Peter did not remember the first time he used the displacement generator. That was how it should be, of course. When used properly, the generator always erased the traces of itself. If it didn’t, a person could get tangled up in time, strangled by tethers of conflicting memory. So when he woke up in the white room, surrounded by lights and wires and the generator’s dull whirr, it used to take Peter several minutes to get his spatial and temporal bearings. Not anymore, though. Now, he had a few shortcuts.
When he came to, the first thing his eyes settled upon was the sheet of paper taped to a wire over his bed. He snatched it, squinting at the broad, circular letters. Your name is Peter Graham. You are a displacement technician. You are thirty seven years old.
The statements continued, and gradually, Peter’s memory spilled into the places that were blank when he first woke up. He had two sisters. He lived with his girlfriend and their daughter Sarah. He played tennis. By lunchtime, he’d overcome most of the amnesia of temporal shock.
“What’s it today, mate?” asked the portly, graying man across the table at the complex’s cafeteria.
Peter didn’t remember anything about Will, but he unfolded the paper to double check. Nope. Nothing. “I’m sorry,” he said. “It’ll come back in a few hours.”
Will nodded and peeled the plastic wrap from around his sandwich before taking a large bite of synthetic tuna. He chewed this thoughtfully, then put the sandwich back on the table and snatched the paper from Peter’s fingers. “Peter Graham,” he read. “Nice. You’ve got a kid.”
Peter nodded. Odd man. Years of doing this made some people go a little strange.
“You working this afternoon?” Will asked. “Check the schedule.” He pointed to a large display on an adjacent wall, and Peter stood up to find his name. It was nothing but numbers.
“I don’t remember it being like this before,” Peter said. Will chuckled.
“Check your arm,” he said. Peter did. At the base of his wrist, a seven digit number showed in crisp black ink. “They can’t do that kind of thing by names, for obvious reasons.”
Peter found his number and followed it across the glowing chart. “I’m working the French Revolution,” he said.
He continued examining the schedule, picking out what he’d be doing for the next few days. “Hey,” he noticed, “Why do I have a dormitory number?”
“They have here that I’m supposed to sleep in section 17-F.”
“Well, then you sleep in 17-F.”
“What about my girlfriend and kid?” Peter said. He dimly remembered promising her that he’d take her out for dinner tonight. Was it their anniversary? Her birthday, maybe. Will laughed.
“See you at dinner,” he said as he pushed away from the table. “Maybe you’ll be Pierre by then.”