Here and Now and Then

To save his daughter, he’ll go anywhere—and any-when…

Mike Chen’s genre-bending debut, Here and Now and Then offers an intimate glimpse into the crevices of a father’s heart and its capacity to stretch across both space and time to protect the people that mean the most. Available January 29th from MIRA.

Kin Stewart is an everyday family man: working in IT, trying to keep the spark in his marriage, struggling to connect with his teenage daughter, Miranda. But his current life is a far cry from his previous career…as a time-traveling secret agent from 2142.

Stranded in suburban San Francisco since the 1990s after a botched mission, Kin has kept his past hidden from everyone around him, despite the increasing blackouts and memory loss affecting his time-traveler’s brain. Until one afternoon, his “rescue” team arrives—eighteen years too late.

Their mission: return Kin to 2142, where he’s only been gone weeks, not years, and where another family is waiting for him. A family he can’t remember.

Torn between two lives, Kin is desperate for a way to stay connected to both. But when his best efforts threaten to destroy the agency and even history itself, his daughter’s very existence is at risk. It’ll take one final trip across time to save Miranda—even if it means breaking all the rules of time travel in the process.


 

 

Chapter 1

Kin Stewart used to be a time-traveling secret agent.

Eighteen years ago, give or take a few months. At least that’s what his instincts told him. But even now, he wasn’t sure where he was or what just happened, let alone who he was supposed to be.

His eyes opened.

Lights. Light, and a hard pavement. Aching in his knees. Cold on his cheek, his ear.

A car horn.

Then voices. Two female voices, muffled but gradually coming through, one distinctly younger than the other, speaking at urgent clips.

“Kin? Kin! Are you okay?” the older one said.

“Should I call nine-one-one?” the younger one said, panic wrapping each word.

“Come on, come on, get up. Can you hear me?”

“What about a doctor?”

The world blinked into focus. He closed his eyes, took in several breaths, then pushed himself to remember.

Something must have knocked him out. Cold fingers touched his face, and agent instincts immediately kicked in.

From the way the fingers felt, he calculated the angle of the hand. His peripheral vision picked up two kneeling silhouettes—they were behind him. He was on the floor, facedown. Prone. He had to get to safety. But where?

His hand flew up, pushing the fingers away, and he rolled a full circle, shoulders to back to shoulders again until propping himself on his knees, arms in a defensive position.

Two terrified faces stared back at him. Around them, sparkles in his vision flashed and tracked with his eye movement.

Heather, still in office attire with her long red hair hanging down, one arm extended and hand open. His wife.

Miranda, standing slightly behind her in her high school soccer uniform, concern tinting her wide eyes. His daughter.

And the blind spots, like fireworks everywhere he looked, another symptom that arrived shortly after a blackout.

His mind registered Miranda’s fear. Heather’s concern. He’d had another fainting spell and he needed to reassure them, even though his wobbly frame barely stood. He projected a smile, not a huge one, but one grounded in warmth, a father and husband offering comfort through a single expression despite the tornado whirling inside him.

“I’m okay, guys. I’m okay. I just…” The dull aches in his knees lit into a sudden burning, causing him to buckle ever so slightly. The pounding in his temples thumped to its own rhythm. Daylight from the open garage door blinded with an overwhelming intensity, and the rumble of Heather’s idling car filled his ears. “I must have just tripped.”

Miranda leaned over to her mom. “I think we should call a doctor,” she said. “This is the third time this month.”

Her voice was low, but Kin still heard it. He had to put them at ease, especially his daughter. “It’s fine. I promise, let me get my bearings. See?” He straightened past the aches and muscle spasms firing up and down his body. “I’m good.”

“Miranda, I know you have to go. I’ll help Dad out.”

“Okay.” The fourteen-year-old reached into the car and grabbed a backpack and gym bag before approaching. “I hope you’re okay, Dad.”

“I am. I’m fine, sweetie.” He put his arm out, and she half leaned into his attempted hug. “I’ll get started on dinner soon. Lasagna tonight. My own recipe. Adding a layer of quinoa for texture.” The sentence finished, prompting details to flood his mind. Years of training and missions had informed his mental muscle memory to scan every scene and identify all variables, so much so that he couldn’t shake it during the simpler tasks of cooking and garage cleanup. He visualized the recipe, steps and ingredients superimposing in his mind’s eye, along with projected cook times and the bubbling cheese of a perfect lasagna, something he hoped worthy of TV’s Home Chef Challenge—if he ever got the nerve to audition.

Kin looked at Heather, who offered her usual smirk and subtle eyeroll whenever he prattled on about recipes, and Miranda, who shot a worried glance back at him while rolling her bike out of the garage.

Now all that training was used for family mode—and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“Wait—the four questions.”

Whatever concern Miranda had seemed to slip away, a crinkled brow arriving instead. Kin fired off the first of the four questions asked whenever she went out. “Where are you going?”

“Tanya’s. To work on our programming project.” The answer arrived with slanted lips and weight shifting back and forth. He’d happily take irked teen disrespect over a worried daughter at this point.

“Who’s going to be there?”

“Just Tanya. And Tanya’s parents.”

“When will you be home?”

“Seven-ish. It’s—” Miranda glanced at the wall clock “—three forty right now. So in time to try your lasagna.”

“In case of emergency—”

“You can call to check on me. I’ll have my phone. Good?”

“All right. Don’t forget, it’s first-Monday-of-the-month TV night.”

Miranda turned with barely a nod. She glanced at her parents, forming the inscrutable mask that appeared more and more these days. Heather beamed out a smile at their daughter before looking his way, the anxious creases returning. “I’ll pull the car in,” Heather said. Kin nodded, still rubbing his head, and Heather went back to the idling sedan. As the car rolled forward, a crunch echoed in the space, and something fired out from beneath the tire.

Kin tried to focus, examining where the sound originated and the possible debris trajectory only to catch a sudden flicker of blue light and a high-pitched burst of sound. Perhaps some post-blackout symptoms lingered.

Heather opened the car door, but stopped half a step out. “Oh no,” she whispered loud enough for him to hear. A dour line formed across her mouth and she picked up a ping-pong-sized chrome sphere off the garage floor. “Not this. You were looking at this thing again?”

A Temporal Corruption Bureau retrieval beacon. Mostly smooth outer chrome shell with bits of technological cuts and grooves in it, along with one gaping bullet hole. (Heather once called it a cross between a Death Star and a Borg sphere; he took her word for it rather than look it up.) Voice activated, holographic interface. Once implanted into his body, right beneath his rib cage.

Those details remained while other facts disappeared. Maybe because he bore the self-surgery scars to prove it.

Pain stung the side of his head, in and out like a sewing needle.

Kin remembered now. Some ten, fifteen minutes ago, he’d pulled it out from his toolbox beneath a stack of wrenches and stared at it, trying to will memories into existence.

“It’s like when I first met you. The headaches and forgetting. Things were good for so long. Why is this back? Why is it getting worse?”

Kin wanted to tell the truth: when they first met, memories of 2142 and the TCB were still disappearing. His brain eventually reached an equilibrium between his past and present around the same time their relationship blossomed. After that, symptoms appeared only when forcing memories.

Until recently.

“Six months ago…” he started. He needed to say something. Revert to the long-standing cover story of an ex-military life and ongoing PTSD? Or finally reveal that it felt like his few remaining agent memories were fading to the same black hole that swallowed up his memory of whoever he was prior to meeting her? That staring at the beacon was an attempt to trigger proof that he wasn’t going mad?

That would sound totally insane. Especially to an already-worried wife. His focus turned to the dead beacon in his hand, its futuristic alloy surviving a bullet from years ago and now apparently Heather’s car.

“Come back to me, Kin. Family is here. Metal thingy is there. What is it about this?” Heather’s voice was soft. “I’ve found you passed out three times with it. You’re obsessed.”

“It’s only some old work equipment.” He set the beacon down on an adjacent shelf. “I was seeing if I could fix it.”

“It can’t be a coincidence. Please get rid of it. Throw it away.” Out of nowhere, she winced, eyes tightening and teeth biting into her bottom lip, hand at her temple. He reached over to her, but she turned away. “I’m fine. It’s just been a long day and I still have calls to make.” Heather was an attorney, a career that brought her pride and stress in equal measure.

“Hey, you’re the one telling me to go to the doctor.”

“Seriously, I’m fine. Other than all these client briefs I have to review.” Her serious expression broke into a wry grin, putting a different kind of weight on his mind. She took his free hand, her pale fingers contrasting against his. “Look at us. Bickering about who goes to the doctor first for headaches. Like an old married couple.”

“Give us the senior discount, already, huh?”

“Well, I think these—” Heather touched his face, pointing at the creases around his mouth “—and this,” she said, stroking the flecks of gray in his hair and tapping his glasses, “make you look distinguished.”

“You, too,” he said, his tone light.

“You’re supposed to say I don’t look a day over twenty-five,” Heather replied with a laugh. “Don’t blame that on the headaches.” She gave him a playful shove, though the change in balance brought his hands to his head. “Sorry. Sorry, sorry.”

“It’s okay. It’s okay, really.” Kin stood, wiping the oncoming sweat off his forehead before his wife could notice. “I’ll be fine.”

“Please. Get rid of that thing. Look,” she said, her tone dropping into serious territory, “your headaches, your memory lapses. They scare me. Miranda is worried sick. Finding you like this doesn’t make things better.” She took his hand. “You need to get help.”

“I’m fine. I had a CAT scan years ago. There’s nothing wrong.”

“You’re not hearing me. We can’t live like this. It’s weighing on Miranda. She’s clamming up. Get help. Maybe it’s anxiety or something. Something about this—” she grabbed the beacon “—is giving you panic attacks. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s subconscious. Reminds you of the orphanage. Or the special forces. PTSD, it’s common for ex-soldiers wounded in combat.”

Heather’s pleas meant that Kin’s cover story still stood, even now. He just didn’t know if that was a good or bad thing anymore. “I don’t want to talk about that. Those were bad years.”

“That’s why you need to talk about them. I mean, what happens if you fainted again and smacked your head on something and died? I’d have to learn to cook and I’m not about to start that at thirty-eight.” She laughed, pulling him in, her long arms wrapped around him, drawing him toward her tall frame. “There’s no stigma to PTSD these days. It’s very real. You can get help.”

PTSD. How could he possibly explain to a doctor that his brain suffered from residual time-travel fragments, not PTSD? “So says the tax attorney?”

“I’ve been Googling it between meetings.”

Kin looked at the beacon, his eyes tracing the scored ridges exposing the device’s core. “One more incident and I’ll go. Okay?”

“Oh, Kin,” she said, blowing out a sigh. They remained in their embrace, only she deflated, sinking into him, her sharp chin digging into his shoulder. “Why are you fighting me on this? It’s gotten worse each month.”

“I’m not fighting. I got it covered.”

He said it with the conviction of epiphany, of a step so obvious that he couldn’t believe he’d ever missed it. Of all the planning and processing, lists, and visualizations, how did this option never surface before?

Let the past go.

“But you’re right. If there’s still a problem, I’ll see someone.”

Heather must have sensed the change, the unconscious knowing that only came with years of marriage. Her forehead pushed against his, their noses touching. “You are one stubborn bastard,” she said, affection wrapping the words, “and I love you for it.”

“Thought you loved me for my cooking.”

“You found me out.” She topped off their embrace with a kiss before stepping back and glancing at the empty driveway. “I’m gonna work on a brief until dinner. No more metal thing. Okay?” Heather disappeared into the house, footsteps echoing through the garage walls as she went upstairs, followed by the thump-thump-thump of a dog rushing behind her. He stood in silence, his eyes slowly turning back to the damaged future tech.

It wasn’t worth it anymore. Not when it scared his family.

Kin didn’t even know why he held on to the scrap. Maybe his subconscious sought hard evidence of his prior life. Or perhaps his stories about the orphanage and special forces and the cross-country trek were reality and the TCB was the fantasy. That would explain why he couldn’t remember parents, friends, girlfriend, anything specific from his supposed future life.

Either way, it didn’t matter. Kin grabbed the beacon, marched out the side door to the large black garbage bin, and dunked it in.

There was no future. There was only the present.

Kin returned to the garage, though he paused when something in the driveway caught his eye.

A deliveryman. Complete in work boots, brown shorts and shirt, tablet in his hands. Young, maybe midtwenties. Yet no package. No truck. Only a small backpack.

And a stare. A wide-eyed stare usually reserved for disbelief.

Wasn’t the driveway empty seconds ago?

“Can I help you?”

The man continued looking at him, and though they locked eyes, an irresistible urge drew Kin’s focus away, forcing him to avert his gaze. Probably residual mental shrapnel from the beacon. “You looking for an address?”

The deliveryman started and stopped several times, only fractions of sound coming through before he looked down at the tablet. “I gotta start dinner,” Kin said, “so, if you don’t need anything, I’m going to close up.”

The man hesitated, then shook his head. “Sorry, my mistake,” he said in a crisp English accent before walking off.

The garage door rolled down, dwindling sunlight bouncing off Heather’s car’s side mirror and catching a weathered penny taped up above his workbench, something he’d carried with him since he could remember. The mere sight of it draped calm over him despite the afternoon chaos. He marched over and without thinking, he kissed his fingers and planted them on the penny, his lucky penny, the action so reflexive he barely remembered it.

He considered one last look at the beacon, one final visit with the future. The gesture seemed moot, especially since he had a new lasagna recipe to try. He might even use it for a Home Chef Challenge audition.

After all the trouble caused by his old life across eighteen years, saying goodbye came with a sigh of relief. With the past behind him, anything was possible.

Excerpted from Here and Now and Then, copyright © 2019 by Mike Chen.

citation

2 Comments

Subscribe to this thread

Post a Comment

All comments must meet the community standards outlined in Tor.com's Moderation Policy or be subject to moderation. Thank you for keeping the discussion, and our community, civil and respectful.

Hate the CAPTCHA? Tor.com members can edit comments, skip the preview, and never have to prove they're not robots. Join now!

Our Privacy Notice has been updated to explain how we use cookies, which you accept by continuing to use this website. To withdraw your consent, see Your Choices.