When Oscar stepped onto his back patio he almost decided that abandoning his life and fleeing into the wilderness was his only option. The neighborhood kids that he had yelled at for partying on a Wednesday night had taken their payback a step too far. Instead of there being a ten metre long and five metre wide infinity symbol burned into the grass his entire backyard had been concreted. The kids had obviously worked all night to ensure that when the behavioural drones passed overhead Oscar would be added to a list and rounded up. Never to see the light of day again.
Instead of running, however, Oscar realised that if he was in the process of reapplying the symbol when he was arrested he might be able to explain his way out of the situation. So he ran to his small tool shed and found a tin of paint buried in the back. The paint was an almost solid mass, but he eventually managed to stir it into a liquid with a lot of water and a broken branch.
He didn’t have time to plot the symbol and ensure it was millimetre accurate so just started painting it as best as he could free hand. Halfway through the first curve a blinding light appeared in front of him and he froze in his tracks. At first he thought he had been flash banged as he shied away from the light and threw himself to the ground.
“Excuse me,” a voice with a totally unrecognisable accent said. “Could you tell me where and when I am?”
Oscar rolled his head to the side and realising that he hadn’t been blinded by the light looked at the man standing in the middle of his yard. Not only was the accent impossible to place but the tight bodysuit was like nothing he had ever seen.
“Who they hell are you?” Oscar said as he climbed to his feet. “And what just happened?”
“I’ll tell you everything after you answer my questions first,” the stranger said, looking just as perplexed by Oscar’s appearance. “When and where are we?”
“It’s the eighth of August 2015 and you’re in Melbourne.”
“Okay good,” the stranger said, nodding and exhaling sharply with relief. “Just one more question and I’ll tell you everything. What type of government do we have?”
The stranger suddenly seemed to notice the half painted symbol beneath his feet as his eyebrows raised in confusion. “What the hell is an Ocli.. a whatever that word was?”
“An Ochlocracy. It’s a form of mob government. Whatever the biggest issue is at any given time controls the way the country is run. The focus can shift within minutes though and your entire day to day life can change without you knowing. There is no one leader or any parties. It’s just absolute chaos and nearly impossible to keep up with. Which is why even though I’m totally fascinated with what you have to say I really need to finish painting this symbol. Right now the mob in charge is all about infinity.”
Oscar picked up the paintbrush that had gone flying from his hand when he hit the ground and quickly finished the symbol. The stranger stepped out of the way and peered into the three neighbouring yards commenting on the infinity symbols drawn in each of them.
When Oscar was finished and comfortable with the fact that he had saved himself from a life in a deep, dark hole he focussed entirely on the mysterious stranger who had appeared in his yard. “Time to tell me what the hell is happening here.”
The stranger pulled at his collar nervously and took a moment to compose himself. “For the last eighteen months I’ve been reliving the eighth of August 1989 in order to find a liveable present.”
Oscar thought trying to simplify an Ochlocracy would be the hardest concept he would deal with today, but the stranger had blown that out of the water. “You what?” he said after a minute, sure that he had misheard.
“The reality that I am from was a dangerous place and it all started on this day twenty six years ago. Each time I go back I change something in order to make a different future.”
“And you’ve been doing this for eighteen months?” Oscar asked skeptically.
“So you obviously haven’t made the present that you want.”
“No, I have not,” the stranger conceded.
“Doesn’t that tell you that you can’t make a perfect world? Shouldn’t you settle for a world that is liveable and concede defeat?”
“Why would I do that? I get to experience a thousand different alternate realities when everybody else only gets to live in one for their entire life. Sure at first I was trying to find that perfect world, but now I’m just experiencing as much as I can. Eventually I might find a world that I can’t leave at the end of the day, but until then I’m not going to stop.”
Oscar held his arms out to the sides and said, “Well this is definitely not the world that you want to settle for. I actually wouldn’t even recommend staying any longer than you have to. I don’t know how dangerous your reality actually was but this is a nasty place. You will not survive on your own out there. Especially not when you’re dressed and talking like that.”
“Don’t worry about me, mate,” the stranger said confidently and waved Oscar off. “I’ve faced worlds you could never imagine. Mob rule doesn’t scare me.”
“Even so, there’s nothing exciting for you to see in a day.”
“Oh, but there is. You said the mobs can change their focus like that,” he snapped his fingers, “I’m going to see how much I can do while I’m here.”
Oscar did not feel confident about the outcome of the stranger’s plan, but even if he did manage to make things worse in a day or two whatever changes he made would change again.
“Speaking of which,” the stranger said starting to walk backwards. “Time is wasting and I gave myself strict deadlines to spend in each reality. I can’t waste any more time pondering this with you.”
“Wait, before you go at least tell me what was so bad about your own world,” Oscar pleaded.
“It was a Federation ruled by a publically elected Prime Minister. The problem was that members of the ruling party kept deciding that the elected leader wasn’t doing a good enough job. There were four leadership changes in five years, none of which were voted on by the people. I guess it really wasn’t that different than being led by mob rule. The only difference is that the mob consisted solely of elected officials who should have known better.”
“I can see why you wanted to ensure that didn’t happen.”
The stranger shrugged and said, “After you’ve seen as many different alternate realities as I have you begin to realise that the one you had to start with wasn’t so bad. If I could undo all of the changes I’ve made I probably would and choose that reality as my final resting place.”
“Are you saying that the grass isn’t always greener?”
The stranger looked from Oscar’s face to the freshly laid concrete beneath his feet. “No, it certainly isn’t.”
With that he turned and walked out of Oscar’s yard and his life. Strangely as Oscar thought about everything that had happened he was less confused about a time traveller appearing in his yard than he was about the authorities not catching him without the infinity symbol. Perhaps the Ochlocracy had swung once already without the stranger’s interference.