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Keeps On Slipping

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Not again, Jin thought, raising his head to stare at the empty, dirt-paved main stream. Why did this have to happen again?

Something brushed against his chin, and he twitched, too startled to tell what it was for a few moments. The wood of a fan, nudging his head up.

"Hello," said the young man standing beside him. "Are you by any chance a doctor?"

 

The room was quiet, though he could make out the sound of labored breathing. Then rustling, and foosteps, stuttering closer.

"It's okay," said Jin's companion, nudging him forward again with a tap of the fan. Jin felt around with his shoe before shifting his weight. The blindfold wasn't completely opaque, but the room must be poorly lit; he could make out almost nothing.

"Sahyeong!" said a voice.

There was something familiar about the sound of it.

"I brought a doctor."

"It will be difficult to treat a patient with my eyes covered," Jin pointed out. He essayed another step, and paused when his hand bumped against something; a shelf, from the feel of it.

"Where did you get the blindfold?" said a third voice. It was lower than the other, and strained.

"Do you need to ask, Geol Oh?" said Jin's guide. "I always have a few on hand. Stop talking."

"Sahyeong! You shouldn't --"

"Speak our names aloud?" A hand came down on Jin's shoulder. "It's all right, he's from the future."

Jin blinked against the silk. Everyone in the room went quiet for a few moments. But only a few.

"What are you --"

"I never said --"

"-- don't understand --"

"Well, don't everyone talk at once?"

"-- crazy punk --"

"-- and, excuse me,” Jin said, “why did you blindfold me, then?"

He felt a light touch at the back of his head, and the layers of silk dropped away from his face. It tickled; he sneezed.

The young man shrugged. "I thought it would be fun."

The other two people in the room glared. One was sprawled on the floor, bleeding freely from an abdominal wound that was, if not deep, at least unpleasantly long. His face was slick with sweat. The smaller person beside him was --

Jin stared. "Mi Na?"

-- a man?

Mi Na's double in this world was a man?

"What on earth do you mean he's from the future?" said Mi Na's male double.

"How did you know?" said Jin.

His accuser looked pleased. "Ah, see? I was right. After all, I'm --"

"-- Gu Yong Ha, we know,” muttered the stab victim.

Jin felt the beginnings of a headache. It was too early to determine whether it was a symptom of stress or the fetus in his brain.

 

Once Jin had finished suturing the wound, Yong Ha led everyone to his room, which, conveniently, had a secret room hidden behind his closet. Jin was not the only one to find this odd.

“Why do you have a room hidden over here, sahyeong?” said Mi Na’s male double, whom the others called Kim Yoon Shik.

Yong Ha held up one of the red-bound volumes he was shifting out of the room in armfuls, and winked. “Private storage.”

They tried a few different ways of shifting the patient over the mounds of books, until he howled and bashed Yong Ha’s head with a fist. “You’re going to kill me! Why do you have so much porn anyway?”

Jin felt a sudden and overwhelming need to cough.

“Why is everyone criticizing me today?” Yong Ha complained. “Where would you hide if I didn’t have a secret stash of porn in addition to my completely public stash of porn? Besides, it’s hard to get new stuff these days. The best transcriber they had stopped working.” Kim Yoon Shik choked on nothing; Jin glanced at him in concern, but he didn't appear to need medical invention.

The one they’d called Lee Seon Joon was rifling through one of the volumes. “Is this pose really possible?” he said.

“I’d demonstrate, but I don’t think Geol Oh is up to it.” Yong Ha nudged a stack of pornography with his foot. “If they found my fan, Ha In Soo should be here any minute. Let’s just put up the room divider first to be safe. Our time-slipping friend should probably go find Young Hwi.”

“Young Hwi?” said Jin.

 

When he had first come to, it had been too dark to see much of anything even without a blindfold. He'd seen dirt road, old-fashioned buildings, and empty streets.

Nearly empty.

There was shouting up ahead; he had pulled himself painfully to his feet, wincing when he jarred his head, and moved toward the sound. It sounded like a fight, which meant someone might need his help.

It was a fight. A small person dressed neatly in black was wielding a sword against – a city guard? The black-clad fighter took the guard down with a single slice of his blade, but a moment later, another figure emerged from the shadows.

Jin moved closer, fumbling for his bag.

They were almost too fast to follow. The second man spun a vicious kick at the other's head, but it never connected; neither did the other's retaliatory blow. They ducked and wove in perfect time, so their blows never landed, and for a moment he thought it might be a staged, choreographed performance of some kind.

Then the taller figure did connect; a hard strike to the smaller man's neck. He stumbled backward, gasping, and Jin blinked. Something about his voice –-

As though in response to the strike, a third figure dropped from the nearest rooftop, and Jin gave up on following the fight. People dressed in black were hitting each other. People dressed in black were ducking under blows from people dressed in black. Small people dressed in black were taking the opportunity to dart out of range and down side alleys and straight into time-slipping doctors, knocking them to the ground.

He caught a glimpse of strikingly beautiful eyes, lined with powder, and for a moment he smelled perfume.

Then he was alone in the alley again, and there were two people fighting in the center of the street.

In the past.

Again.

And then there had been the fan.

 

“How many masked vigilantes does this time have?” Jin said cautiously.

“That was a misunderstanding.” Young Hwi's face was grave. “I intervened when I shouldn't have. The person I meant to defend is an imposter.”

“She is?” said Jin.

They all looked at him. “She?” said Gu Yong Ha and Kim Yoon Shik in unison. Their tones were very different.

“That is, I thought...” He paused. “I only saw that person's eyes, but the perfume was very feminine as well.”

Everyone who had turned their heads to stare at him turned now toward Geol Oh. He was sleeping restlessly, one arm slung back under his head. Every now and then Yong Ha would mop his brow with great tenderness, but without bothering to push his thick bangs aside. Jin hadn't had any anaesthetic in his bag, so he wasn't surprised that the patient was restless; it had been a difficult wound to treat. Someone with good intentions had wrapped dirty cloth around the wound more or less at random sometime earlier.

“It wasn't you, was it?” Yong Ha said to Yoon Shik, confusingly.

Yoon Shik was very small and feminine looking; maybe that was why. But Jin was fairly sure that Geol Oh's opponent had been a woman, not a feminine looking young man.

Young Hwi was the first to look away, clearing his throat. “I suppose it doesn't matter,” he said. “I need to go back.”

“How did you get here in the first place?” Yoon Shik piped up. “Dr. Jin tried to explain, but I didn't completely understand.”

“I don't understand it myself,” said Young Hwi. He raised his eyebrows. “Dr. Jin?”

Jin opened his mouth to explain, once again, what little he understood of the tiny fetus he had found nestled in that person's brain, and how exactly it caused him to fall backwards through time. If only Chun Hong were here. If only Chun Hong hadn't...

 

They knelt opposite one another, one clad all in black and breathing hard, the other serene in a voluminous maroon chima and purple jeogori.

“Your technique is excellent,” said Chun Hong.

Cho Seon did not look up. “You are too kind,” she said. “Please, continue your explanation.”

 

“Do you think this will work?” Young Hwi peered dubiously over the edge of the cliff.

“If it doesn't, you'll die pretty painfully,” said Yong Ha. “Aren't you scared?”

Jin took a deep breath. “No,” he said. “We do need to go back.” Mi Na's slack, bloodied face flashed through his mind. “If we fall off this cliff, we'll travel through time again. It's the only way. Are you ready?”

“You first,” was Young Hwi's answer.

He closed his eyes, and leaned forward.

 

He opened his eyes again to bright sunlight, and a rustling noise, and a splash of shadow.

Someone was standing over them.

Someone very tall was standing over them.

Jin raised his head, and wished he hadn't.

“Kyung Tak?” said Young Hwi's voice. He sounded winded, as though he'd been running a long while, or suddenly punched in the stomach. “What...”

Kyung Tak tugged at the reins, and the feathered beast he was riding stopped short with a bloodcurdling squawk. It was two-legged, brilliantly patterned, with long jaws and a tail. “Young Hwi,” he said, and extended his arm. Jin watched, bewildered, as Young Hwi reached up to clasp his hand. “Please come with me. Chun Hong is waiting.”

Jin said, “Why are you riding a velociraptor?”

Kyung Tak looked coldly at him. “After I died, my corpse was rolled accidentally over a small cliff. I woke here, surrounded by giant lizard-beasts. I hope this isn't your future.”

He leaned back to pull Young Hwi up behind him. Jin watched, bewildered, as Young Hwi leaned forward to wrap his arms around Kyung Tak's waist. He said something, muffled by Kyung Tak's shoulder, that sounded like "Kyung Tak," then something else that sounded like, "I missed you," and something else from which Jin could only make out the word "lizard."

“Goodbye, doctor,” said Kyung Tak, wheeling the velociraptor.

“This...doesn't make any sense,” said Jin.

 

He woke to bright fluorescent hospital lights.

“Velociraptors,” he gasped, “weren't...that large...”