Not All Who Wander Are Lost
by Bill Kieffer
©2001 Bill Kieffer -- all rights reserved
The panic was the worst of it.
He saw the plane explode again and again. He fumbled with the Morphic Wave Device, not knowing how to reach properly with his dreaming limbs. Each time, his effort was rewarded with failure.
No! He'd never failed at anything before and with the lives of everyone on the plane at stake, he wasn't going to fail now! Leonid Fortunov did not fail.
Two hours into the flight and he'd been a fool to carry it on, but he'd seen the baggage handlers and it would have been too risky. He recalled his pink fingers, turning white knuckled as he tried to tell himself that if this had happened in the baggage car, they wouldn't have had a chance. The flight had been smooth up until the device turned itself on. Something was happening. There was power coming from somewhere, and Leonid began to hear whispered thoughts of panic in his head.
The device grew hot in his hands. His only chance was to activate it and direct the energy elsewhere. He could calm down if he wanted to then. If he willed it, the device would show him how to use its own energy to stop itself from activating randomly like this. It was just a matter of will power.
Leonid glanced at Lenore, who napped silently against her window, an inflatable pillow cushioning her head, from vibrations. The flight had been remarkably smooth, very conducive to sleeping. Although, his assistant had seemed quite agitated by something, she had not seen fit to share it with him. It might have been the scene at the airport as he had badgered a few passengers to get them adjoining seats, but he found that unlikely. Lenore had been upset for hours before that.
He'd been so concerned with her state of mind that he hadn't really paid much attention to his own. Now, with this eerie complication, Leonid was glad she was asleep and he would not have to answer awkward questions.
Taking the device wasn't exactly theft, but taking it on the plane was another matter entirely.
The Morphic Wave Device was a funny thing. It had practically invented itself. The physics behind it made Schröendinger look like a cynic. Quantum physics and whimsy combined to increase bandwidth by idealizing crystalline structures. Actualization of the so-called perfect world scenario on a microscopic scale for split seconds because the observer does affect the experiment simply by observing. Particles of light and mass that did not exist in states to be measured in zeros or ones, but by wants and needs. Particles that rode waves of energy that couldn't be measured by conventional means, but by the potential for change they brought to whatever they touched.
The phrase, "there's no getting the genie back in the bottle," wasn't lost on Leonid. The Morphic Wave Device would change the world, if he allowed the invention to go public. It was, in effect, a magic lamp -- a wishing machine. The world was not ready for that. Humanity certainly had enough Jungian tales of power corrupting even the most innocent to fuel his concern.
He closed his eyes and forced the panic from his mind. He'd never panicked before and he had no idea where all the mental static was coming from. He could even taste fear in his mouth, but he wasn't going to lose it now.
Deep breath. Become one with the device. The plane. The universe. Center yourself.
Leonid found the power collecting in him. It wasn't just a tingle, like back at his lab when he healed a paper cut accidentally. This was different. This hurt. A detached part of his mind wondered if perhaps the speed of the jet was affecting the power conversions. Speed and mass was all energy, after all. Save that for later. Clear all thoughts from your mind, except stopping the device.
Leonid Fortunov would have made an excellent self-improvement guru. In point of fact, he was offered speaking fees for his insight on a regular basis. Engineers respected him and he spoke with teenagers as if they were peers. He could hold just about any political office he fancied, but his ambitions led him to the private sector. His morals were beyond reproach, his control unshakeable and, while Leonid often felt like a fake because everything came so easily to him, he also knew deep down that he had earned everything and that God could take it all away from him at His slightest whim.
With his mind clear, Leonid opened his eyes, ready to gather up the power from the device and disperse the energy safely. What he saw, however, stopped all thoughts cold. A finger the size of one of the jet's engines pushed through the seat in front of him and stabbed at his lap where the device sat.
It exploded, of course.
Fortunov Communication Technologies, or FCT as most called it, had several research compounds located around the world. In his father's day, they would have been called think tanks. Leonid and his wife, Daphne, simply called them their vacation homes. Leonid spent a week or two at each compound annually. His talent for drawing out people and engaging them intellectually and personably seemed unaffected by language differences. The international language of technobabble and earnest sincerity bridged any social preconceptions his engineers and scientists might have otherwise held about Americans.
Daphne often accompanied him, especially earlier in their years together. However, she began to become active in politics when it became clear she would not have children. The state of Nevada became her surrogate children in a way. By 1996, she hardly left the state any more, much less the country. At that point, Lenore Landau became Leonid's executive assistant. She was quiet and withdrawn, almost mousy, in fact. Many people saw her as a much younger Daphne, so there was a good deal of talk about a possible romance between Leonid and Lenore.
Leonid was oblivious to it all, of course; he only had eyes for Daphne. Lenore, for her part, found herself increasingly attracted to Leonid. After all, he was tall and modest with jet-black hair that seemed to have steel-blue highlights as the gray crept in. His eyes were blue and framed by laugh lines that subtly hinted at his true age. Leonid was in constant motion, with a hand in many FCT projects. He adjusted to any situation with deft aplomb, a talent no other man she knew possessed. Nothing seemed to faze the man.
In short, she put Leonid Fortunov on a pedestal. Therefore, it was inevitable that he would fall off.
His body ripped to threads, his force of will survived him, powered by the Morphic Wave Device that had punched a hole in the side of the jet. The surge of energy was accompanied by an urgency, a panic, a cry for help and a steely will not to let it happen again. Again?
He looked down and saw himself as if through a rice paper screen. The morphic energy was twisted visibly about the device that sat in his doppelganger's lap. It was just beginning to get hot when his double started towards the switch on the side that would supposedly give him control of the impossible. Will power, he now knew, would not be enough to stop the device.
Instinctively, Fortunov reached out to stop his one minute younger self from doing more harm than good. His hand tore through the thin veneer between "This and That." "Here and There" brushed up against each other with outraged screams. "Then and Now" shuddered over the impacts as great arcs of energy leapt from his fingers to the device and to the plane's occupants, most of whom noticed nothing as the charge built.
A half second later, Flight 93 was lost forever. The airliner exploded and fell from the sky, raining corpses and metal down onto the Brazilian rainforest. There were no survivors.
Lenore looked at herself in the mirror, alternatively trying to talk herself out of going to Leonid's room and trying to talk herself into going. The idea that her going would cheer him up, was a dubious one at best. He's never needed cheering up before, so she was a bit at a loss at what to do.
Obviously, he was disappointed by R&D's demonstration of the Quantum Wave Booster. So far, all of the advances in creating faster than light communications it was supposed to create could be attributed to observational error.
Lacking a deep understanding of Quantum physics, Lenore thought something like that was to be expected. The problem with "Schrödinger's Cat" was that you had to bury it in the box it was still alive in. Observation corrupted experiments. Reality was both flexible and harsh. People, even scientists, tended to see what they wanted to see -- and that was the problem staring at her in the mirror, wasn't it?
She wore a black teddy under a reddish-brown bathrobe. Both belonged, she guessed, to Leonid's wife, even if they were in her closet. Not that the room was really Lenore's. It usually belonged to Daphne, Leonid's wife. She took this as a sign that his marriage was more for appearance than anything else, like that horrible sitcom thing Lowell from Wings briefly starred in.
It's what you see when they think no one is looking that let's the truth comes out. The bitch seemed quiet and unassuming, but Lenore had seen her eyes when Daphne thought no one was looking. Leonid was on a short leash, even if no one else could see it. Lenore knew that look from experience; Todd used to look at her like that all the time.
She didn't think Daphne hit Leonid, but women are usually meaner than that when their hackles are up. Leonid would have so many lawyers on her, she'd look like an episode of Murder One. No, her bag would be 100% mental, with her playing the victim. She'd seen someone like that on Law & Order: Special Victims' Unit. Moreover, she'd read enough stories to know people aren't always what they seem to be.
It was too much the coincidence to assume that the staff had forgotten to remove Mrs. Fortunov's things from the suite, when all the other times they had been on top of these things. Then there was that snatch of Portuguese conversation she had overheard just after dinner. Her Spanish was excellent, although her Portuguese was not quite up to par, but she recognized a few of the gutter words from watching the Brazilian soaps. If she understood them, Leonid had ordered them to stay away from his room tonight and that they were to bring breakfast for two to his room in the morning. There was a bit of laughter and then some whispering as they looked in her direction.
They probably assumed that she would jump into Leonid's arms if given half the chance and the staff would be right. They probably also assumed, being a buxom blond American, that she had already done so. They would be wrong, of course, but she could understand why they would think that. She didn't have much of an education, after all, and she had to fight so hard to keep her Brooklyn accent under control. She wasn't even sure she deserved her job.
"No." she scolded her reflection. "Dammit, no. You're good enough. You're great at your job. Mr. Fortunov said so.You can speak three languages and you're half way to understanding four. Don't let the Todd-monster get back in your head again, she told herself."
Once, Leonid had taken her aside and said, "If you could just believe in yourself half as much I believe in you, then the whole world will change for you, Lenore. I promise you that." And it had been true. Todd had preyed on her doubts and on her hopes, crushing her dreams and self-image like a paper cup. With self-confidence and the support of her friends, she had finally been able to sever all ties with that monster.
She tried to tell herself she wasn't just latching onto Mr. Fortunov. Yes, he was strong, handsome, supportive and kind to her but then, he was kind to everyone. She didn't really need a man to feel complete. In fact, she had stopped dating all together.
Her world became entirely focused on Leonid Fortunov. Her friends grew concerned and that made her cross. It was admirable when a man focused on his job to the exclusion of almost everything else, but when a woman did it alarms suddenly went off everywhere. Puh-leaze! Of course, with all the travel her job entailed, it probably did seem like she often just dropped off the face of the Earth -- lost for weeks at a time. She slowly lost touch with them, with some small regrets, but her job was too important to her. Her job? Or Mr. Fortunov?
Well, she supposed debating the merits of going to visit her boss with a mirror while dressed in a black teddy answered that question. It was just a matter of screwing up her courage and hoping that she wasn't screwing up her career. A quick count to ten and then she was out in the hallway, wrapped in the rust-colored robe and dubious dignity.
One step. Then another. She surprised herself with how casual she seemed, not that there was anyone to see her in this wing of the house. She put her hand on the door to his bedroom, wondering if she should knock. She'd never done anything like this before.
In the movies, they didn't knock. On the TV, they didn't knock. The sitcoms told her this was a mistake. The soaps told her this was the right thing to do. In either case, the secret would be out and she could at least stop lying to herself -- and she did suspect Leonid was waiting for her to make the first move, didn't she?
The doorknob turned -- unlocked. She counted to ten and then entered his room.
Leonid slammed into himself as he watched the plane explode over again. He dipped backwards in time again, feeling the panic swell.
The panic was the worst of it. There were more than a hundred lives at stake here and he could barely concentrate. He reached out to grab the device and reality exploded before him. He dipped back in time a few seconds, not aware of how he was doing it, only aware that his will power was pushing him through time, powered by a series of morphic explosions.
He slammed into himself again as the plane began to heal in reverse slow motion. He felt himself scream in another time-stream and wondered what that meant. Then he slammed into the screamer and they merged with a sickening slam only they could hear. That only he could hear.
And the plane flew forward and the Leonid still alive in the physical world was suddenly stabbed with panic. He could barely stop himself from screaming. Lenore, his assistant, who had been strangely silent the entire flight until now, looked at him oddly. She, too, looked frightened.
THE DEVICE! Something was wrong with the device. Leonid scrambled out of his seat and into the overhead compartment. The device sparked the second he laid eyes on it.
Impossible! The device wasn't even hooked up to a power supply! The laptop case that had been built around it didn't have the room. But there was a buffer, he realized, a potential energy source like static electricity might possibly built up in the power buffer. What a fool he'd been!
He took the device in his hands. It was hot; any hotter and the casing would have melted. At least this didn't happen in the baggage compartment, he thought, trying to quiet the panicked voices in his head.
There were other voices, too. Whispers in English, Spanish and Portuguese as his sudden jumpiness attracted attention of his fellow passengers. He wondered fleetingly if others felt the odd panic he felt. Probably morphic feedback, he noted mentally.
The plane bucked a little as Leonid sat back down with the device on his lap. He had no idea what would happen if the device continued to bleed morphic waves and he didn't want to find out. Lenore stared at him, and then at the device. Before she had probably just assumed it was his laptop. Now, she somehow knew it wasn't.
There was only one thing to do. He activated the device and a series of Leonid Fortunovs strobed into existence and dived forward to stop the switch from being thrown. Lenore screamed and so did the device, exploding with enough force to shred the jet into metallic coleslaw.
It exploded with more force than it had in all the futures Leonid had altered combined and there were no survivors in this timeline, either.
Lenore was not prepared for the sight that greeted her eyes. Her first thought was that she'd gone into the wrong room, but it wasn't.
A tall woman dressed in a black rubber cat suit turned towards her. Metallic spikes accentuated her breasts and loins, where pink skin was exposed. She only looked mildly surprised to see a visitor, and smirked with a curiosity that frightened Lenore nearly senseless. Absent-mindedly, the dominatrix pulled on the slender chain she was holding and her pet was jerked up short, his head turning blindly towards Lenore. It stared blindly because its head was in black leather mask and the eyeholes were covered by a twin set of sparkling silver zippers. In place of a mouth, there was a small tube that seemed to twitch with its breath.
Lenore stared, unable to make sense of what she saw. The pet wore this mask and nothing else save a harness that seemed to bind its genitals cruelly. It whimpered at this treatment and the dominatrix placed her right black high-heeled stiletto into the small of its back. It fell to the floor, as did Lenore's jaw.
It took a second to realize that the pitiful creature was a man. It took another second for Lenore to realize that she was staring at... Lenore felt her heart break, along with all her illusions. She got out of there as quickly as she could so that the bitch would not see her cry.
The plane exploded, as the screams of his fellow passengers filled the void where the jet had been. Seventy-five minutes into the air, and they were all dead! All of them, including Leonid himself, who was dead in every way that known science could measure, fell from the sky into the lush rain forest below.
Fortunov wasn't truly dead. His will lived on as morphic energy coalesced together in a realm delimited by the dimensions of thought, force and animism rather than height, width, and depth. Here in this Jungian Quantum buffer, his mind became aware of all the energy about him. It was alive, this buffer space, he realized -- and here, he could be god. Then Leonid felt a force slam into him and his mind lost focus.
The jet! He had to save the jet! Leonid turned his attention to the thin veil that separated the buffer from real world and he felt his own panic reflected in those on the other side. He realized he was feeding their panic with his own and he tried to control himself, even as he realized that the scene before him was replaying itself over again and again. If he could just withdraw, and let time flow forward again without allowing himself to interfere, perhaps Leonid could prevent the Morphic Wave Device from destroying the plane.
Leonid slammed into himself.
The Jet! He had to save the jet! Instinctively reaching out to pluck the device from reality, Leonid watched in horror as the veil tore and he was helpless to stop it from happening again.
Someone's beeper went off and there was a panic, and someone screamed there was a bomb. Leonid very calmly explained that it was a morphic pulse device, having forgotten the Portuguese word for wave, even as he tried to figure out why the device was acting this way.
The screaming did not stop. The panic had caught on like wild fire and suddenly a thick Hispanic man was trying to get the laptop-like device from Leonid's hands. Leonid resorted to violence, punching him solidly on the jaw. Lenore hit the button for the flight attendants, but they were already on the way up the aisle, ordering everyone back to their seats.
In the midst of his panic, trying to cope with something that should not be happening -- something that couldn't possibly happen -- Leonid suddenly realized that there hadn't been turbulence before. Many of his fellow passengers already had their seatbelts on due to the increasingly violent fit of turbulence, and only Leonid and this dark Mexican, by his accent, had unbuckled themselves to deal with the problem.
The two separated with grumbles when the plane suddenly dropped a few hundred feet. Leonid tried to stammer an explanation to the scowling flight attendants, but he wasn't able to get a decent sentence together. The device was painful to hold; it was so hot, the casing became pliable. Pain, he could handle, but the screams inside his head became overwhelming, and the last thought that was clearly his own was one single word, asked in confusion. "Before?"
There was a flash of light... the interior of the plane became the new exterior and people fell out of the sky, towards trees that reached up greedily for them like children reaching for candy from a silvery piñata.
July 2, 2000: Pan Am Flight 093, one hour into its flight plan, vanished over the northern expanse of the Brazilian rainforest. No one is believed to have survived.
The next morning, Lenore left a message for Mr. Fortunov to the 'effect that she wasnt feeling well today and would prefer not to work today -- if that was acceptable. She did not want to face Mr. Fortunov; she did not want to see his face knowing what she knew. He would have to fire her, Lenore knew. No man can have a woman under him knowing his secret shame like that. She wasn't sure she could work with him knowing what she knew.
She did feel sick. It wasn't a lie. She hardly slept but for the nightmares. She dreamed of Mr. Fortunov dressed as he was, crawling over broken glass as Mrs. Fortunov rode upon his back. This time his voice was quite clear, despite the fact that his mouth had been sewn shut.
"Don't look at me! Don't look... at... me!"
Nevertheless, she couldn't help herself. If she did look away, Lenore would find herself meeting his wife's evil glare. "Wake up, Darling. This is the way of all things. Wake up," the bitch would say and Lenore did wake up every time. Every damn time.
She hadn't cried so much since admitting to herself how close Todd had come to killing her. Lenore didn't know what to make of that. She just had to be sure to be fired in the states and not here, in some foreign land.
She skipped breakfast and she was just about to put a call in to see if the staff might bring her some soup and crackers when there was a knock on her door. Lenore felt her shoulders sink. Here it comes, she thought, but what she said was come in.
Mrs. Fortunov came into the room and Lenore moaned silently. She had hoped, strangely, that Leonid would have been at least man enough to fire her himself, yet it made sense. If his shame was so great that he had to fire her, how could he face her?
Mrs. Fortunov wore a beige jump suit that looked like she was about to go mucking about in the garden. It was a far cry from the rubber suit she'd worn hours ago. "Do you mind if we talk?" she asked.
It was a ludicrous question. Lenore supposed that as a conversation starter with a woman who lusted after your husband and was sleeping in your bed, anything short of "I want you out before lunch" would have been equally asinine. Still, she had won and Lenore supposed that gave Mrs. Fortunov license to say anything she wished to her.
"I was hoping to avoid it," Lenore said softly but honestly.
Mrs. Fortunov looked at the business attire Lenore had put on before deciding she couldn't face Mr. Fortunov. Now she lay on top of the made bed, dressed to work but too miserable to move. "I can appreciate that, but, for Leonid's sake, I think we really should."
"I won't say anything, you have my word on that."
Mrs. Fortunov sat on the edge of the bed and smiled ever so reassuringly. "I know that, you'd never do anything to hurt Leonid."
Lenore closed her eyes, feeling the sting with new tears. "Never," she whispered and knew that meant not hurting the bitch, too. Lenore saw instantly that his wife was holding Leonid's safety over her head. "Never."
Mrs. Fortunov nodded. She was a good ten years older than Mr. Fortunov, but she hid her age well. Had she not been Leonid's wife, Lenore might even have been a little jealous of her figure, especially at that age. "You weren't ready to see Leonid that way, last night. Were you?"
Lenore let out a scoffing burst of air. "How do you prepare to see someone like that?"
Mrs. Fortunov chuckled, looking almost maternal in her casual clothing. "That's a very good question." She seemed to think about this for a moment and then decided to pursue something else, instead. "Leonid does not know, by the way, that you saw him like that last night."
Lenore was suddenly extremely grateful and she felt her whole body relax at the news. "Thank god." After a moment of silence between the two of them, Lenore continued, "You must hate me so much. I want you to know that as soon as we get back to the states, I'm going to quit. I'll make up some phony excuse. Something. You won't have to worry about me."
Mrs. Fortunov looked up and away from Lenore making it impossible for her to make out the expression on Mrs. Fortunov's face, but it seemed she was picking her words carefully. "Has your opinion of my husband changed so much? Do you now think so much less of him?"
Lenore thought this, too, was an odd question, but she supposed she owed Mrs. Fortunov as many answers as she could give her. "I... don't know," Lenore answered honestly. "It's like I suddenly don't know him any more."
Mrs. Fortunov nodded. "He is still the same man you've always known: kind, generous, and insightful. This is just another side of him."
It dawned on Lenore that Mrs. Fortunov was defending Mr. Fortunov, as if she hadn't been there holding the switch, beating him. She looked sharply at the older woman. "You two are playing at the hell I had to live through," she yelled suddenly, surprising herself.
Mrs. Fortunov stared at her for a few moments. "You were in an abusive relationship?"
"Yes," Lenore admitted quietly. "Towards the end he was beating me almost every day -- and I don't think using leather and rubber suddenly makes it all right. Todd put me in the hospital three times and there was nothing sexy about it!"
"Did you trust Todd?"
"What? No! Of course I didn't trust Todd!"
Mrs. Fortunov stood up and then sat on the dressing chair a few feet away. "Leonid trusts me. Completely and totally. I know what he likes and I know what he needs -- and I trust him to tell me if I ever do something he doesn't want me to do." Her dark eyes locked onto Lenore's for a split-second and then looked away, almost shyly. "It's a power exchange, Lenore. You should never have seen it without being prepared."
Lenore found herself speechless, she'd always thought of herself as rather open minded, but this -- how do you prepare yourself for something like this? Why would you want to? She gathered all of her strength to put together a polite response. "I... I'm trying... to understand this out of respect for Mr. Fortunov. It's... just a bit... much."
"And I appreciate that. It's also out of respect that I want you to understand what you saw last night. Leonid thinks very highly of you. He respects what you've gone through and what you've suffered. In a way, you might even say he envies you."
Lenore found herself slack jawed at this, unable to believe she had heard the older woman correctly. "What?"
Mrs. Fortunov smiled warmly and put both hands on her knees, as she leaned forward from across the room. "Oh, yes, Leonid thinks very highly of you, Lenore. He would move heaven and hell for you, if you asked him to."
There was a flash of light and the full, unfettered wave of morphic energy engulfed Leonid in the blink of an eye. Every cell in his body burst, boiled away by futures that would never be as Leonid after Leonid cascaded down upon him, overwriting, merging, slamming their needs and panic.
Instinctively, Leonid turned to the past without knowing how he managed it and reached forward... backward... for the device, and inside what now passed as his mind, a hundred thousand Leonid Fortunovs that would never be screamed, "NO!" But Leonid held his hand, and stared at what lay beyond the veil of the past.
He slid further back in time, his panic bleeding out of him into the real world. The observer affects the experiment, a basic tenet of quantum physics. It wasn't this way the first time around, he thought, and there was an endless echo of agreement as the jet flew slowly backward in time away from the explosion.
Change is the only constant, he thought, as reality stopped and began to move forward again and indeed the people nearest to that reality's Leonid Fortunov began to panic. Two seats forward and two seats back and the same area, next row over, all were obviously much more panicky than the turbulence should have made them -- everyone except Lenore.
While a part of him was fascinated by the turbulence, another part moved closer to Lenore. Her eyes were round and wet and she was looking at her reality's Leonid like he had suddenly grown two heads. Like so many others, she had never seen Leonid Fortunov not in control, but the sense of doom that had possessed him was terrible and fierce -- and what he appeared to be doing made no sense to her whatsoever.
When the fight broke out, she had already pressed the buzzer for the flight attendants. She could feel the panic, too, but she looked tired, as if she'd been resisting the chain of events she knew was coming. She was such a strong woman and she would never truly believe it. He screamed at her to rip the device from the Leonid beside her, to smash it before it could go off.
His own panic returned as a thousand death screams began to echo in his ear. It was almost time and he felt another wave of morphic energy building.
He braced himself against it and spread himself across the veil. Now that he had a moment to think, it was obvious that he was the source of the explosion. Each explosion sent another version of himself back and, powered by the energy of a destroyed future, the morphic device would explode anew. Would the explosions continue to the point where it exploded the second Leonid touched it or would they continue back in time to the moment the device was created? What would happen without a device to focus the energy? What would happen to him?
He didn't want to die, but he would have to! The explosion had to stop here. A hundred people would die, but that was nothing compared to what would happen if the explosion worked itself backwards into the airport? His fellow passengers were all dead anyway, a thousand times over, and there was nothing he could do to save them, so he braced himself against the wave and screamed at his earlier versions to stay back, but the tide was too strong! Leonid could feel massive arcs of reality altering energy streak by him, sucked into the Morphic Wave Device and the machine grew hot in his counterpart's lap.
"Don't panic!" Leonid called out to his younger version. "Whatever happens, don't panic!" And the younger Leonid suddenly found his head clear of panic. The device was still hot and the flight attendants still seemed ready to chuck him off the plane, but it was as if a switch had been thrown. He looked quickly at Lenore and their eyes locked. He wanted to take her strength, as he felt his was suddenly elsewhere. He was suddenly unable to make a decision, but here was a strong woman who would know what to do.
"We're going to die," he said clearly but softly.
Lenore looked suddenly relieved. She closed her eyes and then opened them after a short eternity had passed. "I love you," she mouthed, almost as if it would mean less if anyone had overheard.
There was a flash of light and the interior of the plane was suddenly the exterior. People and wreckage fell from the sky, down into the Amazonian Rain Forest of Brazil. Few bodies would be found, identified by dental records or the seats their corpses had been strapped into when they were found, but, as for the rest, it was as if the jungles of Brazil had eaten them.
Lenore Landau's world was falling apart. She went through the motions of her job, but her heart wasn't really in it. She found herself looking at Leonid -- Mr. Fortunov -- in ways she hadn't before. It's none of my business, she told herself, when she thought about what she had seen. Still, her thoughts brought her unwanted images and unwanted questions. Did he need to be beaten to get it up? Who decided which one would be the slave? Was it some deep-rooted problem, or just some kink y game for a rich but bored man?
Eventually, Leonid noticed but he was full of concern, not the anger she needed to see in him. Now, she could only see this concern as a weakness -- a vulnerability -- and that brought back everything Mrs. Fortunov said to her yesterday. She brushed him off, not caring to look at the hurt look on his face.
Everything she knew about him was a lie! A lie! And, if Mrs. Fortunov was to be believed, it got worse. Leonid's wife had picked her, she had known, to be his aide. Then, Daphne had dropped the bomb that Lenore had been chosen with more than that in mind. They looked very much alike. Except for the apparent age difference, they could have been sisters. Leonid could not bear traveling without his Mistress, as he knew no other way to release the stress that built inside of him. Yet, Daphne loathed the travel and she did so want to become involved more actively in the political arena.
Daphne had, quite simply, pegged her as a woman very likely to fall in love with her husband and hired her with hope that Lenore would become his other Mistress. Leonid did not know, of course, but they had talked about the possibility of bringing others into their relationship. Sitting primly on the dressing chair, Daphne had casually offered her husband to Lenore. "I would train you," she had said as Lenore fought insanity. "I would show you what he likes, what he doesn't like and how to do all that safely."
Lenore had felt like she was drowning and didn't even hear what Daphne said after that. Her mind was whirling sickeningly and there was a whistling in her ears she doubted anyone else would be able to hear. In the end, she simply began screaming for Daphne to get out, which the woman did, but not before saying, "He needs you. You know that, don't you? He needs you." It was like a knife twisting in her heart.
Then, suddenly, they were going back to New Mexico and she was forced to create last minute plans. The hectic schedule suited her just fine. It gave her no time to think about what was or what might have been.
Leonid seemed distracted and stared at his ring finger. Not at the wedding ring, which Lenore might have expected him to do, but at the tip of it where he had gotten a paper cut earlier that day. It seemed to have stopped bleeding, but she wasn't going to ask to look at it. He had a "mommy" for that, she thought sullenly, and went to pack Leonid's and her bags.
Lenore never asked why they suddenly had to go. Mrs. Fortunov had left the pervious day and it was all too obvious to Lenore that Mr. Fortunov needed to be at her side. She tried not to be furious with him. She was the one, after all, that had been ready to destroy a marriage to get at a man she didn't really know. Not really.
Pan Am couldn't get them adjoining seats, the first class section being overbooked. No matter, she didn't feel a particular need to be seated next to Mr. Fortunov -- not on this trip. She booked him First Class and booked herself Coach. The flight would give her time to think.
She loved him?
He absorbed his younger self as easily as one steps into a shadow, awed by thought that she loved him as well as the explosion that still somehow managed to destroy the plane, but this time he was not shunted again into the past. The iteration was finally moving forward. The chain was broken and with that, Leonid Fortunov was once again in control of his destiny -- if he could call being a ghostly witness to disaster a destiny -- but the energy from the Morphic Wave Device now focused on him.
He couldn't stop the bomb; another trip into the past would only trigger the device earlier. On impulse, he slowed time, forcing the energy to heal those closest to him before realizing the fall would only kill them again.
She loves me, he thought as his ghostly god-like fingers wrapped around her gently. He remembered all too clearly what happened when he had touched the wave device and he did not want that to happen. I won't fail her. It was a thought he could wrap his mind around.
She was, by most measures dead, but her brain still screamed for life and it was that will power that allowed her to accept to stream of energy he put to the lips of her soul. She drank deeply as he stripped her velocity from her and placed her gently on the ground. He looked up and was overwhelmed by the number of bodies falling from the sky. What to do? There were too many and Lenore was not yet safe.
"Let them save themselves!"
From deep within Lenore's mind, the answer seemed obvious. Even though she could not see the world the way Leonid did, she understood what needed to be done, just from tasting the energy and its effects. Leonid thanked God he had thought to rescue her first as he sent the streaming morphic energy into the air and watched as it pooled and broke up. Each falling body sucked in the energy. Many of the passengers were already soaked with the excessive morphic energy from the collapsed timelines. Those who wanted to live the most took in the most energy. Still, they all fell with but one exception...
Leonid stood, watching them all fall, the cocoons of energy promising to keep them safe. Divided almost 100 ways, the energy did not teleport anyone to the floor of the jungle, nor did it slow anyone's descent. Instead, it did something else.
Leonid found himself fascinated by the man who refused to fall. Floating above the treetops of the rainforest, Leonid stared at the man. There was something wrong with him, something different, but Leonid could not tell what. Leonid was having trouble focusing his thoughts as he was slowly being pulled back into the Jungian Buffer and this time, he realized, it would be for good. His will was spent, exhausted, and now that he lived as nothing but coalesced morphic energy animated by nothing but his will power.
Like a child who knew he was too tired not to go to bed, but desperately determined to stay up to watch the last five minutes of the show, he fought with all his might to remain and watch the little man struggling to stay in the air. What is he doing, Leonid wondered, as the man seemed to inflate. Perhaps it was a trick of perspective. Ah wait, he's moving faster as his body takes a new shape. That... that seemed wrong.
Holding himself still relative to the flying man; Leonid let the world spin beneath them. He reached out with fingers that did not exist in reality and fed the man more power, watching him change more rapidly as the world beneath them spun even faster.
"What are you doing?" Leonid asked the man and he was amazed to hear a childish voice, full of wonder and whimsy. That wasn't his voice, was it? Yet, he could not remember what his voice should sound like. Then Leonid giggled as he imagined the man smiling although the flying man no longer possessed what could be called a face or even a mouth.
"I'm a space ship! I'm going to fly to the moon!" the man's voice was equally childish and full of whimsy, drunk on the morphic energy Leonid fed him.
Eyes that did not exist went wide and Leonid realized that this man was the pilot. Leonid spun the pilot around in joy, for he realized that he could save the passengers. He could save them all and given them what they needed, what they wanted. "You need some passengers," Leonid called after the living spacecraft. Leonid had the vague sense that he knew where he could find some passengers for the space ship man, but when he looked, they were all gone from the sky. Suddenly, he felt very small and tired and he knew it was bedtime.
Lenore glared at Mr. Fortunov, but he just smiled back, oblivious to the stares around them. "Just tell them what I just said."
Lenore sighed and reluctantly announced in Portuguese that Señor Fortunov was willing to pay roughly the equivalent of $1000 American dollars if some one would be kind enough to swap adjoining First Class seats for their set of tickets, only one of which was First Class.
A pair of American college students took the offer. The trip apparently had not been healthy to their relationship and they had not been looking forward to being seated next to the other. Lenore wrote out a pair of checks for them, the boy took 3/4 of the cash and the Coach ticket while the girl 1/4 and the First Class seat.
The two had accomplished this agreement with a minimum of fuss and no ill will towards the other. She could see why their relationship was doomed -- it was too much like a business arrangement, not enough passion. On the other hand, perhaps she was merely projecting.
It didn't matter. Leonid seemed so proud of himself; she hated him. Which was good, she wanted to hate him. The way he argued to get their seats rearranged with the ticket girl, as if she hadn't done her best to get their seats together when she bought them. Well, the truth was she hadn't, but that was hardly the point.
It was only after being told, in no uncertain terms, that the plane only held a hundred and twenty-five passengers and that only forty of those were First Class seats. First Class was booked solid, but Coach had room as a marching band from a school in Texas had come down with a virus and was unable to fly. Pan Am would happily arrange for them to sit together in Coach, where seats were available.
Leonid would not hear of it. "Look, I need to bounce some ideas off you during the flight," he told her by way of explanation. "I have a bit of a moral dilemma."
They were ready to board the plane and she was having the oddest sense of déja vu. Perhaps because she had dreaded the flight back since he had gotten his way with the seats. "Mr. Fortunov, I'm still not feeling quite well. If you'll permit, I'm just going to sleep through this flight."
Mr. Fortunov seemed slightly disappointed but unwilling to force the issue. Considering he was her boss, it would have certainly been his prerogative. If he only knew that tomorrow would change everything, he probably would have, she thought. He smiled gently and said he understood as he switched his notebook computer from one hand to the other nervously.
Lenore wondered about his bringing the computer abroad the plane. It was an old, beat-up looking thing, very thick and it seemed to be duct-taped. She supposed it held some sort of sentimental value, but shrugged the thought off. It wasn't important now. All that she could think of was the way he had crawled across the floor, blindly begging for abuse. Her stomach tightened as she hoped there weren't bondage fetish pictures on the computer.
They boarded for their last plane ride together and Flight 93 left on time. Its unexplained explosion would make headlines around the world.
Leonid collapsed into a hundred pieces, falling into a kind of sleep only a being of energy could know. Those with the eyes of a child, who knew wishes could come true, could see him, as a stream of Will' o' the wisps sleepily rolling down hill towards home, towards Lenore.
Lenore woke up amid a shower of fireflies. She sat, dazed but unharmed, on the edge of a river in the middle of a Brazilian rain forest dressed like a fairy queen in a blue dress. "This... is... impossible," she said to no one in particular. "Have I died and gone to heaven?"
Heaven, the fireflies agreed without speaking, yes, but without death.
Lenore's jaw dropped as she recalled the plane bucking and the look Leonid had given her. "We are all going to die," he had said.
And she had said, "I love you," just before...
"I'm dead. And what about Leonid?" she asked of the fireflies.
I am here, they said and then resolved into an image of Leonid as they floated about. Lenore stood and stared at the ghost before her. He was naked, devoid of all devices of fabric and leather, and he was every bit a real man. He was also young and strong and, when she reached out to touch him, his steely pecs gave ever so slightly at her touch. He was really there.
"We're not dead, Lenore," he answered with a smile. "We've all been changed; the world's been changed. I can't stay solid like this for long; I'm now a creature of thought and energy. I can't explain it, but the Morphic Wave Device apparently blew up. That energy changed everyone it touched. We've become what we desired, or what others desired us to be."
Lenore looked at her hands and her dress. "This isn't what I wanted it to be, Leo. This isn't anything close."
"You are, but maybe not in a way you can appreciate at first. My home is within you, for home is where the heart is, my sweet Lenore and you have my heart." Leonid smiled and blushed, bowing his head like a teen with a crush. "You did say you loved me."
Lenore felt tears in her eyes as she clutched at her chest. "Yes. I did."
"You are my High Priestess, my Magic Mistress. You knew what I should do, you always have, haven't you?"
Sniffling, Lenore nodded.
Leonid nodded and smiled. "Then I know what I must do now," the naked god man said and vanished into a stream of light struggling to reach through the thick, dark canopy of leaves.
Daphne sat on the bed and wondered if she should go with Bruno to pick up Leonid and Sweet Lenore at the airport. It would be perhaps too much for the girl and it would only puzzle her silly man. Still, making Lenore squirm had been delightful. She would have an endless amount of pleasure training that girl. And, of course, Leonid would then have someone else to play with when it came time to step up her political agenda.
Daphne Fortunov nearly jumped out of her skin when she heard her husband's voice and she nearly screamed when she saw that he kneeled before their bed, naked with nothing but a collar on. Her husband should not be here, and, a part of her mind asserted, he really wasn't there. There where spots where she could see right though him.
"Daphne," he said when she said nothing. "I need you to release me."
"What?" She found it hard to swallow as her heart tried to force its way into her throat.
"I died, in a way," Leonid said. "I can't come back... not until... I don't know when. I can't fully explain, Daphne, but I need you to release me."
She closed her eyes and felt tears pushing past her surgically perfected eyelids. "Of course, I release you!" she whispered as she rushed to him and lurched down onto her knees. Blinded by her tears, uncaring of her ragged gasps for air, she took the collar from him and kissed the back of his neck. "I release you, I release you, " she cried huskily, without care of her pride.
His head moved up and for a split second she half expected empty eye sockets filled with dirty, squirming worms. Instead, blue eyes framed by his familiar laugh lines met hers and he smiled. "Thank you."
"There is something else you must do for me," he said as Daphne fought back more tears. "There is a device in our Brazilian think-tank, a Morphic Wave Device. I destroyed it, but the blueprints are still there. Close the project down and make sure you scatter the employees to the four winds. The world just isn't ready for it, yet. It may never be." With that, Leonid vanished, leaving his wife crying on the plush carpet with a collar in her hand; a piece of leather studded with silver and diamonds that hadn't existed until three minutes ago.