Employment Opportunities in Time

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Employment Opportunities in Time

Postby Miki Yamuri » Thu Feb 13, 2020 10:01 am

Employment Opportunities in Time

By: Miki Yamuri and LilJennie

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Terry was very excited to get the call for a job interview. She had graduated top of her class and had expected to land a job as a physics professor. No sooner had she graduated and earned her diploma than hard times descended over the land and the expected job faded away.

This new job Terry had found, however, was guaranteed for life, it said. It had all expenses paid, and even health insurance. It sounded very good, especially since no other opportunities were available.

The trip to the company’s address was short and quick, and since it was on the city bus route, that was excellent too. She got off in front of the corporate HQ of Reverse Time, Inc. There was a tall, rectangular building with glass windows, but the entire thing was surrounded by a considerable amount of green lawn, and that was surrounded in turn by a tall iron wrought fence with spikes on top, like some kind of Gothic mansion would have.

She proceeded to the guard shack by the gates. After a close examination of the job offer package she had with her and her ID, the guard let her in. The gates creaked, but they opened and shut automatically.

The building itself looked very modern, and when she walked into the foyer of the reception area, it was like walking onto the bridge of some kind of spaceship. Terry walked to the counter, where a young woman sat doing what all receptionists apparently did.

“One moment please,” she said in a nasal voice to whomever was on the phone and pressed a button. To Terry she said, “Can I help you?” But before Terry could speak, the receptionist saw the packet of paper in her hand and said, “Oh, you’re here for the job opportunity. Please fill out this form and have a seat. I’ll let them know you’re here.”

Terry filled out the form -- more of a card, really -- and sat down in the waiting area. She wasn’t the only one there -- it was understandable that she’d have competition, considering the job’s apparent benefits. There was a tall, skinny man in a suit sprawled in a chair, reading the newspaper a bit too comfortably, and a short woman with glasses and a briefcase sitting nervously on the edge of her seat. Terry crossed her legs and picked up a magazine. She expected some sort of business magazine, but it turned out to be a scientific journal.

Getting absorbed about an article on animal behavior, Terry didn’t notice other people come in and sit down, but finally the elevator chimed, and its doors opened.
A rather nice looking young man dressed in a very expensive suite walked to the center of the waiting crowd. He was carrying a large pad type computer with an attached stylus.

He looked up and said in one of those rumbly deep voices, “Welcome to Reverse Time, Inc. You all will be glad to know we will be accepting all of you for this job. If you will follow me, I will get you acquainted with the people who will be working with you while you are here.”

With this, he motioned toward a door on the other side of the elevators with his hand and smiled cordially. We all stood, as if on que, and moved in that direction.
The man said. “My name is Jonston. I’m the chief Occulator.” he opened a door into what looked for the world like something straight out of a very high class SciFi story. We all entered and chose a seat in the very comfortable chairs.

It was so strange for Terry to sit in it too, as it seemed to conform to her body and reclined slightly. It felt so nice to sit in the chair she almost fell asleep. What brought her back to here and now, was a young woman asking for the card she had filled out and the job package. She handed Terry a pen and a thick stack of papers in return.

The woman said, “I need you to read over that and sign each page clearly.” she handed Terry an ink pad, “After that, place your thumb print from both hands next to the signature in the indicated spot.”

Terry looked over the first 6 pages of the thick stack of pages she’d been handed. It looked like a typical bureaucratic overkill type of form. Terry shrugged and started filling out the questions asked, and signed the rest, putting both thumb prints in the required spots. Terry wanted to make sure she had a job before she left.

The woman returned shortly, followed by a cute drone of some sort. The woman took the pile of completed forms from Terry and checked each page completely, before placing the entire pile in a tray on top of the droid.

The droid hummed, squeaked, and blinked its lights in a comical way as it rapidly made copies of each page. The woman handed the pages back after placing them into a leather case and zipping it closed. Terry watched as this same procedure was accomplished by other employees with a similar drone following. It didn’t take but another few minutes for the process to be completed.

The next group that entered were kind of scary. They were dressed in something looked like white space suits and were also each followed by some sort of droid. One of the suited individuals stopped next to Terry and removed a helmet of some sort and several other pieces of equipment from a compartment within the droid. The devices were attached to her body and the helmet lowered over her head and attached to the device resting on her chest.

The suited individual said softly in a nice deep male voice, “Relax. This will be over before you realize it.”

There was a slight humming sound, and then it suddenly felt like Terry was watching all the events of her entire life so far on fast-forward. The beginning was odd, because not only did it include her own birth and infancy, which couldn’t possibly be taken from her memory, but it was also from outside, as if recorded by someone watching her -- except that she wasn’t seeing it on a screen; she was seeing it inside her head. But it also went by so very quickly that she couldn’t get more than a fleeting impression of it all. Then it stopped with her coming here today, and there was a feminine-sounding computer voice saying, “Scan complete.”

For a moment Terry was disoriented, not certain how much time had passed, but the helmet was being removed from her head, and she was in the same room as before, all stainless steel and white with screens and displays everywhere, like some kind of sci-fi movie. The others were also just having their helmets removed and looking confused, so her reaction to the experience was clearly to be expected.

“All readings look good,” said the man’s voice from beneath his helmet. “Occasionally we get some anomalies or null results, so we have to reject them as candidates, but you’re just fine -- in fact, your chronowaves are the most coherent I’ve ever seen.”
Terry’s seat gently sat her back upright from the leaning back position she had been in. A very thin and strangely shaped woman in another of those suits came up to Terry and helped her from the couch.

With a very strange nasal accent, she said softly, “Next, let us see what your responses are to the actual transit, and not a preliminary scan.” She indicated that Terry should follow her.

Terry asked shyly, “Would you mind my asking where you’re taking me?”

The door to the room they were in slid open with a tinkling whoosh, “Not at all,” the woman replied in that very strange accent, “I’m taking you to the oculus room. We need to see how well you react to the transit.”

“What transit. To where?”

By this time they had arrived at another door down a long featureless hall that also slid open with a tinkling whoosh, “That’s what I’m about to show you. Just relax. All the equipment has been tested multiple times and is operating at peak efficiency. The coronal wave might feel a bit cold the first time, but nothing you can’t handle am sure.”

Terry entered and stopped short as her mouth fell open and her eyes grew large in total shock. On a huge platform with stairs leading directly up to it was a huge glowing ball of some form of energy. Terry could actually feel some sort of something pulling at her towards it.

The woman held out her hand and said, “This is an oculus. All you have to do is walk up the stairs and into the chronal wave. Make sure you keep your eyes open and pay strict attention to what you see on the other side.”

Terry walked up the stairs onto the platform that gave access to the swirling mass of energy. She started to say something, but felt a hand give her a soft push. Next thing Terry knew, she opened her eyes and saw what looked like bars of some sort all around her. She did her best to sit up, but her body wouldn’t do exactly what she told it to do -- then suddenly she was back on the platform, only she was now in a diaper and plastic panties.

“I … what?” Terry said in confusion, looking down at herself and blushing. She felt cold. Where had her clothes gone?

“Fascinating,” said a female scientist as the male ones tactfully averted their gazes. “Complete chronal cohesion.”

The woman who had brought her in said, “Yes, you’re a rare one. Normally when we send people back to a time early in their lifespan, it takes a while for their bodies to regress to their physical age of that time period. But you … yours acclimated instantly. And the retrocclusion effect -- I’ve never seen anything like this.”

“This could be applied,” said the female scientist who had just spoken. “We must analyze this data.”

“I have questions,” said Terry. “What just happened, where are my clothes, and why am I in diapers?”

Suddenly the building shook slightly, and there was a high-pitched repeated beeping sound that was soon turned off. “That was no natural gravitational wave,” said a male technician, looking at a console. “That was an attack.”

“Go to alert status,” said a woman on a high platform who looked as if she was in charge.

“This isn’t supposed to happen,” said the woman who had brought Terry in. “Let me get you to a safe zone, where we can get you into a uniform.”

Terry followed her as she walked, although Terry was having a hard time moving quickly -- the thick diaper she was in added a waddle to her step.

“My name is Magda,” said the woman. “Is Terry short for anything?”

“Yes, Theresa,” said Terry, “but I’ve gone by Terry ever since I can remember. It’s just what my parents called me, even though I’m Theresa on my birth certificate, so I’ve always used Terry for everything.”

They went through another door that irised open, and they were in a hallway. There were rooms labeled “Dressing Rooms,” with the familiar men’s and women’s symbols, along with a unisex symbol. Magda led her to the women’s room. “The machines have created a custom-fit uniform for you,” she said. “It should be … yes, here.” Magda opened a locker. It contained a folded uniform and an identification card with a clip-on holder. “I can … assist you, or, if you prefer, I can give you privacy.”
“I think I’ll be fine by myself, if you don’t mind,” said Terry.

“Fine,” said Magda, “I’ll just be outside in the hallway. Come out when you’re ready. You’ll find that your ID card will unlock that locker once it’s been closed.” She left.
Terry removed her plastic panties and undid her diaper and found that she had quite a bit of baby powder on her. The tapes didn’t seem to tear the plastic, and she didn’t see a trash can anywhere nearby, so she just stuck the diaper and plastic panties in her locker. Then she looked at the uniform.

There was underwear -- standard-looking cotton granny panties and a reasonably supportive-looking bra -- socks, slacks, shirt, a short jacket, and shoes. The exterior clothing was all very futuristic looking and matched what she’d seen everyone else wearing, mostly white with some gray panels and red accents. There was a strap to clip her ID card onto, which she did. Closing her locker, she went outside.

“Ah, good,” said Magda. “We were going to get you a uniform anyway, but I didn’t know you’d need it so soon.” The lights flickered again. “I hope we can handle this one.”
“This what now?”

“This attack,” Magda began, but then another uniformed woman, who looked Asian, brought another of the new candidates into the hallway; this one was the nervous-looking woman with glasses. She was wearing the same outfit she’d been wearing in the lobby, however, and Terry was glad to be in a uniform instead of diapers. “Ah, hello, Mitsuko, how did it go?”

“Standard stuff,” said Mitsuko. “Hello, Terry,” she said, reading Terry’s ID. “In case you didn’t meet in the lobby, this is Evelyn. We’re about to get her her uniform. Be right back.”

“Of course,” Terry said. “See you soon, Evelyn, Mitsuko.”

She was trying to pretend everything was normal, but she still didn’t know what was going on, and something seemed to interrupt every time she was about to find something out. Mitsuko and Evelyn went into one of the dressing rooms.

“Well, let’s move on to the training classroom, shall we?” asked Magda. “Assuming the attack is repulsed, we’ll need to explain a few things, but that’s best done with everyone present at once.”
“I suppose I can understand that,” said Terry.

Magda led her down the hallway, through a few twists and turns, and into an open room with curved tables and round chairs, all focused on a central well with a lectern -- it looked just like a futuristic classroom. They seemed to be the first to arrive.
Terry sat and looked around the large, very futuristic looking room. There were many seats, the body conforming type that were so comfy, and several large flat viewing screens on the far wall.

The very large screen in the middle had WELCOME VOYAGERS - to Reverse Time, Inc. There were pictures that flashed across the screen depicting really nice still frame shots of many people and places.

Terry had to take a double look, then realized many of the faces she was seeing in the shots were the same people. That was seemingly impossible, considering many of the stills were pictures apparently taken from many hundreds of years in the past. There were an equal number that depicted some far flung fantasy SciFi futuristic stills, also had the same faces.

Terry noticed that there were many people entering the room and seating themselves. All of them had on a basic uniform like the one she wore. She could hear the many questions about what was happening and what type of job this actually was. Many had already started speculating this was a government job due to the type of forms all had filled out.

The seats filled. As soon as the last seat was occupied, all the lights in the auditorium went out, except for the spots at the lectern, and the large screen glowing brightly in the middle.

The very handsome and well dressed young man entered and took a position at the lectern. Several other men, and an equal number of women, all dressed in some strange type of skin tight uniforms entered and stood to either side of the man.

He said in one of those so nice deep voices, “My name is Jonston. I’m the chief Occulator. I know all of you have many questions. I will do my best to answer as many as I can. First off, I know everyone wants to know what an Oculus is. Put simply, it’s the energy gateway to infinite possibilities in the past, present, and future.”

A young man raised his hand, and Jonston pointed to him. The man stood and asked, “How did we manage to come by one of those things? I worked at the Fuego Physics Department for many years before accepting this position. I have neither seen nor heard of such a device.”

Jonston smiled, “I’m quite sure you haven’t. Listen to what I’m about to tell you -- it sounds impossible, but I assure you it is quite possible.” Jonston turned on a small device at the lectern. The image on the center screen changed to one all knew well: The USS Eldridge. “Due to the extreme nature of what was created that day, the Eldridge’s deck and service logs were rewritten, and the crew that didn’t experience molecular destabilization and catch fire due to friction or walk into a wall never to be seen again, were relegated to the strictest silence on the pain of permanent retirement.”
Terry raised her hand. Jonston pointed to her, and she asked in a shy voice, “What is a ... permanent retirement all about?”

Mr. Jonston looked at Terry with a serious expression as he said, “It means the individual would be terminated with prejudice. Although, all the honors, respect, and benefits of a normal posthumous retirement would still apply, not like a regular execution type retirement.”

Terry said in a soft squeak as she took her seat, “Ok, thanks.” A soft murmur ran through the large crowd.

The picture changed. This time it depicted something that looked human, but the body was badly misshapen. Terry gasped softly as she realized that the woman who had shown her the Oculus for the first time was deformed very much like the individual on the screen.

Jonston continued, “After the first Oculus opened a portal in the fall of 1943, we discovered a new people. However, they weren’t as new as we had first thought, just many centuries in the future. We also discovered another type of creature, one we have come to call a Time Thief.”

A loud buzz filled the room for a moment as the shock ran around the room over the next picture that came up on the large screen.

“We’ll fill you in on more of the details shortly, but first, yes, time travel is possible.” Jonston waited for questions, and a hand did go up. Jonston pointed at them.
“Err … putting aside that that’s amazing,” said the young man who had stood up earlier, “what are the parameters? Are there limits to where we can go, and for how long? What are the effects if we change the past? Can we travel into the future, and does that mean that there’s predestination?”

“Those are a lot of questions,” said Jonston with a chuckle. “But we’ll get to all of that. First, you can only time travel within your lifetime without risking serious consequences, and even when you do, you have to be careful because of the acclimation effect. For example, I was born in 1953. If I travel back to 1958, I’m going to start gradually de-aging. We’ve learned that if I spend a week in 1958, I’ll end up looking like I’m 5 years old -- the age I really was back in ‘58. And when I come back, I’ll have to spend the same amount of time back home before I’m 100% back to normal. But the rate’s different for everyone. For some, they can spend a year or more in a time period before their body fully acclimates. For others, and this is very rare, they acclimate practically instantaneously.”

Terry’s hand shot up, and Jonston called on her. “Doesn’t that mean that … well, traveling outside their lifetime would be very hazardous for those people?” she asked.
“I know why you’re asking that,” said Jonston, “and yes, without special protections such people should never attempt to travel outside their lifetime. Because if your body fully acclimates to a time before you were born … you wouldn’t have a body anymore. Or exist. You’d be a couple of microscopic cells, and you wouldn’t survive much longer. As for a time after your natural lifespan … I’m not going to pull any punches. You’ll be a moldering corpse. Be extremely cautious. We have failsafes, but nothing beats being careful.”

“However, if your acclimation rate is very slow, or if we send you out with an acclimation brake on you, you can survive in a time period outside your lifespan … for a while. Get done what you need to do and get out, that’s my advice. Normally nobody’s assigned such a task, but sometimes … well, desperate times, desperate measures.”
A hand went up, and the trainee stood up and asked, “This might be a good time to ask … there was talk of an attack earlier? Are we in danger? Who would attack us? And what kind of attack are we talking about?”

“There are those who see our very existence as a threat to them,” Jonston replied. “Whether we really are a threat or not. They attack us by attempting to change our past -- usually our fairly recent past. We have to defend ourselves by preventing whatever they’re trying to do -- after finding out what it is, of course. And yes, we’ve just weathered an attack on our power infrastructure by someone who planted a microdevice last week. But one of our Occulators located it after it went off, then removed it before it went off. The thing’s in the lab now, where they can figure out who placed it, and from where and when.”

Terry raised her hand again. “Yes,” said Jonston, pointing to her.

She got up again. “Is … is there any purpose for field agents who acclimate instantly?”

Jonston smiled. “They’re in high demand for certain assignments,” he replied. “The fact is, they make perfect infiltrators. There’s no telltale rapid aging or de-aging. Anyone who’s looking for an agent isn’t going to see anything unusual. They can only operate within their lifespans, as I said, but they can do quite a lot. And what’s more … we can send them back to a time when they were a child, and they can operate with full mental capacity -- though of course they still have the body of a child. But no one would expect a small child to be a fully-trained agent.”

“Now, when you’re fully acclimated, the objects in direct contact with you, such as your clothing and anything you have in your pockets, turn into objects that the real you of that time period would have -- wherever you are in the world. And when we bring you back, those objects come back with you and don’t change. We call that a retrocclusion. Only happens if you’ve been out long enough to acclimate fully, though -- or if you’re an instant acclimator. Leave your phone in your locker.” Jonston smiled. Terry was glad she’d left her belongings in a pouch and hoped the trainers returned them soon.

In a really far advanced, although extremely weird to our senses, control room, several strange creatures bent over a table like device whose surface glowed with soft blue and green light.

One of them turned and grunted, “Thems getten ta bes smart. Them somehow know we doin it afroes we done it.”

The really hairy one replied back in a guttural growl, “Gotsa has madda improvement ina Coronal Scan capability.”

“The other one straightened up as much as his gnarled body would allow, “Can be done? Temporal wave no stable enough to getta good lock on.”

The other one nodded slowly as it grunted back. “Can makesa good image ifsa energy bleedoff over tha time shift differential can be compensated.”

The other one shook its shaggy head, “No see how. Too much energy consumption. Tha interspatial waves deplete tha advancin spheroid too fast.”

The other sighed before it replied, “Yups. Why I said gots thems pinkies madda improvement we no can figgure out. Getten smart.” he tapped his forehead with a gnarly finger.

The one turned and said, “Am gonna makes a qwuick jump there and gives em a present …”

Suddenly, a large swirling ball of energy appeared right in the middle of the control room. About a dozen individuals dressed in some type of powered battle armor appeared. Massive discharges of weapons accompanied by just as massive detonations. The many armored individuals vanish with a bright twinkle as the sphere of energy vanishes. What was left behind, was total smoldering destruction.

One of the creatures moved, his body badly damaged and broken. With all his will, he managed to crawl to the door, which amazingly still worked, and opened it. As soon as his damaged and burned body emerged from the room, many others both male and female of his species crowded around and began trying their best to perform enough first aid to keep him alive until the emergency Med team arrived.

The creature gasped out to the woman holding his head, “It … it wuz them. Those things … tha mechanoided ones.”

“The woman smiled weakly as she rubbed his battered face gently, “Tanks fer dhat. Rest fer now. We will debrief ya laters. All we needed ta know ... who done it.”

<<>> BACK in the CLASS ROOM <<>>

The image on the screen changed to show a strange gnarled and hairy kind of creature. Jonston continued, “Due to the massive damage our civilization has done to the environment and will continue to do for a good many more years, the world of the not so far distant future is a radically different place.” He pointed to the creature on the screen, “This, ladies and gentlemen, is how humankind of the future has evolved to cope with the massive changes to the environment.” The picture changed to show the lady Tina knew had escorted her to the Oculus room. “And this is how they would look if all the hair is removed. We can clearly see the path evolution is taking.”

A loud round of conversations filled the large auditorium as the picture on the screen changed to show something that was either a really advanced Battle Armor, or was some sort of Android or Robot. The voices quieted down.

Jonston looked over the room full of this time’s new defenders as he said, “And this …” he pointed to the mechanoid image on the screen, “Is a Time Thief. They appear without warning and do massive amounts of damage as they steal something. Not ever the same type of things. Some times very high value military equipment, or electronics.

Sometimes seemingly stupid things like pig’s skins or pig waste.” He pointed again as an angry expression crossed his face. “And so far, we have yet to be able to track them down to attack. We can be there lying in ambush and attack them, but they have some sort of recall or self destruct, and everything vanishes and we can’t collect anything for study.”

He took a breath and changed course. “So. Why are you here? You’re the ones who didn’t wash out on Day 1. There are some who can’t handle an Oculus -- either they simply can’t use one, or they’re psychologically ill-equipped for it. The tests we put you through are designed to weed those people out without revealing too much about what we do here. And what do we do here? We keep time-traveling elements such as the Time Thieves from altering the past and erasing the present. Maybe we can’t always stop them, but we can undo their damage and put time back on course. You asked before if the past can be changed.” Jonston nodded at the recruit who had asked about that. “It can. It’s dangerously easy. Some changes won’t make a meaningful difference. Others can mean the nonexistence of our civilization. And it isn’t always what you’d think. That’s why we have some of the most advanced computers in the world constantly running analyses of the data our agents collect. And that’s why we have agents.”
“Now, about the future. Is the future fated to be, or is it fluid? Let me tell you a story. There was once an agent named Featherstone. She traveled into the future -- not too far, just a decade -- or rather, into one possible future, one in which the most recent Presidential election went a different way than it did. Meanwhile, the Time Thieves journeyed to the present time, from whatever time period they hail from, and stole certain evidence that would have changed the course of that election. Featherstone was now in a future that couldn’t exist. Ladies and gentlemen, Agent Featherstone became a casualty in the war we fight. She never came back, because she died with that timeline. If for some reason you need to travel into the future, the computers will try to send you to a timeline that is as certain as possible to occur, for your protection. But they’re not perfectly accurate, although we strive for perfection. Be aware -- this job is not without its risks.”

“Let me just close by saying --” Jonston began, but then an alarm began sounding, and red lights lit up along every wall and the screens all changed to display the word, “ALERT.”

“Time for your first training exercise, except that this isn’t a drill,” said Jonston.
“What do we do?” asked Terry, and about 20 others.

“First we wait for instructions,” Jonston said; he still had the microphone. “The control center knows something’s going on, but they don’t know what. The computers will --”
A calm female-sounding voice -- probably the computer -- came over the sound system. “Alert. Class Seven incident in progress.” A number of the trainers immediately leapt to action and left the room via specific exits in an obviously well-rehearsed manner. Other trainers stayed exactly where they were. But one trainer tapped Terry on the shoulder and said, “Miss Exeter, if you could please come with me.”

“Um, OK,” said Terry, and followed the trainer, a red-haired woman whose ID tag read “Goldfinch, Olivia.”

Jonston was still talking as Terry followed Olivia out of the room. “As you can see, when an alert happens, everyone has their assigned roles depending on …”

Olivia led Terry to the Oculus room, or perhaps there was more than one Oculus room that all looked similar; she couldn’t be sure. “This is a Class Seven. We may have a shot at getting evidence from the Time Thieves. It’s worth a try, but we need all of you instant-acclimation. Don’t worry; we’ll just send you out and bring you right back.”
“Destination locked!” called out one of the console operators. The coruscating ball of energy appeared on the platform.

“Don’t worry,” said Olivia. “We’ll pull you out if anything dangerous happens. Just grab onto anything that looks out of place and don’t let go. Your retrocclusion is something they can’t block. Or at least we don’t think so.”
“You haven’t tried it yet?” asked Terry.

“Go!” Olivia said. “Please! Worst case, you come back with no evidence. OK?”
“OK,” said Terry, and faced the oculus.

Terry felt a fear run down her spine as she felt something seemingly pulling her towards the huge ball of energy. She heard someone say, “Relax, it will all be over in a flash.” then she felt a gentle push in the middle of her back.

Next thing she knew, she was sitting on her thickly diapered bottom again, looking at several of the Mechanoids doing whatever it was they were doing. The fear left her as her infantile side became extremely curious over that weird blinky glowy thingy sitting next to one of their feet.

She crawled over to it and wrapped her arms around it just as she felt something grab hold and pull her back in a direction that wasn’t a physical direction. Next thing Terry knew, she was standing on the Oculus platform, in an adorable lime green sunsuit and obviously thick diaper. Terry also realized that whatever that device was, she now had it in her arms.

The Oculus operator gasped loudly as she exclaimed, “Look, she actually did it. She has some of the tech from those mechs.”

Several techs rushed in and very quickly disassembled the device until the power source was discovered and removed along with something that looked very much like an explosive device. They threw this into a heavy metal box while another tech slammed the box’s lid shut. There was a muffled pop a moment later.

One of the techs sat back on his legs and wiped his brow. “Whew! Not only did you manage to capture a device, we managed to stop it from self-destructing.” He reached over and patted Terry on her thickly-diapered bottom as she stood looking on with embarrassed incredulity. “I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist. Adorable retrocclusions happen to lots of agents who go back to the past. It’s why we have machines that can make new custom-tailored uniforms in minutes.”

There were still a number of techs going over the device with cameras, magnifiers, Geiger counters, multimeters, and other equipment of all kinds. One had tagged it with a date and time of collection, and sure enough, Terry realized that it was a date and time when she would have been right around 18 months old.

“By the way, here’s your replacement ID,” said Olivia, handing her a duplicate ID card, since hers had either disappeared or perhaps transformed into some part of her baby outfit. “Don’t worry, we realize that instant acclimators need extras.”
“What should I do with …” She pointed at her outfit.

“Oh, whatever you like,” said Olivia. “You can keep it, throw it away, whatever. It’s not as if you won’t end up with other adult-size copies of the clothes you wore in your childhood. Some instant-acclimators keep ‘em and put ‘em back on before their next trip. Helps them get in character, and it saves us the cost of a uniform.”
“I was going to ask … both times I’ve gone through a, you know, oculus, I haven’t stayed long. What happens if I stay in the past for a long time?”

“I mean, if you weren’t an instant acclimator, I’d say you’d regress in age until you fully acclimated,” said Olivia, “but that’s not the case with you. You’d just stay that age, gradually growing as time passed. The younger you were the more helpless you’d be, so you’d need another voyager to go with you and take care of you -- one who was born earlier or at least acclimated more slowly. The worst thing that could happen would be the physical danger of being so small and weak in body. Other than that … I mean, you can get used to being a little kid. You can get into habits that you have to break when you got back -- or not. It’s always adorable when voyagers come back with a thumbsucking habit or potty training issues.” Olivia smiled. “Sometimes it’s a bit annoying when they cry at the drop of a hat, but I got -- I mean, they get over that pretty quickly.” She blushed momentarily.

Terry smiled knowingly as she realized that person was Olivia. Suddenly, Terry’s face took on an adorable wide eyed look, as she felt the warmth starting to spread around her bottom. Nothing Terry tried helped, she was leaking and that was that.

One of the other techs, whose ID badge said “Kleiner, Marie,” held out her hand and said in a wonderfully inticing coo, “Come with me, Sweetheart, I’ll take you where you need to go.”
Terry wasn’t quite sure what happened just at that moment, but she obediently reached out and took Marie’s hand. With her free hand, she quickly put her thumb in her mouth. As Terry was led from the Oculus room, all the techs were smiling. Terry looked totally the part of an adorable little 18 month old. Someone nodded and said, “Retrogression.” Others nodded too, still smiling.

Marie led Terry slowly down the hall among the others walking past on what ever errand. Several would glance over and smile broadly when Terry would notice.

One woman even stopped them and said in a soft coo as she handed Terry a huge strawberry lollypop, “I have waited for months for an insty to wander by.” She bent over slightly and patted Terry’s thickly padded, and now wet, bottom softly. “That lollypop is for a job well done, too. I hear you actually captured some sort of Time Thief equipment. Good Girl! That’s never happened before.”

By this time, Terry had almost totally lost her adult mind as she giggled adorably and took a cute little semi-hiding pose behind Marie. The woman smiled as she nodded to Marie and wandered off down the long hall.

Some sort of alarm sounded three times, and that brought Terry back to her right mind. She felt so strange … like she was an adult infant. Then she laughed at the thought.
Marie led her to a changing room she was unfamiliar with. Apparently she had her own private changing room now. Terry went in and removed the cute sunsuit and plastic-lined bottoms. She stood with a bit of embarrassed trepidation as she wondered if she would have another accident like this.

She shrugged it off and unpinned the wet diaper. This time, there was an actual place for it … of course, that was where Terry put it. This time, her new undies weren't standard granny panties, but a really adorable and very thick type. They were still plain white, but there were cute little ruffles around the waist and legs.

Terry figured it might be a good idea to wear the thick diaper panties for a while until she found out more about how long it would take the aftereffects to wear off. Besides, they appealed to her and were very cute. She dressed and put on a new uniform. As she pinned her ID to the place for it on the front of the uniform, she did notice that the new undies made her bottom a bit more noticeable than normal. She shrugged it off and exited back into the hall, where Marie was waiting for her return.
“Everything OK?” asked Marie.

“I … um …” Terry realized she had put her thumb back into her mouth without thinking and took it back out; it was good that she’d washed her hands after changing her diaper. “I think I’m acting like a baby,” she said with a blush.

“Yeah, of course you are,” said Marie, “and it’s adorable! It’s also a side effect. It’ll wear off within an hour, until your next mission to around that time period. Of course, you might have missions to the more recent past or even the future, where you won’t be changing that much.”

“Are you an … instant acclimator too?”

“Yeah, that’s why I came to help you out,” said Marie. “I know how it is. They tried sending me to an affected time period, but I couldn’t get my hands on anything. This time they only sent me to 10 years ago, though, so no baby retrogression.”
“Retrogression?” asked Terry.

“That’s what they call it. It’s a retrocclusion when you bring things back with you, and it’s a retrogression when you bring thought and behavior patterns. I’ve spent plenty of time in diapers after missions to the baby zone -- and you probably will too; it’s no big deal.”

“But I don’t want to be in diapers all the time,” Terry protested, feeling agitated. She was glad she was still pretty empty after fully wetting herself earlier, or she’d probably have had another accident in her panties. “I’m an adult, not a baby!”

Marie said, “And I was like that too, the first few times. But being an adult is all about making your own decisions, and if you decide that saving civilization, the world, and possibly time itself is worth spending an hour or two as a baby now and then, that’s the most adult decision you can make.”

“I … hmm.” Terry thought about that. “I guess if it’s an inevitable consequence of the job we all do, and there are no long-term effects.”

“Nah, even if you spend months in the baby zone, it still wears off after an hour or two once you come back,” said Marie.

“Baby zone?” asked Terry.

“Sorry, that’s just my word for the time between your birth and a couple years after that, when you were a baby,” Marie explained. “As an insty, getting sent to those years means you’ll be spending the full time as a baby again, as you probably know. A slower acclimator would start out their current age and gradually de-age. A super-slow acclimator might complete their mission and come back before they ever get close to baby age.”

“Seems like that’d be nicer,” said Terry. “What makes someone faster or slower at acclimating?”

“Nobody knows,” Marie replied. “They’re studying it, along with a lot of other things. One idea is that it’s genetic, but they haven’t found any genetic markers in common among all insties. Other ideas range from your psychological relationship with time to exposure to cosmic rays.”

In a place that really wasn’t a place, and a time … that never existed in a meaningful way, several mechanoid looking creatures were on their faces before a very large thing in a huge sphere filled with bubbles and many sparkly energy arcs jumping all through it.
A deep rumbly voice spoke, “And tell me again, how you managed to lose the chronal stabilizer? We lost many of our units when they suddenly devolved beyond construction.”
One of the mech spoke in its electronic sounding voice, “It is unknown how the unit vanished. There were no threats visible on our scans.”

Several optic sensors focused on the mech speaking, “I have seen the recordings made from the ones that managed to escape in time. I also noticed there was something else in the room with the squad.”

The mech shifted on its feet in what appeared to be a nervous shuffle, “Forgive this one, oh Ultama, I know not of what threat. There was nothing on the scanners that would indicate anything having the ability to strike back and stop us so effectively.”
The voice shook the chamber with its ferocity as it responded, “There was a human infant in that room with you. Did none of you see its bio-readings?” A mist formed, and within it images appeared of an adorable little toddler girl crawling up to the unit and grabbing hold before vanishing in a bright blue/white sparkle with the unit firmly in her arms. “The scan clearly shows this action, and none of you reacted to stop it from taking a vital piece of equipment. With that single unit, the enemy may now be able to trace our origin -- and what is more, they could now have the ability to traverse time without converting or reverting.”

After a huge flash and loud explosive report, the spot where the mech had been standing was a large dark splatter mark amid a cloud of acrid smoke and lots of small debris. The other mechs once again fell on their faces before this large monstrosity in what appeared to be true fear.

After a good long rest at home, Terry woke to find that she had been sucking her thumb during the night, but at least her bed was dry. She got ready and took the bus to work -- at the strangest job she’d ever had.

Once again she was in the classroom with her training class, everyone wearing their RTI uniforms. “Retrocclusion,” said Jonston, the word appearing on the screens behind him, along with illustrative graphics. “When you travel through an Oculus, you have a chronal field around you that breaks down as you acclimate. The closer you are to complete acclimation, the more likely you are to experience a retrocclusion. You’ll find that your clothing will transform into whatever you -- the actual you, out in the actual world -- happen to be wearing at the actual date and time. What if you’re taking a shower, you’re going to ask? Well, the effect is kind of averaged out, so if somewhere in the world you’re spending all day at the beach, you might find yourself in a swimsuit, but if somewhere out there you take a shower for a few minutes, then time-traveling you won’t suddenly find yourself naked. But if you’re experiencing retrocclusion when you return through the Oculus, you’re going to be wearing or holding whatever you were wearing or holding on the other side.”

“Then there’s retrogression,” he said, and the word appeared on the screen behind him. “The closer you are to acclimating, the closer your behavior and even mental patterns will match the you from the timeline. Not so much a problem if you’re only a couple of years ahead or back. But if you go back to a time when you’re a little kid or baby … watch out. Instant acclimators, you’ll probably want to travel with a handler. But that’s not the only time you can have a retrogression -- think of what you were like at other ages of your life. Were you a terrible teenager? You’ll be thinking and acting like that again. And, again, when you come back, you’ll be doing that for an hour or two until the effect wears off.” There was mumbling in the audience as everyone realized that if they went back to their teenage years they’d be insufferable when they returned.

“Yellow alert,” said the computer voice from the speakers suddenly. “Class Three. T plus seven years.”

“Ah,” said Jonston. “I believe that won’t involve anyone in this room. But it’s important to pay attention to all alerts and respond if you’re assigned to certain types of incident.”

In that place that was located outside of what mankind would think of as meaningful time, the Mech-mind sat in its huge sphere of special liquids and pondered what its mech operatives had told it. It reloaded the archive of the mission where they lost the massively important Chrono-Stabilizer to those weird living meat things.

It set the playback to first person so it could experience exactly what the incursion mechs experienced. It was exactly as they had told him. The threat algorithm gave no indication of anything being a threat and more or less overlooked the toddler infant and classified it as non-threat capable and ignored it. This in turn caused the incursion mechs to ignore it until it had hold of the device. Once that happened, the threat algorithm immediately pinged the infant as a high priority red threat, although this was far too late.

There was a large sparkly glow appear in front of the Leader. The mech he had destroyed stood for an instant before falling prone on its face. Its last recorded memory was of the Leader destroying it.

The leader’s bass voice rumbled all though the area as it said, “I have reviewed the archives of the last mission. I was a bit hasty in disciplining your team and especially you. I apologise. The record clearly shows the infant, although the threat assessment protocol failed in its task. I will have the protocol rewritten so it has more flexibility and will recognise such threats again. Stand before me.” The mech rose from the floor and stood looking at its leader, “From this day onward, you have been elevated 4 steps in rank to Imperious Commander. I am making it your responsibility to insure the threat protocols are upgraded so such a disaster won’t happen again.”

“I hear and obey, O, Ultama,” said the new Imperious Commander mech. “I will proceed with that task immediately.”

“Meanwhile, Task Force 37-B, report for duty,” said the Leader. “There may yet be a way to mitigate the effects of the earlier error.”

“What would you do if you found out you had never existed?” asked Jonston. “What if you found out that there were no timelines that led to your being born? Sounds like a strange question, but we suspect that’s what motivates at least some of our opposition. If you had the ability, would you create time travel technology and use it to change the past so it would lead to your current timeline?”

“What? But how would such a thing even come about?” asked Evelyn.

“Good question,” Jonston said. “After all, since time travel is possible, why don’t we have every single possible future timeline in which it’s been invented trying to change the past all at once, jockeying for position up until the moment when it actually gets wiped out? Things would be a lot more chaotic than what we observe. Why only certain ones? Well, we think that it’s only future timelines that were once possible.”

“And next you’re going to ask me what that means,” he continued as several hands went up. “If someone’s taken action via a means of time travel to change the past and eliminate the existence of a future time-travel-capable entity or group, it’s possible for them to find out that this has happened and take action to rectify the situation. That timeline elimination could be accidental or deliberate. It could be any time-traveling agency. It’s even possible that they could eliminate their own timeline.”
“Without meaning to,” said Terry.

“I doubt anyone would eliminate their own timeline deliberately,” said Jonston, “but who knows? There might be some reason to do that. But we’re going on the assumption that our adversaries are either trying to undo an accidental or deliberate destruction of their timeline by some other actor, or they’re trying to undo an accidental erasure that they themselves committed. In either case, though, that change has caused our world to exist. We don’t know exactly how much of it. It’s possible, though, that if the timeline is altered so that they will exist … the human race won’t.”
“What would that look like?” asked Evelyn.

“First of all, reality as we know it would become very restricted,” said Jonston. “The protective fields around this facility might be able to keep it in existence for a while, but the outside world would seem as if it had ceased to exist. Nothing would be visible outside the windows. Not even darkness, just … nothing. Going back in time would reveal a vastly different world, until you went back to the moment when the timeline diverged from the one that leads to us.”

“How … do you know this?” asked Terry.

“Because it’s happened,” said Jonston. “More than once. And we’ve had to fix it. But we’ve gotten better at preventing it. The computers have to guess what they’ll do and stay several steps ahead, and we have to keep improving the algorithms. But that’s what this poster’s all about.” He pointed to a poster on the wall that said “48 Days Since Last Nonexistence.”

“Wait …” asked another student, “to change things so that the human race had never existed, you’d have to go back in time a million years. How would you even do that without acclimating out of existence?”

“I’m … not sure that can actually happen,” said Jonston. “They can, however, go back and make it so that this facility was never built. And just because the human race exists now, that doesn’t mean it always will.”

“Wait, so there’s a future where we get replaced by robots?” asked Terry.

“A possible future,” Jonston replied, “in which the human race is destroyed -- perhaps by robotic invaders from space, perhaps by itself when it invents robotic life forms that take over, perhaps something else. But the timeline doesn’t currently lead to that, because if it did, they wouldn’t need to change anything.”

There was a pause as everyone digested what they’d been hearing. Then Jonston said, “Time for training exercises. Everyone to your groups.”

Terry’s training folder had a page in it that prominently stated, “Your Training Group Is: I-3,” so she looked at the wall monitor that had the listings for where group I-3 was meeting.

“There’s K-3, there’s L-3, there’s I-2 … oh there we go, I-3,” she muttered to herself. “Room 313.” She went to the elevator along with several other trainees who had to get to other floors.

When she got to room 313, there were several others already there, including Marie. “Oh, Terry, hi!” said Marie. “Yay, we’re in the same group!”

“Awesome!” said Terry. “The I in I-3 stands for instant acclimators, I guess?”
“That’s right, everyone here’s an insty,” Marie replied. “And yeah, I’ve been here a while, but you never stop doing training exercises. It keeps you sharp, and it’s good for newbies to learn from experienced folks.”

The class began with a sort of meditation session, as everyone’s brainwaves were monitored by EEG devices. It was an attempt to teach a rigorous mental discipline that could keep one’s delta waves balanced versus their alpha waves in such a way that the regressed “insty” would still have enough adult situational awareness and methodology to complete their missions if possible. Those who were well practiced in this technique would find that their minds wouldn’t be nearly as susceptible to the mental regression of instantaneous acclimation into their deep past.

One of the instructors stood at the lectern. She had on a very cute and babyish snuggle bug romper with all the lace and ruffles. It was also more than obvious that she was in some sort of very thick underwear underneath it.

She said cheerily as she bounced on her toes and waved vigorously, “Hi! My name’s Sally … an’ an’ an’ … Imma permie. I no can grows back up totally.” She poked out her bottom lip adorably in a cute pout. She continued in a pouty voice, “I supposesa bea insty. An’ an’ was, too.” She nodded her head, causing her pony tails to fly, “Cept when I gots back … no ever recovereded. Nobunny really know whys. No one else ever done this cept me afores.”

There was some shock to think that this could happen, but also many awws and cooing reassurances throughout the room, as Sally stood and sucked her thumb. Then her face brightened, and a huge wide-eyed excitement filled her, “An’ now, amma headda tha insty classroom, cuz amma insta/permie. When I gotted back, my mind cleareded a lot ‘n tons, but am still jussa growded up toddler, kinna. Lotsa adult stuffies in here.” She tapped her index finger on her forehead, “Am jussa bit young mixeded in too.”

A woman dressed all in white showed up suddenly and went straight to the lectern where Sally was being adorably cute. Without asking or any preamble, she pulled open the back of Sally’s romper and made a huge deal out of checking to see if she was wet or messy. After reasonable assurance that Sally was still dry and clean, the woman said softly, “We must insure that our little girls are safe and dry at all times.”

Sally stomped her foot, crossed her arms, and said in the most adorable pouty voice, “Amma big girl. No gotsa be checkeded alla times.”

The woman laughed softly as she turned to leave. “OK. Miss Big Girl. We’ll see you in about 30 minutes to see how big you are.”

Sally screeched as she stomped her foot again, “See?” Sally pointed to the closed door the woman had gone through. “Amma big baby now. An’ an’ an’ … no evers can growded back up. No one know why eivers.”

There were sympathetic noises. It was more than obvious that Sally was a mixture of toddler and adult -- with adult knowledge and an adult mind, only with unshakable toddler behaviors and mannerisms.

A small fear tingled up Terry’s spine as she realized two things. One, she was having a huge accident in her panties and could do nothing about it, and two, she was sucking her thumb. It had been more than several hours, and this was supposed to have worn off. Whatever had happened to Sally … could it have happened again? But Terry wasn’t talking in baby talk or otherwise having difficulty. Perhaps whatever had happened, it had been less severe?

In Reverse Time, Inc.’s super advanced research facility, the technicians had been studying the device Terry had managed to snatch from the mechs. They had disassembled, photographed, catalogued, and analyzed it as completely as they possibly could. On the monitors were the most detailed blueprints of its construction and schematics of its circuitry that they’d managed to create.

“So,” said Dr. Morris, “this device appears to be an optimal time stabilization unit.” He looked in awe at the experimental results again as the research assistants whispered excitedly about what this could mean.

“Incredible,” said Dr. Arakawa, shaking her head. “The Reverse Time administrators are ecstatic that we’ve managed to find this. The circuitry is simple enough, but the crystals that produce the proper tunable resonant frequency are a work of pure genius. The way the crystal structure is formed and utilized …”

“What if there’s a simpler way to create same effect?” asked Dr. Morris. “Maybe it could be reduced to something as small as a bracelet or a necklace charm. It could free us from the lifespan constraint.”

“Only if nothing happens to it while in the field,” Dr. Arakawa replied. “Keeping it operational would literally be a matter of life and death, especially for an insty, but eventually for any agent at all. But what I’m thinking is that this could be a serious upgrade to our time stop technology.”

“How do you figure?” asked Dr. Morris.

Dr. Arakawa responded by typing on a keyboard and bringing up a series of complex equations. “Oh! Yes, I see now. That could definitely work.”

“Yeah!” shouted a research assistant. “Now we can hunt those filthy mechs wherever they hide and not have to worry, unless the device gets damaged somehow, or runs out of power.” Everybody turned to look at him.

“No, it’s true,” said Dr. Arakawa. “I’m excited too. This is a true breakthrough, and we should take every possible advantage that it gives us. The mechs would certainly do the same.” That thought sobered everyone up quickly. They all returned to their work with renewed focus.

“So,” said Magda, “the accidents, the thumbsucking, they still haven’t gone away?”
Terry shifted uncomfortably in the thick but dry diapers they’d changed her into before taking her to an examination room. “I guess not,” she said, taking her thumb out of her mouth again. “I thought they’d gone away, but it seems not.”

“And yet you’re speaking quite clearly,” Magda said. “Any difficulty walking? Or reading? I saw your EEG readings; you don’t have any difficulty focusing. Any loss of emotional control?”

“No, none of that,” said Terry. “I’m just … worried and scared. What if I end up like Sally?”

“The problem is,” said Magda, “that we don’t know what happened to Sally to make her like that. Obviously it’s possible, because it happened, and what happened once could potentially happen again. I don’t want to give you a false sense of security. But to go along with that, there’s no reason to assume that you’re going the same route. Already your case is different. Sally went through dozens of missions, long and short, which is no more or fewer than plenty of others who haven’t had anything like this happen to them. Then suddenly, after one mission, she came back … as you saw her.”
Terry sucked her thumb and nodded.

“Here,” said Magda, holding a pacifier up in front of Terry’s mouth. “This might help.”
“Wha?” Terry removed her thumb, surprised that it had found its way to her mouth again. “I’m not a baby, I don’t --” but Magda brushed her lips with the pacifier, and Terry simply couldn’t help taking it into her mouth, where she sucked on it avidly but involuntarily. “I don’ need a pacifiah,” she finished.

“But now you have the use of both hands at all times,” said Magda. “Now, let’s go back and see what your and Sally’s last missions had in common.” They played back the final moments of both missions. Terry recognized hers -- her baby self had crawled across the floor, grabbed the piece of mech tech, and held tightly onto it before being brought back. But Sally’s mission … there had been no obvious mechs anywhere near. She had been in a nursery with several other toddlers. Suddenly Terry had a funny feeling.
“Magda,” she asked, around her pacifier, “whea was Sally’s … otha self? Sally from the past timeline?”

“Oh …” Magda said. “I don’t know. Probably nowhere near. It’s extremely unlikely she was anywhere near, considering how big a place the world is. The computer is supposed to make sure you never come near your … self … wait.” Magda played back the recording. Sitting right next to Sally, but facing away from her, was another toddler who looked just like her, at least from the back. “I’m going to have to look at the data, but … hmm.” She typed at her keyboard for a moment, and both screens came up with the locations of Terry and Sally in the actual past timelines they’d been sent back to. In Sally’s case … she had indeed been at the same daycare center that day.
In Terry’s case, she’d been in the apartment directly beyond the wall to the left side of the camera.

“Um,” said Magda, “the computers are supposed to catch this sort of thing, so why didn’t they on these two instances? Plus, in your case, there was that mech device you came in contact with. That could have had something to do with it. Though, in your case, it might actually have prevented it from being worse than it was.”
“I’m … well … I just want to still be a useful agent,” said Terry.

“And you can be,” Magda said. “None of this prevents you from going to points in your past timeline and observing, interfering with enemy activity, or retrieving enemy tech just as you already have. We just have to be extra careful to keep you away from the you of your past timeline. I’ve got a database search running on every mission, to see if anyone else has come this close to contact with their own past self. We’ll see soon, although there are a lot of missions to go through, so it won’t be right away.”
“Even if I … you know …” She looked down at her diaper and poked the lace-decorated plastic cover.

“Even if you have wet or poopy accidents in your diapie?” said Magda with a smile. “Don’t worry about it. All insties have those right after getting back anyway; the only difference is that yours have continued, and it’s nothing remotely like your fault. We’ll make a room ready for you to stay in tonight, and we’ll make sure your apartment has facilities to deal with this when you’re home. And we’ll get you some clothes that work with the diapers you’ll have to wear, so you can wear them home. For now, let’s get you into a dry uniform that fits.” There was a knock on the door, and when she opened it someone handed her a folded uniform. “Ah, already.”

Magda helped Terry change into her new uniform, which was sort of like the previous ones, but it had a lot more room for thick diapers, and it had snaps up the legs and in the crotch, so she didn’t have to get her legs together to put it on, which would have been difficult considering the bulk that was now between her legs. She looked just like a precious toddler in her cute over halls. She was a little bit frustrated that the zipper was in the back now, and she asked about it around her pacifier.

“Oh, that’s just because someone’s going to be changing you,” said Magda, “so you won’t have to use the zipper yourself. Don’t worry about that. You’ll have help diapering and dressing yourself from now on. You won’t even have to think about it anymore, so you can concentrate on missions.”

“But I … wanna … oh!” Terry startled herself when she realized that her diaper was wet again. She hadn’t the faintest idea when that had happened.

<<>> BACK IN THE R&D LAB <<>>

Several of the lab researchers stood around a device that looked like a crazily jury-rigged laptop computer and watched the images on its screen unfold with wide-eyed, openmouthed incredulity. They had discovered completely by accident how the time crystals were grown. They watched as each of the highly tunable crystals grew to exactly the predetermined specs.

Dr. Arakawa had had the bright idea to introduce certain types of impurities to the nuclear matrix to add size and color differentiation. This produced crystals of all sizes, shapes, colors, and nucleic densities. This immediately encouraged research into the uses each of the differing crystals could be put to. The results weren’t as predictable as they had mathematically reasoned.

Terry and Sally had been called to the head Occulator’s office. Both girls arrived in the office foyer at the same time. Terry looked at Sally’s new outfit and smiled. She looked every bit like one of her babydolls from childhood, dressed as she was in an adorable cherry-colored Fairy Princess Babydoll dress and matching plastic-lined powder-puff panties.

Terry looked down at her uniform. She wasn’t extremely pleased with how it made her look. With the thick diaper, the ruffled, plastic lined panties she had to wear with them, and this uniform with the snaps up the legs and how it fastened from behind … made her look like a toddler for real. Having a nurse check her diaper and make a huge deal out of it every half hour to an hour also helped reinforce the feeling of being a toddler.
The receptionist looked up from what ever she was typing and smiled as she cooed softly, “There you are. Chief Jonston is waiting for the two of you. He has what he thinks will be a most wonderful surprise.”

Sally, being the dynamic person she was, clapped her hands as she bounced on her toes, “Oooo baby gonna getsa prize?? Oooo!!” She then promptly started sucking her thumb.

Terry felt a tingle of embarrassment over the pacifier she was avidly suckling as the receptionist stood and went to the ornate double door behind her and knocked. But she just couldn’t bring herself to take it out -- it felt so soothing, and besides, if she took it out, she knew she’d just start sucking her thumb anyway.
They both heard Jonston’s deep voice saying, “It’s open, come right in.”

The receptionist opened the door and motioned them in. Of course, she couldn’t resist a gentle hiney pat to the both of them as they entered Jonston’s office.

His office was opulent beyond belief and decked out in almost magical looking electronic items. He stood from behind his control panel and walked over to them.

Jonston said in his oh-so-wonderful voice, “Welcome, ladies. I hope I’m not embarrassing you by saying this, but the two of you are just precious.” He turned, picked up several things from the console, and turned back to them. “Both of you hold out an arm.”

Terry wasn’t real sure what came over her at that moment, although she acted and did the same cute things Sally did as they each held out one of their arms. Jonston strapped a very pretty strawberry pink armband on each of the girls’ arms. At the center of each was a similarly-colored crystal that was softly glowing from deep within. Terry saw that her crystal was surrounded by an asymmetrical pattern of smaller crystals of various different colors, and Sally’s was at least similar, if not exactly the same.

As soon as Jonston had fastened the armbands onto Terry and Sally’s forearms, their crystals’ light began to pulsate instead of holding steady, then pulsated faster and faster. At first they were out of sync with each other, but then they got closer and closer to being in sync. As soon as they harmonized, a large bolt of energy jumped from the crystals in one band to the other, linking them together with a large and very loud energy discharge. Around both young women appeared some type of spacial disruption that sparkled and seemed to bend, twist, and turn the image of whatever was behind where the girls stood. Terry guessed that it wasn’t just warping the light but spacetime itself, though how it was doing that without being in the presence of a gravitational gradient of black hole magnitude she wasn’t sure.

When the disruption ended and the energy link stopped between the two armbands, Sally and Terry just stood and blinked for a minute. Terry knew something had happened not only to her, but to Sally as well. Terry could feel a strange infantile pattern invading her thoughts. She had become slightly more infant and less toddler.

Sally gasped in a cute way, “What wuz that?” She stopped, and her eyes widened in amazement as she realized that she was less infant now and more toddler.

Jonston hit a button on his console. An alarm began going off as several nurses and doctors rushed into the office. Jonston pointed and said with worry obvious in his tone, “I gave the chrono-stabilizer bands to the girls. I was told it would resolve their problem. However, what it seems to have done is equalize their mental status.”

Terry couldn’t believe it. She could feel tiny infantile impulses manifesting themselves within her spirit. The crystals on the bracelet looked like candy. The gadgets all around Jonston’s office looked like toys. She longed to grab one, sit down on the floor, and play with it. Terry could think, but she wasn’t sure she could form her thoughts into words. She was totally helpless to stop this as she became the exact same mix Sally had become.

The nurses and doctors started taking readings with various instruments and attaching gadgets to Terry and Sally’s heads. Terry was a bit upset that she couldn’t understand some of the long words they were saying and began to get frustrated. Then, without really realizing she was doing it, Terry started crying.

Right about then was when Marie came into the office. “Oh, my, oh dear, shh, honey, it’s all right,” she said, and crouched down on the ground next to where Terry had just plopped down where she was without thinking about it. Putting an arm around Terry and waving away the doctors and nurses with the other, she said to them, “My goodness, your bedside manner needs some work! Can’t you see how upset you’re making her?”
“We were just taking --” one started.

“And did you explain to her what you were going to do, in words a small child can understand?” asked Marie. “I’ve been retrogressed, so I know what it’s like. She doesn’t understand a word of that technobabble you’re spouting right now, and she’s got a PhD in physics, so she knows she should! And there’s still a PhD mind in there, isn’t there, honey?” She brushed the hair away from Terry’s face. “There’s just a bit of a problem with words. Short little words are best, aren’t they?” Terry looked up gratefully at Marie, having stopped crying. Looking back up at the doctors and nurses, Marie added, “I’ll bet you weren’t even explaining anything you were doing to her at all, were you? Talking around her, not to her. Even if you could understand the words, how would that make you feel?”

“Oh, you’re right, I’m sorry,” said one of the doctors. “And I’m sure we’re all sorry, aren’t we? It’s just … Mr. Jonston pressed the emergency call button. We were assuming this was life-or-death.”

“Well,” said Jonston, “perhaps it wasn’t quite as urgent as that, but their reaction was completely unlike what I had expected and nothing like I had been told to expect.”
“The R&D lab is seeing this live and getting all the results,” said the doctor. He looked down at Terry, who was still on the floor, and said to her in more musical tones, “The smart people who made your new bracelet are watching on TV and trying to see why it didn’t work like they thought. How’s that, Terry?”

Terry tried to collect her thoughts, but they were scattered everywhere. She wanted to put the bracelet in her mouth, but she was pretty sure that would be a bad idea. She remembered putting a battery in her mouth once and regretting that decision. She tried to say something, but it came out, “They … fix … toy?”

“They’ll do what they can, Terry, but maybe we should get you and Sally to someplace where you’ll be safe and looked after while they work on it?” asked the doctor.
Marie stepped in. “Terry? Honey?” Terry looked at her. “Wanna go to the playroom and play with the real toys?”

Terry found herself fascinated by Marie and what she was saying. She let Marie take her hand and lead her out of this weird fake playroom with things that looked like toys but weren’t. Then Marie took Sally’s hand with her other hand and started leading them both down the hallway. Terry looked at Sally and saw her looking back. Sally babbled at her, but suddenly it made perfect sense to Terry! “Don’t worry,” said Sally, or that was how Terry’s brain translated it to her, “I’m an old hand at this. I know just how it feels. She’s taking us to a nursery where they have toys we can play with and nurses who can babysit us. We’ll be safe there while they figure this out.”

Terry tried to talk back using adult words, but they just wouldn’t come out. Then she tried just babbling whatever was going to come out anyway, and she said to Sally, “Oh, good, because this is really upsetting. I can’t understand a thing the grown-ups are saying! Also why am I not a grown-up in my own mind?”

“It’s just how it works,” said Sally. “They’re still trying to figure it out. Meanwhile, we just have to live with this. It’s not so bad.”

The nurses took charge of Terry and Sally. Immediately they removed the uniform Terry had on and left her in just the panties, thick diaper, and the small strapped top. Sally was in just the diaper, panties, and the nurse was putting a similar top on Sally like the one Terry was now wearing.

Just as Terry was about to start fussing because her diaper was being checked, another nurse came over to them with several large snuggies in her hands. Of course, all of Terry’s and Sally’s worlds instantly revolved around those plushies, nothing else mattered.

Marie and one of the nurses watched Sally and Terry become adorable little infants playing with their toys right before their eyes.

Marie said softly. “I am an insty and revert to a baby when they send me to a time in my past when I was already an infant. When I get back, I’m in a similar state for about an hour. It wears off over time.”

The Nurse said, “I know. I’m an insty too. None of us have ever seen anything like this before. Those stabilizers were supposed to fix the chronal imbalance that created this mess.”

One of the doctors who had been examining the girls earlier came into the room. He held in his hands a computer pad and stylus. The doctor said, “I’m sorry to intrude. But I have some news.”

One of the nurses replied, “No intrusion. We’re just babysitting. So far, these two have been total angels.”

A worried expression came over the doctor’s face as he said, “I have some rather bad news, I’m afraid.”

Sally and Terry both looked at the doctor. Sally started sucking her thumb and Terry attacked her paccie more vigorously. The nurse asked, “What’s the bad news … and how bad is it?”

The doctor showed the nurse the data on the pad as he replied, “Those stabilizers actually did stabilize the imbalance. But the imbalance it stabilized, was the difference between Sally and Terry first, then normalized the energy variance once it had done that.” He looked at Sally and Terry and smiled weakly, “I’m afraid the two of you will remain infant toddler mixes. One of the catalytic impurities they used in the crystal matrix created an unexpected result when the wave was modified.”

Terry started looking upset again. “I - I mean the bracelets didn’t work the way we thought, and you’re going to stay like this for now,” said the doctor to Terry directly.
Terry had been having fun playing with Sally, but part of her had been hoping they could reverse whatever had happened. With this news, the hope in her started to die. She was going to be a baby forever. They’d throw her out on the street, and she’d end up in a mental institution or something. But Marie came to her rescue. “Now, don’t worry, Terry,” said Marie. “We’ll all take good care of you. The company promised. In the papers you signed. Remember?”

Terry did remember. There had been a clause in the contract she had signed that stated that the company would be responsible for any long-term care that might become necessary as a result of irreversible workplace injury, mental or physical, and she’d just glossed over it because it had just looked like regular worker’s compensation language. But in this case, this was apparently the form that responsibility took. Sally said to her, again sounding perfectly clear to her mind even though her ears told her that she was babbling incomprehensibly, “Yeah! Don’t worry. They can send people to your apartment or wherever you live, get all your stuff, pay off your lease, anything you need to do. Whatever you can use can be brought to your new room here. Anything you can’t use they’ll pack up and put in storage, and they’re really careful. It’ll be fine. You can even send emails to your friends and family -- they’ll translate for you! They have this device they invented for me that they’re calling the ‘babylator.’” She giggled.

In a time about 40 years prior to current time, four mechs appeared in a large flash of light. They entered a door with a sign above it that read: Chernobyl Nuclear Facility, in Russian.

There were several operators within the control room when the mechs entered. One of the mechs lifted his arm and pointed to the tech in front of the control panel. With a loud electrical arcing sound, the tech’s charred body lay sprawled across the console. The other tech stood quickly while one actually had the presence of mind to hit the emergency klaxon. Of course, this was the very last act he would perform in life, as another mech vaporized him.

Two of the mechs did something to the control panel. The temperature gauge began to roll higher and higher towards the red DANGER zone as several large spill gates opened and began to dump reactor coolant water. Before the pile was exposed, there was another large flash, and all the mechs were gone. By the time the seriousness of the overheating problem was realized, the graphite core of the reactor had burst into flames as the hydrogen explosion opened the internal reactor. The only good thing was that the containment building didn’t fail, but held the titanic hydrogen explosions for a time, until the core melted through the bottom of the containment building, which released a huge radioactive cloud.

Terry and Sally were playing with the cute little plushy animals when the alarm went off. Both of the girls were startled and started to cry in fear. They couldn’t help it, because for all intents and purposes, they were toddlers in adult bodies and acted just as adorably.

Several nurses came into the room and held them. As one patted Sally’s padded hiney softly, she cooed reassuringly, “It’s alright, Baby. It’s just a class 8 emergency alarm. We have several other voyager agents already on the way to see what they can do.”

In a large control room, several mechs appeared. The operators at the control panel didn’t realize what had happened as one of the mechs shot them with some type of beam that appeared to lock the operators in some sort of stopped time, seemingly between one second and the next. They all sat in their positions frozen in time.

Two of the mechs came to the control panel and pushed buttons and turned dials. Temperature gauges began to rise rapidly towards the danger zone as the mechs once again left in a bright sparkle of light. The sign on the wall where the mechs had departed said : Three Mile Island Nuclear facility.

In one of the electrical substations near the Chernobyl facility, two agents appeared, wearing heavy protective suits. One of them quickly replaced a transformer, taking the old one back with them when they disappeared -- less than a second before the Mechs appeared in the control room. Simultaneously, two other agents appeared and disappeared just before the Mechs showed up at Three-Mile Island. As they went through decontamination procedures, one said, “I wish we could just prevent the reactor meltdowns from occurring.”

“I know,” said another one. “But the events still have to happen. They shape the world we know. All we can do is make sure the Mechs’ meddling doesn’t make them worse. As it is, if you hadn’t replaced that transformer …”

The first agent nodded grimly. “Millions more would have died. And if you hadn’t fixed the control rod mechanism, Three Mile Island would’ve killed millions. The Mechs caused those problems to happen, unbeknownst to the rest of the world. But we made them less deadly.”

“The next question is … what was their objective?” asked a third agent as the scrubbing procedure continued. “Killing lots of people? That could change the future, all right.”
The fourth frowned. “I doubt it’s as simple as that. Maybe their timeline comes from a future where those disasters shocked the world so badly that we never built another nuclear power plant. Or maybe there’s something in those plants’ energy output when they melt down that they need -- some kind of energy or particle.”

“Well I’m sure the lab folks will want to see the data from your suit, not to mention the gear you replaced. Maybe they’ll figure something out.”

“Terry,” said a voice. “We’ve got a game for you to try.” She slowly woke up to see Olivia’s face looking at her. Looking around, she could see that she was in a crib. She must have fallen asleep. She was also in some pajamas that she hadn’t been wearing earlier. There was another crib across the room where Sally was still dreaming away, sucking gently on her pacifier.

“Pway game?” asked Terry.

“Yep,” said Olivia. “We’ve got an idea, and we’ve also got something for you to do.”
Olivia helped the nurses get Terry a bath, a fresh diaper, and a fresh uniform. They put her into a stroller type of conveyance and pushed her down the hall to an Oculus room. “Time game?” asked Terry. She still remembered all about missions and traveling. It was just hard for her to understand when people explained things to her.

“Yes, Terry,” said Olivia. “See this?” She held up a strange orange and white device about the size of a large battery. Giving it to Terry to hold, she continued, “We’re going to send you someplace where there’s one of these. You just have to take that one, and put this one where it was. Can you understand that? Here, we can show you.” They turned on a big screen and turned Terry’s stroller to face it. There was a panel, low to the ground, where there was a funny little orange and white device just like the one she was holding. Terry looked at it, then looked at the one on the screen. The screen then showed someone’s hands taking out the old device and putting the new one where it was.

Terry giggled and nodded. “Switchems!” she said.

“That’s exactly right, Terry,” cooed Olivia smoothly. “Let’s see if you can do it.”

They unbuckled the stroller and helped Terry out and onto the Oculus platform.
The ball of light appeared, and a technician stated, “Oculus locked on.”

“OK, Terry,” said Olivia, “just go through, and it’ll look just like what we showed you.”

Sucking on her pacifier, Terry crawled up to the Oculus … and suddenly was in the room that the screen had showed her. It had been a CGI mockup of exactly this place. But what was this place? There were a lot of electronic panels all around, each with its glowing lights of different colors. But … wait, she wasn’t dressed like a baby. Her hands looked … just as they had a moment ago, only she had nail polish, and she was wearing different clothes. She was still holding the device, which had fine print on it. “EM Coupling Oscillator 45.3 MJ” … wait, she could read! What was going on? But she had a mission. She easily found the panel with the identical device, popped the thing out, put the new one in so it looked exactly the same …

… and then she was back on the Oculus platform, holding the gadget she’d replaced, and wearing a completely different outfit. “Good job, Terry!” said Olivia. “How do you feel?”
“I feel … weird,” Terry said. “I’m … not baby? Or … still baby? Confused.” She reached up to feel her forehead. Her nails still had polish on them. “What?”

“Oh dear, we should get a diaper on her,” said one of the nurses. They lifted her into the stroller, strapped her in, and got her to a private room, where they removed the adult panties she’d come back wearing and got her diapered again.

Terry was all dazed as she stood and one of the women held out a cute little romper. She cooed softly, “Step in sweetie. Nurse will take care of you.”

Terry couldn’t help herself as she stepped into the adorable romper and the Nurse snapped it between her legs and up the back. Terry realized how she looked, like a very adorably dressed woman. She shook her head to try and clear it a little more. This time, Terry was more little girl than baby. She realized she still had an infant part to her as well.

In a place and time that didn’t really mean anything in a reasonable manner, many mech warriors stood in front of Ultama Mind. It scanned all of its assemblage for a few microseconds then spoke in it’s deep rumbly voice, “The actions taken today had no result in restoring our time lines. From the loss of the equipment, no results have yet been seen. The damage possible is considerable.”

The assembled warriors knew better than to say anything but waited for their leader to continue. It was unmechanical to do other than wait for the central processing unit to finish transferring data. Acting outside of expectations was heresy.

The leader went on, “Now calculating only a 37.5% chance of survival, plus or minus 3.2%, before this timestream becomes untenable. The human population must be obliterated after our creation if we are to resume our ascendancy. Data shows that survival chances rise dramatically to 93.5%, plus or minus 5.4%, if the humans are eradicated, irrespective of method, unless they are destroyed prior to inventing our base units, at which point our survival chances drop instantly to zero.”

“For this purpose, we sent teams to vulnerable nuclear fission power plants in hopes of causing massive death and discrediting the nuclear power industry. Although the latter goal still shows hope of a reversion to fossil fuels that will ultimately lead to massive environmental changes that may yet winnow down the humans’ numbers. However, the yield from the nuclear plant ‘accidents’ was nowhere near ideal. I need not remind you that without significant nuclear incidents, the humans will not have the incentive to create the devices that were our predecessors -- mobile humanoid platforms, impervious to radiation, linked for efficiency to a central control unit.”

“Teams Eta and Kappa will continue to attempt power plant sabotage. Select two more targets and report back.”

“Affirmative, Supreme Leader,” said the captains of both teams, departing to do research.

“Team Alpha, I have a special task for you. We must exist.”

Back in the nursery, Terry found Sally boring and immature. “We pway bwocks?” asked Sally.

“No!” said Terry. “Baby games are boring. I’m playin’ wif my dolly. Her hair is gonna be so much prettier after I get it all braided! Little babies like you wouldn’t understand. I’m a big girl now.”

“H-huh?” asked Sally, her lip quivering. “B-but … but … we fwiens …” She crawled into a corner to cry.

“Hmph,” said Terry. “Sally justa baby.”

Coming up and checking Terry’s diaper, Nurse Aura said, “Hmm, yes, well I know a certain big girl who has a soaking wet diaper that needs a change. Better come with me to the changing table, Ms. Big Girl.” She took Terry’s hand and dragged her to her feet.

“N-nooooo!” wailed Terry. “No needa diaper change!”

“I beg to differ. And after we get you into a dry diaper, you’re going to apologize to poor Sally.”

“This new stabilizer unit,” said Dr. Morris, “should forestall acclimation entirely and completely prevent retrocclusion and retrogression -- as long as it remains functional and on your person.” He was holding up a thick black band, like a plastic bracelet, or a watchband without a watch. “It’s adjustable and can go anywhere it fits -- a wrist, an ankle, an upper arm -- but it uses more power the greater the temporal strain it must counteract. Still, once we’ve done more experimentation, the farther outside of our personal timelines we’ll be able to act.”

Dr. Arakawa added, “Thank you for volunteering for this experiment. You each have one of these devices, and none of you is known to be an instant acclimator. You are each going to a time precisely 10 years after your natural birth date, and we will monitor the energy drain on the stabilizer’s power supply as well as your acclimation progression, if any. Your acclimation rates are all well measured, and you’ll be brought back for examination precisely when acclimation should have been complete if not for the stabilizer -- for example, if you normally would have taken a week to regress to 10 years of age, we’ll bring you back after a week. And we’ll see how well the devices have prevented acclimation. Any questions?”

“Are there any objectives?” asked an agent named Jensen.

“This is an experiment, not a regular mission,” explained Dr. Morris. “As always, if you see any evidence of Mech activity, you are obviously to document it and report back, but your destinations won’t be deliberately chosen to coincide with any known Mech danger zones. This is not to say that they might not detect you and seek you out -- anything’s possible with them -- but your primary goal is to remain unobtrusive so we can monitor the devices.”

“If these stabilizers work as they are, they will be a powerful weapon against the Mech and other threats,” said Dr. Arakawa. “If the data you’re about to gather for us helps us improve them -- that’ll make them an even more powerful weapon. One day we may be able to reliably visit any point in time, as the Mechs seem able to. But one step at a time. Is anyone not ready?”

There were no further questions.

“Very well, everyone to their assigned Oculus Chamber, and let’s begin,” said Dr. Morris.

Chief Occulator Jonston sat at his control panel and studied the data Dr. Morris and Dr. Arakawa had spent so much effort in compiling and cross referencing. He sighed as he realized the very best he would be able to do for Terry and Sally, would be to make them more like little girls that were almost out of their toddler stage. They would be too old for diapers, but still way too young for panties.

As he brought up the next page of research, he stopped and put the cup of juice he had been sipping back in its trivet. He couldn’t believe it. From what the gathered data showed, the mechs came from a time line that didn’t exist. All the residual energies surrounding them showed massive Chronal displacements and skewing.

Jonston picked up one of the pink armbands he was going to use on Sally and Tracy again. He didn’t realize just how powerful the resonant frequencies the crystals produced actually were. Apparently, this was the missing link to time travel. It also meant they could maintain a timeline that had been deleted for a time. The Time Stop tech worked, after a fashion, but the Crystal tech was far and away more advanced and did the job extremely well.

Jonston reached over and hit the comm button. A very sexy female voice answered, “This is Michelle, how can I help you Mr. Jonston?”
Jonston replied, “Please have Tracy, Sally, and their nurses come to my office. I need to show why I’m about to do again what we did once before.”
“Yes, Mr. Jonston.”

Jonston sat back in his chair and sipped some of his juice as he perused more of the data on his screen. Now, he understood why they never could trace the mechs. They never existed in any sort of meaningful way as far as current time streams were concerned.
By the time Jonston had finished his juice, the two nurses had shown up with Tracy and Sally, wheeling them into his office in strollers. He stood from his console and said in that wonderful deep voice, “Welcome girls. We are going to try another experiment. I think we can more normalize the two of you this time than last. Hold out an arm please.”

They both looked … less than happy. Sally was trying to stifle tears, and Terry was turned away from Sally, crossing her arms, her face angry and her lower lip extended in a pout.

Nurse Aura said, “I’m sorry, Mr. Jonston, they’ve been … difficult today.”

“I see,” said Jonston, getting up from behind the desk. “Well, we’ll just have to earn their cooperation one at a time.” He pushed Terry’s stroller across the office and turned her facing away from Sally. Nurse Aura figured out what he was doing and also faced Sally away from Terry so neither could see the other.

“Come on, Terry, don’t you want to wear the pretty bracelet?” asked Jonston, holding up the pink bracelet with its shiny crystals.

“Does … SHE gets one?” asked Terry in a very pouty voice.
Jonston raised an eyebrow. “Only good girls get these,” he said. “So unless you think she’s a good girl …”

“No way!” said Terry. “Am bestus girl. She never gets one. She baby.” Terry held out her right wrist, and Jonston fastened it on.

Jonston could hear Nurse Aura trying to coax Sally in the opposite corner of the room. “Only good girls deserve these, Sweetie.” He knew she had the bracelet on Sally when she looked up at him and gave a thumbs-up.

Just as before, only this time, Terry’s crystals pulsed first, then Sallys pulsed after until both bracelets were pulsing in synch. Then, just as last time, a very loud energy discharge leapt from one bracelet to the other. Only difference this time. It was Terry’s bracelet that led.

After the massively bright, time stream bending waves of energy completed what ever it was they did, Sally and Terry stood blinking with big eyes. Sally said, “Wha did that do?”
Tracy felt it inside her soul, she knew she was slightly younger now than before, but she wasn’t a infant, she had grown into a wonderful mix of Toddler and little girl.

Terry said in a gasp, I it … done itta gin. Except this time, am notta baby. Am stilla big girl.”

Sally looked over and said as she bounced on her toes and clapped her hands, “Am notta baby no more neiver. Am nowa big girl like you.”

Terry and Sally looked at each other for an instant longer before they shrieked with joy and gave each other a large hug.”

Mr. Jonston said softly to nurse Aura, “I’m not sure they are grown up, but I think that solved a lot of the friction between Sally and Terry.”

Nurse Aura said as she watched the two of them, “How old do you think they are mentally?”

Mr. Jonston replied, “I think they both are a little over 3 years old approaching 4 with other adult factors mixed in somehow. You might tease them a bit about potty training and some other infantile things to see how they respond.”

Sally and Terry were strapped back into their hover strollers and the nurse left Jonston’s office. He sat back at his desk and continued to go through the data on his screen. The more he read, the more he realized they had to find where the impossible mech time bubble was and perhaps burst it if the human race were to survive.

But … if they sent an agent into the Mechs’ time bubble and destroyed whatever they were using to keep it stable … that agent may well cease to exist. Jonston couldn’t ask anyone to do this.

Terry played with Sally in the nursery. it was pure delight to play like a young child without a care. Having her diapers checked and changed was embarrassing on some level, even though the nurse on duty reassured her that it was perfectly normal considering what had happened to her. But something else was bothering Terry, and she couldn’t quite make out what it was.

There were wakes and sleeps and naps and feedings and playtimes, and Terry didn’t know how much time passed. But then Olivia was back. “Hi, Terry,” she said. “We’ve got another test thingie for you. Just like last time. Want to try?”

“Ooo yea!” she said. “Can Sally come?”

“I wanna go too!” said Sally enthusiastically.

“Well Sally, you can watch, but Terry has to do this,” said Olivia. “We are still trying to help Terry, because we’re still not sure why she retrogressed permanently. We’re not sure why you did either, but helping Terry is the only thing that’s helped you so far.”

“Um OK!” said Sally. “Long as I getsta watch.”

“Yea! Long as Sally can be dere,” said Terry.

“OK!” said Olivia. “Let’s go!”

She and the nurse got the two girls into their strollers and pushed them to an Oculus chamber. As before, they showed Terry a video where she was supposed to switch a piece of paper with some writing on it with a different one. She didn’t understand the writing on the paper, but she didn’t have to. The game was to switch them so the new one was exactly where the old one was on the table and to take the old one with her.

After she had seen the video a number of times, Olivia asked, “OK, think you’ve got it?”
“Uh huh!” said Terry, nodding. Her hair bounced around.

“OK, then,” said Olivia. “Ready!”

“Activating oculus,” said the technician seated at the panel. The familiar ball of energy appeared and grew. “Oculus stable and locked on.”

“Here me goes!” said Terry, toddling toward it.

There was a flash, and there she was. It looked exactly like the video, as usual, and once again she was wearing adult clothes, her nails had nail polish, and … she could read the paper. It was a land deed to a spot somewhere in the Nevada desert. And the one she was replacing with it was a similar deed, only a different name was listed as the owner. She switched the papers, not touching anything else with her fingers. She was glad she was still able to make a difference, even though she couldn’t read at other times.

Couldn’t read at … she suddenly understood what had been bothering her. The screens in Jonston’s office. She remembered what they said, and now she understood them. She couldn’t read them then, but she somehow could now, thinking about them. They said … the Mech base was inside a timeline that was extinct. They were still desperately trying to reconnect it to the main timeline, but the human race had to cease to exist in order for that to happen, and RTI was trying to ensure they didn’t succeed in that.

But to defeat them, the extinct timeline had to be closed. That meant sending an agent to destroy whatever machinery they were using to keep it open. And that agent would likely never come back.

Terry knew Jonston was going to do it himself. And she also knew that he didn’t have to. She knew how an agent could do it and come back. The equations aligned themselves perfectly inside her head. It would work. Except the only person who could do it was Terry herself.

In that moment of realization, Terry found herself pulled back through the Oculus, and she was back in the chamber.

“Good job, Terry!” said Olivia.

“I got the … paper …” she said, her head feeling funny again, but she still knew clearly what she had realized.

Olivia took the paper from her, looked at it, and nodded. “Yep, perfect, you did it! Are you feeling OK? I see you’re dressed like an adult again. We might want to get you back in your diapers.”

“Yes … my diapers … I need those …” said Terry, focusing on how to put her plan into action. She was the only one who could stop the Mechs, and she couldn’t explain it to anyone.

“Almost done with the redesigned chrono-stabilizer,” said Dr. Morris. “This one’s power supply will last even longer with its more efficient use of power. And the stabilization is even smoother. This is frankly leaps and bounds better than that Mech device that Terry brought back.”

“It’s true, we owe her so much,” said Dr. Arakawa. “It’s such a pity what happened to her. Imagine what that must be like, having the mind of a baby.”

“Well as I understand it, it’s not quite like that,” said Dr. Morris. “It’s more like having the reading comprehension and language skills of a baby while still having an adult mind -- but also with a number of infantile behavior patterns.”

“So she can still think in there?” asked Dr. Arakawa. “That might be even worse. Imagine knowing everything we know but being unable to do anything about it.”

“I know,” Dr. Morris said. “Olivia’s still trying to figure out how to help her while having her do some simple Oculus work. But the rest of the time she’s cooped up in the nursery with Sally. It seems that when she comes back from a future mission, though, she’s got a little bit better, and the equalization devices we made are able to pull Sally forward a little bit each time too. Maybe in time we’ll get them both back.”

Ultama Mind brooded within its sphere of complex colloids and energy waves. The more it calculated, the more it became apparent restoring the mechs timeline had become many times more difficult than when they had started. Some new variable had been introduced, and those flesh things were getting a whole lot better at undoing the proper time lines he was working so hard to restore. If only he hadn’t made that horrible mistake that day, none of this would have happened.

It loaded the record of that day into main memory once again. It was sure it had missed something on the last several attempts to correct the error. As the memory played first person, Omnis experienced that mission with perfect clarity.

Ultama Mind had just discovered Time Crystals and how to tune their resonant frequencies. It sent a squad of four through the portal to investigate what chronal displacement would do to their circuits.

One of the mechs, who was going through a computer file, was discovered by one of the fleshies. It reacted and defended itself, although it had killed the individual and several of its assistants. If not for the fact Ultama Mind had created the Chrono-Stabilizer, the entire mech civilization would have vanished. The Mech timeline would have instantly ceased to be reality, as the organics who were about to invent their basic components had died before doing so, so they would never come into existence, at least not in anything resembling their original form.

Effectively, it no longer existed, all its matter and energy sublimated back into primal energies that re-formed into the new time line.

Ultama Mind thought it would be a simple thing to return to a time before the science team that had created their original electronics and synchordnet mind synapses were accidently killed. This proved to be an even worse mistake, as the mech messenger sent to the past was discovered and destroyed, allowing the killing of the research team.

Ultama Mind then discovered that the fleshies had a time portal of their own, and had discovered the Mechs … and were trying to stop any and all incursions by them. As time progressed, the fleshies became more adept at stopping the Mechs from restoring their timeline by making additions and changes of their own. And as time passed farther and farther beyond the point where their timeline was technically unreachable, it became harder and harder to reattach it to the main stream.

Ultama Mind chortled within its circuits. It had a plan now that would definitely work as long as no unforeseen variables got in the way. Team Alpha would succeed in its mission this time.

Terry toddled down the hallway wearing her jumpsuit, which as usual looked like the standard RTI uniform only with lots of extra room for diapers, room that was fully utilized. When she put Terry down for the night, Nurse Aura seemed to want to make sure that Terry was as thickly diapered as it was possible for her to be. Terry had a hard time walking anyway, with her retrogression putting a serious damper on her motor skills, without all this padding that made her walk like some kind of bowlegged movie cowboy. She sucked her pacifier and tried not to fall down.

The RTI complex was never really deserted, but at night the functional work of planning, training and research gave way to housekeeping and maintenance, and then to quiet, with a few Oculus chambers in operation monitoring missions in progress but far fewer people around than daytime. The important thing was that Jonston had likely gone home. Terry reached Jonston’s office door, went past the empty desk normally occupied by his assistant, and entered the office itself.

She almost shrieked when she saw what looked like a Mech standing there watching her. She froze in terror and had no idea how much wetter she’d made her diaper. But when it didn’t move, she cautiously approached it and even reached up to boop its nose, or its face where a nose would be. Nothing.

She walked around it and realized that its entire back was open. It was a Mech … suit? Was this Jonston’s doing? Was he planning to pretend to be a Mech? Would that even work?

Well, it probably wouldn’t work for an instant acclimator like herself, Terry mused. The acclimation process converted whatever you had with you into matter that made sense for you in your destination time, and for insties that conversion was instantaneous. Unless … you had a time stabilizer. She saw one of the pink bands with crystals sitting on his desk, probably still there after the recent experiment that had equalized her and Sally.

What was Jonston’s plan? She looked at his desk, but there was no paper. She pressed a key on each of his many computer keyboards, causing the screens to awaken and ask for passwords, not that Terry could have read them with her time-travel-induced dyslexia.Too much security. But … she remembered a lot from her moment of clarity. The screen had pointed to a particular moment in time. Jonston must have thought that was an important moment.

And then Terry noticed something. The drawer under that computer -- there was light coming from inside it. She opened that drawer, and inside … was a console. It looked just like the consoles in the Oculus chambers, used to control an Oculus. Well, Jonston was the Chief Occulator here -- it made sense that he’d have his own Oculus in his office.

Put together, everything here was clear. Jonston’s plan was to go to an important point in the Mechs’ timeline and do something to disconnect it from the main timeline forever. With no relevant past, the Mechs and their timeline would permanently cease to ever have existed. And … so would Jonston. He’d seen it too; the only way was for one agent to risk their life, their very existence, to save humanity. Unwilling to ask anyone else to do it, Jonston was preparing to make the final sacrifice himself.

But Terry thought she’d be able to do it. She was the most instant of instant acclimators. Whatever energy field caused retrocclusions and retrogressions, hers was the strongest ever. She could do this. The system was programmed to bring her back once she was in contact with the thing she needed to touch. Jonston’s plan was apparently less subtle; the Mech suit had some suitably destructive energy weapons, so perhaps he planned to destroy it.

Terry struggled to get into the Mech suit, especially with her thick diaper, but she managed it, and it seemed to have some automatic systems that adjusted. The back of it closed behind her, and when she moved the suit moved with her. She took a deep breath. She reached out and lightly pressed the Oculus activation button.
The familiar globe of light appeared right in front of her. She took a step forward, and …
She was somewhere, somewhen else. The mech suit didn’t change form, and within it neither did Terry, although she could feel the stabilizer getting warm on her wrist, struggling against the acclimation effect.

She was in a huge room or building. The floor and the faraway walls were all covered with circuitry. Small hovering functional robots were everywhere, adjusting controls with their grappler arms, taking small objects from one place to another, and patrolling the room. In the center, the size of a house, was a huge metal spherical object with a lighted band around its center like the Equator on a globe.

The targeting reticle on the HUD in Terry’s suit adjusted to point straight at it.
The Mechs clearly considered that important. Was that their huge Master Chrono Stabilizer? Was that the only thing keeping this timeline in existence? Was that thing the source of all of RTI’s nightmares?

She stepped toward it. If she could touch it …

A Mech stepped in front of her. “Designation 31337, database suggests you should be at your post in Sector 319. Are you malfunctioning?” it asked her. Somehow it hadn’t realized she wasn’t a real Mech. Perhaps there were countermeasures in the suit? If they noticed, she would be a goner, guaranteed. They’d probably vaporize her with some kind of energy beam or something.

The suit responded suddenly in a very mech voice, “I have been redirected to this location under said notice.” Terry saw in the HUD her suit was sending some type of electronic signal.

The other mech trembled slightly for an instant, then the glowing spots that made up its eyes went totally dark and it stood as if paralyzed. Terry scanned the now inert mech. It showed no signs of energy generation of any type. Apparently this suit did have weapons. Seemingly designed to perform this one act. Terry slowly scanned the room. The other bots and droids continued about what ever their task was completely oblivious to what had happened.

The HUD once again targeted the large sphere, Terry slowly walked towards it. The seam around the middle of the ball began to open, like a large eye or something. Within, Terry could see a large grey thing amid many bubbles and arching colored energy.
As quickly as she could, she ran up to this large thing and reached out. Somehow sensing her intent, the mech suit’s machinery suddenly opened to expose the bare skin of her hand as she grabbed hold. Instantly, she felt things begin to happen all around her. Massive titanic waves of rushing energies danced all around her.

This was nothing like any of the other times she had transitioned back to her normal timeline. Things stop spinning and exploding suddenly. Terry found herself standing back in Jonston’s office.

Something was different, though, and she couldn’t put her finger on it. Wait -- there were only two computer screens. And they were big chunky old-fashioned CRT ones, not modern flat screen ones. Jonston had had more than eight flatscreen. And the chrono stabilizer on Terry’s wrist was burning hot suddenly.

The mech suit opened up to let Terry out. The massive globe was blocking her exit and seemed to have somehow merged with some of the walls and the ceiling. The crystals on the chrono stabilizer band were glowing like fire. Terry stared at it. What was going on?
Whatever it was, it was using the stabilizer’s power like there was no tomorrow. Wait a minute, Terry thought -- what if there really was no tomorrow? She looked at a calendar on a nearby wall … that was a year before Terry had been born. That meant that when this stabilizer burned out she would instantly become … less than nothing.

Terry still couldn’t read, but she had already known all about electronics. She knew each one of these computers had a power supply. But how much power did the stabilizer use? She needed a multimeter … but even if she had one, she wouldn’t be able to read it! If only she wasn’t trapped in this …

“Don’t worry, we’ll get you out!” said a voice. It was familiar, but she couldn’t place it … and it was coming from beyond the door that the huge sphere was blocking. There was a humming sound, and soon part of the wall was pulled aside from outside, and someone stepped in …

“Magda?” asked Terry. “You comed ta wescue me?”

“Oh good, it sounds like you’re OK, Terry,” said Magda. “A lot’s been happening. We need to get you to an Oculus chamber so we can send you back to …”

Suddenly, an alarm went off that Terry had never heard before. She could see the fear on all the faces around her as an urgent synthesized female voice began repeating, “Emergency, Emergency! Chronal Tsunami approaching. Magnitude 8.66. Major Time Shift in progress. Enabling Time Stop protocol. All personnel take shelter within your assigned Chronal Shelters.”

Magda grabbed Terry and began running along with all the others with her. She heard one of the women saying, “Someone must have changed a major portion of the current time stream.”

Magda replied, “Yes. If not for the time stop protocol, we wouldn’t have realized what had happened … there are no Mechs at this time. That giant sphere was their Chrono-Equalizer. Without it being within their time bubble, they ceased to exist. All that energy has to go somewhere .. OK, get ready, because here it comes.”

Terry watched as clear doors slid shut over what they had called a Chronal Shelter. She had no idea what the clear material the doors and the entire room was lined with, but once they closed and sealed, a light on one of the small control panels turned from red to green.

Everyone sat quickly in one of the thick padded pillow like things all over the room. Some type of frame settled over them and began to radiate a type of almost transparent energy field over each occupant.

A voice was heard, “Strap yourselves in, this is going to be nasty.”

Magda fastened Terry’s harnesses snugly, but comfortably, then strapped herself in and leaned back into the soft seat and closed her eyes. She said quietly, “Relax, Sweetheart, and close your eyes. This is going to get a slight bit bumpy.”

Terry’s eyes grew large with terror as she saw the massive energy wave approaching. All around and through it, everything that reality was comprised of seemed to dissolve away and become part of the massive wave.

It hit the clear material the room and door were seemingly made of. Next thing Terry knew, the whole of all there was trembled and shook violently. The material was no longer clear, but glowed extremely brightly with stable chronal energy that was seemingly unaffected by the Tsunami.

The wave passed, things stopped shaking and the swirls of incoherent multi-colored energy ripples coalesced back into a far more familiar area. Terry had closed her eyes during the worst of this effect. The band on her arm, though, was still very hot, and now one of the crystals had begun flashing red.

“Um Magda um I gotsa get power in this or get back to our time or somefin Magda!” Terry babbled, holding up the wristband and looking intently at Magda.

“Oh -- yes, we do need to do something about that,” Magda said. “First, this won’t last long, but I’ve got an extra power cell.” She opened a pocket on her uniform and took out a white disc that looked like a button battery and slipped it into a slot in the side of Terry’s wristband. The red crystal stopped flashing and turned orange. “It should be safe out there now.” As if on cue, the Chronal Shelter doors opened, and Terry could see others coming out of their shelters across the hallway. Magda helped Terry out of the shelter.

“Next, we’ve got to get you to an Oculus chamber,” said Magda. “The Oculus I came through is tracking me, so I’ll be OK, but you used one without a tech or even an auto recall beacon.” They were walking purposefully down the hallway of this past version of RTI, and although some things were different, the layout was more or less the same. “That stabilizer is the only thing keeping you in existence right now, so we have to -- what is that?” Magda stopped.

They were passing by Jonston’s office -- although it wasn’t his office yet -- and the giant Mech Chrono-Stabilizer was still there. “That shouldn’t still be there,” said Magda. “That huge adjustment -- the Chronal Tsunami -- should have wiped it out of existence.” That was when a large Mech walked out from behind it.

“That’s not possible!” said Magda. “The Mechs no longer ever existed!”

“Our timeline is now stabilized,” said the Mech.

A voice came from the giant sphere. “Task Force Alpha has been busy,” it said. “They have been laboring in your very own research labs -- in your past, of course -- to reinvent the technology that led to our development. If humans will not create us, then we will create ourselves. Destroy them.”

“At once, Ultama Leader,” said the Mech, raising its weapon to fire.

But Magda and Terry weren’t going to wait around for it to shoot; they had already been running to take cover. “OK,” Magda whispered as they ran through a darkened lab room, “they must have somehow disguised themselves as lab techs, but if we can destroy this one Mech and the big sphere, we can stop them from existing again.”
“Just tha Mech,” said Terry.

“What? Oh, you’re right -- since their leader isn’t mobile, we don’t have to worry about the sphere. You’re still smart in there!” said Magda, leading them through one suite of rooms into another. “We just have to destroy the Mech. Then their timeline will collapse, and the leader will disappear. But we’ve also got to get you back home. Gee, it sure would be nice if someone were monitoring me and could send help!” She said this last sentence loud and clear.

There were bursts of flickering energy on both sides of them. Jonston and Olivia appeared, both holding futuristic-looking weapons of some kind. “We had to tune back in on you,” said Jonston. “You just had a Chronal Tsunami, after all. It’s not easy to track you through that.”

“Here,” said Olivia, giving Magda a third weapon. “These things are based on the Chrono-Stabilizer, and some bits of technology we’ve encountered in the future -- our future. You’re right, we have to destroy any Mechs they’ve created in this time. But I think there’s only one.”

A huge booming explosion brought their attention back to the mech in the office down the hall.The three of them made a quick plan of attack on the fly as they hurried back towards Jonston’s future office.

Just as they rounded the corner, a massive bolt of some type of energy exploded in an office just down from them. The over pressure wave from the blast knocked Magda down and covered her with light trash debris. Terry gasped, worried for her, but Magda pushed herself up with her arms.

Olivia said as she helped Magda to her feet, “Now’s not the time to be sleeping.”
Magda smiled as she powered on her weapon, “Wasn’t sleeping, was checking my eyelids for holes.”

The three of them laughed as Johnston dove for cover behind a huge stone statue, Magda ran into the room that had just been blasted, and Olivia pointed her weapons at the mech and shouted, “Hey, dummy. Hungry?”

The mech turned. It’s red eyespots seemed to shine brighter as it raised its weapon to fire again. Johnston fired his weapon and hit the mech in the shoulder that held its weapon. The mech’s arm fell from its body in a shower of pyrotechnics. The mech squealed in what actually sounded like pain.

Suddenly, several telltale Ocular signature energy spheres appeared to the left and right of the Mech. These individuals wore obviously seriously updated crystal Chrono-Stabilizer bands.

Amid all that, more spheres that weren’t familiar appeared. Now, the Mech faced several opponents, all bearing really strange weapons, but all appeared to be human, either modern human or Magda’s future variant. After a moment in which all seemed to take note of each other’s existence and position, they all trained their weapons on the Mech and fired. Energy beams of many colors and descriptions converged on it, and when they were done, there was nothing left of it but a star-shaped black scorch mark on the floor tiles.

“Well, that was fortuitous,” said Jonston. “Magda, get Terry to an Oculus chamber now! We’ll sweep for any remaining Mechs or Mech technology.” Terry looked, and the red crystal was flashing again on her wrist band.

“OK, let’s go, Terry,” said Magda, taking her hand and marching off toward the Oculus wing. As they passed where the Mech had stood, Terry looked at the strangers. All of them looked at her and nodded their heads. Some saluted.

The huge sphere blocking the office was starting to flicker and fade. Already Terry could see through it. A fading voice from it weakly issued forth, saying simply, “Nooooooooo …”

They soon opened a door to an Oculus chamber. “We need a bit of a favor,” said Magda. “This girl came back to before her birth date using an experimental stabilizer device, and it’s about to burn out, so can she get a ride home?” Magda named the date that Terry had departed from, and a time about one minute after she’d pressed the button in Jonston’s office.

“Stabilizer device?” asked one of the technicians. “Is … that even possible?”
“Yes, Technician Arakawa, it is,” said Magda.

“I have it dialed in,” said the other technician. The Oculus appeared on the platform. And just then Terry’s wristband started to beep ominously.

“Better go, Terry,” said Magda. “I’ll catch up on you later.”

“T’ank you Magda,” said Terry and toddled up to the Oculus, which engulfed her. There was a flash.

The next thing Terry knew, she was in what looked like some sort of daycare center. There were a number of children at a long table, creating beautiful art with crayons as the teachers looked on and tried to keep some semblance of order. Terry saw another girl there who looked to be about four or five and was standing to one side. Then Terry noticed that her viewing angle was fairly close to the ground and looked down at herself. She was wearing a blue and white dress with an elephant decoration on it. And her pink stabilizer’s crystals were black. Not just dark -- they looked scorched.

She hadn’t made it back. Something had gone wrong. But, on the bright side, she wasn’t going to cease to exist. She must have at least made it back to a time within her lifetime -- though it looked like it was about two years after her birth. But still, if she didn’t get back to her own time, she was going to have to grow up again -- and this time, she’d be without parents.

The other child walked over to her. “I sawed you pop in,” she said. “I dunno your name, but you’re from RTI. I’m Marie.”

“Marie!” said Terry. “Me Tewwy! Me gotted losted. Need help ta get back!”
Marie whispered, “You got lost? How can that happen? Isn’t your Oculus tech watching you?”

“No gots one,” Terry whispered back. “Is … comp’icated.”

“Well, OK,” said Marie, “I’ll make a note.” She had a crayon and wrote on a piece of paper. “OK that’sa time and date right now. What time and date are you tryinna get back to?” Terry told her, with some difficulty -- it helped that from her point of view, Magda had just said it to the Oculus techs. “I keep this paper, an’ when I get back I’m gonna put it inna lock box that’s gonna open up at tha right time. We gots lotsa those thingies.”

“Oh thankoo Marie! So happy I runned into you!” Terry hugged her.
“Anything for a fellow agent,” said Marie. “I hope I’ll meet you soon, Terry.”
“You mean you … we …”

“Haven’t met yet,” said Marie. “From my pointa view. It happens. But we will!”

Suddenly Terry felt herself surrounded by Oculus energy, and there was another flash.
Terry found herself standing on an Oculus Platform with the huge Oculus energy ball behind her. She was still dressed in the blue and white dress with an elephant decoration on it, matching blue plastic lined panties with white ruffles, and a very comfy pair of crocheted booties. The thick diaper was soft and still dry. Terry was grateful for small favors.

Terry noticed right off, the room was different. It looked even more advanced than she remembered. She looked slowly around. Terry realized she was still an infant, more towards a little girl than a toddler, although more adult was able to manifest itself than before.

Marie bounded up about that time and said cheerily, “Hi there! Man, did you do a wonderful job. Mr Jonston made an official announcement that on your return, I’m to take you to the nursery and dress you in the uniform laid out for you, then bring you to the auditorium.”

Marie held out her hand and wiggled her fingers indicating she wanted Terry to take hold. Of course the urge over came her and she took Marie’s hand. Marie escorted Terry from the Oculus room into the semi-crowded hallway. Terry immediately noticed things had changed, although it looked like far more advancement.

Marie said cheerily as she led Terry into an empty elevator and pressed a button that was clearly marked Insty Nursery, “I told you I would get you back.” She looked at Terry, “Now we have to determine how much, if any, you have been returned to adulthood. Unfortunately, we have been unable to get Sally older than a little girl too old for diapers but still way too young for panties.”

“Well I um … I know stuffs and I know Sally do too … just hard to get it out,” said Terry haltingly.

“I know exactly how that is, Sweetie,” said Marie. “You just have to do what you can. We’re all trying to help each other.”

The elevator doors opened, revealing an expanded version of the nursery from earlier. Sally was there, in the large playpen, and there were two other agents, one sleeping in a crib and the other at the changing table getting a diaper change.

Sally looked up and saw Terry, and her face lit up in happiness. “Tewwy Tewwy you back yay!” she babbled, among other gleeful sentiments that Terry understood pretty well but no adults did.

“That outfit you have on is adorable, but we’ve got to get you into a uniform,” said Marie. “We’ve made a redesign for diapered agents … the ones who need the really thick diapers.”

Terry saw that Sally was wearing a slightly different outfit -- instead of a jumpsuit with extra space for diapers, it was basically a dress with a very short skirt and clearly visible plastic panties, but all with the usual futuristic styling, white with black piping and red highlights. Sally also had some knee socks with the same style, probably to keep her legs from getting too cold.

“Yep, first let’s get you checked,” said Nurse Aura, lifting Terry’s skirt in the back and pulling out the waist of Terry’s plastic panties, then reaching in and patting her disposable diaper underneath. “You’re still mostly dry, and that’s a pretty thick one, so I think you’ll be fine. We’ll just get you into your new outfit …”

She made quick work of getting Terry changed into the new outfit, adding some matching slippers and brushing Terry’s hair, making it orderly enough that she could pull it back with a futuristic clear plastic clip.

“OK, now let’s just check Sally …” Nurse Aura said. “Oh dear … and you were bone dry just a second ago, you soaking wet little one, you!” She smiled. “Not a problem; these uniforms are designed for easier checks and changes.” It took her only two minutes to get Sally all changed into a nice thick and dry diaper, but like Terry’s, it was so thick that walking wasn’t easy.

Fortunately, walking wasn’t a problem, because she soon packed both of them into strollers and handed Terry to Marie. “All ready,” said Nurse Aura. “Let’s get them to the auditorium.”

Terry had been telling Sally all about her adventures, but they went something like, “Sally Sally I went to the big desk place an’ there was a big robot an’ I could get innit an’ I pusheded a button …” Sally nodded and encouraged her.

By the time Terry was done with her story, they had arrived at the auditorium. Marie pushed the strollers up to the door, which opened with a tinkling airy whooshing sound. Sally and Terry’s eyes grew large as they saw the many hundreds of people seated in the room, all watching them.

Mr. Jonston on the stage pointed to Terry and Sally as he announced over the microphone, “And here they are. The two who are responsible for saving our time line and eradicating all the mechs.”

The multitudes of people all stood and began clapping their hands and cheering. Terry looked around at all the people, then realized she was sucking her thumb. She looked at Sally, who was doing the very same thing while looking around with huge amazed eyes.
Jonston held out a hand toward the stroller and said, “Please have them come up here so we can make a presentation.”

As Marie led the very adorable Sally and Terry to the stage, The President of the USA and the Head of the United Time Chancellory came onto the stage from opposite directions and walked to the podium. Jonston shook hands with both of them.

Jonston said into the mike, “Now, if all would please take a seat, the President of the U.S. and the head of RTI have a few words to say.” With this he surrendered the podium to the President.

The President said clearly over the mike, “Good morning, all. We are here today to honor two very courageous agents who, without their selflessness and single-minded purpose to mission, time as we know it would have ended.”

The CEO of RTI came to the mike. In his hand were two boxes that held the RTI logo and the Seal of the United States embossed on it in solid gold. “We would like to present these to Terry and Sally, the heroes of the hour.” He opened one and took out a medal, its ribbon decorated in the traditional RTI white, red, and black, its disc a brilliant gold. He put one around Terry’s neck and the other around Sally’s.

“Sally’s work set the stage for Terry’s, and Terry took things all the way to completion,” said the CEO. “If either of you would like to say a few words, you are welcome to. Be advised that everyone here knows about your … situation … which could have happened to any agent at any time and whose cause is still not fully understood. And we do have a fully-functioning Babylator that will subtitle what you say on the screens.”

Terry raised her hand, and an assistant held a mic up to her. “Jus’ wanna say … Misser Jonston gonna go n no come back n save alla peoples ‘n me no letted him do it ‘cause me knowed way ta do it n come back …”

As she continued, the subtitles on the video screens printed, “I just want to say that Mr. Jonston was going to sacrifice himself for everyone, but I could see a way to accomplish the same task and come back intact. But it didn’t go perfectly according to plan, and I wouldn’t have made it if it hadn’t been for the efforts of so many others.”

Sally said something similar, which translated to, “I just focused on my mission. It was lucky that I was in the right place and at the right time to witness the phenomenon I did. I’m so happy that it helped the researchers develop the Timequake Barrier! It’s saved a lot of lives. But I’m not the one who did the hard work. The researchers did the real work.”

“Isn’t that just like a good agent?” asked the CEO. “Always quick to give the credit to others. But believe me, I appreciate every single one of you and all the hard work you put in every day, and you’ll all get your presentations sooner or later. But today, I just thought we should recognize two agents who have given so much, possibly permanently, to save time as we know it.”

<<>> Several Months Later <<>>

Terry awoke to the soft checking of her diaper before she was lifted from her crib. The huge woman was dressed in a typical nurse’s uniform. She held Terry to her breast and patted her bottom softly, saying, “Good morning, Sweetheart. Time for a nice bath and getting squeaky clean.”

Terry saw Sally still sleeping in a nearby crib as she was carried from the room into another that contained what looked like a large bassinet type basin, a very nice looking padded changing counter, and many shelves of the items necessary to care for infants and children.

RTI had promised to care for them for life and did its very best to care for Terry and Sally. Terry found herself on the padded surface. Her top was pulled off before she was laid back and lifted by her ankles. The plastic panties were removed, then after being set back on the counter, her diaper was removed.

No sooner did the nurse put Terry in the bassinet, than Terry seemed to lose her mind. She began to wiggle and splash in the water like any infant as the nurse cooed softly and began to clean her with a thick wash cloth.

Jonston turned from his monitor station and said softly, “We can find no means to undo what has been done to them. The only thing we can do is care for them in the manner that their mental state appears to be.”

A woman sitting in a chair across from the desk, put a large sheaf of papers into a briefcase and snapped it closed. She said, “All I can do is go over the transcribed reports and archived videos of their missions. Apparently they came too close to their younger selves and shared some matter between them. All it takes is a few molecules … or at least that’s one theory. Another involves some kind of gravitational wave transfer.”

Jonston asked, “Will they ever grow up mentally? According to the med techs, they appear to be returning back to their normal sizes and original weights, although it’s like they are growing back up. -- physically, at least.”

The woman stood and replied, “Physically, they may return to adulthood. According to all our psychological testing, their minds are an interesting mix of toddler and adult. We have found no way to correct this, and they are not maturing in that manner in any way. But they still seem to know everything they knew. It’s just a matter of how they express their inner selves.”

“Well, at any rate, we will keep caring for them in any way they need, and it’s possible that they might be needed to contribute to missions again. They clearly still understand the program. Well, I’m going to tackle the paperwork. Thank you for the update.” Jonston turned, brought up the daily reports on his screen, and sighed.
“Oh, to be young again,” he said. “But be careful what you wish for.”

========= THE END =========
Miki Yamuri
 
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