Author: John Affleck

Last thing I remember, before sitting up and screaming, was being pinned down in The Handless Clock while some Viking-looking dude toyed with a hardwood mallet and eyed my leg. My left knee, specifically. Away from us, I could hear a drunken argument over just who at one table had gone back and killed Hitler, while at another table, they were singing in a language I did not understand. Check that. Language family I did not understand.

Time-traveling sounds like a blast for a certain kind of geek, and I have to admit I’m among them. Alpha and Omega, you get to see it all. But there’s a choice to it. Once you are approached for the game, one option the Travelers offer you is to abandon everyone you ever knew and just go on missions. By that I mean repairing holes in time-space, eliminating the odd timeline completely, eliminating the odd bad actor completely, which is complicated and involves reaching back several generations, then moving forward and accomplishing everything that family would have accomplished. You live nowhere and everywhere. It’s a lot — physically, emotionally. Those folks are the closest thing to pirates I’ve ever met, except for actual pirates.

What’s also a lot is the other way of playing it. In that scenario, your work tends to be a little tamer — science and observation and all that — and you come back the same moment you left to the same family, the same friends, the same life. Only, here’s the thing. You’ve got to be exactly as you were when you left, so you don’t screw up the timeline. So, say, you’re 5-foot-4 and 120 pounds, and you’re sent someplace like Holland to learn more about Rembrandt. Having to be Dutch, what the wiseasses call our “costume department” will make you 6-foot-8 and 230 pounds to fit in. But you must go back to 5-4 at the end of the day. Not comfortable.

In my case, I was approached by a member of the Travelers Society while I was in the hospital, recovering from a busted kneecap I got in a bicycle accident, where it turns out the orthopedic surgeon just happened to be the girl of my dreams. Battered as I was, I knew it right when I met her — and that fact, and the correctness of my decision — were confirmed by my travels, which revealed her warm and loving nature throughout life. But there was an obvious issue for me, that being the number of journeys through time in which a broken leg is a good idea are relatively few. No way around it. I go time traveling, the leg heals. I come back to my lady the moment I left …

So, here I was in the Clock, again, getting ready to make myself acceptable to my doctor and the rest of the hospital. The pub is one of several Traveler hangouts around time, or maybe out of time is more like it, and the only place I would really trust such delicate work to be done. “Sure you wanna play it this way, mate? There’s still time to ask for a transfer,” a mad, sunburned Aussie in bad need of a sonic shower asked as he climbed onto my chest and poured a whiskey down my throat.

“It’s what I do for love, brother,” I coughed.

“Love stupid,” the Viking said as the hammer crashed down, shooting me into my old body like a supersonic train on which some jerk has just hit the emergency brake.