Marc stepped out and pulled his towel off the hook. The vacant spot in the four-stall shower room was immediately filled by another disheveled boy, tired and sweaty with a few cuts healing on his lithe body. Most of Marc's dormitory hall had just returned from a great game of rugby, and the race to the showers may as well have been a continuation of the game. Sterling and Kris, two of Marc's closest friends, had slammed into each other outside the door, giving Sterling a bloody nose and blacking Kris's eye -- much to every one else's amusement.
"Hey! You should have pulled that head-knockin' move earlier, Kris! You woulda taken that other butthead's nuts off!" was yelled several times -- Kris had tripped and sent his head between an opponent's legs. Half an inch higher ... well, enough of that.
"Not my fault he wasn't wearing a shield!" was the quick retort. "He wasn't even using an old cup!"
This day and age, most college sports, a typical college experience, are played with a small shield generator in the waistband, which protected the abdominal area from injury, but even in a University as upper class as the one Marc was in, a few people could only afford plastic cups. More than one occasion had seen a broken cup, however. This was not a nice sight.
Marc was remembering this as he closed the door to his room, a shoebox (but still a Single), and examined his cup. The crack was still there, but it hadn't broken all the way across. He disliked playing with it, but didn't have any cash credits to spend to get a new one. He could use his loan cards, but the interest rate was too high. "Sigh. Oh well. I'll just have to keep getting lucky," he told himself.
"No, you're wrong! The integral of e to the minus j two pi f not t is not negative. It's positive," said the TA, a slight man with thin hair and faintly Polish looks. Not surprising, considering his last name is Slawecky. "Besides, that's a moot point. You are still not going to pass this exam by collecting measly single points on signs. Now, if this were a borderline C or B or something, I'd maybe give you a point for the hell of it more than for correcting my grading, but there's no way in hell that's going to happen now. Your score might as well be confused with a golf score or something!"
Ouch. That hurt. This TA was a real asshole, telling me this in front of the rest of my class. Like I need my academic status announced as though it were another of those homework assignments. Why am I an engineer? I can't be an engineer. I'm not good enough to make the grades.
"Marc!" came the fierce whisper. Sterling pushed a note my way. 'I just got this great book on regression. I talked with someone at home about it who does this type of stuff for a living, and she said it's genuine. It's putting you in a trance' ... I know that already, and nodded my head in Sterling's direction. 'Anyway, it's kinda simple, and I want to try it. Just on Kris, but with you, Kenny and I to watch, we can take turns. Want to?'
This looked kind of fun. I'd heard about regressions, the way people hear about some sort of new magic forces coming about that science can't explain. I snorted (bringing a glare from Slawgeeki the Tweaking Assistant) and wrote down 'Yeah right you can perform that. Count me in...' (I seriously doubt he can do it, but it'd be fun to toy around with anyway.)
'I gotta go to the sporting goods store and get a new cup or a shield or something though before tomorrow's game, Okay?' was the next thing written down. I passed it back and concentrated on the bizarre formulas that were slowly transmuting themselves across the blackboard. Why they haven't put in a glowboard in here I have no idea; the dust from the blackboard makes me sneeze, and you can't see the writing when the sun reflects off the board.
I signed onto the computer and connected with the sporting good's store terminal. It took awhile to set up the connection, as I didn't have a nice machine like all the other rich pigs on campus. Punching in "jock shield" produced a description and a cost of 220 cash credits. I wouldn't be able to buy that one textbook required for my antigrav fields course... well, I can probably live off of Sterlings' book. I would be able to appreciate a real shield more than I would
(. . . appreciate the water I need to stay healthy for the next few days. Besides, I can ...)
Huh? Water? Why was I thinking of buying corn seeds for 220 dollars instead of water? ... I shook it off and punched in the order for the shield.
"SCRKEEEK! SCRKEEEK!" jeezus but the phone system here is weird. It has different rings depending on whether or not you are using the Panasonic optical box for data. I picked it up. "Marc! Get down here! We gotta do the regression! On the Double!
" I smiled. Sterling has this annoying habit of ordering people around, but I find it funny. I'm the only person here who's met his father, and his father was a general in the Province Wars. He jokes around with his younger kids like that, and they laugh -- well, so does his older son. On my way out the door I snagged an ID card and my loan card (First National Loan Bank's own MasterCard) and headed out, planning on stopping off at the sports store at the bottom of the campus to pick my new toy up. This toy would provide nearly
(two hundred ears of corn, from which from which I can harvest kernels and sow even more)
...what? I stopped and looked around. At the other end of the hall was someone chewing a camph, but that's it. Nobody around me here trying to shake me up by whispering something over my shoulder. Bad enough that I have to wear a hearing aid due to a birth defect, almost unheard of in this day. Pun intended.
The door opened right when I was about to swing into it, and I stepped on Kris. "There you are. Why don't you get yer ass in here, already!"
"I gotta go down to get something from the store. I just bought some corn."
"I said, I gotta go pick up a jock shield. I just put the order through over the computer."
"That's not what you said. You said you bought some corn," said Kenny. The only oriental in the group, he was fairly heavyset and quick. He never missed anything. I stared at him suspiciously, wondering if he was somehow putting these corn things in my head. I was getting confused and annoyed; and a bit scared, although I wasn't about to show them that.
"Must be thinking of corn then, I had some for dinner. I meant a shield." I saved myself. "Let's go. What's involved with regression anyway? Who's going first?"
"I don't really want to go first. I would feel more comfortable if someone else went first so I can see what happens," said Kris. Carcernus Polapas, commonly known as Kris, an American with an incredibly Greek set of parents (he was adopted) had a kind of worried twist to his nervous, rugged face.
If it weren't for the fact that I'm a guy, I'd say he was downright handsome. Funny how he never seems to get...
(. . . the girls seem to love him, aside from the fact that one of the three females left is adding to the community's population and longevity courtesy of Kris. . .)
...any girls, even with all the looks he gets from the rare girl on campus.
You know, these weird subliminal thoughts that keep popping up are getting really annoying... agh, never mind.
"I'll go then. What the hell, the store is gonna be open for another hour anyway." I decided to go ahead and be the guinea pig.
"OK, Marc. Close your eyes. Wait, no, don't use the couch, use the floor. Maybe if you move around when you're regressed you won't fall off." I climbed down to the floor, thinly carpeted with a burnt red carpet that was noticeably worn in front of the threedy box in front of the room. There was a burnt-in impression on the ceiling where somebody'd taken a huge magnifying lens and focused the threedy's beam onto the ceiling.
"Close your eyes, and feel the muscles in your eyelids relax. They seem to naturally gravitate closed. You're not even using that section of your body. Now the midsection and arms. They are slowly relaxing, the muscles turning into putty, letting your arms slide to the ground. Now, the legs ..." I began to relax, letting my mind envision a completely limp Marc on the ground, with three other guys sitting on chairs and the sofa-thing around me, one glancing at a book and saying things. The room is full of detail, the wood frames of the furniture, the two tone paint on the walls, a few windows...
Then the scene was suddenly different. It didn't change right off the bat, to use an ancient cliche, but slowly seemed to swirl in, as if certain parts of my thoughts disappeared, the visions that didn't really matter, such as the color of the walls or what furniture was in the room. Suddenly I noticed a new thought, a new sight, and that led me to realize that I was in an entirely new surrounding. I was fully aware, just like that, and saw that I was in a sort of barren earth, with the opposite side of the long, shallow valley a few miles down the way. I could barely see that side, though, under the sick grey clouds with sparse breaks in it, letting the sun shine though onto dirty brown and grey earth.
There were a few pinpoints of murky green vegetation -- even this was limp and sick looking -- scattered around the valley, next to a lot of what looked like sod-house cellar stairs leading right into the earth, like the pioneers of the American Plains all those decades ago.
This was nothing like the world I had envisioned I would see in a former life. I expected to come back as some guy in the 1800s or something, getting ready to go into town and shoot some guy in the street like those old westerns or something. I'd walk into the bar -- and then it hit me that there were no buildings out here. From the looks of it, there were dwellings underneath the soil... then I realized where I was standing. I was leaning against a tree, one that had to have been here longer than any other tree in sight, judging from the fact that it was supporting my heavyset body... no, a thin, sickly, starved body.
What happened? I used to be strong, able to knock down any Rugby player... I seemed to have lingering thoughts of a voice talking to me inside my head but I can't place it anymore. I was wearing what looked like old T-shirt material wrapped around my waist, in my "relaxation" clothes. Or what my fuzzed mind was insisting I was wearing. The cloth did not provide very adequate coverage, and I found myself blushing, when I realized that nearly half the people (and all the children) in sight wore no clothes at all.
It seemed then that cloth was a rare item, and I seemed to have two outfits; this thing that scantily covered me and a full work outfit that included denim and some form of leather. This placed me in some kind of prestige position, but why? I turned, and saw that there was a grove of perhaps twenty trees behind me, the largest being the one that supported me.
Suddenly it hit me, the full truth of it all, the full reality of the world I was in: I was a survivor of World War III, started when PISC cut way back on production. PISC stands for Producers Internacionalle de Solar Cells, a basic equivalent to the oil exporting countries' coalition of the late 1900s. Wasn't that OPAC or something? A war began; Argentina launched nuclear missiles at the United States, and several other countries simultaneously began tossing missiles at each other, all of which were supposedly part of a "permanently dismantled nuclear armament". I had been one of those lucky few to have a fully stocked shelter underground, apparently, and had saplings frozen in state to later grow trees with. These saplings were fast growing softwood and slow growing hardwood; I was a tree producer, able to supply other survivors with construction materials and easily producible tools (easy to carve wood into tools and building materials). I was a success in my day, but what a sad day it was. A world so bleak ... three colors on this world: gray, brown, and dark green -- there were no flowers, no red, blue, or mixes of green. How destroyed this world is...
"Marc, you have to go." spoke a voice behind my left shoulder.
"What?" I couldn't place the voice, but it was naggingly familiar.
"You have to come back. You need to go to the store."
"Oh, right, I have to get the corn." CORN? No wonder I was having those premonitions earlier... uh... what premonitions? I don't remember where I came from. No, I do remember; I came from right here. But what was that hauntingly familiar voice in my head coming from?
I whirled around, eyes wide.
"You have to...
"You must return to us, Marc...
"You don't have to buy any corn, Marc...
"THREE!" I jolted up, a strange buzzing sensation in my head. I looked around, seeing the familiarity of the study lounge where my hall mates and I began a regression. A number came to mind, and I immediately said it, lest I forget it; at this point anything I remembered might be neat to examine. 2138. It is a year. The year that I regressed to. Then all visions of my vision disappeared, and I was left with a shocking memory of what happened...
Or rather, what was to happen. This year, the year here at school, is 2132. Sterling said that every time he'd asked a question when I was in the trance, I shook my head and had said "Later". I told Sterling what had happened, what I remembered of it (most of it, anyway). He grimaced and looked aghast... more so than the others, who looked just shocked. Then Sterling explained.
"Every so often, according to my friend back home and this book, a person 'regresses' into a former state ... sometimes of their present day. And thus they see their current state. Which is in the future. Every time this has happened, it has been true... they are usually only a few hours or days in advance and the visions are always, always true. I was regressed by my friend and went to the future too -- I saw myself in California somewhere watching my car's rear windshield wiper get ripped off. Two weeks later, we cruised down there and it happened. Exactly. To the letter. So what you basically saw is that the world is going to end in six years." He looked aghast.
"Hell no, I refuse to believe that. I can't accept that in six years the world is going to be politically unstable enough to warrant a war," said Kris. I didn't respond, but Sterling slumped back into his chair. Kris was being stubborn; relations between the US and the Argentinian government, the major producer of solar cells, had recently broken down again.
"Um. I want to think about this, guys." I got up unsteadily, and left quietly, to pick up my shield. The world may end in six years but I was going to at least protect my manhood until then. Besides which, I may actually use it to further the continuity of the community. I did have fading thoughts of being married and having two children with a third on the way. Picking up my shield was at least a real-life thing to do right now; it wasn't a vision. I needed something to do to keep my sanity.
If this world I had "reverse regressed" into was real, then it showed I was to preserve myself and, I don't know, build an underground shelter. This pleases me. But... what if I do this and it's for nothing? What if I don't and the regression is real, and a nuclear war is started? Who can I tell about this regression? Or rather, who would believe me? A small handful of psychics, who are routinely thrashed by the free press? My small group of close friends believe me, because they knew about the "power" of regression to begin with. We had all seen the results of it at one time or another. Nobody would believe me; with relations with PISC having gone downhill for the last two years, it's not that hard to think that there's a war in the future, but who would believe that? People are too busy enjoying their current life to worry about world situations. I think that solution is definitely a "not quite" situation.
Oh hell. I don't know what to think.
Life sure was simpler when all I had to do was play rugby, one of the most typical college experiences there are. College sports.
I'll just pick up my ... corn ... and get ready to ... plant some more rugby players in the field tomorrow. Final day of the tournament. If I can just stop treating the others like vegetables.
Ignorant, nonbelieving vegetables.
Typical college experience.
Dave Savlin was attempting to study Electrical Engineering at Lehigh University when he wrote "Regression" in 1991.
InterText Copyright © 1991-1999 Jason Snell. This story may only be distributed as part of the collected whole of Volume 1, Number 2 of InterText. This story Copyright © 1991 Dave Savlin.