The cards, slick, dry and neat, were comfortable and familiar in his hands, Shuffling them, he naturally recalled when the cards didn’t exist. Everything had to be held in his head in that period. It was messy.
He’d invented cards, as far as he knew, and he was certain he knew the truth. After he’d used them in public a few times, others began crude imitations. Some worked. Most didn’t. Then they became used for fortune telling and games. They could be very effective for seeing hidden truths but people truly needed the ability for that. Most didn’t have those abilities.
That nobody remembered or acknowledged him as the inventor didn’t bother him. Time and reality were barely stable then. History was yet to come. History didn’t matter in the long run. Neither did time.
Today’s deck was fifty-two. He liked fifty-two cards. They shuffled well and easily fit in his pockets. Cutting the deck, he pulled a few free and spread them face down on the table. Some beer imbibed, another ordered, and then he turned the first over.
A star ship.
Been there…. No, he didn’t want to go to a star ship.
Next he turned over a hot desert, and then a castle. Alexander the Great came up on the next card. A frigate followed. All felt dissatisfying.
He sipped his beer. An IPA, its BTUs were listed as one hundred fifty. He expected a sharply bitter beer but discovered pleasant nuances and currents. The problem with here and the cards was that he didn’t know what he wanted. He’d come here searching for something different. He’d found something different. It wasn’t working out. Greed and violence were consuming honor and principles. The people and nations were becoming husks.
Yes, he’d lived in such places before.
Returning the drawn cards to the deck, he went through the picture cards, stopping when he came across a landscape that was dark, with withered plants, despite the bright sunlight depicted. With a little effort, he heard a moaning wind and felt a chill crawl into his bones. Memories of the place quickened. He’d lived there twenty lifetimes before and had no inclination to return there.
He licked his thumb and ran it over the scene. Its image blurred. Between swallows of beer, he kept licking and rubbing the card until his thumb was dark and the scene was obliterated.
Mason came by. “Do you need a refill?”
A young university student majoring in education, he liked her. Most young woman attending that university were majoring in education, sadly sexist, in his view. She was also an artist. Her acrylics sometimes decorated the pub’s walls. “Can you do me a favor, Mason?”
Although she wiped down his table, she questioned him with a brown-eyed look and flicked back her brown hair. “Anything. Well, almost anything.” She grinned. “We’ll see. What is it?”
“You’re an artist, right?”
She smiled. “I try.”
“Oh, such false modesty.” He put the smudged card face up on the table. “Put your thumb on this card and think of a place for me, somewhere you really like.”
“Really?” Suspicion and doubt were in her expression. “Why? What’s going to happen?”
“It’s new software. It’s going to create it.”
Mason hooked her hair back behind her ear with her thumb. “I just put my thumb on it? Either thumb?”
“Either thumb, and then think of a place, somewhere you really like.”
“Does it have to be real?”
“No.” Her questioned intrigued him. “Be as imaginative as you want.”
Smiling, Mason shrugged. “Okay.”
She put her thumb on the card. Her mouth fell open. She flicked a wide-eyed look toward me. “It feels weird, like something is crawling over my thumb.”
“Don’t worry, it’s harmless.”
“No, I’m not worried. I trust you. How long should I keep my thumb on it?”
“You’ll know when to remove it.”
She was going to say more. A start interrupted her. In less than an eye twitch, she disappeared.
Finishing his beer, he picked up the card to see where she’d gone. He usually didn’t do things like this but felt a new avenue was needed. When he saw her creation, he laughed out loud, drawing looks from the seven others sitting around the pub.
She was already forgotten here, she already lived there. Well, he wanted different. Picking up the card, he put his palm on her creation.
“There you are, Doctor,” she said.
Glancing around the TARDIS’ interior, he put the card in the deck and stuck it in his pocket. “Yes, here I am.” He wondered what he looked and sounded like, whether he was a new Doctor or an old one. “Where should we go today, Mason?”
With apologies to Doctor Who and Chronicles of Amber fans.