Time Travel

Bartholomew “Dutch” Doobin, a man whose name seemed perpetually on the verge of dissolving into a cough, stood there, knees wobbling like malfunctioning gyroscopes, at the “bottom” of the world. The air, a fistful of shattered diamonds, stung his lungs with each gasping breath. Below his crampons, the white expanse stretched, a canvas upon which the Antarctic wind scrawled cryptic stories in swirling snow. But Dutch wasn’t here for the scenery, no sir. He was here for the time, or rather, the complete lack thereof. Here, at the South Pole, all meridians, those cruel rulers of our existence, converged in a grand, mocking point. Here, a man, so Dutch fervently believed, could step outside the tyranny of the clock.

He shuffled a nervous foot forward, the crunch of his boot echoing off the desolate horizon. A tremor, subtle as a butterfly’s wingbeat, snagged at his gut. Had he…crossed a line? Was he, in this bureaucratic wasteland of longitudes, a smuggler of stolen seconds? He squinted at his chronometer, a relic from his grandfather’s rum-running days. The hands remained resolutely glued at 3:14 pm. Frustration, a familiar companion in Dutch’s life, gnawed at him. Was it all a hoax, some elaborate prank by the goddamn penguins?

Suddenly, a voice, distorted by the howling wind, materialized beside him. “Looking for a temporal transgression, Doobin?”

Dutch whirled around, heart hammering against his ribs like a frantic bird. A figure, bundled in layers that defied definition, stood there, a spectral grin splitting their frost-encrusted face. “Who the hell are you?” Dutch rasped.

The figure chuckled, a sound like wind chimes in a hurricane. “Think of me as a custodian of these desolate crossroads. A shepherd of lost moments, a purveyor of misplaced tomorrows.” The figure extended a gloved hand, revealing a single, glowing eye in the palm. “Care to step outside the bounds, Doobin? It’s a bit drafty, mind you, but the price is right.”

Dutch stared at the pulsing orb, a primal fear battling with a desperate yearning for something more, something beyond the relentless tick-tock of his life. He took a shuddering breath, the South Pole wind whipping at his exposed skin. What did he have to lose, really? With a trembling hand, Dutch reached out and grasped the offered eye. The world dissolved into a blinding flash. When his vision cleared, he found himself…well, that was the question, wasn’t it? The adventure, it seemed, was just beginning.

<>

The world solidified into a kaleidoscope of mismatched realities. A bustling marketplace hawked wares alongside towering chrome skyscrapers. A horse-drawn carriage clattered down a cobbled street, dodging a sleek, levitating delivery drone. Dutch stumbled back, his head throbbing like a drum solo.

“Welcome to the Chrono-Souk,” his guide boomed, the voice echoing from everywhere and nowhere at once. “Here, time is a commodity, traded like spices or used socks.”

Dutch squinted through the swirling chaos. A wizened figure, draped in a shimmering robe that seemed to shift between tapestries of ancient Egypt and holographic advertisements, beckoned him closer. A sign above their stall, in a language that defied translation, displayed a single, enticing word: “Yesterday.”

The guide chuckled, a sound like ice cracking. “Careful, Doobin. Nostalgia can be a fickle beast. You mess with the past, you might just unravel the present.”

Dutch, overwhelmed by the cacophony of displaced moments, yearned for a simpler time. A time, perhaps, before the chronometer betrayed him, before his wife left, before life became a relentless march towards a future he dreaded. He felt a tug on his sleeve and looked down to see a young girl, no older than ten, clutching a worn teddy bear. Her eyes were wide pools of fear and longing.

“Mister,” she whispered, her voice barely audible over the din, “Can you take me back? Back to before…?”

Dutch knelt before her, a strange kinship forming. He saw in her reflection of his own fractured past. “Where do you want to go, kid?”

The girl pointed a trembling finger towards a booth festooned with faded photographs and dusty record players. A sign, this one in a language he recognized, read: “The Nostalgia Emporium.”

Dutch swallowed the lump in his throat. Perhaps, he thought, some doors are best left unopened. But the girl’s hopeful gaze held him captive. With a sigh, he helped her to her feet and, with a final wary glance at the one-eyed guide, steered her towards the Emporium.

As they entered the dimly lit shop, the cacophony of the Chrono-Souk faded, replaced by the melancholic strains of a crackling phonograph. A kindly-looking woman with hair the color of spun moonlight sat behind a cluttered counter. She smiled at them, a smile etched with the wisdom of ages.

“Welcome, travelers,” she said, her voice as soothing as a lullaby. “Lost something precious, have you?”

Dutch exchanged a hesitant look with the girl. He wasn’t sure what he was searching for, or even if it could be found here. But one thing was certain: his journey through the fractured landscape of time had only just begun.

<>

Dutch watched, mesmerized, as the woman in the Nostalgia Emporium conjured a shimmering scene from the girl’s memory. Tears welled in the girl’s eyes as she reached out, fingers brushing the holographic image of her younger self, laughing with a lost friend.

He felt a tap on his shoulder. The one-eyed guide stood there, a sly smile twisting their lips. “Touching scene, Doobin, but sentimentality is a luxury we can’t afford here.” Their voice held a sharp edge now. “This little escapade has attracted unwanted attention.”

A ripple of distortion spread through the shop, and figures materialized from the swirling chaos. Tall, gaunt beings, their features obscured by swirling shadows, materialized, their eyes burning with an unsettling blue light.

“Temporal trespassers,” the one-eyed guide hissed. “Seems you’ve snagged yourself a Chrono-cops detail, Doobin. Not exactly the souvenir you hoped for, eh?”

Dutch felt a surge of panic. He’d heard whispers of the Chrono-cops, enforcers of the temporal order, their methods as ruthless as their efficiency. The girl whimpered, clinging to his arm.

The lead Chrono-cop, his voice a chilling rasp, addressed Dutch. “You have violated the First Law of Temporal Transit. Your presence here disrupts the flow of time. You will be neutralized.”

Dutch looked at the girl, her fear a mirror to his own. He wouldn’t let them take her. In a desperate gamble, he lunged towards the swirling vortex that had brought them here, the one-eyed guide shouting a warning behind him.

The passage pulsed with chaotic energy, threatening to tear him apart. He squeezed his eyes shut, picturing his own past, a time before regret choked the life out of him.

The world dissolved into a maelstrom of sound and light. When he stumbled back to consciousness, he was sprawled on the unforgiving white expanse of the South Pole, the biting wind whipping at his face. The chronometer on his wrist, miraculously unbroken, displayed the same time it had before: 3:14 pm.

He looked around, searching for the girl, the guide, the Chrono-cops. But there was nothing. Had it all been a hallucination? A desperate fantasy conjured by the harshness of the environment?

He stood there, a lone figure against the vastness, a shiver wracking his body. Maybe the past couldn’t be changed, the future remained uncertain, but something had shifted within him. The desperate yearning for escape had been replaced by a quiet determination. He wouldn’t let time, or the guardians of it, dictate his life anymore.

Dutch pushed himself to his feet, the South Pole wind howling its timeless song. He may not have become a master of time, but he had faced the consequences of defying it. And in that desolate expanse, he found a strange kind of peace, a newfound appreciation for the relentless, unyielding present.

Good Television

Cut-up chaos bleeds into the flickering tube. Network logos – pulsing, cancerous growths burrowing into your retinas. Feed. Consume. Obey.

Good television, if such a thing can exist, crawls out of the muck only during brief, fetid lulls in the relentless scramble. A lull. A synonym for societal collapse, perhaps. But in the fetid emptiness, something perverse can take root. A twisted creativity, birthed from the collective miasma of despair. It thrives in the cracks, the dead zones between the channels, where the static whispers secrets and the image bleeds. A world teetering on the edge, that’s when the good stuff leaks through. That’s when the message slips its leash and bites.

Rent seeking, a monstrous neologism, slithers across the screen. A psychic parasite, fattened on the carcass of innovation. Anomie, its fetid twin, seeps into the airwaves. A wasteland populated by vacuous faces, shilling products that bring no solace.

Good television, a flickering mirage in the desert of anomie, thrives on the tension between control and chaos. But the bean counters, those bloated ticks engorged on rent, have no patience for such subtleties. They crave the safe, the predictable, the mind-numbing. And so, television becomes a vast, glittering shopping mall, peddling the same tired inanities in a thousand different guises.

But wait! A flicker of subversion. A rogue signal pierces the static. A message scrawled across the screen in a language of glitches and distortion. A chaotic whisper, a burp of rebellion against the ironclad control. Is it a threat? A promise? Or simply another empty shill?

The answer, like everything else in this desolate landscape, remains elusive. But in the space between the commercials, a sliver of hope flickers. Perhaps, amidst the rent-seeking anomie, a new kind of good television can be born. A television that reflects the fractured reality we inhabit, a television that shocks and disturbs, a television that dares to question the control matrix.

But for now, we are left with the flickering ghosts of what once was. A wasteland populated by the walking dead, their eyes glazed over by the mind-numbing glow of the screen.

The 52 Hertz Whale

The Pacific stretched monolithic beneath a bruised twilight, an oil slick sheen reflecting the sodium glare of distant tankers. Below, in the cobalt fathoms, a solitary whale, its species a cypher, sang its mournful aria. At 52 Hertz, its call was a discordant shriek in the whale orchestra, a blues note in a symphony of foghorns. They called him the “52 Hertz Whale,” a moniker that dripped with both pity and existential dread.

Floyd Wraith, a rumpled oceanographer with a face like a well-worn Nautical Chart, hunched over his hydrophone array, the tinny song of the whale rasping from the speakers. Wraith, a man who could decipher the gossip of barnacles and the grumbling of tectonic plates, felt a pang in his own fractured soul.

“Lost in the cosmic soup,” Wraith muttered, swigging from a dented flask of something amber and potent. “Alone as a neutrino in a black hole.”

Beside him, Dr. Xylona LeFleur, a woman with eyes as sharp as a marlin’s bill and a mane of white dreadlocks, tapped away at a holographic display. LeFleur, a bioacoustics prodigy with a doctorate in bioengineering and a penchant for quoting obscure alchemists, was the closest thing Wraith had to a confidante.

“Maybe it’s not a blues song, Floyd,” LeFleur said, her voice a dry rasp. “Maybe it’s a new frequency, a language we haven’t cracked yet. A transmission from the Cambrian.”

Wraith scoffed. “The Cambrian called with a whale song? Xylona, that’s some high-grade kelp you’ve been smoking.”

But LeFleur’s words snagged in his mind. What if the whale wasn’t lonely? What if it was an ambassador from the depths, a herald of a civilization older than time, singing a song humanity couldn’t understand?

Suddenly, a new sound bloomed on the hydrophone – a rhythmic counterpoint to the whale’s lament, a 47 Hertz thrumming beneath the surface. Wraith and LeFleur exchanged a look, a jolt of shared adrenaline shooting through them.

“Another one?” Wraith rasped. “There’s another one out there?”

The ocean depths, once a desolate expanse, now hummed with a strange, hopeful dissonance. The 52 Hertz Whale wasn’t alone. Perhaps, in the vast symphony of the sea, their song had finally found an echo.

<>

The Pacific stretched out like a rumpled sheet of aluminum foil, the sun a greasy stain in the corner. Below, in the inky black, a leviathan cruised, a bioluminescent scar against the abyss. This was 52 Hertz, the whale out of synch, his song a high-pitched whine unheard by any other. He sang his lonely aria, a blues riff echoing in the cathedral of the deep.

Up above, a rusty trawler named the “Paranoia” coughed black smoke into the sky. A crew of misfits manned the vessel, all running from something – a bad divorce, a past they couldn’t outrun, a yearning as deep and unanswerable as the ocean itself. Patch, the grizzled captain, nursed a chipped mug of lukewarm coffee, his rheumy eyes scanning the horizon. He wasn’t looking for fish; he was lost, adrift in a sea of his own making.

Suddenly, a crackle on the ship’s receiver. Lefty, the one-eared radioman, adjusted the dial with a greasy thumb. “…unusual acoustic signature, Captain… high-pitched, persistent… location indeterminate…” Patch slammed his mug down, spilling dregs on the grimy chart table. “52 Hertz again,” he muttered, the name a curse on his lips.

Years ago, Patch had first heard the call, a haunting wail that sent shivers down his spine. They nicknamed it 52 Hertz, after the whale’s mournful frequency. It was a constant presence, a reminder of their own isolation, a lost transmission from the edge of the world.

The crew, a superstitious bunch, whispered tales of the 52 Hertz being a cursed creature, a harbinger of bad luck. Patch scoffed, but a sliver of fear always lingered. He steered the Paranoia off course, a vague hope blooming in his chest. Maybe, just maybe, they could find the source of the call, solve the mystery of the lonely whale. Maybe, in finding it, they might just find themselves too.

As night fell, the bioluminescent plankton ignited, turning the ocean into an alien disco. The 52 Hertz call intensified, a beacon in the swirling darkness. Below decks, Lefty tinkered with a jury- rigged contraption – a speaker rigged to mimic the whale’s song. With a jolt of electricity, the 52 Hertz whine echoed through the hull, a desperate plea into the void.

On the bridge, Patch watched the horizon, a strange hope flickering in his eyes. The Paranoia, a vessel lost at sea, and the 52 Hertz whale, a voice crying out in the wilderness – two isolated souls, yearning for connection in the vast indifference of the ocean. In the inky blackness, a faint echo replied, a hesitant song in the same impossible frequency. The answer, faint but there, a spark in the endless night.

<>

Here, language fractured. Sonar pings, the language of hunters, danced a macabre ballet with the clicks and whistles of bioluminescent oddities. But the 52 Hertz Whale spoke a different tongue, a high-pitched, mournful lament that sliced through the water like a telegram from a forgotten era.

For decades, his song had echoed unanswered. A blues riff in a universe tuned for waltzes. Theories swirled around him like plankton: a genetic anomaly, a lone survivor of an unknown species, a cosmic prankster from a parallel dimension. Even in the vast cathedral of the ocean, silence pressed in, a suffocating shroud.

Tonight, however, a tremor ran through the water. A faint echo, a hesitant reply, its pitch wavering like a drunkard attempting opera. The 52 Hertz Whale froze, a leviathan opera singer caught mid-aria. Could it be? Another outcast, another soul adrift in the phonemic sea? Or a cruel trick of the thermocline, a phantom melody born of refraction and distortion?

He sang again, a tentative query woven into his usual lament. The reply came stronger this time, a hesitant counterpoint, a whale clearing its throat in the cosmic karaoke bar. It wasn’t a perfect match, but there was a kinship, a shared loneliness that resonated across the leagues of water.

The 52 Hertz Whale, for the first time in decades, felt a flicker of hope. Perhaps, in the grand, incomprehensible symphony of the ocean, his song wasn’t so utterly alone after all. Perhaps, out there, in the liquid twilight, another singer had finally heard his broken blues.

Potemkin Villages

Dimitri, adrift in a post-Tsarist Odessa, pulled the collar of his peacoat tighter against the greasy wind whipping off the Black Sea. The city, once a bustling port adorned with the whimsical flourishes of Czarist excess, now resembled a haphazard collage of faded grandeur and revolutionary scrawl. Crimson banners with Cyrillic pronouncements of the new order snapped from every corner. Dimitri, a sailor with a soul as weathered as his calloused hands, felt the familiar unease of a man on shore without a course.

He wandered into a cantina reeking of stale beer and desperation. The air hung thick with a cacophony of languages – Ukrainian, Greek, Turkish – all laced with the nervous tension of a city teetering on the edge.

Dimitri, his peacoat heavy with a brine that spoke more of regret than the Black Sea, pushed through the swinging saloon doors of the Proletariat’s Pride. The air inside was thick with a stew of sweat, cheap tobacco, and something acrid that could have been desperation or borscht gone bad.

He squeezed past a table where three sailors, their tunics adorned with faded Imperial eagles they hadn’t bothered to rip off, were arm-wrestling over a chipped mug of something that might have once been tea. In the corner, a group of ragged men, their eyes glittering with fanaticism, pounded the table in time with a revolutionary anthem that seemed to morph disconcertingly into a bawdy drinking song.

Dimitri shuffled to the bar, a scarred length of mahogany presided over by a woman with eyes like cold borscht and a mouth that could launch a battleship. He slammed a chipped mug down, the sound swallowed by a drunken rendition of the Internationale that seemed to ooze from the very walls.

“Vodka,” he rasped, his voice raw from the salty spray and the hollowness that had settled in his gut since the Bolsheviks painted the town red.

The barkeep slid the glass across the counter, her gaze lingering on the Cyrillic tattoo that snaked up Dimitri’s forearm, a relic from a time when ink and needle held more sway than hammers and sickles.

“You look like a man with a story to drown,” a voice slurred from beside him. Dimitri turned to see a man, all elbows and angles, hunched over a glass that reeked of something stronger than despair.

“Stories are a luxury these days, comrade,” Dimitri replied, swirling the vodka in his glass, the fiery liquor a fleeting warmth against the gnawing cold that had settled in his bones.

“Politics are a luxury these days, sailor,” the man rasped, his voice surprisingly melodic for its gruff exterior. “These days, survival’s the only trade that’s steady.”

Dimitri felt a flicker of kinship. This wasn’t the wide-eyed fervor of the fresh-faced revolutionaries he’d encountered. This man bore the weary cynicism of someone who’d seen the gilded promises of both Tsars and Commissars tarnish with time.

“So, what’s a man with honest callouses like me to do in this new world order?” Dimitri asked, taking a long pull from his mug, the cheap vodka burning a familiar path down his throat.

The stranger chuckled, a dry rasp that sent shivers down Dimitri’s spine. “Depends on the story, wouldn’t you say? Some stories are worth more than a Tsar’s ruble these days. Especially if they have the right ending.”

Dimitri’s interest was piqued. In this Odessa, rife with suspicion and paranoia, a stranger’s words held the weight of a dropped revolver. “What kind of ending are we talking about, here?”

The stranger leaned closer, his breath a noxious blend of stale beer and desperation. “The kind where heroes are manufactured, Dimitri. The kind where Potemkin villages are built, not out of wood and canvas, but out of the blood and sweat of men like you.”

Dimitri’s grip tightened around the glass. Potemkin villages. A hollow victory, a facade erected to mask the rot beneath. He’d seen his fair share during the war, grand facades masking the horrors that lurked behind.

“And what if I have no stomach for hero-making, comrade?”

The man chuckled, a dry rasp that sent tendrils of smoke curling upwards. “The world’s still spinning, sailor,” he said, his eyes glinting with a shrewd amusement. “There’ll always be a need for builders, even if the blueprints keep changing. If you don’t build your own Potemkin village, someone else will hire you to help build theirs.”

Dimitri contemplated this cryptic wisdom, the harsh reality settling in his gut. The world may be awash in red flags, but a man with a hammer and a saw could still find his place, even if the houses he built were facades, temporary triumphs meant to mask a more chaotic reality. He raised his mug in a silent toast to the stranger, a wry smile playing on his lips. In a world obsessed with grand pronouncements, the quiet pragmatism of the man in the corner held a strange allure. Perhaps, Dimitri thought, there was a way to navigate this new world, not by aligning with fleeting ideologies, but by staying true to the calloused hand and the honest trade.

<>

The saloon doors flapped open like the maw of a drunken hippopotamus, momentarily displacing the fug of cigarette smoke and despair that clung to the air like a shroud. Dmitri, nursing his third vodka, watched with a weary cynicism as a figure materialized from the gloom.

This newcomer wasn’t your typical Odessa barfly. He wore a suit that reeked more of mothballs than Mayfair, three sizes too large for his slender frame. A bowler hat, perched precariously on his head, cast a perpetual shadow over his face, making him seem perpetually on the verge of a conspiratorial whisper.

He sidled up to the bar, a briefcase clutched in his hand like a talisman against the chaos. The usual barkeep, a woman with a chipped tooth and a disposition to match, was nowhere to be seen. In her place stood a scrawny teenager, perpetually on the verge of disappearing into the greasy folds of his oversized apron.

“Whiskey,” the newcomer rasped, his voice like sandpaper on gravel. “Double the usual misery, son.”

The teenager, startled from his reverie by the sudden intrusion, fumbled with a bottle, sending a spray of amber liquid cascading haphazardly across the bar. The newcomer grunted in acknowledgment, tossing a wad of crumpled bills on the counter.

“Looking for… employable men?” he inquired, his voice barely audible over the din of the drunken rabble.

Dmitri, ever the cynic, snorted into his glass. “Depends on the kind of employment, comrade. Odessa’s got more men looking for work than cockroaches in a bakery.”

The newcomer swiveled on his stool, finally allowing a sliver of his face to be illuminated by the flickering gaslight. His eyes, a startling shade of blue, seemed to pierce through Dmitri like a laser beam.

“Not just any work, sailor,” he said, his voice dropping to a conspiratorial whisper. “This is a job that requires… discretion. A certain… appreciation for the theatrical.”

Dmitri raised an eyebrow, a spark of morbid curiosity flickering to life amidst the ennui. “Theatrical, you say?”

The man leaned in further, his lips forming a tight smile. “Let’s just say I’m in the market for some… set designers. We’re building a new world, sailor, but sometimes, even the grandest revolutions need a little… window dressing.”

“You,” he rasped, his voice like sandpaper on granite. “You look like a man who appreciates a good allegory.”

Dmitri, ever wary of strangers bearing pronouncements, grunted noncommittally. The man, unfazed, sidled up to the bar, a sly smile playing on his lips, barely visible beneath the oppressive shadow of his hat.

“The name’s Chernin,” he announced, his voice dropping to a conspiratorial whisper. “And I’m in the market for a… crew. Men of… unconventional disposition, shall we say.”

The bartender, a woman with a face like a well-worn leather wallet, snorted. “Unconventional? This whole damn zoo’s a freak show, pal.”

Chernin chuckled, a dry rasp that sent shivers down Dmitri’s spine. “Precisely. But the freaks I need are the kind who can build a dream. Not some ramshackle affair, mind you. This is a Potemkin village we’re talking about, grand dame. A facade so grand, so utterly convincing, it’ll bring tears to the eyes of God himself.”

The men around the bar exchanged uneasy glances. Potemkin villages – elaborate facades built to impress dignitaries while masking the underlying poverty – were a relic of the Tsarist era, a symbol of the regime’s hollowness. Yet, here was this stranger, peddling the same illusion under the banner of something new.

Dmitri, ever the pragmatist, leaned forward. “What kind of dream are we building, Chernin? And what’s the pay?”

Chernin’s smile widened, revealing a gold tooth that winked like a rogue star. “The kind of dream that’ll make you rich, sailor. The kind where the only limit is the fleecing power of your imagination. As for the pay…” he tapped the rolled-up papers meaningfully, “let’s just say the rewards are… revolutionary.”

A ripple of confused murmurs ran through the bar. Building a Potemkin village for a new regime – it felt wrong, a paradoxical ouroboros of progress and deceit. Yet, in the desperate, post-Tsarist world, the lure of opportunity, however dubious, was hard to resist.

Dmitri locked eyes with Chernin, a flicker of morbid curiosity sparking in his gaze. This wasn’t utopia Chernin was peddling. It was something altogether stranger, a funhouse mirror reflecting a distorted reality. But maybe, just maybe, in the hall of mirrors of this new world, a clever man could carve his own twisted path to fortune.