Elizabeth inhaled deeply, and slowly let her breath out. "Sorry Steve, you've been the butt of a temporal joke. The guys at the office hacked the assignment database and sent me here under false pretences. So I've been looking for the cause of the anomaly, when I'm actually the anomaly that caused it."
"So you can fix this?"
"Yeah. Entirely fixable. I've got the texts all lined up, I just need to press a button."
"Yep. This entire janky mess will never have happened. We never had this conversation. I was never here. You won't remember a thing."
"What? What's going on?" The outburst had finally drawn Steve's eyes away from the window. Across from him, Elizabeth was angrily tapping away on her phone. At least it looked like a phone.
"Fuckers thought they'd get away with it did they. Well heads are gonna roll from this one..."
"Hello? What's happening?"
She took a breath. "Sorry Steve. Like they say, it's no you, it's me. The bastards back at HQ thought they'd play a prank on the rookie. They had to have hacked the assignment database to do this. Well, it's going to backfire on them now... Bastards..."
"So. Steve. Have you experienced anything unusual, other than seeing lots of 'You' out the window? Wavy air, space aliens, weird machinery, that kind of thing?"
"No." He mumbled. His face was pale, as more and more versions of himself filled the street. Some with children, many more at various stages of age.
"Well... Other than you."
"Hmm... Ah fuck!" She slammed a fist down on the table top. Their coffees wobbled alarmingly. She pulled out a phone. "Bastards! And I fell for it too!"
"Fell for what?"
"This'll be that fucker Boris. Oh ha ha, guys. Ha. Ha!"
Another Steve walked past the window, his hands weighed down by shopping bags. Another one drove past in a mini, while yet another crossed the road behind it.
"Getting crowded out there." She smiled. "Look. You're confused. I get it. You don't need to understand the physics of the situation, just that you're in it and I'm here to fix it." She presented her hand. "Hi. My name is Elizabeth. Temporal Anomaly Investigation Agency. TAIA for short." He automatically shook her hand. "Ooh, bit of a tremble there Steve. I'm going to need you to calm down a little bit..."
"Van Stockum was an early twentieth century physicist from the Netherlands. Handsome chap, but sadly he died in World War Two during a bombing raid. Anyway, he did some of the early work on Einsteins General theory of relativity. One of the things he came up with was the concept of a world line in a Lorentzian manifold. Twisted up space to you and me." She stirred a copious amount of sugar into her coffee. "Also known as a closed timelike curve."
"Look lady, I haven't got a clue what you're talking about. Just... What the hell is going on?!"
"Right Steve?" He was getting a headache.
"Yes. There's no point in me talking to one of the Steves' out there, as I'm here to try and prevent whatever happened to get you into the curve."
"You have Van Stockum syndrome. So, you are seeing yourself spread out across a closed temporal world line. Your world line. Think of it as your personal timeline has a tangle in it, and you can see other bits of your own timeline as they cross over one another. Easy!" She grinned again.
"Who the fuck is Van Stockum?"
"Ooh! A history lesson!"
Steve opened his eyes, still feeling a little queasy. Across from him sat a tall, thin, redhead. She gave him a million dollar smile full of brilliant, plastic white, teeth. "Back? Good, you looked like you zoned out for a moment there."
"What. The. Fuck! Is going on?" He hissed across the table. He sipped his latte which, he discovered, was now cold.
"You're a little stuck I'm afraid." She waved at a waitress. "Let me get you a fresh coffee and I'll try and explain what's happening. I'm pretty sure I got the right Steve...Ah! Yes, two lattés please."
Steve stared in shock out of the Coffee shop window. Across the street he was buying a bunch of flowers. A hand reached out, and gently took hold of his latte before he dropped it.
"Morning Steve." Said the woman now sitting across from him. "I must imagine you're feeling a little queasy right now. Take a deep breath, and then don't look down the alley."
He automatically looked down the alley, to see himself dropping a bag into a bin.
"You're suffering from Van Stockum syndrome. You're traversing a closed timelike curve. That's you out there. At various moments."