The Schelding Shift

(You may have already read this. Originally written in October 2007.)

It made me uncomfortable when she looked at me. She was a stern woman, very strict. It was odd, and insulting, that she should save her softness for gazing on me. Sometimes, I’d look at her and see pity in her eyes. What sympathy did I need from her? The old hag never had children or a successful project. It should be her who receives pity, not me.

Whenever she’d review the work of her interns, she’d chuckle when she got to mine. It hurt to hear her laugh. She found no amusement in the work of anyone else. Why was she singling me out?

Her right hand man in the lab, however, was nice. I liked to be around him. Everything he said made me want to stay on the project. “Great job, BV!” He’d say when I’d get a working model. “Excellent observation,” when I’d point out something he missed.

The senior scientist would laugh at the things her husband would say. She never showed any emotion other than disgust at everything or amusement at my expense. Still, I treated them with equal respect. “Thank you, Dr. Kelner,” and “Right away, Dr. Schelding.”

The absolute worst thing about her was her name. Her full name was Alexia Margaret Schelding-Kelner. Her full maiden name was the same as mine, and everyone called her by it. Everyone assumed we were related, but I’d never seen her in my life. There’s no record of anyone in my family have the same first name as myself.

Sometimes one of the other interns would draw up the nerve to ask me what it’s like working on the same project as my parents. I’d explain to them that I’m not related in any way to the old hag and they’d somehow look disappointed. Of course, I’d get suspicious of their motives. Or, rather, what they would do with the information had their suppositions been true. One could assume that they, like any other intern, were trying to move up in the system, and sought to use me as a tool for this. What better way to kiss the posterior of your superior than by dating his or her daughter?

Or maybe they just assumed that the reason I’d lasted so long on the project was because of bloodline. There always seemed to be a new intern every three or four days, and another one would leave. No announcement, no going-away parties. Just silent, accepted replacement. It’s fairly noticeable that you aren’t going anywhere when there’s only twelve interns. Since there was never really any time to learn names with all the comings and goings, everyone was assigned a color. I’d been assigned the title “Blue-Violet.”

One morning, years into my employment and study at their labs, there were only eleven. RO was missing.

I called out to Dr. Kelner by name when I saw him walking out of his office.

“Yes BV?”

“Where’s RO?”

“Budget cut.”

“After ten years of a seemingly endless supply of funds, the budget gets cut now?”

“Unbelievable, isn’t it?” He excused himself and hurried off, leaving me standing, dumbstruck, in front of his office. “Unbelievable,” he says. I agreed. I’ve worked with him for the last five years. I knew he had to be lying.

Four weeks and six budget cuts later, there were only four interns left. Red, Violet, Red-Violet, and myself. Everyone’s left in the same way now. They’re called to Schelding’s office and never seen again.

The others eyed me, glancing over their shoulders. It’s all been in order. Blue left four days ago. That means I’m next. Sure enough, for everyone to hear, Dr. Schelding called out from her office, “Blue-Violet, I need to speak with you.”

The office, to my great surprise, was a complete mess. Her desk was cluttered beyond belief and the walls were covered in notes. I’d only ever seen Kelner’s office before, and his was perfectly clean.

“Have a seat, Miss Schelding.”

I was calm before entering. I knew the day of my departure would eventually come and had prepared for a swift removal. I did not expect to be confronted with the wall-scrawlings of a madwoman, nor to be called by my name.

“I suppose you’ve figured out why you’ve been called.”

“Well, of course, you’ve -”

“You’re completely wrong.”

Having successfully removed any footing in composure that I’d had for this moment, Dr. Schelding smiled at me, making it somehow, if possible, worse. I bet she planned it this way. I ramble when I’m nervous, and I was the most nervous I had ever been in my life.

“I’m going to ask you a few questions, and I want you to answer them truthfully and completely. Answer quickly. I do not want you to delay and concoct an answer that you think will please me. Nothing pleases me more than brutal honesty.”

Brutal, she says, She’ll probably want me to tell her how I feel about her and then scoot me off for not liking her.

“Now, Alexia, why do you suppose you are here?”

“Because you called me to your office.”

She chuckled and continued, “No, why do you think you are on this project and have remained so for years?”

“Well, my educational background matches that of yours, just off by thirty years, which might as well be the same since the only changes to the field have been made by yourself and your husband—and now me since I’d been working with you for the past five years. The other interns never really seemed to do much other than copy your notes from the white boards since I’m the only intern doing any work. And it seems fitting that you should pick someone with your surname so that it’ll look like the reason I’m staying is because I’m family rather than that I’m the only one contributing anything.” I thought for a moment before choosing my final statement. “And I was the only one able to control my inquisitive nature and not ask why we’re building a time-traveling device or who we’re building it for.”

“Exactly. Especially that last part.”

“What?” Again she took me further from my comfort zone by answering so succinctly.

“But you’re missing one more reason.”

I was absolutely speechless. Everything I’d thought was true, and hoped was just my imagination running wild, was confirmed. And now, apparently, there was more to it than my imagination could conceive.

“You’ve had just over five years to figure out why you’re staying here, working on time travel theory with a woman with the exact same name as you, and you haven’t figured out the best part of it.”

My jaw dropped. “You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“You’ll get over the shock of it in a few moments. I’m sure it’s very surprising seeing how successful you become in your future and past.”

I let out a nervous laugh. “So what, we get it working and I’m sent back in time to work on it again? That’s preposterous. I don’t believe it. In fact, I refuse to do it.”

“My husband and I have neared completion of the device we’ve been working on for years. Once we send the other interns on our way, we can finish and test it with you.”

“No, no, absolutely not. I’m not going anywhere, anywhen. You can send yourself back to the time you’re supposed to be at, I don’t care, but don’t make the same mistakes with me that you made originally.”

“My mistakes are your mistakes. All in due time, you’ll realize this and accept that you must be sent to the past.”

I stood up and backed away from her desk. “No, this is just a trick you’re playing on me. There’s no way anything you are saying is true. You’re just a crazy old hag who’s been locked up too long with the same unsolvable equations.”

“They’re not unsolvable!” She stood up and started sorting through the papers on her desk. “I’ll show you, I calculated our destination in all dimensions; I studied the movement of the cosmos to find how far we are, physically, from then!“ She had a sort of desperation in her voice that matched my own when I was frustrated. “I have it here somewhere, I know where and when and how we arrived thirty-seven years ago—Stop! Don’t go!”

I had turned while she distracted herself and made for the door. She called out just as I turned the knob. I opened the door so the others could hear before I replied to her pleas. “No,” I said, “I’m not staying here another day, nor am I willingly sacrificing my life, just so your deluded predictions of this project can come true. I’m not you, and you can’t convince me of otherwise.”

I shut the door and returned to my workstation. As I collected the view personal items I kept there, Dr. Kelner came out of his office. He walked to Dr. Schelding, who was now standing in her doorway, and said, “She didn’t accept.”

I turned to them, fully prepared to give a verbal resignation in the foulest terms possible. However, no words slipped from my lips other than confused babble. Dr. Kelner, the kindest man I’d ever worked for, was stood beside me, plunging a syringe into my arm.

“When I awoke, I was here,” I said to my avid listener, “And that is why you’ll not find any records of me anywhere, and, really, why you should hide me deep in a subterranean laboratory and let me work on a time-travel device with unlimited funding.”

“Of course,” the man in white beside me said as he tightened the straps on my arms, “We’ll get right on that.”

I laughed, “Oh well, at least it won’t ever happen to me again.”

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