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* This time.
** Thuan-Jin Kee

It's 10:00pm. I wait until your sister has driven her humvee around the corner. I wait until you've closed the trunk, hiding the weapon we bought from view.

I look at you. You look like shit. You're strung out, exhausted. Neither of us have slept in days. We'd been going through this dance for months, trying to get each step perfect.

I wait until you hand me the Reset Button. I hand you the keys.

I wait until you bend slightly to unlock the doors of your ancient sedan. I wait until you let out a breath, almost a sigh and the tension leaves your shoulders. I wait until you inhale, as if to say something.

That's when I hit you with a tire iron and keep beating you until you are dead.

-----

It's 10:05pm. You're in the trunk with the weapon's bulky green case. At the same time, you are walking towards the car. It's a previous you. I hope I can fake the conversation we're about to have.

The last two times the previous you walked up to our car, you were alive. You both began to have seizures and began bleeding from the ears and nose.

I thank God previous me was out buying maps or something otherwise I wouldn't have been able to grab the wheel when your foot blindly stomped the accelerator or you would have hit previous you, and then who knows what would have happened.

I'd have picked a spot to meet your sister and buy the weapon where we were guaranteed not to run into ourselves, but no more such secluded spots exist. We're everywhere, like some kind of dumb police force which undermines its purpose as it goes about its job.

I pretend that I'm previous me. I had to come back to get something, I say. No I haven't got the maps yet, I say. Previous you is still fresh. Maybe gone through the wringer only once or half a dozen times. The same day that starts some time later than 5pm when the reset machine in the physics department powers up and spits us out. Each time we press the button, the reset machine disgorges us a little later and we lose on average three minutes from our day. We were smart enough to know to get out of the building and hide before future us would show up. Only this time, I'm betting there's no more future you. For you, ze war is over.

I'm watching previous you. You look normal. You aren't bleeding. You finish the conversation with me, and walk back to your car.

I pull out the map I said I hadn't bought yet. It's been through so many resets it is worn and tattered. We've resorted to making acetate overlays to keep everything straight.

I update my path through the mark you'd written in as a future me sighting. I confirm it intersects with a previous you, when you were only 10 resets old. More previous yous are coming, in five minute intervals.

I don't know if any of them saw me. All the same, I'd better leave.

-----

I'm driving. It's close to midnight. I'm feeling so tired that I wish it was me who was scheduled to walk up to the car, then you could have smashed my skull. I didn't want to do it, and still wish I hadn't. But at the meeting at the end of one of our 30 hour reset periods, you'd laid it out.

We'd had this conversation - which spot to pick; why you'd have to die.

Your only request was that you not know when it was coming. So I waited, and you genuinely seemed to relax.

I cross the state line into Pennsylvania. We'd tried other scenarios, the nights when we couldn't get the weapon. We'd correctly surmised that a future self had called your sister and made a last minute change to the meeting. Those nights we'd each simply driven to our firing positions and watched the passenger jets sail by. We were always too late to the other positions besides Pennsylvania. We watched in horror with the knowledge that we had failed again. How many months of practice had we put in, to be defeated by basic logistics and simple travel time?

In 30 or so hours between the beginning of a reset and the maximum time the Reset Button could step back, there was no time to find out who the hijackers were. There was no time to stop the jets getting off the tarmac. It was just impossible.

We tried changing our route. Using air travel. We learned to ride motorcycles. All useless. Pity. The motorcycles would have looked badass.

In fact Pennsylvania was the last option to be investigated, and almost abandoned when you reported seeing rocket fire from the ground on one of your first trips.

Not bad for a pair of postgrad students. I read somewhere that engineers are four times more likely to become terrorists as students from other disciplines. Something about how the technical mind has an affinity to the belief systems that foment terrorism: belief in an objective universe ruled by laws, and headed by a god as interventionist as an addict's group of well meaning close friends. Also the technical mind is prone to have the audacity to believe that such a god, as just as he is blind, would delegate to mere mortals the task of reading the scales and swinging the sword.

We had such hubris to believe we were worthy to hold the sword. That a weapon was just another tool, with which to fix things.

I think about you in the trunk. I think about how your mother would weep if she found out what we'd become. How she'd cry pulchritific tears and mourn the loss of her children, even though we're still out there, at large and in large numbers. My mother would weep also. But we are no longer the sweet children our mothers knew, and we haven't been for a long time.

-----

I get out of the car just after passing through Stony Creek. I hide the car. I know I'm around here somewhere, either a previous me on a scouting trip, or a future me if I fail. I have to be careful, to stay out of sight and to also remember my route and write it down in my tattered map for future reference.

I know that there is also an army of you here. The map is thick with your lines, missing each other by intervals of minutes. You've polluted this place such that if you are off by a second, you will encounter yourself and sieze up, and I will have to pull you apart. New York is like that for me, after you sent me scouting there. I know you haven't seen me, so I will work hard to not be seen.

I'd tried a few times to avoid involving you, but your sister would sell the weapon only to you. The only possible place she could have sold it to you was a place you could never leave without encountering yourself.

With each reset as we marked off our paths and found fewer and fewer future self sightings, and explained more and more sightings with last night's activities, we became sure that the map would only ever fit together one way. Any errors on our part would invalidate the whole thing. We wiped blood from our ears and nose, physical incentives that made us sure we didn't want to break the tangled web.

The cincher came one day, just before reset when you'd told me that you'd found your sedan that had been stolen from your driveway. It was in the woods in Pennsylvania. Your dead body had been in the trunk. I asked if you were sure about the face. You said there was no face. You'd stripped the body in a frenzy of fear and a lust for knowing, to search for proof only you knew.

Once you were sure you'd buried it, and hidden the car.

I didn't ask if you were ok. I asked if, at any time during that encounter, you'd had a siezure or if your ears had bled. I marked the spot on the map.

Monday night is almost over. People will be sleeping off their football and beer. Giants against the Broncos. To this day, I have no idea who won. If I were a betting man, I'd have memorised the score. Now that's one question that will never come up in Trivial Pursuit: "Who won the game on Monday the 10th of September, 2001?"

Actually that would have been a great way to pay for the weapon we just bought, what with the stock market all shot to shit. Good thing for us, your sister believed you when you told her that you needed the seeker head and that you wouldn't get yourself killed. One lie out of two ain't bad.

I pull the big green case out from under you, and carry its bloodied bulk down to the treeline.

-----

I wake up and frantically check my watch. It's 7am. I must have slept. In war, they are supposed to shoot soldiers who sleep on guard duty, aren't they? Maybe, or maybe not. Maybe they just have to clean the toilets or whatever soldiers call toilets. I don't know.

It's 7am. I'm not late. This is not a drill. I'm going to make it this time. As I crawl out from under the leaves, and mud, and shit, I'm sorry you found your car.


-----

It's almost 10am. I've installed the Battery Coolant Unit. A stream of frigid argon has flowed over the seeker head, clearing it's infrared vision. I'm facing northwest and a dot appears on the horizon, high in the sky.

I put the stinger missile to my shoulder. Through the sight I see a Boeing plane flying as no passenger plane ever should. In the sky, a battle is occurring between ordinary people using beverage-carts-as-battering-rams against hardened hijackers armed with knives.

In my heart, I'm sure that if I stand here and do nothing, the cabin door will hold for another half hour. I am positive the aircraft will achieve a direct kamikaze strike on the Capitol. A symbolic act, the politicians have already been evacuated. I believe the image of the Broken Dome will be in the news forever, superimposed over burning towers. A dome for war to compliment Hiroshima's dome for peace.

If you had mastery of a small stretch of time, wouldn't you press the reset button? Try at least to change things? Yes. Yes we would.

I put the stinger to my shoulder and use the IFF for the sake of the manual. The civilian aircraft lacks a transponder and does not give a correct response. I hear the tone "Unknown/Hostile", but then I've never heard the "Friendly" tone and I don't know what it sounds like.

The number of our doppelgangers in the countryside is diminishing now. We're pressing reset buttons all across the country. Knowing we didn't get set up on time. Knowing that we'd failed. Why spend another minute on this earth? Why not start over? Why not layer another dangerous smear of confusing meddling onto the time line? Why not update the map and start again?

Whole government departments will be formed to investigate the appearance and disappearance of this ghost army of us. Conspiracy theorists will ask us questions that have only madness and more questions for an answer. Have you ever thought that maybe this is the only way things could go down?

The missile locks onto a hot engine nacelle, the first time ever. I fire.

Forty people die.

As the pieces of the aircraft fall I pull out the reset button remove the batteries and resolve to smash it to bits, this time.

Comments

( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
17catherines
Nov. 19th, 2009 10:46 pm (UTC)
This is heaps better - you've filled in the gaps beautifully, and I really like it.

Especially the choice of plane. And the bit where the protagonist wishes his friend hadn't found the car.

Really nice work.
thekit
Nov. 20th, 2009 08:37 am (UTC)
Thanks! I was wondering if I'd revealed too much. At first I was hoping that people would try to figure out which Giants-Broncos game happened before a major air disaster near washington dc, but that was probably too obtuse.
17catherines
Nov. 20th, 2009 09:59 am (UTC)
Certainly too obtuse for me! Actually, in the first draft I hadn't realised your story was based around a real event, or at least not one which had occurred within my lifetime or memory, and I don't think I'd ever have got around to looking at sports history as a way to find out which one...

It's a good story. My gut feeling is that with perhaps one more draft you could send it out to a magazine or such, if that was your intention. Possibly you could as it stands, though of course I know very little about this.

Though of course 9/11 may be too recent not to be a taboo subject in a publishing context.
thekit
Nov. 20th, 2009 01:36 pm (UTC)
Ah I think I may have located where gender creeps into the protagonist - the "if I was a gambling man". I think I'll change that to "if I were a gambler"
17catherines
Nov. 21st, 2009 01:25 am (UTC)
Wouldn't matter, I suspect. He was male in my mind from the first sentence, and I'd have been mildly surprised to learn he was female.

It would be interesting to know how that works - my unconscious brain does not always default to male for protagonists (though it does so more often than my feminist conscious brain), and I've been surprised a few times to find a character male who 'sounded' female. It's an odd thing; I know plenty of authors who write characters of the opposite gender who sound exactly right (and when it comes down to it, I don't think that men and women *are* all that different, except in the way we are conditioned and in some fairly specific hormonally-determined functions and behaviours) - but even in stories where the gender is never specified it never disappears from a character. Perhaps this is because the reader feels that they have to define a character to at least a minimal extent in order to identify with them, and gender seems to be our primary category (what's the first question anyone asks about a new baby, after all).

All of which is a long-winded way of saying that I'd be fascinated to see what happened if you took the gender reference out, introduced the story to a new audience and took a poll on whether they thought the character was male or female... and thus garner further evidence to discern whether there was something intrinsic to the character or his voice which was male, or whether this was simply projection of some kind. For what it's worth, I'm voting the first option.
thekit
Nov. 21st, 2009 01:45 am (UTC)
Interesting. I wonder if there's a way for me to hide the gender of the author. That might inform some decisions.

Of course the name Jin can go both ways.
17catherines
Nov. 21st, 2009 02:23 am (UTC)
I was wondering about that aspect, too.

Rereading it, part of my feeling may have come from your character's use of language - while I know plenty of women who use coarse language pretty frequently in conversation, I think they use different words and few of them use it so casually. I can't quite put my finger on it, but I think that's a part of it.

Now, of course, I sound like all my female friends are young ladies, as we were called at school, which is not the case at all (though I suspect they do start at upper working class, on the whole)... but I think girls get slapped down for coarse language a bit more often than boys do, so it takes a particular personality type to just ignore that.

Perhaps it is as simple as me reading the story and feeling that I might have the fortitude to act as your protaganist acts, but I know the inside of my head wouldn't sound like that, especially under stress, when one tends to revert to type. And, like most humans, having decided that the character doesn't sound like me I generalise out to the rest of my gender...

Though, actually, the female postgrads I have met are academic types, who, to get through school and university and such, would have tended to conform to a large extent to the same sort of language rules that I was brought up to conform to, so perhaps my instincts are working from actual logic here after all.

Sorry, I'm going on at great length here, but it's interesting trying to unpack why your character sounds male to me.
thekit
Nov. 25th, 2009 12:45 pm (UTC)
I got the idea for the main character and the voice after reading Anthony Swofford's Jarhead and thought - what would have happened if he'd not joined the marines, but ended up as a physics geek and invented the time machine from Primer... and got the device working on the very worst day of American modern history.

The hollow burned out affect - and the sense of powerlessness that it conveys - that pervades the voice is 80% inspired by Swofford, with a little tim o'brien uncertainty in there for good measure. There are other influences in there to build the main character but i'd say those are the main two.
17catherines
Nov. 26th, 2009 11:23 am (UTC)
I like it very much, wherever it comes from. Actually, I do think I overstated the language-use / gender argument, and certainly did not intend to say that this is just how things are, rather that this is why I interpreted the character as I did.
deathbyshinies
Nov. 20th, 2009 04:51 am (UTC)
You already know that I really like it, and I do think the new version is generally more coherent.

Picky bits:

Not bad for a pair of postgrad students.

If your narrator is USAmerican, I think you're 'grad students'.

If you had mastery of a small stretch of time, wouldn't you press the reset button? Try at least to change things? Yes. Yes we would.

I preferred the earlier ambiguity, and might even take it further: something like

If you had mastery of a small stretch of time, would you press the reset button? Try at least to change things?

But yeah, this is amazing, and I approve wholeheartedly.
thekit
Nov. 20th, 2009 08:41 am (UTC)
Awww. Thanks!

I alwas get confused over the grad/postgrad thing.

I'm going to make a bunch of tuning changes - things like instead of "when you were sure you buried the body, and hid the car" to "when you were satisfied, you buried the body and hid the car"

More nitpicks and style notes very welcome!

Also, is the narrator hooky enough? I'm trying to walk the line with this guy. I want to know if I'm going too far either side.
thekit
Nov. 20th, 2009 08:43 am (UTC)
Also I'd better note that it's the cockpit door that the passengers are ramming, not the cabin door.

Although blowing the cabin door would probably be an easier task for the passengers and might force the plane down by decompressing the aircraft - especially if the hijackers don't know how to use the pilot's breathing aparatus.
(Anonymous)
Nov. 25th, 2009 07:51 am (UTC)
I like your writing style, however if I had 30 hours I'd be making a few phone calls to the appropriate airlines rather than trying to shoot down a plane.
thekit
Nov. 25th, 2009 12:49 pm (UTC)
Ah that's an excellent point, i hadn't thought to check that the airlines are obligated to contact the authorities and get investigated and all any reported threats.

I guess i'll have to think of some reason why the planes would still fly that day.

A carrier would definitely shut down a flight if it was told that hijackers were on board, or at least make it harder for the hijackers to board.

and the narrator would have to know the flight numbers. I remember the news published them within hours of the attack.


thankyou, that's definitely food for thought.
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )

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