prompt: act, title: beating the odds in misc. flash fiction
- May 3, 2023, 6:28 p.m.
In 2025, CERN’s Hadron Supercollider team announced they’d invented a machine to observe a person’s parallel timelines. I couldn’t say how, something-something string theory, anything past intermediate-algebra may as well be sorcery to me. What’s important was it worked, but with the massive energy drain and constant replacement of burnt-out parts, it cost sixty-thousand dollars a minute to operate. Only useful for academic studies and the whims of billionaires, at first. One of its quirks was, however, the further from this timeline you needed to look, the more time it took.
This made it oddly easier to test with average folks than the rich. Everyone from middle-class to poverty lives perpetually one mistake away from ruins or a worse situation, anyway. It was easy to access their divergent lives. The well-to-dos are however rich via, short the rare entertainer or athlete, one of two paths: inheritance or theft. Even those of inherited largess had their stockpile begin with an ancestral theft that trickled down. Thieves tend to not want their lives looked into, while inheritors, nothing across all time and space can undo the advantages they were born with. Whatever occurs, they’ll know no consequences. Nearly impossible to show them different lives when their money papers over damned-near everything.
By 2027, Berkeley and M.I.T. both had it. By 2030, there were a thousand across the developed world, and while economies of scale brought down the operational costs, they were still insanely expensive. But some higher-ups noticed how useful it was to instruct “the common people” how much worse it could be. This made many folks more docile and controllable, as they would then say “could be worse, let’s not change anything”. Used to take decades of “It’s A Wonderful Life” re-runs to create such levels of sad resignation. With Alternate-Causality Therapy, you’re talked out of making a difference in fifteen minutes flat.
Quite the deal, actually.
In 2032, Congress passed the Alternate-Causality Therapy Access, Control and Technologies Act or the A.C.T. A.C.T. Act, granting every American a free viewing of a parallel life. Guided by an approved councilor, sharing worlds that reinforced grateful timidity, it worked wonders tamping down rebellion. I was an exception, not because I’m particularly idealistic, rather by that point in middle-age, they couldn’t find a version of me, other than ones nearly exactly like me, still alive.
Turns out, in every other set of timelines, I’d died decades ago doing something idiotic trying to impress a woman, probably an intellectually-intense artist. There were no parallel selves to show me how good I had it. After six hours of trying, it exploded. The cops told me to not leave town. I’d accidentally destroyed a billion-dollar piece of government tech, they’re just trying to figure out the charges. I mean, I’m old now. If I die in prison some unintentional hero, it isn’t the worst thing. Don’t have to pay for your health insurance in jail. Hell, I might even end up living longer.
Quite the deal, actually.