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art by Seth Alan Bareiss

Harmonies of Time

Caroline M. Yoachim is a writer and photographer living in Seattle, Washington. She is a Clarion West graduate and was nominated for a Nebula Award for her 2010 novelette, "Stone Wall Truth." Her fiction has appeared in Asimov's, Lightspeed, and Shimmer, among other places. For more about Caroline, check out her website at carolineyoachim.com. Go to dailysciencefiction.com to look up her previous stories at DSF.

You do not know me yet, my love, but I can hear you in my future. You are there from the beginning--at first just a few stray notes, but your presence quickly grows into a beautiful refrain. I wish you could hear time as I do, my love, but this song was never meant to be heard. The future should be chronobviated, gathered up in feathery pink fronds with delicate threads that waver in and out of alternate timelines. The past should be memographed, absorbed into a sturdy gray tail that stretches back to the beginning of the universe. We humans have neither fronds nor tails, but when the Eternals wanted to talk to us, they found a way to work around that.
The melody of my past is simple.
When I was ten years old, I heard my mother's voice for the first time. The doctors worried that I might be too old to adapt to the change. They told me that the sensation might be overwhelming. They explained that sound wouldn't be the same for me as for a child born with hearing. But none of that mattered. As a ten-year-old child, I saw the procedure as a way to be normal, just like all the other kids, and I jumped at the chance.
When the doctors turned my cochlear implant on for the first time, I was in a quiet room. My mother gave me a moment to adjust to the hum of the lights, and then she spoke to me. She told me that she loved me, signing as she said the words. When I heard her voice, I cried.
I never dreamed that in my lifetime I would gain another sense, but when the Eternals made first contact, they did not ask for politicians or for scientists. They asked for people like me. I had already learned a new sense, and I already had external sensors wired into my nervous system. With my permission, the Eternals altered my cochlear implant, and what they sense as time I hear as music. So much of what they wanted to say to us was contained in the harmonies of the future; they felt they couldn't communicate with us any other way.
It was disorienting at first, far worse than when my cochlear implant had been turned on. That had simply been a cacophony of sound, and the doctors had kept the room quiet to ease my transition. My new sense was a cacophony of time, and not even the Eternals could silence it. Every possible future of the universe echoed in my brain, and it nearly drove me mad. It was you that saved me, my love, even though we have not met. The possibility of you gave me something to hold on to. Something human, something simple, something real.
In the harmonies of my future, we meet today and tomorrow and next year and never. It is impossible to say for sure, but you sound closer now, so I suspect the time is near. I joke and you laugh. This is important, because in the strands of harmony where this doesn't happen, I tend to lose you. We date for weeks and months and years and not at all. I have the advantage of knowing which harmonies end well, so I will take you on the zip line tour that you will love, and avoid that disastrous trip to France.
I propose and you propose and we never speak of marriage. We have a beautiful ceremony in a church and on a beach and at the county courthouse. All our friends come to celebrate with us, or we elope and celebrate alone. We honeymoon in Mexico and Spain and Alaska and sometimes not at all because we can't afford the trip. We buy a house and live with your parents and rent a one-bedroom apartment on the twenty-fourth floor of a high-rise.
Sometimes we have children and sometimes not. Either way is fine with me, love, but there are things I can't control, even with everything I know. We have two girls and one boy and no children even though we try. We lose children before they are born and from sickness I cannot prevent and as soldiers in a foreign war. There are strands in the harmony where you resent me for failing to stop these things. There are strands where I hate myself. But there are other strands with so much joy. Yes, either way is fine with me. The happiness is worth the risk.
We grow old together and alone, but the aging is inevitable--avoided only by death. We get glasses and you get a hearing aid, and the harmonies of time start to slip away from me. I prefer the strands where you are at my side when I die, but sometimes you pass first and I am there with you.
The Eternals warned us of a catastrophe that will and won't happen, two million years from now. They believed their message was urgent. They failed to comprehend the timescale of our lives, even after we explained. Once they had given their warning, they left in search of others who could not foresee the coming danger.
I kept my implant, even after the Eternals moved on. I am changed forever by this sense of what has been and what may someday be. Even when the song threatens to overwhelm me, I must listen. I would not cut out my eyes because the light is too bright; I would not cut out my tongue after tasting something bitter. I cling to the song of time even though it makes me doubt my connection to humanity. I am different, yes. But I still cry when I think of my mother's voice, cracking with emotion as she tells me that she loves me, the first time I ever heard her. The memory helps me remember who I am, no matter how disconnected I may feel. That memory is the next best thing to having you.
The harmonies of when we meet collapse into a single note, and we are meeting now. I tell a joke, and wait for you to laugh. Oh, I hope you laugh. Please, please laugh. It would be so hard to lose you, now that you are here.
For an agonizing moment I wait, and the harmonies of our future waver. Then you laugh, a sound as sweet as the first time I heard my mother's voice. A sound that bodes well for our future.
In ninety-eight percent of all the harmonies I hear, I love you.
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, January 1st, 2013

Author Comments

This story was inspired by a video I saw of a baby who got a cochlear implant and was able to hear his mother's voice for the first time. It got me thinking about what it would be like to interpret a new type of sensory information, and whether learning a new sense might be useful for communicating with aliens.

- Caroline M. Yoachim
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