The Last Time I Committed Suicide I Used A Time Machine, But I Did It For Love
Miami –– August 21, 1956
She’d worn her afro short and close to her head ever since she was a little girl. It wasn’t particularly feminine to some, but she didn’t particularly care, plus, she found her haircut was particularly helpful for her job as a time traveler. She adjusted the wig in the mirrored alcove for the elevators.
The maid shoes softly padded along the thick pile carpet of the resort hotel. Someone had paid a lot for this luxuriant carpeting. Somebody had spent a fair amount of time deciding between patterns, before finally settling on this ornate decorative design. And somebody, likely many somebodies, labored for quite some time to bring this carpet to life. The casters of the maid’s cart barely made a sound as they wheeled down the hallway, and then stopped at the last door.
Knock, knock, knock.
The door swung open. The woman had been in Miami awhile, or so it seemed from her fresh sunburn easing its way towards a tan. For now it was still red. Her shoulders were peeling. Perhaps that explained her pained expression when she looked the maid up and down. Or perhaps it was just the pain of having to deal when you clearly don’t want to.
“We don’t need any towels,” the sunburnt tourist said.
“I have to turn over the linens. My boss, he orders me do it. I just be a minute.”
The sunburn woman winced at this irritation. She casually lifted the half-eaten banana back up to her mouth. She took a bite. She chewed. She made the maid wait for her. After she swallowed, she pulled the remaining banana from the flayed peel, and then handed the peel to the maid.
“Here. You can start with this, I guess. And do whatever else you need to do,” she said, a sinister glee in her passive-aggressive games of power.
She waited for the maid to extend her hand and take the banana peel from her. But the maid did not move. Instead, she stared at the sunburnt tourist, long and hard in the eye. It was rare for a black woman to eyefuck a white woman like that in Miami, Florida, in Eisenhower’s America. Their eyes each burned into the others. And neither woman moved.
“Do you not speak English? Habla inglés, mi amiga?” the sunburnt tourist said.
The bathroom door opened and a man stepped out, steam trailing him. He had a towel wrapped around his waist. He had another one draped over both shoulders and covering his chest. A dab of shaving cream clung to the contour of his jaw just below his ear lobe. At first, he glanced and saw a maid standing in the open doorway to their hotel room. But the way the maid was staring so intently at his fiancee unnerved him. He took a few more steps towards the bed, and then nonchalantly looked back again. He saw past the surface of the situation this time — he recognized the black woman dressed in the maid clothes. He was certain of it.
“Just take this, and then do what you came to do” the sunburnt tourist said, holding the limp and browning banana peel.
She’d meant for it to feel demeaning, to put the maid in her place. She was used to taking out her personal hostilities on maids and drivers, rag men and manservants. That was the world she was accustomed to, growing up outside of Mobile. Her family still owned not one but two plantation homes. This trip to Miami was a lark, a last taste of derring-do before she settled down with some sensible doctor, or lawyer, if daddy approved.
But how could she resist this trip? A tall and generous man who’d lavished her with attention and life’s pleasures from Tupelo to Miami. He was a strange one that was sure, but he was also just so damn handsome in his convertible Cadillac. He was like a movie star the way he just did whatever he pleased.
She’d taken on some of his attitude. It was infectious. And in doing so, she’d become more full of herself. She reveled in it. She was even speaking in a slower, thicker accent by the time they hit Tampa. The further south they went geographically, the thicker her accent got. Now, three days deep into the Miami leg of their trip she was as insufferable as any bitchy plantation mistress. And that’s how she felt in that moment, staring at this black maid who refused to hold out her hand and take the banana peel from her.
“Excuse me. Take this and throw it away, and then you can start cleaning the–” she’d fully intended to finish the thought. But she couldn’t.
The maid moved too quickly for the sunburnt tourist to really even flinch. The maid lifted her right leg quickly, and then, boom — it exploded forward like an angry mule kick. The maid’s orthopedic shoe hit her square in the chest. She flew backwards.
The sunburnt tourist crashed into the half-naked man in the bath towel skirt. They both tumbled to the thick luxuriant carpet, though not as ornate as what was in the hotel lobby. The maid spun back and with hummingbird fast hands reached under the towels on top of her cart and grabbed her ionic pistol.
When the sunburnt tourist looked up she saw the flash of what looked like a gun in the maid’s hands, but it looked like no gun she’d ever seen. Some kind of ray gun, or something, she figured. Some kinda Buck Rogers toy gun. But then the maid aimed it at her and the barrel tip lit up. Boom. That was it for her. Her body slumped forward with a spastic jerk.
The handsome half-naked man in the hotel towel skirt looked up from the floor. The maid stood over him. She aimed her general issue ionic pistol at him, cocked her head to the side, and a slow sly smirk crept across her face as one corner lifted.
“I told ’em I’d find you. But I wanted to tell you, when you go back they’re gonna debrief you, they’ll dress you down, they’ll shame you for abandoning the directives, they’ll call you a worthless scum who wasn’t worth trusting to send through time — but I want you to know you’re one of the best I ever chased.”
“You’re Agent Bermuda. You and I, we were both at the academy at the same time. You were two seasons ahead of me. Look, what if — what if, you just told ’em you couldn’t find me? You said it yourself. I’m one of the best you’ve ever hunted. What if I got away? They’d believe it. They’d go for that. I’ve got credits — I don’t need ’em here. I’ll give ’em all to you. Eighty thousand credits. All yours. Just leave me here — I promise, I won’t alter the timeli–”
The barrel end of her general issue ionic pistol lit up again. Boom. That was it for him, too. Just like the sunburnt tourist had done, his body jerked, and then fell limp, motionless. Incapacitated.
The maid pulled off the wig and tossed it on the face of the sunburnt tourist.
“Make me come all the way back to 1956 to find your ass and then you try to bribe me? Man, fuck you.”
She kicked his unconscious body in the ribs. His chest sounded like a drum.
“And this bitch. With her banana peel”
Agent Bermuda stood over her fugitive target and his poor taste in company.
She scratched the side of her head with her ionic pistol, and asked her unconscious prey, “Why couldn’t you go to, I don’t know, the Weimar Republic? I hate coming to the US in the Fifties.”
She kicked him in the ribs again. But immediately regretted it. “I’m sorry, I just — I can’t stand this timeline point.”
New Reno ––– October 20, 2089
Agent Bermuda followed the officers, keeping two steps behind them, down the length of the hallway. She could hear they were still talking but could barely make out what they were saying over the sounds of all their boots against the cold tile floor. Over her left shoulder, the wall of windows was a light show of dawn peeking over the far edge of the city. Purples and oranges, yellows and blues spread like watercolors across the glass-framed sky. Their boots stopped. She stopped.
“Thank you, Commander Khoji. Report back when there’s update on the transmission lines,” her supervisor said to the officer who’d been walking abreast of her. He saluted with a crisp hand gesture that cut the air and stopped at the edge of his tightly-fitted captain’s hat.
“Yes, ma’am,” the captain said. He spun on his heels and marched back down the hallway.
Her supervisor turned her full attention to Agent Bermuda. With a casual wave of her hand over a sensor next to the doorframe, she keyed in her palmprint, and the door to her office slid open with a pleasing whoosh.
“Take any seat you like,” her supervisor said and then waited for her to step into her office.
She followed her orders and indeed took the seat she liked. There were two chairs arranged facing opposite the wide desk of her supervisor. And there was a couch and chair arranged as an informal seating area in the office. She opted for the couch. Her supervisor joined her, taking the chair.
“Sorry about your last timeline point. If the orders had crossed my desk before you went, I would’ve changed them. Insensitive on our part, and I do apologize,” she said.
“Thank you. It was…fine,” Agent Bermuda said.
“Uneventful, was it? I read your report.”
“It was all in there.”
“He found a girl, did he?”
Agent Bermuda didn’t like to make small talk. Typically this wouldn’t be a subject that interested her, but since it was her supervisor, and it was her job, she felt it was part of her investigation.
“A time local. Guess he charmed her. She seemed smitten enough to travel three states away with him.”
“Do you think it was an AWOL excursion, or something else?”
“Couldn’t say. Wasn’t there long enough.”
“He wouldn’t be the first, you know. This has been a concern, sending agents back for prolonged exposure. It’s why all male agents are given vasectomies. The thought had occurred to us. But we hadn’t looked past sex and babies.”
“No one ever thought of love?”
“Regrettably no. We think that’s what happened with your next fugitive target.”
Agent Bermuda uncrossed her legs and got comfortable, knowing she was about to be debriefed and needed to fully focus.
“Is he a tourist? ”
“Another hunter,” her supervisor admitted.
The time-hopping protocols made it perfectly clear what was and wasn’t allowed. If a citizen broke those protocols on their time-hop vacation, a hunter would be sent back to retrieve them. It had been Agent Bermuda who’d come up with the master tracker tactic now used by all time cops and fugitive target hunters. It was overlooked as a tactic because it was so elegantly simple.
Any civilian time-hopper had enough fuel for two trips. There and back. That was to minimize time tourists getting any ideas and trying to get lost in time. But early on, a few time tourists had tried it. They called it chronocide. They’d pop back in time, they’d scramble their time coordinates, override the pre-set program and then time-hop to some other timeline point. The idea was no one could find them, since no one would know where they were in time. But the first time some tourist got the big idea not to come back, Agent Bermuda went back and hunted them down.
Rather than try to find the fugitive target who was lost in time, knowing it would be nearly impossible to know where he’d gone, she figured out that she could go to where he would be. Tourists had not yet expanded their thinking to match the potential of the time machines. But she did. Her solution was to go back to where a fugitive target first went back to in time.
Go there a day ahead of her target. She had his physical coordinates and she knew what time he’d get there. All she had to do was wait for him. When the fugitive target arrived, before he could make the second trip and disappear, she’d debilitate his time-hopper and send him back to their timeline point. It worked perfectly. After that, it was the standard procedure for retrieving any time fugitive.
But this time it was another time cop. They’d know the protocol. And apparently they were in love, which meant they were capable of doing anything.
“Another hunter, and he’s in love, huh?” Agent Bermuda asked.
“Bim, this one’s vital. We — you can’t come back empty-handed. No one is entirely comfortable with the Time Bureau, as it is. It poses more risks than rewards to their line of thinking. But they don’t see what we see.”
“And, forgive me, ma’am, but what do we see?”
“It’s changing us. Changing how we think. This may be what finally gets off this planet. We are living lifetimes through time. We used to have all of human history to learn from, now we have all our potential futures as well. Our minds have moved into another dimension. We are gaining wisdom at unheralded levels. Researchers are discovering things, re-discovering things from the past. We have the library at Alexandria, rescued from the flames and replaced. This is just the beginning. We’ve had the Time Bureau for what — three standard years? It’s too soon to determine if it’s more of a danger than a gift. They don’t see what we see.”
“Division Commander Brady. He’s recommending a complete shutdown of the Time Bureau, and for time-hopping to only be used by military personnel for military operations, strictly protected from any civilian involvement. He just needs one example of it going tragically wrong and that’d be it.”
“And this lover is the one you worry will shut down the Time Bureau?”
“I need you to find him. Quietly, discreetly. There can be no historic record of the intervention. No footprints. This will be your hardest hunt yet.”
“I don’t see what the problem is. Pop back, zap him, bag him and be gone. Pretty standard.”
“He’s a time cop. He knows your hunting procedure. He disabled the time clock in his hopper. When he went back he popped blind into a year. All we know is his geophysical coordinates of his first stop, and the year. But we don’t know the day or month or— ”
“But you know the year.”
“At least it’s not the Fifties. I can spend a year in 2019. It’s just before Apocalypse One.”
“Wait, do you intend to — ”
“We know where he’ll be, we just don’t know when. But if we know the year, I’ll just spend a year in 2019. Wait for him there.”
“It could be a full year. You’d do that? Just wait there?”
“Don’t worry I’ll pop back to now. You won’t even know I was gone.”
Her supervisor took a long inhale, paused, and then exhaled her frustrations, her rising panic, her fears. She looked at Agent Bermuda. Neither woman said anything for a long pause. They held the silence together.
They both knew when Agent Bermuda got up and walked out, they’d be committed to a path that could irrevocably change human history. And likely, no one would ever know about it. They had to do what needed to be done. They sat together in a solemn silence and awareness of their importance as two women holding all of human history and futures in their shared grasp.
Finally, her supervisor spoke in her crisp delivery, “Time to go. Do be careful.”
Los Angeles ––– New Year’s Eve, 2018
Agent Bermuda stood in the middle of downtown Los Angeles, smelling the air of the last dying days of 2018. She was unbothered by the car exhaust, nor the nose-sting of sun-baked urine rising from the sidewalk, or the greasy burnt bacon smell of the hotdog vendor. Instead, she breathed it all in deeply. Clean air. It smelled foul and divine.
She smiled at all the innocent modern idiots shuffling and striding past her. None of them knew what was coming. It made her both sad for them and defensive of their innocence. She watched them rush about as she tasted the air, taking it in through flared nostrils. The people pushing past her looked irritated, they looked harried, they looked frantic, but some look relaxed. She focused on their faces, their eyes, and tried to see into their heads, into their thoughts, fears and desires:
It’s remarkable. They train us to think about time paradoxes. All hunters take the same training. It’s important we understand the ripples of our actions. Just like elementary school teachers, our influence extends to infinity. But look at them.
This is the paradox they never teach you.
These humans of 2018, soon to be 2019, they’re such a happy people. Of course, they won’t know this until much later. They will be retroactively happy.
What may have never felt like happiness at the time, or at least did only very rarely, can later be cemented into a durable happiness with the stamp of nostalgia. Aided by great tragedy, one that reframes what happiness looks like, or looked like, it’s easy.
An apocalypse will do that for you. It revalues everything that came before it. Most of these people have no idea how close they are to unprecedented calamity. To total civilizational collapse. Nor do they know how happy they are.
It was New Year’s Eve, 2018, and Agent Bermuda didn’t know what to do with herself. Today would be the only day she was certain her fugitive target wouldn’t show up. This was her one free day to explore the past. What should she do? She wore her circa-2015 fashions. She’d memorized a few choice phrases. She knew she could convincingly pass. But what she should do with her one day free? What trouble could she get into in the last day of 2018?
The first stop she made was at a fruit vendor on a street corner. But then realized she’d had yet to grab money. Thankfully, this was not a problem. The Time Bureau had created a simple money draw system. Accounts had been opened in all the major banks. A field agent like Bermuda was sent back with an ATM card for all the major banks, given corresponding PINs, and expected to get by with what was in the accounts.
Due to the amounts initially deposited, and the subsequent accumulation of interest over decades and decades, each account had accrued sums of a couple hundred million dollars. It was a near limitless fund for a time-hopper. It would be impossible to spend it all unless a traveler intended to buy a massive purchase like a mega-mansion or a minor league ball club. But why would someone just passing through time ever buy anything so massive or expensive?
Instead, the accounts functioned like petty cash. They were intended as operating capital. Although the sums were impressive, with bottom lines of hundreds of millions, the money, ultimately, had no value. It could not be cashed-in and taken to the present day to be traded in for credits. Even if it was all withdrawn and spent-up by a traveler, it could just as easily be replaced with one trip back in time to make the same initial deposits, and then through the steady accumulation of interest, they would once again amass into fortunes of hundreds of millions of meaningless dollars.
Agent Bermuda had fun using the old fashioned card and push button system. It felt so admirably quaint, she wanted to giggle as she entered her ATM card, pressed tabs on the touchscreen, and then waited for her dollar bills. She felt the money units in her hands, the thick paper-cotton blend. She gazed at the effect of the primitive holography and the iridescent color-changing ink. It was so cute. She pocketed the money and went looking for another sidewalk fruit vendor.
This is always such a strange time, I don’t know why I like it so much. It’s one of the timeline points I’ve visited a few times and yet, it always feels fresh. Different. They’re so close to making it, I think that’s why. I always kinda hope maybe someone’s tinkered with the timeline and the changes ripples big enough to alter something. Everything. They’re so close. It seems like all it would take is nudge. But then what? If they did, would I even exist? If somehow you saved all of them — would that mean none of my timeline happens? Every time, I wonder. I wonder if it’s us or them. Is this just what has to happen? It seems so savage. So unnecessary. So sad.
“Perdon a me. Puedo tengo una fruita grande, por favor,” Agent Bermuda said, unsure if her Spanish was exactly correct. She was still translating word-for-word in her head. But the fruit vendor smiled obligingly.
“Una grande?” he asked to confirm, pointing at the larger of the two containers on his fruit cart.
“Si, si,” she said.
She watched as he efficiently and rhythmically chopped oranges, cucumber, mango, pineapple, jicama, and honeydew into bright chunks and swiped them from the cutting board and into the plastic container with a small flourish.
“Sal, chile y limon?” he asked her, indicating the chili powder and salt.
“No quiero sal, pero chile y limon, por favor,” she said, once again not entirely sure of her Spanish, but having too much fun not to use it, as clunky as it may be.
He doused the fruit chunks with lime juice, squeezed through a hand press. He shook the chili powder, stuck in a fork, and handed it to Agent Bermuda. She handed him a crisp twenty dollar bill. It was then that she realized she had no idea how much this large container of chopped fruit cost. In her timeline point, it would have been worth at least ten times as much, if not more. Possibly twenty times.
The fruit cart vendor smiled, thanked her, and handed her back twelve dollars change. As she walked off enjoying all the flavors of fruit, she tried to do the exchange rate math in her head. The best she could guess it, this same container of big bright chunks of fresh fruit would’ve cost her thirty times what she just paid. Even if she had to spend the whole next year in 2019, she decided her time in a world with cheap and plentiful fruit served by friendly strangers from street carts, would be a year well spent.
Next she wondered where she could best enjoy New Years Eve. She settled on the idea of any dive bar with live music. But first she’d enjoy the tiny fireworks of flavor going off with each bite of fruit.
Los Angeles –– January 5, 2019
Time travel teaches you two great truths. One you immediately grasp, the second you come to, eventually. The first is obvious: there is nothing real but the present moment. Wherever you are, there you are. And equally, whenever you are, there you are.
The second truth is harder to grasp. But it goes like this: if I’m traveling in time, then when is the present moment? And even weirder, I can return from the past to anytime I want. But which time is happening right now — which moment should I come back to in order to get back to my present day — the moment I left? Starting to get it? It’s all happening right now. Every moment is the present. And the only present is your experience of it. The rest is probability.
The universe is this inconceivably large probability machine. Things happen, because things have happened. Things happen, which leads to other things happening. This is all connected. But where is the present in that?
If I go to the future, what I think of the present day exists as their fixed past. That means, what I think of as the present is fixed — it’s already happened. This suggests that I have no free will in my present moment. How could I, if it’s already happened? But we all know the future isn’t fixed. If I change enough things in a moment in the past that future timeline won’t come to be. It will be lost in the matrix of possibilities. The future most certainly isn’t certain.
But if I travel back to my past, then my present becomes the future to that timeline. And if I change enough things in the past my future timeline won’t come to be. My present timeline won’t come to be. And I will be lost in the matrix of possibilities. That must mean my present isn’t fixed either.
There is no fixed moment. Only timelines. And the most probable one is the real one. As far as we would call it real.
But if you go far back enough, anything can be made unreal. No timeline is the real one. Everything just exists as part of this enormous probability machine. Nothing is real. It’s all relative, as Einstein would say. Or, it’s all dependent, as I would say. Nothing is independent, it can’t be. Where would you stand to be free of everything?
She blew the steam from her coffee. And she lit a cigarette. What a rare treat. Coffee and a cigarette. It was just like all the old songs she’d heard, the old books she’d read, the old movies she’d seen. Her father had given her his love of nostalgia. And being his daughter she was raised on a steady diet of 20th Century art. He was particularly fond of the midcentury. The movies and music of the Forties. The books and music of the Fifties. The music and movies of the Sixties. From black-and-white to psychedelic, in three short decades.
As a girl, she’d fetishized some of the 20th Century’s indulgences. She fixated on big dumb hats and hair-sprayed hairdos of the Forties. Cigarettes and typewriters of the Fifties were particularly strong ones. She had a soft spot for the Beats. San Francisco, coffee and cigarettes. She also admired the silliness of beach blanket parties and and the outrageousness of muscle cars of the Sixties.
Why she picked so many gross staples or symbols of humanity’s demise she did not know. She was just a girl when she fixated on them, after all. But she did. She very much did. The past always intrigued her. It called to her. She wished she could live back then. Of course, growing up after two apocalypses who wouldn’t long for the height of innocence and technical excellence?
She took another long drag on her cigarette, exhaled, and chased it with the steam and a mouthful of the bitterness of her black coffee. It was sheer decadence, to her. Los Angeles wasn’t San Francisco, but it would do for the time being. She was seated at an outdoor cafe, the sun was on her face, and for the moment, everything was good and/or fine.
Although she was technically on a stakeout, she felt like she was on vacation.
Los Angeles –– February 13, 2019
She was back at the same outdoor table, at the same cafe. If served two functions. For one, it played well into her coffee and cigarettes fantasy of the past. And there were rarely many other customers in the daytime. The fancy downtown people preferred the two other cafes close by. This one was a straight mom-and-pop shop in comparison. Down market as the financial men might say. But as she’d learned it wasn’t as much mom-and-pop as it was brother-y-brother.
Two Afro-Latin brothers ran it. Their uncle owned the lease. He’d given up on it, but promised to hold the lease for them as long as they covered the rent and the building’s owner didn’t kick them out. They’d made a steady go of it, but she was half-convinced the brothers supplemented their income with side deals. There were far too few customers to make it otherwise. If there were any busy periods she would’ve seen them, and there weren’t. She’d spend entire days there, reading. At least, that’s what it looked like.
In actuality, she was on stakeout. She needed to be in that cafe because it afforded her a perfect vantage point on the geophysical coordinates of her fugitive target’s first time hop. Before he would go wherever he next went, he would stop here. He’d grab someone, which is what posed all the risk to the timelines. And then the two of them would pop somewhere else in time. Where they were presently hiding. But first they had to stop in downtown LA.
She could see the rooftop where he was expected to land. Presumably his partner lived in that building. And so, every day she watched and waited. She hawked that rooftop with a predatory relentlessness. She was very good at her job. So good, she’d managed to make it feel like a vacation for her.
She thumbed through a book of Ginsberg’s poetry as she sipped coffee and smoked. She didn’t vape. She smoked. She wanted the fire. She wanted the burning. She wanted the tobacco to dance in her lungs. What could a year of smoking do to her that she couldn’t fix with one medical visit back in the future?
So, she smoked with reckless abandon. And she read. And she waited.
Los Angeles –– February 19, 2018
I don’t think my timeline point is any smarter, or better, than this one. Listening to conversations, they are just as likely to be inane or brilliant. It’s not like people from my time are any more kind or thoughtful. It’s hard to detect what’s different. But I’d say the only true observation I can make is that these people are less scarred. They’re no less scared. But they have not seen what is to come, and thus, they would never consider doing the things we find necessary.
It’s not that they’re hard-hearted, they’re naive. They don’t take the steps that lead them to apocalypse because they are cruel or malicious. Some are, obviously. But the majority are not. And yet, together, they are capable of such monstrousness. And the only reason they do it is they don’t value what they have.
They want more, instead of enough. We are forced to satisfy ourselves with enough, because more is no longer an option.
She picked at a salad she’d ordered from Chino, the younger of the two brothers. He was the one with the good music taste. He was the one who was there most of the mornings and afternoons. His brother was the night guy. She didn’t know what Chino did with his nights. She guessed that he was a DJ, or possibly a musician. He was certainly pleasing to look at, and seemed nice enough if she ever wanted to have an actual conversation. Thus far she had not. She didn’t want to interfere with his timeline, or anyone else’s. And so, she mostly kept to herself. Careful to leave no footprints.
That said, she couldn’t help but speak to him when he came over to her table and stood there, staring at her. Agent Bermuda looked up from her book. But said nothing. He stared back at her. And for a long moment, he said nothing.
“You can’t keep doing this,” he said, easing the silence away with his words.
“Do you need me to order something else?” she asked.
A smile spread, embarrassment possibly due to the idea that she thought his intentions were so market-based.
“No, I don’t care about that. You’re a regular,” he said, “But you can’t just hang out here, every day, and you never even introduce yourself. Most of the time it’s just you and me here, it’s weird not even knowing your name.”
She liked how straightforward he was.
“Bermuda. But everyone shortens it to Bim,” she said.
“Bim? I like that. Never heard that before. ‘Course never heard of anyone named Bermuda before either. Plenty of Brooklyns and Londons, Irelands and Austins. But never, Bermuda. Bim. Yeah, I like that. My name’s…”
“Oh you know my name? See how it is. Guess I was the only one in the dark.”
“Heard other customers call you that.”
“Well, pleased to meet you, Bim. I’mma flip the record. You in the mood for anything?”
A torrent of album names popped in her mind. She didn’t know one from the other. They were all labeled 20th century midcentury, to her. Anyone familiar with the albums would easily parse them into far more intricate and meaningful categories. But to her they were just Cool Old Albums. She said the first one she could think of that she’d never actually heard before.
“Do you have Brazil ‘66?”
“Well, gotdamn, not at all what I expected you to say. But you best believe I have that one. May not have it on vinyl, but I can plug in the aux. I’m sure I have it in my phone.”
He disappeared inside. A moment later, bossa nova rhythms swirled around in the air of the patio. She sat with her book and her coffee. Chino waved to her from inside. His nod was an affirmative that she’d picked well. He went back to his busywork. She lit another cigarette and enjoyed her time vacation.
Los Angeles –– March 14, 2019
“Do you like bagels?” Chino asked.
She had not heard nor seen him approach. But suddenly there he was. Standing there above her, offering a basket of bagels.
“Made ’em myself, at my buddy’s bakery. We were talking about doing a deal where he supplies us with fresh baked goods. Thought that might get a few more people in here in the mornings.”
“That’s probably a good idea,” she said.
“Go ahead. Pick one. There’s a few flavors. On the house. Just let me know if they’re any good.”
“Aren’t you going to have one?”
“Can’t. I’m gluten-free. These are like a gluten bomb.”
Bim reached and took a blueberry bagel. She pertly smiled. “Thanks.”
“Let me know how it is!” he said as he turned and went back inside the cafe. She remained on the patio, and set the bagel down on the table.
What do you do when you just want to tell someone the god’s honest truth? Like, look, bagels won’t save you, buddy. None of this will. You’re all too far gone. Now you just gotta see it through to the other side.
But what the hell, if that is the case, guess focusing on how good a blueberry bagel is is just as good a way to spend your time as any other way. Why be gluten-free when the world’s ending?
Then again, why change? If each moment is the present, at least for the person in it, do whatever feels good. As long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else. And blueberry bagels very rarely hurt anyone.
She took a bite of the bagel as she read. The book was nothing great. It was one she’d picked up in the cafe, left behind by some stoned customer. She saw him leaving it behind and said nothing. She felt like perhaps losing it might be a better lesson for him than her rushing after him to hand him back his misplaced book. When she saw the cover she decided she’d read it herself. It was a book about unicorns and alicorns and other mythical beasts. She was surprised by how delicious the bagel tasted, the pleasure snuck up on her as she read about lost creatures from faraway lands.
“Not bad, huh?” Chino said. He must’ve approached without her hearing, again. He had a knack for that.
She turned her shoulders to open up her body language. “Yes, I was about to get up and come tell you. This bagel is uncanny. You have to start selling these. Because I will buy one every day.”
He laughed. “Okay, deal. I knew my boy made bomb baked goods. Think I may get him to make some CBD biscuits or some shit, people can’t get enough of that shit.”
“CBD?” she said.
“It’s that active ingredient in cannabis, the one that doesn’t get you high, but makes you feel good, and now people are putting it in everything. They even put in dog food and shit,” Chino explained.
“Oh, right. That stuff. Yeah, I don’t do that,” she said, hoping her language didn’t sound dated, or weird. She had no idea how to talk about CBD, and assumed it must’ve been a fad like Benzedrine. Because she knew for a fact nobody was talking about CBD after the apocalypses.
The cafe phone rang, and Chino stepped away to answer it, before she could ask him if there was another blueberry bagel.
She turned back around, facing away from the cafe, and stared at the loft building. Wondering if and when her fugitive target would ever show up. She had at least eight and half more months to go. And now, thankfully, there were good bagels.
Los Angeles — March 28, 2018
Bim sat with her book and coffee and watched the loft building, like she had every day since the calendar flipped to 2019. The music at the cafe wasn’t as good that day because Chino was gone. She didn’t know where he was. In his place, his brother manned the cash register and counter. His brother’s taste in music ran towards punk. He let The Adolescents album play on repeat. At the moment, they were singing about OC Life.
Bim didn’t mind it; the songs were catchy, like if the early Beatles wrote punk songs. The longer she listened, the more she liked it. The song “Kids of the Black Hole” was a particular favorite. She looked at Chino’s brother for a quick moment, and wondered when Chino might be back.
Then she wondered if her fugitive target might arrive that day and she’d have to take him back to the future and she’d never see Chino again. Lost in time. She’d come to like him a lot. And felt bad that she might have to leave, knowing he was headed into an apocalypse unlike anything he could imagine. She watched his brother a moment, and thought about Chino’s kind face.
To watch others with a dispassionate distance is akin to being a god, one likes to think. Especially when one knows they are headed toward ruin and that you can step out long before the hell makes its first appearance on earth. You hesitate to get close to anyone knowing they are going to most likely die soon. If you’re a time traveler, doubly so.
Although, since many of the people here in this timeline point will die in the coming months, what does it matter if you strike up a friendship with them? It’s not as if you’ll significantly alter the timeline. The apocalypse will happen. It’s been determined that we can’t reach my timeline point with any certainty if we stop the apocalypses from happening. And so, this must happen.
From our perspective it’s ordained to happen. It’s as close to religion as science gets. But so it goes, they’ve determined that all these people must die so that we can live. It’s very much a godly choice.
We could save them and we choose not to. But unlike a god, while we have the power to act or not, our choice affects our fate. That is not the case for a god. And that’s why I’ve never gone for the whole time traveler god complex.
I may know things. I could act to stop things. But isn’t that always true? Doesn’t each of us have times we come to know things and then choose not to act, knowing that others may be negatively affected? Aren’t there times we could act to stop something and we don’t because we rationalize that it’s not out job, not our concern, not our responsibility?
This timeline and its fate is not my responsibility. And this awareness doesn’t make me feel godlike, in fact, quite the opposite. It may be the most human thing about me. I have limits. I know that.
Los Angeles –– April 6, 2019
“What’s your favorite city to eat desserts?” Chino asked.
She’d heard him coming this time. Was able to turn her shoulders to him, open up her body language so she didn’t have to speak over her shoulder at him.
“What kind of random question is that?” she said,
“Was just thinking about it — and you’re the only one here.”
“So, I’m just another opinion to solicit?”
“Not like that. But c’mon, answer the question?”
“What’s in it for me?” she said, unsure if she was flirting or not.
“Well, I’m not going to take you to Paris, if you say Paris. If that’s what you mean. I ain’t won the lottery.”
“What’s yours?” she said, shifting the focus.
“You’ve been to Istanbul?”
“Oh, I’ve been all over. DJing has taken me to every continent but the Arctic.”
“You mean Antarctica.”
“Because their pastries and cakes and candies and sweet breads are the best. What’s your pleasure?”
“Right,” she said, fairly sure they were flirting. “That makes sense. Of course. I could see that. Istanbul does sound good.”
Now that she was fairly certain they were flirting she had no idea what to say. He picked up her slack.
“Okay, what’s yours? And maybe, if you pick a really good one, we’ll go there to eat.”
“I’m no DJ groupie,” she said, hoping it sounded like teasing. She was mostly just proud she’d learned the word groupie. She guessed that saying she was no DJ fan would’ve sounded quite dorky.
He laughed. “No one said you were, you just spend so much money here, I feel like it’s the least we could do.”
“Buy one hundred coffees and get a free trip to Rome, I don’t see why you don’t have more customers.”
“Haha. So, wait, Rome. That’s your choice.”
“Yeah, I suppose it is,” she lied. She had no choice in mind.
“That’s a good one.”
He smiled at her. And she couldn’t think of anything to say. She just admired his smile. So innocent, so proud, so optimistic, so doomed.
“You need anything?” he said, filling in the silence between them.
“Nope, I’m good. But we can pick our dates for Rome later,” she said.
“Deal. But when we go, I’m still gonna tell people you’re my groupie.”
“Ha! They won’t believe you after I tell them you’re my gigolo and I’m paying you ten grand a night for your magic fingers.”
“Oh my god. You’re scandalous.”
“And rich,”she teased.
“Are you?” he asked, genuinely curious.
“Here, I am; rich that is” she said, honest, but offering no further explanation.
Los Angeles ––– May 17, 2019
It had been five and half months of her life. She spent each day the same. She watched the loft building from the cafe patio. From the hour it opened until it was dark and she retired to her apartment. She’d secured one directly across the street from the loft building. She’d trained motion sensors that if anything appeared on the building’s roof she would be immediately alerted. She could not afford to miss her one opportunity. She would not get a second chance.
The days had begun to stack up. Some days she wasn’t as thrilled to be alive in 2019, able to breathe the relatively clean air, to savor all the cheap, fresh delicious produce. Some days she was pissed. It was mostly due to the fact she hadn’t had a good night’s sleep in five and a half months.
She couldn’t allow herself to fall into deep sleep. Instead, she just rested. And it was starting to catch up with her. It was probably the reason why she snapped at Chino when they talked about economics. It had been a nothing conversation.
He made a joke about Venezuela. A typical Western joke, portraying Venezuela as a failed state. A socialist cautionary tale. This attitude bothered her. This simple two sides approach to dividing the world always bothered her. There were more than just two sides. It wasn’t so simple that capitalism was good and socialism was bad. The story of the world’s economics was larger, longer and deeper than most people in his timeline point were ever prepared to deal with, let alone admit to themselves. But she’d snapped and now she had to lay it out for him to make him understand why she wasn’t mad at him and his stupid joke.
“You’re wrong though,” she said. She knew he would argue that basic point.
“Like hell I am! You wanna go live in Venezuela, be my guest. I’mma stay here in capitalism.”
“Don’t be so naive. It’s not capitalism versus socialism. Not like you describe it.”
“Um, yeah it is. There’s their system, which is a fucking mess. And there’s our system, which is also a mess, but a much better mess.”
“Oh my stars,” she said, uncertain where to begin. “Can you sit with me for a sec?”
Chino looked back at the only other customers in the patio, the middle-aged couple looked like they were fine and would stay that way for awhile.
“Sure, what’s up? You gonna school me on communism, or whatever?” he said, half-joking.
“You like capitalism, right? You prefer it?”
“Do you like slavery?”
“Um, obviously no!”
“Well, you have to, if you like capitalism.”
“Don’t start on me with capitalism is wage slavery.”
“No, never. But capitalism did depend on actual slavery. You can’t compare the success of socialism versus the success of capitalism, if you don’t give capitalism its full credit. The reason capitalism did so well was…it had centuries of slavery, centuries of stolen labor, centuries of land theft. If capitalism had to pay for all the land and hours it stole, it would be bankrupted instantly. It’s morally a bankrupt institution, one that’s dependent on winners and losers. It demands that some people be losers. But life is not a game. What cruelty, to design a system that has in its design a large percentage of people must be losers. It’s a system of slavery and winners and losers. You like that?”
He had never thought about the fact that capitalism was built on mountains of stolen labor and land. He never made that part of capitalism’s success story.
“I still don’t want to live in Venezuela, though,” he said, as he stalled for a better thought.
“No one is asking you to live in Venezuela. But you could do a lot better than capitalism. Besides, Venezuela isn’t socialism of the workers. It’s state-based socialism. That’s just a different form of masters. Capitalism compels your involvement based on fear. State-based socialism compels your involvement based on need. These basic drivers are terrible. Eventually, humans will figure out there’s only one way to share a planet and that it’s with true, people-based, regionally-governed socialism. Trouble is by the time we figure that out, there’s not nearly as much planet left to share.”
“Oh you know that for fact, huh?” he said.
She realized she’d spoken about the future as if it were the past, a fixed thing anyone could point to. She decided she could stand by what she said, it’s not like he would assume she was a time traveler and that’s how she knew such things.
“Yeah, I know that for a fact. That’s just how things have to go,” she said.
“That’s sad, though. How we always hafta lose things before we realize what they mean to us.”
“It is…it is sad,” she said.
And then neither of them spoke.
Los Angeles –– June 4, 2019
He’d been gone for a week, and she knew by the third day that she missed him. She didn’t like that. She’d grown so accustomed to him. She looked forward to their dumb conversations. His stupid faces he made when they talked and he teased her. His sweet tooth and how he was always bringing her something good to eat. How he listened to her when she talked, although she didn’t talk much. He always seemed to listen. She could tell because he asked smart questions. At first she thought he was one of those dumb pretty boys. A musician, a DJ, a part-time model. But the more they talked, the more she found that he was extremely curious, but just had his education and his horizons limited by his American upbringing.
From my time tracking people across the timeline, I can say with some certainty, anything someone says that sounds like a sales pitch was almost always the opposite of what was true. If a nation said they were the land of the free and the home of the brave, you could reliably trust that was not the case.
Only a nation that owned slaves for centuries, had slaughtered the original inhabitants by the millions, and grown up to be the biggest arms dealer in the history of humanity would call itself the land of the free and home of the brave.
This was false advertising. And from what I’ve seen, all advertising is false. The sky never has to sell itself. The sun doesn’t either. Their value is automatic, immediate, unmistakable. No need to lie about them and tell you the sun makes everyone sexier, or whatever.
She listened to the first date happening just a few tables away from her. She wanted to tell the woman not to believe anything she was hearing. The guy was advertising himself. And if he felt he deserved her, if he felt he was a catch, he would never feel the need to advertise himself. The only thing trustworthy she’d heard so far from the guy was his silences.
She turned her attention back to her book. This time she was re-reading a volume from Anais Nin’s Diaries. She smoked her cigarette and sipped her coffee, secretly hoping Chino would be back soon. 2019 was getting to her and she knew it.
Los Angeles –– June 8, 2019
She’d stayed in trim fighting shape with bodyweight exercises. Push-ups, sit-ups, squats, dips, lunges. She felt ready, willing and able to take out her fugitive target. She knew he was a fellow time cop. And he was in love. He’d be ready to fight like a cornered animal for what he wanted. She hoped it didn’t get physical.
She figured she had 90 seconds from the moment his time-hopper appeared on the building rooftop to the moment her target fugitive came back up the stairs with his fiancee. Maybe sixty seconds. Maybe he could go down to her apartment, grab her, make it back up the stairs in forty-five seconds. Her plan was to be in the building and on the rooftop in thirty seconds.
She ate, drank, and slept with that readiness. On the rooftop in thirty seconds. The hardest possible outcome she imagined is if he popped in during the three hours she slept. She was ready for this possibility, though. She slept dressed with her boots on and her ionic pistol in her hand. She estimated it would take her fifteen seconds to get out of her apartment, down the hallway, down the two flights of stairs, and out the side door. Then she had another fifteen to cross the street, break into the building through the glass front window, race up the four flights of stairs and get to the rooftop.
That would be a lot to do, and the fastest she could imagine she could do it all was thirty seconds. If her fugitive target managed to get out and back in less than thirty seconds there was almost nothing she could do. She just hoped he didn’t show up between three a.m. and six a.m. Every day she hoped he’d show up in the middle of the day when she was at the cafe, that way she could just run across the street and race up to the rooftop. She only had the one chance to get it right.
But this day, she didn’t hope he showed up. Instead, she wished to spend the day flirting with Chino. He was back from his ten-day DJ hopscotch. He’d been at all the best spots. She could tell because he didn’t brag about it or try to sell her on the spots. He just talked about how much he wanted to bring his best game. He looked as though the trip went well.
She could see how his tan made him look almost like he was glowing. His white shirt helped with the illusion. He caught her looking in at him and waved. A smile, too. She hated the thrill that surged through her like a thousand volts of crush energy.
A half hour later he came out on the patio and asked if she wanted him to warm her up. She stared up at him, dumbfounded, not sure if she’d imagined it or not.
“I’m sorry, what did you say?” she asked.
“Warm you up?” Chino indicated the pot of fresh coffee he was holding. “You wanna fresh blast of the good stuff?”
“Yes, yes, I do,” she said, restraining her eyes from widening.
“All right then,” he said, as he filled her glass tumbler with hot coffee. Time slowed down, she was sure of it. His arms looked particularly good, not flexing, but still flexed. The glass now full, he placed the coffee pot on the table, and sat down in a patio chair beside her.
“You were so right about socialism,” Chino said.
“I was? How so? How was I–what did I say that was right?” she said, in a nervous response.
“About how it’s the best thing for the planet. How it’s never correctly accounted for, due to the historic erasure of slavery and land theft. It’s bullshit. It’s a game of winners and losers. And it enforces that most people are losers in its game. It’s a cruel trick.”
She got lost. In his eyes. Damnit. She realized it when he stopped talking. There was that abrupt silence. She needed to say something. Or he did. She’d been listening to him, but she had no idea what to say in response.
“And not just a cruel trick,” Chino continued, assuming her silence meant she wanted to hear more, “It’s not the best system designed to run a planet. It’s good for a greedy few. And fuck billionaires, there should be no billionaires.”
“Did I say that–I don’t remember saying anything about billionaires. Not that that’s a bad sentiment. I mean, I agree but if you came up with that on your own based on what I said I’m–“
“No, that’s what Luna said. I got that part from her.”
“Her? Luna? Who’s Luna?” she said, already embarrassed by how quickly the questions came out.
“You would love her. Luna is this woman I met in London. Totally beautiful, totally brilliant, just an absolute dream girl. When we woke up together, it just felt good. You know? Not like a hookup, like it was real. But like, it would never work out because like she’s in London and I’m in LA. Those kind of things are like fun at first, kinda romantic because you can’t be together, but you have to be together if you’re gonna be together. Ya know?”
“Luna from London, huh. A dream girl. Why didn’t you just stay there, not like you absolutely have to be here — to do what? Run this cafe? If you met a dreamgirl, and you can DJ from wherever — you shoulda stayed. At least for awhile.”
“Bim. You think I fucked up?”
“Maybe you’ll see her again. You never know. The future isn’t set. Who knows what’ll happen.”
“Yeah, you’re right. But if I didn’t come back, this place would go under. And everything we got invested in this. And what would you do? Nowhere for your crazy ass to come to every day and drink coffee all day and read your old ass books.”
She tried not to let the tears come. She’d made it through the shock of hearing about Luna in London, she’d made it through the onslaught of images of picturing Chino and the dream girl twisting sheets, waking up together, having breakfast together, she’d maintained her face, placid and interested. But now, to hear him call her a crazy ass who drinks coffee all day. That crushed her. The bad way. It really hurt. And she took it, she thought of ice water rushing through her body like a snowmelt river. She did not react. Until she knew how she would react.
“My crazy ass would miss you,” Bim said.
“I know right?! But I’d miss you, too. I’d still be making out though. I’d get her and you’d get my brother. My brother isn’t quite the conversationalist I am.”
“No, I bet he’s not,” she said. Flat.
“Man, I think you’re right. I shoulda stayed in London, don’t know how things could’ve played out.”
“Yes, it’s a universe of probabilities,” Bim said, hiding her bitterness.
“I know right?” Chino said, not knowing at all how right Bim truly was.
Los Angeles ––– July 3, 2019
I had been sent for one man and I focused on the wrong one. He’s doomed. As are all most of people I meet here. I have to remember that. I’m talking to ghosts. And only a fool falls in love with a ghost. Of course, I could tell them it’s coming. I could tell him to warn him. Maybe he could believe me, he could prepare and he could survive.
Or maybe that’s guaranteeing his death, maybe he becomes a mark. Holed-up from the apocalypse he could be an easy target. Killed for what I convinced him to get. Innocence is better. Let them all live out their last days, it is true what they say. I’ve seen it firsthand.
Ignorance is bliss. And these are most certainly ignorant times.
It was the day before Independence Day and she could not tell. There were no decorations up in downtown LA. It was no longer a home to patriotism. Bim sat and marveled at how close they were. They were almost ready to think beyond the narrow limits of nations. But somehow, they’d let fear grip at their hearts, and had shrunk back to meet the future clinging to the past. That part was sad to watch.
Chino wasn’t at work, which meant she had the day to herself. She hoped her fugitive target showed up. She wanted to leave. She’d begun to feel like she’d had enough of 2019. Even the fruit no longer exploded as a fireworks of flavor in her mouth. Now it tasted like just more fresh sweet fruit.
Los Angeles –– July 4, 2019
The sunlight glinted off the crystal of the water glass breaking open a prismatic rainbow from inside the sunbeam. Bim adjusted the glass, sliding the rainbow around in the tumbler of water. Her mind reached for the ineffable.
There is one thing I’ve never seen enough evidence to decide: Is God real or not? I’ve seen things that would make me lean in one direction. But also, aside from the anecdotal, there’s the purely logical conclusion to draw. If every moment is happening all at once, what would possibly be the purpose of that? Why would a probability machine suddenly pop into existence and then start doing it’s thing — whatever that thing is. I don’t know, I don’t think we’ll ever know.
But it only makes logical sense if there’s a purpose for all this. Then again, maybe it is as my one aunt used to say, “there ain’t no sense but your own, child.” I think about that when I’m not in my timeline point. Ain’t no sense but your own.
It was a samba morning for her and Chino. They were the only ones in the cafe. The couple, a pair of early morning bikers who’d stopped in for smoothies had just left. They’d been fun to watch. Bim liked how the two of them looked at each other. They talked over each other, they laughed easily. She couldn’t tell if it was a date, or perhaps co-workers. They never touched. That would’ve helped her finish the equation. There were still too many variables to solve it. They could be siblings, or cousins. She thought how rare that was, to not be able to guess the dynamic of a relationship between a man and a woman in public.
Chino danced through the glass-paneled door of the cafe, out onto the patio where she was seated in her regular spot. Months back he’d made a Reserved sign for her. As if they’d ever need it. She was there every morning when they opened and stayed until dark, whenever that may be, depending on the day of the year. His tan glowed in the morning light that passed through the city in shafts gathered by the cavernous boulevards of downtown, like glass-walled canyons of dawn. Bim watched him dance to her. She disliked how there were tingles down in her toes. That was a bad sign. No tingles. She told herself, as if she could will herself there.
“This morning, I made myself the freshest smoothie — better than I made for those two who just left. You thirsty?” Chino asked.
She wasn’t sure if he was flirting, if he was subconsciously fucking with her, or if he genuinely just wanted to know if she was thirsty. But he looked nice enough so she went with the last one.
“Very much. What fruits did you use?”
“Ah, the fruitas. Strawberries, of course. Mango, banana, blueberries, those acai, I’m sure I’m not saying that right, and some blackberries, lots of berries, and what you don’t expect — watermelon. Makes it fresh. So fresh. It’s like having a waterfall inside your mouth.”
“A waterfall inside — yeah, I don’t think that sounds as good as you think it does. But yeah. Let’s go with that. Sounds…fresh,” she said, and added a smile from nervous habit.
When he came back he caught her playing with the same tumbler making another tiny rainbow slide around in the glass. Chino watched her a second, wondering what she was doing, but he was unable to see the prismatic rainbow from his perspective. To him it just looked like sloshing water around in her glass.
“One Chino’s Surprise,” he said as he approached her table. He placed the smoothie before her with a small flourish.
“Thank you,” she said.
Chino sat down at the patio table next to her. He nodded a few times. Said nothing. Took sips from his smoothie. And he waited for her to try the Chino Surprise. Finally, she got the hint.
“Oh, you want me to try it? Sorry,” she said.
She picked up the smoothie, slid the remainder of the paper sleeve, now more of a paper cap, and lifted it off the tip of the straw. She placed straw to lips. He watched her now, expectant. She looked at him. And then took a powerful slurping suck. The freight train of icy flavor hit her all at once. Strawberries, mango, blueberries, bananas, acai. It was all there. And boom, just like he said, the watermelon rode atop it all, a final hit of freshness. A trailing breeze. It was incredible.
“Holy shit, Chino. That’s — that’s — I’m not usually a smoothie person.”
“I know,” he said, smiling proudly, “you prefer your coffee and cigarettes. You know I worry about you. You can’t keep going on like this. I like your business but I feel like I’m killing you, slowly. You don’t eat, you just smoke and drink coffee. But if you like that smoothie we can start the morning with one of them. Then, later in the day, we can switch you over to your coffee and cigarettes. Whatta ya say?”
She liked that he was worried about her. The rest of it though felt a little patronizing.
“Do you believe in God, Chino?” she said, opting for no segue.
“Do I believe in — yeah, I do. Not like the one in the church, but yeah, I do. I have mine own. We cool.”
“You have your own. Do you have a name for him, or her?” she asked. And took a sip of smoothie.
“Nah, I ain’t have a name. I just say God. Like, God, why you doing this to me? Or, c’mon, God let me slide in there one time. You know? Like, I pray, I guess. What about you? You believe in God?”
She looked at him a moment. Smiled. Took a sip of her smoothie. Then looked at him again.
“I do, kinda. Mostly. It makes sense to me. Even though I can’t see it. You know?” she said.
“Yeah, yeah, sure. I feel you. That why you was all in your water glass? You having one of them days?”
“No, I–that’s a light trick. You can make a prism, if you hold a cut crystal glass like this one at a certain angle to a strong enough light. In this case, the morning sunlight.”
She slid the water tumbler across her table to the edge, Chino reached out and picked it up.
“Hold it at 42 degree angle, like just shy of a 45 degree angle. And you’ll see the light — ”
“Oh whoa! There it is!”
“There it is,” she said, watching Chino break open sunlight and release the rainbow inside.
“That’s pretty cool,” Chino said, still marveling at the alchemy of it all.
“Do you ever wonder: What is the nature of humanity?” she said, before she could really think about what she was doing. It was one of those questions. How the fuck does anyone answer that? Only some people even want to hazard a guess. Most are satisfied with someone else’s answer. Chino was one of the bold, willing to pull forth his own guess.
“Like are we good, or are we evil? That sort of thing?”
“Sure. Yes. That binary would work.”
“What else would you use?”
“I don’t know, like, a singular quality we all share. Like, fiction-loving.”
“Fiction-loving? What does that even mean?”
“We love stories. We tell ourselves stories. We fight over stories. We kill over stories. We tell ourselves what is good and what is evil based on stories. We are fiction-loving.”
“Oh, right. Yeah, put it like that, then yes. But we are also cooperative. We are the ones who get things done together. That’s the quality I’d say.”
She liked his answer better than hers.
“Will you forgive me if I’m philosophical for a second?” she said.
“No, I like when you are philosophical and you ask me your weird questions. I like it,” he reiterated.
“Okay,” she blushed, a bit. Took another sip of her smoothie, wiped the corners of her mouth, and said, “Is there one? One nature of humanity. What if we’re looking at it wrong. What if it’s both — there’s one nature, and it’s a spectrum? Like, how sunlight appears white, it’s really yellow, but your eye reads it as white, whatever. That sunlight is light, right up until it hits a prism, then — boom — it splits into a rainbow of colors. Perhaps, that’s it. Humanity is like sunlight, that way. We have a hidden dual nature. A wave and a particle, so to speak. A wave of history, and individual particles of personhood. Okay, that’s like way too philosophical–”
“No, it’s fine. I’m following you,” Chino said, honestly enthralled.
“Okay, okay. So, what if, our human nature is all the same, but then with a slightly different perspective you see how it also splits into all these deeper underlying shades. I don’t mean race. I’m not doing that, black, white, yellow, purple or green shit. Fuck that. I mean, we are all the same and we’re not at the same time.”
“Yeah, we definitely paradoxical. That’s for damn sure,” Chino said, with a sip of smoothie to chase it.
“I don’t know. I’m just trying to make up my mind about something. Trying to see it from lots of different angles.”
“You seem like that. A deep thinker.”
“I have the time,” Bim said, a private inside joke with only herself.
“You wanna have dinner tonight, with me?” Chino said.
It caught her so off-guard Bim nearly snorted smoothie through her nostrils. “What’s that?” she said, as if she’d missed it the first time.
“Tonight. After work. When my brother gets here. It may be late, may be after dark, after you leave. I never know with him what time he’ll get here. So, how about this — give me your phone number. I’ll text you when my brother gets here, whatever time that is.”
“I can’t,” she said.
“Oh, yeah, of course. You know, that’s cool, I was–”
“I don’t have a phone.”
“What do you mean you don’t have a phone. That’s the worst excuse I’ve ever heard.”
“No, I really don’t. Have you ever seen me use one? Think about it.”
He did. Long and hard, and he couldn’t recall seeing her use a smartphone, not ever. Which is rare. He wondered why he’d never noticed that.
“You don’t have one, do you?” he said, satisfied she wasn’t lying.
“No, so I can’t text you or have you text me. We’ll have to set a time to meet.”
“Yeah, I can’t do that, because my brother,” Chino said, overlooking the obvious.
But Bim caught sight of it, “What if I just meet you back here?”
“But how will you know what time to meet me?”
“I can show up early, and wait,” Bim said, a smile wanted to break but she didn’t let it.
“Yeah, I guess that’ll work, and if he gets here before you, I can wait for you.”
“Perfect,” Bim said. And then, not knowing what else to do, and eager not to ruin the moment with some nervous chatter she took another sip of smoothie, and smiled at him with her eyes.
He took a sip of his smoothie, his eyes caught the edges of the dawn’s light. Sometimes, he was too cinematic to look at. He was always glowing or backlit, just right. How he did that she could never quite tell. But she liked it. She liked him. And it seemed that he liked her. She couldn’t believe it. What about Luna from London, and all the others like her? Was he just momentarily dazzled by her mind? The question itself made her laugh. No, surely, he seemed to like her. This was bad, she thought. She was on stakeout. She was a Time Bureau special agent. She was most likely the best fugitive target hunter ever. She couldn’t be playing house in 2019 with a DJ who co-owned a cafe that didn’t even have it’s own lease. But she liked him. And he liked her. Or so it seemed.
“So, I guess I’ll see you later tonight, then,” Chino said, and then stood up. A bell had rung, the one over the door that indicated customers. It didn’t ring that often.
“You’ll see me before then, I’m not leaving just yet,” she said.
“Oh right, it’s still early. I’ll bring you some coffee when you finish your smoothie!” he said, with a smile, and then spun to open the door and greet his new customers.
Bim looked down at her smoothie. She took a sip, and the watermelon hit her with freshness.
“Take that Luna from London,” Bim said to herself, a dark smile curled her lips.
She looked back at her target site, the rooftop of the building just across the street. She wondered to herself why she’d never seen a young woman entering or exiting the building. If the geo-coordinates were right, he was schedule to appear on the rooftop of that building some day in 2019. But she’d always assumed it was the rooftop of her fugitive target’s girlfriend. It just as likely could be his boyfriend. No one had ever indicated the gender of his target’s illicit partner.
She took another sip of smoothie. The Chino Surprise was certainly just that. The watermelon did its thing. And she relaxed into the morning. She felt the sun on her hair and neck. She heard the morning birds still out and chirping. She heard the buses and sounds of traffic, but let them smear into an ocean like whirr of waves of noise. She heard her fugitive target sensor go off. She noticed the breeze as it riffled through her close-cropped afro that she kept tight to her head. She heard her fugitive target sensor go off again, one second after the first time it sounded.
She was already down a second.
She popped up. She pulled her artsy French poncho up over her head, and tossed it on the table. She grabbed her ionic pistol and yanked it from its holster. She put a free hand down on the planter box that clung to the low wrought iron fence that surrounded the patio. She sprung up and over the low fence and used her hand to pivot around. She landed clean on the sidewalk. Chino stared past his customers inside the cafe and watched as Bim armed with some kind of ray gun, sprinted toward the building across the street.
He’s here. He’s finally here. Of all the days, of all the months of this year, he had to pop into this one. What a lousy sense of time he’s got. But I should’ve known though. I don’t get this. I don’t get to be here, now. To be here, with him. I was telling myself a story, a very dangerous story. I should thank this asshole for finally showing up, before one of us got hurt.
She practically bounced up the eight stairs from the sidewalk to the landing of the stoop. And she didn’t hesitate or flinch, she just lifted her arm up bent at the elbow and covered her face and head as she shot the glass and then smashed through the single panel glass front door to the loft building. Glass shards fell like a crystalline rain. Bim slid across the smooth marble tile floor of the building foyer.
The elevators couldn’t be trusted. Instead she took the stairs. Up the wide marble steps to the second floor, then down the hallway to fire stairway, the cement stairs and cement walled one. She bounded up step after step, flight after flight, floor after floor, until she reached the door to the rooftop. She hesitated. On the other side of the door, she expected to see a time hopper. Inside would be her fugitive target. But it was just as likely he was already outside of the craft and headed for this same door.
Bim took a series of quick, short, sharp breaths. Then one big inhale. And she pushed open the rooftop door. It swung fast, pulled away from her hand and slammed against the building.
There it was. Just like she knew one day it would be. The time machine was about the size of a two person helicopter, like the kind a TV traffic reporter uses, only one without the tail or rotors. Bim raised her ionic pistol, aimed at the time hopper’s one weak spot. A design flaw where too many power couplings met. And she fired. What little sound the time hopper made, it ceased. What little light it gave off, grew instantly dark. It was off. Debilitated. Bim sighed. She’d made it. She caught her prey.
The door to the time hopper pushed open. First a boot stepped out. Followed by the rest of the leg. Another boot. Another leg. Then the door fell back against the crippled time machine, sealing it closed again.He stood looking at her. His ionic blaster in his hand, leveled and aimed at her. He shook his head. But she couldn’t tell if he was embarrassed with himself for getting caught, or disappointed in her for being the one to catch him.
“Bim, it’s you,” he said, his voice, friendly as a salesman’s.
“It’s me, Finn,” she said, her answer not nearly as happy-voiced.
“They sent you, huh? They musta really wanted to bring me back. In one piece.”
“In one piece, was their idea.”
“But not yours, huh?” he teased.
“I don’t care. I understand why you came. And I know why you have to go back.”
“You have no sympathies,” he said, no longer teasing, now probing.
“I have no sympathies,” she said, answering his unasked question.
They stood on the rooftop, as the morning gathered up energy to start the day. It was still early enough that people weren’t yet out on neighboring rooftops, suntanning, reading, smoking and chilling, or grilling for the Fourth of July. It was just them and the company of skyscrapers. The sun, reflected in the glass faces of multiple buildings, was their only audience. Bim kept her finger on the trigger of her ionic pistol. She kept it trained on her fugitive target. And she felt the sun on her hair and neck.
“Is there any way we could come up with a deal? I know you hate when perps bribe you. I did, too. It’s insulting. As if you could be bought, so easily.”
“Exactly. But you still wanna try.”
“Kinda hafta, don’t I?”
“Guess you do.”
“Look, I’m in love. And I’ll just come right out and say it. You ever been in love? No, of course not. You’re a special agent. So you don’t know what I’m feeling right now, you don’t know how desperate I am to stay here.”
“Let’s say that I do. Then what?”
“Then you know why I hafta stay. Why I need to stay.”
“But how can you stay and not ruin the timeline in the future?”
“We’re not staying here. We’re going to the future, where we can’t ruin anything,”
“That a fact? Is that how-“
“She’s gotta gun! Get her!”
Who was he yelling at? She spun around to see and they were on her. Two LAPD beat cops. One hit her arm down, the other tackled her legs. Down she went.
Although they were both fit, Bim made short work of the cops. She used her forehead on one, her ionic pistol on the other. He was out. She got a shot off at the other cop. He went down just as quick. Both cops down. Bim looked around for Finn. Gone.
Bim scrambled to her feet, and ran for the open door to the stairway. She could hear him a flight below her. His feet kept slapping the steps. She kept after him.
She heard the second floor doorway slam open. And knew right where he was. She pushed through the doorway. But she’d not expected him or his arm. It caught her in the throat, she practically flipped. She crashed and landed on her back. She tried to scramble to her feet but he caught her. Tackled her.
They tumbled down the wide marble stairs. It bruised everywhere they hit. They rolled over each other and the marble stairs until they finally stopped when they reached the broken glass shards from the shattered front door. They rolled across the broken glass. It cut and scraped them. But it did so in so many places all at once she couldn’t focus on any one or count how many places she hurt.
He was first to his feet. He’d lost his ionic pistol. She had not. He rushed through the broken front door. She followed him. They bounded down the stairs. And they both slid to a stop when they saw the cop car and two officers on the other side of it, guns drawn. The two time cops froze in place.
“Put your gun down!” one cop shouted.
“Okay! Okay! I’m putting it down!” Bim said.
Agent Finland looked at Bim. He mouthed, “You ready?”
She knew what he had in mind. A concussion grenade. She saw it in his right hand. Held over his head. She nodded. The LAPD officers were slow, they didn’t even get off a shot. The grenade was small, the size of a Christmas light, but when it went off it went boom!
She was ready for it alright. She shot Agent Finland as soon as he threw it. He dropped, incapacitated. The grenade hit and exploded. She saw it light up the morning sky with fire and smoke. She saw the two cops get thrown back. She saw that their patrol car took the brunt of the blast. She saw Chino, across the street, watching it all. He saw her, ionic pistol drawn, as the smoke and fire swirled around and past her, wiping her from view. She saw it coming and the blast carried her back into the building.
But she wasn’t out. She pulled herself back up off the broken glass. She stood up on wobbly legs. She lurched forward. She made it to Agent Finland, grabbed him and pulled him into the building. She dragged him over to the elevator. She pressed the button and waited. The smoke and fire raged just outside.
The elevator doors slid apart and opened. Bim dragged Agent Finland in and took a deep breath when the doors closed. When they reached the top floor, she stepped out of the elevator with Agent Finland slumped over her shoulders in a fireman’s hold. She marched over to the stairs and up to the roof.
She held Agent Finland’s hand to the door. His palm read, the door popped open, and she pulled it all the way open. She dropped Agent Finland into the time hopper. She pressed the time coordinates, double-checked them. Set the timer and closed the door. She stepped back from the time hopper. Ten seconds later, it sparked, it sparked again. And then it disappeared.
Bim took a long breath. And she felt the sun on her hair and her neck.
Los Angeles ––– July 4, 2019
Everyone was talking about it. And Chino had seen it all. He stood outside of his cafe and spoke with a reporter from the Los Angeles Times. He recounted what all he witnessed. He told the young woman how his customer held a gun on two LAPD cops. And then he explained how her partner threw a grenade, or an IED, something. And then it all exploded. The cops were blown across the street, practically into the cafe. The patrol car was flipped and burned down before the fire department arrived and put it out. But the weirdest part was how his customer and her partner disappeared. They must’ve been vaporized.
The reporter listened intently but grew bored when Chino began to speculate on things he clearly knew nothing about. Eventually, she thanked him for his time. She stepped away to interview another witness. He stepped back into his cafe.
“When does your brother get here?” she asked, without looking up.
Chino spotted her, with her head down, a big floppy hat and a wig covered her head. She sat at a stool at the counter. She slowly turned to face him. And then smiled.
“Figure you might be able to close up early today,” Bim said.
“You — you — you’re not dead.”
“Not yet,” Bim said. “You still feel like dinner?”
Los Angeles –– July 4, 2019
If every moment is happening all at once, and it’s up to us to give those moments meaning, that means life, the meaning of life is the story you tell yourself. I have decided to write myself a new ending. It seems only fair, to me.
Bim admired how neat Chino was, how he kept his loft apartment spotless. She didn’t expect that. He handed her a glass of wine.
“Red is all I had, hope you like reds?” he said, with a small smile.
“It’ll do for now,” she said, doing her best impression of flirting.
“Okay, now you promised you’d explain it all to me. Lay it on me,” he said as he sat down on his couch. Like everything else in his apartment it was stylish without trying too hard.
She sat down next to him and took a sip of wine. Where to begin?
“Who was that guy with you? And where did he go? Is he dead?” Chino’s questions spilled out of him.
Bim smiled again. A short small one. She was stalling.
“He’s gone,” she said. She knew it wasn’t any kind of an answer.
“Is he dead? Did he get vaporized? What the fuck was that that he threw?”
“Okay, wait. There’s an easier way to explain all of this.”
Chino fought his impulse to ask more questions. He waited for her to speak again.
“First, I need to know something. What is this?” she said, waving her hand between them, indicating the invisible connection between them. He didn’t see it, or know quite what she meant.
“This? What is what?” Chino asked.
“This. Us. Here, on this couch. Is this what I think it is?” she asked, knowing full well and good she was killing all of the mystery, all of the romance, all of the What if? But she needed to know.
“Us? What are…we?” Chino said, now somewhat familiar with where the conversation was headed.
“Yes. Us. Are you attracted to me?” Bim asked. She’d laid it all out. No more flirting.
“I–I–I didn’t think that was a question. Had I not made that clear. Yes, of course, I’m attracted to you. I think you’re–”
She didn’t wait for him to finish. She kissed him. She kissed him hard. And more importantly, he kissed her back. They melted into one another. His questions could wait. His answers weren’t important right at that moment. Her answers unlocked this new possibility. And they fully explored it. Together.
Bim was delightfully pleased to learn that Chino was as good in bed as she’d long hoped he would be. And he discovered that she was as imaginative and responsive a lover as he’d ever been with. They moved together, in time, in spirit, in escalating waves of pleasure, until they’d both climaxed. And then fell back into his bed, sweaty and spent, breathing hard.
“You want a lighter?” Chino asked.
“A lighter, for what?”
“I figured you wanted to smoke. I don’t mind. You can, if you want. I can open a window. I probably even have an ashtray.”
“It’s fine. I only smoke with my coffee.”
“Oh, okay. That’s good. I didn’t really want my place to smell all smoky.”
“But you would for me?”
“Yeah, of course.”
She kissed him. He smiled when she rolled back away.
“Do you want to hear it all now?” Bim asked.
He lay next to her in bed, he put his arm under his head, to support it and said, “Yes, tell me everything.”
“I’m not from here, from now. I came here to find someone. I waited for months for them. They arrived today. I caught them and I sent them home.”
“You’re a spy?” Chino said with a gasp.
“No, I’m no spy.”
“You’re a bounty hunter?” Chino asked.
“I’m a time traveler. A time hunter. I find people lost in time. I’m not from your time,” she’d never said anything like this to any time local before. It felt good to be one hundred percent honest.
Chino laughed. “Like hell you are! C’mon, you gonna give me a bullshit story, at least make it believable.”
“But I am. And I want to escape time. I want to escape with you. We can go anywhere we want. Anytime we want. The guy I just caught — he wanted to do the same thing. But he didn’t know how. He didn’t know how to disappear. I just sent him back. My timeline point is going to expect me soon. If I don’t get back within six hours their time, they’ll send someone here looking for me. But I’m not going to be here. We’re not going to be here.”
“Because we’ll be lost in time,” Chino said, playing along, but still not believing her.
“Yes. We will. If you want to go,” Bim said.
“If I want to go with you to wherever we want in time?”
“My time hopper has fuel enough for three more trips. They send tourists back with enough fuel to go somewhere in time, and then enough to get back. But they send a hunter back with enough for multiple trips in case the fugitive target tries to run.”
“Wait, you’re fully serious right now?” Chino said, his mind racing to catch up and stumbling straight away.
“I’m serious.” Bim said as she gazed into his eyes, searching them.
“Where would we go? Could we come back if we hate it?” Chino asked.
“No, we just go. I have it all worked out. We hop to a different time. My time. Then we hop back here. And then to wherever we want and we change whatever we want in the past. If we do enough changes we could change the future timeline and make it so that the future never happens, it recedes into the mesh of possibilities and probabilities, and that way, there’d be no one in the future to come look for us. I’ve thought a lot about it.”
“Can we go to the future?”
“No, they could find us there. It has to be the past,” Bim said, elated to hear him thinking through the idea with her.
“But wait, where the fuck are two black people gonna live happily in the past?” Chino said, finally reaching the most obvious problem with her plan.
“I know, I know. I’ve been all around. And my idea was Hawai’i. Sometime after the discovery of penicillin.”
“Okay, that could be chill.”
“You want to go?” Bim asked, knowing her whole life hinged on his answer. But not just her life, the lives of billions of people. Who knows what Chino’s decision could mean for them? How many people would never be born, because these two lovers decided to go get lost in time. Chino hadn’t thought about it. But Bim had. And she decided that wasn’t her responsibility. She couldn’t know what influence she had. She could only know what life she had.
Los Angeles –– July 4, 2019
Outside the closed restaurant, the night sky was a patchwork of explosions. Fireworks turned the blackness over LA into a fiery garden of color and smoke. New blossoms erupted with deafening booms. Chino and Bim stood together holding hands, gazing up at the fireworks exploding above them. Neither spoke. They just watched the flowers of fire take over the night. If only, for a moment.
After they’d had their fill of fireworks, they stepped inside the closed restaurant. Metal roll down covers protected the windows and safeguarded the building. They also hid what lay inside. A fully functional time machine. Bim had stashed her time hopper inside the restaurant. She’d told the men she hired to put it inside the restaurant that it was a pizza oven. Somehow they’d believed her. But now she stood before it once again, and admitted the truth.
“There it is — my time machine,” Bim said, and then turned to look at Chino’s face.
He gawked at it, as she presumed he would. He walked over to it, and placed his hand on it, as if to confirm it was real. It was certainly there. Real as touch would confirm. He spun around.
“This is real? This is a real time machine?” he asked.
“Where do you wanna go? And you better decide soon, a hunter will be soon. You still wanna go to Hawai’i post-penicillin?”
She walked over and joined him at the time hopper. She pressed her hand to its side and the her palm read, the door popped open. She grabbed the handle and pulled it all the way open. Chino stared gape-jawed.
“I can’t believe this is a real time machine?” he stammered.
“Just have to choose where you wanna go. Or, rather, when you want to go.”
He leaned in closer to look at all the readouts and the few toggle switches. She should’ve anticipated it, she should’ve expected he would reach in to the hopper. He flipped the one switch he shouldn’t hit. The inside of the time hopper lit up. It began to make a small sound like a bird flapping its wings, but a rhythmic hum of flapping. She knew what he’d done.
“Oh shit! Okay, okay. We have to go. You just — fuck! I should’ve said something — but that’s fine. We just need to go. We can decide what year once we’re in. C’mon!”
Bim climbed inside the time hopper and slid over to make room for Chino. She looked back.
“C’mon! Get in! We have to go! Now!”
“What’s happening!” Chino shouted at her.
“You turned on the hopper, we need to go! They’ll get a sensor warning, that it’s operational. If we don’t show up in the future in thirty seconds. They will send someone here — because they will assume I’ve made a run for it in time. Now! Get in!”
Chino stood frozen. It was all happening so fast. She was asking him to come with her. To step out of time. Out of all that he’d known. How the hell could he be a DJ in the distant past? But when he looked at her he wanted to go with her. Fuck it, run away. Why not? But then just as fast as he thought about what he imagined in the past — he imagined them, two black people from the future, from different futures, trying to make their way in the past. The idea legitimately terrified him. What black man would send himself and the woman he loves into the past?
“Ten seconds! We need to go! They will show up here and shoot us! Get in!”
He stared at her.
“Please get in! Please!” Bim pleaded with him.
Then she saw it. The sparking flash. The quick repetition of a second flash. And then, they were there. A second time hopper was there in the empty dining room of the closed restaurant.
“Get in! Now! Please, Chino! Get in!”
He spun around to see the door of the second time hopper pop open. He knew what comes next, it would open all the way up. Just like the other had. Only he had no idea what or who would be inside this new time hopper.
Bim was frozen inside her time hopper, she didn’t dare step out, there wouldn’t be time to get out, grab Chino and drag him inside, close the door and get away. The hunter they’d sent would step out and debilitate her time hopper, just as she had debilitated Agent Finland’s. She stayed inside. And she screamed at Chino once last time.
“We have to go! Now! Now! Now!”
Chino turned back to face her.
The door to the second time hopper popped open.
Bim wondered what Chino would do. Would he run away with her into time? Or would he stay in 2019?
He took a step.
Her eyes widened.