Friday, August 8, 2014

The Tinfoil Man.

The Tinfoil Man
by james bezerra

The Time Traveler looks at his watch.

They’d let him keep it. Possibly just to be dicks.

The Time Traveler watched the second hand as it tick
ticked around.

He was frustrated and wanted to complain that they were wasting his time. But he understood the irony of this before he parted his lips to say it. Instead he sat quietly watching his watch. Each 59/60th of a second he tried to stop the next tick with his mind.

Only he couldn’t. Because that’s not a thing.

On the other side of the one-way glass they were watching him.

“What’s he wearing?” Gibbs asked. His styrofoam blue cup of coffee steaming near his face in the blacked out observation room. They had to keep the room blacked out because the one-way glass was pretty cheap and if they had turned the lights on the Time Traveler would have been able to see their silhouettes through the silver aluminum of the mirror.

“I don’t know,” Swaroop said back, also over the warm steam of his little cup of coffee, “He was wearing it when the unies picked him up.”

“Is it a tinfoil suit?” Gibbs asked. Gibbs had never been married, had never dated seriously, his mother had died of lung cancer when he’d only been twelve. He did not know women well. They were a foreign species to him and he had done his best to keep them at bay. His father had been distant. Gibbs only knew tin foil as an abstraction. He’d never used it. The silvery jumpsuit the TT wore was similar to tin foil only in that it was silver. Gibbs was a homosexual but did not yet know it.

“It isn’t tin foil …” Swaroop said. Then he sipped his own coffee. Then he swallowed his coffee. Then he said nothing. He thought that Gibbs was an idiot. He also knew that Gibbs was a homosexual, though he had never shared this information with Gibbs. Swaroop had no problem with homosexuals, but he took offense to idiots.

“I think it is tin foil,” Gibbs said.

“Let’s go in,” Swaroop said.

The TT looked up from his watch when the door opened. Two men entered. Both in long coats. Both holding cups of coffee. One had dark skin and a graying beard. The other was clearly a homosexual. They both sat down across the table from him.

“You were arrested for causing a disturbance,” Swaroop said, scratching his beard absently.

“They were taking my vehicle.”

“You parked in front of a fire hydrant. In the middle of Central Park.”

“I’m not familiar with your laws,” the TT said.

“What’s your suit made out of?” Gibbs asked.

Swaroop raised a hand in the air, as if to hold back the question. Then he asked, “Have you had your phone call?”

“I have not been allowed to contact anyone, if that is what you mean.”

Swaroop pointed to Gibbs, who stood up, left the room, returned with a rotary phone on a very long cord. Gibbs set the phone down on the table. “Only local,” He said.

The TT had been trained in the use of such a device. He picked up the talk part and held it next to his head. He stuck his finger carefully into the spinny part on the base unit. He spun the numbers he’d been told to memorize. It took a very long time.

Finally there was a ringing in his ear. Leave a message it said to him. “This is Dusan Zrnic. I have been arrested while on my trip. They have taken my vehicle. Please help me.”

The TT set the talk part back down on the base unit. “I had to leave a message,” he said to Swaroop, who didn’t care. Swaroop sipped his coffee. He scratched his beard. He said, “Now we will just wait a little bit. I have had a very long day and I like sitting quietly.”

They waited for a little bit. As they waited for a little bit, a thousand years also passed. As he sat there looking across at the TT, Swaroop left the room and grew older and worked hard and grew more disillusioned and his daughter grew up and went to college and fell in love with a white boy and had a baby and bought a little house in Queens and then Swaroop’s wife died and in the lonely days that followed he took up watercolor painting and gardening with his granddaughter, who was growing up so fast and then his beard grew patchy and his memories started to go and then he didn’t even recognize his daughter anymore, but he still remembered vividly the TT as they sat in that room for a little while. Time moved on. Eventually Swaroop died one morning, alone in his hospital bed, not even sure who he was and not cognizant enough to know that he didn’t know. Gibbs went to the funeral. He was old then. He’d reached fifty years old before he understood that he was a homosexual. On a vacation by himself on a package trip to Scotland he’d met a nerdy little ginger librarian from Chicago. They’d been in the same tour group at Tatallon Castle. They’d fallen in love, insofar as Gibbs could understand that at the time. Gibbs had moved to Chicago, gotten a job as private security. With that, plus his pension and Terry’s salary from the Regenstein Library, they bought a small pre-war house in Hinsdale. They filled it with books and - surprisingly - more than an average amount of love. Terry was ultimately killed while biking; hit by a distracted teenage driver. Gibbs died eleven years later at the age of 68. Time forgot Gibbs, just as it forgot Swaroop. Time trudged on. That’s what it does. America fought another war with itself. It recovered, but would forever be a weak ghost. It tried to follow Britain's humble model as it grew increasingly powerless and ineffectual against the ascendant political and economic powers of Asia. Eventually Pakistan bombarded India with poorly targeted nuclear weapons. China tried to intervene, but it was no use. Asia descended into a land war with itself. America was absorbed into the North American Union. Russia and Europe fought another war, as they are want to do. Time trudged along. Climate change exacerbated by nuclear warfare forced substantial changes in political structures. Populations moved to higher elevations. There were some resource wars. Eventually things reached an equilibrium. A second Dark Age was avoided. Life went on. Time travel was invented. There were some initial cockups that may or may not have inadvertently caused Pakistan to preemptively attack India 250 years before. It is hard to be sure what caused what. Eventually things stabilized. Mankind returned to the stars, settled Mars and several moons of Jupiter. Humanity was doing well. Time travel etiquette was streamlined. Trips became both recreational and affordable. Galen Zrnic, from the Europa colony, took his birthright tour to Earth. He met Floss Sixbey, a sod farmer’s daughter from Titan. She had freckles and they fell in love. They had a picnic in the shadow of a worn ribbon of gray stone in a place that had once been called ‘China’. They pulled each other's clothes off and kissed and touched and licked and sucked and finally fell naked into the grass as the sky grew dark. Their eventual son was named Dusan, after Floss’s grandfather who had been a marginally famous homesteader on Titan. He was a bright boy and grew up to be a talented chemist working on the terraforming of Neptune, as he was particularly skilled at the process of extracting Carbon derivative from the Methane atmosphere. But he was always restless. He filed for a vacation and booked with a Martian company offering space-time tourism. His assigned agent was a man very tall and slender (owing to the low Martin gravity) who called himself Welp. “Memorize this series of digits,” Welp told Dusan a week before his trip, “we monitor every historic occurrence of these digits, just in case.”  

The TT set the talk part back down on the base unit. “I had to leave a message,” he said to Swaroop, who didn’t care. He sipped his coffee. He scratched his beard. He said, “Now we will just wait a little bit. I have had a very long day and I like sitting quietly.”

They waited for a little bit.

Then the phone rang. Gibbs leaned forward to answer it. “Hello?” Gibbs listened and then he held the receiver out to the TT, “It’s for you.”

The TT held the talk part near to his face, “Yes?”

“Good that you called us Mister Zrnic,” Welp’s voice sounded very far away, “I have arranged everything for you. It should not be long.”

“What should not be long?” The TT asked.

“My arrival,” Welp said down the thousand year conduit of the talk part in Dusan’s hand.

Suddenly there was a knock at the door. This startled everyone but Swaroop, who was too consistently tired to ever be startled.

Across the vast expanse of time and space in the talk part Welp said to Dusan, “I should be arriving now …”

The door of the room opened. In walked a very tall and extremely slender man. Gibbs looked up at him and said, “You are very tall.”

“Yes,” Welp responded in his very best and most practiced Imperial-Period American accent, “I am from Federal Bureau of Investigation in Washington Dick. I am hear for the prison.”

“You can’t take our prisoner,” Gibbs said.

Welp peered curiously down into the various pockets of his long jacket, as if seeing them for the first time. He fished in all of them until he finally produced a very shiney and new looking badge.

The TT - still with the talk part to his head - heard Welp’s distant voice funnel down through time, “How is it going?”

“It is confusing,” the TT replied.

Carefully Welp placed the badge into Gibbs’ hands. “I am,” he began to say in a slow and practiced way, “of your Federal Investigation Bureau. Hear four prison oar. In accordance of patriot acting nine eleven iraq shoe bomber thank you and please.” Welp pointed at the TT and motioned for him to return the talk part to the base unit.

“I think I’m leaving now,” Dusan said hurriedly into the receiver.

Gibbs looked helplessly to Swaroop, “Are we just going to let him go?”

Swaroop sipped his coffee and the TT moved out the door. “Gibbs,” Swaroop said, “have you seen my desk? Giving this fruitcake to the feds is the easiest part of my day.”

Welp led Dusan out of the room and Gibbs hollered after them, “What is your suit made out of?!”

The door fell closed on slow hinges.

Gibbs turned to Swaroop, “I bet it was made out of tin foil.”

Swaroop sipped his coffee, scratched his beard, and said, “No.”


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