a gifted child. He knew that better than anybody.
"That's called the Möbius strip." He told her sweetly, watching her twist it around in her hands and study its shape.
A frown suddenly appeared on Renesmee's doll-like face.
"Somebody already made it?" She asked, very glumly.
"A man named August Ferdinand Möbius," He said, "He was from Germany. He did a lot of math and astronomy…"
"No, his job was more like Auntie Alice's. He lived a long time ago. I'll tell you about him when you're bigger."
"When I'm little," She argued with a stern precociousness, "And don't tell me. Read."
A strange requested, but Edward decided that she was simply trying to be more like he was. Often times he would demand an in-depth explanation instead of letting his friends paraphrase, and he did have a habit of declaring that he would just read a paper himself and continue the conversation later. It wasn't his favourite thing about himself, but sometimes children picked up things their parents would rather they didn't.
"Alright, young lady," He said playfully, heading to the bookcase and grabbing an old text book from his college days, "You're going to get just what you asked for."
The entry on Möbius was in that purposefully complex prose that textbooks use when they're trying to scare away uncommitted students. It was awkwardly paced, and peppered with synonyms chosen for length instead of clarity. A truly intimidating example of technical writing.
He read it aloud as quickly as he could, hoping in a playful way that Renesmee would cry foul and demand he explain it all to her in slower, simpler language.
Instead, she listened patiently. She rested her chin in her hands, with her elbows on her knees, and wore an expression of serene thoughtfulness that was highly unlike the faces of concentration or boredom that her peers might have made.
Then, once Edward had finished reading her the section, she said:
"You read too slow," And she shook her head of Shirley Temple ringlets, "I think so long between the things you say…"
Edward gave a wistful half-smile at that. He recalled his own childhood, listening to teachers drone on and on. Like snails that had taught themselves to talk. Sometimes he would race ahead, reading all of the material on the handout. Sometimes he would let his thoughts dart in and out of the words being recited to him, and in those flickering moments it would seem whole universes of the mind could be born and die.
"I'll try to go a little faster next time." He apologized.
"Daddy can't do it." Renesmee told him, in a very sympathetic sort of way.
"So? What would you like?"
"Teach me reading," She replied cheerfully, "Then I can think as quick as I need!"
"Quickly," Edward corrected her, "The word is quickly. It's an adverb."
Poor Daddy, her cherubic face seemed to say, always picking on such unimportant points.
She patted her father's hand.
He felt strangely embarrassed about the whole thing.
A handful of months drifted by. Neighbours who visited, as well as the woman who came to tidy up the house twice a week, often smiled at Renesmee, sitting on her preferred piece of the floor and flipping through encyclopaedias almost as big as she was. They always seemed amused, and never suspected that the little girl was actually reading the pages in front of her.
Everybody thought she was just looking at the pictures.
They would talk to her in baby-talk, and she would answer them in baby-talk. She already knew enough to disguise herself, which her father found to be quietly troubling. He couldn't put his finger on why it bothered him more than the fact that she'd exhibited such strangely advanced tendencies. Maybe he was worried about her becoming as deceptive with him as she was with outsiders.
Edward's sister Alice came by one afternoon, with a brand new doll for Renesmee to play with. The little girl was usually more pleased to see her aunt than she was other grown-up ladies, and early on her father had supposed it was because she was just fond of Alice. His opinion on the matter had since changed.
"The house is starting to get gloomy," Alice noted, following him into the study, "It's too masculine around here. Everything is mahogany…"
"Huh?" Edward mumbled, "Fine. I'll get some curtains."
"Curtains aren't exactly…" She began, but he interrupted her with a raised hand. He didn't seem to have much patience for her design critiques just then.
"Alice," He closed the door behind him softly, "I need to talk to you."
She looked amused. He'd never been one for any cloak and dagger, and the only other person in the house was a three-going-on-four year old.
"So talk." Alice shrugged.
"Do you remember when we were kids? How hard it was for us to make new friends?"
"Harder for you than me."
"Fair enough," Edward shook his head, refusing to be distracted from what he wanted to say, "But we had a sort of secret language. An extra connection. We never said it out loud, but I think we've both always known that it was because we're both… well…"
"Both what?" She asked warily.
"Exceptional. You and I have always had extremely high IQ's. And I think early on, it separated us from the other kids. Me more than you, you're probably right about that." Edward smiled faintly at old memories he'd forgotten that he had.
"Everyone has to deal with their burdens," Alice replied, "Some us got stuck with a quick mind in a slow world. Other people have fat fingers. It's all the luck of the draw."
Edward nodded like he was barely listening to her. His face was drawn and pensive.
"Tell me something," He said carefully, "What would you do if you were in a situation like mine - a single parent, a fairly intense career - and you found out that your child was… afflicted with extremely high intelligence?"
Alice laughed warmly.
"Well, it's always been obvious that Renesmee is a very bright little girl…"
"She's more than bright, Alice. Do you know what she's out there doing right now?"
"Playing with her encyclopaedia," She shrugged, "I should have gotten her a history textbook instead of the doll. Pictures are always so colourful in history textbooks. Of course, you run the risk of a little girl getting a weird crush on George Washington or somebody, but we all go through phases."
"Alice. Will you please listen to me?" Edward pinched the bridge of his nose and sank into one of the chairs by the bookcase, "Renesmee is not looking at the pictures in her encyclopaedia. She is reading the words. She has read the words in all of the letters up until Q. That's what she's on today. Q."
"Edward!" Alice scoffed, "She's not reading. Even if you've gone through her ABC's and she can get through something like Goodnight, Moon all by herself, she's flipping those pages as fast as she can turn them. And a child of her age, no matter how advanced, couldn't possibly be reading that quickly."
"But she is," Edward sighed with a desperate kind of hopelessness, "And not only is she reading, but she's understanding. She's memorizing. She's retaining the things she learns."
Alice plunked down in the chair across from her brother. He seemed so earnest, as though he truly believed everything that he was saying. She didn't quite know how to respond. It sounded impossible to her, but she often found herself dealing in impossibilities and uncharted worlds. It was what had drawn her to focus her studies on astronomy.
"Have you had her tested?" She asked, very calmly.
"A few different aptitude tests and reaction tables," Edward said, "I've tried to be subtle. I didn't want to do anything that felt too much like a study. She's not a lab rat, after all. She's still a little girl."
"The tests don't work."
"What's that supposed to mean?"
"It means that either there's something wrong with all of the techniques I've used, or Renesmee is beyond our current abilities to measure." He said.
Alice managed to hold back a giggle that had been creeping up on her. He was taking the whole thing so seriously, and to such extremes! Then again, Edward had always been a bit of a doomsayer and too dramatic for his own good.
"Now, really," She scolded him, "Don't you think you might be projecting some of this? Ordinarily, I'd let it go until you settled down and forgot about it, but Renesmee is my niece. I don't want you causing her any permanent damage with this stuff."
"Projecting?" Edward raised his eyebrows, "Projecting what? My secret desire to raise a super-human beyond my capacity to understand?"
"I don't know!" Alice threw her hands up, "Maybe it's a weird manifestation of your fears that you're not going to be able to be an effective father! Or maybe it's suppressed trauma from your difficulties at preschool, and now that she's starting in September, you're going a little insane! Maybe you got really, really drunk and read A Wrinkle in Time and forgot she wasn't Charles Wallace!"
Edward was about to reply when he heard soft footsteps coming along the carpeted hallway outside. He held up his hand and shushed his sister, just as the door to the study creaked open. Renesmee peeked her head in, with a mischievous smile on her face.
"Daddy?" She said.
"Yes, sweetie?" Edward answered, "What is it?"
"I got lonely. Can Auntie read me a story?"
Alice went to the door and scooped the little girl up in her arms.
"Of course I can read you a story!" She said to Renesmee, lightly tapping her on the tiny nose.
"Renesmee," Edward said his most stern and fatherly voice, "Why don't you read your own story?"
Renesmee looked at him with confusion, then she turned towards her aunt, like she was waiting for clarification. After a long pause, during which nobody spoke, she shook her head.
"Can't read, Daddy!" She said unhappily, "Only three!"
Conformity. That was the usual solution to the gifted child's dilemma, and Renesmee had found it with out any of the heartache or bitter disappoints that usually accompanied the discovery. For that, Edward supposed that he was grateful. And he was grateful that for all her skilful perception and higher understanding, his daughter still displayed the normal traits of any little girl. She had a favourite colour, and she argued about taking naps, and sometimes she read storybooks instead of textbooks.
But on her first day of preschool, he was terrified.
He had enrolled her in something called the Transition to School program, which had been designed specifically for children who might have anxiety about leaving the home; and it also offered slightly more advanced courses than the other preschools in their area. The downside was that it was a four-hour program instead of a three-hour program. He spent most of his morning biting the edges of his fingernails and glancing at the clock above his desk.
When he went to get her from the little yellow building with the sunflowers on its sign, she skipped out of the door with the other children. Her backpack slung over one-shoulder and a smile on her face. The teacher made no particular signs of wanting to speak with him, the other students seemed to pay Renesmee no particular attention. Things seemed to be alright.
He sighed in relief as she hurried over to him.
"Hello, Daddy!" She said cheerfully, and he helped her with her bag and buckled her into the car seat.
"How was your day?" He asked, as he was pulling out of the school zone, "Did you like your lessons?"
"Oh, it was good," She answered, staring out the window at the trees they drove by, "I tried to play with the dress-up doll, but I kept putting things on her wrong-way-around…"
"Now, Renesmee," Edward said sternly, "That's just as bad as being too quick. A little girl your age is expected to know how to put clothes on a dolly."
She thought about that for a moment, then nodded as though she'd made a very conclusive decision.
"That's the hard part."
"What's the hard part?" Edward asked.
"Finding out what you ought to already know," She said, "It didn't go bad with the dolly. One of the Dims showed me how to do it right, so now she likes me. I think it made her feel important. She told all of the other kids to like me, too. And they listened because she'd made herself the leader. So don't worry, I can make things turn out."
He wondered if he should scold her for manipulating the other students, but he found himself conflicted. Wasn't the real secret to getting along in the world knowing how best to please other people? And, as her father, didn't he want her to have a relatively easy time of life?
And this word she had used. Dims. Did she mean it in the context it seemed to have? She had said it so casually, as though she'd thought it to herself many times. Had she begun to categorize the people she met everyday? And, if she had, what were the rules of this hierarchy of hers? How many categories were there?
"Maybe it turned out where the little girl was concerned," Edward said, "But don't forget, there was a grown-up in the room as well. The teacher. She observes all of you throughout the day, and she's much smarter."
"You mean she's much older." Renesmee corrected in the same absent-minded way her father used from time to time. Usually when he was growing bored with a conversation.
"Smarter, too, maybe. You can't always tell."
"I can," She sighed, "I can always tell."
Agitation took hold of him; he was afraid that he would never be able to help his daughter, that he would always fail her as a parent in some way. He was also frustrated in a way he didn't care to admit. All his life, he'd had an awareness of a kind of superiority that it wasn't flattering to admit to. Countless students, employees, even professors had struggled to keep up with his lightning-quick mind. Every time, he always thought to himself how strange it was and how sad that they should insist on such a futile exercise. There was simply no catching up to him, he had always thought. And now this. All at once, he was the donkey trying to run in the Kentucky Derby…
"That's good," He said more sharply than he'd meant to, "You can learn a lot from her. It takes an awful lot of studying to get good at being stupid."
Sometimes, I don't think I'll ever learn how to do it. He thought to himself bitterly, remembering all of the taunts and beatings of his own schooldays. Just the week prior, he had earned himself some awkward ire from a co-worker who didn't like being showed up.
"It's alright, Daddy." Renesmee said, as though the sentiment had been spoken out loud.
Edward glanced at her in the rear-view mirror. He hadn't said that out loud, had he? Maybe the sentiment was written on his face. He'd have to learn not to be quite so obvious in front of her when he was getting in a stormy mood.
"You're only a Flash," She went on, "And that's much harder than being a real Brite. Or even a Dim."
"Flash?" Edward asked, "What do you mean, sweetie?"
"Like that. You come close to understanding, you wondered good about the Dims and the categories. But it takes you longer to… grasp things," She smiled sympathetically, "I got the words from Auntie Alice when I was very, very small. She would say that I was Brite. So I think of it like that - you and her are both Flashes, because sometimes you could almost be like me. Everybody else is a Dim. You understand?"
A strange realization began to dawn on Edward then. Something so impossible, so ridiculous, it couldn't possibly be true. He calmed himself with a few measured breaths. The questions seemed too outlandish to ask directly, and maybe there was some other explanation he was ignoring. It was a very overwhelming situation, and it was possible that there were parts of it that he had projected. Just as Alice had suggested.
"How did you know that I was wondering about the, uh, Dims? And the categories?" He asked.
"Hmm?" Renesmee acted as though she hadn't heard him, "I just guessed is all. I'm a good guesser."
"And you guessed that I was thinking about how hard it is to pretend?"
"Do we have fish crackers at home? I want them for my snack…"
"Renesmee." The stern, fatherly tone again.
"Yes, Daddy?" Angelic innocence.
"I am going to ask you a question, and you are going to give me the true answer. Do you understand, young lady?"
He braced himself, certain that he was going insane. That he was taking the whole thing to a dangerous extreme. The tug-of-war raged in his mind, pulling between what seemed like science fiction, and what had been made obvious by the facts presented to him.
He had to know. So he asked.
"Can you read people's minds?"
Renesmee burst into a fit of girlish giggles, like when she was tickled or saw something silly on television. Every time she tried to calm down and talk to him, the giggles came back.
It was her usual response to when somebody asked her a question with a very, very obvious answer.
It turned out that one of the rare upsides to being a Flash was the ability to catch the thoughts of a Brite every now and then. Not in the way that Edward would have liked, where he could simply hear her ideas as full sentences or words. Just quick notions of what was going on in her head, and only if he concentrated intensely.
Renesmee explained to her father that he could hope to have some of her gifts one day, provided he worked very hard at training them. Practising often and remembering to be patient, since it would not come very naturally to him. She told him that she would like very much for him to practice, because she'd begun to get lonely for company of her own level.
That broke Edward's heart. He knew that he would have had a much rougher time of growing up if it hadn't been for Alice, and he wanted his daughter to have a somebody she could play with and confide in. He was also afraid that if she did find another Brite, he would lose her to a world that he could only see in glimpses.
He wasn't ready to let go of her just yet.
Then, on a sunny Saturday morning, the doorbell rang. When Edward opened it, he found himself looking down at a boy of five or six, with dark hair and large blue eyes.
"Hi!" The boy said, "Is your little girl at home?"
Edward blinked at him a few times.
"Who exactly are you, son?"
"My name's Hale," The boy shrugged, "My parents moved into the house next door. They'll probably come by later. I thought I'd play with your little girl. It's boring watching 'em unpack boxes. Is she home?"
"Hale?" Edward double-checked.
"How do you know I have a little girl, Hale?"
"Oh…" The boy seemed uncomfortable, "Oh! I guessed! I'm a really good guesser!"
"Alright," Edward nodded, "Renesmee is upstairs."
The people next door turned out to be the McCartys. Rosalie and Emmett, who were Hale's parents and who were refreshingly ordinary. She was a buyer for T. and he had a mostly online business selling health food. Both had finished high school. Neither had graduated college. Their son was a Brite.
It seemed like too much of a coincidence to Edward, who found himself wondering if it was at all possible for his lonely daughter to have somehow orchestrated events to bring her a playmate. But the McCarty's had moved all the way from upstate New York. Work had brought Mrs. McCarty to the west coast, and a child of five - no matter how extraordinarily gifted - simply wouldn't have the resources to make something like that possible.
Still, it seemed equally unlikely that the couple who moved into the house next door would just-so-happen to have a son near to Renesmee's age who had the same kind of abilities. After all, how many Brites could there be in the world?
As the spring months rolled on, and another summer and another birthday for Renesmee crept closer, Edward found himself getting used to having two little geniuses running around. The boy next door was a thoughtful, well-behaved guest; and apart from a few hints every now and then, he managed to conduct himself very capably as an average little boy. His parents suspected nothing.
Strangely, whenever both Hale and Renesmee were near to him, Edward began to feel much more hopeful about pinpointing the source of their gifts. He was certain that once he knew the reason for their apparent evolutionary jump, he would know the best way to go about mentoring both of the children.
Things were going smoothly. It wasn't always perfect, and sometimes it was a struggle to keep a level or normalcy in their lives. Other times, normalcy seemed to just wander in on its own.
The best example was probably the toys. Renesmee had developed the extremely normal and very average habit of leaving her toys everywhere. Barbies on the bookcases, My Little Ponies in the kitchen cupboards. The worst offenders were the little things she got in plastic capsules at the mall or the Walmart. It seemed like every time they went to get groceries or supplies of any kind, she'd ask for some quarters and come back with a little plastic Batman or a necklace or a Minnie Mouse keychain from one of the brightly coloured machines.
There was a coin Edward found on the living room floor one day, while Renesmee and Hale were running in and out of the house and into the backyard. They were playing some kind of hide-and-seek, and the trinket must have fallen out of Renesmee's pocket. It was smooth and brass coloured, with something stamped on one side of it. The kind of thing they stamped out to tie into Saturday morning cartoons about Atlantis or ancient mummies.
Edward smiled and closed his fist around it. He thought at once of playing a little joke with it, just to lighten everybody's moods.
Jasper Whitlock, Alice's fiancé, had just gotten a research fellowship with the museum, and it felt like nobody had seen him for ages. He was burying himself in work, and all Alice ever did was complain about it. Edward thought it would be fun to send the little junk coin to Jasper, to sort of pull him out of his rut.
It seemed like a good idea when he dropped it into the small manila envelope.
Edward was working at his university offices, when his cell phone rang. There was something strangely urgent and angry about the sound, even though it was the same ring it had always been. He found himself anticipating the mood of the caller, and wondered if it was a side-effect of his stumbling practice of playing catch-up to Renesmee.
"Cullen." He answered.
"Just what are you trying to pull here, Edward?" Jasper demanded from the other end, without so much as a hello or an announcement of identity.
Edward laughed, thinking that the little cracker box talisman had gotten his friend more worked up than he'd expected.
"I figured with you so busy these days, the only way to get your attention would be to send you an artefact," He explained, "To tell you the truth, it's been so long since I sent it, I almost forgot about the whole thing…"
"Where d'ya get it?" There was such urgency about the whole thing, Jasper let himself slip into the Texas drawl he usually worked hard to avoid. It was a very serious sign.
"Get it?" Edward almost stammered, "Uh, Renesmee brought it home from one of those twisty coin machines. You know, put in three quarters and get a Panama Jack bracelet?"
"This didn't come out of a gachapon machine, and you know it!" His voice was low, almost whispering. There might have been somebody in his office with him, or maybe he was nervous of shouting.
"Is it something important?"
"You really don't know what it is?"
"I swear to you, Jasper - all I thought when I sent it to you was that it was a prank. Just a little toy." Edward was getting exasperated.
"It's not just a little toy," Jasper explained, "It's not some cheapskate nickel brass, either. In fact, if we're going to be exact about things, this coin shouldn't exist. You say you got it from Renesmee, and I believe you. Now I want to know where she got it. See, it's the real McCoy - only it isn't."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that this seventy-five cent piece of junk you thought you sent me is actually pre-Egyptian. It's hand cast, and it's made out of one of the lost bronzes. We've been testing it all week and we have it at four thousand years old. No joke, amigo."
Edward tried to rationalize that, as much for his own benefit as Jasper's. His mind was reeling, trying to remember exactly when and where he had picked up the coin…
"Maybe," He began to suggest, "Maybe it was in some private collection, and a wealthy old eccentric has got private investigators searching high and low for it. Probably dropped it on his way to show it with some others, Renesmee found it up lying on some sidewalk and it wound up in my living room. Probably half a dozen coins like that in private collections around here."
"Which brings us to another point," Jasper sighed, "You know we got one of the best coin men in the country at this museum?"
"Well, I took it to him once we couldn't figure out what it all meant. He had a hell of a time with it, too. I think he hates me now. He says that there is no coin like it on record, either in private or museum collections. So how's that for you?"
"You archaeology types," Edward shook his head, "Everything has to be the lost mystery of something-or-other. Sometime, somewhere, a collector picked it up in some exotic place and kept it quiet. I don't have to tell you how some of those nuts are - sitting in a dark room, gloating over a bauble of theirs, not telling a soul about it…"
He didn't believe what he was saying, of course. A cold sense of dread kept hovering just along the nape of his neck, and he kept asking himself what had happened. What was going on? He kept searching his memory for more clues. When had he found the coin? What had he been doing? What had Renesmee been doing that day?
"Here's something else for you, Professor," Jasper began to get more irritable, "Old coins show wear. The edges get rounded from handling, the surface oxidizes, the molecular structure itself changes and crystallizes. This coin doesn't show any of that. No wear. No oxidation. No molecular change. Hell, it might as well have been minted yesterday!"
"What are you saying?" Edward asked weakly, "That a coin allegedly over four thousand years old also appears to be brand new?"
"That's exactly what I'm saying!"
The day Edward had found the coin was nice and sunny. A day off of school for both Renesmee and Hale, who were spending the afternoon playing one of their silly made up games. Nothing seemed sinister or advanced about it, but there was a peculiar pattern that Edward felt he should have recognized sooner.
It had been a little bit like hide-and-seek, with a funny sort of a twist. Hale would put his arms and face against the tree in the backyard, and he would count to sixty. Renesmee would come racing into the living room, and stand in front of the bookshelf full of her encyclopaedias. Once or twice Edward even heard her say:
Though, sitting in his desk chair with Jasper hanging on the other side of the line, a fleeting question still managed to cross Edward's mind. Had he heard her say anything? Or had he heard her think it? He honestly couldn't tell.
Before Hale was done his countdown, Renesmee would run back outside. Then, after a moment or two, Hale himself would come into the living room, stand in front of the bookshelf for a little bit and then run back outside. The usual seeking silence of the game would fall for a few minutes, and then there would be the expected burst of laughter and complaints and happy conversation.
"I'll never know how Hale always finds me," She'd said to Edward at dinner that night, "He's such a good seeker."
Edward breathed in sharply at the memory. There was something about it that he found unsettling, and he refused to look the obvious possibility square in the face. It, like everything else in the past two years, seemed totally impossible.
"Jasper," He said into the phone, "I… I wonder if you could get away and meet me at the house. I'm not sure, but I think I have an idea how that coin got into my hands."
"Can I get away?" Jasper scoffed, "Boss says to trace this thing's history and nothing else. I'll meet you there in about twenty minutes."
The scene in the backyard was pretty standard. Hale and Renesmee were standing near the big tree that they usually chose for hide-and-seek, and a Nahuel - a neighbour boy - stood near them. He looked a little angry with the other two. Jasper and Edward watched them quietly from the big dining room kitchen, and none of the children had noticed them.
"Edward…" Jasper whispered, for what seemed the hundredth time.
"Quiet," Edward whispered back sharply, "Just wait."
"Wait for what?"
"I'm not sure…"
The playground shouts of argument came from the backyard then. Cross-looking Nahuel starting the argument, yelling in the way that all little boys did. At full volume.
"I'm not playing with you geeks!" He cried, "You're cheating!"
"How can we be cheating?" Hale shouted back, with a note of smugness that the other boy lacked, "There's only so many places to hide! It's not our fault you can't look everywhere!"
"Yeah!" Renesmee chimed in, "But don't forget to look behind things when they change!"
Nahuel shook his head, a look of total exasperation on his young face.
"I told you, Nessie. I don't know what you're talking about when you say that junk. Just hide where I can find you, or I won't play anymore. Got it?"
"Got it." Said Hale, and he elbowed Renesmee conspiratorially.
Nahuel hid his face against the tree and began his count:
"One… Two… Three… Four…"
If Edward had been alone, he might not have trusted his own eyes. After all, what he saw was so unreal it seemed impossible. But Jasper was standing right next to him and saw exactly the same thing.
While the neighbour boy was counting, Renesmee and Hale didn't run away. They just joined hands with one another and waited for just a second or two. At first Edward thought it was just a trick of the light, but then he realized that the children were somehow shimmering. Fading. Almost like the old transporter special effects on Star Trek.
And then, in half an instant, the children were gone.
They had vanished into thin air.
Edward looked over at Jasper, whose face was now pale as a piece of paper. His eyes were wide, full of confusion and disbelief.
"Is this all some kind of joke?" He asked.
"No," Edward replied, his voice was hoarse and low, "It's not a joke."
Nahuel finished his counting and started to look in all of the hiding places in the yard. After a moment or two of seeking, his realized that he'd been duped. His little face scrunched up with anger and he stormed off towards his own house, the one on the other side of Hale's.
"Mama!" He shouted, "They runned away from me again!"
"Edward…" Jasper said carefully, but before he could say anything else, the children returned. The strange shimmer again, only this time causing them to appear rather than disappear.
They giggled, as though nothing unusual at all had happened, and both ran to the tree.
"Safe!" Renesmee called first.
"Safe! Safe! Safe!" Hale cheered, slapping his palm against the tree trunk.
"What the hell is going on?!" Jasper demanded.
The children turned around, as though his outburst had reverberated through the air towards them. They saw the two grown-ups who were watching them from Renesmee's kitchen window, and their faces fell. Just as they would have if they'd been caught stealing cookies or pulling the dog's tail.
Edward opened the back door and called them into the house.
"Can I smoke in here?" Jasper mumbled, trying to process what was happening.
"You can't smoke around the kids."
"Right. Yeah. Sorry."
The two children dutifully marched into the house, looking a little defiant and a little ashamed. It was so strange, the way that they seemed to be nothing more than a couple of kids. Not at all like something… different.
Edward shook the thought away. They were just children. Whatever else it might mean to be a Brite, Renesmee was still his baby.
"It isn't exactly fair," He told them, in his usual scolding tone, "Nahuel can't do things like that."
Renesmee turned pale all over, and she looked down at her shoes tracing circles on the kitchen floor. She didn't seem to have anything to say for herself just yet.
"I told her!" Hale declared, "I told her it wasn't fair to play like that! Nahuel's only a dumb-Dim and he can't play good hide and seek even with the kids his own level!"
"Well," Edward said, "Never mind all that for now. I want to know where you went."
"Where I…" Renesmee looked up nervously, "Oh. It's not far. We only go a little ways when we play with Nahuel. Like Hale says, Nahuel's not very good at seeking."
"Don't avoid the question, young lady. Tell me where you went. And how you got there."
"See, Nessie," Jasper finally spoke up, his voice trembling a little more than he might care to admit, "We found this…"
He took the coin from his pocket, sealed in some kind of airtight bag and marked with museum labels. Renesmee saw it and blushed with a mixture of anger and embarrassment.
"I shouldn't have to tell you my games!" She cried, tears welling up, "You're both just Flashes! You can't understand anything! You can't even ESP!"
"ESP?" Jasper murmured, understanding dawning on him, "Holy shit…"
Hale snickered behind his hand at the profanity.
"I'll tell you about it," The little boy said to Jasper and Edward, "Nessie's just sour because she doesn't think she can explain it with words. She uses her thoughts to explain things most of the time. She doesn't have hardly any imagination…"
"I do so have imagination!" Renesmee shouted, "I thought up the whole game, didn't I?!"
"Yeah, but you always go look at the encyclopaedias to get an idea about where to go. And you never open the books anymore, you just read them in your mind. And then you leave a smudge there…" Hale looked at the two grown-ups sand decided to elaborate for their benefit, "Like a fingerprint, kind of. All I have to do is go to the bookshelf and look for the smudge, and then I know where she went."
"So that's how you always find me!"
"Are you saying you move backward and forward in time?" Jasper asked, he was still crouched down at child-height. Still had the coin in his hand.
"Uncle Jasper," Renesmee said sweetly, "Do you know about the Möbius strip?"
"Huh?" Jasper replied, "Well, yeah."
The Möbius strip. Edward felt the muscles in his throat tighten. That all seemed so long ago, and he'd been certain that Renesmee had forgotten all about it. But she'd been thinking about that strip of paper and its possibilities all this time.
"You know that you can take a piece of paper and twist it and tape the ends together and make one?" She asked.
"So make believe you have another piece of paper, and you give it a half-twist and join the edges together all over. Until you have a… a…"
"A bottle," Edward supplied, "Klein's Bottle."
"Oh," Renesmee sighed, "Somebody named that one, too?"
"Okay. That might make it easier for you to understand," She decided, "Next you take the cube - um, you can't do any of it with real stuff, Uncle Jasper. It's an imaginary cube, just so you know."
"He knows." Edward said.
"So you take the cube," She went on, "And you twist it up like you did with the Bottle. And if you do that big enough and all around you, all kinds of pieces of the whole universe are touching. And you're half-twisted in the middle. And then you can go wherever you like!"
The whole room was quiet. The ideas buzzed around Edward's head, dizzying in their possibilities and implications. The line, the plane, the cube. Euclidian physics. The Möbius strip. Klein's Bottle. The unnamed cube. Was it possible? Of course, it had to be possible. It was happening.
"Where have you gone?" He asked his daughter.
"All kinds of places," She shrugged, "We saw the Romans, and the Egyptians, and the Shiny Men…"
"The Shiny Men?" Jasper asked.
"They haven't been yet." Hale explained for him.
"Oh," Jasper nodded, but he was trembling a little, "And… in one of these places, one of you kids found this coin?"
"I found it," Renesmee said softly, "I picked it up from the dirt. It was just on the ground, and then Hale was coming to seek me and I forgot to put it back when I went out of that time. I was going to put it back right where I found it! But then I dropped it again, and I heard Daddy thinking about it. I didn't mean to steal it, Uncle Jasper! I didn't mean to be bad!"
"I don't think it was bad, honey…" Jasper started.
"We'll talk about that part later," Edward sighed, "Tell me about going forward. To see things like the Shiny Men. In the future."
"There isn't really a future," Hale said, "I keep trying to explain it to Renesmee, but it's kind of hard to understand. I'm older, though. See, you go back into the past - back before Egypt or Atlantis, and back before dinosaurs - and back and back and back. And then, all of a sudden, it's future!"
"That's not the way I do it," Renesmee said, "I logic the future. I figure out what would come next, and then I go there."
"It's the same place," Hale shrugged, "It has to be, because that's all that's ever happened on this loop."
"In the other time there are more Brites," Renesmee said, "And they found another strip. One day, they all go from this strip to the other strip. I'd sure like to know how they did that…"
Edward sighed deeply. It was too much for him to process all at once. He needed time to think, and he was overwhelmed with the scientific implications as well as what it might mean for his life and the future of his daughter. All he could do for the time being was try to contain the situation while he figured out what to do about it.
"I don't like the sound of you two going any place by yourselves," He said, "I mean, you're too little to cross the street by yourselves! What made you think it was safe to go jumping around any old place in time?"
"But Daddy!" Renesmee whined.
"I'm sure you think it's all fun and games, and I know I'm only a Flash. But you still need to listen to grown-ups, right?"
The two children nodded glumly.
"I always listen to you, Daddy."
"Oh, you do?" Edward replied, "What about not leaving the block? I hardly think visiting Ancient Greeks and Moon Men counts as staying in our yard or Hale's."
"But you just said never to cross the street!" Renesmee stamped her foot defiantly, "And we never ever ever crossed the street!"
"We didn't cross a single street!" Hale said, "Not once!"
"Holy shit…" Jasper mumbled again, and reached into his pocket for his cigarettes before stopping himself.
"Alright, alright," Edward shook his head, "But from now on, nobody is allowed to leave this time. This current time. Not the perpetual loop time, the us-now-present. Got it?"
"We're sorry, Mr. Cullen."
"Alright," Edward nodded, "Now why don't you two go over to Hale's and see if Mrs. McCarty has some sandwiches for you. It's just about lunchtime, isn't it?"
The children smiled at the promise of sandwiches and hurried out through the back door. Just like any two normal little playmates heading off for more adventure.
"Edward," Jasper began, "I'm not totally sure that I'm awake or sober."
"I don't know what to tell you," Edward shrugged, "But you saw what you saw. Are you going to report this to the museum?"
"You know," Jasper chuckled, "For a man with a super-genius for a daughter, you sure don't know what kinds of things would get a man fired and sent for psychiatric testing."
A few months passed, and Edward and Renesmee seemed to see less of Alice and Jasper. Alice said that it was wedding planning taking up all of their spare time, but Edward often wondered if Jasper was coming up with excuses to avoid visiting. Maybe he was trying to put enough time and distance between that afternoon in the kitchen as he could, trying to convince himself it had never happened. Whatever the reason, Edward told himself that he didn't mind and that he understood, but he was starting to feel abandoned.
The children had been very well-behaved, and they'd kept their promise to him. But even though he wrestled with the notions of time and space they'd presented him with, and even though he was certain his ability to sense their thoughts and intentions had improved, he was still unable to go anywhere on what Renesmee called the strip and what Hale called the loop. And the more he tried, the more impossible the whole idea seemed.
Rosalie and Emmet McCarty planned a weekend trip and asked Edward to look after their son, and he said yes. After all, the children had become quite good friends and there was plenty of room at his house. Besides, Hale was an agreeable child and never any trouble.
Nevertheless, Edward had begun to feel uneasy about the children. The way they'd gotten to be so quiet. As though all of their conversations were happening inside their heads. And every now and then he caught a flash of deviousness from one of them, like they were planning to put a tack in his chair or itching powder in his shirt. Nothing sinister or dangerous. Just mischievous.
He would catch them sitting quietly in a room, concentrating intensely and then sighing with vexation when they discovered his presence.
"Remember your promise." He said to both of them one afternoon.
"We're not going to break it, Daddy!" Renesmee smiled.
"We're not going to leave this us-now-present time, Mr. Cullen. We swear." Hale added with a solemn nod.
And then the two of them burst into a fit of giggles.
Edward didn't know what to do. If they vanished again, he'd never be able to follow them. And he couldn't really stop them from doing it if they wanted to. He felt helpless and almost as alone as he'd felt right after he'd lost Bella.
There was nothing he could do but wait and see what would happen.
It was on Sunday morning that the children disappeared. Edward waited for them first one hour and then two, at first assuming that they had broken their promise and would be back as quickly as they had been while playing hide-and-seek. And then he realized that Renesmee never broke her promises, she just found loopholes.
The cold hand of dread touched his spine.
She'd been wondering lately about other Brites. How the other Brites in the future or the past (or both or neither or however it was supposed to work) had managed to get off of this strip. She wanted to know if Edward thought that it was possible for there to be two strips, or even more. He hadn't paid too much attention. She'd grown very fond of theorizing and he didn't notice it much more than he noticed her musings on String Theory. Just the sorts of things his little girl would say.
But now he was thinking about it. Really thinking about it.
If Renesmee and Hale had figured out how to jump from strip to strip, then they could stay always in the present time and place. Therefore, they wouldn't be breaking their promise. The perfect loophole.
As the second hour pushed against a third, he knew that wherever the children had gone they were struggling to get back. Regardless of being Brites, regardless of being well-intentioned, they were only six-year-olds. Only small things in a very large and infinite universe. As small as the twinkle of a star.
He wrote an e-mail to Alice, trying to explain all that had happened. If something went further wrong, then another Flash - her or maybe Jasper - would need to take up the search. To try and catch up with the Brites.
He locked himself in the master bedroom and sat on the floor with his legs crossed and his eyes closed.
Take the cube. The line. The plane.
The supercube. The tesseract.
Six cubes. Fold them together so that every angle is a right angle.
The half twist and—
Rosalie McCarty was sick of police officers and reporters. She didn't want to answer any more questions, she just wanted her son back. Every day, Emmett went out with the search parties trying to find the children and every day Rosalie lost a little more hope. There were pictures on the news and fliers scattered throughout town, but no one had any real idea of what had happened. It was almost like her little boy had simply vanished into thin air.
She didn't care how broken Edward Cullen was about it. It was his responsibility to look after Hale and Renesmee and he'd failed. He was supposed to feel terrible. People talked about what it must do to a man to lose both his wife and his daughter, but he'd get no sympathy from Rosalie.
Her baby was gone because of him.
Every day she saw him through the upstairs window, sitting by himself and pouring through those physics textbooks. He looked like he was going insane, but she couldn't manage to care. She knew the children wouldn't be found in equations or theories. The only thing she would give him was the benefit of her certainty that he hadn't done anything to them himself. When the investigation had first started, the police had searched his home and his car from top to bottom, and he didn't try to stop them or distract them. The guilt in his eyes was the guilt of a man who'd failed, not a man who'd wronged. If it hadn't been, Rosalie would have torn him to pieces herself. She almost did, anyway.
But there was no comfort in that. Not as days became weeks and months, she began to realize the truth.
Hale and Renesmee were never coming home.