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Cheaper than Therapy, Part 5: Past is Prologue

The lights go down, the stage is set... the man in the wings breaks out in sweat.

Not shown: time machine parking

(When we last left our story, Mike McBea was finally back in his own proper spot in time and space, while Marty Reasoner returned with Jon Ledecky back to theirs.)

“How about Jonathan Silverman for Moulson?”

“Give it a rest, Jon,” Reasoner said wearily.

The Zamboni slid smoothly forward through spacetime. McBea was right – this trip was taking much less time than when they dropped him off. He mused that the Zamboni must have had to cover a longer period of time because of whatever had affected that first trip forward, but he couldn’t begin to imagine what could have done something like that. He would have to double-check the notes McBea had left with him, to see exactly how the time dilation had occurred.

“Stan’s a tough one,” Ledecky sighed. “Hm. Maybe Hopkins should play him instead. I can always just play myself. I was totally nailing all those lines. Cappy would be so proud.” But the mention of Capuano seemed to sober up the rattled Isles owner. They still didn’t know what kind of a world they would return to, or who would be waiting for them in it.

Partly to distract Ledecky and partly to reassure himself, Reasoner said, “It looks like we’re on course. Normal time flow. We’ll get back.”

“It won’t be Memorial Day or something, then?”

“No,” Reasoner said, showing Ledecky his watch.

“I suppose that sort of thing would really confuse the readers,” Ledecky said.

The Zamboni was already slowing as it approached the correct coordinates, and the men lurched forward heavily as the sky above them once more moved from dark to light. This time, however, the light seemed to be duller than when they left. Rain spattered against the canopy.

Before Ledecky could take off his belt, Reasoner caught him by the shoulder and waited until he was sure Ledecky was paying attention. “Jon,” he said carefully, holding his gaze steady, “listen. There aren’t any readers. We really did go back into time and return. The weather’s different. Things have really changed. If we’re lucky, the whole team is different, and the world will be a happier, healthier place.”

Ledecky thought about this for a moment. “Well, I hope that’s true,” he said, “but that guy said you’d explain why doing what you say we did wasn’t always wise.”

Reasoner nodded. “First things first.” He slid open the canopy and together they jumped down and made for the underpass. The rain was quite light but neither of them had dressed for it.

The back lot was empty. This was a good sign, inasmuch as they expected to see, at worst, Matt Moulson and Stan Fischler trying to explain to a horde of first responders how the former head coach of the New York Islanders had been gunned down by his replacement behind his former home arena. To be certain, Reasoner walked over the ground carefully, looking for signs of what had possibly happened before – there was no shell casing, no blood on the ground.

“What are you looking for?” Ledecky asked. Reasoner realized that whatever had actually happened instead was already beginning to work itself out, with Ledecky’s memories resolving to conform to the “corrected” events as his prior self had experienced them. It was very soon – normally it took a few hours, maybe even a day or two.

“Listen,” Reasoner asked, “if you want to change how things are likely to be, when would you begin? As soon as you knew, or would you put it off?”

“I guess it depends,” Ledecky replied. “You don’t think something like ‘I want pancakes for breakfast in three years,’ and then plant wheat and start raising chickens and cows for the eggs and butter.”

“True,” said Reasoner. “But you also don’t wait until 8:45 and then realize that you’re hungry. Then you have to drag yourself to the diner and spend a lot more money and take extra trouble. There’s a happy medium.” He sighed. “Of course, the more elaborate your idea, the more planning and trouble have to go into it.”

“Well sure,” Ledecky said. “And that’s why we hired Mike. In the interview, when he said that you have to do what’s wise, and not do more harm than good – that really impressed me. Imagine waiting until the end of this season to fix the front office? But we had to do it right so Garth agreed to run the Draft and then we went over everything and did our due diligence.”

“Jon, how did you get here this morning?”

“Are you all right? I got here with you. I really appreciate the ride, thanks.”

“Cool, cool. Where’s your umbrella?” Ledecky didn’t answer. “Did you think of a hat or an overcoat or anything?”

Ledecky frowned and crossed his arms, trying to think. “It wasn’t supposed to rain today.”

“It wasn’t raining at all when you left your house. Then you came back in the Zamboni and it was.”

“Where would I go in a Zamboni?” Ledecky said, wrinkling his nose. “Man, we’ve got to get inside. Marty – are you feeling all right? Did you lose something out here?”

Reasoner was looking around the lot again. “I’m not sure,” he said, truthfully. “I’ll meet you inside.” Ledecky shrugged but walked into the building.

“This can’t be right,” Reasoner said out loud. It was a trip, having two versions of everything in your mind, which was why people quickly insisted on forgetting the prior version if there had been any alterations… but it never came this quickly. In fact, usually people had to be reminded of routine things that they had done in the updated timeline – “Don’t you remember you did this yesterday? We talked about it last week!” – and the old memory was chalked up to routine absent-mindedness and quickly discarded.

The more often one traveled in time, the harder it was, and the longer it took; Reasoner was still trying to find his “land legs,” so to speak. He was reasonably sure that Cappy was all right, but he was still surprised not to find Moulson and Fischler. He tapped his wristwatch. “Siri, what is the Islanders’ schedule tonight?”

“Who is Siri?” the watch replied. “Have you been using other search engines behind my back?”

“Time lag,” he replied.

“That’s what they all say,” the watch said.

“Just, please… update me on the Islanders’ schedule tonight.”

“Tonight, the New York Islanders are playing against the Senators in Ottawa.”

Reasoner stared at the watch. What had they done? This was just a quick management swap! Even if the team had improved, there was no league game scheduled at all on this date. The playoffs didn’t start until Wednesday… and the Isles and Senators had both closed their regular seasons two nights ago, as far as he knew.

This isn’t good at all, he thought to himself. “Siri – I mean, Watch Lady?”

The watch practically sighed at him. “You can’t do any better than that?” it buzzed.

“I’m sorry,” he said, really meaning it. “I am. You’re my favorite watch.”

“Of course I am.”

“Well, you are. Can you tell me where the Buffalo Sabres are playing tonight? I have to find Matt Moulson.”