A Stitch in Time

by C.W.Smoke

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Harley fell backwards -- thru time. He didn't want to, but ever since Elsie, he frequently stumbled. A woman could do that to a man -- distract him. Even honorary wizards weren't immune.

But Harley was a wizard in name only -- at least until the Ban on Magick was lifted -- or until The Problem resolved itself -- leaving only a question with none to reply.

Time flowed all around him -- in currents and eddies -- at different speeds, different densities. If he concentrated, each current became separate, distinct. He just needed the right one...

Fortunately, Harley's unique gift was excluded from the Ban -- else they'd have to lock him up in a temporally secure bubble -- because time travel to Harley was what water is to a fish -- his element. Time streams flowed everywhere, but only for Harley -- no one else. He'd be helpless without them -- not a pleasant notion since Harley's gift was probably the only hope.

Before the Ban -- even before The Problem became public -- when only the scientists were upset -- both high councils, Wizardry and Cyber-Space, began a debate on the merits of Harley and his time travel -- thereby confronting The Problem with political expediency. They pursued The Solution while keeping The Problem under wraps. It was, after all, an election year.

In a joint resolution the high councils formed a bi-partisan commission to determine the effects of Magick and Computers on Society -- a monumental smokescreen, undoubtedly -- but difficult to differentiate -- what with Computers rattling off over fifty billion calculations per second, and Magick popping up in the most prominent and obscure situations. Case in point....a garment -- a woman's dress, in fact -- appearing as if by Magick and causing duress at the higest levels. A single word could describe the influence of both Magick and Computers, and that word was....pervasive.

He concentrated, hesitating only a moment before selecting the current -- the one leading to another when. Selection was also his gift -- just a feeling -- an intangible that guided him. Harley relaxed, letting the current surge around him and carry him -- to truth, enlightenment, and hopefully salvation, or at the very least, to Nirvana, or wherever that place is where there is no pain.

But news of The Problem leaked out anyway. First with a steady faucet-drip that awakened suspicion, whetted thirst....then with a roaring, dam-breaking gush that swept away and drowned all in its path. So, on election day, just after the polls closed, a state of emergency was declared. The Temporary Ban on Magick was invoked -- until the effects of Magick on The Problem could be determined. Leaks to the news media confirmed that new use of Magick exacerbated The Problem. Other, unofficial leaks hinted that Computing was also to blame, but cooler heads prevailed, and the rumors were quashed. Magick, however, did not pack its bags and steal quietly off into the night. The High Council of Wizardry pooled its resources in one last, desperate attempt to solve The Problem. But they failed. Magick was for the here and now. No one knew how to change the past.

The current forked -- tugging him equally in both directions. Should he pause to wait for the stronger pull, or did it matter?

On Day Two of the Ban, the strain was apparent. Imagine, if you will, the grease suddenly removed from every wheel, taken out of service in an instant. Food Distribution? Health care? Security? Society was similarly crippled -- without its Magickal crutch.

Of course, unscrupulous men and women swarmed to fill the breach between supply and demand. Many would-be Magickers stepped up to take their swats at the big bucks because, in addition to the heightened demand, recent improvements in computer technology allowed audio-synthesization of the nearly unpronounceable dead-language words required for the most potent Magick.

Before audio-synthesis, the spread of Magick had been held in check by its own machination. Mispronunciation of Magickal incantations turned would-be conjurers into various and sundry animals and servants of darkness themselves -- thereby thinning the number of successful practitioners.

However, enough would-be wanna-be Magickers succeeded using the new technology with the old Magick that those who didn't weren't missed. Sudden increases in vermin populations were attributed to El Nino and promptly forgotten.

The techno-Magickers made a fast buck, then moved on, leaving the wounded to the already understaffed and overworked Wizard's Guild who could only dress, not heal their injuries. As in the old fairy tales, people wished without reading the fine print. Unsatisfied customers grew in number -- becoming mobs -- partly to get their money back and partly as a defense against the fulfilled, but unwanted, by-products of their wishes. At the height of the crisis unruly mobs roamed the night lynching both good and bad wizards alike.

The Regulators finally stepped in, regulating and taxing Magick before deciding -- with sticky-fingered short-sightedness -- to look the other way. Hence the elevation of the high councils of Wizardry and Cyber-Space who quickly became the defacto government due to that single insidious word again....pervasive.

Urgency and impatience conspired against time to augment remedies, mass-produced to repair Magick sired without much thought. Generic counter-spells were sold over-the-counter and used for every ailment -- real and imagined. Consequently, the cure became worse than the contagion -- the lone band-aid grew into an enormous tourniquet, its bandages asphyxiating the patient. But that wasn't The Problem.

When the Ban took effect, the uncorrected, half-baked spells still floating around were set free to proliferate -- and they did. Strange beasts flew thru the air and roamed the land. Wish by-products lewdly courted fulfillment. Some even fraternized with the newly created servants of darkness. But they weren't The Problem either.

The Problem was Harley -- at least he was The First Part of The Problem. You see, Harley's time travel gift had been damaged by his aborted affair with Elsie, and humanity was depending on him to use his gift at full strength to solve The Second Part of The Problem.

In the meantime, Elsie had taken up with a centaur -- some other woman's fulfilled, but discarded, wish. Obviously the woman had wished for a man who was fast on his feet yet possessed of a large appendage. Apparently Elsie and L.O. Wishes (the centaur) were now getting along splendidly on all levels from Platonic to cellular which left little, if any, room for Harley.

Elsie -- your long blonde hair, your golden skin. Where are you, my love? I'm coming -- to take back my words -- so you will love me again...Fear not; I'm coming.

Near the dawn of the C.G.D.L.U.X. (Computer-Generated-Dead-Languages-aUdio-eXplosion -- pronounced Cee-Gee-Dee-Lux) era, a spell had been cast and Cyber-Space warped. Or perhaps Cyber-Space had warped of its own accord. Whatever the reason, when Cyber-Space warped, an expanding hole opened between Cyber-Space and the rest of the universe. This hole affected universal entropy much like a rip releasing air from a balloon.

Now, entropy is the condition found after the universe runs out of energy and stops moving. And hardly anyone (except perhaps mathematicians, physicists and the preternaturally curious) ever worries about it because the time it takes to reach universal entropy is a lot more than a long way off. But that was before this particular hole was poked in the expanding universal gasbag. Bear in mind that there are already black holes at the centers of most galaxies throughout the universe, and matter is being drawn into them at a fairly constant rate. But even with this siphoning-off of energy, the 'Big Bang' expansion continues. However, the expanding hole into Cyber-Space was now taking energy at an exponentially increasing rate -- thereby causing the 'Big Bang' expansion literally to lose its steam. (Of course, The Closed Universe Theorists -- or T-CUTs as they were widely known -- had already argued that the formation of galaxies themselves is evidence of a universe that will collapse when Gravity finally pulls everything back together.) But since Cyber-Space did not physically exist in this reality, it was difficult, if not impossible, to fit it into the current equation, and there was a problem -- The Second Part of The Problem to be precise.

The 'Big Bang' universal expansion had been reversed, and the 'Big Collapse' had begun at an exponential rate. The natural cycle -- as T-CUTs would argue -- of universal expansion and contraction had been immensely speeded up. Or to put it another way -- Ever hear of black holes? Want to be inside the biggest one ever? Real soon?

It really didn't matter which theorists were correct because that, in essense, was The Second Part of The Problem -- the universe was to be squashed flatter'n a pancake and slam dunked -- all soon -- too soon!

Now Harley really didn't much care about science. He just wanted Elsie back -- that's all. But with the centaur in the picture, the prevailing wisdom was not to use Magick to rectify the situation. After all, using Magick twice on the same Magickal creature could lead to unpredictable results. And there was hardly margin for error with only the three principal participants, so Magick was ruled out, leaving Harley to go back in time to fix his own wagon -- which suited him just fine, thank you.

Trouble is, Harley was fixated with Elsie -- couldn't get her out of his thoughts -- waking or sleeping. He had it bad -- constantly replaying every nuance of their relationship -- reliving every perceived error, miscue and bobble -- over and over till he couldn't concentrate on anything else. But he needed to concentrate on other things -- like time travel just for starters. It was driving him crazy. He needed a break, a respite, an off-switch.

Elsie pouted, and spoke to him again in his never-ending dream..."Sure, Harley. I still like you, but..." The time streams around him dissolved, and Harley fell backwards thru time -- again. He kept falling as he watched Elsie's lips moving, but he was too far away now to hear her words. He was falling -- tumbling heels-over-head, and he didn't give a tinker's damn. To hell with her, he thought. A centaur? What does he have that I don't? How could she? How could she do this to me? An image of Elsie as Lady Godiva riding bare-back on L.O. Wishes formed before his eyes. Go straight to hell, bitch! I hate you!

But, of course, he didn't. And she wasn't, either -- well, no more so than any normal, red-blooded female. Perhaps it was only fitting that the fate of the universe depended upon the most important thing in it -- at least as far as turtle doves and teenagers were concerned. Which Harley and Elsie both were. No, not turtle doves -- well, possibly at one time, they were, in The Biblical Sense. And that's the real reason why he didn't, and she wasn't. They were simply too close to -- too intimate with -- their emerging hormones. But even though they wouldn't be teenagers much longer, they were nonetheless blessed. Fortunately, they hadn't yet been tainted by rational maturity -- so there was hope -- even with her experimentation with things erogenous and his ambivalence toward that experimentation. But enough chit-chat. Let the story speak for itself...

Deep down inside Harley's medulla oblongata -- his ancient, Pre-Triassic-reptilian-survival-instinct brainstem -- he wanted to destroy his rival -- to throttle him, shred him, grate him, rip him to pieces -- and serve him up as meaty croutons in a salad for his beloved, but his cerebral cortex -- his higher brain -- vetoed that action because chances were slim and none that Elsie would replace L.O. Wishes with him, Harley -- particularly if centaur salad appeared on Elsie's menu -- not to mention his previous faux pas.

Best to undo what he, himself had already done -- and that's where he was headed now. But he couldn't concentrate; the currents of time kept slipping away....like buttered spaghetti evading pickup by a lone chopstick...

(to be continued?)

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