Note: this text version is very basic. It gets the job done, but I believe the PDF and EPUB are superior reading experiences.
Continuity Note: this story takes place after London Calling, and references Downtown. To read in order, start at Her Name Is Murder: (Lady Dreamscapes Book 1.) Thank you! Published by A.C. Merkel June 2021 All rights reserved No parts of this book are to be redistributed in any form without the Author's explicit written Permission, Barring small excerpts for review purposes. To obtain permission please inquire by email or Twitter Twitter: https://twitter.com/blink_drive Website: https://acmerkel.com Any resemblance to real persons or other real-life entities is purely coincidental. All characters and other entities appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, dead or alive, or other real-life entities, past or present, is purely coincidental. Copyright © A.C.Merkel 2021 Connecticut Murder looked down at her vibrating iPhone. ~Grant~ She smirked. ~On my way. Lotus is running rough again, so I’m behind schedule. Left it with Victor~ Victor was the new mechanic that Candace, Murder’s personal assistant, had recommended. Murder had liked the little, old Italian man with the Brooklyn accent immediately, and he had Grant I’s old Rolls Royce running within a day. Murder laughed at Grant’s car troubles. He was steadfastly attempting to daily drive the temperamental Italian classic. “I bought it. I have to deal with it,” he had said. ~Why are men so stubborn? It's a weekend car~ She typed a response. Hurry, I miss you. She wasn’t laughing about that. She did miss him a lot. She was also excited about the adventure she had planned. She returned to the business of copying the page from Wynter’s notebook to the whiteboard. *** “So, what’s the big news?” Grant asked as he appeared in a flash of light on Hearthstone Castle’s large spiral staircase. “Not exactly news,” Murder said, as she rushed to hug and kiss her handsome husband. “More like a quick getaway.” Grant noticed what Murder was wearing. Snug, but comfortable-looking green pants with knee reinforcement and extra pockets, a cream tank top, and tall hiking boots. Her copper hair was braided, and hanging down her back. Grant smiled. She was giving off serious Lara Croft vibes. Less Jolie, more Vikander. She looked lean, strong, and gorgeous. He nodded to the whiteboard. “So...Is this...Sidestepping?” Wynter had been the first to discover the phenomenon of jumping into alternate timelines. She discovered worlds that were nearly indistinguishable from their own and ones so different that they were barely recognizable. “Yes. A world Wynter suggested we visit.” Grant’s head cocked in confusion. “She said sidestepping was for one person at a time.” “Yes, but she worked that out as well, before—” Murder winced at Grant’s face. He isn’t over her. Murder knew that he couldn’t spend more than a decade in the past with Wynter and not feel something. Technically, he had now known Wynter longer than he had known his own wife. She took his hand to comfort him. “—before you came home to me.” She pulled him close, effectively changing the subject and his mood. Murder still hadn’t gotten a full report on his time in the sixteenth century. He had only been home a few weeks. She would be more worried if Wynter’s death hadn’t affected him. “You also said this was dangerous, and no good could come of wielding this power,” he paused, “this knowledge.” “This trip will be our one and only. This particular world is the means to insulate our timeline. For good.” Murder looked up at him, an eyebrow raised. “If Wynter suggested it, and you agree, then it can only be the right move. Should we bring some backup? Levi? Tress?” “We can back each other up. We’re The Nobles.” Murder’s smile was huge. “Where are we going?” Grant laughed, noting his wife’s excitement. “You’re going to love this, Grant.” She reached under a nearby lab table and handed him a stack of hiking clothing and boots. “Gear up, baby. Into the woods, we go!” *** Murder held tightly to Grant’s hand as she adjusted the watch and chanted. She took a deep breath before she read the formula she had copied to the whiteboard aloud. None of it made any sense to her. Mostly, she knew that Wynter had been much more adept at mathematics than she would ever be. But...she couldn’t carry a tune or change her accent at will. We all have our strengths. The stainless steel conductor’s watch began to glow red in Grant’s open palm. Murder’s black watch, which had once belonged to Eustace Chapuys, glowed in her own palm shortly after. The Nobles disappeared from the lab and classroom under Hearthstone Castle in a flash of brilliant purple light. *** Timeline Lambda (Λ) Murder slowly opened one eye. Well, we aren’t a Grant/Murder mashup like in The Fly. She heard Grant laughing. “Wow! It's Paradise!” Grant scanned the small clearing they stood in. Tropical trees lined the edge of the rainforest-like, dense woods before them. There was a thick, low-hanging fog, and vines hung in the growth ahead. He turned. Behind them was a mountain. No, a Volcano. Murder took her backpack off her shoulder. She kneeled and extracted an iPad Pro. Reaching back into the bag, she retrieved another device. It was rectangular, with LED lights and many vents and ports. She unfolded a USB connector from the side of the device, and extended an antenna and wind vane, before plugging it into the iPad’s charge port. “What is it?” Grant asked, his curiosity was evident. “Something I paid one of the engineers at Apple Computers to cook up. It’s essentially a multi-function scanner.” Grant chuckled at his wife’s ~iTricorder~. He took a deep breath. “The air is so fresh, crisp.” Murder looked at her screen as it filled with graphs. “The air is indeed clean, high CO2, but all in all, safe. Eighty degrees, very little chance of rain. No radiation. High humidity.” Grant laughed, his wife’s report made him think of Amy Freeze, NYC’s popular weekend meteorologist. He didn't need the scanner to tell him it was humid. He pulled at his T-Shirt collar. Murder detached and folded the unit up carefully and returned it to her pack. Murder took Grant’s hand. “According to Wynter’s description,” she paused, looking around to make sure she had her bearings, “what we want to see is this way.” She led them to their left. They hiked a quarter mile or so in silence, enjoying the beautiful landscape before the forest opened back up to line a stream. Murder pulled Grant close for a gentle kiss. “We’re almost there. This is going to blow your mind.” “My mind's already blown. This place feels ancient. Are you sure we sidestepped and didn’t time travel?” “I’m sure. This is 2022. Come on.” She took his hand again and they followed the stream. *** The stream met with a larger, more rapidly flowing small body of water. Whitewater. “We should have brought a raft,” Grant said with a wink. “You wouldn’t like the ending.” Murder laughed. “We’re headed towards falls.” “Yes, and all the local wildlife waters at the basin.” Grant wondered what wildlife had to do with insulating their timeline from others. *** There was a large clearing for the last hundred meters before the rapids ended in falls. Grant’s eyes became large as the couple stepped close enough to see over the cliff. Below them were half a dozen long-necked dinosaurs drinking from the gently flowing pool below. “That…Murder, this is amazing!” He watched the creatures with awe. “Brontosaurus, Apatosaurus?” he asked as they kneeled to stay out of the creatures’ view. “Also, what could have caused a timeline like this?” “According to the notebook, this could be a timeline where there was no mass extinction event or maybe it had a stunted evolutionary rate?” She shrugged. “As for those sauropods, they aren’t precisely any known species. Wynter’s notes said they were most like Brachiosaurus.” “Brachiosaurus,” Grant repeated in awe as he looked at them once more. “They are here to drink every day but always arrive at different times.” “They’re frightened of something.” Grant scanned the horizon. “If they’re scared…” Murder nodded. “We should be as well.” She also did a quick scan of their surroundings. “We won’t be here long. In fact, coming here to show you these amazing creatures is irrelevant to the plan, and to why we are here. “I plan to use this timeline as a trap, again, the notebook provides the means. Anyone trying to come to our timeline, which Wynter was calling Beta, hers being Alpha, will arrive here instead.” Grant looked around them. “But what if it’s not someone dangerous? What if one of our own doppelgängers is—” “Grant, the only people who are likely to get here are from the timelines most similar to Alpha.” “Isn’t it a bit…Prejudiced...to assume all advanced timelines are headed up by sociopathic doppelgängers?” “I know it’s a little xenophobic, and I’m not proud of that, but—” “What if Wynter was mistaken about being unique to her timeline? What if a version of her needs us?” Grant tried to keep his tone level. Murder could feel his temper boiling. She did not like that. “I agree that it is unlikely that she was unique to a single timeline.” As she listened to the waterfall crashing and splashing thirty feet behind her, an analogy was born. “Each variation creates ripples. Those ripples induce more surges and swells as they touch once still waters…likely resulting in more divergences than one can imagine. I’m not sure she’s not still out there in some form or another, but I am certain of this: where there is a Wynter Pratt, there is a Tiffany.” Grant took a moment to ponder that. She was right —Because of course she was— and she was a bit irritated, too. He’d have to be extra sweet to make it up to her. “Okay,” Grant nodded, “how do we build this Slidecage?” Murder’s eyebrow raised. “Slide-what?” Grant laughed. “Television reference.” “You do understand that I only want to protect us? Our family; you, me, and…” she placed his large hand on her stomach. “And whoever’s coming.” Grant caught her single tear with a kiss on her cheek. He stood, offering her his hand. As she took his hand, and they turned away from the cliff face, Murder saw movement in the forest. “Grant, be still,” she whispered. They stood, not moving. The underbrush rustled. Murder squeezed Grant’s hand. The brush shook once more. A creature emerged from the forest. Murder noticed its head spines before any other feature. “Dracorex,” she whispered. She felt Grant tense up. The creature was roughly four feet tall. Tiny arms. Large legs. Light feathers down its spine. Murder didn’t move except for the smile playing upon her lips. ~Tiffany may not have found a dragon~ Dracorex had been disputed, all but disproven, thought to be a young Pachycephalosaurus who hadn’t yet grown its bony head cap. Murder didn’t care about that. To her, this was indeed Dracorex Hogwartsia. Her favorite dinosaur. Dragon King of Hogwarts. No doubt discovered and named by the nerdiest of all the paleontologists, which had to be no small feat. Most importantly, it looked like a tiny fairytale dragon. She saw Grant reach into his pocket. She squeezed his hand, urging him to stop. He didn’t need the pocket knife or the sword it could become. Pachycephalosaurus was a vegan just like her. He showed her his hand. He hadn’t drawn the knife, just Wynter’s watch. He paused time so she could take a better look. Up close, the dinosaur was even more impressive. Scaly skin was drawn tightly over toned musculature. The feathers along its spine were light like goose down but in so many earthy hues. The creature had a beak out front and large molars in the back of its mouth. “He’s a vegan like you,” Grant said, as they peered into the animal’s open maw. Murder smiled that he’d said it exactly as she had thought it. She wanted to pet her new dragon’s feathers. She knew better. Touching it would wake it up. She wasn't the ~Mother of Dragons~ no matter how much she might wish to be. Despite its diet, it was still very strong and would be scared of her. It would kill them both while trying to get away. “I wish I could pet it.” She smiled at Grant. “I’m very glad you weren’t reaching for the blade like I thought.” “Never. Look how beautiful he… maybe she/they? Is. What an amazing day! Thank you.” He put an arm around her. “We should let Draco go, though.” Murder nodded. She wondered if she could familiarize the dragon, as Mother had with her Peregrine Falcon, Thomas. She knew it wasn’t a good idea. They couldn’t keep a dinosaur, not in NYC. “Grant, wait.” Grant slid the watch back in his pocket. “Okay?” “Let’s get into the forest first. Let it finish its lunch, and we can watch it for a bit.” “Good, I was worried you were going to try and take this dragon home.” “You know me too well. I considered it.” Grant pulled her close as they walked to the cover of the forest canopy. Once they were settled in, crouched in the undergrowth, he shut the watch down with a touch. Dracorex looked to where they had been standing. Its head cocked in confusion, then it looked around again. It took a few steps toward a patch of taller grass and began to graze. After a few minutes of the creature doing nothing but eating, Murder stood. “We need to go back to where we came in. It’s the best spot to work this ward, and the best spot to return home from.” Grant nodded. With a last glance over her shoulder, she softly spoke as they walked away. “Goodbye.” They laughed as they walked and talked. Grant picked a particularly lovely red flower and placed it in Murder’s copper hair. “This isn’t New York or Connecticut, is it?” Grant asked. “When I was a kid I was disappointed to find that there hadn’t been a lot of dinosaurs found in the area. Prehistoric life, yes, but nothing as cool as Brachiosaurus or Pachycephalosaurus.” “I really don’t know.” Murder shrugged. “I followed the equation from the notebook exactly...I really only understand the process enough to be dangerous. The continents might not even be in the same places here. There’s so much I don’t know.” Grant put his arm around Murder. “I had an epiphany back there with Dracorex, something you likely thought about years ago.” “What’s that?” Murder wrapped her arms around his waist as they walked. “That all the dragons throughout history were likely inspired by fossils, and people just didn’t have the words yet. Or didn’t yet have the scientific ability to categorize what they had found?” Murder laughed. “Yes, and the Chinese always called the fossils dragon bones, recorded as early as The Western Jin Dynasty, which was roughly 265 AD. The first time I heard the word ~Dinosaur~ I had a good rant. I wondered why they needed a new word when what they found was clearly a dragon. “You, on the other hand, grew up in a world where dinosaurs always existed. So, of course, you see it the other way around. I knew for a fact that magic was real, and believed I was some sort of fairytale princess. For me, the term ~Dinosaur~ feels like a mistake where they only got the first letter right.” Grant laughed and kissed her forehead. “You still find ways to fascinate me beyond words. But yes, our different views on it stem from perception. Our...points of origin. Dinosaurs are dragons and vice versa.” They pressed onward to where the rapids became a gentle stream. It was very warm, so they ceased their display of affection to stave off the heat. Grant stumbled and fell in a rut. Murder reached down to help him up. “Are you okay?” she asked, noticing that he cringed when he put pressure on his foot. “I twisted my ankle. It’s not too bad, really.” He looked down at the hole he had stepped in. “Murder…” “Wow. Was that here before?” The hole wasn’t a hole at all. It was a large, three-toed print. The middle toe was nearly a foot and a half long and pointed toward the falls. Murder’s eyes got wide. “Dracorex!” She turned and ran. Grant yelled. “I’ll catch up to you! Be careful!” Murder didn’t answer. She was already out of earshot. Grant followed as quickly as his twisted ankle would allow. He shook his head. ~A boneheaded move to save a boneheaded dinosaur~ He wished he had brought the Hathor pendant. *** Murder ran. She noticed more fresh prints. ~Not the Bel-air kind…the T. Rex kind~ She leapt across the rapids at a narrow point to achieve a more direct route. She loved running while she was ageless. She had hated working out during the two years she was mortal. As Ageless, she would only be short of breath for a moment after stopping. As she neared the clearing before the cliff, she charged her fingers, readying her fireballs. Murder pushed a little harder. She had never clocked her running speed but felt that she could outpace anyone who wasn’t an Olympic athlete. As the clearing opened up, she saw the predator. Tyrannosaurus Rex. The creature looked almost as she expected. It was eight feet tall and nearly twice as long. An adolescent. Murder recalled reading a recent article about young Tyrannosaurs. They were faster than adults and had sharper teeth. It had tiny arms —as expected— and sported a ridiculous-looking mohawk ~hair-don’t~ made of short, dark feathers. The beast was sneaking up on Dracorex, who was eating its patch of grass, still oblivious. Murder flung her signature red fireball at the massive tyrant’s feet. It roared. With a shriek, Dracorex shot off towards the forest, leaving T. Rex angry, and looming at Murder. She turned to run but stumbled. Her black watch slipped her grip; she felt pressure and a warm wet sensation down her left leg. She screamed. *** Grant almost had a head-on collision with a speeding Dracorex. Mission accomplished? The running was loosening his ankle and he had picked up some speed as he went. He stopped abruptly at the edge of the clearing. His chest tightened. His worst nightmare came to life before his eyes. The Tyrannosaur had Murder by the leg. He fumbled as he retrieved the watch from his pocket. He yanked it up by the chain and pressed the stem. He ran to Murder’s side. Her leg was gone from the knee down. “Give me your belt,” she commanded through tears of pain. He pulled the leather belt through the loops as quickly as he could. He handed it to her and she bit down on it. She charged her fingers and with a muffled scream, she cauterized the wound. Grant covered his mouth with his hand. He cried. Grant regarded the Tyrannosaur with disgust. “Can we cut it open and save the leg?” “We can't kill it just for being hungry. We have both been just as guilty of that as it is. It's likely that it swallowed it whole. My leg is gone.” “I’m sorry.” Grant leaned in and held his hands over her mangled thigh. Murder felt warmth and then cold. She smiled lightly. “What was that? The pain is already subsiding.” Grant frowned. “Sweating Sickness is a horrible way to die. I learned some pain techniques to ease Wynter’s final days.” Murder nodded. “I really need to read your journals, don't I? Carry me?” Murder asked, and he nodded. He lifted her, and her arms wrapped around his neck. “We need to wash the blood off in the creek.” *** The walk back to a shallow area of the creek was torture for Grant, and not because of his ankle. He chided himself for each wince. He still had both ankles. His wife wasn’t so lucky. He carefully set her on the bank and removed her tattered hiking pants. He inspected the wounded leg and found that during their walk it hadn’t healed any. “Is it going to seal off?” He couldn’t hide the worry in his voice. “Why aren’t you healing faster?” “Nothing will heal until we resume time, and release the T. Rex. This is why we need to wash the blood off. So he can’t track us as readily.” “How are you so calm?” Grant removed his boots and his own clothes. He got in the creek. As his bare skin touched the water it flowed once more. He gently lowered Murder in as well. “Ageless isn’t simply ageless. Remember that Tress couldn’t get surgery. I’m ageless, it’s true, but I’m also unchanging.” “Wait…do you mean your leg will grow back?” “It won’t ~grow~ back, I’m not a salamander,” she said as if it were obvious. “It will just be.” She shrugged. ~Just be~ Grant was intrigued, but also worried she was only saying it to placate him. It had worked either way. “Can’t we just leave ~Henry~ back there, suspended, and out of our hair until we leave?” Murder laughed so hard she snorted. “If only his feathers were red. We can’t work the wards while time is stopped and I don’t want to do it one-legged, either.” “You’re serious about that?” Grant pulled her into an embrace. He washed her with a rag she had packed in one of the backpacks. “Yes, I wouldn’t kid about something so serious.” She kissed him and felt his arousal. “Grant, here? Really? And while I only have one leg?” She blushed. “Anywhere I’m alone with you really.” He smiled. “For once, I’m not in the mood.” She laughed. “I'm still too on edge after that experience. But...when we get home.” Grant nodded and resumed wringing the water and blood out of their clothes. *** Murder watched from the bank as Grant climbed out of the stream, and finished wringing out the clothing. “Hold them up and I’ll dry them.” She generated a small fireball and used her telekinetic powers to blow the heat over the clothing. It was warm out so the items would finish drying as they headed back. She had forgotten the telekinesis in the heat of the moment or she would have toppled Henry instead of throwing fire at it. Of course, she had yet to try and move anything so large with her mind. She looked up at Grant. “I’m just glad it wasn’t you. You wouldn’t heal.” She took two Powerbars out of the backpack. “Do you want one? Maybe I should eat them both. I lost a lot of blood. I feel a bit weak.” Grant nodded. Anything to ease her pain. “Yes, eat both. I'm not hungry yet.” They dressed and Grant helped Murder with the ruined green pants. “Okay,” Murder said with a nod, “start the clock and be prepared to move. We need to get out of here as quickly as we possibly can.” Grant pressed the stainless steel watch’s stem and picked up his wife. He ran. As Grant sat Murder down, he noticed it. The burnt skin was healed, and a golden shimmer appeared in place of the rest of her leg. He watched in awe as it became less transparent and swirling particles of light moved up and down the space. “You’re a Timelady!” He smiled. “I prefer Time Princess, thank you very much.” She laughed as she stood upon a still glowing, translucent leg of pure magic. “You're certain that you’re not an alien with two hearts?” He teased. “Actually, I barely have one good heart,” she said with a wink. She pulled the backpack from her shoulders and took out the leather-bound notebook. Next, she retrieved a small vial of purple liquid. “If I’ve done this right, we won’t be bothered by other timelines again.” “Can we really trap people here with a T. Rex, though?” Murder frowned. “We did all this for nothing then?” Grant shrugged. “We saw dinosaurs.” “Yes, a little too closely.” Murder laughed. A sound from behind startled them. They turned to face it. Dracorex stood, silently looking at them. Murder got an idea. She held out a hand and the beast stepped forward and bowed its head. Anne had explained the power she held over Thomas. It seemed Dracorex was amenable to an arrangement. “We can do this with a clear conscience…if we have someone to watch out for the intruders.” Grant laughed. “You’re going to have a dinosaur familiar in a parallel universe? Sounds like something I would write about.” Murder laughed as Dracorex nuzzled her hand. She kissed the creature’s forehead. “Grant, I now have a dragon of my very own.” ~I’ll probably never see her again but she’s mine~ Dracorex made an appreciative noise. It turned and breathed a fireball at a small bush before it roared and ran into the forest. “It breathes fire now?” Grant was shocked. “We can share a power with a familiar. Anne and Thomas share her sight. I gave Dracorex fireballs to protect her against T. Rex. I also asked her to protect anyone who arrives here.” As long as they don't try to hurt her. Grant nodded in approval. Murder emptied the vial on the ground and read aloud from the notebook. She took Grant’s hand and they pulled their watches from their pockets. Murder chanted from the notebook, as they disappeared in a brilliant purple glow. *** Connecticut Grant lifted Murder onto one of the exam tables in the lab and classroom. He found scissors on the counter nearby and cut the frayed pant leg at mid-thigh. Murder laughed. “What are you doing?” “I’m inspecting the new leg.” He ran his fingers down the still glowing shin. He delighted in the feeling of both flesh and energy. The sensation coursed through his arm and down his spine like pure electricity. He leaned in and pointed at a tiny freckle. “They’re all still here.” “Have you memorized each imperfection?” Murder smirked. “What imperfections?” he asked through a crooked grin. He kissed his way down from her knee to her toes, then gently kissed each one. “Your legs are one of my favorite features. I was very worried about these little toes.” Murder shivered with pleasure as he enveloped each toe with his lips. “How’s your mood now?” he asked. She nodded heartily, and greedily. “Much better! And Grant?” “Yeah?” “I love you. We might not always agree right away, but we talk. Compromise. We get things done.” “That’s because we’re The Nobles.” Grant joined her on the exam table. “I love you too.” —fin— Released this 11th of June 2021 To commemorate the 28th Anniversary of the theatrical release of Jurassic Park A favorite movie that became an instrumental favorite book. Thank you Micheal Crichton For all the inspiration over the years. Thank you for reading! If you enjoyed Unchanging, please leave a review!