My buddy Mitch has done this sort of thing about four or five times. Mostly he's undoing drunk driving accidents. Technically, that means he's killed about seven people, three of them little kids. But they're all alive now, so no one really cares. I try not to since those kids are, as far as anyone wants to think, alive.
Mitch is one of my oldest friends. We grew up in the 70s --2070s -- which is right around when chrono-tech started going mainstream. So we know what it's like to be stuck with what you've done. That's probably why I never got into it originally. Plus, my Pops raised me not to regret my decisions. He worked as a longshoreman, well, the new kind of longshoremen, unloading helium-3 tankers from the Moon and other ore deliveries. Some folks nowadays want to call them stratoshoremen. Never mind the fact that's the dumbest goddamn name I've ever heard, stevedores like having a solid connection to their history. I guess it makes them feel a part of something grand, bigger than themselves. I don't know. Whenever my Pops made me work the halo it just always seemed like back breaking work to me. Some things still have to be done by hand; and lower gravity doesn't make the kind of difference you want when you're moving a few tons, believe me. But the thing is that kind of work means you have to be decisive. There's no dancing around in the upper atmosphere. Pops used to say, "Every footstep has to be the one you intend." Looking back I sometimes wonder if he was really just trying to keep me from ending up on the halo, which I did anyway. No regrets there.
So I grew up not sweating my choices. Sometimes things go wrong. Mitch, on the other hand, he loves erasers. That seems the kindest way of saying Mitch tends to screw up a lot.
I seriously don't know how he does it. Mitch is almost proof the universe can be against a person. Or at the least, bad luck can be a talent. So when chrono-tech came along, I knew it was only a matter of time before Mitch used it. And I mean no offense. Mitch is the kind of guy who is no use in a fight -- sometimes he actually makes things worse -- but will always jump right into the middle of a brawl to help a buddy. Like once, Gordon Fowler is punching me in the face -- this is back in high school. I don't even remember why, although Gordon wasn't the kind of guy who needed a good reason. Being 6'4" and 280 pounds of muscle was reason enough. Mitch, he jumps right onto Gordon's back. Knowing he's got no chance against this beast, Mitch decides the safe play is to stab Gordon in the ear with a pencil. Naturally, Gordon tossed him off real easy. Only now he's got this pencil in his ear like some punk earring. So he goes after Mitch. However, this gave me a chance to get up, grab my bag that’s full of books, and swing it like a wrecking ball, smashing it into Gordon's head. I managed to knock him out after the third swing. Yet somehow Mitch is the only one of us who got suspended. Gordon getting off makes sense. He's on the football team and probably the only reason we made it to state that year. Principal just assumed Mitch started the whole thing, and I got caught in the middle. Mitch spent the next few weeks going on about how he'd've handled things differently given the chance. He was always going on about how he'd do things differently. Then along comes chrono-tech…
Even though I never really had a use for it, I have to admit having it around is nice. Like this one time I got into a car accident. Little punk in a Mustang comes screaming through a red light and T-bones my car. We're standing in the intersection, and this kid says to me, "Look man, I got no insurance. Can we just like let this slide for now? I promise you, I promise you I'll send the money past just as soon I've got it. I always keep my promises." Right at the moment I'm thinking (and my face is showing), 'Who you think ya conning?' there's a snap crackle up the road. A rip flashes into view and out steps an older version of this kid.
He runs over and hands me a stack of bills. Grinning, he says, "Hey, how you and me doing? Look, it took years for me to get this together. You've been pissed at me a long time, but this should cover everything." I count out the stack to almost five grand.
So I say, "Thanks," though I don't really know which version of the kid to thank directly.
Both nod, saying at the same time, "You're welcome."
The older version laughs, "Jinx! I owe me a coke."
Funny thing is that story is also what makes me uncomfortable about all this.
Afterwards, we wait for the realignment, but it never comes. The older version of the kid shakes his head. He knows what's next. When his wrist monitor starts flashing red, he swears then just sits on the curb to wait. In about ten minutes a van with the BTA (Bureau of Temporal Affairs) seal shows up to collect him. There's something about that thing, an eagle carrying a scythe and an hourglass, creeps me out. Anyway, the older version goes quietly. I got to give him that. Everyone knows the time doubles that don't fade out get liquidated.
I used to know a guy who could explain all this. Since time isn't a straight line someone from the future can affect the past like typical cause and effect -- A causes B leading to C. I'm half quoting him best I can. Here's the kicker: the person from the future cancels themselves out because why they went back no longer exists, but the change they made remains. It's called quantum realignment. I think. Anyway, every so often a double doesn't fade out. Most people like the older version of the kid just wait for someone from Temporal Affairs to grab them and bang, end of double. I guess it doesn't seem like dying when you know you're still alive. Or at least, a version of you. The point is it supposedly has to happen. This guy (Teddy! His name was Teddy Wallowitz. He owned four weed whackers for some reason. It was weird because they all worked.), Teddy said double isn't the right word because they aren't exactly alike. At some beyond microscopic level future and past aren't the same, and there's like a ripple effect or influence or whatever. There's a certain point where physics lessons in a bar just go in and out of a person's brain.
So, yeah, long way to go, but that's maybe another reason I never really got into chrono-tech; It feels like killing myself. The version of me that runs past won't exist anymore. Like this kid, he erased himself, a version that, judging by the salt and pepper in his hair, had lived for years; and when it came time to go, not even fade out naturally but get taken in a van to some crematorium outside Baltimore, he was just like whatever. Didn't even phase him. Maybe it's just me.
I mean, I'm standing there watching myself pull into the driveway. I know what that Me doesn't. That I should have gotten a divorce two years ago instead of sticking in like an idiot to prove a point to my old man. He said not to marry Angie on account she had, quote, too much Irish fire. Twenty-two year old boys don't like being told what's best for them. I wonder if the cops should've sent me back to then so I could side with my Pops against myself. He'd probably just get pissed I was changing my mistakes instead of learning from them. The old man loved to preach, especially when he felt he was in the right. I suppose most folks do. Anyway, I stop Me from going inside. I explain everything. We both know our temper, so I take my past-self to Old Crow's Tavern.
Over a couple of beers I calm down the past-me. We keep getting looks from the regulars who immediately start up the rumor mill. But I and I ignore the lot. Eventually our conversation turns from cooling his temper to accepting the fact I'm about to fade out of existence. Although, hell, why everyone calls it fading out is beyond me. I've seen it happen with Mitch a few times. The double just pops in a burst of crackling static. Mitch always tries to crack a joke before it happens. Like one time after making himself take a cab home, he announces to the bar, "Hey everybody! Check out what happens when you sneeze and fart at the same time." That version of him winked at me before disappearing in a shower of blue sparks. Everyone laughed except me. I felt too creeped out. I kept thinking about all the ways he was that Mitch would never be.
In Old Crow's I ask me, "Are you scared?"
I shrug, "Don't really have a choice."
"But you know what I mean."
"Of course I do."
"Maybe if I just keep planning to kill Angie you won't fade out."
I shake my head, "Even if that were the case, the BTA'd come along eventually."
"This is true."
We nod in agreement.
Then my Past asks, "So why are you still here?"
It suddenly dawns on us both we've been chatting for hours. I've probably lasted this long because, knowing myself, up until now I might have still killed my wife. But it’s getting to the point if I'm still here I must be one of those that doesn't realign naturally. The how and why doesn't matter because I'm not going to pop. Literally pop. In my mind a hope starts to form. Besides not bursting out of existence, I can see the wrist monitor malfunctioning. It's a one in a million error, but it could happen. Machines break. No notification goes out. The BTA has no idea the proper realignment hasn't taken place. That means no one is coming to get me. I'm going to be okay. I'm not going to be erased. I am -- the wrist monitor starts blinking red, and I learn how a window feels when a brick comes crashing through it.
"I guess that's it," I say. No sense in making a scene. The wrist monitor has GPS, and unless I hack off my hand there's no way to get it off. We say goodbye to each other. Any minute some nice gentlemen in dark suits will come into the bar. The Bureau's men won't even let me pause for one last shot. I'll be hustled off to the van then outside the city. I don't know what happens there, other than the bodies get burned. I hope it's like going to sleep. And I deserve this. I know. I killed my wife after all. Yet, I'm not really going anywhere. Sitting on the opposite side of the booth is me. Even after I'm gone, I'll still be here. I just wish I could tell myself that.