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art by M.S. Corley

True Love

Alex Shvartsman is a writer and game designer from Brooklyn, NY. He's a member of SFWA. His short stories appeared in Nature, Galaxy's Edge, and many other magazines and anthologies. This is his fifth story at Daily Science Fiction. Alex edits the Unidentified Funny Objects series of humor SF/F anthologies. Read more of his stories at alexshvartsman.com.

"This wasn't at all what I expected," said Helen of Troy.
The man behind the counter nodded, an expression of professional empathy pasted onto his face.
"There was no epic love, no grand romance," said Helen. No, she was Molly. Molly. But it was difficult to stop thinking of herself as Helen after spending what felt like years in the other woman's head. "Everything was so dirty and run down, and there was no indoor plumbing. Paris tired of his conquest after only a few weeks, and I spent ages cooped up in a tiny room, bored out of my mind."
"Paris wasn't in love, then?" The man behind the counter wore the purple and white uniform of Temporal Excursions, Inc. and a metal nametag which read "Travis."
"Not with Helen," said Molly. "I'm pretty sure he was much more interested in Aeneas."
"I'm sorry," said Travis. "Actual history rarely turns out to match what was recorded and passed down through the centuries. Events tend to become neater and larger than life with each retelling."
"I won't give up just because Paris turned out to be so overhyped," said Molly. "There are other accounts of true love throughout history. Pure love, the likes of which you just don't see around, these days. And I'm determined to experience it."
True to her word, Molly was back the following week. Travis waved at her from across the office, came over to say hello and to process her order, then helped her to get comfortable in the recliner seat. But, before her hour was up, Molly disconnected the temporal cables from her head and got up, frowning.
"No true love?" Travis asked.
"Not even close. Caesar was a lecherous old man, and Cleopatra always saw their union as a marriage of convenience. Mark Anthony was worse. When things weren't going his way, he took it out on me.... On her." Molly shivered.
"That sounds awful," said Travis, with what sounded like genuine concern. "Did she really use a poisonous snake, you know, at the end?"
"I don't know. I disconnected, before..." Molly trailed off, then refocused. "You know the worst part? Mark Anthony beat her, and Cleopatra just let him. And there was nothing I could do, no matter how hard I tried."
"It's temporal physics." Travis sighed. "We can only be spectators of the past. Passengers, along for the ride. We can't influence events in any way."
"I wonder how people like Cleopatra would feel if they knew about tens of thousands of tourists riding along in their heads, observing their every private moment." Molly crossed her arms.
"It's probably best that they never knew," said Travis. "Who knows, there may be some future customers of Temporal Excursions watching us right now."
Molly didn't like that idea at all.
"I wasn't sure you'd be back," said Travis the following week.
"I've been reading," said Molly. "Napoleon wrote such beautiful love letters to his bride." She handed Travis her credit card.
"Napoleon was a pig," she declared an hour later. "All those mistresses, and then he dumps Josephine for that Austrian harlot, just because she couldn't give him a child."
"There are other moments in history you could try," said Travis. "Tristan and Isolde. Juan and Evita Peron." He smiled. "I've been reading, too."
"No, I think I'm done with Temporal Excursions for a while," said Molly.
"I'm very sorry to hear that." Travis shifted his weight from foot to foot, uncomfortably. "I do hope you'll change your mind. It's always nice to see you here."
Molly studied Travis, who looked sheepish waiting for her response. He lacked the smoldering good looks of Paris, the chiseled muscles of Mark Anthony, or the confidence of Napoleon. But his eyes were kind.
"Would you like to maybe grab a cup of coffee, sometime?" Molly asked.
"Sure," Travis beamed a smile at her. "My shift is just ending."
When the two of them walked outside together a few minutes later, Molly was certain the contented sigh she heard in her head was only a figment of her imagination.
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, June 6th, 2013

Author Comments

"True Love" was originally written for the Codex flash fiction contest, where it did quite well. I love mixing history and myth into my storytelling, and this was a fun opportunity to play with the "famous lovers in history" trope. I especially enjoyed considering the darker implications the technology described herein might have on one's privacy. Who's to say the protagonists of this story won't go on to become the next legendary couple, and future Mollys aren't flocking to observe and judge her own budding relationship?

- Alex Shvartsman
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