The Thirty Fifth Time is a Charm
“There’s a weird bug on me.” the man told his inexplicable companion as they waited, crouched behind a bush. He picked a tiny stick-like insect off of a jacket cuff.
“Shh.” said the other man. He parted the dense coniferous foliage of the shrubbery with long, thin fingers enough to see clearly throughout the small opening it created. “She’ll be here any moment.”
The park they were in was lush and there was the sound of water falling nearby from a magnificent height. They spray from which made the air dense, humid and pleasantly cool. It hung heavy with the sweet, clean scent of the phosphorescent flowers that loomed at uneven, natural intervals along walking trails of packed, crimson dirt.
The object of the man’s attention was at least as tall as he was, if not a head taller and had thick, straight hair that cascaded about her shoulders and moved like the ebb and flow of air currents in a field of glossy, dark brown, almost black grain when she walked. Her eyes glistened and twinkled like emeralds because, thanks to a dazzling bit of cosmetic surgery popular on this particular world at this particular time, they were.
“She sound gorgeous” the other man spoke when his friend had described the woman to him. He made his own portal in the plant in which to see down the trail.
“She seems a bit old for you, don’t you think?” he said, assessing his strange friend. He had known this man for at least ten years and he never seemed to look any older than when they had first met which was a man of about thirty to thirty-five. They had met at a party for astrophysicists that was to celebrate the discovery of signals from outside of this planet’s solar system. He was later to discover the source of these signals was that his companion had been sitting in his vessel, just outside the orbit of this system’s furthest planet with the ship’s sound system on full blast across all frequencies. When he asked how the signal was received so rapidly from such a distance, the traveler simply replied, “It’s a very good stereo.”
“Believe me, the age difference between me and her is negligible.” he replied testily without taking his shining gaze from the expected path of the woman, meaning quite the opposite from his friend in that it was he that was the older one, by about three hundred years.
The man looked at what his strange friend was wearing. He had on a dark purple suit made of a material that resembled crushed velour but was seamless and never wrinkled. Not even where it would bend at the elbows or arms or anywhere. No matter how one moved in it, it would always appear smooth. He asked the traveler how this was possible and was told that it was made of unstable molecules held together by a tiny force field embedded in the lapel and with a little luck.
It was as they were dressing when the man learned the reason they were donning their finest and striking out for the afternoon…
They were in a dressing room that was more or less a hall of mirrors aboard the traveler’s ship.
“About seventy-eight years ago…” the traveler began, fastening space-spats over his patent leather low quarters. ”…I saw this woman at one of your city parks. I think she is perhaps the most alluring woman I have ever seen in all my travels. But another matter arose and prevented me from talking to her. So enthralled was I by this woman, I swore I would go back and chat her up.”
The man was snapping the buttons of his shirt closed and listened to his friend relate his tale. Reaching the last button and flipping his collar up, he put his hand straight through the mirror like dipping it into a pool of quicksilver. His fingers clasped around a strip of fabric and he withdrew not just a tie, but the exact tie that he had wanted from the wardrobe. The mirror rippled like water in a pond and smoothed back out again. The man looked at the tie, perplexed like always when they dressed.
“How the hell does it do that?” he interrupted his friend, staring at his reflection in the mirror.
“I don’t know, it’s just a closet. Pay attention.” he frowned back and continued. “So I went back to try. Knowing I had to be careful, because I knew that an earlier version of myself would also be there, within sight of this incredible woman.”
“Were you worried about meeting yourself? Or doing something that would prevent you from going back to that place in the future or something like that?” the man asked his friend, tying the tie.
“Nah.” the traveler said, working on his own tie. One end turned out way longer than the other and he started over. “I was more worried about doing something that made her see the earlier me, first. I’m my own worst competition.” he admitted with no degree of modesty.
“Why didn’t you just introduce her to both of you? If she liked one she would have to like the other by default.” his friend said, shrugging.
“That’s a little too weird, even for me.” the traveler said. His companion grinned and began pulling on his bottle green suit jacket.
“So I assume it didn’t work out so good the second time either?” he asked.
“Well, no. In addition to having the added complication of an earlier me there. I still had to take into consideration the natural elements of meeting someone, y’know? I mean, it’s gotta be right, right? I can’t just pop up out of the bushes and be like: ‘Hi! How’s it goin’? Listen, I haven’t got much time to say this but you are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen in all of time and space and would you possibly like to have dinner together or something?’, now can I? That’s not very smooth.” said the traveler. His friend considered this.
“No…no, I suppose not.” he said “So, over the past seventy-eight years, how many times have you tried to talk to her?”
The traveler made a thoughtful face and a moment later said, “Thirty-four.”
The traveler’s friend froze in the mirror and coughed.
“Thirty-four!?” he said in mild disbelief. “That means…”
“Yes. When we arrive, there will be thirty-four different earlier versions of myself present in the vicinity as well. This gets harder every time I try it.” the traveler said with a sigh, pulling on his own jacket.
“And you’ve never gotten to talk to her? Not once?” said his friend, chuckling slightly.
“Er..no.” said the traveler, flatly. “One thing or another has prevented me from doing so every single time. You see, even though the moment is the same, the circumstances that lead up to that moment are always different. It’s nature doing what it does to prevent a paradox from occurring. I think, anyway. I was even attacked by a small squirrel once.”
“Why don’t you just pick another time and place to meet her?” his friend asked, thinking.
“Because…” the traveler said. ”…I don’t know anything more about where she’s going or who she even is aside from the few moments I have at the park.”
“Wow.” the other man said. “Thirty-four of you. You bring a whole new dimension to stalking someone.”
“Literally.” the traveler said and straightened his gold foil tie.
All the way to the park the traveler’s companion was offering suggestions on how his friend could meet the woman. They ranged from elaborate temporal solutions to simple dating advice.
“I’ve done this thirty-four times, my friend. I’ve looked at it from all angles and I certainly know how to talk to girls. I’m beginning to suspect she is a fixed point in time. That, if our meeting doesn’t happen, it never will.” said the traveler as they neared the amazing city park. As the crowds thinned out he began hustling them from tree to tree as not to be seen by any of his former selves.
“Well that makes sense.” his friend said sardonically.
“The biggest problem is that I’m running out of places to hide from my previous attempts. I fear I won’t be able to do this anymore if this doesn’t go over.” the other man said and he held them up suddenly.
“Quick! We are nearing the place. There are at least six different versions of me focused on the bend in the trail down there. She’ll appear from that direction. We can hide here.”
So now, crouching behind a bush, the two men waited, dressed in spectacular suits, picking little bugs off of themselves. A minute passed, then five with still no sign of the woman. The traveler poked his head up from behind the bush, looked around and quickly crouched back down again.
“Dammit!” he hissed to his friend. “It’s changed again. She’s coming from the other direction! She’s never done that before.”
The woman was indeed approaching them but from an angle that left the two friends directly in her sight. She paused, wondering why two immaculately dressed men were crouching behind a bush and started towards them, her curiosity getting the better of her.
“She sees us.” the traveler’s companion said, straightening up and evening out his suit. “She’s coming over.”
The traveler panicked and dove into the bush. The woman approached them with long, graceful yet cautious strides like they way some sort of majestic plains animal approaches an unfamiliar pool of water.
“Hello…?” she said in beautiful, bright voice. “Are you guys okay?” she queried.
The traveler’s friend chuckled, slightly embarrassed and definitely taken aback by her beauty and forwardness.
“Hello. Good afternoon, ma’am.” he said simply, nudging his friend with the toe of a wingtip loafer.
The traveler emerged slowly from the shrubbery, rising straight up out of it. The jacket of his wrinkleless purple suit gleaming in the light of the planet’s twin suns. A tiny stick-like insect leaped from his hair to land on the very tip of the woman’s nose. She stared at the preposterous man, unflinching.
“Er…Hi!” the traveler managed to stammer out. “Ummm… How’s it goin’?” He searched frantically for words.
“Hey, listen, I haven’t got much time to say this but you are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen in all of time and space and would you possibly like to have dinner together or something?” was all he came up with. He blinked at her, not knowing what else to do.
The woman very casually, plucked the bug from the tip of her nose and deposited it gently on the lapel of the traveler’s suit. This immediately disrupted the force field that held the garment together causing it to completely lose it’s shape and slide from the traveler’s body like thick, purple oil.
The traveler stood there in nothing but a gold tie, totally aghast. The woman cracked a smile before bolting off in the opposite direction, back up the path from which she had come.
“Definitely not smooth.” the traveler’s friend said as he watched the woman disappear from view then looked at his absurd friend standing in the bush. The traveler chewed on his bottom lip considering what had just happened.
“At least you got to talk to her this time. That’s better than you’ve done so far, right?” he said trying to instill his crushed friend with a little optimism. The traveler said nothing.
“Is this what you do when you’re bored?” he asked
Finally the traveler spoke.
“I’m never bored.” the naked man replied, his attention snapping to his friend. “Anyway…this is why I brought you along this time.”
“Why’s that?” the traveler’s companion asked.
“Follow her.” he said. “I’m going back to the ship.” he said and darted off in a complicated dash from tree to tree to avoid being seen by his other selves, or anyone else for that matter.