The Day Before: Chapter 1

The day of four parts

Rufius always thought of a day as having four parts.

Although the word “day” was a rather loose term for a man of the watch, there were pitifully few times in his long service for the Oblivion Order when he could remember experiencing one from sunrise to sunset.

The luxury of remaining in linear time for twenty-four hours was something to be savoured, even though it generally meant dealing with the more mundane tasks, like shaving, washing clothes and general housekeeping.

* * *

The first part, which he liked to refer to as ‘Promising’, covered an initial period from waking until his stomach insisted it was time to eat. This was a time of awakening both of mind and body, and usually involved checking to see which century he found himself in and whether anyone was trying to kill him.

Promising could go either of two ways, depending on the status of his almanac, which Rufius tried to ignore until he’d eaten something. He learned from bitter experience that his capacity to deal with the catastrophic events that unravelled across its pages was greatly improved by a full stomach. 

The almanac would remain closed until after the second cup of tea. Unless it was physically shaking, in which case there was something of an emergency. 

It was an interesting book. Bound in age-worn leather, it contained his chronographs, the temporal maps of various missions within his domain. The complex branching lines of the twentieth century wove across the yellowing pages in real-time, as somewhere back in the sixteen hundreds, Copernican actuaries updated the outcomes of various historical events and their potential effect on the future.

Between the animating lines, messages scrawled themselves in fluid copperplate as if being written by an invisible hand.

* * *

The second phase of his day would either be ‘Troublesome’ or ‘Agreeable’, depending on these missives. Almost always there would be something that needed to be corrected. Some insignificant part of history that required a minor alteration to keep the continuum in check. These he classified as Troublesome, no matter how subtle the adjustment.

Today seemed to be one of the more agreeable days — a rare moment when he could spend a little time in his garden.

The house came with the job. A three-storey Victorian detached villa on one of the more desirable squares in South-West London. Inside, the upper floors resembled a museum, filled with artefacts collected from a thousand different missions, each carefully labelled and stored in his very own cabinet of curiosities. These were his most valued possessions, bookmarks that could transport him directly into the past by following their timelines.

The ground floor was poorly maintained, filled with books, manuscripts and papers from the last six hundred years, stuffed into every available nook and cranny. It looked like the home of a hoarder, as did the front garden, much to the chagrin of his neighbours, who took great pride in their neatly clipped hedges and were not impressed by the unsightly piles of junk that had accumulated beside them.

The back garden, however, was a sanctuary. There was nothing more agreeable to Rufius than spending part two of his day surrounded by the delights of his botanical haven.

He collected plants from all over the globe and, through time, had ventured as far back as the Pliocene for some of the larger ferns. With the help of Alixia De Freis, a friend who specialised in the curation of extinct species, Rufius had recreated an extravagant garden that rivalled the likes of Kew.

Alas, part two never lasted very long, since ‘Troublesome’ tended to have a terrible habit of rearing its ugly head. If something hadn’t gone wrong by teatime, he would assume the link with his almanac was malfunctioning and call the Copernicans directly.

Sometimes, part three could last for weeks, but thanks to his tachyon, a watch-like device that kept track of his temporal location, he was able to return to the ‘present’ at roughly the same time as he left. Give or take a minute or two, for safety, since one never liked to meet oneself — closed time-loops were a nightmare to unravel.

* * *

The final part of his day involved drinking. 

His work done, Rufius retired to his favourite period, his ‘Forgetting’ phase. 

Sliding inside a bottle of whisky was the most efficient way he’d found to deal with the psychological effects of altering the past. Witnessing the near-collapse of reality tended to wear one down after a while. Many watchmen found it too much, retiring from active service after their first ‘tour’ of duty. Five years was the average for most. Rufius had lost count after twenty.

His head was filled with memories of things that never occurred: disasters that were averted, assassinations of dictators who would never rise to power, wars that never were. It was a dirty job, one that took no sides other than to ensure the best possible future for humanity. He did as instructed, an agent of the Oblivion Order, devoting their lives to protecting the best possible outcome for the future of the human race.

Next: Chapter 2 >>