“Another missing female – you better see this, Jack.”
Jack Connelly looked up from his cluttered desk and scowled. The third one in two months, and each case a dead end. No body, no witnesses, no traces of violence, not even any close relatives to grieve over them. It’s as if they disappeared into thin air.
He scanned over the details and saw they checked out, same as before. This one was 28 years old, a PHD student in engineering-physics, whatever that was. Bright girl obviously. That fit too. He looked at the photo. Good-looking kid with shoulder length auburn hair and big brown eyes. Nice smile. He continued reading. Used to be engaged, but broke it off last year. No history of violence on the part of the ex. No known current boyfriend.
“Girlfriend reported her missing when she failed to show up for lunch and shopping. Kept phoning for two days,” said Tony.
“Any signs?” Jack stuck a pencil in his mouth in lieu of a cigarette. Quitting was hell, and he had to stop eating; the pounds were piling on.
“Not a thing. Same as before.”
“Off for summer break, doing her thesis. Takes dance lessons – ballet – and likes classical music, books. All high-falootin’ stuff.” Tony was a beer and hockey kind of guy.
“Not exactly a hotbed of criminal activity in symphony and ballet.” Jack sucked on the eraser end. Who was taking them? And why these ones? All bright, all well-educated… not a single bar fly in the bunch. Toss in the lack of close relatives or boyfriends, and it smacked of premeditation.
“White slave trade?” His young detective constable asked.
“Too old,” Jack said. “They target teens and runaways.” He bit down hard on the pencil. “Someone with an agenda, I’ll lay money on it. One perp, working alone. Done his research, and knows what he wants.” And good. Careful. God, I hate cases like this, he thought.
“Any leads at all?” He asked.
Tony shrugged. “Her computer was wiped clean. That’s a little strange.”
Jack’s cop radar swung to full on. He shifted out of the leather chair. “Let’s go there. I want to see for myself.”
Jack Connelly traipsed through Valerie Revel’s modest apartment with a sinking heart. There was nothing – nothing to lay a trail to where she had gone. Clothes still there; lots in the dirty clothes hamper. Suitcase in the closet, empty. No messages on the answering machine, except for the girlfriend trying three times to reach her.
“Anything in the fridge?” He asked the detective constable.
“Lots,” said Tony. “Milk, orange juice, eggs – you name it.”
Breakfast dishes still in the sink. She obviously hadn’t packed for a trip. It was a snatch – had to be. Jack’s heart sank.
“Here’s something, Guv. On the calendar, here on the wall. ‘E-Galaxy’ marked on the day she went missing.”
“E-Galaxy? Isn’t that the online dating site that’s been advertising on late night television?”
“That’s the one. You think some pervert was stalking her online?”
He gazed out the window at the growing twilight.
“What’s her name again? Valerie Revel….pretty. Well, Valerie darlin’, where the hell are you?” he muttered.
Valerie felt sick. Lights were flickering, and her head hurt. Somewhere, a machine hummed a pleasant drone.
“Vital signs look okay. I think she’s coming out of it.”
Her eyes blinked open. Valerie looked around and immediately began an environmental assessment, as made second nature by her years of engineering training. She appeared to be lying on a soft white leatherette bench against one wall of a scientific lab. The far wall housed a floor to ceiling unit of electronic equipment that spanned ten feet, and the equipment was obviously cutting edge. Emotions confused her at the best of times, but it was hard to be frightened in such a familiar environment. Instead, she had a sudden urge to leap up and examine the new equipment.
“There she is!” said a pleasant female voice. “Don’t be frightened. You’re going to be fine.”
Valerie tried to sit up, but the nausea rose quickly. She lay her head back down again and tried to focus. The letters ‘E-Galaxy’ were displayed on the ceiling above her head in gold. Below them, ran a sentence in smaller font: ‘Will your love stand the test of time?’
“Don’t try to get up yet. You’ll feel woozy for a few minutes. Take it easy.”
The voice came from a pretty middle-aged woman in a white lab coat. She was slender with long brown hair, hazel eyes, and looked mostly harmless.
“Can you tell me your name,” she asked.
That was easy. “Valerie Revel.”
“Do you know what year it is?”
“2010.” Were they testing for a concussion?
“That’s the year you just came from. Do you know which year it is here?”
“Oh!” Valerie remembered now – she remembered all of it. “2260?”
“Perfect! My name is Petra. Valerie, do you know why you’re here?”
Valerie felt her heart lurch. “Yes – I remember. Is he here?”
The brown-haired woman tilted her head. “Behind the sliding glass doors, right over there. But before we go any further, I need to remind you that you can go back home any time, free of charge, in the next thirty days. We guarantee that.”
Valerie glanced anxiously to the doors. E-Galaxy was sandblasted into the glass.
“Do many people do that?” She had to ask.
Petra smiled. “No one yet. Our matching technique is almost fool-proof. The only thing we can’t check for is severe home-sickness, but if that happens, we can try sending the two of you back to your time. Haven’t had to do it yet, though.”
Valerie rose gracefully to her feet. “Thank you. Thank you so much. May I see him now?”
“Of course dear. He’s been waiting for you. I hope you like flowers, because that room seems to be full of them.”
Valerie didn’t care about flowers or anything anymore, except covering the distance to the glass doors, which were opening. She could see him now on the other side – the soft dark hair, the rugged, kindly face and brilliant smile she had come to know via her computer and E-Galaxy. She was through the opening in three seconds.
Petra smiled, and pressed a button on the wall. “Another good match, Simon. It seems almost criminal to be taking money for this.”
“Gotta fund the science, Pet.” A low masculine voice responded. “Besides, you know the psychology. People believe something is worth what they pay for it.”
“And love thrives on a barrier. I know.” She shook her head. “But how did you ever get the idea of matching people across time?”
A pause. “Hard to find someone in our isolated environment, let alone the perfect match. Then it occurred to me - just think of the possibilities if you could reach across time. People – especially males – would pay a lot to find the perfect mate.”
“So did you?” Petra’s voice was lilting.
“Did I what?”
Another pause, then a low chuckle. “You tell me.”