The Thing I Told You Over Lunch - a story

in #story5 years ago (edited)

Earlier this week Harlan Ellison, a science fiction writer and screenwriter, passed away. About three years ago I wrote this short story. It's not about Ellison, but it mentions him favorably. It was one of two "sibling" stories, two variations on an idea. Harlan Ellison has been on my list of favorite writers for many years. I even read some of his screenplays. It is a privilege to be able to share a few nice words about his writing.

He's getting your coffee. Sugar?

For the other story, or rather, the other waking dream I had, I need to go back to that thought exercise I told you about. The one about talking to future versions of me.

You know, what I should do if a future version of me shows up.

I told you about the protocol, didn't I?

How do they know where and when to go? A couple of times a month, when I'm somewhere safe and comfortable I memorize the location, the time and the date. That way I have spacetime roadmarks. Sometimes I do it when I'm with friends I trust.

Yes, you're one of the friends I can trust with this.

About the protocol, it's really just a quick test to see that I improved in some way, I mean the future me, and all of them  should know the protocol.

I can't refer to him as the F me. That sounds, well, really bad.

If this future me shows up when I'm eating then I'll pick up the tab. It's a long term investment, sort of.

The future me brings a chess board. I play white, I do my best, and I only speak to him if he wins. Of course, it doesn't guarantee anything about him, but it's a good way to weed out the ones I definitely wouldn't want to talk to.

We're still in the thought experiment, it never actually happened yet. I'm pretty sure I'd recognize an older version of me. I'm even more sure that he'd know some key phrases. Some things only I would know that he could use to convince me that he's me.

How is your pie?

Any future version of me would know the “no spoilers” rule. I'm a very temporally responsible person. Or at least if I would be if I could actually travel back through time.

It looks like a pie.

When you were in critical condition, I feared for you. I don't remember ever being so afraid in my entire life. And I've been in tight situations a few times. Even some really bad ones. I had lots of weird thoughts going through my mind, and then they got mixed up with a version of that thought experiment. In my mind I was all over the place. I know it's way too easy to say if I only could I would have done this or that. No one can really give his significant other the moon. Even Neil and Buzz couldn't do that. They only brought back some dust and rocks, and didn't even get to keep them. But in my mind I was already bargaining for your life. I told you about that one before. Although that's not where the "future me" thought experiment comes in.

Maybe in a way that was also a form of bargaining, but it was more about thinking of ways to save you. A conversation with myself really. In reality I was just as helpless as anyone else.

Sure, have some fruit. It's a large fruit bowl.

I wanted some future me to come back and fix it. Bring some miracle cure from the future. Or at least to make sure that you make it, taken off the critical list.

Go ahead, have some more fruit. There's a lot of variety here in the bowl. Lots of different colors of fruit. That's supposed to be a good thing.

I like this place too, it's a nice quiet spot.

The thing is, that future me, the one who comes back to fix it. Comes back to save you. What he does, it's what I would do, because any future me does what I would do, under some circumstances. So the thought experiment is not just about  handling time travelers, it's also about me.

That's a nice blouse. Brings out your eyes. And that necklace is also very nice. Those ornaments - one of them is Orion and the other is Cassiopeia. Right, the constellations. You didn't know you had constellations on your necklace?

I can show you the Cassiopeia later, it's near the north star. I'm sure no one thinks of you as a Cassiopeia. Orion is an equatorial constellation. I think it wouldn't be visible at this time of year. Orion is the hunter.

Going back in time and changing history has its risks. Like that Star Trek episode, the one Harlan Ellison won all those awards for, when someone went back in time and saved a woman, and as a result their entire history was gone, and they had to go back and not save her. Really good story, very well done. There was this earlier version of the script, even better in some ways, and in that version near the end Kirk wanted to save her anyway, even though he knew he would be giving up his own timeline. The line that summed it up was that never has any woman been offered the universe for love.

I don't think they mind us still sitting here. The place is only half full.

And I look at that necklace again, and what I don't tell you, and I probably never will, is that I was going to have that necklace made for you, or at least an identical one. The ornaments that look like constellations, they were earrings, but you don't wear earrings, so I was planning to have a jeweler put them on a necklace and give you the necklace. Earrings don't have to be identical, right? But then I never got around to it, and I really shouldn't be giving you jewelry now. We're not at that place. I don't ask you where you got the necklace.

And then I continue telling you all that was running through my mind when you were under. And I was thinking, what would make me so obsessed that I find a way to go back and try to change it. Knowing that I'm risking the existence of my own timeline for it.

The only thing I could think of that would push me there would be losing you. Of course we didn't lose you, you're here now, you're on the right track, but at that time, we didn't know that yet.

I did know one thing, that if such a thing were possible, I would make that choice. I would offer you the universe for love. I would always choose You.

And now you look at me and you say that maybe I did. Maybe that's what happened. That is, that other I, but in a way you also mean me. I like that. I like that you think of me that way.

And then we talk some more, and eventually we get up and leave. I look at the passersby, and wonder if some day I might spot a strangely familiar face, one I can't quite place, walk past me.

Photo by Valeria Boltneva from Pexels


Glad you like them. It's a free image from a stock image site, and I provided a link and credit to the original. The photographer has a nice collection there.

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