The Clutches of Desperation

Most scientists hope to invent time travel; Victoria was born with it. Like every firstborn girl in her family, Victoria had unlocked the means to time travel when she turned 8. Contrary to popular belief, time travel was far more complicated than pushing a button or wishing on a star. It was a challenging ability to use, requiring complete concentration and a ton of energy. Accuracy was impossible, and the nearest a traveler could get to the desired time varied by years. Often, a traveler would try to attend a royal coronation for a monarch, but instead find themselves at their funeral, decades later. Time sickness was another jarring encounter, which forced the traveler to spend up to a day recovering before she could complete a task. Her first time travel experience had thrown her for a loop. Eight year old Victoria had been in a foreign land, during an unknown time, and without her mother. The sickness had taken its toll on her, leaving her sick and crying, curled in a ball on the floor of a random building. A week later, she had finally gathered enough energy to barely make it home. It had gotten better after the first travel, but the sickness never ceased. Her mother on the other hand, had been nearly immune to it, rarely hindered by the symptoms, which so often plagued Victoria. This allowed her to come and go far more often than Victoria would have liked.
Victoria had been 11 years old when her mother had vanished into time. After 7 months of waiting for her mother to return, Victoria had concluded that she had become trapped within the time stream. She had searched centuries, desperate to find her. One night at 2am, when Victoria was 14, she had finally remembered. She remembered how her adventurous mother used to wish that Davy Jones was real. She had once told Victoria how she wanted to sail the high seas on Davy Jones’s pirate ship, “just for a story to tell.” Of course, Victoria had argued that if she spent too much time with them she might be stabbed in a sword fight or smashed to smithereens by a rogue cannonball, then she would not be alive to tell any stories ever again. Her mother had just laughed saying “darling, those pirates wouldn’t stand a chance.” “But I’ll miss you,” Victoria had cried. “You’ll just have to come visit then, won’t you?” Victoria’s mother had then smiled, kissed her on the forehead, and tucked 7 year old Victoria into bed.
Fourteen year old Victoria hadn’t taken time to savor the memory of her mother’s gentle kiss against her forehead, but rather ran to her laptop to see if there had ever lived a pirate like Davy Jones. A quick search provided some results, “David Jones, 1630’s.” Close enough! She scanned her room, till her eyes fell on a photo of her and her mother. Unknowingly, her mother may have left the key to her whereabouts when telling Victoria of her wish to sail the high seas with Davy Jones. She clapped her hands together at the prospect of seeing her mother, focused her emotions and energy on the ship, and time jumped.
A flood of fish and sea salt invaded Victoria’s nostrils. She felt nauseous. The time sickness she was hit with every time she traveled was strong this time. Her head throbbed and her vision swam. Once her eyesight had cleared, trying to stand up was a nightmare. She was on a ship, which was being tossed around like a toy boat. She wobbled to her feet, only to be knocked down again by the rolling of the ship under her. After laying there for a moment, she realized that the rocking was all in her head and a symptom of the time sickness. Finally, she regained her balance, and clinging tightly to the wall, tried to open the door. She had landed in a cabin of some sort, and that door was the only thing separating her from the entire crew of the ship and perhaps Davy Jones himself. She was about to turn the doorknob when she realized that she was still in her Captain America pajamas. There was no way these pirates would react well to a lady in anything but a tight corset, full skirt, and bustle. After all, that was the fashion of the day. She turned and shakily made it to the wooden trunk in the small room. After rifling through its contents, she realized that all it had was large men’s clothes. She selected a simple white night shirt and pulled it around her, cinching it at the waist. Now she was ready.
The door creaked as Victoria opened it, and she glanced around nervously, hoping no one had heard. There was no need to draw unwanted attention from the crew of the infamous Davy Jones, if that was in fact where she had landed. The silence was eerie as she slipped out of the room, the only sound being the waves crashing against the ship. Her slippered feet padded softly along the paneled deck as she strained her ears for any hint of her mother’s voice. It was dark, but not so bad that she could not see. The starlight reflected off the choppy waves, shedding light upon her path. Since the night would do little to help Victoria find her mother, she decided to curl up inside a rowboat she had located on deck. It was covered with a thick, damp canvas, which smelled of sweat and sea salt. Victoria crawled under it and situated herself. This was difficult due to the wooden seats jutting out from the sides and the rough nature of the wood. Eventually, she reached a position where she was remotely comfortable and settled in for the night.
Victoria awoke to shouting and the clashing of metal. Groggily, she lifted the canvas and peeked out. The skirmish was obscured by the fog, which had enveloped the entire ship. The shouts were growing angrier, but one rang clear above the rest; her mother’s. Victoria couldn’t believe her luck. While trying to travel to Davy Jones’s ship, she had landed in the exact time when her mother had been aboard. What were the chances? Victoria leapt to her feet, rubbing the sleep out of her eyes as the fog blinded her. “Mo…” she screamed, but she was cut off. Suddenly, a rough hand clamped over her mouth. “Don’t scream dearie” the man whispered in her ear. He was so close that Victoria could smell the distinct scent of rum on his breath. She struggled, but to no avail. She whipped her head around, desperately trying to spot her mother. The fog cleared just in time to give Victoria a clear view of a pirate prodding her mother’s back with a sword, forcing her to leap from the plank on which she stood. Victoria went limp in the Pirate’s arms, as all of the fight drained out of her. Her mother was dead.
On that day, Victoria had vowed to return, save her mother, and slap that pirate. However, no matter how many times she tried, Victoria was unable to return to the moment before her mother had walked the plank.
After years of futile travels, countless times periods, and a better appreciation of what some aspirin could do for time sickness, Victoria had settled down at the age of 19. Her reckless time traveling had cost Victoria her energy and her health. But she refused to give up, instead going to school and learning everything she could about genetic enhancements. Much like technology can be used to enhance our eyesight, it could also be used to enhance the time traveling gene. When used properly, technology could increase the accuracy and speed of a time traveler, and minimize the effects of time sickness. After getting a degree in genetics and working under some of the top geneticists in the country, she began to experiment with enhancements, which she tested on herself. She figured that if she could not time jump back to the proper time alone, she could use technology to strengthen her body and better tune her ability. With each failed upgrade, she had shut herself away, relying only on artificial intelligence to keep her company and assist her in her endeavors. Finally, she reached a point where her body couldn’t take the enhancements anymore, and while she had fine-tuned her talent, it was still not good enough to save her mother. Tearfully, she had temporarily abandoned her vow and returned to civilization, becoming famous for all of her work and falling in love with a fellow geneticist. They were married within the year and with child soon after. It was a daughter. It was a firstborn. It was Victoria’s second chance. With the newest developments in technology, Victoria could enhance her daughter’s ability, allowing her to fulfill her vow. She refused to fail this time.
Victoria spent the next few years trying every surgery, upgrade, and rumored enhancement available on her daughter Talia. Recently, she had been approached by a man who was head scientist of the governmental gene research department. He had offered to perform an experimental DNA adjustment surgery on her daughter, if only he could study Talia when it worked. Victoria had hastily agreed, desperate to save her mother. Today was the surgery and Talia was lying in a hospital bed, anxiously waiting for the procedure.

Victoria marched down the sterile halls of the hospital, her shoes squeaking on the spotless white tile floors. She took a deep breath of the pungent air, which smelled of rubbing alcohol and latex, and knocked on one of the rooms. “Come in” a weak voice called. Turning the doorknob, Victoria stepped inside and stood in the doorframe, her hands clasped behind her back. Ten year old Talia’s eyes fluttered open, and her pale face lit up when she saw her mother. She set her lips, and scrunched her forehead, clearly thinking hard. “Mama,” she pleaded, her hazel eyes moistening. “Don’t make me go through with this, you’ve already lost grandma, please don’t lose me too.” “I won’t be losing you,” Victoria replied coolly, “I will be saving both my mother and you.” Just then, the surgeon appeared at the door. “It’s time” he said. Nurses filed into the room, surrounding the terrified ten year old. They began hooking Talia up to machines and quickly whisked her away to the operating room. “I love you mom,” Talia called, her hollow voice echoing through the hall.
Five hours later, Victoria was seated in the waiting room, clutching her husband Peter’s hand and glancing at her watch every few seconds. It shouldn’t have taken this long. What was going on? Was there a chance this had worked? Could she save her mother? The usually obnoxious tv showed a scene with a mother and daughter hugging and Victoria began to tear up. She so desperately missed her mother that she needed this to work. Suddenly, the waiting room door flew open and the head geneticist strode in. Peter stood up, pulling Victoria with him. The man’s expression was downcast and Victoria began to panic. “I’m afraid it didn’t work, her muscles refused to comply, tightened, and shut down. She is paralyzed. I am so sorry.” Victoria slumped to the floor and began to shake. Gone, her chance to save her mother was gone. “I need to see her,” Peter cried and bolted from the room. The geneticist gave her a pitiful look, then turned on his heels to follow Peter.
After sobbing until her scarf was salty and there were no more tears, Victoria made a desperate attempt to time jump again. Her muscles strained as she focused on the jump, but instead she collapsed to the white tile floor of the waiting room feeling sick. She had forgotten that her ability to jump had weakened after her slew of enhancements, leaving her unable to travel ever again.
For the next few years, Victoria distanced herself further and further from her family, instead devoting her time to technologically replicating the time travel gene. If neither her daughter, nor her could time travel, perhaps she could implant the gene into someone else. When the scientific community found out about her aspirations, they went into a frenzy. People were lining up at the door, willing to spend their fortunes for the ability to time travel. She became known as the woman who “discovered” time travel. However, despite her newfound fame, riches, and technological breakthroughs, she was unable to perfectly replicate the gene. With each new development came yet another technological issue. This in turn prompted Victoria to upgrade everything and try again. Because of her bold claims about having nearly created a way to implement the time traveling gene into others, she was fed millions for her research. The money was reinvested in the newest and best tools and gadgets. This in turn would help her to continue the research. It was a vicious cycle, which only resulted in bags under her eyes and unsatisfied investors. After multiple missed deadlines and no positive results, the investors all pulled out, leaving Victoria in debt. She was finished with this, she needed something new.

Peter continued to care for the paralyzed Talia, as Victoria spiraled into depression. Her failures nearly drove her to the brink of despair, until she decided what she must do. She needed to abandon her scientific past and strive for a better future. If she left now, she might have a chance at networking among her fellow geneticists and finding a fresh start. She would be better off without Talia and Peter, who had become baggage, leeching off of her hard earned money over the past few years. Perhaps she would find herself a niche where she could make a new name for herself. She would use her talents to build more capital, and her past life, which had become a laughingstock, would soon be forgotten.
Victoria reached into her closet and grabbed her favorite blouse, throwing it into the suitcase open on the bed. She was leaving as soon as morning broke. She needed to escape her current title. As she emptied her closet, she came upon a scrapbook that she had stashed away years ago. Talia had been into scrapbooking back when she was younger and had given Victoria this decorated compilation of photos she had found. Victoria sank to the bed and flipped open the cover. There stood a smiling Peter with his arm around a very pregnant Victoria. The next photo was mostly covered in glitter glue, but from what she could make out of it, the photo was of Talia being pushed on a swing by Peter. As she flipped through the book, she realized that the first photograph was the only one which showed her spending time with Peter and Talia. The rest of the pictures were either of Peter and Talia spending time together, or Victoria working hard at her desk (she assumed that one of them had sneakily captured those photos without her consent). Victoria realized that she had not been a mother and wife, but rather just a woman, who happened to be living in the same mansion as a father and daughter.

She was a failure. Her investors hated her, her test subjects feared her, her husband bothered her, and her own daughter barely knew her. She had given her vow everything and yet still she failed. She deserved better. Peter would survive, he would deal with Talia. As for Victoria, she was leaving. She threw the scrapbook against the wall and zipped up the suitcase. As she reached for the handle, a young girl appeared, seated cross-legged on the suitcase. The little girl promptly tumbled off, clutched her head, and then proceeded to throw up on Victoria’s carpet. “Who are…” Victoria’s voice trailed off as she recognized the girl. It was herself. “How old are you?” She asked, as she grabbed a towel from the shelf, a glass of water off the nightstand, and reached into her purse for a few aspirins. “Here,” she said, “this will help with the time sickness.” Younger her eagerly reached for the supplies and began to clean herself up. Within a few moments, she appeared to be feeling slightly better. “So how old are you?” Victoria asked again.
“I… I’m nine, who are you?” She looked confused as she surveyed her surroundings.
“I’m you.”
The young girl leaned back, contemplating this. “In the future, do I get married?,” she asked suddenly, clapping her hands together, clearly having seen the wedding photo on the wall.
“Yeah, but don’t get too excited, it’s not all it’s cracked up to be.” Victoria responded wryly.
“Do I have a family? Do I meet a dreamy time traveling man? Do I get my dream job as a doctor to help people? Wait, don’t tell me! I want it to be a surprise.” She stopped for a breath, then noticed something. “You’re packing, where are you going?” Victoria groaned, she had forgotten how curious she used to be, this could get annoying.
“I’m leaving my family for a fresh start.”
“What! Why? No, don’t leave your, I mean my family! Don’t you love them?” Her nine year old self looked at Victoria with pleading eyes and began to cry. “In the future I don’t love my family?” She sobbed.
“Oh honey, I love them, it’s just that they aren’t useful anymore,” Victoria replied, patting her nine year old self on the head.
The young girl dried her tears, “family isn’t meant to be useful, they drive you crazy, but you HAVE to love them anyways. It’s what mommy says family does.”
Victoria looked at the girl with brown pigtails and bright blue eyes full of hope and realized that she didn’t know her mother was dead. Those eyes hadn’t seen true pain yet.
“My family is standing in the way of me finishing a science project, going back in time, and fixing something,” Victoria stated, choosing her words carefully so as not to break her young heart.
“If you think they are in the way, then you don’t love them like you should,” she insisted.
Victoria looked back on her life and saw the truth in her statement. Her daughter had been reduced to a lab rat, she ignored her husband’s wishes, her ability was nonexistent, and she was still no closer to saving her mother. By acting in the way she did, she had essentially left her daughter without a mother and her husband without a wife. While she was physically there, she had never been there for Peter and Talia in the way a wife and mother ought to be. She had not cared what happened to them, so long as she returned her own mother safe and sound.
“And you’re choosing science over family?” The girl finished, her mouth agape with disbelief.
“No, I need science to make my ability stronger, to save a family member who died,” Victoria replied, more trying to convince herself than anything.
The young girl took a step back, looking confused. She was clearly trying to understand obligation to past family versus current family. “Who..” She started, then appeared to change her mind. “Never mind, I don’t want to know. But mommy always said you can’t change the past,” she said, wagging her tiny finger at Victoria. “She said visits are allowed, but no real changes. It’s like reading a page from a book…”
“You can experience it, but cannot rewrite it,” Victoria finished, recognizing the quote as the one that used to be engraved on her mother’s jewelry box. She hung her head, realizing for the first time that her mother would never have approved of her vow.
“But I’m a time traveler, if I can’t change the past, what’s the point of my ability?” Victoria asked, speaking more to herself at this point.
“I have the letter mommy gave me when I first turned 8, you wanna read it?” She reached into her pocket and pulled out a piece of stationary.
Victoria gasped, she had read that once and then misplaced the letter. How did her younger self still have the letter after reading it? She reached for it and unfolded it, eagerly drinking in her mother’s words.
“Dearest Victoria,
Treasure your new ability, but never abuse it. From the past, we learn. It influences who we are and how we react to the world around us. We can glean from the past, and because of this we can avoid making the same mistake again. Everyone is shaped by past experiences, you can just revisit them more vividly than most people. Time travel enables you to better understand the past, thus making better decisions in the future. Always remember that time travel is a tool. Like any tool, it can be used to build or destroy. Do not give in to destruction, but rather use your ability for good. I love you and am so proud of you.
All the best,
A tear leaked from Victoria’s eye as she folded the letter back up and handed it to her younger self. “I don’t think I made better decisions because of my ability. In fact, I think visiting the past helped me make worse decisions. It gave me a false hope, which I used to justify my actions. I’m such an idiot.”
“No, you’re not a word I’m not allowed to say, you’re amazing! But I do think you made some bad choices. Go fix them!”
“It… It’s not that easy.”
“Sure it is, step one is say sorry. Step two is be forgiven. Step three is smile and hug and live happily ever after! Mommy says that desperate people do desperate things, apparently it’s a part of life.”
“But I don’t want to be desperate.”
“Then don’t be.”
“It’s too late,”
“It can’t be too late!” She insisted, shaking her head vehemently, making her brown pigtails bounce.
“It is,” Victoria said. It pained her to look back on all the times she had ignored her daughter’s tearful pleas, instead forcing the enhancements upon Talia, eventually paralyzing her.
“People change,” the young girl stated matter of factly, reaching out and wiping a tear from Victoria’s face.
“Perhaps, but I don’t know the first thing about being a proper wife or mother.”
“Well, I can’t help you with the wife thing, but I’m a daughter, I love when mommy talks to me, tells me she loves me, and spends time with me. You can do that with your daughter!” She smiled, revealing a small gap between her two front teeth, which made her smile seem all the more sweet.
“Thanks, but they could never forgive me” Victoria wept.

At that moment, Talia rolled her wheelchair out of the hallway and into the room. “You’re my mother, I will always forgive you. Why do you think I said I loved you every time you sent me into that hellish operating room?”
Victoria jumped, “You were eavesdropping!” She accused, her voice shrill from crying. The 9 year old version of herself put a hand on Victoria’s shoulder and shook her head, clearly disappointed.

“I’m sorry,” a terrified Talia whispered, wheeling herself out of the room as quickly as she had come.

“Wait!” Victoria called out, recognizing the weed that she had allowed to run rampant within her life for the past few decades. Bitterness had polluted her life once again, driving yet another wedge between her and her daughter. She couldn’t let that happen again.

“Yes mom?” Talia asked, hesitantly pausing in the doorway.

“I’m sorry,” Victoria said, hanging her head.

Talia cautiously wheeled closer, “It’s okay mom, I’ll always love you”
“I love you too Talia,” Victoria whispered and gently brushed a kiss upon her daughter’s forehead. She looked up and saw Peter standing in the doorway, smiling at them. Tentatively, she smiled back. It was the first smile he had seen in years.

In that moment, Victoria made a new vow: come hell or high water, she was going to spare no effort in being the wife and mother that her family deserved.


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