D. A. Madigan, Time Watch
Publisher: Amazon Kindle Edition, 2009
E-book: $9.95 US
The air took on the razor-sharp, crystalline sheen of overtime.
Liz froze into utter immobility, her pleasant rather than pretty facial features, errant strands of breeze blown blonde hair, half-lifted hand with fluttering, unmanicured fingers, and frankly enormous boobs lifting and falling distractingly under a wet one-piece swimsuit, all distilling into one sharp, utterly unmoving image, her mouth half opened, voice cut off partway through an adorably accented ‘well, HONestly’.
The gently lapping surface of the pool, sloshing mildly every time someone jumped in or climbed back out again, went utterly still.
The breeze itself cut off as if someone had thrown a switch.
The air, and the world, was completely motionless all around me. It was as if everything I could see had suddenly been immersed in invisible amber.
All sound vanished...
...except for the shoe-soles-crunching-on-gravel sound of more than one person running up the path from the parking lot towards me.
Someone else moving in overtime?
It was contrary to all my experience to date, and frankly, I was shocked. My conscious mind was stunned, paralyzed, unable to even begin to decide what I should do.
My body, on the other hand, seemed to be way ahead of my brain.
I tried to jump up out of my chaise longue and as soon as I sat up and began to shift my weight slightly, wound up sliding right off onto the concrete. In overtime, nearly every discrete object except the surface of the Earth itself seems all but frictionless and almost entirely immobile; I think it has to do with the timestream protecting itself from interference, but I don’t know.
Anyway, I slid to the ground, and instead of trying to get up, I just reached out, hooked my fingers around the leg of the Liz’s chaise longue — having been reminded everything was smooth as glass, I cupped it, instead of just counting on the friction of a grip that wouldn’t be there... and yanked myself hard with that arm. Even the friction of the ground seems largely a matter of conscious will in overtime... something that bothers me sometimes, but I haven’t figured out a lot of this stuff yet... and since I wanted to slide, baby, I SLID. Like a Russian bobsled down an icy mountain chute, I whipped forward on my belly across the normally rough concrete next to the pool and shot across the time-frozen, use-rippled surface of the water, skimming with no perceptible decrease in velocity towards the mansard-roofed clubhouse on the other side, all while staring frantically over my left shoulder towards the parking lot I’d heard the running footsteps coming from.
Two guys rounded Building A, carrying something in their hands that pretty much had to be guns, although I couldn’t get a good look as I slid like an eel on a greased tin roof towards the clubhouse. What I did see clearly, though, because my underbrain already knew what it was looking for while the rest of me was still baffled, was the glint of silver at their wrists.
They were wearing watches like mine.
This is very VERY bad, I thought quite coherently to myself.
And then, in a more jumbled fashion: Why did my watch go into overtime right before they showed up, AND HOW THE HELL ARE THEY MOVING?
They were pointing their... yep, definitely guns... at me, and flashes were popping at the ends of the barrels, and things were buzzing through the air that seemed pretty much like bullets flying by me on the infiltration course at Basic Training back in my youth. My conscious mind dissolved in a chaos of confusion as I tried to figure out how the hell high-velocity projectile weapons could possibly function in a realm where the flow of entropy itself was in momentary stasis. My subconscious slapped my hand into the ground and since I didn’t want to slide, I pivoted around my palm and zipped, just as easily as you’d ever want, right around the corner of the clubhouse. There was a patch of gravel there, and even in overtime, even when you want it to, gravel does not do frictionless well. So I rolled and came to my feet with nothing like the spryness or agility of the actual action hero who SHOULD have been in a situation like this, and turned to head through the gate into the parking lot...
And nearly crapped my pants.
The gate was closed.
Well, duh, of course the gate was closed, it was ALWAYS closed, we couldn’t have kids wandering into the pool area unattended, they might fall in and drown, that’s what the gates were FOR, but...
You do not open doors. Or windows. Or gates. In overtime.
In overtime, everything is in stasis except you. Well, not you, ME, as the only guy I knew who had this amazing time-displacement watch gizmo. Until very recently, that is. Now, everything but me and the two idiots who also had watches who were somehow shooting at me and who I could hear running towards the clubhouse right now, thunk thunk thunk thunk, then PLONG PLONG PLONG PLONG, which had to be the sound of their shoes as they ran straight across the surface of the pool. Water sounds funny when you try running on it.
Now, if everything is in stasis but you (or two other idiots with guns which should not by any feasible contortion of the laws of physics actually WORK goddammit) then, well, it should be obvious that anything that is closed, is not going to open. Or break. Or in any other way get the hell out of the way. Had there been a big piece of paper stretched across an open gateway between me and the parking lot, I would have had to find a way over, under, or around that big piece of paper, because it was not gonna break while in stasis.
“Hell!” I said, and heard my words fall flatly into the echoless air of overtime.
Crunch crunch crunch crunch came the running footsteps across the concrete on the other side of the pool now.
A Robert A Heinlein hero would have immediately realized some brilliant application of quantum physics and in some way manipulated it to eradicate his opponents with a flash of oddly angstrom-shifted light. A Keith Laumer hero would have persuaded his opponents he was really a harmless little old lady and the guy they were chasing had just gotten on a bus to Orlando. A Roger Zelazny hero would have slipped in between dimensions, or would have foreseen this eventuality and arranged to lure his opponents cleverly into quicksand, and then would have preached them a sermon on Buddhism. An Alistair MacLean hero, or, for that matter, a Jack Higgins hero, would have hauled an enormous handgun out of his cut-offs and blown gaping holes in both of them as they came around the corner.
Chubby little me, nobody’s hero and friend to darned few, stared at the gate and said “Ohdamnohdamnohdamn!”
...and then turned around, slowly, to get my head blown off.
They came around the corner running full out, and skidded to a halt on seeing me. They handled themselves easily in overtime, which I found both annoying and scary. They looked perfectly normal. One was taller than the other one, and a little stockier, but both were in good shape. They had 1980s haircuts; shaggy, with the little sideburns, and their clothes were those weird colored suit jackets and trousers over casual pullover shirts in pastel colors from around that time period, too. They had loafers on. No socks. Both looked vaguely Hispanic. One had a jowly face and a big nose. His slightly shorter, thinner partner was much more nondescript, with watery grey eyes and a sharp little chin and nose.
I noticed all this because all my life I’ve wanted to be a professional artist, and my eye just works like that, but what riveted my attention was the B.F.G.s in their hands. Big Friggin’ Guns. But perfectly normal looking B.F.G.s; one looked like a .45 automatic, one of the big-ass ones Nick Nolte is always hauling around in Walter Hill movies. The other one was some kind of huge revolver with a long barrel that I imagine was most likely a .357 Magnum, but honestly, I haven’t seen a Dirty Harry movie in over a decade, so I couldn’t be sure.
I am still amazed I had not thoroughly bedefecated my pants as they stood there, panting, glaring murderously at me, and slowly pointed those cannons at my irreplaceable torso.
“YOU,” Big Jowly Face said, gasping for breath, “said the offline nocard would bluescreen when he scanned us. You glitching guaranteed it.”
“Gigo,” his partner hissed back. “He’s got more ram than I thought for a bouncing bese-o. No debug, we got him.”
“Affirm,” Jowly said back in mournful tones, “but if that gateway hadn’t been passworded, he be infinity and beyonded, blueboy.”
I should have been utterly paralyzed in fear. Okay, I WAS utterly paralyzed in fear. Except for my mouth, which has never been paralyzed in its life. Having no idea what I was doing, I opened it and out came “Hell and damn, guys! I have total authorization to operate in this time era! From Central Command! There’s been some massive screw-up here!”
Hey, I’d just reread Dinosaur Beach a couple of days before this. Time travel had been on my mind, for some reason.
Jowly squinted one eye and stared at me like I was a gigantic talking pile of manure... and, you know, he’d never actually seen a gigantic talking pile of manure before. “Freeze program,” he said, in the same tone you or I might have said ‘whoa’. “He’s a derange.”
Needlenose shrugged. “Enn ae,” he said, and it took me a half second to realize he meant ‘N/A’, as in, ‘not applicable’. “Derange or gold card, we still reformat him.” He put both hands on his goddamn enormous pistol and steadied the barrel on my chest. “Scan you in hell, test tube...”
Two watch alarms started beeping.
“Faggit!” Jowly swore. “That wasn’t one point five!”
“Ahhhh VIRUS,” Needlenose said with great aggravation simultaneously.
Both reached for their watches instantly, even as they said that, pressed them... and vanished.
My own watch gave a cheerful little tremor on my wrist, the overtime stem clicked back home again... and the world came rushing back in a clamor of wind and voice babble and rippling water sounds.
From around the clubhouse, I could hear Liz’s voice... “Jim? JimMEEE? Where the ’ell did you go?”
I sighed, put my thumb to my watch, and pushed out the overtime stem again with the nail. Once more, the world went still and sharp and silent.
I reached into my shirt pocket and pulled out a little notebook I’d bought less than two weeks ago, sequential time, at the Walgreen’s a couple of blocks away. It had had a picture of a nameless smiling girl in a bikini on the cover and a palm tree imbued logo saying WELCOME TO FLORIDA on it. Now the colors were somewhat faded and both covers were creased from long usage. I flipped it open, paged through it... tapped one particular page... flipped it closed and put it carefully back in that pocket. (I always wear button up shirts with at least one pocket these days, even to the goddam pool, and I always carry the notebook and the watch. I’d left my wallet in my apartment, and I’d just left the paperback copy of RAH’s The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress I’d brought out with me on the little table between my chaise lougue and Liz’s, but the watch and the notebook I always had with me.)
Anyone looking through the notebook would be bored; it’s just page after page of dates and times:
1/1/54 11:00 — 11:25 AM
1/1/54 3:20 — 4:05 PM
1/2/54 9:15 — 9: 40 AM
I could probably get along without it... I mostly used it to make sure I’d never double back and run into myself on a time trip. I didn’t know if it was possible to run into myself on a time trip, and if it was possible, I didn’t know if it would then be possible to interact with me in my own past or future with the kind of truly horrifying consequences depicted in books like Gerrold’s The Man Who Folded Himself, or even Heinlein’s “By His Bootstraps”... but I’d avoided finding out, and planned to continue doing so. No divergent timelines is my motto. And a minimum of confusing time dilation shit makes the world go ’round, as far as I’m concerned.
Okay. I’d found a free date. Now:
One at a time, I pulled out each of the other stems on my watch. Then I reset the month from July to June...
...click, as I pushed that stem back in...
...the day from the 17th to the 2nd, and click again as I pushed that stem in as well...
...the year from 2001 to 1996... eighteen months or so before I’d moved into the apartment complex.
Without touching the overtime stem, I clicked that one back in, too... and jumped back in time a little less than five years. The little calendar windows on the watch now said July 28 2001... my jump off point from my native timeframe, the place I’d return to if I pulled any calendar stem out now, or even if I didn’t, in 90 minutes at the most, which was, apparently, the absolute limit the watch would let me stay in a non-native timeframe.
I checked around carefully. In a ‘non-native’ time period, overtime only works for 90 subjective seconds. I assumed that’s what had happened to the two shooters... they’d popped into a non-native timeframe (mine) and then wasted too much duration and had to jump before they fell into normal time. Had they not jumped out, they would have been at my mercy, since I, operating in my ‘native’ time period, had no overtime limit.
Apparently, just them popping into my immediate locale in overtime had activated my own watch’s overtime capacity... a safety feature I’d had no idea existed, but was awfully happy about now that I knew.
I didn’t see anyone staring right at the location I was suddenly about to ‘appear’ in, nor was there anyone close by to be startled. So I clicked the stem back into place.
The world started up again around me in a blare of noise and movement as I abruptly appeared nearly five years into my own past.
I wiped sweat off my forehead, turned, and opened the gate that would have been completely immovable were I still in overtime. Then I walked across the parking lot, up the driveway, and down the street to a SunTrust bank a block away where I had opened a safe deposit box about three weeks ago... in, let me think... 1986, right after that particular branch opened.
Once I had cash, I could walk into any pawnshop in Tampa and buy a gun... something that had been in the back of my mind for a few weeks now, but I’d seen no real need to rush right out and do.
Whatever I did, though, I wasn’t going back to my native timeframe for any longer than it would take to reset the watch and hop out again... at least, not anywhere near that apartment complex. Eventually, I’d have to sleep, and I’d need to do that in my own time period, assuming I wanted to do it for more than 90 minutes at a time... which I did... so I had a lot of stuff I had to do.
It was looking more and more like I shouldn’t put off my trip to 2072 for too much longer.
Copyright © 2009 by D. A. Madigan