“When I was a little girl, I loved my Grandma June. I was her favorite. I did everything she asked, and whenever I visited her glass house in the rainforest she rewarded me with candy. I was young enough that candy was what made life worth living.
“Even when I grew older and candy lost its appeal, I still loved Grandma June. Her praise became the thing that made life worth living. I always got more than my cousins. They were so jealous.
“At first, she wanted me to be an astronomer, but one day she told me to change my course of study to chronotheory. I did as she instructed, and she was so proud when I built my first time machine. It’s so easy once you know how, don’t you agree?”
“Definitely,” Talie said.
“Then she started asking for favors. She wanted me to fix the family. None of her children had turned out the way she wanted.
“I went back in time and made sure Aunt Zeta stayed in science club. Aunt Aurora caused a scandal when she married an alien. I put a stop to that. My dad, Cosmo June, was tricky. I couldn’t turn him into a scientist, but I got him to be a medical doctor, and Grandma decided that was acceptable.
“Uncle Leo was the hardest. I couldn’t turn him into an astronomer, a physicist, or a chemist, but I convinced mother a time traveling journalist involved enough chronotheory to be close enough. So I got him a job with the Tomorrow News Network. Hope you don’t mind.”
“He’s a good writer,” Talie said. “We would have hired him anyway.”
Eliza rubbed her forehead and squeezed her eyes shut.
“I kept changing history,” she said, “but I discovered parts of my own life were disappearing. I lost memories I cherished, and I couldn’t even remember why I cherished them. New memories formed, but they never seemed real to me. I was forgetting who I was.”
“It’s dangerous to alter your own timeline,” Talie said. “It can drive you insane.”
“I am not insane!” Eliza shouted. “I just don’t know who I am anymore. Or rather who I was.
“That woman,” Eliza said, pointing at the bloody corpse, “made me her errand girl to fix all her mistakes, but I was the worst mistake she ever made.”
“Why does it have to be murder?” Talie asked. “Why not find some other way to prevent her from doing this to you?”
“Change the past even more?” Eliza said. “Take away memories of Grandma June’s candy? That’s all I have left. No, murder is the only solution. And I killed her before my father was born, thus canceling out my own existence. This is murder and suicide!
“Besides, I’m still a scientist. No one’s ever tested the ‘grandfather paradox’ before, or in this case the ‘grandmother paradox.’ It’s an interesting experiment, don’t you think? I killed her and prevented myself from being born, but if I wasn’t born then who killed her?”
Eliza’s warped smile returned. “What do you think will happen? You’re the great Talie Tappler. You know chronotheory better than anyone. How will this paradox resolve itself?”
The video cut to black.
Father’s jaws were clenched shut. Mascara tears smeared down Aurora’s cheeks. Leo covered his wristwatch with one hand, terrified that if he let go, if he ever dared remove it, he’d forget his baby sister, that he might disappear himself as time undid the damage Eliza had caused.
Inspector Green stared furiously at his feet. The DNA samples hadn’t been contaminated, Leo realized. They just belonged to someone who hadn’t been born yet. Now the police had no one to arrest. Soon, as time erased the June family, the police would discover no crime had been committed, no murder victim even existed.
The news crew waited in hushed anticipation. The ratings for this must have been outstanding.
“This is how the grandmother paradox will resolve itself,” Talie said, a triumphant grin on her face, “assuming each of you–and Zeta, when she comes back–chooses to follow my advice.”
“Zeta’s coming back?” Leo said.
“Yes,” Talie said, “if you promise to do what I tell you.”
“What do we have to do?” father said, rising to his feet.
Talie motioned for Leo and Aurora to stand as well. She had the three of them hold hands and grasped Leo and father’s hands herself, forming a circle.
“Promise to live happy lives,” Talie said. “Aurora, marry your tentacle monster sweetheart and have lots of half-human, half-Rogi babies. Zeta–Zeta’s still not back yet–Zeta loves ancient religions and wants to be a priestess. Someone tell her to be the best damn priestess she can be. And Leo, I’ll see you back in the newsroom.
“But as you lead your happy lives, include your mother. She won’t make it easy, but it will never be impossible. Make sure she’s included, and she will discover happiness in her own way. No, things won’t be exactly the way she wanted, but she’ll learn not to regret that and won’t want to re-write the past.
“And then none of this bloodshed will have to happen.”
Talie nodded toward the video screen, which had rolled back to mother’s gruesome expression in death.
“Do you promise?” Talie said.
“Yes!” Leo and Aurora said at once.
“Mr. June, do you promise? You more than anyone can help your wife be happy with the family she has, not the family she wanted. Do you promise?”
Father shook his head weakly. “I promise,” he said.
“In that case,” Talie said, releasing their hands, “I present to you Dr. Delilah June!”
The front door slid open, and mother walked in carrying Zeta on her hip. They were both drenched in rain water, and mother had never looked angrier.
“What the hell is going on!” she screamed. “Who moved my furniture? Why are all these aliens in my house? And who left Zeta out in the rain? She could have caught pneumonia!”
“MOM!” Leo and Aurora yelled, running across the living room, cameras whipping around to follow them. They flung their arms around mother, nearly tipping her over.
Father stumbled after them, crying profusely. “Delilah!” he said. “Delilah, you’re back!”
“I found Mommy!” Zeta proclaimed, and the news crew laughed.
Mother’s rage melted under all this unprecedented affection. She looked around the room again, her eyes settling on Talie, recognizing the famous time traveler.
“What…” mother said. “What’s been happening here?”
* * *
36-year-old Leo June sat at his desk in the Tomorrow News Network’s newsroom. Giant clocks ticked at varying speeds as time twisted and turned. Holograms flickered around him depicting the top stories from across the space-time continuum. His hands rested on his keyboard but didn’t type. He was working on a story–something about the Swarm devouring yet another civilization–but his mind had wandered elsewhere.
Leo glanced at the family photo he kept on his desk. They’d all gathered in the vegetable garden. Zeta wore her black clothes and priestly collar. Cosmo and his wife were there, holding baby Eliza up for the camera. Omglom and Aurora sat in the grass trying to control their seven squishy, squirming children. They came back to Earth once a year to visit, and Aurora’s skin still looked bluish from the genetic treatments that made her pregnancies possible. Father stood in the background with a grim smile on his face, and Leo stood beside him with a goofy smile of his own.
Mother sat on the old garden bench, right in the middle of everything, laughing as one of her blue grandkids tried to crawl up her leg.
All the clocks stopped, and the whole newsroom froze like a viewlink on pause. Leo sensed a presence behind him and knew Talie had returned from her special report. He swiveled around in his chair and found her leaning against the wall scowling at him.
“You had pictures of me under your bed.”
“I can explain that!”
“I’m sure you can.” Talie crossed her arms and waited.
“You know, I’m not the one who should apologize,” Leo said. “You put me and my family through hell.”
“Would you prefer if I’d done nothing?” Talie asked.
“Do you think you could have done better?”
“Maybe,” Leo said. “You could have at least been nicer about it.”
“Sometimes to do something good you have to be the bad guy,” Talie said. “I had to make you all understand Eliza June’s motives for murder, and to do that I had to show that each of you shared those motives. Otherwise, you’d think she was just a crazy woman from the future.”
Leo looked at the family photo again. He’d checked out Eliza’s future. She’d still grow up to be a scientist, but not a chronotheorist. Definitely not a chronotheorist.
“So about those pictures of me,” Talie said, still angry.
“Why don’t you let me buy you dinner?” Leo said, forcing some boldness into his voice. “I’ll explain the whole thing.”
Talie rolled her eyes. “No,” she said.
“Someday you’ll say yes.”
“No, I won’t.”
“Even you don’t always know the future,” Leo said. “Time is a complex, living thing, always moving, always changing. You said so yourself.”
Talie regarded Leo with a sad smile. “That’s true for other people,” she said. “Not me.”
In a flash, the newsroom went back to normal. The clocks were ticking, and various sentient organisms, artificial intelligences, and non-corporeal entities continued their business oblivious to any interruption.
Leo had never before considered that Talie’s casual, effortless manipulation of time might have come with a price. No other chronotheorist could do the things she did. No one else could have stopped all the clocks in the newsroom like that. What had she sacrificed to gain the obedience of this living, breathing thing called time?
Before Leo could speak, Talie crossed the room and joined Mr. Cognis. In a burst of unnatural colors, the two of them vanished, off to cover their next story.