Save, Load, Return, Quit
Damn it! It was the fourth time he had done that test and yet his mark was lower than ever before, not to mention he somehow managed to alienate half his friends while waiting for the result. That was the biggest annoyance, the waiting. It took him ten attempts to pass his driving test, but at least he didn’t have to wait a week between each go. Now though he had to suffer through the same miserable week of crap weather and no prospects. He needed a break.
The four familiar words swam in his mind’s eye as the world remained frozen around him, that last ever present option both seductive and terrifying in its promises. Attempt number two wasn’t so bad; he had failed, but he did make the reserve list, and things were going remarkably well with Sarah. He couldn’t bring himself to accept it though, he needed a job, and in the current climate that could take a while, even for someone with his skills. Besides, he could always come back, now he just needed to be as far away as possible. He reached far back, not even looking at the dates as they flashed past.
February 12th 1990, Little Wadeway
He turned inside out as the world past through him and then righted itself; a pause; then noise. The excited babble and shouts of children crashed over him as he was pushed and jostled by their movements as he found himself in a much smaller body than he had been occupying moments earlier. He was stood in the playground of Little Wadeway C. of E. Primary School and a glance downwards revealed that he was dressed in a bright red wax raincoat and a scruffy pair of Velcro trainers. How far back had he gone?
Jack glanced around in an attempt to place himself, in time, rather than space. The weather and bare trees indicated that it was the middle of winter, and he couldn’t see the portable class room in front of the school hall. Then there was his coat, how old was he when he had that again? Jack was adept at remembering the short-term timing of events, but he was unused to such forays into his more long-term past. Then he saw Robert Dean approaching from across the playground and he knew exactly when he was.
It was February 1990 and Jack was six. With hindsight he was amazed at how well his six year old self already wielded his power, not only confidently retrying sections of his life, but more importantly knowing when to stick and when to twist. Somehow he had also realised – without a trial and error approach – that his abilities weren’t normal, and that they were probably best kept to himself. As a result, people often claimed that Jack led a charmed life, but in reality it was easy to roll sixes when you could roll as many times as you liked. It was only later that his experience with computers provided an ideal analogy for his ability, and finally provided words for what were previously four nebulous options.
In this particular incident, Jack had needed fourteen rolls of the dice before he was satisfied with the outcome. At the time he had agonised for ages, spending borrowed weeks on family holidays skulking on the beach or in his room. Now however the situation seemed inconsequential, and furthermore, Jack realised that he had probably suffered more trying to avoid it than he would have done had he let things pass normally.
Robert now stood in-front of Jack, his chest thrust forward and his body stretched upwards; a completely unnecessary gesture of dominance, as even slouched he’d have towered over Jack. He stood up close, so as to exaggerate his need to look downwards, “Where’s your ammynight?” he demanded while stepping forwards so as to force Jack back. Five minutes ago the posturing would have seemed ridiculous; the aggressiveness of this six year old child still seemed humorous to a part of Jack’s mind. However, in the immediate context the situation carried a genuine threat, and the conflict between the two emotions gave the encounter a surreal quality. “Well?” Robert pressed.
The ammonite in question had been one Jack had brought into school that morning to show off, after having been given it by his Dad the previous evening. He had been immensely proud of the fossil, taking his father’s comments about their rarity with all the exaggerated importance of childhood innocence. It was an attitude which seemed especially naive with hindsight, as brief obsession with geology had lead to his twelve year old self building up an impressive collection of rocks and fossils, including some genuinely rare finds; ammonites however were not in short supply.
Jack shrugged, “Ammonite,” he corrected, “I gave it to Mrs. K, she wanted it for a display.” Robert exhaled sharply, and shoved Jack backwards before storming off. It was a lie, of course; he could feel the ammonite in his coat pocket, but Jack wasn’t keen on capitulating, even when it no longer mattered.
The rest of the lunch-break passed with Jack watching those around him with detached interest. He contemplated joining in the various games, but felt too self conscious, and could only do so half-heartedly. He had read this book before, and while re-reading it was revealing new ideas he has missed the first time round, he could no longer engage with the story, and could instead only dissect it strictly academically. The return to class wasn’t much better, lessons in triviality which he was thankful he didn’t have to fully engage in. When, after an hour of simple board work and listening to facts of dubious simplicity, he was able to write freely, he took perverse pleasure in over analysis and unnecessary symbolism. It would have been written off as arrogant and pretentious in university, but he didn’t care, that was the point. Unfortunately the work wasn’t marked at the end of the lesson, and Jack doubted he’d be sticking round long enough to wait for the books to be collected in.
Heading home was a stranger experience than he had expected. His first surprise was meeting his Mum outside of the school. Not only had he been expecting to walk home, but he was struck by how young she looked, and was even more disturbed when he realise that he had dated women who can only have been a few years younger. What surprised him most though was how his Mum greeted him, “Hello Jack, did everyone like your ammonite?” she asked, a slight sing song tone to her voice. It wasn’t a million miles removed from her questions about his interviews, but was somehow more… not patronising, but… well, ‘motherly.’ The adult Jack realised that she was asking the question purely for his benefit, not because she was interested in the answer herself, but because she knew Jack would be. He hadn’t noticed their relationship shifting over time, but with the comparison it was striking.
“It was fine,” he said, showing about as much interest as his Mum probably felt.
“Yeah, everyone thought it was really cool,” he perked up, trying to give his Mum what she expected, “Mrs. K said I should start collecting them and make a museum.”
“You can ask Dad to get you a Trilobite next.”
The house surprised him. He had moved out of his parents’ house shortly after finishing university, and had spent much of the preceding years in university accommodation. However his parents had stayed in the same house; his memories of it weren’t tarnished by age. Firstly, his small stature made everything feel so much larger, especially in comparison to his London flat. Secondly, he was surprised how different everything looked, old furniture he had all but forgotten about, and wallpaper that was long since torn down. Most disconcerting were the various pieces of decor which he remembered from a point at the end of their long years of service, previously worn out and tattered items looking fresh and new. The house felt simultaneously dated and fresh with only a few old antique pieces of furniture remaining consistent. He moved up to his room.
His bedroom felt the biggest throwback. Before his re-load, his room in his parents’ house was fairly empty, decorated simply such that it may easily be used by guests. The room he stood in now however was cluttered, the floor littered with discarded toys and the walls covered in bright wallpaper illustrated with cartoon characters. Here however he remembered most of the items clearly, and as such the change wasn’t so much of a shock as a chance to indulge in nostalgia. Old friends examine and explored with the same hands which first played with them all those years ago, and fond memories broke through the cynicism which formed a cautious barrier around the new mind controlling the hands. By the time Jack had found the box of Lego he was no longer engaging in nostalgia, but actively playing, the self consciousness which had been inhibiting him earlier now shed. It wasn’t a case of retreating into his childhood, but it was without the vague guilt which accompanies play in the face of responsibility. This was silly, especially as he effectively had infinite time.
Tiredness crept upon Jack more quickly than he had expected, and by half past seven he was already feeling tired, and it didn’t feel unwanted when his Dad told him to head off to bed. Tiredness and exhaustion both seemed to be properties of the body, rather than the consciousness, and Jack found he could theoretically go weeks without sleep if he kept shifting to a point at which he wasn’t tired. It had been in the weeks immediately preceding his GCSE exams however that he had learnt that this wasn’t the great idea it seemed; while it did indeed mask the feelings of tiredness, his thoughts still underwent the symptoms of sleep deprivation, complete with increase in irritability and, eventually, hallucinations. In practice he had only been awake for eight or nine hours, so could easily jump elsewhere without worrying about any mental strain, but now the idea of sleep was so appealing that he decided to put off thoughts of moving on until the morning.
June 10th 2000, Clackford
The room was lit by an orange glow from the streetlight outside, filtering through the thin cotton curtains. Jack stood in the middle of the room, naked and erect. The bed next to him was scruffy and unmade, the walls covered in photos, arranged into collages and caught behind sheets of glass. It took Jack a few moments to realise where he was, and almost immediately he was out, faced once more with those four options.
The moment was another of those he had returned to several times in the past, although not for many years now. It was a moment that had gone right the first time he visited it, and almost every time since then. This was another benefit of his power, the ability to re-live his favourite moments, subtle differences each time preventing them from becoming boring. They didn’t prevent them from becoming inappropriate though.
It was early summer; the weather was warm, but not yet tired. After a party the previous night he had stayed at Fiona’s, helping her to clear up before the two of them spent the rest of the day together, and they intended to carry this into the evening. Jack had been seeing Fiona for six months, and previous moments of intimacy could hardly be described as such; brief sexual fumbles in short and tenuous moments of privacy at parties, or attempts to be subtle in more crowded surroundings, which were ultimately unsatisfactory. This was the first chance they’d have to be truly alone together, without chance of interruption. Jack decided to make the most of it, not knowing when such an opportunity would come again.
For a few months later, Jack had revisited the moment many times, particularly when later opportunities were thwarted by outside events. He was disappointed that he couldn’t bring Fiona back with him, as ultimately these snatched moments of intimacy occurred in isolation, in terms of their relationship, only the first time mattered. Six months later the relationship was going to sour, leaving Jack feeling alone and embittered. In his anger he re-loaded the moment, hoping to find catharsis, and to claim something he felt had been denied to him. However, when it came to it, he couldn’t do it, and had continued to stand in the middle of the room weeping. He never returned to the moment.
Now of course, not only was the moment tarnished by those emotions that had dominated that last visit, and almost lead to an ugly moment that would have sickened him later, but they were also overlaid by ten years, which made any contemplation of reliving the moment not only highly inappropriate, but completely undesirable.
December 13th 2000, Clackford
Instead, Jack jumped to counterpoint, six months later, three days after the relationship had ended, and two days after he had last jumped to June 10th 2000. In the end he had found resolution through another method, death, repeatedly.
This wasn’t the first time Jack had died, that had been entirely by accident, hit by a car when he was eight. It was that moment which had confirmed a growing suspicion in Jack, that death to him wasn’t the final curtain that it was to everyone else. In times there were occasions when he even saw it as a friend.
Initially Jack had used his newfound relationship with death to cheat it, to use his ability to take part in increasingly dangerous stunts to impress onlookers. Five, ten, fifty attempts to jump between two parts of the school roof, six jumps off a waterfall into a pool beneath, and innumerable broken legs avoided while climbing trees. This had all come to an abrupt end when Jack’s increasing success in this arena had goaded a friend into action, and prompted him to attempt a jump which had taken Jack thirty attempts to make successfully. Jack had looked on in sick horror at the crumpled body that lay at the base of the building until he realised that his ability to re-load would work as well for his friend as for himself. He went back and never attempted the jump, his friend likewise remained on the ground.
Later Jack used his ability not just to avoid death but embrace it, self harm with no lasting scars, no permanent damage. He found death without consequence strangely liberating, not to mention a source of answers to previously unanswerable curiosity. It was an attitude born not out of morbidity, but one born from a combination of curiosity and thrill seeking, that latter tempered by his realisation that the lack of consequence meant that all the danger he felt was ultimately artificial.
It had been a few years since his last death, and Jack had realised that his initial thoughts of immortality were naive. Death didn’t always come suddenly, and avoiding it wasn’t always as simple as jumping a few months into the past. Eventually his health would begin to deteriorate, and no amount of re-loading would suspend the inevitable. One heart attack skipped in favour of another, one disease traded for the next. When his grandfather had died he had on several occasions revisited his last conversation with him, but soon realised that there was no progress; while he remembered the last conversation, his grandfather did not. Theoretically he could relive the last few months of his life as many times as he wanted, but time gained meaning through progress, and reliving the same moments too many times would eventually feel shallow and empty. At times he considered that at the end of his life he made re-load his very first save, run through from the beginning, do things differently, but even this he was sure he’d eventually tire of. This was why the quit option existed.
Jack pushed off with his feet, diving away from the wall and off the roof of the church. He swung round, his head downwards, back the wall. The air rushed up around him, his stomach lurched and the ground swung up before him. There was a sudden burst of pain, a blinding flash, and then two words.
Jack stared at the options for a moment. He realised that he had been flitting around undecided, not settling on an option, metaphysical channel flicking. He was clearly distracted, and this sojourn into his past clearly wasn’t helping to relieve the tensions that had been building up over the past few weeks. He should just settle on a date and stay there, take a week off to recover, but the problem was that nowhen seemed all that appealing to him at the moment. Fuck. Escapism was going to be a problem when whenever he looked all he saw was the problems of his then self, be they fossils or past girlfriends. None of them were problems that particularly bothered him now, but they were all important at the time, and he’d still find himself having to deal with them. Furthermore he had done all this, and while he was sure that a more mature mind might have more insight into past situations, he was also wary that this could see the destruction of cherished memories.
Perhaps he should go back, take one more crack at the test and then pick whatever the best outcome. Besides, being on the reserve list may be enough; He’d have had an excellent reference from his previous company, as whatever he may lack in knowledge he certainly made up for in results. Jack’s career in playing the stock market was inevitable after he realised that it was one of those factors which was fairly reproducible after a re-load, particularly in the short term. While some random events, such as the national lottery seemed particularly effected by chaos theory, larger systems, such as the stock market were more resistant. His performance wasn’t perfect of course, the very act of buying and selling shares for instance affected the system, but his performance was substantially better than his intuition and knowledge would allow.
Unfortunately, these same dynamics meant that large global market trends were also unavoidable, and no amount of trading on Jack’s part could avert the ‘global economic crisis’ that had forced his previous employer to ‘consolidate’ their staff. While Jack’s success was indisputable, it was also patchy, and so his employer had written him of as an unnecessary risk in a time in which they were trying to appear prudent. His patchiness was a result of the need to live through any time period twice, in order to be able to make the best investments, and Jack was reluctant to do this for every moment of his life; perhaps for any moment.
Each ‘first run’ through any moment was one he ultimately threw away, along with anything he had achieved during this time. This left him memories of events which never happened, which often had a bittersweet contrast with the events which unfolded in his eventual reality. Shared moments of fortune or coincidence that he could share no longer, and memories that it was impossible to reconstruct. Was it really worth this cost? Effectively using his own power against him.
January 5th2010, London
Jack stared at the piece of paper in his hand, “We are sorry to inform you that you failed to meet the criteria required to be entered on to the short list, however…” He took the paper between his hands and was about to tear it, stopped, shook his head and put the letter to one side. There was no need to make a decision yet. He phoned Sarah.
September 25th 2076, Mumbai
Gina sat beside Jack in the hospital bed, holding his hand between hers. She passed her lower lip out between her teeth, keeping the inner surface trapped between them as she managed a weak smile. “Edith and the boys will be here in a couple of hours, their train was delayed in Moscow; June will be a bit later,” she said, she opened her mouth as though to say something more, then thought better of it. Jack saw the expression, read it, but didn’t respond. She had been hoping he’d make it that long; he would. “You have to stop doing this Dad,” she chided, “this is what, your fifth heart attack; you can’t keep doing this for ever.” It was a joke, but her voice caught at the end.
“Eighth,” Jack replied quietly.
Gina looked confused, and then annoyed, “Oh Dad, you should have…” Her face dropped, mouth opened in surprise, “then why are you,” she trailed off, “Oh, Dad,” she finished. This was it then, or if not this one then the next, or the one after.
Jack smiled, then laughed, “I suspected as much. I remember a game of snakes and ladders in which you threw five double sixes in a row, which tipped me off slightly.” Gina blushed red. “I think your Mum thought you were just cheating.”
“You’ve given up then?” asked Gina, a brief spell of defiance entering her voice, said quickly as though she were afraid she’d lose confidence.
“Of course I bloody haven’t, you’d have me reloading heart attack after heart attack would you, spending the rest of my life rolling dice to avoid death, to avoid the inevitable?”
“You could at least give it a bloody chance!”
“Eight heart attacks, eight. You’ve seen me have four, not five, so that is four times I gave it a bloody chance, and another four times in which I’ve ended up taking the same odds as everyone else.”
“You’re not in the clear yet.”
“No, but I’m not running and hiding either.”
Gina was silent, though from her face it was clear that she merely wished to end the argument, rather than concede it.
“You must have considered these things,” he said.
“I don’t like to. I have only died once so far, I don’t look forward to a repeat experience.”
September 27th 2076, Mumbai
In a hospital ward in Mumbai an alarm sounded, as for the final time, Jack’s heart stopped beating. Like countless times before, Jack was faced by three words, and this time, for the first time, Jack was about to opt for the third and final option. However, in the last few moments, just before choosing Oblivion, Jack realised that his selection had changed:
Load, New Life, Quit
Jack considered his options.