Timely Persuasion - Online Edition - Chapter 10


10 A.M. Automatic

Apparently I should have yearned harder.

    Instead of the familiarity of my Mom’s car, I was strapped to a chair with a series of electrodes covering my upper body, neck, and head.  My right arm was immobilized by a set of braces pinning it to a metal plate.  My head felt cold.  Rubbing my scalp with my free left hand, I realized it had been shaved and coated with some sort of wet goo to allow a better grip for the machine monitoring my brain.  A mild jolt of electrafixion radiated out of the metal plate and into my right hand, triggering a huge migraine as my mind was flooded with random bits of disconnected memories. 

    My sister died.

    A lot of people died. 

    I could have and should have helped. 

    I’m being punished. 

    I tried, but nobody believed me. 

    I tried. 

    I really tried.

    A man in a white lab coat suddenly stood before me mumbling to himself, empty syringe clutched tightly in his hand.  The question en route to his lips was already apparent in his wild-eyed stare.

    “Tell me, what did you see?  Did it work?  Is it safe?”

    I didn’t want to stay here long enough to answer.  Closing my eyes as another flood of memories hit, I tried to grab hold of one that would get me out.  But nothing seemed to fit, as most of what I was seeing was so new to me.

    My mother crying.

    An empty room with bright lights and men in suits.

    A straight jacket. 

    This hospital room.

    A syringe. 

    The syringe. 

    My headache multiplied exponentially until I wasn’t really thinking of anything at all aside from the pain.  I pulled my eyelids even tighter, altering my vision from black to red.  Instead of darkness I could only see a big red tomato, which lit a candle of thought to the airplane conversation. 

    And then something changed.  I opened my eyes.  Mister MD man in front of me was gone.  I had blinked back again, but I was still in the same little room.  Two of us, actually.

    “It’s me!  I mean, it’s you!  You’re back!  Tell them it wasn’t a dream!”

    This was certainly not good.  I tried to calm my other self down.

    “I might be able to get you out of here, but first I need to know where we are and how we got here.”

    He screamed again, directing his rant to some person or thing unseen by me.  “It’s me.  I’m back!  I’m not crazy!  I know things!  I want to help!  It wasn’t a dream!  It hasn’t happened yet, and I want to help!”

    That was enough.  I covered his/my mouth.

    “I also need you to do it without drawing attention to the fact that I’m here.  They can’t see me, only you can.”

    My current time counterpart gave me a scared look but seemed to understand.  As I had at our first meeting, I slowly took my hand away from our mouth.  In summary, he told me how our sister had still killed herself by overdosing on sleeping pills and wine late that night.  How he and her were supposed to meet, but she stood him up and never called to cancel.  (What the fuck was this world coming to?  She didn’t leave a message?  At least I could have heard her voice one last time.)  How he got up the next morning and saw September 11th unfold before his eyes on the television screen and wished he had tried to stop it.  He had the power, had the premonition, but did nothing with it.  And then a momentary lapse of reason did him in.

    “I told everyone that I knew it would happen because I told myself, but I thought it was a dream and didn’t believe it.  But one day I would come back from the future and tell myself something else, and I’d be ready.”

    Mom and Dad sent him/me to a psychiatrist when I wouldn’t recant my story.  The shrink reported me to the government.  They wanted to ask a few questions about my foreknowledge, but the doctors from this hospital intervened and took me here.  He wasn’t particularly clear on where “here” was, just that it was a research facility of some kind studying the human brain, specifically memory and conscience.  At this point they were still performing tests, none of which were having the results they anticipated.  The scientists were always angry after he told them about dreams he’d have while under the influence of the assortment of injectable drugs they gave him.  One doctor in particular just wouldn’t let it go.

    “But now that you’re back they’ll be happy.  They’ll know I’m not crazy, per se.  They can study us together, and we can try to fix it again.  This time I’m ready.”

    That, more or less, was all that I needed (or wanted) to hear.  Time to give this another shot.  If I went back to before I caused myself to be sent here, I should be able to “pinch away this whole ugly episode” to quote my future self.  Which led to the next logical question:  Did the old me who got this whole thing started still exist?  I still remembered him, but that didn’t mean I hadn’t undone him by sending us here.  But if he didn’t exist, then I wouldn’t exist, and…

    A wave of fresh headaches hit me, again accompanied by a set of blurry new memories that were hard to make sense of.  I’d almost rather have swiss cheese memory than runneth over memory.  I still didn’t have an answer to my question on how many gigabytes the human brain could hold, but I sensed that mine might be almost full.

    Clearing my mind of this extraneous contemplation, I closed my eyes and thought back to my sister’s wedding day.  I remember the wedding day as opposed to the wedding since I wasn’t at the actual wedding, my form of protest over her choice of a mate.  I hoped that this passive display of my feelings would be enough for either her or my parents to call the whole thing off, but instead I was made to be the bad guy without ever playing my trump.  A few months earlier, I had actually written out a scripted objection with the intent to read it to the entire congregation when asked to “speak now or forever hold your peace.”  I never did read it, and it wound up being the last thing I ever wrote.

    But this time was different.  This time around that’s just what I’d do.  I envisioned myself proudly walking down the aisle, objection held high over my head by an outstretched arm.  The crowd looked on in anticipation.  Eyes still closed, I backtracked from the wedding to have a few days of preparation.  What could get me there?  What happened before?  I needed to ride a thought to the wedding, and nothing else mattered.  Suddenly I had it, and then something changed.

    Upon opening my eyes, the room was now empty.  Other me had disappeared.  If I had gone back in time, it was good to know I didn’t always have to pit stop in the present between trips.  I wandered through the halls (and the walls) of the hospital in search of confirmation of when the hell I was, but reading material seemed to be off limits.  I suppose they didn’t want to give the mental patients any ideas to fuel their fantasies, and thus strictly monitored the flow of information in and out.

    Eventually I managed to find my way out of the building.  (Rather easy when you can just walk in one direction, passing through walls until the structure ends rather than have to navigate the maze of corridors for a proper exit.)  The sun was shining, though most people were wearing heavy coats.  After much wandering, I found a newspaper box.  April 12th, 2000.  It wouldn’t be in the paper until tomorrow, but I remembered that this was the day Metallica sued Napster for copyright infringement, firing one of the first shots in the file sharing war.  This lawsuit was a failure, but Napster’s freeloading days were numbered.

    In hindsight, covering the rise and fall of music sharing probably could have saved my career as a critic if I hadn’t been so stubborn about my assignments.  At least it was a good enough memory to time travel on.  The wedding was three days away.  Plenty of time.  Somewhere out there, younger me was working on his wedding objection.  This time he would read it.