Timeline Unlimited, Inc.

“No, that’s not it at all, Mr. Evans.  There is no such thing as travelling through time.  It is a bit of a misunderstanding in the public to be sure, but our company cannot, nor will it ever, send anyone back through time.”

I blinked a few times, “…Okay… Well, what exactly do you do then?”  I sat on the visitor’s side of a solid oak desk. The papers were stacked perfectly.  A pristine chrome-ish pen sat upright in its stand reflecting light from the desk lamp like a beacon.  There were no pictures frames.  Nothing out of order.  No clutter at all.  Just a stack of papers, the pen, and the desk light.

The rest of the room was just as polished.  Beige tile floor, no dust to be found even if I was looking on my hands and knees.  Bookshelves in perfect order along the walls on either side of the desk. A door behind me, and a blank wall in front of me.  The lighting was a warm yellow, which gave life to the otherwise sterile room.

Across the desk, sitting in the captain chair was the sales rep.  Broad shoulders, square jawline, and even a muscular neck. His suit pressed handsomely, and not a dimple or mole or freckle anywhere on his immaculate skin.  Maybe he was 50 years old judging by the gray peppered throughout his dark head of hair, but honestly, I had no idea. His smile was wide and toothy like a curious teenager.  And it never left his face.

Mr. Smith was pretty goddamn pleasant considering the mystery which surrounded all of this.

“I’m glad you asked, Dan.  Can I call you Dan?”

“Eh… Sure.”

“Well, you see, Timeline Unlimited is not a time travelling company.  We simply give people the opportunity to send their memories back, changing their personal timeline,” he shifted in his chair, “It’s not like the movies.  In the movies, you’ve got Van Damme jumping back and forth through time trying to save his wife by changing events in the past. But in real life, that kind of thing is impossible.  Pardon my French, but it’s bonafide bullshit.”

“Yeah…okay,” I stuttered, “So, I wouldn’t personally go back in time, just my memories…”  

“Exactly.  You’re getting it.  When-”

“But the rep at the conference didn’t make that very clear,” I interrupted.

He chuckled to himself, diffusing his gaze downward for a second or two, “No, I suppose they don’t, do they?  I’ll level with you. We’ve gotta make sales, and the other guy got you into this chair so I can explain everything to you, didn’t he?  You’re nodding, but I can tell you’re skeptical. Listen, everyone has a skeleton in their closet, and some people’s lives are unfortunate enough that it was let out for the world to see.  For others, they missed an important business opportunity which could have changed everything. Or maybe it’s some long-lost love. But for all of us, there are what-ifs bouncing around in our brains like itches that can’t ever be scratched.  Tell me, Dan, which one of those scenarios is it for you?”

I turned my head to the side, desperate to withhold eye contact, “The girl, I guess.”

“Heh.  Yeah, that would’ve been my guess for you.  The guilty ones get all jittery when they come in.  That’s obviously not you. No offense, but those purple bags under your eyes tell me it’s a girl.  What’s her name?”

Excuse me?  Just who the hell are you?  You don’t get to ask me that!  She’s mine, you prick, and I don’t need you or anyone else disrespecting her.  I’ll knock that fuckin’ grin right off your face. What do you have to be so happy about anyway?

“It’s Sunny.”

“Huh?” mild confusion on his face, “Well, I guess I’ve been inside all day.  It was cloudy when I-”

“Her name,” I clenched my fists below the desk, “is Sunny.”

“Ah…” This time he was the one to break eye contact, “Right.  Well, your girl, Sunny. I don’t know what happened between you and her, but imagine that you could fix whatever went wrong.  Imagine you and her could live happily ever after. That’s where Timeline Unlimited comes in.

“You send your memories back, and your past self receives those memories with a full understanding of how they came to him.  He’d remember this very conversation and all the pain you’ve felt before it, except he’d be living at the time before it all went to hell in a handbasket. He’d understand the path he was about to embark on, which is apparently a different path than Sunny’s.  He’d have all the knowledge as to why things went wrong, which, I gotta say, by the time people get to me, they’ve already spent a lotta time getting all those details straight inside their heads. So the Dan Evans from the past can make decisions with your current knowledge, and then he can change things.  The Dan Evans from the past can create a new timeline in which he and Sunny are together again, makin’ babies like rabbits.”

“You keep saying ‘he’, as if Dan from the past is a different person than me.  But it’s the same me. I will be the one who receives my memories, and I will be the one to change it.”

“Well,” he took a deep breath through which seemed to be trying to communicate how do I explain this to you?  But of course, he knew exactly how to explain it.  He did this every day. But he had to play the part of the good ole’ boy, didn’t he?  “Not exactly. You ever heard of Alternate Timeline Theory?”

“No, not really.”

“It’s quantam physics.  Goes way back to the 1700’s with Newton who started suggesting ideas which would lead Schroedinger in the 1950’s to develop it even further.  It’s the idea that every decision we make from day to day creates multiple realities. As long as there exist more than one option, a timeline gets created which fulfills one of the options.  

“So say you wake up and are trying to decide if you want to make some toast for breakfast or if you want to go out to eat. You following me so far?”

I didn’t say anything.

“Well, you end up choosing toast, but since it was the day of your big presentation at work and you’re nervous, the carbs burn off real fast.  You get lightheaded during your speech, and have to sit down. They end the meeting to make sure you’re okay, and your idea never goes any further.

“But simultaneously, Schroedinger would say that an alternate timeline was created when you chose toast. In the other timeline, you chose to go out for breakfast.  In that timeline, you coincidentally run into the CEO buying coffee. You introduce yourself, chat for a few minutes, and end up making your presentation directly to him.  He loves it and you get promoted. You’re now working with executives day in and day out and your life is completely different.  But the idea is that those timelines both exist at the same time.

“And if you were to find the right process and mathematical formula, you could transfer data across them. That’s what we do at Timeline Unlimited. We send your memories from the toast version of yourself so that the other Dan Evans knows that toast is a bad idea.  The question is whether you want to be an executive or whether you want to eat toast.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me.  I don’t have time for this bullshit,”  I started to get up to leave.

He placed both hands calmly onto the table.  Perfectly trimmed nails and thick, masculine hands, “I assure you, I am very serious.”

I paused, not really sure what was about to come out of my mouth, “Okay, let’s assume for the sake of conversation that you’re not a total fuckin’ lunatic.”

“Yes,” he smiled, “let’s assume.”

“Yeah… whatever,” my speech was choppier than I had hoped it would be, “anyway… let’s assume this is real, which it’s not.  What the hell happens to the toast guy? Nothing changes for him. He just continues on in his life in his miserable existence.  He doesn’t win the day. He just helps the other guy who’s already successful. Why would anyone want to do that?”

“Ah, yes.  That’s the real question.  Please, Dan, sit back down.  There we go. Be cool, my man.  We’re gettin’ there,” he scratched the back of his head, “You’re a smart guy, but you need to understand I just presented the options of a fictional scenario to you.  And it’s one where you know a lot of info which no one actually has. You see, I just told you the two possibilities so you could wrap your mind around the idea. But in real life, you have no idea what other possibilities exist.

“It’s very possible that the version of you who went out for breakfast crashed his car and got killed before he met the CEO. The toast Dan doesn’t know what other timelines exist. To him, all he knows to do is tell his past self not to eat toast.

“To you, today, in this timeline, you have no idea if any other version of yourself got the girl.  But sending your memories back creates a new timeline in itself.  With more information to go off of, you might very well be creating a new scenario which was otherwise impossible.”

I relaxed my face a little, letting my eyebrows down, which must have told him it was okay to continue.

“You see, Dan, right now, you have no reason to hope that Sunny will ever be yours in any timeline.  But we can change that.”

Well, he sure knew how to make a sale.  It’s because he knows what he’s selling.  He’s not getting people to buy the life they always wanted.

He’s selling hope.

Oh, Sunny.  I’ve missed you more than I could have ever expressed that day in the garden.  But there’s one thing this greaseball doesn’t understand, baby. He thinks I’m the one who needs to be saved.  But it’s you, Sunny, my heart. And I swear on every bit of my soul that I’ll save you.

“Okay,” I hesitated, “What does something like this cost me?”

He smiled the smile that only salesmen know how to do.  All at the same time, sweet, empathetic, and controlling like the Führer.

“Well, it’s simple, Dan.  It costs you everything.”

The look in his eye made me nervous.  He let it hang there giving me enough time to feel my skin start to crawl.

“Heh… Could you be more specific?”

“I meant what I said, Dan.  It’ll cost you everything. You’ll sign over your car, your house, your inheritance, any assets in your possession, bank accounts, retirement accounts.  All of it.  We have the legal team to make it happen.”

“What?  Why would I… Ugh… Look,” I felt like I was coming out of a stupor, “I still don’t know what you’re saying is real.  If all you ever do is send data to another timeline, how can you ever possibly confirm that it was successful?”

“Because, Dan, this very timeline we’re in was created through the first successful data-transplant.  The Founder of this company, G.K. Ozymandias, was the receiver. Some other Ozy in some other timeline sent his memories to our very own commander in chief in this specific here-and-now.  It was because of that data-transplant that he was able to take the patent which he had almost completed in development on his own, and navigate through the upcoming political disasters which would have otherwise plagued his beautiful idea.  Believe me, he’s told us stories about all the fanatics who were going to oppose the company. The health ambassadors, religious sects, human rights groups. All those nuts who were going to come out of the woodwork and destroy the project.”

“Human rights?  Why would human rights groups get involved?”

“Well it’s because I haven’t told you what else it’ll cost you to have the procedure done.”

“…What, is it going to hurt a lot?” I scoffed.

“No, it won’t hurt at all.  In fact, you won’t feel pain ever again, Dan.  No one survives the procedure.”

“What the fuck?”  I stood up again, “Are you talking about murdering people?”

“Of course not, Dan.  We’re not monsters. Call it euthanasia.  Or assisted suicide.”

“Holy shit!  Where the fuck am I?  I’m getting outta here!”  Already on my feet heading toward the door.

Mr. Smith stood up swiftly and moved like lightning to my person.  I stumbled backward into the bookshelf and wasn’t able to get away.  He grabbed my collar with both hands and brought his face an inch from mine.  His face contorted with a grimace that would scare Pennywise the Clown.

He spoke quietly, but forcefully.  “Listen, you little shit. You’re here because you’re desperate.  You’ve got no other options. You’re a lowlife. If it were up to me, we’d only offer a chance like this to people who deserve it.  High society. Not fucking scum like you. You think I care about your fucking girlfriend? Sunny? Moony? Whatever the fuck? But Ozy gave me my orders, and he’s the man with the plan, you understand?” He cocked his head to the other side as he said it, “Now sit the fuck down.”

He let go of my collar, but I was too afraid to move.

“I SAID SIT THE FUCK DOWN!”

My ass landed in the chair before I realized I was moving.

“Listen, Dan,” cool and smooth again, sitting in his chair, “You’ve got a choice now.  You’re desperate because you lost the love of your life. You can either win her back and live happily ever after or you can go home and probably commit suicide anyway.”

I slowed my breathing.  Shit.  What the hell am I going to do?

“You’re a thug!”

“You can think whatever you want of me, but it doesn’t change the choice on the table.  Don’t you even care about Sunny?”

“Listen here, I-”

“No, Dan.  You listen.  You’re going to sign my paperwork.  You’re going to come back tomorrow at this time, and you’re going to get into the data-extraction pod.  Sunny will be in love with you and Timeline Unlimited will be that much richer because of your… contribution.”

I shook my head, “How do I know it would even work?  I’m talking about dying here. The only evidence you’ve got is the word of some guy.  You gotta throw me a bone, man.”

“Ozy’s not just some guy.  He… you know what? Nevermind.  You’re going to have to trust us.”

“But you’re a maniac!  Based on your admiration of him, I gotta imagine that Ozy is, too.  I can’t trust people like you!”

“Oh, be real, you delusional prick,” he rolled his eyes, “You have no other options.  You look like shit, because you’ve let yourself waste away on the memory of your girlfriend.  Your skin’s as white as a ghost. And speaking of the dead, you’re as skinny as a goddamn skeleton.  You’ve got a crazy person’s look in your eye, your face looks 100 years old, and you’re tweaking. They got a name for people like you:  junkies. Let me guess:  you started the habit after she dumped you.”

I just looked at the floor.

“She’s the only thing you’ve ever cared about.  You’re desperate, and we’re the only ones who can help.  You want proof? You’re not going to get any. In fact, I don’t think you actually want proof.  You just want justification to make yourself feel better about doing something irrational.

“How close am I to the truth of it all, Dan?”

Yeah, you asshole, fine.  Shooting H into my arms made it easier.  But my girlfriend didn’t dump me. I’m not a teenager.  My wife was killed in the car I was driving.

“Whatever.”

“Yeah…whatever… Time to sign, Dan.  We’ll take the next 24 hours and shore up all the legal stuff so we can take everything from you.  Our lawyers are pretty damn efficient. But you gotta be cool. If you sign now, you’re not locked in to a decision.  It just gives them the permission to dig into all your stuff so they can prepare the paperwork for tomorrow. That’s when the real show begins.”

I stood up, took the pen out of its monumental gantry, and said, “I can sign now, and it doesn’t mean I have to kill myself?”

“It’s just a formality so that we can have permission to access your accounts and put the paperwork together.”

“Where?”

“Right here, Dan,” he said pointing at a line at the bottom of the last page in the stack of papers in his hands, “Social security number here… Initials here, here, and here.  Great.  All done,”  His smile was bright, but his eyes were dead.  He must have been through this cat and mouse a million times.

Mr. Smith let me out the door, this time without a slam into the bookshelf, and I walked the hell outta there.

Not 40 minutes later I was standing in my bathroom looking in the mirror before a shower.  I was naked, and the hot water flowed out of the spout like Niagra, steaming up everything.

He was right, my face looked decades older than my 35 year old self.  Bags under the eyes, and wrinkles spidering out all over my forehead and gaunt cheeks. Maybe it was the cigarettes.  Maybe it was the smack. Either way, it was time to shoot up again before cleansing the filth off my body.

The juice hit my vessels and I flew away like a rocketman.  Goddamn, was it good.

And there I was in the garden in our backyard.  Sunny prancing ahead of me with a bottle of wine hanging from her left hand like a little girl’s dolly.  Her long legs in the short yellow sundress sang that Dave Matthews ballad to me: Hike up your skirt a little more and show the world to me.  

She really was the world.

Her face had slim features without being sharp.  Almost elf-like, underneath her blonde hair. She moved like she was constantly in some kind of irish community dance, almost skipping around full of pep and excitement.  Sunny belonged on a celtic coastline calendar, overlooking the crashing waves on high cliffs. Displaying awe through her person at every little glory-filled detail.

That warm October day, we made love right out in the open.  I’d been her husband for 3 years, both difficult and passionate.  We had played at adulthood, but we were just bright-eyed kids who couldn’t see that life was really all about disillusionment.

“Hey, baby,” she had said to me when we were finished, just a blanket between our naked bodies and the warm Autumn sun, “I can’t believe how far we’ve made it.”

“Yeah, no kidding.”

“You crossed the country for me.”

“And I’d do a hell of a lot more than that.”

“I know, Danny-love,” a pause, “Is California all you thought it would be?”

“I don’t know.  I haven’t been able to see it.”

“Whaddaya mean?  We’ve been here since our engagement.”

“I mean, California and it’s long stretches of beach and sun and sharks – I can’t see it because you’re the only thing I see.  What? Don’t give me that look! You’re my love. My heart.”

She stared into my soul, and kissed me deep like the ocean.

“You know I’ve been thinking… I know you said you didn’t want to have a baby until we could actually buy our own house, but the barista thing doesn’t pay really well, and neither does your social work…”

“Sunny, what are you saying?”

“I’m saying maybe it’s time,” her blonde hair trickling across her eyes, and she tried to hide behind it.

“Well… maybe.”

“Yeah, that’s all I’m saying.  Maybe,” she said trying to hide back her smile.  It broke through after a second, though, and the world got a little brighter.

We sat, looking up into the white clouds, a giant bubbly rabbit moving slowly through a nimbus hole.

“You know, you’d be a really good mother,” I said after a minute or so.

She placed her hand on my chest, “You think so?”

“I do.”

The rabbit’s ears kind of morphed into a ponytail.  It wasn’t really a rabbit anymore, but more like a squirrel lead-singing Round and Round by Ratt.  A guitar even seemed to materialized in the creature’s hands.

“Let’s go get some more drinks.  I think if I might be pregnant soon, I better get in all the drinks I can for now.”

I looked at her and smiled, “Baby, that’s a great idea.”

Standing up, naked like the day I was born, I grabbed the keys.  There was enough foliage on the edges of our yard that there was no way the neighbors could see us.

“Danny!  What are you doing?  Put your pants on!”

“You gonna come out from under that blanket and make me?”

She giggled and started putting on her bra.

“Fine,” I conceded.  I grabbed my Fruit of the Looms and pulled them up my hips.  Pants and shirt, and I was walking toward our back door.

“Hey Danny,” she was hesitant, “you sure you’re okay to drive?”

“Come on, Sunny.  It was only one bottle of wine.”

“Yeah, but you drank most of it.”

I turned around to reassure her, but her face looked different, and I stopped.  She had dark eyes which normally accentuated her platinum hair, but the whites were gone.  They were completely black like two holes in her face.

“Sunny, what’s wrong with your-”

“Get in the fucking car.”

I was standing right next to the driver’s door of our Ford Fiesta.  But how did I get here?

“Sunny, what’s going on?”

She was on the passenger side, and those wrinkles I saw on my face in the mirror had overtaken hers, too, now.  Her hair wasn’t platinum anymore, but white and thin, like an old witch. She was grinning, but it wasn’t sweet like before.  It was conniving, and she had a few missing teeth.

“Sunny!  What the hell happened to you?”

She cackled, “You delusional prick.  You’re desperate. He’s the man with the plan, you understand?  Now take me to the bar and fuck me like a whore you picked up on the corner.”

I backed up, and tripped over the curb, falling onto my butt, “Come on, Sunny.  What’s wrong with you?”

She stalked toward me from the other side of the car, hunching forward like Igor.  Face even more mutilated now. Her cheeks were molten lava oozing off the side of a volcano.  Dark blood dripped from her nose and her mouth.

“Don’t you loooooooove me?”  The skin on her face was melting onto the ground like the Witch from the West.

Oh, shit!

“Don’t you wanna put a baby in meeeeeee?”  She dropped her head backward all the way to her shoulders and let out a piercing laugh which jolted the nerves all over my body.

“Sunny!”  I was crawling backward trying to get away, “What’s wrong with you?!”

Cold water hit my skin.  The water heater had apparently run out of hot water.  How long ago did that happen? I was in my shower. The husk of Sunny gone now.

The next day, I woke up sober.  Such a fucking terrible feeling. Aches all over, and a foreign solidness under my feet when I walked.  I much preferred the floating sensation. Though with that damn trip yesterday, maybe I wasn’t going to put another track mark in the arm.  But who was I kidding?

That day in the garden was 11 months ago.  We never made it to the bar, because a steel pipe had found its way through my precious Sunny’s chest when I crashed into the trailer of a semi truck.  It turned onto its side and projected its contents through my windshield.  Her frail body didn’t stand a chance.

What I wouldn’t give to get her back.  What I wouldn’t give to take back that bottle of wine.  Why couldn’t we have just stayed under that warm blanket and maybe had another go at each other?  It was the sweetest moment of my life, and I threw it away for the hopes of one more double Jim Beam neat.

I ate a bowl of cereal alone in my kitchen standing over the sink.  Cookie crisp. I didn’t really like it – too chocolatey – but it was Sunny’s favorite.  So I ate it every single morning since her death.

Was it even still morning?  These days, I didn’t much keep track of time.  I only kept track of how long till the next high.  How long till the next time I could see her again, even if only in my opiate dream.  The clock on the oven read 3:42. AM or PM?

The sun was out.  Mr. Smith would be waiting for me in the next hour.

Would I kill myself to save her?  Of course I would.

But these fuckin’ guys at Timeline Unlimited… who knows if they’re real or a scam?

Does it matter?  You’re a desperate prick.  You’ve got no other options.  You’re a lowlife.

Sunny was gone, and even if the whole company was a fraud, at least I wouldn’t have to keep poisoning myself with heroin.  It would be over. Done. Fín.

Should I trust them?  Would I really get to save Sunny?  Could she live?

They were terrible, taking advantage of people’s hopes and desperation.  Mr. Smith was a wolf in sheep’s clothing. All of them were, if this was the choice they forced people to make.  They were liars, but were they lying about the offer? The technology?

Was it worth the chance?

I hadn’t worked in a month, and this would be the second month I didn’t pay my rent.  I only had enough for the highs. It would be the streets for me, pretty soon. I haven’t talked to my family since the funeral.  No friends anymore. I wouldn’t be giving up much of a life, anyway.

And Yeah, I would die for you.  In the end, that’s what matters.  Isn’t that the only question that really holds any bearing?

On the other hand, I could clean up my act and move on with my life.  I got fired from my job at the hospital for “decreasing work ethic and apathy toward the mission of the organization”, but I could easily find another gig as a social worker.  Honestly, helping people felt good. Not most of the time, because my clients were usually just trying to take advantage of the municipal services, and they had a sense of rude entitlement which made me want to reach over the desk and squeeze their necks.  But every now and then, I’d help someone who really needed it and whose life I actually helped step up to the next level. Those ones made it worth it.

I could get back on the horse… if I could just give up the Horse.  It would be hard, but it was possible.

Maybe I’d even find another girl.

But Sunny… my love… my heart.

I walked into Mr. Smith’s office, and it was filled with eight other suits standing there with outstretched arms holding contracts.  I made my way around putting x-y-z on the dotted line and signing away everything.

Mr. Smith was grinning, once again like Hitler and Bob Ross at the same time.

“Do you know what date you’d like to send back your memory for data-transplantation?”

“October 9th, 2019.”

“Huh… More recent than I would have thought,” he scribbled on his clip board, “Time of day?”

“…It was after lunch.  Maybe 1pm?”

“Pacific Standard Time?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay, Come with me, Dan.”

We moved into a long corridor which lead to another room.  The only thing in this room was a large steel pod, shaped like a kidney bean with a cut out of a reclined seat in the concave bend.  Computer screens whizzed on the sides of the machine, and a vitals monitor rested above the head of the seat.

Mr. Smith motioned me to sit down, so I did.  Two large metal prongs stuck forward, hovering parallel with my head on either side.  A technician started an IV in my arm, which didn’t take him too long considering the scar tissue which had built up in the past year.  They hooked me up to the monitor, wires coming off me like the tangled tentacles of a kraken.

“Dan, you’re making the right decision.  That red button next to you is all that stands between you and getting your girl back.  Now, I can’t legally tell you to lift the glass cover and push it after we’ve left the room.  So you just do what you think is right. And remember, Sunny is probably out there fucking some other douchebag right now as things stand.  Goodbye, Dan.”

And he walked out of the room along with all the other staff and technicians.

There was a framed sign on the left side of my head, directly at reading level:

Timeline Unlimited, Inc. holds no liability whatsoever if you decide unlawfully to consume any restricted substances today, including propofol, ketamine, and FDA-unapproved endocerebral nanobots.  The paperwork you signed before entering this room confirms this. No physician has prescribed any medications for you which reside in this room. Taking these medications is unlawful, and under the circumstances in which you choose to steal them from Timeline Unlimited, Inc., in which you consume them, and in which you survive after taking them, you will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.  This is in accordance with the federal and state laws which are applicable on the subjects of food and drug restrictions and assisted suicide.

And next to my right hand, another one read:

Do not push this red button under any circumstances.  It will cause the injection of sedative medications and death-inducing nanomachines.  This reminder is in accordance with the federal and state laws which are applicable on the subject of assisted suicide.

I lifted the glass cover and paused.

Sunny.  My love.  My heart.

Cafe Management is run by the administration of The Confabulator Cafe. We keep things running smoothly, post stories by guest authors, and manage other boring back-end tasks.

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