Author: Katlina Sommerberg

Five seconds on the clock. Rachel hurled her coffee cup at the reactor’s control panel, but she missed by five inches. The porcelain shattered against the worn carpet, white shards skittering across the floor. Before the coffee spray hit the ceiling, the cup fused together and smacked back into Rachel’s outstretched hand.

Closed timelike curves featured in Rachel’s favorite movie:‌ Groundhog Day. She wished she’d read Gott’s book on the physics behind the concept; perhaps she would’ve already broken the endless five-minute loop.

Instead, time threw her back into her seat, steaming coffee in hand and 8:42 am displayed on her computer monitor.

Her papers scattered to the floor when she stood up, knocking her chair over and running out the door. The first loops, she hadn’t found the reactor room; the twisting hallways doubled back on themselves. Even with a map at every intersection, it took her ten loops before she learned the way. Then it took fifty more loops before she consistently arrived at Dr. Soot’s office.

“Time-meddling superhero coming through!” Rachel yelled out, expertly weaving through five Ph.D. students loitering in the hallway, interrupting their conversation on gravitational waves for the hundredth time.

Skidding to a halt before Dr. Soot’s pale wooden door, her fist slammed against it. It took three loops before she learned the magic words to entice him to open it, and she hollered the first word, “Professor –”

Another woman slammed into her, cutting her off and flinging her coffee cup into the hallway. Tumbling to the ground, a traveler’s mug of orange juice splattered open by her head. The foul combination of coffee and citrus hit her like a freight train, and her eyes widened when she recognized the other student. She hadn’t known Ember took a summer research position, until now.

“Who stands in front of a blind corner like that!” Ember said, picking up her half-empty bottle. The black student usually ended up paired with Rachel during their shared classes, but Rachel hadn’t worked up the nerve to ask her on a date.

“Who says nonsense like that when we have less than two minutes?” Rachel grumbled.

Dr. Soot’s door opened, and the short professor frowned at her students. Behind her, an open laptop looped through cat videos in front of a shimmering ball. The reactor, deemed a failure by a previous Ph.D. student, had been turned into a reading lamp. Various glowing buttons, looking as real as the functional ones, decorated the surface to turn it into the most expensive piece of furniture in the Maus building.

“What are you two –” Dr. Soot started to demand, before time reversed itself.