I wake up to the sound of a leak. I’m in a little fleabag hotel after a long two-year trip back. It is hot and damp in here … and small. The leaky faucet is just a step away from the bed. There’s barely enough room to get up before I’m standing in front of the toilet. It is the slow, lazy drip that wakes me up. It doesn’t sound right. Or, rather, it does. I’ve been going backwards for so long that sounds going the right way seem strange to me.
It’s hard to describe a dripping faucet going backwards. The two-part noise is reversed, I guess. Normally it goes from low “poit” as the surface tension breaks and the morsel of water begins to fall, to a high “ting” as it lands at the bottom of the dirty little sink. But I’ve been inverted such a long time, I’m quite used to hearing it the other way around. The little high pitched “ting” happens first. Then, as the droplet is sort of pulled back into the spout, there is the slightest sort of sucking sound – like the gasped breath of a butterfly. As it comes into contact with the diffuser, surface tension reforms with a scooping sound. That’s what seems normal to me now, from going backwards for two years – what seems like an eternity.
I’m going the right way now and it feels great. With things like water and dirt going the right direction, it is much easier to get ready for the day. I wash my face and relish the feel of water pulling away the sleep from my eyes. Going with time means that washing actually cleans the dirt and grime rather than depositing it impossibly onto my face and hands. I get ready for the mission and head downstairs.
I step out of the motel and my target is just across the street. Right there in front of me is the shabby little entrance. It doesn’t look like much for being ground zero. I guess it wasn’t meant to be an infectious disease lab when they built it. The doors, warped from the humidity, no longer fit snugly in their frames. Moss grows along the walls, thriving in the damp from dozens of window-hung air conditioners endlessly weeping. It looks like the backside of the building, but its not.
The institute actually looks much better than it did when I started my trip. The damage from the riots, the rot and decay seemed to heal itself. The charred walls became merely grimy again. The broken windows reassembled themselves one by one into merely smudged panes. The overgrown mold on the walls has shrunk to mere ugliness. Rather than completely desolate, it just looks run down and uncared-for. I need to cross the busy street to get inside and accomplish my task.
The traffic in sickens me. The road is filled with slow moving cars and trucks. They chug by, huffing out great big plumes of exhaust. Poison gas. I’m so used to the look of them sucking it back up. When inverted, motor vehicles of every kind appear to be miraculously cleaning the air. I can see why they want to invert the whole world. I just want to save it.
I step up to the front doors and go inside the mad scientist’s lair. It feels good to be walking forward again. I’ve had to walk backwards when operating in public in order to keep my cover so long, I hardly know what to do with myself. I’m still looking over my shoulder all the time. Thankfully, that’s all behind me now. I swipe my badge and pass through the shoddy security. A sleepy guard with a rust pitted machine gun in his lap barely looks up. Good thing I won’t have to catch any bullets today.
I make my way to the clean room, deep in the bowels of the building. But it is a labyrinth I know well. For two years I’ve been lurking around in my inverted state, getting to know the layout. This time, going forward, things like lights and fans run the way their supposed to. I’m tired of being insufferably cold and briefly warming myself as I pass by air conditioners that noisily pump heat into the rooms. I’m really liking the heat and sweat as I make my way to the hazmat suit closet.
In order to accomplish my mission, I need to be going forward in time, so I simply wait at the closet. The door is locked up with much better security than the front entry. But it does have a little window. I see myself begin to move around inside. Tomorrow, while still inverted, I hid myself in the closet behind the lead scientist’s suit in the back. Now, as I wake up in there, I simply open the door and leave.
From my perspective it looks like I’m picking the lock form the inside. I’m careful not to engage with myself when I emerge from the tiny room. However, our eyes catch briefly. We glance at each other, as if sharing a secret. My smile grows as the other wanes, then the moment passes and my other self walks backwards out of the room and out of my life. He’ll become me in a few hours when he turns around back at the hotel.
Now comes the fulfilment of my mission. I go in and methodically examine the containment suits one by one, inch by inch. Finally, I find a small tear under the left arm of the lead scientist’s suit. This is how the whole thing starts – how the little buggers first get out of the lab. I take out my kit and begin to mend it. I rough up the edges with a little bit of steel wool. I spray the area with sealant. Then I place the inverted patch over the tiny slit. I hope this is enough. I hope I didn’t forget anything. I hope this changes everything. If it wasn’t for this little hole in this stupid suit, in this ugly little lab in this awful little urban center, the next two years would be quite different.
As I make my way out of the institute, I pass the lead scientists going in through security. I see the two Chinese fellows and a short little man with a rough voice. They’ll never know the misery I’ve saved them from. I’ll have to live through the next two years all over again, but this time it’ll be okay; it’ll be much better.
Scot Sorrells, Thanksgiving 2021