Webb used to be like most other people. He used to think that yesterday was set in stone and tomorrow was a blank slate. There was nothing but forward. Like most other people, he used to toe a linear lifeline, riding just ahead of the wave with nothing but an invisible break behind him.
It used to be a slow process. Unencumbered by design and unmoved by manipulation, it was immutable, marching on because it had always marched on. It was comforting to think he had no control, that the consequences of his actions were minute compared to the effect of the process itself. He lived in his world and only his world.
But now, Webb’s memories told a different story. There were people and places that only he remembered, events that happened only in his mind. It was a solitary hell. Like a tattoo, Webb’s memories were constant reminders of past indiscretions and future consequences—of how what could have been was what once was, and what once was, was what should have been. He was reminded of them everyday. From the shape of the city to the size of his bank account, the evidence was everywhere. And it happened fast, because they made it happen fast. Generations worth of cause and effect unraveled in less than a day, revealing a process plagued by loopholes. Behind him was, indeed, a break. But it was only one of many in an endless and violent sea.
Webb sat at the far end of the bar at Duval’s, his usual perch, sucking on chilled bourbon. The pub was beautiful, but lonely, even for a Sunday. It was not unlike the penthouse he lived in fifty floors above. He had never seen more than ten people in the bar at once, and rarely an outsider. It was as if the drinks were slung exclusively for Alexin tenants. He always wondered how a place with such expensive tastes—Carpathian wood, top shelf liquor, and an actual live bartender—could remain viable with so few at the drink. Yet Webb spent countless nights there, gulping each draw and betraying an air of desperation to any who glanced sideways at him. And while he’d never said more than a few sparse pleasantries to the bartender, only showing him an occasional finger in the air, Sutton remained one of Webb’s sole companions. He was, in fact, a singular constant in a life of endless variables.
That night, as he did most nights, Webb drank to stop himself from remembering what no one else remembered—the distant versions of worlds long past and the todays that never became tomorrows. It helped that he had very little to care for. At thirty-seven, an ailing father and a vigorous portfolio was the extent of his promising rise. But his solitude was what made him an ideal journeyman. Even if now he wanted out of this man-in-black lifestyle, he knew the choice was no longer his. He had been on at least twenty forwards, and while each made his life more meaningless, they also made the most powerful man in the world more money. There was no turning back.
So he sat lonely at the bar and drank heavily, one straight bourbon after the next, until he could only concentrate on staying conscious. When he finally mustered the neck strength to pick up his head and look at the clock on the wall, it was close to tomorrow. He had been there for four hours and hadn’t eaten since morning. He motioned toward Sutton with a flip of his thumb toward the door. The bartender, understanding in a way only a sixty-five-year-old silver-haired, heard-it-all-before could be, returned a smile and a headshake. Webb tapped his AI-phone to send payment (tip always included), and then folded it across its flexiglass face twice, before inserting it thinly into his pocket. He pushed the stool loudly aside with his foot and stumbled out of the door to the vestibule.
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