Eden Hail, of Eden’s Eternal, recently challenged me to a writing duel. Here is her challenge and my response:
“Your h/h get thrown out of their time (forwards or backwards, whichever you are more comfortable with) and only one of them remembers they are from the present. The other thinks they are native to the timeline. How does the ‘native’ persuade the traveller that they are both exactly where they want to be?”
The portal closed with an audible sizzle, a little like water on an active electric connection. Jake shook out his shoulder-length hair, the curls sweat-flattened and kinky. “Sara. Hey, Sara!”
His jump partner stood next to him and stared up at a baobab tree. Her eyes met his. “Yes, sir?”
He snorted. “Funny. Let’s go. We need to get to the compound before sunset or there’ll be Hell to pay.”
She fell into step beside him.
“This was a smooth jump,” Jake mused. “I hardly feel it. What about you?”
“Jump, sir?” Sara regarded him with wide blue eyes, her nostrils flared a little. “I didn’t jump, sir.”
Jake frowned. “What?”
She didn’t say anything, just studied him with that faint air of perplexity in her eyes. They started walking again; Jake wasn’t sure who initiated it. He cast around for something to say but came up blank. Finally, he caught her arm and swung her to face him. She moved in his grasp like she was dancing. It completely unsettled him. “What is wrong with you?”
“Sara, what are you playing at?”
Sara frowned. “My apologies. I’m not playing. But, shouldn’t we get to the compound? Look, sunset.” She pointed over the baobab tree nearest them, where the sun was clearly visible. The bronze disk sank alarmingly fast toward the mountains, shadows already lengthening on the valley floor.
“All right, let’s go,” he ordered. He took off, not caring if she followed or not. He just wanted to be moving. After a moment, she followed him. The trail wound around a long hill. The compound’s wooden posts were visible around a copse of alders and he sighed in relief. “We’re here.”
Kunte stood in the gatehouse, his smooth skin shiny with sweat. “You’re back!” he shouted, white teeth flashing in his face. “Sara!” He pronounced her name like the Latin, Sahrah, and Jake smiled. They got close enough and the tall warrior stepped out to clasp his forearm. “Ukutzu!”
“Why do you keep calling me that?” Jake muttered.
Kunte grinned at him, eyes twinkling. “How could I forget the first word you said to me?”
“I was asking for fruit juice,” Jake muttered. “How was I supposed to know you don’t speak Ghanan?”
The African laughed, the deep bray of joy a welcome sound to Jake’s ears. Kunte turned to Sara and held out both hands. “Sara. Welcome back!”
Sara frowned. “Was I gone long?”
Kunte looked startled. “Not any longer than expected,” he answered literally.
They walked through the gate, leaving Kunte to his duties. Captain Sam Miller strode out of his small tent, his arms bare to the shoulders and black suspenders dark against the khaki shirt and pants. His sidearm nestled up against his left pectorals, a ring of sweat surrounding the holster. His boots left swirls of dust in his wake. “Jake, you old dog! What kept you?”
Sara shrank behind Jake and he stepped sideways to block her view from the Captain. He signaled with two fingers by his pant leg and watch the Captain’s eyes follow his hand. Sam frowned slightly but said, “Come. My tent has wine. I’m sure you’re fatigued.”
Jake nodded and turned to Sara. “The women’s tent is there,” he said, pointing. “I’ll collect you in a moment. Go, get settled and something to drink.”
Sara looked up at him with wide blue eyes and nodded. She turned without a word to the Captain and Jake watched her walk away, a tentative step that seemed jarringly unfamiliar in her body. He was so used to her purposeful stride that this alteration left him unsettled.
“What is it?” Sam asked.
“Inside,” Jake murmured.
He followed the Captain into the cool gloom of the tent. “What’s happened?” Sam demanded.
Jake didn’t reply right away. He poured himself a glass of wine and didn’t dilute it, just slugged it back in one gulp. He turned to meet the concerned gaze of the Captain and sighed heavily. “I think there’s been an accident. Mindlock.”
He gasped. “What?”
“She’s showing all the signs of it,” Jake went on. “She kept calling me sir. She doesn’t know where we are, and she seems changed somehow. Like the implants took over.”
The Captain grunted. “Who was the technician?”
“Wallace,” Jake replied. “I know him. He’s good, never misses.”
The Captain digested that. “There’s been word lately, Jake.” He poured himself a half-snifter full, then followed that with the chilled water from the crystal pitcher nearby. He spoke to the tent wall without turning. “Something in the psych journals, not yet widely reported. It’s been happening more often, with the new drugs.”
“What’s been happening, Captain? What is wrong with her?”
Sam turned and met his gaze. “The personality splits, essentially. The mind can’t take the dual reality and chooses the new one, essentially erasing the old one. Most of the time it’s not gone entirely, but it’s like a dream. Not real to the person any longer.”
Jake stumbled and sat down, his knees like water. “What?”
The Captain regarded him. “The theory is, the jumper either wants to believe in the new reality so it becomes a compulsion, almost a delusion. Or, they think it may be a malfunction with the biochemical reaction to the drugs at the synaptic level. Dr. Leary postulated it as early as 1968 that lysergic acid diethylamide could do –“
“This is Sara we’re discussing, not some lab rat!” Jake shouted. “I don’t care about some twentieth century quack doctor! This is 2238, for Earth sake!”
The Captain fell silent, regarding him with a sad expression in his eyes. “In point of fact, it’s 1926.”
Jake wanted to shout, or even better to strike at the other man, but knew that wouldn’t change the truth of what he’d said. “Is it reversible?”
The Captain didn’t answer out loud. He didn’t have to. Jake read it in his eyes.