Marina Jadrejčić lives in town of Kanfanar in the scenic coastal region of Istria. During several past years, Istria was a fertile soil for Croatian science fiction, and Marina Jadrej?i? was always on the forefront. In the year 2002, she won a SFERA Award for the story we bring you.
She stood in front of the building – huge, imminent, abducting. She knew what it will rob her of. It will rob her of her time. But, that’s why she came: to trade her time for money. Because time is money. And she needed money very badly.
She repressed her tears somewhere in the throat, overpowered her sobs because they would avert her from her decision.
“I’ll never see them again”, her heart cried.
“And that will lengthen their lives”, present day’s logic was relentless.
A step ahead, into the shadow of a gigantic, impressive building of power, cut off her agony. Irreversibly.
A young man stood in front of uncountable stasis compartments and looked for a name. He glanced uneasily left and right: the visitors scrutinized their relatives in upright sarcophagi frozen in time. He held hands with two little children, a boy and a tiny girl. At first he thought it was right to bring them to their mom – timeless in the moment, in stasis, but still their mother. Now he wasn’t sure anymore it had been such a good idea.
The boy looked drowsy, tired; he would probably rather be somewhere else. The girl, man’s favorite since he and his wife have adopted them, laid her little hands on a smooth, cold surface of the sarcophagus and, pressing her face and nose on a murky screen, watched the vague shadows beyond the barrier.
The man lifted his gaze at the eye-height. Young woman’s refined profile outlined clearly through the icy glass. Her eyes were closed, her head slightly slanting and bent. She would have been beautiful if only her face were not twisted by bitter twitch and enormous burden of sadness.
No, it wasn’t a good idea to come. Children need live parents, him and his wife. And they don’t understand yet, they are too young. And, really, she shouldn’t have let her emotions make her face so ugly; she was aware that she would show that face to the world for the next thirty years.
There’s a crowd again in front of the stasis-rows. During All Living Days people swarm to visit their timeless parents, as they come to see each other in front of the temporal reposes of their known. The Guard frowned and scratched his shaven head. Why, for God’s sake, does the whole world go mad these four days a year, when all this timeless persons dwell here during the whole year, don’t go anywhere, and patiently await their time?
He took a slow walk along the fence, watching visitors procession along the rows. He felt slight repulsion for their appraising glances that waded over transparent compartments like they were fashion shop-windows.
He paused in front of the compartment of Sad Madonna, as he called her. For many long years nobody has come to stand in front of her figure lost in time. They have forgotten her, so young and beautiful.
Often he asked himself what urged people to choose this voluntary exile from the world. Is it misery, poverty? Life disappointment? If it’s misery, he understands. People sell anything they have for living, and some have nothing but naked life. During the years that he guarded timeless reposes, innumerable faces changed beyond those icy walls. People came here, relinquishing their time, and then left carrying with them their hard earned money and a burden of non-lived years.
He has never managed to grasp the principle of time trading, but from fragments he’s herd during these years, he created simple pattern: rich creep buys time, years of time, and spends it in one of new-detected accessible realities, often in portions. He comes back in our reality like he had just left, and no matter that he has lived somewhere else for years, he is not the least older. Poor guy that sells his life-time enters the stasis, works through his timeless years, and at exit gets all his spent years back from his accessible realities. He leaves the stasis older for the exact amount of his sold years.
The plain-looking Official Guard with a plain wit watched his Sad Madonna. His simple mind reached for the grief and despair on her face, and gave her the most beautiful verses about timelessness:
“I can touch cold surface of a tomb-plate,
frigid ice of death under which a timeless person reposes.
I can cry and dew the ice with hot tears,
but it won’t melt;
it’s been frozen for too long.”
“Aren’t those dreams?” mumbled her slow mind. She floated above sand beaches of achingly blue sea and impossibly blue sky. She tasted the salinity of the sea foam, the winds softly rustled, the waves softly rustled, the sand touched her skin rustling. Impressions were disappearing, seeping away, but still she had rustling in her ears. She was awaking.
Suddenly, there was a space around her, somebody was holding her, they led her through the nearly complete dusk, towards something that looked like infirmary. She saw a man standing by the door, the official guard, who watched her intently. He reminded her of a young man she’d seen this morning when she came in. Probably a relative.
They gave her something. They told her she should sleep. She slept.
Later, it was light, morning. Words woke her up. The voice held her hand and spoke to somebody:
“The metabolism stabilized, temporal age equalized. Non-proper residual memories of spent years disappeared.”
She opened her eyes and met the warm glance of a young man in a medical robe.
“Welcome back. To you it will seem that you’ve just come here, but you have to understand that you are fifty-two, and that you’ve been, let’s say, asleep, for thirty years. Be ready to accept your new appearance. You knew that when you decided to sell time … anyway, that’s the reason you came here.
As I’ve seen in your file, full time-charge amount was paid to your children on the day of your entry in stasis. It means that you have no obligations towards us, as we have none towards you. You’re free to leave when you wish to.”
While getting up, he put an ascetic-looking leaflet in her hands.
“I suggest you visit one of the Centers for Reality Reconciliation immediately. Outer world has changed a lot, you know.”
She glanced at the leaflet, and saw her hands. Those hands were thirty years older than her. Hands of an old woman.
There was a mirror high on the wall. God, oh God, she didn’t want to see the face of the old woman.
Today she has seen her children. She was hiding on the other side of the street.
They explained her everything in the Centre, about changes, progress, adapting to new circumstances, life goes on, etc. Also, they told her that there were no messages for her during the timelessness. Not one.
Today she hasn’t seen her children, but two people older than her (it’s so easy to fall in the trap of a retained reality!). She knew they were her children. They passed by her only a meter away and scarcely lifted their eyes before rushing off after their lives.
She didn’t have anything anymore. She had no life because she gave it to her children. She had no children because her sweet little boy and her tiny girl disappeared without a trace. She had no future because to find strength to travel towards future we need our memories and love of our children.
But, she still had one thing left. She had her future time. It was her own, and this time only she will have it at her disposal.
This river, so deep down there, resembles so much to the time flow …
God, why did I have to have only this reality?