8,000 words, sci-fi
Katrina jumped up from the couch to answer the door as soon as the bell rang. Her food was almost half an hour late — again. She was expecting the delivery guy from Bombay Heights with her order of chicken tiki masala, so she was confused when, instead of a skinny Indian man wearing an oversized motorcycle helmet holding a bag of take-out, there was a tall white guy wearing a camel-hair jacket over an expensive black suit. He was impeccably clean-shaven, with a strong jawline and pronounced cheekbones, his hair parted so neatly that it looked as if he had come directly from the barbers. “Since when did the Jehovah’s Witnesses come around at night?” was what she thought, but what she said was, “Can I help you?”
The man’s finger still hovered over the bell, but as soon as he saw Katrina his lips moved into a slight, professional smile.
“Katrina? Katrina Freeman?” It seemed more of a statement than a question.
Instead of answering, the man reached inside of his coat pulled out a manila envelope and held it toward her.
“My name is Jonathan Gotlieb. He/his. I’m here to serve you the official notice that your legal appeal in the case of Freeman versus Freeman has been denied.” She stared at the envelope, then back at him. His smile faltered slightly, then he smacked himself on his forehead with his free hand. “Aw, man! I did it again. I’m supposed to give you the envelope before I tell you what it is. Sorry, I’m still pretty new at this. It’s my first internship.” With a bit of effort, he plastered his smile back in place. “Still, I suggest you take it. If you don’t take it, I’ll just have to send it via certified chrono-mail, and the result will be the same regardless.” He thrust the envelope towards her, then cocked his head to the side. “Hold up. Have we met before?”
Katrina folded her arms across her chest, highly self-conscious of the fact she was talking to a strange man while dressed in flannel Wonder-Woman pajamas. “What the hell are you talking about, my appeal? I’m not in a lawsuit.”
The man’s smile flickered, then transformed into a frown. “You don’t know about the lawsuit?”
“No, I don’t know about any lawsuit!” Her stomach flip-flopped and her heart sped up slightly. “Is this a scam, some door-to-door con?” She wished her girlfriend, Rashida was here. Rashida was never phased by weird things like this. A small part of Katrina wondered if someone could actually be suing her and she not know about it, but that seemed impossible. Who the hell would be suing her? Whether it was a con or not, she really wished she wasn’t wearing adult PJ’s and t-rex socks when dealing with a strange white guy at her door; it made it hard to project the “I’m not someone you can fuck with” attitude she was hoping came across in her glare.
“You are Katrina Freeman, aged 24, of 157 Madison Street, correct?” He glanced down at the name and address on the envelope.
“Yes, but …”
“And this is the September 19th, 2021, correct?”
“What? 2021? No! Are you high?” Drugs would explain it, but the dude on the steps really didn’t look like a tweaker. Not that preppy white boys didn’t do their share of drugs, of course (if nothing else, that was one thing she’d as a Liberal Arts undergrad) but in her experience the white guys who did do drugs didn’t then put on business suits and wander around Bed-Stuy trying to serve legal papers to random black women at night. Suddenly she was very conscious of the fact that she was home alone, and Rashida wouldn’t be back from her shift at the bar for hours. She started to ease the door shut.
“Listen, dude, I don’t know what the fuck your deal is, but you need to leave now.”
“Wait, I’m sorry!” His calm, legal veneer was gone, and he stuck his foot in the door to keep it from closing completely. “What year is it?”
Katrina rolled her eyes and pushed the door hard against his shiny black loafer. “It’s 2019, asshole. Now if you don’t leave right the fuck now I’m calling the cops.”
He pulled his foot back, and before he could stutter out an apology, she slammed the door and the latched the deadbolt. She knelt on the couch and pulled up one of the vinyl slats of her blinds to make sure he actually left. For a moment the man stood on the top of her stoop, muttering under his breath, then he reached up and tapped his left temple. “Someone at dispatched screwed up the Freeman case. Yeah, yeah, I know.” He continued to talk to himself as he took the steps on her stoop two at a time, then strode off down the block. She didn’t see a Bluetooth earpiece, so definitely on drugs. Or mentally ill. That thought caused her a momentary pang of guilt, but she was home alone and wasn’t taking any chances with a strange man who talked to himself. If he needed help someone else would have to take care of it. She watched until he turned the corner into Bedford Ave. Just as he did, a moped pulled up outside on the sidewalk with her Indian take out. Late as usual — so just on time.
When the alarm on her phone went off the next morning, Katrina woke up to discover Rashida fast asleep in bed next to her. Katria hit the snooze button on the alarm and buried her nose in her girlfriend’s hair. Rashida had just done her braids the day before, and her long tresses were thick with the scent of shea butter and this new vanilla-bean conditioner Rashida had recently started using that smelled like you could eat it with a spoon. Katrina snuggled up to her and ran one finger along Rashida’s dark brown side until it teased the edge of her bra.
“Ungh. Lemme sleep.” Rashida’s muffled voice came from somewhere buried deep under her silk pillow. Katrina draped her arm over her barely conscious girlfriend and let her hand rest on top of her breast. She burrowed her face deeper into the voluminous tangle of Rashida’s braids.
“Babe, I gotta tell you about this weird-ass white dude that stopped by last night.”
“What you gotta do is let me sleep.” Rashida twisted her shoulders so that Katrina’s hand slipped off her breast, then pulled the covers up over her body like a soft wall between them. “Regie didn’t show last night, so I got stuck with a double shift and had to close. Fucking hipster motherfuckers dunno what the words ‘last call’ even means. I didn’t even lock up until three in the goddamn morning.”
Katrina felt her jaw tighten slightly as she drew back her hand. Since Rashida had been working the closing shift lately, she did need sleep, but Katrina couldn’t help but resent the fact that they barely spent time together these days. When she was home, Rashida was so tired that all she wanted to do was sleep or stare at her phone. A part of her knew her girlfriend loved her, but every time she tried to touch Rashida and she pulled away, Katrina couldn’t help but take it personally. Rashida fumbled one hand out from under the duvet and patted lazily at Katrina’s leg in a half-conscious attempt at reconciliation.
“Sorry, sweetie. I’m just so tired. You can tell me all about the crazy white boy later. Promise.”
“Okay,” she said. Rashida was too out of it to hear how leaden her voice was. The alarm on her phone went off again, and Katrina silenced it immediately before it could wake up Rashida more than it already had. She leaned over to kiss her girlfriend on the neck and felt the other woman’s body move slightly in response.
“I love you, Shida,” she whispered against her skin. But Rashida was already out, the duvet rising and falling slowly as she slept.
Katrina was half-dressed and smearing cocoa butter on her legs when her phone vibrated. It was a text from Jessica, from her Figure Drawing class at Pratt.
U wanna grab coffee b 4 class?
Her stomach did a little flip-flop, and she glanced guiltily through the open bathroom door to the pile of covers that was her sleeping girlfriend. Not that she had a thing going with Jessica — nothing that she had any reason to feel guilty about — but she did have a bit of a crush on her classmate. Jessica was everything that Rashida wasn’t: brash, outgoing, tattooed. Jessica had piercings in about everywhere it was possible to attach a piece of jewelry, and always stepped outside of their three-hour drawing sessions to smoke a cigarette. Jessica changed her hair color almost weekly and used the word “pussy” casually in conversation.
In other words, Jessica was exactly the sort of “bad girl” that Katrina had always let herself pine over from a distance, but would never in a thousand years try to hook up with. That didn’t change the fact that every time she saw Jessica her palms got sweaty and she had a hard time stringing together a coherent sentence.
Whenever they met for coffee before or after class, Katrina wondered if she was doing something wrong, but she also knew she’d never actually cross that line of low-level flirting over lattes. She was way too shy, and besides, she loved Rashida. She’d never do that to her girlfriend. Rashida was the best thing that had ever happened to her.
She wiped the excess lotion on her thighs, then tapped out a quick response.
Ok. 11:30 at the bean?
Her screen showed the repeating ellipses of Jessica responding. As she slid on the second-hand jeans and stained flannel shirt that made up her art-class uniform, she kept one eye on the phone, waiting for the message to finish.
Her phone buzzed.
Sure thing. See u there. And a winking emoji. A slight smile tugged at the edges of Katrina’s lips as she put on her eyeliner, then pulled her twists back into a loose ponytail and secured it with a scrunchie. Nothing to feel guilty about; Rashida was busy and distant these days, and it wouldn’t hurt if she found someone to flirt with just a little in the meantime. The fact that she decided at the last minute to wear perfume and freshen her lip-gloss didn’t mean anything. Of course not.
When she finally made it outside, it was a beautiful Spring day, the sort of weather that balanced perfectly on the edge between cool and warm, the first buds on the magnolia trees peeping out as the early April leaves rustled in a soft breeze. One of those picture-perfect, Brooklyn-in-Spring days, when even the cracked sidewalk and discarded coffee cups in the gutter seemed to glow with the promise of new growth and a boundless future. As Katrina stood at the bus stop waiting for the B52, she queued up a playlist of Nina Simone as a soundtrack for her commute. She was so busy humming along to the High Priestess of Soul and staring at the perfectly feathered clouds that she jumped when she felt a tap on her shoulder.
“Oh, shit! I’m sorry …” she started, then caught her breath as she realized she was staring at the white guy who had rung her doorbell the night before.
“Katrina? Katrina Freeman?” He was wearing the same camel hair jacket over the same black suit as he had when she’d seen him on her stoop last evening, and his thin lips were drawn in the same obsequious smile.
“Dude, what the fuck!” she stepped back, bumping up against the glass wall of the bus stop.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to startle you, Miss Freeman. My name is Jonathan Gottlieb. He/his. I’m here to serve you the official notice that …”
“I know who you are, asshole.” An older black woman and a twenty-something Asian man dressed like a bicycle courier, both also waiting for the bus, looked up from their phones at the sound of her raised voice. “I don’t know why the hell you are bothering me, but …”
He cut her off, “You are Katrina Freeman, aged 24 in 2019, of 157 Madison Street, yes?”
“My age and date aren’t the issue, dude. Why are you harassing me?”
A pained look flashed across his face. Looking at him now, she realized he looked young, younger than her, probably just out of college. In the clear light of day, it was also obvious that his suit, while expensive, barely fit him, as if he’d bought it the day before and was in too much of a rush to make sure it was the right size. It also seemed to be made of some bizarre, almost metallic fabric.
“Miss Freeman, I can see why this would seem like harassment, but as a legal intern retained at Fitzgerald & Cruz, it’s my job to deliver this …” Just like the night before, he pulled out a manila envelope from inside his coat. He noticed her glare at the envelope, and his face fell. “Ah, man! I’m supposed to have you take the envelope before I tell you what it is. Crap. Sorry, I’m pretty new at this.” He looked sheepish and blushed slightly. “You might as well take it since it doesn’t matter whether you do or not. It’s a notice of …”
“Yeah, yeah, I know. That I’ve lost some sort of appeal in some lawsuit I’ve never heard of.”
Jonathan frowned. “Appeal? No. This is the initial notice that you are being sued in Temporal Court.”
“Temporal Court?” The two other bus-riders had gone back to their phones, though the old lady kept peering over the screen at Jonathan suspiciously. Katrina didn’t want to keep a conversation with a creepy stranger going longer than necessary, but she was also determined to make sense of this bizarre interaction. “I’ve never even heard of Temporal Court. And last night, you distinctly said something about my losing an appeal.”
“Wait — last night? I didn’t see you …” Jonathan’s eyes widened. “Oh. Oh crap.” The blush from his cheeks spread, and he ran his fingers through his pale brown hair. “Crap, crap, crap. Someone at dispatched must have screwed up big time. Or, rather, they will screw up big-time. Or …” He trailed off, tapping the envelope against his leg nervously, then began pacing back in forth. “Janice, someone at dispatch screwed up the Freeman summons. Or rather the appeal. Wait? What was that?” He cocked his head to one side, his blue eyes staring through Katrina as he listened to a voice that wasn’t there. Katrina stared at him warily — no, definitely no Bluetooth earpiece. He seemed harmless enough, more of a lost prep-school kid than an actual threat, but she didn’t want to take any chances. She started to edge away from the bus-stop. She could walk to Pratt in 20 minutes, and the weather was nice …
“Please, just take the envelope. I could lose my internship.” Jonathan thrust the envelope at her, and the look in his eyes was so panicked and pathetic that she reached out and took it without even thinking. The second her fingers closed on the envelope he let go, and the relief on his face was so stark that she felt embarrassed for him. “Thanks. I’ve got to check back in at the office, see if they can clear this up. The summons should explain everything, and if you have any questions, there’s a number to call.” With that, he turned and walked quickly down the sidewalk, muttering to himself again.
Thirty minutes later, Katrina sat at a table in the corner of The Bean Cafe, a cup of coffee and the manila envelope sitting in front of her, soft, generic jazz playing in the background. She had originally planned to stop into Open Studio time to get in some drawing before meeting Jessica at 11:30, but she’d been too frazzled from her bizarre run-in with Jonathan to focus on art. After he’d left, she decided to walk off her nervous energy, but during the entire half-hour walk to campus, she kept thinking of the envelope in her backpack. So here she was, thirty minutes before her date … friend date, not date date, of course. She took a tentative sip at her coffee and stared at the envelope.
It was a plain, legal-sized manila envelope. Her name and address were clearly visible through a little plastic window on the front, with a return address sticker reading “Fitzgerald & Cruz, Attorney At Law: 550 Fulton Street, Brooklyn, New York 11217.” She turned it over. On the obverse of the envelope the firm’s name was printed again, this time next to an icon of a set of scales superimposed over a clock, under which were the words “Specializing in Temporal Torts: Holding the Past Accountable to the Present Future.” Weird, but everything about this was weird. A twist had worked its way free from the rest of her hair, and she tucked it back into place under the scrunchie. She hesitated, then slit the envelope open with one fingernail and pulled out the contents.
There were two sheets of paper. The one on top looked like a business letter, with letterhead matching the name and logo from the envelope.
April 15th, 2035
Katrina Freeman c. 2019
157 Madison St.
Brooklyn, NY 11232
Temporal Court of Brooklyn, New York
Katrina Freeman, aged 41, Plaintiff vs. Katrina Freeman, aged 24, Defendant
Summons, Case No. 52345-1923Dear Ms. Freeman:
A lawsuit has been commenced against you in the above titled Court by the Plaintiff. Plaintiff’s case is stated in the Complaint served with this Summons. In order to defend against this lawsuit, you must respond to the Complaint by filing your Answer stating your Defense in writing and serving a copy to the Plaintiff’s undersigned attorney within 20 days of service of this Summons, excluding the day of service. If you have been served outside of the Decade in which this Complaint is Lodged, you have 40 days to send your Answer back to the appropriate Decade via courier, certified chrono-mail or similar method.
Dated this 15th day of April, 2035
Matthew Peabody, Esq
Fitzgerald & Cruz, Attorneys at Law
“This has to be a joke,” she muttered as she read the letter. One of her friends, a classmate maybe? As a grad-student at an art school she did know a bunch of creative types with way too much time on their hands, so maybe one of them? Jacob, in Oil Painting, was into improv and weird live-action role-playing shit. She flipped to the second page.
April 15th, 2035
Katrina Freeman c. 2019
157 Madison St.
Brooklyn, NY 11232
Temporal Court of Brooklyn, New York
Katrina Freeman, aged 41, Plaintiff vs. Katrina Freeman, aged 24, Defendant
Complaint, Case No. 52345-1923
Plaintiff Katrina Freeman, aged 41, brings forth the following cause of action against her earlier self, Katrina Freeman, aged 24, and alleges that:
- On or about May 4th, 2019, the Defendant did get drunk at a party and then leave said party with one Jessica Melendez.
- On or about May 5th, 2019, Defendant did return with Ms. Melendez to Ms. Melendez’s apartment and engage in sexual intercourse.
- That, following this initial sexual contact, that Defendant did proceed to enter into an illicit relationship with Ms. Melendez, and that over the next two years Defendant and Ms. Melendez did exchange numerous texts of a sexual nature, and did meet on multiple occasions to engage in further acts of a sexual nature, both at Ms. Melendez’s residence, and at the Defendants, even in the Very Bed she and the Defendant’s girlfriend had picked out at Ikea together, which was Particularly Low.
- On or about April 31st, 2021, the Defendant’s girlfriend at the time, Rashida Robinson, did discover the existence of the above-aforementioned texts between the Defendant and Ms. Melendez.
- On or about May 1st, 2021, Ms. Robinson confronted the Defendant about said texts and the existence of her two year relationship with Ms. Melendez, and that, following a verbal altercation that lasted for hours, Ms. Robinson did end her Relationship with the Defendant, calling the Defendant a Slut and a Cheating Whore, both of which were Somewhat True, thus ending the Best Thing that Had Ever Happened to the Plaintiff.
- That, following the break-up with Ms. Robinson, the Defendant did make a series of Terrible Life Choices, including moving in with Ms. Melendez, who then cheated on her multiple times, which really Served Her Right; dropping out of art-school, thus effectively ending Plaintiff’s Dream of Becoming an Artist; and moving back to New Jersey to live in her parent’s house, like a Complete Loser.
WHEREFORE, Plaintiff seeks compensatory damages from the Defendant in the amount of $100,000, to cover the cost of her getting The Hell Out of her Parent’s House and Going Back to School to Finally Finish her Degree, together with attorney fees and court costs.
Dated this 15th day of April, 2035
Matthew Peabody, Esq
Fitzgerald & Cruz, Attorneys at Law
“Hey cute-thing, this seat taken?” She looked up from the letter to see a flash of bright blue hair as Jessica slid into the seat across from her. Katrina looked down at the letter in her hand, her head swimming, the taste of bile rising in her throat.
“Is this your sick idea of a joke?” She waved the letters at Jessica. “Because if it is, it isn’t fucking funny, Jess.”
Jessica’s brow furrowed, the line of silver hoop piercings over each eye catching the light as she frowned. “Joke? Trina, I don’t know what …”
“Don’t call me that! No one but my girlfriend calls me Trina!”
“Hey, you just called me Jess!” Jessica retorted, her smirk caught as if she was trying to figure out whether Katrina was actually mad or not. She cocked her head to one side, her neon blue hair veiling half her face but not hiding the real concern and confusion in her wide, brown eyes. “Seriously though Katrina, you good? Everything okay? ‘Cause you aren’t normally a raging bitch monster.”
Katrina stared at the name “Jessica Melendez” on the sheet of paper in her hand, then back at the woman sitting across from her. Jessica’s lips, which today were painted black, were pursed as she watched Katrina.
“I’m … I’m sorry Jessica. I’m having a really weird morning. I just need … I can’t be here right now. Sorry.” She stuffed the papers in her bag, swung the backpack over her shoulder, and stumbled past Jessica out of the coffee shop.
Back outside, she took a few of deep breaths, then started walking blindly down the sidewalk without a destination in mind. Someone was clearly messing with her, but who? Jessica? She didn’t seem the type to do something this creepy. Could Rashida have sensed something and gotten jealous? But she hadn’t done anything, anything at all. Besides, Shida wasn’t the overly jealous type, and certainly not the type to pull some weird, elaborate stunt like this. As she walked across the wide, grassy field that ran the length of campus, she pulled out her phone and dialed Rashida.
“Yo, this is Rashida. Leave a message or don’t, all the same to me. I’ll try to …”
She hung up before the message ended. Rashida never listened to her voice mail. She slumped onto a bench at the edge of the field under a towering oak tree and tapped out a text.
Morning bae Rly want 2 hear ur voice. Call me when you can. Luv u.
One of her twists had broken free again, and she absentmindedly started twining it around her index finger. The breeze, which had seemed so warm and comforting when she’d stepped out the door this morning, now felt cold on her neck. Last night had been weird. Her run in with Jonathan at the bus stop had been weirder. The letters though, suggesting a future affair with Jessica, Jessica whom she’d just been thinking about that morning and on her way to meet, were beyond weird, they were scary. What creepy weirdo would not only know that she had a crush on Jessica but be a big enough of an asshole to think this sort of thing was funny?
She pulled out the envelope again, to see if there was some clue that she had missed, something to help her figure out who was behind it, when a small sheet of paper slid out and fluttered to the ground. She leaned over and picked it up. The insert was printed on glossy paper stock and about the the size of a postcard. In the upper left hand corner was the seal of the City of New York, and in a bold san-serif font the heading declared: You have rights!
Beneath those words, it continues in smaller type.
According to New York State Law, all defendants have legal rights when subject to a Temporal Tort suit. As your knowledge of these rights may vary depending on what era you receive notice of a lawsuit, Municipal Code 27B-6 guarantees all defendants in such cases access to legal counsel, provided free of charge by the City of New York’s Citizen Space-Time Advocate’s office. If you wish to avail yourself of this service or have any questions regarding your legal case or the CSTA, please call 01-99-212-877-9999.
Katrina’s phone vibrated in her pocket, and she pulled it out, hoping for a text from Rashida.
If you need 2 talk, I’m around. C u in class?
She swiped “dismiss” on Jessica’s message. Jessica deserved a response after the way she’d stormed out on her — assuming she wasn’t involved in this nonsense — but she’d deal with it later. Right now she was going to call the number on the paper. She doubted the number was even real, but if it did work maybe it would help her figure out who was behind this. At the very least, if someone answered she could give them a piece of her mind.
The initial numbers confused her, but she keyed them in anyway, and was a bit surprised when, even with the extra four digits, her phone started dialing. After two rings, an automated system picked up.
“Thank you for calling the Citizen Space-Time Advocate’s Temporal Tort Hotline. Para Español pulse uno. For English, press two. Duìyú pǔtōnghuà xīnwén san.”
She pressed two. “If you are a defendant and have questions about a summons you have received to Temporal Court, please press one. If you are a representative of a legal services provider please …” She pressed one.
If this was a prank, it was the most elaborate one she’d ever heard of. “We at the CSTA understand that receiving a summons can be a distressing experience, and we are here to help. We know your time is valuable to you, and our time is limitless, so please stay on the line and an operator will be with you in just a moment.” There was a brief burst of music, some up-beat, electronic tune with a woman singing in something that sounded like Chinese, then it cut off as a voice came on the line.
“CSTA Defendant Hotline, this is Agent Alpha-Three-Aught-Seven speaking. What’s your name and case number?” The speaker spoke quickly and with a flat affect, neither identifiably male or female, clearly reading from a script.
“Who the hell is this?” Katrina snapped. “This isn’t funny, okay? Joke’s over. I really need you to tell me what the hell is going on.”
“M’am, we at the CSTA understand that receiving a summons can be a distressing experience, but please try not to …”
“Seriously, cut it out! I get that you’re playing a joke, but I’m not laughing. Whoever you are or whoever put you up to this, this is some stalker level shit and if you don’t leave me alone I’m going to call the cops.”
There was long pause, and through the phone she heard the sound of typing on a keyboard. “M’am, are you familiar with the Temporal Court System?”
“No, listen, I …”
The voice cut her off. “M’am, may I ask what year you are calling from?”
“What year?” Katrina heard her voice rising, and noticed she was pulling on her twist so hard her scalp hurt. “What year? It’s 2019, jerkwad. I’m not playing with you! I am going to call the …”
The person on the other end of the line let out a deep, exasperated sigh. “Oh, you’re an Old. That explains it.” There was a flurry of typing. “M’am, I understand you are distressed and confused. As a citizen from before the passage of the Santos-Hwang Current Person Protection Act, you are provided extra-legal services under New York City law. I’m tracing this call to your temporal and spatial location and dispatching a public defender to provide you free legal counsel immediately. For your record, your reference number is 807364K, and I am agent Alpha-Three-Aught-Seven. Thank you for calling the Citizen Space-Time Advocate’s Temporal Tort Hotline, have a nice day.”
“What do you mean, tracing …?” But the line was dead. Katrina stared at her phone. The lock-screen was a selfie she’d taken of her and Rashida this last New Year’s Eve. She was sitting in Rashida’s lap on their couch, both of them still wearing those ridiculous 2019 glasses and cheap paper top-hats, glasses of champagne raised in a toast to the future. Here, in the present moment, a small, sad smile pulled at the edges of her lips. Whatever the idiots behind this prank had intended, it had reminded her how much she loved her girlfriend and how much she didn’t want to do anything to mess up the good thing she had. That was the one thing that letter got right — Rashida was the best thing that had ever happened to her.
“Ms. Freeman?” She looked up from her phone. In front of her was a person of indeterminate gender. Their head was shaved, with an intricate series of tattoos along their left scalp that almost looked like circuitry, and their light brown skin made their race as equally impossible to guess as their sex. They were dressed in a suit made from a strange, metallic-looking silver fabric that shimmered with slight rainbows in the sunlight. The person looked down at a small cellphone that seemed to be strapped (imbedded? That made no sense) in their left forearm.
“Ms. Feeman, age 24 in 2019, residing in 157 Madison Street?”
Katrina was too tired and confused to argue this time.
“Yes. Yes that’s me.”
“Hi, my name is Toni Marcos-Nguen. They/Them. Wait, do you people do pronouns in 2019?”
“Um … some of us do, yeah. Who are …?”
“Ms. Freeman, I’ve been assigned your case,” here they looked back down at their screen, “number 52345-1923, Freeman versus Freeman, in which you are the named Defendant.” They paused at Katrina’s blank look. “I’m a public defender. I’m here to help you with your defense, and, since you date from before the Santos-Hwang Current Person Protection Act, I’m here to fill you in on the working of the Temporal Court. May I sit?”
Wordlessly, Katrina patted the seat next to her in resigned invitation, and Toni sat down next to her. Katrina eyed them suspiciously.
“Temporal Court? Santos-what’s-it Act? Listen, I’m still convinced this is some sort of elaborate joke, but I’m too tired to argue right now. So tell me all about it.”
“Ms. Freeman … can I call you Katrina?” She nodded. “Katrina, I assure you this is not a joke. The Santos-Hwang Current Person Protection-Act, passed in 2030, allows an individual to sue their past selves for decisions or actions that have resulted in harm to that individual at the time of the lawsuit.” Katrina stared at her. “Basically, in the year 2035 your future self, who at the time is 41, issuing you, her past self, for making her present – your future – unhappy in some way.” Toni looked at their screen and scrolled through a document with their finger-tip. “Looks like she is citing an affair you began with one Jessica Melendez on May 4th of this year as causing considerable emotional pain and suffering, as well as damaging her — that is your —future prospects.” They looked back up and gave Katrina a pained half-smile. “Pretty standard, really. Things like this make up the bulk of my caseload: affairs, unprotected sex resulting in an STD or unwanted pregnancy, dropping out of school, quitting a good job to chase a crazy dream, taking a boring job and giving up on a dream. Anyway, there are a few basic facts I’ll need from you in order to plan our defense, starting with …”
“Wait, wait, wait.” Katrina held up her hand to cut them off, then ran her hand over her twists. “You want me to believe you’re from the future?”
Toni closed her eyes and took a deep breath, then let it out. “I know that, given when and where you are, that seems hard to believe, but the sooner you can accept it the sooner we can move on to responding to this complaint. In your case, the Plaintiff will have to prove that you acted in full knowledge of the possible consequences of your actions, namely that you knew or had reason to know that your having sex with Ms. Melendez on May 4th would start a series of events that would result in your girlfriend leaving you. It’s a basic ‘reasonable’ person standard, similar to …”
“But I’ve never even had sex with Jessica! Hell, I haven’t even kissed her! We’ve had coffee a few times and yeah, I think she’s cute but that’s it.”
Toni frowned and tapped on the screen on their arm. “So you’re fully denying the allegations? That’s a different matter entirely and will require an affirmative defense. Can you tell me where you were on or about the evening of May 4th, 2019?”
“May 4th? It’s only April! May 4th hasn’t even happened yet!”
Toni’s eyes went wide. “Are you certain?”
“Yes, I’m certain!” Katrina was waving both hands now. “It’s only April! April 15th!” She shoved her phone in Toni’s face. “See for yourself!”
Toni squinted at Katrina’s phone, then looked down at the screen on their arm. “Well, that certainly changes everything!” They tapped rapidly on their forearm. “I can file a motion to dismiss based on lack of temporal-jurisdiction. In the meantime, I’ll request a stay in your case while a judge rules on my motion.”
Katrina stared at the screen Toni was using. “Is that … is that part of your arm?”
Toni waved dismissively. “Subdermal implant. Pretty standard since 2028. In fact, this is a pretty old model.” Katrina swallowed. For the first time, she began to wonder if this wasn’t actually a hoax at all. “I’m due for an upgrade; if I wasn’t a public defender and instead worked at one of the big law-firms I’d have one of those new Samsung-Xiang chips right in my head.” Toni tapped at their temple. “Even the interns at those places have them. My parents think I’m wasting my law degree by not making buckets of cash, but I’d rather do something meaningful with my life, you know? Just hope my future self doesn’t agree with my dads.” Toni flashed her a quick smile. They tapped a few more times. “There. I’ve filed the temporary stay. Since the incident cited in the complaint hasn’t happened yet, this should be a pretty open and shut case. Assuming …”
“Well, assuming that in 19 days you don’t have sex with this Jessica Melendez. If you do, the case would re-open and in that event, the temporal-jurisdiction would apply.”
Katrina laughed. “There is no way I’m fucking Jessica, not now. I really don’t think I would have, but as weird as this has been, the one good thing about it is it’s made me realize how much I love Rashida.”
Toni grinned. “Good. Not that I’m here as a relationship counselor, but it’s nice when it turns out that way. Most of my cases don’t resolve themselves so easily.” They stood up, straightened their shiny suit, and held out their hand. Katrina shook it.
“Well, Toni, I still think this is a super detailed practical joke, but for what it’s worth you can tell whoever’s behind it that I’m not angry at them anymore. This has helped me put a few priorities straight.”
“Excuse me?” Katrina and Toni both looked over to see a tall, Asian man in a nicely tailored pinstripe suit standing expectantly nearby. “Which one of you is Katrina Freeman?”
Katrina and Toni exchanged a look, and Katrina sighed. “I’m Katrina Freeman, aged 24 in 2019, of 157 Madison St. That’s me. What is it this time?”
The man held out a Manila envelope. “My name is Jia Bao Teng. He/his. Please take this.”
“What is it?”
“Ms. Freeman, please take the envelope.” The man pushed the envelope towards her.
Katrina crossed her arms. “I’m not taking anything unless you tell me what it is.”
Jia Bao frowned. “Listen, I’m not supposed to…”
Katrina glared and hoped she was pulling off the “don’t fuck with me” look she hadn’t quite managed the night before. After the morning she’d had it must have been easier for her to do because the man blanched slightly and took a half step back. Katrina sighed.
“Dude, I appreciate that you’ve learned your job better than the intern I ran into earlier, and I promise to take your stupid envelope. Just tell me what it is.”
Jia Bao glanced at Toni, who reached out and shook his hand. “Toni Marcos-Nguyen. They/Them. I’m Ms. Freeman’s attorney from 2035 so you can speak freely.”
After a brief pause, the man nodded. “Ms. Freeman, I’m here to serve you a summons and complaint that names you as a defendant in the case of Freeman versus Freeman …”
Katrina grabbed the envelope out of his hand, tore it open, and practically flung the contents at Toni. “What the hell? I haven’t slept with Jessica! I haven’t ruined my relationship with Rashida! I haven’t done anything! This is all bullshit!”
“Um … hold on.” Toni skimmed over the letter. “This says that your future self is suing you for not sleeping with Jessica.” They looked up from the letter. “You said today was April 15th, right?” Katrina nodded. “And did you just walk out on having coffee with Jessica?” Katrina nodded again, numbly. “Read this – starting here.” Toni held out the complaint, pointing a bit down the page to where the itemized list began.
- That on or about April 15th, 2019, the Defendant did walk out on a coffee date with Jessica Melendez at The Bean Cafe, resulting in Ms. Melendez deciding to cease socializing with the Defendant
- That, on about May 4th, 2019, the Defendant attended a party where Ms. Melendez was present. The Defendant became intoxicated and told Ms. Melendez she had a huge crush on her and that The Defendant was tired of her girlfriend, one Rashida Robinson, never paying attention to her, and attempted to kiss Ms. Melendez. At the time, Ms. Melendez told the Defendant that she had, at one point, thought the Defendant was cute and maybe something could have happened between them, but after the incident at the Bean on April 15th, Ms. Melendez had decided the Defendant would be “too high maintenance” and she “didn’t need that sort of drama in her life.”
- That subsequently the defendant and Ms. Robinson decided to Take Things to the Next Level and Make Things Permanent and got married, had two kids, and then bought a house near Defendant’s parent’s place in New Jersey, where Defendant stopped working on her art and became a middle-school teacher. Having recently turned 40, the Plaintiff asserts that, had the Defendant just Followed Her Gut for once in her life and perused Ms. Melendez when she had a chance, that she wouldn’t have ended up the Sad, Middle Aged Disappointment she is Today.
As Katrina finished reading, Toni rolled their eyes. “Purely speculative — there’s no way to prove the theoretical repercussions from a hypothetical alternative course of action. That’s standard case law. I’m surprised she even found a lawyer to write this nonsense up. I’ll just need to file…”
“Hold up!” Katrina looked back and forth between Jia Bao and Toni. “How can I be being sued both for sleeping with Jessica and for not sleeping with Jessica? For staying with Rashida and not staying with Rashida? That doesn’t make any sense!”
The two lawyers looked at each other. Toni’s eyes widened at the same time Jia Bao grimaced.
“You don’t think …” Jia Bao began.
“It’s got to be,” Toni replies.
“But that almost never …”
“Almost never isn’t the same as never never.”
“But the odds of …”
“What else could it be?” Toni cried, throwing up their hands. “This is gonna be a royal shit-show, pardon my Neo-French. We’ll need to contact the attorneys handling the initial case, and of course, your firm will need to file a notice of a 20-36 Violation…”
“What the hell are you two talking about!” shouted Katrina. A flock of pigeons roosting in the oak tree above them startled and took wing in a flurry of feathers.
Toni sighed and ran one hand over their bare skull. “We’re dealing with an alternate-timeline conjunction. A cross parallel-reality lawsuit. It brings up a whole slew of jurisdictional issues that will take forever to sort out.”
Katrina slumped back onto the bench. “What?”
Jia Bao tapped on his temple, then stepped a few feet away and began muttering furiously to some unseen other party, punctuating his words with angry jabs of his finger. Toni started typing furiously on their forearm, talking to Katrina without looking up. “I can never keep my Old Decades straight. In 2019 are people aware of the multiverse theory? It says that there is an infinite number of …”
“I know what the multiverse theory is, okay.” Katrina glared at them. “I’ve read Hawkings and Sagan and I watch Dr. Who. Just because I’m an art student doesn’t mean I’m an idiot.”
“Then you know that every action you take, every choice you make results in a splitting off of a different reality, an alternate universe where you acted differently than in the universe in which you currently exist.” Toni gesticulated with her right hand, then went back to tapping rapidly at her implanted screen. “Typically, when a lawyer files a temporal tort, the summons is served on an earlier iteration of the Plaintiff but within the same version of reality. Time travel is more of an art than a science, ironically enough, so there’s always a possibility that the summons will be served to a different iteration in a parallel past reality. This sort of thing used to happen all the time in the early days of the practice, but it’s become vanishingly rare. There are supposed to be safeguards in place, regulations and Federal oversight to keep it from happening. It pretty much only occurs in cases like yours, when the Plaintiff’s attorney messes up and serves the summons to a time before the inciting incident has actually occurred.”
Toni finally stopped typing and looked up from their screen. “When it does happen, though, it’s a bureaucratic nightmare. Both attorneys of record will be investigated not only by the Citizen Space-Time Advocate’s Office but the State Temporal Paradox Division. There will be internal reviews, I’ll file a 52 Stop Motion in the Local Temporal Court of both alternative futures, then a M-616 with the Standardized Existential Bureau to have the record of these filings expunged from the Cross-Reality Public Archives. There’s a very good chance someone — or several someones, across various realities — will lose their jobs.”
Toni paced back in forth anxiously. A moment later there was a tone from their forearm. They glanced at the screen, then up at Katrina. “Sorry, but I’ve got to get on this right away. Mr. Teng?” Jia Bao held up one finger, then pressed the side of his head.
“I’ll need your contact information so we can be in touch regarding this issue.”
“Of course.” He bent his head down, and Toni pressed their forearm to his temple. There was a soft, electronic chime. Toni glanced at the screen and nodded. They held out their hand to Katrina, who shook it, still dazed.
“Ms. Freeman, good luck.”
“Wait! What’s going to happen to me now?”
Toni raised their eyebrows and smiled. “You? Most likely you’re getting off easy. In cases like this, both suits are almost always summarily thrown out by a judge. This might be confusing and disorienting, but once I’m done drowning these firm idiots in motions, these lawsuits are just going to disappear. In fact, they will never have been filed in the first place”
“How will I know if things work out?”
“If things go the way I expect, you’ll never hear from me, or any of these other fools again. It will be like it never happened. If things don’t go the way I want … well, time will tell.” They smiled, and their eyes sparkled in the sun. “I hope things work out with you and your girlfriend. If your future self isn’t too upset about all this, I hope she looks me up in 2035.” Toni held their forearm up to their mouth and spoke into it. “Toni to dispatch. Prep the chrono-pad for incoming.” With one last smile and nod, they pressed a button on their forearm and vanished.
Katrina looked around. Jia Bao was gone, too. She was all alone, standing on the edge of the field outside of Tubman Hall, under an oak tree, it’s leaves rustling gently in the Spring breeze. Overhead, a sparrow wheeled and bobbed in the perfectly blue sky.
At the sound of her name, Katrina flinched. She looked up, resigned to finding herself staring at yet another besuited lawyer from the future brandishing an envelope, but instead, Jessica slid onto the bench next to her. Her bright blue hair fell in a curtain over one eye, the sunlight catching streaks of darker purple from an old dye job and glinting off the silver studs that ran along the rim of her ear. Her light brown skin glowed bronze where the sun made it through the oak leaves overhead: the ridge of her small, cute nose; one bare shoulder; the soft curve where the top of her breasts peeked out from her tank-top. Katrina caught her breath; Jessica was gorgeous.
“Hey, you okay?” Jessica’s hand rested on Katrina’s thigh. “‘Cause I’m worried about you. Back there, in the coffee shop?”
Katrina looked at where the other woman’s fingers touched her jeans, shook her head to clear her mind, then gave a rueful smile. “Yeah. Yeah, I’m fine, Jessica. Thanks. I was feeling off, but now I’m fine.” She stood up. “Can I get a raincheck on that coffee? I think I’m not going to be in class today. I’ve really got to check in on my girlfriend.”
Jessica smiled back. “Of course. Gotta take care of the homefront first. Text me later and let me know when you’re free?”
“Will do. Don’t know if I’ll be free for a while, but I’ll text.”
Katrina cut through the grass field, headed back towards her and Rashida’s place. She barely noticed that the dew was soaking through her Converse. She dialed Rashida’s number as she walked, and was surprised when her girlfriend picked up on the first ring.
“Trina, what’s up? Sorry I was so out of it this morning. Something wrong?”
Katrina grinned “No, nothing’s wrong. In fact, I’m great.”
She could hear the frown on the other end of the line. “Wait. It’s Tuesday. Don’t you have class right now?”
“I’m skipping class today, and I’m on my way back home right now. I think we need to talk about our future…”