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218: Watching

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This is the 218th Subnormality comic.

Plot Summary Edit

In the future, a popular hobby is "time travel" - the ability to witness and travel through any point in the past, although this is achieved holographically and no interaction with the past is possible. The narrator stumbles upon a young woman in the modern day who is in hospital, suffering from a genetic disease which in the future has been cured.

The narrator becomes fascinated with the girl and the last days of her life, returning to them over and over again. At first he is confused by the behaviours of the past, which in some ways are alien but in other ways very familiar. He grows angry because he is unable to save the girl, and in the future there is no longer a need to confront death. He then stops visiting for several months. However, he later returns and finds acceptance of the fact that people in the past were more familiar to him than he had realised.

TranscriptEdit

Panel 1

On weekends we walk out to where the past used to be and where it's stories remain

Panel 2: empty... (future empty panels will be omitted)

Panel 3

There are billions of stories, but I am watching the sick girl.

Panels 4-9 (each line per panel)

They once declared time travel impossible as they had not been visited by anyone from the future.

What they did not know is that they couldn't see us.

Time travel isn't travel really. It's rather the image of the past superimposed upon the present.

We visit one without leaving the other. The time suit allows this.

The extrapolation software makes possible the traversal of stationary objects. Interaction with variables is impossible. We can only observe.

By necessity obvervation is kept to that which overlaps with open areas.

Panel 10

I am observing the sick girl

Panels 11-14 (?)

Time travel became the dominant pastime. There are of course the historians gradually correcting millennia of records and timestamping great lists of highlights. (Man in naval dress, measurement: 6'2")

But the rest of us partake as well. Whether of the bizarre, of spectacles no longer possible,

or to experience the cultural artifacts of the past and then travel further to observe their authors to cheer them on as they toiled in early obscurity half pretending we can somehow be heard and that it is helping.

Or to revisit the best moments of our own lives or perhaps to return to a more trying period to remember how far you've come and by chance discover that one day when you were young and sad you did not notice that a future hero of yours passed you in the street and happened to look at you and then smiled. And you feel like you are okay.

Panel 15

We are all watching at one point or another, and the reasons are many, but they are really only one. We watch to understand. And I am watching the sick girl.

Panel 16

And I do not understand.

Panel 17

  • WATCHING*
  • WATCHING* sub218

Panel 19-23

I am uncertain how it began.

The era was at least a deliberate choice.

I prefer the unusual, and there is little discussed of less escapist stories.

Of this trange transition period between ancient mysticism and high technology. Between diagnostics and remedy. It was the time most like our own that still bore the traits of mankind's early stages. The primitive struggles that once defined us. [Sign: Chapel, Radiology]

The terror of disease and of meagre life spans, even in the shadow of the future. And this juxtaposition is immediately hard to understand, and is uncomfortable, and is a reminder of how we used to be before we were ourselves, and hope to never be again. When we are looking back, we usually are looking down as well.

Panel 24

And this structure seemed to embody such things. [Wall: "Happy Halloween" also in next 3 panels]

Panel 25

A masive facility of precise instruments

Panel 26

Dedicated to the palliative

Panel 27

To the ill. A class of people who no longer exist. And I had likely been wandering these alien halls observing in disbelief those interned here even on a slow night. (Bag: Bi-Rite) (Room number: 65)

Panel 28

And at random had entered a hallway.

Panel 29

And at random glanced into a room. And sometimes something instantly grasps your attention as though you are somehow remembering it from the future. For this was a place of the sick. A place of fear even for myself, even as a mere image. We have fear in my time. Does it determine what we watch? And she did not look sick, and she did not seem afraid, and I did not understand.

Panel 30

And I decided to keep watching until I did.

Panel 33

It is strange that someone can exist only as an image from an unadjacent temporal plane and you still fear that you are invading their privacy. I keep to the hallway and hope I am doing the right thing. We watch only to understand.

Panel 34

Roughly my age, she has a genetic disorder, the kind we eliminated centuries ago. It is hard to understand. We have pain in my time, but it is not like this. She is in pain and cannot walk without assistance. She is sick. She wears her own clothes and not a patient's gown. She cannot do nothing and often tidies the room.

Panel 35

And she constantly receives visitors. She is always alone in her illness, but she is seldom alone as well. And I wonder if this was common, for illness to cause visiting and not the opposite. Because I would not know what to say. I would not understand. And they talk, and she says many friends faded away. She says they stopped calling, and it is just an image, but I stay a bit longer that day.

Panel 37

(Bottle: Mega Beer)

And the longer I stayed, the more apparent it became that there are bad days and good. And the longer I watched the more bad days there were and we would never timestamp them. They would not meet the conditions. They would bring fear and not visitors. But they reveal that the good exists before and after pain, and yet still exists. And I do not understand.

Panel 42

The translation software claims to be 99.6% accurate and adjusts in real time.

Arm display:

INCM/ WDOG/ SONOW N WNED/ SONPK/ Y WHT1 UPK/ IDK T...

Panel 43

She coughs all night and never sleeps, and she begins to look sick. There are now tubes. It is almost beyond comprehension. She feels weak for thinking negatively. She is tired of being weak, she says she feels guilty for how lucky she is. She says this is the best Christmas ever.

Panel 44

We watch to understand. I continue watching.

Panel 48

The medics are impressed but worried, they have worked here for years. They have not often seen someone fight so hard, but I am not sure that I understand. She is seldom out of bed, she seems too frail to fight, and thought I am careful not to stare, I continue watching, and waiting.

Panel 49

(Wall sign: Happy Valentines Day)

Panel 50

We watch to understand, we visit the past, or don't, and then fade away. We cope by forgetting, we visit one without leaving the other.

Panel 51

When I have finished watching, I return to other things, and the memory lingers awhile, and inevitably one reaches that point where there is an inner voice, and it says that this is not your problem, and thus you need not understand, and that it is okay to move on. For the mind must focus on the immediate and to stop watching is to out of necessity forget, and the past is inscrutable, and can not always be understood.

Panel 52

And I stop watching, and I start to forget, and to feel foolish, but each time I do there is a resistance that has not been there before. There is an anger, there is something keeping me back, and it is not that I cannot get past it, it is that I don't want to. I don't want to forget and fel the way I do when I am not watching, and things are as they were, and life is fair though nobody is watching us, because there would be little to see. We watch to understand, and I want to understand.

Panel 53

I want to understand why I cannot forget things that nobody is watching, or would choose to. Things that I may never have watched had I been told what I might see. It is hard to describe, and now that I have watched I cannot forget, and want to understand

Panel 54

why something is different.

Panel 55

She is deteriorating. They say they remember how she used to be. They say it's the hardest part. She is deteriorating. She says she is grateful for what she has, because it has made her who she is, and she likes who she is, and who it has brought her. She says she cannot leave because it would be too hard on them. She is deteriorating. They say they cannot leave because it would be too hard on them, and we have friendship in my time, but it is not like this.

Panel 63

The few who know me don't know where I go. I do not understand how to explain.

Panel 66

I have returned here and I have watched the story play out .I have seen her condition worsen. I have seen the endless pills. We have pills in my time, and one of them would have repaired her forever, would have fixed everything, and it is unfar, and this is the hardest to understand.

Panel 67

(Pill counter: Mon/ Tues/ Wed/ Thurs/ Fri/ Sat/ Sun

Panel 71

It is an irreconciliable logic error. Two people, equally deserving of life, and one is given a faulty component and chased into the ground by death, and the other is unharmed and can only watch. And were I an artificial intelligence, I would simply fail and shut down, and have my memory reset and forget. But I cannot, and so I keep watching, wondering how they lived like this, and I suppose a necessary understanding of this era would attempt to reconcile this and conclude simply that life for most was adequate. But a few were unlucky, the remainder of the equation, and were to be pitied, and not timestamped, and not visited, out of fear. And it was unfair, and we worked to prevent this, and over generations succeeded, and sickness was eliminated. And we have death in my time, but it is not like this. And it is more distant every year, and I have never known anyone who has died, and life is fair, and we are humanity in its final form. The components all repaired, and history shall be the story of the unimpaired.

Panel 75

And I have come here, and this. This. This. This is Hell. This. This is all we worked so hard to leave behind. This is everything we fear. Nobody wants to come here, lives so pitifully brief. Their medicine is barbaric, barely effective. Doctors stand and watch as the young drown from within. Family and friends helpless, but for love. And we have love in my time, but it is not like this. Never is it so desperately needed because this is unfair. This is impossible to understand. This. This!

Panel 76

Because if you watch for long enough you will see their pain. But only if you are persistent. Because it exists after and before the good in a manner I am accustomed to. Why is it not easier to find?

Panel 77

Why are they so calm? Why do they speak in ordinary tones. Why do they smile. Why do they not treat her differently. Why do they not run to her side every time she coughs. Why do they not cower. Why do they not weep. Why does she only weep for others. Why is she lucky.

Panel 78

Why are they stooped in misery. Why aren't they angry. Why aren't they broken. Why aren't they miserable. Why havent they given up. WhY aReN't ThEy UnReCoGnIzAbLe. WHY AREN'T THEY DIFFERENT. WHY ARE THEY SO FAMILIAR??

Panel 79

WHY??!

Panel 81

  • *

Panel 82

We watch to understand, and I am watching, and I do not understand, because I have seen their pain, and I have hated it more than I have ever hated anything. And please understand that I am grateful that I will never feel it. That it is now impossible. That to live is to take life for granted.

Panel 83

But it was they who built my world, and it was all of them. And please understand: I am beginning to realize that in all the time I have been watching, I have never once pitied them.

Panel 92

After months of watching, One morning I stopped. And for months did not return.

Panel 93

[Robot label: FIFA]

[Advertisement: Adidas/ ChronowerX (tm) Industries]

We watch to understand, to derive answers and compile highlights, and move on. And when we are looking back we usually are looking down as well. And as I watched answers indeed emerged. Trite and false, and condescending, and desperately flung in the face of what I could not understand. The past is inevitable and can not always be understood.

Panel 94

I had hoped that an answer would come. The summary I could bring to others, the phrase that makes it all okay, makes it possible to move on. But I at least knew enough to know that I did not know how I felt, nor why I felt it so strongly. And one morning I stopped, and for months did not return. And still there was no phrase, and no answer. It is hard to derive answers when you are used to choosing easy questions. It is hard to understand. We are all watching at one point or another, and the reasons are many. But often they are only one: We watch to pass the time.

Panel 95 - 96

[Advertisement: Adidas/ ChronowerX (tm) Industries]

[Robot label: FIFA]

And after months I decided to return, unwilling to forget.

Panel 97

And I was afraid. We have fear in my time, and it is pervasive, and determines what we watch.

Panel 98

And I was uncomfortable, afraid of feeling like I did before, or of now not feeling anything.

Panel 99

But please understand, that I am tired of being uncomfortable, and I am so tired of being afraid.

Panel 102

[Sign: Service Entrance/ Staff Only]

[Sign: EXIT]

  • *

Panel 106

And though the story lives forever in my mind, and timestamps would be redundant, I return again to watch.

Panel 107

The primitive struggles that once defined us.

Panels 108-114 (one line per panel)

How we hope to never be again the terror of disease.

A massive facility of precise instruments

Dedicated to the palliative, to the ill, to those in pain.

The assurance of any future

And yet the absence of Pall

Though they exist only as images

From an unadjacent temporal plane

Panel 115

And I can never understand how they feel

Panel 117

And the pain

Panel 118 And the waiting

Panel 119 The waiting

Panel 120 The waiting

Panel 121 The waiting

Panel 122 [Bottle: Mega beer]

Panel 123

And how the young could be the ill

Panel 124

And how alone they had to feel

Panel 125

And how others watched helpless

Panel 128

And how some promised to visit

Panel 129

And stopped calling

Panel 130

And faded away

Panel 131

Which I no longer understand

Panel 132

As I once did

Panel 133

But again I watch

Panel 134

Why am I so calm?

Panel 135

And it is clear that as predicted

Panel 136

I do not feel the way I did before

Panel 137

Why are they so familiar?

Panel 138

Something is different and again I watch.

Panel 139

What would I tell others of this?

Panel 140

And it is then that I realize, that I would tell them: We watch to understand.

Panel 141

And I have been watching the girl

Panel 142

When she was sick

Panels 144-151

Roughly my age. She wears clothes and not a patient's gown. She cannot do nothing and often tidies the room.

She liked green when she was younger, but now prefers yellow. She studied the arts in school. She wants to move to a larger city. She wants to make her mark. She wants to leave evidence that she existed. She only weeps for others. She jokes that she looks better this thin. She reads novels she read in school. She listens to the same song on repeat for an hour. She still remembers a spelling test from when she was six years old. She had a dream about motorcycles and then wanted one for a day. She liked to go out to the woods in winter. She buys Christmas presents in April. She loves Christmas. She ate at the food mall court all through school. She likes the thrift store downtown near the parking lot with the palm trees. She likes sweaters with hoods on them. She bought a video player later than most people. She likes watching videos. She likes convenience store butter tarts. The night her favorite musician died, she was by an open window and heard one of his songs echoing over the rooftops for just a few seconds, and she says it felt right. She says solo piano is the saddest instrument. She liked to go out to the islands in the summer. She wanted to have two kids. She was born in August. She doesn't wish she could drink. She wishes she could drink. She writes a lot on greeting cards. She once stood outside a boy's house in grade eight but was too shy to ring the bell. She sometimes misses being shy. She stole from the school cafeteria a few times. She thinks gardening is manly. She still can't sleep on Christmas eve. She was born across the province but grew up here. She hates not being able to work. She says the only thing worse than having a job is not having a job.

Her father is from another country. He always overdresses in mild weather and likes to read about rail travel. He reads in the dark so she's not disturbed. He reads to her when she can no longer see well enough. He seldom talks but when he does it's something clever. She is just as clever. They play a lot of games. They've memorized all the answers by now but they play anyway.

She's known her best friend for seventeen years, who is like part of the family, and makes fun of her unwashed hair. They laugh about unusual things.

She has a lot of friends, they always call out from down the hall when they arrive. They don't know what to say at first, but they kept talking. They say it is too hard to stay away. They still talk about the same things. They still walk past the school and wave to teachers they knew. They still go for lunch at the same food court. They watch the same videos they always watch. They get in trouble for staying too late. They would have moved in together. She says what she's thinking. She says she feels guilty for how lucky she is. She says that she loves them. She is in pain and coughs all night and never sleeps and there are tubes and medics are impressed but worried and she always says that she loves them.

And she says she is grateful for all she has because it has made her who she is. And she likes who she is, and who it has brought her. And even with the end in sight, like a black sun on the horizon, she says keep the curtains open.

She says tell her the truth, she says she wants to understand.

  • *

Panel 152

On weekends we walk out to where the past used to be and where its stories remain.

Panel 154

There are billions of stories, but it is here that I have returned.

Panel 155

And though they have been gone for a thousand years, and the distance is permanent. Please understand that the more I visited, the more I realized I pitied only the time when I did not.

Panel 156

[Posters: Neko Cafe/ Hustle Rose/ House of Horrors

Panel 157

And please understand that the more I saw, the more I hoped that maybe one day I will fear only those days of my own past when all stories had endings.

Panel 159

When I could look into the past, yet not see images of ourselves at another point in time.

Panel 160

One can only learn so much from images, but please understand: That I saw nothing until I started watching.



Other notes:Edit

No mouseover text.

If my panel numbering confuses you, sorry!. I kinda numbered them on an "as I felt like it' basis, and didn't end up giving every single picture a separate panel number.

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