== I == II == III == IV ==
Zou'ssshhock gently awoke from the night's slumber, even though it was still dark outside. His bedroom was barely visible, only illuminated indirectly from the dim, orange streetlights outside.
It was quiet and still, the only sounds were his own breathing. This was his favorite part of the day. Most humans he'd met lamented early mornings, especially if it was still dark when they had to get up, but not Zou'ssshhock -- or, as the humans liked to call him, Frank McMillan -- no, the dark early mornings reminded him of his own planet, a place he sorely missed. It was not nearly as noisy as Earth was and not as bright, either (an asteroid belt between his home planet and its sun dimmed the light somewhat).
He sat up and smacked his dry lips a little. He rubbed some lingering sleep from his eyes and looked at the clock on his nightstand. The red, digital readout told him it was 5:03 AM. Perfect. Frank didn't need an alarm clock, he programmed his body to wake up at or around 5 AM every day. The fact that humans needed alarm clocks had always fascinated him. Having little natural control over when they wanted to wake up seemed to him to be a profound disadvantage and they were all, at the very least, only dimly aware that it was one.
He got out of bed and stretched, popping his back as he did so. CRACK-CRACK-CRACK-CRACK-CRACK! Ah, that hit the spot. He sniffed, then headed to the bathroom. He growled as he turned on the light. Why the hell did they make their bulbs so damned bright? He looked at himself in the mirror. Another day's worth of stubble peppered his lower face. He hated having a human body -- well, a mostly human body -- they were so hairy! With haircuts, shaving supplies, laser hair removal, and exfoliating creams, a large part of their economy was spent on removing that hair. He wondered why they didn't genetically engineer themselves so they wouldn't be so hairy; it would save them a lot of hassle and they had the technology to do it.
Oh well. His mission would be over in five years, then it was time to go home and he didn't have to think about light bulbs and hair anymore. Frank shrugged and opened the mirror/door and plucked a can of shaving gel from the top shelf.
When Frank emerged from the steamy bathroom twenty minutes later, cleaned and shaven, a peculiar feeling came over him. He felt as if that exact moment, the exact way he emerged from the bathroom, had happened before. He grunted, then decided to ignore it. It must have been an electrical blip in that damned human brain he had. He missed his old one.
The feeling returned, this time stronger, as he crunchily ate a bowl of Cocoa Puffs in his dining room while watching the Realy Early Show, a local news show for fortunate -- or unfortunate -- souls who had to be up at this hour. That moment where he pondered that Cocoa Puffs was one of the humans' greatest culinary achievements while watching news footage of another car bomb in Iraq, he'd done that moment before. That precise moment. He had been eating cereal before while watching news of a car bomb, but never Cocoa Puffs.
"Hm," he said to himself after a hearty swallow. "Deja vu." He'd heard humans describing the feeling before, but he'd never actually experienced it himself. His race didn't even have a word for it. It was the oddest thing he'd ever encountered in his life, even weirder than the vertigo he experienced while traveling through the warp slipstream in the Soolie Nebula. And that was pretty frickin' weird.
He experienced it again while walking out of his quaint, suburban house into the grey, early morning light. As he fussed with his tie and starched white shirt (honestly, why did the humans subject themselves to such uncomfortable clothing?!) he got the feeling that a bird somewhere above him was about to leave a dropping on his car an instant before - SPLAT! - it happened.
"What the snarrgfarrg is going on?" he mumbled. That was the weirdest one yet because he actually knew it was going to happen before it did, even if it was only a few microseconds before.
As Frank headed down the interstate towards the University, he scanned the radio stations as he usually liked to do, looking for interesting news. He was particularly interested in scientific discoveries and religion-based stories. When the humans ceased being completely irrational and stopped killing each other over which God to believe in, they'd be allowed to join the Galactic Communion. Disappointingly, it looked as if it would still be centuries to come -- at least. He had thought they were making progress in the 1970's and 1980's, but alas things like 9/11, car bombings, holy wars, the rise of radical fundamentalism (Christian and Muslim), Intelligent Design/creation science, reality television and Jessica Simpson came about.
Again and again, as Frank listened to the stations, he got the feeling that he'd heard the things they were saying and talking about before. This deja vu was getting stronger and stronger.
"...secular humanism is infiltrating our schools and ruining our children!" he heard a conservative talk show host bellow. "It's that liberal agenda, man," his second banana agreed. Hadn't they had that exact conversation the previous morning? What the farg is going on?
Frank thoughtfully sipped his styrofoam-contained coffee. Another great human achievement. He couldn't wait until Earth was in the Communion and he could legally bring some coffee beans back to his planet.
The next thing he heard on the radio show was most interesting.
"Didn't we have this conversation yesterday?" the host asked, bewilderment in his voice.
"Yeah, man, I've been experiencing this weird deja vu all morning," the second banana replied.
"It isn't just me," Frank whispered to himself. Before he could think another thought, he heard a familiar beeping coming from his dashboard.
Quickly, he hit the air conditioner button. It actually activated a hidden viewscreen next to the glove box. He had no need for air conditioning, anyway, as his home planet was quite a bit warmer than Earth (one would think it was cooler with less light, however, his planet was closer to his sun than Earth was to its).
"Yes?" Frank said as the three-eyed, orange face of his superior winked onto the 3x5 screen.
"There is a matter of grave importance I must discuss with you," Xarrshock the Commander announced.
"Shoot," Zou'ssshhock said before taking another sip of that wonderful coffee.
"You've been on Earth too long, you're starting to talk like them," Xarrshock said.
"Sorry," Frank said. "So, what's up? Er, I mean, what is this matter of 'grave importance?'"
"Somebody on Earth has created a temporal loopback," Xarrshock replied.
Frank almost choked on his coffee. "What?!" he gasped. He coughed a few times to expel some of the warm liquid from his airway. "How?! The humans don't have the technology to do that!"
"Apparently. One of them. Does."
"They don't even fully grasp quantum mechanics yet...Oh, shit, you know what? That explains the deja vu I've been experiencing all morning!"
"Oh, it's a term humans use for the feeling that they've done something before. I've felt all morning that I've done it previously."
"Fascinating," Xarrshock said. "Do they experience this often?"
"Not very. Some of their scientists think it's just an electrical blip in their brains. It's usually rare but apparently it's rampant this morning. I'd never experienced it myself until today."
"Well, the temporal loopback is probably the culprit. Somebody on the planet has caused the day to repeat for some nefarious reason I could not even guess at. We've been trying to pinpoint its origin so we can find who did it. So far all of our data indicates it was somewhere in North America. Fortunately the effect of the loopback seems to be only localized to the Terran planetary system."
"It hasn't affected the rest of the galaxy at all?" Frank asked as the orange morning sun began to peek over the horizon.
"Well, it has put the Terran System on a collision course with the Zarnon System, but that is a million years away, plenty of time to avert the disaster. Other than that, no." Then, he added gravely: "Not yet anyway."
"I'm getting that feeling now, that we've already had this conversation. Why would we talk about the temporal loopback before it happens?"
"It has happened before. This is third time around for the current twenty four hour period you're in. This rampant 'deja vu' you described actually makes sense. I suspect that the feeling gets stronger every time the day is repeated again. When I first told you about this you had had no idea that anything out of the ordinary had happened. You hadn't experienced that feeling before today. It would also explain why this time around things are different."
"In our investigation of this phenomenon we have been comparing stories of events that we've collected from various radio and television broadcasts from the planet. There was hardly any difference between the original day and the second time around. However, many things are vastly different now, the third time. Being somewhat aware that the day is being repeated, now the humans are apparently taking different courses of action than they did the first two times."
"Most fascinating. Gimme an example."
"A car bombing in their country of Iraq has killed and injured more people this morning than it did the first time around. There have been suicides that happened the first two times that did not happen this time around. And there are some that have happened this morning that hadn't before. There are dozens more but I don't have time to discuss them all."
"Very shortly a severe traffic accident will occur on the highway you're traveling now. The first two times you were involved in it, as well as several other cars and a tractor-trailer. But you were relatively unharmed and your vehicle only sustained minor damage."
"Doesn't sound so bad," Frank said. "Why are you warning me?"
"Because, like I said, this time around events are playing out differently. With the vague foreknowledge that they might very soon be involved in an accident, the humans along side you on the highway might react differently, swerve to the left instead of the right, for example, or try to avoid it altogether by turning around. The first two times there was only one death and a few major injuries. This time it could either be better...or much, much worse. Our investigations have revealed that by trying to avoid the bad situations of the day most of the time the humans are actually making things worse. It is imperative that you do not die, Zou'ssshhock! Be careful. Even if you do exactly as you did the first two times you cannot control what the others do. You know what could happen if there is an autopsy on your body."
"Well, I understand that, of course. But why couldn't you just transport me out?"
"The temporal loopback has altered subspace in the planetary system. We're trying to readjust our emergency transporters to compensate, but our engineers are estimating their recalculations won't be complete for at least another twelve hours. Until then, you're on your own."
The words "you're on your own" rang ominously in his mind. Frank most certainly did not want to die. Forget about autopsies, his mission wasn't over, and he wanted to see his wife and offspring again!
"Why don't I just stop right now and--?"
"DON'T! You could cause another accident! You cannot predict what such an action would result in. My advice would be to proceed to the University as you did the first two times, only this time with GREAT CARE. Do you understand? Don't make me order you."
"All right, all right," Frank sighed.
"That is all for now, I must get back to the investigation. Good luck." And with that, Xarrshock was gone.
"Dammit," Frank said under his breath. He looked ahead. There was a tractor-trailer about a quarter of a mile up. That was probably the one in the accident. Suddenly, red brake lights began to pop up everywhere. A few cars drove off into the grassy, dew-covered median. They smacked into each other. Sure enough, he saw the truck begin to fishtail. They knew!
"This is it!" he exclaimed, gripping the steering wheel tighter. BANG! POW! Two cars hit by the truck's wayward trailer. The cars in the median struck other cars traveling the opposite direction. POW! POW! POW! Metal, glass, plastic, glass everywhere!
"Holy shit!" Xarrshock was RIGHT! Frank put his automobile driving skills to the test, most of them he'd never before had to actually use besides in training courses back home. He slammed on his brakes, swerved to the right, narrowly avoided one car, swerved to the left, just missed another. His human heart began pumping wildly; it pounded in his head. A car came tumbling at him. He wildly turned his steering wheel and did a complete 180, but not in time. The grill of the car came smashing into his passenger side.
The damage wasn't minor this time!
The woman who had been driving the car smashed through her windshield and into his passenger window, sending painful shards of glass at him. The way she ceased moving and the blood that immediately began pouring into the passenger seat indicated that her situation was very grim.
Frank didn't have much time to think about it. Another car hit her car, then her, and away she went with that car and out of Frank's.
After a few more bangs and pops somewhere ahead of him, everything went quiet for a moment. This was the kind of quiet that Frank didn't like. It was eerie, dead still. No, not good at all. Then the screams and yells began to ring out all around him.
As Frank began to pick shards of glass out of his bloody face with his trembling hand, he became aware that his radio was still working. "Here at Midland Ford, we've got loads of 2005s and 2004s to clear oughtta here and we've got some great deals to get them out!" blared that annoying man with the hick accent. He hated that commercial. He also hated human blood. It was so red. He angrily turned the radio off as that stupid man began saying something about great financing. He smeared some blood on the radio as he did so. Car sales people were some of the worst humans. Worse still was the idiot that caused the temporal loopback. He or she has caused a lot of needless death. Frank wished he could fire his plasma rifle at them.
But all his plasma rifles were back home.
He hit the air conditioning button to try to contact Xarrshock, but nothing happened. It was then that he realized that the part of the dashboard where the viewscreen should have popped into was smashed up badly.
"Well, Xarrshock," he said anyway, "at least I didn't die."
Frank opened his door and got out. He surveyed the scene around him. There were smashed cars everywhere, along with debris...and blood. The acrid scent of various leaked chemicals burned his nose.
"Professor McMillan!" screamed a girl's voice nearby. He turned to see one of his students, Tricia Gore, hanging outside of her little pink Neon. A Buick was smashed into the side of it, into her. The driver of that car was slumped over, either unconscious or dead. Blood was pouring out of her nose.
"Tricia!" Frank yelled. He ran to her side. When he got closer he could see that any attempt to rescue her would be futile. Parts of her door and the grill of the Buick were one with the flesh of her midsection.
"I can't move!" Tricia exclaimed. "Help me move!"
You'll die as soon as I move you, Frank thought. "I'm sure firefighters or something will be here soon. They'll help you," he said gently as he grasped her hand.
"This wasn't supposed to happen!" Tricia sobbed. "Not like this!"
"I know," Frank said darkly. She coughed, gurgled up some blood. Then her head went limp. Even though her eyes were still open, Frank knew that that was the end of Tricia Gore.
He let go of her hand and looked to the horizon and the rising sun. Whomever figured out how to create the loopback was too dangerous to let live. He could plainly see that humans weren't ready for such radical technology yet. As soon as they found out who did it, he vowed to pay that person a little visit.
A spectacularly fatal visit.
== I == II == III == IV ==