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Parallel Lifetimes

Connor Heckman is an author and programmer living in the Orlando, Florida area with his wife Lisa, their beagle-corgi (borgie?) mix Gimli, and their vainglorious cockatiel Faryd. In addition to writing and reading Science Fiction and Fantasy, Connor loves playing overly complicated board games such as Space Empires, Terraforming Mars, and Gloomhaven. He also enjoys tabletop games like Warhammer 40K and D&D and spends a lot of time painting miniatures and crafting tabletop terrain. Whenever Connor has something worth sharing, it usually goes up on his website: what-the-heckman.com.

It was supposed to be a vacation. That was how it started anyway.
Like most first timers, I had some concerns. I had heard all the nightmare stories. People plugging into the sim and never coming out. At least not until their savings dried up and they were pulled out by force.
So, for my first sim I kept things simple. I went back to right after my college graduation and this time took the job in Denver over the local offer. It seemed like a safe change, one that wouldn't alter my life in any way I couldn't accept. How wrong I was about that.
The first time I met you was on our ninth anniversary. You were a stranger to me, and yet you weren't. I remembered our first kiss outside your apartment, and how we laughed when you stumbled trying to saunter backwards up the stairs. I remembered getting lost on our way to that concert at Red Rocks, and how you smiled and told me to roll the windows down so we could listen to the music echo over the sandstone peaks. I remembered our first visit to your parents, and how you carved our names into the old oak tree in their backyard. I remembered how you laughed when I pointed out the crossed-out names of your childhood boyfriends adorning the opposite side of the trunk.
I pulled myself out of the sim a day and a half earlier than planned. The Quantacomp techs advised me to try a different scenario. With an aching heart, I went back in, this time with a smaller change. In my junior year of college, I opted to take the solo biking trio across Ireland that I had always dreamed of and never attempted.
Lo and behold I met you on the second day of that trip, traveling with your sister in a Backroads Bicycle Tours group. I pulled myself out of the sim the moment I saw your face.
For my third scenario the life change was surgical. On my first day of high school, I closed the backyard gate before catching the bus, preventing my dog Dexter from going missing. When I jumped forward to the present, you and I were together again. This time, we had met in a park while I was visiting my parents in the fall of '27. I had been taking an ailing Dex for one of his last long walks, you had been having lunch in between seminars of the American Medical Association conference.
I tried so many alternate scenarios that I eventually lost count. No matter the change, no matter how small, you were there, and I was there, and we ended up together.
I left the two-day session feeling exhausted and hollow inside. As part of my vacation package, Quantacomp included a single object from one of the scenarios, replicated to perfection, as a "souvenir" of my time in the sim. I chose the watch you gave me on the Christmas of '29. It was a simple leather band, with a simple wooden watch face, and an engraving on the back that read: "I would find you in any lifetime."
I was lying on the couch in my apartment, staring at that engraving, when it finally hit me. You were real. you were out there. We were like two lines, hurtling towards each other, destined to intersect. We had missed some much of our life together in this lifetime, but we didn't have to miss any more. I didn't waste any time looking you up on the web.
My heart sunk when I found you. The obituary said it had been a car accident. It had happened last year, and I didn't even know it, I didn't even know you.
My life savings bought me months with you in the sim. I jumped around our lives in a hundred different scenarios, trying to experience everything we could have been with what little time I had.
When a notification popped up informing me that I only had hours left, I jumped back to our wedding day. When I reached the end of our first dance, I asked the band to play our song again. Everyone laughed at that, but you didn't laugh. You just smiled and held me close as we started to dance.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, June 29th, 2021

Author Comments

I wrote this story after receiving a Christmas present from my wife, a watch with the inscription "I would find you in any lifetime" engraved on the back. Lisa and I have talked before about whether or not we would have ended up together even if we had made different decisions in our lives: started dating at a different time, gone to a different college, moved to a different state. Strange as it sounds, both of us feel as though none of those factors really mattered, that we were inexplicably drawn to each other like the meeting of two lines on one plane. Following this notion, I started thinking about the one case where the life lines ran parallel to each other, the one lifetime where each person's decisions were made just so, such that we would never meet. I thought about what it would be like to live that life and then be given the chance to peer into your other lives and see yourself with this person that is a stranger to you, but you still recognize them as your person, your soulmate. I found the hypothetical deeply unsettling. I think that is what makes this story resonate with me, we all fear to lose our loved ones, but it is far worse to think of never having met them.

- C.J. Heckman
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