Thursday, December 26, 2013


Another Night At The Chronos Tavern
By David Barber

We get all sorts at the Chronos Tavern; we get workers from the Canaveral Timeport; we get travelers from the future, but in all these years I met only one executioner and one shade.
It introduced itself as C. Jammes Nord, which seemed over-formal, then sat gleaming and motionless. It must have been disturbing to others too, because no one else would sit at the bar.
It was a quiet night. The goblins with neural crests in the corner booth were from the Cryptarchy; you might have seen those history-of-the-future wall charts in the Sunday papers; the Cryptarchy’s a long way uptime. My other customers were a handful of female clones from someplace when it’s legal. They chose that moment to lift their glasses and drink as one.
C stands for Construct it seems. If I wished, it could drink and dispose of it later.
"These are innocent times," it added. "Without prejudice."
"Well, you're from the future, how great is that."
"Those Cryptarchy there would not speak to me for instance. Their society is warped by fear of manipulation by AIs."
Moments like this were why I opened the Chronos.
"I am employed to make ethical judgements."
"By who?"
"By those too nice to decide for themselves."
That was when the man sat down at the bar. The Canaveral Timeport was off-limits to the public; more like an embassy with the land signed over to the future, so customers were either Timeport staff, or time travelers. This drab, grey little man was the shade.
He took a Chronos Tavern coaster out of his pocket and looked at it. "All I seem to have is this. So I came here."
C. Jammes Nord beckoned me over. "Vend him what he wants and I will pay."
The man held up his beer to the light. “Excreted by micro-organisms you say?” He had a queasy fascination with the drinks on offer. “But they are dead now? The ethanol kills them?”
"When are you from?"
He blinked. "I don't know."
You know how it is with a broken-winged bird, with some wounded creature clipped by the car. You want to help, but in your heart you know the best thing would be to put it out of its misery.
His baffled gaze took in the Chronos and its customers. "Do I remember this?"
The goblins ordered more patches. Reds to dumb them down, to slow their cognitive turbines. When I got back, the little man was gone.
"What is his debt?" asked C. Jammes Nord.
"Who was he?"
"A shade. From the future. He has gone to complete the loop."
I had to ask.
"The loop returning him to the future in time to travel back here."
"But where did he come from?"
"The loop is acausal. He was not born and will not die. Unless I judge otherwise, he remains in the loop. As I said, I am an Executioner."
This wasn't why I opened the Chronos.
"I detect your disapproval."
Those fixed in time have little hope of understanding those who are not.
"You were kind; you treated him as if he was real. His life is little, though no cheaper for that. He does not know he is in a recursive loop. Do you think such a life worth living?"
Perhaps I said some bitter things about stuff I didn't understand. The Executioner replied that to those uptime, our own brief lives look much the same, like a short video that could be fast-forwarded to see how it ends; that we reminded them of shades.
I noticed later the shade had pocketed the coaster again before he left, as he always does.

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David Barber lives anonymously in the UK.
He used to be a scientist, though he is retired now and writing stories.
He is a puzzle to his friends.

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