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  • William Bryan Smith

"I Hope Yesterday Will Be The First Time We Never Met", Part 2




Sea of Tranquility (the Moon)

July 20, 1969

“Oh, cool,” she remarked, flatly. “The Moon.”

“We need to talk.”

“It’s not you,” she said. “It’s me.”

“About our situation.”

“It’s a situation now? At least you’re acknowledging…baby steps…pun intended.”

“Well…I meant the bigger situation.”

“I’m listening.”

Off on the horizon, a blue marble she recognized as the earth, was slowly rising.

“We can’t do both.”

“Both what?”

They were seated inside the TTU which was littered with tchotchkes and keepsakes such as a muzzleloader from the American Revolution, a lesser-known Van Gogh lifted straight from his Arles studio, and an unhatched Velociraptor egg.

He waved his hand and said, “This and that.”

“That?”

“Your situation.”

“Oh, it’s my situation?”

“You know what I meant.”

“All too clearly.”

Above them drifted the Command Module Columbia. Bryce pointed toward it. She ignored him.

“Maybe we should make a list of pros and cons for keeping it…”

“Why? It’s so clear what side of it your sympathies lie.”

“In the spirit of fairness…”

“Men from 500 years in the future are even worse than men from now. You’ve de-evolved. How is that even possible?”

“1969?”

“My time whenever that is… I don’t even know any more.”

In the distance, Apollo Lunar Module Eagle slowly descended to the Moon’s surface.

“The Eagle has landed,” Bryce said. “Do you have any more of that Crackerjack in your purse?”

They’d raided an A&P from 1950’s era Harrisburg when they’d checked in on Lydia’s parents being born.

“No,” she said, lying.

“Shit.”

“Sorry.”

“Not you.”

As Neil Armstrong tentatively made his way out of the Eagle lander and grasped the ladder, Lydia became aware of another presence on the Moon—a craft, looking suspiciously similar to the one they were in.

“What’s that?” she asked, alarmed.

“Trouble.”

“Trouble? What does that mean, Bryce?”

He ignored her. He was frantically typing in coordinates on the keypad.

“Bryce? Bryce—”



Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

(The Present)


“So,” he said. “I haven’t been completely honest with you…”

“Do tell…”

They were in the parking lot of Ye Olde Dauphin Tavern (est. 1820). The modest skyline of the capital city shimmered on the gentle crest of the Susquehanna River.

“There’s no easy way to say this, so I’m just going to say it. The TTU. It’s stolen. I stole it.”

She watched his eyes scan over her features trying to gauge her reaction.

“You stole it from those guys on the Moon?”

“Biologics,” he said. “Yes—”

“Wait. What? Bio—”

“Logics. They’re technically not human. They’re manufactured pilots…”

“Manufactured?”

“Made from organic materials in a lab…they have all the same organs as us, they think like us, I suppose—”

“That’s insane.”

“Hey, don’t shoot the messenger, okay? I’m no scientist. I’m only repeating what they told us—”

“Who?”

“Who told you?”

“My employer,” he said. “The lab…”

She looked out at the city she’d known for most of her life, at the reality she’d known for most of her life—until she’d met Bryce, and she’d stepped into the TTU to humor him.

“What do/did you do…besides stealing things?”

“Maintenance.”

“Maintenance?”

“It was a good job.” 

He recounted how the private lab he worked for was a big player in the industrial military complex servicing his future iteration of the U.S.A., how while working the late shift, he entered the prototype TTU they were currently sitting in and, as a lark, decided to push a few buttons and…here we are.

“Prototype? This thing is an experimental craft?”

“The time travel part had been perfected for decades,” he said, matter-of-factly. “This was just an upgrade of sorts…supposed to be safe for humans.”

“Safe for humans?”

“You don’t have to repeat everything I say.” He laughed, nervously. “You’re going to love this part…”

“Am I?”

“Until this prototype, it wasn’t quite safe for humans to time travel…”

She stared blankly at him.

“Again, let me reiterate, I am no scientist…”

“You’re a janitor.”

“Maintenance. Anyway. From what we were told, the time-hopping scrambles your atoms since it essentially disassembles you atom by atom and then reassembles you in whatever locale you choose…”

“And that’s the reason for the bio—”

“Logics. Yes. They were expendable—disposable life, if you will—until they perfected the technology.”

“So you have been scrambling my atoms. Great. You are such an asshole.”

“Obviously, it works. We’re alive. I made it here to the 21st Century fully intact.”

“What do you think all of this atom scrambling will do to a baby?”

He pointed out the portal and said, “Look where we are. Back where it all began. Thirty minutes from now, I will appear over there in the TTU and go inside the bar and meet you. We haven’t met yet. You’re not pregnant yet.”

 “You think it works that way? You think we can just Ferris Bueller the odometer in reverse and undo all of the centuries, erase a pregnancy?”

“I’m not getting the reference…”

“Besides, isn’t there a version of me inside the bar now? There can’t be two of us. Doesn’t that create some kind of paradox?”

“Mrs. Big Brain here…”

“You don’t know?”

He shrugged. 

“We need to leave here now, before you screw things up, even more…”

He bit his lip. 

“Made sense in my head.”

“You needed to bring me back like 30 seconds—a minute—after we left.”

“Right…”



Sigüenza, Guadalajara, Spain

41° 4′ 9″ N, 2° 38′ 21″ W

(Some time in the 20th Century)

    

“Where are we?”

“Estación de tren Sigüenza,” he said, reading from the display.

“Mexico?”

“Spain.”

She looked around. Above them, there was a cobalt sky dotted with cotton candy clouds. The land around them was bathed in glorious sunlight. From the position of the sun in the sky, she guessed it was around noon.

“We’re at a train station.”

“Looks like it.”

“Why?”

He shrugged. “I honestly just keyed in some random coordinates.”

“Sure.”

“Let’s get a drink,” he said.

They found a bar nearby. Bryce ordered two bottles of Mahou after seeing a poster on the wall. It was in Spanish. He pulled out a handful of crumbled euros and dropped them on the bar. The bartender—with his thick mustache, long mutton chops, and butterfly collar—looked suspiciously at the currency.

“Wrong money,” Lydia said. “You’re about 20 years too early.”

She fished through her purse, through all of the antiquated currencies as well as monies not in use for hundreds of years, and found some pesetas. She handed them to the bartender who tried to make change, but she waved him off. She wasn’t planning on returning to Spain—or the 20th Century—again. They had reached a crossroads of sorts; it was the end of the line.

They carried their cold beers outside and sat down at a table beneath an umbrella.  

“Is it legal here?” he asked.

“I doubt it.”

“Doesn’t mean we still couldn’t find someone to do it.”

It hit harder here for some reason, in the daylight, in a time period so similar to her own.

“After all we’ve been through, how can you care so little about me?”

He stayed silent. She sipped her Mahou. People around them occupied the other tables. They seemed mostly content with their respective situations, with who they selected to share their lives, as they waited reasonably for their trains. She looked back at Bryce who’d already downed his beer and looked like he was now trying to stifle a burp. Through the eons and lightyears and births, deaths, and rebirths—this was the best she could do?

“You’re seriously thinking of keeping it?” he asked, breaking the silence.

Whether she did, or didn’t, have the child was irrelevant—at least for the moment; the larger question seemed to be about her and her value.

“Why haven’t we ever visited your time?”

He squinted into the sky. 

“It isn’t very nice…it’s not like this.”

“How long, before you met me, have you been kicking around history?”

He drummed his fingers nervously on the table.

“You want to know if there have been other girls?”

“Women.”

“A few.”

And then it was suddenly clear. It wasn’t the admission that there had been other female companions before her; she’d suspected that much. What had become clear was that he was running away—that he had run away—from something. 

“Shit.”

“What?” he asked.

She finished her beer. 

“Take me back.”

“Where?”

She didn’t answer.

“Harrisburg?”

She nodded. She thought she might cry. She heard the train whistle signal its approach.

“What about—”

“I’ll take care of it.”

“You’ll—”

“Take care of it. Don’t worry about it.”

He nodded.

“When you mean, you’ll take care of it, what exactly does that mean—”

“Stop talking.”

“I just want to be clear—”

“Stop talking.”

He nodded. 

She stared up at the hills in the distance, these hills in the Ebro Valley that didn’t look like anything to her.

“You mean an abortion, right?”

“Jesus Christ.”

“I’m sorry, but I just need to know—”

“What’s her name?”

“Huh?”

“Your wife,” she said. “The one back in your time.”

“I don’t—you’re crazy—I mean, why would you even think—”

“Take me back to Pennsylvania...any time will do…”

It suddenly occurred to her that she’d been time-traveling her entire life—always looking ahead or living in the past. But the past was just shadow puppets on the walls of our collective minds, and the future was nothing at all but a vague projection of our wants and fears; trying to grasp either was merely a distraction from the present. 

“Take me home,” she said. 

There was no guarantee he would do as she asked. It was the risk you took with time travelers. Despite what he thought, she wasn’t trapped. She had options. There were trains going to Barcelona, to Madrid, and elsewhere. After all, she’d once stared into the eyes of Marie Antoinette as she was led stoically to the guillotine. She’d be alright.

She saw how it all ends, many times; individual choices had little bearing on a universe indifferent to your existence. In fact, there were no choices to be made. It was all scripted. However it would play out, it was the correct way—the only way.

She got up and started to walk away.

Alarmed, he asked, “Where are you going?”

She paused, her back turned to him. She held the beat a moment longer, found her place in the cosmic script and delivered her line flawlessly, and on cue.

“What does it matter?”

In a universe so absurd, that the light from a star keeps traveling through the dark long after the star itself has burned out, it was the only question worth asking.




About William Bryan Smith:

William Bryan Smith is a graduate of the Bennington Writing Seminars and holds an MFA in Creative Writing & Literature. He is the author of five previous novels, the most recent, Free Range Men (Main Street Rag, 2014). His short fiction has appeared in such magazines and journals as Spectrum, The Bennington Review, Marrow, Close to the Bone, and Conte.

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