Adam follows the walkway along the wharf and approaches the ferry terminal. There are stalls there where he often buys lunch. The first one has the shutter pulled down and locked. The next one has a timber counter that’s flaked and warped. The glass display cabinet below has plastic sandwich packets that look like they’ve been pecked open and small foil dishes that were probably for cakes. There are shelves at the back of the stall with bleached white cardboard boxes and faded candy bar wrappers. There’s a display case of cigarettes that looks okay, although caked in a thick film of dust. There’s a fridge with a sealed glass door with cans and plastic bottles of juice, water and soft drinks. The water is clear and appears reasonably safe. Adam cracks open a bottle and has a drink. It tastes fine.
Inside the ferry terminal is a stall with newspapers and magazines on display. Adam pulls a paper from underneath the faded one on top. The headlines are about a plane crash in India and a sex scandal involving the Australian Foreign Minister. The date reads October 27th, 2063—2063 being thirty-five years in the future.
Adam looks at his hand and notices the absence of his tattoo. As a drunken youth he had let a buddy tattoo the word GAME across the knuckles of his left hand. It’s gone and his hand is bigger than it should be. Adam’s arm is more muscular too. He flexes, and squeezes and feels his bicep and shoulder.
What the hell?
There’s a glassed poster on the wall of the ferry terminal. Adam approaches and looks at his reflection to find a stranger looking back at him. He’s blond and his face is too narrow. The reflection is not Adam at all.
Adam feels his face—pinching at this point to prove the dream.
He backs away from the stranger and turns to the city again. He walks. He has no idea what he’s supposed to be doing, but he walks up a street, sticking to the middle of the road and gazing into the abandoned shops and up at the towering buildings. Most shops are empty. Adam considers they have been more so closed down than abandoned. The buildings are intact. They haven’t been bombed or anything. There are no broken windows that Adam can see. There are just big cracks in the pavement and road with grass and weeds growing everywhere.
There’s a distant humming sound. It’s high-pitched and quickly approaching. It pierces the air, and suddenly a train flashes across the road ahead of Adam. It had appeared from between buildings and is gone. Adam runs and sees it vanishing into the distance. It’s fully tinted glass, sleek and hugging a single rail, and it’s moving at an incredible speed.
Adam enters a building and finds stairs. He leaps upward, gaining the tenth storey with his lungs clenching and his legs numb. He kicks open a door marked with a no entry sign and stumbles out onto a roof-top. The train is gone. The rail spears off between buildings, some having been roughly knocked down to accommodate it.
Adam turns and looks the other way, out at the ocean. The rail is suspended above. It swings in a broad arc and follows the coastline with massive steel pillars jutting up out of the sand and the water, and it disappears beyond a headland.
Adam slumps back onto a concrete ledge and sucks in some breaths. He’s fitter and stronger than he used to be. He couldn’t have bounded those ten flights of stairs in his own body.
He looks himself over again, feeling his legs and genitals. He has a look down the front of his pants and finds no appreciable difference. He has less hair, though. It looks trimmed. Adam is thirsty again. He still has the bottle of water. There’s a kind of metallic taste in his mouth but he’s thirsty enough to ignore it.
The distance in all directions reveals no further sign of human life. There are birds and bugs, and more kangaroos and some goats. There’s a boundless silence, so stark and crisp that it’s ringing in Adam’s ears. The air is thin and clean and alive with the sweetness of spring or early summer. It had been winter an hour earlier—when Adam was himself and in the real world.
This can’t be real. If I jump off here I’m going to glide to the ground or wake up on a bus.
Adam’s looking over the edge of the building. He considers testing that theory but has never been big on heights. He suddenly thinks to check the pockets of the jeans he’s wearing and finds what looks like a watch. It’s an oddly thin device with a large square screen and a black plastic band. The screen is blank, as if turned off or with a dead battery. There are no buttons of any kind. Adam taps the screen to no effect. He tries pressing and the words VOICE PROMT flash. He presses again and says, “Hello”.
“Good afternoon, Cooper, who can I get you?”
Adam gulps. “Home, please?”
The screen shows a jingling bell icon. It lasts for a minute.
“Sorry, no answer,” the device says. “Would you like to record a message?”
Adam sniffs and clears his throat. “No message, thanks… Contacts list, please?”
The smiling face of a middle-aged woman appears. It’s a still image. Adam swipes across the screen and the face of a middle-aged man is next. It looks like him—the face he currently has. Adam assumes it to be his father. He swipes again and gets a logo AFP. The next image is another face—that of a guy about his age, completely unfamiliar. There are twenty or so contacts in all before the woman in the first image appears again.
Adam takes a breath and taps the screen. The ringing bell appears. The screen then flashes to an image of the woman, obviously live now.
“Cooper! Darling, how are you?” The woman looks to her side. “Hanson, it’s Cooper.”
A man’s voice replies, “Put him on screen, love.”
The screen flashes to a broader shot with the man who Adam assumes to be his father looking over the woman’s shoulder.
“How are you, son? What’s up?”
“Um… I’m not sure… I’m…” Adam stammers.
“Are you okay, son?”
“Look, I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t know who you are. You’re on my phone thingy… I don’t know who I am or what’s happening.”
“Wait… What?” the man asks. “You don’t know who we are?”
“Cooper, are you hurt? Are you okay?” the woman adds.
“I’m not hurt. I’m fine… Just—what the hell’s going on? I’m not who you think I am. I’m not this Cooper.”
The two faces on screen are staring blankly. The man speaks again after a moment. His demeanour shows confusion and concern. “Who do you think you are, son? Is there something wrong with your mind or memory or something? Do you have a head injury?”
“My name is Adam O’Malley. As far as I can remember, this is the year 2028… I’m going to wake up from this any minute now.”
The man and woman look to each other, their faces streaked in concern—horror. They turn back. The man speaks again. “Son, where are you right now?”
Adam glances around. “Standing on top of a building in Sydney… Where are you?”
The couple confer once more, their faces unchanged as they turn back to the screen. The woman answers, “We’re on our cruise in the middle of the Pacific, darling.”
The man adds, his tone measured, “Son, I want you to stay where you are. I’ll get the clinic at Oakdale to send someone for you… Are you right in the old city?”
“I’m near Circular Quay,” Adam replies. “I can go back to where I woke up a while ago.”
“No, that’s fine. Just wait somewhere safe. The clinic will GPS your device. It’ll probably take them an hour to get there.”
“I don’t know why you have to go exploring that silly old city all the time, darling,” the woman adds. “You must have fallen and hurt yourself. It’s just not safe there with everything crumbling down.”
“Now, Lola, just…” the man says to the woman, cuddling and patting her arm.
“Oh, but he shouldn’t even be going down there!”
The man addresses Adam again. “Are you safe right now, son? Will you be okay to wait?”
“I’m fine. I’ll wait,” Adam tells him. “I don’t know what the hell’s going on but I’ll wait for whoever.”
“Alright, son, I’ll check in with you again in ten minutes… We’ll sort this out.”
Adam’s device screen flashes back to the still picture of the woman smiling. He puts it on his wrist and fastens the catch. He has another drink of his metallic water. The clinic is sending someone, huh? Think I might need a frigging clinic.
Memory Span is a scifi novella with a light romance and a trip around the future world on bullet trains. This fast-paced little story is an original take on the future and time travel. You might be surprised!