TWICE UPON A TIME

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Submitted Date 08/09/2023
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Part one: before

 

March 2076
"I'm in, Mum! I'm in!" screeched Hannah, running into the kitchen, the letter clutched tightly in her hand. Hannah had quickly demonstrated from a very young age that she was an unusually gifted child. Her academic ability was way beyond her eight years, but being so different from her peers made school a turbulent experience. Oliver and Eleanor Thompson, her adoptive parents, thought she was a little way down the autistic spectrum, but tests had been inconclusive. The head teacher of her primary school openly admitted they weren't set up to meet her academic needs; thus began the process of finding a more appropriate educational establishment. Established and funded by eccentric British billionaire and philanthropist, Hari Mehta, the 'Mehta Academy', an online school for gifted children, became the solution with the help of a scholarship, and Hannah was over the moon at being accepted.
"Oh sweetie, that's fantastic! I'm so happy for you", replied Eleanor, giving Hannah a big hug, "Oh look, they even send a paper letter, how lovely! "I'm so proud of you, darling", she whispered into her ear.

Later that day, Hannah approached Eleanor sheepishly. "Mum, do you think my birth parents would be proud of me?"
"Oh, Hannah, I'm sure they would be." Eleanor had raised Hannah since she was two years old. She had always been very open about her being adopted, but Hannah's recent habit of regularly asking about her birth parents had begun to reach the stage of ritual. Eleanor never showed her that she felt hurt by this, even though it broke her heart every time. She knew, rationally, that it didn't mean her daughter didn't love her, but that didn't stop the pain. She was also concerned that it was an unhealthy behaviour pattern. Eleanor had sought advice from a psychologist, but had been reassured it was just a coping mechanism, was nothing to worry about and was likely something she would grow out of.
Now put your letter on the sideboard where your dad will see it when he gets home. It'll be such a lovely surprise."


2080
Hannah was so much happier learning with the Mehta Academy, but the online school still didn't quite meet her needs. Her tutors were astounded at her ability, and it wasn't long before she even caught the attention of Hari Mehta, himself, provoking a rare home visit.
"Our results outstrip any public school in existence and our gifted students are so much happier and fulfilled; so…" he said, clapping his hands together decisively, "what I'm hoping is that Hannah chooses to attend the Academy in person, boarding with us," proposed Hari.
"I thought the Academy was only an online school; why haven't I heard of your boarding school?" said Eleanor.
"Well, it is…at least, that branch is. We don't advertise the boarding school, Mrs Thompson, so it won't pop up in any typical internet searches. Put it this way, you can't apply for it; attendance is strictly by invite only, and our students are the best of the best, but Hannah is quite special". He turned to Hannah, "You would be our youngest ever student, Hannah".
"I see," replied Oliver.
"Can I, Dad? Please?" pleaded Hannah.
"Maybe Hannah, but don't get too excited yet. There are lots of practical details we need to think about," replied Eleanor instead.
"Mr Mehta", began Oliver, "we're not wealthy people. Hannah was only able to attend the online school because of the scholarship. That won't stretch to the kind of fees required for your boarding school."
"Oh! I'm sorry; I should have been clearer. Hannah's scholarship will be amended to cover all costs. She'll even receive a small income so, financially, she'll be totally self-sufficient. It won't cost you a single penny".
Oliver and Eleanor were reluctant, but as Hannah was so keen, they supported her attendance, and she excelled and blossomed.

2088
By the time Hannah reached twenty years old, she had gone on to achieve her doctorate in Quantum Physics and was looking forward to an illustrious academic and research career… until Hari Mehta once again intervened.
"Time travel?" repeated Hannah, laughing mockingly.
"That's right, Hannah, I want you to work on my time travel project" answered Hari. "We have already made great strides, but you would be a real asset in helping us get to the next stage."
"But time travel? Really? You can't be serious".
"I understand your scepticism, Hannah, but I assure you, I am deadly serious. It's entirely understandable that you're having a hard time processing this. Spend the weekend with me at the project, and then decide." Hannah was incredulous, but it was only one weekend, so what did she have to lose? Besides, she had to admit, she was more than a little intrigued, so agreed to spend the weekend there. The legal team were a frightening force, but Hannah realised that, essentially, she was just committing to not revealing anything about what she would see, not even the existence of the project. She thought that was a little over the top, but hey, if Hari Mehta wanted to keep his vanity project a secret, that was his prerogative, besides, she didn't think time travel was actually achievable.
Two days later, Hannah had seen enough. She had thought she knew all she would ever need to know regarding the concept of time travel and had relegated the subject to the realms of science fiction. Meeting the wealth of experts in every possible relevant field left her feeling stimulated and enthused, but it was the progress they had actually made on what they'd dubbed their 'Chronoportation project' that left her breathless and astounded. She had never believed in her wildest dreams that humans might one day get so close to making real, actual time travel possible – certainly not in her lifetime, and certainly not backwards travel. The possibility stirred deep emotions in her, and the final night there she dreamed vividly of travelling back in time, meeting her birth parents and solving the mystery of her mother. If the scientific and engineering breakthroughs weren't enough to hook her, that morning she knew, absolutely, that anything that offered even the vague possibility of what she dreamed, would ensure her involvement. Her answer was going to be a resounding yes; nonetheless, some heavy conversations needed to be had.
"Are you sure you understand the level of commitment I require, Hannah?" checked Hari, "My legal team should have made it clear to you that you won't be able to live a fully normal life, and your career as you may have imagined it ends now. This is about as top secret as a project can be".
"I understand, but my career…I was told there would be a faux career…a cover story?"
"Yes, of course, we can't just secrete you away and expect no one to notice!" he said with a laugh. "We'll work in collaboration with you to create a plausible career and reasons you might not see loved ones very often. You'll have a life, of course, but due to the nature of the project, I insist that commitment to it takes precedence over everything else…and you already know you'll receive an elite remuneration and perks package.
"Then yes, Hari, after what I've seen this weekend, I'm in. How could I not be?" Suddenly taken aback by Hari's enthusiastic embrace, she giggled nervously.
"I'm so pleased, Hannah. I think you're going to make a real difference to our project." This isn't just my project; now you're in, you're family. This is our project. We, together, are going to change the world, Hannah Thompson."


September 2092
Four years on, they had made such vast strides forward, that they were on the cusp of a viable time machine, which they dubbed the 'Chronoportation device'. had become a key figure in the project and was earmarked as one of the possible candidates on the team that might get to make the first jump through time. She was determined it would be her, but she had to fight for it.
"But I've put so much work in - advanced the project so far! I deserve this!"
"Hannah, please, you know the reasons why I'd rather it wasn't you – at least not the first jump", replied Hari.
"All too well, Hari, and I understand them. I get that you feel I'm 'too valuable an asset' to risk on the first jump, but that's exactly why I'm the perfect person. My knowledge of the whole project, especially the jumper's responsibilities, is exactly what makes me the best candidate, not to mention my role in devising strategies that mitigate every possible level of malfunction and mission error. Besides, you don't really have a better alternative, if you're honest". Hari took a deep breath in and sighed slowly and loudly.
"Ok, fine, I'll agree to think about it. That's the best I can do for now. We're not ready yet, so there's time to consider our options anyway."
"That's all I'm asking, Hari," replied Hannah, trying to hide the enormous smile bursting onto her face. She was pretty sure he would capitulate completely, but she also knew she wouldn't be able to persuade him without the support of her peers, especially the director of the project, and close friend: Professor Paul McCarthy.


February 2093
Hannah was still fighting to be the first jumper five months later, and Paul still wasn't convinced. "I'm not confident enough that we can achieve an accurate enough jump, Han; it's as simple as that", said Paul.
"I think you're being far too cautious. Haven't our tests been within acceptable parameters for estimated margins of error?"
"Well yes, for this stage, but for a human jump, and decades into the past? I really wouldn't like to risk it", replied Paul. He sighed. "Look, you know as well as I do that a chronological placement error is extremely unlikely to stretch beyond our margins for error – two to three years at the absolute maximum. we can just adapt to that. It's the spatial accuracy that worries me. The margins are just too unpredictable still. How do we test results sent into the distant past? You know there's no way we can do that".
"Of course, it's a massive risk. We've always known that, but there's no reason to assume placement accuracy will deteriorate with the temporal distance, either backwards or forwards."
"And no reason to assume it won't, either."
"Now you're definitely being 'Mr glass half full,' replied Hannah with a wink.
"Come on, Han, you're one of the most brilliant scientists here; maybe I am being negative, but you know as well as I do that we can't rely on assumptions."
"Of course, but I also know there's no way we can get the verifiable data we need in this field without high risk. We have to send someone eventually, otherwise, why are we bothering in the first place? Our plans are thorough, Paul, you know better than anyone that we can mitigate every eventuality. We know what could go wrong, what the worst-case margins of error are, and if something goes wrong, we'll adapt and compensate for it. What's really bothering you, Paul?"
Paul harrumphed and looked Hannah straight in the eyes. "Shit, Hannah, it's a one-way, fucking trip! Why the hell would you want to get stuck in the past?"
"It's time travel Paul! Why wouldn't I? Besides, it's not like we're aiming for the Jurassic period" she replied a little more flippantly than she'd intended.
"But that would be it, no more working on the project for twenty years. you'd be throwing half your life away!"
"Oh come on, Paul, of course I won't! I'll be kept fully and usefully occupied. You're just as aware as I am of how long Hari's been working on creating the infrastructure for a backwards jump. For almost twenty years, there have been labs and crew in perpetual readiness for a jumper from the future, I mean, they'll literally be able to furnish me with an identity so that I can integrate and function in society unnoticed. It's not throwing half my life away, Paul, it's the opportunity of a lifetime; an unparalleled adventure; I'll be doing what no one has ever done before."
"Ok, ok!" he said, raising his hands placatingly, "I get it, but allow me, then, to flip your question back to you: eventually we'll be able to accommodate two-way jumps, so why are you so damned keen to be the one that makes the first jump?"
"Exactly that, Paul: I'd be the first!" She laughed.
"So it boils down to your obsession with being the very first time traveller?" he replied.
"Ouch! Look, you can call it an obsession if you like, but I would prefer to call it motivation and passion. Look, you know I understand just as well as you that we can't interfere with the past any more than we already are; I'm well aware the potential consequences could be catastrophic. Don't you think I'm acutely aware of those risks? But you know what? I've also worked my ass off for this. I deserve it. I have a chance of being the Neil Armstrong of time travel. Sure, the research is a major driver, but ultimately, I'm here because I want to be the one that jumps."
"Jesus, Han, I'm used to your strong will, but it's not like you to be bullish."
Hannah took a deep breath. "I know, sorry. But you have to know what this means to me."
"That's what worries me, but fine," he rubbed his face with his hands and sighed wearily, "if the rest of the project leaders agree, not to mention Hari himself, then I won't stand in your way, but I'm not happy with it being you. I'd much rather you were on this side of the event, where, frankly, I think we need you, and more than that, I'll bloody miss you."
"Thank you, Paul, and I'll miss you like hell too," she said as they hugged.


01:15 am - 06/04/2093
Just three months later, it was the night before the jump. Hannah was as prepared as she could possibly be. She had committed to memory every plan for every eventuality within their established margins of error and she knew exactly who to contact and where to go should they over-shoot beyond expectation. She knew the chances of a major error were too slim to worry about and felt relatively calm and ready, but as much as she wanted to sleep, she was understandably wide awake. One slight nagging doubt she had was the unknown consequences of a possible paradox. Having only trialled with inanimate objects and animals, there had been no issues, and their working theory was another timeline would somehow kick in should a major paradox occur. Just the act of travelling back in time is a paradox in itself, and the fact that they'd planned for success years in advance was essentially creating the bootstrap before it happened. She was ok with that, and besides, they had long since moved on from simplistic atomic theories of matter. The quantum string theory was solid and should negate any philosophical problem, or fear, of two of her being in the same space and time. The other unknown, of course, was that nothing had been sent beyond the timeline of the project, but Hannah knew that was exactly why sending early enough in her lifespan was essential; 2070 was the perfect target, and a couple of years, either way, would by no means prove disastrous.
The other concern was the spatial placement variables: get that badly wrong and she could end up appearing three storeys up in mid-air, in the middle of the ocean or in the middle of a busy motorway. No, she was just nervous and excited, that's all. They'd accounted for any variables and any chance of dangerous misplacement had been negated by thorough preparation. She had seen to that herself.


02:33 am - 06/04/2093
Hannah awoke with a start from a nightmare in which she attended her own funeral but was invisible and completely unable to let anyone know she was alive. 'Shit', she said aloud to herself. She knew she didn't want to abandon her parents, and worse still, put them through the grief of her faked death, but she had agreed with Hari that there really wouldn't be any other way to account for her sudden disappearance; just going missing would be even more painful for them – best to make the break a clean one. She realised the sacrifice, and the pain she was about to put her parents through, bothered her more than anything else, but she absolutely had to be the one to jump, and she also knew it was necessary for the project.


11:00 am - 06/04/2093
Hannah felt a sense of unreality. This moment was so momentous she almost felt more like she was observing herself from the outside.
"This is it Hannah, any last words?"
"Oh hilarious, Paul, great choice of words there."
"Sorry, couldn't resist" he laughed. "Just trying to lighten the tension."
"Yeah, well, 'one step' and all that", she replied flippantly, "2070 here I come!"
"Coordinates set and power optimum", interrupted one of the crew.
"Thanks, Shannon", replied Paul. "Ok, I hope the twenty-seventies are ready for two of you, Hannah. See you in a few decades." Hannah smiled and winked. Then, addressing the whole room, Paul announced: "On my count!". Hannah braced herself and closed her eyes to the bright light she knew would come, and Paul began to count down: "Five, four, three, two…Launch!"
First, she heard the thrum of the device getting louder and louder, then a searing heat, as if she were being incinerated from the inside out. She thought she screamed, but she couldn't be sure. The volume became so unbearably loud her whole body vibrated. Then suddenly it all stopped. Stillness. Silence. She opened her eyes. She could just about make out the room, and the team, but it all had a misty, slightly transparent, ethereal quality and no one moved as if they had been paused – frozen in time. Hannah realised she wasn't breathing. She tried but couldn't. Panic began to rise, her vision began to fade, then nothing.

 

 

 

 

Part two: after

 

07:45 am - 06/04/2064
The young woman opened her eyes, full of terror and confusion, and tried to sit up. "Whoa there. Careful now" he said, gently holding her still. "You're in an ambulance. It looks like you've had a nasty fall, but you're going to be all right." She began to hyperventilate and ripped the oxygen mask from her face. "It's ok", he soothed and took her hand. "My name's Ben, and I'm a paramedic. I want you to take a deep breath. In.." he inhaled deeply, "and out", he began to exhale. "Slowly now. That's it. Good. And again. Breathe with me". Gradually her breathing synchronised with Ben's. "There, that's better." He smiled warmly. "Now what should I call you?"
"I…" she croaked, stopped, and tried again, "I…I'm..." She stopped again, a look of confusion on her face.
"That's ok", take your time", said Ben gently, but before she could, her eyes fluttered and she lost consciousness again. Ben replaced the oxygen mask and shared a worried look with his colleague.
The woman briefly regained consciousness again shortly before they reached the hospital. "Wh…what's happening?!"
"Hi there. It's all right. You're in an ambulance. You're going to be ok". Soothed Ben immediately.
"What's happened to me? I can't stop shaking." Asked the woman.
"I know. That's perfectly normal. It's just a bit of shock kicking in. It'll stop soon," he reassured her. She seemed to accept his explanation, and he was pleased she didn't immediately start to panic this time. "So, I'm Ben; what's your name?"
"I'm…I…don't remember."
"That's fine. You've had a bit of a knock to the head, so that is perfectly normal and is nothing to worry about. It'll come back to you soon enough". The woman was clearly terrified and a tear trickled down the side of her face. Ben took her hand, speaking soothingly. "We're almost at the hospital now. We're going to patch you up, and you'll be right as rain before you know it." Moments later she lost consciousness again just before they reached the hospital. After they had transferred her to the hospital, and his shift had finished, he couldn't get the woman out of his mind. Maybe it was just his compassion mixed up with, admittedly, finding her particularly attractive. He knew he'd done his job; his connection to her as a patient was over, so maybe he should just go and see her, he thought, perhaps if he knew she was going to be ok, it would get her out of his mind.

10:17am 07/04/2064
She awoke to the sensation that someone was present and found a nurse fiddling with a cannula in her hand. "Wha…" she began, but her throat was too dry to continue.
"Good morning chuck!" Chirruped the nurse cheerfully. "You're in the hospital, dear. You've been out for a while, so you're bound to feel a bit groggy at first. My name's Rebecca, but you can call me Becky like the rest of my friends", she said with a wink. "I'm one of the nurses on this ward. I was just securing your cannula – making sure it doesn't come loose." It was a distinctive accent, and she felt like she recognised it, but couldn't remember where it was from. "I bet you could do with a drink of water. Would you like me to help you sit up?"
"Please..." she managed to croak, trying, but failing to nod her head.
After she had sat up and had a drink of water, she began to feel a little more human.
"I bet a nice cuppa's what you'd really like, but the doctor will be here to see you any minute now, so best get that out of the way first," said Becky as she left her side.
Five minutes later, the doctor arrived. "Hello. I'm Dr Patel."
"Hi," She nodded.
"How are we feeling?"
"Groggy".
"Ah yes, of course. So, we've dealt with your injuries. They are consistent with a nasty impact…perhaps a fall…but thankfully fairly minor – just bruises and sprains - nothing you won't recover from quickly enough", he said with a reassuring smile, "but you have taken a nasty knock to the head, which is what we're keeping our eyes on. You have had a CT scan of your brain, which didn't show up any major impact damage, but I'm told you couldn't remember much. Is it all still a bit of a blank?"
"Nothing", she said, her eyes immediately brimming with tears.
"Oh, I am sorry. It must be very distressing to lose your memory. If it were not for the memory loss, I would say you only had a mild concussion. Most patients will find that short-term memory due to trauma will return before too long; however, as yours hasn't yet, we'll need to keep you in for observation."
"Erm, thank you doctor" was all she could think of in reply.
"Of course, of course, I wish you all the best," and with that, he walked away. Becky trotted back as soon as he'd left. "Sorry love, he can be a bit abrupt sometimes, but he's a good guy."
The tears that had brimmed in her eyes suddenly burst forth into a sob. Becky held her hand. "Eeeee lass, you let it out, flower, it's ok", soothed Becky, also rubbing her shoulder. "That nice cup of tea's what you need", she said brightly, "there's nothing like a cuppa for making us feel better, eh?" She nodded, and Becky went to make her a cup of tea.

Drifting in and out of consciousness, she had no accurate sense of the passage of time, her dozing only seeming to be punctuated by visits from nurses, a consultant, and a policewoman, but the one from the paramedic was unexpected.
"Hello you," said Ben cheerfully as he approached. "We've just dropped a patient off, so I thought I'd pop in and say 'hi' while I'm on my break." She looked a little confused, and he quickly added, "It's Ben, the paramedic that attended to you yesterday," hoping she was able to retain recently made memories.
"Yes, yes, I remember. Thank you for looking after me."
"Not at all. Just doing my job," he said, dismissively waving his hand, and pulling up a chair to sit beside her. "So, how are you feeling, mystery lady?"
"She giggled awkwardly and repeated his use of 'mystery lady'. "Better than last time you saw me", she quipped and smiled.
"Oh good. And are they looking after you? I can have words if not," he said, and leaning in conspiratorially, he whispered "I know people in high places" and laughed. She laughed, too, and already felt surprisingly at ease. Ben chatted easily with her. He'd always thought of himself as awkward with women, but something about this beautiful mystery woman made him feel more comfortable than usual. "I can't pretend to know how it must feel to not even remember your own name, but I know what it's like to feel like you have no one to look out for you. I was an orphan, bounced around care homes and foster parents, you see, so I have no family at all, explained Ben.
"Thanks, Ben," she replied.
"Well!" Ben suddenly declared, "we're going to have to decide on what we call you, at least until your memory returns; we can't have you being the woman with no name forever, you know". He smiled so warmly, she felt instantly that he genuinely cared.
"I have no idea," she said, "have you got any ideas?".
"Ooh, wow, that's a responsibility," he laughed. "Well then, let's see," he said, leaning back to take a considered look at her. Their eyes locked and the look that lingered only a moment established a connection for both of them. "Hmm, I've always liked the name 'Ava'…yes, you look like an Ava to me".
"Ava," she repeated, trying it out. "Yes, I like it…Ava," she repeated again, "yes, you can call me Ava from now on" she confirmed, smiling warmly at him.
"Well, until you remember your real name", he replied with a wink.
"Oh yes, of course, unless my real name turns out to be something like Bertha or Gertrude," she laughed, "then maybe I'll stick with Ava," and they both laughed together.

The policewoman came in just as Ben was leaving, introducing herself as PC Sophie Atkinson. She was expecting a visit, as Becky had warned her that 'the coppers' would need to talk to her. "The doctor informs us that your injuries are consistent with a fall, but the thing is, you were found by a dog walker in a flat field where locals walk their dogs, so there is nothing to fall from. Do you remember anything about how you got there?" she asked.
"I'm sorry, I wish I knew" she answered. "I don't remember anything, I don't even remember my real name, let alone what happened to me."
"Real name?"
"Oh, I mean, Ben and I decided to call me Ava for now".
"Ben?"
"The paramedic who was here as you arrived…from the ambulance that brought me in," she clarified.
"Oh, I see," she said with a reassuring smile. It was clear the police thought she had been the victim of some sort of crime, but as there was no evidence as to what happened to her, they couldn't yet pursue her case. "The other issue", continued Sophie, "is that no identification was found on you, so until you remember who you are and what happened to you, we have nothing to go on to establish your identity or pursue your case, but as I said, we'll keep checking in with you, and most likely, someone will report you missing and it will all fall into place. In the meantime, your memory loss makes you vulnerable, so you will be assigned a liaison officer and a case worker for safeguarding purposes".

Several weeks passed, and no one at all had reported her missing. Apart from her new friend, Ben, she was totally alone in the world. Several brain scans and numerous tests later, her consultant was frustrated. "Well, you're quite the mystery, I'm afraid," he said, and explained, "We naturally assumed you were suffering from PTA... erm, that's post-traumatic amnesia, but that shouldn't last much more than twenty-four hours at the most, plus you haven't displayed any of the disorientation and confusion normally associated with it, and your brain scans are inconclusive, so we can't really tell if your amnesia is brought about by a brain injury. Your loss of all previously existing memories, particularly autobiographical memory is what we call retrograde amnesia, but I honestly don't know why you can't remember anything about yourself, or your life before your accident."
"But why do you think I can't remember a single thing about myself?" She asked.
"As I said, I really don't know. My best guess would be dissociative amnesia…but given the extent and length of time your amnesia is persisting, and that you display no other symptom of the condition, frankly, I'm stumped, but I must stress, that in the absence of physical brain injury, we have to consider your condition to be psychological, despite not seeming to fit comfortably with any typical diagnosis, which is why you are seeing a both myself as a brain injury specialist and a psychiatrist. Hopefully, all the therapy will release your memories eventually."
"So, what now?" She asked.
"Well, the therapy will continue, of course, and in time your memories may begin to return. I take it your caseworker has explained the process of attaining a new identity so that you can reintegrate into society again?"
"Yes, everything is in the works, I'm told. As far as my new name goes, I'm able to stick with Ava, and hopefully, it will be official soon. My discharge worker has also organised some temporary accommodation".

It took almost six months for her to be given the official identity of Ava Jackson with a guessed-at date of birth and a National Insurance number. "you're a real person who can claim benefits, get a job, and basically take part in society again," declared her caseworker, who also kept telling her how amazed she was at how quickly it was sorted out. Ben made a point of celebrating the official 'birth' of Ava Jackson, telling her, that as far as he was concerned, she would now have two birthdays, the one they had assigned her, and the day she officially became Ava.
And if I one day remember who I was?" she half teased.
"Then you'll have three birthdays, he laughed, and raising his glass of wine, he toasted, "to the love of my life, Ava Jackson!" Ava's jaw dropped. She had initially assumed the first visit from Ben would also be the last – just a courtesy call - but he had continued to visit. Their friendship grew and she now saw him as the rock that kept her from going adrift emotionally. She'd confided in her therapist that she felt she had fallen head over heels for him, but she warned her that her memory loss made her vulnerable and the risk of an unhealthy attachment meant it was unwise to get romantically involved at this time. Ava understood that her feelings for Ben were an emotional anchor and understood her therapist's warning, but she didn't care. Whoever she was, whatever her life had been like, and whatever had happened to her, it had caused her to lose everything – even her identity, but Ben had been there for her throughout, accepting her for who she is now, and she wasn't about to give that up. Nevertheless, they had stayed in the friend zone, but his declaration and their first kiss, that day, changed everything for her.

In February 2065, Ava moved in with Ben. She still had no memory whatsoever of her past but was relatively settled and very happy with Ben; however, meaningful employment had proved elusive, and she was frustrated. "It's ridiculous, Ben, I have no CV. I didn't even get that cleaning job I applied for – apparently, they wanted someone with 'experience'. I feel useless…worse than that, I feel like a non-person," she complained.
"I hear you, love. I wish I could make it better," he replied, wishing he could do more to support her. He may not know anything about her past, but he could tell Ava was super smart. She had quickly become a voracious reader, eating up non-fiction in particular. She began with history but was quickly drawn by the sciences. She was clearly an intelligent and curious person and he believed she demonstrated signs that she may have been highly educated in her forgotten life. "With no educational history or work experience, no one will touch me," continued Ava.
"What if you changed tack, you know, went back to college…uni. even? At least you would feel like you're doing something."
"It's a good idea, Ben, but how, when I haven't even got any school-age education to prove I can do it?"
"I'm sure there are ways in. If it means getting some basic college qualifications to prove yourself, then it's worth it, isn't it?"
"You're right as always", she said, cuddling up to him.
"Of course," he laughed. "But seriously, you're a monster reader, and you're always blurting out science facts. I wouldn't be at all surprised if you took to higher education like a duck to water."
"Yeah, I'd be a quacking student", she laughed.
"Oh god" he groaned, "just don't go into comedy".

Ava completed one further education science course with such ease, a year later she had already begun an online degree in Physics from University College, London, although she found it less than a challenge, thus less fulfilling than she's hoped.

In early January, 2067, nearly three years after losing her memory, Ava discovered she was pregnant. Ben was ecstatic, as was she, but she also didn't want to interrupt what she called her 're-education plan'.
"Well, you'll finish your degree before the baby's born, anyway", said Ben.
"Yeah, but you know I'll want to go further than just an undergrad."
"And you should, Ava, but there's no rush, take a little time out for the baby. There are ways you can be a mother and carry on with your studies. It's not a problem…and you know I'll support you any way I can."
"Yeah, I know, I just feel so driven," she confessed.
"That's what I love about you, hon. You haven't let the amnesia define you…and I understand it's frustrating for you. You're so damn smart you're like a race car being forced to drive in a 20mph limit, but you know what, you'll get to wherever it is you want to go – I'm sure about that".
"Yeah, I know. This baby also means everything to me, Ben, and you know what? Now I'm having a baby, I suddenly feel a lot less like I don't belong", she said, hugging Ben tightly.

In October 2068 Ava gave birth to their daughter. For the first time since losing her memory of who she was, Ava Jackson felt fulfilled. She was a mother, with a beautiful daughter, a wonderful partner and a plan for an academic career in full flow. She thought she would always be frustrated by the mystery of who she really was and what had happened to cause such severe autobiographical memory loss, but at the same time, she felt extremely lucky that her new life was fulfilling. She knew it could have been so much worse.


07/04 2069
Ben, Ava and their baby girl were driving home from a family holiday. They always tried to get away to celebrate the anniversary of their unusual meeting. "The baby's a bit whiffy, Ben; is there anywhere we can stop to change her?"
"Yeah, I noticed", laughed Ben, pulling a face. "I'll check", said Ben, then, raising his voice slightly he asked: "Car, when is the next service station on this route?"
"There is a service café in twelve miles. Would you like me to remind you to pull in?" replied the car's computer.
"Yes please," answered Ben.
"Reminder set for ten miles," said the computer voice.
"You love this new car so much, you geek!" laughed Ava.
"Just making use of the technology, my love. Might as well use it if we've got it", replied Ben, as he started to laugh with her.
Not more than five minutes later, a heavy goods transporter, travelling in the opposite direction, experienced a fatal computer error and began to drift into another lane. The driver should have been monitoring the vehicle, but he was busy rooting through the bag on the seat next to him to find his sandwich. By the time he realised, it was too late, and in trying to correct the vehicle, he swung it into the oncoming traffic just as their paths crossed. "Ben, look out!" screamed Ava, but there was no way to avoid the head-on collision. Ben and Ava were killed instantly. Their daughter, whom they had named Hannah, survived. With no other family available, she was adopted by a childless couple called Oliver and Eleanor Thompson.

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