Curveball Issue 19: That Which Does Not Dream

Part One: July 20, 1992

David Bernard wakes up remembering his last rational thought the night before: don’t sleep here, it isn’t safe. Everything after that is a blur, vague images obscured by ever-thickening layers of pain and exhaustion. He’s lying on a mattress with clean sheets. The low hum of an air conditioner kicks in and cool air washes over his face. The constant, faint sound of tropical birds calling to each other can be heard just beyond the bedroom’s window.

I guess I didn’t take my own advice.

He sits up, surprised to feel neither pain nor dizziness. He obviously needed the rest, and it’s done him good—his vision is clear and sharp, and he’s thinking more clearly than he remembers thinking in a long time. Even Crossfire’s special medical treatment, as remarkable as it was, hadn’t worked this well. That thought provokes a sudden surge of relief, as he realizes that the day before he couldn’t actually remember that part of his life. His memory is back—he remembers getting hurt the first time, the second time, seeking out Crossfire, working with them, agreeing to help LaFleur in his investigation, and then they—

David frowns. Then they—there was a—

He’s sitting in the cargo bay of a plane, checking the straps to his parachute for the seventh time. LaFleur is sitting across from him, doing the same.

If it’s become the thing I think it is, it will seek to minimize and assimilate disruption. After we jump it’s likely we’ll be separated.” LaFleur has to raise his voice to be heard over the engines of the plane. “I’m sorry for that. It’s going to be a difficult transition…”

It’s almost the same thing he remembered yesterday, after reading the paper. A little more than that—he didn’t remember LaFleur saying anything about minimizing and assimilating disruption. He wonders what that means. Still, it’s progress—where he is today is remarkably better than where he was yesterday.

A little too remarkable, perhaps. An unspoken question begins to stir somewhere in the back of his head. He pushes it aside for the moment…

His pistol sits, still holstered, on a small nightstand on the left side of the bed. His notepad sits beside the holstered pistol. His clothes are neatly folded on the dresser to the left of the bedroom door. He checks his pistol, pulling it out of its holster, making sure it’s loaded and the safety is set. He gets dressed quickly, stopping only for a moment as he catches the scent of his shirt as he pulls it over his head. It smells clean. All of his clothes smell clean, which doesn’t make a lot of sense, because he distinctly remembers being pretty filthy when he stumbled into the house yesterday. He feels fairly clean too, for that matter—not what you’d expect from a guy who washed up on a beach the day before.

He picks up the notepad and flips it open. A folded-up piece of paper falls out onto the floor. He picks it up—it’s heavily creased, as if it’s been opened and refolded many times. He opens it and starts reading:

Hey David,

Yes, I’m writing a letter to myself. And chances are you’ve already read it, you just don’t remember doing it. At the time I’m writing this I’ve been here for almost a year, I think, which means you’ve been here even longer than that. The concussion is gone, and I remember everything except what happened on the plane. I get flashes of that, nothing else.

You’re trapped in some kind of screwed up time loop—that’s the only way I can think of describing it. Everything that was on this island when it happened resets after twenty-four hours (working hypothesis only) and you are half-stuck in it. Your memory resets, but you keep aging. That’s why you’ve healed, and why you have the beard.

He unconsciously reaches up to scratch his chin and pulls back his hand in surprise when he feels long hair. He runs to the mirror, stares at himself in shock, then glances back down at the note.

It’s not as long as it was, it was getting in the way… but don’t shave the whole thing, it’s going to help convince you next time.

David chews over the phrase “time loop” and wonders why that tickles a memory. He can’t place it.

I’ve figured out a few things:

1. Today’s date: July 20, 1992. It’s always that day—everything on the island is “stuck” in time. At the end of every day the island resets to however it was at the beginning of the day. I don’t know when that twenty-four hour cycle starts, but I’m pretty sure it’s some point after 10 PM and before you wake up, which is a little after 8. That’s why the front door is unlocked: whoever left the house before this thing started didn’t bother locking it. If you lock it now it’ll be unlocked by morning.

2. You can’t destroy anything on this island. At least, I don’t think you can. Check the notepad—at one point you apparently burned the house down to see if it would take.

3. Everything you brought with you can change, however. Two of your magazines are empty. I don’t remember why, but there are only a few reasons you shoot a gun these days, and it’s a safe bet one of those reasons showed up. The inanimate objects you brought with you seem to be fully independent of whatever it is the island is doing. On that point, conserve your notepad, since it seems to have the only paper you can write on that stays after twenty-four hours. Only put down what you think is absolutely important.

4. Also—your pen is the only thing that works on the notepad. A pen from the island (including its ink) “resets” after twenty-four hours, all text is gone.

5. You are sort of half-in, half-out as far as the island is concerned. Your memory keeps resetting, but your body is aging. This is a mixed blessing—it means your concussion is gone (good thing) but if you don’t figure out how to get out of this trap you’re going to die of old age in 1992.

6. You’re going to fall asleep by 10 PM. It’s some kind of compulsion. Check your notes.

7. No sign of LaFleur, but if you wander into town (completely empty, as far as I can tell) and check out the newspaper archives you’ll learn a lot that doesn’t make sense. NONE OF IT HAPPENED.

8. Port Libertad might be empty, but there are signs of other people on the island. The house is safe. Stay there until you figure out how to remember.

Good luck.

David rereads the note four times before he folds it up and puts it away. He’s certain it’s his—it’s definitely his handwriting—and what’s more he believes it. He laughs when he realizes it’s because of the beard: it’s so completely out of character that it sells everything else.

Trapped in a ‘time loop.’ Wonderful.

David isn’t a scientist. During his time as Sky Commando, he was introduced to some interesting concepts, including the existence of alternate realities with diverging timelines, but he never encountered anything that dealt with time travel.

He spends breakfast reading through his notepad, trying to keep his frustration in check. The first page contains the very brief and rudimentary notes he took on the plane. After that is a quick checklist of “to do” items. The original list is his handwriting, but very sloppy—it was written in the early days on the island, he suspects, when he was still affected by the concussion. Each item is followed by a notation in parentheses, and that handwriting is much more legible:

– Confirm date (7/20/92)

– Find a more secure hiding place (house OK for now)

– Determine location/scout surroundings (map of island in kitchen counter drawer, house in grid A, 14)

– Research LaFleur (newspaper in Port Libertad – Port Libertad Daily – archives in basement)

– Find LaFleur

“Find LaFleur” is the only entry that has no extra information.

The rest of the notepad mostly deals with his attempts to figure out how the island works. A few pages describe the experiments that appear to support everything listed in the note he left for himself, including a brief description of how he burned the house to the ground… an act that obviously didn’t “stick.” There are two separate entries describing a plan to head deeper into the island, to “visit the capital.” There’s no follow-up information for either.

He pays particular attention to the entries where he discovered the 10 PM sleep compulsion. One page is a log of his first attempt to stay up after 10, with a list of times and a brief status. He’s apparently fine at 9 PM.

2100 – OK

2115 – OK

2130 – a little tired. Doing push-ups

2135 – making coffee

2141 – caught myself nodding off. Head feels weird.

2143 – overcome with desire to sleep.

2145 – coffee isn’t helping. Feel like I’ve been up for days.

2148 – thought I heard a noise outside. Went outside to check; nothing.

2151 – I don’t think I c

It ends there, abruptly, with a little wobble and a swoop at the end of the “c” that makes David think he actually fell asleep while writing.

His second attempt involved breaking into a pharmacy in Port Libertad and finding the raw materials to cook up dextroamphetamine—a crude form of the ‘go-pill’ that he’d used from time to time when he was in the military. That log was almost identical—half an hour before the “sleep wall” he took the drug, felt it kick in five minutes after ingestion, reported feeling as if he’d taken nothing at all at 2147, then no other entries.

He searches through the kitchen counter until he finds the map mentioned in his notes, then spreads it out across the table. ESPERANZA is printed across the top. That means… what, exactly? David frowns as he tries to remember his high school Spanish classes. “Libertad” is easy, but all he remembers about “Esperanza” is that it was the name of a girl in his tenth grade history class.

Still, at least he has a name, at least until tomorrow.

First impression: the map is censored. There are parts of the map that are blocked out in red, and the map key denotes those as “High Security Zones.” Some of them are on the coast, and appear to be spaced at regular intervals, completely surrounding the island. Others are placed around a large city near the center of the island—Victoria, apparently the island’s capital. Just north of the city is a swath of red that is much larger than the others.

Second impression: his suggestion to not bother exploring until he can break through this 10 PM barrier is tactically sound. The island is too big. The back of the map shows the island in relation to its neighbors, and it’s almost as large as the Dominican Republic. If he could find a working car, he might get to the capital in three or four hours… assuming he wasn’t trying to hide from anyone, but that’s not a safe assumption. Port Libertad is empty, but there are other people on the island. And even if he got there, what would he do? There wouldn’t be enough time to look around. Not when he’d forget everything the next day.

He drums his fingers idly on the kitchen table, alternating between studying the map and reviewing the notes. At least he knows where he is—a Caribbean island he’s never heard of, set between the Dominican Republic and Bermuda…

His fingers stop drumming and he focuses on the map again. There’s Miami to the west. There’s Puerto Rico to the southeast. There’s Bermuda to the northeast. And there is Esperanza, a Caribbean island he has never heard of before today, sitting right in the middle.

The Bermuda Triangle. It’s right in the middle of the Bermuda Triangle.

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