Flash Fiction: “A Time for Orchids”

Time travel is one of those genres that doesn’t interest me in the mechanics, but in the kind of characters who get to use it and what that power does to their perspective. Case in point: today’s story.

Enjoy!


A Time for Orchids,

by Alexander Paul Willging

Word Count: 955

A sigh escaped Rebecca’s lips as she surveyed the scene. “Jimmy…”

“What?” he responded. The ratchet wrench in his hand went cranking along. “This is fine!”

“Jimmy!”

“Oh, come on! We’ve been through worse!”

“Define ‘worse.’”

“I mean…” He fell silent, letting the ratchet wrench speak for him. Then, after a moment: “Well, look. Do you see any marauding Huns about to massacre us?”

“That cabbie over there just might though…”

“Hush. Lemme reset this navigation beacon and we’ll be on our way again. Just, like… two minutes, tops!”

Rebecca proceeded in the way of her people and slowly rubbed her palm down the length of her face. She couldn’t believe this.

Not where she was; she could believe that it was, in fact, New York City in the 1930s. The air didn’t have the same smog issue, for one thing. From where she stood, in the middle of a busy intersection, she could spot roughly where Times Square stood. The passerby there had the clothes and automobiles she’d expect from the era: flat caps, overcoats, pleated skirts, Rolls-Royces, and Mercedes-Benz Speedsters. No, all of that she could believe.

But this! This, this, this, always this with Jimmy Whitehill, the supposed genius among genii at MIT. If it wasn’t a course correction, it was an unexpected malfunction. So much so that Rebecca had already began to expect them. And she was rarely proven wrong.

“Next time,” she growled, “I’m logging in our destination.”

Rebecca emphasized her point by giving a kick to the cooling time machine. Her heel bounced off its topless, tarnished-mirror surface. Their machine wasn’t too dissimilar to the same design that H.G. Wells had dreamed up a century and a half ago. And unlike other imitators, theirs actually worked. Supposedly.

“Hey, hey, watch it!” Jimmy put himself between Rebecca and the vehicle. “She’s still adjusting! The chronological flux is almost ready, I promise!”

“Sorry, but I’m out of flux to give today.”

“Look, if we get to 1872?” Jimmy’s voice dropped into a solemn tone. “We’ll find her, Rebecca.”

Rebecca said nothing. She stared him down.

“The girl with the orchid,” he continued. “Think of me what you will, but I know she’s real. And I know where to look.” He gestured at the machine, his voice rising over the dismayed honks of angry cab drivers forced to go around them. “It’s just getting to the when that’s the issue.”

Rebecca still didn’t answer. She was too busy remembering an oil painting in Professor Teagan’s office back home. An Impressionist piece of art created by an unknown French painter. Even his signature, a mere smudge in the bottom right-hand corner, simply read, “l’inconnu.” Yet this unknown Frenchman was a huge deal to the art world of the late twentieth century. Rebecca was going, by hook or by crook, to learn this virtuoso’s name—and in the process, make a name for herself. If only she could find the model for his masterpiece, the girl she only knew holding a white orchid. Staring back at her with those sad, small eyes.

Such were Rebecca’s thoughts that she almost didn’t notice a pair of heavy footsteps plodding up the jam-packed street. Not until a nightstick tapped her shoulder did Rebecca turn around.

“Hey, what’s the big idea?” A uniformed cop glowered at her and Jimmy. “You two are holding up all the traffic! Move it! Unless you wanna spend a night in jail!”

“I’ve almost…” Jimmy had ducked behind the time machine and was still tinkering with one of the rearmost vents. He sounded more distracted than concerned. “Rebecca, can you handle it?”

Rebecca leaned over the machine to glare at him. “Oh, sure. Leave me all the fun jobs!”

“You want to get out of here or not?”

“I’m debating leaving you and jumping ahead on my own. I might even grab Einstein and partner up with him. He still owes me that favor.”

“Hey, I’m talkin’ here!” The police officer’s bellow didn’t faze Rebecca. She took her time turning back and looking at his red, sweaty face.

When she didn’t spot a gun anywhere on his belt, Rebecca allowed herself a tiny grin.

“Sorry, Officer,” she purred. With a casual lean back, she reached for the trunk and popped the lid open. Her hand went rummaging inside. “Here, let me help you out…”

As soon as her hand found the hilt, Rebecca let out a cry. She ripped the sword free and raised it over her head, letting out a fierce kiai that would’ve impressed Miyamoto Musashi. Both the cop and that one murderous cabbie panicked and went running for their lives, abandoning their cars in the middle of the already-blocked intersection.

Behind the machine, Jimmy laughed. He clambered up with a cheeky grin. “Got it! Let’s bounce!”

“Finally!”

“Oh, like you’re not having a little bit of fun?”

Rebecca regarded the sword in her hand. It was a real katana, made of folded steel. Forged in the eighteenth century, as a gift from a feudal lord whose life she’d saved from the latest peasant uprising. Of all the souvenirs, this was the one she’d learned to treasure the most.

“If I say yes,” Rebecca asked, “will we get a better jump to France in 1872 this time?”

Jimmy wiped his hands with a greasy rag. “I make no promises.”

“That’s fine. I wanna test this sword on someone’s neck…”

Shaking his head, Jimmy dropped the rag in the trunk and hopped into the driver’s seat. “You jest. I’m splendid. History will bear me out after this.”

Rebecca took the seat beside him, ignoring the stares of New Yorkers as the machine whirred to life again. “He said for the hundredth time…”


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Flash Fiction: “The Dealership Driving in from the Cold”

Another story about time travel, but with a twist. Enjoy.


The Dealership Driving in from the Cold,

by Alexander Paul Willging

Word Count: 775

In the eastern corner of Japan, somewhere around Yamanashi’s fertile fields, all was still and quiet. A heavy white layer of snow, gleaming like diamonds in the early daylight, covered the ground for miles in utter tranquility.

And disturbing that peace was Timothy O’Higgins. Sales rep for the third-largest Toyota dealership in South Milwaukee. Expert in selling pre-owned sedans of every make and model. Now slowly freezing to death in nothing but a kimono and his boxer briefs. In retrospect, he’d had one too many glasses of sake back at the hotel. Wherever that was. He presumed it was Tokyo and that he was nowhere near it now. Tim was pretty sure there wasn’t supposed to be this much snow and wide open space inside a metropolitan area.

Oh, man. Dave from Management was going to have his head for this.


Tim didn’t know when he passed out. But he awoke to several shouts.

Blinking away flakes of snow, he found himself staring at several large Japanese men. Some wore samurai armor. Others wore kimonos like him. All of them had their hair tied back in topknots. They all carried swords, too. And no one looked pleased to see him that morning.

The more Tim’s eyes adjusted, the more clearly he could see the the village behind them. Simple wooden houses and cherry trees that had yet to bloom. Plumbing the depths of his hangover-impaired memory, Tim recalled some fragment of an excerpt from a travel brochure. Lots of these historic villages were supposed to dotting the Japanese landscape, weren’t they? Or had he had somehow stumbled through a breach in time and wound up two hundred years in the past? He was starting to wonder if it were the latter, since the wood on these houses looked brand-new. As did the swords and armor these guys wore. Not your gaijin-style replicas.

“Get up!” one of the samurai barked at him. An older man, with graying temples and a pencil-thin beard. The katana in his grip quivered.

“Uh, okay?” Tim blinked. He sat up in the snow, shivering from head to toe. “Hey, um, what year is this even—?”

He stopped when a sword appeared next to his throat. Maybe confused English words were a bad sign around here, he thought.

“Up. Now.” The elder samurai glowered, as Tim stumbled to his feet. His soles ached from the exertion. “The Shogun will want to see you.”

“P-please,” Tim begged. “C-can I get something for my feet at least?” He gestured to his blue, frostbitten feet. Of course he’d been too drunk to wear shoes or sandals. “S-something… any k-kind of snow shoes you have!”

“Oh, that won’t you save you now,” a mocking voice called out.

Tim watched the row of samurai part. He watched a man in golden robes appear from inside one of the houses and walk over to the near-dead foreigner. And he could not believe what he was seeing when the Shogun arrived.

“Dave?” he asked.

“You bet, buddy,” his manager said. He flashed Tim that obnoxious perfect smile, with dental work that he’d gotten done at some Santa Monica clinic. “Who else would be in charge here?”

Nothing seemed real now. Maybe this really was another tourist trap. Tim struggled to stay on his feet, for reasons beyond the mere frostbite.

“A-are we in Tokyo?” he asked.

“What?” Dave snorted. “You still haven’t worked it out, have you? Christ, no wonder everyone at the Milwaukee office hates you. Quick on the sale, slow on the uptake. That’s our Tim.”

“What?” Tim couldn’t say anymore than that. He couldn’t feel anything after that. The cold was inching up his whole body. Blurring his vision. Slowing his heartbeat. A low, constant throb that almost drowned out everything else.

Almost. Dave’s voice rang clear and true.

“None of this is real, buddy. You’re still in the snow.” Dave chuckled. “You’re just losing your mind. Now, why don’t you click the heels on your ruby slippers and go back home, Dorothy?”


The next morning, a search-and-rescue team from the Tokyo Metropolitan Police found Timothy O’Higgins’s frozen body. He’d made it almost six miles outside of the capital.

A small funeral was held back in Milwaukee two weeks later. Tim’s co-workers only showed up for the free food being offered at the reception afterward. Meanwhile, his manager Dave Plitsetsky was kind enough to give a eulogy on his behalf.

“All in all,” Dave said, “Tim was a kind man who went off in his own direction. Much like how Toyota’s new line of Priuses, now with improved gas mileage, will take you anywhere you desire…”


This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Playing the Steins;Gate Visual Novel

Copyright © 2009 by 5pb. and Nitroplus
Copyright © 2009 by 5pb. and Nitroplus

So, a few years ago, I wrote a review for the Steins;Gate anime, and then later I did a compare and contrast post between the anime and the video game Life is Strange (because time travel!). Then, thanks to a helpful comment, I was informed that the original Steins;Gate visual novel was a far different experience and why wasn’t I playing it already?

Which brings us to today. At the time of this writing, I’ve imported, installed, played, and completed the visual novel. Now I want to see how it holds up after all the hype.

Honestly, for the first few segments, both the game and the anime adaptation are in perfect sync. Sure, the VN has one or two additional pieces of dialogue or character interaction in its opening, but otherwise, it feels a lot like the anime, except slower.

I’ll also admit (and this is a nitpick on my part) that I was a bit thrown with some of the translation choices. Having watched the anime first, I know the shrine maiden character by their Romanized name Urushibara Ruka, but in the game and other sources, the name reads as “Luka.” I get that the Japanese language has a thing about switching L’s and R’s in English (it’s actually based on this phonetic issue based on how the letters sound in actual Japanese), but it was weird for me because I’m so used to thinking of this character as Ruka and not Luka because I watched the anime first.

I also have to admit that I like the expansion of several scenes and character traits that we only got part of with the anime. In the visual novel, for example, we see just how in-depth Kurisu’s knowledge of time travel theory is and how big of a chuunibyou (a.k.a. adolescent dreamer) Okabe is. Like, you might think he does the “fake conversation on his phone” bit a lot in the anime, but that’s nothing compared to the breadth of those conversations in the game.

Finally, there’s a great element of suspense and horror that seeps through the game as I played it. At one point, Okabe has this long, eerie nightmare where the disembodied voice of Kurisu narrates him falling through the event horizon of a black hole. It’s an out-of-nowhere moment that’s like nothing else in the anime, and it does highlight the mortal terror of what their world’s version of time travel can do to the human body. There are lots of little additions and surprises to this visual novel that I know the anime couldn’t have made time for in any other way.

So, did I enjoy the visual novel more or less than the show? Well, it’s hard to say. I enjoyed the overall experience of the game, and I can see why so many people prefer it to the anime. But having said that, I do enjoy the clean runthrough of a story that the anime offers. Not to mention the fact that I can never stop thinking of J. Michael Tatum’s voice as Okabe’s voice, regardless of how Japanese he’s supposed to be.

But then, that’s only my opinion. I encourage the rest of you to track down a copy and play it for yourselves.

The English-language version of Steins;Gate is available to purchase on SteamAmazon, and its official website.


Bibliography: Steins;Gate (visual novel). Developed by 5pb. and Nitroplus. Published by 5pb and JAST USA (PC). Designed by Chiyomaru Shikura. Art by Huke. Xbox 360; Microsoft Windows; PlayStation Portable; iOS; PlayStation 3; PlayStation Vita; Android; PlayStation 4 (platform). Original release date: October 15, 2009.

 

El Ministerio del Tiempo: Spanish, Sci-Fi, and Source Material

Copyright © 2015 by Radiotelevisión Española
Copyright © 2015 by Radiotelevisión Española

Full disclosure: the Streisand effect is in full force here. The only reason I know about a Spanish-language show called El Ministerio del Tiempo is because of a lawsuit. Specifically, a lawsuit by Onza Partners against NBC over copyright infringement, as the latter’s show Timeless might—just might—be ripping off a Spanish TV program. Especially when there were supposed to be talks with Sony to develop said show in an English-language format, but NBC put their own show into production anyway. And right around the time that those talks ended…

Confused? Don’t worry. All that means is that, instead of watching Timeless on NBC, this news made me want to give Televisión Española a try. I am, after all, of Mexican descent, and I could use a chance to brush up on my Spanish.

Known in English as “The Ministry of Time,” this series focuses on a secret task force within the government of Spain, whose mission is to monitor the flow of history. Whenever someone tries to use time travel to change the past for their own ends, these heroes jump in to stop them. Our heroes include Julián Martínez, a modern-day paramedic; Amelia Folch, a university student from late 19th-century Barcelona; and Alonso de Entrerríos, a 16th-century soldier from the Army of Flanders.

What’s interesting is how time and the passage of history relates to each of the main three characters. Alonso is a patriotic soldier who has to go down in history as an executed traitor in order to join the Ministry. Amelia is a brilliant mind who wasn’t appreciated in her own time, or by her own family, because of her gender. And Julián is a brave soul who wouldn’t mind going back in time to stop his wife from dying in a car accident, since losing her put him on a dark and dangerous road as an emergency nurse.

In terms of cinematography, the crew at Televisión Española know what they’re doing about as well as anyone at NBC or even the BBC. The production value is stellar, with more emphasis on historical attire and simple stunts than flashy CGI. There’s more emphasis on costumes, archaic styles of speech, and contrasts between modern and classic perspectives to create all the tension for a dramatic series about time travel.

I will say that, sometimes, the show did have one or two predictable elements. Some characters turned evil (or good) for odd reasons, but for the most part, everything was pretty consistent with our main characters. I also admit that I needed subtitles on because the dialogue moves fast and freely. Yes, the subtitles were in Spanish también, but I’m a reader by nature, so I wasn’t taken out of the story when I watched and read.

Honestly, this premise is exactly what I always wanted Doctor Who to be. For all the time that the Doctor spends around the 20th and 21st centuries on Earth, he could have been doing so much more with people from different eras. I always wanted him to expand on the promise of having out-of-their-time companions like he did in “Dinosaurs on a Spaceship.” In El Ministerio del Tiempo, I get exactly that. It humanizes people from different eras. And it gives a chance to show science fiction at its best.

El Ministerio del Tiempo is available through RTVE.


Bibliography: El ministerio del tiempo. Created by Pablo and Javier Olivares. Directed by Marc Vigil, Jorge Dorado, and Abigail Schaaff. Written by José Ramón Fernández, Paco López Barrio, Javier Olivares, Pablo Olivares, and Anaïs Schaaff. Perf. Aura Garrido, Rodolfo Sancho, Nacho Fresneda, Cayetana Guillén Cuervo, Jaime Blanch, Juan Gea, and Natalia Millán. Onza Partners; Cliffhanger; Televisión Española. La 1 (network). Original broadcast: February 24, 2015 – present.

Flash Fiction: “La Lotería con Sr. Bieber”

Once again, my weekly attendance of Write It Up! Burbank has paid off with a set of colorful prompts, resulting in an equally bizarre story.

Enjoy!


La Lotería con Sr. Bieber, by Alexander Paul Willging

Word Count: 516

The year was 1927. The place: the south side of Barcelona. In a tiny plaza a few miles south of La Rambla, throngs of people lined every corner of the bandstand. A jazz quartet was performing classic ballads to a modern theme, attracting flappers and their boyfriends from far and wide.

Hanging near the back of the crowd was a worn-down, perplexed Justin Bieber. He wore the same tie, vest, and hat as every other man in the crowd, but he didn’t have much of an ear for Spanish.

As far as he could tell, this wasn’t a dream. One minute, he’d been performing for millions of screaming girls, and the next, he was stumbling down an alley in 1926, somewhere in the heart of Spain.

“It’s close, señor,” a warm voice murmured in his ear.

That was Justin’s only friend in this strange land: Doctor Ernesto de Avila, a rather eccentric engineer and self-proclaimed “inventor.” He’d helped Justin after finding him begging for help. And he alone believed the young man’s story of traveling back through time.

“I hope to do the same myself,” Ernesto had declared. He showed Justin his prototype for a time machine, built on principles being discussed by the world’s leading physicists at Copenhagen. At this point, Justin didn’t care.

He just wanted a ride home.

Meanwhile, the jazz band had finished their set onstage. Everyone burst out in applause as an older Spaniard stood up at the microphone. He cleared his throat and called out, “Bienvenidos a la lotería!

Justin looked down at the lottery ticket clenched in his hand. It was his last shot at getting out.

Ernesto had explained it thusly: “Ay, nino, first we get the winnings. Then, we build the last parts of the time machine, verdad? ¡Muy fácil!

While he didn’t know a thing about science or engineering, Justin had faith that his old Spanish friend would be proven right.

Back in the plaza, the master of ceremonies spun a basket full of numbered balls round and round. He plucked them out and read each number one by one.

Cero…! Uno…! Siete…!

“Come on, baby, baby, baby,” Justin hissed.

The last ball came up. “Cinco!

Justin almost kissed Ernesto for joy. They cried and laughed and hugged. The crowds parted as they ran toward the stage, with hundreds cheering them on.

When at last he reached the stage, Justin presented his ticket. The old man laughed and shook his hand.

“Congratulations!” he said in accented English. “You’ve won la magdalena grande!

When no one offered him an enormous check or a bag of money, Justin looked around in confusion.

“Oh, no,” Ernesto said.

As he turned around, Justin laid eyes on the largest cupcake he’d ever seen. It was the size of a boat, with mountains of pink frosting. It needed at least eight men to wheel it into the tiny plaza.

Around him, the crowd’s cheers filled the air. The master of ceremonies clapped him on the back. And Justin Bieber wept bitter tears as his pastel pink harbinger of doom approached the stage.


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Acknowledgements

Thanks to my supporters on Patreon, including Josh Powlinson, for their contributions that make stories like this one possible.

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