“End, begin, all the same. Big change. Sometimes good, sometimes bad.”
The Dark Crystal, directed by Jim Henson and Frank Oz.
Monitoring: Simon Martin
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
8:35 a.m. Eastern Standard Time
Tuesday, December 31st, 2013
13:35 Coordinated Universal Time
Tuesday, December 31st, 2013
It is December 31st. #1 on the Best Seller List is Sycamore Row, by John Grisham; it is “about race and inheritance.” In Egypt, the interim government seizes the assets of Muslim Brotherhood leaders, including the ousted president. The vice-president of separatist party Bloc Quebecois announces her resignation. A visitor to Mount Pleasant Cemetery in Ontario finds cash strewn across the graves.
These events mean nothing to thirteen-year-old Simon Martin, who is trying to pay attention to his mother’s side of the conversation, while vaguely holding up his own.
“Wha—Oh.” He sighs, then shivers. He always feels chilled when he’s tired, and he’s been awake for far too log. “Sorry. I’ve been having nightmares.” He picks at his waffles a little bit, while his mother says something that he doesn’t totally catch but sounds sympathetic.
It wasn’t a nightmare. He had been sleeping fine until he was thrust awake by… He still isn’t certain by what. A revelation, maybe. At first he thought that he was still dreaming, but he’d never dreamed lucidly before and nothing seemed to match the signs that he’d remembered reading about. It could have been the aftereffects of a dream, but this became less probable as time went on and the knowledge stayed as strong as ever, burned into his mind as if pressed there by a red-hot brand: He has power, now. With a touch, he can see how someone is going to die.
“I was getting eaten alive,” he says, mentioning the first thing that comes to mind when his mother asks what he was dreaming about.
“Maybe you should lay off your books before bed.” Her tone gives the sense that she’s rethinking whatever birthday present he was going to receive tomorrow.
“They’re not horror,” he replies, but in the back of his mind a stray thought goes, But they’re kind of turning out that way. Simon has always devoured his fair share of science fiction, but his current sub-genre of choice is time travel. And while one would think that this would have prepared him, now that seeing the future is apparently a real possibility, in truth it has only served to cause him great distress.
He thinks too much. That’s always been his problem, and now it’s paralyzing him. There are a hundred ways in which this can all go wrong. What if someone else had gotten this power? It could have gone to somebody very nasty, or foolish, or worst of all, both. For that matter, how can he know that he is neither of these things? This power surely comes with responsibility. He’s smart, yes, but smart enough to realize that a high reading level or even great test scores didn’t keep a person from making stupid decisions. For that matter, can he trust his future self, one or ten or fifty years down the line, to still share his current values?
He can already imagine some evil, corrupt, sixty-year-old Simon playing games with his current self, somehow stacking things up so that he, in the present, never saw any hint of it, or maybe even leaving hints in visions that led him to do things that ended up turning him into that evil Simon. He is not immune to foolishness, either, which makes the problem that much worse.
Not too long after the conversation has died, Simon slides his plate into the sink and heads outside. Laurie Tremblay is out at the bus stop when he passes by, reading The Bunker. He takes a seat next to her, opposite her backpack, settling on the cold metal bench. She maybe acknowledges this with a shift of her head, but he isn’t sure if the movement even happened, let alone if it meant anything.
Left to his own thoughts and silence, specters of evil Simons come once again to his mind, alongside malevolent, future-predicting AIs and paradoxical effects and strange memetic threats that could cause indescribable disaster just by being witnessed. How does time work, anyway? Is all this predetermined? Can the future be changed? Do timelines split? The more that he thinks about it, the more apprehensive he becomes about the whole thing, the more he hopes that he’s simply going mad. He thinks fourteen year olds probably shouldn’t have this kind of responsibility.
No. He has to stop this kind of thinking. None of that is going to happen. Maybe the future is set, and this power will just be good for winning the lottery (or something like that, anyway). There’s as much reason to expect a good AI as a bad one. Paradoxes might exist, or they might not, but basilisk images that crash your brain definitely don’t, and neither do basilisk thoughts that hack it. He’s only scaring himself and he’s probably just losing his mind anyway. A psychotic break is actually his best hypothesis, after the ones about lucid dreaming. Truth be told it is the preferable option.
But if he isn’t…then he might be able to do a lot of good with this power. He looks back at Laurie. Despite the cold, she isn’t wearing gloves. They’d probably get in the way of turning pages.
“Going back to the library?”
“Anything you’d recommend?”
One-handed, she skims through the contents of her backpack. Evidently she had her books in some sort of order (or maybe she just picked randomly) because she doesn’t bother to look as she retrieves The Damned for him. He hesitates for a second, then slips off a glove and reaches for the book. His fingers brush hers—
Simon is shivering. Wait, no. Laurie is shivering.
It is so cold. Her skin is blue and it hurts so much, and there is blood all around her. Most is frozen, but her body melts it where she lies. Some part of her is dimly aware of the feel of it, sticking to her clothes and seeping through them as she lay on the ground. She can’t feel her legs, and Simon can’t tell whether they were gone or just numb.
Around her, there is a forest of bodies, suspended, twisted into grotesque, wiry shapes. There are still faces on most of them–in some cases too many faces. Their lips move, as though they are speaking or begging, but what comes out is screaming, their voices blended together as though there is just a single howl. Beads of red collect on their skin as blood leaks out of them, like sap from a grove of maple trees. Most of it freezes, but a few drops fall far to the ground. There, it joins the pool that must have collected before the cold arrived. The city’s street is coated with a layer of frozen blood.
Oh God. That’s the Gardiner Museum. This is Toronto.
Then the vision ends, and Simon realizes that the screaming had been his own, and that he is screaming still.