Today's Reading

Miranda turned with barely a nod. She glanced at her parents, forming the inscrutable mask that appeared more and more these days. Heather beamed out a smile at their daughter before looking his way, the anxious creases returning. "I'll pull the car in," Heather said. Kin nodded, still rubbing his head, and Heather went back to the idling sedan. As the car rolled forward, a crunch echoed in the space, and something fired out from beneath the tire.

Kin tried to focus, examining where the sound originated and the possible debris trajectory only to catch a sudden flicker of blue light and a high-pitched burst of sound. Perhaps some post-blackout symptoms lingered.

Heather opened the car door, but stopped half a step out. "Oh no," she whispered loud enough for him to hear. A dour line formed across her mouth and she picked up a ping-pong-sized chrome sphere off the garage floor. "Not this. You were looking at this thing again?"

A Temporal Corruption Bureau retrieval beacon. Mostly smooth outer chrome shell with bits of technological cuts and grooves in it, along with one gaping bullet hole. (Heather once called it a cross between a Death Star and a Borg sphere; he took her word for it rather than look it up.) Voice activated, holographic interface. Once implanted into his body, right beneath his rib cage.

Those details remained while other facts disappeared. Maybe because he bore the self-surgery scars to prove it.

Pain stung the side of his head, in and out like a sewing needle.

Kin remembered now. Some ten, fifteen minutes ago, he'd pulled it out from his toolbox beneath a stack of wrenches and stared at it, trying to will memories into existence.

"It's like when I first met you. The headaches and forgetting. Things were good for so long. Why is this back? Why is it getting worse?"

Kin wanted to tell the truth: when they first met, memories of 2142 and the TCB were still disappearing. His brain eventually reached an equilibrium between his past and present around the same time their relationship blossomed. After that, symptoms appeared only when forcing memories.

Until recently.

"Six months ago..." he started. He needed to say something. Revert to the long-standing cover story of an ex-military life and ongoing PTSD? Or finally reveal that it felt like his few remaining agent memories were fading to the same black hole that swallowed up his memory of whoever he was prior to meeting her? That staring at the beacon was an attempt to trigger proof that he wasn't going mad?

That would sound totally insane. Especially to an already-worried wife. His focus turned to the dead beacon in his hand, its futuristic alloy surviving a bullet from years ago and now apparently Heather's car.

"Come back to me, Kin. Family is here. Metal thingy is there. What is it about this?" Heather's voice was soft. "I've found you passed out three times with it. You're obsessed."

"It's only some old work equipment." He set the beacon down on an adjacent shelf. "I was seeing if I could fix it."

"It can't be a coincidence. Please get rid of it. Throw it away." Out of nowhere, she winced, eyes tightening and teeth biting into her bottom lip, hand at her temple. He reached over to her, but she turned away. "I'm fine. It's just been a long day and I still have calls to make." Heather was an attorney, a career that brought her pride and stress in equal measure.

"Hey, you're the one telling me to go to the doctor."

"Seriously, I'm fine. Other than all these client briefs I have to review." Her serious expression broke into a wry grin, putting a different kind of weight on his mind. She took his free hand, her pale fingers contrasting against his. "Look at us. Bickering about who goes to the doctor first for headaches. Like an old married couple."

"Give us the senior discount, already, huh?"

"Well, I think these—" Heather touched his face, pointing at the creases around his mouth "—and this," she said, stroking the flecks of gray in his hair and tapping his glasses, "make you look distinguished."

"You, too," he said, his tone light.

"You're supposed to say I don't look a day over twenty-five," Heather replied with a laugh. "Don't blame that on the headaches." She gave him a playful shove, though the change in balance brought his hands to his head. "Sorry. Sorry, sorry."

"It's okay. It's okay, really." Kin stood, wiping the oncoming sweat off his forehead before his wife could notice. "I'll be fine."

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