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|Genre||Fantasy, science fiction, thriller|
|Publisher||G. P. Putnam's Sons|
|LC Class||CPB Box no. 2116 vol. 2|
A storm struck on the night Laura Shane was born, and there was a strangeness about the weather that people would remember for years. Even more mysterious was the blond-haired stranger who appeared out of nowhere again and again to save Laura from tragedy.
As Laura Shane is born in January 1955, during a freak lightning storm, a mysterious blond stranger (Stefan) prevents a drunken Dr. Paul Markwell from attending to the difficult and complicated delivery. Her mother dies in childbirth, though Laura is a perfectly healthy, exceptionally beautiful baby, and she is left to be raised by her father Bob Shane. When Laura is eight years old, a junkie attempts to rob her father's convenience store; however the blond stranger reappears, saving them both and instructing them on what to tell the police. In 1967, Bob Shane dies of a heart attack. At her father’s funeral Laura sees the stranger watching over her yet again and begins to think he is her guardian angel, along with an unnamed man calling for her when she tries to follow him.
Laura is sent to live in the McIlroy orphanage, where she is housed with a set of twins, Thelma and Ruth, who later become her best friends. She also meets Willy Sheener, a frightening child molester who is also the maintenance man and custodian. Willy becomes infatuated with Laura due to her uncommonly good looks, haunting her wherever she goes in the orphanage. However, due to past experience the twins warn Laura that reporting Sheener, also known as "The White Eel" or "Eel" for short, will do more harm than good. Laura is eventually sent to live with a foster family that exploits her, so she purposely behaves badly and they send her back to the orphanage. After several disturbing incidents, her mysterious angel visits Sheener and brutally beats him. This scares him off for some time, until Laura is sent to live with the Dockwielers, with whom she quickly forms a bond. Sheener comes to their home one afternoon; Laura is able to fend him off and eventually kill him, but the shock of discovering the scene causes her new foster mother to suffer a fatal heart attack, sending Laura back to the orphanage. Shortly thereafter, Laura turns 13 and is moved to another orphanage for older children, and receives the devastating news that Ruth was caught in a fire in McIlroy and died.
At college, Laura's creative writing brings her to the attention of Danny, a naive man who has fallen in love with her from afar. After a botched attempt at being her secret admirer they agree to date and over time, fall in love. After their marriage Laura becomes a celebrated author of several books and gives birth to a boy, Christopher Robert. The birth was difficult, making it so she will not be able to have any children in the future.
Years later, Danny, Laura and Chris are saved from a horrific accident by the blond man's (revealed to be named Stefan) intervention. The unnamed man shows up moments later. Both Danny and the blond man attack but Danny dies of several gunshot wounds, before Stefan kills the man and tells Laura what to say, like years ago at the grocery store. He promises to return soon and tell more, but due to mistakes, he doesn't return until a year later, wounded, in an isolated stretch of winter woods. Laura and Chris are able to treat him at a doctor they locate in the phone book, but must battle unknown assassins shortly thereafter.
The group hides out in a small motel. Stefan recovers and finally tells his story. He was born in 1909, making him 35 years old. He is from Nazi Germany in the year 1944, and is part of secret time traveling experiments, sending agents to the future to uncover ways to change the outcome of World War II. Stefan had previously arrived in an alternate version of 1984 and had seen Laura, who was a quadriplegic because of Dr. Markwell's drunken errors during her delivery. However, despite her disability, she wrote beautiful books of poetry which inspired Stefan to renounce his mission, and travel to difficult parts of her life to change them. However, his superior Kokoschka became suspicious of him and followed him, sending the assassins into the future to learn of their path.
With the help of Thelma, who has become rich as a comedienne and actress since her sister's death, they gain many supplies they need. Fat Jack, an arms dealer, supplies them with guns and Vexxon nerve gas. With the aid of modern computational technology, Stefan is prepared to go back to his time. He uses the nerve gas to kill the five men on duty at the time and disposes their bodies six billion years in the future. He makes a jump to see Winston Churchill and convinces him that the institute containing the time machine must be bombed; Churchill agrees. Stefan also makes a trip to Adolf Hitler, to convince the dictator of various threads that must be cleared up, in reality sabotaging the German war effort.
While he is gone, Laura and Chris, in an empty patch of rain washed desert, are attacked by more Nazis, as records of a police stop have been discovered. Stefan returns to find Laura and Chris dead. He works around the time limit of the machine by sending Laura a message to save them. Despite this, Chris and Laura still have to battle all four men themselves. The second cylinder of nerve gas proves invaluable. It is Laura who eventually kills all four men pursuing them, as she protects Chris as best she can. In the long months that follow, Laura and Chris are questioned by the police. They soon believe a story of 'drug dealers' who wanted revenge. Laura backs up her story by turning over Fat Jack, something she was going to do anyway (he does not blame her, due to his personal beliefs). Stefan, who had been hiding with Thelma, comes to live with the two again. After even more time, Laura finds herself falling in love with him.
Time travel mechanics
The novel describes the time machine used by the Nazis as resembling a tunnel; when the correct mathematical calculations are made the machine is set and the traveler steps inside and vanishes, reappearing with some degree of precision at the physical and temporal location chosen. There are a number of unique details and mechanics to make time travelling work.
The fictional universe supports the theory that nature will not allow a paradox to exist, including meeting oneself. Furthermore, in order to prevent the "Back to the Future" syndrome of preventing one's own existence by past actions, time can only be traversed into the future. The energy used to move through time disrupts the natural environment during the arrival at the target time and place, which causes massive unexplained lightning storms (and the book's title). The departure from the future back to the present does not cause a lightning storm.
Regardless of how long the traveler spends in his destination, for unexplained reasons once he returns to his own time stream (by use of a push button device commonly concealed in a belt buckle) exactly 11 minutes will have passed. Changes made at one point in time will affect all future events stemming from that timeline; however only the traveler himself will be aware that anything has changed, since his own past was not altered. The Nazis pursuing Stefan and Laura lose them at several points while they are on the run. Rather than continue their physical pursuit, they return to the past, then go farther ahead in the future to seek credit card receipts and motel information to determine where the pair will flee to, and go to that time to set an ambush. They could not do this if they had remained after pursuit due to the next aspect.
As stated above, a time traveler cannot return to a temporal location he has previously visited (even if it were to a different physical location), since technically he will still be there and thus create a paradox. This plays a role in the endgame when Stefan witnesses Laura's death at the hands of SS Lt. Erich Kleitmann's men. Since he is already there when she dies, he cannot return there to save her, so instead he returns to 1944 and sends a message in a bottle forward to just before the event, warning of the outcome. Stefan has to be careful to use items from the past to compose the message, otherwise they would not appear when needed.
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Laura (Shane) Packard
Bob Shane (Laura's Father)
Christopher Robert Packard