Author : Charles Paul Wallace
I thought I’d got lucky.
She was my type, you know? Late ’20s, not-too-pretty-not-too-plain, intelligent…and, apparently, interested. I was in one of those black-light bars by the Thames, near to the corporate headquarters of my employers, Allwood Associates. She took the seat next to mine and ordered a sesame-oil tequila infusion. Class, I guess. We got to chatting. Things went well. We retired to a booth, then went on to a waterfront okonomiyaki stand in the shadow of Canary Wharf and ordered a pair of prawn specials.
The name she gave me was Rita. Authentic enough for me. “So, Seb.” She laid a gentle hand on my wrist. That should have set alarm bells ringing – but I’d had a few, and…well. You know. Lonely souls in the city and all that. “Guess you’re one of the lucky ones, right?”
“How so?” I leaned in towards her. The chef flipped our pancakes over and hummed a tune to himself.
“Well…” She swept an arm to indicate the towering temples of commerce a hundred metres away. “Not everyone has the luxury of a job nowadays.”
“And you?” I replied. My head felt fuzzy.
“Oh, I’m just like you.” She extracted a flask from her handbag and unscrewed the lid. An odour of absinthe and mint drifted out, mixing with the cooking smells. “So here’s to luck, huh?” She tipped her head back and drank. I almost fell in love there and then. She offered it to me. “Share and share alike, Seb.”
“Then here’s to you, Rita,” I said with as much seriousness as I could muster, and put the flask to my lips. The drink tasted warm like blood and cool like permafrost. When I handed the container back her eyes flickered cold for a second.
“Ready,” the chef called. I paid him and passed her one of the pancakes. The first mouthful tasted strange; like something dead was squatting beneath my tongue, sucking my vitality out. By the second bite Rita’s face was phasing in and out. Was it me? Or something about her?
“Seb,” she said. Her voice sounded metallic now. Her right eye-socket shone, as if made of plastic. “You won’t remember any of this. Not consciously. But I am legally obligated to inform you that you are now the property of ProvoTech Ltd, company registration number 10429199. Any prior employment contracts have been rescinded. You will report to us any and all protocols, blueprints or minutes related to the period of your employment at Allwood Associates, Ltd, not limited to –”
But she never got to finish what she was saying. Never got to, because at that moment her face caved in on itself and the mesh of wire filaments thus revealed began to melt. She – it – stumbled forward into my arms. Behind her stood the figure of the okonomiyaki chef, legs akimbo in a combat stance, his heat-gun still pulsing.
“Lucky boy,” he said, shaking his head. “Getting taken in by a spy-bot, eh?”
‘Rita’ crumpled to the ground, its mouth emanating a low electronic moan. The chef murmured code into a lapel-mic. I ran before whoever it was he was talking to turned up.
Back at my apartment I found a black-light scanner waiting for me on the kitchen table. My right eye-socket shone beneath its unflinching illumination, as if made of plastic. Something clicked inside my head.
I got out my phone. “1042-18 reporting,” I – or something inside me – murmured. “Spy-bot neutralised. Returning to base.”
On my way out I shoved the scanner into the toilet. I didn’t lock the door behind me.
Author : Edward Turner III
This isn’t really about the divorce now. Nor is it about the cheating, I am coming to terms with the fact that he truly wants me to die.
He is still speaking, running his mouth, pretending to be the good guy. He is smiling a big toothy grin as he speaks, “I don’t give a damn what happened between us anymore. I don’t ever want to hurt you, I just want everything to be as fair as it possibly can.”
“Fair? How is this fair at all?”
The local Magistrate, sitting in on our divorce proceedings speaks up, “As you know, the law states that this is what must happen to proceed with your divorce. Your husband has not specifically chosen this punishment ma’am.”
I shake my head, “All right, let’s get on with it.”
I look down at the contract between us. The Magistrate speaks softly, “One berry and freedom from marriage will be granted. You will receive 80% of all money and property.”
I look up at him, “What about the children?”
My husband scoffs, you know that sound someone makes as though you are being nothing but ridiculous, “Don’t worry about the kids, if you survive, you can have them.”
The Magistrate nods and adds this to the contract. His pen leaves a shiny sheen on the paper as though it will never dry. He turns the contract around, “Please sign.”
I do and then my husband takes it into his bony hands. He reads it again as though it has changed in the last seven minutes.
The Magistrate open\s the box before us. The box is adorned in gold and beneath the lid three small blackberries sit on top of three tiny exquisite pillows. Lace is even sewn into the edges of those pillows.
I look at my husband, “You really don’t care at all do you?”
The Magistrate tries to keep the peace, “This really is standard procedure when one party is found to have committed adultery.”
The tears are beginning to show. I pick up the third berry. Supposedly you feel nothing in the three minutes it takes to kill you, drowsiness and then death.
With that you are, gone forever from the life and the world we live in. I pop the berry into my mouth. I bite down, it is too acidic and suddenly I know I am going to die. I am sure I can feel the fatigue coming on.
I should have chosen a different berry. I don’t want to die.
The Magistrate has already flipped over the timer. I am supposed to watch as the final 180 seconds slip from my life.
I cry into my hands.
I wipe my tears and as the final grains of sand fall, the Magistrate says, “You are safe, it was the second berry.”
A loud bang scares the hell out of me. My husband is staring at me. He has hit the oak desk hard enough that I wonder if he broke his hand. The Magistrate gives him a stern look but says nothing.
The Magistrate stamps the bottom of the contract and lists the results with that pen.
The house is mine, the kids are mine, I won.
I stand up and say, “Thank you so much.”
My husband grabs my arm, “You don’t deserve this.”
I yank my arm from him and I say, “Maybe I don’t, but neither do you.”
I walk out of the room, tears filling my eyes. I made it.
I made it.
Author : Adam Byers
Case File: C7-40415
Description of event:
At 8:42 am on September 27, 1988, Kenneth James Walker was struck and killed by a bus. The Deviation occurred at the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Rutherford Road, District C, Sector 7. Mr. Walker was 28 years old.
Rationale for Deviation:
Mitigation of projected damages from an aberrancy resultant of Deviation K3-04117. Analysis showed 97% likelihood that the Rutherford Express Bus would crash into the Third Street Market at 8:51 am, September 27. The event would kill forty-seven people, forty-six of whom had extensive connections to future timelines.
One individual—Kenneth Walker (timeline node NC7-108412)—had much weaker connections to the prime timeline. Mr. Walker had a cancer of the brain that was both undiscovered and incurable. Due to his imminent deterioration and relative isolation from future events, Mr. Walker was selected as the catalyst.
The night of September 26, Agent Six visited the subject in a dream, assuming the form of Mr. Walker’s childhood dog, Benji. Mr. Walker was informed of his latent illness and of the anticipated accident. The subject was guided through his future timeline links, as well as projected nodal connections of the three most influential casualties: a child piano prodigy (NC7-130873), a mother of seven (NH5-P089218), and an orthopaedic surgeon (NC9-064112). Mr. Walker understood the request and consequences, and consented to serve as the catalyst. Instructions were inserted and his memory of the dream was erased.
The morning of September 27, Mr. Walker forgot his umbrella. He doubled back to his apartment, retrieved the umbrella, and ran to catch his bus. Approaching Fifth Avenue, while crossing against a traffic light, Mr. Walker altered his gait to avoid a deep puddle. He stumbled into the path of the Rutherford Express Bus and was struck. The vehicle did not complete its route to the Third Street Market, preserving forty-six lives.
Paramedics responded to the scene but were unable to revive the subject. A preliminary police investigation ascribed no fault to the driver, and a small memorial service was held for Mr. Walker on October 9. It was a poignant affair attended by family and friends, the appropriate mixture of reminiscence and grief. None of the ninety-seven guests in attendance know that Kenneth Walker died a hero.
Case file to be monitored for aberrancies for a one year period, with weekly review of timeline connections surrounding Mr. Walker’s parents (NC7-053441, NC3-242168) and the driver of the bus ND3-041333). If no aberrancies are detected during that period, status will be updated as Deviation: resolved.
October 12, 1988
Author : Ken Carlson
Parallel universes can be tricky. They create confusion, fear, and a false sense of hope.
So when I informed Nelson, my best friend from our original lives in Manhattan that I intended to destroy the portal between our universe and the other, as well as a good chunk the other’s New York, I should not have been surprised by his reaction.
“Have you gone mad, Brian, or simply cruel!” Nelson yelled at me, shaking his finger up at my face, as his face turned red.
“Calm in the eye of the storm, Nelson,” I said. “You’re here in this world now. Here is where you belong. Whatever happens back there is no concern of yours.”
I had been Nelson’s guide to this Manhattan. As liaison between the universes, my job was to negotiate and protect the path that connected them. I simply led Nelson to a subway stop at 1st Ave and 23rd Street, the H train on the Pink Line. Nelson, a fairly nebbish fellow at heart trusted me and I made the offer to pay for dinner after a long day of working together at Obligatory Mutual Insurance, he came along. At the appropriate stop, I gave him a gentle nudge, stranding him in our other world.
To the casual observer, our two worlds are fairly similar, but this Manhattan made the choice to save itself from a horrendous deadly future. Its technology was decades ahead of Nelson’s world, but you wouldn’t know it because many breakthrough items had become illegal.
Cell phones and personal computers had become a menace to the inhabitants many years ago. Socially, it created a generation of paranoid introverts. Politically it was a hazard as systems could be easily hacked and barriers to protect online fortunes, credit reports, environmental controls, and, most importantly, weapons, were frequently breached.
Violent skirmishes broke out world wide, started and completed before the average person on the street could be bothered to take a moment to silence his or her phone. As nations crumbled, the most powerful in charge took notice. They finally agreed on a new method—Return to a time when cell phones and its technology were never invented. In ways that climate change and nuclear weapons could never be suitably resolved, insecure computers risking dollars and power were.
After the initial wave of discontent of having to give up their Internet addictions, there was mention in the printed newspapers of many addicts committing suicide due to the overwhelming loss to their lives. They returned to speaking to people, rather than typing at them.
“Nelson,” I said, “the action has been decided. The risk is too great for cell phones or the wrong technology to come back in over here.” Our walk had taken us back to the subway.
“Brian,” he said, “what do you mean, ‘action.’ And why are you carrying a briefcase.”
“It’s simple,” I said, “I’ll take this train back to your old stomping grounds. Once I reach there I’ll disembark to leave the briefcase behind, then return. Once it self destructs, the portal will be closed, and the other world, well…”
As the old H pulled into the station, Nelson said he had a question. I leaned in as the loud train slowed to a halt. Nelson clocked me good with a right to the ear. He grabbed the briefcase and ran toward the train himself.
I shouted through the glass after he’d boarded. He didn’t answer. Since the train never returned, I can only assume he detonated it between stations, destroying the portal and leaving both worlds intact.
Author : Thomas Desrochers
Grant watched as steam curled up from his mug and disappeared into the foliage above, weak spears of early morning light dancing through the leaves. He smiled – it was rare to have a moment of peace. The girl’s mattress creaked in the next room. His fingers brushed along the edge of the picture frame in the middle of the table.
“Well,” he grunted. “Nothing lasts forever.”
The quiet was a blessing any more, a moment to try and build energy for whatever came next. He needed it – the arthritis in his legs was slowing him down even as the children seemed to get faster and more curious.
Another minute, another hour, another day. It was all borrowed, he knew, in a body that by all rights should have been retired a decade earlier. Time was coming to collect its debt, tapping at the balance sheet with an impatient finger and a smile that brooked no argument; there would be no warning.
He thought it was fitting: a body on borrowed time carving out a life in a ruin that had its own debts coming due. A dying man in a dead city trying to shelter the gleaming spark of a child’s life from the howling wind outside.
The City groaned below. Was it still alive? Maybe. Grant had come across dozens of lonely computers still humming away, tucked in bedrooms and offices, in server rooms alongside scores of dead machines, tucked into the corners of utility spaces. They were being fed, but every time he tried to tap into that energy it had flitted away from him, rerouted like a bird leading him away from a nest. Never any power to tie into, but every time a small gift: an untouched medicine cabinet, a shoe box full of seeds, a stuffed animal the day before the girl’s fourth birthday. Grant cleaned the machines every year, fighting the dust – half out of gratitude and half superstition.
But if it was alive, it was dying too. The computers were going dark. It was rot, he thought, brought about by the cut in The City’s side. It wasn’t large, but it let in the wind and moisture that blew around at ten thousand feet above sea level. Let in the world, and trapped them.
Another groan, humming through the floor and rattling the glass. The City had been the most impressive feat of engineering the planet had ever seen, a country compressed into a building.
Grant wrapped his hands around the mug, the heat providing some relief to his stiff knuckles. His thoughts danced around the question that had bothered him for the last four years: what would happen to the girl when he died? There wasn’t anyone left to pass her on to, or a way down. He hadn’t found a good answer yet. Truth was, he was out of time to find one. He could feel it.
Grant stood, knees popping, and pulled a small notebook from his jacket pocket, leaving it by his tea. He stepped out the apartment’s front door, closing it quietly behind him, and smiled at the trail of soft lights that hadn’t run in years leading away down the corridor. The City was still alive, and knew it was time.
Lyn stepped out of her bedroom, carrying her stuffed walrus in one hand, rubbing her eyes with the other. Another morning, Grant’s tea still steaming on the table, the rosy light caressing a yellowed picture of a young man and woman touching foreheads in the middle of a sunny field, eyes crinkled with happiness.