Trillium nodded and smiled gently at the man on the couch. Not just a literal couch, but a figurative one as well. It was anachronistically stereotypical for a psychiatrist’s office, but she found that her patients liked it.
Necalli fell asleep on the couch on a regular basis. Regular meaning several times per session, as he tended to slip in and out of consciousness randomly. The disability forced his retirement from Everest Exploratory, although as a work-related injury the company was taking very good care of him.
Trillium waited patiently. Sometimes Necalli was only thinking. Sometimes he slept, but often he awoke speaking as if he’d been having a conversation in his dreams and was simply continuing the conversation into his waking world.
She thumbed through his file while she waited. He had at least five complete sets of memories; she could understand the comment regarding schizophrenia. She’d heard similar things from other explorers.
“…because I can remember the fight. I can remember her saying those awful things and walking out on me. But she can’t. Of course she can’t…because she didn’t walk out on me. The other Layla did.”
“Do you think you subconsciously did something to change your personal timeline during that trip?” Trillium had asked the same question of him during every visit, and she always phrased it a different way. Inconsistencies in answers were not necessarily indicative of deception; they might also be indicative of confusion or a loss of control over which memories were currently accurate.
“It was my primary concern.” Necalli had given that answer before. The official mission report told a different story, but Trillium suspected he treated her couch as a confessional, whether or not his sins were real. The fight with his wife had been traumatic for him. When he next traveled back, an opportunity presented itself, and he instigated an unauthorized change. A personal change. He returned to find his wife hadn’t left him. The fight, although it happened, had diffused quickly instead of escalating. A complete set of memories flooded him, acknowledging the alterations in the timeline.
Trillium itched to open the curtains, but she knew that it might trigger Necalli’s more violent symptoms. She found the view of the distant Milky Way soothing. Her office window framed the idyllic scene, looking through the end of the city with its parks and colorful architecture below, above, and all around. The bubble in the distance was aimed perfectly at the Milky Way Galaxy, humanity’s home. Asgard Station spun demurely, creating what its inhabitants interpreted as gravity and making the spiral galaxy light-years away appear to spin.
“I need to go home. I need to know which wife is there…” Necalli said suddenly. Only moments before, his eyes had been closed and the monitor showed he was in REM sleep. He stood unsteadily and lurched towards the door.
“Steady there…” she said, jumping up and inserting herself under his arm to help him. “Your wife is right outside the door. She brought you here today.”
“Oh,” Necalli said, exhaling and deflating. He seemed stretched somehow, but Trillium interpreted that as her own interpretation of his mental state. “I like it when she brings me here today.”
Trillium experienced a distinct sense of deja vu, even though she was certain he’d never said that before. When he was gone, she checked her records. His wife had never brought him to his appointments until today.
That was new.
She drew the curtains and frowned. She’d been in the same office for eight years, and yet the view seemed somehow altered. It was as if they had built onto the end of the city and pushed the bubble out just a bit farther. Even the Milky Way looked more distant than usual.
Trillium shook her head. She just needed some fresh air. She’d been counselling chrononauts all day, and it always left her just a bit discombobulated by the time it was five o’clock somewhere.
The air smelled sweet and cool, just the way she liked it. She stopped to peruse a cart of fresh fruit and listened to the laughter of a young couple passing by. Her stomach flipped when she heard the words “deja vu” in the midst of their laughter.
Trillium took a deep breath and cleared her mind. She was attaching meaning to trivial events that held no significance whatsoever. Asgard station was a paradise, halfway between the Milky Way and the Pegasus galaxy. They hosted a wide array of scientific endeavors that had very good reason for wanting to be far away from any civilized world, and they profited greatly from it.
Like Everest Exploratory. The company had certainly made her wealthy, doing what she loved. It was worth the so-called risk of living on a space station in the middle of nowhere. It was worth sharing a city with various temporal agencies that would never be sanctioned inside a solar system.
And it was safe. It always had been, in more than a century of temporal exploration. And although she had dozens of patients with multiple sets of memories, she knew which memories were real. She knew which memories were true.
But are we stretching the truth?
Trillium thought the fruit vendor had said the words, then she realized the words only formed in her own mind. She reached for an apple…
This is one of THOSE stories. The one that creeps into my brain and starts knocking around, demanding to be written. After typing it into the blog, I thought “Maybe I should have kept this one? Maybe I could have sold it…”
Well, too late. Into the blog it began, into the blog it stays.
Of course, as is, it is a rough draft. Barely edited for spelling and such.
I would LOVE to hear some constructive criticism on this one. I think I might even link it up with Write On Edge this weekend… and I’ll post it in the Speculative Fiction Writers’ Community on Google Plus.
Questions I have in particular: Is it a complete story? Does it feel like it’s just a part of something else? (I really want it to stand alone, but this is a danger with short stories) Does my lack of explanation of the tech leave you lost, or is it OK?
In case you’re wondering, it’s just shy of 1,000 words.
Thanks! I am looking forward to reading your comments.