2008-03-30: I Prefer Not


Lee_icon.gif FuturePeter_icon.gif

Summary: People can learn from mistakes before they ever make them.

Date It Happened: March 30, 2008

I Prefer Not

Brubaker Secondary School - New York City

Lee is, as he said, a teacher. There were people who didn't believe that. There were people that thought, no way this guy stood in front of a bunch of 13 year olds and wrote the three branches of government on a chalkboard. Eventually, though, nobody would believe anything about him, good or bad, banal or extravagant. But standing in front of a class that is amazingly upbeat for being so late in the day, he seems almost at home, graceful, respectful. On the board behind him are boxes containing words like "CONTRIBUTORS" and "UNIONS" and "INTEREST GROUPS" with various lines connecting them. "Now I know you've been waiting to talk about your test scores." he concludes. "Most of you did extremely well. We had many of you pass the exam, and many more were very close. A few of you decided you would not put any effort into the exam and that was reflected in your score. But for those of you who worked, your work showed through in your score. Even if you didn't pass, you've built a strong foundation for going forward. I'm confident each of you who puts in the effort will pass next year. I want to especially recognize one student. Lisa improved the most between the pre-test and the actual test. She went from a thirty percent to a passing grade. She did it by hard work. She came to writer's workshop every week, and she scored in the top ten percent of the whole school on the written portion of the exam. Of the whole school, not just of this class. That includes all the advanced classes. She worked with more advanced students, she got extra help from teachers and from her parents. Some applause for Lisa, please." At his direction, the class applauds, and Lisa blushes from her blonde-dyed highlights right down to her carelessly tossed-on uniform.

"You're still a bitch." comes a voice from the back of the classroom.

Lee snaps right back, "And you're still in the 10th grade, Edgar, and with your performance on the exam I think you can expect to be there a long time. Think about it in detention. Go right now, so you're not caught in the after-school crowd going places and doing things." He is not going to have some jerkoff ruin Lisa's moment, so he twists the dagger and the class, even the other jerks, wince. Edgar droops and saunters out with his head down. "Tomorrow," Lee says, "We start Chapter 12, Section 5, ex post facto laws. Read the study questions and be prepared to discuss in depth." The bell rings. "Class dismissed." he says. He stands by the door, nodding his head and thanking each student as they go by, whether they acknowledge him or not. Lisa hugs him, he seems awkward when he hugs her back. She rushes out.

After the last student clears out, there's suddenly someone else in the room. Much how he appeared in the office of the guidance counselor, Peter stands in the corner of the classroom, looking in the direction of the doorway. "You're good with young people, Lee," he says in his whispered, raspy voice, before he steps away from the corner to get closer to him. "I said I'd come back and talk to you again. Do you have time now, or do you have to be somewhere?"

Lee blinks, and turns to erase the chalkboard. "I…I…" he stammers, before getting a grip: "I'm fine, office hours don't start for twenty minutes." The throngs of kids swirl outside. He fixes Peter with a near-glare. "You know, you could have just walked in. Knocked. Maybe called. Gotten a visitor's pass?"

"That usually requires an ID of some kind, I think," Peter explains, as he continues to get closer to the board, looking at what hasn't all been erased yet. "The only ID I have was issued in two thousand and ten. I think they would turn me away." There's no smile or joke in his tone. He sounds deadly serious. It would have caused a lot of trouble to try to check in at the office and get a visitor's pass. "You can't always do things by the book."

Lee says, "Can travel through time but can't get a fake ID. I could have shaken down the back row gang and gotten you a few if you'd let me know. But we can't all be as wily as thirteen year olds." He raises a hand to forestall any protest. "No, no, it's not your fault, it seems to happen to a lot of people with those ridiculous genetic twists. So what did you want to talk about?"

"I could make a fake ID," Peter explains, even glancing over to the back row as he mentions his boys who probably had such a thing. "Doesn't mean I should." There would have been many ways he could fake an ID, including shapeshifting and technopathy… but he doesn't go into that right now. Not with this man. "There's a lot of terrible people in the world. Those who want to control people like us… who want to control those who even have genetic anomolies. I understand your parents were fanatics?"

Lee says, somewhat archly, "….were? If they die, or suddenly become sane, I'd rather not hear about it this way." Yes, he still disapproves of time travel. "I'm sure there are people like that out there," he says dismissively. "People are still trying to control kids, and science, and machines, and bacteria, and love, and money, and all the great works of man and God, and they rarely get anywhere for very long. But I suppose it keeps them off the public dole. I take from your dire tone that someone has tried these methods on you?" And that's not sarcastic, he really is concerned.

"Everything is easier in past tense," Peter can't help but say, mildly ironic in this. Doesn't mean he even knows what has happened to the man's parents in the time he comes from. Reaching to the chalk holder, he picks off one of the long sticks of white and starts to draw a line on the board. "There will always be people like that… any time, any place… they'll use me, you, the students who would sit in these desks… every single person. In some way…" The line he draws suddenly moves into a curve, turning back the way it came. "Everything can end up where it began… children could inevitably follow in their parent's footsteps…" The line is back where it began, but the line doesn't meet the beginning. "But you don't have to. A time will come when you'll have a choice… between becoming a pale imitation of your parents… or becoming something better."

Lee observes the line-drawing with interest, and actually takes it quite seriously by his expression, though his response begins with a sarcastic tone: "Their intent was that my sister and I would become two of the powered elite who would rule like gods over the cowering masses." He half-smiles. "Like Bartleby the scrivener, 'I prefer not to.' But say this for my parents. They have principles. They have some bedrock belief that drives them. They're not just bouncing from crisis to crisis. I'm trying to at least take that away from them."

"That's one advantage you have over me. You're capable of focusing on one crisis at a time," Peter says softly, looking at the board. He can't even draw a situation to describe what he goes through daily, weekly, yearly… That's why his watch, that he built with his own two hands, is so complex and hard to explain to anyone except him. "Stick to your principles and your beliefs. Even if no one else notices what you're doing— Do it for yourself. Do it for these children… It may be considered cheating— inside information— but I like to think that people should learn from mistakes, even before they make them."

Lee says, cautiously: "You're telling me this, because…at some point in the future, I don't. I blow it." It's not really a question. He sighs, runs a hand through his hair, looks put-upon. "Wouldn't be the first time. Can you at least tell me…why? Was I under some kind of pressure, or…?"

"Everyone blows it at least once," Peter says softly, speaking from his own experience. He puts the piece of chalk down, turning to look at the man. "There were reasons, I'm sure… I can't tell you exactly what they are, but there will always be pressure. Always be people you need to protect. But protecting some people at the expense of a great deal of people… that isn't always the best option." He looks over at the board. "Then again there's almost never a better option. And if I change things as much as I hope I will… you may never have to make that choice in the first place. But… make your choices based on what you can live with, what the people close to you can live with. If you keep looking into the eyes of someone close to you, and you still like what is reflected back at you— then you made the right choice."

Lee frowns. "You're really terrible at this, are you sure you don't want to go forward in time to explain to yourself to do better somehow?" he snarks. He glances around: "Or come back here and explain to both of us?" He pauses. No new Peter appears with TWO facial scars. "Worth a try." But it's clear from his eyes that he's thinking. "Okay. I think I see what you're saying. Basically, for some reason, I piss someone off, I get in someone's way." That seems plausible to him. "They squeeze, and I'm not ready for it, and I give in, and the result is bad. So the warning is: be ready for the squeeze." He seems accepting of it. "That I can do."

No scar face Peter shows up to help him out. Time travel isn't that easy. "Unfortunately not everything gets a do over. And I have to be careful what I tell people. According to some people I shouldn't even be here…" Him included on this, most likely. "Most of it's on your shoulders." And he's doing a good job piecing things together based on what he could tell him. For a teacher, he can read between the lines fairly well. "That's pretty good. Be ready— and hold on to your own beliefs."

Lee nods slightly. This he asks reluctantly, like he isn't sure that he really wants to know: "Is there something I need to know about Lawrence Church and why he's here at this school?" he says. He knows something's there, but has no idea what. "Is he involved in this somehow?"

"In why I'm traveling through time?" Peter asks, trying to think of the best way to explain things. "I can say he's not a direct part of what goes wrong. He's one of the ones trying to fight against it. And he's one of the ones who sticks to his beliefs in the future." It's probably not the best answer, vague as it is, but… Some things can't be said without gaping memory holes being in the poor man's future.

Lee does not seem satisfied with the answer but you can't both complain about time travel and also about how time travellers aren't free with the history info. "All right." he says. "So! Have you done anything really useful with time travel yet like try to work out if Meriwether Lewis killed himself or was murdered or whether Louis XVII really died in 1795?" he asks with the kind of needling grin that shows he already knows the answer and will without question be the reason that he eventually crosses one too many powerful people.

"I have to say I have not," Peter says, actually beginning to hint toward a smile. Just a tug on the side of his mouth. "And this is useful," he adds, going a little serious again before he lifts up the eraser and holds it out to the other man. "You make your own future. Just make sure it's one you want." That's important advice to him, and advice he'll give to just about anyone. Vague as it may be.

Lee says, "You sound like me talking to the kids. I get it." He takes the eraser and erases Peter's incriminating….line. "At least figure out who cooked up the Voynich Manuscript? Something? Oh well. It was worth a try."

"No promises," Peter says, before he glances at the clock. "I should let you get to your office hours." There's a moment when he shifts, opening his coat enough to pull out a card that he also holds out. "If you need to contact me, this is a phone I keep. I don't answer it, but you can leave messages. As long as I'm still in the past, I'll try to respond to any message you leave."

Lee says, "Oh! Sure. I keep forgetting that you're not at the Bigfoot meets UFO crystal power store anymore. I'm still up above the Lair if there's any French literature questions you have that are crucial to the survival of the future."

"Good to know," Peter says, that hint of a smile visible at the corner of his mouth. He starts to walk away, toward the corner of the room, getting away from the door where students could randomly glance inside. By the time he gets halfway across, he vanishes midstep.

Bartleby The Scrivener

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