"AND SO I have lived, from that day to this," Bantam concluded.
Sabine sat stunned and silent. "But didn't you ever try to change anything?"
"No," Bantam said quietly and seriously. "If you'd been responsible for billions of unpeople, if you'd erased living souls from history, even accidentally ... you would be very cautious about anything you did after that. No. Until today, that is. Only after today am I free to intervene in the history of the world once again."
"But you were stuck in 1944 ... what did you do?"
"Well the years yawned on ahead of me -- years without Rachelle, which sent me into a tailspin of depression for which there was really only one cure: I joined the Army. For the second time, of course.
"When I suddenly appeared at MacLaren in our own 1944, everything was familiar to me. I knew all the buildings. I knew where the new recruit barracks were. So I slipped in with them and pretended I'd only just arrived on the latest bus. During the chaos of the war, there were always new faces on base, and no one really questioned missing paperwork or the like -- men were needed, soldiers, and that was what mattered."
"So you fought in World War II?"
Bantam nodded. "I saw a year of action in the Pacific theater. Then I came home to MacLaren and served out the rest of my time. After that, I drifted around the country, doing odd jobs. But then, starting in the 70's, I used my knowledge of the future to play the stock market. I became wealthy and didn't have to work after that. I spent
"You never got married?" Sabine asked.
"No," Bantam smiled.
"I met a man in Rome once. His name was Mimmo. A charming man, a sweet man. He ran a restaurant called Taverna Flavia -- it was all the rage in the 60's and 70's. Anyway, he was in love with Elizabeth Taylor. He had whole rooms -- shrines, really -- filled floor to ceiling with pictures and things she had once owned. He never stood a chance with her, of course, and he knew it. But he didn't care. He loved her. And he never married or looked at another woman again. As he explained this to me, I knew exactly how he felt. We toasted to this. Your grandmother was that for me."
"What happened to all the girls, girls and more girls?" Sabine said with a sly smile.
"Ah," Bantam said. "They all paled after Rachelle Archenstone. I couldn't go back to that again."
"So, did you ever ... you know, like ... run into yourself? Or see yourself as a kid or something?"
"I confess, only once," Bantam said. "I have no memory of seeing myself as an old man or speaking to myself, so never when I was older. But I did sit in the parking lot of the hospital on the day of my birth. I saw my mother -- pregnant with me! -- and my father as they pulled up and walked inside. And then I left: anything more was too risky in my view."
"That had to have been weird."
"It was. And kind of cool at the same time."
"You really are my age," Sabine said, looking at him as if for the first time. "It's like you're just wearing old-man makeup. What's it feel like? To be old?"
"Put on a heavy jacket and oversized shoes. It feels like that all the time. Except for today. Today, I feel reborn."
Sabine seemed lost in thought for a moment. Then she asked, "One thing doesn't make sense though. If my great-grandmother was like, erased or whatever ... then how come I'm here? Wouldn't my mother and me be erased as well?"
YOU ARE READING
Age of AetherScience Fiction
Age of Aether -- A Steampunk Adventure-Romance Novella. When Capt. Ben Bantam is tapped to go back in time in order to retrieve a cure for the vicious Shadow plague, he is shocked to arrive in an alternate 1944 where electricity doesn't exist. Inst...