18 Hours

In the third generation after we’d colonized the Douzaines Moons, the gems started appearing.

A sort of shimmering blood-blister, growing under a fingernail, usually, though about one in a five get it under a toenail, becoming a full-fledged gémmoire a few years after the first flush of hormonal puberty has settled in.

The First Ones to get the gems were naturally also the first to burst them. They became— they are— …their lives are complicated now. Can you imagine how it must have been for a First One? —thinking you were popping a blister only to find yourself falling out of time, reliving whatever Mère Temps had given you that day, tumbling through a past so recent you get seasick from the second-seeing?

I’d like to tell you how they work, to say something about chromatachronography (or is it chronochromatography?), but all we really know is that they do work. As the old song goes:

♪♫ Grab a hammer / crush your gem / smell their gas / blink, and find yourself / eighteen hours in the past ♫♪

Well, more or less. There was a point during the time of the First Ones when the scientists from Troisième tried to understand the gems, but after everyone realized they don’t grow back—once you realized you only get one shot to live yesterday over again—no one volunteered to have their gem removed for further study. Is it actual time travel? Is it projected consciousness? Is it all a hallucination? We’re not really sure.

“But don’t the gémmoire fuck with paradoxes and causality and shit like that?” Eh, fuck you. You only think time is as it is (tempus quo) because that’s how it works where you’re from. In the grand design of the vast and horrible plexi-uni-multiverse, there are as many exceptions as there are rules. Time is very much a local phenomena, with each star system ticking away to its own kind of clock. We’re usually far enough away from each other that it all washes out to a galactic constant, but that’s just entropy— everything fades to gray in the end. And anyway, what I do in my home, in my hometown, in my Home County, on my Home Moon (7ème, représ!), can’t really affect you, anyway. None of us are royalty or government or maîtres out here in the Douzaines. We’re a loose collection of moshavim and kibbutzim, who founded the Moons by accident when we were fleeing some repressive regime somewhen ago (it’s been over four hundred years now, who can remember that far back?). And it’s not like any of us have access to Systemic Weapons or a Temporal Cleave or anything like that. I mean, you know how it is— you’re a boring-ass putain like me. If you re-did the last eighteen hours, do you really think you could change anyone but yourself?

I mean, sure, you can change stuff, but not much. Hell, even changing your own actions is hard— did you just scratch your head? Did you really mean to do that? Would you scratch your head again if you could redo this moment? Two weeks from now, that scratch is going to develop into a dry patch that you’ll scratch even more until it bleeds and becomes infected and you come down with a fever. But you won’t know about that for another two weeks, so if you had to re-do today tomorrow, why would you even bother to change it? Very few of our actions have consequences immediate enough that an eighteen-hour do-over will make much of a difference.

So, mostly, people use the gems as a way to relive a particularly good day: your third wedding, the first birthday of your second child, the fourth time you really have an orgasm, a particularly good fifth of raki you drank to celebrate Laisser Lunes. … whatever twirls your beanie.

By the beginning of the Second Generation (Sapphires? Or is the second the Amethyst Generation?), a whole divination of gem signs had developed: is your gem on your left or right? Fourth finger, princess toe, or pinky? Or are you one of the rare delicate moon children with a gem on your thumb? About 1 in a million babies are born with two gems— are you one of them? (I’m a Left Pinky Seventh, as if you couldn’t tell!)

And then, by the end of Gen-Emerald, we’d found a way to take the gift of the gems and make it ugly. It wasn’t enough to read your gemscope in the afternoon feeds and laugh about all the Right Toes who were still looking for love. We had to give the gems a value judgement; a way to segregate those who still had them from those who didn’t: If you made it through high school with your gem intact, you must have been a loser. If you made it through your children’s toddler years with your gem intact, you were an unloving parent. If you made it to retirement with your gem intact, you must have been some kind of buddhist savant.

And beyond these kinds of petty caste systems, there were also the Dark Weeks in the very early days, marking the beginning Gen Première, when people would crush other people’s gems as punishment, or as an act of stupid selfishness, or as simple bullying. It didn’t last long, thankfully, and concurrent with the Troisième scientists closing their chronochromato (chromatochrono?) labs, the Existential Rights Crusaders on Quatrième drafted a treatment of the gems in, of, and by law. The other eleven moons signed the compact in a matter of days— the fastest collective initiation and adoption of a law in all of this galactic arm’s historical memory:

Under no circumstances whatsoever is one being or entity allowed to knowingly burst the gem of another or to coerce one being or entity to do so themselves.

The law itself is severe in its simplicity, and the corresponding punishment for crushing someone else’s gem is also severe… the only thing worse than being tortured is knowing it’s about to happen, remembering what it’s going to feel like, and not being able to do anything about it.

But there are still times, unfortunately, when someone pops someone else’s gem by mistake. I mean, people pop their own gems by mistake all the time (well, not all the time, but not infrequently)— a slammed car door, a dropped can of diced manicot on your toe, a mis-hammered nail or catching yourself the wrong way when you trip. An entire therapeutic and pleasure-palace industry has developed over on Onzième to console “the accidentally crushed.” As a society, we probably give the Crushed more leeway than we should, but, y’know… it must be hard for them.

When I was nine, I accidentally crushed my mother’s gem with a toy rocket. I didn’t know, of course—how could I have? From my perspective, it was just another day, but instead of making me breakfast or working, mom just sat on the couch. Eventually she told me what had happened—what I’d done—but I was still only nine years old. I didn’t understand it then. She left us shortly after that, unable to forgive me for taking away her second chance.

Anyway, I’m one of the Crushed now, too, and though it wasn’t completely intentional, it had to happen. Remember how I said nobody could really change anything in eighteen hours?, well, there’s always an exception to any rule, and I stand excepted. So here it is: the story of my Gémmoire Encore (aka “gassy mulligan”), and why there are only nine moonpies in a pâtissier’s dozen.

It was a Mardiday…