Author : Patrica Stewart

Kathryn Duncan sat in the waiting room of Alternative Realities, surrounded by her husband, her two sons, her four grand children, and her seven year old great granddaughter, Wendy. Wendy sat in her lap, while the others gathered around her recalling stories about their childhood (usually exaggerated, fabricated, or both). They were all laughing and poking fun at each other. Talking about everything except why they were there. Kathryn had just turned 75, and was now eligible for her one legal opportunity to temporarily “do-over” her life. For the modest sum of $1,999.99, she could enter the “chamber” for two hours and experience a lifetime of events and memories “as real as reality itself,” to quote the holocommercials. She simply chose a date in her life where she made some key decision, and the temporal computer would manipulate space-time to send her back (virtually) to that moment in time. But in this alternate reality, she could choose a different path. Then, she would live out the new timeline (virtually and accelerated) to the present date, unaware of the true timeline until she was removed from the chamber. Once revived, she would retain both sets of memories, and would know the answer to the nagging question the haunts most people…”What if…”

Wendy, who was somewhat overwhelmed by the gathering, innocently looked at her great grandmother and asked the question that no adult would. “Great grandma, what are you goin’ to change?”

The room suddenly turned silent. Nobody ever asks that question, primarily because the change could involve you (or more likely, their life without you). As it turned out, Kathryn hadn’t made her final decision, although she had narrowed it down to the standard options:

1. (Marriage) Marry Scott instead of Joe.

2. (Children) Finish my PhD before having children.

3. (Career) Accept the vice presidency in the Lunar office.

After all, these were the logical alternative timelines. Would she have been happier, more fulfilled, or more respected if she had chosen a different path? She looked into Wendy’s beautiful crystal blue eyes, then at her loving family, all staring at her expectantly. They had all been so supportive, especially Joe. He had “gone back” last year, when he turned 75. Kathryn had never asked him what he had changed. Only naive, innocent children ever do that. But he was not the same afterwards. Nobody else seemed to notice, but after being married to him for over 50 years she knew he was affected, at least sub-consciously. Maybe it was regret, maybe it was only her imagination. Kathryn couldn’t be sure. But it made her wonder why everybody was obsessed with going back. Maybe 90% of the people confirmed they had made the right decision, and 10% didn’t. Maybe it was 50-50. You either climb out of the chamber no better off than when you went in, or you had a lifetime of regret to deal with. It seemed like there was nothing to gain, but an awful lot to lose.

Kathryn wrapped her arms around Wendy, and stood up. “Yes, honey. I’ve decided to change…nothing.” Hugging Wendy like a life preserver, Kathryn left the waiting room, and headed home, content in the knowledge that she had made all the right decisions, including this one.

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