Some Otherwhere, Some Otherwhen
by Ishmael Soledad
I lifted a forkful of scrambled egg to my mouth. Just as I liked them.
Firm, rich, a hint of salt and parmesan. I looked across at my wife.
“Not bad, eight out of ten.”
She feigned hurt. “What’s wrong, no serenade or silver service?”
“Can’t leave you with nowhere to go, that’s what it says here.” tapping
an old New Idea flimsy she had placed before me.
“Have you finished it?”
“Yes, but —"
“You want to see my score? It’s supposed to be private!” hugging the
flimsy child–like to my chest. I clearly didn’t protect it too well, it
took Julie all of two seconds to snatch it. She and Sara sat there, a
pair of clones poring over my answers to Mrs Wonder’s ‘How Wonderful is
Your Marriage?’ questionnaire. I sat quietly with my breakfast,
entertained by the display across the table.
“So you gave me an eight too? I’m as good as scrambled eggs?” Sara
laughed mockingly. “I’m a, what is it, a ‘Drew Barrymore’ kid? What’s
that? Better be good.”
“It is, it is, she was tough and smart, no trouble at all.” drawing a
disapproving scowl from Julie. “Anyway, what do you expect with your
last Father’s Day present? Do you know when Old Spice went out of
“From what I was told for you it never did. Anyway,” grinning wickedly,
standing up, “Mum told me if it wasn’t for Old Spice I mightn’t be
here!” with which she headed out the door.
We sat in silence for about ten seconds then exploded into peals of
“You didn’t?” I managed to squeeze out.
“Why not? She asked and anyway you weren’t exactly the best looker. If
the barn door needs painting — ”
“Yeah, yeah. She’s your side of the family you know.”
She reached for the flimsy. “Anyway John,” in her best school teacher
tone, “shall we talk about your overall family rating? A nine, just
nine. And don’t tell me it’s leaving room for improvement.”
“Well actually —”
I stood, taking my jacket from the back of the chair. “It’s just to
make sure you stay on your game.” She stood in front of me and
tightened my tie. Without her I would’ve roamed the streets looking
like a sack of potatoes. I snuck my arms around her waist and pulled
She looked at me, bent down and gave me a bell ringer of a kiss.
“You’re sure I’d be interested?”
“Uh-huh.” I reluctantly moved away, taking the housekeys from my
pocket. “Besides, I looked at your score. You only gave me an eight.
Eight! At least I scored you higher.”
She laughed. “I knew you’d cheat. I thought you’d like a challenge so
an eight it remains.” She turned coquettishly away. “Unless you can
convince me otherwise.”
It’s a thirty-minute drive into work from Geelong, enough time to sit
back and catch up on emails. Today I just sat back, locked in my own
thoughts. Stupid questions, I remembered mum and dad playing out the
same scene. Although just a game I had tackled it honestly, as if it
mattered. Nine out of ten, just nine. Was that right? Everything was
good at home, no, actually it was great and my work was just the same.
It could’ve easily been a hell of a lot worse, ruinously so, and there
wasn’t much between the two. I thought back many years and could still
pick the day, the choice. Go the easy way, do what’s in my abilities.
Or take the challenge, the hard way, reach out to win or fail and don’t
curse the choice. I had made a deal with myself to go the hard,
challenging way each time I was faced with that choice. I’d stuck with
it since and it had worked, I’d won more often than not and my life
showed it. Happy, fulfilled, confident, positive, driven. Nine. Only
nine. I knew why, just one thing, the reason, a week before the deal.
The car pulled me out of my reverie with the opening stanza of the
Angel’s Run to the Shelter, touch screen and HUD springing to life. An
uneventful five minutes later I stepped into the tiled foyer. I loved
the early mornings, the best part of the day. I’d moved out of the
field to a more managerial role but each week, for just a few hours, it
was me and my team and I could at least pretend. Then back to
stakeholder management and political gamesmanship. I was mature enough
to know it mattered, honest enough to realize this was where my skills
lay, passionate enough to believe in what I was doing.
I passed the retina scan into the lift just as the doors closed.
“Morning Dr. J.” I turned to see Kell in one corner. “Looks like you’re
on another planet.”
“Isn’t it a bit early to caffeine load?”, looking at the eight
jumbo-cup tray she held.
“Late more like it, been a long weekend. You might want to come to the
lab, we finished it Friday and have been testing all weekend.”
“The McInsey project?”
“No, the other one.”
“Oh.” It’s how I kept her team with me. Whatever the research budget on
official projects, once successfully delivered they kept any left over
for self-directed research. It kept us lean, competitive and critically
kept my guys engaged. “Sounds good, I wondered what you’d come up with.”
“Great, I could use a second pair of hands.” She nodded to the small
pile of pizza boxes at her feet as the lift doors opened.
They’d redecorated the lab’s common room. It now resembled a frat house
media room, floor to ceiling jumbo plasma screen taking up one wall,
bean bags and bodies scattered in front, the detritus of a weekend’s
viewing covering the floor. I handed out the pizzas, dropping into a
The screen was playing the chariot race from Ben Hur. The picture was
closer, sharper than I recalled, I could count the hairs on Charlton
Heston’s back. The scene shifted, the camera following closely,
slightly above and behind. The roar of the crowd was deafening. “Since
when have you guys picked up a taste for old movies?”
“You like it?”
I realised it wasn’t Ben Hur, but far grittier, more realistic. “I’ve
never seen this one. What’s it called?”
“Maximus. Circus Maximus.” Trevor looked at me from the front row. A
small wave of laughter was stifled by coffee and food.
“The producer got the cinematography wrong, too much shadow and light,
“Too real maybe?” More laughter.
“Ok, yes, maybe, now what’s the joke?”
“It’s the other project Dr. J.” Kell turned to face me. “We’ve been
running it all weekend, it’s quite addictive. What d’you think?”
“All the effort for a new screen? You guys want to take over TCL?” The
laughter was raucous, black bagged eyes staring at me above huge cola
grins. “Come on, level with me, I’m an old man so have some pity.”
“It’s not the screen Dr. J, it’s real, it’s the real thing. We cracked
it last month, only got it running Friday morning.”
“What do you mean ‘real’?”
“Real as in the real thing.” Kell pointed to the screen, the scene
shifting above the throng of seated people to an ornately decorated
marble enclosure in the third tier. A small man in period costume
sporting a Beatles haircut stared at me with soft brown eyes set in a
hardened, impassive face. “Dr. J meet Emperor Trajan, Circus Maximus,
109AD. The Emperor Trajan.” The picture flickered, replaced by a stark
grey and black moonscape, two spacesuit clad figures in an open buggy.
“Apollo 17, 1972, astronauts Cernan and Schmitt.” The scene flickered
again, replaced by the roar of shells and bullets, the crash of waves
on an early morning shore. “Omaha Beach, June 6 1944. All real Dr. J,
My turn to laugh, long and loud. “Ok, ok, good one. But seriously, what
Kell tossed the remote to me. “Cynical as always. Give it a try, just
keep it PG.”
The remote had only one button. Doubtless they’d programmed the net for
“And nothing earlier than thirty years ago, Heisenberg still rules.”
I tapped the button, the remote changing to a calendar. I sat thinking
then hit on what would really fix them. I selected the date, then
My blood ran cold, the room receding into the distance as the screen
leapt at me. A nondescript two story cream brick house with neat
gardens and a green roof sat under a clear blue sky, a puke yellow
Toyota being washed by a bare-chested man sporting a large straw hat.
Leaning on the upper floor balcony railing a black haired Italian woman
sipped an espresso. A kid snuck up behind the car, a bucket of suds in
his hands. Just before he could toss the bucket the man whirled,
grabbed him across the chest, pushed the hose down the back of the
kid’s shirt then upended the bucket over his head. Squeals and laughter
exploded through the screen’s speakers, accompanied by a stream of
Italian from the balcony. My parents, dead these twenty years, playing
out a domestic scene from forty years ago. And in the middle of it all
my five-year-old self, puppy fat and stupidity, naivété and happiness.
I sat slack jawed as my mother came out the front door and joined the
water fight. I didn’t notice the silenced room, each face watching me
revisiting the ghosts of my past. Kell gently took the remote from my
hands, flicking the scene away.
“We’ve all tried something to trip it but no dice, it works. But you’re
the only one old enough to see their own past.” She grabbed the cola
just before it slipped from my hand. “Pretty good yeah?”
I nodded. Weakly. I had nearly regained my senses. “How?”
“It's all drafted up, the papers are on your drive. McInsey gave us the
final hint so here it is, a window on the past.”
“Portal.” Retorted Trev, drawing sighs and half-hearted catcalls.
“We’ve been through this, it’s a window.”
“And I tell you it’s not, I’ve shown —”
“Nothing, you’ve no evidence!”
“And absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.” drawing rolled
eyes and a badly aimed pizza crust. “Ok, ok, I give in. Again.”
“Anyway,” giving Trev a withering gaze “there it is in beta, a few bugs
to go but otherwise fine. And except for one or two special parts she’s
all off the shelf.”
I was now grinning like an idiot. I flipped my handset to busy. “More
Kell handed over the remote.
Over the next six hours I ran the screen through its paces much like I
figured they had over the weekend. Being older and with a different
take on things I didn’t tread too much over old ground, which kept them
there with me. Interest aside the weekend started to catch up and the
team slowly filtered out until by late afternoon there was just Kell,
Trevor and myself. The view over Hitler’s head to 700,000 people in the
Luitpold arena was something else.
Kell stretched lazily. “Ok, the crew’s gone so let’s get it out in the open Trev. Dr. J’s got to know all viewpoints.”
I hit pause. “The window or portal thing?”
“Yeah, there’s two camps and I’m the dissenter.” Trevor smiled wanly.
“You see the front of the screen Dr. J? It’s carrying a bolt on clear
cover because the screen itself packs a particularly nasty charge. The
boundary layer between us and what we’re viewing generates it. Unlike a
normal screen this one’s pure electromagnetic rather than physical.”
Kell went to the side of the screen, flipped three latches and swung
the cover away. My wool vest crackled in the static. “It’s easily felt
five meters away, it’s right at the interface it breaks down.” resuming
her seat. Hitler didn’t seem disturbed by the static, remaining frozen,
the cover hanging limply to one side.
“When you run the numbers one variant indicates an actual barrier
carrying enough power to eliminate anything that touches it. Try to
touch it, pfftttt!” Trevor wiggled his fingers for emphasis. “On the
other hand the numbers also admit the possibility it’s a portal, and
that what appears as energy discharge from an object’s destruction is
simply a balancing as the object translates across.”
“But it’s a marginal, very marginal possibility.”
“No, if you relax some of the minor assumptions it fits better than the window hypothesis.”
“In the same way that faster than light travel is possible.”
“Well if you rely on the grandfather paradox rather than analysis —”
“That you can’t prove experimentally —”
“Because by definition it can’t be proven —”
I held up my hands. “Hold on, take it easy here, I’m losing the point
of it all.” I looked at Kell. “So the maths can swing either way, in
“Yes, a bit, but not as much as —”
“Ok, I understand, but two possibilities no matter how remote. Window on the past or portal to the past.”
They both nodded. I looked at Trevor. “And you have no data to support you?”
“No, but —”
“No buts. No data. You say it can’t be proven by definition?”
“It’s grandfather paradox against grandfather dialetheia. Choose one, choose a window or portal.”
“Care to explain?”
“Ok, they’re Greek terms, dialetheia means two-way truth and paradox
means beyond belief. You know the time travel grandfather paradox, why
it’s essentially impossible to travel backwards, you know, go back kill
granddad, no dad, no you, so you can’t go back and you don’t kill him
so you exist so you do go back and kill him etc etc.”
I nodded. It was an old, old concept.
“Well, the grandfather dialetheia gets around it by changing one
underlying assumption. The paradox assumes only one universe, one
timeline. But if you relax the assumption, allow a separate timeline to
exist then it’s possible. You go back in time to meet and kill
granddad. The instant you go back two timelines exist, two truths – the
original one and a new one. In the original timeline you simply pop out
of the timeline, you can’t make changes to it, you cease to exist in it
and you can’t go back. Granddad lives, dad lives, and so do you until
you leave. You create a new timeline as you pop in on your target date
then kill grandad. Granddad’s dead, dad is never born and you live out
your life in the new timeline. It works because your existence in the
new timeline doesn’t depend on the new timeline but the original one.
“Except there’s no proof, no way of proving it. As a hard barrier the
energy discharge is consistent with theory.” Kell rejoined.
“As it is for a portal.”
“And then you get to Occam’s razor. What’s simpler, eliminating an object or re-creating a universe? Ex nihlo might be fine at the big bang but for each time a bug flies into the screen?”
“The evidence and theory can be taken two ways.”
“But the key is it’s not verifiable, not testable. You can’t take a round trip, can you?”
“No, of course not, once you hop to the new timeline you can’t get back
to the original one, you’d just create a fresh timeline each time you
jumped. And going forwards, well, its just live on where you are. But
the same applies for a window, you can’t stand on the other side of the
screen and watch someone try to come through. So it’s back to
consequences and as a portal it’s damn frightening —”
“But it’s not because it isn’t —”
Interesting as it was watching them replay an argument they’d probably
had for weeks, I needed to break the impasse. I coughed loudly, which
got their attention, then smiled in what I hoped was a conciliatory
manner. “I get the point, but it’s practicalities that I’m concerned
I picked up a can of cola and nonchalantly lobbed it at the back of Der
Fuhrer’s head. It disappeared with a satisfying ‘bzzztttt’. Trevor and
Kell both gave me disapproving scowls. Hitler just stood there.
“Now as I understand it I’ve done one of two things. I’ve either wasted
a good can of drink or I’ve just screwed Hitler’s Nuremburg experience
and spawned a new timeline. In practical terms for this timeline,”
looking at Trevor “all I’ve done is lose a can of soda, right?”
“Well yeah, but —”
“No buts. You do know that the future’s watching us now, just as we’re
watching him?” The looks they gave me made it plain they didn’t. “Oh
yeah, believe it. Someone somewhen is going to, and when this catches
on – as it will – then it’s end of reality tv and the start of reality
me. So we can test it, at least what it means for us.”
I leant back as far as I could, looking straight at the ceiling.
“Someone will find this irresistible.” I coughed, cleared my throat and
continued in my best stentorian manner. “To those watching us, please
now help to clarify this issue by tossing a soft object, a tissue,
wrapper or paper, at any one of my esteemed colleagues’ heads now,
thank you.” Nothing happened.
“Oh come on!” Trevor scowled “That proves nothing and you know it, it just means —”
“It just means that for us, and this timeline, its none of our concern.
It’s one avenue of potential damage and liability I can ignore.” I
softened my tone slightly. “I’ve yet to review your positions and maybe
there’s no way to draw a conclusion. But from the practical perspective
to produce this screen we need it safe, and as the threat of being
pelted by bricks from the future seems nil I’m just left with the
He was clearly still unhappy but for once Trevor kept quiet. I turned to Kell.
“The next step for you, after some rest, is to work out a screening device and failsafe shut off.”
“Good, and one other thing, window or portal, dangerous or just risky,
this can’t be put back in the bottle. So,” and I looked directly at
Trevor “we’ve got to get it right, ok?”
“Yeah, alright, you’re the boss.”
“For now anyway. Both of you go home, get some rest and I’ll clean and
lock up. And,” I called after their retreating backs “make sure you do
‘cause thirty years from now I’m going to check and if you don’t I’ll
kick your butts.”
I sighed. The room was a mess, I was drained and over-stimulated. I
unfroze the screen and let the sound of 700,000 rabid Germans wash
through the room as I shoveled garbage into one corner. I was about to
switch the screen off when I noticed the time. I still had half an hour
to go of my normal day, why not a little more? But the question was
what. An idea formed, having lain dormant since breakfast. Maybe.
Perhaps. I was alone.
Picking up the remote I hunted around the day until I was looking my
fourteen-year-old self in the eye, an uncertain, grey uniform clad
school kid. Even with the day’s indoctrination it was still a little
unsettling, seeing my real not stylised self. If only I’d known then …
I shook myself out of my developing reverie and scanned the surrounding
It didn’t take long, hers was a face I’d never managed to erase, a
vision of unrequited love or more correctly love I’d never tried for.
My young self hesitated that day, didn’t speak, approach or try even
after weeks of play acting, self-talk and cajoling, waiting for a
‘better’ chance. Would I have acted if I knew that one week later she
would lie crushed and broken under that car outside the school gates?
If I had acted would I have made the same promise I made at her grave,
to reach and try for the prize regardless of risk, regardless of cost?
Who knows, I didn’t, and all I knew as that in some way she was alive
to me again here, now, that long black hair that had captured me as the
first light of her womanhood pierced through the cracks of puberty.
I was beside myself. Part of me was amazed that a ghost from my past
could still hold me; part of me disgusted at a middle-aged man
attracted by a fourteen-year-old girl; but most of me was fourteen
again, yearning for the possibility, the chance to do what I should
have done more than half a lifetime ago. Unconsciously my hand reached
out to the screen, to that hair just a few scant feet away, just within
When my fingertips touched I was pulled instantly forwards. No chance
to flinch or call out, a thousand burning razor blades scoured me from
finger to toe as I fell though the screen, down a blazing tunnel of
fire to fall heavily onto grass winded, limp, face first.
The smell of charred flesh, urine and fear assaulted me, my hoarse
rasping breath swamped by childish screams and cries. I pushed myself
up on my elbows, blistered skin where my watch and wedding ring had
been, my arms blackened, skin crackling and shedding. I stood
unsteadily, facing her eyes wide with terror, hand over her mouth as
she rapidly backed away.
“Cherie!” I tried to call, but my lips were fused, the words emerging
as a guttural abomination of her name. I turned my head to raised
voices coming from behind me, the shouts of teachers and security
guards rushing through a widening circle of scared children. I noticed
my clothes had burned away leaving me naked, a dark, blistering,
suppurating apparition. I was hit from behind, rough violent hands and
knees pinning me down, arms behind my back, face in the dirt. The pain
was blinding, excruciating.
“What do you want, pervert?” a harsh voice bellowed. “How the hell’d you get here?”
From where I lay I could see Cherie crying and shaking. I must have
appeared less than a foot from her as I ploughed into the ground,
scared the hell out of her. I could hear the wail of sirens, running
feet, more voices, voices of authority, command. I was being kneed,
punched, held hard against the ground, awakening the city’s vigilante
spirit. I knew that regardless, no matter what I did or what was done
to me Cherie would die next week, die twice to me. Twice I’d fail to
ask, be twice the failure.
I had only this one chance, I would not miss it, I had to warn her.
“Cherie! Cherie! You’ll die Cherie, watch out, next week you’ll die, I
love you!” I forced the words through loud and clear, tearing apart my
lips, a faint mist of blood sailing with the words towards her as she
screamed, turned and ran.
They hauled me to my feet. A fist to my stomach doubled me over,
grabbed by my neck I was brutally pulled upright to face a ring of
uniforms. One face, livid red and sneering, pushed itself close,
swinging its nightstick.
“Wrong school, wrong place asshole. We know how to deal with paedophiles here.”
The ring closed.
© 2017 Ishmael Soledad
Bio: A pen pusher by day and frustrated author by night I live in
Brisbane with my long-suffering wife and psychotic cat. I am currently
working on my first novel and hope to complete the same in two years.
My work has appeared in Aphelion, Antipodean SF, Far Cry Magazine, Ibn
Qirtaiba, Planet Web Zine, Schlock! Webzine, Short-story.me and Quantum
Muse. You can find me on Twitter (@Ishmael_Soledad).
E-mail: Ishmael Soledad
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