Rob Perrier’s “Intervals”
Rob’s fantasy and science fiction stories have been featured in collections and online for nearly a decade. In February, Rob published his first Sci-Fi novel, Above the Storms. Connect with him, find the latest news, and stay in the loop on all his upcoming SciFi and Fantasy Novels at RobPerrier.com or on his FB author page @robperrierauthor.
Without further ado, and with both great pleasure and honor, we present you his story:
“OK, how did you figure out these seven factors?” There was a forced calm to Jean’s question.
Tilly stared as if she hadn’t heard. Jean waited for a handful of seconds until she caught up. “It’s seven now. I actually think it could be date and time of conception instead of date and time of birth or some combination. But ultimately it could be twenty or a hundred factors.”
“Alright, but you say it’s working with these seven. So for just those, how did you find them?”
Brushing back blonde hair, days overdue for a wash, and focusing on the papers scattered between them, Tilly took a single, ragged breath. “I told you. It was my mom…and the hurricane job.”
“Right, you told me, but take me through the whole thing. Where did it start?”
Tilly liked to think of herself as a hired gun; the best in the whole wild west of tech. She was a senior database architect for a big three consulting company, and was the best at what she did. Her particular brand of expertise prompted awe among those who needed what she had. The reverence that made her above questioning extended to both clients as well as the partners in the firm. She liked that and fostered it via shows of elegant complexity at every opportunity. She’d arranged for a Large Format Printer so that she could paper the halls around her desk with web-like table schema and entity relationship models. VPs and interns alike would stop and admire despite a dearth of understanding.
Tilly had decided she needed to show Jean everything. It was the only way she would get her to understand. “I keep specific sub-sets of data across jobs. I don’t use them for anything, just interesting data sets to use when I’m building out prototypes.” Jean’s mouth hung open at the admission, but she didn’t challenge the potentially career-ending confession. Tilly kept going, “I also have lots of public records, good for volume and tricky because if you go back more than a generation the data isn’t consistent. It’s a total mess. I’ve wrangled birth, marriage, and death records for pretty much all of California. There are still a couple counties that haven’t converted to digital, or if they have moved off paper records, they don’t make the data available.”
Jean was a friend, but she was also a superior, albeit in a different division. They had known each other since Tilly started, and she respected her not only for her career focus but for her vast stores of knowledge in a hundred different areas. It had been only a minor disappointment when she’d found out that Jean was ten years her senior despite her appearance. Tilly savored hanging around other single women she could respect professionally and intellectually.
Jean closed her mouth and stared from under her groomed eyebrows. “With that much data…I mean…Could you be cherry picking and seeing things that aren’t there? Maybe if you took a step back?”
Tilly shook her head. She bristled when anyone questioned her work. She did her best to keep the affront she felt out of her response. “C’mon, Jean. Don’t be… Listen, when I started the hurricane project, it was the first time I’d seriously worked with longitude and latitude. It’s not particularly challenging data, but I started adding it to everything because, y’know, maps are cool.”
At that, Jean’s mask of concentration cracked into a bare grin. She’d wondered at the recent changes to the massive printouts on the cube walls and down the halls. Tilly kept on, “I run all sorts of equations and transformations on the data. Things that don’t make any practical sense, but I like having pre-made examples so I can copy them when I need them for projects. And, one night, when I was adding tidal data, because of the hurricane project, I saw a pattern. I thought.”
Tilly was gone again. This wasn’t like her at all; lost in the depths of what she believed she’d seen. Jean prompted, “And your mom?”
If Tilly had taken the time to examine the foundations of her personality all the way to the deep recesses where the cobwebs gathered, she might have been wary of the obsessions and desires lurking there. That wasn’t her. She attacked work every day until the data submitted to her will. Some weeks that meant going without sleep and eating week-old sandwiches scrounged from the breakroom. Other times she opted to stay at her desk pushing the boundaries, often exploiting the customer’s data in ways that weren’t strictly part of her remit. It made her better at her job, and kept the hazards of engaging in a personal life to a minimum.
When she did think about her past, it wasn’t about failed relationships or missed opportunities, it was about her mother. The balancing force and conduit for joy in her life had died at forty-six during Tilly’s second year of college.
That’s where it started.
“She was my first test. If I was right, then there’d be a spike in my combined data around the time she died. At first, I thought I had it wrong, because the highest spike wasn’t for another thirty-four years. She would have been seventy-nine. But the second highest, was just two weeks after she died. So it isn’t about an exact time, it’s about windows throughout her life. Everyone’s life.”
“Windows? How many?” Jean was still hoping this was a delusion from overwork and unresolved emotional damage. Maybe there were hundreds of these windows.
“An average person has five in the first eighty years of their life. One in early childhood, before the age of five. Another somewhere in their late teens to early twenties. The rest are scattered at random until you get to old age. Each window is about two months long.” Tilly found a hand drawn diagram and slid it across the table. “Some people, less than two percent, don’t have any windows until they hit their sixties.”
“You’ve checked this against more than just your mom?” Jean’s chest was tightening. She stared at the diagram but wasn’t taking it in.
“How accurate is it?”
“Over ninety-nine percent of recorded deaths fall into a predictable window. There are anomalies like World War Two when the accuracy drops, but even there…” Tilly was sensitive to what she was about to say, even to Jean.
“What? The war was predictable? I can’t believe that.”
“No, it’s almost worse. Over a hundred Californians are verified as having died on D-day. I confirmed sixty-one were in a window that day. I’ve looked at other tragedies. It seems like people in their windows are almost drawn.”
Jean countered, “Or death is drawn to gatherings of the vulnerable.”
They sat in silence as the lights throughout the office turned off automatically at a quarter after ten, leaving only the distant hall lights near the elevators. A gentle rain floated between the buildings, gusts of wind pushed the wet against the floor to ceiling windows. Words like determinism and pre-destination came unbidden from the wells of long-forgotten philosophy classes.
“Oh God,” Jean looked Tilly straight in the eye, “you’re telling me because you’ve got a window. Are you…”
Tilly reached across and grabbed her arm. “No! I’m ironically one of those special two percenters with no window until I’m ready to retire. Which, FYI, I will be doing early. Aren’t you going to ask about yourself?”
“I’m from Pennsylvania, and before you ask, I don’t want to know.”
Tilly had another admission. “The internal HR project last year. I kept that data too. Plus, Philadelphia County records are easy to get.”
Jean’s shoulders tensed. “Like I said, I don’t want to know. I don’t think most people will want to know. Maybe the insurance companies, or if you can find something in the data about wealth or genius tendencies. Maybe then.”
Their eyes locked across Tilly’s desk. Tilly had sworn to herself she would go through with all of it. “Jean Louise Austin born February seventeenth nineteen-eighty-two at Hahnneman Teaching Hospital at one-oh-three in the morning to Elizabeth…”
Jean held up her hand and chuckled. “I didn’t know I was born in the middle of the night. I’ll have to apologize to my mom when I see her.”
Tilly waited with lips taut. She squinted through sleep-deprived eyes. “Jean, you’re one of unlucky few at the other end of the spectrum. All your windows opened and closed before you were eight years old.”
“That’s fantastic for me. That only proves the equation isn’t absolute.” Jean scooted her chair away from the desk.
“No, Jean. I think you know that’s not what I mean.”
“Tell me, Tilly, exactly what you mean.”
Tilly felt vulnerable alone with Jean on the deserted floor of empty cubes high above the city. Not even the vacuuming of janitorial threatened to interrupt their conversation. Tilly gripped the edge of her desk and took a long breath.
“I found the death certificate for Jean Louise Austin. Right where it should have been, in her third window. At the hospital where she was born. Her social and name had been altered. L instead of Louise and Astin instead of Austin, but all the other details matched.”
They stared in silence at one another. Jean’s unblinking calm belied everything she had just been told. For the first time in years, Tilly felt intimidated sitting behind her desk surrounded by her print outs. More than intimidated, she was afraid.
“Jean, there’s more. I think it’s good,” Tilly tried to swallow through a dry mouth, “if you’ll let me share it with you before you decide what to do with the information.”
Jean’s intensity eased a fraction. She slid back into the office chair, and gave the barest nod to Tilly.
“I plugged in my family first. Then one or two of my exes. I really hesitated before violating anyone’s privacy at work, but I didn’t think it extended to my friends. I’m sorry.” Jean hadn’t moved, so Tilly went on, “Like I said, there are exceptions for wars and other disasters, things like plane crashes, people sometimes die early. But nobody escapes all their windows. I almost called you the minute I found it, but then something incredible occurred to me, I’d made a huge rookie mistake.” Tilly swiveled and brought her computer to life.
“What mistake?” Jean’s voice was flat and distant.
With a click, Tilly displayed less than ten lines in a grid. “All my searches for mins and maxes, years in between, everything I could find out about the windows. I never looked for records that produced zero spikes. Records with no windows at all. Even if I had run across one, I would have assumed it was an incomplete record.” The light from her monitors made it hard to see Jean’s face, but she thought her shoulders had dropped a fraction. “Eight complete records without windows. Eight people I could find since eighteen-fifty who appear to be immune. Eight people, I’m guessing, who are like you.”
“You know how ridiculous that sounds?” Jean’s eyes never left the list on the screen.
“Ridiculous until you start looking at the public records for them,” she waved a hand toward her screen, “and see that when you can even find a death certificate… I mean, this one declared dead after being missing for a decade. For these two the body couldn’t be recovered. This one in Nepal where they were never returned.”
“What are you saying, Tilly?” There was an edge to her voice.
“I thought about quizzing you on your grandparents’ names or the dates and locations of your parents’ birth if you denied it, but you are my friend. I hoped we could just discuss…I mean figure out why.”
“Trust me when I say there is nothing here for you to figure out.” Jean stood and walked around the desk to stand directly behind Tilly. She put a hand on Tilly’s shoulder. “Here’s what I think you should do. Delete it all. Delete everything. If you pursue this, it’s the end of your career and the end of our friendship.”
The words stung, but Tilly protested, “But this could…”
“Tilly, if what you’ve found is correct, then what good is it going to do people to know about it? You can’t change your windows, and I suspect that if you decided to hide alone in your house, your body would find a way to betray you, or there’d be a disaster while you slept, or one of a hundred other things. No, destroy it all and keep your career.” Jean smiled, and took her hand away from Tilly’s shoulder. “You are nearly as good at all this as you think you are.”
Tilly nodded. Despite her conviction in the truth of her discovery, she should have known that Jean wouldn’t admit to anything.
Jean moved back around to the other side of the desk, “But before you destroy it, do me one favor, and give me a print out of those names.”