First published in Planet of the Nerds #2 by Ahoy Comics | May 2019
The queue was long and it was just past dawn. He’d done his research. He knew if he wasn’t early he’d never get to see her, so here he was, waiting. He drank strong coffee he’d brought from home and kept his eyes on the pavement as they shuffled forward, step by step.
“Why are you here?” The woman behind him smiled as she spoke. He could tell it wasn’t her first time. An ease about her.
“I don’t know,” he said, lying.
“It’ll come to you when you see her. It always does.” Her smile widened. “It’s her eyes.”
There was a strict five-minute limit on all visitations, so the queue lurched forward like clockwork. He was getting close now. It’d taken his savings to get here, and most of his annual leave, but soon he’d seen those eyes for himself.
Again, the line moved forward. He was now standing beside one of the stalls, this one selling silver jewelry in circular patterns. Others sold backpacks, sneakers, jeans, all prompted by her. One of the stalls had PARADOX scrawled across it. They must’ve been sick of the question: did she inspire fashion, or did fashion inspire her?
“Almost there!” said the woman behind him. “So, what do you do?”
“Computers,” he said. “Facial recognition.” It dawned on him he was meant to ask her the same.
“Marketing,” she told him. “Always looking for the next big thing…” Then, in a stage whisper, “I tell her my secrets.”
“Yeah. I tell her everything. I don’t know. It helps.”
He was next. He could reach out and touch the translucent walls they’d erected around her. Inside, a blurred man waved a hand in front of her face. It seemed disrespectful. He’d already decided to treat her as though she could still hear, still think. No one knew otherwise.
A security guard waved him forward, and the woman behind nudged him. “Good luck,” she said. He glanced back and catalogued her smile. It was an occupational hazard: slicing faces into their component parts.
He let out a long breath and, finally, met the time-traveller.
It was strange to see her like this. He already knew everything about her – her pose, her outfit, the strange circuitry strapped to her chest. She was the most famous woman on earth, but the security outside wasn’t for her. Nothing could hurt her. She was solid, frozen in time. Unbreathing, unblinking. Nothing could even scrape a sample from her skin.
Five minutes, he reminded himself. Less now. “It’s not fair,” he said, keeping his voice down. He didn’t want anyone to hear but her. “It’s not fair that you had to be the first. The one who proved it wasn’t possible.” She had a strand of hair across her face, and he wanted to push it back behind her ear.
“Listen,” he said. “At some point, you’ll be born. Maybe you’re already out there, today. Your face as a child will slowly turn into your adult face. This face. And you’ll realise that you’re the one who’s going to go back. To be…” He struggled for the words. “A tourist attraction.”
He placed his hand on her cheek and it felt like marble. The woman outside was right: there was something about her eyes. Songs had been written about them, and peer-reviewed papers. In person, locked forward, they pinned you to the ground.
“But I can find you. Your eyes, your mouth. It’s what I do.” He allowed himself a smile. “Even if you’re not born in my lifetime, my software will keep on looking. I knew it from the first time I saw your photograph, years ago… I’ll stop you coming back. I don’t care if it’s a paradox.”
A gruff knock told him his time was up. “I’m going to save you,” he said, and then he left her. He’d made his promise, and now he had to keep it.
As he walked away, he heard the smiling woman greet the time-traveller like an old friend.