Chapter 1

Mark Williams sidled through the laundromat door with his basket on his hip. It was a nondescript strip mall storefront, with a double line of washers down the center and a wall of dryers at the far end. The last space on the right contained a deep iron sink instead of a washer. The walls were lined with sorting tables interspersed with gaps for groups of tired-looking

folding chairs. A woman was standing at the farthest sorting table on the right writing something so Mark claimed the last table on the left. She looked up and smiled at him as he put his basket down. From a closer vantage point he could see that she was using a black marker to write on the sorting table itself. He smiled back. "I like your t-shirt," he said. "Maxwell's equations, aren't they?"

She looked down and pulled the shirt taut by the bottom

corners. "Yeah. You like it?"

"'Let there be light, ' in more detail. Exactly how I'd

expect a God to do it."

They were interrupted by a slim Chicano bursting through the door. He ran down the aisle toward the woman and brandished a knife in her face. "Gimme yo' wallet, bitch, or I'll cut ya!"

In an instant of startled gallantry Mark stepped forward. "Hey!"

The Chicano turned to him. "Yo' wallet too, white boy! Or I'll cut both of ya!"

While his attention was diverted to Mark the woman blocked the Chicano's right elbow with her right hand and slammed the top of his head into the corner of the iron sink with her left hand and a hip check. She shoved him head down into the sink and picked up the dropped knife. As Mark watched in stunned silence

she slit the would-be robber's throat. He thrashed a bit as he bled out, a small dollop of blood splashing onto her t-shirt. When the body stopped quivering the woman rinsed her hands in the sink and left the water running. She stripped off her t-shirt, revealing that she wore nothing underneath it, and casually wiped

a smear of blood from her chest and left breast. She dropped the stained t-shirt into the sink, donned another from her basket, nodded grimly at Mark and left the laundromat with her basket in her arms.

Mark stood rooted in place for several minutes, staring at the dead body and the swirling bloody water in horrified fascination. Once he could move he ran out of the building and stood hyperventilating on the sidewalk until he calmed down enough to call 911, almost dropping his cell phone several times during the process.

Mark told his story to the occupant of the first patrol car to show up, to a couple of supervisor-type uniformed officers at the scene, and finally to Detective George Smith across a table at Police Headquarters. Smith asked, "Do you think you can do

better than 'About five foot six, solid build, light brown hair and eyes?'"

"Yes, sir. Her hair was more chestnut than brown and her eyes were hazel. Her eyebrows were a bit darker than her hair, really striking. Oh, and she had dimples."

"Think you can describe her to a sketch artist?"

Mark said, "I can do better than that, sir. If you have some blank paper and a couple of pencils I think I can give you a pretty good likeness." He gave Smith a quick smile. "I took life drawing in high school and my sketchpad's still at the laundromat."

The drawing that emerged was of a striking, eye-catching face; one that Smith said shouldn't be hard to spot. Mark went on to draw cartoon panels illustrating the entire incident. Smith raised an eyebrow at the panels showing the woman wiping off the

blood and her back as she put on a clean t-shirt.

"Pretty good anatomical detail there."

Mark blushed and ducked his head a little. "That was one of the reasons I took the class, plus I kinda remember it. It's not every day that a murderer flashes her tits at me."

"Me either, kid, no matter what nonsense you see in the

movies. What was that on her t-shirt? It was pretty stained by the time the lab techs got there."

Mark said, "It's a physics joke. It has 'God said' at the top, then the Maxwell equations describing electromagnetism, then 'and then there was light' at the bottom." Mark shrugged. "I guess I can't explain it well enough for it to be very funny. I remarked on it as a way to start a conversation."

"I get it, kid." He slid an image of the sorting table across to Mark. "Know anything about this?"

Mark glanced down. "I recognize some of it. Uh, can I show this to my housemates, uh, Brett Takahashi and Jango Miller? We're all grad students in physics. Maybe one of them will know more about it. Or maybe who she is."

"Sure. The lab guys took the whole tabletop, in case the pic's not clear enough. They tried to identify the marker she used and the writing went clear though the plastic into the wood. Never seen anything like it."

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Story tagged with:
Science Fiction / Time Travel /