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Speculative Fiction Science Fiction

It’s not them, it’s you

You can pass the blame and cry boo-hoo

Nothing good will it do

For the one who hurts you most is always you

Blair thought about her 14-year-old niece’s poem now that the flashing of the cameras stung her retinas, reminding her of the topic of the poem — hurt. She’d read it and felt proud. Sure, it was a little rough around the edges, certainly no Emily Dickinson, but there was a refreshing sense of accountability to it, maturity, wisdom. She’d promised her niece she’d frame it, but it was still sitting on her dining table, sans frame. She made a mental note to get that taken care of the next thing tomorrow morning.  

“Next question, please,” the moderator called.

Blair snapped back to the present. There was nothing like the screams and stares of a roomful of people fixed on her to do that. She cleared her throat and pointed randomly at the sea of raised hands. “Yes, um, gentleman in a blue suit.” 

The owner of the suit in question stood up from one of the white plastic chairs provided to the press and adjusted his tie. “Will Farris, Pulse Chronicles,” he said in his deep bass. Blair gave a nod and a tight smile. 

Will Farris spoke into a microphone with a logo of a magazine Blair didn’t recognize. “You’ve said that this ‘Timeless Minds Collide’ thing is, and I quote, ‘a cutting-edge time traveling project designed to offer perspective and healing to its users and the humankind as a whole,’ but be honest, isn’t that just code for ego stroke? I mean, to me your project looks like nothing more than the plaything of yet another spoiled billionaire who watched too much Quantum Leap as a kid and has now decided to make her childhood fantasy come alive all the while playing God for a day.” 

The cameras flashed again.

Blair leaned in closer to her microphone. “Please, Will, tell me what you really think,” she said and the room erupted into laughter. 

Will Farris laughed, too. “Are you saying that you didn’t watch too much Quantum Leap as a kid?” he said.

“I’m saying that there’s no such thing as watching too much Quantum Leap, Will. The show is objectively incredible,” Blair said, eliciting another round of laughter from her audience. Then she took on a more serious tone. “Well, I certainly can’t deny that the show was an inspiration for this project. After all, the idea is to have our travelers ‘leap’ into the body of another individual in the past. But unlike Quantum Leap, these are protected time lines. No past events can be modified in any significant way, and we have mods surveying the safety of the traveler and the host alike, so if ever one of them feels like spontaneously screaming ‘Geronimo’ and jumping off the roof of a skyscraper, they will be stopped in their tracks. I assure you, Will, there’s no playing God involved here.”

“Next question, please,” the moderator called and almost as if choreographed, hands all around the room shot up in the air. 

Blair pointed at a stocky gentleman in the first row, who promptly stood up. “Taylor Williams, the Aurora Atlas,” he introduced himself. “You claim that one of the key aspects of this project is the commitment to provide alternative care for people with mental health concerns. But I can’t help but wonder if assuming another person’s identity poses more risks than benefits to one’s mental well-being. What kind of testing are you doing and who is the poor sucker you roped into being your guinea pig?”

Blair smiled. She had expected this question. “That sucker would be me,” she said. “I couldn’t in good conscience ask anybody else to test a project that has my name on it. My first trial is in two days, when, for the duration of three hours, I will be transported into the body of Franz, a solitary shepherd in 1800’s Austria. A gentle man, I hope. I finally get to live out my Sound of Music fantasy, so I have high expectations.”

“And will Franz the Shepherd know about this?” Taylor Williams asked.

“Well, we figured telling the hosts that we are from the future and would like to inhabit their bodies for a few hours or days might not go over so well…”

Laughter.

“… so we decided against telling them. But Franz and all other hosts will remember everything they did that day, they just sort of take a backseat—”

“They go to the sunken place?” Taylor Williams quipped and the audience laughed. Blair laughed with them. “More like they’ll be on autopilot,” she explained. “Kind of like you for the majority of your life, Taylor.” 

More laughter.

“Next question,” the moderator called, but Blair stopped her. “Grace, if you don’t mind…” she said gently. “One thing I would like to address before we go to the next question is Taylor’s comment about this project offering alternative mental health care to those who haven’t been able to find it through traditional methods.” She leaned forward and the audience quieted down. She’d noticed that she had that effect. She was able to make them listen. “I know I haven’t been upfront about this in the media before but, believe it or not, I’m not always this delightful bright and shiny creature sitting in front of you right now. Throughout most of my adult life, I have had pretty severe bouts of depression.”

A buzz broke into the room and cameras started flashing. Blair closed her eyes. She could picture the headlines of tomorrow’s papers – “Billionaire Blair LaCroix admits to suffering from depression” – along with some awful picture of her with her eyes half-way closed, but oh well.

She opened her eyes. “Of course, I can’t speak for other people suffering from mental health issues, but I know that when I’m going through my dark days, I just want to not exist, not be me for a while. But what if I could be someone else? 

“Now, I know what you must be thinking. If she wants to escape so much, why doesn’t she just take an expensive vacation somewhere else, change the scenery? She certainly can afford it. Well, wherever I go, I take myself with me. People know me. I cannot be anyone but myself. But to walk in someone else’s shoes for a day, someone who is no longer with us… what’s the harm? 

“And yes, maybe it is escapism, maybe it is running from your problems, but when therapy, medication and everything else in-between fails, don’t we owe it to ourselves to do whatever we can to take care of ourselves? To be happy? And who knows, maybe walking in someone else’s shoes will give us the perspective we need, the breather from our own lives we need. Maybe walking in someone else’s shoes is just what we need. So what do you say, will you walk with me?”  

The reporters were shouting, hands shot up in the air again and the cameras were flashing. 

Two days to go until the first trial… Blair thought. Two more days. 

***

Peter put down the morning’s newspaper, which featured the headline: “‘Will you walk with me?’ — Billionaire Blair LaCroix opens up about her mental health struggles at the press conference for new ‘Quantum Leap’ project,” and then stirred his coffee. He had watched his wife live on TV yesterday along with the rest of the world. He had smiled proudly witnessing the reporters eat from the palm of her hand, hang onto her every word like a holy gospel. She had always had a way with words, a way with people. And that’s how he saw her — witty, playful, charming, magnetic.

But today she was faced with another Blair — the Shadow Blair. He’d known it from the first second he’d woken up and put his arm around his wife. “Good morning,” he had said but instead of answering, his wife had muttered something unintelligible and recoiled at his touch. He hated these days, Blair’s “dark days.” And, even though he would never admit it to her, he hated this Blair. This wasn’t his wife. This woman, cold, closed-off and disengaged, was nothing but a stranger who visited every once in a while, and he prayed to any deity who would listen that she’d keep the visit short. 

He watched her walk to the dining table. The poem from her niece lay flat on it. She was supposed to get it framed today, but now she just eyed the piece of paper up and down and finally crumpled it up and walked away. 

Internally, Peter sighed. He knew that she would come to regret doing that. She loved her niece and had been so proud of her and her poem, but he also knew this was not the time to remind her of it. So he just smoothed out the paper, folded it neatly in half, and slipped it surreptitiously into Blair’s jacket pocket hanging on the coat rack, so that when she was feeling better again and was out and about, she could get it framed. 

He glanced at her, idly staring out the window, and felt the knot around his gut tighten. Tomorrow was the first trial of Blair’s “Timeless Minds Collide,” which the media had affectionately named the “Quantum Leap Project.” He crossed his fingers that this thing — unorthodox as it might have been — could do what therapy and medication had failed at and make his Blair happy again.      

***

Dr. DeMarcus Shaw adjusted the band around Blair’s forehead and lowered her backrest, so that the big screen behind him came into her line of vision. She studied it. The colors swimming across the screen that represented her thoughts were shockingly bright and shiny, not at all how She had pictured the thoughts of a depressed individual to look like, but then again, she was excited about today. 

A nurse approached with a syringe, and Blair squeezed the armrests of her chair with both her hands until she felt her nails dig into the fabric.

“Are you okay with needles, Mrs. LaCroix?” the doctor asked, looking at the screen where her thoughts had turned murky red.

Blair smiled. She knew that he already knew the answer. “As long as I don’t have to look at them much. And it’s Blair, DeMarcus. Please, I beg of you. You’re literally reading my thoughts, so I think we’re past formalities at this point.”

The doctor gave a shy chuckle and the nurse, with his syringe, settled by her left side. 

“You’ll just feel a little prick,” he said as Blair’s head swung to the opposite direction of the syringe, her gaze landing on the heavy led door to her right. She knew it was impossible to open this door from the outside, but regardless of that and the fact that everybody involved in this project had signed ironclad NDA’s, swearing to secrecy when it came to the location of the first trial of “Timeless Minds Collide,” Blair half-expected the press to barge into the room and ruin her travel. 

And she couldn’t have that. 

Yesterday she’d had one of her dark days. Usually these spells lasted longer, but today she felt better, and the only reason she could think of was the promise of the bucolic scene, the baaing of the sheep, and the rugged mountains of 1800’s Austria waiting for her on the other side. She couldn’t wait to get started. 

The drug flowing through her veins was taking effect and she felt her eyelids get heavier. DeMarcus’s face appeared above her. “Count backwards from 10 for me, Blair. In just a few seconds you’ll be the first person ever to have traveled to the past,” he said, and Blair felt a pleasant burst of butterflies in her stomach.

She started counting, “10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4…”

She felt herself doze off with images of sheep and faraway lands swimming in her head. She imagined looking at her reflection in a pond for the first time, experiencing life as Franz the Shepherd, feeling the coarse wool of sheep under her fingertips, breathing in the fresh mountain air. She imagined the feeling of running down a hill, screaming at the top of her lungs, with no one near to hear, other than the sheep. She felt free. 

But when she opened her eyes, she didn’t see sheep or mountains. Instead, she saw DeMarcus’ confused face staring at the bright and shiny representation of her thoughts on the screen, his face furrowed in a deep frown, nurses scurrying around him. “This can’t be right…” he was muttering.

Blair cleared her throat. “DeMarcus,” she said, her voice groggy, and the doctor’s head spun in her direction. “What’s happening?”

DeMarcus looked from her to the screen to her again. “I— I’m so sorry, Mrs. La— I mean, Blair,” he said. “I’m afraid the first trial was unsuccessful.”

Blair got into a sitting position on the chair, the band around her head weighing heavily like a crown. A crown or a fool’s cap. “Yup, the lack of sheep was a dead giveaway,” she said, trying to lighten the mood. “Any idea what went wrong?”

“Well…” DeMarcus hesitated. “Yes,” he admitted at last. “To do the first trial, this would have to be the first time you’ve ever time traveled. But it appears… you’re already a user.”

There was a short silence.

Blair chuckled, but it came out as a bark. “But this is the first time anybody’s used this device, DeMarcus. Also, I think I would know if I’d traveled to the past before. It’s kind of a hard thing to forget.”

The doctor didn’t look up at her. Blair could see his Adam's apple bob up and down as he swallowed. “Blair, you’re not a user in the capacity of a traveler,” he said quietly. “You are… well… you’re a host.”

Another silence, only broken by the beeping of the vital signs monitor.

“A host?” Blair managed at last. “But that’s even more ridic—” 

She stopped talking. There was something tugging at the edges of her memory. A piece that seemed so irrelevant she wanted to ignore it. “They go to the sunken place?” Those had been the words Taylor Williams had used at the press conference when she was asked about what happens to Franz the Shepherd and other hosts. Everybody had laughed. Her included. Because it was ridiculous. 

She heard DeMarcus talking about how, if there was a past, it was likely there would also be a future, and if there was a future, their present time had to be somebody else’s past, but she wasn’t listening. 

She cut him off. “When was the last time I was used as a host?” 

Her mouth felt dry, her hands trembled as she awaited the answer. 

DeMarcus shifted his startled gaze from her to the screen. “Um, there was one time last December,” he said, “one on March 12th, and the latest one was—”

“Yesterday,” she breathed.

DeMarcus looked at her surprised. “Yes, a short 24-hour trip,” he said. “How did you know?” 

“I…” Blair felt her head spinning and tears prickling behind her eyes. “Excuse me,” she mumbled and stuck her hand in her jacket pocket to retrieve a Kleenex but came back with a folded piece of paper instead. With a frown, she unfolded it.

It’s not them, it’s you

You can pass the blame and cry boo-hoo

Nothing good will it do

For the one who hurts you most is always you

“Blair?” DeMarcus said, snapping her back to the present. “Is everything all right?”

Blair wiped off the tears that were now rolling down her cheeks. 

“Yes,” she managed after a while, her gaze fixed on the poem. “It really is.” 

She turned to him now, and realized to her own surprise that she was smiling. “DeMarcus,” she said. “It's time we shut this project down.”

April 25, 2024 22:00

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1 comment

Ali Anthony Bell
22:13 May 01, 2024

Hi Katarina, Ali here from the "Critique Circle". They say it's a new initiative but they've tried it before. Hope it works this time. Anyway, I liked it. I don't write Sci-Fi but I do enjoy reading it sometimes. Nice job of using the kiss principle: Keep It Short and Simple. You were able to convey the plot without any unneeded bla bla and the dialogues were believable. I noticed one typo "the heavy led door" I believe should read lead door (I almost always find at least one or two in my own stories after it's too late to edit them). Keep u...

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