Chapter 1: The Ties That Bind

April 8, 2013 in Ajitofu, Astral Strings by Wasabi Warrior

Taeyeon loosened the scarf wrapped around her neck. She sighed and stared at the titanium walls of the back alley tucked deep within the city. Sweat exited from her pores and onto the thick wool sweater she was wearing.

“Yuri,” she whispered into
her holowatch, which acted as her everything-device. “Updates on the patrol?”

“Two on the far east end and one three kilometers south. I say give it a couple of minutes.”

Taeyeon wiped her forehead with her sleeves and glanced at the scorching solar panels. She must have looked stupid, wearing winter clothes in the middle of summer. Since she was going to need it in a couple of minutes, she couldn’t complain. Not like she ever did. “Give me the go signal when we’re good.”

“You must be thinking about how we’re not getting paid enough to do this, aren’t you?” Yuri scoffed.

“Am I?” Yuri was sort of right, but it wasn’t like she was in the job for the money. She liked moving around and seeing all sorts of things. As long as she got to do that, it was fine.

“I’m sure you are. I’ve seen your place. It’s dingy and it looked more like a home for cockroaches than humans.”

“How many more letters after this?”

Taeyeon heard Yuri groan across the line.

“See, this is why you’re single. Don’t you think of anything else other than work?”

“How many?”

“12.”

Taeyeon pulled her mailbag closer to her chest. “Get the next one ready by the time I get back.

“Buy me lunch.”

Taeyeon pursed her lips and tapped her shoes on the hot asphalt.

“Hey—it’s common courtesy to reply when someone’s talking to you, you know?”

A smile spread across Taeyeon’s face as Yuri went on and on. “Thanks.”

“Wait—they’re gone. Go.”

The sweet words rung through Taeyeon’s ears. Her body perked up and she looked around one last time to check if the coast was clear. When she was sure she was alone, Taeyeon pressed on her holowatch.

The shiny titanium walls around her began to morph and the sunlight faded into the background. The fast-paced sounds of the distant hover pads and hydro trains dissipated into silence. Moments later, ice as clear as crystal formed beneath her feet and cold winds blew from behind her. Buildings built from bricks erupted across her and the trees—sights sorely missed—sprouted from the ground. She was in an empty lot. From the distance, cars honked and vendors yelled.

London, 2000.

Taeyeon took a step back and shook her head. It was always a dizzying scene, no matter how many times she had gone through it. Soon enough, Taeyeon found herself sniffing and breathing in the natural air. In the future, oxygen was generated by lamps and snow was released only twice a year. Everything around her felt so surreal. Before, they were images she could only see from the screen of her computer. But thanks to Mr. Lee who approached her one day, it all became real.

She checked her holowatch. It was 15 minutes until her next assignment. She had 10 to spare. A police car whizzed past her, causing her to turn around and hide her face. Then she realized she was in the past. She straightened her sweater and coughed. Criminal reflexes.

She wasn’t really a criminal. She had no idea why police authorities in the future decided that time-travel was a criminal act. They weren’t doing anything bad. In fact, they were even helping people—for a fee, of course. She didn’t have a choice, however, she loved what she was doing and she was already in too deep—a hundred-thousand letters and secret folders of clients in.

Taking time to enjoy the scenery, Taeyeon put her hands in her pocket and walked around the neighborhood. As she neared the end of the street, she paced herself accordingly and watched as a group of kids ran past her, the lead with a ball in his hands and the others with smiles on their faces. One of them shouted for the others to hurry up so they could play.

Taeyeon nodded and skipped the rest of the way to the last house on the street. She kinda wished she could.

When she reached the front gate, Taeyeon breathed out and rubbed her hands together. She opened her mailbag, brought out a letter, and checked the address on her holowatch. It seemed right.

She looked around before dropping the letter inside the mailbox. “Enjoy your mail.”

Her job was done, but she still had a few minutes to spare. Taeyeon grinned. She loved taking her work seriously because it meant she had more free time afterwards. Pointing her holowatch at the trees, Taeyeon snapped a few shots for remembrance.

After a few more minutes, she settled for a nook behind one house, right beside a dustbin. She pressed on her watch and after the same scene—she was back in the future.

“You’re back early,” a familiar voice said from the holowatch.

“Don’t you have anything else to do besides watch me all day?” Taeyeon asked.

“Err—hello? It’s my job to watch over you. Someone’s gotta make sure you don’t screw up.”

“Who saved you from Boss the last time there was an error?”

Taeyeon saw Yuri’s cheeks flush red through the screen.

“That—that doesn’t count! You know I had to go—”

Taeyeon muted her holopad and ducked behind a pillar in time to see a drone drive by the alley. “You could have at least warned me about that.”

Yuri grinned. “Oops?”

“Anyways, it’s almost lunch time. Who’s next on my list?”

“The most special.”

“Cape Town?”

“Geez. This one’s been your client for a month. I figured you’d be able to tell when it was her.”

Taeyeon raised an eyebrow. “Just send it over.”

“Already sent it to your mailbox. Your next one’s not in another hour or so, so take your time,” Yuri replied.

When she was sure the drones were on the other side of the city, Taeyeon emerged from the alley and headed for the company’s hidden mail room at the back of the tablet pc store near the market.

She opened her mailbox to find a single letter addressed to a Hwang Miyoung in Jeon-ju of 2012.

“Ah,” Taeyeon whispered to herself. She should have known. She put the letter in her bag and went back to her usual porting spot in the back alley.

Taeyeon didn’t know much about this Miyoung because the black-market time-travel mail delivery industry was complicated. She knew her past address and that she had been using their service for a month. She also knew that Miyoung was the only one who hand-wrote her letters. But why Miyoung did that or why she even applied for the service was a mystery to Taeyeon. It made Taeyeon curious, but not enough to make her care. After all, her job was only to deliver the mail—nothing more.

She opened her holowatch and selected Yuri’s ID. “I got it.”

Yuri scratched her head. “So? Aren’t you curious? They’re always hand-written.”

Taeyeon shook her head. “Is it clear?”

“You’re really no fun. It’s good to have drama in our lives once in a while, y’know.”

“Patrol drones, please.”

“Okay, okay already,” answered Yuri. “All clear.”

“See you at lunch.” Taeyeon inputted the coordinates and the date on her holo-watch and pressed on it.

As with all her time jumps, the environment morphed and Taeyeon soon found herself surrounded by snow-covered trees, three-story apartments, and wooden benches. She landed behind a row of bushes in an empty park.

Taeyeon stepped out of the park and searched for the local ice-cream shop at the corner of the street where Miyoung lived. That was part of why finding her place was easy compared to the others.

It was already night and the snow had fallen a while back, leaving puddles along the street. Nonetheless, Taeyeon tightened her scarf and went ahead.

As she treaded along the street, Taeyeon realized Yuri was right. She was interested. In the few times that she had managed to get a glimpse of Miyoung leaving her apartment, Taeyeon thought she was probably her age. She had straight ebony hair that rested gently on her shoulders. Her nose was slim and her skin was white. It sort of made her wonder why Miyoung’s future self would send letters to such a seemingly gentle person.

When she finally reached Miyoung’s apartment, Taeyeon took the letter from the bag and looked around to see if anyone was present.

But a gust of wind blew from her right, sending the letter fluttering along with it. Taeyeon pulled her hat down and gave chase. Her mind was faster than her senses, however, and before she could get proper footing, worn-out sneakers pushed against the icy ground. She slipped and the letter found itself swimming on one of the puddles.

Taeyeon got on her feet and picked the letter up. She rubbed it against her sweater while she thought of a solution. She had never screwed up on a job before, and she didn’t need something like the wind blemishing her record. Left with no other choice, she slowly ripped the envelope open. She could just buy another in one of the stores in the neighborhood—it was more important to dry the letter inside and make sure the ink wasn’t smudged.

Flustered, Taeyeon unfolded the letter and blew on it. Much of the wet spot was at the center, so she focused on that. As she tried her best to dry it, her eyes subconsciously ran through the content.

Taeyeon froze. She stopped blowing and stared at the letter in her hands. Written in cursive was her name—Taeyeon.

The lights in the neighborhood died one by one. Taeyeon leaned against the wall and thoughts raced in her mind. She suddenly had a million questions and not a single answer. But there was one that beat at the center of it all.

Who was Hwang Miyoung?