Curveball Issue 21: This Mortal Coil

Part Two: Basement Off Alley, NYC

Peter Travers peers through dirty curtains at the crime scene beyond. It’s now swarming with NYPD police and emergency rescue personnel, and he can see the beginnings of what will eventually be swarms of federal agents beginning to arrive. Special Agent Phillip Henry is in the middle of it all, giving everyone something to do, and—more important—keeping everyone away from the basement where Travers and Special Agent Alan Grant are hiding.

Their basement is in an alley adjacent to the crime scene, and Travers can see enough from their street-level window to get a general sense of what’s going on. He sees Agent Hu sitting in the back of an ambulance, still wrapped in Grant’s trenchcoat but now also wrapped in a large, heavy blanket. A police officer is asking her questions. That was Agent Henry’s idea, Travers is certain, and it’s smart: her statement will become part of the police report, and it’ll be harder for whoever directed the DHS agents against them to suppress it.

Not impossible, but harder.

Agent Henry is constantly in motion as he interacts with every group that arrives. He doesn’t bother with diplomacy—he just flashes his badge and starts giving orders. What’s interesting is that it works—people respond as if it’s only natural that he be in charge. Maybe it has something to do with his delivery, the way each order feels as if it was given to someone because that person was the only one who could get it done. Maybe it’s the unflinching confidence he exudes when he talks to the other law enforcement and emergency response teams as they arrive on the scene. Maybe it’s the sunglasses—whatever it is, everyone responds to it, and in short order he has them working together—securing the crime scene, keeping the gathering crowds back, and working with the forensics teams and Fire and Rescue so each group can do their jobs without getting in the way of the other.

Travers sighs as he carefully arranges the curtains so no one will be able to look into the room, then turns to Agent Grant. The tall, dark-haired man is sitting on a crate, leaning against the wall, eyes closed, head tilted up. He looks exhausted.

“What?” Agent Grant’s voice slurs slightly.

“I didn’t say anything,” Travers says.

“You say nothing pretty loud.” Grant rubs his eyes, then shakes his head, as if to clear it. “Might as well ask. I know you’re curious.”

“You look like you’re going to fall over,” Travers says. “I don’t want to—”

“I’m OK.” Grant laughs hollowly. “Well. I’m kind of OK. It’s complicated. I’m OK here, but out there…”

Grant’s gaze travels past Travers to the curtains, and the crime scene beyond.

“The experience is creeping me out, OK? I don’t like knowing what dead feels like.”

Travers raises an eyebrow. “What does dead feel like?”

“Not a goddamned thing,” Grant says. “And it’s real aggressive about it.”

Travers tries to put that into some kind of context, fails, and moves on. “All right. How long do you figure we need to wait here? What are the chances of someone peeking in on us during the inevitable canvass?”

Grant shakes his head. “They won’t look here if Agent Henry is directing traffic. Which I’m pretty sure he is. I’m looking into maybe getting us out through the front of the building.”

“Oh?” Travers looks at Grant curiously. “There’s… another you out there?”

Grant looks a little annoyed. “No, just the same me. I had to go home and change clothes. I figure I don’t have a lot of time before the DHS sends a team to search my house, so I’m also packing a few things. Gimme thirty minutes and then I’ll be knocking on the front door of the building, trying to see if I can get us out that way.”

“So I guess you can’t teleport me out,” Travers says.

“Sorry, Travers,” Grant says. “Can’t flip people.”

“Is that what you call it?” Travers turns back to the window, and fights the urge to peek through the curtains again. “I know some teleporters have their own nicknames for it, but I’ve never heard it called that.”

“I called it ‘flipping’ before I really knew what teleportation was,” Grant says. “Feels like a backflip each time.”

“And you can also copy yourself,” Travers says. “That’s interesting.”

“That’s wrong,” Grant says, annoyance creeping into his voice again. “That’s not what I do.”

“That’s what it looks like you do,” Travers says.

“Sure,” Grant says, “and if the DHS ever finds out about it I’m gonna swear on a stack of Bibles that that’s all it is. But it’s more complicated than that.”

“Is it?” Travers feels his curiosity shove his anxiety off to one side. “So what is it, exactly? And why doesn’t the DHS know about it? What do they think you are?”

Grant sighs. “I don’t really like to talk about it much. Reverse order: DHS thinks I’m a teleporter, which is enough for them because the way I do it breaks the rules. They don’t know about the other part because I never told them—told the team, eventually, but that’s different.”

Travers nods.

“As to what it is…” Grant thinks it over. “Keep in mind I’m not an egghead, so my explanation is gonna come up a little short.”

“I’m also not an ‘egghead,’” Travers points out. “So I probably won’t notice.”

Grant snorts. “Fair enough. Look, every time I flip there’s a moment where I’m in the place I started and also in the place I’m flipping to. At the same time.”

“OK,” Travers says.

“OK, so the moment passes, I disappear from where I was, and that’s that. Except that if I want I can maintain both locations. Simultaneously.”

“You can…” Travers frowns. “You can—”

“Be in more than one place at the same time. Yeah. It’s not copies, Travers, it’s me. I can manage five, though I think I’ll be down to four for a while, because…” Grant nods to the crime scene. “Unpleasant events can knock me back a location for a while.”

“It’s actually you in all those places?” Travers asks.

Grant nods. “Actually me.”

“OK,” Travers says. “It’s a little hard to process, but OK. Why aren’t you crazy?”

Grant laughs. “Who says I’m not? I’m really good at multitasking, and I’ve been doing this a long time. I learned how to flip in elementary school. I figured out how to go multi-location in middle school. Managed to work up to five locations and… well, I never got past five.”

“Interesting,” Travers says. “And still incomprehensible.”

“Yeah,” Grant says, “it’s a real mindfuck.”

“But how did that happen?” Travers jerks his thumb toward the crime scene. “You got shot in the head, and you’re still talking to me. I could put that in some kind of context if you were creating duplicates of yourself, but you say it’s you in every location. So why didn’t you die when you… er… died?”

“Paradox,” Grant says. “Physical stuff is localized. Look…”

Agent Grant’s silhouette blurs for a moment, and then a second Agent Grant stands to his left.

“I’m beside myself,” the first Agent Grant says. The second just smirks. “So here’s the thing… if I break my arm in this spot…”

“It won’t affect me over here,” the second Agent Grant says.

“So whatever happens to you while you’re here, you don’t feel it over there,” Travers says.

“Oh, I’d feel it,” Grant says. “It’s a little hard to explain, since I’d also feel not having my arm broken. It’d hurt. But I’d only have the broken arm in the location where it broke.”

“What happens when you stop being in more than one place?” Travers asks.

“Depends how I do it,” the first Grant says. “If I break my arm in this location, and I decide to leave, the broken arm just disappears…”

“And I’m fine,” the second Grant says. “But if I decide to leave this location…”

“Then I still have a broken arm,” the first Grant says. “And from that point forward, I have a broken arm. Until it heals.”

“Oh,” Travers says, then his eyes go wide. “Oh. That’s why Agent Hu was trying to get you to focus on her voice, right after you were shot…”

The first Grant nods. “In situations like that I really have to pay attention. If I’d left every location except the one where I was a bloody corpse on the ground… well. I don’t want to think about it.”

The first Grant’s outline blurs for a moment, then he disappears. The second Grant—the only Grant—shrugs. “I owe Hu big for that.”

“You realize what you’re describing is impossible,” Travers says. “Completely impossible.”

“Yeah? Have you met my partner? She bursts into flame.”

“Yes,” Travers says, “but there’s a scientific hypothesis for that. I’ve read it. It doesn’t make any sense to me, but someone, somewhere has written a paper describing her unique cell structure and has a peer-reviewed narrative of how her abilities might work. Has anyone ever done that for you? What’s the theory behind you violating the laws of physics by being matter that can exist in more than one place at the same time?”

Grant shrugs again. “Because? I dunno, Travers. Call it a quantum whatsit. Quantum whatsits are real popular these days. It doesn’t matter: whatever you call it some scientist is going to say you’re wrong. And then he’ll probably start shouting really loud. For a really long time.”

“Not necessarily,” Travers says. “I know a scientist who would be positively giddy at the thought of the accepted laws of physics being so wrong on such a fundamental level.”

“Well I’m not really too keen on giddy, either,” Grant says. “First they’re giddy, next I’m strapped to a table having my organs removed while Mozart plays in the background.”

“Why Mozart?” Travers asks.

“I dunno,” Grant says. “I always picture Mozart.”

“I see,” Travers says. “Do you think about this often?”

“Yeah,” Grant says. “I’m a glass-half-full kinda guy.”

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