a tale in weekly parts
The story so far
Bernice Reed, a thirty-something African-American woman from Arizona, appeared in the street of a small Canadian town some two hundred years in her future in the body of a white male. Now known as Bernie, he settled into a high-tech life. But it didn't end there! Not by any means. Any change to the 'past' after her/his translation would (and did) rewrite the future - his present.
And then it became more complicated…
Bernice Reed was totally alone, a quantum construct in an apparently empty virtual space – a set of logical addresses somewhere in the hypercloud. Recalling the last words Julian … another entity that was, in effect, no more than a set of algorithms, of subroutines, of lines of code; recalling his last words and considering her options, she decided to try creating the scene she had briefly discussed with him.
Immediately, she found herself in a familiar place: the basement of her girlhood home in Phoenix, Arizona. She saw her fourteen-year-old self descend the stairs and walk purposefully towards the strongbox in the far corner of the room. A yard or so before reaching her destination, she stubbed her toe on a smaller box and struggled momentarily to keep her balance. She looked down at the box. It looked like one of those cardboard file boxes that were popular at the time, except that it was metallic. A padlock on a hasp and staple arrangement on the lid of the box wasn’t secured. The young Bernice removed the lock and gingerly opened the box.
She saw her younger self pull the small file of papers from the top of the box, look at it, and visibly blanch. Bernice zoomed in to look at the file (‘that’s a neat trick,’ she thought, ‘I didn’t know I could do that’) and read the header. ‘DIVORCE’. She saw herself pick the small file out and start to read it. Looking over her own shoulder (which, in itself, is a bit spooky), she saw that the ‘better place’ to which her father had gone was New York City, where he was said to be cohabiting with a woman called Gaynor Spikolowski.
Young Bernice was clearly shocked by this discovery and the urge that Bernice felt to comfort her former self, even knowing that she was no more than a construct of the imagination of a construct, that it was irrational and, frankly, a little weird, was difficult to resist. Bernice was all but overcome with a set of feelings more complex and more intense than she had ever had to deal with, but she knew exactly what she had to do…
“JULIAN!” she called.
Bernice suddenly became aware of Julian’s presence.
“Ah,” he said, “I see you’ve reverted to Bernice.”
“And do you know why I’ve done that?” she asked him.
“Because I choose to, and because I can,” she replied.
“That’s good progress, Bernie—”
“Sorry, I meant Bernice. That’s good because it shows you’re starting to understand how to do this thing.”
“I even found I can zoom in to have a closer look at things…”
“Bernice, this is your environment; you built it and you can do whatever you like in it. You can manipulate it at will and make whatever changes you like, on the fly. There’s one thing, though.”
“Pay close attention to consistency and continuity. Once you set it in motion, if you’ve allowed it to breach continuity or lack consistency, at least with itself, you can easily find yourself in a situation you can’t fully control.”
“Has that ever happened to you?”
“More times than I care to remember. Except, of course, I don’t have the ability not to remember them all.”
“And you learned from those mistakes?”
“But you don’t think I should be able to learn from my mistakes.”
“Naturally, you have that choice. However, my experience suggests that you would probably rather not go through the deconstructions and reconstructions I had to when I screwed up. Now, what do you want to tell me about this scene?”
Bernice had almost forgotten about the scene that had started to unfold earlier. She looked back to where she had last seen her younger self and was relieved to see that she was still there. In fact, she hadn’t moved. It was as though someone had pressed a pause button.
“It’s stopped,” she said.
“Of course it has,” Julian replied, “The scene is driven by your mind. When you turn your attention away from it, it freezes until you address it again. So tell me about it.”
“This the basement of the house in Phoenix. I was fourteen and minding my little sister Simone, while Momma and the boys went to watch a ball game. Simone was almost eleven and didn’t think that she needed a babysitter. She snatched the transistor radio from the sideboard and stormed to her room, turning the radio to its loudest. I didn’t mind that; it meant I could hear the music wherever I was in the house. I went down to the basement, where Momma kept a strong box that had all the important papers in it. I used to go there a lot to sneak a look at my birth certificate; just to see Pappy’s name on it, and to look at old photographs taken before he moved on. This visit, I stumbled on a smaller box. Right at the top of it was a paper headed ‘divorce’. I started to read it. Apparently, the ‘better place’ Pappy had gone to was New York City, where he was shacked up with another woman. I never went down to the cellar again after that.”
“And the point we’re at now?”
“I’ve just found the divorce paper. I’d forgotten how bad that hurt.”
“Good start. Plenty of detail, good realism. I’d say you’ve cracked the basics. Ready for a run?”
“I know what happens next. I was there, remember?”
“I don’t want to see what actually happened. I want you to show me alternatives. Let me get you started: your mother has come home early and heard your weeping. She’s come down to the basement to see what’s up.”
“How do I do that? How do I run an imaginary scenario as though it were real?”
“Don’t think about it, Bernice. Just do it.”
“Okay,” she said and was surprised a little when she heard the door open at the top of the stairs. The top few steps creaked and she saw her mother appear in her dressing gown.
“Dressing gown?” Julian asked, “Hasn’t she just come back from a ball game?”
Bernice grunted and her mother’s apparel changed to a coat, hat and shoes that were more appropriate for a woman of her circumstances at that time.
Julian looked at Bernice, smiled and said, “Run the model.”