by E.Escher - 30th Jan 2017
Colin pushed the taxi door open and leaned out to look around. He grit his teeth as he did so, more than half-expecting Brian to take a shot at him, but the lunatic gunman was nowhere to be seen.
Satisfied that the coast was clear, he stepped out and turned to help Carmen, only to see her getting out through the other door.
'I think he's gone,' he grumbled 'I don't know where he lives, or hangs out, or anything. How are we supposed to find him?'
She gave him one of her maddening smiles, eyes sparkling. 'Haven't you been listening, either? Come on, let's walk, and I'll explain it again.' She chose a direction, seemingly at random and set off walking.
'The timeline hates an intruder,' she began, 'so we can't help fall into contact with key events as causality tries to heal up around our influences. That's why nobody's killed Hitler yet, any change that drastic would come up against a massive temporal backlash. Even minor changes, just being where we shouldn't, muddies up the timeline, stirs all the key events into a big mess. That's why your life had been full of weird coincidences.'
'Right? How does that help us?'
She grinned even wider. 'The only thing worse than a time traveller is two time travellers. Or any number larger than one, I guess, but two of us in one place, at the same time, hoo boy. Prepare for things to get weird.'
'Weird how?' he wanted to know. Weird wasn't an especially informative word.
'I don't know, but the best thing to do is roll with it. We're almost certain to run into your pal Brian again before this is over.' She put her hands on her hips. 'Speaking of whom, he doesn't seem the most well-adjusted individual. I hope he's not your only friend.'
Colin grimaced. 'Pretty much. Him, and the old lady at the Chinese place.'
'Ooh, good idea. Food. You like Chinese food, then?'
'Not really, but they make nice chips.'
She rolled her eyes. 'And there's an old lady there who likes you?'
'Yeah, crinkly old biddy, seems to have taken a shine to me.'
That seemed to amuse Carmen. 'You realise you're the oldest man on earth right now, right? Like, you're at least a couple of hundred years older than the oldest living human in recorded history?'
He had realised that, a long time ago, but he'd always tried not to dwell on his curse. Hearing it from this stranger, a woman apparently just like him, gave him pause. Sure, he was immortal, but he'd done nothing wrong. It was just a medical condition. He'd been infected with something, and they'd been able to cure it, somehow. He hadn't quite grasped her explanation. Medical science in her time would probably seem like magic to today's doctors.
'Wait, you and me are immortal, I get that, but what about everybody else? What's the human lifespan, where you're from?'
She shrugged. 'That all depends. Lots of people want to be immortal, but the price is always high. They've got all your historical diseases sorted; if you've got the cash they can fix just about anything. People still get old, though. Treatments can prevent the onset for a while, extend the best years of your life, but when it starts to fade the come-down is brutal.'
'Super-rare, and mostly treatable, if you don't mind replacing your organs with cloned tissue or bionics.'
'What about birth defects?'
'Huh? Oh, yeah, right.' She shuddered. 'Pretty much unheard of, except in say, the States. The S.A. are still rebuilding, so they're breeding all over the place, regardless of the compatibility screening. Your implant, by the way, is telling me that we'd be biologically compatible.'
That brought him up short. 'I could have kids? With you?'
'Heh, afraid not, Romeo. Revs don't have kids, not even with each other.' She gave him a curious look. 'Thanks for not looking totally freaked, though. Super-flattering, thanks.'
'Sorry, I just, I don't know. I'd more or less got used to the idea that I was some kind of inhuman monster. I never imagined children were a possibility, and now... well, they're still not. It's just different hearing it confirmed like that, is all.'
'It's not such an issue in my time. China's always had a large population, but the increased longevity has reversed government policy. Hmm, speaking of which, how far away is the take-away you mentioned?'
He considered. 'Not too far, we're headed in the right direction, more or less.'
'Cool. Do they have a television? I need to confirm the lottery results.'
'Yeah. You bought a ticket?' He almost choked. 'You bought the winning ticket!?'
'Don't be crude, of course I didn't. Lottery winners get their photo taken. Besides, what would I do with the money? I'm not going to stick around in the 21st century just to spend a bunch on physical currency on antique rubbish.'
'I'll need to find a shop to call it in, too, so they can send me my cheque.'
'I thought it wasn't a winning ticket?'
'Not the winning ticket. I wouldn't bother buying a ticket if it wasn't going to win anything. What would be the point of that? Do you think they'd let me use their phone? At the take-away?'
'I dunno. You can always ask them nicely in Chinese, I suppose.'
'I hope the language hasn't evolved too much.' she replied, in a strange accent he supposed with meant to be foreign.
'One way to find out. It's not much further.'
She gave him a funny look. 'Looks like you didn't completely lose your memory.'
'You still speak Mandarin.'
He stopped. 'That was... I speak Chinese?'
She carried on walking. 'Pretty much everybody does, or least a passing understanding. Mostly swearwords. You didn't know?'
He hurried to catch back up. 'Well, no, though it explains why I can understand the old woman at the take-away. She doesn't talk to any of the other customers.'
'Uh-huh. Sounds about right. What are the odds, right? You don't even like chinese food, but you happened to wander in one day and speak to the old lady in her own language, and I bet she didn't even comment on it, right?'
He thought back. The staff had been talking among themselves, ignoring the customers.
'Big line today' commented one.
'Yes, and none of them know what they want.' replied the old woman.
'They should read the menu, instead of asking stupid questions.'
Colin had stepped forward. 'I know what I'd like: just a portion of chips, please.'
They had looked at him a little funny, and processed his request right away.
'Not a word,' he agreed. 'I'm pretty sure I'd have noticed if somebody has said anything along the lines of "hey, you speak chinese".'
She laughed at that. 'Yeah, I suppose that would get your attention. I can just picture your face, too.'
'We just exactly that thing. I just spoke to you and you understood me, remember?'
He flushed. 'Oh. Oh yeah.'
'And you looked kinda doofy.'
'Doofy?' he protested.
'Hmmf. Okay, so are we going to order food, or what?'
'I am. You can get some chips, if you want.' She held up a finger. 'Wait. Does chips here mean hot fried food, or crispy snack food?'
'Uh, the first one.'
'Okay, thanks. I know they do it different in the good old S of A.'
'You mean the US?'
She looked blank.
'The United States?' he prompted. 'Of America?'
Recognition dawned. 'Oh, they're still united in 2016? I thought I read something about the great breakdown being in this year. It certainly started about now, if I remember it right.' She grimaced. 'They'll be splitting up in the next couple of years, and there'll be war a couple of years after that.'
'War? America at war with itself?'
'It got pretty bad. No nukes, but once it kicked off it went from zero to bitter almost immediately.'
Colin shook his head. 'There's no angrier argument than that between brothers and ex-lovers.'
'Yeah, well this divorce got nasty. They're basically individual countries now, kingdoms, in effect, though each little warlord calls himself President.'
'Anyway, yeah, I'm hungry, and a taste of home sounds good. Then I can arrange to get my pocket money, it should be about twelve thousand units.'
'Units? You mean pounds? Twelve grand?'
She shrugged. 'Whatever that means, yes. Then we deal with Brian and then I guess it's time to go home.'
'Cashing a cheque takes days. This should all be over before then, right?' He wasn't sure what she meant by "deal with" Brian, but it sounded fatal. Did time travellers really come hundreds of years into the past and kill people? The notion was chilling.
'It should be, yeah, but if it's not we'll have some cache to fall back on. I'm accustomed to a certain lifestyle, living rough is not part of my game plan.'
Colin tried to imagine kids of today enduring the world he'd lived through, and slowly nodded. 'I expect this world is downright backward to you, huh?'
'Governments split into factions that bicker among themselves for dominance? Fossil fuels? Pollution? Food shortages? Unemployment? I mean, seriously, there is a happy ending to all this. It does get better.'
'But not perfect, I'm guessing. I mean, zombie virus?'
'A damn big one, by the sound of it. Where does something like that even come from? You said it was mechanical? Somebody made it?'
'Yeah, a long time ago. It's been analysed, and general opinion says it was military. We don't know whether it was supposed to be an upgrade, to transform soldiers into something unkillable, or a weapon, to attack a target population. It may just be an aborted attempt at immortality.'
'It's a significant side-effect.'
'After the cure is applied, sure. Prior to Revival the infected are just really homicidal meat puppets. Rage, bad breath and cannibalism, but far from unstoppable and probably not immortal.' She got a strange, distant look in her eyes, and Colin caught a flicker of light from her lenses. 'Let's see, the longest untreated Sobek-infected rampage was... a hundred and twenty years? Holy shit!'
'There's a picture. It was you!'
'Cai Jepsen. Born 2201 in Aalborg, Denmark. Infected in 2236, revived in 2358. Hey!' she brightened. 'That was the same year as me! High five!'
Colin left her hanging. 'I was a rampaging monster for a hundred years? How's that possible?'
'I don't know. Sounds pretty incredible to me, too. I don't have the full story, just a few facts and figures. You know, you got lucky. We both did. There's been millions of infections, and there's only a few thousand Revenants.'
'Why's that? What happened to the others?'
'Killed, I guess. Infected aren't unstoppable, but they're still super-human, and super-dangerous, so it's considered reasonable for the cops to use lethal force when dealing with them. Especially if they're dealing with a large group.'
'Understandable, I suppose. And the small groups?'
'If it's a manageable number they'll try to capture. I was visiting a mountain temple with a bunch of other tourists. Somebody must have brought the virus in, infected the priests, but they didn't have implants so it was dormant. One of us picked it up somehow, infected the rest of us... we were all over the mountain by the time it kicked in.' She blushed. 'I probably ate a couple of monks before the police found me, because I was covered in blood, too engorged to move quickly.'
'So they captured you?'
'I wasn't quite immobile enough, so somebody blew my foot off. Then they captured me.'
He raised a brow and glanced down at her feet. Apart from a silver band around one ankle they looked fine. 'It grew back?'
'No. Damage sustained before Revival is permanent. That's why there are so few of us; most of the time the infected are too badly damaged to repair.' She glanced down as well. 'My left foot is bionic. That silver band is the interface.'
'Oh. I assumed it was jewellery, like your rings.' He put two and two together. 'The rings are interfaces as well? You have bionic fingers?'
'Do you have any other replacement parts I should know about?'
She gave a him an arch look. 'Why, Mister Campbell, the state of my replacement parts is surely none of your business.'
'Uh, I didn't mean…'
'You'll just have to find out for yourself,' she added, teasing.
'The answer's complicated, anyway. Revenants are a human/machine hybrid, so picking and choosing which parts are human is purely academic. Same goes for you.' She took a breath, and smiled. 'I smell food!'
'The take-away is just along this street, on the left. I don't see how this helps us find Brian.'
'You have to learn to understand the odds, and I mean the broken-probability odds, not rational scientific odds. If we want to find Brian he's either going to be in the first place we look, or he'll be in the last place we'd ever consider looking, after exhausting all other possibilities.'
'Things are always in the last place you look,' he agreed.
'That's because you stop looking once you've found it. Geez. You're missing the point. It's possible Brian will be at the take-away. If he's not, then we stop looking.'
'We're going to run into him again, but it won't be anywhere we're looking, so forget about it and let the universe take care of it.'
'That's a very fatalistic approach,' he chided.
'And yet, I'm never wrong. How much change do you have in your pocket?'
He frowned, but dug out a handful of money. 'Eight pounds sixty.'
'Excellent. And here we are.'
Without pausing she opened the door and strode into the Golden Path.
The curious tale of Colin CampbellPart One - How did it come to this?, Chapter 1, Earlier that dayChapter 2, Earlier stillChapter 3, Making a withdrawalChapter 4, August 18th, 2362Chapter 5, Angel of DeathChapter 6, Welcome to 2016.Chapter 7, Denmark, July 2358Chapter 8, After the crashChapter 9, Music of the SpheresChapter 10, Denmark, July 2358Chapter 11, Harbinger FMChapter 12, Denmark, July 2358Chapter 13, Excuses and liesPart Two - So here we are, Chapter 14Chapter 15, Quite a rideChapter 16, Talking the talkChapter 17, Leisurely pursuitChapter 18, Dinner Date with DestinyChapter 19, Chips with everythingChapter 20, HarbingerChapter 21, Time to leaveChapter 22, ManchesterChapter 23, Colin's HouseChapter 24, On the roadChapter 25, Chateau HarbingerChapter 26, ShowdownEpilogue, Debriefing