The Anachronists

“They’ll find you,” the chronomancer told me. “They always do. One day you’ll be sitting around sipping tea, playing Mah-Jongg, and BAM!” He slammed his fist on the rickety card table, nearly upsetting his coffee and definitely upsetting Sib. She moaned loudly and ran for the corner, then rocked back and forth and pounded her palms against her head as if the sudden sound had come from within. If he noticed her, he hid it well. People like Sib are easy to overlook.

“Time’s a big place,” I said.

“Not as big as you’d expect. You think you’re the first one to come up with this idea?”

I didn’t respond. The chronomancer exhaled a long, low note and pushed his fingers through his mop of wild white hair before taking off his glasses and polishing them on the edge of his greasy shirt. “All I’m saying,” he continued, “is that you’re not just going to vanish. Wherever you go you’ll stick out like a black cat in a snowstorm. You’ll get myths and legends built up around you. At worst, you’ll show up in history books, and they study that stuff. Anachronists, they call you guys. It would be hard enough if it was just you, but…” the chronomancer’s voice drifted as his eyes focused on the girl in the corner, “you’ll never be able to get away with that.”

His tone lowered at the final syllable, like mentioning Sib was a breach of etiquette. “You have something on your chin,” he might have said. “Your fly is down.” I stood up and stepped over the piles of paper and gears that littered his workshop to gather the small girl into my arms. “She has a name,” I told him.

The chronomancer pushed his glasses back onto his face and squinted at me in the dim light. “They’ll find you,” he repeated.

“We’ll take that risk.”

Sib’s small fingers grabbed at the collar of my shirt and she buried her face into the point where my head met my neck. She smelled like hospital, and she was still wearing the blue robe they’d given her when they tested her for genetic abnormality. The chronomancer watched her squirm into position.

“Do you have kids?” I asked him. He shook his head slowly.

“I applied, once, a long time ago,” he said. “I’m not made of the right stuff.”

“Neither’s she,” I said as I brushed my fingers against the space between her shoulderblades.

Again, he sighed that same note, though this time he slid open a metal filing cabinet under his table. The chronomancer withdrew a manila envelope and flipped through the papers with a grimy thumb. “Do you speak Greek?” he asked.

“I can learn.”

“We’ll find a place for you,” he said slowly, running his fingers over the page. “I’m sure we can find a place.”


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.


“I’m Will.”

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.”

The Europa Colony

Seventeen years ago, when I returned from the Europa colony, I was asked to give a speech at a middle school assembly. For two hours I talked about recycling. Recycled air, recycled food, recycled water. We throw things away here, but there, everything is recycled.

This kid comes up to me afterwards, a little girl of maybe twelve, and she asks, what’s it like to have less gravity?

I chuckled. It’s lighter, I told her.

No, she said, without a smile. What’s it really like?

I watched her for a few seconds. Her eyes were narrow like she was looking into the sun, and I swear I’ve never seen a kid so intent on knowing something. It was like I had the answers for the most important test she’d ever take.

I didn’t really know what to say. I mean, gravity is gravity. More gravity is heavier, less gravity is lighter. There isn’t much room for elaboration. In the end, I told her that it felt like going downhill on a roller coaster, but that wasn’t true at all. It’s much more peaceful, more still. Everything moves slower up there. Even time.

Now, sometimes I watch the moon and I think, that’s what Europa looks like from a shuttle. I wouldn’t say I miss it, though. I never went back to the colony, and now I’m past the mandatory age limit for space travel. It’s like a roller coaster, I told her. You must be this young to ride this attraction.

I wonder if that little girl ever made it. They say that, in a few decades, everyone on Earth will be recycled.


The back of the postcard says “please don’t give up.”

She lives on the seven hundred and thirtieth floor. The elevator takes nineteen minutes to reach the livingfloor, when there is no one else getting on it, which has only happened twice. Otherwise, it takes an extra twenty four seconds at each floor, plus three seconds to resume its maximum speed. Today, it takes twenty seven minutes. She does not mind. She watches the red numbers of the digital clock count off milliseconds.

There are clocks everywhere, so she always knows the time.

The city is an ancient forest of metal and cement, with thick trunks made sooty with exhaust, windows blackened. No one lives on the bottom level, of course. The air down there is toxic. She had been there once, on a field trip, with heavy breathing equipment that gasped and wheezed oxygen into the helmet of the protective suit. You needed a flashlight down there, even in the daytime. If you stood on the surface and looked up, you couldn’t see the first livingfloor, much less the current one.

The current one is the eighth, she knows.

Today she sits on a metal bench in the park, staring down through the Plexiglas shield to the seventh livingfloor. It is hazy in the grey fog. Above her, the levibots are working on the ninth, which will be completed in four years.

The levibots are not operated by people. People do not operate anything anymore.

There is no one else in the park. There never is, really. People do not move as much. Their rooms are small and white. They can touch the walls with two hands outstretched, usually. If they stretch the other way, their fingers reach the keyboard, which can be pulled onto their lap. The richer people have windows, but windows are seldom necessary. The sky is always dark, this high up. The sun glitters in a puddle of navy blue. The atmosphere is thin. It gets thinner every year. Every foot of altitude. They are climbing to the point where the air disappears.

She finds the postcard between the metal slats of the bench. On the front, there is a picture of a lake that stretched to the horizon, sky smeared with rust as the wide flame of the sun dips into the orange and blue water.

This must be the ocean, she thinks.

Please don’t give up.

She ponders the scrawl, thick smooth swirl of blue ink. Ink, from a pen and not a printer, letters curved and organic. She loves the way that the letter E’s each look different, the way they slip up as the line thins and then vanishes, reappearing at the start of the next word with a fresh fury.

She glances around, but the park is still empty.

She hesitates before climbing to the top of the bench, balancing on the backrest as she reaches over the seven-foot plastic shield and lets the postcard slip from her fingers. It spins, past her face and past her torso and past her feet, down past the livingfloor and into the thick soupy grayness, still falling and falling.

She wonders how long it will take the card to reach the hard surface. She wonders if there is wind down there, tearing through ancient roadways, catching the thick paper and floating it, like a prayer, to some great ocean where the sun still sets.


The dream: Jennie Smith woke up in a desert, standing in the center of an endless, cracked sheet of dirt so hard you could scrape your knees on it if you fell down. Above her, the sky was even blacker than her grandmother’s skin, and the moon seemed like a hole carved into its clay.

Several feet away, an ibis scratched at the soil with long and skinny legs, forcing its narrow beak into the grooves where the surface had split while drying. The ibis stopped, sensing her presence.

“What are you doing here?” it asked.

The ibis didn’t speak English. It was a different language, something Jennie Smith had never heard before, but the syllables still rang with meaning. “This is my dream,” she told the ibis. Her mouth couldn’t form the bird’s strange sounds, so she spoke in the language she used at school.

The ibis cackled, stamped at the broken ground. “Filthy,” it spat. The long beak again disappeared into a crack.

“What are YOU doing here?” Jennie asked.


When Jennie woke up the next morning she tried to hold onto the dream, tried to file the strange sounds away beside their English counterparts. She showered, got dressed, and ate breakfast with her mother and father and grandmother and grandfather and aunts and uncles and everyone else on their floor of the Center for Indigenous Transition.

“I had a strange dream last night,” she said, and began relating the events. At first, only her mother was listening, but gradually the others fell silent and before long, the length of the table was filled with closed mouths and wide eyes watching the girl’s gestures. “It asked me what I was doing here,” Jennie said. “But it didn’t say that, it didn’t say what are you doing here, instead, it said…” she closed her eyes and concentrated, testing the unfamiliar movements in the space where her tongue met the roof of her mouth. They felt foreign but fluid, and when she gave voice to them she was surprised by the ease with which they fell from her lips.

No one said anything, for several seconds. Her parents exchanged meaningful looks, her aunts and uncles exchanged meaningful looks, and get grandparents exchanged meaningful looks. After the silence in the room became nearly unbearable, it was broken by the sharp snap of Jennie’s grandmother’s palm against her cheek. “Ow!” Jennie yelled.

“Don’t you ever use that language again,” she said furiously.

“It was just a dream!” Jennie argued as she pressed her hand against the warm skin of her face.

“It’s a dead language,” the old woman continued with slightly less force. “It’s filthy. Don’t you ever let anyone hear you use that language again.”

Jennie put down her fork and stared at her plate, still rubbing her cheek with her other hand. “I’m sorry,” she said quietly.

“We use English now,” her grandmother said, then returned to her seat. Jennie watched the table, full of dark faces with darker eyes silently focusing on fingers, napkins, plates, anything but Jennie and her Grandmother. The old woman picked up her fork and scraped up the final remnants of her egg. “We use English,” she repeated. “Only English.”