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Altimexis

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  1. Altimexis

    A Deal with the Devil

    June 1982 • Chris-16 First there was a clank. Oh, how I hated that clank. Sometimes if I was quick and I could actually wake myself up fast enough, I could shut the damn thing off before the hum, but I was too fucking tired this morning to do anything about it, and so the warm hum started, and then slowly — ever so slowly, the sound of music started to fade in, out of the background. This being 1982, you’d think I’d have a nice, modern solid-state clock radio with an LED display and no moving parts. I’m sixteen, for cripe sake, but no, I have a hand-me-down radio dating back to the early sixties, with a dial clock that clanks when the alarm goes off and vacuum tubes that hum that lovely sixty Hertz hum, and the music takes forever to come on. Maybe by the time I finish my shower, I’ll actually be able to hear it. Finally, the music was loud enough to recognize the song. Yeah, Chariots of Fire by Vangelis. Cool song from a cool movie — been playing on all the stations. As I swung my feet out of bed, two things came to me. First of all, it was Saturday, so why was I getting up early on a Saturday — well, that was easy — for the last couple of years I’d been spending my Saturday mornings in a special program at the University learning advanced Math and Physics from Professor Dawson. It was the highlight of my week. Secondly, yesterday was the last day of school for the year, and that meant I’d be spending the whole summer in Dawson’s lab, earning college credit from one of the best-respected universities in the country, and a little cash on the side, too. I was groovin’. This was going to be a great summer! I quickly made my bed to the sounds of the old tube radio — yeah, my mom was a real hard-ass about keeping my room neat. Most of my friends’ rooms looked like war zones, but my room had to look like something out of Good Housekeeping. It was so unfair. There was nothing I could do about it, though. I threw on some terry shorts — couldn’t let my mom see my stuff, after all — headed down to the bathroom and took a quick shower. While I was at it, I thought about how it had been a while since I’d last jerked off — maybe since yesterday morning, and my balls were achin’. I needed to get off. I quickly soaped up and started working on it, thinking about Stacy Williams, but that only made me get soft, so I thought about Jennifer Greene. She’s really hot, with long, straight blond hair. She’s every guy’s wet dream, but she just wasn’t doing it for me today, either. Her twin brother, Brad, however, he made me hard in a millisecond flat. Damn, why’d that happen every time? This was just plain unacceptable. I wasn’t going to be a fag! No way! Instead, I thought about going camping outdoors and hiking in the nude. Yeah, that usually worked. Before long, I was spurting. I wasn’t getting off on a hot babe, but at least it wasn’t on a guy either. After I finished my shower, I then shaved. Heading back to my room, I threw on a polo shirt and some shorts. For school, it woulda been a short sleeve dress shirt and some slacks but, hey, this was the summer, man! I was psyched! Dad had to work today and had already left for work and Mom was in the kitchen eating her toast and drinking a cup of Folger’s instant. Gees, how could she drink that shit? I filled the teakettle with a little tap water and set it on the stove, and turned the gas up all the way. While the water was heating, I grabbed some Sugar Frosted Flakes and doused them with some chocolate milk, and finished off my first bowl while my Lipton’s was still brewing. ’Course I needed a second helping to take care of the milk that was still left and to complement the tea, once it was ready — not that I didn’t top off the milk, too. Man, I have my breakfasts down to a science. A quick trip back to the bathroom to brush my teeth and I was set to go. Mom had given me her old ’72 Dodge Dart for my sixteenth birthday, but I still had to pay the upkeep and gas, and that ain’t cheap, I’ll tell you! Gas is up to 55 cents a gallon now. Ever since the Arab oil embargo of ’73, they’ve had us over a barrel, so to speak. It’s literal fucking highway robbery! At least with the cash I earn this summer, I’ll have the money to pay for my car expenses. The university where Professor Dawson worked was in downtown St. Louis, in what was not the best of neighborhoods, but the campus was well protected to say the least. Some years ago, Dawson had begun a program on Saturdays to teach advanced Math and Physics to high school students. There were no special requirements to get into the program. The only thing a student needed to do to attend was to show up — and to be able to keep up with the coursework, which was rigorous. There were no formal lectures or textbooks — only handwritten outlines and one-on-one sessions. Either a kid ‘got it’ and would embark on a program of self-study under the guidance of Professor Dawson, or they were destined to remain in the conventional high school math and science curriculum. For me, well, I ‘got it’. I got it right away. Professor Dawson showed me the first set of lecture notes on the first day and I read through them, figured out the nomenclature and symbols and what they all meant, and went back to him at the end of the morning and asked if he had anything else I could read to keep me busy until the next session. He smiled at me and said, “That’s why I call this one the ‘zeroth lecture outline’.” He handed me another stack and said, “Here’s the first lecture outline. We’ll discuss it next week.” I went through basic algebra, trig, pre-calculus and calculus and advanced vector calculus, all during my first year with Professor Dawson. I went on to college level physics and advanced physics too, all while still a sophomore in high school. I even helped Dawson write an NSF grant application to get funding to expand the program, making it possible for kids like me to get college credit for our work, and that was the crux of what I was going to be doing this summer. Not only would I be getting some of that college credit I was so deserving of, but also I would be helping him to develop educational ‘milestones’ that would be used in awarding that credit, and getting paid for the ‘work’ component of the time spent in his lab. I was going to get paid to do what I loved. How utterly cool was that going to be? I pulled into the University campus and passed by the Medical School, which was considered one of the best in America. Pulling up in front of the Physics building, I drove around until I found a parking space where I was allowed to park with the permit Dawson gave me. I walked into the main entrance of the stately old stone structure and walked up the central stairway, taking the steps two-at-a-time. Rounding the corner, I found Professor Dawson leaning over a precarious pile of journals stacked from the floor to about the level of the middle of my chest. I knocked quietly on the door, causing him to look up, nearly toppling the stack over. He looked briskly at his watch, then smiled that goofy grin of his and said, “You’re late. You were supposed to be here nearly thirty seconds ago.” “I’m sorry, Professor D,” I replied, “I promise, it won’t happen again.” “Alright, I’ll forgive you this time, but don’t make a habit of it.” He winked at me and gave my shoulder a gentle squeeze. As he let me go, he said, “Now that I’m paying you, I expect an honest day’s work. No goofing off like a student,” and then he laughed. Yeah, Dawson was a little odd at times, and sometimes a little arrogant, but he was a damn fine teacher, and I was well on my way to graduating high school a year early, thanks to him. There was a good chance I’d get into the physics program here at the University, thanks to him, or maybe even the one at Cal-Tech, MIT, or Stanford. “So where do we start?” I asked. “Well, you have all my so-called lecture outlines, and all of them need to be updated, and we need to set up metrics that can be used to establish levels of college credit to be awarded at each point along the way. Now that we have some funds, I’d also like to set up some formal experiments for the students to complete… or maybe ‘informal’ would be a better word for them, as I want to allow students a lot of flexibility to design their own experiments so long as they demonstrate the principles involved with each lesson. There’s a lot of material to update, and you’ll be paid for the time you spend updating it, and given credit for all of the levels you complete. “Unfortunately, all of the existing notes were typed by hand, and we now have Wang word processors, which allow you to store your work on eight-inch floppy disks and go back and edit them. In other words, you’ll have to retype everything from scratch, but you’ll only have to do it once. It’s a good thing you can type… that’s part of what I’m paying you for.” My face kinda fell as I realized I was going to spend my summer being a glorified secretary. “Don’t be so glum,” Professor Dawson said when he saw the look on my face. “Secretaries don’t know the material and they invariably get it wrong. They make lots of mistakes and they have no idea how to handle the mathematical nomenclature. You, however, know this stuff, cold, and you’ll have no trouble handling the all the Greek symbols. I can afford to pay you a bit more than I’d pay a secretary because I know you’ll do the work in less time and get it right the first time.” He reached out and gave my shoulder another gentle squeeze. “Now let’s go over the first few lectures and let me show you what I have in mind about how I’d like to reorganize the material.” <<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>> May 2003 • Chris-37 “You didn’t want me to participate directly in OTT, and yet you want to involve a psycho in the project?” Jack Craegan asked me, clearly incredulous at the mere suggestion. “He’s not a psycho, and he was my mentor,” I reminded him. “Without him, there would be no OTT.” “Chris, I don’t care if he’s the Pope. If he’s delusional as you say, he’s not exactly predictable.” “Delusional isn’t exactly the right word,” I tried to explain. “He’s brilliant, and he loves teaching, but he thinks the public education system is out to make bright kids ordinary. He thinks there are a lot of genius kids out there whose minds are being ruined by ‘the system’, and he’s done his part over the years to try to rescue them. “He really did with me. I certainly wouldn’t have gone to Stanford if it hadn’t been for him. I hated math the way they taught it in junior high, but then Marion Dawson showed me the way. I am what I am today, thanks in no small part to him.” “He has a brilliant mind,” I said with a sigh, “but he’s unfocused and unpredictable. He won’t be able to resist the opportunity to experiment with time, and he could do so in ways we can’t predict. We need to keep him on a tight leash… that’s all. I know him and I know he’ll be willing to give up his freedom for a time in order to gain access to TTT, even if it’s under our terms.” “OK, let me think about it and all that would be involved, and then perhaps you and I could meet with this Marion Dawson and see if he would be willing to make a deal. He’d have to be willing to be taken into custody by the Feds, and then he would be offered a limited sort of freedom in exchange for going into the Witness Protection Program… he would have to agree to that, if I can even get permission to offer that. He would have to move here, permanently, and he would have to wear an ankle bracelet and agree to be tracked. “The biggest problem as far as he’s concerned would be giving up his freedom in exchange for the opportunity of a lifetime… the chance to experiment with time. He’d have to start working with us in 1989 for all intents and purposes, so we’d have to have some reason for the Feds to lock him up… be it fraudulent use of grant money or whatever. We’d have to convince him that what he’d get from us would be a lot better than what he’d be giving up. That’d be a tough sell for anyone.” “But the chance to play with time itself...? How could any physicist resist that? I know Marion Dawson could not.” I countered. “And in terms of what excuse we could use to lock him up,” I continued, “several years ago, one of his former students accused him of sexual molestation. The kid eventually recanted his story, admitting he was just angry because he couldn’t keep up with Dawson’s program, but by then two other kids had come forward. They, too recanted their stories, and no other student came forward, but after that, a lot of people wondered if he might be a pedophile. He never married, and he never seemed to have a girlfriend, or a boyfriend for that matter. The FBI couldn’t find any supporting evidence of wrongdoing, however, and all charges were dropped. “There’s no question that he’s dedicated much of his life to helping kids, even though he’s a bit of a jerk, but it is curious that he’s managed to surround himself with teenage boys… not that he ever tried anything with me, or with anyone I knew, for that matter.” “But you want him transferred to federal prison and moved to our jurisdiction, and then placed under some sort of house arrest? I can see how much you trust him,” Jack stated sarcastically. “If we could frame him for distribution of child pornography, that would give us a hell of a lot of leverage over him,” Jack thought aloud. “My counterpart in 1989 would probably never agree to frame his former mentor,” I protested. “Then we won’t tell Chris-23 it’s all a fabrication. If Dawson agrees to our terms, it could be the break we’re looking for, but if he only uses us to feed his egocentric behavior, we could have a royal mess on our hands. On the other hand, I guess it might not matter if he still needs a key from the future, each time he uses TTT. Without the key, the technology’s useless.” I’d been hoping to avoid this conversation, but now that Jack had raised the issue, I felt it only fair that he be fully appraised of the risks involved. “Dawson is smart enough to reverse engineer TTT from the designs we feed him on his own. In fact, I suggest we don’t even try to keep the fundamental technology from him. Knowing Marion Dawson as I do, I can virtually guarantee that if we try to keep him in the dark about any aspect of OTT, he’ll only be more inclined to bypass the security features. “No, I believe that the best way to ensure Dawson’s full cooperation is to keep him fully in the loop. In that way I believe we can convince him of the need for the security key. We can keep him from trying to bypass it.” “My God, he really could bypass the security key if he wanted to, couldn’t he?” Jack asked. “As could I,” I pointed out, “but I have good reason not to. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to keep TTT to myself. But Dawson would have the means to bypass the security key entirely if he so chose.” The reality was that I had bypassed the security key, of necessity, with the equipment in my private lab, but that was something that no one ever could know about. I’d be locked up for life if anyone ever found out about it. “If the Russians get wind of Dawson, or the Chinese, or who knows whom else, they could force him to build them a machine that doesn’t have a security key at all,” Jack stated as realization dawned on him. “Let us pray that never becomes the case,” I agreed. <<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>> June 1982 • Chris-16 Working for Professor Dawson was great! Each morning, we’d go over another section of his lecture outlines, discuss how to make it more logical for a high school or even a junior high student to understand, discuss some ideas for self-study problems a kid could work on as a ‘homework’ assignment during the week, and discuss ideas for experiments that students could work on in pairs and small groups. We discussed metrics and ways to pull everything together, like a teacher would. It was awesome! When he was satisfied with the way it all looked, he’d have me type it all up and save it on an eight-inch floppy. That way, if we came to a later lecture and found we were missing something, we could always go back and revise the earlier lecture. It was pretty cool to be able to do that. Dawson was like a second father to me, you know? He was always coming up to me and saying encouraging things, and asking me personal stuff about what I liked and how things were at home. He was always squeezing my shoulder and giving me half-hugs and pats on the back and stuff. He really was a touchy-feely sort of guy, but in a good way. He might have been a little weird, and he was really pretty goofy, but I liked him. There were other students in the lab, too, but I was the only one getting paid. Most of the other students were in high school, like me, and were working on learning advanced math and physics, though most weren’t near as far along as I was. I guess that’s why the professor hired me to help him for the summer. A few of the kids were still in junior high, and they acted like they were hot shit, studying advanced math before they were even in high school. Truthfully, I could’ve started the program back then if I’d only known about it, but I didn’t even know about it until I was fourteen. I started the summer between eight and ninth grades — technically still junior high. I’d have given anything to have known about Professor Dawson when I was twelve and just about to start seventh grade. I was more than ready back then. <<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>> May 2003 • Chris-37 It had been a long time since I’d been back to Missouri. I’d tried keeping in regular contact with my parents, but they’d never approved of my marriage to Jen, and even though they had grandchildren in California, the fact that Andy was born out of wedlock was something they were just never able to get past. My son was illegitimate, and even though I went on to marry his mother and although my daughter was born to my legally married wife, since they didn’t accept the marriage, the whole situation was strained. We exchanged cards at Christmas and sent cards and gifts for birthdays, but that was about it. Returning to the University was like a trip back in time. There were a lot of new buildings to be sure, but the main quad itself hadn’t changed since I’d last set foot on campus more than a quarter century before. The feeling of déjà vu was incredibly intense as Jack and I walked up the stone steps and opened the heavy wooden door, then made our way up the ancient stairway. Marion Dawson was a little older than when I’d last seen him. He would be taking mandatory retirement in a few years, when he turned 65, but he looked more to be in his forties and still had the vitality of someone in his thirties. There was little doubt that he’ stay on as an emeritus professor after he retired, continuing to teach perhaps for another decade or two. He retained the same office he had when I attended his program, and still had his cadre of teenagers, nearly all boys, to whom he taught advanced math and physics on Saturdays. “Professor Dawson!” I exclaimed, “It’s so good to see you again after all these years.” “Chris, I could say the same about you!” the professor replied. “Professor, this is Jack Craegan, Professor in the Physics Department at UC Berkley, and Director of Particle Physics at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory,” I said by way of introduction. The two men shook hands, and then Professor Dawson started looking for a place for us to sit. Nothing much had changed since my studies with Dawson, and virtually every horizontal space, including the chairs, was piled high with papers and journals. Finally, he managed to shuffle some stacks around, clearing a couple of chairs for us to use. The adjacent conference table was completely covered, making it useless as anything other than a file cabinet, but such was the Dawson way. The walls that weren’t lined with books were covered with immense white boards that were filled with equations. Yes indeed — nothing had changed. After we were seated, Dawson asked, “So tell me, Chris, why are you here? What can I do for you gentlemen?” Mustering all the courage I could, I began my hard sell. “Professor Dawson…” “You don’t need to call me that anymore, Chris,” he interrupted, “What, with a PhD of your own? Please, call me Marion.” “OK, Marion,” I continued, “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t need you. What we’re about to discuss with you is highly secret and if you don’t agree to help us, this conversation never took place. Are we clear on that?” “What conversation?” Professor Dawson asked with his crooked, goofy-looking smile. “Good,” I agreed. “As you know from the theory of quantum variations, when a quantum event occurs, very often paired particles are generated that have opposite quantum states. These particles may travel light-years through space and yet their quantum states may remain unknown. If, however, we capture one of them and measure its quantum properties, the properties of the other one will be instantly known, effectively resulting in the transmission of information at faster than the speed of light. The problem has always been in knowing how to use that information. “What I’ve discovered is that paired quantum particles exist not only in space but also in time, and that we can use these paired particles as a beacon back into the past. We tried a number of direct approaches to send information back in time without success, but discovered that we can actually create a quantum time tunnel within an individual’s brain through which they can synchronize their thoughts while asleep. In other words, they can experience a shared dream state between the present and the past. “The effect is of having a conversation with one’s self in the past, but there is a limit of about seven years over which we can track quantum particles. I was initially contacted by my counterpart from seven years in the future, and he taught me how to contact my counterpart seven years in the past, and I taught him how to contact his counterpart seven years before that. That’s as far as we’ve been able to go back so far in establishing a chain of communication into the past. “We believe there will be some sort of cataclysmic event in the future sometime after 2012, but we’re not sure exactly when it will occur, or even what it will be. We believe that the problems that led up to whatever happens began in the 1970’s. Unfortunately, the further back we go, the more limited is the technology available with which to fabricate the equipment necessary for communication using quantum variations, and the fewer resources there are available for my younger selves to rely upon. “What I’m getting at is that I’ve hit a brick wall. My thirty-year-old self just can’t remember enough of the computer code and details of the circuitry to proceed using 1996 technology, and the situation’s only going to get worse as we try to push back further, reaching back to that lonely teenager you taught about advanced physics.” “So how can I possibly help you?” Dawson asked. “It’s not like I had anything to do with your memory skills.” “No, no, I’m a lost cause that way, but you have a photographic memory, as I recall, plus you’ll be in the right place at the right time to help me as a kid and you’ll have access to the most advanced computer equipment available. You’ll be able to help me pull it off. It’s also a chance for you as a physicist to play with time.” “Sounds intriguing,” he said, “but fraught with danger as I’m sure you realize, and something tells me there must be a catch.” “There’s always a catch, Professor,” Jack spoke for the first time. “Dr. Craegan,” Dawson began, “I’m impressed that they sent someone with actual clout, but I’m not sure it’s necessarily the right kind of clout.” “I’ve got plenty of clout where it counts,” Jack countered. “Ever since Chris warned us of the terrorist plot to bring down the twin towers, Operation Time Tunnel has had virtual cart blanche from the Oval Office itself.” “That was your doing?” Dawson asked me. Before I could answer, Jack said, “I have no doubt that had the Chris of 2008 not sent a message back through time, there’d be nothing left of the World Trade Center but a smoldering hole in the ground, and the Pentagon would have been partly destroyed, too. “Believe me, I don’t like the idea of working with you,” Jack continued. “Frankly, I don’t trust you. I’ve looked over your curriculum vitae and your history of grant funding, and it doesn’t take a genius to see that your use of Federal funds has not always been on the up and up. There were also those allegations back in the late eighties of child molestation. Although the evidence suggests you were innocent, it wouldn’t be hard for someone to use your past history to frame you. This makes you particularly vulnerable to coercion by the enemies of America. “I would never do anything to hurt my country!” Dawson practically shouted as he rose to his feet. “I didn’t say you would,” Jack countered, “but if someone threatened to ‘expose’ you… if they came to you with fabricated evidence that you’d had sex with dozens of boys… unless you cooperated with them, would you be willing to go to jail for the rest of your life rather than cooperate?” As Dawson started again to protest, Jack went on, “It’s not like they’d come right out and ask you to betray your country, mind you. They’d likely start off small, asking you to help them with things completely unrelated to OTT. It could be something as simple as supplying advance copies of your results before they’re published in the literature, or giving them access to your laboratory for a few hours. They’d make themselves out as being someone from private industry, when in reality, you’d be working for the Russians, or the Chinese, or maybe the Iranians. “Once they have their hooks into you, their demands would become more and more significant, to the point that you’d be directly funneling them information on Time Tunnel Technology. You might not even realize the significance of the information you’re passing them. These people are professionals and are expert at assembling the whole picture from seemingly insignificant bits and pieces. “After looking at our options, however, I think Chris’s right. You have the skills we need to bring Operation Time Tunnel to fruition, and you were in the right place at the right time. We need you, but we need your full cooperation, and we’d have to take measures to keep you out of harms way.” “How do you propose to do that?” Dawson asked. “As they say, the best defense is a good offense,” Jack replied. “The best way to prevent someone else from framing you for child molestation is if we do it first.” As Dawson started turn red in the face and rise from his chair, Jack held up his hands and practically shouted, “Please! Hear me out on this. You can’t be blackmailed for being a pedophile if you’re already convicted of sexual predation. I know how that must sound, but a conviction for, say, trafficking in child pornography would only be a means to an end, and I can assure you that if the need ever arose to return you to your current position, you would be fully exonerated of all charges.” “What do you mean by, return me to my current position?” Dawson asked. At least he was sitting back down. “Once you’re taken into Federal custody,” Jack explained, “we’d enter you into the Witness Protection Program under the guise of using your testimony to catch a major international pornography ring. You would then resurface under a completely new identity in California. You’d receive a faculty appointment at U.C. Berkley or even Stanford if you’d prefer, and you’d be given employment and a title at Lawrence Livermore. “For your own protection, we’d have to keep you under unofficial house arrest and you’d have to wear an ankle bracelet, but that’s only so we could track you. Otherwise, you’d be a free man.” “The kicker in all of this,” I interrupted, “is that we’d need you in California, starting in 1989. If you agree to our terms, we’d plant manufactured evidence on you back in 1989. You wouldn’t know what’s really happening at the time, so in that sense, it would be a bit underhanded, but we trust that the Marion Dawson of today could convince the Marion Dawson of 1989 to cooperate fully.” Dawson looked first at me, and then at Jack, and then he smiled and said, “Gentlemen, you’re asking a hell of a lot of me.” “But think what you’ll be gaining!” I countered. “You’ll be able to study the fabric of time itself! How many physicists can do that? This is truly the opportunity of a lifetime.” Suddenly, Dawson got a strange look on his face, as if he were remembering something excruciatingly painful, and then he smiled at us and said, “This is an offer I can hardly refuse. I give you my full cooperation in the present, so that you can frame and capture me in the past and force me into Witness Protection. I’ll move to California and cooperate with your OTT in any way that I can.” “Marion,” I replied, “You can’t imagine how much this means to me. You may very well be saving all of humankind.” As we shook hands with Dawson, Jack explained that we’d be in touch with him in the near future to make all the arrangements. The look on Dawson’s face, however, was peculiar. I couldn’t quite put a finger on it, but he looked way too happy for someone who’d just agreed to give up the last fourteen years of freedom to help save the world, even if it was in the name of science.
  2. Altimexis

    Picture Perfect

    October 1988 • Chris-22 “Fatherhood’s a lot of responsibility for someone working on a post-doc.” Bob Rankin said to me as he stared down his glasses at me with his beady eyes. “My students generally eat, drink and breathe their work when they’re in my lab. How do you plan to balance being a new dad and being up all night with feedings and diapers plus handling the heavy responsibilities of working in the premier quantum physics lab in the world?” My first thought was, ‘What an ego,’ and then I thought, ‘Holy shit!’ as it dawned on me that this was exactly the line that came to me last night in my dream. Could I have had a premonition? I didn’t believe in the supernatural, but the notion that I had been contacted by some future version of myself was equally hard to swallow. But in the end, the scientific explanation would always win out over everything else. I had no choice but to accept the most logical explanation, and if that meant putting my faith in a quantum information version of time travel, then so be it. However, getting my mind back to the matter at hand, Dr. Rankin was waiting for my response, and the arrogant prick was looking for any excuse to hire someone else for a position I really wanted badly. I was maybe, hopefully, six months away from finishing my PhD and I wanted to be sure I transitioned seamlessly to Rankin’s lab after that. “Dr. Rankin, I know you have the best quantum physics lab in the world. There are a lot of students who would give anything to work with you. Some of them would undoubtedly give up their girlfriends, or their wives, or their boyfriends, or sell their firstborn into slavery for a chance to work with you. Hell, some would probably even offer to sleep with you if they thought it would get them a position in your lab. I’m not one of those students, and I hope that’s not the kind of student you’re looking for, because you won’t get the best work from that kind of student. “Dr. Rankin, yes, I love my girlfriend and she has her own dissertation to complete and I’ll help her with that all I can. When our baby comes along, if that means I have to help take care of our child sometimes, that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to love my son with all my heart and be the best daddy he could ever have, because as you said, being a father is a big responsibility and while we didn’t plan to become parents just yet, once Jen became pregnant, once we made the decision to go through with the pregnancy, there was no going back. “If you hire me, Dr. Rankin, I can assure you that you will not find a more dedicated post-doctoral student anywhere. Yes, I will be a dedicated, responsible father and, yes, when it comes to the welfare of my girlfriend and my son, they will absolutely take precedence, just as I’m sure your family would in similar situations. Other than that, no one will eat, drink or breathe their work more than I. On that you have my word. “If you want someone who will suck up to you and be an automaton, and just do whatever you ask of them, there are dozens of qualified applicants. If you want someone who can think on their feet, who can do original work and who can make real, original contributions to the lab, without hogging the credit, then I’m your man.” Rankin just sat there, dumbfounded for a full minute, absorbing what I’d said before he broke out in the biggest smile I’d ever seen. Finally, he said, “I was just joking about being the premier lab, you know. You really need to get to know me to appreciate my warped sense of humor. We’re one of the better labs, but we’re not Cern. Still, I think we make some important contributions.” “That’s like saying the Sears tower’s a tall building,” I quipped. “Chris… may I call you Chris?” he asked. “Chris is fine,” I told him. “Chris, if I can be candid with you, you’re not ready for post-graduate work.” My face fell, but then I remembered what my counterpart in the dream had told me — that Rankin would offer me the fellowship if I agreed to stay for two years, so I decided to keep an open mind and, again, to believe in the reality of the dream. “The thing is, Chris, research takes a certain amount of maturity that you still need to acquire. So does parenting for that matter, but that doesn’t seem to stop anyone else from being parents either. What I’m trying to say is that you will be a much more effective scientist if you get some more experience under your belt before going out and getting a job. That’s why most students go on to do a post-doc, but even that isn’t enough for some. The average PhD student at Stanford doesn’t finish their PhD until the age of 29. You intend to finish your dissertation this academic year, at the age of 23. You raced through high school in just three years. You finished your undergraduate degree in only three years, at the age of twenty. You will have finished your PhD in only three years, which although possible, is almost unheard of for a Stanford degree. “The bottom line is that, although you may meet the minimum requirements for the PhD degree, you won’t have the experience to actually put that degree good use in an academic position of the caliber you undoubtedly seek. Sure, you might be able to get an instructorship position at MIT, but they're notorious for eating up young faculty and spitting them out, used and spent. You should want to be a full professor by the time you’re in your mid-thirties… not a burned-out has-been. You need more experience, Chris…” “But that’s why I want to do the post-doc in your lab,” I interrupted. “And I appreciate that, and I think you have the potential to do great things, which is particularly why I’m not going to offer you the post-doc… unless you’ll agree to spend another year on your Ph.D… and to stay for a two-year fellowship.” “Two more years? But why?” I asked incredulously. “Like I said, you need more experience, Chris. And after all, two-year fellowships are not unheard of. I’m just saying you need to plan on it. However, more than that, you’ll be going up against kids with a much more advanced background than yours. You may be able to pick up on what you need to know on your own, but with the addition of a few strategic courses, you’ll be in a much better position to work in my lab. And with the extra time, I can just about guarantee you will finish with your own funding from a major NSF grant in hand. Think of how much that would enhance your chances of landing the kind of academic position you seek. “In other words, I’m offering you, not only the chance to gain valuable experience that you can’t get anywhere else, but I’m offering you a head start on your academic career that will put you well ahead of where you might be if you jump straight into the job pool with what is frankly an abridged Ph.D. and only a one-year fellowship experience. And since I’d have a vested interest in the outcome of your Ph.D. I’d like to serve as a member of your committee.” I was stunned. Rankin never served as anything less than the major professor on anyone’s dissertation committee. Word was that he felt it was beneath him. “You’d do that for me?” I asked when I finally got my voice back. “Of course I would, Chris,” he answered. “As I said, it’s not every day I get an applicant of your caliber… and you’d be paying me back by working in my lab for two years.” “And you’d like to take advantage of cheap labor,” I countered. “That too,” Professor Rankin admitted with a grin, “but it’s pretty rare that I get a student with your specific needs. I would never take advantage of you, Chris. I’d be giving you an invaluable research experience and you’d be giving me cheap labor, as you so delicately put it. Two years spent in my lab will go a long way toward making up for the excessive zeal with which your pursued your academic interests, racing through in record time.” Pausing for just a moment, more for effect than to actually think about the offer, I responded, “Well, it wasn’t what I’d planned, but you’ve made me an offer I can hardly refuse, Dr. Rankin.” “Please, call me Bob,” he confided in me with a very warm smile. “I think we’re going to have a great working relationship, and you don’t even need to sleep with me,” he said with a chuckle. “More than anything, we’re going to have fun during your two years with us here. And when we’re done with you, you’ll be able to move on to a teaching position in any major university in the world or you might even be able to score a position at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.” “Lawrence Livermore! I never even considered the possibility of going there,” I said in amazement. “You really ought to think about it, Chris. They could really use a man of your talents. You wouldn’t have to scramble for grant money, you wouldn’t have to teach undergraduates and you’d get to work on the absolute cutting edge of your field.” “I’ll give it some thought,” I said as I left his office. <<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>> December 2009 • Chris-43 I hardly recognized the campus — so much had changed since I was a student there. The basic layout was the same and the red-tiled roofs still predominated the main quad, but new buildings were everywhere and most of the new structures were modern and bore no resemblance at all to the original Stanford design. Not helping matters, the kids all looked so young, or was it that I’d gotten so old? I felt so out of place. Granted, I was no older than many of the professors, and with my background, I could easily have been a full professor — hell, I still could be if I wanted to, but my life was at Lawrence Livermore, and I did have an appointment at UC, after all. “Dad, Dad, I’m over here!” I could feel my whole face light up as I heard Andy’s voice. I turned to see him walking toward me with his latest girlfriend, a pretty brunette with intelligent eyes and a warm smile. Andy had been working on me for weeks, trying to get me to visit him on campus. I knew he’d been worried about me, and I’d done everything I could to reassure him I was OK, but truthfully even I had to admit I really wasn’t. I was so involved in OTT that I’d been neglecting myself. I would go days without bathing or shaving. Some days I didn’t even bother to eat. At 5’10”, I only weighed 120 pounds, and my waist size was down to 29”, a size I hadn’t been since junior high. My clothes were swimming on me. The truth was that even my concentration was being affected by my declining health, and that was having a direct bearing on OTT. If I couldn’t concentrate, I wouldn’t be able to communicate with Chris-36, and while he might be able to continue the mission of establishing a chain of communication back to 1978 on his own, I might not be able to send critical information back in time. Unless I reached Chris-12, my life would remain as it is now, and that was unacceptable. More importantly, there was the world’s future to consider, but I couldn’t do anything about that until I fixed my own past. That was the real reason for going back to 1978, but I could hardly tell anyone else that. “Dad, this is Sandy. Sandy, this is my dad,” Andy said as he introduced his girlfriend.” I shook her hand, but I could see a look of concern in both their eyes. The last thing I wanted was their pity. “Sandy and Andy,” I chuckled, mostly to myself. “So I was thinking we might check out this new Thai place up in the mall if you’re game,” Andy said as we started walking. “We haven’t eaten yet and it’d be a great chance for us to catch up on things. The walk would be a great chance to work up an appetite.” I chuckled and said, “How well I remember the long walks on campus, but my 43-year-old body will let me know just how out of shape it is if I walk that far. Much as it might be good for my health, I’m parked in a metered space and since I’m paying to park by the minute, why don’t we retrieve my car and we can drive to the mall and park over there. At least that way, I won’t have to pay for the time it takes to walk to and from the mall. “Oh, and it’s been a very long time since I’ve had Thai food. I heartily approve. Good choice, and I could use a little peanut oil in my diet right now. Don’t think I don’t know what you’re doing, and I do appreciate it,” I said as I squeezed my son on the shoulder. “If it’s OK with you, Dad, one of my professors is going to join us for lunch,” Andy added as he pulled out his cell phone. “Uh-oh,” I said aloud. “Now why do I get the sinking feeling that this professor just happens to be a middle aged gay guy?” “It is an amazing coincidence,” Andy agreed with me, “but as long as we’re going to lunch, we might as well have someone along who has something in common with you, you know?” “Andy,” I said, “I know you set this up, and it would be rude of you to ‘uninvite’ this guy now that you’ve invited him but, first of all, this isn’t me and, secondly, I really wanted this time to catch up on ‘us’. I’ll go through with our double date for lunch under one condition… that you spend some time with me this afternoon, just the two of us. It’s been a long time… too long, and we have a lot of catching up to do, father to son, adult to adult. “Dad, you got a deal.” Lunch was utterly forgettable. Andy’s professor, David Resnick, was so stereotypically gay, he was almost camp. Why Andy thought I’d be interested in him I wasn’t sure — perhaps it was simply because Andy was sure David was gay, but I found his mannerisms to be a complete turnoff. After lunch, we took Sandy back to campus and Andy and I went to play a round of miniature golf — something we hadn’t done in many, many years. It was the sort of thing we used to do when he was twelve. I hated to admit it, but he could still beat the pants off me. The main point, though, was to just spend some time together and ‘shoot the shit’ as father and son. He’d always been precocious from the time he was a toddler, but now he truly was an adult. His undergraduate degree was in Physics, but he’d switched to Biomedical Engineering in graduate school. When did that happen? His reasoning was sound and well thought-out, however. He saw the human body as the true ‘final frontier’. In truth, much of what I was doing now revolved around applications of quantum physics to the medical field when you got right down to it. Andy was quicker to recognize that than most, and he saw that knowledge of the biologic aspects would give him a significant advantage over pure physicists such as myself. He was even considering the possibility of going to medical school. I tried to dissuade him from that notion, though. I’d known some M.D.-Ph.D. types in my day. Most of them ended up getting dragged into the practice of Medicine and, once that happened, never returned to their research. Most of the physicians I’d met were miserable, not that I was a paragon of happiness, but I didn’t want that for my Andy. All in all, I had a great day at Stanford. It was the most fun I’d had in months. I was definitely going to have to make it a point to spend more time with my son. <<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>> January 1996 • Chris-29 “What is this,” I asked Chris-36, “and why are you showing it to me?” “It’s a stereogram,” he answered. “Right now, I bet it looks to you like nothing more than a picture of lighthouse.” “You got that right,” I said. “I’ve never tried conjuring one of these things up in my dreams, so I can only guess as to how well it’ll work, but right now it’s our best hope for passing code back to Chris-22… and beyond. At least one huge advantage we have with these things over the originals is that we can separate the left and right images. The algorithm that generated this particular image was designed for viewing with both eyes, which is probably why it’s a little hard for you to see the hidden image right now. You’ll have to make sure you send Chris-22 an algorithm that completely separates the left and right eye images. That should give you a much better result.” “Hold it… you’d better back up a step or two here,” I admonished of Chris-36. “You’re telling me there’s a hidden image in this picture? All I see is a lighthouse.” “Chris-29, you have to look beyond what your mind’s eye is telling you is there. Stereograms are already out there, even in your day, but they’ll explode in popularity in just a few short years. There’ll be books and posters everywhere you turn. The idea is simple… you take two nearly identical images of the same scene and superimpose them… one designed for the left eye and one designed for the right eye. What your left eye sees of the right eye image is gibberish and your brain can learn to ignore it, and vice versa. The process of accommodation is so automatic… it almost seems hard-wired into the brain. If you focus the lenses in your eyes at a given distance, they will automatically converge at a point at the same distance, and vice versa, fusing two images seamlessly into one. Once you train yourself to decouple accommodation and converge your eyes at a slightly different point from the depth at which your eyes are focused, you’ll see there’s a second image hidden in the picture… an image you weren’t expecting.” “Wait a minute,” I said, “I think I understand what you’re saying, but getting something like this to work with my eyes when I’m awake and making it happen in a dream are two different things. What you’re talking about is making my eyes converge on different parts of a repeating pattern in an image. In effect, I must force my eyes to converge behind the picture, even as they focus on the picture.” “Exactly!” Chris-36 exclaimed. “But I’m not exactly using my eyes when I dream… at least not in the traditional sense. Instead, you’re sending me two stereographic representations of the same picture, presumably to different layers of my occipital cortex.” “Chris-29, we don’t even know that much,” Chris-36 admitted. “We know a little bit about how stereo vision works in the brain, but where along the pathway my visual thoughts are passed along to you is a mystery. Is it in the lateral geniculate body of the thalamus, or is it in the occipital cortex as you suggested? Perhaps it’s in the visual associative cortex, or maybe it doesn’t occur until after all interpretation of visual information has already taken place? We may never fully understand how exactly it is that my thoughts become your thoughts. The important thing is that ultimately, you see what I see.” “Well, at the moment, all I see is a lighthouse,” I complained. “Try focusing just at the clouds in the upper left-hand corner and concentrate your efforts there. Notice how there seems to be straight lines within the clouds, and try to make those lines, line up.” Suddenly, I saw exactly what Chris-36 was talking about. When I focused on the lines, they magically snapped into place and I was seeing words! My God, I don’t know how I could have missed it before. I started to read aloud. We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. “That’s quite a few words hiding in one photograph,” Chris-36 commented. “Quite a few words indeed,” I agreed. “It won’t be easy, Chris, but there have been experiments on this. Memorizing a passage from the Declaration of Independence is fairly easy. Memorizing a few dozen lines of computer code is not, but if I’d embedded the computer code in this picture and then hypnotized you, I’d have gotten all the code back. It won’t be easy and it’ll take many, many passes to make it work, but this is probably the best means to our end. “Look for a stereogram algorithm on the Internet, and pass it along to Chris-22, but again, remember that it should be one designed for full separation of the images. Chris-22 is also going to have to learn self-hypnosis, and so is Chris-16.” <<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>> March 1996 • Chris-29 “It just isn’t working, Chris!” I cried in frustration as my older counterpart came to me in my dream. For three weeks now I’d been trying to memorize computer code passed to me in my sleep. Chris-36 would show me a series of pictures each night… we started with a dozen the first night and when it became clear that I couldn’t remember them all, had progressively cut back until we were focusing on only one a night… and I would attempt to commit the image to memory. I would stare at the picture and assimilate every detail. At the time, I could easily see the lines of computer code embedded in the images, but that was not the purpose of remembering the images — that would come later. The code was subliminal and was to be extracted under hypnosis when I was awake, or so we thought. Unfortunately, we just weren’t getting anywhere. For three weeks I’d tried memorizing pictures with embedded code. For three weeks I’d tried self-hypnosis as a means of extracting the code from my memories and when that didn’t work, enlisted Jack’s aide in having a real top-secret hypnotist brought in to help extract the code from my brain, all without success. The code was almost certainly there, but apparently I just couldn’t bring it out. “Maybe we’re trying to cram too many lines of code into one image,” I suggested. “Perhaps,” Chris-36 agreed, “but then it’ll take decades to send all the code back in time to you.” I mulled that idea in my head and gathered my thoughts before organizing them into a reply. “So this is all a dead end, isn’t it? We’re not going to be able to use stereograms to send computer code back through the chain of communication,” I stated the obvious, flatly. “Unfortunately, Chris-29, I think you’re right,” Chris-36 agreed with me. “So where does that leave us?” I asked. “Looking for another way to send code back in time. Looking for another way to send complex information… circuit diagrams, and ultimately the information that might be needed to save the world.” “Short of coming up with some sort of cybernetic implant that can interface directly with our thoughts,” I said, “or somehow developing the skills of a photographic memory, I don’t see how.” <<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>> March 2003 • Chris-36 “A photographic memory… wouldn’t that come in handy,” he said. “It’s certainly something we’ve never had,” I agreed, as I communicated with Chris-43, “but we both know someone who does have a true photographic memory… someone who never forgets the slightest detail of anything he reads, sees or hears… someone with one of the most brilliant minds we have ever encountered… and someone I believe we can trust. That I believe is probably the most important thing of all… the real bottom line. What’s more is that this person I’m thinking of would be in the right place at the right time to help Chris-16 make contact with Chris-12, and that’s something we can hardly put a price on.” “Wait a minute!” Chris-43 nearly shouted through time and space. “You couldn’t be serious!” “I’m dead serious,” I replied. “Marion Dawson was an egocentric maniac,” Chris-43 said tersely. “He was self-centered, self-serving and at times delusional. He didn’t get along with anyone, and in the end, he hanged himself.” I winced to myself and said, “I didn’t know that. What a tragic waste of a brilliant mind.” “He dug his own grave,” Chris-43 admonished me. “His greatness was never in doubt…” “But he was willing to go to any lengths to achieve that greatness, and in the end, it drove him to suicide,” came Chris-43’s retort. “And of course there were the allegations… never proven, but damaging.” “Many people believe he was the victim of a witch hunt, you know. He spent all his time with teenaged boys, so it was natural for some to think he might be a pedo. Nothing was ever proved, though, and we personally never witnessed anything improper between him and one of his students. Granted, he did some very unconventional things, but he also gave a hell of a lot of us a significant kick-start to our careers. And he never once forced us to do something he shouldn’t have…” “And how many of the kids that he ‘helped’ ended up fucked-up for life because of the way he pushed them?” Chris-43 asked. “We can never know the true answer to that one, can we? Certainly, you haven’t forgotten about Brian!” No, I hadn’t forgotten. I could never forget. Brian Little was a friend of mine, and one of Dawson’s star pupils. With Dawson’s help, Brian was granted admission to the university when he was only fifteen. He started dating a classmate who was four years older, and when she dumped him, he just snapped. He tried going to Dawson, but Dawson just told him to be glad — that he didn’t need a girlfriend, anyway. Brian was found the next morning in a snow bank, dead from the combination of Valium and hypothermia. “I could never forget what happened to Brian,” I scolded my older self, “and I haven’t forgotten Dawson’s role in his death, nor have I forgiven him, but it’s not like Dawson was some pedophile priest, you know.” “True, there are worse monsters out there,” Chris-43 agreed, “but for all the damage he did to some fragile minds, he might as well have been. “You forget how fragile we were when we were younger, Chris,” my older counterpart continued. “We were lucky. We didn’t connect with Dawson until we were fourteen, but some kids started with him when they were as young as twelve. When it came to Math and Science, we were brilliant, and we were able to take everything Dawson threw at us, and we went far under his mentorship. We learned a lot from him and it served us well. “Had we been twelve when we started with Dawson, he’d have tried that much harder to make us into something we weren’t at an age when we couldn’t handle it. We were already going through hell in Junior High. Could we have handled Dawson’s grandiose delusions on top of all that? I seriously doubt it!” Chris-43 stated flatly. “We could argue all day… or rather all night… about all the kids’ lives Dawson messed up,” I replied, “but he helped far more of us than he hurt, and that’s the bottom line. The fact is that he had one of the most brilliant minds… ever, and that he helped us immeasurably. “What I suggest is that we bring Dawson here to Livermore and use him to communicate back through the time what we cannot. He has the kind of memory we don’t. He’s already in the right place at the right time to assist with OTT at every step of the way, all the way back to Chris-12. Also, he has access to all the latest computer systems in every time period, and he could help to assemble the equipment needed to build TTT when Chris-23 and Chris-16 would have extreme difficulty doing it on their own.” “But he’s unpredictable, Chris,” my older self countered. “I have no doubt you could lure him to California with the promise of being able to experiment with the fabric of time itself, but how are you going to restrict him to the task at hand? He was conniving and believed that the ends justified the means at all costs. He was conceited, and arrogant, and diverted grant money as he saw fit. “What makes you think you can control someone like that? What makes you think he’ll see OTT the same way you do? Oh, you’ll get him to California all right, but he’ll just see OTT as an extension of what he’s always been doing. Don’t you see, the ability to communicate back in time for him could be the ultimate means of advancing his delusions, however crazy they may be. “What ever you do, do not get involved with Marion Dawson until I’ve had some time to think about this. He was a brilliant man… there’s no doubt about that, and if there’s anyone who could memorize thousands upon thousands of lines of computer code, not to mention fabricating complex circuitry using primitive transistors and even vacuum tubes, he’s the one, but he’s reckless, Chris-36. He’s a loose cannon. It’s not that he’s just delusional. He’s impulsive, he’s immature, and he dives in head first without checking to see if he’s diving into shallow water. And if we could tempt him with the power to manipulate time, don’t you think the Russians, or the Chinese, or the Iranians could, too… especially with Dawson’s help… if he was so easily influenced? “No, the more I think about it, the more convinced I am that he’s a liability to OTT. He’s a risk not worth taking. I’m not saying using Dawson’s out of the question, but let’s exhaust every other possibility first before we get him involved. Will you promise me you’ll wait?” The trouble with TTT is that it’s damn hard to lie. Though we call it a conversation, it’s our thoughts we use to communicate and it’s nearly impossible to conceal our thoughts from each other when we literally share our brainwaves with ourselves at different points in time. I suppose if one practices the conversation enough to make themselves believe something is real, they could pass off a total fabrication, but one minor slip-up and it would be obvious. I, on the other hand was sooo transparent and, hence, Chris-43 knew exactly what I was thinking. “Oh fuck,” Chris-43 said back to me after my thoughts bled through, in spite of my best effort to hold them back, “you’re going to make contact with him anyway, aren’t you?” “Chris, I don’t disagree with everything you’ve said about Dawson, and yes, there are risks, but we may be running out of time. You yourself said that events were spinning out of control in your day, and that the end of the world might be inevitable. The stock market crash has already happened in your time. Iran is already well on its way to developing a nuclear capability and the prospect of using economic sanctions against them collapsed right along with the economy. One small change in the timeline and you might be unable to finish your task at all. Then it would fall on me and me alone, without the benefit of your help. I have all the technology I need, but I still don’t have all of the information from the future I might need. “And what if it’s not just the end of the world we have to worry about? What if TTT falls into the wrong hands? The world coming to an end might actually be the best-case scenario… not that it’s a good outcome, but If I have to fight secret enemy agents sending information back to their counterparts in the past, the end result could be so much more frightening than the thought of an unpredictable Marion Dawson working for us on our side… “You may not like it, but by the time you find a workable alternative, we may have lost whatever window of opportunity we have left to establish a working chain of communication back to 1978. You may be dead, your information may be lost and whatever it is you may have learned in the intervening years may doom us to failure by the time I reach your age in my attempt to have a go at whatever it was you were attempting to do.” “I hadn’t thought of that,” Chris-43 seemed to think more to himself than to me. “If I fail and am killed, you now have enough knowledge to continue the quest, in theory, until you reach my age… until you acquire my knowledge and experiences and, ultimately, the information I now possess.” “But if TTT falls into the wrong hands…” “Then all bets are off,” he admitted. “The bottom line is we cannot take a chance on that happening,” I stated simply. “I just don’t see we have much of a choice but to use Marion Dawson.” “He needs to be kept on a tight leash, Chris-36.” “On that I agree,” I thought aloud. “Initially, I’d thought we’d simply entice him to move to California in the here and now, but that would still grant him free reign back in the earlier time periods, so we need to convince him to move to California in 1989 and put him under the equivalent of house arrest. That’s a very hard sell for anyone, but perhaps the lure of experimenting with the fabric of time will be enough to tempt Marion Dawson… it won’t be an easy sell… that’s for sure.” “You’re right, it won’t be an easy sell, but I suspect you’re right,” Chris-43 laughed. “The lure of experimenting with time may well be enough to tempt even the great Marion Dawson into giving up his freedom.” “Maybe we can use his past against him to force his hand,” I thought. “It wouldn’t take much to fabricate evidence of sexual improprieties, and given the choice of a lifetime in prison… and we all know how prisoners treat pedophiles… or a life under house arrest, but working on the physics project of a lifetime, there really won’t be a choice. “And with the right safeguards in place, not even the Russians’ll be able to get to him. Nor the Chinese, nor the Iranians, nor even our own CIA. He’ll be ours and ours alone,” I said emphatically. “Forcing someone to do your bidding against their will can have unintended consequences, Chris-36, and you’re forgetting something,” my future self reminded me. “They don’t need to get at him in your time and place. If their agents in 1996, or 1989, or even all the way back in 1978 find that he has knowledge of a ‘time machine’ from the future, they can capture him back then, before anyone else knows just how dangerous he could be.” “Then I guess it will be up to us to make sure he fully understands the gravity of the knowledge he carries with him,” I said. “I suppose you’re right,” Chris-43 agreed, “but you know something?” “What?” I asked. “This is the first time I have ever argued with myself,” he answered, and then broke out into full-blown laughter. Hearing my older self laughing inside my head was enough to give anyone a headache.”
  3. Altimexis

    Like a Spinning Top

    April 1995 • Chris-29 “Where’s Jack?” I asked when I got to the lab. I had just had my meeting with him yesterday and as I’d expected, he’d been skeptical at best when I related how Chris-36 had come to me in my dreams. Still, he’d had a hard time brushing off the personal information I’d been given to tell him — information I couldn’t possibly have known about him — information no one else could have known about him. In the end, he’d agreed to track down and verify the data that I’d passed on to him from Chris-36. This data was supposed to prove to Jack that the order to build the time tunnel had come from the White House itself. But where was Jack? He was usually the first person to arrive at the lab each morning, and he was nowhere to be seen. It was then that I noticed the somber looks on everyone’s faces. In fact, more than a few people looked like they’d been crying, and not just the women. It was Cindy, one of the lab assistants, who took me by the arm and led me to a small table in the corner of our ‘break room’, which was really nothing more than a corner partitioned out of secretarial space. Taking my hand in hers, Cindy looked at me with her bloodshot eyes and said, “Chris, there was an accident this morning. God, I don’t know how to tell you this, but Susan was on her way with the kids to school this morning when a semi ran a red light. They were all killed instantly.” My eyes widened in shock and then I slammed my fist down on the table, undoubtedly surprising everyone around me. I was normally so calm and collected, and I rarely expressed any anger. Slamming my fist was totally out of character for me. “Those bastards!” I shouted. “Those thoughtless bastards! So this is what they meant by a ‘life-altering event.’ Hah! They could’ve prevented it!” “Chris, what are you talking about?” Cindy asked me. Slowly, my anger subsided and I remembered where I was, and the implications of my actions began to reassert themselves in my brain. There were consequences to what knowledge of the future could really do. Had I known about the accident and passed my knowledge on to Jack, and had he acted on that knowledge to save his wife and children, three people who were supposed to have died on this date would have gone on to affect the future for decades to come. His children would have had children of their own, and then great grandchildren and great great grandchildren and so on. One of them might have found a cure for cancer, or become a mass murderer. There was no telling what the consequences might have been. Of course the reverse was possible too. Perhaps Jack would one day remarry and raise a family with his second wife. If we had intervened to prevent the accident, what might have become of those children, grand children and great grandchildren? If they’d never been born, would we be guilty of murder? Turning back to Cindy, I said, “I’m sorry, I was just in shock is all.” “We all are, Chris,” she agreed. “Apology accepted.” “Any word on when the funeral will be?” I asked. “No definite plans yet, but I’m hearing it’ll probably be on Friday,” she replied. “Has anyone started a collection for flowers or food or anything?” I asked. “Betsy’s handling that,” she answered. “Thanks, I’ll stop by her desk as soon as I have a chance,” I replied as I gently squeezed her hand. As I stood up and looked out across the lab area, I couldn’t help but think about the craziness of what we were doing in OTT, sending information back and forth through time, building tunnels within my brain so that my thoughts could pass freely from older me to younger me and back again while I dreamed. Building a time tunnel machine was going to be a major challenge for me, particularly since I still had to continue my regular research. If I didn’t continue the research I’d been doing, the original TTT would never come to fruition and OTT would never come to pass in the first place. After what had just happened, I had no doubt that Jack would sign off on the purchase of the equipment needed for OTT, but we’d undoubtedly need to hire more personnel to make it happen, too. In the federal government, the wheels of bureaucracy turn ever so slowly, so we’d probably need to shift personnel from other programs rather than hiring people off the street, so to speak, but I’d have to run that by Chris-38 to make sure we didn’t inadvertently take anyone off mission-critical projects. While my most immediate concern was getting my own time tunnel up and running, my most challenging concern was coming up with a design for TTT that would be practical for Chris-22 or, more realistically, Chris-23 at the rate things were going, to implement. There was no way a graduate student would have access to the resources I had at my disposal. Would he be able to build a 64-element micro-emitter/detector array? The technology to build it might be available, but he simply wouldn’t have the finances, the equipment or the facilities to build one, and we simply didn’t have the time to wait for a National Science Foundation grant cycle, assuming the unlikelihood that Chris-22 could even get a six-figure NSF grant while still in graduate school in the first place. Somehow Chris-43, Chris-36 and I needed to come up with a much simpler design for the emitter/detector array, though God knows how we would do it when they’d both had years on me to perfect it already. On top of that, we’d need to dramatically simplify the associated circuitry to work with what would be available in the 1980’s, simplify the software yet again and get it to run on the micro VAX’s that were ubiquitous in universities during that time period. Hopefully, we’d find one with an image processing array that we could adapt for our purposes — otherwise we’d be dead meat. The low-megahertz clock speeds and ten-megabyte RAM partitions of the micro-VAX would never cut it on their own. <<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>> June 1988 • Chris-22 For 22 years, I’d been living the life I thought I was supposed to live. Growing up in St. Louis, in the Midwest, in the ‘Bible Belt’, of all places, I just assumed that the American Dream, with a wife and 2.4 kids was the way life was supposed to be. Life in Junior High had been absolute Hell, but somehow I’d survived it, and things actually settled down in high school. Not that I was ever part of any clique or any thing — I was always pretty much a loner and I never once dated, but I accepted that I could be whoever I wanted to be and buried myself in my books. One would have thought that once I left the Midwest and started school at Stanford, a mere hour south of San Francisco, the gay Mecca of the world, I would have figured things out, but no, I was still hung up on wanting to have the perfect hetero life with a wife and 2.4 kids. At first I just buried myself in my studies, just like I did in high school, but there was something about dorm life that makes it hard to stay in your shell. And lets face it; your right hand only gets you so far. The dating scene was scary at first, but once I lost my virginity, there was no going back. That it was with a girl was irrelevant — it could have been with a sheep and I would have gotten off — not to denigrate the woman I was with, but after seventeen years of no one touching me in a sexual way but myself, any skin touching my skin would have sent me over the edge. With time, it became easier and easier to convince myself that I really did want women. Sexually, intercourse with a woman was certainly satisfying — a hell of a lot more satisfying that with my own palm — and the companionship of a woman was nice. For the first time in my life, I was having fun, although it did occasionally trouble me that I boned up seeing a cute guy now and then. That almost never happened to me when I saw a girl. Jennifer Wilson, however, was special. I met her toward the end of my Junior year. I wouldn’t go so far to say it was love at first sight, but I knew right away she was different from the other women I’d dated, and from the handful of girlfriends I’d had. She was older than me, working on her masters thesis in Lowery’s lab. She was incredibly bright — a chemistry major with expertise on quantum chemistry. It was truly a match made in heaven. After dating for about a year, we decided to move in together. We found a small one-bedroom place in Mountain View — it wasn’t much, but it was ours. We were so in love with each other. Everything was going perfectly until the day I met Paul Langley. Paul was a graduate student in Minton’s lab, where I’d just started work on my Ph.D. When I met Paul, I suddenly realized what was missing from my relationship with Jen — what had always been missing from my relationships with women. Yes, I loved Jen the way best friends might love each other. Yes, I enjoyed sex with her the way best friends could enjoy fooling around with each other. Had I never met Paul, I might have been able to have a charade of a marriage with Jen, but it would have never been real. With Paul, everything was different. Right away, there was a physical attraction that neither of us could deny. To say he was handsome would have been an understatement, but it was more than that — he had a sparkling personality that just drew you in and made you want to get to know him better. He was funny and witty — and kind. As I got to know him better during my first weeks in the lab and as I went out for drinks with him and some of the other graduate students, I found myself undeniably being drawn to him. I simply couldn’t help it. Then one afternoon he asked me if I’d like to go out for dinner and maybe to catch a movie. I felt a little guilty about it, like I was cheating on Jen, but I figured I was just going out with one of my buddies from the lab. I called Jen and told her I had a late night experiment I had to ‘babysit’ and told her to not wait up for me. This wasn’t the first time I’d had to stay late at the lab, so I knew she wouldn’t suspect anything. Paul and I first hit up a Chinese restaurant on El Camino Real near the university, and then we saw Big, with Tom Hanks, which had just come out in theaters. What a funny movie! Afterwards, Paul asked if I’d like to go back to his place for a drink. Well, I wasn’t naïve and I knew exactly where this was leading, but I didn’t care. We never did get around to having that drink. Before that night, I’d always thought of gay sex as something abnormal and vulgar. Paul dispelled that notion. He was loving and gentle, and showed me that gay sex could be every bit as wonderful and beautiful as sex with a woman, if not more so. Before the morning light, I learned much about oral and anal sex, and about how to give and to receive. I learned about the perineum and the prostate, and how sensual the texture of the scrotum could be. I also learned that the smell of a man is oh so much more erotic than that of a woman — at least to me, it was. For me, there would be no going back. I had finally come to accept that I was gay, and that for me, the American dream did not include a wife and 2.4 kids. The problem was that, for better or for worse, I already did have a girlfriend whom I loved dearly and the last thing I wanted to do was to hurt her. Somehow, I was going to have to find a way to let her down gently. Paul was a great guy. I wasn’t sure if he was ‘the one’, but I knew I wanted to pursue our relationship further, and it wouldn’t be fair to do it while I was still living with Jen. I’d cheated on her this once and I’d be damned if I was going to do it again — that just wouldn’t be fair to her or Paul. Short of telling her I was gay, I was going to have to break off our relationship, but this was something I’d never done before. When I finally crawled into bed in the early daylight hours, Jen asked me how the experiment had gone. I couldn’t help but chuckle to myself as I told her it had gone very well — better than expected, actually. Before I drifted off to sleep, she said, “Honey, I have some very important news. Don’t leave for the campus without talking to me, OK?” That sure got my attention. “What is it, Jen?” I asked. “Not now, sweetheart. You’re tired. Ask me once you’ve rested.” “But now I won’t be able to go to sleep,” I protested. “You won’t be able to go to sleep after I tell you what I have to say,” she tried to explain. I guess she was trying to reassure me, but it wasn’t working. “Jen, if you don’t tell me, I’ll never get any sleep.” “Well, don’t tell me I didn’t warn you,” she started to say. “You see, I’m late for my period.” That got me to sit bolt upright in bed. “Just relax, honey,” she said as she put her hand on my knee. “Anyway, I took a pregnancy test… and… I’m pregnant. We’re going to be parents.” <<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>> July 1995 • Chris-29 Watching my children play, I couldn’t help but swell with pride, and yet I remembered how my life had changed in the early days of my life with Jen. Just when I was finally ready to accept that there even was a closet, let alone that it was something I could actually come out of, Jen found she was pregnant and that changed everything. Suddenly, whether or not I was gay or straight didn’t really matter any more. I was going to be a father and that meant I had responsibilities. First came Andy, and sleepless nights and breastfeeding (at least I didn’t have to do that) and diapers and all the wonderful things that went with having a baby in the house. But I didn’t mind any of that, because Andy was our kid, and he was beautiful, and he was loving, and he was so totally dependent on us, and we loved him more than anything in the world. Then just as I thought our lives might begin to settle down, along came Karen. I couldn’t get over how different two personalities could be! I used to think all babies were alike, but these two couldn’t be more different. Andy was so rambunctious and outgoing and active and effusive. Karen was so shy — she just seemed to want to crawl up inside of herself. I wanted to do everything I could to protect her. But then an amazing thing happened — Andy became the protective older brother. He started watching out for her whenever they were around other kids. How’d that happen? So I was watching Andy play with his Nintendo, and Karen was playing with one of those spinning tops that little kids like to play with — you know, the kind with a handle you push down on that makes the top spin rapidly around while sparkles of colors spread out on top. As I watched Karen playing with her top, something suddenly clicked in my head. My mind went instantly from family and kids to my lab. All along, we’d been focusing on a stationary array of 64 quartz emitter/detector elements. Because the elements had to be packed so closely together, they had to be precision machined — indeed, we called it a micro array. We were well on our way to building our own micro-emitter/detector array in this time period which we would soon use to contact my counterpart back in 1988, but there was absolutely no way Chris-22 would ever be able to fabricate such a precision-engineered emitter/detector array himself. Not that it couldn’t be done in his time period — he’d just never be able to access the finances, the resources, the equipment or the facilities to do so. But now, here I was watching a spinning top — a child’s toy — and I was wondering why in Hell the emitter/detector array had to be stationary. Sure, it would be more challenging to build an array in which the elements were moving, particularly when it came to the interconnects to the physical world, but it would be a lot easier to solve those problems than the miniaturization problem. The more I thought about it, the more excited I became. Instead of a fixed array, we could mount the array inside of a spinning cylinder. The cylinder would need to be perfectly balanced, but that would be no different than balancing the wheel of a spinning tire. Indeed, automotive wheel bearings would probably work quite nicely for our application. Rather than using 64 emitter/detectors, we could get by with a much smaller number — by spinning them around inside the cylinder, they would still provide coverage of the entire volume inside the cylinder. The precision of the gyroscopic effect and speed would have to be precise, but it wouldn’t be impossible to achieve. We could probably get by using only sixteen emitter/detectors, which would mean they could be much larger, which would make them a lot less expensive to fabricate. Even with the added complexity of the bearings, motor, position sensors and multiplexors, I expected my spinning top design would cost less than one tenth as much to manufacture as the 64-element design, if that much. I couldn’t wait to discuss it with Chris-36. <<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>> July 1988 • Chris-22 Once the initial shock had worn off, the idea of becoming a daddy was actually pretty cool. I mean, here I’d convinced myself that having a wife and 2.4 kids didn’t matter, but the reality was that I’d grown up all my life wanting just that. I’d already sown my wild oats, mostly with girls, but the truth was, I’d gotten it out of my system like I was supposed to. Sure, there was a part of me that wished I could have had more time to explore things further with Paul — a big part of me — but that was over. It had to end. When I told Paul the news that Jen was pregnant, I could see the look of intense disappointment on his face. There was a fleeting moment when he let his guard down and I could tell that he was thinking about what might have been. Truthfully, so was I, but that was irrelevant now. I was a father to be. I really got into the baby spirit with Jen as we went together for her prenatal checkups, for the amnio and the ultrasounds and all. All the other students in both our labs were pairing off and getting married, or if not getting married, at least having kids. Now it was our turn. This was the way it was supposed to be. This was what life was all about. <<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>> July 1995 • Chris-29 “A spinning top?” Chris-36 echoed my comment. “It’s amazing where your ideas come from. That would simplify the fabrication of the individual emitter/detectors quite a bit, but at the expense of quite a bit more complexity for the apparatus overall. Still, I think you’re right… it would bring costs down considerably. My biggest concern is what would happen if a bearing seized up in the middle of a communication.” “What happens when a bearing seizes up on a semi, or in a jet engine? How often does that happen?” I asked. “I see your point,” Chris-36 admitted. “I just guess I’m being paranoid, and we could always design the equipment to simply interrupt the time tunnel completely in the event of a malfunction, rather than take a chance on a distorted quantum event.” “Works for me,” I interjected. “Your idea of using automotive wheel bearings, Chris-29, is a bit naïve, however. A car can tolerate a fair bit of wheel wobble. The occupants will never notice a millimeter or two of shimmy, let alone several micrometers, yet our tolerances would have to be accurate down to the nanometer scale.” “Yikes, you’re right,” I sheepishly admitted. “Fortunately, the equipment you need isn’t nearly as hard to come by as you may think, and a complete assembly can be had at a reasonable cost. This sort of problem comes up in optics laboratories all the time. If you flip through some optics catalogs, you’ll find a ton of stepper motors designed to do just what we’re looking for. With precision bearings, they’ll allow for no more wobble than a quarter wavelength in the visible spectrum. With a digitally controlled direct-drive stepper mechanism, there’ll be no need for a separate position sensor. The one thing they’re not, is fast, but you’ll find models into the hundreds of RPM’s… maybe as high as a thousand. If you do the calculations, I think you’ll find that’s adequate.” “Wow, I wouldn’t have even thought of looking in an optics catalog,” I said. “Once in a while, age and experience come in handy,” Chris-36 chuckled. “Now if we could just come up with a way to download software from the brain to a micro-VAX computer.” I lamented. “That’s definitely going to be a challenge,” Chris-36 admitted. “Up to now, we’ve been able to fall back on standard algorithms from books and treatises, making only simple embellishments that haven’t been hard to pass on through your dreams. You won’t have that to fall back on in working with Chris-22, or perhaps he’ll be 23 by the time we come up with a solution.” “Yeah, it probably will take another year… or more, and you’re right about the software issues. Kelvin and Hobson’s treatise won’t have come out yet, nor will have Wilson et al.’s groundbreaking work on recursion. Maybe I can turn the code into a melody I could memorize, then get Chris-22 to memorize it and then get him to turn it back into code again.” “You know, that’s a very intriguing idea,” Chris-36 said, “but I seriously doubt it would work. You can memorize a symphony because it’s consists of a series of pleasing, repetitive patterns. Although computer code certainly contains patterns, even set to music, I suspect it would sound like random gibberish.” “I know, I know,” I said. “It was just a thought. We’d probably have better luck embedding it in an image, but you’d have to hypnotize Chris-22 to get the details out of him, or at least teach him to hypnotize himself.” “You know, that might actually work,” Chris-36 suggested, “but it would take a lot of images to convey all the code involved, and it would be exhausting on the both of you, but probably easier than trying to actually memorize the code itself. Visual memory is a powerful resource.” Changing the subject, Chris-36 continued, “So I know the equipment is nearly ready, but are you ready for first contact?” “I don’t think I’ll ever be ready,” I admitted. “I’m the first one of us who’ll be contacting someone who has no idea what this is all about. I knew right away what was happening. Chris-22 won’t have a clue. He’ll have barely started to think of quantum variations, but won’t have even considered the possibility of using them to send information back in time. He’ll scoff at the notion that I’m from the future. Right now, he’s self-absorbed in his girlfriend’s pregnancy and his dissertation, and in applying for his post-doc. On top of all that, he’s a natural skeptic.” “Chris, I know all of that as well as you do. We’ve gone over all of this before and you know just what to do. You’ll do fine. Confronted by the evidence, Chris-22 will have no choice but to accept the most logical explanation for the information at hand, and conclude that he has been contacted by himself from the future. You’ll do fine… you know you will. I know you will. “Anyway, you need take a few months yet to test the equipment and to verify that it’s safe to use. I cannot emphasize enough that you cannot jump in too soon. If you use the equipment too quickly, before you’ve been able to verify that it’s safe, you could risk serious brain damage. And no amount of TTT can restore your damaged brain. I don’t need to tell you that if you damage your brain, you also damage my brain and TTT will never come to pass” “And we would have a fundamental paradox. Don’t worry, Chris-36. I’ll be damned well sure that the equipment works before I use it on myself. And the time spent on testing the equipment will give me time to think of how best to approach our younger self.” <<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>> October 1988 • Chris-22 The feeling was… strange. There was no other way to put it. I mean, I knew I was dreaming, but this was different from any other dream I’d ever had in my life. It almost felt like an ‘out of body experience’ — like I was floating above our bed — not that I could actually look down and see my body or see Jen below me or anything — it just felt that way. I also felt as if there was another presence there with me. Someone was there besides me and besides Jen, but it wasn’t Jen. It was almost as if there was someone inside my head with me — someone who was me, but they weren’t me. Weird! Slowly, an image formed in front of me. It was me, but it wasn’t me! The ‘me’ that formed before me was older — maybe five or six or seven years older, and something wasn’t right. Wait a minute! They were backwards! No, they weren’t backwards. Their mole was on the other side from where it was supposed to be, but that was if I looked in the mirror. This was the way I looked in my photographs — the way other people saw me. So I was seeing myself in my dream as other people might see me in five or six or seven years from now, but why? “Hello Chris,” the vision in my dream spoke to me. Why did it speak to me? Why did it need to speak to me if it was in my dream? Wouldn’t I know what it was thinking? “Who are you?” I asked it. “I know this is all very strange to you. I know how surprised I was the first time I was approached by a vision of my older self in my sleep. “Right now, you are working on something called quantum variations and have just started to hypothesize the existence of paired quantum states involving particles occupying different points in time. Eventually, you will realize you can use these quantum variations to create tunnels connecting points in time, and that these tunnels can be used to pass information back and forth through time. “It will take you a long time, but twenty years from now you will perfect a method for sending your thoughts back in time, up to seven years. The only hitch is that the recipient needs to be asleep for it to work, and so the ‘conversation’ can only take place in your dreams.” “That’s pretty wild, man,” I started to say, “but sending messages to me in my sleep? I’ve had some pretty bizarre dreams in my day, but wait ’til Jen hears this one! Wow, this one takes the cake! How did my mind ever fabricate this one?” “This isn’t really a dream, Chris,” the vision said to me. “Can’t you feel it? You aren’t in control, but don’t take my word for it. I’ll give you all the evidence you’ll need in a minute, but first let me explain why we’re doing this. “The world is not such a wonderful place, but for the time being, everything will seem to work out the way it should in the world. Right now, you live in one of the most exciting times in history. You won’t believe what I tell you, but you need only wait a few months and years to see that what I tell you is the truth. You’ve already seen the unrest in the Warsaw Pact countries and the start of the fall of communism. In less than three years, the Berlin Wall will fall. It will fall, Chris, and Germany will be reunited as a democracy and become a part of NATO. What starts in the Warsaw pact will ultimately hit Russia itself, where a failed coup will lead to the breakup of the Soviet Union. “Just when it looks like student protests in Beijing will lead to a similar result in China, a brutal crackdown will prove to the world that Communism isn’t dead yet. By the time you’re in your forties, Chris, a resurgent Russia, a Chinese superpower, an Iranian nuclear superpower and an America, teetering on the abyss of a second great depression will result in a world that has never been so close to self-destruction since 1939. “We suspect the world will come to an end some time after 2012. We think there will be a nuclear war that starts in the Middle East and spreads to involve the entire planet. In a last-ditch effort to find a way to prevent this, the President has ordered us to establish a chain of communication back to the 1970’s so we can fix the mistakes we made that ultimately led to the mess we’re in.” “It’s dangerous to mess with time,” I said, still not really buying any of the crap the vision was feeding me. Sure, the fall of communism was far-fetched, but with all that was going on, it wasn’t that far-fetched any more. “Believe me, we wouldn’t be doing any of this if we didn’t have to. Operation Time Tunnel really is a last resort… a last ditch effort to save humanity,” he said. “By the way, you can call me Chris-29.” “OK,” I said, going along with the dream, “and I guess that makes me Chris-22 for now.” “Exactly.” “But I still need more proof that this is all real,” I protested. “I would have been disappointed in you if you didn’t,” Chris-29 said. “Tomorrow, when you go to the lab, there’ll be a letter waiting for you from Rankin. I don’t need to tell you you’ve been waiting for that letter. You’ll go to see him in the afternoon. When you do, he will say, and I quote, ‘Fatherhood’s a lot of responsibility for someone working on a post-doc. My students generally eat, drink and breathe their work when they’re in my lab. How do you plan to balance being a new dad and being up all night with feedings and diapers plus handling the heavy responsibilities of working in the premier quantum physics lab in the world?’ Your answer, by the way, and I’m not going to tell you what it is, will blow him away. He won’t offer you the post-doc you want… not unless you agree to stay for two years, but he’ll make you an offer you won’t be able to refuse.”
  4. Altimexis

    To Preserve the Timeline

    January 2002 • Chris-35 “I can’t believe you could have been so reckless,” my older self said. “Well, it’s not like I planned it, you know. I didn’t even think I was capable of getting aroused by a woman anymore. The last thing I expected was to get an erection when she came onto me like that, but once I did, there was no stopping it. Before I knew what was happening, I was inside of her, and then it was over. We both came, just like that. “I guess we’re more ‘bi’ that we thought,” I chuckled. “Chris, I’m not chiding you,” Chris-42 said, “but you have to understand the seriousness of this… and I have to tell you, I didn’t even consider the possibility of something like this happening, which is why I didn’t even think I needed to raise the issue. I’m not the least bit bisexual. I couldn’t get it up with a woman if my life depended on it.” “I take it you’re not together with Jen anymore?” I asked with more than a hint of nervousness in my voice. “Chris, there’s a reason I’ve been avoiding telling you anything personal about my life in the future to you, and that’s specifically because I didn’t want to take a chance on contaminating the timeline by giving you any advance knowledge of the future. What I’d never even considered is that by altering the course of your research, I might be changing your day-to-day life sufficiently that even that might change your personal life enough to contaminate the timeline. “I can’t give you details, Chris, but you’ll just have to take my word for it that there will be changes in your future. You’ll still have an amicable relationship with Jen, and a great relationship with your kids, and much to your chagrin, Andy will constantly be trying to get you to go out with guys, but other than that, I can’t really tell you anything else.” “Andy’s going to try playing matchmaker? I love it!” I said. That more than anything else made my day. “But imagine what might happen if Jen became pregnant. Suddenly, you’d have another young child to raise that I never had in my life. The timeline would be irrevocably altered. True, there could be a number of beneficial effects, but the added burden of another mouth to feed might delay the development of TTT by years. What if it weren’t ready in time to have gotten a message to you in time for 9/11? And we suspect that far worse things are yet to come. That’s why I need your help. You can’t have more children, Chris.” “What if I told her what’s going on?” I asked. “Chris, do you really think that would be appropriate?” Chris-42 asked me. “So I either have to tell her I changed my mind about having additional children, or I have to have a vasectomy behind her back,” I said. “It’s your call, but knowing Jen, she would not react well to you changing your mind.” “She would not react well to finding out I’d gone behind her back to have a vasectomy,” I said. “You’re certainly right about that… in fact, she’d skin you alive, so you’d damn well better be sure she never finds out about it if you decide to go that route.” “How true,” I realized. “I guess it would be safer to be honest with her in the first place and just tell her I changed my mind… that I just don’t have time to take on the responsibility of a baby at this stage in my life, or that I don’t want to have to deal with teenagers when I’m sixty… but I could very well lose her over this.” “Given that Jen and I already parted once in spite of having a daughter to raise, I think the writing is already on the wall,” Chris-42 reminded me. “Chances are, you’re going to lose her anyway, Chris.” “Well, if that’s the case, then maybe a vasectomy’s the better gamble after all. If the marriage is doomed to fail, why not go for broke? I don’t see much of a downside to saving the marriage if it can be saved, do you?” I asked Chris-42. “Much as I’d like to see it saved, Chris-35, any alteration in the timeline carries a risk. Even saving the marriage could have unintended consequences that might adversely impact the future. Then again, our marriage ended amicably, but if Jen ever found out you went behind her back to have a vasectomy, the marriage could end on very hostile terms. There could be a very bitter fight over custody of the children and given the choice between national security interests and being able to see your children, what would you do?” “Wow, you’ve given me much to think about,” I told Chris-42. “I’m going to have to sit on my decision for a little bit, but I really don’t have much time. I can’t wait too long, or before I know it, Jen will be ovulating the next time she gets horny, and I can’t take a chance on that happening.” “No you can’t,” he agreed. <<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>> March 1995 • Chris-28 “Happy Birthday to You… Happy Birthday to YOU!… Happy Birthday Dear Andy… Happy Birthday to You!” and then I added by myself, “and many more,” for good measure. God, we sounded absolutely awful… we were so out of key, but little Andy didn’t care. His partially toothless, thousand-watt grin could have lit up the sky. Six years old! I remembered the day he was born like it was yesterday, and now he was six! So much had happened in our lives since then. Jen and I had finally made it official and tied the knot, I’d finished up my post-doc, I’d gotten a great job at Lawrence Livermore and we’d bought a beautiful house in Oakland Hills. And my research! I was working on a top-secret government project of my own design, based upon my theories on temporal quantum variations. If I was right, we might actually be able to send communications back in time, well, up to five, or maybe even ten years anyway. I shuddered at the thought we might ever have to use the technology if we succeeded in our quest. Meddling with time was as dangerous as hell, but if we ever did find ourselves faced with the choice of altering the past or living in a totally fucked-up world, my research could be the key to humanity’s survival. Talk about science fiction! My wife, Jen, was busy cutting a big sheet cake that was half chocolate, half vanilla into squares and adding scoops of ice cream for all of the kids Andy had invited to his party. Me, I was watching Karen, our three-year-old daughter, to make sure she didn’t get into any mischief during the party. Given the choice, I figured it was a lot easier to watch one three-year-old than a dozen six-year-olds — not that I wasn’t helping out with that, too. All in all, it was an exhausting afternoon, but both of our kids had a great time, and that was all that mattered. Andy was thrilled with his ‘haul’ as he called it. Gees, he was only in kindergarten and he was already talking like an adult. He ended up with two VHS copies of The Lion King, which he’d seen maybe four times since it came out in theaters last summer, and a Lion King action adventure set. He got several storybooks and some hundred-piece puzzles, which weren’t exactly trivial for a kid his age. The biggest present was the one Jen and I got him — a genuine HO-gauge railroad set. It was rated for kids ages eight and up, so we were definitely stretching things, but if nothing else, Andy was precocious. Time and again he’d demonstrated advanced skills on the computer well beyond what was considered normal for kids his age. He’d been bugging us for a train set since he’d been Karen’s age. For the time being, he wouldn’t be allowed to play with it unless one of us was present, but Andy was a good kid who had earned the right to have a chance at playing with a ‘big boy’s’ toy. It felt really great sitting on the floor with my son in his bedroom, assembling sections of track as we put together a simple ‘figure-eight’ configuration. “This is just to get you started,” I told him, “but as you get older and start earning more of an allowance, you can use part of it to buy more track. You can buy more bridges and trestles and tunnels, and switches to move trains from one section of track to another. There’s no reason you can’t have something like a smaller version of what you saw at the Exploratorium. The only limitation is how much room you have, how much money you have, and your imagination,” I told my little man. “And how much I can talk you into buying for me,” he said with the cutest, impish smile. He was absolutely right, and he knew it. I couldn’t help but draw his pajama-clad body up into my arms and tickle him as I gave him a bit of a noogie and a hug. Andy meant everything to me. It didn’t take long for us to have everything assembled and the transformer connected. Before we started things up, I felt obligated to explain to Andy some basic safety rules when it came to playing with electrical appliances. “Andy, before we get started, I think I’d better explain to you a little about how electricity works. Now HO trains use a transformer so the voltage is a lot less than what comes out of a socket, and a lot less dangerous, but there is still a risk of getting a shock and you need to be aware of the dangers involved.” Before I could go any further, Andy rolled his eyes and said, “Dad, I know how electricity works. I even know how transformers work, so you don’t need to explain anything to me. I know about atoms and electrons and protons and neutrons. I know about voltage and current and power. “Now that transformer has a maximum output of twelve volts and an output current that’s limited to one-point-five amps. That’s what it says, right on the box.” When did he learn how to read? He continued, “If twelve volts at one amp is twelve watts, and if twelve volts at a half an amp is, what, I think it must be six watts, then I guess twelve volts at one-point-five amps must be, what, eighteen watts?” Whoa, my son… my six-year-old son, just figured out how to multiply with decimal fractions, and he did it all in his head. If I wasn’t mistaken, this was sixth grade math, and he was just finishing kindergarten. My son wasn’t just bright… he was a genius. “So anyway, Dad, eighteen watts isn’t a lot of power to worry about. Sure, if I short the tracks together, it could create some sparks, but it’s not enough power to do any real damage.” I swore he must be six going on sixteen. We spent twenty minutes playing around with his train set before I insisted it was time for Andy to go to bed. “Pleasant dreams, my little man,” I said as I kissed him on the forehead. Not that I didn’t trust him, but I knew just how tempting having a train set right in his room could be, and so I took the power cord for the transformer with me on the way out the door. <<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>> March 2002 • Chris-35 Chris-42 and I had been over and over the preparations for this evening at least a thousand times, or so it seemed. We’d been through more than a month of testing with the new 64-element micro-emitter/detector array I’d built, and it was functioning flawlessly. Chris-42 was, and according to his lab notebooks, always had been getting his EEG data from his own array, based on an idea he’d come upon seven years earlier. Indeed, it was only in my documentation that there was any record at all that Chris-42 had originally used surface EEG electrodes before he first contacted me. At long last, we were ready to contact Chris-28 — actually, it wouldn’t be long before he would be 29-years-old — so much time had passed already. First contact was a scary proposition. How do you tell someone that the dream they’re having is real, and that they’re receiving a message from the future? Chris-42 nearly bungled it with me. For one thing, the tunnel wasn’t stable and he didn’t have nearly enough time to get his message through. He should have kept his message concise and to the point, with flight numbers and targets only. That would have at least saved us from grounding all flights, but he thought he’d have more time to get his message through. Still, what he did was important and it had the intended result. At least in my case, I would have the benefit of Chris-42’s experience, both in terms of the psychology of making first contact and in terms of actually using the equipment. Now that the equipment had been thoroughly perfected and tested, we knew it would work. Chris-42 had even gone so far as to test it with an old titanium PowerBook of the same vintage as my own and using the same older integrated circuits I was forced to substitute for the array processors he’d been using in his designs. It drove up the cost considerably, but OTT was very well funded, after all. Chris-42 and I discussed the possibility of forming a double-tunnel — of the two of us forming time tunnels simultaneously. Although an intriguing possibility, we decided it was definitely not the thing to try for our first contact with Chris-28, and we were concerned that there could be unintended consequences to doing so. It might even be dangerous. The possibility that Chris-42 might be able to channel directly through my brain to tunnel directly to Chris-28 was intriguing, though, and definitely something worthy of further exploration down the road, but there was certainly no reason for doing so now. The plan was for me to contact Chris-28 on night of Saturday, March 22, 1995, the night after Andy’s sixth birthday party. While not nearly as dramatic as 9/11, there would be events that would unfold over the course of the coming week in the family that would be no less dramatic in their own way. Chris-28, was about to learn just how much of a ‘little man’ his son really was — a little man who already understood how to get into websites and use credit cards, but wasn’t yet aware of the value of money. <<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>> March 1995 • Chris-28 I was having the most unusual sensations. I almost felt like I was floating above my body. Out of body experiences were definitely not the norm for me, but then again, I’d always said I’d try anything once. Even in my dreams, I was capable of making bad jokes. Talk about depressing! As I continued to float, I had a distinct feeling of another presence nearby. Nearby wasn’t exactly the right way of putting it. It was more like there was another presence in my head — another consciousness besides my own. The two of us were floating together inside my head, but outside my body, if that made any sense. Thinking about it was enough to make my head hurt. Slowly, the other consciousness began to take form. When it did, what I ‘saw’ was me, but it wasn’t me. Well, it was me, but it was a different me than the one I was used to looking at in the mirror. This one was older for one thing, and it was backwards. Yeah, it was at least a few years older — maybe five or six years older, and the mole on my cheek was on the wrong side — or rather the right side. This was the me of my photographs — the ‘me’ other people saw. And suddenly, I knew. I knew exactly who this was. I was doing research on sending information through time, and this must have been the way I came up with to do it. Somehow in the future I came up with a way to send my thoughts back in time through my dreams. “That’s pretty amazing, Chris,” the ‘me’ of the future said to me in my dream. “It took me a lot longer to figure out what was happening the first time a ‘Chris’ from my future showed up in my dreams.” “You mean you’re not the first?” I asked the apparition in my dream. “No Chris, it’ll take you another fourteen years to develop the technology, which even then will only be capable of sending information back seven years in time. Chris-42 contacted me, Chris-35, so that I could prevent a horrible terrorist attack that would have brought down the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center and damaged the Pentagon. I am contacting you now, Chris-28, so that we can begin work that will allow you to extend the chain of communication back even further. We need to act quickly to alter events that happened in the past so that we can prevent a national catastrophe that may occur in the early twenty-first century one that could spell the end of the world as we know it.” Chris-42 and I had decided on this approach to convince Chris-28 of the need to extend TTT, rather than the use of a vague theoretical need for a deterrent. It was a much easier sell and didn’t require much stretching of the truth from our standpoint. Chris-42 was convinced we really were facing the prospect of calamity, after all. “Before we get started, however,” Chris-35, continued, “so you can know what I’m telling you is the truth, here is some personal information to let you know what is ahead in the coming week. As you probably know, Andy is very resourceful. When you took the cord from the transformer to his new train set, you probably didn’t notice that his Nintendo game console uses the same type of cord, and so you’ll find him happily playing with his train set in the morning when you wake up. Don’t worry… he won’t electrocute himself or anything. “On a more serious note, in my time, people will buy things using their computers and the Internet all the time, but it’s not so common in your time, and you’re not used to being so careful about it. When you gave Andy his train set, you didn’t notice that the attached invoice included the website address and your account information, including your password. After you went to bed, Andy managed to log onto the site and to order several thousand dollars worth of accessories for his train set, all shipped second day air. He didn’t even need to reenter your credit card information to do it. You might be able to save yourself a major headache by calling first thing in the morning.” “That little stinker!” I said out loud, I think. “Five years from now, no business would dare run their operation that way. Putting an account number and password inside the box with a toy intended for a minor was an act of idiocy, but in your time, commercialization of the Internet’s still pretty new. “Anyway, I’ll be contacting you again in a few days to get down to business. In the meantime, I’ve got a thirteenth birthday party to get ready for. He’s still a great kid… as precocious as ever, and Karen’s a wonderful daughter, too.” <<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>> March 2002 • Chris-35 “How’s that look?” the doctor said as he put the last stitch in place. “Pretty good from here, as far as I can see,” I said as I looked down at my equipment. “You’d have to get pretty close up and personal to see that anything’s been done at all,” the doctor said. “By using a subcutaneous, dissolving suture, there are no visible stitches at all. There shouldn’t be any scars and I took extra care to make the incisions along wrinkle lines so they’re virtually invisible. You can hardly even feel them. Once the sutures dissolve, there’ll be no evidence you had a vasectomy unless someone actually opens you up.” “Thanks, Doc, that’s great!… Payment in cash so there’s no record of the procedure, right?” “Well, obviously I have to keep a file for medical-legal purposes to comply with the law, but that’s privileged and no one but you can get access to it.” “Perfect,” I said with a smile as I walked out the door. <<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>> Jack was furious when he found out I’d already used TTT to contact Chris-28. He’d made it clear he expected to be kept informed of all progress in OTT and felt he had a right to know whenever contact was made with the past. “Jack”, I explained, “the order came directly from the White House with strict orders that no one else was to know unless absolutely necessary. Perhaps I took my orders a bit too literally, and maybe next time I can ask for permission to keep you in the loop. In any case, I’m telling you now because I need your input.” “How so, Chris,” Jack asked. “Our orders are to extend TTT back another seven years, and possibly even further,” I explained. “Won’t that create more risk of the technology falling into the wrong hands at an earlier point in time?” Jack asked. “Our use of a destructive software key should prevent that,” I reminded Jack. “In order to use the equipment, a new software key has to be passed back in time from the future each time the equipment is to be used. That way, the only way TTT can be activated is under orders from the future. That is not only true for the use of TTT in our time period, but it will be true for the use of TTT in all time periods.” “That’s reassuring,” Jack said, “but what if something happens and the future’s destroyed. What if we need to use TTT ourselves to save the world because the future’s been destroyed?” “That’s a very good question,” I answered as I scratched the stubble on my face. “Perhaps there could be an emergency key built into the software that could be used once and once only at our discretion in such a situation. I’ll ask Chris-42 about it the next time I contact him.” “So what kind of input did you need from me?” Jack asked. “I need a way to convince the Jack Craegan of 1994 that he needs to spend more than a hundred thousand dollars on new technology based on untested theories. I need a way for Chris-28… actually, he'll by twenty-nine next month… to talk him into funding the fabrication of a micro-emitter/detector array. Since no Mac or PC of the era is powerful enough, I need for him to sign off on the purchase of a quad-core Sun workstation. Not to mention that we have a hell of a lot of circuit redesign that has to be done using antique integrated circuits,” I explained. “Hmm, they did have PLA’s back then,” Jack suggested. “Wouldn’t that be easier?” “Yeah, but a programmable logic array would be a hell of a lot of overkill. And the amount of time spent programming the darn thing could be counterproductive,” I thought aloud. “A lot less counterproductive than the time spent making custom circuit boards, don’t you think? It’s Uncle Sam’s dime, so let him worry about the cost and the taxpayers’ waste. Actually, in the end you’ll probably end up saving money and time.” “So back to the main question,” I said. “How do we convince you in 1995 to loosen the purse strings? How do we convince you that my counterpart has been contacted by me from the future?” “Well… you know, the simplest approach would be for me to contact myself directly. I could easily convince my 1994 self that this is real and that we need to do this,” Jack suggested. I winced and said, “Jack, it’s not that I don’t trust you, but is that really a good idea? Not that I’m totally opposed to others communicating back in time, but the more people that do so, the more we risk contaminating the timeline. As long as it’s just me, I can control the information that goes back very tightly. I’m sure you can, too, but think about it… there are so many ways you could inadvertently change things without even thinking about it, and then what about the unintended consequences. Even if you could communicate with yourself, seven years in the past, would that be wise? Remember what happened at the end of April in 1995…” “Oh my God!” “Would you be able to resist the temptation to prevent what happened?” I asked. “You know that as much as you mustn’t interfere with the timeline, you’d want to do anything to take away the pain… to have a second chance. You’d do anything to change that fateful day, wouldn’t you? And yet you know the ripple effect of making such a huge change could be devastating in so many unexpected ways.” “You’re right, Chris, of course you are,” my friend and colleague admitted. “As painful as it is to admit it, you’re absolutely right. There’s no way I can be allowed any prior knowledge of what’s going to happen… only that something is going to happen. That in itself will be enough to convince me that the communication is genuine.” Working with Jack, I gathered up a modicum of information I would need… information I could safely pass to Chris-29 that he could use to convince his Jack that our communications were real. We would pass along some very personal, private information that only Jack would know about, but that would not compromise anyone’s self-interest. Next, we would pass him verifiable data — information Jack could easily confirm that Chris-29 wouldn’t have had access to — that would convince him the order had come directly from the White House. Lastly, we give him a hint of what was to come — not enough for Jack to change anything, but enough that when it happened, he would know. The Jack of 1995 would be absolutely furious with us for not doing something to stop what was about to happen. He would curse us. He would probably never forgive us, but he would understand, and he would support OTT ’til the ends of the Earth. <<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>> April 1995 • Chris-29 Straightening out the mess that Andy caused with his late night foray on the Internet had proven to be amusing if nothing else, but I could only imagine what it would have been like the first time, when the first indication of what he’d done happened when the boxes had started showing up. Yeah, I was sure grateful for the heads-up Chris-35 gave me, as we were able to cancel the order before it shipped, but not before I gave them a piece of my mind for printing our password on the invoice, of all places. The operator I spoke to couldn’t have cared less, but I wasn’t going to let it drop, and I didn’t let her off the hook until I spoke to her supervisor, spoke to the owner of the company, and received a full refund, not only for all the stuff Andy charged, but for the original purchase, too. On top of that, they gave us a fifty-dollar store credit for all our trouble. That, together with the refund, would let me buy Andy some really nice accessories for his train set, but I was going to wait a while — I needed to teach him the value of money, first. I was willing to bet the store would change their policies when it came to printing passwords on invoices from then on! I had another communication from Chris-35 — or rather Chris-36 now. Yeah, I just celebrated my 29th birthday myself. Actually, I like to call them conversations, since we talk to each other. He told me some information I needed to tell Jack. It all sounded pretty cryptic, but that Jack would understand it all soon enough. He said the information’s essential to getting Jack to fund the building of what Chris-36 calls TTT, or Time Tunnel Technology. I asked if we needed it to reach back another seven years. He said yes, but it’s just another link in the chain, a chain that ultimately needs to reach all the way back to 1978. I know my jaw must have hit the floor when he said that! I can’t even imagine how we’ll manage to come by all of the technology needed in the early 1980’s to build a time tunnel, but if it’s a matter urgent to national security, somehow we’re going to have to. Anyhow, Chris-36 told me a bunch of stuff that’s supposed to help me convince Jack that we need to build this time tunnel, and do it right away. Some of the info was personal stuff that only Jack could know about, just to convince him that the communication’s genuine. There’s also some data I couldn’t possibly have access to, that’ll prove the order’s coming from the Oval Office. Imagine that! Finally, I’m supposed to tell him that a life-altering event would happen on Tuesday, but I had no idea what the hell that’s about… only to tell him that word of this came from himself in the future, and that nothing could be done to change it. This whole OTT thing is kind of spooking me. When I started working on the theories for the project, it was all hypothetical, but never in a million years did I ever dream it would ever have to be used and yet, here we are, furiously working to build a chain of communication extending from 2009, all the way back to 1978. Insanity! This is all such insanity, but if we don’t do it, the future itself may cease to exist — at least that’s what Chris-36 says Chris-43 told him. That’s a pretty good reason to do whatever it takes to make this happen! Well, I have a meeting with Jack this morning. He’ll probably think I’m crazy — at least until whatever it is that’s supposed to happen, will happen tomorrow…
  5. Altimexis

    A Chain of Communication

    December 2001 • Chris-35 1978? Nineteen seventy-eight? One thousand nine hundred seventy-eight in the year of Our Lord, or in the Common Era as the politically correct terminology is these days. That year kept echoing in my head since the moment my counterpart from the future had told it to me. Would we really need to establish a communication chain reaching back all the way to 1978. Would it even be possible? Chris-42 and I spent the next hour discussing the many potential complications involved. We stopped only because the time tunnel started to destabilize. We were definitely going to need to perfect the technology a bit further before we endeavored to reach any further back into the past, as we’d need much more than an hour at a time to transmit as much data as would be required. The biggest problem we would face would be the fabrication of Time Tunnel Technology, or TTT, using increasingly primitive computers and electronics the further into the past we reached. As a simple example, Chris-42 used MathQuest as a computing platform upon which he wrote the software for all of his computations and for operating the equipment. Although the MathQuest software toolboxes were convenient and saved him a lot of time, it was designed to run on virtually all computing platforms in 2008 including his MacBook Pro, however in 2001 there was a brief time when MathWorld was not making a version of MathQuest that could run on Macintosh computers. My choice was to buy a high-end Windows laptop, load Linux on my PowerBook and use that to install MathQuest, or to rewrite all of the software to run without MathQuest. Considering the fact that there would eventually be no MathQuest to rely on, we chose the third option. All in all, we were going to have to simplify the technology significantly from the way it worked in 2008. There was no way software that ran using thousands upon thousands of lines of code in 2008, 2001 or 1995 could run on a computer in 1989, let alone 1982. Worse still, how could we possibly hope to communicate so many lines of code back in time? Everything, from circuit board layouts to individual lines of code had to be communicated from one Chris to the next as thoughts or images in their dreams. It wasn’t as if we could simply e-mail it or download the source code onto magnetic tape. Software design was definitely going to be the second biggest headache we would face. The biggest headache we would face by far, however, was a part of the technology that I hadn’t even perfected yet in 2001 — the quantum micro emitter/detector array. When Chris-42 showed me some schematics of his array design, I was amazed at just how far off the mark we’d been in our research up to this point. Each detector in the array had to be finely and precisely machined from a single crystal of quartz. Fortunately, there was nothing seriously new about the fabrication technique that wasn’t around, even in 1978. I just didn’t see how my younger counterparts were going to be able to acquire the resources to build them. Chris-28 could probably convince Jack Craegen to sign off on it, and Chris-22 might manage to talk Bob Rankin into funding it as part of a grant once he arrived in his lab the following year, but that would take time. Chris-16, would be completely shit out of luck. Well, we knew it wouldn’t be easy. We we’re probably going to have to fight to establish each link in our communication chain, every step of the way. We’d go back as far as we could and do everything we could safely do up to that point, and then we’d work as hard as we could to find a way to build just one more link in the communications chain. Unfortunately, Chris-42 and I were already having some issues. I was going to have to free up some time to be able to help him in the project, but he was concerned that any time diverted from my original work could affect the timeline, and of course he was right, but he had the advantage of knowing which avenues of our current research were dead ends. Why pursue things that would turn out to be a waste of time? I would also have the advantage of having more people on my team than he did the first time around, allowing us to make use of larger, more focused experiments. We ended up working out a compromise — he would tell me which avenues were on the wrong track and I would design experiments to prove their lack of worth, allowing us to move on quickly. For example, Chris-42 explained that none of the experiments with rats in mazes ever panned out because only an intelligent brain could communicate with itself through time. Therefore, there would be no need to do hundreds of experiments with hundreds of variations — I could easily design a few experiments to prove that the rat’s brain waves cannot be synchronized through a time tunnel. Chris-42 also had significant misgivings about my using the lab to work on developing the micro-detector array in house, but there was no doubt that this would be the fastest way to get an apparatus up and running and, hence, the fastest way for me to be able to contact Chris-28. Although it might be possible for Chris-42 to set up his own independent lab, I just wasn’t far enough along to do so myself. Eventually I would have little difficulty diverting funds and equipment to a second, secret lab — such was the climate surrounding TTT following the attempted terrorist attacks of 9/11. In the meantime I was protected to some degree by the fact that the equipment was calibrated only for my brain, but that would soon change. Already Jack had proposed establishing a bank of calibration files for dozens of people, just in case something happened to me or the lab. Therefore a second failsafe was needed. The key was to never, ever allow fully functional software and hardware to be together in one place except when actually using it to establish a time tunnel. To bring the two together otherwise was to invite disaster, as TTT then could easily fall into the wrong hands. As a safeguard, the software would contain a destructive key, not unlike the roaming codes used in garage door openers. Each key could only be used once and a new one would have to be obtained from the future from Chris-42 each time I wanted to communicate with Chris-28 in the past. That way, even if TTT were to fall into the wrong hands, they would have a crippled piece of equipment and would have to start from scratch to develop their own software. Hopefully, this would be sufficient to give us the precious time we needed — months or even years to apprehend those responsible. At some point we would have to bring Jack Craegan into the loop. We were going to have to trust him, and make him believe we were operating fully through the cooperation of governmental channels in the future, even when that was only partly the truth. Somehow, we had to keep the current government out of it, however, as that could lead to significant complications. Jack would understand that Bush was dangerous and he and his administration couldn’t be trusted to get anywhere near OTT. For that matter, I wasn’t sure we could trust even Clinton — Bill Clinton — to have access to the technology, nor the first Bush, and certainly not Reagan. A secure, destructive software key helped to ensure that they could never use the technology. <<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>> December 2008 • Chris-42 As I peeled the last few electrodes from my scalp, my iPhone started to ring. Why I chose such an annoying ringtone to represent one of the most important people in my life, I hadn’t a clue. I’d liked the tune well enough at the time, but it was annoying the hell out of me as I tried to rip the last leads away without ripping my hair out with them, disentangled myself from the rest of the equipment and tried get across the storage locker I’d chosen to use for my makeshift lab to where I’d left my iPhone to see why my son was calling me so early on a Saturday morning. I’d particularly chosen this time because I knew I wouldn’t be interrupted. But when I looked at the display on my iPhone, I realized that I’d been communicating with Chris-35 much longer than anticipated and it was already after ten. Clicking the talk button, I answered the phone, “Hey, Tiger, what’s got you up so early on a Saturday morning?” “Dad, I hate it when you call me that,” my son said. “If I were on speakerphone and any of my friends heard you, I would be sooo embarrassed. And if my students heard you God, they’d probably never take me seriously again.” “Sorry about that, Andy, but to me, you’ll always be my Tiger, you know,” I explained. “I know that, Dad, but, well, you know how it is,” he went on. “Yeah, I do, and I really am sorry. I really do remember how it is. But seriously, isn’t it a bit early to be up on the weekend?” I asked. “Not really… and I could ask you the same thing, old man. You were always the night owl, you know. I was always the one who’s the morning person in the family. Anyway, I just thought I’d check up on you, you know? What’s new and all sorts of shit.” “Don’t you know it’s the parents that are supposed to check up on their kids?” I asked. “You know you do, and I like it too,” he admitted, “but Dad, I’m kind of worried about you. Ever since the divorce, you don’t seem to do much any more. You spend all your time locked away in that damn apartment doing who knows what. You don’t go out. You don’t have any friends. The friends you did have you’ve pretty much pushed away. You hardly ever talk to Mom and Karen any more, even though they still care about you. Hell, Dad, you should be out there dating other men. You’re not that old, and you’re a good-looking guy, and there are lots of gay men in San Francisco. What gives?” “Wow, you don’t pull any punches, do you?” I responded. “I’m just not ready, Andy. It’s still too fresh, you know?” “How long are you gonna wait?” he asked. “Isn’t three years enough time, or does it have to be four, or five? You’ve had three long, lonely years on your own, and I’ve watched you pull more and more into that shell of yours, becoming more and more of a recluse. About the only one you’ve let into your life is me, and even that’s gotten to be less and less.” “You wouldn’t understand.” “Why the hell not?” Andy asked emphatically. “I’ve had my share of girlfriends… at least as much as any nineteen-year-old has. I’ve experienced love, and I hate to tell you this, Dad, but I’ve had sex… probably a hell of a lot more than you have. I’ve been hurt, but I picked up and I went on, ’cause that’s what life’s about. The only thing I can think of that’s worse than having your heart crushed by someone you thought you loved is being totally alone, and that’s what you’re doing to yourself.” “Andy, maybe eventually I’ll be ready to talk about this, but I’m just not ready. Maybe soon I will be, but not yet.” “Three years, Dad,” he implored me. “Three fucking years is a long time. I was sixteen when you and Mom got divorced, and now I’m nineteen. I finished my undergraduate degree in that time and now I’m in graduate school. Think about it.” “Part of that’s because of all your advanced placement credits.” “It’s still three years, Dad. When will you be ready?” “So how are your classes going?” I asked. “That’s it, Dad, change the subject on me. Well, they’re going great, and thanks for asking. Sanderson’s the same asshole he was when you were here, but I’m still getting all A’s. “But next time we talk, Dad, you’re not dodging me, ’K?” “I know, Andy. I promise to give you more of my time next time we talk.” “That’s all I can ask, and do give Mom and Karen a call. They’d love to hear from you,” he said before he hung up the phone. <<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>> It was amazing how well Chris-35 and I were working together. I wouldn’t have thought he could actually add anything to the project since, well, he was me, and he’d actually been through all the thoughts and arguments that led to Operation Time Tunnel being what it was today, but by feeding what I’d learned over the past seven years back to him, he ended up bringing a fresh new perspective to the project that I’d somehow lost in the interim. I was simply amazed at some of the ideas he’d proposed. For example, one of the more critical aspects of TTT was the use of a 32-lead electroencephalograph, or EEG, to measure brain wave activity. This was necessary to help me gauge my state of consciousness, to provide biofeedback, to regulate my bodily functions and to enable the computer software to facilitate synchronization of my brainwave activity with that of Chris-35. However, Chris-35 asked why we didn’t just use the 64-element micro-emitter/detector array to obtain the same information, without the need for a separate piece of equipment. He pointed out that the information was already there — we just had to separate out the signal from the existing data stream. The idea was brilliant, and it meant there’d be no more snipping of hairs and washing out gel from my scalp. But if using the micro-emitter/detector worked so well, why was I even aware of using a separate EEG machine in the first place? In theory, once Chris-35 thought of using the micro emitter/detector array back in the past, shouldn’t that have altered the timeline, changing all of history afterwards? Perhaps the idea didn’t work after all, and I’d still be stuck pulling gel out of my scalp after each communication. Or maybe the timeline wouldn’t actually be altered until I applied the new technology at my end, since Chris-35 had no way to verify that it actually worked. That had to be it. Once I used his idea and confirmed to him that it worked, that knowledge would become part of the time stream and I would never even bother with the use of EEG machines when I got to that point in my research. And that raised another very important question — how were we going to document previous directions of my research that we managed to obliterate, thanks to changes made to the timeline? Some of these could end up being crucial, as we were bound to make mistakes and there could undoubtedly come a time when we would need to backtrack and redo something we’d inadvertently undone. I could only hope we didn’t accidentally do something irreversible, such as causing my death, or the death of someone critical to the project. If that happened, we would be oh so totally fucked. I’d already inadvertently caused one major change to the timeline and, thanks to my ineptitude, had no way of knowing in what ways I’d changed history. The one thing I knew for certain was that before my intervention, on September 11, 2001, terrorists had managed to hijack four airplanes and use them to collapse both of the twin towers of the World Trade Center and to crash into the Pentagon, although I didn’t know the extent of the damage involved with the latter crash site. I surmised we must have had some sort of military response, but how much different might history have been? Was it enough for Bush to have gotten his way when it came to war with Iraq? Was it enough for him to win a second term in the White House? What might the effect of these have been on our already weak economy? For better or for worse, we would probably never know the answers to these questions. At least from now on I could do something about the changes I was about to make. As would any good scientist, I would keep a record of any intervention I was about to make — a written record. I was not about to chance something this critical to a crashed hard drive, particularly when the technology on which the record was being based might be affected by the change itself. From now on, Chris-35 and I, and any earlier Chris that might be involved in implementing a change would keep a written log of any and all interventions as we made them so that we would have a record of everything as it was before each change took place. Even if my change log were affected, at least Chris-35’s change log would still record that at one time I had used surface EEG electrodes to record my brainwave activity. At least he would have a permanent record of my initial experimental approach. Of course there were some things I could never tell him. I could never tell Chris-35 that the original impetus for OTT in the first place was selfish — that I just wanted to change our personal history — that the reason for establishing a chain of communication back to 1978 still was largely for that purpose rather than to prevent the formation of Islamic superpower in Iran. Not that we couldn’t ultimately find ourselves doing just that in the end, and that might well be what OTT would end up being all about, but fixing our own fucked-up life was still the best way to effect change. That still was my primary goal, but telling Chris-35 that would almost certainly doom OTT to failure. Chris -35 was still an optimist. He was married, with two wonderful kids living at home. He had no idea of what was yet to come. He would never use TTT for purely selfish reasons as I would. <<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>> January 2002 • Chris-35 Neither Chris-42 nor I were sure what effect diverting my research to focus on building a time tunnel would have on his own existence, but we assumed that as long as the knowledge of TTT were not disrupted, there was no need to repeat work that had ultimately proven fruitless. We ended up boiling down the sum total of seven years of his work, or rather, our work, from 2002 to 2008, to the key experiments that ended up forming the backbone of TTT. Some of these experiments had positive outcomes, but most still had negative outcomes, but were nonetheless critical to proving what technical approaches were essential to the ultimate design of the hardware and software that eventually went into the OTT project. Without this, Chris-42 couldn’t have built his apparatus, and he couldn’t have passed his knowledge back to me. We ended up deciding that I needed to confide in Jack that my ‘counterpart from the future’ had been ordered to pass me the schematics for building our own top-secret time tunnel. The purpose of having TTT in our time period would be to establish a link in a chain of communication from the future to the past, with the present serving only as a way station. Should anyone from our present time actually try to use it to alter the past — to modify the timeline, the implications of doing so could be catastrophic, and that was why no one — not even the current president — especially the current president — was to know about its existence. Jack understood — a future president had insight that a current president never could, and he trusted my judgment and my word. He signed off on my budget for fabricating the 64-element emitter/detector array, as well as on my request for allowing me to do much of my work from home — something that was almost never allowed for work with such implications for national security as mine. He was satisfied that as a precaution against its unintended use, the TTT software could not be operated without a key from the future that would not be provided until it was to be used. “Hey, Daddy,” my darling daughter said as she sat down next to me and grabbed the bowl of cereal Jen had just placed in front of her at the breakfast table. How did I ever come to have two such beautiful children? “Hi, sweetheart,” I said in return as I smiled at her. The smile that lit up her face was precious. It was so rare that I had a chance to eat breakfast with my children, but the time I was spending communicating with Chris-42 was eating more and more into my time at the lab, and there wasn’t a lot I could do about it. Jack knew I was burning more midnight oil on the project, both at the lab and at home, and for good reason. He was more than willing to cut me a little slack, and that meant spending more time with my family. It was so ironic that it took having my world being turned upside down by events from the future to give me back my life in the present. “How’s school going, honey?” I asked my daughter as she drank down her orange juice. “Fine,” was all she said. “Is that all you have to say?” I asked her. At 10 years of age, she was almost acting like a teenager. “Ms. Rice tells me you’re doing better than fine. I hear you got a hundred on your last geography test. That’s terrific! Do you like geography?” I asked. She looked up at me with the most adoring eyes and said, “It’s OK, I guess. I mean, it’s not like we’ll ever get to go to those places, or anything.” That was a low blow. “You never know, sweetheart,” I replied. “If there were one place in the whole world you could go, where would it be?” I asked. She scrunched up her face in deep thought for a moment, and then she got the most devious smile on her face and she said, “I think I’d like to go to Titan.” “Titan’s not even in this world,” Andy said as he entered the kitchen, his backpack slung over one shoulder. He dropped the backpack on the floor next to the table, slipped a bagel into the toaster, grabbed a steaming mug of coffee and dropped himself into the chair on the other side of me. He’d be turning thirteen in March and looked so much like a teenager, I could scarcely believe this was the same boy I used to toss into the air and play hide-and-seek with. “I know it’s not in this world,” Karen answered, “but just think how cool it would be to go there!” “Yeah, it’d be cool all right,” Andy interrupted, “like minus 200 degrees or something like that.” “Don’t be silly, Andy,” Karen replied. “I really would like to be an astronaut.” That was news to me. “Remember Arthur C. Clarke’s 2001, A Space Odyssey?” Oh yeah, my daughter adored science fiction, almost as much as I did when I was her age. “Well in the movie, they went to Jupiter, but in the book they bypassed Jupiter and went to Saturn, because that’s where the alien artifact was. Why do you think the aliens left the artifact on Titan instead of orbiting Io, the way they made it look in the movie version?” “I have a feeling we’re gonna find out,” Andy again interrupted. “Andrew, let your sister finish,” I admonished my son with a chuckle. Karen continued, “It’s because Titan is the largest moon in the solar system and the only one with a stable atmosphere. There is also evidence that it has lakes or oceans on its surface and it could very well be that it supports some sort of life, perhaps based on methane. That’s why Arthur C. Clarke wrote 2001 with the alien artifact located on Titan. “When it came to the sequels, though, he decided to make them consistent with the movie version, ’cause everyone and their grandmother saw the movie.” I couldn’t help but laugh at the way my daughter said that. God, I loved my children. “So for 2010 he had the Americans and the Soviets… yes, there was still a Soviet Union when the book and even the movie came out… returned to Jupiter on a joint mission to reactivate the Discovery spacecraft. But then there was an international incident back on Earth and the Americans were ordered to return to Earth on board Discovery, but the aliens had other plans. “Anyway, the aliens turned Jupiter into a new star, so we ended up with a binary star system, the Americans and Soviets had to cooperate and use both spaceships together to escape safely, and Jupiter’s moon, Europa, which had been an icy moon, ended up teeming with life. It was a pretty cool book, and a neat movie,” she concluded. “Yeah, but what effect would having two suns have on Earth’s ecosystem,” I wondered aloud. “Actually, there was some mention of that at the end of 2010, the book, that is, and a lot more about it in the two sequels after that, 2061 and 3001. The aliens ended up making lots of mistakes, but then it was their experimentation that led to the creation of humanity in the first place, at least according to the first scene in 2001. In the end, the update on humanity’s progress that was sent by the original monolith in 2001 finally had time to reach the nearest alien relay station, and get a signal back from it by the end of 3001, but the aliens had long since moved on. I don’t want to spoil it in case you ever read the book, but let’s just say the twentieth century was a pretty bloody one… and not a good one for humanity to be judged by. Anyway, the aliens left behind instructions for the monolith to deal with their ‘mistakes’. Of course in a thousand years, we’d come a long way, too, and came up with a final solution to deal with the monolith.” “You know something guys, if you don’t get a move on, you’re going to be late,” I reminded my kids. “Shit!” Andy said as he wolfed down the last of his bagel and gulped his coffee, taking a last glance at the sports section of the Chronicle. “Andy?” I admonished, “Just because you’re almost a teenager doesn’t mean you have to act like one.” “Sorry, Dad,” he said as he folded up the paper. He then placed his dishes in the sink, kissed Jen on the cheek, and then he came to me and gave me a hug. What a great kid! Karen likewise followed suit, placing her dishes in the sink, kissing Jen on the cheek and then doing the same with me. Both kids grabbed their backpacks and were out the door, barely in time to catch their respective buses. Jen came up behind me and threw her arms around me as she leaned over and kissed me sweetly on the lips. I had to admit that as I was spending more time at home these days, I was finding myself more and more attracted to her — maybe not sexually, but romantically. I found I still loved the mother of my children, very much. “What time will you be leaving for the lab today?” she asked. “Not for another hour,” I told her. “We’re making excellent progress… our experiments are giving us better results than we’d expected, and Jack’s letting me do even more of the work from home, so long as I keep the data on my computer secured. Soon, I may even be able to spend entire days at home.” “That would be nice,” Jen said as she kissed me. “Do you think you have a little time to spend with me before you get ready to go in?” she asked. “Time for what?” I asked, innocently enough. “Oh, I don’t know,” she said as she stroked her hands down my chest. I was only wearing briefs, and she gently massaged and tweaked my nipples, instantly making them erect. How’d that happen? As she stroked down my abdomen, I felt myself start to stiffen. It had been years since I’d had this kind of reaction from my wife. When she grabbed me through my briefs, I nearly lost it. Why was I having this reaction to my wife? For heaven’s sake, I was gay! Still, I loved her, and my love of her was affecting me. Pulling the chair back with me still in it, she sat down on my thighs. It was then that I noticed she’d somehow taken off her clothes. I could feel her moistness as she sat on me. She fondled and caressed me, and leaned forward and kissed me, thrusting her tongue into my mouth as her pendulous breasts pressed up against my chest. I moaned — I actually moaned into her mouth. I was so achingly aroused… I couldn’t stand it. Maybe it was because it had been so long since I’d had sex with anyone other than myself, but I was leaking furiously and I was primed and ready to go. Before I realized what was happening, Jen sat down on me. I’d forgotten how wonderful it felt to be in someone — particularly someone you love. I didn’t last long, but then Jen didn’t either. She came with a fury I’d forgotten she had. We were both hungry for it. “Wow, I’m sorry I didn’t last longer,” I said as I slipped out of her when it was over. “Don’t worry about it, Chris,” she reassured me. “I was just worried you wouldn’t be able to perform, but that certainly wasn’t your problem, now, was it? I enjoyed it every bit as much as you did. It was wonderful. I may not be the man of your dreams, but if we can both make each other happy, and we both still love each other, that’s what’s important.” “I couldn’t agree more,” I said, “but we didn’t use protection. Are you on your cycle? I asked with a hint of worry in my voice.” “I finished my period last week, so it’s not too likely I’m ovulating right now,” she answered, “but what if I were? We have two great kids, and I wouldn’t mind having a third, would you?” she asked. Thinking about it for only a moment, I replied, “A month ago, having more children was the last thing on my mind, but now, yeah, I could see it. I’m not planning on it and it would certainly mean some major changes in our lives, but if fate decided we were to have another kid, I wouldn’t mind it one bit. In fact, I think I’d like that. “It would be high risk at your age, however, and you’d have to have amnio for sure.” “But it’s agreed… no birth control?” Jen asked. “Yeah, no birth control,” I answered. As I drove into the lab that morning, I thought about the ramifications of what had happened and what they could mean in terms of changes to the timeline. I had no way of knowing if these things hadn’t happened anyway, but I strongly suspected they hadn’t and that I had just made a major and significant personal change to my timeline and, hence, to Chris-42’s as well. I would need to discuss it with him immediately the next time we made contact. I needed to document the change right away and any comments he made so that we could counter any adverse effects if necessary. One thing I knew from our previous discussions was that Chris-42 had two children. It’s possible that something in the future had happened to Andy or Karen — a thought I didn’t even want to consider — but it was far more likely that we never had had a third child. If Jen and I were to have a third child, how might that affect Chris-42 and the development of TTT? Could it sidetrack TTT and actually prevent the development of TTT altogether? When I opened myself up to the possibility of having additional children with Jen, did I jeopardize OTT? For the sake of national security, did I now have an obligation to have a vasectomy? How would Jen react if she ever found out about it?
  6. Altimexis

    A Crisis at Hand

    September 2008 • Chris-42 The procedure had been draining — much more so than I’d expected it to be. In theory, we knew it would involve heavy concentration, but theory and reality are always two different things. The fact that I’d done this on my own, by myself after hours had made it doubly difficult. Carefully placing each electrode on my scalp had been unbelievably hard — I might seriously have to consider electrolysis, or I’d never get any sleep. Then running through my biofeedback and relaxation exercises until my brainwaves were within specs took forever. I was just too excited and I almost couldn’t relax, even though my life literally depended on it. Finally, in the wee hours of the morning, I was able to fall into the proper brain rhythm and the equipment was able to calibrate itself. Establishing a tunnel back to the early morning hours of September 11, 2001 went surprisingly smoothly. I’d thought that would be the difficult part. Sorting through the quantum fluctuations of my brainwaves went quickly and my past patterns were easily identified and matched. Once the correct one was locked in, manifesting myself to my former self, Chris-35 as I’d decided to call him, took enormous effort. I must have tried about a dozen or more times to form myself into a coherent, solid image that he would recognize as something more than static. Finally, my pattern stabilized and he recognized who I was. It’s funny, but while I had to be in a sort of half-awake/half-asleep, trance-like state, Chris-35 absolutely had to be in REM sleep for this to work. He could only communicate with me if he were dreaming — otherwise, nothing I tried to communicate would make any sense. The whole technology I’d developed took advantage of the brain’s own mechanism of interpreting semi-random brain impulses as dreams. By sending back similar impulses to his brain, I could create dream-like images that he would interpret as his own reality. Likewise, I could read his own dreams of the time, allowing for true two-way communication, albeit with an unconscious man. With practice, however, he would learn to bring his dreams into consciousness, and then the real fun would begin. Well, I got Chris-35’s attention all right. Before I could proceed with my plan, however, I needed to convince him that I was real, and to do that, I needed to pass information back to him that was irrefutable — information about the future that he couldn’t deny. That is why I chose the morning of September 11. No American would ever forget the morning that terrorists attempted to bring down the twin towers and perhaps hit who knows what other targets. Often referred to as “the day the earth stood still,” quick thinking on the part of someone resulted in all air traffic being brought to a halt before any additional damage could be done, all thanks to vigilance on the part of airport security in Boston. As I removed the electrodes from my scalp, a sense of foreboding came across me as I realized that something might have changed as a result of my communication with my former self — something huge. Might I have somehow unintentionally altered history? I wasn’t sure how, but instinctively knew I had. In communicating my knowledge of the events of September 11 back in time to Chris-35, he may have acted on it in a way I hadn’t intended, and it had resulted in a major change in the timeline. I’d only used the events of September 11 so he’d believe me — so he’d know I was real. I’d only given him the barest minimum of details too — not nearly enough to have altered history, or so I’d thought. But somehow I instinctively knew that what I’d told him wasn’t that there would be a failed terrorist plot. That I couldn’t remember what I’d communicated, was probably only the tip of the iceberg. Looking out the window, I noticed that the sky was already starting to lighten, and so I decided there really wasn’t time to go home. My colleagues were used to me pulling all nighters anyway, so there wouldn’t seem to be anything odd about me being here when they arrived. I decided to take a quick shower to get the electrode coupling gel out of my hair. Heading to the locker room, I retrieved a fresh pair of briefs from my locker, and proceeded to undress. The hot water felt good against my skin as I lathered up my scalp and scraped the gook out from between the strands of my slowly graying hair. Much of the gel had already hardened and pulled several strands painfully with it. As I washed the previous day’s grime away, I started to wonder what history I might have inadvertently changed. Bush was already president when I’d contacted Chris-35 and, much as we’d all have liked to have prevented his one term as president and his near disastrous attempt to drag us into a war with Iraq, his total incompetence was rewarded when he got the boot at the ballot box in 2004. I couldn’t see how there was anything I could have done to have changed that. There were still some serious issues abroad, thanks to strained relations with the EU and Russia. Bush had managed to do a fair bit of damage to international relations during his short time in office, and his missile strike on the North Korean reactor would not soon be forgotten by the Chinese. But if anyone was up to the task of mending fences, it was John Kerry. Well, perhaps I would find out tomorrow night what I might have done to the world. <<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>> September 2001 • Chris-35 I was a total wreck. I never did get back to sleep. How could I? After dreaming that I’d been contacted by my future self and told that four hijacked airliners would slam into the twin towers, the Pentagon and one attempting to slam into the White House or the Capitol would be taken back by the passengers, only to slam into the ground — how could I sleep? Jack said he’d call if there was any news, but of course, there wasn’t any. My dream was probably nothing more than that — a dream, and I’d probably embarrassed myself and Jack for nothing. In the end, I’d probably set Operation Time Tunnel back years, all because I wanted to believe what I’d experienced was real. As the sky started to lighten, I made myself some coffee and turned on the TV, watching the early edition of the AM news for lack of anything better to do. My son, Andy walked into the kitchen to join me, wearing only his boxers and a smile. He grabbed the coffee and poured himself a mug. “Aren’t you up awfully early,” I asked, “especially after you were up so late?” He shrugged his shoulders and said, “Something felt weird last night, like the world changed. I dunno, but everything feels sorta different and I woke up early and couldn’t get back to sleep.” “I know, bud, I feel it, too,” I said as I ruffled his hair and drew him into a one-arm hug. Kissing him on the head — when did he get to be so tall — I asked him, “You OK with what we talked about last night?” “You mean about you bein’ gay?” he asked back. “Sure, Dad. You’re still the same dorky dad you’ve always been. I still love you, just the same.” Just then, the phone rang and I went to answer it. “Hello?” “Chris, it’s Jack. I’m afraid you were right. The FBI’s apprehended several passengers in Boston armed with box cutters, and we think there may be more, so the President has ordered all domestic flights grounded and searched. You can expect it’ll hit the airwaves shortly, and things’ll be a mess for a while, but thanks to you, we’ve probably averted a disaster. “We’re in lock-down mode of course… just to warn you what to expect when you arrive.” I was in a daze as I hung up the phone. When I looked up, I saw that my son’s eyes were glued to the TV, where the news was already covering the story of the terrorist plot to hijack airplanes and the grounding of all domestic flights, nationwide. He turned toward me and peered into my soul and said, “You knew about this, didn’t you.” It was a statement more than a question. I looked down at the floor. I honestly didn’t know how to answer. I didn’t want to lie to him, but I couldn’t tell him the truth. Looking back up at him, I said, “Andy, when you work in a top-secret research facility, there are just some things that have to remain secret.” “Gotcha, Dad,” he said, “but you’re a scientist, not a spy. I just get this feeling, you know, that the terrorists succeeded, but then you did something that changed it.” Holding up his hand, he continued, “I know you can’t tell me, and that’s cool, but this is some scary shit, and I mean really scary shit.” Grabbing him tightly in my arms, I held him for all I was worth as my little man cried his eyes out. For all his toughness, his trying to act like a sophisticated adult, he was still an insecure and frightened not-quite teenaged boy. I could only imagine what life had been like on the original September 11 as life seemingly came to a halt. Traffic on the way to work was nonexistent as everyone stayed home to catch the latest news on the terrorist plot. Security at the lab was tight as a drum — probably tighter than it was the first time around since it was my intelligence that thwarted the terrorists this time. When I arrived, Jack immediately ushered me into his office. “Sit down, Chris,” he said as he handed me a Styrofoam cup of the vile stuff that passed for coffee in the lab, and closed the door behind us. I sat across from him at a small table, tucked away in a corner of his office. Stacks of journals and papers filled every available horizontal space, seemingly threatening to topple over at any moment. “So it would appear that Operation Time Tunnel was a success,” he said, matter-of-factly. “You always were one to state the obvious,” I replied, “but even I have to admit I’m surprised.” “Obviously it’s not perfected or your counterpart in the future would have made contact for a longer time… given you more information, like flight numbers, names of the terrorists and so on. I know you wondered about that, too, and that’s the obvious answer. “We talked about that, George Tenent, Robert Mueller and I.” Whoa, my boss had been talking to both the chief of the CIA and the new head of the FBI, who was just sworn in last week. “Until this morning, they’d never even heard of Operation Time Tunnel… that’s how well we’d kept your work under wraps. Our best guess is that the tunnel back in time is still not very stable and your counterpart in the future just didn’t have very much time to get his message through. Hell, he was probably lucky to get as much information back to you as he did. This… this was just so important that he had to take a chance with as yet imperfect technology.” “He said he’d try to contact me again tonight,” I noted. “Good, that’s excellent. We’ll keep you here and monitor you throughout the night. That way we can observe you in depth when it happens. Perhaps we can even do something on this end to facilitate the tunnel and improve its stability, or learn how to do so,” Jack said. “This terrorist plot may have only been the beginning. God help us all if that’s the case.” <<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>> September 2008 • Chris-42 I could tell this ritual was going to get real old, real fast. I was still pretty exhausted from being up the previous night and I knew I probably should have taken a night off to rest up for my next encounter, yet I was desperate to find out what had happened — what I had done. True, time wasn’t much of an issue as long as I stayed within the seven-year window, but I was anxious to find out just what it was I’d told Chris-35 last night that had, literally, changed history. And so here I was, snipping out hairs from my scalp one at a time, so that I could attach electroencephalographic leads at each of the critical locations. Using a cotton-tipped swab dipped in ethyl alcohol, I carefully cleansed each point of attachment, removing all traces of grease so the electrodes would make solid contact with my skin. I then applied a dollop of gelatinous colloid glue to each metal cup electrode, sealing them in place, one by one. When I was done, I used a hair net to hold the entire 32-electrode array in place and I performed a final impedance check, just to make sure all electrodes were still making good contact with my scalp. Once I was sure everything was ready, I sat down in my recliner, fired up my MacBook Pro and loaded MathQuest. Once that was up and running, I executed the program that would control the external equipment and establish a tunnel back through time. Next came an elaborate helmet array of quantum particle detectors — the real heart of Operation Time Tunnel. Each detector consisted of a finely tuned micro-emitter/detector, capable of measuring — and inducing — the minutest of fluctuations in paired quantum states. These were nothing short of being miniature particle accelerators in their own right. It was the particular nature of these paired quantum states that allowed our technology to work. When I started my work all those years ago, the idea of paired temporal quantum states was nothing more than a wild theory I had. Now it was a known reality. By identifying paired quantum states, linked across a finite interval of time, I could latch onto and then induce and stabilize an information conduit — what one might call a time tunnel. When I was finally ready, I placed a tourniquet around my left arm, inserted a needle into my anterior antecubital vein, withdrew the plunger slightly and, seeing the flow of brick red blood back into the syringe, confirming that the needle was indeed within the vein, released the tourniquet and I injected ¼ mg of lorazepam into my vein. Lorazepam was the perfect drug for my purpose. A benzodiazepine, it was a mild sedative that would slow my brain rhythm and put me into a semi-stuporous state. The dosage was critical — too little and I wouldn’t be able to relax — too much and I’d fall asleep, leaving me incapable of communicating with Chris-35. As I felt the drug take effect, I began to relax and could feel myself letting go of the physical world. I placed a pair of virtual reality goggles over my eyes, allowing me to interact with my laptop while still being able to lie back. As I became more and more relaxed, my brain’s theta waves gave way to alpha waves as I completely cleared my thoughts entirely. When I was ready, I allowed delta waves to appear slowly, and let the software organize them as a tunnel back to September 12, 2001 began to be established. Now came the tricky part — turning a communications link — a quantum tunnel consisting of nothing more than paired spatiotemporal variations — into a coherent dream-like reality for Chris-35. This would require intense concentration on my part, and a lot of sophisticated quantum manipulations by my laptop. It worked last night and it would work again now, but the experience would be exhausting, particularly now that I was exhausted to begin with. Focusing all my energy on the task, I imagined myself as standing in front of Chris-35, preparing to talk to him. If I maintained my focus, our brainwaves would fall into perfect synchrony. If I lost my focus, the tunnel would dissolve and the computer would have to recalibrate and start over. The image I was projecting would be perceived by a sleeping Chris-35 as ordinary dream activity. However, unlike normal dream activity which is mostly random, these images would be projected from an external, mostly conscious entity, me, and Chris-35 would almost certainly become consciously aware of them. Not only that, but I would be able to peek into his own dream activity through that same quantum tunnel. In effect, the communication bridge would work both ways. As soon as I established a presence in Chris-35’s brain, however, I knew that something was different this time. Something didn’t feel right. His sleep didn’t feel natural, and I had the distinct impression that we were not alone. “What’s going on, Chris?” I asked. “You tell me?” Chris-35 replied. “Last night you came to me with a fantastic story about terrorists hijacking four airplanes and forcing two of them to slam into the World Trade Center, causing both twin towers to collapse, slamming one into the Pentagon, and maybe aiming the fourth one at the White House or the Capitol, except that the passengers heroically stormed the cockpit and forced the plane into the ground.” Holy shit! So that’s what I told him! “You didn’t give me anything more than that to go on… not even the flight numbers,” he continued, “let alone the names of the hijackers… but I believed you, and we did it. We caught all the hijackers… we stopped all the attacks, although it did involve grounding all domestic flights to do it, but we succeeded, and that’s all that matters. “Now we just have to figure out how to respond to what happened. Obviously, we’ll put the fuckers on trial, but we need to find out who funded the operation and go after them… and it could potentially lead to war, but if you wanted me to stop the attack, why didn’t you give me more information? Was there just not enough time? Was the technology just not ready? I have so many questions. We have so many questions.” Fuck, what was I going to do now? I had intended my first contact only to prove to Chris-35 that my contact with him was real. The last thing I wanted was for him bring our contact to the attention of the government, let alone change history. In retrospect, what he did might well have changed history for the better, but it almost certainly wreaked havoc on my ability to operate in secret — to maintain my control over OTT. But now the fucking President of the United States knew about OTT. And how long would it take the Russian and the Chinese to learn of our secret and to want the technology for themselves? Now the risk that OTT might fall into the wrong hands was real and nothing was worth that happening. Unintended consequences… I might as well just kill myself now, but then what about the damage I’d already done to the time line. If I killed myself, who would there be to mop up the mess I’d made? Who would be there to deal with the consequences of TTT falling into the wrong hands? Who might there be to prevent them from getting their hands on it in the first place? Now, going back further into my past might be the one way I could actually prevent the worst from happening. Maybe by going back into the past, I could find a way to prevent anyone else from knowing about TTT? At the least I’d have a way to fix things before they got out of hand. And perhaps while contacting myself in the past, I really could fix my fucked-up life. I just needed to find a way to continue my work in secret. But TTT was prohibitively expensive. There was no way I could do this without the investment of taxpayer dollars. Like it or not, I was dependent on the Feds. I needed their support. I just had to come up with a way to keep them off my back while I pursued my own agenda. From now on, whatever I did, it would have to be done with utmost care. I would maintain the guise of protecting national security, which was still my goal, but I’d do whatever it took to keep TTT out of the hands of those who would abuse it. On the plus side, with TTT a proven thing and with the success of its application to preventing the terrorist attack on September 11, the government would spare no expense in supporting our work. Actually, they hadn’t spared any expense. I remembered that day back on September 11 vividly. I could now remember being visited in my dreams by my future self again that night. I could remember meeting with Jack and the rest of my team, and drawing up a game plan for augmenting TTT research without compromising the original, first contact event. It was funny, because those memories weren’t there just a minute ago — I was sure of it. Yeah, for the last seven years, we virtually had a blank check from the government to purchase whatever equipment we needed and to hire anyone we needed. It was only my concern about creating a time paradox in which first contact never occurred, that kept me from going hog wild with the resources at our disposal. Even so, what had been a team of only a few people back in 2001 quickly grew to a team of over twenty researchers. Something told me that was not how it was the first time around, before I’d prevented the terrorist attack on September 11. But with so many people involved and with federal agents looking over our shoulders, there was a serious risk that I’d never be able to complete my mission of establishing a chain of communication back through time, and that was exactly what I had to do. I was sure of it. I was bound and determined to fix my past and in so doing, to keep the technology out of the wrong hands, including those in our own government. Although access to security clearances and top-secret information could come in handy, there was a very real risk that with so much scrutiny and so many people involved, OTT could be compromised, and that risk was far more palpable than anything I’d ever feared before. I needed more time. I needed more space. I needed to give Chris-35 something to do while I spent some time figuring out my next step. “Chris,” I resumed, “You did great, but trust me, the terrorist plot is only the tip of the iceberg. This is just the beginning. You’ve averted some pretty horrible consequences for the United States, but there are much worse things to come. “Now I assume you are being monitored and that you’re drugged up, but that no one can actually tap into our conversation, can they?” I asked. “I can’t see how they possibly could,” Chris-35 answered. “I think they are monitoring me to learn all they can about the Time Tunnel project, but for now they have every reason to trust me… to trust us.” “I think you know as well as I do that the Feds don’t trust anyone, and whatever trust they have in us now won’t last,” I said. “At the moment, we’re the only one who can send information back to ourselves in time but, undoubtedly, that will change. As sure as our shit stinks, the Feds will begin to usurp our very authority over OTT. They’ll begin the process of calibrating the equipment to work with the brain waves of others… maybe even with the President himself.” “You’re going to have to keep this to yourself, so I’ll keep this brief, and we’ll need to communicate later… much later, and privately. I’ll contact you at home in a month or so. You can tell them that Operation Time Tunnel was a success and that the primary threat to the US has been eliminated. Tell them that we had trouble with the link last night and that’s why I couldn’t get more information to you. Obviously, the link went more smoothly tonight. “Tell your superiors that the man behind the terror attack is Osama bin Laden. He’s currently in Afghanistan, but will quickly try to flee to Pakistan. The CIA knows exactly where he is right now, and if you move quickly, you will find him and can execute him. Taking him out now will save the US a tremendous amount of suffering later. He and he alone is the man you must go after. “Now as to your dealings and mine, trust no one. Continue your research exactly as you have, as it will ultimately lead me to what I have done. Do not veer from your current path. Your superiors do not need to know anything more. I’ll tell you more when I contact you next month.” As I began the process of extracting myself from the apparatus, I realized that my days of being able to communicate in private with my former self would be severely limited if I continued to operate from my lab in Livermore. Already, I could tell that much had changed and the equipment was much more elaborate — and expensive looking — than I had remembered it. But how was this possible? Preventing the terrorist attacks in 2001 had had an instantaneous effect on the future and everything changed, but some of my memories did not. How could that be? As I removed the glue that held the electrodes in place, I realized that it probably had to do with probability theory. Some things were certain, resulting in instant change throughout the timeline. Other things were uncertain and had yet to play themselves out. Thwarting the terrorist attacks in 2001 was now a certainty, and that I remembered vividly. Additional spending on OTT was nearly certain, but just how that money was spent was far from certain. There were decisions that still had to be made and those would have to play themselves out back in 2001 before the associated changes would be reflected in 2008. I could still remember the way it had been because the changes hadn’t occurred yet. Scrutinizing the equipment more closely, I realized that, although the equipment was different than what I remembered, I couldn’t identify a brand name anywhere. Only the Apple logo on my laptop was still there — evidently that hadn’t changed, but everything else was custom-built and unlabeled — expensive in appearance, but not identifiable in manufacture. Very strange! I’d never realized that the timeline was probabilistic. I’d have to get Chris-35 to put some of his people to work studying it, as it could seriously affect the future direction of OTT. Another issue I was going to have to deal with was how to convince the past versions of myself of the need to alter the past. No one was more skeptical of modifying the past than me, but changing the past might be the only way out of the mess I’d made. Going back further in time was the only way to keep TTT from falling into the wrong hands. Besides which, I couldn’t help but realize just how much better my life could have been. My life was pretty fucked up right now and, were it not for the importance of my work to national security, I might well have ended up committing suicide. Except for my wonderful son, whom I hardly ever saw at all these days, I was all alone in the world and that certainly wasn’t going change unless I changed the past. But changing my own life would never be enough justification for altering history and if I even hinted at it, my past selves could very well balk at the suggestion of it. So how could I convince myself to do so anyway? The thing is, it’s virtually impossible to lie with TTT. After all, one shares one’s brainwaves with one’s former self. One shares one’s thoughts. I was going to have to think this through and come up with some incredibly convincing arguments for doing this — arguments so convincing that I’d believe in them, even now. A more immediate concern, however, was the need to keep my work away from scrutiny — away from prying eyes. I had to assume that it would not be long at all before the ability to work in secret within my own lab would disappear entirely. It was inevitable, and would probably happen sooner than later. Like it or not, the only solution I could come up with was to build a shadow laboratory off-site, away from anyone who knew of my work. Duplicating my lab would take time but that was not the issue. I didn’t even need my notes to do it — everything I would need was committed to memory. No, the big issue would be cost, and where I would obtain the funds to reproduce the bare essentials of a multi-million dollar lab, I hadn’t a clue. Even if I mortgaged everything I own, it wouldn’t be enough. Like it or not, I was probably going to have to rely on my budget authority to embezzle equipment directly from the lab — something that would send me to prison for the rest of my life if I were ever found out. In the meantime I could only hope that I’d given my counterpart in the past enough information to keep the government off our backs while I worked on my own, in secret. <<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>> December 2001 • Chris-35 A lot happened after my second contact with my future self. Based on the information I gave them, the CIA went after Osama bin Laden and attempted to capture him. The fight was brutal and he was killed during the attempt to capture him. That was certainly no loss to the world. In the ensuing power vacuum, Al-Qaeda splintered into several distinct groups. While not exactly a civil war, the struggle among the various splinter groups and with the Taliban yielded an opportunity for a regime change in Afghanistan that the United States was all too happy to encourage. With aid from the CIA, Pakistan, a contingent of American, British and other Coalition troops, a Northern Alliance of Afghan tribes were able to take control of the country and to push what was left of the insurgents deep into the most mountainous regions of the two countries. In the meantime, I waited for my future self to contact me. One month became two months, and two months became three. I began to worry that, somehow, the changes we’d made to the timeline had had disastrous consequences, at minimum resulting in my death in the future, or possibly resulting in the end of the world. Finally in December, as I was beginning to sink into despair, I felt a familiar presence come to me in my sleep. “Where the hell have you been?” I practically shouted at him as his image coalesced. “Calm down, Chris,” he said. “We have to be very careful. We’re both being watched very closely now that people at the highest levels of Homeland Security know about Operation Time Tunnel. We cannot take a chance on anyone finding my second lab.” “What the hell is ‘Homeland Security’, and what do you mean by your second lab?” I asked. “Oh yeah, I forgot that Homeland Security doesn’t exist yet in your time period. It will be created to oversee the FBI, FEMA and a host of other agencies in the wake of 9/11, supposedly to facilitate better communication. Anyway, yeah, Chris, I’ve set up a second lab. OTT is just too valuable to leave to chance, and it’s too risky a venture to place all our eggs in one basket. All this time I’ve supposedly been tracking down a glitch in the emitter/detector arrays that’s supposedly been intermittently causing the signal to lapse out of phase… I told them that is what nearly cost us success on September 11. In reality I’ve been assembling a second facility off-site. I need to be able to contact you without anyone looking over my shoulder. The fact of the matter, Chris, is that I don’t know whom we can trust.” “You think there are spies within our government?” I asked. “There have always been spies in our government,” my older self answered, “and in my day, Russia will be well on its way to being as big a problem as the old Soviet Union ever was. We are on the verge of another Cold War, and the situation is every bit as tense as it was during the first. If that weren’t bad enough, China is has become a major military power, with a million-man army and the weapons to match. We effectively gave them the technology and through our trade, the wealth needed to translate that technology to military might equivalent to our own. “Chris, you live in a world with only one superpower, but you surely remember growing up in a world with two. In less than seven years, Russia and China will be very close to catching up to the US, with India being not far behind, but there will still be hope… until the crash of ’08. I’m not sure how things fared before we intervened to stop 9/11, but that success may have led to our feeling complacent and may have made things worse. “In any case, in 2008, the world will suffer the worst financial disaster since the Great Depression. The Stock Market will lose half its value and unemployment will reach double digits. Although the Russians, Chinese and Indians aren’t doing well themselves, they have something we don’t have anymore… natural resources… and then there’s Iran.” “Iran?” I asked incredulously. “Unfortunately, yes, Iran. It has an abundance of oil that the world desperately needs, and a very young, eager and talented workforce, and it’s on the verge of becoming a nuclear power.” “Nuclear?” I responded in surprise. “How could we allow this to happen?” “As usual, by focusing our attention in the wrong places, as we’ve done so often before,” my older self answered. “Yes, Iran, which could have been a valuable ally, is now a formidable foe. There is no doubt that Iran is close to developing a nuclear weapon, if they haven’t already, and talks aimed at getting them to dismantle their nuclear program have broken down. In the face of the world’s insatiable appetite for cheap oil, UN sanctions on Iran have all but been ignored. Even without nuclear weapons, Iran has built an army to rival Saddam Hussein's before the Gulf War, but one that is much better equipped and better trained. “And speaking of Iraq, Hussein hasn’t stood idly by either. Every country in the Middle East has mobilized in response to Iran’s build-up, but only Hussein has shown a willingness to use weapons of mass destruction. For fucks sake, he gassed the Kurds. If he uses mustard gas or Sarin against Iran, the whole Middle East could blow up. It’s a powder keg. As much as stopping 9/11 and taking out Osama Bin Laden may have helped the US in the short run, we think the worst is yet to come. “That is the primary reason why it will be so important to be able to go back, far into the past. There are many mistakes we will need to address, but we run the risk of committing worse ones if we do not address them all in the correct sequence.” “You know something about what is to come, don’t you?” I asked of my future self. “Actually I don’t know anything more than anyone else does. The fact that the current president has ordered us to do this means it’s going to happen, with or without our cooperation. As much as I admire John Kerry, he’s still a politician and I don’t trust him to use TTT only in case of dire emergency. And if we get another president like Bush, all bets would be off — he could well compromise our very survival. “Knowing that TTT is going to be developed and extended back into the past, regardless, I think the best offense is a good defense. We’ll continue to lead the effort to push TTT into the past, so the government will have no reason to take it away from us, but at the same time we’ll also work in secret, always staying one step ahead. The more we remain in control of TTT… the longer we maintain our monopoly… the less likely it is that it will be used inappropriately or that it will fall into the wrong hands.” “The wrong hands?” I shuddered when I realized Chris-42 was right — if TTT fell into the hands of our enemies, our entire history could be simply erased. “But wouldn’t extending TTT into the past only increase the risk of it falling into the wrong hands?” I asked. “Perhaps,” my older self answered, “but if we don’t extend it, how would we counter the Soviets, for example, if they managed to steal it from us in my time, extend it back fourteen years or more into the past and then use it to undo the collapse of the Soviet Union? Unless we had also extended TTT, we wouldn’t even know that history had been altered. “As much as it might have been better had we not messed with history in the first place,” my older self went on, “so long as it’s possible, TTT will be developed. Even if we could have stopped the Manhattan Project, it wouldn’t have prevented the invention of the atomic bomb. At best it might have delayed it, but it still would have been invented, perhaps by the Nazis or if not them, the Soviets. Once it came to pass, however, there was no way to un-invent it. Likewise, TTT is now a fact. And as with nuclear weapons, the best deterrent is by its deployment. Nuclear weapons have never been used against us because everyone knows we have the ability to wipe them off the face of the earth.” “So you’re saying the best way to prevent our enemies from using TTT against us is to deploy it into the past, such that we can threaten to erase their history?” I asked. “But where does it stop, Chris? Do we extend it back to before 1917, before the Communists came to power?” “Fortunately for us, there are practical limits on the technology,” the older Chris answered. “We can send our thoughts back in time, up to seven years at a time as I’m doing now with you. What we can’t do is send the technology itself back in time. I can bring you up to date on TTT, but you yourself will still need to assemble your own equipment from scratch using technology available in your day.” “Wait…” I said as the gravity of what my future self was implying started to sink in. “In order to establish a chain of communication into the past, I’m going to have to contact my former self in the past.” “That’s right,” my future self said. “So I’m going to have to get my equipment to actually work, and use it to build a tunnel back seven years into the past to contact a past Chris while I’m talking to my future Chris and, oh, this is so confusing,” I said. “First of all, to make things simpler, I suggest labeling us by our ages. For example, I’m Chris-42, soon to be Chris-43, you’re Chris-35 and you’ll be contacting Chris-28, or more likely Chris-29 by the time you succeed in reaching him. It will be his job to contact Chris-21, or perhaps by the time he gets his equipment up to speed, it will be Chris-22 he contacts. OK?” “Sure thing, old man,” I answered. “I’m sure that to Chris-29, you’ll be the old man. In any case, I’ll help you with the design, as there are significant differences between what you’ve been doing and what actually works.” That sure got my attention, and made me chuckle. “So just how far are we going to have to go back in time to provide an effective deterrent? Our parents weren’t even around at the time of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. How could we possibly extend the technology back that far when we obviously won’t be around?” I asked Chris-42. “That’s a very good question, and I’m glad you asked. Going back with the objective of destroying our enemies only leads to mass destruction of everyone. It would be like sending everyone back to the Stone Age. Just as we’ve developed tactical nuclear weapons, we can use a tactical approach to TTT. Preventing the events of September 11 was an example of this, albeit a crude one. Even if TTT falls into the hands of our enemies, they will know we have the infrastructure to undermine their ability to use it before they can deploy it themselves. The key is to make key incremental changes in their history that systematically undermine their role as our enemy before they can become an effective threat.” “Like peeling back the layers of an onion,” I echoed. “Exactly!” Chris-42 agreed. “Now as to how far we should extend TTT into the past, the Soviet threat would seem to be the least of our problems today, but even if Russia were to re-emerge as a serious threat, or China for that matter, extending TTT back to the early twentieth century isn’t an option. The farther we go back in time, the more limited the technology available and the more difficult and expensive it becomes to implement TTT. Even the most advanced supercomputers in the 1960s may not be up to the task. “In any case, if we are to keep the technology to ourselves, since the youngest brain with which TTT can be used safely is the twelve-year-old brain, the farthest we can extend TTT under our control is 1978. That’s certainly early enough to make substantial changes in the Soviet Union and in China. It’s also early enough to keep Iran from becoming the nemesis it is today. For example, the Shah was deposed in February of 1979. If the U.S. were to depose him first and install a more friendly government in Iran, Islamic terrorism as we know it may never come to pass.” “As I recall, the Shah came to power in the first place because the Americans and the Brits deposed the democratically elected government of Iran in the 1950s when that government tried to nationalize the oil industry,” I countered. “That was an attempt to install a friendly government in Iran, but it was so repressive that it resulted in a revolution that led to an even more repressive Islamic republic and a hotbed of terror. With TTT, if we fuck up, the unintended consequences could end up being so much worse than anything we’ve ever seen…” Sighing, Chris-42 acknowledged, “You’re right, Chris-35. TTT should be used only as a last resort, but if we don’t develop it… if we don’t extend it into the past, we may never realize our enemies have done so… not even after they’ve mucked up our history. Suffice to say, there are a whole lot of dominoes involved in changing the past and toppling one without first toppling some of the others can have serious unintended consequences. If we aren’t careful, making the wrong move at the wrong time could leave us unable to complete the mission.” “You mean we can end up killing ourselves off before we finish, and it’s pretty hard to intervene when you’re dead.” “Exactly,” Chris-42 continued. “At least with TTT safely under our control, we can minimize the chances of that ever happening.” “And that means extending TTT all the way back to 1978,” I stated incredulously.
  7. Altimexis

    First Contact

    BOOK ONE - A BRIDGE TOO FAR September 1978 • Chris-12 “Watch where you’re going, dork!” I heard just before someone shoved into me from behind, sending me flying forward. The books I was carrying — I had five of them with me — everything I needed for my morning classes — went flying out of my right arm where I’d had them nestled. My three ring binder, complete with individual tabbed dividers and pockets for each class, went careering out of my hands as well. Of course as soon as it hit the floor, it sprang open and all of my papers scattered all over the place, to be trampled on by all of the other kids who were trying to get to their own classes. No one bothered to stop and help me get up.No one bothered to stop and help me gather my things, which by now were all over the whole hallway. The kid who’d shoved me was long gone. Slowly, I started to get up and assess the damage. Although it was my ego that was the most damaged, I looked down at my knees and noticed that my right pants leg was ripped at the knee (in an age when tattered clothes weren’t popular). ‘Shit’, I thought to myself at a time when no twelve-year-old would dare get caught uttering the word aloud. And then I looked around at the mess of my ruined homework and class notes flying all over the place as kids were running to get to class. I thought about how fucked-up I was and I did what no self-respecting kid should ever do in front of other kids — I sat down in the middle of the hallway and I started to cry. <<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>> September 2008 • Chris-42 I woke up from my dream, gasping for breath. Slowly, my heart rate began to return to normal and my surroundings came into focus. My bed sheets were absolutely soaked! It took a moment for me to remember where I was and to realize that I was no longer twelve years old and had graduated from junior high a very, very long time ago. Indeed, there was no such thing as junior high any more. Today they called it middle school — not that it really made any difference — they just started the torture a whole year earlier, so that eleven-year-old kids got to experience the total humiliation, insecurity and ridicule that kids foisted upon each other as part of the ritual called adolescence. Lucky them. It was particularly tough on me, though, as my brother and sister were so much older than me, and had already gone on to college by the time I finished grade school. My mom’s brothers were only a few years older than she was, and helped pave the way for her. Now she admits it was a big help to her, but back then, she was clueless as to the tragedy that awaited her youngest son. Likewise, my dad was the middle kid out of a brood of five. But let’s face it — would I have even listened to what they might have said? How many kids listen to their parents about such things, no matter how cool their parents may be? Do we ever really believe our parents can relate to us as kids? No, I really, really needed an older brother or at least a best friend to lead the way — to show me the ropes. I needed someone I could turn to for advice and who could help me from making some of the more serious mistakes I made along the way. I mean, I knew I couldn’t help but make some mistakes and probably needed to learn from them, but it was often my reactions to my mistakes that led to disaster. What I really needed more than anything was someone to reassure me that my life wasn’t going to disintegrate because of everything I did — that every kid was going through exactly the same thing. Well, not exactly the same thing. I also needed someone to tell me what those funny feelings were all about that I got when I looked at a cute boy — especially a cute shirtless boy. Yeah, according to the things I read about puberty, I put a lot of energy into trying to convince myself that those feelings were perfectly normal and that I felt just as excited at the thought of seeing naked girls. As much as I love my kids today and wouldn’t even want to think of life without them, how much different my life might have been otherwise. Yeah, I played the role of the insecure, shy teenager throughout my junior high and high school years. I never even dated until I went away to college, and then I tried throwing myself at woman after woman, hoping I could ignite the spark that all the other guys seemed to feel when they were with the opposite sex. The possibility of living my life as a gay man never even entered my mind until it was too late. Yet if I had recognized what I was at an earlier age, might I actually not have come home to an empty apartment today? Might I actually have someone with whom to share my bed? But was I ready to face the truth back then, and if I had faced the truth, might I have fallen prey to AIDS along the way? Yes, my life was one big fucked-up mess, and a lot of it stemmed from events back in early adolescence. I just didn’t know how to handle all the teasing, I fell prey to a lot of bullying, I was a geek in an era when there was no salvation for my kind, and I was gay in a very conservative, Bible Belt city with little hope of coming to terms with who I was. I lacked self-esteem and allowed that to dictate the rest of my life. Now, I was forever living in the shadow of a twelve-year-old boy, even to this very day. The one thing that made up for all of this was my intelligence. No, I wasn’t an Einstein, but when it comes to Math and the Sciences, I’ve never gotten a score less of less than 100% on a test — ever. I sailed through the Physics program at Stanford and earned a doctorate and a post-doctorate in quantum physics before being hired by Lawrence Livermore to do research for the Feds. I’ve been here more than a decade-and-a-half, now. Seventeen years as of today, actually. My research is super secret — and it has the potential to change everything. I can’t really talk about it except that it has to do with communication theory — and time. For the record, let me state emphatically that time travel isn’t possible. One can’t go back in time. Information, on the other hand, is another story, and I think I’ve found a way to communicate with myself in the past. The government is interested in the technology for obvious reasons, and although I have my own interests, there really are national security reasons for my research. Of course everyone recognizes the potential harm that could happen by changing the past. We wouldn’t contemplate doing so without good reason, but the advantage of being able to do so at a time of national calamity could not be denied. Funding for my work has always been at a bare minimum as the project is categorized as being of exceptional worth, but highly unlikely to succeed. Only a handful of people even know of its existence — not even the president is aware, nor would he be informed until and unless we have a working prototype. Unlike everyone else involved, however, I always believed that, ultimately, we would succeed. In fact, my recent experiments have been so promising that I’ve taken the precaution of withholding the results from my superiors. I know that the moment they become aware we may actually have a working prototype, I will lose control of the project. No longer would I be able to design and conduct experiments as I see fit. I wouldn’t even be able to test the prototype without intense scrutiny. My research relies on something called paired quantum states — a quirk of quantum mechanics that allows us to violate some of Einstein’s theories on Relativity and send information instantly through space or time. But sending information back in time is particularly difficult, because you can’t simply go back in time! For example, let’s say you wanted to prevent the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor back in 1941. Not that I’d suggest trying to do so — it would change so much of history — and might have delayed America’s entry into World War II long enough to have allowed Germany to win! But let’s say for the sake of argument that you wanted to do so. Paired quantum states originate from nuclear reactions in which two particles are generated with opposite properties — for example, one with a positive spin and one with a negative spin. If you then measure the spin of one of them, you instantly know the spin of the other, no matter how far away it is — hence instant communication. If one of the particles is a tachyon, it will travel back in time while the other travels forward in time — hence the ability to communicate back in time. So to prevent Pearl Harbor, you would need to use paired quantum states originating half-way between 1941 and now, ’cause the particles each travel in opposite directions through time. Since it’s now 2008, you’d need to identify particles that originated from a nuclear reaction in 1975. But there just aren’t enough naturally occurring particles to send more than a word or two back that far. There isn’t enough bandwidth, as they say. We could get around that if we’d had an artificial particle generator — a specially designed linear accelerator — back then, but there were no temporal paired quantum particle generators back in the 1970s. We didn’t even know such things existed until I completed my PhD dissertation. Like I said, there’s no going back in time. There is another way, though. If we build an artificial temporal quantum particle generator today, we could simply wait around until another 66 years have passed. Then we can make use of the particles that were generated today as they arrive in the future, to send information back 132 years into the past. There are two problems with that. First of all, the particles decay exponentially, so there would be damn few particles left in 2074 with which to contact the people of late 1941. There still wouldn’t be enough bandwidth! More importantly, no one alive in 1941 would have a clue that the particles were there, let alone that they contained a warning from the future. So much for trying to prevent World War II. As with many things, there is a workaround, but it’s complicated. It turns out that the human brain can share thoughts with itself in the past or future if the brain waves are synchronized. The mechanism isn’t well understood, but the phenomenon has been studied extensively and it’s real. This is why some people have premonitions about events that haven’t happened yet. Some people have a natural ability to synchronize their subconscious thoughts from minutes, hours or even days into the future. My research has shown that by using the few naturally occurring particles that exist in the human brain that have temporal paired quantum states, it’s possible to extend that ability to anyone, and to extend the reach by a matter of years. Not only that, but paired quantum states make it possible to synchronize the brainwaves more precisely, facilitating the passage of more than just premonitions. With paired quantum states, one can have an entire conversation with one’s former self, but because paired quantum states can only be identified in the past, the method serves as a one-way ticket to fix things in the past. I know that it can be dangerous to meddle with the past but, at the moment, I’m the only person in the world who knows how the technology works. My superiors of course know of my research and they understand its potential, but I’ve done my best to keep them thinking that practical applications are still years away. I’ve only been allowed to continue my research because of the potential, huge rewards. My research team is small and I have chosen the members carefully, such that I am the only one who fully understands all of the aspects. With the technology safely under my sole control and making sure to change the past only to the bare minimum, what would be the harm, then, in making a few changes to my own past. The thing is that, even though I recognize there are dangers involved with meddling with the past, there’s a part of me that would like to do nothing less than that… a big part. I just want to go back and straighten my own life out. Perhaps I’m being selfish, but I’d like another shot at life — given the chance, who wouldn’t? How much harm could there be in fixing my own past, so long as I don’t mess with the bigger picture. I wouldn’t need to change much — just a few of the more serious mistakes that led to my life being the fucked-up mess it is today. It’s not like I’d get to relive my life over again or anything like that, but what I’ve discovered should make it possible to establish an information conduit for a short while — just long enough to be able to communicate with myself at a point in the recent past. It can only be with myself because the brain patterns have to match identically and, for much the same reason, it has to be within a span of at most seven years. Any further back in time and the differences in my brain would be too great — we’d risk causing brain damage if I could make the connection at all. We’ve actually done some pretty extensive research on this in adults and children over the course of the last ten years. By measuring brain wave patterns in response to a variety of stimuli, we can ascertain just how much the brain changes over time. Not just functionally, but structurally. My research has shown that brain wave patterns are remarkably stable over the course of a decade or more in adults. There would be no second chances if we fucked up someone’s brain in their own past, so we can’t take a chance on pushing the limits of the technology except in an absolute emergency. Although we could probably get away with going back eight or nine years into the past, it seems that seven years is the upper limit for repeated encounters. After all, any damage we might do would be cumulative and irreversible. For the older adult brain, over the age of sixty or so, the time span would have to be reduced, owing to the gradual die-off of brain cells with aging. Likewise, the young adolescent brain changes rapidly, necessitating additional reductions. Going even younger, the brain in childhood seems to change dramatically by the month rather than by the year and changes in brain function would be too great for communication to work at all. In any case, I’m not willing too push the technology any younger than the age of twelve, nor would I really need to in my specific case. So if I actually did this, what I’d need to do is to communicate backwards through time in stages — sequentially. I’m 42 years old now, so I would need to reach back to myself at the age of 35. Once I’ve contacted myself at age 35 — let’s refer to me as Chris-35 then, Chris-35 could then contact myself at the age 28 and so on. But establishing each link to the past will take time, perhaps several months — maybe a year. You see, the thing that makes it so complicated is that I would not only have to send information about the future back to myself in time, but also I’d have to communicate the technology to do so back in time as well. That’s the rub. So when I contact Chris-35, I’ll not only be coming to him inside of his head, but I’ll have to convince him that I’m real and that it’s essential that he contact himself in the past as well. On top of everything else, I’ll have to teach him how to build his very own machine for communicating with himself, seven years in his own past and fourteen years in mine. Not only will he have to do so with components that today would be considered seven years out-of-date, but he’ll have to teach his younger self to do it again, and with components that are fourteen years out-of-date, and so on down the line. Hence I might be as old as 43 by the time Chris-36 succeeds in reaching Chris-29, and I might be 44 by the time Chris-30 establishes a link to Chris-23. I would like to think it won’t take so long, but I have to be a realist. It’s not at all inconceivable that I won’t manage to reach my twelve-year-old self until I’m approaching fifty. That’s another thing — changes may have to reach fruition in the past before they can have an effect on the present. For example, if I were to talk myself into taking another course in college, chances are I would have to wait four months to actually pass the class before it would have its full impact on the present. Truthfully I don’t know what to expect — will a change have an immediate effect on the present, will it have to play out in the past before there is a change in the present, will it have to work its way through the entire time line before it affects the present, or perhaps might it be a combination of all three, depending on the nature of the change made? It’s all so confusing! There are so many things that could go wrong. At any point along the way, the chain could be broken. One of my former selves could decide to alter the information I’m trying to send back, based on their own perceptions of what’s important. The message could simply get garbled as often happens when one makes a copy of a copy of a copy. There could end up being unintended consequences I didn’t account for. The technology could indeed fall into the wrong hands and be developed at a time when the world isn’t prepared to deal with it. Or there could come a point where there just aren’t sufficient resources in the past to build the equipment at all, even with all of my planning. At least there’s one consolation — so long as I don’t change something in the past that results in my death, once the chain is established, I could always pass more information back in time along the chain. Although there are limits, there would always be a chain of communication reaching from the present back in time. On the other hand, if the process does succeed, how will I know? How can I verify the results? The change will affect the very memories I have today, going all the way back, perhaps, to when I was 12. Will the ‘changed’ me go ahead and reinvent the process again, and if I don’t, will the changes I make be undone? When and how will I know that I’m done? Conversely, would the passage of time in the present, stop the process? There is a paradox. So will I really do this? No way, no how! I would never have the courage to go through with it — or maybe I should say the stupidity! There’s just too much uncertainty. Too much that could go wrong. Still, it’d be interesting to try and, who knows, someday the technology might indeed prove vital to national security. Since I’m going to develop the technology anyway and since I need to find a way to test it, why not test it on myself? Maybe I really could make my life today a little less fucked up in the end. What would be the harm in that? Perhaps with a little minor tinkering, I wouldn’t have to return home to an empty apartment every night. I’ve been calling the project Operation Time Tunnel as a tribute to the 1966 science fiction television series that went by the same name — well, Time Tunnel anyway. The terminology is apropos, as I’m literally using quantum mechanical states to form a tunnel connecting two different points in time. The tunnel has no physical dimensions — it is what lay people might refer to as a wormhole — but it is artificial and can be traversed only by my brainwaves. It is an exclusive tunnel for my thoughts to flow back through time only to me, and I hope to God that I don’t fuck up. As far as my boss is concerned, the technology isn’t ready yet. If I were being honest with myself, I guess I’d have to agree that he’s right. Not even the President knows of my work — it’s just too preliminary to rely on it, even in a time of crisis. I’ve proved the existence of paired temporal quantum states and I’ve proved that they can be used to send information back in time, albeit by only a few minutes. I know I can interact with a stream of quantum particles through my dreams and I’ve demonstrated all of the steps necessary to open a conversation with myself. The thing is, there really is no way to test the technology other than actually by using it. Hence, I’ve decided to take a leap of faith. Tonight I will visit myself in the past. It’s only the first step in reaching out to that twelve-year-old boy I used to be. It’s only the first step in trying to fix my messed up past. It’s probably the only step I will ever take, but tonight there will be an opportunity that will not come again, to prove that the technology works. I can only pray that nothing goes wrong. <<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>> September 2001 • Chris-35 “Surprise!” everyone yelled out as I entered the lab on the morning of Monday, September 10, 2001. I was stunned. For ten years I’d come and gone, swiping myself into and out of the laboratory, pretty much keeping to myself. I didn’t think anyone really cared. My research was really super secret and except for one or two colleagues and a couple of post-doc fellows from Stanford, my alma mater, and a grad student from UC Berkley, very few people had a clue as to what my work involved. Even the colleagues, fellows and students had only an inkling, and they didn’t know the half of it. Yet here they were throwing me a surprise party. “I can’t believe you guys remembered,” I managed to croak out. Jack Craegen, the director of our section and my senior by not quite a decade, threw his arm around me and said, “Chris, I remember it well when you came to interview here. You didn’t know what to do with your hands. You could barely make eye contact… in fact, you had an intense fascination with the pattern of the tiles in the floor.” I could feel my face turning beet red as he said this — it was so embarrassing. “But there was no denying the work you’d done at Stanford. An outstanding dissertation, a brilliant post-doc in Rankin’s lab, and more than twenty, first-authored papers in top-notch journals, all by the age of twenty-five. You could have gone to any of a number of fine academic institutions, and yet the eminent Dr. Michaels was interested in coming here. “You had some pretty wild ideas… things that could change history.” Jack was the only one in the room besides me who knew just how literal that statement was. “So we decided to take a chance on you, and here it is, ten years later, and you still have those crazy ideas, and that breakthrough is still just around the corner.” Jeff, one of my post-docs, popped open a bottle of champagne and poured everyone a glass, and then raised his glass in a toast and said, “Here’s to breakthroughs.” Everyone else chimed in, “To breakthroughs,” and then we all drank up, but this was so unlike me. I just wasn’t into the social scene. I was pretty much a loner who lacked confidence and barely interacted with my peers at all. Still, we had managed to make some amazing progress in our research of late and I really thought we were on the right track. Soon I hoped I would be able to prove that a rat could learn how to navigate a maze from doing so in the near future. I feared, however, that the rat brain might be too primitive, but we had to start somewhere. Later that evening, after almost everyone else had left to go home, I was still at my desk, my shiny new titanium PowerBook open in front of me while I was running yet another simulation on our IBM ASCI White supercomputer. Carl, one of the newer additions to our staff and a recent recruit from the faculty of Cal Tech, came up behind me and started to give my back muscles a message. “This may feel like your real life, Chris, but you do have a wife and two wonderful children waiting for you at home that you ought to see once and a while,” he said. “We both know that marrying Jen was probably a mistake,” he continued, inhaling deeply, “but she is the mother of your children and I think your children are much better off with a father in their lives.” “Sometimes I wish we’d met first,” I admitted to Carl. “But then your children would have never been born,” he pointed out. “And I couldn’t bear that,” I sighed, just before I turned around and gave him a quick peck on the lips. One peck became two, which turned into a deep, passionate kiss. We might be past our prime, but we were far from old men, and had more than enough passion. In fact, I had a lifetime of unspent passion stored up, hardly any of it given to my wife over the years. “As much as I’d like to continue this,” Carl said, “this is your special day, and you really should spend it with your wife and kids. Call me old fashioned, but I still believe in monogamy and being faithful. I’m not telling you to stay in a bad marriage, Chris… staying in a bad marriage for the sake of the kids isn’t smart… but I don’t get the sense yours is a bad marriage. In fact the only problem I see is your wife’s gender.” “Yeah, that’s the crux of the problem all right. I really did love her at one time,” I admitted, “but it’s been a long time since I’ve been able to satisfy her, and that only leads to resentment… and guilt. She deserves better than that… and so do I. It’s sad, but the only thing holding us together any more is the children. I doubt the marriage will even last long enough for them to graduate high school.” “That’s too bad,” Carl said as he drew me into one last long, passionate kiss. “Now go home while you still have children to go home to.” “Yes sir,” I replied. The drive to our home in Oakland Hills was pleasant and gave me a chance to clear my mind and think about what was really important in my life, not that my work wasn’t important. For better or for worse, I’d made my choice to ignore my sexuality a long time ago, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that I was attracted to guys and had minimal attraction to women. Jen did do something for me, however. She really was my soul mate in a way — more of a best friend than a lover — but there was a physical attraction, too — just not a very strong one. If I were honest, however, when we made love, I’d always had to fantasize about — other things. By the time I arrived home, it was almost eleven o’clock and the kids were already in bed. Who was I fooling? I was a lousy father and my marriage was a sham. “Even on your anniversary, you had to stay late?” Jen said as I walked in the door. “Guilty as charged,” I answered her in return. “I guess I was just feeling a little more mortal than usual, thinking back on the last ten years and what little I’ve accomplished in my life.” “Oh, don’t be so hard on yourself, hon,” she said. “Your work’s going well, isn’t it?” she asked. “Very well, actually.” “I know our marriage isn’t what it could be, but we’ve got two wonderful kids, and you can’t help that… that you’re gay.” She said the words dejectedly — her tone somber. “What!” I practically shouted. “Honey, I know,” she said, patting me on the shoulder. “I’ve known for a while. Looking back, I probably knew all along, but like you, I didn’t want to know, and so I ignored it. We both saw what we wanted to see… the perfect marriage. “Now we’ve got two great kids and from what I’ve heard from most of my girlfriends, we’re not all that different from most families. Most of them don’t have much sex, either. Most of them aren’t all that happy with their husbands, but they love them nonetheless. I don’t know if we can stay together after Karen leaves the nest in eight years… I don’t know if anyone can make that kind of commitment these days.” “So, in the meantime you’re really OK with my being gay?” I asked. “I didn’t say that,” she answered. “I said I know about it. I can live with it. I still love you, and I hope you still love me, but if I ever find that you’ve been unfaithful… that you’ve been sleeping around on me… it doesn’t matter if it’s with a woman or with a man… you’d better lock up every knife and every razor blade in the house because so help me God, by the time you wake up one morning, your family jewels will be in the next county.” I couldn’t help but wince at the mere suggestion of that. “Dad?” came the sound of our son’s voice as he entered the kitchen. “Is it really true?” he asked. “Are you really gay?” This was not what either Jen nor I had been expecting. What were we going to tell our son? How do you explain to a twelve-year-old boy that his father is a homosexual? What words can you use to comfort him — to explain that it really doesn’t matter that his dad is sexually attracted to men rather than women? “Why don’t you sit down, Andy?” I said to our son. “Would you like a snack, maybe some milk and cookies?” Jen asked. Pulling up a chair and sitting down at the table with us, he said, “Actually, I have a feeling a cup of coffee may be more appropriate.” That was pure Andy — twelve going on twenty. “Why don’t you just give it to me straight.” Jen just looked at me and raised her eyebrows, throwing the ball right into my court. “Well, Andy,” I started to say, and then I paused and looked at my angelic son’s face. What could I say to make this right? He was so beautiful — so innocent. No matter what I said, he’d never look at me the same way again. He looked so much like his mother, with long, golden strands of hair, a flawless complexion, and yet there was the barest hint of a mustache on his upper lip — just enough to let me know that hormones were raging through his body. His golden eyes were bright and had that same sparkle of life he’d always had since the day he was born. There was just a hint of mischief in his smile — enough to let me know he knew more than he was letting on. “Yes, Dad? At this rate, I will need that coffee,” he said with a smirk. “First of all, how much of what your mother and I discussed did you hear?” I asked. “Dad, I think I heard pretty much all of it. That she’s always known you were gay, that most of her girlfriends aren’t having sex,” he said with a laugh, “and that she’ll cut off your equipment if you mess around… not that we see you very much as it is, Dad.” Thinking about what my son had said, it was obvious he knew a lot for a kid; a hell of a lot more than I did at his age, and so I decided to feel him out a bit more. “Andy, what do you know about being gay, and what do you think about it?” I asked. “Well, you know, you hear all sorts of stuff at school. We had a chapter on it way back in sex-ed, and the teacher made it very clear that it’s genetic and that most people are attracted to both boys and girls to some degree. Josh Reynolds and Dave Franklin are boyfriends and everyone knows it. They don’t try to hide it. If you’re gay, Dad, you can’t help being attracted to men, but then why’d you marry Mom?” “Andy, I don’t know if they taught you about all the discrimination based on sexual orientation that existed in the past, and that even exists to this day in many parts of the country and the world, but when I was your age, where I grew up, being gay was considered to be a sin by more than half the people, and thought to be a psychiatric disorder by nearly everyone else. Hell, gay sex was even illegal in most places even here in the U.S. I certainly didn’t want to be a sinner and I didn’t want to be mentally ill. “You may have heard about the Stonewall uprising for gay rights in your history classes, or if not yet, you will. It took Stonewall to change things, but even then, Stonewall happened in New York, and I grew up in St. Louis, and these changes took time. Stonewall happened when I was only three, but I might as well have been twenty-three… it came too late to have an impact on my growing up. By the time I graduated high school, it was ingrained in me that being gay was wrong.” “That’s just stupid, Dad. If you’re gay, you’re gay. There’s nothing wrong with being gay. You couldn’t help it. Why’d you let anyone tell you otherwise?” Reaching around the table, I gave my boy a big hug and said, “you’re a great kid, Andy, but you’ve seen the stuff on the news… you see how many people still feel homosexuality is wrong. Look at all the flack there is about gay marriage. Do you think it’s wrong for two men or two women to get married?” I asked. Andy scrunched up his face for a moment the way he always does when he’s considering something thoughtful, and then he said, “Jeremy Campbell has two moms… I don’t think they’re married. Well, I think one of them was married to a man, once, but then she got divorced, and then she had a civil union or something with his second mom. I mean, I know they can’t have children with each other, and I don’t really want to know how they have sex with each other… that’s just gross… but if they love each other, what difference does it make whether they’re married or not?” “That’s an excellent question, Andy,” I answered him. “Gay people want to have the same rights that heterosexual married couples have, including the right to inherit each other’s property, to visit each other in the hospital and make legal decisions for each other without having to draw up separate legal documents to do so, and to serve as guardians for each others’ children.” “Shit,” Andy said before he realized he’d accidentally used a curse word in front of his parents and blushed. “Oops, sorry. It just reminds me of the whole civil rights movement we learned about in school, you know?” “That’s exactly what this is all about, Andy, and nothing less,” Jen chimed in. “But you still haven’t answered my question, Dad. Why did you go along with it?” my son again asked. Thinking for a second, I said, “You ever notice how Grandma writes with her right hand, but opens jars left handed and even uses a left-handed pair of scissors?” “She does?” Andy asked. “Why’s that?” “Because when she was a girl, the teacher used to go around the room with a ruler in her hand and hit Grandma’s knuckles every time she tried to write with her left hand. You see, back then they thought it was abnormal to write left-handed. They thought it was unnatural. They forced Grandma to switch to writing with her right hand. That’s just what they did in those days.” “But why did they do that?” Andy asked. “Because they were absolute idiots. They didn’t want to know what the truth was and didn’t know what the hell they were doing, bud. Just like the religious nuts were and still are, well, nuts. Some thought a person was just plain stupid if they thought there was nothing wrong with boys who liked boys. “The problem is, when everyone tells you it’s wrong to feel what you feel, what are you going to believe?Who are you going to believe? All the guys were talking about girls and, naturally, I wanted to be like them. All the kids made jokes about queers or, worse still, used words like fag, fairy, pussy, and so on. I simply couldn’t be one of them.” “I think I understand, but you eventually came around, right? But not until after you met mom, and married her, and had us, huh?” my son asked. “Andy, I guess you could say I’ve been in varying states of denial since before I even started high school. There were times back then when I realized I had a crush on a boy and came tantalizingly close to coming out, only to slam the closet door shut, just as I realized what I was about to do. At other times, I was convinced I’d ‘cured’ myself of my malady and was as straight as the next guy. By the time your mom entered the picture, I was certain there wasn’t a gay bone in my body.” “Well, there was one…” Andy joked, teasingly. “Ooh Andy, that was bad,” Jen said. Suddenly, I got my son’s joke. Was he really only twelve? “Don’t you know that kids aren’t supposed to tell dirty jokes to their parents?Certainly not at your age.” “On that note, I think it’s time for us to all go to bed,” my wife said. “Sounds good to me,” I agreed. “Mom, Dad, one more thing. Do you think you’ll get a divorce?” Andy asked as he started to stand up. “Not on your life, tiger,” I answered. “Even though I may be gay, your mom and I still love each other very much.” “That’s great to hear,” he said, “’Cuz I’d hate to see you guys stay together just because of us. But you know… I have a lot of friends with divorced parents. If you guys do divorce some day because of the gay thing, I’ll understand. I’m not saying it’s what I want… not by a long shot.” He looked like he was about to tear up as he said, “It would make Karen and me very sad, but I’m cool with the gay thing.” Wrapping my arms around my son, I said, “You’re a great kid, Andy. I love you very, very much.” “I love you too, Dad. Thanks for being honest with me.” I kissed Andy on the cheek as I released him and watched him head back to his bedroom, I couldn’t help but think about how much I loved him — how much I loved both my kids. It would have been a shame if I’d never met Jen. Who knows, I might be happier living with a man, but I couldn’t imagine life without my kids. I’d been spending entirely too much time at the lab in an effort to avoid my marriage, and that had to change. I was missing out on seeing my children grow up. They’d only be kids once in their lives, and I had been relegating myself to a seat in the next county. Carl was right — my priorities had to change. As I got into bed with Jen, for the first in a long time, I felt at peace with myself. I even kissed her on the lips before snuggling into my pillow and drifting off to sleep. <<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>> I was having the weirdest feeling, like I was floating in space. It was like I was dreaming, but wide-awake at the same time. I’d never felt anything like it before. At first, I saw myself, but it wasn’t me, but itwas.I knew this didn’t make sense, but then I was dreaming, right? Slowly, things started to clarify and I really was looking at myself, but it wasn’t the ‘me’ I was used to seeing in the mirror every morning when I get ready for work. No, for one thing, this ‘me’ was older. I had more lines in my face — a lot more when you got down to it, and my hair was a lot grayer, too. My hair was parted the wrong way, but it was more than that. My mole on the left cheek was on the other side! No, everything was backwards. Or rather, everything was rightwards. This wasn’t a mirror image of me — this was the way I look in a photograph rather than in the mirror. This was the way everyone else sees me. “Hello, Chris,” the vision said to me. “Who are you?” I asked in return. “Well, I’m Chris, too, but isn’t that obvious?” “Sure, but what are you doing in my dream? I mean it’s not like I have an older brother or twin cousin or something.” “Chris, think about your research,” the apparition answered. “The answer is, literally, staring you in the face.” My eyes, at least the ones I had in my dream, opened wide in shock as I understood what my older apparition was saying — that he was me, communicating with me from the future! Could it really be? If so, how could I know it was real and not just my wishful thinking, manifesting itself in a dream? “Chris, I chose tonight to come to you for a reason. I could tell you about your tenth anniversary celebration, but that wouldn’t prove anything. By tomorrow, your anniversary and even your conversation with Andy will be a very distant memory. Tomorrow is a date no American will ever forget, comparable in stature to Pearl Harbor Day. “Unless you break from your usual pattern and watch or listen to the news in the morning, you’ll arrive at the lab to find the entire facility in lockdown. Tomorrow morning, terrorists will hijack four airplanes, flying two of them into the World Trade Center in New York, causing both towers to collapse, and a third into the Pentagon. Passengers on the fourth heroically will rush the cockpit, forcing the hijackers to run the plane into the ground, saving a fourth target, thought to be either the US Capitol or the White House. “When I return to you tomorrow night, you’ll know that I’m real, and our true conversation can begin.” With that, the image of my older self faded to black and I awoke with a start. “Honey, are you alright?” my wife asked. “Sure, I’m fine. I just had a nightmare is all,” I answered her. “Then just relax and go to sleep, darling,” she said in a soothing voice. Yeah, right. How could I go to sleep? If that really was my future self, communicating with me through the technology I was developing in the lab, then thousands of people were about to die. Could I do anything to stop the carnage, and might there be unintended consequences if I did? Failing to act was not an option — that’s what this whole project was supposed to be about. If only my future self had given me the flight numbers, I would have had so much more to go on. Perhaps it really was just a dream, but I didn’t feel I could take a chance. Getting out of bed, I headed to the study and called Jack. Jack would know what to do. After telling him the nature of my dream and what my future self had said, he replied, “That sure sounds pretty specific. Maybe it was a dream, but if so, it was a pretty elaborate dream, and knowing you, it’s not the typical sort of thing you’d dream up. Next time, remember to give us the flight numbers! Oh well, there’s still enough for us to put out an alert and catch the bastards if the threat is real.” “Thanks Jack. Give me a call if anything happens, OK?” I asked. “Will do,” he replied. I went back to sleep, wondering what September 11, 2001 would bring.
  8. Altimexis

    Introduction & Prologue

    PREFACE When I first conceived the story concept for Conversations With Myself, I couldn’t help but recognize the similarities to dkstories’s wonderful Do Over Series. Although I cannot deny the possibility that Dan’s stories had an influence on mine, right down to the idea of a mad scientist operating out of Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the San Francisco Bay Area, the genesis for my story came from a different spark. In Conversations With Myself, we are dealing with a case of convergent evolution of similar ideas rather than my ‘theft’ of Dan’s idea. However, I cannot deny a potential influence of Dan’s work. I have contacted Dan and have his full permission to develop my story concept. I would be remiss, regardless, if I did not pay tribute to dkstories, one of the finest authors on the Net. If you are familiar with the Do Over Series, you’ll recall that subjects are able to alter history by transferring their memories back in time, effectively reliving their lives over again from that moment onward. In principle, they are able to use a modified MRI machine to scan their current memories and then send these back through time, using them to rewrite the memories stored in their brain at some point in the past, overwriting what was previously there. A ‘quantum bubble’ that exists outside of normal space-time allows them to survive while the transfer takes place. In Conversations With Myself, I take a different approach. As with the Do Over Series, I assume that physical time travel is impossible, but that information can be sent back in time. Some incredible paradoxes would be created if one replaced their memories with an update from the future, so I wouldn’t even suggest doing that. The problem with time travel in any form has always been that it requires the ability to travel faster than light, or in this case to send information faster than light. My main character, Christopher Michaels, hypothesizes the existence of paired ‘quantum variations’ that exist in time, making it possible to form a tunnel between two points in time. Effectively, he can use the tunnel to share his thoughts with a former version of himself, but only to a distance of seven years in adulthood, and even less in adolescence. Although there is no actual time travel involved, it still amounts to meddling with the timeline, and there will certainly be paradoxes, and unintended consequences… <<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>> INTRODUCTION This story is narrated by Christopher Michaels, a physicist who does research in quantum physics, on the relationship between quantum states and time. He comes to work at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, one of the preeminent research facilities in the world for weapons development. Although Livermore is best known for its research on nuclear weapons, it employs a number of scientists working in obscure, often strictly theoretical areas of science — virtually anything with the potential to be used as a weapon either for or against the United States. Various aspects of time travel have always been of interest for a variety of reasons. Although considered unlikely to pan out in the end, anything that could be used to alter the course of history must be taken seriously and explored. The possibility that technology could be developed to alter the past, to undo our mistakes or to prevent a future national catastrophe makes Chris’ work something that cannot be ignored, no matter how hare-brained it may seem. The possibility that someone else could develop the technology first or steal it from us, then use it against us, is the stuff of nightmares. It’s the sort of thing that keeps presidents up at night. An apt description of Chris’ work describes it as a high-risk, high-yield project — one with little chance of success but that could literally alter the course of human history. Although the ability to send a person physically back in time remains the stuff of science fiction, what Chris discovers is no less powerful — the ability to send information back in time. Because he develops the ability to communicate with himself in the past, we will encounter Chris at a variety of stages throughout his lifetime, often within the same chapter. Although hypothetically, it might be possible for Chris to go back further in time to contact himself at any time since his birth, the plasticity of the brain in childhood effectively prevents making contact before early adolescence. Additionally, there is a seven-year limitation that makes it impractical to go back any further in time, once contact has been made. Chris will effectively establish a chain of communication going back into his own past. There will be five links in the chain connecting six nodes that represent specific time periods in his life. Even as he works toward building the chain, the seven-year limit will ensure that time progresses simultaneously in all six time periods. To avoid confusion, the table shown at the end of every chapter illustrates how each of these time periods is linked together. The table shows the year, the age Chris attains in April of that year and age that his son, Andy, attains in March of that year. Chris was born in April, 1966 and when we first encounter him, it will be at the age of twelve, in the fall of 1978 at the start of the seventh grade, his first year of junior high school. We will visit him in his mid-to-late teens, as he finishes high school and begins college, and in his mid twenties, when he struggles with graduate school and relationships, and the birth of his son. We will witness his early thirties and the beginnings of a very promising career in physics at the same time that he must deal with a very precocious young son. He also struggles with a very tenuous relationship with his wife, or is she just his girlfriend and the mother of his child, or is he living with a boyfriend instead? His late thirties and early forties are even more tumultuous, as the true genius of his teenage son becomes increasingly apparent, and as his own research becomes more and more critical to the survival of America, and the world. The story culminates as he approaches and reaches the age of 50, in 2016, or is that when the story actually begins? <<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>> PROLOGUE April 2016 • Chris-49 “Hey old man,” My lover of more than 25 years said as he entered the study, carrying a box. “You should talk,” I said in retort with a wink. “After all, you’re a year older that I am.” “That may be true, Chris, but you’re the one turning fifty tomorrow,” my husband replied as he set the box down in front of me. Yeah, we’d tied the knot just as soon as Massachusetts had legalized gay marriage. We were one of the first couples in line. “What’s in the box?” I asked. “Don’t know,” he replied. “I found it up in the attic when I was cleaning out some of our stuff. As you can see from the movers’ sticker, it came with us from California. It’s still taped up and doesn’t look like it’s been opened since then. I thought maybe you’d have an idea what it was.” Taking the scissors out of a drawer, I said, “Let’s find out.” Cutting the tape that was holding it closed, I opened the box and found a file box inside. Suddenly, I felt intensely nauseous and I had to sit down. “Chris, are you alright?” my soul mate asked. “I’m not sure,” was all I could manage to say. “Are you having a heart attack?… A stroke?” he asked.” “No, no, it’s nothing like that,” I said. “It’s the box. It’s something about the box. We need to put it back. We need to seal it back up. We mustn’t open it… ever.” “But why?” my lover asked. “I don’t know,” was all I could say. His curiosity piqued, he said, “It’s only a box, Chris, and there’s only one way to prove it to you as he pulled off the lid of the file box and blew out a layer of dust from within, where he found a series of hardcover journals that looked to be ancient. Taking out one after another, the covers were all labeled with my name, Christopher Allen Michaels, in my handwriting and dated from July 20 through July 25, 1978, when I was only twelve years old! My curiosity overcoming my sense of dread, I opened the first book and started to read what was inside. The pages were yellowed and the handwriting was very large and neat… much neater than my handwriting of today. The book was filled with incredible drawings and diagrams of fantastic machines. What I read was very compelling and disturbing: As I closed the first journal, I couldn’t help but feel the utter sense of despair of the twelve-year-old boy who had filled those pages. I had no recollection of having written those words, but apparently I wasn’t supposed to have remembered. I recalled getting off to a rocky start at the beginning of seventh grade, but then I somehow got into the rhythm of things and I learned not to let the taunting and the teasing get to me. I learned to take it and to dish it out in return, and I did indeed get a boyfriend, much to the dismay of my parents. 1978 in St. Louis was definitely not a time to be out. Even though we were careful, our parents discovered our relationship and the shit really hit the fan. My relationship with my parents remains strained to this day, thanks to those tumultuous times. But what if that wasn’t what really happened? Twelve year olds aren’t supposed to have the balls to do things like that, and definitely not gay twelve-year-olds especially back in the seventies in the Midwest. My parents were so conservative, too. My husband and I had both been graduate students at Stanford. We went on to do post-doctorates nearby, but by then had decided we were committed to each other and, for better or for worse, we weren’t going to look for jobs without consulting each other. I had a great job offer from Lawrence Livermore, but my better half really wanted to take an offer of an instructorship at MIT. I warned him that MIT had a reputation for chewing up and spitting out young professors, but he had family in the East and he really wanted to go there. Reluctantly, I applied for a job there as well and was also extended an offer, and so we headed to Cambridge. As it turned out, it was the best move of our lives. MIT can be a cruel place for the average ‘best and brightest’ young minds, but once young faculty members start bringing in the research grants, they are rewarded handsomely. We were both full professors with tenure by the time we were in our mid-thirties. Frankly, we had more graduate students and post-docs assigned to us than we knew what to do with. Undoubtedly, I was in a much better position to follow my dreams than I would have ever been at Lawrence Livermore. Of course, I never did get around to exploring the mechanics of temporal quantum variations beyond the theoretical, and the thought of actually building a machine to send communications back through time had remained the stuff of science fiction to me, until now…
  9. Altimexis

    Conversations With Myself

    For ten years Christopher Michaels had been doing research on sending information back in time. On the eve of September 11, 2001, he was forced to come out to his wife and son, but that paled in comparison to the dream he had that night. At first he laughed it off, but what if the dream was real? Little did he know when he contacted his boss that history would change. Not only would the Russians, Chinese and terrorists stop at nothing to get their hands on Chris and his time tunnel technology, but the very fabric of time itself would start to unravel.
  10. Altimexis

    Epilogue - Samuel Franklin Austin

    For days it felt like I’d been floating in a dense fog. Nothing made sense as I felt like I was on fire sometimes, and other times I was freezing. Then things started to clear and now I found myself sitting on a log with my feet dangling in a stream. It was densely wooded where I was, with sunlight filtering its way through the tree canopy above me, feeling good as it landed on my bare shoulders. Looking down I noticed two things immediately. The first thing was that I was much younger than I should have been. I looked and felt like I did when I was twelve years old. The second thing I noticed was that I was buck-naked. Strangely, nothing felt at all odd about being outdoors and in the nude. “It’s been a long time, Sammy,” I heard a voice speak to me from my right. I turned to see a face I hadn’t seen in a very, very long time. Seated next to me was another boy of about twelve whom I readily recognized - an African American youth named Jamal Sawyer - a boy with whom I’d shared a cabin the summer we were both twelve. Like me, he was also naked and, although we’d been forced to do sexual things with each other by our fucked-up counselor, Gary, for some reason our both being naked didn’t seem at all strange or perverted now. “Jamal, what are you doing here?” I asked. “The last time I saw you, you . . .” “Blew my brains out?” he responded. Rather than say anything, I merely nodded my head. “I guess I learned the hard way that suicide isn’t an end at all,” he replied. “Attempted murder and suicide is even worse. I just wanted it to end, you know? . . . I just wanted to finish off the demons in my head and to stop the constant abuse I was getting at home. I just wanted it to be over and in the fucked-up logic in my head, I wanted to punish those who were the least at fault for my condition. I wanted to punish those who had what I couldn’t have. I wanted to punish the gay boys who’d found acceptance in their homes.” “But Bret didn’t find acceptance at home,” I pointed out. “His father tried to fuck him up bad. It was only because his boyfriend’s parents took him in that he found acceptance.” “Sammy, I was messed up. I was hurting. I lived up in Fort Wayne, the headquarters of some of the most homophobic churches in America, including ours. I had no idea Bret had been through that. I only saw a black kid who was out and proud . . . and happy. I wanted that but I couldn’t have it, so he had to be punished. Pretty fucked up, huh? “Anyway, the afterlife isn’t anything like what they tell you about in Church. There’s no such thing as Heaven or Hell, but there are consequences for your actions on Earth. Killing yourself is falling just about as far as you can go. So is killing other people, or even trying to. It took me all this time to come to terms with what I did and I’m still working my way out of the abyss. “Thank God there’s no such thing as eternal damnation, although that would be a whole lot easier. Seriously, my life on Earth really was Hell as far as I was concerned. No afterlife could have been worse than that. Sure, what I did was wrong, but it did give me a shot at salvation. It’s only now that I realize just how much I messed up and what I need to do to make up for it.” “But there were mitigating circumstances,” I countered. “Surely what happened at camp should have been taken into account,” I suggested. “What happened at that church-run camp was important for a variety of reasons. It shaped many of our lives and it set things up for the future, a future you helped shape for the entire world.” “You make it sound like it was all planned,” I objected. “To an extent it was,” Jamal replied. “As terrible as the events were, they set in motion a chain of events that wouldn’t have happened otherwise. You, for example, were adopted by the Austins. Where do you think you’d be today if that hadn’t happened?” Thinking only briefly, I answered, “I’d probably be in jail . . . or dead.” “Exactly, Sammy,” Jamal replied. “Here you are, one of the most influential and important figures in history and you might have ended up in a wasted life, had you not endured those horrible events in the summer of 2008. Kurt would have likely ended up a two-bit minister, rejected by most congregations because of his being gay, and Trevor would have spent his life installing security systems. “Yes, what happened was part of a larger plan. The counselor you knew as Gary was a troubled soul who was easily manipulated. He didn’t do anything he wouldn’t have done anyway but, by doing them to us, he changed history. “Yeah, but look how it affected you!” I countered. “The sexual coercion put you over the edge. Your resentment became anger, simmered and, eventually, you exploded.” “It wasn’t Gary that made me explode, Sammy,” Jamal countered. “If anything it was Trevor. Gary didn’t do anything to me that my old man hadn’t already done to me before. Yeah, my dad was your typical homophobic closet case and he took out his frustrations by porking his sons . . . first me and then after I offed myself, he had a go at Terrence. “No, what set me off was watching Trevor and Kurt together . . . the way they touched and even kissed each other when they thought no one was looking. I saw how life was supposed to be and would never be for me. It’s a wonder I didn’t shoot Trevor in the chest, especially when he talked about how accepting his parents were.” “God, Jamal. I had no idea so much shit was going on in your life.” “I did my best to keep it hidden, and everyone at that camp seemed to have their own shit to deal with too. You sure as fuck did.” “And I’ve spent my life ever since trying to forget what my life was like before,” I admitted. “But your life on the streets played a huge role in making you who you are today, Sammy,” Jamal explained. “Would you have taken on teaching in an inner city school if not for that? “Even that terrible day in 2012 played a vital role. I know it affected all of you and I’m surprised none of you ever discussed the connection to the church camp scandal . . . it was mentioned in great detail in The Star and even on the national news, after all . . .” “But we’d already put the church camp scandal behind us.” I suggested. “None of us wanted to open old wounds and, the way things ended with you shooting yourself . . .” “That may be, Sam, but sharing your experiences with each other could have gone a long way toward getting over it. Instead you all went your own way and poor Trevor still has nightmares to this day. Hell, he was the junior counselor in our cabin. I can’t even imagine doing what he did, but he knew me and I guess he felt the need to try to stop what was happening. The professional counseling he got could only go so far. Believe me, I know. I went through a lot of counseling after the church camp scandal and, yet, I still went on a rampage. By talking openly about it with each other early on, you might have been able to help Trevor get through it.” “I never thought of that,” I responded, feeling guilty. Shrugging his bare shoulders, Jamal said, “You live and you learn from your mistakes, and you move on. “Anyway, the shooting incident did result in some positive things. It was the main reason Billy Mathews started the Sanctuary project. It gave Brad Reynolds a platform from which to speak about immigration reform . . .” “Speaking of which,” I interrupted, “who really killed Cam Dunnington’s mother? I can’t believe that Billy could have offed his best friend’s mother-in-law, let alone had anything to do with David’s death. Still, the rumors have persisted to this day and the mystery remains unsolved.” Laughing, Jamal replied, “You should know I can’t answer a question like that, Sammy. So long as my brother is alive, he has to be given every opportunity to make up for all the terrible things he did. “Yes, my little brother became a terrorist,” Jamal continued, “but even that had a purpose. He played a significant role in setting up the Reynolds assassination and in ensuring that the Vice President was killed along with the President’s double. Although he never knew it, Terrence’s involvement was directly responsible for the Secret Service taking action and saving David Reynolds’ life. You cannot begin to imagine how important his survival was and is to the future of the World. “That an innocent, elderly woman who would have died anyway of natural causes within a matter of months, was killed so that a sports hero could live is immaterial.” “So why are you telling me all of this, Jamal?” I asked. “What good is it to me now that I’m dead?” Placing his hand on my shoulder and getting a huge grin on his face, he responded, “Sammy, you’re not dead . . . at least not yet anyways. You’re still very much alive and you still have a large role to play in shaping the world. “You’re going to recover from your illness and your immune system will be restored. This dream-like state you’re in is the result of your body responding to the powerful drugs they’re giving you. Soon you’ll wake up and, with a little rehab, you’ll be stronger than ever.” “What more could there possibly be left for me to do?” I asked. “You’ve done great things for the world, but there’s still a lot more to be done, and you’re going to be pivotal in making it happen. “Your brief stint as the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. showed the world what you’re made of. You stood up to your own president, your childhood friend, forcing Brad to fire you when you put world interests ahead of the narrow interests of the United States. You were seen the world over as a hero and even your detractors had to admire your courage. It’s no wonder you were chosen to be the next Secretary General. “Now, you’re re-inventing the U.N. You convinced the General Assembly and the Security Council to review the charter and to convene a committee to look at revising it. What will emerge, with your guidance, will be a much more effective organization. “The U.N. will have a true legislative body, the World Congress, and a much more effective executive branch with an elected Secretary General and an appointed cabinet. And the World Court has already been strengthened, with effective ties to courts throughout the world. “Before you came along, the World Court could try individuals for war crimes and could mediate disputes between or among member countries, but only if all parties agreed to take their grievances to the World Court. Now, nations that fail to abide by the World Court are subject to serious sanctions. “Even the most powerful nations are learning that their internal affairs can be subject to world scrutiny and that there are consequences. Those used to solving their problems through war have learned that the price is not worth the effort. Truthfully, it never was but, with the U.N. having it’s own standing army and the ability to shut down ‘criminally negligent’ wars wherever and whenever they occur, why would anyone start a war when they can take their case to the World Court instead?” “Unless, of course, you’re the aggressor,” I pointed out. “But with the threat of economic sanctions, air strikes and even U.N. troops on your soil, you aren’t likely to risk being an aggressor.” “Yes, but what more can I do?” I asked. “I seriously doubt that most countries will be willing to cede any more power than they already have.” “That’s where you’re wrong, Sam,” Jamal countered. “The establishment of the World Congress will happen, but not without you leading the charge. As long as there are human rights abuses, your work will not be done. The only way to address human rights issues is to get all of the nations of the world to open up and be seen by the light of day.” “And how am I supposed to do that?” I asked. “So long as corrupt regimes are able to amass power and wealth and to keep the downtrodden under their thumbs, change will be impossible.” “I knew you’d find the answer if you thought about it, Sam.” Jamal replied. “The problem is corruption, pure and simple. Politicians can amass power in two ways . . . legitimately through the will of the people, or by buying it. Even in America, too many politicians’ loyalties are up for sale. Brad did a lot to curb that and the Kramer Court’s decision that political claims are subject to the same rules of false advertising as any other product, will probably do even more to even the score. In the coming years, watchdog groups armed with new, powerful statistical tools will make it virtually impossible to trade political favors without getting caught in the act. Transparency is the key. “You need to convince the world that corruption is not inevitable, and you’re the one person who commands enough respect to make people listen. You have the ability to galvanize the people of the world to fight corruption wherever it exists. Again your best weapon is transparency. You alone can convince the world to adopt political and economic reforms on a par with those introduced by the Reynolds brothers and by Jeremy Kimball.” “That’s going to be a tough sell,” I replied. “All of North America, Japan and a smattering of countries around the globe have already adopted the Reynolds Doctrine. Rules establishing a level playing field are at the core of their economies,” Jamal countered. “Look at how dramatically things have improved in Argentina, for example, since they did so. Getting the entire Western Hemisphere under the Reynolds Doctrine is not only possible, but you will make it happen within the next ten years.” “The European Union and the former communist countries will never go along with it,” I lamented. “In Europe, the labor unions are steadfastly opposed to market reforms that could undermine their power, even though they would put an end to exploitation. The result has been a stalemate.” “And exploitation is the name of the game in the European Union,” Jamal challenged. “For more than a century they’ve been bringing in guest workers, mostly from Muslim countries, and treating them as second-class citizens. When the immigrants failed to assimilate and adopt Western culture, they forced them into enclaves and tried to isolate them, suppressing their political power and, in some cases, even their ability to vote. Some countries are already majority Muslim and, yet, the Muslims have no power.” “But the immigrants haven’t exactly made an effort to fit in,” I pointed out. “I’m not saying they should abandon their culture or their values, but they can’t expect to live by third world standards in the first world and be welcomed. Look at New York,” I went on. “Riding the subway, you’re very likely to see a Muslim woman in a scarf standing next to an Orthodox man with a long beard and a broad hat. They’ve retained their culture, their traditions and their core beliefs, even as they are respectful of each other. And they bathe!” “That’s a two-way street, Sammy,” Jamal countered. “You can’t expect immigrants to adopt Western standards when the West treats them as the enemy within. In New York there are established immigrant communities ready to assist those newly arrived. The immigrant communities of Europe only serve to further isolate the new arrivals. At least since Jeremy Kimballs’ eulogy at David’s funeral, things have slowly gotten better. Fundamentalist leanings are in significant decline among the youth throughout the world and, as a result, minority youth within Europe are more willing than ever to integrate into their host societies . . . they just don’t want to lose their identities. Europe as a whole needs to find a way to make it happen and, with your help, they will. Trust me, if you can do that, political and economic reforms will follow.” It all sounded far-fetched and yet, somehow, I knew he was right. The whole idea that I could still have an impact, even in my mid-sixties, however, seemed absurd. “You’re still young, Sammy,” Jamal countered as if reading my thoughts, which he obviously was. If nothing else, you need to be around when the last of the world’s stockpile of nuclear weapons is handed over to U.N. control. “But even if all of my proposals are adopted, at the earliest that won’t happen until December 31, 2100!” I cried. “Do you have any idea how old I’ll be if I’m still alive when that happens?” “Of course I know,” Jamal replied. “We were both born in 1996. You’ll be almost 105.” My head spun imagining what it might be like to still be alive at that age. I couldn’t wrap my brain around it no matter how hard I tried. “Like I said, Sammy, you’re still young. There’s plenty of time to tackle corruption, even forcing the former communist countries . . . countries with economies based on corruption . . . to reform their ways.” “And if I do all this, the world will be at peace for ever and ever?” “Of course not, Sam,” Jamal replied, “but there will come a time when Mother Earth is irrelevant to the survival of humankind. You just need to set the world on the path of peace long enough for that to happen. No matter when the end may come, whether it be from global warfare or human-induced climate change, or even when the next asteroid strikes, it will be a tragedy. However it would be an even greater tragedy if it happens while humankind is still stuck on Earth. The framework you establish for maintaining peace and prosperity will give humanity the time it desperately needs to colonize space. The Earth is only our birthplace. Our destiny lies far beyond.” “Wait a minute,” I said with a pause, “you know something about what’s going to happen in the future, don’t you? You know how and when the world will end!” “Sammy, I only know a little more about the future than you do. The one thing I know for certain is that, someday, the world as we know it will come to an end, much as it did for the dinosaurs. That may not happen for millions of years, or humans may manage to destroy the planet in mere decades. We just want to put off the possibility of the end coming from war and destruction long enough that it becomes irrelevant to humanity’s future. Putting an end to these things is the first step in leaving the cradle. It’s time for us to embrace our future.” “Jamal, who is ‘we’?” I asked. Getting a grin on his face, Jamal responded with, “I have to go now, Sam. I have nothing more to tell you at the moment. Besides which, you already know everything you need to know to proceed with your destiny. You just needed a pep talk to hang in there and get back on your feet.” Jamal literally vanished before my eyes and then the entire scene faded away and I started to feel achy and feverish. My body shook with chills. What did I just experience? Was it all a dream? Slowly consciousness began to return. I became aware of being in a bed - a hospital bed - and I could sense the presence of people around me. I still felt achy and feverish and I still had chills, but I didn’t feel quite so sick anymore. I squirmed in bed and moaned without even realizing I was doing it. “Sammy, are you awake?” I heard as a hand squeezed mine. I recognized the voice as that of my wonderful husband. I managed to open my eyes and realized that I wasn’t separated from him by a barrier anymore. I also saw that he was not alone. Standing next to him was David. Even though he was wearing a surgical gown, a mask and gloves like the others, I would recognize his face anywhere. I smiled up at him, grateful that Jeremy had found him. Standing next to David was tall woman that I didn’t recognize. Although it seemed strange, somehow I knew she was his wife and I was happy for him, that he’d managed to find someone with whom to share his life. On the other side of the bed were my stepdaughter, Sandy, my step-son, Josh, and his husband, Alan. We were all here, reunited at last, and it felt wonderful. It was at that moment that my stomach rumbled loudly, making everyone chuckle or laugh. Fed intravenously, it had been days, or maybe weeks since I’d last had a proper meal. Was I ever hungry! “You know what I feel like?” I barely managed to croak through my bone-dry vocal cords. Getting down on his knees and placing his mouth right next to my face, Jeremy took my hand in both of his and asked, “What is it, Honey. I’ll get you anything you want.” Turning to look him in the eyes, I replied, “I’d like a nice, thick, juicy, blood-rare steak.” I could imagine the amused look I must have had on my face as my husband practically turned green before my eyes. I didn’t know about the woman next to David, but everyone else around me was a vegetarian and, before long, they were all laughing their heads off. Perhaps I really would be around for another forty years and, if so, I hoped it would be with my family at my side. Continuing to hold Jeremy’s hand in my left and taking David’s in my right, I squeezed their hands, eagerly looking forward to the future.
  11. Altimexis

    Confronting the Future - David Reynolds

    We pulled up in front of a huge glass and steel skyscraper - it looked to be forty or fifty stories high and, together with two shorter, but otherwise identical neighboring towers and two more under construction, dwarfed everything else in the surrounding neighborhood. “This is where you live?” I asked, stating the obvious. “Seven years now,” Jeremy answered as the doorman opened the door to the Limo. “Welcome home, Mr. President, the doorman said as he opened the door to the building for us. “There was just this one tower when we bought it, but the developer had plans and approval for the other four and so we proceeded with them, once it became obvious that occupancy would not be a problem.” Jeremy stepped up to what was labeled as the Penthouse elevator and submitted to a retina scan, and the doors opened. As we all stepped inside, Jeremy’s words finally reached my consciousness and I asked, “Wait a minute. Are you saying you own the whole building?” “We own all five buildings, plus the shopping complex that’s going up on the adjacent property. Actually it was Josh and Alan who bought the development when the previous owner refused to offer us a deal. We were, after all, buying two penthouse apartments and renting what ended up being two entire floors of office space. We figured our presence in the building was worth a great deal in terms of attracting other tenants, as has indeed proven to be the case. This turned out to be an excellent investment for all of us. Not that we asked for it, but Josh and Alan gave Sam and me a fifty percent share in the corporation that owns the development.” I almost couldn’t wrap my head around what Jeremy was saying. He’d always had money and grew up with affluence, but this was something from a whole other realm. It was the difference between being affluent or maybe rich and being super rich. I just couldn’t relate. Soon, the elevator reached the top floor and it opened directly into a cavernous expanse of an apartment. The lights came on automatically as we exited the elevator to reveal an enormous great room with floor-to-ceiling windows that looked out on all of Manhattan. The ceiling had to be at least twenty feet high. The World Trade Center and City Hall were dead center and the other jewels of the Manhattan skyline spread out in both directions. I was drawn like a magnet to the windows directly ahead of us and, as we approached, a door automatically opened to reveal an enormous terrace. “Is it OK to go outside?” I asked my ex-husband. The last thing I wanted to do was set off an alarm and bring the wrath of the Secret Service upon me. Grabbing my wife’s hand, we went through the door and walked out onto the terrace. Once outside, I noticed that it wrapped around the entire building. Numerous containers were spread about with potted plants and even some trees. Hand in hand with Rebecca, we walked forward to the railing, looking out at the expanse of New York City before us. At this height we could barely hear the sound of traffic on FDR Drive and Houston Street, hundreds of feet below us. There was a chill in the air and I put my arm around Becky, drawing her close to me. It was then that I looked over to see Jeremy and Sandy standing nearby but not intruding on our space. What I saw when I looked at my former husband was only happiness. I didn’t see an ounce of jealousy in his eyes. Jer seemed to be truly happy for what Becky and I had together. A moment later, a Secret Service agent came up to Jeremy and said, “Mr. President, your son and his husband are here to welcome you home.” Looking at me, Jeremy said, “Come, David. Come meet the wonderful man we raised and the man he loves.” “Just remember that my name is Ron,” I reminded Jeremy, as I certainly wasn’t ready to let Josh know that I was still alive. “You can tell him that you met me through my books,” I added, just in case the subject came up. It was with some trepidation that I re-entered Jer and Sam’s apartment. I’d followed Josh and Alan's career in music ever since I saw the video of young Josh singing at my funeral. Even then he had an amazing voice and it had only grown smoother and richer over the years. A well-known music critic once wrote that Josh was another Paul McCartney, with Frank Sinatra’s voice and Eric Clapton’s skills on the guitar - impressive words from someone not known to heap praise on anyone. Actually it turned out it was Alan who was the real McCartney, but he seemed to prefer to let Josh have the limelight. Josh and Alan always sang to sold-out performances. A few years back, Rebecca and I had gone to see them in concert. We paid over a thousand each for tickets in the nosebleed section and it had been worth every penny. We could have spent half as much to see just about any other performer, and for front row, orchestra seats. Josh and Alan were unequaled and could command top dollar for a reason and, yet, they were very generous when it came to giving frequent, free performances and playing at charity events. By the time I walked through the door, Jeremy was already enveloped in Josh’s arms. The love the two of them shared was evident. At 33, Josh was an extremely handsome, youthful-appearing man. Alan, if anything, was even more attractive. I recalled meeting him when he was a young boy and the resemblance to Zach Taylor was astounding. He still had long hair and boyish good looks that would probably never fade. Josh and Alan both exchanged hugs with Jeremy and with Sandy, and then they came face-to-face with Rebecca and me. What happened next was completely unexpected. What I thought would happen was that we would be introduced to the two of them as Ron Jeffers, a noted author, and his wife. Thanks to the effects of the disease and of course the effects of aging, I thought I looked nothing like the David Reynolds of old. I’d never even contemplated having my appearance surgically altered, and it was only as Josh too a long hard look at me that I wished I had. It was as our eyes made contact that I saw the flash of recognition, and he started to tremble as tears came to his eyes. Still looking at me and never breaking eye contact, he cried, “I . . . I buried you. I sang at your funeral. I watched your casket being lowered into the ground and then I threw a shovel of dirt onto it. “For eighteen . . . fucking . . . years . . . I believed you were dead. Was it all some kind of joke, Pop? Was it all a game? Were you and Dad laughing at my expense?” “It wasn’t like that at all, Josh . . .” Sandy tried to explain, but Josh wasn’t having any of it. Like his pop, he was a stubborn man. “You knew about this, Sis? You knew? You knew about it and you went along with it, keeping me in the dark?” “The only reason I knew,” Sandy replied, “was because Pop needed my stem cells to survive. He had an incurable disease, Josh. A neurodegenerative disease that was robbing him of the ability to walk, to talk and to think . . .” “And that’s supposed to make this whole ruse OK?” Josh interrupted. “You fucking believe all of this is OK?” “Pop was dying, Josh,” Sandy added. “He would not have survived to run for a second term . . .” “There really was an assassination attempt,” Jeremy chimed in. “Had it not been for a well-meaning Secret Service agent, Pop really would have died in that horrible RPG attack. By all rights he could have continued as president, but he recognized that the country would be better off losing him to a terrorist attack as a martyr than watching him die a slow death from a neurologic disease no one even heard of before. “Pop gave everything up . . . the life he had . . . his husband and his children . . . all for the sake of the country.” “But you could have told me,” Josh countered. “I could have had the last eighteen years with Pop but, no, that was taken from me. I wasn’t even given a choice. You all stole eighteen fucking years that I should have had with my pop.” “But I was dying, Josh,” I interjected. “I wasn’t supposed to live more than another two years. There was no cure for my disease at the time. The last thing I wanted to do was to put you through the pain of losing me twice. And don’t forget . . . I lost you too.” “But you didn’t even give me a fucking choice, did you?” “You were only fifteen Josh, and Sandy was seventeen,” I reminded him. “Neither of you was ready to face something that big in your young lives. Losing a parent at such a young age is a tragic thing, but losing them, only to then have them back and watch them die a slow, painful death would have been unimaginable.” “He’s right, Joshy . . .” Sandy tried to interject. “But you could have contacted me when I was old enough to deal with it, and I’ve been dealing with all kinds of shit since I was fifteen, when I thought my pop died. I’ve been performing on stages all over the world since then. Like it or not, I was thrust into the adult world from the moment that RPG struck. “And who is this floozy anyway,” he screamed as he looked at my wife. “Joshua, I’d like you to meet Rebecca, my wife,” I replied. Rather than say anything, Josh stormed out of the apartment, to where I didn’t know. “He’ll come around,” Alan responded as the sound of Josh’s footsteps faded. “Josh is a good man, and fair. You just gave him the shock of his life . . . well, me too . . . but he’ll come around.” I wished I could be so sure. ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ Too wound up and too worried about Josh to even think about sleep, we spent the night talking about just about anything and everything. Of course we were all worried about Sammy too but it was after ten PM and, hence, there would be no more news until the morning. Talking helped keep our minds off both of our major worries. I filled Alan in on what had been happening in my life over the past eighteen years, and he told story after story about his and Josh’s life on the road. I was astounded to learn that they had a far greater repertoire of unreleased songs than songs they’d released. They were their own harshest critics and wouldn’t release a song until and unless it was perfect from their perspective. I was particularly impressed by an ambitious project they’d recently started, appropriately called, ‘Songs Time Forgot’. With the help of a small army of professionals, Josh and Alan had set out to identify the best songs of the past hundred years that never made the top forty. Organized by decade and starting with the 1950s, they planned to arrange, record and release up to twenty-five songs per decade. Their goal was to cover one decade every year for the next ten years. “Any more than that and there wouldn’t be time left to write and record our own songs,” Alan explained. “We’ve had to be ruthless when it comes to picking and choosing only the best of the best and, even then, a lot of outstanding music will be left behind.” Acknowledging that their publication schedule might be too ambitious, he added with a laugh, “By the time we finish, it might be time to start work on the next hundred years.” I couldn’t help but admire the respect and love Alan had for his husband when he spoke of him. “If we’re lucky, God sends us someone with an extraordinary voice once in a lifetime,” Alan said. “Sometimes I can hardly believe the incredible luck of him coming into my life. All that talent . . . and it’s me he chose to spend his life with.” “But you’re talented too, Alan,” I countered. “It’s your song-writing abilities that have made the two of you so successful . . .” “Our writing is a collaborative effort,” Alan interrupted. “A collaboration in which you provide most of the imagination,” I countered, “even if it’s Josh who’s your inspiration.” That thought brought a smile to Alan’s face. “What you and Josh have accomplished is no less significant than what The Beatles did a century ago,” I continued. “In my youth, popular music was all about synthesizers, flash and dazzle, with a heavy bass beat. Today it’s all about the melody. The songs you and Josh have written are meant to be sung and, thanks to you, so are most of the songs of today.” Shaking his head, he replied, “I would have never made it on my own as a musician. It’s Josh the audiences come to see. I’m just thrilled I get to spend my time creating something beautiful with the man I’m in love with.” The love and admiration Alan felt for his husband was as clear as day. “There are times I regret that we never had the opportunity to go to college,” Alan continued. “We were always way too busy writing, recording, performing our music, and just having fun, but we’ve always made the time to read. Joshy and I are as well read as anyone. We especially like your books, Pop. They’re fantastic.” I felt myself blushing in response to Alan’s praise. I’d received much praise for my writing, but it was somehow different hearing it from my son-in-law. “You can always go to college after you retire as musicians,” I pointed out. “That is something that seems eons away,” Alan countered, “and if Joshy really is the next Frank Sinatra, we may never retire.” “The two of you can’t live someone else’s life, Alan,” I challenged. “No matter what ‘they’ say, you aren’t Sinatra or McCartney, or anyone else for that matter. You are Josh and Alan and, someday, they’ll be comparing new stars to you. You have enough money to last several lifetimes . . .” “Most of which has gone to the Reynolds Foundation,” Alan interrupted. “But even then, you’re in no danger of starvation,” I countered, “nor are your children, nor your children’s children. You don’t need the money, which is exactly why you’ve given most of it away. The day you no longer enjoy what you do is the day you should retire.” “That’s just it, Pop,” Alan agreed. “Josh and I absolutely love our music. For us it’s almost a religious experience. To create something of beauty . . . to conceptualize it . . . to make it real . . . to share it with so many people and bring them joy is like a calling. It’s who we are. Some performers get caught up in the glitz and the glamour of it all . . .” “As do a lot of politicians,” I pointed out. “Josh and I just plain love making music, and we love sharing it with other people who appreciate good music and the wonderful gift of the voice God gave my husband.” By the time we finally went to bed, I couldn’t help but admire the fine young man my son had married, but I was terribly worried about Josh. He’d apparently left the building without the benefit of the Secret Service or his personal bodyguard. He didn’t take a car or a driver and apparently left on foot. The buses and subways run all night in New York, and taxis are ubiquitous, so he could have gone anywhere. Alan assured me that there were clubs, restaurants and bars in the nearby East Village that would be filled with young patrons until the wee hours of the morning. Josh had very likely sought refuge in one of them. Still, he was a major celebrity and was as much at risk from his fans as Jeremy and I had ever been from the general population. At least this was New York, where celebrities often could be found out and about among the public. ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ “Grandpa! Grandpa!” I heard the squeals of children in my half-conscious state. We’d gotten to bed only an hour or two earlier, just as the sky was beginning to lighten in the east. The sound of another squeal reminded me of where we were as Becky started to stir. “There’s no sleeping in when there are little kids in the house,” I commented. Giving me nothing more than a grunt in return, I gave my wife a gentle squeeze on the shoulder as I started to get out of bed. “What time is it?” she asked groggily as she started to sit up in bed. “Somewhere around 6:30,” I replied. “And we got to bed, when?” She asked. “Four . . . maybe five o’clock by the time we got undressed.” “Today’s going to be a fun day,” she stated sarcastically before she caught herself and added, “Oh, I’m so sorry. I almost forgot why we’re here.” Rather than say anything, I just gave her another squeeze on the shoulder as I got out of bed and made my way to the en-suite bathroom. Whereas the bedroom had thick window coverings that, when closed, kept the room dark, the bathroom provided an unimpeded view of the city. It was sunrise and the reflection of the fiery red light of the rising sun off the buildings of downtown was simply magical. I’d never seen anything like it and couldn’t imagine what it must be like to arise every morning to this. After emptying my bladder, I stepped into the shower and quickly washed away the smell from having been cooped up in a car all day yesterday. Becky took her shower while I brushed my teeth and shaved. Rather than getting dressed, however, I threw on my robe and made my way down the stairs from the loft to the main level of the apartment. Jeremy was similarly attired, sitting in one of the many plush chairs that occupied the great room and reading the New York Times on his tablet. As I sat down across from him, a pajama-clad girl of perhaps seven or eight, streaked by us, chased by a pajama-clad boy of about nine or maybe ten. A moment later, a disheveled-appearing Alan staggered by, clad only in a skimpy pair of shorts. I couldn’t help but stare at his nicely muscled torso and his long, silky hair as it flowed across his shoulders. Even at 34, he looked incredibly hot. “You’re definitely still a healthy gay boy under it all,” Jeremy chuckled, reminding me of where I was. “I can’t believe you caught me staring at my own son-in-law,” I whispered under my breath. “I would have been surprised if you didn’t stare,” Jer replied. “Let’s face it, Alan is one of the best-looking guys in America. Only a corpse wouldn’t find him attractive. He’s practically the very definition of sexy. Men, women, boys and girls of all ages chase after him but, fortunately for Josh, he only has eyes for his husband.” “They love each other like we did,” I commented. “I was reluctant at first to let them marry so young, but Josh kept pestering me that they were the same age as you and I were when we got married. Realistically, they’d effectively been a couple since the day they met in the Underground White House. They rarely spent time apart and, as they became more and more involved in their music, they practically lived together. It was Sammy, however, who pointed out the obvious . . . that they were soul mates. Making them wait to marry was no less stupid for them than it would have been for us.” “Josh is right,” I began. “I may have been well-intentioned, but I had no right to make that kind of a decision unilaterally. I deprived him of eighteen years we could have known each other. At least I told you. Josh didn’t even have that much. It was a terrible mistake.” “You meant well, David,” Jeremy replied. “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions,” I responded. “I just hope Josh is OK.” “Josh is fine,” Alan answered as he entered the area. “He went to a couple of bars last night after leaving here . . . he even sang at one of them and we’ll probably be seeing excerpts on YouTube later today,” he added with a laugh. “Then when the bars closed, he went for a run up and down East River Park. It probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do, but he needed to blow off steam and, with a seven-mile uninterrupted jogging and biking trail, that’s a good place to do it.” “How do you know all that, Alan?” I asked. “It’s thanks to a wonderful invention, Pop, called the mobile phone.” “I thought we already tried that last night?” I responded. “We did,” Alan replied, “but just because he turned it off last night didn’t mean he kept it off.” “So where is he now?” I asked. Looking at his wristwatch, Alan answered, “He should be passing under the 59th Street Bridge about now, which means he’ll be home in about an hour and a half.” “Wait a minute,” I started to ask, “doesn’t the East River Bikeway stop at the U.N.?” “It used to,” Jeremy explained, “up until about ten years ago, when they finally replaced the section of FDR Drive that runs under the U.N. and added a new seawall, extending the park in the process.” Just then a pair of children whizzed by, then the boy leapt into the air and landed on the floor, cross-legged, in front of his daddy while the girl landed right in my lap. “David and Celeste,” Alan began, “I’d like you to meet your Cousin Ronny. Actually, he’s Uncle Dan’s cousin, third or fourth removed, whatever that means, but you can call him Cousin too.” “But you called him ‘Pop’,” David pointed out. “I guess I did,” Alan acknowledged. “I guess it’s because I kind of think of him like one of my dads.” Looking right at me, David continued, “Cousin Cliff says you’re really President Reynolds . . . that he didn’t really die and that you’re him, which makes you our grandpa. I thought Cousin Cliff was making it all up. I didn’t think you even existed, but he’s right. You look a lot like our Daddy Josh.” I was sure I visibly paled when young David said that. Sandy’s Cliff had confronted me about my identity two years ago, when he told me out of the blue he’d figured it out. Even though I kept denying it, he still asked me every time he saw me. Obviously my grandchildren were way too smart for me and I was going to have to take a different approach, and to make sure they knew not to share their thoughts with anyone else. “Guys,” I began, “even if what your Cousin Cliff said were true, you know I couldn’t tell you about it. True or not, something like that could cause all sorts of trouble if it ever got out. Something like that would have to be kept secret and you can’t tell it to anyone . . . not even your best friends.” “But it’s true, isn’t it?” David asked. “Even if it were true, I couldn’t tell you,” I reiterated. “I hear you loud and clear, Grandpa,” David responded. “Can I call you ‘Grandpa’ too?” Celeste asked. “I think you’d better stick to calling me ‘Cousin Ron’,” I replied. “You never know when someone might overhear you, maybe even a reporter, and then it would be all over the news. So especially when we’re in public, you need to stick to calling me Cousin Ron. Got it?” I worried that Celeste was too young to understand, but then she said, “I got it, Cousin Ron,” as she snuggled up with me in my lap, “but to me you’ll always be ‘Grandpa’. It’s a secret and I can’t tell anybody. Not even my very best friend,” she added as she shook her head. God, how could I have ever denied myself contact with these wonderful kids? Finally, Becky walked down the stairs from the loft. She was also wearing a bathrobe. “I can’t believe I fell back to sleep. I got out of the shower, sat down on the bed and the next thing I knew, I was waking up all over again in bed.” “Kids, this is your Cousin Becky,” I said by way of introduction. “Does that mean she’s our grandma?” Celeste asked. “Only by marriage,” Rebecca answered and then turning to me, added, “It sounds like I missed quite a conversation.” “Remember what I told you about what Cliff has been trying to get out of me for the past two years?” I began. “It seems the New York cousins have been comparing notes with their North Carolina cousins.” “Which means that Cindy and Tommy probably know, too,” Becky responded. “We’ll definitely have to have a talk with them when we get back home,” I concurred. It was at that moment that Sandy finally got up and, noting that no one had even bothered to think about food, chastised us by uttering a single word, “Men!” Appropriately reprimanded, we ended up making a family project of preparing breakfast together. From what I gathered, preparing his own food was not something Jeremy had done in quite some time. He’d been spoiled by having Sammy around all those years! We ended up preparing a vegetarian feast with tofu omelets, bagels and lox and even knishes from down the street. Just as we were finishing our breakfast, there was a ding and the elevator doors opened to reveal my Josh, clad only in shorts and sneakers, with his shirt hanging from his shorts and a jacket tied around his waist. Sweat glistened from his face and torso and man, did he ever look hot, just like his husband. Neither one looked to be a day over twenty, even though they were more than a decade older than that. “You made good time, Honey,” Alan mentioned just before he kissed my son on the lips. “I would have been here even sooner if I hadn’t had to sign so many damn autographs along the way. But it comes with the territory,” he added. “That it does,” Alan agreed as he pulled Josh into a hug and gave him a longer, more passionate kiss. Pulling out of the kiss, he added, “Man, do you ever stink!” “Guess I better take a shower before I join you for breakfast, huh?” Josh asked. “Unless you want to eat your breakfast out on the terrace, I think that might be a good idea,” Alan replied with a smirk. “There’s something I’ve got to do first,” Josh added. Then coming over to me and standing right in front of me, he said, “Pop, I’m sorry. I’m really, really sorry. You just threw me for a loop there . . .” Then realizing his kids were in the room, he added, “Perhaps we should discuss this in private.” “It’s OK, Josh,” I replied. “It seems they already knew who I was, although I had to categorically deny it,” I added as I looked down at Celeste in my lap and winked at her. “Cliff, Sandy’s son, confronted me two years ago and even though I’ve consistently denied being anyone other than Cousin Ronny, it didn’t stop him from discussing his thoughts with his New York cousins. And as your own son pointed out, we do look a lot alike.” Looking at me with a twinkle in his eye, Josh said, “They’re smart, Pop. Scary smart sometimes.” “Just like their dads,” I added as I hugged and tickled my grandaughter. “Just like their grandfathers,” Josh related with a genuine smile, and then added, “See what you’ve been missing, Pop?” “You were right, Josh,” I replied. “I had no right to make the decision for you. I had no right to deny us the past eighteen years we might have had together. It was wrong of me.” “It certainly was,” Josh agreed, “but I understand why you did it, and I forgive you. More than anything else, however, promise me you’ll never do anything like that again. Promise me you won’t make me feel the pain of losing you ever again until the day you die. Promise me that, Pop. Promise me that and I’ll promise to always be there and to always love you.” Looking up at us and seeing the tears streaming from our eyes, Celeste had the good sense to get up from my lap and run over to where Alan now stood. Josh and I pulled each other into a tight embrace and held each other for what all were worth, knowing we would do everything we could to keep from hurting each other ever again. ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ It had been an emotional, roller coaster of a day. Shortly after Josh and I made up with each other, Jeremy checked in with the hospital and found that Sammy was still feverish and lapsing in and out of consciousness. The tests they’d run wouldn’t be back until later in the afternoon, so we were advised to wait until then. When Jer did call back, all he was told was that there were some ‘interesting’ developments and to come by at around six in the evening. We decided to go out for dinner first at a favorite restaurant in nearby China Town before making the short trip to New York University Medical Center. Apparently Jeremy and his family were frequent customers of the restaurant and were always given a private room at a moment’s notice. No sooner had we made the reservation than we were on our way. I hadn’t packed any dress clothes and was surprised that we could eat out on a Saturday afternoon, dressed so casually, but the order of the day seemed to be shorts, T-shirts and sneakers. Dinner far exceeded my expectations. The food was not just outstanding - it was superb. I’d had many Chinese meals while occupying the White House, including some in China itself, but nothing could hold a candle to this. And what was particularly great was that it was all seafood and vegetarian. Not a speck of pork, chicken or beef fried rice was in sight. I was completely stuffed by the time we left the restaurant at 5:30 to make the short trip up First Avenue. I wasn’t sure why we left so much time to travel less than two miles, but I forgot that this was New York on a Saturday evening. We ended up in very heavy traffic and didn’t get to the hospital until it was nearly six o’clock! When we arrived on the infectious diseases ward, where Sam was in reverse isolation in intensive care, Jeremy immediately asked to have Sammy’s doctor paged. I was surprised that the doctor came so quickly but, then, he was talking to a former U.S. President about the Secretary General of the United Nations. The doctor, who introduced himself as Dr. Langston, told us he couldn’t talk to all of us at once and asked that we select only two or three people among us to serve as spokespersons for the group. Jeremy of course needed to be one of those, and Josh was the logical second, but I was flabbergasted when Jeremy insisted that I be the third person. Dr. Langston took us to a small room with subdued lighting and a few soft chairs. I knew immediately that this what was commonly referred to as a grief room - a place for patients’ family members to be given bad news. I was already expecting the worst when Dr. Langston actually smiled. “The human body is an amazing thing,” the doctor began. “It certainly looked like the experimental transplant had failed. Dr. Austin’s blood counts were near zero. His response to the cytokines we were pumping into his body was non-existent. We had every reason to believe we were at the end of the rope. But then something wonderful happened. He developed a fever. “To a person with an intact immune system,” Dr. Langston went on to explain, “a fever usually means the body is fighting an active infection. The trouble was that Sammy didn’t have a functioning immune system. The fact that he was mounting a fever at all meant he had to at least have something that was working. So of course we did what doctors have always done . . . we ran some tests. I didn’t mention any of this before because I didn’t want to get your hopes up. “What we found is that his white count is over two thousand cells. That’s low but it’s a respectable number, and it’s sufficient to fight most infections. His hemoglobin level is 7.4. That’s enough to keep him alive without transfusions, and we anticipate it will go even higher. “The bottom line is that Sammy has a fever, not because he has a life-threatening infection, but because the bone marrow transplant succeeded and his immune system is recovering. The cytokines we’ve been pumping into him are working, pushing his immune system into high gear and speeding along the recovery, but at the expense of high fevers and making him feel sick. At the rate he’s improving, I expect we’ll be able to stop the cytokines in a week or two.” “Are you saying Sammy might actually live?” Jeremy asked. “He’s not out of the woods just yet,” Dr. Langston answered, “but from what I’ve seen so far, I think the chances are excellent that Sammy will make a full recovery.”
  12. Altimexis

    Family Gathering - Jeremy Kimball

    “Dad?” my daughter asked me again as we sat together in her kitchen in her North Carolina home. “Out with it, how in the world do you know about Shy Drager syndrome?” I was trapped. How could I respond without tipping her off that I knew something? I was desperately trying to avoid turning her world upside down, but Sandy was smart. Unless I outright lied to her, she’d figure it out. On the other hand, she always could tell when I wasn’t telling the truth. No, lying was not an option. “I mean it’s not exactly a common disease,” Sandy went on. “Multiple System Atrophy is rare. Most neurologists will never see a case in their lifetimes. For me, it’s a perfect model disorder for neurodegenerative diseases, and it’s especially devastating and lethal. That’s why I’ve made it my life’s work.” What a strange coincidence. How ironic that the disease she’d chosen for her life’s work was a very rare disorder her Pop had. How could she have known? “I’m curious why you didn’t choose Parkinson’s Disease,” I countered. “After all, it’s a much more common disease and you could help so many more people that way.” “But everyone and their mother’s studying Parkinson’s, Dad,” my daughter explained. “Why enter a crowded field when there are rare diseases that are hardly being studied at all . . . true orphan diseases? There are already excellent treatments for Parkinson’s . . . maybe not perfect, but they do mitigate the symptoms quite nicely until the disease is very advanced. “The situation with MSA is so dire that it used to be a death sentence. Thanks to the work of our lab and others, it’s now highly treatable. We may not be able to help as many people, but the ones we do help, we help profoundly. Besides which, because MSA shares some features with Parkinson’s Disease, perhaps we can learn something about Parkinson’s too.” Just then we heard footfalls on the stairs and I caught a glimpse of Dan coming down. Obviously he wasn’t expecting me, as he wasn’t wearing anything - at all. How embarrassing - as much for me as for him. Dan actually managed to walk into the kitchen, walk up to the counter and grab the coffee pot, pouring himself a mug full of steaming hot coffee before he turned around to face what he presumed would be only his wife. When he turned around, however, his face suddenly registered shock as he realized he was not alone with his wife. The coffee mug slipped from his hands, landed on the floor and shattered into at least a dozen pieces, spraying coffee everywhere but mostly on his feet and legs. Of course his first reaction to being scalded with hot coffee was to jump up and back, but this only made him jump onto a piece of broken mug, causing him to scream, “Fuck!” The whole scene would have been funny, had it not been for my poor son-in-law being in so much pain. Finally, he managed to eke out, “Excuse me . . . be right back,” as he headed to the half-bath on the main floor, presumably to wipe the coffee off his feet and to extract the mug fragment, and then he made his way back upstairs. Soon we could hear the shower running. In the meantime Sandy wiped up the spilled coffee and started picking up the pieces of the coffee mug, giggling the entire time as I helped her. Finally, Dan returned and as he entered the kitchen and poured himself another cup of coffee, he said, “Sorry, Dad, I didn’t mean to flash you like that. I wasn’t expecting you or anyone else to be down here besides Sandy.” “What if Cindy had been sick and home from school?” I asked. Shrugging his shoulders, Dan replied, “Wouldn’t be the first time she’s seen me in the altogether.” “And the boys have seen me in the nude as well,” Sandy admitted. “It’s not unusual for any of us to see each other in the nude,” she went on. “We often skinny dip in the pool. Our yard is completely fenced in and, thanks to all the trees, we have complete privacy.” “So you’re nudists,” I stated as I mulled it over in my head. “I guess I can understand that. Most people are way too hung up on the human body.” “Funny, but I never thought of us as nudists before,” Dan responded with a laugh, “but I suppose you’re right. It’s just that we don’t go to nudist colonies or nude beaches or anything like that. We keep our nudism private.” “Do you think you’ll need to make any changes once you have teenagers in the house?” “When was the last time you ever thought about your parents, your brother or your sister, sexually?” Dan countered. “Point well taken,” I replied. “So what brings you to North Carolina?” Dan asked. Perhaps Sandy would forget my earlier slip of the tongue. “We were just talking about my work with neurodegenerative disorders like Parkinson’s disease,” Sandy responded, “and Dad added something like, ‘and Shy Drager Syndrome.' So Dad was about to explain how he came to know about Shy Drager Syndrome.” Shit! As the two of them looked at me expectantly, I tried to think of how in the world I might get out of this situation. There had to be a way I could explain how I knew about the disease without giving away just who it was that had it. I was starting to sweat and I almost felt ill. “Dad are you all right?” Sandy asked. “I’m fine, sweetheart,” I responded. “It’s just that all the talk of Shy Drager brought up some unpleasant memories.” “You knew someone who had it?” Sandy asked with compassion in her voice. For some strange reason, tears started to come to my eyes and all I could do was to nod my head. “Was it someone I know?” she asked. “I can’t tell you,” I replied through my tears. Even through the blurriness of my tears, I could see Sandy’s face change as she said, “My God, you know, don’t you?” When I didn’t answer, she continued, “I always thought he kept you in the dark. He didn’t want anyone to know, but I thought that especially applied to you. Otherwise you might never have remarried.” As her words slowy sank in, it dawned on me that we were both dancing around the same issue. We were both afraid to tell the other about David. “You know about Pop?” I asked. Nodding her head, she responded, “The cure for Shy Drager Syndrome, such as it existed at the time involved harvesting skin cells from a young, female relative. We didn’t yet have the knowledge we do today that allows us to use someone’s own dermal stem cells and, at the time, the only successful results were obtained using female cells from people under the age of thirty. I was the only relative that fit the bill.” “So Pop sought you out?” I asked in astonishment. I couldn’t have imagined David telling either Sandy or Josh, even if it could save his life. He wanted to spare his children the pain of losing him a second time. “Pop would have never sought me out on his own, but he wasn’t alone,” Sandy answered in a soft voice. Slowly I realized what she was trying to say. “Pop found another man?” I asked, then hastened to add, “That’s wonderful if he did. The only reason he told me about his situation was to give Sammy and me his blessing. He wanted to be sure we didn’t feel guilty, and that we didn’t let the guilt keep us from getting together. Of course I would want the same thing for him . . .” “Dad, Pop didn’t find another man,” Sandy explained as she shook her head. “I know this will sound strange, but he has a wife now.” I must have shown a look of shock on my face, as Sandy continued, “I know it may be hard to fathom, knowing Pop as you did. Of course he’s still gay . . . nothing will ever change that . . . but love knows no bounds. None of us is completely gay or straight and, under the right circumstances, we can fall romantically in love with either sex. It happens all the time. “It was one of Pop’s physicians, Rebecca, who saw Pop for the wonderful, caring, extraordinary man that he is. She fell head over heels in love with him and, in time, he fell for the wonderful, caring person that she is too. “Pop tried not to let it happen . . . he didn’t need more entanglements, as he put it . . . but Rebecca saw what he was doing and eventually, she figured it all out. It wasn’t hard, given that she had complete access to his DNA. Confronted with her knowledge of who he was, all pretence fell away. And she gave him a reason to want to live.” Suddenly, my eyes flew open wide as I recognized the obvious. “Your change in career direction. That was all because of Pop!” “Absolutely, but it wasn’t only because of Pop,” Sandy explained. “It was as much because of me. “When I was approached about donating a portion of the skin from my back, I was reluctant to do so, as there would always be a scar. I wasn’t being vain or anything but I could easily see this stretching into a lifetime commitment to someone I didn’t even know. “But then Rebecca herself came to see me and she told me that it was for someone I knew. Someone I knew and loved, but she couldn’t tell me who it was per their request. My initial thought was, if they aren’t willing to show their face and make the request in person . . . if they don’t care enough about their own life to take that step . . . then why should I care about them? However, the look in Rebecca’s eyes told me it wasn’t just someone I loved, but she as well. “And then it all started to come together for me. Although Rebecca never mentioned the disease, she spoke of neurologic deterioration and it didn’t take me long to stumble upon Multiple System Atrophy as the most likely cause. I read up all I could on it including the latest experimental procedures and clinical trials. As I read up on the various procedures, I realized that the only reason I would have been sought out was for treatment of a brother or a parent. That meant it had to either be you or Josh . . . or Pop. Since neither you nor Josh had any symptoms, I could draw only one conclusion.” “So you met with Pop?” I asked. “I more than met with him, Dad. I’ve been a part of his life ever since.” I was shocked but, even more, I couldn’t help but note the irony and stated it aloud before I even realized what I was doing. “Here I’ve been searching the world for Pop’s whereabouts, mining the archives in his library, reading his memoirs and a manuscript written by Bruce Warren, meeting with Bruce’s son, all that and more . . .” “You’ve been searching for Pop?” Sandy asked and I merely nodded my head. “But whatever for, Dad?” Taking a deep breath, I responded, “It’s at Uncle Sammy’s request. He’s a lot sicker than I’ve told you. The second bone marrow transplant has failed. He’s in reverse isolation to protect him from infectious diseases and he’s getting regular transfusions. He’s a man in a bubble and he doesn’t want to live that way. “Sammy made a request of me. He wants to see Pop one last time before he dies. I think more than anything he’d like to see Pop and I reunited as friends if nothing more. It’s the friendship we used to share that he’s missed the most. “If I come home empty handed, Sammy intends to remove himself from reverse isolation tomorrow. Given what I’ve found, he’ll wait a bit longer but his intent remains the same. I can tell from our nightly phone calls that each day he spends inside his bubble, a small piece of him dies. I need to honor his request and then let him have his freedom.” “Oh Dad, I had no idea,” Sandy responded before enveloping me in a hug. Dan, who had largely been silent throughout the time, hugged me as well. “So how do I go about finding Pop?” I asked. “He’s on his way over and should be here in less than thirty minutes,” Sandy answered. “But how?” I asked. “The latest implanted phones are really amazing, Dad,” Sandy answered. “You can send a text message without even moving a muscle. You should try one.” Chuckling, I responded, “I’m not quite ready to join The Collective.” “The Collective?” my daughter asked. “Look up your late twentieth century science fiction.” I replied with a smile. After sitting in silence for a minute, I asked, “How do you handle your relationship with Pop? You said you’ve maintained a close relationship with him over the years, but Pop supposedly was killed in 2043. He assumed a new identity afterwards, but everything about that identity ends in 2050. There are no records associated with Dr. Kenneth Landry after then, so I assume he no longer uses that name or the associated Social Security number.” “I’m not going to go into the details of how Pop changed his identity,” Sandy started to explain, “but when he realized he could be cured of his disease, he knew he couldn’t stay in his retreat in Idaho. There would have been too many questions and there was too much risk of his true identity being discovered. “He needed to make a complete break with the past and he felt that included a break with his closest friends . . . even Uncle Trevor. You can’t imagine how much that hurt him and he almost didn’t go through with the treatment because of that, but his fiancé wouldn’t back down. “It’s a lot easier to change an identity than I would have ever believed,” Sandy went on. “All it takes is a little cash to the right people and a dead person’s identity can come back to life, complete with your own DNA in their records. That’s how Pop became Ronald Francis Jeffers, a widowed and childless tax attorney from Columbia, Missouri who originally died of a heart attack. “In any case, after successfully completing the treatment for his disease, Pop needed to start his life anew. For some reason, assassinated presidents aren’t eligible to receive a pension and there wasn’t a way for him to claim any of his assets from before. “His disease was pretty advanced when he began the treatment, so it was too late to reverse all the damage. He still moves very slowly and he has some difficulty speaking. His residual degree of disability therefore significantly limited his opportunities for work. “His wife made enough money to support the two of them but, as you can imagine, Pop insisted on doing his share and he wasn’t ready to retire on disability. To make a very long story short, they moved to Winston-Salem, not far from here, and Pop took and passed the North Carolina bar exam, giving him the credentials he needed to open a law office, even though he never intended to practice, and he took to writing. He writes under the pseudonym of Gregory Peckham” My eyes flew open wide as I realized that Pop - my David - was Gregory Peckham, a highly respected author of first person biographies of prominent historical figures. What Peckham did was unique. Unlike historical fiction writers of the past that worked by interjecting fictional characters, usually with a lot of conjecture, Peckham used painstaking research to reconstruct the lives of those he studied. History came alive as he explored events in the lives of men like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr from their own perspective. Although no one could possibly know what they thought at the time, Peckham made use of their own writings and the writings of those around them to project their likely thoughts onto the ‘printed’ page. Peckham was known to be a bit of a recluse. He never attended book signings and rarely entertained guests. It was no wonder so little was known about him. He was considered an odd ball, but a brilliant author nevertheless. Shifting topics, I asked, “Does Pop know I’m here?” Shaking her head, Sandy replied, “No. I didn’t think that was the sort of thing I could send him in a text message. You surprised me when you showed up on my doorstep and now you’ll have a chance to surprise him, too.” “Knowing Pop,” I continued, “I’m surprised he let you remain a part of his life. Not that he wouldn’t have wanted you in it, but he would have done everything possible to make a break with the past. How did you do it, and do the children know?” “As you know,” Sandy answered, “Pop’s stubborn, but I’m his daughter and I’m every bit as stubborn as he is. I refused to have anything to do with his cure unless he promised to keep in touch and to keep me informed of where he was. He was fine with simply walking away, but Rebecca was not. She agreed to my terms and, in case you didn’t know it, the woman is always the dominant member of a relationship. “Of course there was a real danger that people would find out about Pop if he had ongoing contact with me. It was a risk he was unwilling to take and I couldn’t blame him. There was no reason to have any contact with me. “Fortunately for us, as you know, Dan is adopted . . .” “Indeed I am,” Dan chimed in. “My mother became pregnant when she was only thirteen. She was a rebellious teenager and had had sex with a lot of boys, some of them complete strangers. She had no idea who the father was. Her parents were religious and so abortion wasn’t an option, but they were poor and couldn’t exactly handle having another baby in the house. They also feared having a baby would interfere with their daughter’s chances of going to college and having a better life. Reluctantly, they put me up for adoption.” “With my background, it wasn’t hard to ‘prove‘ that Pop was a distant cousin of Dan on his father’s side. It was then only natural that we settled down in North Carolina to be with Dan’s one known living relative. And, yes, the kids know all about their Cousin Ronnie . . . everything but the fact that he was once David Reynolds. Sighing, Dan added, “Except that Cliff has figured it out. We keep denying it, but that has only made Cliff more persistent." “He’s getting old enough to be responsible,” Sandy suggested, so maybe it’s time to come clean with him, but that is a decision for Pop to make.” I was thrilled that David had gone on to make a new life for himself and, obviously, done quite well in the process. I was happy that he and Sandy had reconnected and that he had frequent contact with his grandchildren, even if it did present some added risk. I knew how important they must be to him now as they were to me. It was at that moment that the door bell chimed. Dan got up and went to answer the door while Sandy pulled me close to her side. Moments later Dan was ushering a couple of people into the kitchen as I heard a woman’s voice say, “It sounded urgent, so we dropped everything and came right . . .” First to enter was an older woman who appeared to be in her mid-sixties. She was tall and she stood tall, and had a rather stately manner although she exuded warmth. The shocked look on her face made it clear she knew exactly who I was, albeit not why I was here. David entered more slowly and it was evident he still had significant difficulties walking. His posture was stooped, his gait was shuffling and his right hand had a very slight tremor. When he saw me, he likewise registered shock and then asked, “Jeremy! What are you doing here? Sandy would have never brought me here to see you unless something was very wrong. Out with it, Jaywalk.” Jaywalk was a nickname he used only during our most private moments. Jaywalk was based on my initials, JWK. “It’s Sam,” I replied. “His immune system collapsed about two years ago and he’s undergone two bone marrow transplants in an attempt to save him. The first transplant attacked and nearly killed him. The second was a last ditch attempt, and it has failed.” Tears came to my eyes as I went on, “Sam is living in a ‘bubble’ . . . it’s a room with reverse isolation that prevents him from catching germs from others. The two of us can’t even touch except through a plastic barrier. We can’t hug or be intimate in any way. And he’s dependent on regular transfusions, without which he would die from oxygen starvation.” Taking a deep breath, I continued, “Sam doesn’t want to live this way. Very few of us would, and I would never be so selfish as to ask him to live in misery on my behalf. He had planned to remove himself from the bubble tomorrow and let nature take its course, but he decided to wait . . . to wait for you, David. Somehow, Sam knew you were still alive. He wants to see you one last time before he dies.” “And I suppose he was hoping that you and I could be together again,” David interjected, reaching the inevitable conclusion. “Perhaps he hoped that,” I confirmed, “but I reminded him that even if you were still alive, you’d have likely long moved on. As they say, ‘you can’t go home again’. We’re neither of us the same person we were eighteen years ago when you ‘died’. I have a feeling that even if you were available, it wouldn’t work between us anymore.” “You’re undoubtedly right,” David replied, “although it pains me to admit it. Besides which, I would never leave my wife for anyone . . . not even you.” “I completely understand,” I replied. “I would never willingly leave Sammy.” “Does it surprise you that I have a wife?” David asked. “I would have never thought it possible,” I admitted. “I wouldn’t have either but, then, you have to admit that it’s the perfect disguise. No one would ever think to look for President David Reynolds, the first openly gay President of the United States, in a relationship with a woman. “The surprising thing is that Rebecca and I love each other very much, and our relationship is very much physical. Being with a woman doesn’t change anything. I’m still gay and always will be gay. I’m not in any way attracted to other women but I love my wife and I enjoy making love to her. It feels . . . natural.” “Then I’m happy for you, David,” I replied. “I always did have a thing for Jewish partners,” David added with a laugh, and I laughed along with him. The sound of Rebecca clearing her throat reminded us all that, firstly, she was in the room with us and, secondly, we hadn’t been formally introduced. “It’s nice to meet you, Rebecca,” I began as I extended my right hand. “I’ve heard so much about you from my daughter. I’m glad you make my ex-husband happy. Even more, I’m glad you were so forceful in talking him into the treatment. It would have been a great pity to have lost him twelve years ago. He’s done so many great things since, as a noted author, as a father to his daughter and a ‘cousin’ to his grandchildren and, I’m sure, as a husband to his wife.” “That’s very kind of you to say that, Mr. Kimball,” she replied. “I’ve always wanted to meet you and was saddened that there was no way we could before now. I didn’t know you already knew about Ron’s survival, or I would have insisted we made contact long ago. He’s a very stubborn man but, then, you already know that. I can see how he fell in love with you in the first place.” “Why thank you, Rebecca,” I responded. The five of us ended up spending the rest of the morning and early afternoon talking with each other and catching up on lost time, up until the children returned from school. By necessity conversation had to turn to lighter fare once they were home, but we continued to have an enjoyable afternoon and evening, including dinner together. We agreed that we would leave for New York in the morning, driving up in my limo by the light of day. Dan would stay behind and take care of the kids. It wasn’t until I made my nightly call to Sam, however, that the trip took on utmost urgency. Sam had taken a significant turn for the worse and was running a fever - never a good sign in someone who was immune compromised. We needed to leave right away, but changes of plans were not the forte of the Secret Service. The route needed to be cleared first to ensure there were no construction projects along the way that could pose a security risk. Work hour restrictions precluded the driver who brought me to Raleigh-Durham from driving any further that night. Also, police escorts needed to be arranged. Clearly, even if we pushed it, we weren’t leaving any earlier than tomorrow morning. Sammy had been sedated and made comfortable and, although he wasn’t in immediate danger, the situation could turn dire at any moment. There was a very real possibility that Sam would pass away before we had a chance to return to New York. Even if he survived that long, he might not be lucid enough to recognize us when we got there. ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ East coast traffic could be horrible, particularly on a Friday. We left early enough, at just after six in the morning, hoping to avoid the worst of the rush hour traffic common to the Raleigh-Durham area. Unfortunately, the one thing that’s predictable about traffic anywhere is that it’s unpredictable. David told us that visitors to the region are often surprised when they encounter stopped traffic, seemingly in the middle of nowhere but, with more than two million inhabitants spread out in a mish-mash of rural and suburban enclaves without a real city center, everyone has to somehow get from here to there. Multiple attempts at implementing a viable rapid transit system had failed, even in a time when nearly every medium and large city in America had one. We hoped to get out of the area before the start of rush hour and then grab breakfast at a diner along the way. With a police escort we should have been able to speed by the worst of the traffic; however a police escort is worthless once traffic reaches saturation. Other than driving on the shoulder - a practice discouraged except in dire emergencies - there is no way to get past bumper-to-bumper traffic. After nearly two hours of barely inching our way along, thanks to an early morning fender bender, we ended up stopping at a diner far closer to our starting point than we would have liked. Rather than cause a mob scene by eating inside and incurring further delays, we decided to order takeout. Besides which, people would have wondered who David was and why he was traveling with a former U.S. president. We therefore had the Secret Service bring us menus, take our orders and then have everything boxed up. Eventually we got past the worst of the traffic and we made much better time in Virginia, right up until we entered the environs of Washington, D.C. Although not as bad as what we’d experienced in North Carolina, Beltway traffic was heavy and the trip around the capital added an extra hour to what we’d planned. We did manage to stop for lunch at a diner on the northern outskirts of Washington, but then Baltimore turned out not to be much better when it came to the traffic. Finally, we reached the New Jersey Turnpike but, with frequent lane closures in the so-called express lanes, our speed barely averaged thirty. We stopped for dinner at a diner just off the Turnpike at exit seven. The food was excellent. I warned everyone that there would be long delays getting into New York City on a Friday night and the traffic did not disappoint us. Traffic was bumper-to-bumper from the moment we reached the Newark Turnpike until we exited the Holland Tunnel. It was after ten o’clock by the time we reached our condo on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, where Josh would be waiting inside.
  13. Altimexis

    Searching for David - Jeremy Kimball

    One of the worst things about being a former U.S. president is that you can’t be spontaneous. Once you’ve sat in the Oval Office, you’re subject to Secret Service protection wherever you go. If you want to go to the theater, for example, you have to reserve a box and the Secret Service has to thoroughly inspect the place, well in advance of your visit. If there are any concerns, they’ll actually bring in bomb-sniffing dogs! And unless there is a separate, secure entrance you can use, you cannot arrive until everyone else is seated and you have to leave before anyone else does. There’s no real freedom when you’re a former president. Not that most of us didn’t try to exercise a little of it now and then. I once tried to take off in search of a strawberry banana smoothie at three AM. I talked my driver into taking me, sans the Secret Service. It wasn’t hard to find a diner open in the East Village at that hour, but the moment I entered, we were mobbed. We ended up having to be escorted out by the NYPD and I had to endure an endless lecture from my personal Secret Service agent. The fact that I couldn’t just up and go somewhere had been making the search for my David particularly difficult. Making arrangements took time and I didn’t really have time. More than a week had passed since Sammy asked me to search for David and, unless I found a shred of evidence that he was still alive, Sammy would expect me to return to New York this Friday so I could be with him when he left his ‘bubble’ to die. Since the discovery that Bruce Warren actually met with David and wrote a book about his final days in the mountain retreat, I had done nothing but read and sleep. Basically, I’d read until I couldn’t keep my eyes open, taken a nap for a few hours and then repeated the cycle. Day and night held no meaning and I only became aware of my hunger as I reached the end. I also became aware that I had a lot more than just stubble on my face, and I stank! A shower was even more of a priority than getting something to eat and so I headed to the small bathroom off my office in the Library. While I was in the shower, I gave thought to Bruce’s writing and to my next move. Bruce had met with David for weeks at a time, several times over the course of six years. David had kept his promise to meet with Brad, and it was very likely that it was Brad who talked David into allowing Bruce to meet with him. It was important that David write his memoirs, but a third party could provide a unique and valuable perspective. Besides which, Bruce was Brad’s best friend and had been since their teens. Brad trusted Bruce and Bruce had never abused that trust. Bruce documented David’s decline over the course of their meetings, to the point that David was confined to a wheelchair, incontinent and barely coherent. It was difficult to picture my David like that, given the strong athletic man he had once been. The image literally brought tears to my eyes and, yet, I knew I that had I been there, I would have loved him just the same. At the end of the manuscript Bruce suggested that David’s days were very short indeed, but he never actually wrote that David had died. I found that to be curious, particularly given that David had lived far longer than expected - more than twice as long. In doing so he had easily lived long enough to be around for the initial trials of the cure of his disease. Surely he must have known about it. If he chose to ignore it, why did he . . . but, if the didn’t, might he still be alive now? I had to find out. After getting dressed, I had the Secret Service bring me a hearty breakfast from the concession downstairs. I could have probably sent for something much nicer from one of the many restaurants in nearby downtown, but I was famished and couldn’t wait. As I ate, I gave serious thought to my next move. The obvious thing would have been to contact Bruce, but he’d died of a brain tumor two years ago. Brad had been devastated but, as they say, life goes on. It’s tough to lose a close friend, particularly a best friend. Bruce left behind a wife, a sister and two adult children. In the hope that they might know something, I did a quick query into their whereabouts. His wife had moved to Melbourne, making visiting her virtually impossible within the timeframe I had left. If I found other evidence that David was still alive - evidence that could convince Sammy to hang on a little longer, then I might pursue her. Otherwise I needed to find a lead closer to home. Sadly, Bruce and his sister had been estranged from each other and hadn’t had contact in nearly thirty years. What a shame that was - they had a shared history together. In desperation I did give her a call, but she only confirmed their utter lack of contact. She had been saddened by his death but, apparently, not enough to mend fences. Bruce’s daughter, as it turned out, had moved back to Indiana and lived a short drive away. I thought I might invite her to have dinner with me but, when I called her home, I got no answer and her mobile went straight to voice mail. When I called her office, I found out that she and her family were on a backpacking trip in Escalante Canyon out in Utah, one of the most remote regions in America. Searching for them by helicopter would not have been a good way to keep the low profile I was trying to maintain. That left Bruce’s son as my last and perhaps only hope. It seemed that Harold Warren, named after his grandfather, whom I remembered so well, now lived in Atlanta. Going to Atlanta was definitely doable but, as with all of my travels, involved coordinating a hundred different things with the Secret Service. Arranging a commercial flight into Atlanta would have involved more hassles than it was worth. The airlines for unfathomable reasons were loathe to kick people out of first class so I could have the first class cabin all to myself. Actually, so was I. The alternative was to charter a plane, something I would consider as a last resort, to take a high-speed train or to drive. Amtrak had a rapid rail line from Chicago to Miami that passed right through here and through Atlanta. It ran twice a day and the afternoon train would get me into Atlanta just ahead of 6:00 PM. Of course that was being overly optimistic, as we would have had to have our own rail car and arrange for added security, and that took time. It took far less time to arrange for a Secret Service limo and an escort, so we ended up driving down, arriving just ahead of midnight. I slept the whole way. ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ “Mr. President, it’s an honor to have you here,” the young Secret Service agent greeted me as we entered the Carter Presidential Library through a side entrance. For security reasons and expediency, it turned out to be the most practical location for my meeting with Bruce Warren’s son. I’d last seen him at Bruce’s funeral and imagined he hadn’t changed much in the last five years. Unlike my library, the Carter Library was only two stories with a significant portion of the archives located underground. The presidential office suite, intended originally for the former president during his visits and later made available for visiting dignitaries, was located in a secluded section of the building on the first floor, with a completely private terrace and garden through a glass door. Bruce’s son was waiting for me inside, wandering around the office and looking at the numerous items of memorabilia to be found there. “I’m always in awe when I visit a place like this,” I started to say as I entered the office. “Actually coming into contact with items that played a role in history . . .” Unfortunately, I startled poor Harold, causing him to nearly drop the glass bust of Brezniev he was holding. “Mr. President!” the younger man said as he regained his composure. “I did not hear you come in. I’m sorry, but you startled me.” “The apology should be mine,” I responded as I extended my hand and Harold put the bust down where he’d found it. “It’s nice to see you after all these years, Mr. Warren,” I continued. “You know, I remember meeting you when you were just a young boy . . . maybe eight or nine. And now look at you! You must be about thirty now.” “Thirty-one,” he confirmed, “and please, just call me ‘Harry’. My father was Mr. Warren and I wouldn’t even want to try to fill his shoes.” “He was an outstanding news writer,” I agreed, “but I hear you’ve made your mark in your own way. I’ve heard you’re one of the best civil rights attornies in Atlanta and already being considered for partner.” “That may be exaggerating things a bit,” he replied. “Don’t be so modest,” I countered. “Making partner at such a young age is a real accomplishment. If you aren’t willing to toot your own horn, how can you expect anyone else to?” “Point well taken, I guess,” he responded, but then got a more serious expression on his face. “Mr. President,” Harry asked, “Please don’t take this the wrong way but, why are you here? One thing I learned from my dad and from Grandpa is that politicians don’t just show up on your doorstep without a very good reason, and I doubt that you’re trying to get my vote.” “I’ll explain in a moment, Harry,” I replied, “but first, since I asked you for lunch, is there anything you’re allergic to or cannot eat?” “Eggplant,” he replied. “I’m highly allergic to eggplant.” “What a pity,” I responded. “I’m a vegetarian and eggplant is a staple of vegetarian cooking.” “I wouldn’t know,” Harry replied. “I’m pretty much a meat and potatoes kind of guy.” “I hope that seafood is to your liking,” I noted. “As a politician I have to live with a broad variety of people’s tastes but, when I have the choice, I try to avoid strong meat smells as they kind of make me nauseous. I long ago lost the enzymes needed to digest red meat.” “Seafood’s fine,” Harry replied, “in fact, it’s one of my favorite things . . . as long as it’s cooked.” Chuckling, I responded, “Then I guess I’ll have to send back the sushi sampler. . . . Seriously though, you don’t know what you’re missing . . .” But Harry interrupted, “Yeah, I do. Believe me, I’ve tried it. Raw fish is just so slimy.” “Do you like lox on your bagels,” I asked out of curiosity. “I don’t particularly care for bagels,” He answered, causing me to place both of my palms on my chest and stagger backwards as if I’d been mortally wounded. “As a New Yorker who’s part Jewish, I take offense at that,” I responded with a laugh. With a laugh of his own, Harry replied, “I know . . . I know. It’s totally un-American not to like bagels, but I could really take or leave them. They’re just no match for pancakes with bacon and real maple syrup, eggs, hash browns and toast. And as far as lox is concerned, I can tolerate it in a and lox-cream cheese spread but, otherwise, it’s positively vile.” “I’ll try to ignore youre sacrilege,” I remarked, “but I think you’ll like the food I’ve arranged for us. It should be here in a few minutes. “So while we’re waiting for lunch to arrive,” I asked, “Tell me, Harry, didn’t you used to date my brother-in-law’s son?” With a smile on his face, he answered, “Yeah, at one time we were quite an item. We moved to Washington after Dad covered, well, the assassination. Dad was offered a job at corporate. Of course Brad Reynolds became the vice-president and so he moved his family to Washington as well. We ended up at Sidwell Friends together and we dated all through high school.” Then with a momentary flash of pain on his face, Harry continued, “Letting Chris go was the stupidest thing I’ve ever done. We were both so young and naïve. I thought I was too young to settle down with just one guy. I wanted variety and even talked Chris into bringing other guys into our relationship . . .” “I don’t particularly want the details,” I interjected. “Nor do I really want to give them,” Harry responded with a smirk. “Suffice to say that I threw away what may well have been the best thing I ever had or ever will have, all because the thought of commitment scared the shit out of me.” “It scares the shit out of most people,” I replied. “It’s always easy to look at what might have been, but what might have been, seldom would have.” “Words to the wise, Mr. President,” Harry responded. “So is there anyone special in your life now?” I asked. With a sigh, he replied, “No. It’s just that I keep comparing my boyfriends to Chris and there’s no comparison. I’m finally at a stage in my life where I’m looking for a lot more in a relationship than sex. I’m just not finding it.” Just then there was a knock on the door and a server wheeled a table into the room, with an assortment of salad items, some exquisite looking deserts, a pot of coffee and an assortment of bottles of white wine. Centered at each of the two place settings were two covered plates. Harry immediately peaked under each of the covers and exclaimed, “There’s no way I can eat all of this.” Laughing, I replied, “You’re not expected to. We just wanted to be sure you didn’t go away hungry.” “Well there’s no danger of that happening,” He remarked. As we each sat down across from each other, I looked under my own plate covers to see that we had steamed scallops and shrimp, steamed asparagus and broccoli, wild rice, a small salmon fillet, a baked potato, sweet potato fries, sautéed mushrooms and peppers, and puréed squash. In addition to the salad items, there was a turreen of heavenly-smelling lobster bisque in the center of the table. “Would you like some wine, gentlemen?” the server asked. “I’ll have a glass of the Chardonnay,” I responded and Harry indicated that he would have the same. The server poured each of us a glass, then ladled some of the bisque into our bowls before leaving the room. As we started to dig in, I mentioned, “You know, Harry, Christopher Reynolds is single himself.” With a look of astonishment, Harry replied, “I thought he was still with that super model, what’s his name.” “Like you, Chris has had a string of boyfriends. He’s the son of a former President and has had a steady stream of suitors, but he’s still searching. I’m not sure you could pry him away from New York, though,” I commented. “For him I’d move to New York in a heartbeat . . . if I could find work, that is.” “If you really want him,” I added, “really, really want him, why not go after him?” “Why not indeed?” Harry responded. “More food for thought . . .” “And with your reputation and with Chris’ relationships with two past presidents, New York firms would be tripping over their feet to hire you. But I warn you, if you’re a gold digger or you do anything to break my nephew’s heart again, no place on earth will be safe for you.” Swallowing hard, young Harry replied, “I could never hurt Chris. Not again . . . I was such a fool.” After about five minutes of silence as we continued to eat, Harry asked, “So, Mr. President. You never did answer my original question. I know you’re not here to talk about my dating habits, so tell me, why are you here?” Taking a deep breath, I asked, “Do you remember a time back in the mid-to-late forties when your dad traveled a lot to Idaho?” “Actually I thought it was Washington state . . . Spokane as I remember it,” Harry answered and I nodded. “Boy do I ever. Dad was gone for weeks at a time. Whenever I asked him about it, he said he was working on a big project but it involved an exposé of a highly secret government operation and he couldn’t tell me anything more about it. I guess after all that, it didn’t work out, because he never published anything remotely related that I’m aware of.” Of course I didn’t expect Harry to have intimate knowledge of what his father was up to, nor did I want him to, so I used an oblique approach. “What if I were to tell you that your father was writing a book on the final days of a prominent political official . . . someone who wasn’t supposed to be in the United States at all. He had a very serious illness for which he was getting treatment, but were his presence to be known, there could have been dire consequences. “Your dad was granted access only by agreeing that the book would be published posthumously. Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your point of view, the political figure was ultimately cured of his disease and so the book may not be published for some time. “Wow, that sounds totally '007',” Harry exclaimed. “So who was it?” he asked. “I can’t tell you that any more than your father could have,” I replied, “particularly since he’s still alive. The problem is that I have a critical need to reach him, but he’s seemingly disappeared from the planet. We do know he’s alive, but that’s all we know. He could be anywhere and we think your father may have known where he is.” “I hardly think so,” Harry responded. “But maybe your dad kept some records of the interviews,” I suggested. “Maybe some voice recordings, or stuff scribbled on a tablet, or perhaps good old-fashioned paper notebooks.” “When it came to technology,” Harry replied, “he was pretty much an early adopter. I don’t think I ever saw him use paper for anything in my life. He was reluctant to get an implanted phone when they first came out, which it turned out was a good thing, given the problems they had with the earlier models. Otherwise he made use of the latest gadgets of the day. “If he did these interviews as you say he did, he would have more than likely kept voice recordings and digital notes.” “Where might he have kept those?” I asked. “He recorded everything on holocards and then transferred them to nano-drives at home.” “Where might they be now?” I asked hopefully. “When Dad died, we erased all the nano-drives securely, just in case, and gave them to the Salvation Army. We felt there was no use letting them go to waste.” “You saved nothing?” I asked incredulously. “What would have been the point?” Harry asked. “It wasn’t like the information had any value. Everything useful had already been published. Dad already had his Pulitzers.” I could have told Harry the truth - that the notes from a Pulitzer Prize-winning author could be worth millions after he’s gone, but what would have been the point indeed. If the notes had been securely erased and the drives sold in a thrift shop, that data was gone, unless . . . “Did your father keep any backups?” I asked. “Of course,” Harry answered, “but we got rid of those as well.” “Did he subscribe to any off-site backup service?” I asked in desperation. It was my last hope. “Yeah, I think he did,” Harry answered. “Do you know which company he used?” I asked. “Something like Kryptonite, I think,” Harry replied and although he’d totally mixed up the name, it was enough for me to know which service he’d used. Their motto was that they never threw anything out, ever, so there was an excellent chance Bruce’s interviews with David were still intact. They would likely be encrypted, however and, for that, I’d need Trevor. It was obvious I wasn’t going to get anything else useful out of Harry and so I had a pleasant conversation with him about some of the people he’d represented as we finished our lunch. Afterwards I thanked him for his help and admonished him to stop by when he was in New York. ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ “Daddy!” my lovely daughter squealed as she threw her arms around my neck and squeezed the living daylights out of me. “Grandpa?” I heard a boy’s voice from inside the house. Then a ball of energy, my six-year-old grandson, Tommy, flew into my arms. “How are you doing, sport?” I asked as I ruffled his hair. “I’m doing good,” he replied as his sweet angelic face looked up into my eyes. “Grandpa!” my other grandson, Cliff, said as he approached a bit more passively. Cliff was ten - almost eleven - and quite precocious for his age. He was already showing all the behaviors expected of a burgeoning teenager, yet his teens were still more than two years away. “You looking forward to starting middle school next fall?” I asked as I ruffled his hair but, unlike his younger brother, he squirmed and backed out from under my hand as if I’d touched his head with a blow torch, and shrugged his shoulders. He couldn’t hide how he really felt, however, as his smile shone through. “Granddad!” I heard a girl’s squeal as my eight-year-old granddaughter, Cindy, came into view. She wasn’t shy at all and she pulled me into a hug and kissed me on the cheek. It had been too long since my last visit and I couldn’t believe how much they’d all grown. I have five grandchildren now - three boys and two girls. As we prepared to leave Atlanta to travel up the coast to Washington, where I would meet with Trevor, I realized that we would pass right through the Raleigh-Durham area, where my daughter and her family now lived. Sandy was a brand new assistant professor in Neurology and Molecular Neurobiology at the Duke University Medical Center. She had both an M.D. and a Ph.D. in Molecular Biology, and had done her residency in Neurology. She also completed a fellowship at the prestigious Hallet Neurobiology Center at the National Institutes of Health. Interestingly, Sandy hadn’t originally planned on a career in the neurosciences. Her initial plan had been to study Molecular Biology as it applied to the treatment of cancer. It wasn’t until she was nearing the completion of medical school and should have been applying to residency programs in Internal Medicine, that she announced she’d changed her mind and intended to do a residency in Neurology instead. She never did explain why. Her husband, my son-in-law, Dan, had a Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering and was an associate professor in the Department of BME at Duke. They’d met when they were both graduate students at Stanford University, in California. “Where’s Dan?” I asked. Rolling her eyes, Sandy answered, “He’s teaching a Monday-Wednesday night class this semester that lets out at ten. A tornado could pass through and he wouldn’t wake up before noon.” “How’s your schedule looking for today?” I asked. “I have a lecture at nine and a lab at ten, but the TAs will have it covered. I was planning to meet with some of my graduate students this afternoon to go over their most recent experiments, but that can be rescheduled. No clinics until Monday . . . so I can basically spend the day with you,” she replied. “Can we stay home from school?” Tommy asked. “No you cannot,” Sandy answered. “You have a test today, remember?” “Oh yeah,” he reminded himself. “And the same goes for the rest of you,” Sandy added as she looked at her other two children. “You’re nearing the end of the school year and you can’t afford to take time off now.” “But Mom,” Cliff whined as only a ten-year-old can. “No buts,” Sandy responded. “Now get going,” she admonished her children. “You’ll be late for school and I’m not about to drop you off if you miss the bus. Miss the bus and you’ll be walking!” Sandy was a strict parent, but she loved her kids as much as anyone could. So did I. Having children while in medical school and residency had been a major struggle. Cliff hadn’t been planned but, once conceived, the young couple had decided to make the best of the situation and ended up having two more children even as Sandy continued her studies. Fortunately, Dan had completed his dissertation by the time Cliff was born and was able to play the role of the stay-at-home dad and part-time professor until the kids were all in school. “Would you like something to eat, Dad?” Sandy asked as we sat down to talk after the kids had departed. “Thanks, Honey, but I already had a full breakfast before I got here,” I answered. “How about some coffee?” she asked. “Coffee would be great,” I replied, and she got up and started making a fresh pot. “So what is it that brings you our way?” Sandy asked. “Not that I’m not thrilled to see you, but it’s not like you drop in very often, and never without warning. You’re just not that spontaneous, Dad, so what gives?” “I just happened to be passing through,” I answered honestly. “I was on my way from Atlanta to Washington when I realized Raleigh-Durham was right on the way. I know I should have called you, but I just wasn’t thinking about it and by the time we got here last night, it was a bit late to be calling. “I couldn’t very well pass through here without visiting my favorite daughter and her family . . .” “I’m your only daughter, Dad,” Sandy pointed out. “Yes, but that doesn’t mean you’re not still my favorite,” I quipped. “Anyway, I thought I’d get up early and surprise you, getting here early enough to ensure you and the kids were still home.” “Well you certainly did surprise us,” Sandy commented, and then she asked, “So what were you doing in Atlanta?” “I was doing some research at the Carter Library,” I answered. “What kind of research,” she asked, seemingly with interest in her eyes. Again, I couldn’t tell her the truth, so I stretched things a bit so that at least I wasn’t lying. At least that was what I told myself. “I have some theories and I wanted to gather more data to support them,” I answered. “Can you tell me a little about those theories?” she asked. “I could if you wanted to sit here all day and most of tomorrow,” I replied. “Seriously, there’s a lot of background information you need to be able to understand the basis behind the theories. It's the background information that would take time to explain but, someday, we will discuss it.” “And you’re headed to Washington now?” Sandy asked. “Yeah,” I answered. “Some of the data I got from the Carter Library is encrypted, so I’m going to need Uncle Trevor’s help with it.” “Encrypted? That sounds a bit unusual for data stored in a presidential library,” Sandy commented. “For the most part it is,” I answered truthfully. “This is just a special case, and that’s all I can really say about it at the moment.” “Ooo . . . a little intrigue,” Sandy replied. After sipping our coffees together in companionable silence for a few minutes, I asked, “So how’s your work going, Honey?” “It’s going pretty well, Dad,” she answered. “Really well. In fact, I think we may be on the verge of a breakthrough.” “A breakthrough!” I exclaimed. “That really is a cause for celebration. So you think you’ll soon have paraplegics walking?” With a perplexed look on her face, she scrunched up her nose, just as she always had as a child, and then her face lit up. “Ah, you must have heard me talk about spinal muscular atrophy or spinal cerebellar degeneration and thought I was talking about paraplegics.” “I suppose it was something like that,” I answered. “No, Dad, that’s not it at all. Paraplegia is usually caused by trauma or sometimes by a tumor, but my studies involve the neurodegenerative disorders. These are inherent genetic disorders in which the brain starts to deteriorate for no good reason. Alzheimer’s Disease is a classic neurodegenerative disease but it’s incredibly complex and we’re really no closer to solving it than we were thirty years ago. My interest is in neurodegenerative disorders of the basal ganglia . . .” “Sorry to interrupt, Sandy, but I haven’t the foggiest idea of what you’re talking about.” “Sorry,” she said with a laugh, “but this stuff is so basic to me that I sometimes forget that most people don’t know the lingo. Anyway, the basal ganglia are very primitive structures in the brain that we basically inherited from lower animals. They’re involved with muscle function and they modulate it rather than controlling it. “It’s like you’ve got this very sophisticated system, the cerebral cortex and the cortico-spinal tract in the spinal cord, that controls all the muscles in your body with the utmost precision, but then you’ve got an old, primitive system in parallel with it that has an effect on how muscles function without any kind of precision or fine control. “Here’s an analogy,” Sandy continued. “Imagine you bought a 200-year-old Victorian house, an historic landmark, with the original hot water heating system still in place.” “First thing I’d do is rip out the old hot water system and put in a new, modern nano-conductor heat transfer system,” I interrupted. “The energy savings would pay for the upgrade in a few years, and I’d get air conditioning too.” Shaking her head, she responded, “The Historic Preservation Board won’t let you do it. They rule that, with working hot water heat systems being so scarce, retaining those that are still functional is a top priority. You’ll have to make do with what you have.” “How short-sighted of them,” I mused, but then continued, “I suppose we can retrofit the original system with nano-conductors, retaining the original appearance without sacrificing too much.” “Nope,” Sandy replied, “the Board soundly rejected your proposal. The most they’ll let you do is add a computer control system and upgrade the plumbing, but the original method of heating the house with a boiler in the basement and circulating hot water must remain intact.” “Crap,” I responded. “How do you add computer control to such a system? That would be like putting an electric drive on a horse-drawn carriage.” “Thermostatically-controlled valves have been around almost as long as that house, Dad,” my daughter answered, “and Wi-Fi enabled thermostats and valves have been around as long as I have, or perhaps even longer. Set up a home network with a central computer controlling the boiler and all the individual valves and you’ll have a surprisingly effective system, so long as one of the valves doesn’t stick or the boiler spring a leak. The central computer can only do so much to compensate for mechanical failures. “That’s exactly the sort of thing we have in the human brain,” she went on to explain. “The cerebral cortex is able to control all the muscles in your body with precision most of the time, but when something goes wrong with the basal ganglia, your motor control is screwed up and you can’t move very well. A classic example is Parkinson’s disease, in which a certain type of cell starts to die off in middle age, leaving you with difficulties initiating movement. People with Parkinson’s have trouble getting up or going through doors, they turn like robots and they develop a tremor that goes away the moment they initiate a movement. Parkinson’s disease is the best known of the diseases of the basal ganglia, but there are many others . . .” The words, “like Shy Drager Syndrome,” left my mouth before I even had a chance to think about the consequences. “What in hell do you know about Shy Drager Syndrome?” Sandy asked. Fuck! “ . . . Daaad?”
  14. Altimexis

    Request of a Dying Man - Jeremy Kimball

    Friday, May 6, 2061 - Eighteen years after the assassination I had already buried one husband and watching my beloved Sammy lying in his hospital bed, separated from me by a protective plastic barrier, was almost more than I could take. We’d had seventeen wonderful years together as husbands and I knew I should have been grateful for the time we’d had, but it was difficult not to be bitter that he was being taken from me prematurely. He was just 65 years old at a time when life expectancy was over ninety. We should have had another thirty years together! Yet, Sammy had been given a reprieve. He’d been HIV positive and had been cured of his disease at a time when the cure rate was much, much lower than a hundred percent. He could have easily died of AIDS long before we were married. He could have died in his teens, just like my brother had. So why was I feeling so ungrateful? Sadly, the HIV cure of his time was far from perfect and there were often complications. He developed one of them as his entire immune system collapsed shortly after his sixty-third birthday. His bone marrow died, leaving him unable to produce even the red blood cells needed to carry life-giving oxygen throughout his body. With no viable bone marrow left to harvest and grow in culture, with no living relatives who could provide a tissue match, our only hope was a bone marrow transplant from an unrelated, perfectly matched donor. But there were no exact matches available and Sammy couldn't wait any longer. Caught between a rock and a hard place, we elected to try a bone marrow transplant from a partially matched donor - a stranger who shared three out of the four genetic markers. It seemed to work for a time but Sammy was plagued by bouts of diarrhea, and then his skin started to slough. He was suffering from what they called Graft versus Host Disease. Sammy wasn’t rejecting the bone marrow. Sammy had no viable immune cells with which to reject the bone marrow. Instead it was the circulating immune cells from the bone marrow transplant that were the problem. The donor cells were rejecting him. For two years we put up a valiant fight. Whenever his doctors tried to increase the transplant drugs, his immunity would decline and he’d suffer from bouts of pneumonia. Decrease the transplant drugs and the Graft versus Host Disease would reassert itself. We’d tried every known strategy and when nothing seemed to work, we decided to give it one more try. Using powerful drugs and radiation therapy, his doctors destroyed what was left of the transplanted cells, paving the way for a new, experimental treatment. Whereas synthetic organs grown in tissue culture were commonplace, attempts to grow synthetic stem cells had proven to be far more difficult. The development of immune cells that occurred in the days following birth was still not well understood. As it was explained to us, our immune cells learn to recognize internal from foreign substances, not through gene regulation but by gene alteration. In other words, our immune cells learned to alter their own DNA so as to produce the antibodies critical to protecting ourselves from foreign invaders. How they did that, scientists didn’t have a clue. The experimental treatment was a partial solution, designed to buy time until a definitive cure could be found at some time in the future. Rather than trying to solve the mystery of immune cell development, immune cells were synthesized that would protect against pathogens known to cause the vast majority of human diseases. Where the approach fell short was in protecting against certain kinds of cancer. For that Sammy would have to undergo twice-yearly whole body scans . . . if the treatment worked at all. We knew before starting the synthetic stem cell therapy that he was in a weakened state and might not survive the transplant. Even if he did survive, there was a good chance the synthetic transplanted cells wouldn’t take and, if that happened, he would have to live out his life in a bubble. He would spend the rest of his life in isolation and be dependent on frequent blood transfusions for his survival. Never again would he feel the sunshine on his face or the wind in his hair. Never again would he smell the scent of flowers in spring or the autumn leaves in fall. Never again would he touch another human being nor kiss the man he loved. Sammy didn’t want to live like that. It was a crapshoot at best with a one in five chance of him coming out of the synthetic transplant OK, but it was our only hope. I prayed like I’d never prayed before but we were not so lucky. Few of the transplanted cells survived and so Sammy was left no better off than he had been when his own bone marrow died. He could be kept alive for a time with blood transfusions but, unless he was kept in complete isolation indefinitely, he would ultimately succumb to a minor infection. Most likely a simple cold would turn into pneumonia, and that would be the end of him. Once it became clear that the experimental therapy had failed, he came to a decision. “Jeremy,” Sammy called out to me, his voice barely audible, “I want you to search for David. He’s alive. I know he is. I want you to find David and I want to see him one more time before I die.” “We’ve discussed this before, Sam,” I countered. “Yes, they found a cure for Shy Drager Syndrome. Yes, they found a way to reverse the damage done by the disease. Unfortunately the cure did not even exist until two years after he should have died from the disease, and it did not enter actual clinical trials until a year after that. David was gone long before the cure became available to the public at large. There’s no way he could still be alive.” “But he is, Jer,” Sammy argued, “I can feel it. He was never buried in Arlington Cemetery.” “Just because I wasn’t notified doesn’t mean it didn’t happen,” I pointed out. “But it didn’t happen,” Sammy replied. “We checked, many times. There is no record of David’s tomb ever being entered since his burial eighteen years ago.” “Even if he wasn’t buried there, that still doesn’t mean he isn’t dead. He himself said it might be some time before he is buried there.” “But eighteen years?” Sammy asked. “I find that hard to believe. “Look,” he continued, “Just do it for me if nothing else. You wouldn’t ignore the wish of a dying man, would you? Give it an honest effort. If you cannot locate him after trying for a full two weeks, we’ll admit defeat, I’ll leave my bubble and you can get on with your life. “But if you do find any evidence that he’s alive, I’ll wait until you pursue it. I’ll wait until you either find him or don’t. I want a chance to say goodbye to him, one last time, and then I’ll leave my bubble.” “Even if by some miracle David is still alive, even if I succeed in finding him, there’s no guarantee we’ll still love each other. Maybe he’s found someone else. It’s been eighteen years, after all.” “I didn’t say you should marry him. You can never reclaim the past, but that doesn’t mean you don’t still need each other. What you and David do after I’m gone is up to you, my love,” Sammy said with a wan smile. “You’ll never know unless you try.” As I exited Sammy’s hospital room having promised to search for my first husband, I could not help but remember the day Sammy and I were married . . . ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ Sunday, November 13, 2044 - Twenty months after the assassination Today was a bittersweet day as I married for the second time in my life. When I married David, I’d assumed it would be forever, but his life was cut short by an assassin, or so we thought. Then six months later I found he was still alive, but he was dying from an incurable, neurologic disease. The thing was that David knew Sammy and I were right for each other, but that we’d probably not pursue a relationship because of feelings of guilt. I’d come close to cheating on David once before with Sammy, and I just couldn’t get past the feeling that making love to him would be cheating once again. David forced us to see what we were doing to each other and gave us his permission and his blessing to marry. He even made me promise I wouldn’t wait until I knew for certain he had died, and so now I was marrying Sam. Truthfully, Sam and I had been dating ever since David’s supposed assassination. Sammy liked to cook and I liked to eat, and we both enjoyed each other’s company. We deluded each other into thinking we were just consoling each other, but it was evidently more than that. We were falling in love even as we mourned David’s passing. Once we had David’s blessing, the brakes came off and we went from dating to making out and, eventually, to making love. At first we felt a little guilty about it, but not guilty enough to stop! Besides which, we knew that we were honoring David’s wishes. It didn’t take long for me to prove to Sammy, once and for all, that we could enjoy a physical relationship, even with his violent tendencies. Thanks to his having been abused by Gary when he was twelve-years-old, Sammy was a sadest, but he was not sadistic. That was an important distinction. He derived sexual pleasure from inflicting pain, but he did not wish to hurt anyone. Sammy quickly discovered that, with me, he had nothing to worry about. When he started to get too rough, I simply grabbed his hands, pulled them to the side and kissed him deeply. I showed him how he could channel his violent tendencies into aggressiveness and derive just as much pleasure. For my part, I found I liked his aggressiveness - a lot. It was such a contrast to David’s gentleness, which was probably a good thing. I’d never pictured myself as getting into rough sex but, with Sammy, it was perfect. At first Josh and Sandy had trouble accepting a relationship between their Uncle Sammy and me, particularly Josh, but then Josh was busy with his own boyfriend and a relationship that was becoming increasingly more serious, and an unexpected career in music was taking up more and more of his life. By the time we announced our engagement, Sandy and Josh were fully on board. They’d always loved their Uncle Sammy and they saw just how much we meant to each other. I think it also helped that I sat down with each of them, one-on-one, and explained that Sammy would never replace their Pop. The big question was when to marry. We didn’t want to do so before the anniversary of David’s assassination, as we did not want to diminish David’s passing in any way. On top of that it was an election year and there really would not be an opportunity until after the election. We therefore decided to announce our engagement in April, just after the unveiling of David’s memorial in Arlington National Cemetery, with the wedding to follow in November after the election was behind us, win or lose. Josh asked if he and Alan could get married in a double ceremony with Sammy and me, but at that I drew the line. David and I might have only been seventeen when we got married, just as Josh and Alan would be on our wedding day, but we had been together for three years and we were already starting college. Josh and Alan had been together half as long and they still had a year of high school to go. Thanks to his performance at David’s funeral, Josh was now a bona-fide teen idol with a recording contract! His voice had only improved in the twenty months since the funeral and he was being compared to Sinatra from a century before. Truthfully, he was more like Justin Bieber from my own youth, but with a Hell of a lot more talent. His first record album would be released in time for Christmas and, after the inauguration, he and his boyfriend would begin their first tour, much to the horror of the Secret Service, which would have to provide for their security. David and I had absolutely no musical talent, so how did we end up producing the ‘next Frank Sinatra’? Then there was Debbie, who supplied the egg and carried Josh for nine months, but Debbie couldn’t carry a tune to save her life. With two dads who were musicians, on the other hand, Josh’s boyfriend Alan had been playing keyboards since before he could walk and it turned out he had a decent singing voice too. The two boys were partial to the music of the 1970s and they collaborated in writing some unique songs in the style of that era. They really sounded good together - extraordinarily so. In the meantime, Josh and Alan had the opportunity to perform in front of the public as they traveled with us on the campaign trail and were probably instrumental in bringing in the youth vote. Perhaps they would end up being nothing more than a flash in the pan, but I was very proud of them both. As I observed them together over the summer, my resolve began to weaken. Finally in mid-September, I asked Sammy what he thought. “They’re soul mates, Jer,” he replied. “You’re blind if you can’t see it. If they want to share their wedding with us, why shouldn’t we let them?” “It’s not just up to us,” I pointed out. “Do you really think Kevin and Zach will object?” Sam countered. “They already let Alan travel on the campaign trail with us, and he’ll be in concert with Josh all next year. Hell, the two boys essentially live together already. You’d have a war on your hands if you ever tried to pry them apart.” Of course Sammy was right and so today Sammy and I, Joshy and Alan, were married in the East Room of the White House in a beautiful joint ceremony under the traditional Jewish chupah, or canopy. The wedding was co-officiated by Kurt and Brandon, with elements from both religions intermingled seamlessly. Trevor was my best man and of course Paul was Sammy’s. Josh broke with tradition and chose his sister, Sandy, as his, and Alan chose his brother, Adam. His other brother, Aaron, was the ring bearer. Seeing Joshy and Alan standing next to us, I couldn’t help but think of my first wedding so many years before. They were the same age that David and I had been. At the time we felt so grown up, but Josh and Alan were mere boys. Yet Josh was poised to bring in more money than I ever could. Although it was a sunny day, the reception was held under a tent on the south lawn. Winter was fast approaching and there was already a chill in the air. The food was outstanding and we danced the afternoon and evening away. I was surprised when I saw Josh and Alan make their way to the bandstand. Josh picked up a guitar and Alan slid behind one of the keyboards. With a nod to the band, Alan began playing the opening notes of the old wedding standard made popular by the Carpenters, We’ve Only Just Begun. They’d obviously planned this. As I listened to them sing, it dawned on me just how professional they sounded. This was the first time I’d heard them with the full backup of a band. They sounded amazing - as good as any group of the day. After finishing the song, Josh spoke into the mike. “Good evening,” he began in a voice that was deeper, richer and more mature sounding than I had remembered. “I want to thank everyone for coming to our weddings and I hope you are having a good time. We have much to celebrate! Not only did I just marry the man of my dreams . . . not only did my Dad and my ‘Uncle Sammy’ get married, but Dad just won the election and is gonna be president for four more years! “My husband . . . God, I like the sound of that . . . My husband, Alan, and I like to write songs together. Today, in honor of this special occasion, we’d like to play our latest song for you. It’s called ‘Not in a Million Years’.” As soon as my son started to play the first chords on the guitar and as his husband and the rest of the band joined in, I felt as if I’d been transported to another place. The melody wasn’t just hauntingly beautiful, it was transcendent. The lyrics were poignant. I’d never heard anything like it. When they finished, there was a moment of silence, followed by thunderous applause and a standing ovation. That was my son up there - perhaps David’s and my greatest legacy of all! With the news media coverage for the weddings, I had no doubt that there would be few people on earth who hadn’t heard the song by this time tomorrow. I had a feeling that Not in a Million Years was destined to top the charts for weeks to come. It did. ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ I approached the mountain retreat with trepidation. It seemed to me that the best place to start my search was the last place I had seen David alive. Of course I’d already inquired about the Idaho retreat many times in the past and had been told it was vacant. The facility remained secret to this day, and it was guarded by a small contingent of Secret Service. Even though I was a former president, I still needed to make arrangements to see it and I had to get the permission of the current President, who’d taken office just four months before. Although it might well be vacant, I needed to see that it was with my own eyes. Even if it were vacant, perhaps David left behind some clues as to what had happened to him. To get here, I flew west from our home in New York on a commercial flight to Seattle. We bought out the entire first class cabin, as was standard procedure, and no one was permitted to board the plane once we had boarded, nor could they leave before we had. Rather than walking down the Jetway, we were escorted to and from a limo on the Tarmac via a flight of stairs. From Seattle we took a rapid train to Spokane, where we were greeted by a Secret Service contingent, and from there we were driven by limo directly to the retreat. From the moment we entered it was evident the place had been closed up for some time. Although it had obviously been kept clean, everything was covered in tarps and the whole place had a musty smell. The computers were antiques and I couldn’t even get them to boot up. If I found nothing else, I’d have Trevor recover and analyze data from the so-called hard drives they probably still had. In the meantime, I attempted a systematic and comprehensive search. I looked in all the drawers, then I removed the drawers and looked behind them. I used a pocket metal detector to look for hidden compartments. I even looked under the bed but to no avail. If David had left anything behind, it had long ago been removed and quite possibly thrown away. I would head back to New York and regroup before continuing my search. As I flew back East, I remembered when Sammy and I made our move to the Big Apple, when Brad appointed him as the ambassador to the U.N. ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ Friday, February 14, 2053 - Ten Years after the Assassination “Wow, would you look at this!” Josh exclaimed as the four of us and our real estate agent exited the elevator, directly into the unfinished penthouse. The view was simply stunning. We’d been looking at apartments for the better part of a week now and, although this particular building was convenient to the U.N., it wasn’t exactly in the best of neighborhoods. Thirty years before, one of the worst riots in New York history took place on this very spot. Several blocks of high-density public housing burned as tempers flared following a police shooting on Avenue D. For years the burned out shells of ugly, 20 story brick buildings remained as a blight on the Lower East Side before they were finally torn down. For two decades politicians argued about what to do with the mammoth, city-owned parcel of land. In the hands of developers, it was worth billions. A majority of the members on the city council, however, felt that the land should be used to build new public housing. The problem was that these high-density projects had housed large numbers of the chronically unemployed and had become a haven for drug dealers. Private developers argued that luxury housing was the best way to bring the neighborhood back. Finally a deal was reached involving a public-private partnership in which half the property would be developed as low density subsidized housing and the other half would be developed as market rate housing and a shopping center. As part of the deal a provision was made that all future building projects larger than a certain size would be required to include ten percent subsidized housing, regardless of the affluence of the neighborhood. The apartment we were now touring was huge, with 25-foot ceilings, floor-to-ceiling windows and eight thousand square feet of floor space with an additional two thousand square feet in a wrap-around outdoor terrace. As large as that sounded, we’d need all of that and then some, as provisions had to be included to house the Secret Service and to provide space for security facilities. In addition to living quarters for ourselves, we would need housing for guests and an office where I could work on writing my memoirs, among other things, and an office for Sammy. I would also need a separate office in a commercial building, where I could receive visitors and for the many support staff needed to attend to the daily operations of a past president’s endeavors. “You said the first five floors of this building are commercial?” I asked the agent. “Yes, and I can get you anywhere from five to twenty thousand square feet of it, depending on your needs.” “It would certainly be convenient to have your office in the same building as our condo,” Sammy pointed out and I agreed. “I love the view, but it’s a bit small for what we need,” I stated as I thought aloud. “The terraces are staggered,” the realtor pointed out, “so the floor below this one has an additional thousand square feet inside and 250 on the terrace, and the one below that has even more space. Or if you really have your heart set on this floor, the ceilings are high enough that you could put in a loft,” the realtor noted. “That might work,” I responded as I nodded my head. “We could put the guest rooms in the loft, giving us more privacy,” “Or we could have our offices in the loft, overlooking the common living area,” Sam suggested. “And by building out the Secret Service quarters and security areas in two or even three stories, we would gain yet more space,” I realized as I stated so aloud. “The apartment below this one is exactly the same?” Alan asked the agent. “Except for being a bit larger,” confirmed the agent. “Including the 25-foot ceilings?” Josh asked. “Including the 25-foot ceilings,” she confirmed. When we first told Josh that Brad was going to nominate Sammy to be the U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., he and Alan were ecstatic for us. When we told them we planned to buy a place in New York and move there permanently, they were shocked. Other than for short periods, we’d almost never lived apart from Trevor and Kurt. Truthfully the separation would be tough on all of us, but Brad wanted Trevor to stay on as his National Security Advisor and Kurt had been offered the Deanship at the National Cathedral - a position he’d held once before. Commuting from Washington to New York wasn’t really a viable option and, besides which, Sammy absolutely loved New York. And sadly, things just weren’t the same without David. New York was a great base of operations for a past president; hence, the move was an attractive one. Once they got over the initial shock, Josh asked us if we’d consider having them as neighbors. He and Alan already had a lovely home on the west coast as well as their own recording studio, and they were often on tour, which meant we hardly ever saw them. They were now 25 and 26 years old and had given birth to their son, David, just eleven months before. They were giving serious thought to having a second child using the latest variation of the Watenabe Procedure but didn’t want to be absentee parents or to have their kids raised by nannies. They also wanted their children to be close to their extended families. By living on the next floor, they would have built-in baby sitters whenever they wanted. Sammy and I were delighted with the prospect. Furthermore the high ceilings meant there was plenty of room for the acoustic insulation needed for their recording studio. “Is there any chance the developer would be willing to give us a deal,” I asked the realtor, “if we were to take the top two floors and, say, thirteen thousand square feet of office space?” “The asking price for a penthouse, unfinished, is $25 million,” the realtor noted. It was an amount that made my head spin. “Believe it or not, he considers the top five floors to all be penthouses, although we all know there really is only one. I doubt that he’ll let the top floor go for any less than the full amount, but we might be able to negotiate a lower price for the next floor down, and for the office space.” “How much is the asking price on the office space?” I asked. “He won’t sell it,” she replied, “and the asking rent is eighty per square foot per month.” “That’s more than a million per month!” Sammy practically shouted. “Which isn’t bad for New York,” the realtor pointed out. “And all of this is for raw space,” I noted. “We’d end up spending millions out of pocket on drywall, plumbing, lighting and furniture.” “Don’t sweat it, Jer,” Sam admonished me. “We can afford it. You forget that we’re both rich in our own right. “We can pay cash up front for the condo and, between the two of us and the allowance we’ll be getting from the Feds, we can afford the cost of the renovations . . . and the rent. Besides which, not that we want it to happen, but your mother is approaching a hundred and you stand to inherit millions when she passes away.” “I suppose you’re right,” I agreed, “It just seems like an outlandish amount of money.” “Welcome to New York, Jer,” Sammy said with a laugh. Then placing his arm around my shoulders, he added, “Just imagine what it would be like to wake up to this view, every day.” Sighing, I admitted, “It would be incredible.” Indeed, the view was incredible. With the entire floor to ourselves, we would have a 360 degree view that included all of Manhattan, the East River, the Williamsburg, Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges, the Statue of Liberty, the World Trade Center, the Empire State Building, the U.N. and more. “But can you guys afford it?” I asked my son. “Dad, you’ve got to be kidding,” Josh said with a laugh. “Alan and I are billionaires. We could afford to buy the whole building . . . and just might!” Now it was my turn to be shocked. I knew that Josh and Alan had an endless string of Grammy awards to their names and had invested heavily in green technology startup companies. I just never realized they were worth that kind of money. “Just don’t become Republicans,” I chided my sons. “If it’s good enough for Uncle Brad . . .” came Josh’s smiling retort. “Don’t remind me,” I replied. It still was a bit of a sore point that Brad had switched parties, but I could easily understand why he did. When we were growing up, the pendulum had swung far to the right and even the Democrats were fairly conservative for my taste. Now things had swung to the left, largely in response to David’s and my programs. Over the course of twelve years, we’d managed to cut the size of the Federal bureaucracy by two-thirds. With the reduction in the size of the government came substantial cost savings and nearly every politician had ideas for how to spend the newfound money. Of course David and I did too and we did spend a small portion of the money, using it to reinvigorate the space program, to double the budget for medical research and to make targeted investments in infrastructure in areas where private industry was unwilling to invest. Even so, there was a lot left over to use to pay down the debt. Most politicians on both sides of the aisle, however, wanted to use the money to support their own pet projects, usually so they could bring home the bacon to their home districts. Curiously, no one was calling for cuts in taxes but, otherwise, it was the old politics all over again. Brad felt as strongly as we did that we needed to keep a lid on spending, targeting it where it was needed most rather than for political expediency. Unfortunately there were several potential candidates in the Democratic Party who were ready to challenge Brad for the nomination, forcing him further to the left than he wished to go. The Republican Party, on the other hand, was a shambles. Marginalized by twelve years of Reynolds-Kimball policies that essentially co-opted their core message, the radical right was only drawing them further away from the mainstream. The leadership was attempting to distance the party from its more extremist elements and to project a more moderate image. In truth, the Republican Party had the potential to become the true centrist party for a change and Brad was more than happy to lead the charge. He easily won the Republican nomination and then trounced his Democratic challenger in the general election. It wasn’t that Brad had wanted to take on the challenge of re-making the Republican Party - he’d done what he felt he needed to do for his own political expediency. I’d had to do something similar when I ran for reelection with Brad as my running mate. Because the Constitution specifically prohibited the Electoral College from choosing a president and vice-president from the same state, I’d been forced to pull a Dick Cheney and change my legal state of residence. It was fortuitous that David, Trevor, Kurt and I had held onto the condo in Massachusetts we’d lived in when we went to college. “So what do you think?” Sammy asked. “I say we make an offer,” I replied, and Josh and Alan agreed. In the end the developer was unwilling to budge on the price, so Alan and Josh did buy the building out from under him as well as the rights for future development of the rest of the property. We spent a small fortune on the renovations, hiring one of the top architects in the world. Josh and Alan wasted little time when it came to having their second child. Young David and Celeste became the light of our lives. ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ It felt strange to be back in the city of my birth - the place where I grew up. So much had changed since David first became a U.S. Congressman, I could hardly recognize the city. Lukas Oil Stadium used to dominate the skyline and, now, it was dwarfed by an explosion of development on the south side of town. The small edge city that used to straddle the border between the city and Carmel was now like a second downtown. Although we no longer owned it, the house where I grew up was still there and the surrounding neighborhood was prosperous. The neighborhood where David grew up had not fared as well. His house had been preserved as an historic landmark and the area around it had been spruced up for visitors, but the rest of the neighborhood was a slum and nearby Nora shopping center was entirely boarded up. However, I was not visiting to explore old haunts. I had returned home to spend time at the Kimball-Reynolds Presidential Library. Built on a parcel of land that had once been industrial and included a sanitation plant, it was actually a picturesque site, nestled in a bend in Fall Creek at a point where it intersected the Central Canal. The library actually consisted of two interconnected buildings representing David’s library and mine. Construction was well underway on a third building that would encompass the library for Brad’s recently completed two terms as president. Together the three buildings would represent twenty years of American history - five four-year terms. I cringed when people spoke of the Kimball-Reynolds political dynasty, but I could hardly argue with the concept. Together we represented twenty years of continuous policy - an amount not seen before or since. Not even Franklin Roosevelt could boast as much. A lot had changed in the years since I completed my second term, but the U.S. economy remained sound and, thanks to Sammy, war was increasingly becoming a rarity. More importantly, the U.N. was being reorganized under Sammy’s stewardship to become a respected, fair arbitrator of international affairs. With firm agreements in place, the illegal arms trade had nearly dried up and with it, most terrorism. The world was truly at peace, largely thanks to the vision of Secretary General Samuel Franklin Austin, my beloved husband, who lay on his deathbed. From my office at the library I could look over the entire complex. Indeed, the large windows gave me a breathtaking view of the entire city. The complex was intended to look like a series of low rise structures that harmonized with the park-like setting but, in reality, the presidential offices were on top of an eight story structure. With trepidation, I submitted my access codes and underwent a retina scan and a DNA scan. For the first time I was accessing the memoirs David wrote after his supposed assassination - records that would not be available to the general public for another 82 years. Navigating through the maze of the virtual display that served to organize David’s material, I was astonished when I came upon something that was not written by David! Among his memoirs was a book written by Pulitzer Prize-winning author and friend Bruce Warren, titled David Reynolds - His Years After the Assassination. I’d always wondered if Bruce had somehow gained access to David’s memoirs, given the richness of the content of his writings, and now I had my proof! With that, my search took on an entirely new direction.
  15. Altimexis

    Saying Goodbye - David Reynolds

    Monday, October 5, 2043 - Six Months after the Assassination The tremor in my right hand was only getting worse. It had started nearly a year ago when I started noticing difficulty walking through doorways. It seemed like such a silly thing then. I would be walking along and the moment I came to a doorway, my body would literally freeze and I would have to concentrate on moving forward. It was as if there were an invisible barrier that kept me from going through. When I started having the blackout spells, I knew something was really wrong. It’s normal to feel a bit light-headed when first getting up in the morning, but it was anything but normal to lose consciousness and fall to the floor. At Jer’s insistence I went to our doctor, who checked me over and referred me to a neurologist. Much was made of it in the press when I checked into my room at the Bethesda Naval Hospital. In the end we told the press I’d been given a clean bill of health. I even told Jeremy that, but it was far from the truth. It was strictly a matter between my doctor and myself, and I was determined to keep it that way. The bottom line was that I had a disease I’d never heard of before, called Shy Drager Syndrome, a variant of Multiple System Atrophy, or MSA. It was like Parkinson’s Disease on steroids and my life expectancy was only three years. The medications they gave me certainly helped. I no longer had trouble going through doors and I no longer passed out. More importantly, the mental decline that would have rapidly become apparent, had been postponed. Still, there was no way I could have continued as President, let alone run for re-election. I would stick it out as long as I could, and then I would resign. The Vice-President was a good woman. Remembering Paul’s premonition about dying in office, I’d hand picked someone I knew could do the job and continue my programs after I was gone. In a way knowing how I would die in office was comforting and I had prepared myself for the inevitable, but then an opportunity presented itself. It was not long after I’d accepted an invitation from Billy Mathews to attend a fundraiser in Saint Louis that my Secret Service agent approached me with a warning. The FBI had been monitoring increased chatter on terrorist networks they monitored in the Midwest and the Secret Service had deemed it an unacceptable risk to go to Saint Louis. I might have been dying but I was not suicidal and so I decided it would be best to cancel the trip. Not only was there a risk to me but there was always the risk of collateral damage and of others dying by my side. The last thing I wanted was for friends, loved ones or even innocent bystanders to be killed so that I could die a martyr. All that was left was to find a face-saving excuse that would allow us to cancel the trip without drawing suspicion. That night I had a horrible nightmare. I dreamt of seeing mushroom clouds rising up across the land. New York, Washington, Denver, Los Angeles and just about every city in America was vaporized in less than an hour, with nuclear fallout spread far and wide, and it was not only America that was affected. London, Paris, Berlin, Moscow, Beijing and every other crown jewel of civilization suffered a similar fate. The Middle East was hit the hardest of all as Israel and Palestine were wiped off the face of the map. Armageddon had come and with it the end of the human species. I awoke with a start, only to find that I was not in my own bed, but rather in my childhood bed in the house where I grew up. My bedroom looked just as I remembered it from all those years ago, from just before I left for college. It was then that I realized I was not alone. Sitting naked in my desk chair was my old friend and brother-in-law, Cliff Kimball, just as I remembered him in the days before he became ill. “It’s been a long time, my friend,” he said to me, and then he got a serious look on his face and continued, “but I’ve always been with you, David. I think you know that.” Indeed, many times in my life I’d felt his presence and so I merely nodded my head, and he went on. “I know you think this disease you have is how you will die in office, but that is not the way it is supposed to be. This disease you have . . . it is meant only to take away your fear. “David, it is critical that you die by assassination,” he continued. “The future of the world depends on it. The vision you just had . . . it is a vision of the possible future of the world if you do not fall victim to an assassin’s bullet. Hopefully it is a version of history that will never be. “You must go to Saint Louis, David,” he stated with somber emphasis. “Saint Louis is where you will meet your destiny.” This time when I woke up, I found myself in my bed in the White House with Jeremy by my side. I got out of bed, being careful not to wake my beloved. I got dressed and headed to the Oval Office, where I contemplated what must be done. Saint Louis was supposed to be a family trip with Jeremy and the kids traveling with me. Clearly I couldn’t let that happen now, and so I hatched a plan to make sure an important farm bill would keep Jeremy bogged down in Washington. Sandy and Josh would undoubtedly still want to go, so I would have to be certain they were busy with assignments at school. Such things were easy to arrange. That only left Billy himself to worry about. As the one who’d arranged the trip, Billy would undoubtedly want to ride in the Presidential Limo along with me. I knew I couldn’t let that happen, but how could I talk him into riding separately or, better still, staying home, without tipping him off that something was amiss? I just couldn’t think of a way to do that and, as the time for the fated trip to Saint Louis approached, I was nearly in a panic as to what might happen to my nearly lifelong friend. Then something terrible happened. Cam Dunnington’s mother passed away. As close as Billy and Rick were to Lyle Herndon and Cam Dunnington, there was no way they could or would miss Ms. Dunnington’s funeral. Billy felt terrible about missing the trip when he called to inform me of the situation, but I was secretly relieved that everything had worked out so well . . . until I learned the truth - that Ms. Dunnington had been murdered. Because of the potential link to my assassination there was an intensive investigation into the matter of her death but, in the end, all that could be determined with certainty was that Billy had not been responsible. It appeared that the CIA had somehow been responsible but how or why remained a mystery. Although she had been over ninety and infirm, that she died because of me would haunt me for the remainder of my days, limited though they might be. Nothing, however, would haunt me more than the events of that fateful day in Saint Louis itself. It was as I prepared to get into the Presidential limo that my Secret Service agent suddenly pulled me aside and shoved me into another vehicle further back in the motorcade. Although I strongly objected, he wasn’t about to take a chance on my life. Little did he know that my life would be over in a few years anyway. As I was shoved aside, my double took my place in the Presidential limo. This was standard procedure in such cases, so that the public would not know that a risk had been identified. Unfortunately, the Vice-President and her husband ended up riding in the Presidential limo, which was a serious breach of protocol. Only later would we learn that another agent had been bribed to make the change, ensuring that the Speaker of the House ascended to the presidency. I will never forget the moment the rocket struck. Being further back in the motorcade, I did not see it personally but, when the grenade exploded, the whole ground shook under us. In that moment I knew - my double was dead, as was the driver, the Vice-President and her husband, and a few Secret Service agents. When I made my plans, never did I expect that the assassins would be so bold as to use a rocket propelled grenade. I had been expecting a bullet from a sniper, with little risk to those around me. My ignorance had resulted in multiple deaths on my behalf. Worst of all was that I was still alive when I shouldn’t have been. Much as it pained me to see Marvin Schroeder in the White House, with Cliff’s vision in mind I knew that it was essential that I remain dead. The world must never know that I had survived the assassination attempt but, already, a number of people knew of my survival including the head of the Secret Service and my attorney general, Deb McLaughlin. It was only by invoking the ‘national security’ trump card that I was able to convince them of the need for my survival to be kept a strict secret and, even then, I had to tell Deb everything before she was willing to help me disappear. Six months have passed since my so-called assassination. The initial flack over Jeremy’s vicious attack on the religious right during his eulogy has mostly blown over. I would have advised him against such an attack but perhaps he was right. Maybe it was time for someone to stand up to those unwilling to listen to reason. In any case, Kurt did a masterful job of damage control. As an ordained Evangelical minister himself, he was able to reassure the true believers that they could still believe in the teachings of Christ, even as they embraced modern science. Soon, the Pope himself chimed in that the Vatican had embraced scientific enquiry for five hundred years, and he indicated that he would be reviewing the Church’s position on homosexuality over the course of the next year. The Islamic world had a more difficult time dealing with Jeremy’s eulogy, however, and many extremists cried jihad as they claimed yet another attempt by the West to destroy Islam. Surprisingly, it was Iran’s Supreme Leader who put an end to that kind of talk. Harkening back to a time when Persian ships ruled the seas, he proclaimed, “Allah would not want us to ignore the facts, just because we don’t like them.” Although he made it clear that scientific evidence would have to be reviewed by an Islamic court before it could be accepted, it would no longer be ignored. True to his word, proclamation after proclamation had come out of Teheran since then, accepting as fact such radical notions as the Universe being billions of years old and that evolution played a role in humankind’s development. He even promised a review of homosexuality, although we were not so deluded as to expect it to be embraced by Shiite Islam. The so-called secular world was even more emphatic at embracing Jeremy’s concepts. China claimed that they had always viewed science and reason as the basis of modern civilization, although their actions spoke otherwise. Indians claimed that the Hindu faith was fully compatible with scientific discovery. Back in the U.S., public sentiment was overwhelmingly with Jeremy, even as the fundamentalists continued to rail against moral degradation. The bottom line was that their members were voting with their feet and ministries that failed to accept scientific knowledge or that continued to preach hatred were finding their coffers empty. Lost in my reverie, I was startled by the sound of someone knocking on my door. “Dr. Austin’s here to see you,” the Secret Service agent announced. “Which one?” I asked although I knew the answer. Sammy Austin didn't know I’d survived the assassination attempt, nor would he ever know if I had anything to do with it. I couldn’t help but remember the words I heard from Cliff the one time Jeremy nearly cheated on me with Sammy. At the time I only heard the word, ‘Stop!’ but I later realized he’d also said, ‘Now is not the time.’ I knew that Sammy and Jeremy truly loved each other and that their love could easily become romantic. They’d spent a lot of time together since the assassination and I felt that, not only did they need each other, but that they would make a wonderful couple. Knowing I was still alive would stop any thoughts of a relationship between them dead in their tracks. Besides which, much as it pained me, I knew I could never be together with Jeremy again without compromising his ability to be President. I was still dying and Jeremy needed to move on. “It’s Trevor Austin,” the agent confirmed. “Show him in,” I answered. The first words out of my friend’s mouth were, “It's fucking freezing out there!” “Winter comes early in the Rockies,” I replied as I approached Trevor and enveloped him in a warm embrace. I now lived in a heavily fortified mountain retreat in a remote part of Idaho, just west of Glacier National Park. There was little chance of being found here and it allowed me the privacy to work on writing my memoirs while continuing the treatment, such as it was, for my disease. “So what brings the National Security Advisor all the way out west to my chateau?” I asked. “I’ve been giving this a lot of thought, David,” he answered, “and I really think you should give Jeremy a chance to say goodbye to you . . .” I started to interrupt, but Trevor held up his hand and said, “Let me finish. “First of all, the two of you spent a lifetime together and that alone gives him the right to know. More importantly, he’s the President for cripes sake. When national emergencies comes up, presidents often consult with experts including past presidents. It would be criminal to deny Jeremy the invaluable resource of your expertise should he ever need it.” “But I’ll be gone in only two years, Trev,” I pointed out. “Even after you’re gone,” he responded, “there could be invaluable information in your memoirs that could be of use to him.” “But Jeremy was there, Trevor,” I reminded my friend. “As was I, David, even though I wasn’t sharing your bed,” Trevor replied. “I’ve been reading your memoirs as I’ve been encrypting them. There are a lot of things in there that you never told anyone. Jeremy has a right to have access, should he ever need it.” “I thought you were encrypting my memoirs so that they can’t be accessed for a hundred years,” I asked as much as stated. Trevor and I both agreed that it would take several generations before the world would be ready to accept knowledge of my survival after the assassination attempt. We assumed that it could take as long as a hundred years for people to accept what I’d done rather than reject it, and to be ready to learn from my experiences. Trevor therefore was encrypting my memoirs and embedding them in the data archives that would eventually be housed in my library, once it was built. The encrypted memoirs were designed to announce themselves on the one hundred year anniversary of my supposed death. “I can add an access key,” Trevor explained, “an access key that only the President could use.” “If Jer might need to access my memoirs, what about future presidents?” I asked. “Wouldn’t they need to be told as well?” “I anticipate that word of your survival and information about your memoirs would be passed down privately from president to president until the day the information becomes public.” “But my brother could well be the next president after Jeremy,” I reminded Trevor. “He would never forgive me.” “By which time you’ll have long been dead, David,” Trevor replied, “but if I were you, I’d give serious consideration to meeting with Brad too. Brad has a right to say goodbye to his own brother . . . a brother who happens to be his best friend.” “Next thing you’ll be suggesting I meet and say goodbye to Kurt,” I suggested. “It wouldn’t hurt, David,” Trevor replied. “Not only is he my husband, but he’s as close to you as a brother. However, I’ll certainly understand if you don’t want to tell him.” “You know, I didn’t even want you to know,” I countered. “But you needed me to help you disappear, David,” Trevor replied. “Few had the expertise to alter computer records and eliminate any evidence you were still alive. Few could have created an intact scenario for your placement here and for ongoing Secret Service protection without others having to be informed. “I understand how you feel, David. You really weren’t expecting to survive the assassination attempt and you’re scared you’ll mess up the future. The fewer people who know, the safer you feel. Still, I really think you should tell Jeremy . . . and Brad.” After a long period of silence as I thought about what Trevor had said, I replied, “I still don’t think it wise, but I’ll give it some thought. Jeremy and Sammy are getting close . . .” “My brother’s in love, and I think it’s mutual,” Trevor interrupted, “but I think they both feel guilty about it.” “Which is what I’m afraid of,” I replied. “I already miss Jeremy terribly, but we cannot be together. More than anything I want Jeremy to be happy. Sammy can do that for him and it’s high time for Sammy to have someone to love again.” “I figured you’d see it that way,” Trevor responded. “But if they know I’m alive, their guilt will be even greater. Jeremy will insist on waiting until I’m finally gone, by which time their relationship may have been damaged beyond repair.” “I know my brother, and I know Jeremy,” Trevor answered. “I’m sure their relationship will survive if they choose to wait, but I’m not sure they can get past the guilt on their own. That guilt will always be hanging above their heads, and it could poison anything that might get started in the bedroom. By saying goodbye to them now, you could go a long way toward helping them get past your death, even though you’re technically not dead yet.” “You want me to tell Sammy too?” I asked incredulously. “I don’t want you to do anything, David,” Trevor replied. “This has to come from what you want to do. I just wanted to remind you of the timing. “As you know, today is Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, and Jeremy is spending the day in prayer. Today is also the start of the Ten Days of Awe, a period of self-reflection during which he is supposed to reflect on his deeds of the past year, to seek forgiveness for his sins against his fellow man, and to prepare to seek forgiveness from God. It is also a period to remember those who are no longer with us. There is a memorial service on Yom Kipur . . .” “Yizkur,” I noted. “Yes, Yizkur,” Trevor replied, “during which you know Jeremy will be mourning you. Now would be a good time to tell him, David, during a time when Jer is already reflecting on the events of the last year and on losing you. He’s going to be more likely to accept it if you tell him now. And again, it would be a great way for you to give your blessing to his union with Sammy.” After another period of silence, Trevor continued, “You know, there really was a reason for you to survive. The nation needed you at the time. We found out too late that we had a rogue CIA agent in the Middle East, and that it was he who invoked an old Bush-era protocol for abducting Altaf. When we realized that with Altaf, he had the means to co-opt a nuclear weapon and that he intended to do just that, nuking Tel Aviv, we really had no choice but to act decisively. None of us wanted to have to kill Altaf, Paul and the Palestinian Prime Minister in the process if we could avoid it. To avoid collateral damage, Jeremy kept the whole thing close to his chest, although he did discuss it with me. “We had a weapon, the EMP device, that could solve our problem, but Jeremy was not officially the President and he couldn’t be authorized to detonate it unless he was, and Schroeder had been locked out from using his nuclear codes, and he lacked the code for the EMP device in the first place. I tried hacking into the firing mechanism to get around the need for a code, but they used a protocol I’d developed myself and it was foolproof. As you were presumed dead, there was no need to inactivate your code for the device so, thanks to you, we were able to cut the rogue agent off at the balls.” “Yes, and that has made my survival with this dreadful disease worthwhile,” I acknowledged. “Think about it, Dave,” Trevor reiterated. “Think about telling them. Jeremy has a right to have access to your experience as president. As importantly, you alone can give him and Sammy the freedom they so richly deserve.” “I don’t know, but I’ll think about it, Trev,” I agreed. “That’s all I’m asking, David,” Trevor replied. We chatted a bit longer and we had lunch together, and then Trevor left to return to Washington, his home. ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ • ~ I was nervous beyond belief as I waited for Jeremy and Sammy to arrive. They had been had been told only that there were new developments in the case of my assassination and that critical information would only be revealed in a personal meeting with a man whose identification needed to be kept secret. Trevor himself had arranged this meeting and, hence, Jeremy didn’t even question its legitimacy. Would my husband even accept me? Could he ever forgive me? Could I convince him and Sammy to move on? “Dr. Landry,” the Secret Service agent announced, “Your guests have arrived.” “Thank you,” I replied, “please show them in, then leave us alone.” The shock on Jeremy and Sammy’s faces when they entered the great room of my mountain retreat was evident. I could tell that they were sorting through their thoughts, not quite believing what they were seeing. But then the disease was increasingly taking its toll on me and I knew that my face no longer looked quite the same. I had a ‘masked face’, the doctors called it. “Dr. Landry, I presume,” Jeremy stated as he extended his hand toward me, reason evidently winning out in the battle in his brain as to my true identity. The effects of the disease were evident as I walked toward my husband with a shuffling gait, my right hand with a prominent tremor that disappeared the moment I extended it to shake Jeremy’s hand. As I shook Sammy’s hand, he said, “I suppose you hear this all the time, but you bear an uncanny resemblance to President Reynolds.” “Sammy,” I replied with a slight quiver in my voice, part of it from the disease and part of it from my anxiety, “that’s because I am President Reynolds.” With that, Sammy’s eyes opened wide and Jeremy practically shouted, “But David was killed in an RPG attack on his limo. The limo was engulfed in flames. No one could have survived. And we buried him in Arlington Cemetery. I saw his casket lowered into the ground. I shoveled dirt on top of it.” “I know what you saw, Jer,” I replied. “I was there. I knew there were reports of increased terrorism activity in Saint Louis when I left. I expected there to be an assassination attempt. I was fully prepared to die that day. It was only because of a well-meaning Secret Service agent that I was shoved into another car while my double took my place in the Presidential Limo. “As you can see, I’m not well,” I continued. “I have something called Shy Drager Syndrome and I won’t live more than another two years, if that long. It’s a neurodegenerative disorder. The medicines have helped me keep my faculties but, soon, my mind will start to go and I will be little more than a vegetable. I only hope and pray there will be sufficient time to finish my memoirs.” “Why?” Jeremy asked. “Why didn’t you reassert yourself as president? You could have saved us the embarrassment of the Schroeder presidency. Why didn’t you tell me you were alive?” “I never anticipated an RPG attack,” I explained. “I expected to die from a sniper’s bullet with minimal or no collateral damage. The Vice-President wasn’t supposed to ride in the Presidential limo in the first place. I fully expected her to survive the attack and to take my place as president. “But if I did reassert myself as president after Schroeder had been sworn in, what purpose would it have served? My disease would have still progressed and soon I would have been forced to resign. Schroeder might even have become president anyway and the Democrats would have lost valuable time in choosing someone to run in my place. “This way you’re the president, Jeremy, and you’ll run for reelection next year, and you’ll win. I can’t think of a better person to carry forth my legacy. “And I am telling you about me, Jer. I’m doing it right now, although it did take some time for Trevor to convince me that you had a right to say goodbye, and that you need to know that you could reach me in a time of crisis, and how to access my memoirs once I’m gone.” “But why am I here, David,” Sammy asked. Before I could even answer, Jeremy turned to Sammy and reached out to hold both his hands as he answered, “It’s because he wants to be sure I don’t wait for him to die before I remarry.” Then turning back to look at me, he asked, “Isn’t that right, David?” Rather than say anything, I merely nodded. As always, Jeremy knew me so well. Turning back to Sammy, Jeremy continued, “Remember the time we almost cheated on David, but then we both heard Cliff tell us to stop?” “Yes, I remember it well,” Sammy replied, “I heard my dead friend shout ‘Stop!’ into my ear, but that’s not all he said. I refused to hear anything more at the time, but he did say more, didn’t he?” “Yes,” Jeremy said, “He said, ‘Now is not the time.’ Like you, I didn’t allow myself to listen back when I heard it. I didn’t want to face the implications, but I remember hearing it clearly.” “I remember it too,” I said, apparently surprising both my husband and my long-time friend. “But I can’t remarry while you’re still alive, David,” Jeremy noted as he turned toward me. “Why not?” I asked. “As far as the world is concerned, I’m already dead and they won’t know any differently until one hundred years from now, when my memoirs make themselves known to the world.” “That sounds like Trevor’s doing,” Sammy interjected with a smile. “Who else would have the expertise?” I replied. “It wouldn’t feel right, David,” Jeremy went on. “I would always feel like I’m cheating on you.” “Jer, I’m dying,” I reiterated, “and besides which, there is no way for you to be together with me anymore. I don’t exist and there’s no way for the President to become involved with me without my cover being blown. The world cannot know the truth of what happened until generations from now. That’s why the delay in releasing my memoirs is so necessary. “But even if I had died six months ago, would you remarry?” I asked. Sighing, Jeremy answered, “I don’t know. I would have realized you would have wanted me to, but I do not know if I could have. The guilt would have always been there . . .” “As it would have been for me,” Sammy added. “I think in a way you need my permission and my blessing to move on,” I continued. “You two need each other, you love each other and you’re perfect for one another.” “But after what happened with Sally,” Sam interrupted, “I don’t know if I can ever be someone’s lover. How can a marriage survive without the physical aspects of a relationship? I don’t think that one can. I would be afraid to make love again . . . afraid that I would hurt you.” Squaring off to face Sammy directly, Jeremy countered, “I want you to hit me, Sammy. Go ahead. Give it your best shot. You can punch me anywhere. Go ahead. You won’t hurt me.” “I couldn’t do that, Jer,” Sammy replied. “I could never deliberately hit you. It’s just that I’m not sure I could stop myself during the passion of making love.” “Dammit, Sammy, I want you to hit me!” “No! I won’t” “Do it, Sammy. Do it now!” "No!” “Fuck you, Sammy. Fuck you to Hell. Hit me, God damn it!” Before any of us knew what was happening, much less Sammy, he was throwing a punch straight for Jeremy’s left eye. He was lightning fast and at first it appeared he’d even taken Jeremy by surprise. But then Jeremy’s head was inside the radius of Sammy’s punch and he was pulling Sammy into a tight embrace as he pressed their lips together. Pulling away from the gentle, closed-mouth kiss, Jeremy said, “You see, Sammy, you can’t hurt me. I’m as fast as you are, and a lot stronger. I still swim fifty laps a day. I still lift weights. I can bench press more than twice my weight. “I’m an athlete, Sammy,” he continued, “a world-class athlete, the winner of five Olympic medals. Even if you did land a lucky punch, you wouldn’t do serious damage. I’m all muscle. I can take it. Show me your worst and I’ll dish it right back, but I’ll never hurt you, Sammy. For you there will only be love.” Then turning his head to look at me, Jeremy added, “Sorry about that, Dave. I needed to show Sammy that he had nothing to worry about, but I’m still not sure I can forget you.” “Jeremy, I wouldn’t expect you to try,” I answered. “I hope you’ll always remember me and love me. “You remember that Altaf had a boyfriend he left behind in Pakistan . . . a boyfriend who was stoned to death. Even today Altaf speaks of how much he loves and misses Fareed, even as he professes his love to Randy.” “Yes, I remember that,” Jeremy responded. “I’m not saying you should marry Sam because I say you should, even though I think the two of you are right for each other,” I continued, “But I do want you to feel free to remarry, and to know that you have my permission and my blessing. Promise me this, my love. Promise me you won’t wait until after I die. Promise me you’ll remarry when you feel the time is right and not a moment later. I’m not sure I can even promise to let you know that I have died. My existence must remain an absolute secret. “What I can promise you is that my remains will ultimately be interred in my memorial at Arlington Cemetery, and that you’ll be notified so you can be present when that happens. I just don’t know that it will happen right after my death. There are too many things that could happen between now and then. That’s one of the main reasons I need your assurance that you won’t wait.” Our discussion of the matter went on for hours. We had dinner together and then I suggested we all sleep on it. Jeremy wanted to spend the night with me in bed one last time, but I told him that wouldn’t be a good idea. Sleeping with me would only enhance the guilt on both our parts. Instead I suggested he spend the night with Sammy. I did so knowing they might do more than sleep, but doubting anything would happen. Come Sunday morning, we had a leisurely brunch together as my two very sleepy-eyed guests explained that they had spent most of the night talking in bed and nothing more than that, not that it mattered to me one way or the other. In the end Jeremy and Sammy admitted that there were strong feelings between them and they agreed to let time sort them out unimpeded by the knowledge that I might still be alive. In the meantime Jeremy agreed that knowledge of my survival and the access codes to my memoirs would be passed down privately to the next president, but not until I made a promise to tell Brad myself. It was a tearful goodbye as I bid my husband and my friend farewell. I knew that this would be the last time I would ever see them.
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