"I've got an idea," Eddie said as he allowed the rat to run up his arm.
Tim sat on the carpeted floor, adjusting dials while watching the portal. He barely heard Eddie. "Hmm?"
"Can you send the rat back further in time?"
"Yes," Tim said. He twisted a dial, and the portal flickered. He beat his fist on the top of the black box and the flickering stopped. "But I'm not going to."
"First, because I'm not ready for that. Second, if I screw with the time calibration, It will take me hours to get all the other settings aligned."
"It's that hard?"
"Adjusting the time difference is no trouble at all. But to keep the portal dark? I'd have to start over again. It would take days."
"Okay, fine. My idea still works though."
Tim looked up. "What idea?"
"I'll show you." Eddie pulled the rat from his shoulder. "Are you ready for me to send her through?"
Tim flipped a toggle switch. "Sure. Go ahead."
Eddie knelt down beside the rat channel. "I'm going to put her here," he said, pointing a few inches away from the portal. "She's going to run towards the portal, and the moment we see her come out the other side, I'm going to stop her from running through."
Tim frowned. "What do you expect will happen?"
"I have no idea."
"Don't hurt my rat."
"I won't. And maybe when this is done, you'll have two rats."
Tim stared at the carpet. "If that happened, we'd be facing some disturbing implications."
"Two rats from one? Does that mean we created a rat?"
"We don't know if that will happen."
"We don't know what will happen." Tim nodded. "Try it. Just don't touch the portal."
Eddie placed the rat in the channel. The rat sniffed around curiously. She waddled towards the portal.
Eddie waited for her to come out the other side—two seconds before she entered.
"Why did you do that?" Tim asked.
"What?" Eddie looked down at his hands. He held the rat around the middle. "Wait. When did I do that?"
"Put her back in the track."
Eddie did. He waited, his hands ready to catch her before she passed through the portal. She began to move. Eddie blinked, and he found the rat back in his hands.
"What's going on?" Eddie asked.
"She didn't come out. You should wait longer."
Eddie tried the experiment once more. He set her in the channel, waited, and a moment later, she was back in his hands.
"I don't get it. I didn't pick her up."
"I watched you," Tim said. "You set her down, and before she could reach the portal, you picked her up again. She never came out."
They stared at each other. Tim's eyes widened. "I think we created another paradox."
"That's not a paradox. It's some kind of voodoo."
"It is a paradox. You put her in the channel. You intended to pick her up the moment you saw her head come out the other side. And you did exactly what you said you'd do."
"No I didn't. She never came out."
"Yes she did. But you don't remember it because you stopped it from happening. She both walked through the portal and stopped before she could."
The rat bit Eddie's hand. "Ouch," he cried, dropping her on the carpet. She stood rigid, her nose twitching madly. She didn't run away.
"I've seen this before," Tim said. "It's how they behaved before I darkened the portal." He pulled on some work gloves, gently lifted the rat from the carpet and placed her back in her cage.
"This is heavy," Eddie said.
"You bet it is. I've got to make a note of this." He sat at his kitchen table and scribbled notes on a legal pad.
Eddie considered what had happened. It was as if he had acted involuntarily, picking up the rat without remembering why. He was beginning to understand what Tim had said about feeling a little crazy. As he glanced up at Tim, he paused. Something looked different. Something had changed. He wracked his brains but couldn't think of anything.
As he searched the apartment for an answer, his eyes fell on an instant camera resting on top of a book case. Eddie reached for it. He studied it for a moment and pointed it at Tim. He clicked a photo. Tim was so wrapt in his scribbled notes, he didn't notice.
Eddie waited for the features on the photo to take shape. It showed Tim at the table, staring down at his notes. Eddie found a hole punch and put a hole in the corner of the picture. He found a length of yarn draped over the back of the couch. He retrieved a white rat from one a cage, looped the yarn around its neck and tied the photo there loosely. The rat sniffed at the picture.
Eddie placed the rat back in the channel, put cheese on the other end, and waited. The rat sniffed the yarn hanging at its side.
"Come on," Eddie complained. He knocked on the side of the channel. "Move, rat. There's cheese down there."
Finally, the rat moved. He waddled towards the portal. Eddie waited for the rat's head to emerge, and...
And the rat was back in Eddie's hands. Once again, he hadn't noticed stopping it. He glanced at the picture...
A high-pitched beep came from the black box. Tim leapt from his chair and stooped to switch it off. The black field within the portal flickered and disappeared. "That was close," Tim said.
"The circuitry was close to frying. I shouldn't leave it running like that."
Eddie pulled the loop of yarn over the rat's head and put it back in its cage. He took another look at the picture.
"What is that," Tim asked, nodding at the picture.
"It's a... uh... hmm." Eddie squinted down at the picture, then up at the wall behind the kitchen table.
Eddie stood and walked to the wall, leaning over the table. He ran a hand down the wallpaper—a pattern of yellow and orange flowers and lines that would have looked at home in the 1970s. "Okay, this is... this is too weird."
Eddie checked the picture again. Tim appeared normal, but the wallpaper in the picture depicted a pattern of small bunches of bananas.