Title to Come, Part 4

[Still not sure what to call this tale I began a little while ago]

Eric glanced over at the source of the noise, and saw the fifty-ish waitress who had served him earlier attempting to rise from the debris of plates, silverware, and food. Coming to her aid was a woman in a business suit, who was soon joined by the young woman who had just asked about Eric’s notebook.

***

The commander shook his head, clearly displeased by Agent Marcel’s report. “Nothing, nothing that happened justified your Injection. You could easily have avoided the entire situation.”

Agent Marcel could no longer hold herself back. “Commander, everyone’s attention in the diner was turned to the waitress. My doing nothing would have been the least conspicuous activity I could have performed.”

“Nobody would have remembered your disinterest.” He placed his hands on the table, and rose slightly from his chair. “But your taking action could have generated any number of possible Temporal Changes. What if a person who would have helped that poor woman, had decided upon seeing you help her, to leave the diner earlier than he’d intended — just in time to be struck by an automobile jumping a curb, leading to his death? And what if that person would have become a doctor, or fire fighter, who would no longer be alive twenty years later to save the life of a person whose impact n history would be felt to this day? You do remember your Temporal Consequences training, agent?”

“Aye, sir.”

“And do you remember at least some of the cases where the seemingly innocent actions of one well-intentioned agent had impacts on the timeline that required one, two, perhaps several additional jumps to undo?”

“But this — ”

“This wasn’t your decision to make, Agent Marcel! The consequences of a timeflux can be catastrophic. We’ve seen what happened when we stopped the 9/11 attacks, or the spread of the Guji Flu — those ‘corrections’ resulted in far worse calamities. Those lessons directly lead to our mission — ” the Commander leaned forward, demanding Agent Marcel’s response.

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Title to Come, Part 3

[If you’ve happened upon this story in progress, you’re invited to review the first and second installments as well]

“Excuse me?” Eric was not aware the young feminine voice had addressed him until he felt a presence hovering over his shoulder. He turned, and saw an inquisitive face staring down at him, eyes sparkling behind round lenses. A slender finger pointed at the table — “Are you a writer?”

Eric glanced in the direction of her finger, and seeing she was pointing at his notebook, turned back towards the young woman. “No.”

“Oh!” She reached a hand towards her mouth. “I’m sorry, it just looked like you were writing in a journal.”

Without looking, Eric picked up the notebook with his thumb and index finger, and smirked. “Sorry to disappoint, but it’s a notebook, not a journal. It’s where I keep my notes, and stuff. Work stuff.”

“Yeah.” The spark of interest in her eyes was extinguishing fast, like an engine running out of fuel. “So… where do you work?”

He laid the notebook down, then pointed to the woman’s left, towards the door of the diner. “At the university, for the moment. On a grant, through the end of the semester.” He pursed his lips — “This isn’t the most comfortable position for a conversation. You want to have a seat?”

“Oh no — really.” Eric felt regret as the friendly stranger began walking away from him. “All — ”

The sound of porcelain crashing onto the linoleum floor of the diner interrupted their conversation.

Title to Come, Part 2

[Still don’t have a title for this story I started the other day. One addition to that first part — it takes place in the year 2036.]

***

Sitting by himself at the next to last booth (his customary booth at the end having been occupied this morning) in the far corner of the Lunt Diner, Eric Thorson retrieved a spiral-bound notebook from his backpack, placed it on the table in front of him, opened to the page where he had left off writing at the library the day before, and, on the far right side of the second line beneath the last line of handwriting, wrote:

November 7, 1990

The grandmotherly waitress walked up to his table. “You want the usual today, Eric?”

He nodded. “Works for me.” She had asked for his name in the spring, after he had been coming here every Wednesday morning for nearly a year. He hadn’t asked for her name, or even bothered to read her name tag; he found comfort in keeping her role in his life anonymous.

Returning attention to his notebook, he wrote in the line under the date:

Interesting thing happened at Tim’s last night — got a job offer. Scott was in town visiting his folks, dropped by the bar. Said he was going to call me later

“Here’s your coffee.” The contents of the white mug sloshed onto the table as the waitress laid it down; she offered to clear the spill, but Eric waved her off, and used his paper napkin to clean the table. He decapitated two thimbles of cream, poured it and a spoonful of sugar into the mug, and after drinking half the mug, resumed writing:

this week. Said his company just obtained a research grant, had room in the budget for three new techs. Also said there were apartments available in his complex. Scott said I’d be a shoo-in, so long as I didn’t blow the interview. Everything went right, I could start in January.

Eric folded the notebook shut, and resumed drinking his coffee.

Title to Come, Part 1

[Today’s as good as any other day to start a new fiction project. Sometime before I’m done, I’ll give it a title.]

Agent Marcel shifted in her seat, not caring to show her unease with the commander’s question. She cleared her throat, and replied.

“Yes, I was aware the incident was not in the client’s report. Nor was any other incident, of any kind. All my client provided was a location, and a range of several months.”

The commander leaned back from his desk, and rubbed his chin. “But you chose this moment for your Injection Opportunity? Potentially drawing the attention of nearly a dozen witnesses?”

Marcel flicked her head back defiantly. “My subject had finished his meal, and I determined the incident would likely cause him to leave. The mission would have failed.”

“You know the protocol, agent. Abort, return, debrief. Let one of our other agents — ”

“Commander, the mission was successful. There’s no reason to go back, jump another agent. We have what the client requested.”

“Yeah.” The commander tapped the tips of his index and middle fingers on the right hand against his thumb, and the holographic image of Agent Marcel’s report shimmered to life again. “But we need more than 43 words, agent. You need to tell me, exactly, what happened during your IO.” With a wave of his left hand, the commander dismissed the report. “You were sitting at the counter?”

Faith in the Future

I’ve just published an article about a nonprofit organization that assists faith communities on issues such as energy conservation and climate change. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with anxiety about humanity’s impact on the environment, and I believe religious institutions should inspire us to hope that we can reverse the damage that’s been done.

Storytelling in the Age of the Blockbuster

There was no way I was going to avoid commenting on Avengers: Infinity War, just as there was no way I was going to avoid seeing it during its opening weekend — not after having watched every single Marvel Cinematic Universe film (which is how many, 18? 19?) that lead up to this, and especially not after having been engrossed by the original comic book series as a teenager in the 1970s.

Obligatory Movie Review Rating Statement: If you’re a Marvel movie fan, you’ll have a great time. But if you’re not, take a pass — the references to previous films in the series, and the conversations that presuppose familiarity with their characters, will leave you feeling like a guest at a large party where you don’t know anyone, and everyone knows everyone else.

Obligatory Movie Review Disclaimer: If you’re thinking of seeing the film and hate having significant plot details revealed, you should probably stop reading right… about… now.

The comparisons to The Empire Strikes Back have already begun, but I wish they’d stop. If you hadn’t seen the original Star Wars film (created without the promise of any sequel), any confusion you experienced at the start of “Empire” would have been forgotten by the introduction of new characters and plot elements; “Infinity War,” however, is incomprehensible without prior knowledge of earlier films in the series. Of more significance is that “Empire” was filled with surprises, and left its audience with questions (Who was Luke’s real father? What did Yoda mean by saying, “There is another”? Was Han Solo still alive?) that had no readily apparent answers. “Infinity War,” while certainly entertaining, provided what I consider insincere surprises at its conclusion — audiences may not have expected most of the Guardians, Black Panther, and Spider-Man to disappear at the end of the film, but does anyone who knows anything about the modern film industry believe Disney would cancel the third in a series of successful films, or fail to make a sequel to the highest-grossing superhero movie of all time? Or that Sony would release its newest star from his contract? None of that is going to happen, so these characters will certainly return during next year’s sequel.

Nearly as certain is the fate of those characters who do survive Thanos’ massacre at the end of “Infinity War.” The core group of Avengers have been played by actors who will reach the end of their contractual obligations to Marvel with the subsequent film; many have openly stated they want to move on to new projects, and those who wish to carry on with their roles may demand a salary Disney no longer wishes to pay, especially with the recent success enjoyed by their more affordable colleagues.

The story of the untitled fourth Avengers film is already evident — the original team is going to play the Jesus card, sacrificing themselves for the sake of their comrades. And while it will likely be as enjoyable as “Infinity War,” which never seems to drag despite its length or buckle under the weight of so many characters, it’s still disappointing to know the outcome of a film a year before its release.

But that’s the reality of successful film series in today’s hyper-information world. Movie audiences know more about contracts and films in development than they did during the era of the first Star Wars trilogy, and that’s ruined some of the suspense. Despite our best efforts, we cannot avoid knowing how our favorite stories will end.

Mean

[Today’s word of inspiration from The Daily Post: Mallet]

“Mind handing me that hammer?”

“What hammer?”

“The one in the tool box, to your right.”

“Sorry hon, there’s no — ”

“For crissakes, you blind? I can see it, laying right there!”

“Oh, you mean this tool, with the round head?”

“Yeah, that’s what I mean, the hammer!”

“Actually, what you mean is mallet. And just to be clear, it was lying on top of the toolbox.”

History and Faith

For some reason I don’t understand, I don’t often comment on the Great Courses I’ve audited on my commute to and from work. Maybe it’s the knowledge that these are basically survey courses, not providing anything close to in-depth information about their subjects, and the academic snob in me doesn’t want to admit investing as much time, and my monthly Audible subscription, on these teabiscuits of wisdom. But these courses are definitely more interesting than some of the books and movies I’ve reviewed, so I’ve decided to get over my pretentiousness. How Jesus Became God is one of several Great Courses from Bart Ehrman, a professor of early Christian history at Princeton. In these lectures, Ehrman outlines the backward movement of Christology in the first centuries of the common era — in other words, as the distance from Jesus’ life increased, his ascension to divinity was identified at progressively earlier events in that life. The evolution of this belief is a phenomenon I hadn’t picked up before, and this discovery by itself made the course worthwhile.