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July 25, 2006

Filed under: fiction»short

The Shuffle

I'll be honest, I'm still irrationally angry about the OLPC sequencer malarkey and probably won't write much today. So instead, here's a "chapter" from A Fear of Yesterdays, the Great American Time Travel Novel that I've been working on every now and then, but probably won't ever finish. This bit is set in 1492 Italy.

"The thing about all this time travel," Simon begins, "is that you start to feel a bit like a deck of cards."

Jesus provides the obvious next line. "You're all shuffled," he says.

"Exactly," says Simon, leaning back in his chair with great satisfaction. He, Jesus, and Thirteen are all flagrantly anachronistic--but they have managed to convince the passers-by that they are part of a roving theater group, which will work temporarily. It is made more believable by Simon's constant low-level theatricality, as well as Jesus's total-body tattoo job. Every now and then, Thirteen wiggles a hand puppet to complete the illusion. A trio of small children has gathered a few yards away to watch them speak, even though they can't understand a word.

"Here, I'll show you what I mean," continues Simon. "So this one time a few years back, I'm seeing this chick--"

"Wait," says Thirteen, "you mean a few years back from now? Or a few years back Simon-time?"

Simon glares at her. "I will handle the temporal disintegration, thank you very much. The answer is both. Real-time, it was around 1350."

"The black plagues?" Thirteen shakes the hand puppet in mock-reproach. "Simon, you nasty little dog."

"--May I continue? Thank you. So we're staying in London, we've managed to nab a room for a couple weeks. We're both at that puppy-love infatuation stage, going at it like wild mongeese and doing drugs she brought over from 12th century Arizona, and we get the bright idea: why not do the time out of order? So we grab a piece of paper, write the numbers 1 - 14 on little squares, and each of us picks an order out of a hat."

"Different orders?" says Jesus.

"Right, totally different. Completely random. We each promised to do the full two weeks, no matter what happened, and every night at midnight exactly we'd jump to the next day in the list."

Simon takes a moment to stretch. The children look at him wide-eyed. "Boo!" he mutters to them, and they giggle. Thirteen gestures impatiently. "And?" she asks.

"It was fantastic." says Simon. "One of us did something stupid, impossible to say which or when, pissed the other one off. 'Next' morning, of course, the other person doesn't know what it was, because they're from who knows when subjectively. We bounced back and forth, one of us almost always either mad because the other did something wrong, or because they had to wake up next to a cranky lunatic for no apparent reason. It was two weeks of constant stress and make-up sex." He pauses, reflecting. "Best relationship I've ever had, really."

"Doesn't surprise me," Thirteen says. "So what you're trying to say is that we can only survive being time travelers because we're too self-centered for paradox?"

"Exactly," yells Simon. "Look at us: forming friendships with other time travelers requires all three of us to either maintain a planned sequence of meetings--which we almost never manage to do perfectly--or to recklessly toss causality aside when our subjective experiences don't match yet."

"Not bad," says Jesus.

"'Course it's not bad," says Simon. "I've thought it all through."

"Wasn't bad the last six times you said it, either." says Jesus, catching Simon mid-gloat.

"Wait, what?"

Jesus nudges Thirteen. "Have you ever noticed how much he repeats himself?" he asks.

"Oh yes, constantly. That's what I like about Simon. He's a rock of stability in my life. It's so nice to see him do this bit for the 'first' time, though."

Simon searches their faces and sees only glib humor. "Oh, no," he moans. "I've messed up the dates and picked a later one, haven't I? Just how much time have you guys got on me?"

Thirteen can't hold it--she bursts out laughing. "Got you," she chuckles. "You're on schedule. We're just messing with you. Should have seen the look on your face..."

Simon just looks at her, wide-eyed. "Are you sure?" he asks. "Because Jesus looks about right, but I'd swear you're looking a lot older--"

The children cheer as his sentence is cut off by a fast-moving, airborne handpuppet.

Future - Present - Past