CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

"How long have you known?" Mark asked as he and Nicolas drove to Marks' grandfather.

Mark had been released just as the doctor predicted. He was improving rapidly and Goldberg said that, as long as he took it easy for a few days, he could go anywhere he wanted.

Mark and Nicolas hadn't spoken about Nicolas' revelation in the hospital. Mark had decided to wait until they went to see his grandfather to ask about it. He felt it would be better if they were alone without any chance of being interrupted.

"Since I was nine," said Nicolas. "I remember when you and Nick came to the farm. I didn't understand everything at that time.

"After you left dad tried to explain to me everything that had happened. I'm afraid he wasn't very successful. For many years I always thought he was a bit odd. I knew he was a brilliant scientist but almost every day he told me about it."

"But you didn't believe him?" asked Mark.

"Frankly, no," said Nicolas. "As I grew up I became convinced that he was just a little crazy. But he never relented. He kept telling me about my sons who had come back in time to correct mistakes he had made."

"What eventually changed your mind?" asked Mark.

"He showed me the results of the tests he had done on you and Nick," said Nicolas. "That didn't convince me completely. But it did get me thinking.

"He always seemed obsessed with going to the doctor. He would have a regular physical at least once a year, usually twice. In 2015 he was diagnosed in the early stages of pancreatic cancer. He told me that would happen. Oh, he wasn't specific about the cancer but he said he would be diagnosed with a serious disease. I found that just a little coincidental. Fortunately his research had helped develop drugs that proved effective against the cancer. One had just recently been released for public use. It actually saved his life."

"I'm glad," said Mark. "In the original timeline he died in 2019 from pancreatic cancer. Is that what convinced you finally?"

"Not completely," said Nicolas. "I was beginning to think maybe he hadn't imagined it all. What clinched it for me though was something that happened when you were just three."

"You originally died when I was three," said Mark.

"I know," said Nicolas. "My father told me that. On May 17, 2030 as I remember him telling me. He had always told me that no matter what I did I wasn't to drive anywhere on that day. I always discounted this before. I didn't believe anyone could truly see the future.

"Well, on that day your mother and I had only recently discovered that she was pregnant with Jennifer. We were ecstatic. We were hoping for a girl since we already had two boys. We decided that the first people we would tell would be Marcus and Lisa Marie. We often had dinner with them at either their house or ours. On that night Marcus wasn't feeling well enough to drive so your mother and I decided to go to their house for dinner. So that we could tell them the wonderful news.

"Nick was staying at his best friends' house that night. So we asked your grandfather if he would watch you for the evening. We hadn't planned to be gone long and since the two of you always had a special relationship we knew he'd agree to watch you."

"I asked him to make sure you didn't go anywhere that night," said Mark. "The way I saw it, if you didn't go anywhere, you couldn't be killed."

"He became extremely excited," said Nicolas. "He begged and pleaded with us not to go. He asked us to wait until the next night. I thought he might give himself a coronary he was so excited. I had my suspicions because of what he had told me all my life but your mother had no idea why he was so adamant. I promised him I would be extremely careful and that nothing would happen to us.

"That's when he refused to watch you. He said if we were going to Marcus' and Lisa Maries' we'd have to take you with us. He knew we weren't prepared to do that. But he outright refused. He said under no circumstances would he watch you that night."

"Is that what changed you mind?" asked Mark.

"In a way," said Nicolas. "When I found out how adamant he was I told your mother that it would probably be best if we waited until the next night. She agreed, seeing how worked up your grandfather was. When we finally acquiesced he calmed down dramatically. We went home and called Marcus and told him we'd have to wait until the next night.

"That night, at about 7:30, a drunk driver ran a stop sign at the corner where Marcus lived. He must have been doing about 70, according to the police report. He crossed the intersection and slammed into a tree in Marcus' front yard. He died instantly on impact.

"But the amazing thing was that if your mother and I had gone to the Paxil's' as we had planned we would have just arrived at 7:30. And the drunk driver would have hit us full force because the point where his car jumped the curb was exactly where I always parked when we went to see them."

"You would both have been killed," said Mark.

"Yes," said Nicolas. "We probably wouldn't have even known what hit us."

"I never knew the specifics about your deaths," said Mark. "Just that you had died together in some type of automobile accident."

"We're still alive because of my father," said Nicolas. "After that I couldn't get what he had told me about you all of my life out of my mind. So we sat down and had a long talk, just him and me.

"He was totally convinced about the story you had told him. He told me the story again this time including parts that he had left out before. Like you having to kill your brother to protect him and Angela McComb. He hadn't told me that part before because he wasn't sure how I'd take the news. That one of my sons had grown up to be a cold-blooded murderer."

"More than that," said Mark. "He was the most wanted criminal in America. He had no compunction about killing anyone who got in his way. Even policemen. They had proof that he had killed at least four and was suspected in the murder of at least seven others."

"That's terrible," said Nicolas. "I wonder how I would have felt if that had happened and I were around to see it?"

"Imagine my surprise when I found out that Nick was a district attorney," said Mark. "Sending men to prison that he had originally helped in crime."

"That must have been quite a jolt," said Nicolas. "Has it been hard for you to accept the change in him?"

"Not as hard as I would have imagined," said Mark. "The time I've spent with him since I got back has shown me he's nothing like he was before. I think he originally grew up the way he did because of yours and moms deaths so early. And that he was harassed and punished for the plague."

"That could be enough to corrupt anyone," said Nicolas. "I can tell you there is absolutely no sign of the virus that had once plagued the earth."

"Good," said Mark. "At least I was successful in my mission. It's just there are so many changes I have to get used to. I'm not used to seeing the sun in my own time. Or not seeing armed guards everywhere."

"It must be quite a change," said Nicolas. "Your grandfather and I will do everything we can to help you adjust. And if there are things that neither he nor I know you can always blame any 'memory loss' on the accident."

"Yes," said Mark. "It's convenient that the accident happened just as it did. I was in the accident the same day I went back in time and came out of the coma the same day I revived from that coma. Pretty damned convenient."

"Your grandfather told me something like that might happen," said Nicolas. "He said he suspected that something would happen to make you unavailable from August 20 to August 26. When you went into that coma on the twentieth I had no doubt you'd revive on the twenty-sixth. Or that what dad had told me was totally accurate."

"I wonder what ever happened to Angela?" wondered Mark out loud. "She must be in her seventies or eighties if she's still alive. I'm sorry I never had a chance to say goodbye to her. She helped me so much I don't think I could have done anything without her."

"Maybe she's still around," said Nicolas, glancing over at Mark. "I'll tell you what. After we've visited your grandfather, if you still want, we'll see if we can locate her for you. At least find out what happened to her after you left."

"I'd like that," said Mark. "If she's no longer alive I think I'd like to visit her grave. She was living in Killeen, Texas as I recall."

"I don't think it will be hard to locate her," said Nicolas. "The internet is very useful in locating people."

They arrived at the farm just as it was starting to get dark. Mark didn't understand why his father had insisted they wait until after noon to drive to the farm. He knew it would be nearly dark before they reached the farm.

As they pulled into the farm Mark recognized it almost immediately. It looked almost identical to the time he had visited it in the past. Even the blue Chevy his grandfather had driven back then sat in the driveway.

"He still has the car," commented Mark.

"Yes," said Nicolas. "He's spent quite a bit of time and money keeping it up. It's worth quite a bit now. But he won't part with it. I learned about auto mechanics on that car."

"You?" asked Mark. "But you're a genetic biologist. What do you need to know about cars?"

"I was a teenager once," said Nicolas. "Like most teen boys I was fascinated with cars. I helped him keep it up and he taught me how to drive in that car."

"Oh," said Mark. "I'm afraid I know next to nothing about mechanics. I never had to. The police department always took care of the vehicles I drove."

"Don't worry," said Nicolas. "In this timeline you never had much aptitude for mechanics. So not knowing anything about cars won't seem odd."

They got out of the car and Mark looked around. Except that it was summer and there was no snow on the ground it looked no different from what it had before. His grandfather had obviously taken as much care in keeping up the farm as he had keeping up the car.

"Come on," said Nicolas. "He's waiting inside for us."

They walked up on the front porch and Nicolas opened the door. He didn't wait but simply walked into the house. Mark followed him.

"Dad, it's Mark and me," said Nicolas. "Are you up?"

"Of course, I am," said the elder Andropov, coming out of the kitchen carrying the same tea set he had served Mark tea with in the past. "I saw your car coming up the road. I made some tea for us."

He put the tray down on the table and then stood up and looked at Mark. He seemed ancient to Mark. He was old, his hair was almost totally gone, and his face and hands were crossed with deep lines. But his eyes still twinkled showing that the brilliance he had always exhibited hadn't dimmed even in fifty-two years.

"Dr. Andropov," said Mark.

Mark walked over and embraced the old man. He was careful not to hug him too tight fearing he might inadvertently injure him. His grandfather would be near one hundred by now. And Mark knew that people that old could be seriously injured with the slightest cause.

"You usually call me grandfather," said Andropov. "It's something you'll have to get used to, I suppose."

"I suppose," said Mark. "I also have to get used to a new name. Until about three days ago I was Avery Paxil. Now I'm Marcus Andropov. It's kind of strange."

"You'll get used to it," said Andropov. "As you can see I've kept the farm exactly as it was. This is all the original furniture. Some of it has had to be fixed from time to time, but it's all original. And I still have the lab downstairs. I even tinker down there from time to time."

"I'm glad to hear you're still active," said Mark. "And I'm glad you're still alive. I was rather surprised to find that my father knew everything. He's been very helpful to me adjusting to the changes."

"Don't worry," said Andropov. "I'll help you all I can. But for right now, I think I should be getting to bed. I'm not as young as I used to be. I tire easily. But we'll have a chance to get reacquainted in the morning. Besides, you have a previous engagement."

"Previous engagement?" asked Mark, looking over at his father. "You never said anything about a previous engagement."

His father was smiling as if he knew a secret. A secret he was having difficulty keeping. He looked down at the floor as if he was embarrassed.

"Remember," said Nicolas, "I told you your grandfather had a surprise for you. He made me promise not to say anything to you before I brought you out here. You can't imagine how hard it's been for me to keep that secret. But I believe it has been worth it."

"Secret?" said Mark confused. "I don't understand what's going on."

"It's about your previous engagement," said a female voice from the library to Marks' right. "I believe I owe you a ride underneath the stars. A ride just for the enjoyment of driving. Something, I believe, you've never done."

Mark looked over and saw an elderly woman standing in the doorway to the library. She must have been in her eighties and her silver hair was just barely shoulder length. Even despite her advanced age Mark had no trouble recognizing Angela McComb. He walked over to her and embraced her as he had his grandfather just minutes before.

"What happened?" Mark asked Angela. "The last I remember we were in that car accident. You were slumped over the steering wheel."

"The accident wasn't as bad as it appeared," said Angela. "I was unconscious for a while. When I work up you were gone. When we couldn't find you anywhere we decided you must have returned to your own time."

"We'll see if we can locate her," said Mark, smiling at his father. "No wonder you didn't think it would be hard to find her."

"I had to say something," said Nicolas. "I did promise dad I wouldn't tell you before you got here. He wanted to see the look on your face when you saw her for the first time in fifty years."

"Thanks," said Mark to his father and grandfather. "This is the greatest surprise I could have had. The only people on Earth who know what I went through. At least I'll have someone to talk with about it. That will be a great relief."

"I'm sure it will," said Angela, her arm wrapped around Marks' waist. "Now, Nicks' car is gassed up and ready to go. We have a ride to take. And a great many things to talk about."

"Yes, I think we do," said Mark. "Like what you've been up to these past fifty years. I want to hear everything."

"That could take a while," said Angela. "But I'm not going anywhere. And my granddaughter will be here in a couple of days. I've told her a great deal about you. She's very interested in meeting you. You'll like her. She looks just like I did at her age."

"I'm looking forward to it," said Mark. "But right now, you have a promise to keep. Dad, grandfather, we'll be back in a while. Don't wait up."

"We won't," said Nicolas.

Smiling from ear to ear, Mark and Angela left the house and went out to the vintage car for their ride that was fifty-two years late.

The End