The following is a sequel to Ten of Hearts: Double You.
A fair-haired man enters and plays a flashlight over the room. He stops dead as the light finds the face of the oldest of us.
I fight to open my eyes against the burning light. Before it blinded me, I saw something tantalisingly familiar in the man’s gait. When my eyes finally consent to staying open, they see only a bright light against darkness.
The light falls with the sound of a collapsing body, and spreads a gloomy half-light across the floor. I rush toward the unconscious intruder. It’s Jack, or almost Jack… he seems older. I stroke his forehead until his eyes also manage to open again. He looks at me as though he is lost in a familiar place.
After a minute, he pulls away abruptly. “Cat, I killed someone. Did you see?”
The others’ reactions remind me that we are not alone in the room.
“Get away from him!” I squeal. I’m eight. I don’t want the big me to be killed. I run toward her and try to drag her away, but she doesn’t move. A six-year-old me comes to help.
“What?” This time it is the man who is surprised. I look at him defiantly.
“He tried to kill me first! I’m a good guy… I think,” he protests.
I look at the big me. “It’s okay,” she says. “I know him. He won’t hurt us. His name’s Jack.”
I relax my grip, but stay at her side.
We listen to the rest of his story.
“About a year and a half ago, I woke up to an old man trying to inject me with something. We struggled, and eventually I injected him with it. He went to sleep immediately. I watched him sleeping. He looked like my grandfather. God, it was awful, thinking I’d killed my grandfather.” His voice is beginning to quaver. “So I tried to wake him, I tried so hard…” his words clump into sobs.
We watch, trying to make sense of the new layer of strangeness. Trying to remember our lives, trying to get back to them.
“But now… I went to heaven anyway…” Jack manages to squeeze past the lump in his throat.
The youngest of us starts crying with him.
“Heaven?” I’m the oldest. The oldest in a group of time-travelling versions of myself. What does that mean? “I was there too, wasn’t I?”
“Yes… yes, of course you were there… you know, don’t you?”
I see my worst fears in his eyes.
“While I was fighting the man, he said… he said, ‘you don’t know how much you want this.'” He paused to find enough calm air to speak again. “After it was over, I realised he was right. You were already dead. I’m so sorry…” Jack buries his face in my lap and weeps.
For a while we just sit there, watching him cry. He is a stranger to most of us, but we can’t help feeling his grief, and mixing it with own for our lost lives.
“Hey, were you in virtual reality too?” I ask. I’m ten, and I’ve been thinking hard to take my mind of my sore knee. It hasn’t really worked, but I have some ideas.
This gets through his despair. “Smart kid… you know all about VR? I used to make virtual reality stuff. I made a lot of money from it. So yes, I’ve been in it.”
“No, I mean… cool, you know all about it? This thing I’m wearing, it’s a virtual reality suit, right?”
Jack looks at me for the first time. He picks up the torch and points it at each of us in turn. “Holy… how many of you are there?”
“Ten”, I say. “I think we were in virtual reality, or else we travelled in time…”
“I don’t think… I don’t think people wear things like that in heaven. Hell, I don’t even believe in heaven! I think you’re right! Let me have a look at that.” He speaks with a new-found jubilance. He gets up and walks toward me.
He sits down next to me and starts examining my suit.
“Wow, it’s… this must be… how did…”
I scream in pain as he prods at my left knee, and instinctively bend it away from him, which makes it hurt even more.
“I’m sorry, I…”
Some of us cry in sympathy, some in surprise.
“She has a broken kneecap. Do you have any painkillers?” I say. At 18, I’m the second eldest.
“I think so… let me go check.”
“Wait!” I call after him. “Check where? Where are we anyway? Can we go with you?”
“I guess so…” he replies. “You’re… I’m at a retreat, from technology.”
“Already?” I remember suggesting the idea to him; it would be a giant art project, an adventure in the past. I walk with him toward the door.
“I’ve been here for about three and a half years, but there was…”
I feel a gentle tension pulling me back inside, the tingling I used to get at the top of my head when I ran too fast and breathed too little. The cable linking me to the ceiling is fully unwound.
Jack looks up at the cables for the first time, and follows them up with his flashlight. The light is too weak to reach the top. “Wow,” he gasps.
“Please…” calls the ten-year-old. “It hurts!”
“Okay, I’m going to get some stuff. I’ll be right back,” he promises as he leaves.
Here we are again, ten hearts, one name, alone with ourselves. Twenty hazel eyes staring into the darkness. A few more facts and millions more unknowns.
To be continued…
Now I know why it’s not a good idea to publish a story chapter-by-chapter as it’s written. I spent much of this week working out plot devices to get around slight mistakes in the first part. The murder is one of those, though I think it will lead to a much more interesting story.
I wrote some of this on Friday and Saturday, but there was too much dialogue, and too much just waiting to be explained by Jack rather than discovered. Just after I went to bed on Saturday night, I decided it would work better if I made another fairly major change to the situation. So on Sunday I wrote it again.
I don’t think I will continue this story next week. I need a break from it, and time to work things out in such minute detail that I won’t end up trapping myself again. I know the back-story in almost enough detail now, but I haven’t quite figured out how it will all come out in the story. It may well be a novel. But I promise I will finish it eventually, even if means continuing to write it unscheduled after this Thing A Week year has finished.
On the subject of the Thing A Week year, I’ve come up with an idea for something to do after the end of it (and after a few months’ break.) I planned to let my writing fields lie fallow for a couple of years, gathering ideas at their own pace, and then start another writing Thing A Week on the next February 29. But just as farmers can plant potatoes between other crops, I can do something else in the intervening years. I consider myself a mathematician by training, programmer by trade, physicist by association, and writer by Sunday midnight. That’s four things; five if you include my side interest in linguistics (should I add, ‘linguist bei mir’ to the list?) And some of those other things also need exercise. Today, while I should have been rewriting this week’s Thing, I started writing a prelude to next year’s project, which you may well see next week.
Sorry about the inconsistent spacing. It’s really difficult to get WordPress to put line breaks where I tell it to. It doesn’t always work in the visual editor, and just switching to the HTML editor and back again can mess everything up even more.