Gun oil hangs in the air.
Steve finds Kandy in the opposite quadrant of the basement, the armory. Nude, she stands at a table cleaning a gun. Glancing over her shoulder, she flashes a grin and returns to her gun. Hands behind his head, he lays back on the bed and watches Kandy. She assembles pieces pushing a pin inside, and slides a magazine into the handle. Picking up a dark nozzle, she screws it to the barrel.
“What is that?”
“This?” She taps the nozzle that appears too large for the gun. “It’s a sound suppressor, but don’t let the name fool you. Still damn loud.”
“Then what’s it for?”
“Hides your location. People might not recognize the gunshot in a noisy location like a club.”
He nods imagining Kandy slipping through a crowded nightclub searching for her target.
“Even better if you shoot from the edge of the quiet place.”
Sitting up, Steve shakes his head. The physics seems wrong. The time dilation might even wreak havoc on a speeding bullet leaving the barrel into normal space. Would it suddenly slow down? It seems crazy imagining the shooter passing her own bullet, if she could keep track of it at all.
Kandy spins around squaring her shoulders, arms extended, and aims the gun directly at him.
There is no gunfire sound, not at first. Kandy’s ghost fires the gun, a distant pop, and everything goes quiet like giant hands clamping over his ears. And Kandy is no longer a ghost, her intense eyes gazing down the length of the barrel. The bullet blurs through the air, vanishing.
Two thunks and a ringing sound. The world is normal again, his heart pounding away.
Kandy holds the gun, finger on the trigger. A curl of smoke rises from the opening of the sound suppressor. “Do you see now?”
Steve glances down at his chest. No fresh bullet wounds, just the bandage over his gut. Glancing behind him, he finds two holes in the wood headboard.
“It’s like a natural reaction for you. It took me years to learn. But you.” She twirls the end of the gun, and returns her aim. “Instinct.”
Kandy fires the gun, and this time, the bang crashes the room. Like before, he drops into the shadows, the room becomes a ghost, silence in sound and color, and he pops back again, unharmed.
“Maybe if I tried my best. Perfect my timing.”
Waving hands, he climbs out of bed. “You’ve made your point.”
Kandy tosses the gun, and he catches it.
“Shoot me,” says Kandy. Planting hands on her hips, she stands in defiance, and naked she appears even more intimidating.
He looks at the gun in his hand. It’s a small caliber semi-automatic pistol with a sound suppressor making it appear three times as big. He shakes his head.
“I don’t want to hurt you.”
“It will only sting if you even hit me.”
Taking a step closer, he grasps the gun by the barrel and holds it out.
Kandy snatches the gun and spins around. “You can be a pussy sometimes, you know that?”
A gunfight with an Itoril having Kandy’s skills requires extra training, a lesson better suited for the firing range.
She pulls the clip out and sets the gun on the table, the clip next to it. Turning, she falls into his arms and pounds her fists against his back. “Dammit, Steve. Tell me what happened.”
“We all make mistakes.”
He remembers spotting the gun in the doorway before the shot. Surprise is a different beast. If not for the dancer’s warning, the result might have been much worse if he had remained in the room or exited at the front. The warning already putting him on edge, instinct nearly saved him. The bullet catching him on his way into the shadows between worlds means the shooter has skills like Kandy, perfected timing.
“And you’re new at this, aren’t you?” Squirming, she smashes her chin against his chest and looks up at him. “Not amnesia. It’s like you’re backwards.”
Staring into her eyes, he tries working out the problem. Time is like a familiar old man everybody knows, but when trying to describe him, nobody can say if he is actually old. Or even a man. Time seems to pass quickly when not paying attention to him, and slowly when trying to watch him. Time is a haunting wraith.
“Can you change the past?”
“Think about it this way.” Gritting teeth, he fights the pain welling in his gut. The bandage feels loose. “Before modern physics, scientists were thinking that the universe was solvable. Like predicting where a rock will land after launching from a catapult. Initial velocity, trajectory, air resistance, and wind velocity. Solving all the variables might predict the future.
“Everything is connected, information passing through the tapestry of the cosmos, but the threads can change leading to something unknowable. Most of the time, you find what you expect, a past you believe is solid as stone. Just like in an experiment, if you stare at it long enough, you’ll find the result you were looking for.”
Tilting his head back, he gazes up at the ceiling. He realizes he cannot change the shooting. That memory is part of him now. Just like he cannot make the Sanctuary of Sin disappear even if the rest of the world forgets it. Both are part of his reality.
He smiles at her. “The past is as unknowable as the future regardless of memory.”
“Memories change,” says Kandy. She presses her cheek to his chest. “But why do I remember the Sanctuary of Sin, and no one else does?”
“The brain is a powerful pattern recognizer.”
“Otherwise we’d be overwhelmed by noise,” says Kandy. “You’ve told me this before. The brain constantly updates our memories based on new information forming a narrative that makes the most sense.”
“And for us, the most logical conclusion is to remember things others do not.”
“Because of the quiet place.”
“Think of time not as a flowing river pulling you along, but as different places.” He pushes her hair back over her ear and holds her tight. Her flesh is cool, but the contact warms him. “Past and future are just arbitrary labels relative to the viewer’s perspective. Information connects these places leaving us with only two possibilities. Everything is tightly connected. Unchangeable.”
Kandy pushes away, turning around. She folds her arms. “Fate.”
“Or the strands may be altered, and the best we can do is predict the most likely outcomes. Future or past. Doesn’t matter.”
“But the Sanctuary of Sin seems so far away now.” She wraps her arms around, hugging herself. “How do you get there?”
“I don’t know. It’s sort of like drinking in the information, and then I’m there.”
“So natural.” Kandy glares over her shoulder. Her eyes smolder, her face rigid like stone. The look of a killer. “Steve, what the hell are you?”
A shiver races down into his legs.
He looks at her naked backside, the ridges of her backbone, the cleft over her buttocks. How many times has he gazed at the smooth curve from her slender waist, over her hip, onto her thigh? Is the past she remembers part of him? Life is a memory crashing towards death. Predictable, yet unknowable.
It seems strange how the question changes. Who is Steve Reynolds? What is Steve Reynolds? Maybe both questions have the same answer. With the information of the cosmos connected time and space, another question seems more relevant. Where is Steve Reynolds?
Lost in a memory, and far from home.