March 17th, 2014


Dream Fragment: The Scarred Man

Davin risked a peek out the western window of his apartment. They were all slatted up, of course, with blackout cloth behind them; you had to move the heavy drapes aside to get a good look between the boards, and that meant taking a chance at being seen. Bug opticals were getting better; going outside without using the tunnels meant certain death now, and even the hint of motion in one of the tall buildings' windows risked bombardment with gouts of mineral acid.

But it was worth the risk -- looking. From the vantage of his apartment, Davin had spotted many a bug at their most vulnerable: when they were cocooning themselves for the transition. A person in a tall building could do a lot of damage to the bugs if he could call them in. There wasn't enough firepower left in the present to hurt a bug, but in the past...

Davin squinted between the slats. Something green and glowing was moving on the top of a building two blocks to the north. Davin watched it for a long time, wanting to be certain. Yes, it was definitely a bug starting the cocooning process. It was a fifty foot monster, deadly and ravenous, but for eighteen hours it would be wrapped in a shell, transitioning into something much worse. For eighteen hours it could be destroyed, if Davin could let the past know exactly where and when it was.

Davin memorized the bug's exact location, then carefully eased the blackout cloth back into place. His well-worn pain journal sat on the table, its spine having given way entirely and the whole thing held together by three binder-clips. Davin thumbed through it, contemplating his options for past contact. Many of them had been used already; he had checked these off carefully with a felt-tip marker. Each pain conduit worked, but only once.

Davin found an entry that hadn't yet been checked off. "Fishhook-shaped cut, left thumb," he read to himself. "Facing bathroom mirror. Straight razor." He had made the entry twelve years earlier, obsessively recording the moments when he had deliberately inflicted pain on himself. At the time he hadn't known why he had done it. Or perhaps he had known on some subconscious level -- that what he was doing made no sense, but was nevertheless important.

The scar was right where Davin had recorded it - a white, irregular question-mark just inside the first knuckle. Davin examined it in the bathroom where the light was better. It was an old scar, hard to see unless you know just where to look for it. Davin steeled himself, then found the straight razor in the drawer next to the sink.

He recut his skin, following the lines of the scar the way a child might cut along the dotted lines. Davin faced the mirror and held up his bleeding thumb. He felt the familiar jolt that joined his present and past selves together, united by a bond of pain. But not just any pain -- the same pain, in the same place and manner, forcing his mind in both moments to converge.

"Truscott Building," he whispered intently to himself, looking into his own bloodshot eyes in the mirror. "Two blocks north, southwest corner of the building, between the satellite dishes. October five, twenty-eighty, about four in the afternoon. One bug, cocooning now."

Davin heard himself say the message several times to be certain. But he also heard himself say something else. "You have to move by tomorrow," his past self said. "New cocoon right over your head. We'll be blowing the building. Relocate." The voice echoed around and around in his skull, and when it was done Davin had the usual nagging suspicion that he had just imagined it all.

He bandaged his thumb and turned out the light. Leaving the apartment meant breaking the connection with the past; the pain conduits couldn't bridge unless both ends were forged in the same place and manner. It meant an end to spotting. If only he had cut himself in a variety of places around the city! Davin cursed his lack of forethought.

A dull KRUMP shook the building, and the green glow to the north flared bright enough to glimmer around the edges of the blackout drapes. A keening wail died to nothing, and Davin knew he had helped take out one last bug. He moved around the apartment gathering his few possessions.

There was a pair of scissors hanging on a peg by the door. As Davin took them down, he had a thought. It might be possible for him to return to the apartment, he considered. There could be damage, but perhaps he could come back later on. He could always investigate that later. Meanwhile, mused Davin, it would be good to be able to communicate with his future self about it.

Davin snipped the skin webbing between his right pinky and ring finger. Then, the blood oozing down his palm, Davin got out his journal and began to write.