a tale in weekly parts
Bernice Reed, a thirty-something African-American woman from Arizona, appeared as a white man, naked in the street of a small Canadian town some two hundred years in her future. She was promptly arrested for public indecency and became an involuntary guest of the local police. Initially, she thought it was a dream.
Bernice or Bernie? Female or male? It’s hard to say. To add to the confusion, the only people who think of Bernice as of the female persuasion are her late mother, her late mother’s late killer, and your narrator, who tries to be on time when possible.
All other characters know only Bernie; a male.
“What have you decided?” Diane asked Bernice the following afternoon.
“I’m in two minds, Diane. There are still some things I don’t understand, and I feel that I need to understand them before I give my answer. This is too important. This is my life we’re talking about.”
“We get that,” Jonas said, “but there’s no point asking us, we don’t know any more than you do. Let’s hope Julian has some answers when he arrives.”
“When’s he coming?” Bernice asked.
“Knowing Julian, when it suits him,” Diane replied, “Although…”
“Although what?” Jonas asked.
“What if we put the questions to Holo-gen? It should know the answers.”
“But will we get the unvarnished truth from it, or will it tell us what suits its purposes?” Bernice asked.
“He’s got a point, Di.”
“Yeah, maybe. At least we know Julian is on our side and will give us the facts without bias.”
They waited for Julian to arrive.
Their wait lasted only a few seconds. With his usual impeccable timing, Julian rang the doorbell, shouted, “Only me,” and walked in.
“How do you always know the exact moment to arrive?” Diane asked lightly.
“Born lucky, I guess,” he replied, “So. Have you reached your verdict, Bernie?”
“I was just telling Diane and Jonas that I need some more information to help me decide.”
“Can I help?”
“I hope so, Julian. Thing is, I don’t really get what will happen if I say here in Stimbler’s body, and he stays there in mine. He has already gone back with the encryption, which he has presumably released into the wild, as we say. If he carries out his plan to swap back here so he could exploit his so-called invention, there’s gonna be chaos all round. It won’t affect me, though, cos I’ll be 200 years in the past. On the other hand, if we stop him coming back, it’d be a while before there’s enough of it out there for it to be worth his while breaking it. That’d put paid to its use and, as far as I understand it, take it out of use, meaning there’d be none in the here and now. But it is here, you say.”
“That’s a pretty good analysis, Bernie,” Julian said, “There is one caveat, maybe more. TAS/BR didn’t exist until you arrived here, now it’s ubiquitous. Not only that, but no-one has any recollection of life without its presence. That’s because he changed this timeline by going back and releasing it. We can’t actually lock him there, only stop him from coming here. He may have the ability to move forward a shorter period, to a time when TAS/BR was widely accepted, then break it. Although, again, it would result in the system being withdrawn, which we would know about.”
“Did you actually say anything then, Julian?” Jonas asked.
“Probably not. So, Bernie.”
“Stay or go?”
“My life in twenty-first century Phoenix was no great shakes. I’m staying.”
Julian, Jonas and Diane signalled their approval.
“However,” Bernice continued.
“However, what?” Diane asked.
“My life might not have been much, but at least I had one. If I’m gonna stop here, I need a life.”
“What d’you need?” Jonas asked.
“A permanent home, a job or at least a reliable money supply, a car and, above all, documentation – an identity.”
“Leave that with us,” Julian said, “Diane can help you look for a house, Jonas can help you find a job, and I will look after ID, licences, permits, credit cards, bank accounts, everything you need.”
“What about birth records, DNA and police records? Can you organise all those?”
“Easy. I’ll leave you with your hosts, and be back this time next week with everything you need. Can you guys find Bernie a home and job by then?”
Jonas and Diane looked at each other quizzically. Diane tapped the black bow that was humming in the middle of her table, looked at Bernice, then at Julian and said, “Between the three of us? Sure we can.”