Drunk on Time
by J. H. Malone
Saul is a 20-something computer expert. He’s somewhat undisciplined and drinks too much, but he is charming and has a soft spot for older people and for his love interest, who is a brilliant but enigmatic researcher. They unlock the secrets of parallel universes with unexpected results for themselves.
Table of Contents, parts:|
1, 2, 3, 4. 5, 6, 7,
8, 9, 10, 11a, 11b
Outside, a jumbo jet rumbled overhead, lifting off from Bob Hope Airport. Jekell and Bush were nowhere to be seen. Warm air pulsed against me, the wake of a passing truck. I got in the Jeep and drove home, blind sober.
In my apartment, I found an unopened bottle of bourbon, filled a bucket with ice cubes, and washed out a tumbler. I dropped cubes into the tumbler and carried it and the bottle into the scanner room. I sat down in my easy chair and put the glass and bottle on the lamp table beside me.
I thought about the future. Thought about Liesl, working at the Institute and waiting for the deluge with her mama and papa. Thought about Garza and Tommy and Julieta. I hefted the unopened bottle. A long, empty night lay ahead. I opened the bottle.
Across the room, the scanner sat silent, a box with an answer for every question and infinite questions for every answer, waiting for me like a crazy fortune-teller. I splashed bourbon into the glass. Its bouquet filled the room. I took my first sip before the liquid cooled over the cubes.
The past is friendly. No tricks. Finding Malika’s cat, the dog pooping on Agnes’ lawn, a neighborhood graffiti tagger. The future fans out unseen in a snarl of worlds where nuggets of good news drown in a sea of entropy. We’re born in the past. We die in the future.
I drained the glass and filled it again.
The beauty of drinking, if you drink enough, is that it’s not about what’s happening or what’s going to happen. It’s about what has happened, what’s not happening, and what’s never going to happen. Everything may be true somewhere, but that somewhere wasn’t in my bottle.
Was the transporter good news? I could find a Liesl in the multiverse who stuck around, but I’d find me there, too.
I had it all wrong. Humanity’s path didn’t stretch into the distant future, at least not in this batch of universes. The transporter changed everything. If the country survived, I’d be travelling through time and space in every direction searching for love and eternity.
I heaved out of the chair and carried my glass and the bottle across to the scanner table. I wouldn’t be needing the ice.
I didn’t want heavenly realms. I wanted Liesl in this one.
* * *
I switched on the console, pulled on my headset, positioned the keyboard in front of me, and nestled the master controller in my lap.
I scanned Tommy’s Friday. It unspooled much like his Thursday. He nursed his roll at the track, made a few bucks, didn’t hit on any of his plunges. When night fell, he drove over to Shadow Hills for a thirty-minute assignation with Julietta, two blocks from her home. She slipped out to meet him on foot.
I watched them for a minute and then hopped to Santa Anita using the coordinates I had bookmarked the night before. The track was lit up. The groundskeepers were grooming the dirt and grass courses. I positioned myself in the infield facing the tote board, my back to the grandstand.
I jacked up the scan rate, moving into the future for the first time ever. Saturday morning arrived. The sky brightened in the east, the sun rose red, and the tote board lit up. I paused the scan at one in afternoon, post time for the first race. No meteor had destroyed the earth. No earthquake had struck.
I bookmarked my time, location, and the world thread.
I fumbled a little with the headset on, finding my glass. Took a swallow. Took a moment to wonder what effect worldwide scanners would have on horse racing and sports in general. Threads would diverge, but the horses wouldn’t run any faster. Hard to see how the sport of kings could survive.
I toasted the horses. Racetracks were dying anyway. I thought about jumping ahead ten or twenty years to see if Santa Anita was still in business, but I was depressed enough already. Life was my horse race.
I put down my glass before I became too philosophical to move.
For now, using the world’s only scanner, I settled for recording Saturday’s finishes. If no long shots came in, I would have a problem.
I watched the first race, waited for “Unofficial” to change to “Official” on the tote board, which it did. Being new to the future, I hopped across nearby threads to check the board on random worlds. No change in the results. I captured the board image.
I repeated the process for the following eight races. When I was done, I transferred the images to my phone. They included a couple of large payouts. I thought about confirming that Tommy was at the track, but I didn’t want to see myself there. I wasn’t ready for that, even half-drunk.
I powered down the scanner and pulled off my headset. My first visit to the future, concluded. No spoilers.
I didn’t plan on a second visit.
* * *
I arrived at the Branford Senior Center in Panorama City at eight o’clock Saturday morning. I worked half-days on Saturdays; on this one, I headed out early at eleven. My Jeep was parked in the lot behind the center. I had two hundred dollars in my pocket, enough for parking and general admission at the track, a couple of bets, a light lunch, and drinks. I could also share a couple of bucks with Tommy if he ran out of money too soon.
I climbed into the Jeep, pulled on my Angels’ cap, and sat waiting to get out of the lot while Mr. and Mrs. Sramek crept into it in their thirty-year-old neat-as-a-pin Camaro.
The Hollywood Freeway was congested, and I made my way south to the Ventura and east to Pasadena at a slow but steady speed. The day was warm and clear.
Sitting in the Branford office, I had reviewed my tote-board pics. I hoped that since my heart was pure and I was using my future data to save Tommy’s life, the gods of irony would leave me alone.
Santa Anita racetrack is located east of Pasadena at the foot of the San Gabriel mountains, off the Foothill Freeway in Arcadia. The neighborhood hadn’t changed much since my high-school days. I had planned to take Liesl to Suffolk Downs in East Boston to watch the ponies run, but the meet was cancelled due to poor attendance the previous year.
Liesl left on the third Monday in December. A foot of fresh snow covered Cambridge. The school offered her a limo, but I drove her over to Logan in the Jeep. Neither of us said much on the way, probably for different reasons. A cohort of the school’s top thinkers and administrators tried to join us at the gate, but Liesl and the TSA forbade it. She had the juice to get me past Security, but I sat next to her at the gate in a funk. After trying once or twice to make small talk, she left me to myself.
She didn’t take the scanner. Didn’t need it, she said, didn’t want it. I spent the rest of the week drinking and working my way through a bottle of OxyContin eighties I had picked up in Harvard Square. Seemed to make sense. I was in pain.
Still alive after that, I loaded the scanner’s server and peripherals into the back of the Jeep. I stuffed some clothes in a bag and drove across the continent to LA. I spent a week with my sister in Torrance before moving into the apartment in North Hollywood. My parents and brother reached out, but I wasn’t in the mood to explain anything to anybody.
* * *
Copyright © 2020 by J. H. Malone