She was there, in my head, without warning.
“Do you remember
Lost Legacy Elsewhen*?”she said, her voice not quite my thoughts.
“I’ve never had a legacy. Trust you me, I’d know if I did.”
“No, Heinlein’s story. The first book you bought in the US. Remember?
Professor Huxley the professor sent himself back in time into his own mind. And lived his life differently.”
“Okay, now I’m suspicious. You’re not the first sudden voice in my head, you know? I keep getting that all the time. A Few Good Men, for instance. There I was sitting on the… sitting, anyway, and suddenly there’s a voice in my head, and it’s Luce, and I have to write him. Characters aren’t real, and you sound like a character to me.”
“I am a character,” she said. “Because you are one too. Cartoon character. If someone gets turpentine near you, you’re a gonner.”
“Insults will really convince me you’re me.”
“Why not? You insult yourself all the time.”
“Point. Okay, so you’re my future self. Are you going to tell me you ended up in jail and meditated yourself back to this time to warn me?”
“No. I’m going to tell you I ended up in nothing much. Death bed has an awful way of concentrating the mind. I’m going to tell you you frittered away your life in the moment, and never did much. Some people will remember Darkship Thieves a few years. But not long because Baen no longer prints it, and you haven’t got your rights back. The rest? Fritt and flutter. You never wrote the things you had in you. You never finished series. There was always something.
“I see you don’t answer, because there is no answer. Besides, it seemed like a good thing at the time.”
“I don’t answer because you’re imaginary. I don’t actually have to talk to symptoms of a dissociative episode.”
“Ah, but is it that? Or is it real? What if I came back today, to tell you you know very well what you need to do. You know those books you’ve meant for indie, and never published. You have at least ten of them needing only two days of work each before editing. And your kids… well… Let’s say if you’d been more yourself, they wouldn’t have–”
“Wouldn’t have what? What happened to the boys in the future?”
“You don’t need to know. You’ll know soon enough. Unless you change. Unless you do what you have to do.”
“You’re not helping.”
“I don’t need to. Pretend you just came back from the future, to avert a terrible fate. You know exactly what you need to do and where you’re falling down, don’t you? You can see as well as anyone else, where your bad current habits lead, can’t you?
“Does it matter if I’m real? You know what to do and what to avert.”
And so do all of you. Right now, right this minute. They say that this is the first day of the rest of your life. And it’s true and stupid like saying we’re all naked under our clothes.
But it’s also true.
Pretend your future self just came back into your head. It can’t tell you what happened, or how bad it was. And it can’t give you instructions.
But you know precisely what to do to save yourself, or to improve the outcome of your efforts. You know.
And so do I.
*I should have checked on it. I had the wrong story/wrong character. To be fair, they were both in Assignment in Eternity and it was early morning. But I should have checked.