The controller

by Miriam English

I can change things. I can alter objects by force of will alone. Sounds daft when I say it like that, doesn't it.

It's like telekinesis, but rather than simply move things around, I can can alter them. It's a bit hard to describe. Also I can change them in the past too, not just in the present.

So why am I not a millionaire? or the most powerful girl on Earth? It's complicated... much more complicated than you'd think. Well, I guess you might understand, but most people wouldn't.

I first found out that I could change things when I was little. And I learned very quickly how scared it makes people and how quickly they want to hurt what they don't understand. It didn't take me long to realise it's not the kind of thing you let people know. "So, what do you do?" "Oh, not much, but I can alter the fabric of spacetime and make you not exist if I feel like it." Yeah, that goes down real well. So I kept it to myself. And I privately learned to control my ability to control things.

Fast forward to recent days (believe me, you wouldn't be interested in my boring childhood). I did something bad...

No way! I'm not gonna tell you what I did. It's embarrassing. It wasn't intentional. It just kinda happened. I'm good at controlling my impulses, but not perfect. When I get very emotional it becomes harder to suppress it. Anyway, I slipped up and had to fix things, but the only way to do that was to change it back at the time when it originally happened — in the past. Well, that's what wrecked everything. Did you know that there is an agency that checks time? No, not the clocks. Time. As in time travel. Apparently there are some powerful paranoiacs somewhere who are worried that time travel is really possible and have set up some kind of time monitor. I can't begin to imagine how they'd check time — you'd think when time changes it would all continue to be self-consistent.

Well, apparently when I changed the past it set off all kinds of alarms somewhere. I hadn't actually travelled in time, but that wasn't important. It looked to them as if someone had, and they zeroed in on me really quickly. They were onto me within about 10 minutes of me fixing my little problem. They had dozens of armed guards in melodramatic black surrounding me. I didn't know what to think. At first I thought it was some kind of mistake, but it didn't take long for me to see what had happened. They had all these guns aimed at me and were ordering me to lay down on the ground with my hands behind my head. Have you ever tried to lie down while holding your hands behind your head? It sure isn't easy. They barked off orders for me not to touch any weapons (I wondered if a hairpin could be considered a weapon) and to tell them where the time machine was. That was when I got it. Oh boy, was I in trouble!

So now I had to work out a way to fix this problem too. See, this is why I don't like to use my ability. It tends to have ripple effects. I change something which causes something else I hadn't expected, then something else, then something else, and on and on. In the end it is usually easier not to bother with controlling things, because of the ripples. Well, this particular occasion probably didn't count as a ripple... more a wave... a goddamn tsunami even.

While I was laying there with them yelling their stupid demands at me I just concentrated. I made a note to myself scratched on the ground where I would be when I fixed my earlier problem. Yeah, not very sophisticated, but it was all I could come up with at the time. I was under a lot of pressure — there were a bunch of stupid jerks pointing guns at me and yelling at me.

Hmmm... yeah. Maybe that's how they detect time tampering. I remember these time-police nitwits. I remember them, even though they never caught me in this altered time. I got the message from myself, scratched in the dirt. "You/me danger. Run!"

I scuffed the message over with my foot and ran.

Over the next several minutes I started "remembering" the armed men catching me, up until I made the message for myself. Then the alternate line ended. This kind of thing has happened to me before — the parallel memories thing — so I'm sorta used to it, but it is still strange. Makes you wonder a bit about what it is to be yourself, having these bits of other memories... other selves.

Maybe that is how they pick it up. Time isn't completely self-consistent; there are little paradoxes. The me that wrote the message to the earlier me ensured I'd run away so that I wouldn't get trapped by the guys in black. But because I ran away I didn't get captured and couldn't have written the message to forewarn myself. Too confusing. Maybe, for a while, both happen and that is why I get both memories. I don't know.

I didn't bother going home. I just bolted — left the entire area, got away from the city, and went to the country. I figured I'd be safer out here. No cameras (well, not as many) and I hoped it would be harder to pinpoint me if I slipped up again. This looked as nice a town as any other and when I stopped in at the general store I asked if there was any live-in work in the area. They pointed me to this farm. They didn't say anything about the mongrel who owned the farm, or the pretty girl who lived there too.

Yes, pretty. I don't care what you say. Pretty.

When I showed up all he wanted to know is if I'd worked in gardens before. I've always loved gardens. They are so restful. The plants never get upset if you attract more moisture to their roots or add more predatory insects to get rid of pests. Hens are generally fine with a little controlling help too, like making caterpillars fall off plants for them. It's just the people I had to worry about. But you know all about that don't you.

While you were doing the housework or in town shopping, the bastard would come and hassle me. He wouldn't really say much, but he would be menacing. I could tell he was getting off on it. It didn't really scare me, because I'm strong for a girl, and I always had my ability to back me up, but it did worry me a bit. I wasn't keen on having to move again so soon. I actually liked it here. I... um... I like you.

He got more and more threatening as the weeks went by, until... well you know. I was sure I was either going to get hurt or have to hurt him. Then he pulled out that knife. I realised I was going to have to do something drastic, like maybe stop his heart. I didn't want to do it. It would mean the police would be involved and I couldn't run away because that would look guilty as hell to them. I told him not to do anything he would regret; that I would hurt him real bad, but he just grinned. He liked me threatening him. A real screw loose. I was just going to slow his heart, give him a real fright — risk be damned. Suddenly, you can imagine how it looked to me, he looked amnesic. His face went blank and he looked confused and wandered away. I thought maybe he'd seen something. I looked around and that's when I saw you, concentrating... the same way I concentrate when I'm controlling. He hadn't seen you; you'd somehow got him to leave using your will.

You gotta understand how I felt. I've never before met anyone else who could control things. I had come to believe I was the only one. That's why I blurted out "You're a controller too!" It didn't affect the bastard. It was as if he was lost in his own dream. He wandered off, got in his car and left. Will he ever be back?

Good. Glad to be rid of him.

When I yelled out that you were one too, you were as surprised as me, I could see it on your face. I ran over to you and my heart was leaping for joy. Another controller!

No, you couldn't have been as happy as me.

When did you twig that we weren't the same?

Yeah, me too. Just a few minutes. Can't remember exactly what we said. I have clumsy control over objects, but you... you control minds. Very, very cool.

No, yours is way more cool than mine. If I could've controlled minds I might not have got into the problems I did.

Yeah, you have a point. I guess I would have. We were both hiding out there for the same reasons. Well, you didn't have time police after you, but, yeah... similar problems. I can see how people could get pretty tetchy about someone who can alter minds.

I am sooo grateful for you stepping in like that, saving me from the bastard. Heaven knows what would have happened if I'd had to defend myself.

I just want to give you something back. Yes, I do have to. Yes.

I don't have much besides my ability. You've never believed me when I told you that you're gorgeous. Now you and everybody else can see you the way I do — no big change, nothing anybody could put their finger on. But see? Look in the mirror. You really are pretty.

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Thursday, 5 May 2005