I left the bar far drunker than I had intended. Unlit cigarette on my lips and vodka on my breath, I tried to remember the way to my flat. I couldn't risk a jump in this state. Shifting requires a precise attention to detail, and I'd left that behind hours ago. Drinking away old friends and lost loves. The loves that never were. The friends who had never been.
I'd had the good sense to dress right for the region. People gave me plenty of weird looks, but none of them came too close. A hundred yards to my appartment and the world wobbles in front of my eyes. It's not the booze. Adrenaline spikes through my system. Clarity. That wasn't normal. Some bastard was trying to erase me.
I'm most of the way sober when I get in, and I find something to finish the job. I need to be awake and alert and thinking faster than most people. Someone is fucking with my downstream, and I need to work out where and when. I'm still wracking my brains three hours later when another ripple shoots through me, stronger than before. Walls flow like water before my eyes and every telephone in the building rings at once. I grab one at random.
"Acheron. I have the information you asked for." Archeron wasn't my real name, but we never dared use those. Among each other, we go for improbable or insane-sounding names. This voice I couldn't quite place, though.
"What information? When did I ask for it? Why are you ringing all these phones?"
"What other phones? I'm only ringing this one. As for the rest, I can tell you York, 1998. 14th November. The Black Bull pub, five minutes to nine. Further information is not available at this juncture."
The line went dead. Great. The point I was introduced to the joys of timeslipping. The one biggest moment in my life. The biggest target. Someone else had worked it out. I'd obviously asked my caller at some point in the future to find out when it was, travel back, and tell me. Which made sense. I couldn't tell him, for then I'd create a whole cyclic information paradox. Time to sort things out.
14th November 1998 20:45
I could have gone by way of the appartment in Milan. Instead I jumped from hostel to hotel, safe house to hidey-hole, places I could crash out for a night to recover my energy. In Germany I hopped a train to Calais and let the world rush past me at normal speed for a change. I could only hold myself in time long enough for the world to move a hundred miles under me before I needed eight hours asleep.
Calais through the tunnel, and a train to York. A hundred miles or a hundred years. It was barely a step into the orthofuture for me. My head clear, I could remember the scene back in the pub perfectly. Wandering in, needing to escape from an aimless job and an aimless life. Someone offered me the chance of something more and I accepted. I thought it was some work on the side. It was more than that.
A perfect memory was engineered into my brain in 2060. It's crucial for anyone who travels like I do. Fuck with something you or another traveller knows has happened, and boom. People with paradoxical memories get flashes and coincidences happening around them. Like I had for the past week. I settled in to a nice dark doorway to watch the street
There was someone walking towards the pub. Outlandishly dressed, like a rennaisance gentleman. If he'd been in the pub I'd remember. I didn't. He could fuck me up just by sitting there. I watched as he loitered around the pub. He went inside. Five minutes later, the downstream-me entered. Fifteen minutes. Twenty. I left with the new guy.
Given that that never happened, it was time to re-set things.
I hunkered in the alley. I'd been dumb. I needed information, but seeing it happen was the worst way I could do things. I couldn't go back and change what I had just seen. I could get it removed from my memory after the fact, but that required finding someone willing to do that for me. Given my current state, not an easy thing. Then again, a paradoxical memory or a paradoxical two centuries of timeslipping life? Easy choice.
I slipped down the road and back to shortly before he passed. Stepped out behind him, and grabbed his right arm. Twisted it up behind his back and dragged him into the alley. Banged him against the wall for good measure.
"Why are you here?"
"Further information–" I hit him against the wall again.
"No. Not when you're fucking with my pastline. Not when you're trying to wipe me out of history. Why?"
"Further–" I hit him in the ribs with my spare hand and pressed him up against the wall.
"If I scrape your face off on the wall, nobody will care. Nobody is likely to notice."
"I told myself... during a gemini."
"Fuck off. Heal. Tell yourself anyway. But if you ever come here again, you're already fucked. I know you're not here." That's what matters. The perceptions of a shifter.
Who would set him up for something stupid like that? Someone wanted me wiped out. Now, I'd made a lot of enemies downstream. Not exactly rogue, but just about close enough. Few others wanted anything to do with me. But they didn't want to wipe me out.
Time to go somewhere I could think properly.