Status: One shot/Complete
Length: 6 pages, 2,175 words
Genre: Speculative/AU, original fictions
Notes: I’d seen this screen grab from TiMER floating around Tumblr for a while and I thought it was an interesting idea, but nothing more. Until it was reblogged here with a fic attached. And while I liked the fic, the whole concept started to not sit well with me. So then this happened.
Additional Notes: I was listening to a lot of Michael Reed’s music while writing this, hence the title. But that’s mostly the only influence on this. If you’re interested, his scratch take of Century can be found here.
He sought her out every night. Searched for her among the dreams of those who slept and among the thoughts of those awake. But he never found her. Or if he did, he didn’t know it was her. He wasn’t even certain it was a woman he sought when he sent his soul out.
His soul mate.
She was out there. Or he. They were out there. He knew that much for certain. The timer on his wrist was still ticking, still tracking time. Counting down the moments until he would finally meet her.
But Mark was not a patient man. He was already in his thirties and still his timer read at least seven years before he would find her.
(He sincerely hoped his soul mate was female.)
Because he was impatient, Mark sent out his soul in search. A practice known as Astral Projection. It was not uncommon. Many impatient young people tried to cheat their timers this way.
One morning, in the middle of October, when the weather finally turned, he looked at his timer, expecting it to still say seven years, three months, and however many odd days, hours, and minutes.
But it didn’t.
He tapped on it to make it move again. But there was no response. It was frozen. Stagnant.
And the numbers…
Instead of the typical black, they were red.
Red, stagnant numbers.
Caught on seven years, two months, thirteen days, nine hours, twenty-eight minutes.
He had never seen anything like it.
Yes, it concerned him. But he was male. And society still dictated gender roles and behavior restrictions. So he said nothing. To anyone. He kept it secret, hidden, and wondered what had happened.
He hoped she was all right.
His timer began to move again in December during the first snow. But it was slower, taking days to count minutes. The numbers were still red, but he was relieved they were moving.
He hadn’t Projected since his timer stopped, but now it was counting down, he sent his soul out, hoping to find, if not her, answers at the very least. He wandered through his city, watching people, listening in on their conversations. Nothing really caught his attention.
Except one comment: “Did you hear Anjali’s in a coma again?”
Anjali was one of the Ancients, a collection of immortal beings that walked the Earth. They were older than any written history, they said. And of all of them, Anjali was the only one who was ever ill. Every time she was ill, and it was once a generation or so, she would fall into a coma. There was never any explanation.
Mark knew Anjali was currently living in his city, so he went to the hospital in hopes to meet one of the strange Ancients, even if he couldn’t interact with her.
She was lovely. Indian, maybe, he wasn’t very good at identifying ethnicities. But he did know she was very pretty.
He just stood there, looking at her still form until someone entered the hospital room. It was Bran, another Ancient. He looked directly at Mark, seeing him. He shouldn’t have been able to do that. “Who are you?” Bran asked.
Before Mark’s answer could push itself from his throat, Anjali appeared beside Bran. Mark had to glance at the bed to confirm she was still there. She was. The Anjali standing before him was an Astral Projection.
With a flick of her eyes, Mark lifted off his feet and slammed against the far wall behind him. “Come to stare at the Ancients,” she said coldly, sending him to a different wall. The impact set stars into his vision. “My misery is not your entertainment.”
“Anjali,” Bran said quietly. “Look at his timer. His mate is in a coma.”
She sent Mark to a third wall, spread his limbs with a twitch of her fingers, and exposed his timer. Then she dropped him. “Get out, you idiot,” she muttered, disappearing.
In the morning, Mark woke with a splitting headache. He didn’t know if he had dreamed it or if his soul had actually been tossed about like a rag doll by an Ancient. It sure felt like it was real.
He glanced at his timer. Then he stared at it.
0 years, 0 months, 0 days, 0 hours, 47 minutes
He leaped out of bed and quickly showered and dressed. His timer read thirty minutes. Where in the world could he be in half an hour?
The hospital, maybe.
His timer burned at that thought. His soul mate was at the hospital? Bran had mentioned she (he?) was in a coma, so… Okay. He wasn’t going to argue.
At the hospital, Mark used his timer as a map. Every time he turned and the time increased, he doubled back. Until he was standing outside Anjali’s closed door.
It couldn’t be Anjali, could it?
But each step in any direction away from the door increased the time on his timer. So he steeled himself and knocked on the door. When it opened, Mark was struck by how much taller Bran was than he. “Can I help you?” the British Ancient (that one was clear; Bran had a distinct accent) asked.
“Oh, you’re the lad from last night,” Bran said, recognizing him. “I trust my Sister didn’t hurt you too much.”
“N-no,” Mark said. “May I see her?”
“She hasn’t woken yet.”
“That’s all right.”
Bran looked at the funny little creature that called himself ‘man’ for a moment. Then he nodded and stood aside to allow him into the room. Anjali slept as peacefully as someone who had not, in fact, nearly killed someone the night before. “What happened to her?” Mark asked.
“What always happens to her,” Bran said, his tone dark. He saw the confusion on Mark’s face and clarified for him. “She removed her timer.”
“You can do that?” Mark looked at his own timer. It was a part of him, fused to his flesh, grown from his bones.
Bran snorted. “You can. But that doesn’t mean you should. There are consequences,” he said. “For Anjali, she’s put in a coma until she grows a new one.”
“Why does she take it out?”
“She’s angry.” Bran’s eyes narrowed. “Anjali, that’s not very polite.” Apparently, she was Projecting and only Bran could see or interact with her. Perk of being Ancient, Mark mused. “Well, that’s hardly his fault, is it? Now, stop bring stubborn and wake up.”
And she did. Her eyes snapped open and she groaned quietly. “They hate me, don’t they?” she asked Bran.
“They just are always less than the one before.”
“Always more disappointing.”
“I’m tired of it, Bran.”
Mark heard someone whisper to him, a nudge, encouragement. So, he listened and gently took Anjali’s hand. “I’m sorry,” he told her, not knowing why he was apologizing.
She grabbed his wrist and examined his timer. The numbers were all zeros and they were gray. Rolling her eyes, she dropped his wrist, pulled herself up to a sitting position, and began ripping off the monitoring devices, throwing them aside angrily. “The Universes hate me, don’t they?” she asked Bran, glancing at him.
“You know I have no answer to that.”
“I’m sorry,” Mark said, interrupting before the Ancients forgot about him completely. “What’s going on?”
Anjali glanced at him as she got out of the bed. She shook her hair out and her attire changed from the hospital gown to street clothes. “Congratulations,” she said dryly. “You’ve found your soul mate.”
He nearly choked on his tongue. “You’re kidding,” he said.
“The timer does not lie, kid.”
“Anjali, don’t be cruel.”
“Why not?” she asked, turning to Bran. “The Universe is cruel to me. Why can I not be cruel to what the Universes prize more than me?”
Bran crossed to her, took her hands in his, and leaned his forehead against hers. He spoke softly, but Mark could still hear him, “Because it isn’t his fault. Your quarrel is with the Parents, not the Child.”
For the first time, Mark saw something resembling an emotion in her face. She looked… Sad? Frustrated, maybe. “It isn’t fair,” she muttered.
“I know,” Bran agreed, stepping away from her. “Now. Fulfill him.”
She nodded, then crossed the room to Mark. He took a step away from her. “Listen, if you’re not comfortable with this,” he said, trying to not impose society’s expectations on an Ancient. It just felt wrong to do something like that to her, especially after seeing her with Bran. There was more to this whole timer business than Mark really understood, and he didn’t want it to disrupt two very long, settled lives.
All he had wanted was to meet her. That’s all.
“Nonsense,” she said, reaching a hand up to touch his forehead. “I have no intention of spending the rest of your life with you. I’m sorry if that’s what you were hoping for from your soul mate. But I can give you a lifetime of emotional fulfillment.” Her fingers were light on his skin, gentle, warm. He could feel a strange, pulsating energy shift from her into him. It made him feel warm and loved and genuinely happy.
“Why do you do this?”
She took her hand back, looking over his expression. “Because this soul mate timer idea is ridiculous,” she said. “The soul mates aren’t true. They’re random pairings pulled out of a hat by the Universes. They don’t really care about the happiness of their Children, least of all the ones who will never die. Every generation, my timer resets and I am meant to meet another Child and be their soul mate. They aren’t mine. They are the Universes’ Children that have no mortal match. It’s a waste of my time and energy to spend a lifetime with them. I have many responsibilities as an Ancient and I cannot fulfill them if I’m tethered to a mortal.”
She rubbed her temples. “Don’t feel bad about it,” she told Mark. “I glimpsed into your future and even if I do remain with you, you would not wish to die in my arms.” She walked to where Bran was holding her coat out for her. She sighed. “They never do.” Then, coat in hand, she was gone.
Mark blinked. “Where’d she go?” he asked.
“She’s hiding,” Bran told him. “This is usual for her.” He pulled on his own coat.
“Why is she so angry?”
“She knows who her true mate is. She’s loved him for millennia,” Bran said, adjusting his collar. “But because of the timers, she cannot be with him. And she thinks the timers remove one of the basic rights of human beings that is enjoyed on other human planets.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Other human planets don’t have timers or Ancients,” Bran explained. “They have the opportunity to try relationships with whoever they please, whoever will take them. They can have many mediocre relationships or one intensely perfect one. They don’t feel pressured to find their soul mate by their own biology. They are allowed to choose for themselves who their mate is. You don’t have that on this planet.”
“Can’t you leave?”
Bran smiled bitterly. “We’ve tried,” he admitted. “The Universes put us back. It was nice to meet you, Mark, but I need to find her before her new timer appears.” Bran shook Mark’s hand, then disappeared.
Mark never saw Anjali or Bran after that. There was a rumor they had moved to England, but nothing confirmed that rumor. As long as they were happy, Mark didn’t care where they were.
Since meeting them, he was beginning to understand why the timer was wrong. But how could one rebel against a piece of their own anatomy? Sure, he could have it removed, but that action always sent Anjali into a coma.
Instead, he began to encourage people to ignore their timers. They didn’t always listen. But those who were disappointed with waiting or with their soul mates did. The Ancients helped his cause, speaking publicly against them in press conferences. Anjali and Bran more than the others.
Slowly, the timers were begun to be thought of as merely suggestions.
As for Mark, he did die alone. But he had been emotionally fulfilled by Anjali and his death was not sad. He was happy and he had started a revolution that he hoped was a thorn in the Universes’ sides. Because he felt they deserved that much for removing his planet’s free will.