‘Why do you go back?’ the very thin and pallid temporal engineer asked, the last in a long litany of familiar questions. One of these days, he might get a different answer from me. But not this time.
‘I want to suffer contrition,’ I said, as usual, ‘but can’t.’
Sitting opposite, the NB judge leaned back and sighed. ‘You can’t change the past, Mr Thurston.’ The judiciary had dispensed with wigs fifty years ago. He looked like a kindly uncle rather than a hanging judge. Not that they hung anybody in New Britain. In a way, indoctrination was much worse. Death was final. Indoctrination seemed like a living death to free spirits like Donna, Tim and me.
‘You know the law, Mr Thurston. You have to live with what you have done. Be suitably contrite and then we can all move on.’
‘I need to go back, your honour,’ I insisted, ‘it’s my just punishment, after all.’
‘Very well, then.’ He cleared his throat and rubber-stamped the authorisation. It may be the twenty-second century, but some in authority still relished the old-fashioned methods. He handed the authority to my attractive probation officer sitting beside me.
‘Stuart, you’re booked for Tuesday week,’ she said with an insipid smile. ‘At 2.55am.’
I turned back to the judge. ‘Thank you, your honour.’
His face twisted in a half-hearted scowl. ‘On your return, I trust you will show more remorse.’ He didn’t care, I could tell. As long as he got paid handsomely with a protected pension fifteen years earlier than the taxpayers who financed his position, he didn’t need to care.
I nodded and said, ‘I will definitely try to show remorse, your honour, next time.’ But I doubt it, I thought, but didn’t say.
Behaviour control started last century with the street corner cameras and the legions of government funded organisations sustaining the monolith of intrusive government. Individuality was frowned upon for thirty years until the Tinkering Triumvirate, as we called it, kicked in - drugs were introduced into cigarettes and alcohol and subliminal messages were sent out through television, primarily during those boring unscripted reality shows and the plethora of soaps.
All of a sudden, individuality stood out and was deemed dangerous.
By this time Donna, my brother Tim and I and thousands like us, who preferred reading to watching drivel on TV, had cottoned on to what was happening and went teetotal and underground. Literally.
We’d been quite successful, disrupting the transport of drugs to the water-treatment plants and a few carefully sited explosions shunted several television channels off-air for days at a time.
These so-called public disorder interruptions threw up quite a number of people who suffered withdrawal symptoms which were characterised by discovering the invasive real world. Some committed suicide, others rushed to find an alternative fix, while many joined our rebellious ranks.
We rebels were free to think and free to love. Unfortunately, on the very morning that our underground outpost was under attack from government troops, I found my wife Donna in bed with my brother Tim. A red mist descended over me and the next thing I knew, they were both dead at my feet. The smoking revolver was on the floor.
I was devastated and sank to my knees, which is how the government troops found me.
I was arrested and charged with rebellion against the state as well as the lesser offences of murdering Tim and Donna. I pleaded guilty, as my good counsel advised.
While we’d been fighting our little skirmishes against the government brain-washing system, they’d moved on.
Wrongdoers were adjured to visit their past crimes – literally – and repent of their sins. Yes, the religious bigots had taken the reins, ousting the accountants who’d made a mess of things.
When the boffins had discovered time travel, the state was in a position to commandeer the plans. Clearly, certain strata of society were protected against NB indoctrination – the scientists and the ruling elite. As engineering was moribund in the country, no private businesses could afford the time machine’s funding.
Time-travellers were incapable of interacting with the past or its people; they were merely observers. The theory goes, if you see what you did often enough, you’ll be contrite and ask for forgiveness. Only the state can forgive.
This time, though, the judge had permitted me to arrive at the scene five minutes early. I’d pleaded that if I understood what was being said before I entered the bedroom, I might be better placed to comprehend what happened.
So I arrived at the bedroom door, dressed as I had been on the day. The lights were out. I slipped into the shadows to the left of the door.
Donna was saying, ‘I’m his wife, I shouldn’t be doing this!’
‘Hey, I feel like hell, too. But you fancy me and I fancy you. So let’s do it.’
She shook her head and then she saw me in the shadows and gasped. ‘Tim, it’s Stuart, he’s here!’ Her eyes screwed up tight.
True to her words, I watched myself arrive at that moment at the bedroom door and discover them in bed together.
Like all the other times, my face drained of colour and I simply stared. Not once had I seen myself move from the doorway, not once had I seen myself kill the two people I’d loved most in the world.
At that same instant, the sirens sounded. ‘Government troops have infiltrated the bunker!’ The tannoy announcement echoed in the room.
Tim swore and fumbled under the pillow, pulling out the revolver.
I could see it in Donna’s eyes, she thought Tim was going to shoot me when I knew he was probably just getting ready to fight off government intruders.
The gun went off accidentally and Donna fell back. Shocked and appalled, Tim flung the weapon away and it went off again, the bullet hitting him in the chest. The revolver landed at my feet.
I keep going back, but it’s always the same. How can I show contrition? I didn’t kill them; it was an accident. But the judge would never believe me.
So I keep going back – just to see them.
Both images of surveillance camera - Wikipedia commons
Previously published in Telling Tales #4 – Winter, 2009.
Copyright Nik Morton, 2009, 2014
If you’d like to read more of my short stories, many prize-winners, please check out When the Flowers Are in Bloom – Amazon.com e-book here and Amazon.co.uk e-book here – paperbacks are also available.