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art by Seth Alan Bareiss

Past Tense

James Beamon writes because he thinks its fun to lie to people (on paper). When he's not lying to people (on paper), he's helping them out with their computer issues. He's currently deployed to Afghanistan, where he misses his wife and son. Check out his exploits and more writing at fictigristle.wordpress.com.
Twenty-two years from now, on a bright day in a dim room, your husband will utter his last words. He will tell you he is sorry for the time he squandered chasing fruitless theories, time made precious to him now by the power of hindsight. "You were my greatest discovery," he will say.
The two of you will spend the nine years prior to his end on a new beginning, one free of his long nights tinkering in the lab and obsessing over notes. He will be yours for the duration of long walks through blossoming gardens, sunny days that do not cloud over save for those rare moments where he will stare unfocused, his poor, brilliant mind a million miles away as it tries to discover where his science failed.
A decade from now you will begin compromising those notes he obsesses over. While he is at universities and symposiums, giving lectures on quantum electrodynamics and zero-point energy, you will make small changes, unnoticeable changes to his equations, his sequences, his life's work.
Seven years from now he will rage in his lab, throwing his tools, smashing his beloved invention. He will tell you it's trash, which it is through no fault of his own, and that he must rebuild the space-time harmonic oscillator again from the ground up, which he must never do.
Four years from now, while he is away on business, you will tell him you are going to visit your sister, when in fact you will stay in a motel so you can return a day later to rob your own home. You will take the digital pad containing all his work and incinerate it. To sell the robbery, to join him in loss, you will pawn your departed mother's diamond brooch.
Six months from now, just enough elapsed time to be believable, you will show intense interest in his work. His eyes will dance and sparkle like brilliant stars as he speaks about the untold billions of future possibilities for him, for you, for the world to see. You will treasure the fire that fills him, if not his impossible dream.
One minute from now your husband will burst through the door and discover you paying the price for your curiosity. His body will be tense as he sees your eyes bulge and body shake from the device's power coursing through you before the machine's fail-safes melt and your body shuts down into a three-month coma.
In thirty seconds you will be past tense, well beyond the apprehensions which come from an uncertain future. You will have not only seen the future, but will have lived it. The pain will overwhelm as a demise of a special kind looms.
In fifteen seconds the memories you had will converge with the memories you have yet to make. You will realize in those few seconds that your life is over, that its entirety will be lived solely in memory. The illusion of choice will be gone as you recall the time you will rob your own home just as vividly as you remember eloping to find a justice of the peace with a fun-loving, brilliant scientist on a crazy whim. Neither memory will change because neither one can.
In ten seconds your nose will bleed.
In five seconds the pinprick starbursts that have been coalescing in the empty air in front of you will build to crescendo before the machine's door opens. You will remember this moment fondly because it will be the last time you recollect feeling fear and doubt, the exhilaration of risk, the joy of wonder. These are beautiful feelings, sometimes scary, always thrilling. They are the first casualties of a known, immutable future.
In a second you will be chosen to protect our perception of a future we can change. What could be is the cure for what is, the whole of what we strive for in the reality of now.
Now is the time.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, April 1st, 2013


Sometimes I like to challenge myself, which often enough leads to wild tangents. Here I wanted to write a story in second person future tense, and not just take a typical story and change the tense or something simple, but write a story where both the second person view and future tense, I don't know, lend themselves to the story. I'm a bit particular about that sort of thing.

- James Beamon

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