Theresa Choi and her father are sitting on his couch. They’re in her father’s living room in front of her father’s new Ectoscope™ Screen. Dad is having trouble with the technology. A scam is going around where scammers are promising that they can erase timelines from Ectoscope™ for a fee. This fee is substantial. Dad has paid this fee.
The problem is that nothing can be erased from Ectoscope™. That would be like trying to erase the Universe itself. You can’t erase the Universe. And ultimately that’s what Ectoscope™ is, literally the Universe itself.
Someone with superior technological skills or financial assets might be able to temporarily block or black out sections of the visible Ectoscope™ timeline, but these are just stopgap solutions. Even if the Ectoscope™ timeline could be altered, the technology behind Ectoscope™ has reached critical mass. Soon Ectoscope™ will be just one retailer out of many for timeline observation. Even Apple and Facebook, the dinosaurs of the tech industry, have developed “new and improved” scopes and will enter the timeline market within the year. There’s nothing anyone can do to stop this. There are no more secrets on planet Earth. That’s just a reality that people will have to get used to.
Every secret ever lied about, covered up, buried, or repressed is now available for all to see, or is in the process of becoming available for all to see. The entire history of Earth, viewable by anyone with a $10,000/week subscription to Ectoscope™ or even a pocket full of credits to pump into a pay-by-the-minute Ectoscope™ Arcade machine.
Who would’ve thought time travel would turn out like this. No complicated machines, no wormholes, no lightning orbs, no silver DeLoreans, no spaceships slingshotting around the sun, no ancient magic awoken from the tomb of Qin Shi Huang.
None of that.
Just a really powerful telescope. A telescope with unlimited resolution and computers to track the trajectory of Earth’s reflection through space from today all the way back to the Big Bang.
“But,” Dad insists, “there are still a lot of things that we can’t see. Why can’t we just make my history a part of that?”
“A part of what, Dad?” Theresa responds.
“A part of that timeline that we still can’t see!”
Dad is agitated. Theresa knows this tone of voice. Dad is frustrated over not being able to communicate. He’s frustrated over not understanding how things are now or how things work. The world has become strange to him. He doesn’t like it.
“Dad,” she says, “I told you, it’s not like that. It’s not that people are erasing parts of the timeline, it’s just that the timeline isn’t fully rendered yet.”
“What do you mean? I just want my life to stay like it is. I don’t want anyone to see my life, Teri. I don’t want that!”
“Oh, Dad, come on.” Theresa is frustrated now. “Look, we’re all in the same boat. Everybody has things in their past that they’re embarrassed about. But this is how things are now. No more secrets.”
“No, Teri, no.” Dad shakes his head and grabs hold of Theresa’s shoulders. “Please, sweetheart. Help me.”
Theresa carefully and gently loosens Dad’s grip and takes Dad’s hands off her collar. She places Dad’s hands into his lap and pats them.
“Dad, remember how people used to be embarrassed about their bodies?” She emphasizes the word people. “How people didn’t want other people to see them naked? And first it was just hackers and creepy photographers, and then Periscope™ came out, and then Scan-X™, and then Mimico™?”
“That’s not the same thing.”
“Yes, Dad. It is. It’s exactly the same thing. People used to think they couldn’t live if everyone saw them naked. That they’d be so ashamed. And then, one day, everybody could see everybody else naked, and it was no big deal. It actually worked out great.”
“Great for who?” Dad reaches out and grabs at Theresa’s shirt collar again. Clutching too tightly now to be removed without force. Dad is referring to the mass suicides that followed the mass marketing of Mimico™, which wasn’t even actual pictures of naked people, just a computer model of what someone most likely looked like naked.
Theresa puts her hands on Dad’s wrists. She can feel the scarring on the undersides. She frowns, unable to hide her judgment.
“You can’t do this, Dad. Not again. I can’t do this again. Please, for me. Be reasonable. Do not freak out.”
She looks at Dad. Dad’s eyes are full of tears, but it seems like he’s trying very hard to not break down. Theresa takes her hands away and starts to access the Ectoscope™. She calls up Ancient History.
“Let’s watch something, okay? To take our minds off of this. Give us some perspective.”
Theresa pulls up Jesus of Nazareth, a favorite of hers.
“See, Dad. If Jesus can handle this, so can we. Right?”
The Jesus story (as with most of the major religions) has turned out to be surprisingly consistent with conventional religious belief. It turns out Jesus really was born in a manger. Jesus really did walk on water. Jesus really did turn water into wine. Jesus really was crucified. Jesus really did return from the dead. Jesus really did then fly up into Heaven. It turns out all of that actually happened.
But that was just a few days out of his life. People were curious about what else Jesus did. And it turns out that Jesus was a busy man. Besides the public speaking gigs, which took up a lot of his daylight hours, Jesus mostly liked to party. He and his friends got drunk most nights, like crazy stupid drunk, which was unusual in that time and place. He also had a habit of getting into fistfights. (He was surprisingly bad at fighting, given that he had supernatural powers at his disposal. It’s speculated that he purposefully restrained himself so as to make the fights fair.) And then there was Theresa’s favorite discovery. It turns out that Jesus was a solid gold-star sex machine with the ladies and gents.
Traditional religious people did not like this. But something happened. Most everyone else really liked this Jesus. They liked him a lot. They liked that he was a lush, and that he got his ass kicked on a regular basis. They loved that he was a maestro in the bedroom. (The Jesus “I’m a lover not a fighter” T-shirt became the most popular fashion statement of 2037.) Christianity had its biggest popularity explosion since the Nicene Council.
Theresa tunes the Jesus timeline feed to the scene of Jesus washing Simon Peter’s feet.
She and Dad watch attentively.
Jesus is smiling as he washes, like he’s really enjoying himself. His hands, which are rather large and meaty, rub and knead the feet of his apostle, Simon Peter. Simon Peter seems embarrassed.
There’s no audio, but Theresa imagines Jesus telling Simon Peter, “Hey, don’t be embarrassed, man. We’re just humans being humans. Whatever it is you’re feeling, whatever it is that’s bothering you, it’s gonna be okay.”
And then, and this is Theresa’s favorite part, Simon Peter shoves Jesus away and draws his sword. He yells something. Jesus puts his arms out, and Simon Peter takes a swing at him. The sword passes through Jesus as if he were a ghost. Simon Peter drops the sword and falls to his knees. Jesus picks him up and holds him. The two men weep.
“Oh, God, that’s beautiful,” father and daughter say in unison. They look at each other and laugh. Dad pinches Theresa’s cheek. Theresa lets him, even though she’s annoyed by it.
“What is it that you’re so afraid of people seeing?”
Theresa tries to imagine what it could be. She thinks about their lives together, all the things they’ve been through. They’ve been through some bad times. Dad and Theresa’s mother fought a lot, and bad. Could Dad have done something awful to Mom? Beat her? Cheated on her? And then Theresa’s mother died in a car accident, and then Dad changed. He wasn’t angry anymore, but also never really happy either. Maybe there’s something there. Maybe Dad killed Mom? No, that’s crazy. Or is it? Or maybe it was something even further back, something in Dad’s past before Theresa was even born, some crime that was long buried but never forgotten. Dad never talked about his life before Theresa. Maybe it was some kind of criminal stuff. Or some sex stuff. Jesus, Theresa thinks. She’s okay with sex stuff, mostly. But there are exceptions. She doesn’t really want to think about what those exceptions are.
“I’m sorry, Teri,” says Dad. “I am.”
“What,” she says, trying not to meet his eyes. “It doesn’t have anything to do with me, does it?”
Dad looks away. Theresa looks up. She watches as he suffers, the tension in his jaw, the desperation in his eyes. Dad breathes unevenly and too quickly, as if starting to hyperventilate and then panic. Theresa scoots over and puts her arm around him.
“Oh, Teri,” he says. “I’m so sorry.”
“Ah shit, Dad,” she says. “It’s okay. Whatever it is. It’s okay.”
Dad scoots away from Theresa, pulling out from under her arm. He raises his head. He is frowning. “I don’t know how else to say this.”
“Just say it, Dad.”
“Well, Theresa, I’m not your dad.”
The statement confuses Theresa. She flinches visibly. “What?”
“Oh, dang it, Teri. I’m sorry. It’s all a mess. But I’m not your dad. I’m not your father. I don’t know who your father is. But it isn’t me. I couldn’t have kids. Your mother didn’t know. But I knew. I couldn’t. And when she got pregnant, I confronted her. She swore you were mine. But then the tests came back, and they said there was no chance you were mine. I was so mad, honey. I was going to leave you, the both of you. But I didn’t. I tried to make it work with your mother. And then she died. But I loved you. I always loved you. And I still love you. And, I’m old now. And you’re all I have. I don’t want to lose you.”
“So, the thing with the Ectoscope™?” she asks, already knowing the answer.
“It’ll show you everything. What happened between me and your mother. What happened between your mother and your real father, your real dad. Who he is. Where he is.”
Theresa knows she should say something comforting to Dad. She thinks she should tell him that it’s really okay. That he won’t lose her. That she doesn’t care about any other real dad, or anything like that. That he’s her real dad, the only dad she’s ever known.
She thinks about Jesus and Simon Peter. She thinks she should say what she thinks Jesus would say, that there’s nothing to be embarrassed about. That the truth will set them free. That everything coming to light is all for the better. She should say something generous and forgiving. But Theresa doesn’t feel generous or forgiving. She feels numb, in shock probably. But underneath that, probably angry, though she isn’t sure.
He looks at her. She can tell he really needs her to say something. His eyes are getting desperate. He needs her to say something nice. But even something mean would be better than this silence. She breathes audibly. She rolls her eyes upward in an effort to keep from crying. She’s not sure why she feels like crying. She’s not sad.
On the Ectoscope™ Screen, Jesus and Simon Peter are talking. Jesus has snot crusted over his face from all the crying. Simon Peter looks a little bit better, but still a mess. A woman hands them both cups of wine. Jesus downs his in one gulp. He motions for another. The two men talk. Theresa watches. She knows this scene. It’s where Jesus asks Simon Peter who he thinks Jesus is. It’s a test. A test to see if Simon Peter realizes that Jesus is the Son of God. Simon Peter is very animated. He’s gesturing wildly, pointing to Jesus and then pointing to the sky. Simon Peter starts clawing at his eyes and punching the side of his head. Jesus sits still, holding his cup of wine and looking off into the distance. She knows what they’re saying, or at least what she’s been told they’re saying. But there is no audio in Ectoscope™. Theresa can’t really tell for certain what’s going on. She can’t tell if they’re angry or if they’re happy. She can’t tell if they’re really talking about what she’s been taught they’re talking about. She can’t even tell if this is really Simon Peter. She can’t even tell if this is really Jesus.
Peter H.Z. Hsu is a 2017 PEN Center USA Emerging Voices Fellow. His fiction has also appeared in The Margins, Pinball, F(r)iction Online, and is forthcoming in Flapperhouse.