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Altimexis

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  1. Altimexis

    Part 2

    I slowly came to consciousness as the smell of bacon and sausage permeated my bedroom. Dad must be home, and he was making me a wonderful Cajun breakfast. I had a raging hard-on, though, and my bladder felt like it was about to burst. Something felt like it was in the way, however, and I couldn’t quite get into position to climb out of bed. Then I felt something soft and smooth squirm under me, and then a blurry pair of deep green eyes under an unruly mop of golden curls was staring at me, right in front of my face. Now I remembered. Seth had spent the night. It had been our first time and although we’d decided to take things slow, what we did felt incredible. For the first time outside of gym class, we saw each other naked and felt free to explore each other thoroughly. We’d crawled into bed almost as soon as we got home and made out for hours, discovering just how much fun it was to kiss and be kissed on places other than our mouths. The friction of our bodies against each other, and with our hands, we brought each other to climax more times than I could remember. “What’s that wonderful smell?” my boyfriend asked as he nuzzled against me. “My dad’s cooking,” I answered. “It smells wonderful,” Seth responded, “but if your dad’s out in the kitchen, how are we ever gonna get up and go to the bathroom without him seeing us? And I really need to go.” “Me too,” I answered. “Usually I just wear my underwear in the morning. Mom’s already at work, doing the morning shopping for the restaurant, so it’s just Dad and us, and he knows what we look like.” “You’re Mom’s already at work, this early in the morning?” Laughing, I replied, “She starts her day as soon as the fish markets open in Chinatown, usually around six. When she finishes, she’ll get the soups going and start preparing all the ingredients, chopping everything up and storing it in the refrigerator for the lunch crowd. Then she’ll come home and take a nap while Dad takes care of the lunch crowd, which isn’t nearly as large as the dinner crowd. She’ll then join Dad at dinnertime and they’ll both come home after midnight.” “Man, I can’t imagine livin’ like that,” Seth stated. “They’ve been doin’ it that way ever since I can remember,” I answered. “It’s the only life I know.” Then I yanked off the covers, exposing both of us to the cold air in my bedroom, and Seth yelped, “What the fuck?” “Time to get up, darlin’,” I replied. “There isn’t much room in the bathroom, so we’ll hafta take turns in the shower. You get into the shower while I make the bed. It can take a while to get hot water, especially on a Saturday. While you’re in the shower, I’ll come in and shave, and then I’ll shower when you’re out.” “Why don’t you skip shaving?” Seth suggested. “You’d look sexy with a beard.” “Perhaps I’ll try growin’ one when I’m in college,” I replied, “but my dad said if he ever caught me with facial hair, he’d shave off half of it and make me go to school that way. So for now, it’s not an option. It’s been three days since I last shaved and it’s startin’ to show.” Seth looked around and, spotting his boxers from yesterday on the floor, pulled them on. Then pulling open one of my drawers, he got out one of the old pairs I kept for him, so he could put it on after his shower. He slipped out the door, and then I heard the unmistakable sound of piss hitting the toilet bowl. I dutifully made the bed as I heard the sound of the shower starting up. When I heard the sound of Seth getting into the shower, I pulled on my own pair of boxers and grabbed a fresh pair to take with me. When I opened my door and started to head to the bathroom, I heard my dad call out, “You sleep OK, Asher?” “I slept great, Dad, but how did you know that it wasn’t me the first time the door opened?” “That was easy,” Dad said. “I know you, and you’d have never left your guest alone in your room. You’re too polite for that.” I hadn’t really thought about it, but he was right. It was just instinctual to stay behind and straighten up, giving first rights for the bathroom to Seth. Opening the bathroom door just enough for me to slip inside, Seth looked so sexy through the foggy glass of the shower. Popping up the toilet seat, I let loose into the toilet, then closed the lid and flushed. “Holy fuck, that’s hot,” Seth yelped. “You coulda warned me you were gonna flush,” Seth admonished me. Shrugging my shoulders, I replied, “I’ve never been in here when someone else was showering, or vice versa. I didn’t know that would happen.” Getting out my shaving kit, I made quick work of the light stubble that was on my face. Unfortunately, although my hair was as black as both of my parents’, my skin was a very light brown – coffee and cream as they say. That meant that virtually any facial hair at all was apparent, so I couldn’t let shaving go for more than two or three days. I was only fourteen and most kids I knew at school weren’t even shaving yet. Of course, most kids I knew at school were Asian and probably wouldn’t shave for years if ever, and Seth was such a light blond that he might well never need to shave. As I contemplated this, the water turned off and Seth opened the shower door grabbed his towel and began to dry himself off. There wasn’t a lot of room for the two of us to maneuver in the tiny bathroom, so he stayed in the tub as he dried himself, trading places with me when he was ready. I turned on the water and began my shower as he put on his deodorant, blow-dried his curly blond hair, and brushed his teeth. When I was done washing, I dried myself in the tub, and had Seth sit down on the toilet while I put on my deodorant, brushed my wavy black hair and brushed my teeth. Donning our clean boxers and making our way back to my bedroom, we quickly dressed in t-shirts and jeans, and then joined my dad in the kitchen. He was just dishing up Cajun omelets as we sat down. “That smells wonderful, Mr. White,” Seth began. “Seth, I’ve told you before,” my father replied. “Mr. White was my father. Please call me Gary.” “Well, it does smell wonderful, Gary,” responded my boyfriend. “What is it, and what’s in it?” “It’s just a Cajun omelet,” Dad replied. “Nothing special. It’s three eggs apiece, some spicy sausage… turkey sausage, at the insistence of my doctor. There’s cut up green peppers, red peppers, onions, chilis, paprika, chili powder, cumin and ground black pepper. The bacon is turkey bacon, by the way.” Then pointing to the bottles, he added, “There’s ketchup and salsa for the omelet and the potatoes if you wish.” Being used to spicy foods all my life, I reached straight for the salsa, but when Seth started to do the same, I shook my head, and he instead reached for the ketchup. After taking a bite of the omelet, Seth moaned, and said, “Wow, that’s good! Like I was tellin’ Ash, you guys should open up a Cajun restaurant.” Laughing, Dad replied, “One restaurant at a time is more than enough for the two of us, with the emphasis on more.” “Yeah, but you’ve got all of Chinatown nearby,” Seth countered. “There’s nothing else like this food anywhere else in Manhattan. You’d clean up! “What you need are investors,” Seth went on. “With investors, it’ll be their money on the line… not yours. With investors, you could hire more help for the Asian restaurant, rent space nearby, perhaps north of Delancey or in the East Village, fully outfit your new place in a New Orleans theme, hire and train new staff and put together a menu of your best dishes.” “And I suppose you’re going to find me these investors?” Dad asked my boyfriend. “Actually, yeah. I know people, Gary. Actually, it’s my dad who knows people, and he can get you a solid group of people who won’t take advantage of you.” Shaking his head at my boyfriend’s brashness, Dad replied, “Seth, your father’s our state assemblyman. He’s a politician. Don’t you think it would look a little funny if his son’s boyfriend’s father suddenly opens a new restaurant using funds from your dad’s associates. There’d be allegations of kick-backs and corruption that your father can’t afford.” “I hadn’t thought of that,” Seth answered as he cleaned his plate. “I’ll have to ask my dad about it. There must be a way of setting it up in a way that he has nothing to do with it. If he can come up with a legal and legitimate way of funding your Cajun restaurant, would you open it?” Chuckling, Dad answered, “I won’t say ‘no’, but I won’t say ‘yes’. Something tells me you won’t let me say ‘no’, but I’m not going to hold my breath.” As Seth and I cleared the table and put the dishes in the dish washer, Dad asked, “So, do you boys have any plans today?” Whoever said that it’s easier to seek forgiveness than permission, didn’t know my father. He’d blow his stack if he came home to find that our stereo had been completely replaced by something new. We needed to tell him now, but in the right way. As me and Seth had discussed, we began with Seth telling my dad, “I just bought some new stereo equipment, and it’s gonna be delivered and installed today. That means I’ll have a bunch of equipment that I don’t need anymore. I was talking to Ash, and what I thought I’d do is to give it to you guys. It’s much nicer and newer than what you have now, and I could set everything up after the guys finish installing the equipment in my place.” Taking a deep breath, Dad asked, “If the old equipment is still any good, why are you getting new stuff?” “Because I’m a hopeless audiophile, Gary,” Seth replied without missing a beat. “I’m always looking for ways to improve the sound of my stereo equipment. I often buy new equipment, hoping to improve the realism of the sound, and then I sell the old stuff, but why sell it when you guys could get so much enjoyment out of it?” “If you were going to sell it, then Asher should pay you what you could have gotten for it, out of his allowance,” Dad answered. Oops. I shoulda known he’d say that. “Gary, there’s no need for that,” Seth replied. “I’m doing this as much for selfish reasons as I am for Ash. Like you and Ash, I love the jazz classics, and you have a phenomenal record collection. But listening to any of it on your old stereo is like listening to fingernails on a chalkboard. The tonearm on your turntable resonates at around 600 hertz, the platter wobbles, the speaker cones have gotten stiff and there’s horrible feedback between the speakers and the turntable.” “Yes, and there’s an intermittent problem with static if you adjust the treble on the left channel,” Dad added, “and I knew the Bose speakers were a mistake from the moment I got them home. I thought the direct-reflection technology would make them sound more open in a tiny apartment, but it only served to annoy the neighbors, and the sound isn’t very good. “I should have replaced the stereo years ago, but I was just too busy with the restaurant and once Asher came along, it was no longer a priority.” “It doesn’t do your record collection justice,” Seth continued. “Do you have any idea how much that record collection is worth?” “About a quarter of a million dollars,” Dad replied, utterly shocking me to the core. I guess I showed my shock, as dad said, “What, you think I didn’t know that? One thing I’m not is stupid. I’ve had the collection appraised every few years, and it’s fully insured. If things ever became desperate, I’d sell it in an instant to fund your education, but that would only be as a last resort. “Did you ever stop to think what it took me to put that collection together?” Dad asked. “I know… to you, I’ve always had it, but you have to remember that those records were cut decades before I was born. I started collecting them when I was about your age, Asher, but I could have never afforded to buy them from collectors and dealers. No, I had to resort to buying from garage and estate sales. Once I got my license and could drive, I scoured the countryside, looking for yard sales and people getting rid of their parents’ and grandparents’ old junk, not really knowing its worth. “The best thing that ever happened to me was when the record stores stopped selling vinyl. Everyone was switching over to CDs, not fully appreciating what they were losing in the process, but their loss was my gain. I went through hundreds of people’s old record collections, looking for hidden gems. That original pressing of Kind of Blue was something I picked up at a yard sale in Picayune for five dollars along with 24 other records… not just that one record. The people who sold it to me didn’t know what they had.” “Didn’t you feel like you were taking advantage of them?” I asked. “Son, I could have never afforded to pay market value for my collection,” Dad answered. “Besides which, it really isn’t the buyer’s responsibility to inform the seller of an object’s worth. If a seller misrepresents something, then yes, that’s fraud. But if they correctly identify an item for sale but fail to appraise it’s worth, then it’s their problem. The Internet may not have been around back then, but the woman who sold me Kind of Blue could easily have looked up its worth at the library if she’d only taken the time. She assumed that her father’s old collection of vinyl records was worthless and priced it accordingly. “So, you see, with as much time and effort as it took me to build my collection, it’s not for sale at any price. Someday it’ll be yours. I had hoped that you’d eventually pass it on to your children, but at least it’ll be there for your retirement, if you need it.” “Gary,” my boyfriend said as he came up to my dad, “We’re gonna have children. We’ve discussed it and we both want them. When we’re ready, we’ll probably adopt. We have every intention of passing the collection on to our children and maybe eventually to our grandchildren.” Wiping away the tears in his eyes, Dad said, “You don’t know how happy that makes me feel.” Then turning back to Seth, he asked, “so tell me about this stereo system you’ve bought for my son, and don’t give me any malarkey about giving him your old stereo equipment. I don’t miss much, and I distinctly remember Asher talking about how fantastic your stereo system is, but lamenting how he couldn’t play any records on it, because it was all digital and you didn’t even have a turntable. So, spill it.” Sheepishly, I admitted, “Busted!” “What the two of you didn’t realize,” Dad continued, “is that I’d already planned to buy a new stereo as a Christmas present for the family and particularly for Seth. I’d already priced a pair of LS50W amplified speakers and a Debut Carbon Esprit turntable. I hadn’t bought them yet, hoping I might find something for a better price on sale this Friday.” I was flabbergasted, and ecstatic. I flung myself into my father’s arms and hugged him for dear life. Seth, however, recognized that there was unfinished business. “The LS50 is a phenomenal speaker for the money, but the amplified version is a bit underpowered for your living room. And they really don’t have much of a low end, so you’d need to add a sub. The Debut is an excellent turntable, but for a hundred more, the LP7 is significantly better. Audio-Technica is known for making high-quality components at an affordable price. To beat the LP7, you’d hafta spend more than twice as much. “Gary, you were gonna spend a bit under three thousand, not counting the cost of the cables, setup and tax. For $3000, including cables, setup and tax, I got you a much better system. Further, it’s expandable, to meet your future needs. Expanding the LS50Ws would mean buying a lot more equipment.” “What exactly did you buy,” Dad asked, “and how in heck did you get it for less than I was going to spend?” “Well, I know of a great stereo place on Canal Street and have been buying from them for years,” my boyfriend answered. “They sell a lot of used equipment and if you know what you’re looking for, you can save a fortune. The only thing we’re getting you guys that’s used, however, is the amp, a Nova 300, which is still the current model and is less than a year old. The only reason it was returned is that, like with so many audiophiles, the buyer found something they liked better and was willing to take a loss. For speakers, we got a pair of R500s as a close-out floor model, for a steal. They’d just been put on display when the model was discontinued, so they’re essentially brand new. “The store provides a lifetime warranty on everything they sell, so if anything ever goes wrong, they’ll fix it, free of charge for as long as you own it.” “That’s all top-shelf stuff,” Dad noted. “Well, maybe bottom-shelf for you, but excellent quality at an amazing price. But of course, I must pay you back for it. It’s almost exactly what I was gonna pay anyway and I could never let you spend so much money on a gift for my son.” “But I want to get it for Ash,” Seth lamented, and then he put his foot in it by saying, “Besides, it’s not a gift.” “What do you mean it’s not a gift?” Dad asked. Of course, we ended up having to explain the nature of our bet. When we’d finished, Dad responded with, “Well, I don’t approve of such a bet, nor can I allow it, particularly when it’s so grossly unfair.” “What do you mean it’s unfair?” Seth asked. “I mean there’s no way my son can lose, and so it’s not really a bet… it’s a gift,” Dad answered. “You really think Ash will be able to tell the difference between vinyl and a high-resolution digital version?” Seth asked. “Of course he will, just as I would,” Dad responded. “Frankly, Gary, I don’t think you realize just how good digital audio has become,” my boyfriend admonished my father. “The digital signal processor that used to cost ten grand, can now be had on a tiny chip for under a hundred bucks. A high-end DAC such as the one in the Nova 300 can outperform the best analog circuitry from a few years ago. That’s one of the reasons I chose to go with an all-digital system. It significantly simplifies the wiring, reduces the cost and improves the sound quality. “I have to laugh when I see a kid shopping for vinyl in Barnes and Nobel at Union Square,” my boyfriend continued. “They’ll pick out and buy the latest LP from their favorite band. They’ll spend thirty or even fifty dollars for a record that was recorded digitally, edited, sliced, diced, and processed the hell out of digitally, and then converted to analog and pressed onto a vinyl disc. Not that I’d want the same album, mind you, but I can go online with HDtracks, purchase a copy of the original digital master for about twenty-five dollars, upload it to VOX and listen to it using my phone and my Dragonfly DAC, anywhere in the world in master quality audio. What really gets me, though, is when that kid uses a cheap turntable with a USB cable… a USB cable of all things, to play it through their laptop using a cheap pair of computer speakers or worse, a stock pair of earbuds.” “Today’s vinyl is crap… I’ll grant you that,” Dad agreed, “but nothing can touch a vintage vinyl record from the jazz masters.” “But with digital, you can take a bunch of vintage vinyl records of the same original recording, or you can take the original master, recorded using a reel-to-reel Apex tape recorder, and you can completely eliminate the effects of tape hiss, scratches, general wear and even original imperfections. You can recover recordings that were previously unlistenable,” Seth pointed out. “And I’m telling you, son, none of that can compare to a vintage vinyl record that’s been taken care of.” “Are you willing to bet on that?” Seth asked and my dad nodded his head. “OK, once my new turntable and your new stereo are set up, you choose the date and time, just so long as it’s not during school. You send me the names of five vintage vinyl jazz albums you have in your collection. I’ll make sure I have hi-res digital downloads of all of them. You select two tracks from each of them. The three of us will listen to each track in its entirety, first from one source and the the other, but in random order.” “Wouldn’t it be better to use an A-B design?” I asked. “No babe, ’cause you might pick up on clues as to which was which from switching artifacts rather than the music itself. It would introduce unfair bias,” Seth explained. “So,” he continued, “the three of us will listen to a total of ten tracks from five albums on two stereo systems. An independent party will switch the sources at random and record the order out of sight. Each of us will record our answers as to which source was which on paper. Each of us will be scored on accuracy. A score of 50% would indicate random chance and hence failure. 67% is one standard deviation from chance, so a successful test has to be at minimum better than that. I propose that we designate eight out of ten correct responses on either system to be definitive for the ability to differentiate vinyl from digital. Conversely, six or fewer correct answers would indicate chance and hence a negative result.” “Are you sure he’s a thirteen-year-old kid?” Dad asked, turning to look at me. “He was home schooled,” I answered. “Ah, I see,” said Dad. “So if we accept your…” “Metrics?” I suggested. “So if we accept your metrics, Seth, what should be the bet?” Dad asked. “You want me to make a wager with you?” My boyfriend asked, obviously as incredulous as was I that Dad would propose something so preposterous. “I can’t let something as absurd as your ideas on the superiority of digital music go unchallenged,” Dad explained. You proposed a bet in the first place and now you should stand by it. A friendly bet if you will. But I can’t let you give my son a new stereo system in any case. I’d already planned to give him one for Christmas and you mustn’t take that away from me. Either you take yours back or you let me pay for it.” With a smile, Seth responded, “That’s the second time in the last 24 hours I’ve been accused of taking away someone’s right to give, just because I can.” Then looking my father right in the eyes, he continued, “The last thing I want to do is to come between my boyfriend and his family. I think I got a great deal on stereo equipment and frankly much better than you could’ve gotten. Since the cost was virtually the same as you’d planned to spend, the best thing would be for you to simply pay me back for it. That’s fair. “Regarding the bet, I believe I have four separate bets with each of you… that each of you can tell the difference between vinyl and digital on your stereo and on mine, and that I can tell the difference on your system and on mine. Four bets between me and each of you. And no matter what the outcome, it should be fair and even the loser should have fun… “How about this,” he continued. “For each bet I win with you, Gary, using my metric, you will cook breakfast for me for a month…” “But I usually do that anyway for Asher,” Dad protested. “How would that change things?” “Like I said,” Seth explained, “even for the loser, it should be fun. So, for each bet I win with you, I’ll get to have a month of sleepovers with my boyfriend, complete with one of your fantastic breakfasts… served in bed if I wish.” “What if I win?” Dad asked. “If you win, I’ll make deliveries for your restaurant for a month. I’ll need to buy a bike, so I’ll keep the tips, but I’ll work for tips only, and of course dinner.” Nodding his head, Dad replied, “Monday through Thursday, six to eight, during the dinner rush. I already have enough weekend staff.” Dad extended his hand and he and my boyfriend shook on it. Then Seth turned to face me and said, “Our deal will be the same as before. For each bet I win, you’ll make me dinner for a month. For each bet you win, I’ll make you dinner for a month. ’Course you’ll have to teach me how. Deal?” Comically, he extended his hand as if we were businessmen. I grabbed his hand, gave it a quick shake and then pulled him in for a kiss. “Hey, no fraternizing with your adversary,” Dad admonished me. Had it been anyone else, I’d have given him the finger and kept on kissing Seth, but I couldn’t exactly do that with Dad, so I just ignored him and kept on kissing my boyfriend until Dad left the room. <> <> <> “I can’t believe something that small costs five hundred dollars,” I exclaimed as I watched the guy from the stereo store plug a device that looked like a USB thumb drive into the back of one of Seth’s speakers. Laughing, the guy – I think he’d introduced himself as Tyrone – replied, “You should see some of the high-end in-ear monitors we sell. The only thing smaller would be if it was implanted directly into your brain.” That prompted Seth to say, “I am Locutus of Borg…” “From this day forward…” I joined in. “You will service… us.” Tyrone added, then we all high-fived each other. Tyrone, evidently, was also a Star Trek fan. “So, what I’m doing, gentlemen,” Tyrone explained, “is I’m plugging in an external DSP into the USB jack on the back of each speaker. The external DSP gets its power through the USB port, so it’s truly plug-and-play. That’s all there is to it,” Tyrone continued. “These DSPs are interchangeable too, so if you ever have a problem with one, you can try swapping it with another to see if that fixes it.” He then proceeded to move around the room, repeating the procedure with each of Seth’s seven speakers and two subwoofers. After he’d finished, he turned to Seth and asked, “OK, where are we going to put the turntable?” “Shit, I hadn’t thought about that,” Seth replied. “I guess I just assumed I’d work it in with the other stereo components somehow. “If I could make a suggestion,” Tyrone said, “there’s a lot of cabinet space under the TV. If you could talk your parents into moving their liquor someplace else, we could put the turntable there.” “That’s an excellent idea, Ty,” Seth replied. “If need be, I’ll buy them a separate liquor cabinet for Christmas.” Tyrone then proceeded to remove the liquor from the cabinet under the TV, and then slid the new turntable into place along with some electronic equipment. He connected several cables and then put a marked-up rubbery disc on the turntable and made some adjustments. “Now, we just have to reprogram your CPU to take advantage of the external DSPs,” he said as he got out a laptop and plugged it into another piece of electrical equipment, located under the TV. I wouldn’t have even known it was there, but Tyrone knew exactly what to look for. In no time Tyrone’s fingers were flying across the keys of his laptop. “The first thing I’ve gotta do is to upgrade your firmware,” he relayed. “This’ll take a few minutes.” After a few key-presses, he just stared at his computer screen. I couldn’t tell that anything was happening at all, but apparently Tyrone could. After a while, he said, “There, now that that’s done, I’m going to log onto your CPU and upgrade the software to the latest version.” This time I could tell he was on some kind of website, as he had a browser window open. “OK, the new software’s ready to install. This could take a while.” And then he punched some more keys, and the browser window went blank. Standing up and stretching, he said, “I don’t suppose I could trouble you for some water or something to drink.” “We don’t keep soda in the house,” Seth replied, “but I do have some natural juices, including cranberry juice, cranberry mango, cranberry peach, tomato juice, V-8, and aloe juice.” “Aloe juice?” Tyrone asked. “That sounds intriguing.” “Would you like to try some?” Seth asked. “Sure, why not?” Tyrone replied. My boyfriend poured each of us a glass, which we proceeded to sip. “Mmm… sweet, but not too sweet,” Tyler commented, and then he asked, “So, I hear you guys go to Stuyvesant. No offense, Seth, but you look way too young to be in high school.” “He was home schooled and he’s a year ahead of the rest of us,” I replied with evident pride. “He’s thirteen, but his dad’s a politician, so he’s much wiser to the ways of the world than the rest of us.” “You’re fourteen?” Tyrone asked, and I nodded my head. “I know you must get this all the time, but did you know you look exactly…” “Like Tiger Woods,” I interrupted. “Yes, I know. My mother’s Chinese and grew up in Flushing. My father’s African American and grew up in New Orleans. They met in Poughkeepsie, at the Culinary Institute of America. They own a take-out place on Grand Street.” “And Seth,” Tyrone asked, “With your last name and all, is your father THE Frank Moore?” “One and the same,” Seth answered. “He’s one of the most powerful men in Albany.” “Probably the next speaker,” Seth responded, “and then maybe he’ll try for Congress or the Senate. He’s kinda got his eyes on Schumer’s spot for when he retires.” “Hopefully not until you’re in college,” Tyrone commented. “It’d be hard on your relationship if you had to move away.” Realizing that he was talking about the two of us, I asked, “How in the world did you know?” “It’s pretty obvious from the way you two interact. And besides, Paul mentioned it before I left the store this morning.” “And here I thought you had gaydar,” I said. “My girlfriend would be surprised at that,” he replied. Then glancing over at his computer screen, he said, “Excellent… the new software’s up and running.” Then getting back on his laptop, he said, “all of the new DSP’s have been recognized and incorporated into the network, so I just have to reprogram the CPU to take advantage of their capabilities.” That actually seemed to take a lot of time as he kept tapping on his keyboard. “Now, it’s time to balance all the speakers.” He got out what looked like an array of fancy microphones – maybe nine microphones mounted on a square grid – and set it up on a tri-pod directly opposite the TV, just behind the sofa. There was a long cable coming off of the grid, and he plugged it into his laptop. “Please be quiet while the system tests the impulse response curve for each speaker.” Then there was what sounded like loud static coming from one speaker at time. Then he said, “Excellent. The curves are flat for all speakers across the listening area.” He then dismantled all of his equipment, including the laptop, and put it all away. “You are set, my friend,” he said to Seth. “Would you like to try out your new turntable?” “Of course,” Seth replied. I retrieved a small stack of records I’d brought with me from Dad’s collection, and selected the same Sarah Vaughan album we’d listened to the other night. Tyrone took it from me and showed Seth the ‘proper’ way to handle a vinyl record album, which of course he already knew. “Vinyl must be handled only by the edges, and by the center hole. The playing surface must never be touched by human hands. Now if you go to the main menu on your TV, you’ll see that there’s a new selection for ‘Turntable’, but you don’t need to select it for it to work. Simply putting on a record will cause the pre-amp to turn on and the CPU to switch to it.” Tyrone set the album on the platter and started it up. “This is a strictly manual turntable,” Tyrone continued. “That means that you have to set the needle into the groove by hand at the start of the record, and to lift it off the record at the end.” Tyrone then used the damped cueing lever to lift the tonearm, he moved it to where it was just hovering over the start of the record, and then he released the lever, letting the needle find the outside groove. Within seconds, the sound of Sarah Vaughn’s stellar voice was filling the room. I couldn’t believe how fantastic the music sounded on Seth’s new turntable. It was just sooo much better than on my old one. There was no way in hell that digital could sound this good. Echoing my thoughts, Seth said, “Let’s see how that compares to my digital copy.” Then turning on the TV, Seth maneuvered through a series of menus until he had the same album cover displayed, and then he pressed a button to start playing the digital version. I had to admit, it sounded pretty good – definitely better than it did on my turntable at home – but to me there was no comparison. The original vinyl recording from my Dad’s collection sounded like a true live performance. I could have sworn she was right behind the TV, and that Seth’s living room was a real jazz club. Even though the original recording was only in stereo, I could have sworn that the sounds of clanking glasses and silverware on plates were coming from all around me. This was what a live performance was supposed to sound like. The digital version was good, but it sounded flat in comparison. “Out of curiosity,” Seth said, “lets see how that compares to the DSD version I downloaded over the Internet a few days ago.” Seth then maneuvered through another series of menus on his TV, and pretty soon the same track was playing. Damned if I could tell the difference between it and my Dad’s vinyl, though. The same sense of realism was there. Perhaps not quite as vibrant, but it was much the same. “Of course, you wouldn’t expect there to be much difference between the vinyl version and the DSD. The vinyl recording is being converted into a DSD on the fly, after all. The only difference between the two is that the DSD you downloaded is DSD 128 and the version generated by your phono pre-amp is DSD 256, so the vinyl version is represented by twice as much data, but as you can hear, the effect is pretty much negligible.” “Our bet doesn’t include DSD downloads, does it?” I asked. “Perhaps it should, now that I have the option to download DSDs when available, but I wouldn’t do that to you. It wouldn’t be fair. No, the bet is between digital and vinyl. DSD is a hybrid and it shouldn’t count.” <> <> <> “Wow, I can’t believe this equipment,” Tyrone exclaimed when we got to my apartment. “This stuff is from the dark ages. And Bose speakers? Eew!” “They were considered state-of-the-art when my dad bought them,” I countered. “So was the eight-track tape player,” Tyrone responded, “but I wouldn’t want to listen to one of those either. Once we get the new stuff set up, you’re in for a treat.” Pulling the speakers off the shelf, he set them aside and said, “These go right into electronics recycling, as does the rest of your old stuff. No one would want them.” He seemed to look in horror as he pulled away the surge suppressor that was plugged into the wall. “This thing’s well past its prime. What you really need is a power line conditioner. It not only protects against surges, but evens out the flakey voltage fluctuations that are typical in older buildings like this one. Fortunately, I happen to have one with me. Paul figured you’d need one and told me to throw it in at no charge.” He then proceeded to plug it into our wall outlet, and immediately a series of lights lit up on the front of it. Then, he set the Nova 300 on top of it and plugged it in. Next came the LP7 turntable, which he set down next to the amplifier. He went through the same calibration procedure he had with Seth’s turntable before going on. Tyrone set one R500 speaker down on each side of the television, and got out several cables and some weird-looking wires and hooked everything up, including a fiberoptic cable from the TV to the amp. Once he was finished, he showed me the remote and said, “The only source buttons you’ll use are Opt-2 and Aux-2. Opt-2 is for the TV and Aux-2 is, of course, for your turntable. Your turntable is fully manual, just like Seth’s, and you’ll need to handle it the same way, but then so was your old one, so nothing has really changed there. “We need to set-up your TV to output sound only to the stereo.” Grabbing the TV remote from the coffee table, he turned the TV and cable box on, and then went through a series of menus on the TV until the sound was indeed only coming through the new speakers. I couldn’t get over how different the TV sounded. It actually sounded good. I hadn’t realized how terrible it sounded through the built-in speakers. “So, how would you like to try out your new turntable?” “I’d love to,” I replied. Seth handed the Sarah Vaughn album back to me and I immediately put it on the turntable and set the tonearm into the outer groove, but no sound came out. “You do have to remember to switch inputs,” Tyler pointed out as he pushed the Aux-2 button on the remote. Soon, the sound of her voice filled the room. No, it didn’t sound as rich as it did on Seth’s stereo. He had simulated surround sound, after all, which brought out the natural ambience of a live recording in a way the Bose speakers never did, but compared to the only way I’d ever heard the music before in my living room, it was incredible. It was the next best thing to a live performance. Tyrone was kind enough to take away all the boxes and old components when he finished. Seth paid up the balance in cash, and then slipped him an additional fifty-dollar bill as a generous tip for all the time he spent with us. It was nearly five o’clock when he left, and he’d been at it for hours. I showed my appreciation to Seth for buying me a new stereo by cooking dinner. We didn’t have time to go shopping, so I made a simple meal using ingredients I had on hand. I prepared a Cajun chicken and vegetable stir-fri, which he said was fantastic. Afterwards, we showed our appreciation for each other as we soiled another set of sheets. Doing laundry was definitely on the agenda for tomorrow.
  2. Altimexis

    Part 1

    “Ash, I can’t believe your parents are gonna be working on Thanksgiving!” Seth said as we walked past City Hall on our way home from school. Shrugging my shoulders, I replied, “They’ve always worked on Thanksgiving… after all, they own a restaurant.” “But who the fuck would want Chinese food on Thanksgiving?” Seth practically shouted as much as asked. “You’d be surprised,” I answered. “A lot of people are lazy, and then there are the young couples trying to make their first Thanksgiving dinner. When the turkey comes out tasting like shoe leather, guess what they end up doing?” It was a glorious late fall day with ample sunshine and the temperature was well into the sixties. Before meeting Seth, I would’ve just taken the bus home, but now that I had a boyfriend in my life, it seemed a shame to spend our time cooped up on a city bus when we could be alone together. It didn’t take much longer to walk home than to take the bus, and with weather like this, it was sooo much better to walk home with the boy I loved. “But Chinese?” Seth asked again. “Why not,” I replied. “You’ve tasted my parents’ cooking. You’ve tasted my cooking. If you’ve just made Thanksgiving dinner, and the turkey came out tasting like shoe leather, would you really want to be reminded of just how badly you fucked it up by eating turkey from a restaurant?” Imitating a much lower voice, I parodied, “No Honey, that’s OK. Why don’t we send out for Chinese from our favorite take-out?” “OK, I see your point, Ash,” Seth continued, “but does that really happen that often?” “Let’s put it this way,” I replied, “Thanksgiving is second only to Mother’s Day and Christmas in terms of our business every year. There’s no way my parents could take it off. At least they’re not asking me to help out… not yet, anyway.” “Your parents hafta work Christmas too?” Seth asked. “Haven’t your heard of a Jewish Christmas?” I asked. “If you’re Jewish and don’t celebrate Christmas, what else is there to do? Watch a movie and eat Chinese food. It used to be people went out to the movies and ate at a Chinese restaurant, but now they often stream a movie from Netflix and order takeout from us.” “But I was counting on spending Thanksgiving with you,” Seth said with a pout as we passed through the Dinkins Municipal Building and turned onto the footpath for Park Row. “Oh, so you were gonna invite yourself to spend Thanksgiving with me and my parents?” I asked in amusement. “Well yeah.” Seth replied. “My parents have been invited to spend it with the Governor, and I wasn’t exactly invited. It’s not like they have a choice. So, either I spend it alone or I spend Thanksgiving with you.” “But just because my parents have to work on Thanksgiving, doesn’t mean we can’t spend the holiday together,” I suggested. “We could even cook our own turkey.” “Are you serious?” Seth asked as a grin took over his face. “Of course I’m serious” I answered. “I’ve never roasted a turkey before. It’d be fun!” “But you do know how to make a turkey dinner, don’t you? I mean you’ve seen how your mom makes it, right?” Seth asked. “Haven’t you heard a word I’ve said?” I asked. “My parents work on Thanksgiving. They’ve always worked on Thanksgiving. As far as I know, they’ve never roasted a turkey before… at least not that I can remember.” “You’re shittin’ me. You’ve never had a turkey dinner before?” Seth asked incredulously. “I didn’t say that,” I replied. “I’ve never had it at home, but the Good Stuff Diner makes a turkey dinner that I’ve heard it is second to none. Their apple walnut stuffing is incredible.” “The Good Stuff Diner?” Seth asked. “Not that I eat out very often, but it’s definitely one of my favorite restaurants in New York,” I replied. “It’s on Fourteenth Street, at Sixth Avenue, just north of The Village. It’s right next to the Y – M – C – A. It’s fun to eat by the YYY – M – C – A-A,” I broke into song. “Oh, that is sooo bad, Ash,” Seth responded, pretending to puke on the sidewalk as we passed through Chatham Square, walking by the statue at the foot of Chinatown. We turned onto Oliver Street, and then headed up Henry Street, toward home. We dropped our hands once we passed under the Manhattan Bridge. We were out and proud, but there was no reason to attract the attention of a street gang from the projects. “So, you’re gonna show me how much you love me by giving me food poisoning on Thanksgiving?” Seth joked. “Jerk,” I replied as I gave him a little shove to the side. “You know that I’ve been cooking for myself ever since I could reach the burners on the stove. Sure, I usually eat at my parents’ take-out. They expect me to eat there with them, but when they’re busy, I’d starve if I didn’t know how to cook for myself.” “My parents aren’t around either, but I never needed to cook for myself,” Seth countered. “And what healthy, nutritious things do you eat for dinner?” I asked. “Pizza, or a sandwich from the deli, or takeout from your restaurant.” “I rest my case,” I chided my boyfriend. “But seriously, if we do this, you’re gonna help.” “You expect me to make Thanksgiving dinner?” Seth asked in shock. “It’ll be a learning experience for the both of us,” I replied, “and if we don’t manage to poison each other, then maybe we can spend the night together.” “Seriously?” my boyfriend replied. “You think your parents would go for that?” “They might, but we’ll never know unless we ask.” I responded. “After all, they’ve always felt guilty about never spendin’ Thanksgiving together. I’d just be spendin’ another Thanksgiving alone otherwise. If there’s any time they’d allow it, this would be the time.” “Holy fuck!” Seth exclaimed. “That’s a distinct possibility,” I joked. “Doofus,” he replied as he gave me a playful shove to the side. We turned onto Grand Street, then headed into my parent’s restaurant. Mom was at the counter, so I greeted her in her native Mandarin Chinese, saying, “Good afternoon Mother.” “Good afternoon, Asher,” she replied in Mandarin, then turning to face my boyfriend, added in English, “Good afternoon, Seth. Are you boys hungry?” What a stupid thing to ask a couple of teenagers. “Of course we’re hungry, Mom.” “Then let me get you boys a snack,” she replied, “and send you home with your dinner.” As usual, she disappeared for only a moment, and then returned with a full plate of food for each of us and set them down on one of the few tables we had in the front of the restaurant. She’d obviously been expecting us. As Seth started to dig into his, before starting to eat, I looked up at my mom and asked in Mandarin, “Mother, Seth and I thought we might spend Thanksgiving together. We thought we could maybe make Thanksgiving dinner together too.” “I think that sounds like a wonderful idea, Asher,” she replied in Mandarin Chinese, “but do you realize how much work it is to prepare a traditional Thanksgiving dinner?” “Yes, I believe I do, Mother,” I replied. “We will have to do our own shopping, and spend hours in the kitchen, and then clean up after ourselves too.” “If anyone can pull it off, you can, my son,” she replied, “but you must know that with so many dishes in the oven and on the stove at once, something is bound to go wrong.” “Nothing is going to go wrong, Mother,” I replied, “but even if it does, I know how to handle it. I know where to buy the best turkey… a fresh one… not frozen. I know where to buy the best ingredients. I know my way around Chinatown. And I’ll keep a fire extinguisher handy, just in case.” Nodding her head and laughing, she responded in English, “Perhaps you boys should spend the entire holiday weekend together. You two have much work ahead of you, and it would be much easier if you didn’t have to go home at night to separate apartments. You will need each other’s support.” “Thank you, Mother, for trusting us,” I replied in Mandarin. “Of course I trust you, Asher,” she replied in English. “I trust your judgement and I know you and Seth respect each other. The two of you are together every afternoon after school, I know, and you have ample opportunity to get into mischief. I know I don’t have to worry, as you are responsible. I know you must want to explore your relationship and that is fine with me. I expect it. I know that if you are not at home, I can find you at Seth’s. I only ask that you get permission from Seth’s parents as well.” “Thank you, Mother,” I replied, and then I stood and hugged her tightly. Then in a gesture that really touched my heart, Seth got up and did the same. Noticing that we had finished our ‘snack’, my mom took both plates and said, “I’ll be right back with your dinner for tonight.” Moments later we were on our way, laden down with several containers of Chinese food for the evening. <> <> <> We’d agreed that we would wait until the weekend before Thanksgiving to spend the night with each other. It was just as well, as we both had a lot of homework and there were several term papers due before the holiday recess. Of course, we still spent our afternoons together, walking home when the weather permitted it, doing our homework together, usually at Seth’s, where we could enjoy the sunset together, and eating together with food from my parents’ restaurant. Occasionally I would cook a meal for us, and we’d stop on the way home to buy the necessary groceries. It was nice to have someone to cook for. So, it was that a few days later, we found ourselves walking home through Chinatown. We stopped in a seafood shop, where I picked up a pound of fresh shrimp, and then a butcher shop, where I picked a small but meaty chicken that was hanging in the window. Finally, I picked up a couple of bell peppers, an onion, a clove of garlic and some chilis, tomatoes, carrots and potatoes from a local market. “I still can’t believe your parents are OK with the two of us having sex,” Seth reiterated as we began our walk home from the market. “Yours are too,” I pointed out. “Yeah, but they’re liberal to the core,” Seth pointed out. “Your dad is practically a Republican, and your mom is so traditional.” “Both my parents are moderate Democrats,” I countered. “You know as well as I do that the Mayor’s totally incompetent, so you can’t blame them for voting Republican in the last election…” “Yes, I can,” Seth challenged. “In politics, sometimes you have to hold your nose when you cast your ballot if you want to get ahead.” “Well my parents aren’t in politics, nor am I,” I reminded Seth. “A person’s integrity is always more important than their party affiliation. And you can’t spend what you don’t have as the mayor does so freely. ’Course the Republicans used to be more responsible that way, but that was before they became fanatical about cutting taxes. Just the other day the Times had an article on how the IRS is leaving billions of dollars on the table, just ’cause they don’t have the budget to go after it. That’s not a matter of cutting waste… it’s just plain stupid.” “Yeah, but the Republicans wouldn’t keep New York as a sanctuary city,” Seth argued. “That alone is reason enough not to vote for them.” “And the Democrats would open the borders, taking in all-comers,” I countered. “I strongly disagree with what Trump has done with immigration, but we can’t take in the whole planet.” “But the Hondurans have no place else to go.” “Sure they do,” I responded. “Why not Mexico. Mexico’s not rich, but it’s not poor, they speak the same language. Why does it have to be the U.S. that takes them in?” “A lot of them have sought refuge in Mexico, but the gangs can still get to them there,” Seth pointed out. “In the U.S., there are support networks ready to take them in.” “With government assistance… our tax dollars… paying the way,” I replied in exasperation. “Look Seth, I understand what you’re talking about, but we can’t be the world’s savior. Unless and until the entire planet develops the resolve to put an end to war, famine, corruption and crime, there will be refugees. Look at what’s happened in Europe. The migration crisis has only fueled the rise of the radical right and fascism. If we take in all refugees, we’ll end up with a wrecked economy and environment. That’s not to say we shouldn’t do what we can, but our resources are limited.” “But not even a wall can stop them from entering the country,” Seth countered. “Look, not even the Trump Administration’s deplorable policy of separating children from their parents has stemmed the flow. And it’s only gonna get worse with climate change.” “With climate change, someday we’ll be the refugees,” I declared. “All of Lower Manhattan will be under water, perhaps even in our lifetimes.” “Sadly, I have to agree with you there,” Seth stated as we entered my building and took an elevator to the ninth floor. As we entered my apartment, we both kicked off our shoes and, while I changed out of my school clothes, Seth headed for the living room and riffled through my dad’s record collection selecting music to suit the mood. One of the things we’d discovered about each other, besides our shared love of sci-fi in general and Star Trek in particular, was a shared love of the jazz classics. Not that we didn’t like rock music too, and classical for that matter, but the combination of African rhythms with European folk music had resulted in some of the most enduring music of all time. It was jazz that put American music on the map – not rock, not rap and certainly not hip-hop. Jazz was timeless. Soon, the unmistakable sounds of Billie Holiday filled the apartment. By the time Seth joined me in my room, I was already down to my boxers and socks. By the look of his stare, it was obvious Seth liked the way I looked in just my underwear, though I couldn’t for the life of me understand why. As he too got undressed, I tossed him and old t-shirt and a pair of shorts that I’d worn last year, which were way too small on me now, and I got out a pair of shorts and a t-shirt for myself as well. Heading to the bathroom, I slipped off my socks and dropped them in the hamper and Seth did the same. I much preferred barefoot to stocking feet, and Seth followed my example. Lifting the seat on the toilet, we both unzipped and let loose our streams, then I flushed and we both washed our hands. Back in the kitchen, I got out the rice cooker and other cooking equipment. When I placed a large pot on the stove, however, Seth asked, “What, no wok?” “Tonight, we’re having something totally different… jambalaya.” “Jambalaya!” Seth exclaimed. “Where the fuck did you learn to make jambalaya?” Shrugging my shoulders, I pointed out, “My dad’s Creole and from New Orleans. His Cajun food’s fantastic. I learned from the master.” “Why doesn’t your dad open a Cajun restaurant?” Seth asked. “He probably should,” I answered, “but the Asian restaurant is doing so well… he doesn’t want to chance it while he has a sure thing.” Putting his arm around my shoulders, he suggested, “What you need, my man, is an investor. There’d be very little risk to you if you use someone else’s money.” “Yeah, like that’s gonna happen.” I replied. “It might,” Seth answered. “My dad has connections.” “And how might it affect us if the restaurant fails?” I asked. “I’d rather not have that hanging over our heads.” “Well at least your dad could add some Cajun items to the menu?” Seth suggested. “He tried it once before,” I responded. “No one ordered any of it.” “They probably didn’t know what it was,” Seth replied. “Actually, I’ve never tried Cajun food. I have no idea if I’d like it.” “Then you, my man, are in for a treat,” I responded. Getting started, I set my boyfriend to work peeling potatoes and scrubbing carrots while I set up the rice cooker. I put the potatoes, carrots and tomatoes on a slow boil and had Seth peel the shrimp while I skinned and boned the chicken. I threw the chicken and shrimp into another pot and started the meat browning while Seth diced the bell peppers and chilis and I diced the onions and minced the garlic. Once the meat was brown, I added the peppers, onions and garlic and covered the pot. The smell was incredible. I drained the water from the vegies and threw them into a food processor, puréeing them to a bisque. Finally, I poured the purée over the stewing meat, added some spices, stirred the mixture, covered it and left it to simmer on low heat. Twenty minutes later, I scooped some rice onto a pair of plates, spooned some of the jambalaya mixture on top of it and dinner was served. The first thing that happened when Seth tasted it was that he moaned. “Oh, this is heavenly,” he said. “This is incredible. Your dad taught you how to make this?” “Well yeah,” I replied, “but it’s really quite simple. You saw… there were only about a dozen ingredients and it only took a few steps to make. And there’s enough left over for tomorrow at least.” “Maybe simple for you, but I could never do this,” Seth exclaimed. “I’ve never tasted anything like it before… anywhere in New York. You could definitely get investors for this. A small restaurant north of Delancey or in the East Village, and you’d be packed all week.” We were already on our second record album of the evening and when the music stopped, Seth got up and picked out another – our third of the evening. Recognizing it immediately, I said, “Nothing like a little Sara Vaughn in the evening, and nothing sounds better than Sarah on vinyl.” “Except Sarah in 24 bits at 192 kilohertz,” replied my boyfriend, touching off an ongoing argument we’d been having since we first discovered our shared passion for jazz. Sighing, I countered, “When it comes to the golden era of jazz recording, there’s just no comparison.” The golden era of jazz referred primarily to the 1950s and the early 1960s, when most of the jazz greats were still alive and high-fidelity recording was in its prime. We could argue about the merits of monaural versus early stereo, but we could both agree that the best jazz recordings of all time were made during about a ten-year timespan. I had to admit that in recent years, digital signal processing had made it possible to recover jazz recordings previously thought to be lost forever to time. In my opinion, however, digitally recovered music was a poor substitute for an original vinyl record in mint condition, and thanks to my father, I had an extensive collection of them. “You’re sitting on a six-figure collection, Ash, and for all practical purposes, it’s uninsured,” Seth reiterated for about the twentieth time. “That collection could pay for your college education, or it could be destroyed in a fire or by the next hurricane. Your dad’s original pressing of Kind of Blue could fetch five figures at least… and it’s just sitting there. But sell it to a collector and you could buy a whole ‘shelf’ of digital versions that will never degrade. Digitizing preserves them in pristine condition form for all time.” Getting up and grabbing the dishes to take to the sink, Seth followed suit in helping me to clean up after our dinner. As I sealed what was left of our meal in a plastic container and put it in the fridge, I argued, “In the same way that a lithograph preserves a Picasso, but wouldn’t you feel gypped if you went to a museum and all they had were reproductions? Like you said, I’ll talk to my dad about having his collection appraised and insured, but I’d be heartbroken if he sold it to pay for my education. Those records will last for decades. I’d like to be able to hand them down to our kids someday.” “Oh, so you’ve decided we’re gonna have kids?” Seth asked with an obvious tease in his voice. “I’d like to,” I responded, “but only if you want them too.” Throwing his arms around me and hugging me from behind, he kissed me on the neck and said, “Actually, I do want kids someday, but that still doesn’t change the fact that Miles Davis sounds much better on my stereo than on yours.” “And your stereo must’ve cost about, what, ten thousand?” I asked. “More like thirty thousand,” my boyfriend admitted, “but that’s beside the point. For an investment of about two thousand dollars or maybe twenty-five hundred, your stereo could sound nearly as good as mine, and you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between vinyl and digital.” Sighing, I admitted, “My dad would never go for spending that kinda money, but if he would, I’d take you up on that bet, and I’d win it easily. I’d even be willing to bet that if you added a turntable of comparable quality as the rest of your system to your system, I’d be able to tell the difference too. I’d even be willing to take it a step further and bet that you could tell the difference.” “Oh, that’s a bet that’s just too good to pass up,” Seth responded. “We just hafta come up with a fair wager.” “But wait a minute,” I replied. “Isn’t it a moot point, ’cause there’s no way to test it?” “But we can test it, Ash!” “How, might I ask?” “That’s easy,” my boyfriend started to explain. “You know I get an allowance every month, but I don’t come close to spending all of it. I have more than enough to get you a decent sound system, and to add a decent turntable to mine.” “But I could never let you do that, Seth,” I responded. “My dad would never let you give me that kind of money, and he’d be right.” “Don’t worry about your dad, Ash,” he countered. “We could always tell him I got myself a new sound system and gave you my old one, and he wouldn’t know the difference. It wouldn’t be a lie either… not really. I’d be getting you a system similar to what we used to have, before we moved into the new place.” “Still,” I admonished. “What if we made your new stereo part of the bet?” Seth suggested. “Let’s say that if you can tell the difference between vinyl and digital on both your new stereo and on mine, the stereo is yours, free and clear.” “And if I can’t?” I asked. “Most high-end stereo stores will let you audition their equipment in your home for as long as a month. So, if you can’t tell the difference on either system, then the equipment has to go back.” “And what’s in it for you?” I asked. Thinking for a moment, Seth replied, “If I win the bet, you have to cook me dinner every night for the rest of the year.” “Meaning the end of December?” I asked for confirmation. “Well, I was kinda hoping you’d take it to mean the end of the school year…” “In your dreams,” I replied, “And what if you can tell the difference?” I asked. “Then I’ll have to cook dinner for you ’til the end of the year.” “But you can’t cook,” I pointed out. “True,” Seth acknowledged, “So I’ll hafta let you teach me how to cook.” Since I’d been trying to get Seth let me teach him to cook since we met, that was just the kind of pot-sweetener I needed to seal the deal, and so I agreed, “You’ve got yourself a bet,” and then we shook hands on, and followed it with a kiss. <> <> <> Thanks to homework, it was actually two days later that we had a chance to go shopping for stereo equipment, so we could make good on our bet. It was also the Friday before Thanksgiving, and it was to be our first sleepover, as we’d be doing our grocery shopping for Thanksgiving tomorrow. Needless to say, we were both excited about what was to happen later, but first we had some stereo equipment to buy. When I’d suggested taking an R train to Union Square and checking out the sales at Best Buy, Seth laughed at me, and not just a chuckle either. It was a good full-body laugh-your-head-off kind of laugh. “Shopping at Best Buy for a stereo is like buying a Hawaiian shirt at Walmart,” Seth admonished me. “What’s wrong with buying a Hawaiian shirt at Walmart,” I asked, just not getting the analogy. “Nothing at all if you like wearing loud and obnoxious clothes,” Seth tried to explain. “Isn’t that the whole idea of wearing a Hawaiian shirt?” I asked. “When we get home, go on-line and look up Hawaiian shirts at Walmart.com versus The Territory Ahead,” Seth suggested. “It’s like the difference between metal and Mozart.” Like a lightbulb turning on in my head, I suddenly got it. “So, you’re sayin’ we aren’t going to find a decent stereo at Best Buy.” “You’d end up spending nearly as much money for a lot of features you don’t need or even want, and disturbing the neighbors with crappy sound.” And so that’s how we came to find ourselves spending a perfectly good Friday afternoon at a place on Canal Street, near the entrance to the Holland Tunnel. It only took us about fifteen minutes to walk there from school. “This place is awesome,” Seth began as we looked around. “Most of their business is in rentals for parties, but they also do a phenomenal business in sales over the Internet. Their eBay store is renowned for their outstanding selection of high-end, used equipment, which is the main reason we’re here, and their service is outstanding.” Horrified at the thought, I practically shouted, “Used equipment? Won’t it be obsolete, won’t it be out of warranty? And if it was used for parties, won’t it be all banged up?” “I wouldn’t even suggest buying used party equipment,” a guy who looked like an aging hippie said as he approached us. “Seth, how you been?” He asked. “I’ve been great, Paul.” Seth answered, “Couldn’t be better.” “How’s the Bryston working out for you?” he asked. “It’s outstanding. Just what I needed. But we’re here today, mainly to look at equipment for my boyfriend, Ash. And maybe a turntable for me.” “A turntable!” Paul exclaimed. “With your setup, that won’t be easy… or cheap. You kind of burned your bridges when you went all-digital.” Paul and Seth bantered back and forth for quite a while, and I didn’t have the slightest idea of what in the world they were talking about. Finally, Seth turned to me and said, “It’s not gonna be so simple to add a turntable to my setup, Ash. My home theater is all digital. Each of my seven speakers and two subs has its own amp and DAC,” whatever that was. “It saves the complexity of running speaker wire between the amp and each speaker. Good speaker wire can cost hundreds of dollars per foot, and I’d have needed hundreds of feet of it.” “Holy fuck,” I couldn’t help but say. “What’s it made of… solid gold?” “The best stuff is solid silver,” Paul chimed in, “But most of what we sell is multi-strand, oxygen-free copper, which is a lot less expensive.” Seth went on. “With all digital, I only need connect each speaker to our home network using thin, inexpensive ethernet cable or WiFi, but that won’t work with a turntable. So, I either hafta to buy a phono preamp and connect it to the two front speakers and live without surround sound, or I could digitize the output of the turntable, but that would defeat the purpose of having a turntable in the first place.” “There is a third possibility,” Paul suggested. I have a phono preamp that can encode DSD and a digital signal processor that plugs into the back of each of your speakers, to decode it.” Noticing my confusion, Seth turned to me and said, “DSD is like FM on steroids… It might be a way to send the analog signal from a turntable over a digital network.” “Exactly,” Paul continued, and then turning back to Seth, he said, “As a bonus, the DSPs would add MQA, MP3, AAC and Ogg Vorbis, and extend your PCM to 32 bits and 768 kilohertz.” What the fuck was he talking about? “Not that many folks believe the human ear is even capable of discerning music to that kind of precision or frequency.” Laughing, Seth replied, “There are music critics who insist the human ear can’t discern anything better than the sixteen bits and 44.1 kilohertz used on audio CDs.” Laughing, Paul chimed in. “There are people who can’t tell the difference between a CD and Apple Music or Spotify. That’s what listening to loud music does to your hearing.” “Well I sure as fuck can tell, but how much is all this gonna cost?” Seth asked. “I can sell you the phono pre-amp for a grand. The DSPs list for $500 each, and you’d need nine of them. I could let those go for an even it $2500…” “How about $2500 including pre-amp,” Seth interrupted. “An even three grand for the phono pre-amp and the DSPs,” Paul countered. “OK,” Seth said as he nodded his head, “and what about a turntable.” “I have a barely used V12 that I could let you have for $8500.” “$8500!” I exclaimed. “And if it’s barely been used, doesn’t that mean it was returned because it was no good?” I asked. “On the contrary,” Seth answered, “a lot of audiophiles constantly swap components, trying to find the absolute perfect sound. But even at half price, that’s really quite a bit more than I intended to spend.” I was still trying to wrap my head around the idea of spending $8500 on a stupid turntable, let alone $17 grand. “Frankly, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between the V12 and an 11.1 on your system,” Paul suggested. “That’s still a $4500 turntable,” Seth countered. “Why would you spend $4500 on a turntable?” I naively asked. “All it does is spin records.” Two heads swiveled and looked at me like I’d suddenly sprouted horns. I ended up getting a thorough lecture on why a turntable does so much more than spin records. I was sorry I asked. “The 11.1 lists for $4459,” Paul responded, “but I have a used one in mint condition, with a brand-new cartridge. I could let that go for only $2500.” “How about we make it an even five grand for everything?” Seth asked. Nodding his head, Paul agreed, “I think we can do that.” I could barely wrap my mind around spending five grand on a stereo system, let alone just to add a turntable. Then turning to me, Paul asked, “Now what can we do for you, Ash,” “Well, our stereo is my dad’s, and I think he once said he bought it in like the mid-eighties,” I answered. “That’s over thirty years old!” Paul exclaimed, obviously astonished. “It still plays?” “Surprisingly well,” Seth answered. “Other than the Bose speakers, it’s decent for the era, but his father’s record collection deserves much better. He has a huge collection of original jazz recordings from the fifties, including a first pressing of Kind of Blue.” “Do you have any idea what that’s worth?” Paul exclaimed. “Yeah, I do,” Seth answered. “So how much can you afford to spend on your new stereo system?” Paul asked. I started to open my mouth, but then Seth spoke up and said, “I told Ash we could get a decent stereo for around $2500, but that might not be enough to do that record collection justice. “You might be surprised,” Paul responded. “I think we can do something decent for two or three grand if we stick to used components… except for the turntable. In that price range, you just can’t do better than the LP7 for 800 dollars. “How about the TV,” Paul asked. “Is it mounted on the wall, or on a stand, and do you use the internal speakers or the stereo to listen to it? Do you have a blue-ray player or other devices connected to it?” “We have a Panasonic, a sixty-inch plasma, I think,” I answered. “It’s only a few years old. We have it mounted on the wall, but the only thing it’s connected to is the cable box.” “What’s on the other side of the wall, Ash,” Paul asked, “I’ve no idea,” I answered, “I’ve never been inside our neighbor’s apartment.” “So, it’s on a shared wall with your neighbor,” Paul asked and I nodded my head. “Your poor neighbors! The speakers in most TVs are very small and in order to move any air, they have to vibrate quite a bit. That’s just Newton’s first law…” “The conservation of linear momentum,” I interrupted. “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction,” Paul agreed. “And the speakers face backwards toward the wall, so the sound actually bounces off of the wall before reaching your ears. To put it mildly, your TV’s speakers do a much better job of transmitting sound into your neighbor’s apartment than into your own.” “Do you have any kind of streaming device such as a Roku, an Amazon Fire TV, an Apple TV or a Chromecast? “What are those?” I asked. “How the fuck did you watch Star Trek Discovery?” Seth asked. “I watched it on my Chromebook,” I answered. “I would definitely recommend adding a streaming device to your TV,” Paul responded. “It would add may options for streaming TV and music. You might even consider getting rid of your cable subscription and just subscribing to broadband and something like Sling TV. Where do you have your turntable, your receiver and your speakers?” “They have a set of wall-mounted shelves under the TV,” Seth answered for me. “The turntable and speakers are on the same shelf, and the resulting feedback is obvious.” “Ouch!” Paul exclaimed. “How much empty space do you have on either side of the TV?” “I dunno,” I answered. “Maybe two or three feet on either side.” “I think you should use a pair of floor-standing R500s on either side of the TV,” Paul suggested. “They’re a closeout model and on sale for $950 per speaker. We have a pair of them on display right here,” he added as he pointed to a couple of speakers that were nearly as tall as Seth was. “No sooner did we put these out than we got word the model was being replaced, so they’ve just been sitting here collecting dust. Customers don’t want to listen to a discontinued model. I’m willing to let you have the pair for $1100. To drive them, I’d recommend the Nova 300. It lists for $2200, but I have a used one that’s less than a year old that I can sell you for half that. I’ll also throw in all your interconnect cables and your speaker cables at no extra charge. That’s at least a $500 value. “So altogether, I’m offering you a complete stereo system that incorporates your TV too, for a total of $3000 plus tax. With in-home installation and a lifetime warrantee on everything we sell, you can’t do better than that.” “So, the total for Ash’s system and mine is $8000 even plus tax? How much is the discount if I pay in cash?” Seth asked. “I can absorb the tax if you pay me in cash,” Paul answered, “with half down today, check or cash.” “Great, when can you install?” Seth asked. “Next week’s pretty busy, as you can imagine,” Paul answered. “Everyone and their grandmother will be here for Black Friday, even though our prices always reflect the maximum discount and we guarantee our prices for a month. If we don’t install tomorrow, it’ll be at least another two weeks before we can get to it. Let’s set the installations for tomorrow starting at, say, 2PM?” I guessed we’d have to leave our grocery shopping for Sunday. “Fantastic!” Seth said as he pulled his checkbook out of his pocket and wrote out a check while Paul wrote out an itemized receipt. This was a whole other side of Seth that I was seeing. <> <> <> After spending the afternoon shopping for stereo equipment, I decided to treat my boyfriend to a nice dinner at my favorite diner, the Good Stuff Diner on Fourteenth Street. Getting there was easy – we just walked five minutes to the Canal Street subway station, took the one train to Fourteenth Street, and walked a block to the diner. My favorite table was free, and so we sat in the front window, where we could watch the passersby on Fourteenth Street. The restaurant itself is huge, going back the entire depth of the building, halfway to Fifteenth Street. “Did you see all the desserts?” Seth asked, practically salivating as we took our menus from the maître d. “Trust me, you won’t even want to look at the dessert case on the way out after you finish your dinner. Especially if you opt for the turkey,” I replied. Yes, the dessert case was very impressive, but I knew from experience that the portions were huge and I’d yet to sample any of the desserts. The menu at the Good Stuff is more like a book, with page after page of breakfast items, sandwiches, meals and deserts. I’d been planning to order the turkey dinner when Seth asked, “Are you sure you want to get the turkey dinner, when Thanksgiving’s less than a week away?” He did have a point. “Well maybe not,” I replied, “but everything on the menu’s excellent.” “The turkey dinner’s only $21.95?” Seth asked. “That’s a steal!” “The prices are quite reasonable here,” I agreed, “although some of the seafood is a bit pricey.” “Yeah, the broiled seafood combo is $31.50, but look at what you get! Shrimp, scallops, stuffed sole and salmon, along with a potato and vegetable, and soup or salad? I bet we could share a meal and still have food left over to take home. “Oh, these pastas sound good,” Seth exclaimed as he continued to read the menu. “I think I’m gonna have the chicken fettuccini basil pesto. It sounds yummy, and I still get a soup or salad.” “That does sound good,” I agreed. I was having a hard time deciding between one of the pasta dishes, the salmon burger deluxe and the turkey. In the end I decided on the salmon burger. “Good evening, gentlemen,” the server said as he approached our table, opening his order book as he did so. “What can I get for you this evening. Anything to drink to start the meal?” “Is your coffee really legendary?” Seth asked before I could say anything. “It’s very good,” the server said, but I made it a point to shake my head and finally, caught Seth’s attention. “I guess I’ll just have water to start with,” Seth responded. “I’ll have the same,” I added. “Do you boys need some time, or are you ready to order?” the server asked. “I’m ready,” Seth answered, and I nodded my head in agreement. “What are the soups tonight?” “Tonight, we have tomato, matzo ball, chicken noodle, minestrone and lobster bisque,” the server answered. My ears perked up at the mention of lobster bisque. My meal might not come with soup, but I was gonna have to have some. “OK, I’ll have the lobster bisque and the chicken fettuccini basil pesto,” Seth began. “And I’ll have a cup of the lobster bisque, followed by a salmon burger deluxe, with a sub of sweet potato fries,” I added as I handed back the menu, and Seth did the same. Taking my hand in his across the table, right in full view of anyone walking down Fourteenth Street, Seth said, “Did you realize that this is actually our first date?” Taken by surprise, I thought about it and realized he was right! “We’ve spent all our time together after school since we met, but this is the first time we’ve actually gone out for dinner together. You’re right, it’s our first real date.” Then I added, “I love you, Seth. I can’t believe how perfect we are together.” “I’m far from perfect,” Seth responded, “but I love you too, Ash. I never believed in soul mates before, but I sure as fuck do now.” “And speaking of fuck, I’m excited about tonight.” “Me too,” Seth agreed. “It’s gonna be awesome.” Just then our soups arrived along with a basket of rolls. Taking one of the hard rolls with raisins, I said, “Not that I need to fill up on these, but their rolls are excellent.” I took one and broke it open, buttering it before I ate it. Seth likewise took a roll, and then tasted the soup. I did likewise. “Oh, this soup is good,” Seth responded. “And you’re right about the roll. Both are great.” “I still can’t believe you bought me all that stereo equipment today,” I mentioned as I continued to eat my soup and rolls. “I bought it for you because I want you to have it,” Seth replied. “Truth be told, your dad should have replaced your stereo decades ago. His old system just doesn’t do the music justice.” “My dad doesn’t like to replace anything until it’s broken,” I replied. “He’s frugal. It’s just the way it is. As it is, I’m gonna have a tough time explaining why it’s OK to accept your ‘old’ equipment as a gift from you.” “You can leave that part to me, Ash,” Seth replied. “I grew up around politicians and I know just how to schmooze someone without making them feel like they’ve been had. “And don’t worry about having to send it back if you lose the bet either,” he went on. “I still want you to have it. Cooking dinner for me will be more than enough if you lose.” “I still think it’s way too much.” “But I want you to have it,” Seth replied. “Think of it as an early Christmas gift, or think of it as a Chanukah gift if you’d prefer… that way I can still give you a Christmas gift. Why have only one? “But seriously, I enjoy jazz every bit as much as you do, so now I’ll be able to enjoy listening to your dad’s records as they were meant to be heard, whether we play them at your place, or mine.” The server came to take our empty soup bowls and the bread basket. He brought me a plate with a pickle and a small cup of coleslaw. Technically they were part of my meal, but I proceeded to cut the pickle in half lengthwise, and spooned half the slaw onto the plate, which I passed to Seth. “Thanks, I love this stuff,” he said with an angelic smile as he ate his portion. I finished what was left in the cup and ate my half of the pickle. Perhaps I shoulda offered Seth the whole thing, but I loved this stuff too. A moment later, the server brought us our portions. “You’ve gotta be kidding me,” Seth said as the server set his plate down in front of Seth. The portion was huge. My dinner was equally big, with a salmon burger that was enormous – way too big to eat as a sandwich. “Feel free to take some of my fries,” I told Seth as I poured ketchup onto my plate, smeared lemon mayo on the salmon and then piled the lettuce, tomato and onions on top, making a sandwich that was far too big for any mouth to eat. “You’re joking, right?” Seth responded as he took spoon and fork and dug into his pasta. “Man, is this ever good,” he added. I used a fork and knife to cut my burger up into pieces small enough to fit in my mouth. The salmon was excellent, as always. “Out of curiosity, why did you shake your head at the coffee?” Seth asked. “Don’t get me wrong… I love coffee. I’ve just never found a diner that serves good coffee, and this is no exception. I don’t know what it is about diners, but the coffee isn’t even as good as what they serve in the cafeteria at school.” “Oh, that is bad,” Seth agreed. Even as big as the portions were, neither of us had any trouble finishing our meal, and I was thoroughly stuffed. I asked our server for the check, but when it came, Seth snatched it outta my hand. He might be better able to afford it, but I was far from poor and after what he’d already done today, I’d had enough. “Please, Seth, don’t do this man. I invited you out ’cause I wanted to share one of my favorite restaurants with you. Do you know how it makes me feel for you to swoop in and take that away from me? This one’s on me. It’s my treat this time… not yours.” “Well at least let me pay the tip, man,” Seth admonished me. Figuring it was fair, I responded, “OK.” Seth left a ten-dollar tip, which at 25% was frankly more than was warranted, but I wasn’t about to tell my boyfriend how much to tip. I took the check to the cashier and paid the bill. As we passed the desert case, I asked Seth, “Would you like to take something home with us for later? I’ve heard their bread pudding is the best anywhere.” “I don’t even want to look at food until tomorrow morning,” replied Seth. As we exited the restaurant, I suggested, “We could take the 14A across the street and it would practically take us door to door, but this being a Friday night, we’ll have to stand most of the way home and with traffic, the trip’ll take at least an hour. Or we could take an F or an M train to Delancey and walk home from there. I vote for taking the F or M train.” “Same here,” Seth replied. The entrance to the subway was right in front of the restaurant, so we descended into the world under New York City. It wasn’t long before a Brooklyn-bound F train appeared, and so we took it four stops, to Delancey Street. As we passed by Trader Joe’s on the walk home, Seth suggested stopping by to do some of our grocery shopping then, so there’d be less to carry home tomorrow, but the place was jammed. Besides which, I had much better places in mind for our Thanksgiving shopping. We headed to my apartment, ‘cause Seth’s parents wouldn’t be leaving for Albany until Sunday. Not only would we have to sleep separately in bunk beds at his place, but we’d have no privacy at all there. My parents would be home too, but not before midnight, and in my room, we could sleep together in a double bed, behind a closed door.
  3. Altimexis

    Thanksgiving Dinner

    Asher and Seth, two teens in New York City, just met on Halloween, but already they've discovered a shared passion for Star Trek and Classical Jazz. When they discover that neither has a place to go for Thanksgiving, they decide to create a traditional Thanksgiving feast together for themselves and some friends. What could possibly go wrong?
  4. Altimexis

    Epilogue

    April 2016 • Chris-50 As I closed up the final book of the journal — a journal I’d apparently generated over the course of a week — a journal I’d written when I was just twelve years old — I pondered why I had no memory of ever writing it in the first place. I even wondered if it might be fiction — a complete fabrication from my imagination, but the amount of detail was extraordinary. What would have been the point in making such precise drawings or of deriving equation after equation after equation if this were meant to be nothing more than entertainment? I had no idea if they were accurate, but why so many equations if this was just fiction? Why so many drawings? No, as impossible as it seemed, this journal was real, but the story it told was hard to wrap my brain around. Had I really lived those other lives? Had I really invented a sort of time machine and used it to change the past? Had I really been with a woman and fathered children, in particular a son, Andy, who was a genius on a par with Einstein? Not only that, but he was a great kid too, self-assured and imperturbable with a slightly irreverent personality. I’d sacrificed my son for the sake of the world, but now that the world was safe, might there be a way of using the knowledge contained in these pages to save my son without sacrificing everything I had now? Of course even if I could save my son, Andy would be an adult now. He’d be 26 — no, 27 years old as of last month, according to the journal. If I saved him, would I have any memories of our lives together over all these years? Would he? Or would we be total strangers? Now that I’d found him, was I obligated to try to save him? Or would I just end up messing up time again? If the journal was real, the one person who might have some clues to the answers to these and other questions was my old boyfriend, Frank. We’d met back when we were only twelve, when we both attended a program for gifted junior high and high school students. The program was run by Professor Marion Dawson, of the Physics department at the University, and it allowed us to study college-level math and physics in small groups and independently. Marion and I became close friends and remained so to this day. Frank and I both started the program in the late summer, at the beginning of seventh grade and, because we had similar abilities and interests, we did most of our work together, right up until we graduated from high school. Even though we went to different schools and lived in different suburbs, we hit it off immediately and without even realizing it, approached Professor Dawson holding hands. Even though we’d just met, there was little doubt that our relationship ran far deeper than mere friendship and later that same day, Marion caught us kissing. Thank God for Marion! Of course Frank and I were horrified over what had happened, and about being caught. Because both of us had been raised in religious households, we thought we’d committed the worst sin possible. I for one wasn’t nearly as scared of what God would do to us, however I was scared of what our parents would do if they found out. The first kiss just kind of happened and the implications hadn’t even occurred to me until the moment Marion walked in on us. By then, I was practically sitting in Frank’s lap as we made out in earnest. It turned out that Marion was gay too and he had a partner, David, who was a counselor that specialized in this sort of thing. Marion had had a lot of gay kids as students over the years and he assured us that above all else, we were perfectly normal and that there was nothing wrong with boys loving other boys. He knew just how to handle our parents too, and so he called a meeting of all four parents and told them what he’d seen. He told them it wasn’t the first time, nor would it be the last time he caught young boys at the start of puberty satisfying their curiosity. He told them this sort of thing was usually innocent and ended once boys discovered girls. Just to be sure we kept on the straight and narrow, however, he suggested that we have some counseling, and he knew just the person. Marion’s strategy was brilliant. If left up to our parents, they would have shipped us off to some God-awful Bible camp or military school to get us straightened out. Instead Marion brought in an expert — someone he trusted and who would take a scientific approach — he just never mentioned that the expert was his lover. Of course there were family as well as individual sessions and over the course of more than a year, our parents were introduced to competing philosophies on homosexuality. In the end it was my parents who concluded that I was born gay and that they couldn’t change me if they wanted to, but even so, I was still a great kid who deserved their love. Frank’s parents came to the same conclusion, although it took them a bit longer, and in the end all four parents accepted our relationship — begrudgingly — approval came later. But according to the journal, David wasn’t even a counselor in the original timeline. He was a doctor and he went MIA in Vietnam. For Frank and me, things hadn’t gone so well and in most of the alternate realities, we both wound up as the victims of horrible torture. Technically, Frank and I shouldn’t have met at all, but then we wouldn’t have become boyfriends and I would have probably ended up knocking up a woman all over again. I would have never gone off with Paul to MIT and undoubtedly would have taken the job at Livermore. No doubt about it — I would have gone on to invent TTT all over again, and I would have fucked up time, just like before. One of the other more interesting things I read in the journal was that Frank supposedly had the ability to sense the existence of multiple realities. Hence, it was with this in mind that I called my former boyfriend. As I did so, I thought about how close we had been over the course of some five years, and how we could have so easily ended up together. But I took early graduation at the end of my junior year and Frank’s parents wouldn’t let him. I would have been content to stay in Saint Louis for my Freshman year in college, but Frank insisted I pursue my dreams and go to Stanford as I’d already planned. A year later, Frank started his freshman year at Cal Tech. In spite of the best of intentions, getting together just didn’t happen. We were several hundred miles apart and spending a weekend together meant spending half of it driving. In the end we agreed to an open relationship, which amounted to no relationship, and so we both moved on. And then I met Paul… “Hey, Chris, It’s been a while,” Frank began when he answered the phone. “I was gonna call you later for the big 5-0, but you beat me to it. Happy birthday old man. Hope you got my card and gift in time.” “Old man… you’re older than me by three months, you know,” I pointed out, “and dinner for two at the Cliff House in San Francisco means Paul and I have to spend our hard-earned money to come out for a visit.” “Too subtle for you?” Frank asked with a laugh. “Just imagine a romantic dinner at Sutro's, seated in front of a panoramic window overlooking the Pacific Ocean from majestic Point Lobos. The superb food, the outstanding collection of vintage California wines and the ambience of the Cliff House... can you think of a better reason to return to California for a visit, besides me, that is? “Look, I’ve been to Boston three times in the last five years…” “For two conferences and a site visit,” I noted. “But the bottom line is, it’s been nearly a decade since you and Paul came out to visit. California used to be your home. It’s where the two of you met, for cripe sake. The dinner was my way to remind you of how long it’s been. It’s high time you returned here, and not just for a weekend or even a week. If you don't already have plans, you should spend the summer here, or if you can stomach the rainy weather, winter break.” “That’s certainly food for thought,” I responded. “Summer break starts in a few weeks, and I have post-docs to keep the lab running, as you well know. Paul too. But that’s not why I’m calling. “I’m curious to know if you ever heard of something called TTT.” After a long pause on the line, Frank responded, “You found the notebooks, didn’t you? You’ve read your journal.” “So you know about the journal,” I remarked, then asked, “but Frank, did all that really happen?” “First, tell me how much of it made sense to you. Did you understand the concepts? Could you follow the equations?” “My field is high temperature superconductors,” I replied. “You know that. Quantum mechanics plays an important role in my work and although I can recognize a wave equation or a probability density function, it’s been decades since I studied particle physics or String Theory. Not that I couldn’t learn it again, but so much has happened in those fields since we were in college. That kind of math is way out in left field for me.” I could have sworn I heard Frank breathe a sigh of relief at that, and then he continued, “We debated whether or not there should be any record at all of OTT. The technology is so fucking dangerous, but at the time we thought there might be an urgent need for it someday, and there’s always a possibility someone else will develop it and without the journal, we might not respond to it until it’s too late. “But now that’s no longer necessary and I’d just as soon you burn the journal… except for its historic significance.” “Frank,” I exclaimed, “You’re not making any sense! It almost sounds like you were there when I wrote the journal, but you couldn’t have been. “And then there’s Andy. I can’t help but wonder if there is anything I could do now to save him…” After yet another long pause, Frank responded, “This isn’t a conversation we should be having over the phone. No, we shouldn’t talk about it at all this way. The line isn’t secure. You never know who’s listening in. Besides which, this really is something to discuss face-to-face. Not on the phone. And we need time… plenty of time to talk. “I have some funds set aside for this sort of thing, so consider this a formal invitation for a visit, at my expense. An extended visit. I’ll make the reservation for the start of your summer break and I’ll e-mail the tickets for you and Paul. Business Class. It’s a long flight and I can justify it for anything over four hours. This isn’t a request. Plan on spending the summer. Three months. Of course you’ll stay at my place. As you know, I have plenty of room.” “It doesn’t sound like you’re giving us a choice,” I commented with a laugh, but Frank responded, “No, I’m not. If you refuse, I’ll have to kidnap you.” The shocking thing was that he sounded deadly serious — not at all like my Frank. “Oh, be sure to send the journal on in advance of your trip,” he continued. “Don’t worry, I’m not going to burn it, but I would like to preserve it for historic purposes. We’ll photograph the whole thing, We’ll scan it in high-res and etch it onto a gold-plated silver disk, sorta like what they did for the Voyager mission so many years ago. Unlike conventional CD or DVD, or the original paper, for that matter, they won’t deteriorate with time. I’ll send you a pre-paid FedEx label. No use in taking a chance on the airline losing it.” “You sound so serious,” I noted when I finally got my voice. “Trust me, it couldn’t be more serious, Chris. That’s why we need to meet. That’s why we need the whole summer. When you talked about saving Andy, well, you need to understand why that’s not possible, or necessary. More than anything, I cannot take a chance on you developing an interest in pursuing TTT again. There’s a reason I pushed you into high-temperature superconductors. I couldn’t have you recreate OTT. It’s far too dangerous, especially in the hands of the naïve. “Anyway, I’ll e-mail you the tickets for the week after the semester ends. That’ll give you plenty of time to pack. I’ll pick you up at the airport when your flight arrives.” With that, the line went dead. Rather than getting the answers I sought, I had only more questions. One thing was obvious — Frank knew far more about TTT than I figured he ought to. My first boyfriend certainly wasn’t who I’d thought he was. I could only hope I hadn’t stepped on a hornet’s nest. <<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>> May 2016 • Chris-50 The flight from Boston to San Francisco had been smooth and Paul and I slept most of the way. True to his word, Frank met us as we exited security, and hired a porter to gather our rather extensive luggage. We were staying for three months and so there wasn’t much we could leave behind. I knew Frank had done well for himself, but was still surprised when we were met by a Cadillac Escalade and a driver. Frank sat in back with us — there were two sets of luxurious leather seats facing each other — so Frank took one of the rear-facing seats, leaving the front-facing seats for my husband and me. Frank offered us a large selection of hard and soft drinks for the trip to his house, but we both passed. Even though we’d slept for most of the flight, we were still tired and suffering a bit from jet lag. For us it was to be a 27-hour-long day. From what I read in the journal, Frank had originally lived in a small house in Santa Clara, and then he lived on the military base in Alameda with Andy and me. At one point he even lived with us in a small but modern house I’d bought with Jen in Oakland Hills — or perhaps I bought it alone — I wasn’t really able to tell for sure on that one. The house we pulled up to with Frank bore no resemblance to any of those. Of course it wasn’t the first time Paul and I had visited Frank since he bought the sprawling mansion in the hills of Marin County, but in many ways I was seeing it for the first time, now that I knew something of the alternate history we had supposedly all lived. The property was some twenty acres, and the house itself took up more than twenty thousand square feet of it on a hilltop with spectacular views of San Francisco, the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean. I could only imagine how many tens of millions of dollars it had cost to build, and yet Frank lived there alone. Oh, he’d had his share of boyfriends over the years, most of them little more than hook-ups. How he’d managed to avoid the scourge of AIDS after we split, I never did figure out. One of Frank’s servants — an Hispanic boy who didn’t look to be no more than fifteen — gathered up all our luggage to take to our room for the summer. One thing about Frank — he’d always managed to surround himself with attractive boys and young men. “There’s a double Jacuzzi on the deck off your room,” Frank began. “You may want to take advantage of it, and then maybe take a nap before dinner. Raul will be sure to wake you just before dinner, which will be served on the veranda at eight. As always, it’s informal, so terry robes will suffice.” “I think we just might take you up on your suggestion,” I agreed as Paul nodded his head. The Jacuzzi felt heavenly and we could have easily fallen asleep in it, but that would’ve left us as wrinkled as prunes, and so reluctantly we got out, showered and settled down on our luxurious memory foam, King-size bed. Pulling the duvet over us, it scarcely seemed we’d rested our heads on our pillows when Raul was gently waking us up. Dressed only in a Speedo, his disarming smile went a long way in making our awakening as pleasant as possible. Raul didn’t bat an eye when Paul and I got out of bed in the nude. We emptied ourselves in front of a pair of urinals in the bathroom, and then combed our hair, what little was left of it in my case, and brushed our teeth. Raul was waiting for us in the bedroom when we finished, and he helped us into our terry bathrobes for dinner. Frank was waiting for us on the veranda, where the lights of the city never failed to impress me. Apparently, it would just be the three of us for dinner tonight. We started the meal with a selection of fresh greens, and then enjoyed a heavenly gazpacho before we were each served a selection of fresh seafood, fish and roasted vegetables. If we ate this way every night over the course of the summer, I was sure to gain fifty pounds! “I know you have a lot of questions,” Frank began, “and in time they will all be answered. Thanks for sending me the journal, by the way. It has already been scanned and will be etched onto a gold-plated silver disk as we discussed. The journal will be returned to you of course, but I’d like you to strongly consider leaving it here with me to be disposed of. Now that the contents have been preserved safely in an encrypted format, we shouldn’t take risks that this information could fall into the wrong hands. I’ve handpicked everyone whom I’ve entrusted to handle this information, but no security is foolproof. Compared to my level of security, yours is nonexistent, so why take a chance on the information being compromised?” “You behave as if TTT is more dangerous than nuclear weapons,” I quipped. Without any hesitation, Frank came back with, “It is.” “Nuclear weapons can do tremendous damage and send us spiraling into a nuclear winter or even an ice age but, nevertheless, we can survive them. TTT cannot be used without doing irreversible damage to the fabric of time itself. There is no safe use of TTT. At the best it can create an alternate reality that will exist alongside and vie for dominance over the original timeline. At its worst it will create a singularity that will consume the earth and the surrounding region of space, past, present and future.” “But you or someone did change the past, I pointed out. “In the original timeline, Marion Dawson’s boyfriend, David, went to Medical School and then Vietnam, where he was captured by the Russians and most likely sent to Siberia. Now, he’s just retired from a career in psychology and a lifetime of counseling gay youth. Obviously, that’s a significant change.” “Certain liberties had to be taken to ensure the integrity of the timeline and to ensure that TTT never came to fruition… at least not until humanity is ready to deal with it. By keeping David from getting into medical school, there was no need for him to go to Vietnam to pay for it. His career choice instead was one that had a limited impact except for the small number of gay kids he counseled, although the impact was substantial for both of us to be sure. The main thing that keeping David stateside did however, was to remove the one incentive for Marion Dawson to throw away everything he believed in and meddle with time. “You, on the other hand, had to be diverted entirely from a career path in particle physics. High temperature superconductors offered something that was equally challenging to your intellect, and that offered a satisfying, but not likely history-changing outcome for your life. It was also something that could be pursued at Stanford with little change in your overall coursework. In short, it minimized the potential impact of the changes in your life until it was absolutely necessary to send you off in a different direction. And the best way to send you off in a different direction was to keep you from getting together with Jen. I had to make sure you were gay and only gay, which ensured your getting together with Paul and moving with him to Massachusetts.” “But at the cost of my son,” I pointed out. “In order to prevent TTT from coming to pass, we sacrificed the birth of someone who was an extraordinary young man. A genius on a par with Einstein who might have gone on to do great things for humanity. For all we know, he might have eventually found a way to undo the damage from TTT.” “As you already know, to a large extent, he already did,” Frank pointed out. “The whole situation’s complicated and we’ll have plenty of time to discuss it later. We’ll talk about Andy later…” “NO!” I interrupted. “We’ll talk about Andy now!” “The situation with Andy will become much clearer once we’ve had a chance to discuss the entirety of what was done to undo the damage of TTT,” Frank countered. “However, recognizing your curiosity and that you have a vested interest, suffice it to say that Andy did not disappear from existence. Although he never was born in this reality, his existence in the alternate realities that were generated in OTT… all of the alternate realities, has been preserved.” “If you’re implying that his life was recorded in my journal, well, that’s not good enough,” I argued. “No, you’re right. It wouldn’t be good enough. It wouldn’t be worth shit, frankly,” Frank agreed. “No, Andy’s existence was far too valuable to waste… It had to be preserved. He had too much to offer the world, and who better to ensure the integrity of time? No, part of repairing the damage from TTT involved making sure that a living, breathing Andy Michaels survived and he now walks the earth among us…” “You mean he’s here?” I asked in incredulity. “Not only is he here, but you, and he and I have crossed paths, many times over the years,” Frank answered, much to my shock. “Of course you aren’t his father in this reality and you wouldn’t recognize him in any case. His name isn’t even Andy in this reality. But you do know him and the three of us remain close friends.” “Wow, I wasn’t expecting that!” I exclaimed as I finished off the last of my meal. I was stuffed to the gills and, fortunately, dessert consisted of only a light lemon sorbet. “I don’t suppose you’ll tell me who it is?” I asked. “Chris, in time I promise I will tell you, but not tonight. Truthfully, I don’t think I’ll have to tell you. Once you learn a bit more about what happened behind the scenes, I think you’ll figure it out on your own.” “Geez, the way you put it, it’s almost like you’re saying you’re Andy,” I responded with a laugh, but when Frank didn’t say anything, my eyes suddenly flew open as it dawned on me that my first boyfriend was, in fact, my son! “I’ve always been here, Dad. Always,” Frank explained. “And yes, I know we were boyfriends and we had sex, but surely you can recognize that we were two horny gay boys at the time and not father and son.” Seeing my confusion, Frank went on, “The original Frank Sanford killed himself when he was twelve, not long after he realized he was gay. He was still in the sixth grade, for fuck sake, but he couldn’t handle the revelation that he was attracted to boys, so brainwashed was he by his religion. “TTT allows you to send back information in time by synchronizing your thoughts in your sleep. In effect, you can hold a conversation with yourself. It’s a simple strategy for altering the past, or more correctly for creating an alternate timeline, but it’s not the only strategy. “Human memory is something that remains poorly understood to this day, but it’s a riddle I solved a long time ago in an alternate reality. There are three kinds of memory… immediate recall, short-term memory and long-term memory. Recall and short-term memory work a lot like dynamic RAM in a computer. Electrochemical impulses are kept viable in neural loops that minimize their decay. The laying down of long-term memory is much more complex, however, and it doesn’t fit traditional models of human physiology. We may get into it in more detail later, but suffice to say that there is no cellular structure that can account for the formation of long-term memories. “Most current theories of neurobiology hold that short-term memories are converted to long-term memories through a process of creating new synapses. That is exactly what happens in non-human animals and it explains why they never achieved sentience. In humans, however, memories are much more detailed than can be accounted for by synaptic formation, and they’re virtually immune to disease processes and injuries that result in synaptic degradation. “The experiments I conducted on the nature of space and time as Andy Michaels while in Russia put me in a unique position to discover the true nature of human memory. I would never have discovered that nature, however, had it not been for my desire to find a way to record, erase and rewrite human memories. I was trying to find a way to send my knowledge back in time by overwriting the memories of a kid who’d just died… more than likely one who’d just killed himself. At the time, I considered it to be an extreme long-shot, but it turned out to have a simple solution. “To cut to the chase, it turns out that the seat of human long-term memory isn’t even within the brain. Memories involve a symbiosis with non-corporeal entities comprised of strings that exist outside of normal space-time itself. It is this symbiosis that makes us sentient… that makes us human.” “Gees, Frank, it almost sounds like you’re saying we have a soul,” I interrupted “That’s exactly what I’m saying,” Frank explained. “String entities have existed since long before there was a Big Bang and they will continue to exist long after the universe collapses upon itself, but by themselves they are meaningless and purposeless. Without symbiosis, they don’t even have awareness. It is only through symbiosis that these souls are borne into a meaningful life, and it is only through the symbiosis that we are self-aware. I have never been religious and I remain skeptical, particularly when it comes to organized religion, but if there is a God, this is her plan. “Memories can be shared. Some people are able to do so without the need for any equipment or technology. The ability has existed since the beginning of humanity, just as has the ability to have premonitions of the future… an ability you made use of for TTT. Long-term memories can be replaced… an exchange of souls if you wish… but the process is destructive, both to the person whose memories are replaced and to the one doing the replacing. It would be unethical to replace someone’s memories with one’s own except in someone who has just died… in someone who’s soul has already left them. That is what I did, Dad. I replaced Frank’s memories with my own. However, in the process, I did meet Frank’s original soul. It wasn’t expected, but it happened. The exchange was entirely voluntary as it turned out, and beneficial to both souls in the end.” “But I always knew Frank, from when we were both twelve!” I countered. “The only time I didn’t know you was in the very first, pre-TTT timeline. If the original Frank committed suicide when he was in the sixth grade, we should have never met. It would have been impossible. Andy couldn’t have gone back and replaced Frank’s memories until the very end… until we collapsed all the alternate timelines and erased the existence of TTT from history. This reality should be the first time we should have met and yet you, Frank, were a constant part of my life throughout the alternate realities chronicled in my journal.” Smiling, Frank responded with a simple question. “What makes you think this is the first time we have done this?” My jaw dropped open as Frank continued, “In spite of my best efforts, Dad, you always seem to find your way back to discovering TTT, no matter what I do to push you in another direction. Perhaps the problem is that even after time is reset, the soul still remembers the existence of TTT. All those memories never really go away… they just fade into the background. I’ve tried staying with you in college and graduate school, and I’ve tried staying out of your life altogether, but you still stumble upon paired quantum states and go on to invent TTT. “You always manage to knock up Jen too, no matter how much I try to push your relationship with Paul, or your relationship with Carl, or your relationship with Chad, or even your relationship with me. She falls hard for you every time, even knowing you’re gay. Perhaps subconsciously, I still want her in your life. She’s my mom and without her, there would be no Andy Michaels to come back and take over where the last Frank Sanford left off… or maybe the previous one would have had another go at it. As I said, it’s complicated.” “But this time was different,” I noted. Nodding his head, Frank responded, “This was the first time I actually succeeded in preventing you from pursuing TTT. Getting you interested in high temperature superconductors was the key. It took you into an area of particle physics that has no overlap with TTT, and your success in the field has kept you away from TTT. Already your research has had an unforeseen, positive impact on climate change. I hate to mess with time, but this change has no real downside. “I am aware of several failed previous attempts, and some of those memories do persist in spite of resetting the timeline. Perhaps it has to do with the nature of the soul and its existence outside of normal space and time. There is also the fact that I had direct contact with the previous incarnation of Frank… and we talked. I do know that we came perilously close to our own self-destruction the last time around… closer than ever before.” “This is all so much to take in,” I replied. “And I slept with you! I slept with my own son!” Shaking his head, Frank responded, “It doesn’t work that way. When I opened a wormhole from my brain to Frank’s brain at the moment of his suicide, I only replaced his memories with my own and… of course I arranged for him to be saved at just the right moment. I remember the process clearly. I remember losing consciousness as Andy died, and then waking up in Frank’s body. It was in between the two events that I met Frank’s original soul, but it was like having a dream… perhaps it was just a dream, but it seemed so real. I know it was real. Clearly, I became Frank. However, the underlying structure of Frank’s brain did not change. His emotions, his basic personality, his perceptions of the world remained as they were before the memory transplant. I went to sleep a mostly straight, left-handed young man, and I woke up a right-handed gay kid, and decidedly so. It wasn’t something I expected, but it was my new reality. So as I said already, although you befriended your son, strictly speaking, you had sex with the original Frank.” “But Frank, or… Andy…” “I go by Frank now,” he interrupted. “It’s just easier that way. I should probably continue to call you Chris, even though I remember you very fondly as my dad. You were a wonderful father, and a terrific lover too.” “But you altered time,” I pointed out. “I did what I had to do make time whole,” Frank answered, “but I also made a pledge to myself to never again alter the past, and I haven’t. I also made a pledge to myself to ensure that humanity would never again be solely dependent on the survival of the earth for its own survival, and I’ve dedicated my life to that goal. Finally, I can say quite honestly that the earth could cease to exist tomorrow, but humanity would go on, quite well, thank you.” “But how is this possible?” I asked. Sighing, Frank said, “It’s getting late and we'll have three months to talk more about it in detail.” When neither Paul nor I made any attempt to get up, Frank continued, “Actually, I wouldn’t mind if you wanted to get involved with it, now that you know what I’ve been up to. “Perhaps you remember reading in your journal about the time when we spent my winter break together in Joshua Tree National Park. I was fifteen at the time…” “Yes, I remember reading about that,” You were kidnapped by the Russians!” “ What?” Paul interjected. “And you chopped your finger off,” I added. “No way,” Paul interrupted. “It was just the tip of the pinky on my right hand,” Frank replied. “I was left-handed at the time, or rather Andy was, so it was no big deal, and I needed a way to show the Russians I was as strong as they were. Of course I’m right-handed now, as Frank has always been. As with being gay, it’s a matter of how you’re wired and not what you remember. “Anyway, being captured by the Russians had a lot to do with my being able to replace Frank’s memories with mine… to exchange our souls… and it got me together with Marion Dawson, which ended up being critically important for both of us. However, I digress… “The last discussion we had together before I was abducted was about the improbability of intelligent life arising de novo. I compared it to the likelihood of a pile of silicon and iron assembling itself into an iPod. In fact, it’s so improbable that intelligent life arises at most once in the entire lifetime of a galaxy. More than likely, we’re it for the Milky Way. Ours is the only civilization the has ever existed or ever will exist in this galaxy and if we destroy it, there will be none other to replace it.” “But I thought that, in the presence of organics and liquid water, life was inevitable,” Paul countered, “and that once life forms, intelligence has such a high survival benefit that it is always the result. Given the right ingredients, the right environment and enough time, shit happens. It has to.” “It’s easy to assume that intelligent life is inevitable because in our case, we are here to observe it… therefore it must be true,” Frank explained, “but there is no one there to observe all the hundreds of thousands of false starts and outright failures, so we cannot know about those.” “But what about self-replicating membranes?” Paul asked. “Lipid bi-layers form spontaneously whenever lipids and water come together…” “And so do soap bubbles in the atmosphere,” Frank pointed out, “yet no one would ever consider a soap bubble to be a form of life. “Now I know what your next question will be, so I’ll answer it without you having to ask it. Nucleic acids such as DNA and RNA assemble themselves spontaneously. Nucleotides are among the most fundamental building blocks of life, with ATP forming the energy currency of aerobic metabolism in the cell. Therefore it seems that life must form once Nucleic acids come into being. “But Paul, what happens when you put a chimpanzee in front of a keyboard?” Frank asked. “It will type a bunch of gibberish, and it may occasionally type meaningful words, but they will be out of context. Could it generate Shakespeare? Of course, but what are the odds of a chimpanzee typing the simple phrase, ‘To be or not to be’?” “I don’t know,” Paul answered. “Perhaps one in a billion?” Laughing, Frank said, “Not even close. Ignoring punctuation and case, the odds of typing those eighteen characters in sequence are one in 26, raised to the eighteenth power. That amounts to one in 3.4 times ten to the minus twenty-sixth power. That’s 0.034 trillionths of a trillionth. If we optimistically assume that the chimp can type one hundred characters a minute, it would take that chimp a half-billion, billion years to randomly type that simple phrase. The universe itself is thought to be only fourteen billion years old. “The human genome is three billion base pairs long. Would you care to hazard a guess as to the probability of the human genome arising spontaneously?” Shaking his head, Paul replied, “Not a chance, but it didn’t arise spontaneously, did it? The human genome arose through the process of natural selection. The basic structure of DNA had to arise only once. The size of the genome necessary to initiate the process of evolution was considerably smaller. I have no idea of how many base pairs, but enough to code for the apparatus of DNA replication and no more.” “And as reasonable as that may seem,” Frank countered, I’m telling you that, out of tens of thousands of stars over the course of fourteen billion years, the basic machinery for cell reproduction arose only once in this galaxy. Not only were the right basic organics necessary, not only was liquid water necessary, not only were the right temperature, magnetic flux to shield from harmful radiation, stability of the Star system and tidal pools from a binary planetary system necessary, but pure chance and luck were necessary. The formation of life is a rare occurrence. Intelligent life even more so.” “So if that’s true, what does it have to do with preserving life on earth?” Paul asked. “As I said, intelligent life is a rarity and I am not willing to live with the possibility that we may destroy it in our lifetime,” Frank explained. “Between our incessant wars and human-induced climate change, catastrophe could occur at any moment, ending all life as we know it in the Galaxy. “In some ways I think we need to survive these challenges before we will be ready to be entrusted with the knowledge of what I learned during the life of Andy Michaels. For years physicists have been searching for an equation for everything… a single formulation that can explain everything there is to explain about the universe. I have that formulation. Unfortunately, even I have difficulty understanding it. Such was the brilliance of Andy Michaels. I may have all of his memories… I may consider myself to be Andy Michaels… but I’m still Frank Sanford and I still have his brain. Don’t get me wrong, you might say I’m brilliant in my own right, but I’m no Andy Michaels. Although I carry all of his memories… his soul… with me, it has been a life-long struggle to comprehend and apply what he learned. “But as I was saying, in many ways I think that humanity needs to learn how to solve the problems of war and environmental destruction that plague us today, before we will be ready to make use of the knowledge of how the universe actually works. However, that doesn’t mean I can’t make use of that knowledge as a hedge against the destruction of humankind in the interim, and that’s what I have done. “But even more importantly, there are trillions upon trillions of potential souls with nowhere to go. So many potential sentient beings and so much potential for life in the universe… what a cruel joke it is that intelligent life is such a rarity. That is the main reason I feel an imperative to extend life throughout the galaxy. Call it a God complex if you must, but with so many minds, so much intelligence that has yet to be realized. There is a universe of discovery out there just waiting for us to discover it. I have made it my life’s mission to make it happen to the fullest extent possible, at least in our galaxy, just as other sentient beings have done so in their galaxies. Yes, I have been contacted and told in no uncertain terms to keep our hands off of other galaxies, but that’s another discussion for another time. “There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of star systems in the Milky Way with lifeless planets that could support life if we placed it there. For life to evolve on a planet takes hundreds of millions or billions of years, but we have learned much from our observations on earth. Through a process of genetic engineering, we can cut the time down to thousands of years to terraform a planet to the point of supporting a sustainable ecosystem, but we can make small portions of a planet habitable by humans in a matter of mere decades. In little more time than it takes to raise a kid on earth, we can have a viable colony, virtually anywhere in the galaxy.” “So you’re going to colonize the galaxy?” I asked. “I’ve already started the process,” Frank admitted. “But even if you identify suitable planets, won’t it take thousands of years to get there?” Paul asked. “With conventional space travel, it would take generations to get between planets,” Frank agreed, “but we’re not using conventional space travel.” Tearing out a sheet of paper from his notebook, Frank continued, “If this sheet of paper is a two-dimensional representation of the universe,” then crumpling up the paper into a tiny ball, he went on, “this ball represents the universe in hyperspace. You see, the Big Bang wasn’t much of a bang at all and our entire universe still exists within the singularity from which it was formed. Just as any two points on this sheet of paper, no matter how far apart they are on the paper, are physically no more than mere millimeters apart in 3-D space, all points in our own universe are physically adjacent, too. “Creating stable wormholes, connected to points elsewhere in our galaxy, proved to be much more of a challenge that I was expecting, but I did ultimately succeed and I have been exploring our galaxy, seeking out potentially habitable worlds ever since. Colonies have already been started on some of those worlds and they will achieve sustainability within our lifetimes.” “Aren’t you afraid that one or more of your colonies will become militant and come back to attack the earth?” Paul asked. “The inhabitants of the colonies will be kept in the dark with respect to the wormholes and the technology used to generate them,” Frank explained, “and the capacity of the wormholes is limited. We can send an army of human embryos through a wormhole, but not an army of soldiers. By conventional means, it would take them generations to travel back to the earth and by the time they are able to develop the technology of warp drive or wormholes on their own, I would hope they will have long since moved beyond war. In fact, just as I expect the effort needed to solve the problems of war, disease and climate change will put an end to all the fighting on earth, the effort needed to terraform an inhospitable world should have the same effect on the colonies.” “Aren’t you afraid you’ll make mistakes?” I asked. “What if the artificial life forms you create run amok on one of the planets, destroying all you have built?” “I’m certain there will be mistakes,” Frank replied. “That has always been the way we learn. But so long as the planets remain isolated from each other, our mistakes will be limited to a single planetary system and I trust the colonists will learn to fix them. “Gentlemen, it’s after midnight,” Frank noted, “and there will be months ahead to discuss what I’m doing and how you might want to relate to it. In the meantime, Raul will be happy to assist you with anything you need before going to bed. If you wish, he will wake you at ten for brunch, and then we can all go skinny dipping in the pool. The boys are a most enjoyable site in their natural state.” Paul and I didn’t need any assistance from Raul, other than to get us some towels and to show us where various things were kept in our suite. Soon, Paul and I were lying on our king-size bed, in each other’s arms. “I’m still having trouble wrapping my mind around some of what Frank told us… most of what he told us, if I’m being honest,” Paul began. “I’m having trouble wrapping my mind around the idea that he’s my son!” I responded. “I mean, we were boyfriends for some five years as teenagers! He’s my age, yet he has memories from all the different realities I’m supposed to have created as part of something called OTT.” “I don’t remember who said it, but sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction,” Paul replied. “Amen to that,” I agreed, “assuming Frank isn’t making all of this up.” “Do you think this is all a fabrication?” Paul asked. “No,” I replied, “I’m certain it’s not. I realize I could be remembering what I read in the journal, but I swear I have some memories from some of the alternate realities… memories that have been with me for a very long time. For example, that Iranian hostage situation. I could swear I have memories from that. They’re distant, almost as if remembering something from a dream, but the smell of Jen’s rotting corpse… I can remember that smell as if it were present in this room right now.” “I can remember being inside one of the Twin Towers on September 11,” Paul responded. “The memory is so vivid, it almost seems real. I remember running down the stairway, fleeing for my life, but we started out so high up in the tower. I wasn’t much below where the plane hit the tower, and there was smoke… thick black smoke. I must have run down forty or fifty flights of stairs when the whole tower started to shake, and then the stairway started to collapse around me and then I was in free fall, and then a large slab of concrete slammed into me and I felt my ribs breaking and then my skull was crushed.” “Good God,” I replied. “We thought it was such a shame when you caught my cold and lost your voice, and couldn’t make your presentation. And then we felt so fucking lucky when September 11 came and the Twin Towers collapsed, and you were spared. To think that in the original reality, you really did die on September 11…” “I don’t have much in the way of experiences from alternate realities, but I have a vague sense we lived together before we met,” Paul related. “I can almost remember the physical layout of the little house we shared together in Alameda.” “So can I!” I exclaimed. “All the rooms were paneled with this ugly fake wood laminate.” “With wood trim that didn’t quite match,” Paul added. “And a Formica countertop in the kitchen that didn’t align properly in the corners,” I added. “Not to mention the beige and pink ceramic tiles in the bathroom,” Paul remembered. “Exactly!” I replied excitedly, and then added, “I guess one of the effects of collapsing multiple realities into a single dominant one is that the original memories never quite go away.” “Apparently not,” Paul agreed. “I guess they’re part of our soul,” he added with a smile. “So there seems to be little doubt that all of this is real.” “Which means that Frank really is the incarnation of my son from all those other realities.” “And that he really is colonizing the galaxy,” Paul added. “It’d be interesting work if we decided to join him.” “Are you interested?” I asked. “Can you think of anything more fascinating than that?” Paul asked. “It’s not that I’m not interested, and no offense, but I’m just not sure how much I can trust Frank, you know?” “Yeah, I do know,” I related. “There’s a lot he’s not telling us, but then maybe that’s why he invited us for the entire summer. Maybe he figures it’ll take that long for us to absorb everything we need to know… everything we should know. Obviously he had good reason to hold back on telling us about what he’s been up to. However, now that the cat’s out of the bag with my discovery of the journal, he seems to be withholding nothing. “You know, I always wondered why Frank allowed our relationship to die. I know I was just as responsible too, but now it all makes sense. When I went off to Stanford, we’d been together for five years already. I wanted to find a way to make it work, but Frank insisted that we each pursue our dreams first. In the end the relationship didn’t survive, but I think that was Frank’s intent all along. Frank already knew about you and your role in my life, and he assumed correctly that you’d take me away from Livermore and TTT. “Had he and I remained together, he would have been in a better position to prevent me from developing TTT, but he couldn’t have built space colonies. In fact, I think that’s the main reason Frank hasn’t let anyone else get close to him since we went our separate ways. He needed complete independence to be able to do what he’s doing, and privacy.” “Now that you’re in the know, do you think Frank will try to take you away from me?” Paul asked with evident worry in his voice. Shaking my head, I replied, “No, Frank would never do that. Look, he even brought you out here with me. Why would he have done that, and told you about his plans, if he wanted to steal me away from you? Perhaps he knows something we don’t about the future of our souls and maybe he and I will be together then. I don’t know… but Frank always did have a big heart, and now I know where he got it from,” I added with a grin, inferring he got it from my raising Andy as a child. That caused Paul to hit me over the head with his pillow as he sported an equally big grin. “It’s certainly a lot to think about.” “That it is,” I agreed. “One thing’s for sure,” I continued as I felt myself drifting toward sleep. “I’ll never look at my dreams the same way again…” THE END
  5. October 2012 • Chris-46 “Could it really be that simple?” I asked. “You yourself said he told you as much,” Frank replied. “These equations bear that out. The answer has been staring us in the face all along.” “Hell, I’m the only one with a functioning, independent TTT lab. Now that we know about Jack, we can’t take a chance on doing any of this where he could find out about it. That’s all we’d need is for the Russians to get their hands on any of us.” The realization that Jack had been working for the Russians all along came as a shock to all of us. Although the information came from Chris-25 back in 1991, there was no way to build the case against Jack without resorting to exposing TTT to the public; hence he still oversaw everything related to OTT in all the timelines but ours. We did all that we could to cut off his access to knowledge of the future — knowledge he could then pass along to the Russians — but OTT itself was still very much under his thumb. “At least, now, you’re the director,” Frank pointed out. “In this time period, yes,” I noted, “but not in any time period or timeline before now. It’s pretty fucking ironic, isn’t it? I’m the only one who has their own independent TTT facility, and I’m the only one who doesn’t need it.” “You might need it if Trump wins,” Frank pointed out. “It’s quite a surprise he managed to defeat Dole to win the nomination. To say he doesn’t fit the Republican mold would be an understatement.” Sighing, I replied, “The voters are angry. Kerry oversaw the start of the Great Recession. The voters blamed him and gave him the boot at the ballot box. Unfortunately, he was the only one with a plan to actually deal with the banking system collapse. The only thing Dole had to offer was austerity, which only made things worse — way worse — so the voters wouldn’t even give her the opportunity for a second chance. They chose a bombastic idiot who can’t give the same answer twice in the same hour, let alone in the same week. He’s an habitual liar, but uneducated white rednecks love him because he ‘tells it like it is.’ How ironic.” “I’m sure his supporters see it differently, Honey, but what are you going to do if he does win?” Frank asked. “He wouldn’t hesitate to use TTT, you know. Hell, he’d use it every week if he knew it existed. Multiple times a week. Every time his enemies did something he didn’t like, he’d use TTT to change it. He’d fuck up the timeline so badly, God would go back and call off the Big Bang entirely, rather than let Trump fuck it up.” “Trump will never know about OTT,” I replied. “It wouldn’t be the first time that a president was kept in the dark about the existence of a weapon system either. Some things are just too dangerous to be left to politicians. But don’t worry. Trump will never win.” “You really think America is ready for a black president?” Frank asked. “Obama will win because he’s black,” I countered. “African Americans will vote like they never have before. Hispanic voters will vote in record numbers too. With Trump’s stance on immigration, they’ll flock to Obama. About the only group Trump can count on in the end will be uneducated white men.” “Well that certainly leaves us out,” Frank agreed, “although his stance on gay issues isn’t bad.” “Obama may not be our biggest supporter, but he’ll get it right in the end,” I countered as I got up, lovingly squeezing Frank’s thigh as I did. “Fuck, Chris-39 still has that stupid ankle bracelet to deal with. I can’t believe they put it back on after the second Iranian incident. He can’t go anywhere on his own without Craegan finding out about it.” “Actually, they never took it off,” Frank reminded me. “The surgeons had to work around it. They would have had to get a court order to have it removed, but there wasn’t time if they had any hope of saving the foot. But whatever happened to the lab he built in his home?” Frank asked. “It was dismantled and destroyed,” I replied, “and he can’t exactly build a new one in his small home on the Alameda base without anyone else knowing about it.” “But I can,” Frank pointed out. “If Chris-39 were to ask the Frank of his time to assemble a TTT apparatus in secret in the house we shared on the Alameda base, I would have been able to do it. A third-gen machine isn’t all that expensive, and with my government clearances, I shouldn’t have too much trouble sneaking in the necessary components.” “No, it’ll just take time… lots of time,” I pointed out. “And the process will have to be repeated in each and every time period, too,” Frank added. “At least things seem to have stabilized, since Chris-25 escaped from the Chinese,” I noted. “Call it the calm before the storm,” Frank replied. “There are still thousands of realities out there with varying degrees of stability. Some of them have dissipated or will dissipate on their own, but others will form micro-singularities. It’s not a matter of if they will coalesce into a singularity, but how much time we have before we can no longer stop it.” “Do you still think we have to worry about Dawson?” I asked. “Now that we know Creagan was the spy?” “It still doesn’t exonerate Dawson,” Frank pointed out. “We still don’t even know if his defection was voluntary, but under the circumstances, we have to assume that it was until proved otherwise.” “Which means that Marion Dawson has to be considered to have always been a Soviet spy until proved otherwise,” I echoed. <<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>> December 2005 • Chris-39 As the days rushed past and the holidays approached, I couldn’t help but feel an impending sense of doom. Halloween was past, Thanksgiving was past and we were well into the Christmas season. Before I knew it, it was Christmas Day as well as the one-year anniversary of Andy’s disappearance, and he was still missing. The Russians took him. We knew that. They’d sent me his finger, but then nothing. Why hadn’t they tried to contact me ever since? The only reason I could think of was that Andy was dead. That was a wound that would never heal. Frank did all he could to reassure me, but what did it matter anyway? Ironically, it was Andy who discovered a solution to the fragmentation of time. It would take months to set it up, as each and every one of me in each and every time period would have to build their own TTT apparatus. In the end we'd have the equivalence of a conference call, a single night in which we all connected through TTT. The effect would be like a hall of mirrors, I imagined, with all the various versions of myself visible to each other at the same time. Thanks to Frank, I was nearly finished with building my own independent TTT apparatus. Soon, I would use it to contact Chris-32 and set him on the path to building his own facility. And I’d been giving a lot of thought to how Chris-13, who’d likely be Chris-14 by then, would complete his part of the mission. It would be his job to contact a pristine version of Chris-12 — one that hadn’t been contaminated by TTT yet, and to convince him to forget about pursuing the technology. It was the linking of all time periods that would cause all the various timelines to collapse. It would then be up to Chris-12 to set a new course — one devoid of TTT. Unfortunately, it would also be a timeline devoid of Andy. <<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>> February 1999 • Chris-32 It was sure good to be in contact with Chris-25 again. Just knowing he was back on American soil did wonders for us, but the biggest surprise was in the debriefing. Chris spent months in Hawaii where, isolated from friends and family and hypnotized at times, detail after detail of his captivity had been exposed. Of course he wasn’t isolated from me and I found I could even break into the sessions where he was hypnotized, even though he was awake. It was much like the way I was able to enter his mind when the Chinese had him drugged. If only we’d known about this before, we could have saved ourselves the trouble of involving Marion Dawson in OTT! How ironic. After all, the only reason for using him was to take advantage of his photographic memory, but if we’d known we could use hypnosis instead of sleep, a photographic memory would’ve been irrelevant. Under self-hypnosis, we could’ve simply copied down the circuit diagrams and computer code sent back to us by our future selves. How different things might have turned out, but it was too late now. Anyway, the intelligence community learned much about the Chinese from Chris-25, but the real shocker was what I was able to pick from his brain during the interrogation process. It’s amazing what seemingly trivial information can be gleaned from a well-conducted interview. It’s even more amazing what can be deduced from trivial data when combined with other information. When all was said and done, a seemingly innocent comment by Wang Lee pointed to the identity of a Russian spy in our lab at Lawrence Livermore. To Wang, the comment meant nothing but to us, it narrowed the identity of the spy down to a single individual — Jack Craegan, my friend and mentor. Every aspect of the comment checked out, leaving little doubt. The ringing of the doorbell brought me out of my reverie. My whole mood lightened as I opened the door for my little man, who was almost ten. Jen did little more than wave at me as she drove off, leaving Andy with me for the weekend. Winter weather was still in full force in spite of the date on the calendar, with a steady, cold rain falling outside. Temperatures felt like they were in the fifties, or maybe even forties, but that didn’t stop my son from arriving in his usual summer attire of a wifebeater, shorts and sandals. “Is that all you wore?” I asked incredulously. Rolling his eyes, he replied, “If I could get away with it, I’d wear even less, you know. The sandals are a complete waste, ’cause the first thing I do is kick ’em off when I walk in the door.” As if to prove his point, he did just that, then he continued, “The shirt is for little more than hidin’ my nipples. People seem to get hung up on nipples for some reason. They don’t serve any purpose in guys, and in girls, it’s just where the milk comes out. Now I admit, I don’t mind seein’ girls’ nipples. Tits are sexy on girls… they get me hard… definitely not sexy on guys though. But in some cultures, everyone goes topless. I know I have to wear a shirt indoors in public… there’s no getting away from social norms… but maybe it’s time to put my money where my mouth is and go shirtless in my own house.” With that he pulled his wifebeater over his head and dropped it on the floor. When I frowned at him, he shrugged his bare shoulders, picked it up, carried it to the dining area and draped it over a chair. “Now shorts really don’t do anything except provide pockets and a place for keys and a wallet. Since I don’t need those inside my home, I don’t really need to wear my shorts in the house either, do I?” He then emptied his pockets, placed his wallet and keys on the kitchen counter, removed his shorts and draped them over the same dining room chair. That left him only wearing his boxers. “If you think I’m going to let you go naked in the house, you have another thing coming,” I volunteered before things went any further. “But why not, Dad?” he challenged. “I wasn’t gonna say anything, but the only reason to wear my boxers is to cover my penis, but we’re both guys, and you’re my dad and have seen my penis hundreds of times. I know you’re gay and all, but you’re not into boys and, after all, I’m your son. So why do I need to wear my boxers inside the house?” “What if someone comes to the door?” I asked. “Then I’ll put my shorts on, just as I would if I just got out of the shower.” “Fine, Andy,” I responded as I threw my hands up in the air. “If you want to go naked, go naked. You’re nearly ten years old and I won’t stop you, but don’t expect me to warn you if a pretty girl stops by, and I happen to let her in.” “Dad, you know me better than that. I don’t care if someone else sees me naked. If they get embarrassed by it, then it’s their problem… not mine. And if it’s a pretty girl, maybe I can talk her into getting naked too,” he added with a sexually-charged smirk that reminded me how much he was nine going on nineteen, soon to be ten going on twenty. As he shucked his boxers and draped them over the chair, I couldn’t help but wonder how my son managed to have far fewer hang-ups than I ever did. The boy had no modesty at all. Talking about getting hard and getting naked with a girl or, in my case a boy, I’d have been red as a beat. “Oh, and Andy?” “Yeah Dad?” “I’m going to have to do some work over the weekend,” I brought up. “I’ll try to keep it to a minimum and most of it’ll be at night, but I just wanted to warn you about it.” Getting a serious look on his face and coming close to me, he responded, “You’re getting ready to collapse all the timelines, aren’t you?” “How do you know about that?” I asked. “I’m the one who first brought it up with you, remember?” He replied. “But back then, you weren’t ready to listen. But I knew that sooner or later you’d figure it all out. “Since we’re in the middle of all the timelines, that means you’re halfway done with all the preparations. It’ll be, what, maybe another three to six months or so ’til everyone has their own equipment… a year at most… before you’ll be ready? And then you’ll collapse all the timelines and I’ll be history.” “Andy, don’t say that,” I admonished my son. “We don’t know that that’s what’ll happen.” “Yeah, Dad, we do,” Andy countered. “At least I do.” As tears flooded his eyes, I pulled my naked nine-year-old son into a tight embrace and held onto him with all my might as if holding onto him could keep him from disappearing from eternity. “Dad, I’m scared,” he cried. “Not that I’ll remember any of this, ’cause I’ll never have existed in the first place, but I don’t want not to be. I don’t want to lose my friends, my mom, and you. Most of all, I don’t want to lose me. Life is so precious and although we have no control over it, most of us at least get to live some of it. After you collapse the timelines, all of this will be gone and I will have never existed. I’m so scared, Dad. I’m so scared.” Andy was breaking my heart. How could I make him feel better when my own heart was breaking? I would do anything to keep him alive. Anything. But if we didn’t collapse the timelines, we would all die, and that wasn’t something I could allow, even at the expense of sacrificing my own son. Andy knew that, and I knew that. <<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>> April 1992 • Chris-26 It had been a challenge, putting my life back together after returning from China. I’d long ago moved in with Wang Lee, so the only apartment I had was the one we’d shared, but that apartment, unbeknownst to me, had been bought by a Chinese shell company. When Wang returned with me to Hong Kong after my abduction, the shell company simply sold the apartment, giving little heed to the contents, which were simply discarded. That actually was a blessing in disguise, as I doubted the hard drive with its hidden partition would have escaped detection, had Chinese agents actually dissected it. The bottom line, though, was that I returned to the States a penniless ex-post-doctoral student with virtually no savings, no possessions of my own and no place to go. Over a year had passed since my sudden disappearance, and I wasn’t even sure if the post-doc in Rankin’s lab was still available. More than likely, as far as he was concerned, I had failed to return from the winter break, effectively abandoning my post-doc. And now that I knew that Jack Craegan was a Soviet spy, I didn’t know if I could even trust Rankin in the first place. Still, Rankin was the one person with access to funds for my work, and Jack Craegan was my one link to OTT. And there was Jen, the mother of my son and the only woman I’d ever really loved. For the sake of the future and for the sake of our son, could I find a way to put my life back together with her? I knew she hadn’t married and that she’d found a job at Genencor, literally right next door to Stanford. She and Andy lived in a townhouse condo nearby in Woodside. I came very close to just saying, ‘To fuck with it all,’ and just returning to Saint Louis to move in with my parents until I could figure out what to do. But that would have meant abandoning OTT and any possibility of restoring the timeline, and it would have taken me away from Andy, who’d just turned three. Somehow, for his sake if not for the world’s sake, I had to get my life back on track and resume my work on OTT. Without letting on that I knew he was a Soviet spy, I approached Jack, who was the one person from my former life who knew the full story of what had happened. Jack offered me a permanent job at Livermore on the spot, and he offered to make things right with Rankin, getting him to allow me to complete my post-doc while employed full time at Livermore. It also gave me access to the resources I’d need to build my own TTT apparatus. That took care of my financial and my career objectives, but it still left me wondering how in the fuck to rebuild my social life, to reconnect with my former girlfriend, and my son. My first thought was to simply call her up on the telephone or to send her an e-mail, but somehow I knew I needed to meet with her, face-to-face. I needed to contact her in person and not using technology as a crutch. I knew she had Andy in daycare and it turned out he was in the same daycare center as before my abduction. I went there one afternoon and watched my son at play — he’d gotten so big! I waited until I saw Jen pick him up, hoping to confirm the timing so that I could catch her at home on another night, but she looked up, and she saw me. How she recognized me, sitting in a strange SUV, I didn’t know. But she did see me and just stood there, outside her car, Andy at her side, staring in my direction. It was when Andy recognized me that things happened quickly. Breaking free of his mother and starting to run toward a busy street, thinking only of getting to me, I had no choice but to abandon my car and run across said busy street, risking my own life and limb to keep my son safe. Screaming, “Daddy, Daddy. I’ve missed you. I’ve missed you,” he threw himself into my open arms and I scooped him up, held him close to my chest and spun him around and around. “I’ve missed you too, Tiger,” I responded, just as Jen caught up to us. “Chris, what happened,” she began. “We thought you were dead. You disappeared without a trace. We searched everywhere. We tried everything. I even borrowed money from my parents and hired a private investigator. We traced you to a New Years party on a houseboat in Sausalito, but then… nothing. We couldn’t even find out who hosted the party. The houseboat was leased by a…” “Chinese shell company?” I asked, completing her sentence. “Yeah, and Wang Lee got into graduate school at Stanford using false papers. There was no Wang Lee. The State Department thinks he may have been a Chinese spy. But then, why’d he take an interest in you? Were you involved in something you shouldn’t have been?” “What? No,” I answered, but then corrected myself, “actually, yeah, but nothing illegal. I can’t believe you went to so much trouble to find me, though. What I didn’t realize was that, if my research in particle physics was of interest to the folks at Livermore, it also was of interest to the Chinese Government.” “Or Russians who attend thesis dissertations?” she added as realization dawned on her. “Yeah, that too,” I agreed with a wan smile. “I guess maybe I was the only one who didn’t realize just how useful my research could be to the military, and not just ours.” “Listen, Chris,” she continued. “I know we didn’t exactly part under the best of circumstances, but after you disappeared, I did a lot of thinking. I had a lot of time to think in your absence, after I realized you probably were dead. “I know it’s not easy, being gay and in the closet, and I know you probably did love me… you just couldn't get from me what your body craved, and that made you an easy target for a Chinese agent posing as Wang Lee. I’d like to think that someday I’ll find a straight man to love me, but that’s not likely to happen when you have a small child to care for, and when you’re still in love with his gay dad. “I know you’re going to have sex with men. It’s your biological imperative and I’d be foolish to interfere. I can live with that as long as you don’t do it by sneaking around on me or going to prostitutes, and so long as you’re safe. Anything else you do is fine with me as long as you come home to me at night. But for the sake of our son, so that he never has to know a life without his father, are you willing to give ‘us’ another chance?” Overcome with emotion, rather than say anything, I answered by pressing my lips to hers. I faintly heard my little man shout, “YES!” as I saw a little fist shoot up into the sky, out of the corner of my eye, but I wasn’t much paying attention as my tongue was getting reacquainted with Jen’s. <<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>> June 1985 • Chris-19 June 1985, my senior year in college! In the fall I’d start the third and final year in my undergraduate education, and my second year at Stanford. Not that I was taking the summer off or anything. Actually, I was taking a full course load so that, with my advance placement, I could finish up in three years. I was also spending a lot of time in the lab, putting together my own TTT apparatus. At least Stanford had all the facilities I needed to do it. And unlike for my older counterparts, cost was not a major factor. My tuition and laboratory fees entitled me to use any parts and equipment already available on site. Thanks to Stanford’s humongous endowment, everything I needed was available on site. The only problem was that, if I wanted to fabricate something such as a custom quartz emitter-detector or a ‘disco ball’ precision mirror array, I had to do it myself. Fortunately, there were plenty of technicians and graduate students available to show me how to use the equipment in Stanford’s state-of-the-art optical shop, but the actual machining, grinding, polishing and aligning of components was up to me, which was why it took so long. Still, I learned a lot from my mistakes, and there were a lot of mistakes. I could have fabricated my own vacuum tubes as well, which was something I already knew how to do, and Stanford did have outstanding facilities for doing so, but that would have taken additional time. Stanford was in the heart of Silicon Valley and students could buy a personal computer for pennies on the dollar. I already had all the software I needed and, although slow by future standards from what I’d been told, today’s PC was a Hell of a lot faster than the computers I’d started out with in Saint Louis. For me, the hard part was gonna be in tryin’ to help Chris-14 build his own TTT apparatus. In his time, Chris had never even attempted to reach back to contact himself in the past, which was why it was so important that he do so now. He needed to reach out to Chris-12 at a time before he’d been contaminated by TTT. The rest of us would all work together to collapse all the extraneous timelines, but it would be up to Chris-12 to make sure we never fucked things up again. And there was another thing I wanted Chris-12 to do and, for better or worse, it would fall on Chris-14’s shoulders to make it happen. You see, there’s a saying that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. Although it made sense that the best way to prevent the fragmentation of time was to prevent TTT from bein’ developed in the first place, the reality was that someday, someone else would invent it and we’d end up going through the whole thing all over again. I felt very strongly that the best defense was a good offense, and that we needed to have some kind of record of TTT — a time capsule of sorts — that could be used in an emergency to fix whatever kind of mess we found ourselves in in the future. Chris-26 was worried that if TTT was known to exist, the temptation would be too great to use it. My intent was to bury knowledge of the existence of TTT so deeply in the subconscious mind of Chris-12 that he’d never remember it unless something jogged his memory — something like someone else meddling with time. The bigger issue with creating a time capsule of TTT was that the only one who could do it was Chris-12. If any of the rest of us tried, the time capsule would likely disappear, right along with the existence of alternate realities, when we collapsed all the timelines. But Chris-12 new nothing of TTT and he lacked the background to derive it on his own. Besides which, we wanted to keep it that way! There was no way Chris-12 could remember it all if Chris-14 fed it to him in his sleep, so we were gonna hafta make use of what we learned about conscious TTT from Chris-26. We were gonna hafta train Chris-12 in self-hypnosis and then he could transcribe everything about TTT into a journal as Chris-14 dictated it to him. Poor Chris-14! <<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>> May 1980 • Chris-14 How the fuck was I gonna build a TTT apparatus of my own? It was impossible! All the money I had saved from my allowance wasn’t enough to buy even one mirror for the ‘disco ball’ reflector. Then there was the stepper motor, and the multiplexers and, worst of all, the custom-fabricated emitter-detector. And I’d have to make all those custom vacuum tubes from scratch. I’d watched Professor Dawson do it, but could I even get my own access to the university facilities? I was just a lowly freshman, still in junior high. More than that, time was of the essence. Although he didn’t want to worry me, there are no secrets in TTT and more than once I’d gotten wind of only sporadic communications from Chris-47 — something about all Hell breaking loose under President Trump, or something. No, I needed to reach Chris-12 now, to convince him not to pursue TTT and to get him to create a kind of time capsule of TTT for safe keeping, just in case it might be needed someday. In the end, I concluded that I was gonna have to steal Professor Dawson’s TTT apparatus. It was the only way I could proceed in time. But what if I was caught. And Professor Dawson would panic if he thought that someone had gotten their hands on TTT. There were so many things wrong with this, but I could see no other way. I’d hafta wear a disguise, and I’d hafta make it look like the apparatus was destroyed rather than stolen. Well, Professor Dawson certainly had enough prototypes layin’ around and smashing them up would leave enough debris to make it look like the apparatus had been destroyed… wait a minute! The latter prototypes were fully functional, but Dawson was a perfectionist. The problem was that Dawson scavenged parts from each prototype to build the next. Could I find enough usable parts from all the prototypes to assemble my own TTT apparatus? Sneaking them out and taking them home wouldn’t be much of a problem. Assembling a fully functional machine would be a challenge, but a Hell of a lot easier than breaking into the lab and trashing the place, just to cover my tracks. And trashing the place would wreak havoc with so many other students’ projects… no, using Professor Dawson’s discarded prototypes would be so much better. <<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>> July 1978 • Chris-12 It was an incredibly hot night and my incredibly cheap parents didn’t see the need for an air conditioner in my room. They had one in their bedroom and, after all, my brother and sister had gotten by without air conditioning, so why couldn’t I? I guess suffering is supposed to build character in kids, or some kind of crap like that. I’d stopped wearing pajamas when I turned twelve back in April, but tonight I was so hot that even my tighty-whities were discarded, laying on the floor next to my bed, just in case Mom checked up on me. The covers were pushed down all the way off the bed too, and were lying in a heap on the floor. Even so, the air was still and the humidity oppressive. I was hot and sweaty, tossing and turning and wondering if I could talk my parents into getting me a fan. Eventually I drifted off to sleep but then something strange happened. A cool fog formed all around me — boy, that felt good — and then I felt as if I was leaving my body, floating in space above my bed. That felt even better! Slowly, another presence precipitated out of the fog… another boy… a teenager… and it was me! I could tell it right away. He looked like maybe a ninth grader — there was even the beginning of a mustache on his upper lip — I guess they call it peach fuzz — but his skin was otherwise smooth except for a coarse patch of hair over his dick. Yeah, I could see that part of him too. ’Course I had a few hairs over my dick now too, but you still needed a magnifying glass to see ’em. There was no mistaking the face, though. It was an older version of my face, except that the hair was combed the opposite way and my mole was on the other way from what I saw every day in the mirror. That was ’cause I was seeing me the way everyone else saw me — the way I look in pictures, but why was I dreaming about what I’d look like in a couple of years, even down there? “You’re not dreaming this, Chris. It really is me, Christopher, coming to you from September, 1980. I’m here to tell you some stuff about the future.” “But as every fan of science fiction knows, it’s dangerous as Hell to mess with time,” I replied. “Knowledge of the future is evil. Surely you haven’t forgotten that.” “Of course I know it just as well as you do,” he responded. “As you already figured out, I am you. But we’re gonna forget it when we’re old. In 2008, when we’re 42, we’re gonna invent a machine that lets us share our thoughts in our sleep, just like we’re doing right now. It only works for up to seven years, but by repeating the process, you can go all the way back to when you’re twelve years old.” “Like you’re doin’ with me!” “Exactly! But Chris,” he continued, “you’re absolutely right about fucking things up…” “You used the ‘F’ word,” I interrupted. “As will you,” he came back. “As I remember, a lot of our friends already do.” He was sure right about that! I never thought of doing it myself — it seemed kinda naughty — but maybe it was time I started acting more like the teenager I’d. After all, I’d be entering junior high in less than two months. “So did we fuck things up?” I asked. It felt weird to use the ‘F’ word so casually like that, but it felt good too. Real good. “More than you can imagine,” he answered. “We came real close to destroying everything. Our son… I mean we figured out how to fix it, but it’s gonna be difficult and sacrifices will have to be made. In order for it to work, I need you to do two things. The most important thing of all is that I need you to not develop the technology. Not ever. It’s far too dangerous and leads to fragmentation of the fabric of the universe. Used repeatedly, the fabric of time starts to disintegrate and a black hole will form that will swallow up the earth and everything around it. We can’t let that happen. It’s imperative that you never develop what you called Time Tunnel Technology…” “Like the TV show!” I interrupted. “Exactly!” “What’s the other thing you need me to do?” I asked. “I need you to keep a record… a journal of sorts, of everything related to TTT. A kind of time capsule, no pun intended. I can’t do it, nor can all our future selves, ’cause it’ll just disappear after we collapse all the alternate timelines. I need you to ask Mom to buy you a bunch of hardcover journal notebooks… the extra large ones, like you’d use for a lab notebook, and a file box to put them in. Have her buy enough notebooks to fill the box. “Now I’m gonna teach you some mental exercises you can use to hypnotize yourself…” “Cool!” I responded. “This is necessary, so that you can write in the journal at the same time I communicate with you. Tomorrow night we’ll work on that, and then we can start work on the journal…” <<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>> September 2006 • Soul Survivor The boy couldn’t believe he’d been there nearly a year-and-a-half. He was now seventeen and in seven months, he’d be eighteen and legally an adult! But that was not to be, he realized with a sigh. It was strange — Crimea almost seemed as much his home now as did the San Francisco Bay Area. He even spoke the language. Yeah, he’d accidentally let it slip that he knew Russian when he responded to a question asked in Russian by one of the Soviet scientists of another. The question, however, was appropriate to him as well and, without thinking about it, he answered the question in flawless Russian. So much for his attempt to keep them unaware that he could understand them! From then on, he spoke to them in Russian. Much had happened over the course of the past sixteen months. Much of it had been spent in just getting the scientists up to speed on his formulations. He’d had to give them time to ‘discover’ his mistakes so that they would feel ownership of the equations, the underlying theory and the expected results. However, the formulations and theory were a hoax perpetrated by the boy. He’d deliberately led them in the wrong direction so as to ensure the integrity of time. Coming up with a strategy for leading the scientists in the wrong direction, yet that justified the equipment he needed and the experiments he wished to run had been the hardest challenge he’d ever faced. Not even the professor knew, which was just as well, as there were limits to what they could communicate safely in their environment. Besides which, no one understood the math the way the boy did. The lab came together nearly a year into their time in Crimea, and for the past five months, they’d been running experiments that at least in part, supported the formulations the boy had shared with the Soviet scientists. The scientists were thrilled that the results so closely matched those predicted by the formulations, even though there were discrepancies that the boy would have considered unacceptable from his own standpoint. Fortunately, the results fully supported the real theoretical framework he’d developed of the universe — the one he kept stored in his brain, safely away from prying eyes and ears — the formulation he shared with no one else — not even with the professor. But now the boy was about to get to the hard part — the part of the experiments that could make everything go wrong. There was a piece of the puzzle that had always been missing — that just didn’t fit. Up until recently, no one could explain the workings of human memory. Oh, scientists pretty much knew how immediate recall and short-term memory worked, but this wasn’t all that much of a mystery in the first place. Short-term memory worked a lot like volatile dynamic random access memory in a computer. It was such in all mammals and, to a lesser extent, in all vertebrates. Long-term memory, however, remained a mystery. It had long been assumed that long-term memory involved the formation of synapses within the brain. There was strong evidence for this and a number of models seemed to indicate that synaptic junctions within key areas of the brain could account for perhaps as much as a petabyte of data. Surely that would be enough to account for all the memories one accumulated in one’s lifetime — except that it didn’t. Although memories became less distinct with time, a simple back-of-napkin calculation easily showed that, by the time a person reached the age of ten, already they had at least the equivalent of a hundred petabytes of long-term memories stored away… detailed memories that could be extracted decades later under hypnosis. Even with extensive compression, that was an order of magnitude more than the best estimates of what was available in the brain. Not only that, but dementia affected the areas of the brain associated with memory more than any other. Short-term memory was one of the first things affected and, yet, long-term memory was usually spared until the very end. Even in the face of massive synaptic die-off, long-term memories dating back from childhood remained, often in exquisite detail. It was as the boy was attempting to unravel the mysteries of long-term memory with the intent of learning how to read, erase and re-write memories, that he made a startling discovery. Long-term memories existed outside of normal space-time. Once he discovered evidence for an extra-corporeal storage mechanism for long-term memory, it was a trivial matter to devise experiments to prove it. What he wasn’t expecting was that he would make use of this science to prove the existence of the human soul. It turned out that humans are sentient, not because they have evolved self-awareness, but because they have developed a symbiotic relationship with string-like entities that exist outside of the physical universe. They existed before the so-called Big Bang and they would continue to exist long after the universe collapsed upon itself. Humans provide the string entities with a corporeal existence, with a purpose and with meaning. In turn, the string entities provide humans with long-term memory, the ability to reason and basic self-awareness. More than anything, the string entities provide humans with a burning desire to amass knowledge, both individually and collectively, and to pass that knowledge on from generation to generation. It is a desire that closely mirrors their own. Although the boy was not raised with religion, he couldn’t help but recognize the parallels between the string beings and the concept of a human soul. The string beings attached themselves to humans at the moment of birth, stayed with them throughout life and left them when the host died. Whether or not they too died, the boy couldn’t know, nor perhaps if they went on to some other kind of existence, much as most religions favored the existence of an afterlife. Truthfully, he didn’t care. What mattered to him was that he’d found a scientific explanation of how long-term memory works and, in the process, he’d discovered what makes humans what they are. So why was this so important to the boy? There were two reasons. First of all and perhaps a bit selfishly, he was convinced that if he succeeded in reversing the effects of TTT, he would cease to exist. Simply put, he didn’t want to die or, worse yet, never to have existed in the first place. Far more importantly, however, was the need to ensure the integrity of time. The boy knew that, even with his best efforts to prevent it, his father couldn’t help but reinvent TTT, repeating the cycle of time fragmentation and restructuring endlessly until something went wrong and the earth was consumed by a singularity. He needed to find a way to nudge his father off course permanently, and the only way he could think to do that was if he could somehow find a way to be in the right place at the right time in the past. Only then could he intervene to ensure the integrity of time. Accessing the Internet from within the USSR was a bit tricky, but the boy was exceptionally smart and was already adept at accessing systems and networks he wasn’t supposed to be privy to. In the end he had little difficulty surreptitiously accessing birth records and death records in Saint Louis in the 1960s and 1970s. Although he’d long suspected it, he was able to find records of an attempted suicide of a twelve-year-old boy, along with evidence that, before the existence of TTT, the suicide attempt had been successful. In short, this boy — his target — was in the right place at the right time, and with a little push from the boy, the target could make sure that Chris Michaels never went on to invent TTT. There was also the matter of the professor’s involvement in TTT, and for that the boy needed to remove any reason for him to get involved in meddling with time. That turned out to be fairly simple. A note planted in the professor’s boyfriend’s scholastic record, about his homosexuality, and he would never get into medical school, let alone the military. Without a need to fund his education, he wouldn’t have enlisted and wouldn’t have gone to Vietnam in any case. The boy discussed the idea with the professor and suggested how they could use one of his experiments to make it happen. The professor readily agreed. So the boy was rapidly approaching the point where he could create a stable wormhole back in time. As with TTT, the wormhole was dimensionless and although technically suitable for sending information back in time, it could not be used to transport physical mass and, hence, a person could not be sent back in time. Interestingly, the string entities that comprised long-term memories — the human soul — could traverse these wormholes with ease. Now that the boy had identified his target — a boy who would be in the right place at the right time to influence the direction of his father’s life, the boy’s plan was to overwrite the long-term memories of the target. In other words, the boy wished to exchange his soul with that of the target boy — the boy who’d committed suicide at the age of twelve. Such an exchange was possible, but it could only be done once the target boy was dead. Timing was therefore critical. If done too soon, the target’s original soul might still be connected to the target and might not allow the boy to replace itself with his own soul. If he waited too long, the target might have suffered irreversible brain damage, making it impossible for the boy to accomplish his mission. On top of that, the boy had to have a clear method of interrupting the suicide so that the target wouldn’t die. Although not foolproof, he came up with a simple scheme. He would first establish a wormhole to the target’s mother’s brain. He would implant the thought that something was wrong with her son. This he knew he could do from his experiments. The mother would discover the boy, hanging from the rafters in his attic bedroom, just as he lost consciousness. Timing again was critical, because if she found her son too early, his original soul would not have yet fled its host. He could restart the target’s heart, but only if the mother had restored his airway. The biggest question mark about the procedure was that the process was destructive to both the target and the donor. The only way to separate the boy’s soul from its host body was for the boy to die, but then he would cease to exist in all future realities. With a wormhole established between the two dying brains and with a significant temporal gradient, the boy’s soul would have to fight to keep from being sucked into the wormhole. He did not know if his soul would retain consciousness or control, and if he failed to attach to the target, he would be left in limbo with an uncertain fate. But since he was going to die anyway as a result of the restoration of time, he felt he had nothing to lose, and so he was willing to take a leap of faith. However, of necessity, the original soul of the target would be left without a corporeal vessel. That of course was the result of the original suicide, but the boy couldn’t help but wonder if he was in some way causing the destruction of a human soul. This thought was almost enough to get him to call the whole transfer off, but the integrity of time was far more important in the end. Late at night, while everyone including the professor was asleep, the boy connected himself to the equipment and set the array of emitter-detectors upon his head. He then loaded a heavily encrypted file into the computer and opened the computer program it contained. When he was ready, he injected himself with a neural toxin that, at first, put his mind into the sleep-like state that was necessary for formation of the wormhole he was about to create. He initiated the sequence to run the program and as his brain slipped into a state of semi-unconsciousness, and then death, he felt his body take its last breath, and then he slipped away. <<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>> “Hello, Andy, I’ve been waiting a lifetime for you.” “Who… who are you?” “For a genius, you sure aren’t that bright.” “Huh?” “I’m your target, you dummy. I’m the soul who’s been keeping your new home warm for you.” “What, you’re his soul? Fuck, I didn’t mean to kick you out. I thought you’d have left already.” “I would’ve, but I knew you were coming and I wanted to meet you.” “But it’s wrong for me to kick you out. I can’t just steal your body from you!” “Listen, punk, this body is meant to be yours. It always has been. I only took this gig because it was the only thing available at the time. I wanted to try out being gay, but it just didn’t work out for me. I couldn’t deal with parents who couldn’t love me this way, and with bein’ raised in a religion that saw it as evil. I’ve already got a nice gig lined up to be a kid in Bangladesh. Poverty and famine beat being gay any old day.” “You’re going to be reincarnated?” “Of course I am. What a stupid question! A lot of souls choose to have another go at it. Sometimes it takes a soul several lifetimes to get what they want out of life. And then they move on. “Speaking of which, my new body’s gonna be born any second now. It’s time for me to go. Enjoy your new body, and take good care of it. It may not be what you’re used to, but it’s still pretty smart and it’s not half bad looking either. “Oh, and don’t freak out about sex! You’re a perfectly healthy twelve-year-old gay boy now. So you’re gonna be horny all the time. But when you do have sex, remember, it’s the body that’s gay. So if you end up having sex with someone you knew in your old life, don’t freak out about it, OK? You’re just a horny gay boy is all, and it’s all natural. It’s all good. Just don’t let the old folks catch you, or the shit’ll really hit the fan.” <<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>> December 2013 • Chris-47 “Chris, we’re running out of time,” Frank told me for the tenth time today. “Your other selves are waiting for you. I know you’re distraught about Andy’s death, but if we don’t collapse all the timelines now, there may not be anything left to collapse. Look it’s been seven years…” “In chronological time only, and you know it,” I interrupted. “In reality, his death just happened and we just became aware of it. You don’t know what it’s like to lose a child, and now I’ve lost two…” “But you don’t even remember your daughter,” Frank countered. “I remember that she existed,” I cross-countered. “But even forgetting her, Andy was such an incredible kid. He was so smart, such a genius, and he had the most amazing personality. It’s hard thinking I’ll never see him again. But adding insult to injury by erasing his very existence from time… I just can’t do that now.” “You have to, Chris,” Frank admonished me. Then getting a softer look on his face, he continued, “I wasn’t going to tell you this until the time was right, after we successfully collapsed all the alternate timelines. But maybe you need to know it now. “Dad, I didn’t die. I’ve been right here, all along. The original Frank hanged himself when he was twelve, when he was still in the sixth grade, when he first realized he was gay. We should have never met, but then I downloaded my memories to his brain, and I saved him. The Frank you have always known, is me.” Stunned, I asked, “But how is this possible? I’ve known you, practically all along. You only just went back! And we had sex!” Laughing, Frank responded, “I figured it would be the sex that would freak you out about it. Look, after I went back, we were the same age, we were two horny gay kids and it was perfectly natural. It wasn’t at all like I was having sex with my old man, nor was it like you were having sex with your son. I have no regrets, nor should you. “Now as to how it was possible that I was around from the earliest of the altered timelines, side-by-side with Andy… Let’s just say that we’ve been down this path before, but you’re a stubborn man, Christopher Michaels. Try as I might to push you in a different direction, you keep coming back to TTT, and each time we come a little bit closer to our own destruction. In shock, I asked, “How many times have we done this before?” Shrugging his shoulders, my husband — my son — answered, “ I can’t really say for sure, and it’s complicated. I’d explain it all to you, but we’re running out of time and the explanation will be forgotten once we collapse the alternate timelines. Perhaps it would be best if we waited until after we have fixed the essence of time.” “You really are Andy?” “I’ve gone by Frank far longer than I went by Andy but, yes, Dad, I really am your son, Andy. I’ve been with you all along…” Seeing the look of determination on Frank’s face — on my son’s face, I knew he was telling me the truth. His existence hadn’t been erased and one day we would see each other again. I nodded my head in assent, and we got started with the procedure. Firing up the apparatus, Frank injected me with lorazepam and I felt myself relaxing into a pleasant alpha rhythm as the familiarity of establishing the link to Chris-40 came upon me. But this time, it was like joining a conference call. Already in the fog, besides Chris-40 and myself, were Chris-33, Chris-26, Chris-19, Chris-14 and Chris-12. “It’s about fucking time you showed up, Chris-47,” Chris-40 admonished me. “Sorry, guys,” I responded. “I still had a few loose ends to tidy up.” Just then, another form took shape from within the fog. It was Frank! The Frank from my time period. “Frank!” Everyone said at once. Then Chris-40 asked, “Does this mean we’re still together in seven years?” “Very much so,” I answered. “Wow, I didn’t see that coming,” Chris-19 responded, and then continued “In my time, Frank and I didn’t exactly part amicably.” “And in my time, Frank was in a military boarding school,” Chris-14 noted. “I’m sorry, Chris-19,” my Frank replied. “I just wasn’t strong enough back then. I was so convinced my parents would send me back to that horrible military school… actually, they were going to send me back there. I had to promise to have nothing to do with you. But at seventeen, I had a legal right to leave home. I didn’t know that then, nor did I understand how to fight for my rights. I’m so sorry, but I was just a kid.” “We were both just kids back then and, besides, there was far worse to come that was clearly my fault,” Chris-26 chimed in. “I chased every skirt at Stanford, knocked up Jen and then cheated on her with Wang Lee, a Chinese spy. The only good thing to come out of it was Andy.” That certainly dampened the mood, as we all recognized that we were about to wipe Andy’s existence right off the face of the earth. I was the only one present, besides Frank of course, who knew that Andy was right there among us. Unfortunately, the moment I had that thought, all of my former selves picked up on it. “Holy fuck!” Chris-19 exclaimed. “Frank is Andy!” “Yes, it’s true,” Frank confirmed. “When the Russians took me, I used my knowledge and their equipment to send myself back in time. In simple terms, I sent my soul back to inhabit the body of a twelve-year-old boy who’d just killed himself. In scientific terms, I overwrote his memories, but the soul is real and it exists outside of normal space-time. Our souls were together before there was a Chris, an Andy or a Frank, and they will be together long after they are gone. We are, in fact, soulmates.” No wonder I felt so close to Andy, and to Frank, in every time and place. Andy was more than my son. Frank was more than my lover. They were both my other half and someday we would be together again. It was too bad I wouldn’t remember any of this after we collapsed all the timelines. “Chris, all seven of you, may I remind you that there is some important work at hand… something about saving the universe. Perhaps you guys should proceed?” Frank suggested. “Definitely,” I agreed. “You guys know what to do,” Frank continued. When you merge, all of the various realities will merge along with you and time will be reset to back before the start of our interventions. It will be as if TTT never existed, and only Chris-12 will remain. “I’m going to leave you now as I must. Good luck!” In traditional TTT, we experienced shared thoughts through a shared dream state. To eliminate and collapse the extraneous timelines, we needed to merge all our thoughts in all time periods in which TTT had ever been used. This didn’t account for Marion Dawson’s meddling, but then Frank had assured me that he had taken care of that problem, personally. I didn’t know how, but now that I knew that Frank was in fact Andy, I had no doubt that he had done so. With great trepidation, I approached Chris-40 in our shared consciousness and the two of us willed ourselves to come together into a single entity. But in that instant I sensed that there were many more of us. It was as if every Chris-47 that had ever existed joined together with every Chris-40, from all of the alternate versions of time. Chris-33, in all of his versions, then joined us, followed by Chris-26, Chris-19, Chris-14 and, finally, Chris-12. The seven of us — more like seven thousand of us — were as one entity in one time. Just as I’d imagined it would be, the sensation was similar to looking between a pair of parallel mirrors, creating the illusion of looking into an endless hall of mirrors extending out in both directions to infinity. And as our thoughts became synchronized and we became as one, the scene faded and I awoke from my sleep in my twelve-year-old body with a boner and raging hormones, and no memory of having been older than twelve. On instinct, after dealing with my boner in the usual way, I got up and looked into my closet, making sure the file box was still there, up on the top shelf, safely out of reach. I couldn’t remember what was in it, except that it was very important and that I must take it with me wherever I go. I also knew that I must never open it — that it must remain sealed for the rest of my life. <<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>> August 1978 • Chris-12 “Thanks, Dad,” I said as I got out of the car. “You don’t have to wait for me, you know,” I added. “I just want to see you get inside,” he responded, “to make sure you get in OK.” Rolling my eyes, I slammed the car door shut and headed to the imposing stone structure in front of me. Just ahead of me was another boy who appeared to be around my age. He was just standing there, looking up at the heavy wooden doors that led inside. As I approached him from behind, I heard him say, “Fuckin’ awesome.” When I laughed, he turned toward me and I was stunned. He had to be the best looking boy I’d ever seen, yet he was kinda familiar, like somethin’ outta a dream. He had longish blond hair, vivid blue eyes and a deep tan. He was wearing skimpy shorts, a loose-fitting tank top that showed off his arm pits and even left one of his nipples exposed, and sandals. I knew it was wrong, but I couldn’t help myself — I was hard, instantly. Insanely so. With courage I didn’t even know I had, I struck a fake pose and asked, “Were you referring to the building, or to me?” With a hearty laugh of his own that melted my heart, he looked me up and down and replied, “Definitely to you.” Although my tank top was skin tight, rather than loose fitting, I was similarly attired. With a grin on his face, he then stuck out his hand and said, “I’m Frank, by the way.” “Chris,” I responded as I shook his hand, then asked, “You here for the physics program… the one with Professor Dawson?” “Yup, and you?” he asked. “The same,” I replied. “And you’re right. It is gonna be fuckin’ awesome, especially if we get to study together.” “Definitely,” Frank agreed. It was only after seeing the smile Professor Dawson gave us that I realized, ever since we’d passed through the door, Frank and I had been holding hands.
  6. Altimexis

    Trek or Treat

    Left to give out candy in his penthouse apartment, Seth can't even go trick-or-treating this year. Making the best of it, he dresses up as an obscure Star Trek character that no one will recognize. Asher has become a bit of a loner since starting high school. With no parties to go to, he dresses up and goes trick-or-treating in New York City high-rise. A passionate fan of the Star Trek series, he comes to a certain penthouse and is greeted by a boy dressed as Captain Kirk's son. 5 hours later, several bags of candy consumed and every possible Star Trek topic discussed, he was no longer alone.
  7. Altimexis

    Trek or Treat

    Halloween in The City is nothing like what it is in the burbs. Kids making their way from house to house seeking treats just doesn’t mix with rushing taxis, Ubers and city buses. The only real “houses” in Manhattan are brownstones, which are almost unaffordable to all but the super-rich or those lucky enough to have inherited one. The vast majority of Manhattanites live in apartment buildings – 80% of them in rentals and for those who can afford it, condos and co-ops. Dyker Heights in Brooklyn, Bayside in Queens, Riverdale in the Bronx and Shore Acres in Staten Island are neighborhoods with stately homes that are known for their lavish decoration at Halloween and Christmastime, but those are in the boroughs. There are row houses in the boroughs too, but The City is synonymous with Manhattan – another world entirely. Asher White lived with his parents in East River Co-op, one of four cooperative apartment complexes on the Lower East Side. Built originally after WWII as middle-income housing for garment workers, they were still considered relatively affordable for Manhattan. Although they were surrounded by housing projects where tenements had once stood, Co-op Village, as it was called, afforded some of the most breathtaking views in all of Manhattan. Asher’s parents owned a small Asian take-out restaurant in one of the other co-op buildings, right on Grand Street. Not only were Asher’s parents able to walk to work, but although outrageous, the insider rate made the rent somewhat reasonable for Manhattan. However, Chinatown was just a 20-minute walk away, so the only way they could compete was based on convenience and price. Of course, the food was exceptional, and they offered free delivery within the neighborhood too. They did a very brisk business, but their margins were razor thin and they worked very long hours. As a consequence, they were never home, and young Asher was pretty much on his own. Their apartment was a very modest two-bedroom, one-bathroom flat on the ninth floor, with a small balcony that overlooked a large playground and park between two of the co-op buildings. By craning his head, Asher could see a tiny sliver of the East River and the Brooklyn Navy Pier in one direction, and the Empire State Building in the other. As one might expect of restaurant owners, his parents had completely remodeled their kitchen and opened it up to the living room, giving the apartment a modern feel, but otherwise the apartment was pretty much as they’d found it when they moved in. The bedrooms were tiny with minuscule closets, and the one and only bathroom was barely large enough for one person to use it at a time. With college being less than four years away, the family had to live frugally and save every penny. Asher’s bedroom was hardly large enough for a teenage boy to sleep in, let alone spend any time, but his bedroom was precisely where he spent most of his time, playing video games on his computer and, increasingly, reading and watching on-line porn. He was fortunate enough to go to Stuyvesant High School, an elite city school located on the Hudson River, right in the shadow of the World Trade Center. The competition to get into one of New York’s elite high schools was brutal and if offered a slot, kids often commuted hours by subway and bus, every day. Asher was very fortunate in that regard, as all he had to do was to get on the 22 bus across from his building and get off at the other end of the route. Because admission was based on test scores alone, without regard to racial or ethnic background, the overwhelming majority of the students who attended Stuyvesant were Asian, and most of them lived in Queens. That made it very difficult for Asher to make friends, as very few of his classmates lived nearby. Making matters worse, Asher was of mixed race, with a Chinese mother and an African American father. A lot of the girls found his Tiger Woods appearance to be cute, but Asher wasn’t interested in the girls, and the boys looked down on his mixed heritage. The fact that he couldn’t afford to wear the latest designer fashions or to carry the newest iPhone didn’t help matters either. Without any friends, when Asher wasn’t in school, he could be found either at the Seward Park Library, or on his Chromebook in his tiny bedroom, seated at his tiny desk. Sadly, Asher’s social isolation was very recent. Although never a part of the popular crowd, he did have friends when he was in middle school. None of them were close friends, but at least they were kids he could hang with after school. However none of them went to Stuyvesant, and with different schedules and coursework, there seemed little point in getting together with kids whose lives no longer had anything to do with his own. Asher wasn’t aware of any kids his age on the Lower East Side who went to Stuyvesant, and so in the less than two months since school began, he had become a loner. The approach of Halloween left Asher with a dilemma. He’d assumed that last year would be the last time he went trick-or-treating with his friends. But the school dance was already over – not that he would have gone anyway – and with none of his classmates living in the area and given his social isolation, he wasn’t invited to any parties either. There were parties for teens he could have gone to, hosted by several youth organizations and by the two settlement houses in the neighborhood, but those were mostly attended by kids in the projects. He assumed he would have never fit in, and so he didn’t even consider going. The last thing Asher wanted to do was to spend the holiday alone in his apartment. That might have been the way he spent most of his evenings anyway, but somehow it just felt wrong to be alone on Halloween. Of course, there was the opportunity to give out candy to trick-or-treaters, but giving out candy on Halloween was optional in the co-ops. A lot of the residents were original owners who were elderly and frail. The co-ops had long ago adopted a policy in which giving out candy was strictly voluntary, and so his parents saw no reason why they should spend money on Halloween candy. Also, all of the younger kids went to a party down in the play room and did their trick-or-treating down there. On the other hand, there was still the option of going trick-or-treating by himself. He’d seen kids his age and even older doing it, although not many, but the thing that sold him on the idea was that most of the teenagers he’d seen trick-or-treating over the years had been alone. That meant he could get his candy and be out on Halloween without appearing to be a loser. He already felt like a loser as it was, but there was no need to advertise it. As a major Star Trek fan, over the years he’d dressed up as just about every major character from each of the television series and from the movies – everyone from James T. Kirk to Benjamin Sisko to Kahn. There was a new series on television, Star Trek Discovery, but it was only available by streaming with a subscription to CBS All Access. It had been hard enough to get his parents to subscribe to basic cable when the local stations stopped using the Empire State Building for their transmissions, but a streaming subscription was out of the question. In the end, he’d been reduced to binge watching Discovery at the end of the season using CBS’s free trial. Because of its limited availability, however, most people would have no idea who he was trying to be if he dressed up as a character from Discovery, even if it was one of the main characters. It was time to try something different – something not related to Trek. The thing was, even though he looked a lot like Tiger Woods, Asher had never actually dressed up as Tiger Woods before. He just wasn’t interested in sports at all, and especially not golf. But Tiger Woods was about so much more than golf. He was the first man of color to break into a sport that was the traditional bastion of white male privilege. He was a celebrity. He was a personality and he’d just staged a comeback. So, on the evening of October 31, Asher donned a white polo shirt, white khakis, a decent pair of sneakers and a light-weight jacket. The only props he had to buy were a sun visor, some golf clubs and a small golf bag. The clubs didn’t even cost him anything, as he was able to get a set of warped clubs for free. The clothes and props alone weren’t enough to define his character, but his combination of Asian and African American features made the costume obvious, especially when he smiled. Although there were four co-ops comprising Co-op Village, he only had access to his own East River Co-op, but with well over a thousand apartments in four buildings, that was more than enough. Only a fraction of them would be offering candy, but he’d have a hard-enough time visiting a hundred apartments, let alone a thousand. The physical layout of the buildings was definitely not conducive to trick-or-treating! Each of the buildings was comprised of three connected towers, each with its own set of elevators. The towers didn’t connect to each other, however, except on the ground floor. Hence each floor was comprised of at most six apartments, very few of which would be giving out candy. Taking the elevators between floors would have been an exercise in futility as he’d have had to wait several minutes, jut to go up or down one floor. Therefore, he took the elevators to the top floor of each tower in each building and walked down the stairs until reaching the ground floor. In order to avoid visiting every floor and disturbing the residents by accidentally slamming the stairwell doors, a sticker was placed on the inside of the stairwell door on each floor where someone was giving out candy. A small pumpkin was placed in front of each apartment with candy, making those apartments easy to spot. The logical thing would have been for Asher to start in his own building, in his own tower, where people might recognize him, but Asher definitely did not want to be recognized by his neighbors. Therefore, he decided to start across Grand Street and to work his way back, saving his own building for last. Grabbing his golf bag, which not only held his golf clubs and served as a prop, but also served for collecting his candy, Asher checked the battery on his phone, emptied his bladder one last time, washed his hands and exited his apartment, locking the door on the way out. He exited the building and crossed Grand Street at the light, and then used his key to enter the building across the way. Taking the first elevator he came to, to the twentieth floor, he got out on the top floor and seeing no pumpkins, entered one of the stairwells across the hall. He had to walk down six flights before he saw a pumpkin sticker, but there were three apartments on the fourteenth floor with pumpkins in front of their doors. Smiling and saying, “Trick or treat!”, he quickly had a pack of Reece’s, a couple bags of M&Ms and a Kit-Kat bar. Proceeding down the stairwells, Asher made stops on several more floors before reaching the ground floor. Already his golf bag was noticeably heavier than when he’d started, and there were two more towers to go, just in this building! Heading to the lobby, the next set of elevators was directly behind the doorman’s desk. Again, Asher worked his way down from the top floor, more than doubling his stash. Finally heading to the other end of the building, he took an elevator to the top and was pleased to see a pumpkin at the end of the hall. Knocking on the door, he was greeted by a smiling boy with the curliest blond hair and greenest eyes he’d ever seen. The kid looked like a young teen – probably thirteen, but he could have easily passed for twelve, and he was wearing a T-shirt with the Star Fleet insignia used in the original Star Trek series. Asher was so taken by the boy in front of him that he jumped right in, without even saying ‘trick or treat’. “You’re David,” he began, “Kirk’s son from The Wrath of Kahn and The Search for Spock, right?” Grinning widely, the kid replied, “Man, everyone gets that it’s a Star Trek character, but you’re the first person tonight to recognize exactly who I am!” Then getting a more serious look on his face, he said, “You’re Asher, right?” Taken aback, Asher responded, “Otherwise known as Tiger Woods but, yeah. How do you know my name?” “’Cause we have Biology together, and World History, and Gym,” the boy answered. “And I’ve seen you on the M22, riding to and from school.” “You go to Stuyvesant?” Asher asked, and the boy nodded his head in the affirmative. “How come I’ve never seen you before? You new to the neighborhood?” Shaking his head, the boy replied, “I’ve lived here all my life, but I’ve always been home schooled.” Then lowering his voice, he added, “My dad didn’t think the city schools were good enough. Obviously, my parents did a good job, or I wouldn’t have gotten into Stuyvesant.” “But there’s a lot of choice in schools,” Asher pointed out. “I went to grade school and middle school in The East Village. The schools were excellent, and I got into Stuyvesant too,” he added, sticking out his tongue. “But how come you noticed me when I didn’t notice you?” “You’re just not observant,” said the boy as he stuck out his own tongue. “Actually, I’d noticed you around the neighborhood before, and so I recognized you in some of my classes. After all, there aren’t that many black kids at Stuyvesant. And of course, I saw a lot of you in Gym,” he added as he colored up deeply. Asher couldn’t help but notice how cute the boy was when he blushed. “In other words, you just noticed my hot bod, you perve,” Asher responded as he himself colored up. That only made the boy blush even deeper. “In your dreams,” replied the boy. Just then, the elevator dinged and a group of five kids, who looked like fourth or fifth graders, got off the elevator. “Why don’t you come inside, and we can talk some more between groups of kids,” the boy suggested, and Asher shrugged his shoulders. “Just grab a seat in the living room,” the boy added. Definitely wanting to get to know the boy better, and realizing he could use a friend, particularly one who went to his high school, Asher hoisted his golf bag onto his shoulder, stepped around the boy and walked through the open apartment door. Looking around, he spotted the living room to the left and headed for it, past a series of built-in bookcases. Before he could even sit down, he stopped dead in his tracks and just stared out the picture window, straight ahead. “Pretty neat view, isn’t it?” the boy said as he walked up beside Asher. “I’ve always lived in the co-ops, but we just moved into this apartment over the summer. We used to live in a large two-bedroom, two-bathroom apartment on a lower floor over in Seward Park. It didn’t even have a balcony, let alone a terrace. We saw this one when they had an open house and we fell in love with the view, even though it only has one bedroom and one bathroom. My parents made an offer on the apartment next to this one, hoping to break through the wall between them, but the owner wouldn’t sell at any price. They tried again with the apartment behind us and the one below us, but still no sale, so this is all we’re gonna have for the foreseeable future. But with a view like this, I don’t care if I hafta sleep in a closet. Besides, in four years I’ll be in college anyway.” “Speaking of which, where do you sleep?” Asher asked. “Come… I’ll show you,” the boy answered as he grabbed hold of Asher’s hand and dragged him away from the window. Directly across from the bathroom and next to the bedroom was what appeared to be a large linen closet with bi-fold doors. However, the boy opened the doors to reveal a tiny bedroom that was literally carved out of what had been a closet. There were two narrow bunk beds above that reminded Asher of pictures he’d seen of old Pullman railroad cars, and there was chest of drawers below, as well as a small desk with a MacBook Pro laptop on top of it. There were some shelves and closet space in the alcoves at both ends that were crammed with the boy’s clothes to the point that Asher wondered how he could find anything. There wasn’t even a window and there wasn’t room to climb up to the beds or to sit at the desk without the doors being open. It was a bedroom in a box. “This is amazing, but you can’t even get dressed in privacy,” Asher commented. “My parents are never around anyway, so I have the entire apartment to myself. I can run around in the nude if I want and no one will be the wiser.” “I can relate to that,” Asher responded knowingly. “You mean to running around in the nude?” the boy asked with a smirk. “No doofus,” Asher replied as he colored up. “I meant that my parents are never home. They own a restaurant on Grand Street, so they work from early in the morning to late at night. Like you, I’m pretty much on my own.” Just then there was a knock on the front door and the boy went to take care of another group of trick-or-treaters. When he came back, he was carrying the pumpkin that had been in front of the door. With a devious smile, he said, “Now, we don’t have to worry about being disturbed by any more trick-or-treaters.” He then set the pumpkin down on the kitchen counter. “What do your parents do,” Asher asked, “and why are you stuck here alone giving out candy tonight?” Straightening up and getting an obviously exaggerated haughty look on his face, the boy replied, “My dad is your state assemblyman, and my mom is his assistant and campaign manager. “And as to why I’m left here alone to give out all the candy, it’s ’cause there’s a little thing coming up in less than a week called the election. Not that my dad’s in any real danger of losing in a district with twice as many Democrats as Republicans, but as I’m sure you know, the mid-terms are a big deal this year. My dad’s convinced we can win back the House and there are a few seats Upstate that are very likely to flip. My parents are at a costume party fundraiser to help make that happen. It’s also a good way to make the connections he’ll need when my dad makes his own run for Senate, when Schumer retires.” Suddenly Asher knew exactly who the boy was, even though he still didn’t know his name. “Your dad is Frank Moore?” he asked. “Guilty as charged,” the boy answered. “Assemblyman Frank Moore, his wife, Dr. Julie Donahue Moore, and their son, Seth.” “Seth,” Asher repeated. “And I was getting used to just thinking of you as, ‘Hey You’.” Both boys laughed, and Seth replied, “I guess my role as host needs improvement.” Then taking hold of Asher’s hand, he said, “Come let me show you the view.” Running back into the living room, Seth pulled Asher through a glass door at the end of the living room, out onto a very long and narrow terrace. It was maybe only five or six feet deep, but it ran the entire length of the living room, making it enormous. To have any outdoor space at all in Manhattan was extraordinary, but a terrace of that size and with such a spectacular, unobstructed view was almost unheard of. Standing together and still holding hands, Asher could see all of lower Manhattan, and much more than that too. To the left was the start of the Brooklyn Navy Yard, which he could see from his own apartment, but in addition to the tiny piece of the East River he could see at home, from Seth’s terrace he could see all of New York Harbor, with the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges in the foreground. Then noticing a glimmer of green and gold through the right side of the Manhattan Bridge, he asked Seth, “Is that the Statue of Liberty?” Grinning back at Asher, Seth answered, “Very good, Ash. Most people don’t notice it unless the sun’s shining right on it, but yeah!” Asher couldn’t help but grin back. Continuing to take in the view, the financial district was right ahead, with the World Trade Center towering above it all. To the right was what people referred to as the Lego Building, which looked like a narrow apartment tower made up of jumbled Lego blocks, and to the right of that was the vast project under construction at Hudson Yard, and then the unmistakable buildings around Union Square. Then there was the emerging Essex Crossing development with the new Trader Joe’s, Target and the subway station. Further to the right were several tall buildings that he knew were on Delancey and on Houston Street, including a new one that was being built right on top of the world-famous Katz’s Deli. And to the right of that was the unmistakable profile of the Empire State Building, the only other landmark that he could see from his own apartment. “Wow, this is really something!” Asher exclaimed. “I can’t imagine what this must’ve cost.” “Just shy of a million,” Seth responded. “Ours is supposedly worth about half that,” Asher replied. “True, we have two bedrooms, but we have a tiny balcony, and our view’s nothing like this. “I’d be willing to bet you could get more for your place than that, especially with two bedrooms. Our old place went for over a million, even though it had no balcony and no view, but it did have two bedrooms and two renovated bathrooms, a renovated kitchen and nearly double the space. This terrace is nice and the view’s fantastic, but you can’t put your kid out on the terrace.” “Apparently you can put them in a closet,” Asher countered. Lowering his voice, Seth responded, “Technically my bedroom’s not legal. A bedroom has to have a window at the least. Of course, we coulda made it legal by removing the doors, but then I wouldn’t’ve had any privacy at all. We got away with it because we told the management we were just remodeling a closet, which was technically true. We didn’t even get a building permit for the work. “But I don’t mind sleepin’ in a closet, just so long as I don’t hafta live in one. After all, I’ve been outta the closet since I was twelve,” he added with a mischievous smile. Asher couldn’t help but wonder if he meant it literally or figuratively. “Look at this view, man,” Seth continued. “In the summer, the sun sets right down the middle of Grand Street, and at the fall equinox, it sets behind the World Trade Center. I’m guessing that at the winter solstice, it’ll set right over the water. The sunsets are spectacular, but so are the sunrises. Even though the sun rises behind us, the fiery glow reflects right off the windows of the buildings in front of us, and the bright orange glow of the entire skyline against a dark blue sky is unbelievable. “And when they have fireworks over the bridges, it’s incredible. We missed the July Four fireworks this year, and I hear they had them up-river anyway, but they had an impressive display for Columbus Day. It was awesome. “It’s worth sleepin’ in a closet for this view. I’ll never tire of this view. Even when it’s raining or snowing outside, it’s still beautiful. Besides which, who spends their time in their bedroom anyway.” “I do,” Asher sadly admitted. “What a shame,” Seth responded. “You have all of New York at your doorstep, and yet you spend all your time alone, holed up in your room? The student bus pass will get you all over the city. You could go to the Museum of Natural History and the Hayden Planetarium, or to the Metropolitan Museum and the Cloisters. There’s MOMA, the Guggenheim and the Whitney, Lincoln Center, Times Square and Central Park. And if you get an NYC ID card, you can get free memberships for all the museums for a year, and even after that, most of them have student rates or will let you donate what you can afford for entry. Or you could go as my guest.” Both boys were silent for a while as they just leaned against the railing of the terrace and stared at the skyline in front of them. Finally, Seth turned back to Asher and said, “It must get pretty lonely, holed up in your bedroom alone.” Asher couldn’t help it as a tear escaped his left eye and ran down his cheek. The boys were still holding hands and so Seth used his left hand to wipe the tear away. “I really hope we can spend some time together, Ash,” Seth went on, “but I should probably tell you that I meant what I said about being out of the closet. I’m gay, Ash, and I like you… a lot. I hope that doesn’t bother you, but I was kinda hoping you’re gay too.” Turning a brilliant scarlet, he went on, “Yeah, I like how you look in the showers, but it’s your face in particular that attracts me… and your intelligence. Not only are you one of the cutest boys in school, but when you speak up in class, you’re always insightful. You don’t just say stupid shit to look good in front of our classmates. You say stuff that adds to the discussion… the sort of things I wish I had thought to say. And you have a dry, wicked sense of humor. You recognize the irony in things and have a way of bringing out the humor in them without making it sound like a joke.” Sitting down in one of the chairs on the terrace, Asher sheepishly admitted, “Wow! Yes, I’m gay too… but you’re the very first person I’ve ever told. I have no intention of coming out, though. My parents would freak if they knew.” Then looking up at Seth, he continued, “The only reason I haven’t noticed you in class was because I was so wrapped up in my own problems and fears that I didn’t really pay attention to anyone else. It’s embarrassing to admit it, but I’ve been a self-centered jerk.” “I think that’s a good part of the definition of puberty,” Seth responded with a chuckle, “but seriously, there really wasn’t any reason for you to notice me before now.” “Yeah there was,” Asher countered. “For one thing, you’re the cute one. I can’t believe I never noticed you in class… or in the showers for sure.” “Let’s face it, I look young for a high school freshman,” Seth countered. “I am young. I’m only thirteen and won’t be fourteen until next May. I don’t even have my pubes yet. I’m so much shorter than everyone else, it’s no wonder you didn’t notice me!” “Yeah, but age doesn’t matter when it comes to smarts,” Asher countered, “and if anything, you’re tall for your age, so I expect you’ll catch up by next year. “You’re obviously very intelligent to get into Stuyvesant a year earlier than me, and the fact that you’re really into Trek elevates you above 99% of the rest of the kids in school.” “It’s a shame that not so many kids care about Trek any more. Everyone’s into Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, Game of Thrones and DC and Marvel comics… all the fantasy stuff. I like sci-fi ’cause it could be real someday, you know?” “Yeah, I do know,” Asher agreed. “So, what do you think of the Star Trek reboot, and have you been watching the Discovery series?” “Don’t get me wrong,” Seth began, “J. J. Abrams has done a fantastic job with the franchise, but why do they keep having to destroy things? They’ve managed to trash the original Star Ship Enterprise, twice, the Enterprise A, the Enterprise C and the Enterprise D, but is that enough? Nooo, they have to destroy Vulcan itself, so they can change the timeline and start all over again. Killing off billions of Vulcans in the name of a fresh start is wrong, man.” “Yeah, but I can understand why they did it,” Asher countered. “When I go back and watch the original series, the tech looks ridiculous. They really did need to update it to look more like the twenty-second century ought to look, given what we know about tech today.” “But destroying Vulcan went way too far. They shoulda let the original alone and just kept on with the Next Generation timeline, you know?” “Yeah, I agree with you, but look what happened with Enterprise,” Asher challenged. “They had to make it consistent with the original series with all its faults, and so it never did catch on. I didn’t like what they did with destroying Vulcan, but the reboot really does open up the series for development in the past as well as the future.” “Enterprise flopped ’cause it was beating a dead horse,” Seth countered. “They shoulda just stuck to the TNG timeline, but they wanted to try a prequel, and it coulda been great! But instead of sticking with Trek cannon, they decided they needed to do something new, so right off the bat they introduced the Temporal Cold War, and when that didn’t bring viewers, they concocted the Xindi and wiped Florida off the map. Four seasons wasn’t exactly a flop, mind you, but the series didn’t resonate with Trekkers. It was too contrived.” “Revisionist time lines can’t help but alienate viewers,” Asher agreed. “It’s one thing to create and fix a temporal rift, like in City on the Edge of Forever, or Yesterday’s Enterprise, but throwing out everything we thought we knew about Trek… that’s just stupid. “Star Trek and Beyond was good, real good, but Into Darkness was absurd,” Asher continued. “If the Federation really did develop all that advanced tech back then, why in the world would they have lost it. And Kahn might have had superior intelligence, but why couldn’t a whole team of scientists have done the same thing? It was just so… contrived, as you said. You know?” “Yeah, and you see that with Discovery too,” Seth agreed. “I mean it’s a prequel and it was cool to see how they interwove known Trek lore into the plot, and I loved the way they made Spock’s half-sister the main character, but some of the tech was just so advanced, you know? Some of that shoulda survived into the subsequent series. Contrived is the right word for it. Still, I can’t wait for it to come back this spring.” “If only,” Asher lamented. “No way my parents will go for subscribing to CBS All Access, so I’ll have to wait ’til the end of the season again and binge watch it with a free trial.” “Not if you watch it with me,” Seth suggested as he wiggled his eyebrows. “Seriously, we can watch it together when my parents are away. You could even sleep over if you want.” “They’ll let you have friends stay over when they’re away?” Asher asked in surprise. “They trust me, Ash,” Seth answered. “I’ve never given them reason not to. They know I’ll never throw a party without their permission, and they know I’ll be responsible when I have a boyfriend over,” he added as he colored up. A moment of silence passed, and then what began as a chuckle for Asher became a full-fledged laugh. “What’s so funny?” Seth asked. Asher answered, “I think this is the part where we’re supposed to turn and look into each other’s eyes, our lips are supposed to magically come together, our tongues are supposed to end up exploring each other’s tonsils and then fireworks should erupt over the Brooklyn Bridge any moment now. Then we’re supposed to have wild passionate sex right here on your terrace. At least that’s what’d happen in your typical story on the Nifty Archive.” “So, you read that junk too,” Seth replied with a hearty laugh of his own. “Actually, there are much better sites on the Net for gay fiction than Nifty… sites like GayAuthors and IOMFATS.” “Not to mention AwesomeDude and Codey’s World,” Asher added. “Yeah, I know, but Nifty seemed more… entertaining for what I was thinking.” “You mean about having wild passionate sex out here in the open?” “Yeah, and maybe we will… later,” Asher replied with a blush. “Much later. For one thing, it’s too cold out here.” “At least you’re wearing a jacket,” Seth agreed as he gave an involuntary shiver, sat down next to Asher and wrapped his arms around his body. Asher responded by putting his arm around Seth and pulling him close to his own body. Immediately the mood shifted, and neither boy was feeling cold anymore. “I can’t believe this is happening,” Seth responded. “I’ve been crushing on you since school started, and here we are, cuddling together on my terrace and lookin’ at this view. “Yeah,” Asher responded, “This is nice. Here I’ve been feeling so alone, spending all my time by myself in my bedroom. Now, maybe I’ve found a friend… a close friend. I really like you, Seth. We seem to have a lot in common.” “I like you too, Ash. I think we’re already close friends. Maybe this is even the start of becoming boyfriends.” “’Course if this was a Nifty story, this bein’ Halloween and all, one of us would turn out to be a zombie tryin’ to eat the other’s brains out, or possessed by a ghost tryin’ to steal the other’s soul.” Rather than reply, Seth turned and brought his lips toward Asher’s, gently kissing him. “Nope, neither of us is dead or undead.” He then initiated another kiss and this time Asher kissed him back. Pulling each other into a tight hug, the kiss deepened and what started out as a tentative gesture of affection turned into a full-blown make-out session. When they finally came up for air, Seth said, “I’ve been wanting to do that since you recognized my character.” “I’ve been wanting to do that since you answered the door,” replied Asher. After an awkward moment had passed, Seth suggested, “I seem to have a lot of candy left over. You wanna help me polish it off?” With a wicked grin, Asher responded, “Can’t think of a better way to spend Halloween than munchin’ on candy and makin’ out.” Once inside, Seth grabbed a bag of peanut M&Ms and a bag of Reece’s glow-in-the-dark peanut butter cups and poured them out into a big bowl. Setting it down on the kitchen table, he and Asher sat next to each other and started to devour the candy. “So, I know you like Star Trek, but what do you think about Star Wars?” Asher asked Seth. Chuckling, he answered, “If you looked at my Blu-ray collection, you’d think I’m a fanatic. I have steel book versions of all ten movies, with the most recent ones in 4k HDR and 3D, but when it comes to Trek, I have all the movies, all six TV series including the animated one, I’ve pre-ordered the first season of Discovery, and I’ve got whole bookshelves of Trek books. There’s no comparison. I don’t have any Star Wars books. “The thing is, Star Trek is true science fiction. Everything in Trek is plausible. It seems real. The first-released Star Wars film, Episode IV, A New Hope, was more like that. It was real sci-fi. Even The Force was introduced as sort of a collective consciousness shared by all living things. It was in all the subsequent episodes that it took on more of a mystical role, which made the whole series more science fantasy than fiction. Don’t get me wrong… I enjoyed watching every movie, particularly because of all the tech, but it’s no Star Trek.” “I couldn’t agree more,” Asher stated as he munched away. “But even Trek has taken largess with science, particularly with all the altered timelines.” “A lot of cosmologists believe in alternative timelines, you know.” Seth countered. “Yes, and I understand the ‘Many Worlds’ hypothesis and why it’s gained in popularity,” Asher responded. “It fits nicely with String Theory, but there isn’t exactly a way to test it. Even if it’s true, the way I see it, the many worlds concept really only works at the quantum level. The concept of multiple realities or altered realities is truly the stuff of science fiction. It’s a pretty big leap in going from any and all possible quantum states of subatomic particles, to people being both dead and alive in different realities of the universe, Schrodinger’s Cat notwithstanding. If every random event leads to every possible outcome, how can you determine what’s real from what’s not?” “But that’s just it,” Seth disagreed, “Everything is real in the Many Worlds hypothesis. All possibilities exist, side-by-side.” “Which would infer that there are millions upon millions of alternative universes with me and you in them, but in slightly different situations, and there are a far larger number of universes in which we were never born.” “All things are possible in the vast infinity of space and time,” Seth pointed out. “But space and time are not infinite,” Asher countered. “The Universe arose from a singularity and unless our understanding of the Big Bang is wrong, there can never be more matter and energy in combination that there were at the moment of the Big Bang.” “Fuck, you’re right,” Seth realized, “but that has implications for the Many Worlds hypothesis too. No matter how many outcomes there are, the number will always be finite, which means that even if every outcome occurs, the number of universes will be finite, too.” “And there’s more,” Asher went on. “The conservation of mass and energy still applies, so even if all outcomes occur, it cannot increase or decrease the number of universes without affecting the mass of each universe. In other words, the number of universes has to remain fixed and therefore each random outcome has to be balanced by an equal and opposite outcome.” Nodding his head, Seth replied, “That makes sense, but it could lead to some pretty bizarre consequences… You know there was a really neat story where everyone on earth disappeared at once except for two boys…” “Yeah, that was on AwesomeDude, right?” “I take it you read it?” Seth asked. “Once again, we seem to have the same interests,” Asher answered with a grin. “You know, I really liked that story, but there’s a fundamental flaw in the logic. The idea that a person could simply vanish without a trace must be due to proton decay, which is hypothetical to begin with. The theoretical half-life of a proton is…” “somewhere around ten to the thirty-second and ten to the thirty-seventh power in years, I think I read,” Seth interjected. “Good memory, and right! But the universe is only about…” “Thirteen billion years old,” answered Seth. “The typical human body contains some ten to the twenty-seventh protons,” Asher continued, “so the probability of even one proton decaying in a typical lifetime is at best one in a thousand. The probability of all protons decaying in just one second is…” Seth whistled, and then made the calculation aloud, “In a year, one in ten to the thirty-second power, raised to the twenty-seventh power, which is one in ten to the 864th power, and we have to divide that by the number of seconds in a year, which is 31,536,000.” “So, it’s about one in three times ten to the 870th power, give or take, at best,” Asher agreed. “Now if the universe were truly infinite, the chance of that happening to one person, simultaneous with everyone else, would still be infinite, ’cause any subset of infinity is infinity.” “But the universe is finite,” Seth added, “and so it all boils down to time!” “Exactly!” Asher agreed. “And it’s the age of the earth… not the age of the universe… that matters.” “Actually, it’s the age of humanity that matters,” Seth corrected. “Any way you look at it, the probability of one person disappearing is about as likely as that of the Red Sox winning the World Series, 2018 notwithstanding.” “The Red Sox?” Asher asked. “You’re comparing it to football?” “It’s baseball, doofus,” Seth corrected, but then added, “I think. In other words, it’s pretty near zero, except for rare aberrations. But is it even possible to go back in time at all? They do it all the time in Trek, but if you could go back in time, could you actually alter time, or would you just create an alternate reality?” “You’d still have to deal with conservation of mass,” Asher challenged. “Not if you could split time without splitting the universe,” Seth suggested. “Oh, I think I read a story on AwesomeDude about that too!” Asher exclaimed. “The cool thing was that you didn’t need to actually travel back in time, which violates a whole host of things and requires negative energy. In the story I’m thinking of, they sent their thoughts back in time through their dreams. But information has no mass, so it doesn’t become infinite as it approaches the speed of light and energy doesn’t become negative when it travels faster than light and, hence, back in time. “The question is, if you send information back in time, do you alter time, or does time split to create a new reality? And if time splits, does it create two versions of the universe, each with half as much mass and energy, or is really just one universe with two versions of time?” “In Star Trek, they kinda treated it both ways, you know?” Seth interjected. “There were several instances of temporal rifts, which are like wormholes back in time. Now that I think, is utterly possible. Look at what happened in Yesterday’s Enterprise. The Enterprise C was thrown forward in time and everything changed. Instead of having peace with the Klingons, we were at war with them, and losing badly. And Tasha Yar was still the security officer on the Enterprise D, instead of being dead, which was just as well, ’cause Warf couldn’t exactly be in Star Fleet if we were at war with the Klingons. So, Tasha helped get the Enterprise C back in time to where it was supposed to be, but to do that, she had to go back with the Enterprise C. In the end, the timeline was restored, and all was as it should be…” “Except that Tasha ended up having a daughter who was now an officer in the Romulan army.” Asher interrupted. “Exactly! But did time split or was it actually altered?” Seth asked. “We may never know,” Asher replied. And then noticing that the candy bowl was empty, Seth grabbed another two bags of candy and refilled it. After a pause, Asher continued, “Yesterday’s Enterprise was definitely one of my favorite episodes of all time, right up there with The Inner Light, and The Visitor from Deep Space Nine, and of course City on the Edge of Forever from the original series. Perhaps the most profound episode of all, though, was The Chase from The Next Generation.” “That was cool,” Seth agreed, “but not very realistic.” “What do you mean it wasn’t realistic?” Asher questioned. “I think it was very realistic. All through the entire Star Trek series, we encountered species after species of humanoids, all with the same compatible DNA that allowed them to interbreed, and many of them were at the same level of technological development as our own, with no explanation as to why that was. The Chase explained the whole thing. Instead of there being hundreds of different courses of evolution, each with its own version of DNA and each with its own rate of development, there was only one place in the galaxy where life evolved to the point of intelligence, and that one species planted their DNA all over the galaxy, seeding it with the roots of what became their progeny, including us.” “It may have explained why the Star Trek universe was the way it was, but certainly not the real universe in which we live. Given enough time and space and the right conditions, life is inevitable, and intelligent life a near certainty.” “Oh, that idea is sooo twentieth century, my man,” Asher countered. “What makes you say that?” Seth asked incredulously. “Do you remember in that story on AwesomeDude about sending information back in time, they said that the formation of life was about as likely as a pile of iron and silicon spontaneously assembling itself into an iPhone?” “I think it was an iPod, actually,” Seth countered, “but it doesn’t matter. That story was fiction. The reality is that DNA will assemble itself in a Petri dish. The formation of chains of DNA is bound to happen, and with it the fundamental building blocks of life will form on their own without the need for any external intervention.” “Yes, DNA will self-assemble,” Asher agreed, “and yes, strands of DNA will replicate themselves, but that doesn’t equate with life. Naked strands of DNA aren’t even as alive as the most basic virus, let alone bacteria, algae, fungi or ferns. Unless that DNA encodes something that can maintain and facilitate the reproduction of the associated DNA, it isn’t alive. Life requires that the instructions encoded in DNA be transcribed into proteins. Even the most basic bacterium contains the machinery to do that. Those proteins then form the structure of the cell, the enzymes that transcribe and replicate DNA, the enzymes that metabolize nutrients and the enzymes that process and excrete waste products. DNA can encode for the structural proteins that make up ribosomes, but they can’t actually make ribosomes without there being ribosomes to begin with. “It’s the ultimate chicken and egg scenario. You need ribosomes to transcode DNA, but you need DNA transcription to make ribosomes.” “Are you suggesting intelligent design… that there had to be a god to create the building blocks of life?” Seth asked. “To paraphrase another story I read, if there is a god, they’re nothing but a highly intelligent entity. I’m not discounting the possibility of intervention by an extracorporeal life form, but the main point I’m making is that life is rare. The only reason we’re aware of it is because we’re here. The reality is probably that life arises so seldom and is separated by so much space and time that we may never encounter it outside of our own solar system.” “Playing Devil’s advocate, I once read that life could have been brought here by a comet,” Seth responded. “Conversely, life that arose on Earth could have been spread elsewhere by comets and meteors. For example, that asteroid that killed off the dinosaurs caused tons of debris to be ejected into space. That debris would’ve included some living cells, and some of those would’ve survived in a field of debris around the sun. A comet could’ve carried some of those cells out into the outer reaches of the solar system, and a meteor could’ve captured or nudged the comet, sending it to another star system, spreading our life throughout the galaxy.” “Planet of the dinosaurs,” Asher agreed with a laugh. “I don’t discount the possibility of just such a mechanism for dispersing life to other planets, but I’m pretty sure that if there is anywhere in the universe that life arose spontaneously, it did so right here on Earth. We’re in the so-called Goldilocks zone, with liquid water. The planet’s geologically active, has a thick atmosphere, a preponderance of organics and a large moon to create tidal basins, the perfect incubators for life.” “Actually, I think the gaseous giants would be much better incubators for life,” Seth countered. “With them, you have a very active atmosphere that’s rich with organics, charged with huge storm systems that could combine and recombine molecules in every conceivable way. I’m not saying that life as we know it developed on Jupiter, but the fundamental building blocks of DNA, RNA, ribosomes and so on may have developed in the atmosphere of a gaseous giant, and then been carried here by comets. The tidal basins might have then been seeded with those precursors of life, and served as the incubators for actual cells to form.” The discussion continued on and on as the two boys consumed bag after bag of candy, discussing every nuance of life, reality, the existence of God and the nature of time, all the while invoking Star Trek lore as if it were the Bible. The entire time while as they argued, discussed, conjected and supported one-another’s ideas, they became closer and closer to the point that they were becoming inseparable. Although unaware of it, their closeness and friendship were infused with an undercurrent of admiration and love that would cement their relationship for a lifetime if they’d let it. As the hours passed and the supply of candy diminished, the arguments gave way to teasing, trash talk and more and more frequently, to kisses and episodes of making out. But it was the talking that formed the true bond that would bring them together as one. Each point and counterpoint showed them a little more of their thought processes, and increasingly they came to respect and assimilate each other’s way of thinking. And so that was how Seth’s parents found the boys when they returned from their party in the early morning hours of November 1. The first thing they noticed on opening the door to their apartment was the banter of two teenage boys engaged in an animated conversation. As they rounded the corner and entered the living room, they came upon the boys, seated at the kitchen table, an empty bowl between them and the two of them holding hands. Their son was dressed exactly as they’d left him earlier that evening, and the other boy was dressed in a golf outfit. Indeed, a bag of golf clubs lay on the living room sofa. From his mixed Asian and African features, they knew immediately who he had to be, as they knew his parents and were frequent patrons of their restaurant. The boys were so engrossed in a conversation about the Klingon language that they didn’t notice they were no longer alone, and so they were stunned when Frank Moore cleared his throat. “Dad!” Seth exclaimed. “I thought you and Mom weren’t gonna be home ’til after midnight!” “It’s 1:13 in the morning,” Julia Donahue Moore responded, surprising both boys. Then going up to her son’s guest, she said, “You must be Asher White,” as she extended her hand to shake his. A look of shock extending across his face, Asher asked, “How did you know my name?” “Your parents serve the best Asian food north of Canal Street,” Frank said as he too shook Asher’s hand, and then he asked, “By the way, do your parents know where you are?” “Oh fuck! I forgot!” Asher blurted out. Then realizing what he’d said and to whom he’d said it, he quickly apologized… sort of… saying, “Shit, I’m sorry. I had no idea it was so late!” Chuckling, Frank said, “It’s nothing we haven’t heard coming from the angelic face of our own son, so don’t sweat it, but don’t make a habit of it either.” “I won’t, I promise,” Asher swore as he shook his head with such sincerity that it was almost comical. “Why don’t you call your parents to let them know you’ll be right home,” Frank suggested. Pulling out his phone, Asher speed-dialed his landline and immediately got his dad. “Where the hell are you?” screamed his father so loudly that all could clearly hear what he said. “I’m sorry, Dad,” Asher began. “I went trick-or-treating, but then I came to the apartment of a friend from school, and we spent the entire night talking and eating candy,” he explained. “Here, let me,” Frank said as he took the phone from Asher. “Hi Gary, it’s Frank Moore,” he said into the phone. “Our sons really were just talking when we walked in a few minutes ago. Talking… and holding hands.” “What!” Asher practically screamed. “Yeah, they were very cute,” Frank continued. “They were so deep into discussing Star Trek, they didn’t even notice us.” Then after a pause, he continued, “Yeah, that’s our son too… obsessed with boys, but much more obsessed with Star Trek. “Anyway, nice talking to you. I’ll send your son right home.” “You told my parents we were holding hands!” Asher practically shouted, as soon as Frank had hung up the phone and handed it back. Shrugging his shoulders, “They’ve known about you for a while, if that’s what you’re worried about,” Frank answered. “It was maybe a year ago that I mentioned that Seth had just come out to us, and Gary responded that he was pretty sure his son was gay too, and so we’ve chatted a lot about the issues in raising gay kids, just about every time we come in for take-out.” Sitting back down, Asher said, “I can’t believe my parents know.” “But think about it,” Seth responded as he draped his arm across Asher’s shoulders. “We can both be out and proud… and boyfriends.” “There is that,” Frank echoed. “Dad, don’t try to talk kidspeak,” Seth admonished his father. “Seth, ‘there is that’ was a common expression back when I was a kid,” Frank explained. Standing up, Asher said, “I better get on home.” “See you in the morning,” Seth responded as he kissed Asher, right on the lips and in front of his parents. Asher kissed Seth back. Grabbing his golf bag, he headed out into the hall and pressed the button for the elevator. Seth watched him from the door, right up to the point when Asher got on the elevator and the doors closed behind him. In contrast to suburbia, where no parent would feel safe letting their young teen walk home at 1:30 in the morning, neither Asher’s parents nor Seth’s gave a moment’s thought to letting Asher walk home in the big bad city. For one thing, the crime rate is one of the lowest in the nation, and New York really is the city that never sleeps. There was a 24-hour bodega at the corner of Grand and Madison, and there was a steady stream of patrons stopping there for a late Halloween snack. There were three cross-town buses running 24 hours a day along Grand Street, and a lot of people were still out and about. And as always, a police van was parked nearby. Asher truly never was really alone on the street. Asher could barely look at his parents when he walked in the door. They knew! But it was a school night and they weren’t about to discuss it at such a late hour. High on sugar, Asher tossed and turned in bed for quite a while, but the next thing he knew, his cell phone alarm clock was going off. Quickly grabbing a shower, shaving and brushing his teeth, he dressed in his best pair of jeans and a polo shirt, and plopped down into his usual seat in the kitchen, where his dad had a plate of Cajun scrambled eggs waiting for him. It was ironic that his father, who grew up in New Orleans and was an outstanding Cajun chef in his own right, should spend his days preparing Asian food, but the Asian restaurant was a sure thing and it was essential to saving for Asher’s education. Perhaps someday, he’d try his hand at opening a Cajun restaurant, but now was not the time. Digging into his eggs and drinking his coffee, Asher couldn’t help but ask, “How?” “How did we know you’re gay?” Gary asked, and Asher nodded his head. “The first inkling was when you were eleven and we stopped in the bike shop next to the restaurant, just to look. You really wanted a bike for your twelfth birthday, but thankfully you came to realize you didn’t need one, and the only ones we could’ve afforded were used and pretty beat up. But there was another boy there at the time… a kid who was maybe thirteen… and you couldn’t take your eyes off of him.” “I remember that,” Asher admitted, “but I thought I was being discreet.” “Ash, you were anything but discreet,” Gary responded. “Boys get crushes on other boys at that age, but your eyes showed something more than infatuation. You just couldn’t look away. It looked more like lust.” “It was lust,” Asher admitted sheepishly as he turned bright red. “I didn’t think it was that obvious.” “It was,” Gary sighed, “and there were other times too. I’ll admit that at first, we were freaked out about it, but you’re our pride and joy and your mom and I talked about it, and we realized that if you were gay, it wasn’t something we could change. And so, we resolved that we weren’t about to let your sexuality change the way we feel about the extraordinary son we have.” Asher couldn’t help it as tears sprung from his eyes. His father grabbed him from his chair and they hugged each other tightly before Asher grabbed his jacket and his book bag, checked the MTA Bus Time app on his phone, and left the apartment. Asher crossed Grand street and noticed that the bus was already parked nearby, but the driver was nowhere in sight and was undoubtedly taking a restroom break. Asher found Seth waiting for him, standing next to the bus shelter and dressed in a lavender polo shirt, black jeans and a black leather jacket. The combination was stunning, particularly in contrast to Seth’s curly blond hair. “Hey,” Asher said as he approached, “I wasn’t sure if you took this bus ’cause I’ve never seen you get on at this stop before.” Chuckling, Seth answered, “I usually get on at Jackson. It saves me about two minutes, which is another two minutes of sleep. Sometimes I miss this bus though…” “But the next one barely gets you there in time!” Asher noted. “And if there’s heavy traffic…” “Yeah, I know,” Seth acknowledged. “Detention is not fun.” “Well now you have an incentive to get to the bus on time,” Asher stated. “Definitely,” Seth replied with a sly smile. Just then, the driver got on the bus, started up the motor and pulled up to the bus stop, opening the door as he did so. The boys got their student bus passes out of their wallets and each one dropped it into the MetroCard scanner as they boarded, putting it back in their wallets afterwards. Because this was the start of the route, the boys had their choice of seats. In the past, Asher would have taken one of the three single seats, so he could think to himself during the journey and not be bothered by a chatty old lady or a man speaking loudly into his phone in Chinese. Today Asher headed right for a double seat and plopped down into the window seat, Seth sat down next to him and right away, grabbed Asher’s hand and held it tightly. “You ready to be out, Ash?” Seth asked with evident tenderness in his voice. “I’ll never be ready for it,” Asher replied, “but I’m more than ready to be your boyfriend,” he stated as he tightened his grip on Seth’s hand. The bus lurched forward and made its usual loop around the co-ops on Cherry and Jackson Streets, and then turned onto Madison and passed through the Vladeck and Rutgers housing projects, before turning off at Pike and then heading down East Broadway, right through the heart of China Town. At first the boys were quiet, being too nervous to think about talking, so they just held each other’s hand and smiled at each other. Finally, Seth said, “Spending last night with you was great.” “I can’t believe we spent more than five hours together,” Asher chimed in. “It went so fast.” “I know,” agreed Seth. “Truthfully, I’ve never found anyone before that I could talk to the way I talked to you.” “Likewise,” Asher agreed. “You’re the first person I’ve met who can hold an intelligent conversation!” “I love you, Ash,” Seth said out of the blue, and he clearly meant it. “I love you too,” Asher replied with equal sincerity. The bus turned onto Bowery as the boys sat, holding hands in companionable silence. It then immediately turned onto Worth Street, making a short detour for the construction at Center Street that had seemingly been going on forever. It turned down Lafayette and then turned right onto Chambers Street, just past City Hall and in front of the impressive architecture of the David Dinkins Municipal Building. The bus headed down Chambers until it ended at North End Avenue, right in front of Stuyvesant High School. As the bus came to a stop at the city bus stop in front of the school, Seth and Asher got up from their seats and moved to the rear door, never letting go of each other’s hand. They continued holding hands as they got off the bus and approached the front entrance of the school, getting a few smiles in the process and not a single derogatory comment. Turning to look at his boyfriend, Seth asked, “You ready?” Meeting his eyes, Asher answered, “With you, I’m always ready,” and then he reached out and pulled open the door. The boys walked through the door and into their future together.
  8. Altimexis

    Feng Shui

    May 1991 • Chris-25 Naïvely, I had assumed that when I agreed to divulge what I knew about TTT to the Chinese, the torture would end and I would be returned to a life of luxury in Hong Kong. Apparently, my captors didn’t trust me anymore than I trusted them. Even with my begging for it to end, they proceeded with the first dose of succinylcholine as originally planned, even though I’d told them I was having trouble breathing from the Pentothal alone. The experience was something I would never forget as intense cramps spread throughout my body, followed by profound muscle weakness. The worst of it, though, was the feeling of suffocation. I never wanted to feel like that again, and that was just the first and lowest dose! Afterwards, they just left me lying there, unable to physically stand, let alone get myself to the hole over the latrine. I ended up pissing myself on my cot. The weird thing was they didn’t even ask me to reveal any information, even after I had agreed to give it to them. The next day they repeated the procedure and, once again, Chris-32 came to me in my head. He told me to hang in there and he gave me some details to give them about TTT that they shouldn’t have known, but that were relatively harmless, but they claimed these were things they already knew and that I would have to do much better if I were to be returned to Hong Kong. As promised, the succinylcholine was given at a higher dose, the muscle cramps were worse and the feeling of suffocation was nearly unbearable. Once again I pissed myself on the cot. On the third day, Chris-32 told me to reveal things I did not think should be revealed. Under the influence of the Pentothal, I was unable to stop myself and I began to wonder if the presence of Chris-32 in my head was real, or just my wishful thinking… a pathetic excuse generated by my subconscious to give me permission to betray my country so that I could end the torture. Of course Chris-32 reassured me he was very much real, but was I imagining that also? The fourth day began the same as the others with my captors insisting that I was holding back… that if I were serious about cooperating with them, I would answer their questions directly and withhold nothing. Even as Chris-32 urged me to reveal more, I told them I was done with cooperating. Either they would return me to Hong Kong and permit me to cooperate under the terms they’d offered, or I would tell them nothing, no matter how severe the torture became. That time the dose of succinylcholine was so severe and the suffocation so bad that I actually lost consciousness, but not before I felt myself lose control of my bladder and bowels. I awoke some time later, lying in my own shit with no way to clean myself except with my hands. Apparently I got through to them, as the next day the torture stopped and they resumed feeding me. Two days later, they came for me at night, hosed me down and loaded me into the back of a waiting limousine. I didn’t know if they took me to the same port, but I was loaded onto a boat and, a short while later, returned to Charles Hudson’s luxurious apartment in Hong Kong. <<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>> June 2005 • Chris-39 Six months. Six fucking months had passed since Andy had been taken from me in Joshua Tree National Park. I knew the Russians had him, because they sent me his fucking fingertip, but other than that, I’d heard nothing. Other than threatening to send him back to me, piece by piece, there had been no attempt to extort information from me, no attempt to get me to defect, nor even an attempt to abduct me by force. I was simply left in limbo. Of course, the Russians have a reputation for doing just this sort of thing. They are known for their patience as, for example, in planting their agents in small farming communities and leaving them there for decades, just so they could blow up a power plant if and when the time came. That Andy had been taken to Russia, however, was no longer in doubt. Traces of tree pollen had been found on Andy’s fingertip that only could have come from species native to Siberia. The only reason we hadn’t gone public with the story of Andy’s abduction on American soil and our proof of Soviet involvement was that we were going through secret back channels in the hope of avoiding war, or so I’d been told. But what were the Russians waiting for? I couldn’t help but think they’d have moved quickly to try to get information from me, which only led me to the conclusion that Andy was dead. Why else wouldn’t they have done more to use him to get to me? The only other viable explanation — that Andy was giving them what they wanted — was just so preposterous that it couldn’t have been true. It was taking all my effort to keep from sinking into deep despair. If it hadn’t been for Frank’s support, honestly, I can’t say what I might have done. Unfortunately, this left me distracted at a time when I couldn’t afford to be. Although I was under government surveillance and lived within a government compound, the fact that the Iranians had attempted to get to me once should have alerted me to the ongoing presence of danger. Unfortunately, I didn’t recognize it until it was too late. Obviously, getting onto an American military base wasn’t feasible for a group of terrorists, and I was always accompanied by the Secret Service whenever I left the base. Security at Lawrence Livermore was even tighter than on the Alameda base, and so the Secret Service didn’t even bother to remain with me during the day. I was supposed to call for the Secret Service to accompany me if I ever left the facility, but there seemed little point when it came to such seemingly random occurrences as going out for lunch with a bunch of my colleagues. Technically, I wasn’t supposed to leave the facility for lunch — food could be brought in, but I couldn’t go out. But how likely was it that spies or terrorists would follow me to lunch? The full-page ad in a local suburban weekly certainly looked legitimate and the offer of a Mediterranean lunch buffet was enticing. That they were running a two-for-one special on Wednesday settled the matter, and so we left the facility to enjoy having lunch out. We didn’t stop to think that a Mediterranean restaurant was, de facto, a Middle Eastern restaurant, nor did we recognize that the name of the restaurant, A Taste of Persia, implied that it was an Iranian restaurant. That alcohol is not a part of Islamic culture didn’t register either. They were offering free beer to tables of five or more, so we enjoyed the free beer. After an hour of eating salty food and washing it down with lots of beer, the predictable effect on my bladder resulted in my making a trip to the restroom. And just as predictably as that women always go in pairs or groups to use the restroom, men predictably always go alone. The door to the Men’s room was adjacent to the door to the kitchen and it was as I exited the restroom that a couple of very large men grabbed me and pushed me into the kitchen. A bag was quickly pulled over my head and I was physically carried down into the basement. The whole operation only took seconds. My colleagues upstairs were none the wiser, and probably wouldn’t even notice my prolonged absence for another hour or so, given all the beer we’d been drinking. With the poke of something sharp into my arm, the world went fuzzy, and then black. Although I didn’t know it at the time, the drug was meant to sedate me enough to keep me from screaming while my foot was being cut off, so that they could remove the ankle bracelet by which the Feds could track me. At least they had a real surgeon doing the procedure and it was done under sterile conditions, or the outcome could have been much worse. The plan was that, after prepping my skin with iodine, the surgeon would cut through the skin quickly, tie off the blood vessels that supply the foot, to stem the bleeding, cut through all the muscles and nerves just above where they attach to the foot and, finally, use a motorized bone saw to quickly cut through my tibia and fibula. Because bone is highly vascular and bleeds like crazy when cut, the bone would be cauterized by electrically searing it, and then the entire stump would be wrapped in a sterile dressing and placed in a plastic bag so I could be transported out of state, where another surgeon would revise the amputation and make it viable. Unfortunately for my captors, they never got that far. Unlike the Russians who were well aware of the technology in some American ankle bracelets that activates an alarm if the bracelet is removed, the Iranians had no knowledge of this. They assumed that removing the bracelet would allow them to remove me silently from the premises, with my colleagues and Federal agents being none the wiser. Although the surgeon got as far as cutting through the skin and tying off the blood vessels that supply the foot, he didn’t even manage to finish cutting through the muscles and nerves, let alone saw through the bones. An inductive sensor in the bracelet that detected blood flow within the leg sensed that blood flow had stopped, and Federal agents were alerted to the bracelet’s apparent removal. And then all Hell broke loose. Within minutes, local police were dispatched to the restaurant, with Federal agents not far behind them. Helicopters soon buzzed overhead and the local police surrounded the property, cutting off exit from anyone trying to escape. Ideally, Federal agents would have swarmed into the establishment in the hope of quickly locating and securing me but, thanks to all the advertising, the restaurant was jammed and the potential for a hostage incident could not be taken for granted. Agents were quickly dispatched to neighboring establishments to check for the presence of tunnels through which I might have been snuck out. Apparently there were none. With all the commotion above, those attending to my surgery were quickly notified of the situation and the decision was made to abort the procedure. They already knew from the last incident that if it came down to a hostage situation, none of them would come out of it alive. Much as they wanted my knowledge of TTT and as tempting as it might have been to turn the whole thing into a massive terrorist event by killing everyone inside the restaurant, including me, they weren’t prepared to become martyrs that day and they had no plan. Instead, I was abandoned in the basement, my open wound still oozing blood, while they attempted to return to the restaurant upstairs and blend in with the patrons. Of course outright escape was impossible and while the police and Federal agents had the place surrounded, the sedative with which they’d injected me wore off and I came to full consciousness. The area was still well lit for the surgery, and if the shock of the pain didn’t hit me, the sight of my nearly cut-off foot was enough to make me retch. I wasn’t exactly able to walk out of there on my own, but I was by myself and I quickly noticed a nearby telephone, within arms reach. I picked it up and there was a dial tone, so I dialed 911. With the knowledge that I’d been abandoned in the basement, the police and Federal agents were able to secure the premises from the thoroughly disorganized terrorists and to locate me. I was taken by helicopter to the UCSF Medical Center, where the blood vessels and nerves were reattached in a nearly daylong procedure, and my skin was sewn back up. Although my foot would be painful for months to come as the nerves regenerated, ultimately there would be little visible evidence that I’d once come close to having an amputation. Needless to say, never again did I go out for lunch, even long after the danger of my abduction had passed. <<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>> July 1984 • Chris-18 I was worried. Actually, I had been worried for some time, but now that more than six months had passed since I last heard from Chris-25, I was frightened out of my mind. Certainly I should have heard something by now. Certainly he should have contacted me. That he hadn’t could only mean that something bad had happened to him — maybe even to the whole world. Seeing how worried I was, Chad became worried — worried about me and whatever it was that might be troubling me. My relationship with Chad wasn’t like the one I’d had with Frank — few relationships were. Frank and I had not only had shared interests and shared love, shared experiences and mind blowing sex, but we’d been kindred souls. We’d come of age together and come out together. We’d dealt with homophobic parents together and helped each other through the most trying times of our lives. That’s why it had hurt so much when Frank threw all of that away in the interest of saving his own skin. Additionally, Frank was one of a handful of people, outside myself and Professor Dawson, who was privy to the knowledge of TTT. Hell, he had the background and ability to have developed it entirely on his own if he’d been so inclined. But Chad and I had become close in a different way and even though we both knew that our educational endeavors and careers would force us to go our own, separate ways, that didn’t mean we didn’t care about each other, deeply. “Chris, you gotta tell me what’s wrong,” he repeated for the umpteenth time. “What’s goin’ on, man?” “It’s nothing you can help me with, Chad,” I reiterated. “It’s just that, well, it’s someone I know. I haven’t heard from in six months, and I’m worried, you know?” “Is it a former boyfriend,” he asked. “A former lover?” Wrinkling my forehead at the thought of having sex with an older version of myself, I replied, “No, nothing like that. “His name is Chris, too, and he’s a former student of Professor Dawson. He’s now in graduate school at Stanford and he helped me a lot when I first started studying physics and all. I guess you’d call him a mentor.” “He gay too?” Chad asked. Rather than answer, I nodded my head. “Why didn’t you tell me about him before?” Kissing Chad on the nose, I replied, “I don’t tell you everything, you know? It’s not that I’m hiding anything, but some things just aren’t all that important. And I’d rather spend our time together doing important things, like making out, rather than talking about boring stuff like vector differential equations and deriving Maxwell’s equations and designing vacuum tubes and the like.” “So making out’s more fun than those other things?” Chad asked as he kissed me back on the nose. “Way more fun,” I acknowledged. “So why spend time on those other things at all, then,” Chad asked mischievously. “Because someday I can get paid for using those other things,” I replied with a laugh. “Unless I want to become a prostitute, no one’s gonna pay me for making out with them.” “Oh, I don’t know, Chris,” Chad responded. “You’re so good looking, and sexy… I can see you being a prostitute. Think of all the money you could make. You could get rich and retire when you’re twenty-five. Then we could spend the rest of our lives together and I could be your kept man. Neither one of us would need to go to school, either. Think of all the money we’d save.” “You goof,” I said as I pounced on him. Soon, we were rolling over and over each other. Shirts and shorts went flying and, before long, Chad was buried deep within me. It didn’t take away the worry of what had happened to Chris-25, but it did help take my mind off it. <<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>> August 1991 • Chris-25 Nearly three months had passed since my return to Hong Kong and I was still here. Chris-32 had told me I would be rescued from here, but I sure as fuck saw little evidence of it. Not only that, but moving back to Hong Kong had put an end to my communications with Chris-32. Once again, I was drugged just to prevent such communications, so I was truly on my own in this. What made my situation particularly precarious was that I had to balance what information I gave the Chinese against the need to keep them from developing functional TTT. But if I failed to deliver on my promise of helping them, I had little delusion as to how I’d be treated. I would be returned to the mainland in a nanosecond, returned to my four-walled concrete prison and tortured until I gave it all up, or died in response to their trying. So I had to give them access to legitimate TTT while biding my time, waiting to be rescued. I decided to focus first on the equipment end of things. By concentrating on the design, fabrication and testing of equipment, I hoped to drag things out enough to prevent them from ever having the full picture. Of course they kept trying to get me to write everything down, but I just couldn’t take a chance on doing that. As I explained it to them, the equipment and software went hand-in-hand. I told them I literally, couldn’t produce functional software until I had functioning equipment. It was a lie and I wasn’t sure they were buying it, but what I was giving them was enough to keep them happy, and so for the time, they accepted what I gave them. I didn’t tell them about the possibility of using vacuum tubes. They didn’t know about that approach, nor did they need to. I elected to take them down the path of using a first-generation TTT design. They did not know about the third-generation ‘disco’ design, and so I didn’t even bring it up. We could have had a third-gen design operational within weeks. They did wonder why I didn’t want to use a second-generation design, and I simply implied that the second-gen design was a lot more complex to build. It cut costs dramatically, which was why we favored it, but where cost was no object, the first-gen design would be more robust and take less time to build. In truth, the added complexity introduced by having moving components and the need to multiplex signals would complicate things somewhat, but the sixty-four emitter-detectors required for the first-generation design would slow things down — a lot. These had to be fabricated from single crystals of quartz, they had to be miniaturized and they had to be machined much more precisely than they did in the newer generations of TTT machines. Because of the shape of the human head, no two elements were the same either, so there was no way they could be mass-produced. The time would soon arrive, however, when I would run out of ways to stall them. A full set of emitter-detectors would be ready by the end of next week and then all that would remain would be to assemble them, align them and test them. With a lot of play-acting, I could probably drag that out by a couple of weeks, but any more than that and they’d realize what I was doing. Once the array was completed, aligned and tested, it would all come down to the software. I had at my disposal some of the finest computer equipment available on the planet, and a full cadre of software engineers to write code for me. No, it would only take them a few days to implement software in whatever algorithms I gave them, and there were only so many ways I could fake delaying that. The bottom line was that if I wasn’t rescued by the end of September, I would have to decide between sabotaging the apparatus, knowing full well doing so would end in my execution, or I would have to give them fully functional TTT. Either way, the future was fucked. <<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>> December 1979 • Chris-13 One of the funny things about TTT is that when you change something in the past, the changes don’t always happen all at once. So it was when Professor Dawson tried to stop the Kennedy assassination. For one thing, it wasn’t so easy to stop the assassination! Presidents get death threats all the time, I guess, so an anonymous call doesn’t necessarily spur the Secret Service to action. Oh, they’ll check it out, but a call that a sniper will shoot the president on a given day at a given time doesn’t get nearly as much attention as you’d think. When the first call didn’t affect the timeline, The Professor Dawson of my time had the Dawson of Kennedy’s time make a second anonymous call. This time the professor gave the FBI a lot more information, including the exact time of the shooting, the location of Kennedy’s car at the time of the shooting, the weapon used, the location from which it was fired and, most importantly, the identity of the shooter, along with his ties to Russia. Again, nothing happened. Perhaps we’d been too precise and made it sound even more like a hoax than with the first call. Therefore, the third call was to the CIA and it was considerably briefer. This time, Professor Dawson simply told them that a Soviet spy had entered the country with the express purpose of killing the President. He said he didn’t know where or when the shooting would take place, but he knew where the spy was staying, and gave them the information. That was all it took. Oswald came across as a weirdo and, of course, everyone who was questioned assumed that he was up to no good. It didn’t take long for the CIA to discover that Oswald had actually been in Russia and so they picked him up. As a result, November 22 turned out to be just another day. But still, nothing happened. Nothing changed. Professor Dawson kept hoping that something would happen as the change worked its way through the timeline, but it never seemed it did. He’d thought that if Kennedy had survived, the war would have ended early and he’d have gotten his David back, but that was not to be. Kennedy still died in office when his helicopter went down on the way to Nantucket, where he was gonna spend Christmas with his family in 1963. There’d been a lot of suspicion of sabotage, but it could never be proved, and so history wrote the whole thing off as an unfortunate tragedy. Johnson still became the president and went on to be elected by a landslide. The Vietnam war still raged on and, more importantly to Professor Dawson, his David remained missing in action, not even acknowledged by his own country, let alone North Vietnam or the USSR. Johnson escalated the war and nearly tore the country apart in the process, and Nixon expanded it beyond Vietnam, but finally the war ended and Americans came home. Then North Vietnam overran the south, Cambodia imploded in the worst episode of genocide since the Nazis, and Iran boiled over and became a fundamentalist snake pit, much as my counterparts from the future had warned. They also warned of the Soviet Union becoming embroiled in Afghanistan and that in responding to the Russians, we’d make enemies that would come back to haunt us in a big way. But there wasn’t a whole lot I could do about it without opening up another can of worms that could cause time to unravel. The sixties had been volatile, marred by protests over the Vietnam War. For some reason, the seventies had been relatively calm, even as Nixon ramped up the war to new heights. Soon it would be 1980, the start of another decade. OK, I knew that the decade didn’t really start until next year, but it was utterly cool to be starting the 1980s, you know? I couldn’t help wonder what new technologies would be borne, what cultural changes there’d be. And it was an election year! I might be only thirteen, soon to be fourteen, but I cared about politics, you know? Nixon was gone, Carter had turned out to be a dud. It sure looked like we’d be sending a republican to the White House. I really liked John Anderson, but somehow I knew he was way too smart to get it. A lot of people seemed to like Ronald Reagan, but surely the American public was smart enough not to elect a third-rate actor. I had a feeling that the eighties would be the start of the computer age, with computers becoming small enough, cheap enough and powerful enough to become commonplace in most homes. Frank and I had talked about digital music, and the eighties would see that happen, with vinyl records and tape cassettes being replaced by shiny, silvered plastic discs. Then we’d finally get serious about space. We’d been to the moon and built a reliable space shuttle. Now we’d erect great space stations and build colonies on the moon, and then it would be on to Mars. Yeah, the eighties were gonna rock! <<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>> September 1995 • Chris-25 The end was near. The TTT apparatus was complete and all that remained was to program it with the necessary software. I’d already made up my mind that I wasn’t going to do that. If I was killed, it would create a terrible paradox — one from which we might not recover — but if I gave the Chinese full access to TTT, the possibilities for what could become of earth were ones I didn’t want to even think about. No, by hook or by crook I was gonna have to make sure the Chinese never got their hands on TTT. I’d devised a strategy for creating an uncontrolled feedback loop in the equipment that would cause the emitter-detector elements to shatter. I would do everything I could to point fingers and make it look like inept programming techniques that led to the disaster, but I had no delusions when it came to what would happen. There’d be an investigation, they’d discover the truth and, more than likely, I’d be executed. The software engineers were nearly done with the programming and then we’d test it. The equipment would be destroyed the first time we fired it up using the new software. Yes, the end was very, very near. “You look troubled, Chris,” my erstwhile boyfriend, Wang Lee said as he came up behind me and started to rub my shoulders and upper back. It felt good, but I could never forget his role in bringing me here… his betrayal. “It is a difficult time, and I am under a lot of pressure,” I replied. “Soon the software will be ready and then testing will begin. I have every confidence that it will work, even though I fear that the spread of TTT will mean disaster for the world. And if I fucked up somewhere and it doesn’t work, God knows what will become of me.” Turning me around, Wang said, “I know you, Chris, and I have faith in you. The one thing I know you didn’t do was to fuck up… at least not accidentally. The apparatus will work perfectly and you’ll be a hero. I know you have your doubts, but the world has never been served by having a powerful weapon in the hands of one power. Look at what happened with nuclear weapons, for example. It was only when Russia and then China had them that a true balance of power could be achieved. Only with proper balance is the world safe… even from the United States. “You’ll see, it will be only when China and others have TTT that the United States will learn to refrain from using it. It is only when they realize that any move they make to change history will be countered by one of ours, that the world will be safe from indiscriminate meddling with time.” Hearing the way Wang put it, I could almost believe it, but time was different. A global thermonuclear war had no winners, just like in the movie, War Games. That was the ultimate deterrent. The indiscriminate alteration of time, the changing of history, meant that entire countries could be erased from existence before they became a threat. How could the U.S. fight back if it never developed electricity, let alone TTT? “So you’re doing the world a big favor, Chris,” Wang continued. “Unless of course you have sabotaged TTT. In that case, I think you know you’ll be dealt with appropriately.” I shuddered at the thought, knowing full well how the Chinese would deal with me. At that moment there was a knock on the door, and Wang answered, “Come in.” In walked two of Charles Hudson’s houseboys, Bryce, who was sixteen, and Huang, who was fourteen. As soon as Huang had shut the door behind him, Bryce raised his right hand and it was only then that I saw the gun with a silencer. Without hesitation he pointed it at Wang’s chest and fired. Wang fell to the floor as a pool of red leached into the carpeting. “We must move quickly,” Huang said as he handed me a richly embroidered, hooded silk robe. I donned the robe and, when I looked in the mirror, was surprised at how well the hood kept my face in the shadows. When we exited the bedroom, I was shocked at the scene that awaited me. A number of people were lying on the floor, giving every appearance of being drugged or dead. Among them were several of Hudson’s servants and house boys, and Hudson himself. Sensing my curiosity, Bryce responded, “Cyanide gas. It’s fast and effective but, unfortunately, indiscriminate. Come quickly.” The boys lead me to a service elevator that I didn’t know existed. It took us down to the basement of the building, where we exited into a service corridor. Checking to see that the way was clear, they led me to a storage room adorned with lockers for each of the apartments in the building. With every step, they watched for stray tenants who might be making a midnight run for their stash of whatever. Soon, we came to a stairwell and the boys led me up and out a door into an alleyway. Just as we exited the building, a limousine rushed down the alley and a rear door opened. The boys pushed me inside and closed the door behind me as they remained outside. Waiting inside the vehicle was a dapper gentleman in a suite and tie. I felt grossly underdressed. “Welcome to the British Crown Colony of Hong Kong, Dr. Michaels,” the man began. “I am Special Agent Maxwell of Her Majesty’s Secret Service, better known as MI6. But you can call me 007 if you prefer.” He burst out laughing and I couldn’t help but do the same. “I’ll be taking you straightaway to your private jet, where you’ll receive proper attire, travel documents and whatever food or drink you prefer. You’ll be flying tonight to Hawaii, where you’ll be the guest of your government for a short while. After a proper debriefing, you’ll return to California, and to your former life. “Welcome back to civilization, Dr. Michaels,” he concluded with a warm smile and a handshake. END OF BOOK THREE
  9. Altimexis

    Detonation

    May 1984 • Chris-18 “What’s up next?” I asked Chad as I slipped a fresh blank tape into the VCR. “Devil in the Dark,” Chad replied as he looked up from the program guide. “That’s the one where the they go to rescue a mining colony that’s under attack by a silicon-based monster, right?” I asked. “Yeah, it’s one of my favorite episodes,” Chad answered. “Mine too,” I agreed. “It turned out the spheres of silicon the miners were destroying were the creatures eggs. Stupid miners.” “Humans are always stupid in science fiction,” Chad commented. “I think it’s a law or something,” he added with a laugh. It was the week before Memorial Day and Chad had the week off to prepare for his finals. He was more than ready, however, and studying was the last thing on his mind. His term papers were done and unless he royally fucked up, he was on track to maintain his perfect 4.0 GPA. Since I’d already finished my coursework for the year, Chad and I decided to spend the week together. It was almost eight o’clock on Tuesday, May 22, day three of the great Star Trek marathon. One of the local stations was showing all eighty episodes over the course of a week. Starting on Sunday at 8:00 AM, they were running twelve episodes a day. Breaking an hour for the news at noon and at six, they were finishing up each day at ten, leaving ten hours for sleep and other, ah, personal activities. The final eight hours would run all afternoon and evening on Saturday, leaving the morning for the usual cartoons. It was the perfect way for a couple of gay SCI-FI geeks to spend the week. After ensuring that the VCR was set to the right channel, I retreated to the family room sofa and snuggled up with my boyfriend. Grabbing the remote, I turned the TV to the VCR channel, so I could make sure the VCR was recording properly. It was my intent to record the entire Star Trek series on VCR tapes using the high setting, saving two episodes on each tape. Even bought in bulk packs of six tapes each, recording the whole series was costing me over a hundred dollars, but it would be worth it in the end. The tapes would last me forever, and the image quality would be pristine. When eight o’clock rolled around, I hit record on the VCR remote and settled back to enjoy the show with my baby. We never wore pajamas to bed anymore, preferring to wear our tighty-whities. Since both my parents were at work for the day, we saw no reason to get dressed and so we snuggled up together, skin to skin. It would have been rather romantic if it hadn’t been for our shared passion for science fiction. Instead we found ourselves engrossed in the action on the tube, but that was fine. Watching Star Trek together was way better than just making out. Besides which, there were lots of commercials! Before things got started, however, ’cause we’d just gotten up, I made some of that coffee Professor Dawson got me hooked on, and I set out some boxes of cereal, a pitcher of milk and some bowls and spoons. Once the program started, Chad grabbed a box of Cap’n Crunch and I grabbed the Fruit Loops — how appropriate. Pouring myself a full steaming mug of coffee, I added a little milk and sugar and started to drink it. “I can’t believe you actually drink that vile stuff,” Chad commented as he wrinkled his nose. It was so cute to watch him do that, but I had to set the record straight. “This isn’t your parents’ coffee,” I countered. “This is Starbucks, and it’s really good,” I said as I handed him my mug. We’d swapped plenty of spit, so there was no reason we couldn’t share. Taking the mug from me with evident trepidation, he responded, “I didn’t know you could make Starbucks at home. I’ve never tried it before, ’cause I just don’t like coffee.” When I just kept looking at him expectantly at him, nodding my head encouragingly, he finally took a sip, and then he smiled and took a much larger sip. “Wow! This is really good! A bit strong, but the flavor’s so rich. Kinda like chocolate, only better. I could really get used to this.” “Told ya,” I replied. “It ain’t Folger’s.” “That’s for fuckin’ sure,” he agreed. When Chad just kept on sipping away on my coffee, I chuckled and poured myself a fresh mug. Looking at the tube, Chad began chanting, “Here come the monster… Here come the monster…” and quickly, I joined in, “Here come the monster… Here come the monster…” “Chris,” Chad began, “do you think that maybe there could be life based on silicon?” “I don’t doubt that there could be life based on anything,” I replied, “but not intelligent life. All you need for life by definition is a self-replicating process. Although you have to be careful with that definition. The lipid bi-layers that make up cell membranes are capable of self-replication in their own right, but that doesn’t make them alive. They can make more membranes, but they can’t reproduce. “But I see no reason that a silicon-based life form couldn’t exist,” I went on, “It’s just that the options for evolution would be limited. Carbon is just so much more versatile and there are so many more combinations of molecules. The odds are already stacked against the formation of intelligent life… it took billions of years to evolve on Earth, after all… so it’s hard to imagine getting as far with silicon, within the lifetime of a star.” “But silicon can form semiconductors!” Chad pointed out. “Imagine a life form with a brain like a computer!” Laughing, I countered, “It’s one thing to imagine silicon compounds coming together to form chains of molecules that then become organized into a form that self-replicates, like our DNA. The human brain uses electrochemical reactions, which are a natural extension of organic chemistry. “There’s no process we know of in which semiconductors can replicate. Certainly not a natural one. I can’t imagine the complex design of even a basic transistor coming into existence spontaneously, let alone an integrated circuit. On the other hand, intelligent organics like ourselves are plenty adept at designing and fabricating semiconductor-based intelligence. Asimov predicted that one day we’ll become cyborgs… that we’ll augment our brains with computer implants. Actually, I think the odds of that happening are far better than not.” “I agree with you,” Chad responded, “but I think it’s even more likely we’ll replace ourselves with completely artificial intelligence. Whether we do so intentionally or not is open to question, however. Actually, I think it almost inevitable we will invent artificial sentient beings that will overthrow us and wipe us out of existence.” “It makes for great science fiction, but no matter how advanced we learn to make artificial intelligence, pursuing neural networks and fuzzy logic or whatever, I think artificial intelligence designed by humans will still lack spontaneity. Oh, we could design a doomsday machine… we’ll see an episode of Star Trek dealing with that later in the week… but in order to be deposed by our own A.I., we’d have to program it in such a way that it would conclude that we’re a threat to it. There’d be no intelligent reason for it to get rid of us unless it perceives us as a threat. Possible, but not likely… “Have you read Arthur C. Clark’s Space Odyssey? Not just seen the movie, but read the book, that is.” Looking at me like I was crazy for even suggesting he hadn’t, I went on, “As you may remember, the beings that built the monolith and effectively created us, started out as corporeal beings, much like ourselves. Eventually, they learned to build thinking machines, not with the purpose of replacing themselves, but as a better vessel for their intelligence, and so they downloaded their consciousness into their new machines. Rather than traveling in space ships, they were the space ships. It didn’t stop there. They eventually learned how to alter the nature of space and time itself, and how to inject their intelligence into the substance of space and time. It was the machine versions of themselves that built the monolith and created us, but they’d long since moved on, leaving their machines to manage their creations, including us.” “I’d forgotten about all that,” Chad acknowledged, “but now that you mention it, I clearly remember it. It’s all fascinating stuff. It's really fun to think about what forms life might take in the future… like watching Star Trek. Star Trek wasn’t perfect, but it was way ahead of it’s time.” “For sure,” I agreed. “One thing’s certain, though,” I continued. “No machine or space-based being could be one tenth as sexy as you.” “That has to be the cheesiest pick-up line ever,” Chad responded with a laugh, “but I appreciate the sentiment.” That led to kissing, which led to making out. Soon the TV was temporarily forgotten and our briefs were discarded as we achieved numerical satisfaction. By the time we got back to watching the series, it was almost time to insert another tape into the VCR, and so I got ready to do so. Next up was episode 27, The Alternative Factor, which frankly was one of the worst Star Trek episodes ever. In fact, it was so bad that it made for some great laughs as Chad and I picked it apart for its ridiculous concepts of matter and antimatter. The last episode before the news break was as outstanding as the other had been bad. Episode 28, City on the Edge of Forever was one of the first and certainly the best alternate reality episodes of all time. The idea was simple — could one person have prevented World War II. In an alternate reality, one did. In saving the life of that one person when she would have otherwise been struck by a car, Bones inadvertently changed the course of history, allowing a pacifist movement to flourish at a time when American participation was essential to winning the war. Truthfully, it wasn’t all that realistic. America already was pacifist at the start of World War II, and it took Pearl Harbor to force our hand. When Germany declared war on us, we had no choice but to become involved in Europe too. No amount of additional pacifism could have prevented that. Even so, it was a great episode and thought provoking. When the news came on, I went to make us some lunch, a wholesome meal of grilled cheese sandwiches on rye bread with potato chips and toasted onion dip. Good thing we didn’t mind sharing a little onion breath with each other. “I know that time travel is theoretically impossible,” Chad began, “but if you could go back in time, I wonder what would happen. Would it even be possible to change the future like that?” This was getting perilously close to TTT, but Chad didn’t know that and there was little harm in having some innocent conversation, strictly on science fiction, and so I answered, “It’s not that time travel is impossible, but there are insurmountable barriers to its application in space-time.” “Yeah, that’s true,” Chad replied, “but that assumes you physically need to go back in time to change the past. The only barriers are to sending mass back in time, but what if you could send information back in time. Information has no mass, and so there should be no barriers. All you would need are tachyons. If you could find particles that travel faster than the speed of light, you could use them to send information back into the past. Of course you’d need a way to know that information was there, back in the past. Otherwise you couldn’t retrieve it.” This was no longer perilously close to TTT and theoretical. This was TTT and I needed to find a way to nip the discussion in the bud without making it obvious. The last thing I needed was to let something slip that might encourage someone else to pursue TTT on their own. “I think you hit the nail on the head, Chad, when you spoke of not knowing the information was there. For example, let’s say you built a machine today to record everything that happens in the world and to store it safely in a time capsule, ready to be retrieved from the future when something really bad happens. You know… something terrible… and maybe you could stop it if you knew what led up to it or something. But unless the machine had some way to send back a warning from the future, you’d have no way to know that a catastrophe was about to happen or that information was coming your way from the future that could help you prevent it. “Did you ever watch Logan’s Run? The TV series, not the movie,” I asked. “Of course,” Chad replied. “The movie was OK, but the TV series was great.” “Well there was an episode that involved exactly this kind of scenario, except that a scientist did have to travel into the future to retrieve the information to return it to the past. But that’s beside the point,” I explained. “The gist of the episode was that it was time travel itself that led to Armageddon. Time travel was the ultimate weapon and people were willing to go to war to make sure that they had it and their enemies did not. It was the very development of this technology that resulted in global thermonuclear war and the end of civilization.” “Then I guess we’d better leave the development of a time machine alone,” Chad replied. “Even if sending information back in time were possible, which it may well be, it wouldn’t be wise.” How right he was about that! Unfortunately, I would receive a reminder of just how right later that week, the next time I contacted Chris-13. <<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>> May 1998 • Chris-32 “He wants to do what?” I asked my younger counterpart, incredulous that Dawson would even suggest such a thing. “He wants to warn the Secret Service of Kennedy’s assassination,” Chris-25 confirmed. “Doesn’t he recognize the insanity of that?” I asked. “Sure, everyone likes to think he would have ended the war. I’ve certainly wondered. We had friends who lost their brothers over there. We went to school with vets on the GI bill. What would have happened to them if they never were drafted? What if instead of ending the war, preventing the assassination actually prolonged the war. Fuck, we might’ve been drafted.” “Not likely,” Chris-25 countered, “but Kyle might have. As it was, he had to register for the draft… remember that?” “Pretty hard to forget,” I agreed. Kyle was our older brother by nearly a decade. “His lottery number was only seventeen. It really freaked him out, even though the draft had ended a few years before.” “Would there have been a Johnson presidency? Would there have been a Great Society? Would there have been a Nixon White House? Would there have been a Watergate? Would the world be better off or worse off now? If Vietnam had ended earlier, or later, might that have been enough to derail OTT? Would the resulting paradox cause the end of the world?” Chris-25 asked “There are too many ‘what ifs’,” I concluded. “I’ve been told that Chris-13 has argued with Dawson ’til they’re both blue in the face,” Chris-25 went on. “I can’t exactly talk to him under the circumstances, but Chris-18 has tried talking to Dawson in his time period too, only to have the older Dawson reinforcing the Dawson of 1979. The only thing stopping him has been Chris-13’s refusal to help him, but Dawson has been threatening to get another student to help, even at the risk of exposing someone else to TTT.” “Dawson sure seems hell-bent on rewriting history, no matter the costs,” I commented. “He may be eccentric and a bit reckless, but I’ve never known him to be irresponsible. It doesn’t make sense.” “Do you think maybe he knows something we don’t?” Chris-25 asked. “You mean like maybe he’s been contacted by his future self, from inside Russia?” I asked, astonished that Chris-25 would think such a thing. “Why the Hell not?” Chris-25 countered. “He’d certainly have access to the technology…” “Would he?” I challenged. “I would think the Russians wouldn’t let him anywhere near functional TTT. Not unless he were supervised and on a tight leash. The only way they’d let him actually use TTT would be if they wanted him to.” “Exactly!” “Wait… you mean the Russians may be using the Marion Dawson they have… the one they abducted or who defected… to communicate with his past self in the U.S. and talk him into doing their bidding?” I asked. “But that’s absurd! Surely the Russians must know that TTT involves the transfer of more than just words. In TTT the brain waves of past and present self become synchronized. Past and present become as one. It’s impossible to deceive using TTT. If the Marion Dawson in Russia is being coerced in any way, the Marion Dawson in America will know about it. He’ll know the truth!” “But what truth will that be?” my younger counterpart asked. “Will it be the truth that the Russians have brainwashed their Marion Dawson to believe after years in isolation, or will it be the truth of a Marion Dawson who would take advantage of an opportunity afforded by the Russians to contact his younger self?” When I showed nothing but confusion, Chris-25 explained, “I guess what I’m suggesting, in the event that the Russian Dawson did contact the American Dawson using TTT, is that, there are two possibilities.” “In the first, Marion Dawson was abducted by the Russians, but he remained true to himself. The Russians forced him to yield TTT to them, perhaps using his lover as bait, or perhaps through actual torture, but Dawson would do anything to fix a past he has created. In that scenario, he would do anything necessary to gain access to TTT, even offering to do the Russians’ bidding to throw America off track, but then he’d do just the opposite once he made contact with his younger American self. The Russians would have no way of knowing what he’d done until the changes wrought in the past came to fruition. I’d like to think that’s what might have happened, but it’s hard to fathom how preventing the Kennedy assassination could make things better for the U.S. in spite of first impressions. It could mess things up for the Russians even more, however, which is why I think this scenario must be considered. “The second scenario is that the Russians have brainwashed their Marion Dawson and he will not only do, but think whatever they tell him to. In that scenario, if his handlers tell him that preventing the Kennedy assassination would make the world a much better, safer place, he would believe them and do everything necessary to make it come about. “The biggest problem with the second scenario, as I see it, is that I cannot fathom why in fuck the Russians would want to save Kennedy’s ass. True, Oswald had his connections to Russia and many conspiracy advocates thought Kennedy was assassinated in retaliation for his handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis, among other things, but preventing the assassination by having Dawson give the Feds an anonymous tip could only work against them. Oswald would have been discovered and his Russian connection would still have been there. Jack Ruby might not have succeeded in killing Oswald and Oswald might have ultimately talked. That in itself could have led to war… nuclear war. Maybe not, but the Cold War could have escalated into something much, much worse. “No, the Russians had every reason to let America dig itself in, in Vietnam. The waste of our resources, the social unrest and the loss of faith of the American people in their government only served their interests. Why throw all of that away while taking a chance on a much worse outcome?” “Those are good thoughts,” I admitted, “and your arguments as to why the Russians would not have wanted to disrupt the Kennedy assassination suggest a very plausible reason for Dawson to have considered trying this gamble on his own. Of course, he may have decided on this course of action without any contact from his Russian counterpart whatsoever. Still, I think Dawson’s smart enough to recognize the peril involved in changing the past so dramatically, and I doubt he would attempt it without considering the alternatives. Just because his Russian counterpart told him to do it doesn’t mean he’d jump off a cliff and take the world with him.” “Which is why I think he may well have been contacted by his Russian counterpart,” Chris-25 argued. “Regardless of which scenario it is, the important thing is that Russian Dawson believes what he’s communicated to American Dawson to be the truth. Perhaps Russian Dawson knows something about what the Russians are trying to use TTT to do, and he sees taking such a dramatic step as the only way to disrupt it. Or perhaps the Russians have managed to convince their Dawson of much the same thing for their own reasons. Either way, American Dawson is convinced he’ll undo a much worse evil, getting his David back in the process.” “I guess it shouldn’t surprise me that what you say makes sense,” I admitted. “You’re me, after all,” I added with a chuckle. “Still, I can’t fathom why the Russians would want Dawson to prevent the assassination if that is, in fact, the case.” “I’ve been wracking my brain over that one too,” Chris-25 answered. “After all, if Oswald was a Russian agent, it should be pretty easy for them to go back and recall him, avoiding generating an international incident or even the hint of one. My best guess is that Oswald really wasn’t working for the Russians, or he was a rogue agent. Either way, they had no control over him and getting to him was beyond their reach.” “Jack Ruby got to Oswald,” I pointed out. “True… I guess our parents even saw it on live TV, but I don’t have a better explanation…” “I do,” I interrupted my younger self. “As things stand, we have TTT going all the way back to late 1961. They don’t. In fact, all indications are that they’ve been unsuccessful in implementing TTT in any time period before they obtained Marion Dawson. They were able to use it to prevent the breakup of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact, and they were able to reverse some of the mistakes they made leading up to the fall of Communism. The market reforms they implemented in the early eighties had a miraculous effect on their economy, and their strategic withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1983 is what made it feasible to retake the Warsaw Pact by force. “But if they have TTT, why haven’t they pushed back further into the past, implementing it in progressively earlier periods as we did? Yet there has been no evidence of Soviet meddling with time before the early eighties.” “Perhaps they were able to achieve their objectives with only one TTT machine?” Chris-25 suggested. “That notion goes against everything I’ve learned about politics,” I countered to my younger counterpart. “The temptation for the Russians to use TTT to establish their dream of world domination would have been too great to ignore. Just knowing that, with a few changes to the time line, they could have had a robust economy to rival our own, instead of it being China that would achieve that goal in the end. Knowing that China and Iran would ultimately seek to acquire TTT. No, Russia would have had to act; they would have done everything in their power to do what we did, pushing the technology back into the past.” “Perhaps they couldn’t convince their younger counterparts in the 1970’s that TTT was real,” Chris-25 suggested. “After all, things were going pretty well for them back then. They didn’t have a robust economy, but they were still in a position where they thought their economic model would ultimately succeed. They had military might to counter our own, we had only recently gotten out of Vietnam and we were still in turmoil from it. Watergate had undermined the presidency. Ford and Carter weren’t instilling much confidence that we could lead, and the military build-up of the Reagan years…” “Reagan!” Chris-25 suddenly exclaimed. “ That’s the reason the Russians wanted to undo the Kennedy assassination. It wasn’t to end the Vietnam War. It wasn’t to save face. It wasn’t in an attempt to defuse the Cold War. They wanted to prevent Ronald Reagan from becoming president. They wanted to prevent a military build-up that the U.S. could afford and they couldn’t.” “An interesting hypothesis indeed,” I agreed, “but pure conjecture.” “ All of this is pure conjecture.” “True,” I agreed with a laugh, “but it makes for interesting bedtime conversation.” “That it does… conversation with ourselves. But Chris, I still don’t see why you’re so insistent that the Russians couldn’t have extended TTT into the past.” “As I was stating before I was interrupted,” I went on, “the Russians had every reason to use TTT if they had TTT. The changes they’ve made so far do nothing to prevent China’s ascendancy as the most powerful economy in the world, nor do they address the growing risk of Islamic terrorism. In fact, their early withdrawal from Afghanistan has only speeded up the ascendancy of the Taliban…” “The Taliban?” “Trust me, you don’t want to know about the Taliban just yet,” I explained. “Suffice to say that Islamic fundamentalism and a rising culture of Islamic Jihad will be one of the gravest challenges we face in the future. “But getting back to Russia’s use, or lack thereof, of TTT, I think that all indications are that if they succeeded in extending TTT back to the early eighties, we should have seen changes in history back in the mid-seventies by now. We haven’t.” “As I think you were suggesting, maybe they just haven’t been able to get through to the leadership in the mid seventies,” Chris-25 commented. “Maybe they just couldn’t convince them that they were for real.” “That seems likely,” I agreed, “which suggests that the Russians did, in fact extend TTT back to the early eighties, but that they haven’t been able to use it to reach the right people. It’s not that difficult to convince someone of the legitimacy of a contact from the future. All Chris-36 had to do was to tell me of what I’d wake up to the next morning… that Andy would be gleefully playing with his train set… the one from which I’d removed the power cord, and that Andy had managed to order thousands of dollars’ worth of components for his train set over the Internet without our knowledge.” “The idea of buying and selling over the Internet boggles my mind. You’ve mentioned it a number of times, perhaps without intending to, but in my day, the Internet is little more than a toy. It’s a defense-funded, university-based network with limited utility. And Andy did all that? The little stinker!” “He’s a genius, Chris. He never ceases to amaze me, and I hear much the same from Chris-38, all the time,” I related. “I can’t wait,” Chris-25 noted, and then he went on, “Now in my case, you convinced me of your authenticity by telling me exactly what Rankin would say in my interview the next day. That was more than enough to convince me. Yeah, I see your point. There’s always something from the future that can be used to authenticate TTT to the novice participant.” Then getting a thoughtful look — yes, I could tell through our shared thoughts — Chris-25’s whole demeanor changed as he went on. “There is another possibility... a reason why the Russians haven’t been able to extend TTT further into the past. “Marion Dawson has been unable to contact himself before late 1961. You mentioned this briefly in passing a few minutes ago, but he hit a brick wall when attempting to go back any further. We surmised that it was as a result of exposure to echoes of Tsar Bomba, the vast nuclear test that apparently fried electronics all across Russia. Perhaps in Russia itself, the effects of Tsar Bomba were so profound that it disrupted the very existence of paired quantum states, well into the future…” “Holy shit, you’re right!” I exclaimed. “Paired quantum states would have been disrupted for centuries to come near the bomb’s epicenter. The effect would have fallen off exponentially… actually, by the square of the inverse of the radius from the blast… just as in Coulomb’s Law… plus there’d be a reduction from the curvature of the earth but, still, the effect would have lasted for decades, even as far away as perhaps three thousand miles. A lot would depend on location of the epicenter, though. Most of their tests were conducted in the arctic or in the sparsely populated southern steppes.” “I looked it up once,” my younger counterpart responded. I guess I’d forgotten. “Tsar Bomba was conducted over an arctic archipelago, at Sukhou Nos.” “Where the fuck is that?” I asked. “It’s in the Novaya Zemlya archipelago.” “That sure tells me a lot, I joked.” “It’s in the far north of Europe,” Chris-25 answered me, “about a thousand miles south of the North Pole and 1500 miles north-northwest of Moscow.” “Boy, I don’t remember looking that up, but I’ll be sure to do so. If I’m not mistaken, the Earth’s curvature becomes the dominant factor beyond 3000 miles… that much I do remember… so the effect drops rapidly as one gets farther from the epicenter, but then becomes negligible beyond 3000 miles.” So in eastern Siberia, TTT will be impossible for millennia, in Moscow it will not work for centuries to come, and in what, Southern Europe, it’ll be decades before it can be used, but in Northern Africa and the Middle East, it should work just fine?” “Pretty much,” I agreed. “I’ll have to look at a good map, but I think that 3000 mile limit includes all of Europe except maybe southern Spain, all of the Soviet Union, half of the Middle East, most of Alaska, none of China and none of the continental U.S. Not sure about Japan. Japan may be OK, or maybe not. “Fuck, the Russians shouldn’t have been able to develop TTT at all! There’s no way they could have used it to change history. No way in Hell.” “Could you be wrong about that?” Chris-25 asked. “Could you be off on your calculations?” “I’m pretty sure of them, even in my sleep,” I countered, “but I’ll verify everything when I wake up.” “Wouldn’t the Russians have simply used an agent from outside the area affected by the nuclear blast?” Chris-25 asked. “Assuming they even knew about the effect of Tsar Bomba on TTT, it would have been an uphill battle to convince the leadership back in Moscow of its legitimacy. If you tell yourself something about your future, you’re likely to believe it. If, on the other hand a stranger tells a fantastic tale of messages from the future, you’re likely to think the person is crazy, even if the messages turn out to be true. And the Communist leadership in the Soviet Union is paranoid, which makes them far more skeptical than you or I would be. “One other thing too,” I continued. “Not only would the person making contact with their past need to be well outside the blast area at present, but if they were alive then, they would have had to have been thousands of miles away from the test site at the time of the blast.” “But if the Russians didn’t use Dawson to develop TTT, what have they been using him for?” “Fuck if I know,” I replied. “Of course I’m sure their intent originally was to use him to implement TTT. I can only wonder what they did to him when the technology didn’t work. They probably thought he’d deliberately misled them. Or perhaps that’s actually what he did. One of the best ways to have kept TTT away from the Russians would have been to give it to them and have it fail.” “Fuck, fuck, fuck! They must have tortured the poor guy,” Chris-25 responded as realization dawned on him. “But the Chinese, the Iranians, and who knows who besides should have no trouble at all implementing TTT.” “Tehran is close enough to the bomb’s epicenter to have problems, but Iran is vast, and they have allies well outside their own territory. Russia does too, but they’re much more problematic, particularly with the changing political landscape over the years. China should have no problems implementing TTT, once they get their hands on the technology, that is.” “Russia would go to war over this…” “It’s a distinct possibility,” I agreed. “But Chris, If the Russians didn’t use TTT to change history, how’d they do it?” “The good old fashioned way,” I surmised. “By spying.” I shuddered as the implications of that statement dawned on me. “That means they must have a spy at Livermore… someone who’s close enough to TTT to be privy to all the changes we’ve documented in time.” “Fuck, that’s only a handful of people… or it could be the White House,” Chris-25 added. “Yikes, I hadn’t thought of that. Yes, the White House has always been notorious for leaks, and they’ve had access to our work all along. But most White House leaks in the past have been intentional. Leaks of sensitive information have been political. I’m not aware of any instances of the White House leaking military technology or strategy.” “Yeah, I know,” Chris-25 agreed. “That was just wishful thinking on my part.” “Chris, from now on, we have to treat everyone at Livermore as a potential spy… including Jack… and of course Professor Dawson.” <<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>> November 1979 • Chris-13 Professor Dawson a spy. I was having trouble wrapping my brain around it when the professor himself entered the room and sat down next to me. I hadn’t known him long, but everything I knew about him made me think it would be impossible for Marion Dawson to be a Soviet spy. Chris-18 did say that he might not yet be a spy in my day, but we knew he would defect to the Russians in 1990, and he was the most logical person to have been passing them knowledge of the future all along. Everything I knew about him, however, screamed that this could not be. There had to be a mistake. The professor clearly was excited and I soon found out why. “I contacted myself in 1972 last night,” Professor Dawson began. “He’s been in contact our counterpart in 1965, who’s been working on our counterpart in 1963. Finally. Finally it looks like we’ve gotten through to him. He’s finally on board for preventing the Kennedy assassination. Isn’t that great?” the professor asked. “I’m going to get my David back!” My heart sank as I realized my worst fears were about to be realized. We’d already made a major change to the timeline in preventing a terrorist attack on the United States that many considered to have been another Pearl Harbor. Even though the attack occurred in 2001, the change that resulted sent ripples through time that had effects, even in my day, more than twenty years earlier. I could only imagine the extent to which history was altered after the event. Now, thanks to the effect of being blinded by love, Marion Dawson was about to make a mistake of similar magnitude, with perhaps even more devastating consequences. I suspected that with this change to the timeline, time couldn’t recover from the rift created in the very fabric of space and time. This time it seemed likely the discontinuities in the timeline would coalesce into a singularity — singularity that would consume all of us, past, present and future.
  10. Altimexis

    Russian Roulette

    May 2005 • The Origin of Time “It’s beautiful here,” the young boy commented as he looked to the southwest, across Crimea, toward the Black Sea. To his right, the city of Sevastopol could be seen in the distance. Directly ahead lay the extensive facilities of the Soviet naval port with its secret submarine base. The boy was well aware that in the original timeline, the entire complex had been converted to a museum, a relic of the Cold War; hence to him the presence of the submarine base wasn’t a secret at all. Of course in the new, alternate reality, the naval port remained fully functional and had even been enlarged and modernized. “Looks can be deceiving, Andy,” the professor responded. “Crimea represents the confluence of several great cultures and has been heavily fought over for centuries. Today it is Ukrainian in name only, ceded by Russia as a means of solidifying their relationship with their southwestern republic. But as you can see, in ‘giving’ Ukraine Crimea, they are merely extending the Soviet military presence over their empire. This isn’t a democracy but even so, increasing the Russian presence in Ukraine lessens the risk of a Ukrainian uprising.” “But when the Soviet Union falls apart as it did originally and as it ultimately must,” the boy continued, “Russia will be caught with their largest naval base on foreign soil. That sort of thing wouldn’t be a problem for the U.S… American military bases are located in countries throughout the world… but an independent Ukraine will never trust the Russians, and Russia will never allow a military base on soil they don’t control. Russia will be forced to retake Crimea from Ukraine. They’ll probably make it look like some sort of secession from Ukraine… but it’ll amount to taking the province by force.” “You’re probably right, Andy,” the professor agreed, “but your father’s contamination of the timeline with knowledge of the future will only make the Soviets more determined to hold onto power.” “None of that will matter if we succeed,” the boy countered. “The Russians may get another chance to get it right when we restore the integrity of the timeline, but little good it’ll do them if they only use it to make the same mistakes all over again. And without the contamination from future knowledge, they will make the same mistakes all over again. Of that I have no doubt.” “You should be careful what you say, young Andrew,” the professor admonished his young charge. “Although nothing you say is untrue, you must always keep in mind that here, there are ears everywhere.” “And eyes too, comrade,” the boy responded. “Oh, there you are,” a balding, middle-aged man said as he approached the pair. “It is warm for May, no? We have some more questions about your formulas, Andrew. Could you please follow me.” As it was evident he wasn’t being given a choice, the boy turned to follow the Russian scientist, but when the professor also turned, the scientist said, “Professor Dawson, it is only the boy that is needed at this time. We will come get you if and when we need you.” “But Andy is only a boy,” the professor protested. “He’s just sixteen. Don’t you think it would be helpful to have an adult whom he trusts present?” “I can assure you that won’t be necessary. Many of our best university students are even younger than he is, and anyone who is capable of cutting off their own finger doesn’t need an adult to babysit them. Surely you can see this, no?” Before the professor could answer, the boy reached out and grabbed the professor’s shoulder, saying, “Don’t worry, Marion. I’ll be fine. I know what I’m doing. Trust me, I’ll be OK.” The boy continued to stare into the his eyes until he finally nodded. The boy let go and followed the scientist as he led him away. The professor worried as he watched the boy go. He knew the boy was capable, but he was just sixteen and oh so very naïve. The professor had decades of experience in dealing with the Russians. The boy was a novice in all respects. The boy would fill him in on what happened later, but he would have much rather been present for whatever was about to happen. He couldn’t help but worry that the boy would be mistreated and forced to reveal things that shouldn’t be revealed, but then the boy himself had told the professor he was counting on just that. The professor couldn’t help but wonder what he meant by that. In the meantime, the boy was led to a waiting limousine and got into the back seat along with the scientist. “Would you like to stop by your apartment first, to get some clothes?” the scientist asked. Laughing, the boy answered, “Compared to what I was used to wearing, or not wearing, before I came to Crimea, if anything I feel overdressed. But if it makes you feel uncomfortable to see me this way, I’ll grab a shirt. Otherwise I’m good the way I’m dressed if you are,” he said with a knowing smirk. Truthfully, the scientist was a closeted gay man who found the boy to be extremely attractive. Without a shirt on, the raw sexuality of the boy was almost overpowering to the scientist, but the last thing he wanted was give any appearance of concern and so he said nothing, merely instructing the driver to proceed to the base. The scientist was unaware that the boy was fully aware of the effect he had on the man, and more than capable of exploiting it without the scientist even being aware of it. The limousine drove the two of them toward the naval base, through a series of checkpoints until they pulled into an underground parking facility. The scientist then led the boy through another set of checkpoints and into a rather nondescript, windowless building. After being led down a series of corridors, the boy was brought into a room with a folding table at which were seated a group of scientists. The boy had already met most of them, so he simply nodded his head in tacit acknowledgment of them. In stark contrast to the men, who were all dressed formally in dress shirts with ties, and some of them in jackets, the boy was wearing only a skimpy pair of athletic shorts with the waistband of his boxers stylishly visible, and sneakers without socks. If he felt any discomfort at the disparity in the attire, or from the chilly temperature of the room, he certainly didn’t show it. If anything, the lack of clothing seemed to give the boy an added sense of confidence that exceeded the sum of that from the eight senior scientists present in the room, combined. In a sense it was the boy who held all the cards and everyone there knew it, which presented its own particular set of risks to the boy. If the boy was aware of those risks, he didn’t show any sign of knowing so, which put him at a distinct advantage, regardless. The room itself was rather plain. It was rectangular with cinder block walls, painted an ugly shade of gray. Along one of the short walls and one of the long wallsl were old-fashioned black boards with chalk and erasers. The one nod to technology, if it could be called that, was an overhead projector and a pull-down screen. There was no video, no Internet nor any sort of connection to the outside world in evidence — not even a telephone. The conference table itself was of a folding type no longer used in the West, and it appeared to be so flimsy that it might collapse under the weight of the overhead projector. The conference chairs were simple armless folding metal chairs hardly worthy of prisoners, let alone the important men assembled around the table. None of them, however, seemed to be aware of the drabness of their surroundings, and if the boy was aware, he certainly didn’t let on that he was. Some of the men began speaking at once in Russian, apparently unaware that the boy had studied the language and understood every word they said. Although he was somewhat fluent in Russian, having completed more than two years of it in high school and being a fast learner at that, the boy had no intention of giving away his advantage and so he remained silent. Instead he filed away in his brain everything they said that he might be able to use later. “Andrew,” the most senior of the scientists began in English, seemingly unaware of the boy’s preference for the diminutive Andy. “We have studied the equations you prepared for us and I must say that we are intrigued by the formulations. The concept of time as a quantum state is ingenious and it would seem to explain how knowledge of the future can be used to modify it. But you have suggested that time is, in fact, not altered but rather it is split, and that this presents a danger. You believe that time can become so fragmented by the changes we have made that the very fabric of the universe can unravel. You suggest that all the things we have done… all the positive changes we have made that have strengthened the USSR and provided a better life for our citizens, must be undone for the sake of our very survival. Yet we can find nothing in your equations to support any of this. How do you expect us to go along with your requests for equipment… how do you expect us to support you in your experiments… based solely on your hunch?” What the men didn’t know was that the boy had been very careful in the formulations he’d shared with them. Although he’d allowed them the knowledge that he saw time as a series of quantum events, as was necessary to make his point, the rest of his equations were a fabrication designed to trick them into giving him what he wanted. Granting them full access to his derivations would have been far too dangerous. Although it was doubtful they would have understood them well enough to put them to use, he couldn’t take the risk that they might, even in part. He therefore needed to present a plausible alternative — one that would be convincing enough to grant him access to the equipment he needed. It also had to be plausible enough to fool the professor, as he couldn’t take a chance that the professor, knowingly or unknowingly, might compromise his plan. However, the boy was well aware of just how mistrustful the Soviets could be, and he assumed correctly that this skepticism extended to their scientists. Therefore he formulated a plan in which he gave them just enough to spark their curiosity but laced with enough blatant errors to stoke their egos when they discovered them. He would then allow them to correct his errors, complete the alternative formulation and design the very experiments he needed to run, under his guidance of course. Although the resulting data wouldn’t fully support the formulations, they would give him the information he needed, along with access to the right equipment, to carry out his plan. After speaking some more in Russian, much to the boy’s amusement, the lead scientist continued, “Andrew, I am troubled by your treatment of the universe at the beginning of time. That there is a beginning of time is to your credit, but if we follow your equations, the expansion of the universe would have occurred at more than twice the rate predicted by the current evidence, and the speed of light would be half of what it is. How can you reconcile this with reality?” Expecting this to be the first question, the boy was elated. He smiled and responded, “You have made the assumption that the speed of light is fixed and that it is constant throughout the universe, and that it has been the same throughout time. However time itself is a quantum property. It is not continuous and it is not universal. Therefore the speed of light cannot be fixed. It can’t even be isotropic. Of course none of this is apparent because the speed of light serves as the yardstick by which we measure time. Hence it will always appear to be constant. Look more closely at my formulations and you’ll soon realize that, in fact, this cannot be the case.” This touched off a firestorm of conversation in Russian, during which the boy clearly heard one of the scientists say, in Russian, ‘He’s right, Sasha.” After perhaps an hour of animated discussion, during which the boy waited patiently, standing at the head of the conference table, not showing even a hint of the annoyance more typical of teenage behavior, the lead scientist began again. “Andrew, there seems to be a discrepancy on page forty-seven, in equation 14.7. The third term would seem to assume a locally-invariant speed of light, yet that clearly cannot be the case if time is discontinuous.” “Hmmm you’re right,” the boy responded. Careful not to show it, he was ecstatic. They’d taken the bait! The boy and the scientists spent several more hours in the conference room, discussing his mathematical formulas. Of course several more ‘mistakes’ were found, and each one required extensive revisions to the remaining equations. Twice they took breaks for meals, once for lunch and once for dinner. Given the drab surroundings, the boy wasn’t expecting much, and so he was pleasantly surprised when the food turned out to be quite good. It was already dark out when the boy was returned to the apartment he shared with the professor. Although they could come and go as they pleased, the apartment was within a fenced compound, and there were security checkpoints everywhere, so in reality their freedom was quite limited. The boy entered through a filthy, unlit corridor as was typical of Soviet apartment buildings. Using the key he was given, he opened the door and entered into the common living, dining and kitchen area that served as the main room of the apartment. In fact, the only other rooms were a bedroom with a double bed that they shared, a bathroom with a tub and a small washing machine, and a tiny toilet room. A small closet provided the only storage space for both coats and clothing. “Good evening, Andy,” the professor said with a warm smile as he sat at the table and ate some soup and bread that he’d prepared for his evening meal. “Have you eaten? There’s some soup left if not.” “Yes, thank you Marion,” the boy answered. “Actually, they fed me well.” “At least that’s something for all your efforts,” the professor replied. “How did it go?” he asked. “Very well, I think,” the boy answered. “They seem to have a much better understanding of the nature of time as I see it… enough so that they found several errors in the derivation.” Left unsaid was that both the boy and the professor knew the errors were planted and intentional, but that was something that could never be discussed. Their apartment of all places would be certain to be bugged. “If there are any remaining errors, I’m sure I’ll find them when I revise the derivation.” The boy was, in effect, saying that the scientists in fact missed some errors, but that these would be corrected in the final version. “How long will it take to finish the revisions?” the professor asked. Both he and the boy knew that the revisions were already done. All the boy had to do was to pull out the revised copy and submit it to the lead scientist for distribution to the others. However, if he submitted it right away, they would know that the errors were an intentional deception. He needed to wait long enough to make it appear that he needed sufficient time to revise his equations… hundreds of them. “They’re probably expecting it to take me several weeks to finish them up,” the boy commented. “A week should be sufficient time to complete the work,” he added. “Then they’ll realize what they’re up against.” The boy’s statement was telling. Truthfully, the entire team of Soviet scientists working as a group couldn’t have completed the revisions in a month, much less a week. The Soviets already knew that the boy had extraordinary talents. When he turned in the completed, revised derivations in just a week, they would realize just how extraordinary he really was. Many of the scientists undoubtedly would have gone home, expecting it would be months before they would have to return. They would all be stunned when they were recalled to Crimea The boy was an incredibly valuable asset to the Soviet Union — someone who could help them rewrite history and someone who could help them develop the technology to bury the West in their wake. But he was a loose cannon and that made him dangerous. The Soviets would have loved nothing more than to find a way to control the boy, getting him to do their bidding exactly as they pleased. However, he had already demonstrated his level of determination and they were not about to let the boy chop himself up, piecemeal. Conventional methods of intimidation would be ineffective with this boy. Already a cadre of adolescent psychologists had been assembled to observe the boy surreptitiously and to come up with strategies to motivate him to do their bidding. What the psychologists didn’t realize was that they’d already lost control of the boy, not that they’d ever had it. The boy was already manipulating them and not the other way around. Stretching his arms over his head and yawning, the boy noticed an unpleasant odor and said, “Phew, I need a bath, but it’s too late.” “Not much we can do about it,” the professor commented in reference to the fact that the building only had hot water for a few hours in the morning. “Besides which, you know I kind of like it when you smell a bit funky.” “Randy, are we?” the boy replied with a devious grin on his face. Although nearly fifty years separated them in age, they’d found they enjoyed providing each other with more than simple companionship. The boy, for his part, had just spent hours cooped up in a small conference room with nothing better to do than listen to scientists who barely comprehended his work. He was practically bouncing off the walls and, strange as it might seem, sex was the perfect way for him to release all his pent-up energy. After all, he was a teenage boy with raging hormones. As the professor carried his dishes to the sink and rinsed them out, the boy kicked off his shoes and dropped his shorts, leaving only his boxers with their shameless bulge to reveal his intent. Extending his hand to the professor, who clearly was admiring the boy’s torso, he led the two of them to the bedroom where the boy proceeded to remove the professor’s clothes. He left his boxers for the professor to remove, as he knew the professor liked this. Within seconds they were lying on the bed, up close and personal with each others)’ private anatomy. The first round didn’t take long at all, but they still had hours before they needed to get to sleep, as there were no plans for the next day that they knew of. Over the course of the past several months, with no access to girls or women, the boy had become adept at several variations of gay sex and on this night, he would have a chance to use all of them. <<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>> November 1979 • Chris-13 “I don’t understand,” I stated after Professor Dawson related the difficulties his counterpart in 1965 was having contacting himself in 1959. “I thought there was no reason you couldn’t go back as far as the technology would allow. You yourself said that vacuum tubes have been around, practically since the turn of the century.” “The ability to manufacture vacuum tubes with the precision needed for TTT, not to mention the ability to machine the Quartz detector did not arise until late in the Second World War,” Professor Dawson pointed out, “but that was two decades before 1965. Digital stepper motors didn’t really exist back then, but analog servomotors with precise bearings should have worked as well. I don’t get it either, Chris. The technology should have worked, but my counterpart just hasn’t been able to reach back that far. He can reach back to late 1961, but not further.” “Did something happen in 1961 that disrupted the formation of temporal quantum pairs?” I asked. “A major nuclear event would do it,” Professor Dawson suggested, “something that would generate intense radiation across the entire electromagnetic spectrum, or if close enough, that would generate an intense barrage of particles. The only thing I can think of that would do it would be a solar flare of epic proportions. The last such beast occurred a century before.” “Would it have to be in this timeline?” I asked. “Could an epic solar flare have happened in an alternate reality?” “A time discrepancy of that magnitude would take human intervention on a scale I don’t even want to think about. If we learn to do that, truly there is no hope for us.” While I was contemplating the gravity of what Professor Dawson had suggested, another possibility dawned on me, and so I asked, “What about a nuclear test? They were still done above ground back then.” “That’s an interesting thought,” Professor Dawson responded. “I’d have had to have been very close to it though, and the only test big enough was conducted by the Russians in October of 1961. It was code named Tsar Bomba and was many times bigger than any test of a thermonuclear weapon, before or since. The word on the street is that it generated a huge EMP that wiped out electric circuits in much of Eastern Europe, even though the blast was thousands of miles away.” “An EMP?” I asked. “Electromagnetic pulse,” Professor Dawson explained. It’s like an electric shock wave powerful enough to fry transistors and burn out the filaments in vacuum tubes. Tsar Bomba did far more damage to the Soviet electronic infrastructure of the time, such as it was, than it did to the intended target. After that both the Russians and the U.S. focused on building clusters of smaller, lighter bombs that could be launched on a single rocket. These so-called multiple reentrant vehicle bombs or MIRVs, could knock out several simultaneous targets and do a lot more damage. “However, I was right here in St. Louis on October 30, 1961, the day of the Ill-fated test. I was well shielded from the blast by thousands of miles of intervening earth.” “Neutrinos from the blast would have reached you,” I pointed out.” “Yes, and they would have passed right through me without affecting the paired quantum states.” Thinking about it some more, I had another thought and asked, “would you have had to have been there at the time of the test? Could the quantum states have been affected if you’d gone near there at some time in the future? Or in another timeline?” “Now that’s an interesting thought, Chris,” Dawson related. “A blast that size would propagate decades into the future, and the past. It would take more than a brief encounter, though. I would have to live there for perhaps years to see an effect.” “But isn’t that what’s gonna happen?” I asked as a cloud seemingly descended on the room. We both knew the Soviets would stop at nothing to get their hands on TTT, even if it meant kidnapping a prominent scientist from America. We already knew that Professor Dawson was gonna disappear in the future — that he either was kidnapped or forced to defect. If that were the case, it was indeed likely that the quantum states in his brain had already been altered and that he’d never be able to use TTT past 1961. Then getting a thoughtful look on his face, Professor Dawson continued, “You know, Chris, we may not have to go back to 1959. 1963 might be good enough. Vietnam was started by Eisenhower, followed through by Kennedy and escalated by Johnson, but it’s Nixon’s war. An anonymous tip is all it would take to change all that. If Kennedy hadn’t been assassinated, Vietnam might have ended before so many Americans lost their lives. I might have even gotten my David back…” Was he out of his fuckin’ mind? The assassination of President Kennedy was a horrible national tragedy, but it happened. It was history now. So much had happened in the world since then, it was hard to imagine the potential unintended consequences of changing that one act. God knows I had every reason to want to turn back the clock and put an end to Vietnam before it became the horrendous killing machine it was, with a momentum all its own, but would saving Kennedy have brought the war to a close any sooner? Everyone said he would have ended it, but could he have? Wars have a life of their own and God knows, as much as most people wanted to end it, was America really ready to turn tail and run? Could we have just abandoned an ally and let the Communists win? Could we have negotiated a peace that amounted to abandoning those we’d sworn to protect? Given the choice between saving face and actually losing the war, I had no doubt we’d have found a way to get out while we could. Trouble was, no one thought we could possibly lose the war back in 1963. Could Kennedy have made us think otherwise? Was he really ready to take on the so-called military industrial complex? No, reversing the Kennedy assassination was a crapshoot at best. And look at what had happened since the Kennedy assassination! Johnson may have become embroiled in the war and it cost him a second term, but he changed America like no president since Lincoln. Would the Civil Rights Act have come about under Kennedy? Could it have? Would there have been a Great Society? As bad as the riots of ’68 were, how much worse might they have been if blacks still had to sit at the back of the bus? The turmoil of the 60s had been horrible and the race riots of 1968 had devastated entire black communities, but I had little doubt that America wouldn’t be what it is today had we not gone through all that turmoil. But Professor Dawson wasn’t seeing any of that, no matter how many times I argued with him about it. No, he seemed Hell-bent on saving Kennedy, convinced it would bring his David back. He was certain the ends would justify the means. I wasn’t sure how I was gonna do it, but I was gonna have to find a way to keep Dawson from changing the past. I might have to get help from my counterparts in the future, but I was gonna have to find a way.
  11. Altimexis

    Filaments

    March 2012 • Chris-45 “I could have told you that!” Frank responded to the allegation — more of a realization, actually, that my work at Livermore had been compromised by one or more Soviet spies. “Really?” I barked in surprise. “If you knew there were spies at Livermore, why didn’t you say something?” “Because it was the most logical conclusion,” he answered, “and because I would have been a prime suspect.” I opened my mouth to tell him that I knew it couldn’t have been him, when it dawned on me that he was right. “But the Russians tried to sabotage my dissertation,” I pointed out. “We weren’t even together then.” “True, but we’ve known each other since we were thirteen,” Frank responded, “and we didn’t exactly part amicably. You have to admit that if the Soviets had managed to indoctrinate me and if I’d wanted to get back at you, that would’ve been a good way to do it.” “Yes, but you of all people understand the consequences of mucking around with time,” I countered. “Fuck, you’re aware of the existence of multiple realities. You always have been since I first met you. Even if the Russians somehow didmanage to recruit you, you would never use time as a weapon to get back at me. No matter what they did to you or your family, wrecking the integrity of the timeline isn’t something you’d do. You’re probably the last person who’d be willing to feed the Soviets knowledge of the future.” Pulling me into a hug and kissing me long and hard, Frank eventually came up for air and said, “I should never have feared that you’d question my integrity.” After another round of tongue wrestling, he continued, “not any more than I would expect you to sell out to the Russians.” I couldn’t help but laugh at the absurdity that I would pass knowledge of the future to the Russians, only to have them use it to sabotage the very dissertation that allowed me to pass them future knowledge in the first place. “So it’s a given that neither of us is spying for the Soviets,” I went on, “but then who could it be? It would have to be someone very close to me someone… with access to OTT data from even before I joined Lawrence Livermore. Not even Jack Craegen was aware of the full extent of TTT until later.” “It could have been Marion Dawson,” Frank pointed out. “He could have used his own knowledge of the future and fed it back to them as long ago as the early 1960s.” “Except that the Russians didn’t start to meddle with history until the early-to-mid 1980s,” I countered, “until around the time I started college, and from all indications, not until after Dawson had already defected. If anything, his defection should have prevented him from passing knowledge of the future back into the past.” “Sorry, Chris, I know you’d rather not think he betrayed you from the beginning, but even after his defection, he already possessed knowledge of the original failure of the Soviet Union. That knowledge wouldn’t have disappeared, just because he created a new reality in which he never experienced it firsthand,” Frank continued. “I’m not saying there isn’t a spy at Livermore too, but Dawson is a more likely common denominator. He was in the right place at the right time, throughout time.” “And I brought him right into OTT,” I realized. “I gave him access to our most sensitive data. Even if he didn’t give the Russians TTT itself, knowledge of the future was just as valuable, if not more so. But then why didn’t he intervene sooner, back in the sixties?” “There are many potential reasons, Chris,” Frank answered. “Even if Dawson did feed information to the Russians back in the early sixties, they might not have been ready to believe it. Hell, they might have thought it so preposterous to question its authenticity. Vietnam was a win-win for them. They’d been successful in countering our foreign policy, all over the world. They assumed their command economy would prove superior to ours and the idea that an arms race ultimately would bankrupt them was preposterous. “It’s also quite possible the Russians didn’t even recruit Dawson until later. There’s no way to know when he might have begun feeding them knowledge of the future, or when they might have started taking it seriously.” “Either way, it’s likely Marion Dawson was a Soviet spy from at least when we first met him,” I noted. “It certainly looks that way,” Frank agreed. <<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>> April 1991 • Chris-24 It seemed like I’d been here for months. The reality was, it had probably been no more than weeks, if even that long. For a prisoner, time has no meaning. Every day I woke with the sun streaming in through the open window — the window through which I couldn’t escape because it was covered with bars. Not that there was any place I could escape to, even if I did get out of my stone hut, even if I did get past the electrified fence and the razor wire. I was in the middle of nowhere, in a vast country where I didn’t speak the language. And I had no idea of where to go. Every morning I did the best I could to wash myself with the limited amount of water available and without soap and started what had become my daily routine. Every morning they brought me a meager meal of rice and beans that was my only meal of the day. Every day I ate it hungrily and washed it down with the brackish water, and then rinsed my mouth out without benefit of toothpaste. By then already I would be sweating profusely from the heat and humidity, but with so much time on my hands and nothing better to do, I began my exercise routine, before the heat and humidity became even more oppressive, as it would later in the day. I began with alternating sets of push-ups and sit-ups, and moved onto chin-ups and calisthenics. I didn’t have weights to lift, so I used my own body weight to build my muscles. I ran in place and danced to whatever pop tunes I could remember. I did my routine in the morning after I’d digested my breakfast, and again in the evening as the sun set. I’d never been athletic before and couldn’t believe how buff I was becoming, in spite of the lack of food. So far they had left me alone and the exercises took up only so much time. My sleep was of poor quality, thanks to the drugs they gave me, but still I was wide-awake during the day. I passed the time by doing mathematical derivations in my head and eventually was able to track reams of simultaneous differential vector equations. I found ways to simplify what I’d previously derived, and what Andy had supposedly derived in the future. Slowly the things he’d reportedly told me began to make sense, and I finally understood how the universe could exist within a singularity. The easiest way to conceptualize it was to think of the universe as if it were a sheet of paper. A very, very large but infinitesimally thin sheet of paper, wadded up into a tiny ball. No matter how large the sheet of paper, if it had zero thickness, then its volume would be zero. If it had no volume, then it could be compressed down to a single point, even as the surface area of the sheet of paper remained very large. Similarly, the universe could be seen the same way, so long as it is of finite size, which it is, and has a finite number of dimensions, which it does. In higher-dimensional space, infinite dimensional space or non -dimensional space, the hyper-volume of the universe would always be zero and by wadding it up, it could be compressed to a single point. Yet from the vantage point of people living inside the physical structure of the universe, Euclidian geometry would be preserved. In other words, from within the universe, a straight line would appear to be straight, even though in hyperspace it would appear to be a highly convoluted, wound up string, compressed to fit within a single point. So if Andy was right, the Big Bang wasn’t much of a bang at all. The expansion of the universe didn’t change the fact that it existed within a singularity. Instead of space expanding outward, the four dimensions of space-time, plus however many invisible dimensions were needed to realize the fundamental building blocks of matter, were carved out of the singularity as convoluted filaments in much the way that tightly wound elastic string fills the substance of a golf ball. This conceptualization even allowed for quantum theory and string theory. Indeed, individual segments could separate, form loops and recombine in different configurations. Each such reconfiguration would represent a quantum event. Usually such quantum phenomena are so tiny and ubiquitous as to be invisible to the observer, but by sending information back into the past, we created entire segments of the universe that were isolated from all others. These isolated segments, or realities, were creating a region of space that was highly unstable, and they’d either coalesce into a singularity, or they’d dissipate, leaving a single filament, or reality, to fill the void. Indeed, I almost thought I could see a way to collapse all of the multiple realities we’d created into a single cohesive reality. Andy’s model showed me that it was possible, even if I didn’t yet know how. Unfortunately, I also was becoming convinced that Andy was right — that the only stable reality was one in which TTT had never been invented — one without him in it. <<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>> April 1998 • Chris-32 “Happy birthday, Dad!” My nine-year old son exclaimed as he carried a cake from the open kitchen into the dining area of the great room. I’d recently bought a beautiful house in Oakland Hills with breathtaking views of San Francisco and the San Francisco Bay. The cake was obviously home made and was covered with flaming candles — I didn’t count them but it sure looked like there were 32. He set the cake down on the table and, rather than admire my young son’s handiwork, I made a wish and blew the candles out quickly. I wished for things to go back to the way they were before OTT, but it took me three tries to blow out all the candles. Some wishes just aren’t meant to come true. “How in the world did you light all those candles without burning yourself?” I asked. “Mom gave me a butane fireplace lighter to use,” Andy explained. “It was easy.” “It was nice of you and Mom to bake me a cake for my birthday,” I added. “Actually, I made the cake myself,” he clarified with evident pride in his voice. “You did?” I exclaimed in surprise. Nodding his head, he answered, “Yup, I did. I looked through Mom’s recipe books and found one for making a cake from scratch that wasn’t too complicated. I know how much you like peanut butter cups, so I looked for a recipe for a chocolate peanut butter cake. Actually it’s a devils food cake layered with chocolate peanut butter frosting. I tried it out last week to make sure it’d come out all right. I think you’ll like it,” he concluded as he cut a couple of pieces from it and set one in front of me. I waited for Andy to sit down with his own piece of cake, but he continued to watch me expectantly, so I grabbed hold of my fork and took a bite. It was sooo good, I actually moaned. “I take it you like it,” Andy said as he finally took his seat, a grin on his face. “This is the best cake I’ve ever had,” I told him quite honestly. “I can tell by the look on your face, Dad, you think it’s orgasmic.” I practically choked on the cake as I responded in shock, “Where in Hell did you learn that word?” “I told you before, there aren’t many words I don’t know, but kids say things like that at my age,” he replied. “I even know what it means and what an orgasm feels like…” “Andy?” I asked in even more shock, an image of him taking a girl to bed after school flashing through my mind. Rolling his eyes, he said, “No Dad, I’m not having sex… not really. Not with a girl. I mean my friends and I sometimes fool around a little, but then boys my age have always done stuff together, like getting naked and touching each other and stuff. I bet you did too.” Although I wasn’t about to admit it, he was right. I had played around when I was his age. It had been pure curiosity and nothing more. “But that’s not what I’m talking about,” he continued. “To be blunt, I jerk off, Dad. I’m too young to squirt but I do have orgasms. I’ve been doin’ it a couple years now. I know most boys don’t start ’til they’re twelve or so, but I read a lot and I read about boys doin’ it and I wanted to know what the big deal is. Well I found out what the big deal is. It’s fun!” he said with the cutest grin on his face. “It’s a lot of fun. I do it every day. Usually more than once. I can’t imagine not doin’ it. So yeah, I know what an orgasm feels like.” “Damn,” I said as I looked at my nine-year-old boy in a new light, dressed as he was in a wife beater and skimpy shorts, and barefoot. This was his usual weekend attire for all but the winter months. I never saw my son as a sexual creature, nor did I now, but the thought that he jerked off on a regular basis — that he craved orgasms as any youth did, certainly put his development in a new light. How could I get mad at him for doing something all boys do — something I still did, even if he was only nine? “Don’t freak out about it, Dad, OK?” Andy went on when I remained silent. “I know adults are hung up on anything having to do with sex and they really get uptight about their kids having sex, but this isn’t about me having sex with anyone other than my own left hand. This is just about jerking off, Dad. All boys do it. All men, too. I mean, you do it too, right?” I couldn’t help but blush, causing Andy to giggle. “Don’t you know that most kids are repulsed by the thought of their parents having sex?” I asked. “You mean, does it gross me out thinkin’ of you yankin’ on it? Not really. I mean I know it feels great, and I know you crave it like I do. It’s just physiology. “Actually I think it’s kinda cool that we both jerk off. It might even be fun to do it together sometime, but from the look on your face, that ain’t gonna happen,” he added with an impish giggle. “So no, it doesn’t gross me out. And besides, I’m not most boys.” No, he most certainly wasn’t. <<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>> April 2005 • Chris-39 Four months had passed since my son was taken from me. Four months since he’d disappeared from the face of the earth. Four months during which the only contact I’d had was to receive a package via DHL Express. The package contained a frozen, severed piece of his finger along with a warning that if I failed to cooperate, this wouldn’t be the last of my son’s body parts that I’d receive. We knew it was my son’s fingertip because the fingerprint matched, as did the DNA. Initially we’d thought the package might yield valuable clues as to where Andy was being held, but the box itself was made in China and purchased in Alberta. It was then shipped from Vancouver, further obscuring the true point of origin. The finger itself was shipped in much the same way that fresh fish are shipped cross-country. It was wrapped in polyethylene plastic, packed with chips of dry ice and fit loosely into a polystyrene foam container. Polyethylene and polystyrene are petroleum-based plastics common throughout the world, and dry ice is nothing more than frozen carbon dioxide. Sometimes, trapped impurities in dry ice can yield valuable clues, but Andy’s kidnappers were skilled in their art if nothing else. They used medical-grade dry ice, making it untraceable. If this was a Soviet operation, as we believed it to be, the attention to detail could only mean that the KGB had gotten involved. Those who’d abducted Andy were rank amateurs by comparison. The fact that the initial kidnapping was done by agents of the Russian military, or perhaps staged to look like it had been, resulted in a lot of speculation as to whom was actually responsible for taking Andy. None of that helped me get my son back though. The funny thing was that, in sending me his finger, his captors had done more to show me that my son was all right than just about anything else they could have done. In spite of my objections, Andy had carried through with his plan of defiance. I was now the recipient of my son's well-preserved right little fingertip and his captors were in possession of a sixteen-year-old boy who was in every way their superior. After receiving the package, I expected I would receive a second communication after a short while, instructing me on what my son’s captors wanted from me, but more than a month had passed and nothing had happened. Both Andy and I had celebrated birthdays and yet there was still no word. I was now 39 years old, and Andy was sixteen. No matter what was going on over there, be it in Russia or elsewhere, I had little doubt that it was Andy who had the upper hand. <<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>> “We would be much more inclined to help you, Andrew, if you would tell us why you think your approach will succeed when Dawson’s has failed,” the KGB agent admonished his young charge. “For the fifteen thousandth time,” the boy said as he rolled his eyes in exasperation, “these are two completely different approaches to sending information back in time. Particles with paired quantum states are extremely susceptible to electromagnetic interference. When you detonated Tsar Bomba in 1961, you not only fried electronic components all across Russia, but you destroyed paired quantum particles for thousands of miles around, for hundreds of years into the future. You wiped out any possibility of using this method throughout a sizable chunk of the northern hemisphere. “But the use of paired quantum states is only a means to an end. We all have the ability to communicate with ourselves in the past. Most of us have had premonitions, and some of us have them regularly. Paired quantum states merely facilitate our forming a link from the present to the past, opening a channel within our brain that transcends time. There are other ways of doing this, however… ways that aren’t affected by quantum cataclysms such as nuclear tests. “The equipment I’ve requested will allow me to test some of these ideas, but perhaps the concepts are beyond the understanding of a party apparatchik. Perhaps this discussion should be with your top physicists instead.” “I have shown your diagrams and your equipment list to the same people who designed the TTT apparatus,” the KGB agent responded, “the same people who worked with Dawson. They are, in fact, our best physicists and they could find little merit in your request. “You have already tried my patience with your little birthday demonstration. Against my better judgment, we sent your finger to your father and he has undoubtedly verified by now that it is yours. Included with it was a warning that unless he cooperated, we would be sending back additional body parts in the future. Perhaps a better use of you would be to make good on that threat.” “Hand me a knife and I’ll do it myself,” the boy answered without hesitation. “Perhaps my father would respond better to my penis, or an eyeball, or my entire left hand. However, knowing my dad, sending me home to him, piece by piece, will only strengthen his resolve not to cooperate with you. He might be more inclined to cooperate if you treat me well and give me the chance to convince him myself but, even still, I wouldn’t count on it. “The bottom line, comrade, is that my father can’t give you anything you don’t already have. The best chance you have of communicating with the past and of fixing the things that made the Soviet Union fall apart is to let me proceed with my experiments. Give me the equipment I need and let me talk to your best physicists, face-to-face. Please give me a chance to get it right.” “Then why do I get the impression, young man, that your only interest is in undoing what we’ve already done? Why do I get the impression that you have no interest in helping us in the end?” Sighing, the boy replied, “True, you have no guarantee that I will help you achieve what you want to achieve, but you have to trust me that our ultimate goals will be the same in the end. I can’t promise you to do your bidding because, even if I did, no amount of tinkering with the past will make a command economy succeed, any more than it will prevent America from having to choose between a safe, but closed society and a slightly less safe, but open one. No amount of meddling with the past will help humanity avoid having to deal with cataclysmic sea level rise and ecosystem collapse. These problems, as difficult as they may be to solve, do have solutions, however. “None of that matters if the fabric of time becomes so fragmented that it ends up being destroyed. None of that matters if a singularity forms… if a black hole opens up and consumes the earth and with it, our past, present and future. No, our primary objective must be to repair the damage we’ve already done to the timeline. Only by fixing the problems we’ve created unintentionally by meddling with time can we live another day. Only then can the USSR begin to tackle the real problems that will ultimately lead to its demise.” <<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>> October 1979 • Chris-13 I was shocked to hear that Professor Dawson’s counterpart in 1972 already had managed to fabricate a TTT apparatus. True, the equipment for making custom vacuum tubes was mostly still intact back then, so that made a big difference, but he still had to make a custom quartz emitter-detector and to machine and align 64 precision particle reflector mirrors within a cylinder attached to a stepper motor. Custom circuitry had to be built and tested, and the whole thing had to be checked and rechecked, ’cause even a minor problem could cause permanent brain damage. So it seemed that Professor Dawson had successfully contacted his counterpart in 1972, and transmitted all the information back to himself in 1965. It would then be up to his 1965 counterpart to contact himself in 1959, so that we could stop his boyfriend, David, from going to Vietnam. Hopefully, that would be enough to stop the Russians from getting their hands on Professor Dawson and TTT. I wondered to myself how long it would take the Professor Dawson of 1965 to make a TTT machine. Making custom vacuum tubes would be a lot easier back then, ’cause they still used vacuum tubes for just about everything in 1965. The transistor was pretty new in that timeframe and, according to Professor Dawson, ‘solid state’ electronics were a big enough deal that companies advertised it, right on the outside of TVs, radios and the like, that used transistors instead of tubes. The one question mark in 1965 would be the stepper motor. In 1965, they didn’t have them. Well, they did, but they lacked the precision we would need for TTT. Instead we were gonna have to use something called a servo-motor, which used position sensors and a feedback loop to do the same thing. Trouble was, there was a lot more than could go wrong with them, so we were gonna have to use a shitload of redundancy, as the professor put it. I like it when he cussed like that with me. He didn’t do it often and he hardly ever did it at all with the other students, which made me feel kinda special. Speakin’ of which, one of the other hurdles to using TTT in 1972 and in 1965 was that I wasn’t there. Since TTT needed at least two people to operate it, that meant Professor Dawson a was gonna have to find someone else to assist him with each session — someone he could trust. But that had me worried more than a little bit. What if the kid he got to help him was a Russian spy? What if the kid decided to use TTT for his own purposes. There were just too many ‘what ifs’! <<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>> April 1984 • Chris-18 I couldn’t believe it. I was finally an adult! I’d just turned eighteen and could legally do anything — I could vote, I could enlist — not that I was going to. The only thing I couldn’t do legally, at least not in Missouri, was to drink — not that that ever stopped any college student before. Classes at the university were winding down and soon the summer term would begin. As was typical in most colleges, as opposed to high school, the school year began in August so that the semester could end before Christmas. Classes then resumed after the New Year and ended in May, rather than June. Although this meant an early end to summer, it meant that the summer break began in the spring, in May, when the weather was glorious and no one wanted to be in the classroom anyway. For me, however, I would be spending the summer working in Marion Dawson’s lab again, as I had the last few years. At the end of the summer I would then transfer my credits to Stanford and I would finally make the move to California, a move that would be permanent, from what I had learned from my older counterparts. Somehow while at Stanford, I would meet Jen, fall in love with her, and father our son before the relationship broke up. I wasn’t sure how I would manage to have sex with a girl now, but it was going to have to happen if Andy was going to be born. Andy’s role in TTT had already become paramount — not that I could discuss it with Professor Dawson — so anything that prevented his existence wasn’t an option. Andy had to be born, no matter what. <<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>> April 1991 • Chris-25 The day started like any other, with the sunlight in my face and waking up by washing myself as best I could in the brackish water. I relieved myself using the small hole in the ground that emptied into a latrine under the stone hut that was my home. I’d long since gotten used to the smell and the incessant buzzing of the flies. My guards came as they always did, but rather than bring me my one meal of the day, the one who spoke English began, “We have been letting you get used to the hospitality of your Chinese hosts, but now the time has come to repay them for their hospitality. We can do this the easy way, or the hard way. “The easy way is, you cooperate with us, and we return you to Hong Kong, where you will live a life of luxury with your boyfriend and his mentor. If you choose not to cooperate with us, we will do whatever it takes until you agree to help us. If we have to torture you to get what we want, so be it, but if you ever decide to cooperate and cooperate fully, the offer to return to Hong Kong still stands. “We will use an escalating scale of torture until you give it up, or die trying not to. Except that you won’t die, although you’ll beg for us to let you. We’ll start with sodium Pentothal, also known as truth serum. Hopefully, this will be enough to get you to loosen your tongue and give us what we want. If unsuccessful, you will get your first dose of torture, a small dose of succinylcholine, a paralyzing agent that will cause intense muscle cramps and make it hard to breathe. Each day you will get a higher dose of succinylcholine, causing worsening cramps and difficulty breathing, until you suffocate. Most of our prisoners give it up within the first week, and few last more than two weeks. Should you manage to hold out for more than a month, you will suffocate, slowly and painfully every time, only to have us resuscitate you to relive the experience of death yet again the next day.” Holding up a rather large syringe, the English-speaking guard, whose name I still didn’t know, said, “This is your first dose of Pentothal. It will make you feel a bit woozy and hot all over, and you may have some difficulty breathing at first. After a short while, you should feel relaxed and your inhibitions will be gone. Now before I inject this, can I get you to reconsider? All you have to do is say so and you’ll be returned to your boyfriend in Hong Kong.” “No… fucking… way,” I responded. “Very well then,” the guard said before jabbing the needle into my arm without even using any antiseptic. He then pushed down on the plunger and the effects of the drug were immediate. I felt groggy, dizzy and nauseated, as well as flushed all over. Soon these feelings subsided and I just felt tired — really, really tired all over. The guard lowered me back onto my cot, with my face squarely in the midst of the bright sunlight that streamed in through the open window. This prevented me from seeing the guards face, which I was sure was probably deliberate. But then something strange happened — a fog slowly began to surround me and a familiar face coalesced in front of me. “Thank God, Chris,” my older counterpart from the future began. “We were beginning to wonder if we would ever have a way to contact you again. “Whatever you do, don’t try to say anything to me except what I tell you to say. I assume you’re drugged and that you are unable to keep from saying anything you think aloud, so we’ll make sure that what you say aloud is what we want them to hear. “If you think you can do this, please say, ‘I feel funny, please wait a minute.’ If you can’t, please say, ‘I don’t think I can do this.’” “I feel strange, please wait a minute,” I dutifully replied. “Great, Chris, that’s perfect, even if you did change it a bit,” Chris-32 said. “What we believe has happened is that you were taken to Hong Kong and kept in a luxury apartment that is owned by a Chinese holding company and used by Charles Hudson. We’ve identified the location of the apartment, thanks to CIA and MI6 operatives working under cover, and their contacts within Hudson’s organization. You were only moved to the mainland about a month ago. If you were in fact held in a luxury apartment with Mr. Hudson and your boyfriend, Wang Lee, please say, ‘I don’t think I can take this. I feel like I can’t breathe, and we’ve only just begun.’ If our information is incorrect, please say, “I will never cooperate with you ’til my dying day.’” I of course responded by speaking aloud the first response, which led the guard to say, “If you think this is bad, just wait until we give you the succinylcholine and you start to feel intense muscle cramps and to suffocate for real. You’ll be begging us to return you to Hong Kong!” “Excellent,” my future self said. “That’s exactly what we wanted to hear. We can get you out of Hong Kong if you go back there. We can rescue you from Charles Hudson’s apartment. I know you’re wondering how we can communicate back in time to get the word to operatives in 1991, when we’re based in 1998. That’s actually quite simple. There are operatives in your time clandestinely working inside Mr. Hudson’s organization. They already knew you were taken there, but there wasn’t sufficient time to formulate a rescue plan before you were taken to the mainland. They were developing one, but did not realize until it was too late that you wouldn’t be allowed to stay there indefinitely. A plan is now fully in place in the event that you are returned to Hong Kong, to the care of Mr. Hudson. We are merely serving as the messenger to tell you what you need to do to be rescued. “Tell your interrogator that you are already suffocating and don’t think you can survive the succinylcholine. Maybe you are allergic to Pentothal or something, but it's making it very hard to breathe. Tell them you will do anything to avoid going through this again, even if it means telling them what they want to know. Tell them you’ll give them everything they want if they let you return to Hong Kong.”
  12. Altimexis

    Fragments

    February 1991 • Chris-24 My life had become a nightmare. At first I had been treated well. After landing in Hong Kong, I’d been treated to Hudson’s hospitality while he and my boyfriend kept encouraging me to cooperate with them. We stayed in a luxury apartment with a fantastic view of the city, and were fed meals that would have been welcomed in the finest restaurants in the world. During the day, Huang and Angus attended to our every need. At night they gave us our privacy. The nights were shared with Wang in bed, but I was furious with him. He had betrayed me and I could not forget that. I wasn’t given the choice of whether or not to sleep with him, but they couldn’t force me to have sex with him, or to love him. So we slept together and nothing more. Wang’s advances were rebuffed without exception. The one thing that was strange was that I always felt tired. I wasn’t sleeping well at all and what sleep I got was dreamless. I surmised that they were probably medicating me with something to block the possibility of my being contacted from the future using TTT. After weeks of this — I’d long since lost track of time — my life in the lap of luxury came to an abrupt end. Since I hadn’t responded to being wined and dined, I was informed I would be subjected to a different approach. However I was assured that if I ever did cooperate, I would be returned to a life of luxury. I guess the time spent in Hong Kong had been intended all along to give me a taste of what my life could be like if only I did as they asked — to give me a taste of what my life could be, before they took it all away. They came for me in the middle of the night, roused me out of bed and forced me, naked, into the back of a waiting limousine. Driven a short distance, I was forced at gunpoint onto a boat. Less than an hour after leaving port, we docked at what I presumed to be the mainland. Once again I was loaded into a waiting car and then we drove for hours, stopping only for fuel and so I could urinate at the side of the road, as they and any passerby that cared to, watched me. Not that I could have escaped if I tried. I was naked, a Westerner, and in a vast, strange country where I didn’t speak the language. Finally as the sky was again darkening, after a day spent dodging bicycles, horse-drawn carts, jitneys, pedicabs, trucks and other assorted forms of transportation, we passed through a fence with razor wire on top and with warning signs that, although in Chinese, clearly showed the fence to be electrified. The area was remote and heavily forested. It was also stiflingly hot and humid, in spite of the nightfall. We soon came to a small concrete block building — nothing more than a one-room hut really. A single bare bulb provided illumination, revealing a filthy sink of the type used in laundry rooms, a hole in the floor that, by its smell and the buzzing of flies, evidently was supposed to serve as my toilet, and a single bare cot. As the guards, or whatever they were, prepared to leave, I asked, “Could I please have something to eat?” One of the guards went outside and brought another man into my humble abode. “What do you want?” He asked. “I asked for some food,” I replied. “I haven’t eaten since last night.” “You will be fed once a day, in the morning,” he responded, and then he pulled a small capsule out of his pocket, filled a metal cup with murky water from the sink, and handed them to me, saying, “Here, take this. It’ll help you sleep.” The last thing I wanted was to be drugged, but he wouldn’t leave until he saw me put the pill in my mouth and swallow it. He even looked in my mouth and under my tongue, which earned me a slap across the face when he found it there. Afterwards, he shoved the pill down my throat, gagging me in the process. I had no choice but to swallow the pill. The pill acted quickly and I slept a sound, albeit dreamless sleep. I awoke in the morning to the sensation of water hitting my face. Sputtering, I sat upright, only to grimace as bright sunlight flooded across my face through a window with bars and no glass. In that instant, my stomach roiled and I remembered the cup of water I’d been forced to drink with the pill the night before. It seemed likely to me the source of the water wasn’t much removed from the pit under the hole in the floor that served as my latrine. Rushing toward that hole, I barely made it before the contents of my stomach, what little there was, made a hasty exit out of my mouth and into the hole. No sooner had I emptied my stomach than I had to turn around and squat over the hole as my colon similarly rid itself of its contents. “Everybody goes through this,” the guard stated flatly. “Your body has to get used to the water here. Eventually you’ll produce the antibodies you need to keep the local bacteria in check.” “If I don’t die of dehydration first,” I replied. “Much as you won’t feel like it and as often as you may vomit it back up, you must eat and drink plenty of water…” “Tainted water,” I pointed out. Shrugging his shoulders, he replied, “You’ll get used to it. Welcome to the third world, where people drink each other’s shit. It fortifies the immune system.” “If you don’t get dysentery,” I responded. “After all, I’m not worth much to you if I’m dead.” “Death should be the least of your worries, Dr. Michaels, remember, if you cooperate, you’ll be returned to Hong Kong and a life of luxury. If you continue to be obstinate, trust me, you’ll come to wish for death, but death will never come.” At that moment, another guard, or whatever he was, entered the shack carrying a metal bowl filled with what appeared to be rice and beans. It was actually just what my stomach needed. Seeing no eating utensils, I asked, “No chopsticks?” “Nothing that could be used as a weapon, Dr. Michaels. Your hands will suffice.” Both men laughed when I got up and walked to the sink, rinsing my hands in the murky water. There wasn’t any soap, but I figured it was better than nothing. I then greedily took the bowl and scarfed the meal down. I probably should have taken it more slowly, but I was starved, and the meal was surprisingly tasty. Handing me the metal cup, the first guard said, “Take the cup, Dr. Michaels, and keep it handy. You need to drink the water to replace what you have lost.” Taking the cup from him, I went to the sink and drank several cupfuls. It tasted sulfurous — putrid actually, but I had little doubt that I’d be made to suffer if I tried to use dehydration as a weapon. Besides which, I had an obligation to humanity to survive. I had to survive this ordeal and to escape. Only by returning to America and inventing TTT, could I stave off disaster. Only by returning home in one piece could I avoid a paradox that might well consume time itself. Somehow I would get out of this. I had to believe that, and so survival was my top priority. Over the course of the next few days — again, I lost track of time — I got into a routine of passing time. At first a good deal of my daylight hours were spent puking and shitting my guts out, but then indeed my stomach did adapt and I had no difficulty drinking the putrid water and eating my one daily meal of rice and beans, and keeping them down. Every night I was given a pill and the guards made sure I swallowed it, without fail. The pill made me sleep, but I never dreamed and I always awoke feeling drugged and tired. I wasn’t allowed out of my stone hut and I was never given any clothes to wear. With a single open window, covered only by bars, mosquitoes were a constant problem and I slowly became used to the constant itching from the numerous mosquito bites. Temperatures were stifling, particularly during the day, although frequent, heavy rain showers did bring some relief. Rinsing my hair and my body also helped to bring some relief and it helped me feel less disgusting, even though there was no soap. I learned quickly, however, that the water supply was limited and if I used much of it for bathing, there wasn’t enough left for drinking. To prevent my muscles from wasting away, I made it a point to exercise. I did push-ups, sit-ups and, using the bars in the window for support, chin-ups. I ran in place and eventually substituted dancing to whatever music I could conjure up in my head. This still left hours and hours with nothing else to do. I made up mind games, tried to remember the favorite books I’d read, daydreamed, and I spent a lot of time hashing out the physics of TTT in my head. I couldn’t write the equations down, nor would I dare, but eventually I got to the point where I could visualize them, fully formed, in my head. Slowly, I began to develop strategies for how the inconsistencies of multiple realities of time could be resolved. <<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>> February 1984 • Chris-17 She’d been all over me from the moment the lights had dimmed. It was a shame, really, as for once my date had chosen a movie that was really good. Not that I was a Woody Allen fan, mind you, but Broadway Danny Rose had a surprisingly good plot with both romance and suspense that demanded my attention. I really wanted to watch the movie, but Cecile seemed more interested in making out. I did the best I could, or so I thought, in trying to watch without seeming to be disinterested in my date. Finally, the lights came up and I was disappointed that I’d missed so much of what was obviously a really good movie. Exiting the theater, I asked, “Shall we go out for coffee or a bite to eat or something?” “Sure, I’d like that, Chris,” she answered, and then added, “Actually, a bite to eat would be great. I didn’t have the time to eat something before the movie, so I’m starved.” “Really? I’m so sorry, Cecile,” I responded. “I just assumed when you said you had to work and then picked this movie and show time that you’d grabbed a quick bite in between. I guess I should have asked.” “That’s OK, Chris, seriously,” she responded. “There just wasn’t time. I made the choice to put off eating and it wasn’t your fault. But I’m glad you asked now. I could really go for a burger and fries.” I was glad she’d told me that. This dating thing was getting to be expensive and I was most definitely on a tight budget. More than once I’d ended taking my date out to a nicer restaurant than either of us really wanted, just because I didn’t want to seem cheap. “Steak ’n Shake?” I suggested. Her whole face lit up as she said, “You must have read my mind.” I really liked eating at Steak ’n Shake restaurants. It was a Midwestern chain patterned after the soda fountain restaurants of the1950s. Although some of them were drive-ins, most were not, which was fine with me. Drive-ins may have made sense in the 1950s, when cars had front bench seats, but in the 1980s, with standard bucket seats, there was no way to cuddle up with a date. At least inside, seated in a booth, one could sit together on one side and cuddle, or sit opposite each other and play footsie. Not that I relished doing either, but the whole point of my dating girls was to be comfortable enough with them to father my son when the time came. Tellingly, Cecile chose to sit opposite me, which meant that cuddling and making out was not on the agenda. Even though I’d already eaten, I ordered a full meal. Steak ’n Shake’s burgers are the best, and I opted for a crock of their delicious baked beans in place of the fries. I might have done otherwise if I thought I’d be taking Cecile to bed tonight, but I could tell by her demeanor that it wasn’t in the cards. Of course I ordered a shake too — vanilla ’cause I wanted to have it with the meal and chocolate just doesn’t mix with a burger. Cecile ordered the same meal I did, except she got the fries. “So, how did you like the movie, Chris?” my date began. “I really liked it,” I replied. “I’m not usually a Woody Allen fan, but this was different. It had a kinda retro feel to it that really suited the time period and the plot. It almost seemed like a period piece. And I really liked the way Allen took an oblique approach. He’s quite a genius.” “It seems you really made an effort to watch it… not that I blame you. I’m not much of a Woody Allen fan either, which was why I chose it. You’re cute, I really like you, and I thought it’d be a good movie for makin’ out. “But Chris, my brother’s gay too,” my eyes opened wide when she said that, “and I understand the pressures you face and the need to appear normal. Chad’s still in high school. He’s almost your age, and he’s very much in the closet. He goes on dates with girls too, which is a shame, ’cause it’s really not fair to the girl.” Hanging my head, I responded, “I’m sorry, Cele. It’s not that I’m trying to use girls as a cover. I even had a boyfriend once, but it ended badly for both of us. At least my parents are more accepting than they used to be, but they seem so happy when I go out with a girl, and I really do enjoy it, and it comes without all the social stigma you get when you go out with a boy. I’d like to think I show my dates a good time…” “You do, Chris.” “And I don’t pressure them to go to bed with me,” I added for good measure. “Some of us want to go to bed with you, though, Chris. You’re a good looking guy, and sexy, but it wouldn’t be fair to pressure you into having unwanted sex either.” “But maybe I do want it,” I countered. Shaking her head, she replied, “No, Chris, you don’t… not if the way you responded to me in the theater is an indication.” Damn, my plan wasn’t working. “Something tells me if it had been Chad sitting next to you, you wouldn’t even remember what the movie was about. Truthfully, although I hate to admit it, and if pressed, I’ll deny ever saying it, but my brother’s smokin’ hot.” I couldn’t help but laugh at the way she put it. After we’d polished off our burgers and shakes and as I got up to pay the bill, Cecile handed me a napkin with a phone number on it. “Seriously, Chris. Give my brother a call. I really think you and Chad would hit it off.” <<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>> “You really think so?” I snorted as I practically laughed my head off. “No doubt about it,” Chad replied as he laughed just as hard. We both reached forward and grabbed the same slice of pizza at the same time, causing our hands to touch. The feeling was electric. I adjusted my aim and reached for the next piece instead. We were enjoying a large vegetarian pizza for a change, and I was surprised at how much I liked it. I usually chose a meat lover’s pizza, but Chad was a vegetarian — the first vegetarian I’d ever dated. I really enjoyed being with Chad. He was witty and funny, and could hold an intelligent conversation on a wide variety of subjects. Because his parents and sister were away for the weekend, rather than go out to a movie and a restaurant, Chad suggested we order a pizza and rent and watch the entire Star Wars trilogy. Science Fiction was our shared passion, so I readily agreed. Because watching six hours of Star Wars in a row would have practically taken all night, however, we decided I’d stay over. We’d watch the first two movies tonight, then snuggle up together in bed and watch the final movie in the morning — or whenever we decided to get up. We’d just finished watching the first movie and had stopped to eat our pizza, as we agreed completely that watching Star Wars demanded our full attention. “You still planning to transfer to Stanford in the fall?” Chad asked. I guessed Cecile had told him a bit more about me than I’d expected. Nodding, I replied, “That’s the plan.” “I expect I’ll apply there, but my first choice is MIT. Still, you never know.” “That’s true,” I replied, knowing full well the chances of our ending up in the same university were slim. Still, there was no reason we couldn’t be friends in the meantime. There was something to be said for a relationship free of commitment. “So Cele told me you decided to spend your first year here in St. Louis, ’cause you wanted to finish your research project in Professor Dawson’s lab. She said it has something to do with particle physics, which certainly narrows things down a lot,” he said as he rolled his eyes. I couldn’t help but laugh. “Actually, it has to do with something a bit more obscure called String Theory,” I replied, assuming he’d have no idea what I was talking about and the matter would quickly drop. “Oh really,” Chad responded. “I’m fascinated by some of the concepts and, even though it’s out of favor right now, I really think there’s something to it. The biggest drawback is that there doesn’t seem to be a way to test it, but I expect there are indirect methods that will at least show that String Theory or rather Superstring Theory can bridge the gap between Relativity and Quantum Theory. “How do you know about String Theory?” I asked. “Theoretical Physics fascinates me and I’ve read a lot about it, at least in the lay literature. I’ve tried to understand the math, but it’s pretty intense.” Laughing, I replied, “The biggest limitation for sure is the math. It’s not that the math is difficult, but that our existing mathematical constructs are too cumbersome. We almost need to come up with a new form of mathematics, just to handle the complexity of String Theory. It’s possible to derive exact equations, but you’d need a supercomputer more powerful than any on earth to solve them. I can’t help but think there must be a way of defining mathematical operators that would let us simplify things, combining some of the terms and equations.” “That’s very cool,” Chad answered. “What I have trouble with is that ‘Many Worlds’ shit. I mean the idea that everything that can happen does happen, that random events actually split the universe into multiple versions is just plain spooky.” “Spooky’s a good way to put it,” I agreed with a laugh. “But that’s just an outgrowth of quantum theory. After all, Schrödinger’s cat was postulated long before the advent of string theory.” “Schrödinger musta been one fucked-up dude to come up with the idea of a cat in a box with a cyanide capsule, activated by a Geiger counter and a piece of uranium,” Chad interrupted. “That’s really sick, you know? And the whole idea that at the end of the experiment, there’s a fifty-fifty chance of the cat either being dead or alive, but until you look, it’s both? ” “Our research suggests the many worlds hypothesis is a rather naïve conceptualization,” I replied. “The fact of the matter is, it doesn’t matter whether the cat is dead or alive until we make it matter. In other words, the state of the cat, whether or not it’s alive or dead, is irrelevant until we make it relevant by taking a peek. As we say, the state of the cat is indeterminate.” “So in other words, the cat’s in limbo,” Chad responded, “but surely, whether or not the cat is dead or alive matters to the cat!” “Therein lies the greatest fault with Schrödinger’s thought experiment,” I replied. “Whether or not the cat lives or dies is tied directly to a quantum event. Radioactive decay of uranium triggers the release of cyanide, which kills the cat. But what a convoluted way to create a strictly random occurrence. The quantum world and the macroscopic world are seldom so directly linked. “The reality is that isolated quantum events don’t occur in nature. The universe is teaming with quantum fluctuations, but there are so many of them that they mostly cancel each other out and we perceive them as a continuum. Time itself is a series of quantum events that, together, we perceive as what we call the passage of time. In theory, it’s only when we intervene that discontinuities result and multiple realities can coexist.” “Are you suggesting that humans can create multiple realities? How in hell can we do that?” Chad asked. This was getting dangerously close to TTT — a subject I definitely did not want to discuss. As I was trying to formulate a reasonable answer, however, Chad continued, “But if there is a way for mankind to create multiple realities, surely it must be a reflection of natural phenomena. I’m sure there must be examples in nature of random statistical variations leading to a non-zero outcome, for example.” Thinking about Chad’s supposition, and grateful for his taking the conversation in a different direction, I began, “There is one, and it’s a big one. “When the Big Bang occurred, the entire universe consisted of a singularity, an enormous black hole. All matter, energy, the forces of nature… gravity, electromagnetism and nuclear forces, were undefined at that moment. It was only as the universe expanded and the temperature cooled that the forces separated from each other, allowing quarks, the fundamental building blocks of matter, to precipitate out. These formed the protons, antiprotons, electrons, positrons, neutrons and so on from which atoms are made. But if equal numbers of particles and antiparticles existed, as one might expect, nearly all of them should have annihilated each other, yielding intense gamma radiation that should still be observable in the background radiation that permeates space, the so called echo of the Big Bang. Because the universe is not suffused with gamma rays, most astrophysicists believe that only matter was formed, but they don’t have an explanation as to why. “Obviously if the number of particles and antiparticles was identical, there wouldn’t have been anything left and we wouldn’t be here. Personally, I think it’s because of statistical variation that there were slightly more particles than antiparticles, allowing matter to form and, hence, we exist. Because all the visible stars and galaxies in the universe are concentrated in islands of matter, called superclusters, separated by vast, empty voids, I believe it’s very likely that the universe consists of interspersed regions of matter and antimatter, reflecting the statistical variations present in the universe, shortly after the Big Bang. And as to why we don’t see intense background gamma radiation, that is easily explained if the speed of light has not been constant over time, resulting in a kind of Doppler shift.” “Wow, that’s quite an example!” Chad exclaimed. “It’s fascinating. So my point is that if there are random quantum fluctuations throughout the universe that we perceive to form a continuum, there would have to be statistical variations and they should be observable. Surely there must be a way to test this idea.” With the force of a nuclear explosion going off in my head, I realized that Chad was right. TTT itself made use of statistical variations in paired quantum states, but this was a natural phenomenon. We knew that. But surely there were other manifestations of that, and those manifestations had to be observable. If that were the case, might there be a way to make use of this to reconcile multiple realities? <<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>> March 2005 • Not For Sale “Happy birthday young Andrew,” the KGB agent said as he passed through the open door. Behind him were several large boxes that he pointedly left outside in the snow as he closed the door behind him. “I brought you some gifts,” he added as he walked further into the dacha, but then he abruptly turned to face the young, naked boy and continued, “a full wardrobe of clothes. All you have to do is to make that video we talked about. Your father must be worried sick about you. Don’t you want to show him that you’re OK?” “So that you can use the video to get my dad to defect? Like I’ve told you a hundred times before, no… fuckin’… way.” “Such disgusting language from such an angelic face,” the KGB agent said as he shook his head. “Maybe we should give you a face to match the filthy language you use.” “Staas, that’s totally uncalled for,” the professor said in protest. “He’s just a boy!” “A boy who’s old enough to enlist in the Russian army. A boy with his mind in the gutter,” the KGB agent pointed out. “There’s nothing you can do to me that’ll make me change my mind,” the boy responded. “Like I’ve told you before, I saw my mother shot dead in front of my eyes. I spent nearly a week in the same room with her rotting body. For a week I sat in my own piss and shit with hardly anything to eat or drink. If I could survive that, there’s absolutely nothing you can do to me that’ll make me change my mind. I’m not gonna help you, especially when it comes to helping you abduct my dad.” “Don’t be so sure, Andrew,” the KGB agent replied. “I’m not discounting what you went through, but you have no idea what it feels like to experience heroin withdrawal. Couple that with breaking each of your fingers, one at a time, or maybe applying steady, increasing pressure to your testicles? Eventually you’ll give in. And now that you’re sixteen, I would have no restraint when it comes to using torture on you.” Rather than answering the KGB agent directly, the young boy turned abruptly from the agent, marched into the kitchen, opened a drawer and pulled out a rather large knife. The agent watched in alarm as the boy marched back steadily toward him, knife at his side. Frightened, the agent pulled out his gun and aimed it at the boy, but then the boy stopped abruptly at the kitchen table, placed his right hand flat on the table and brought the knife swiftly down upon the tip of his little finger, barely flinching as the blade sliced through the finger and his blood spread quickly across the table. “Jesus!” the professor exclaimed when the knife made contact with the table after passing through the boy’s finger. Pushing the amputated stump of his finger into the palm of his hand to stem the bleeding, the boy picked up his severed fingertip and, leaving the knife on the table, walked the remaining distance to the shocked KGB agent, who still had his gun trained on the boy. Holding the fingertip out toward the agent, he said, “Take this. You can send it to my father instead of the video, to prove you have me. Only it’ll strengthen his resolve not to cooperate with you. And know that there is nothing you can do to me that’ll make me change my mind.” The agent took the proffered fingertip from the boy in disgust, turned abruptly and walked out the door, not even bothering to close it. Stopping apparently to deposit the fingertip inside the vehicle, he gathered up all the boxes from where he’d left them in the snow and loaded them back into the waiting car. Once the KGB agent had driven away, the professor helped the boy wrap up the stump of his amputated finger using the limited materials on hand. He then began, “That may have been the stupidest thing anyone has ever done, Andy. For one thing, we have absolutely no way to treat your finger if it becomes infected. The local doctors would just as soon amputate the whole hand as treat it with precious antibiotics, which are in critically short supply. “And then there’s the issue of what to do with you, now that you’ve so convincingly showed them you won’t cooperate. Now, the Soviets have absolutely no reason to keep you alive, but killing you outright is not their style. More than likely they’ll just send you to the Gulag to punish you for your lack of cooperation. You could end up rotting away there for the rest of your life. “Even though I never got TTT working for them, the worst they did to me was to send me to exile in this dacha. You could have strung them along for years, promising to ‘consider’ making their precious video. They wouldn’t have done serious physical harm to you in any case, as they need you alive and well when it comes to enlisting your father’s cooperation.” “Don’t you see,” the boy replied, “I’ve shown them what I’m made of. Like it or not, I’ve earned their respect. At the least, they’ll treat me as an adult rather than as a child. That’s step one. “Step two is to let them know that I actually know something about TTT.” “Are you out of your mind?” The professor shouted in a whisper. “They can hear you.” “I know,” the boy replied. “But TTT doesn’t work over here, the professor responded. “Yes, I know, “the boy reacted. “They ruined any chance of it working when they conducted the largest above ground nuclear test in history.” “And I’ve explained that to them at least a thousand times. They may not believe it, but Andy, even if you knew everything I know, you wouldn’t be able to fix it for them. You wouldn’t be any more successful than I was.” “I don’t need success,” the boy countered. “I need access to equipment. That little demonstration today showed them I’m serious enough to be given direct access. With the right equipment, I can fix the damage we’ve done to time and space, I can restore the continuity of the timeline, and even though I can’t restore the Soviet Union to the glory its leaders desire… no one can compensate for failed political and economic policies… not even the United States… at least I can return the world to a reality in which everyone has the chance to succeed. Of course they’ll assume they can use the same technology to fix the past to their liking. They’ll quickly learn that the past they were dealt originally is best left alone, in the past where it belongs.” “You know it probably won’t be long before Staas returns… maybe a week or two.” “I know, Marion, and we’ll be ready for him. But don’t worry about what they can get from me,” the boy added as he held up his amputated finger. I’ll only tell them what I want them to know.” “Which won’t stop them from trying otherwise.” Smiling broadly, the boy replied, “That, professor, is what I’m counting on.”
  13. Altimexis

    It’s Academic

    February 1998 • Chris-31 The image of my older self-materializing in front of me seemed different somehow. It was almost as if I were looking at a ghost image — a ghost image in a dream, I chuckled to myself. “Oh thank God you’re still alright,” I began right away. “When I didn’t hear from you in so long, I began to get worried. But Chris, I’m still worried. Ever since New Years, I have been unable to reach Chris-24. I’ve tried to contact him just about every night, which isn’t helping me when it comes to getting enough sleep, but so far I haven’t been able to reach him. It’s as if he disappeared off the face of the earth.” Rather than answer me directly, instead Chris-38 asked me, “What do you remember of 1991?” Thinking back, I couldn’t remember much of anything. It was as if the past seven years were a blur, or hadn’t happened at all, and I told Chris-38 as much. “That’s what I was afraid of,” he replied. “I don’t remember much either, all the way to my present time. I was worried that something might have happened to you.” “And vice versa, ” I interrupted. “So why did you wait so long to contact me?” I asked. “Chris, there’s no easy way to say this, so I’ll just say it,” my older counterpart began. “Andy’s been kidnapped.” “ WHAT?” I shouted, perhaps even out loud. “During the winter break,” Chris-38 went on to explain, “Andy and I went on a backpacking trip in Joshua Tree National Park. On Christmas Day, he disappeared in the middle of the night. There were Federal Marshals guarding all the entrances and still he disappeared. The Feds mounted an exhaustive search and found no trace of our son. What they did find were extra sets of footprints at our campsite, traces of a neural sedative in my blood, and an abandoned battery-powered four-wheeler in a ditch, just outside the park. “They believe he was smuggled out of the country through Mexico before I even woke up. The abductors were sloppy, though, and they left behind some major clues. If they were KGB, they would have worn Chinese-made American hiking shoes or sneakers like the ones Andy and I wear. Obviously whoever mounted the operation wanted to keep it from the KGB. The boot prints were from a Russian-made boot that’s standard issue in the Soviet military.” “What the fuck?” I shouted out loud — I was sure of it. “You can imagine what I’ve been going through, and you can understand why OTT hasn’t exactly been on my mind of late. As you can imagine, the FBI, the CIA and the NSA have made finding and recovering Andy a top priority. I’ve even met with President Cuomo about it. Truthfully, there hasn’t been a lot for me to do in the meantime though. It’s been a month-and-a-half already and we’re no closer to finding him than when he first disappeared. I don’t know what I’ll do if we don’t find him before his sixteenth birthday. If it hadn’t been for Frank’s support and love, I don’t know what I would have done. “Frank?” I couldn’t help but ask. “Yeah, Frank,” Chris-38 admitted sheepishly. “We’re ah… together again.” “Wow,” I exclaimed. “I never would have seen that coming.” “Frankly, me either, no pun intended. It happened after… well, some things are better left for the future.” “I’m almost afraid to ask,” I replied. “Tempted as I am to let you intervene,” Chris-38 responded. “Preventing such a life-altering event could cause even more fragmentation of the timeline. Still, I’d tell you anyway if I thought you could prevent what happened, since it wasn’t supposed to happen in the first place, but we might not even be around in seven years if we don’t fix the damage to the timeline. That comes first.” “I’d have to agree,” I replied. “So I take it no one has contacted you regarding Andy’s disappearance?” Rather than speak, Chris-38 merely shook his head in our shared dream space. “We have to assume they took him to get to us. No one knows that he knows what he knows, besides us. And Andy would never talk on his own. “Fuck, he sat for nearly a week in his own shit with almost no food or water and in the same room with his mother’s rotting corpse. If he didn’t talk then, he sure as fuck wouldn’t talk now.” “Holy Shit!” I responded, “No wonder you didn’t want to talk about it.” “Believe me, there are some things from the future you’re better off not knowing. Anyway,” Chris-38 continued, “we have yet to hear from Andy’s captors, and that’s what really has me scared… petrified actually. Why haven’t they used him to get to me?” “We must have hope,” I replied. “There’s a psychology to it all and whoever took Andy is probably in it for the long haul. The longer they wait, the less attention the US government will be paying and the more susceptible you’ll be to their advances.” “You’re undoubtedly right, Chris,” my older self responded, “and we really should get back to the fact that you haven’t been able to reach Chris-24. That could actually be more significant than Andy’s abduction, scary as that is. “So first we couldn’t remember our affair with Wang Lee, and now we can’t remember anything after New Years of 1991. The funny thing is that our affair with Wang is crystal clear to me now. I can remember vividly going with him to a party thrown by Charles Hudson. I just can’t remember anything after that… not even the ride home from the party.” “Shit, now that you mention it… Do you think the Chinese kidnapped Chris-24?” I asked. “It’s a distinct possibility,” Chris-38 answered. “Until we can make contact with him, I think we have to assume the worst.” “But if he’s in China, what the fuck difference should that make when it comes to TTT?” I asked. “There are a number of possibilities, but what I suspect is happening is that the Chinese are keeping him drugged. There are a number of medications that are known to interfere with REM sleep. If the Chinese keep him from entering REM sleep, you won’t be able to reach Chris-24. You have to be in REM sleep for TTT to work.” “Or a deeply sedated wakeful state,” I pointed out. “Yes, I remember that,” Chris-38 acknowledged. “There was that one time. I almost forgot about it. But you know, Chris, I doubt that the Chinese know about it, and that’s exactly the kind of state they would try to induce to get Chris-24 to talk.” “So there’s a chance I might be able to reach Chris-24 while he’s in the midst of being interrogated.” I realized. “That’s what I’m saying.” “But if the Chinese have Chris-24, why are we still here?” I asked. “Why hasn’t the timeline been disrupted or perhaps more correctly, why hasn’t this reality collapsed?” “The fundamental paradox, Chris. If we don’t go on to invent TTT, the Chinese would have no reason to abduct us. If they don’t abduct us, then we’re still here to invent TTT. There’s still enough uncertainty in what the Chinese will do to keep the paradox from imploding. Otherwise we wouldn’t be here and we wouldn’t be having this conversation, and the world might well have come to an end. That we’re still here means there’s still a possibility of coming out of this, albeit a slim one.” “Shit, could it get any worse?” I asked rhetorically. And then it all became too much and I shouted, “HOLY FUCK,” aloud as I sat bolt upright in bed and came to full wakefulness, only to find my eight-year-old son, dressed in nothing but his briefs, sitting cross-legged on my bed. Jen and I shared joint custody of Andy, and this was my week to have him. “Is everything all right, Dad?” he asked as I rubbed the last vestiges of sleep from my eyes. “Sure, sport,” I answered. “Everything’s fine.” “No it’s not, Dad. You don’t shout ‘holy fuck’ in your sleep if everything’s fine.” “Eight-year-old boys aren’t even supposed to know those words.” “Dad, I’m almost nine, and there aren’t many words I don’t know, you know. Kids do things at my age, and more than just playing doctor.” Shit, the last thing I wanted to think about was that my eight-year-old son was already sexually active. Sensing my unease, he held up his hand and said, “No, I’m not having sex dad, but I know some kids that are. I know what people do, even gay people. “So I know you’re job is super secret, but I know a lot more about it than you think. I know you work for the government and I know it’s supposed to have to do with makin’ new kinds of weapons, but Dad, the weapon you’re working on has to do with time travel…” When I flinched, he responded with, “Don’t look so surprised, Dad. I hear you say things when you think I’m not listening. But I’m always listening. “I know you’re trying to change time, but time is only what we perceive it to be. When you try to change the past, you only change how we perceive reality.” “Where did you come up with such a thing?” I asked my young son incredulously. What eight-year-old even knows the word perceive, let alone uses it in a sentence? Rolling his eyes, he answered, “It’s kinda obvious, Dad, when you think about it.” “Oh it is, is it?” I asked as I tickled him under his bare armpits. He was wearing only a pair of briefs, so I asked my giggling boy, “And when did you stop wearing pajamas?” “When I realized that only little kids wear ’em. I’m not a little kid. I never was.” Wow! How could an eight-year-old kid even be aware of such things? One thing he was right about for sure… he’d never been a little kid. That much had been obvious since he got his train set. “But Dad, this time travel shit’s really dangerous, and don’t tell me not to say ‘shit’. If I’m old enough to understand this shit, I’m old enough to say it. But we already had this conversation, didn’t we? In the future.” My God! Chris-38 told me about that conversation, when Andy was fifteen. Trying to figure out how a conversation at age fifteen could precede one at eight was enough to give me a headache, though. As if he were reading my mind, he said, “Remember, time is only perception. That’s how I can be aware of things that have already happened, but in the future. It’s because you fucked with time, Dad. And don’t tell me not to say ‘fuck’ either. I’m old enough to know what it means. Like I said, I know about sex and I know how babies are made, but ‘fuck’ in this case means ‘rape’, and that’s what you did, Dad. You raped time. You didn’t mean to, but the outcome’s the same.” Whoa, did my eight-year-old son really say all that? “I don’t understand all the math yet,” he went on, “but the universe is in a constant state of flux. Einstein saw the universe as a continuum of space and time. I’ve read some books on it if you’re wondering. And please don’t tell anyone that I can read college level books. As it is, they made me skip third grade, but the last thing I want is to be treated like a freak, goin’ to college when I’m only eight. “Anyway, Einstein saw space and time as a continuum, but that doesn’t explain how particles behave at the sub-atomic level. Quantum mechanics is a way to do that, but it’s only an approximation and it can’t be reconciled with relativity. String theory tries to bring the two together, but it fails for a number of reasons. “Like I said, I don’t understand all the math yet… give me another few more months… but you don’t need to know the math to see where String Theory went wrong. You see, we know from Einstein that time is local. You can’t compare time in two different places ’cause it depends on the path you take to get between ’em. It seems strange, but we can prove it, right here on Earth.” I could scarcely believe the raw intelligence my son was exhibiting as he went on to explain the inconsistencies between relativity, quantum mechanics and string theory. I’d thought it was pretty amazing when he demonstrated his knowledge of decimal fractions nearly three years ago. Obviously, his genius had gone way beyond that now. But then he took off in an unexpected direction. “Where I think everyone has gone wrong is in assuming the universe started with a Big Bang.” “You don’t believe in the Big Bang theory?” I asked incredulously. Rolling his eyes, Andy said, “The universe is expanding so, obviously it must have started with a single point… a singularly, and there must have been some kind of explosion… a big bang that created the universe as we know it, with three physical dimensions and one of time. The forces of nature separated from each other… the strong force, the weak force, electromagnetism and gravity, allowing quarks, and then leptons, and then atoms to form.” My God, he was only eight, yet he understood advanced particle physics. The words I was hearing just didn’t fit with the high-pitch voice of the boy sitting cross-legged on my bed in front of me. “Eventually, way later, galaxies and star systems and planets formed. There’s even background radiation that permeates space… the so-called echo of the Big Bang. The thing is, Dad, trying to validate the Big Bang from within the universe is like trying to prove the Earth is flat with your feet planted firmly on the ground. It’s easy to find lots of evidence for a flat world, but sooner or later, clues emerge that prove the Earth isn’t flat. “The Big Bang theory is pretty much a flat Earth hypothesis, and it’s wrong. The universe is and always will be a singularity. Someday I’ll prove it, but I can’t conceive of it being otherwise. We can’t know what’s outside the universe, ’cause we’re inside the event horizon. Whatever’s out there, it’s being sucked into the singularity that is the universe. Gravity doesn’t stop at the event horizon. The universe is also losing mass through black body radiation, just as black holes do. I can only guess whether the universe is gaining or losing mass, or in a steady state.” “But Andy, how can that be?” I asked as my mind started to catch up with the absurdity of what was being suggested by the eight-year-old boy, sitting in front of me. “How could the infinity that is the universe possibly fit into a singularity? Shaking his head back and forth and laughing, my son asked, “Dad, is the universe really infinite? I was about to answer that of course it was, when it suddenly dawned on me that it wasn’t, nor could it be. Apparently seeing this realization dawn in my eyes, Andy went on, “The universe began with a finite amount of mass and energy. Although it may be possible for it to gain or lose mass from whatever exists outside the singularity that forms the universe, it can never become infinite. The universe has a finite amount of mass and energy, and it’s of a finite size. “Now imagine the universe as represented in two dimensions by a sheet of paper.” Then noticing the memo pad I kept by the telephone on the nightstand next to my bed, suddenly, he jumped up and tore off the top sheet of paper from the memo pad. Returning to sit on the bed, cross-legged in front of me, he held up the sheet of paper in front of his face and continued, “Imagine this paper represents the universe —a two-dimensional representation of the universe. The area of the paper represents the physical size of the universe, and it’s finite. It’ possible the area and hence the physical size of the universe is expanding, but the mass and energy contained therein remains the same. Now although this sheet of paper has some thickness, a truly two-dimensional representation of the universe has no thickness. “So Dad, in three dimensions, what is the volume of this two-dimensional representation of the universe?” I was just about to answer that it was indeterminate, because infinity times zero can be many things, when it dawned on me yet again that the universe is finite and the area of the paper is finite. If the thickness of the sheet of paper is actually zero, then zero times any finite number is zero and, hence, this two-dimensional representation of the universe has a volume of zero in three dimensions. Rather than speak, I simply smiled at my son and nodded my head. What Andy did next was shocking. He took the sheet of paper and crumpled it up into a pea-sized sphere. “I can’t crumple this up any smaller, ’cause the sheet of paper has some thickness and, hence, it takes up some volume, but if the paper really had no thickness, Dad, how small could I make this wad of paper?” Suddenly realizing where my son was going with this, my smile turned into a grin as I said, “Infinitesimally small, and we have a name for that. It’s called a singularity.” “Exactly!” Andy shouted. “ “So you see, Dad, the universe never escaped the singularity from which it formed. It just expanded or otherwise formed within it. “I know it’s complicated, but it makes it easier to understand how you fucked up time. Like I said, time is local, but what does that mean? Certainly there are things going on right now in the Andromeda galaxy. Surely there must be a way of comparing whatever’s going on over there to what’s happening here without actually going between the two. Einstein said that, no… the best we can do is to use the light from Andromeda to see it as it was hundreds of thousands of years ago. Quantum Mechanics, on the other hand, says that maybe we can, if we can find or create a quantum tunnel between the two. That’s where paired quantum states come in.” Whoa, did Andy have any idea that was exactly what I’d done? As if reading my thoughts, he laughed and said more than asked, “But that’s just what you did, isn’t it? You used paired quantum states to send your thoughts back in time.” Apparently seeing something in my eyes, he continued, “Don't be so shocked, Dad. That’s exactly what I would have done if I didn’t know better. Thank God you didn’t know better! “The thing is, Quantum Mechanics is just an approximation. The wave equation cannot be solved exactly, so instead we use probabilities. But that’s a bit like trying to fly an airplane, knowing there’s a 95 percent probability there are no other airplanes in the vicinity. But believe it or not, Dad, that’s just how Air Traffic Control really works! They keep the planes far enough apart to maintain a confidence interval well in excess of 99 percent, but it’s not a hundred percent. Every time you fly, there’s a small but finite chance you’ll collide with another plane, and crash. As they say, life is about balancing risks. Using paired quantum states to change time is like that too. Every time you do so, there’s a finite probability of reaching critical mass, triggering the formation of a stable singularity. But that’s what’s saved us so far. If you’d had an exact solution but known as little as you know, we wouldn’t even be here right now to have this conversation. We’d have already been sucked into a black hole.” Confused by what my eight-year-old son was saying, I simply replied, “I… I don’t understand.” Rolling his eyes, he continued, “Einstein hypothesized that the speed of light is constant. It’s still a hypothesis, yet we treat it as fact! When we measure it, it’s always the same, but that assumes the passage of time is constant. We know it’s not! Relativity makes it all fit, but Relativity isn’t compatible with quantum theory, yet we need both to build modern computers and satellites and so on. Perhaps it really doesn’t all fit. “What if the passage of time is just the propagation of quantum fluctuations that we perceive as light waves. If the speed of light changes, time will change right along with it and our measurements will always be the same! If the speed of light decreases, the yardstick by which we measure the universe will also shrink and the universe will appear to expand. This is the only way to explain the perception of an expanding universe inside of what is and must remain a singularity. For all we know, not only is the speed of light changing, but it’s not uniform and it’s not even the same in all directions. The word for that is anisotropy, and if the speed of light is anisotropic, then time is anisotropic. “And that’s the easy part, Dad. The universe is full of quantum fluctuations. That’s your life’s work! Time can’t be continuous. It consists of lots and lots of tiny quantum fluctuations that we perceive as a continuum. When you go back and alter time, Dad, suddenly there are large discontinuities with multiple realities and the continuum is disrupted. Such extreme discrepancies can only lead to the formation of singularities. Ultimately these will coalesce into a black hole that destroys all of the different realities. “But there is a way out of this mess, Dad. Just like a black hole that’s starved of a source of mass or energy will eventually dissipate, the same thing can happen to alternate realities. The problem is that you keep fucking with time, feeding the alternate realities. “So what you have to do, Dad, is you have to go back to a time before you started fucking with time and you have to push that boy who was destined to become you in a different direction… one that will ensure he never messes with time. If you do that, you’ll create a single, stable, dominant reality and all the other variances will ultimately fade away into nothingness.” “How the hell am I supposed to do that?” I asked, incredulous that I was even listening to an idea hatched by a fourth grader. “Dad, I know I’m a genius, but I’m not you. Only you can figure out how to keep from meddling with time. Perhaps you can push yourself to become a doctor, or a pianist instead. But you also need to be in a position to influence everyone else involved in a significant way, so as to be sure that they don’t end up fuckin’ with time.” How did my eight-year-old son know all this? But then I had an even scarier thought. “Andy, have you been in contact with yourself in the future? Have you been contacted by yourself, perhaps from Russia?” Shaking his head in the negative, he replied, “The Russians destroyed any chance they had of sending information back in time when they conducted the largest above ground nuclear test in history.” They did? Then how were they able to fuck with history? How did my little man know this? “But there’s another problem, Dad,” he went on. “This reality is unstable. Some of my memories are scrambled and I bet yours are too. This reality may be already disintegrating into a black hole or perhaps it’s dissipating. Either way, there may not be time to fix things at all.” <<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>> February 2012 • Chris-45 “Perhaps we should get started,” the President’s Chief of Staff announced as we enjoyed our bagels, pastries and some of the best coffee I’d ever tasted. We were enjoying an early morning breakfast in the Oval Office itself, called there by the President, reportedly to discuss the role of OTT in repairing the damage done by the Soviet Union in the years since Marion Dawson’s defection. Present in the room with me were the President, her Chief of Staff, Vice President Obama, the Attorney General, the directors of the FBI and CIA, and a man who was introduced as Dr. Carlos Rivera, a history professor from Harvard whom the President had just named as the official National Historian. Noticeably absent was my boss, Jack Craegan, for reasons that I was not privy to. With the exception of President Clinton, we were all men and so it came as no surprise when the President opened the meeting by saying, “Gentlemen, if you all will please take your seats, we have a lot to discuss this morning.” The only seating, other than the chair behind the President’s desk, consisted of a pair of love seats facing each other across a coffee table, and four matching high-backed chairs, two at each end of the ensemble. The President and Vice President took the two chairs on one end and the directors of the CIA and FBI took the two chairs at the other end. The Chief of Staff and the Attorney General sat together on one of the love seats, leaving the professor and me to sit on the other. “I trust you all know each other from our past discussions of OTT. However most of you are meeting Carlos for the first time today. You have all had a chance to review Dr. Rivera’s credentials and he has been fully briefed on OTT. The reason I chose him as the National Historian is because of his scholarly work in the field of causal analysis.” Turning to face my seat-mate, she continued, “Carlos, why don’t you explain your work and how causal analysis might be of use to us in understanding the impact of TTT on historic events.” “Certainly, Madam President,” Carlos Rivera began. Turning away from the President, he continued, “Much of what we understand of history has depended on seemingly trivial events… minor decisions… random happenstance… vagaries of the weather. But for any one of these, history might well have turned out differently. For example, inclement weather in just a handful of voting precincts in 1960 and Richard Nixon could have won the presidency instead of Kennedy. So seemingly random events can have a profound effect on history. “What I do… what has been my life’s work… is to model these seemingly random occurrences. Specifically, I look for trivial branch points in which a minor occurrence resulted in a significant outcome. Kennedy’s election is but one example, but there are thousands of such occurrences each and every year. Things so seemingly insignificant that only later do we realize just how significantly history was affected by them. Through mathematical modeling, we can often predict the likelihood of different historic outcomes, and explore the potential effects of minor perturbations as they propagate through time. “The hope behind all of this is that, one day, we will have a robust model of these sorts of occurrences. If we can learn to predict these seemingly trivial events that end up being major branch points in history, we might be able to use them to our advantage. For example, if we’d realized that the assassination of Martin Luther King would lead to riots across the land, active government surveillance in place of indifference to his safety could have averted one of the darker times in our history.” “More likely, it would have only delayed the inevitable,” Vice President Obama pointed out. “The African American ghettos of the late 1960s were a powder keg just waiting to explode. They already had the year before, in Detroit. If it hadn’t been the King assassination, it would’ve been something else. Like it or not, the riots of ’68 were necessary to the civil rights movement.” “No, they weren’t, Mr. Obama, with all due respect,” the professor countered. “You of all people must realize that the riots had an overwhelmingly negative impact on white public opinion for decades to come, and few of the neighborhoods affected have bounced back, even after all this time. Furthermore, my research has shown that King’s survival and continued activism would have done vastly more for the civil rights movement than his martyrdom ever did. No one else spoke with such eloquence to so many people. No one else came close. “No, the riots were not inevitable. Had my algorithms existed back then, we might well have recognized the danger and as a result, provided Dr. King with the protection he deserved. Further, we could have acted decisively to empower the African American community, helping them to build upon their dreams rather than burn them down.” “The trouble was that the war had consumed the Johnson White House. He’d already done all he could for the cause of Civil Rights and had no energy, nor clout, to prevent the assassination or the riots, even if he had seen them coming,” the Director of the FBI interjected. “And Vietnam is another such cataclysm that could have been avoided,” Professor Rivera went on. “Many have suggested that Kennedy would have ended the war, had he not been assassinated. Unfortunately our current models are insufficient to have predicted something as far out in left field as the Kennedy assassination. However, had we been able to have presented the young president with an analysis of likely scenarios at the outset, it is very likely we could have prevented Kennedy from entering the war in the first place.” “Actually it was Eisenhower who sent advisors to Vietnam,” I pointed out. I felt someone needed to defend Kennedy. “Yes, and with the right information, those advisors could have advised the president against further involvement. “But gentlemen… and Madam President,” Professor Rivera continued, “we’re getting way off track here. I may be able to model and, to an extent, predict the immediate consequences of minor alterations to the past. There is no way to predict the long-term consequences of making major changes in the past. It's fun to speculate on the effect that preventing Vietnam might have had on the world today. So many lives that were lost could have been saved, and one of those might have been someone who became the next Hitler. You cannot discount the possibility of unintended consequences, some of which could be disastrous. “It is for this reason that I recommend against altering the past at all, but if we find ourselves compelled to do so, we should do so in as minimalistic a way as possible. As desirable as it seemed at the time to prevent the terrorist attacks of 9/11, it was decidedly a bad idea…” Rivera was momentarily interrupted by a collective gasp from everyone in the room. “Hear me out on this,” he went on. “In making use of knowledge of the future to alter the past, we dramatically changed the course of the next decade of history. Although many of the changes have been positive, I have been reviewing the journal entry differences from before and after each intervention and concluded that the overall effect has been negative. Extremely so. I can now conclude that the continuing survival of the Soviet Union and the ongoing Cold War is a direct result of our intervention on September 11, 2001…” Again, there was a collective gasp from everyone in the room. “Surely you aren’t suggesting that our intervention on September eleven caused the resurgence of the Soviet Union, are you?” the President asked. “Not directly, Madam President,” Rivera replied, “but if we hadn’t intervened on 9/11, the Soviets would have been none the wiser and the Soviet Union would have collapsed, just as it did in the absence of TTT.” “But that’s true of a lot of things,” the President’s Chief of Staff asserted. “It’s highly unlikely anyone else, the Russians, the Chinese, the Iranians or anyone else would have known about TTT, were it not for our having used it. Once there was an active program, however, all of the above parties felt compelled to spy, steal and even kidnap to obtain the technology for themselves. The Soviets just succeeded before anyone else and were able to apply TTT themselves to alter their own past…” “But that’s just it,” the professor countered, “The Soviets have yet to apply TTT. Either they have refrained from using it themselves or, more likely, they have tried but failed to use it successfully. Either they haven’t been able to get it to work, or perhaps they haven’t been able to convince themselves in the past of the validity of the communications.” “But they’ve already altered their own history!” The President practically shouted. “How can you even suggest that they haven’t applied TTT?” “Although much of what I do uses mathematical models based on pure conjecture, Madam President,” Rivera explained, “being able to detect the use of TTT is actually one of the least speculative aspects of my work right now. One thing my algorithms are good at is detecting minor changes in history. “When someone changes history by any means, the record of history does not change right away, and it does not occur uniformly. Alterations to time seem to propagate through both time and space and the overall effects on recorded history cause ripples and, like the ripples in a stream, they reflect off the events they alter, causing ripples on top of ripples. Even long after recorded history has corrected itself to reflect the new reality, the memory of the original version of history persists for some time, and the memory that there was a different version of history persists even longer still. “Although the Russians did not have access to my algorithms, and certainly not in the time period where they would have been immediately useful, an event as significant as 9/11 would have left a huge ripple effect when it was changed. As an aside, how many people in this room remember feeling disoriented on 9/11? I don't mean feeling unsettled because of the threat of a terrorist attack… that feeling was undoubtedly there, even without altering time. No I’m asking how many people in this room remember feeling that something just wasn’t right… perhaps a sense of déjà vu … perhaps even a feeling that those jets were supposed to have struck the twin towers after all? Could I see a show of hands?” I was the first to raise my hand, but soon everyone else in the room followed suit — some tentatively at first — but then less so. Carlos Rivera continued, “So everyone in this room felt that something was amiss on September 11… a sense that something had changed. People felt that way all over the world, and they certainly felt it in what was then Russia, as the Soviet Union was already gone, but even if they surmised that technology had been used that could alter the past, for them it was too late. Even if they had access to TTT, they lacked the resources to pursue it. “The matter might well have dropped if we’d left well enough alone, but we did not. There were unintended consequences from altering 9/11 and like the child who builds a sand castle too close to the sea and then adds layer after layer to protect it as the tide rolls in, rather than simply starting over, we went back further and further in the past in an attempt to prevent the attacks of 9/11 in the first place, never really seeing that we were only making things worse. “The Russians became aware of changes to history just as many of us did. The fact that history changed at all alerted them to the existence of TTT and of course they chose to pursue it. The changes in historic events regarding the failure of the Soviet Union to collapse are easily traced to the effects of our own alterations to time. Every change they have made can be shown to be an echo of a change we made. Our changes rippled outward through time and space and landed on their shores. They took notice, and created their own ripples, but each and every one of theirs can be traced to one of ours. If they’d used TTT, our algorithm would have detected it, and it did not.” “But if they didn’t use TTT, what did they use?” the Director of the CIA asked. A chill went up my spine even before Professor Rivera spoke, for I realized the answer. The Russians didn’t need to use TTT to send back knowledge of the future; they used our knowledge, which they then used to alter the past. No, we ourselves sent back the knowledge of the demise of the Soviet Union, back into the past, and the Russians used plain old-fashioned spying to learn what became of their empire. From that, it was a simple matter to take measures to prevent that version of the future from ever coming to pass. Rivera had confirmed as much. The implication that the Soviets got their knowledge of the future from us had profound implications for my work, though, as it meant that, more than likely, one of my colleagues was a Russian spy…
  14. Altimexis

    From Russia with Love

    January 2005 • Chris-38 The despair that had a grip on my heart was almost more than I could bear. A week had passed since Andy’s disappearance and yet we were no closer to knowing what had happened to him than we were the morning I woke up to find he’d been taken from me. Only later did I realize he’d been abducted on Christmas morning. Frank flew down immediately upon hearing the news and we stayed in a fleabag motel outside the park while the investigation continued. Once the crime scene had been fully examined and a sweep of the area completed, there was nothing to be accomplished by staying in the area. The use of a false passport at the Mexican border along with the keen eyes of a border agent who remembered having seen Andy, pretty much confirmed that he’d been ushered out of the country. With no reason to stay, Frank and I returned to Alameda to welcome the New Year quietly. The one bright spot, if it could be called one, was that the news media had yet to get wind of the story. Andy’s disappearance should have been on the front page of the New York Times. Hell, a teenage boy vanishing without a trace while on a backpacking trip with his dad? That would have been front-page news in itself, even without the hostage incident, and that I was a ‘nuclear’ scientist at Livermore. Throw in the Russian connection and this had all the makings of a major media frenzy. Truly, this was an international incident. Kidnapping an American citizen on American soil was the stuff that wars are made of. State-sponsored kidnapping — taking a government official’s child as a means of extorting state secrets — could have consequences far beyond OTT. It was precisely because of OTT that President Kerry was keeping a lid on media coverage of the incident. Fortunately, we were hiking in a little-known national park at an unusual time of the year, in a remote part of California. By keeping quiet about it, we were buying some time to allow the Soviets a chance to contemplate the likely consequences of their action. Once the kidnapping went public, the U.S. would have to take action. At the minimum, there would be harsh economic sanctions, but war was a very real possibility. The lack of media scrutiny also allowed us the breathing room needed to seek a negotiated resolution. The trouble was that the Russians were adamantly denying that they had Andy, or even knew who he was. However, the evidence we had against them was overwhelming. Not only did we have the boot prints that were Russian military, but the partial fingerprint we’d retrieved was from a known Russian national. President Kerry had been in contact with his counterpart in the Kremlin and it was his hope that with persistence and patience, we would get Andy back. There was a good possibility there would be concessions on our part too, but getting Andy out of Russia was an absolute priority. <<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>> “Happy New Year, Marion,” Vladimir greeted the professor, his companion, with a kiss on the lips. Although living in isolation in their remote dacha, there were no New Year’s parties to attend, nevertheless they’d stayed up late, drinking and dancing until well after midnight, then made love until it was nearly dawn. “What a lovely way to wake up,” Professor Dawson exclaimed as he stretched his arms over his head and extracted his not-so-youthful, naked body from the bed they shared. At 29, Vladimir still had the boyish good looks he’d had at sixteen, when he and the professor first became lovers. He’d filled out a bit and was more muscular, but his face still spoke of youthful vitality, which Marion Dawson appreciated. Although he still missed his David tremendously, Vladimir had made his defection worthwhile, if nothing else for the love he now shared with this boy — this young man. “So are you ready for your New Years fuck?” Vladimir asked as he threw off the covers and spread his legs in the air. “What do you call what we did all night?” The professor asked. “That was just the warm-up for today,” the young man answered as he initiated another passionate kiss. “Hold that thought until after I get back from my morning piss,” the professor responded, and then added, “and this time, why don’t you be on top.” Vladimir’s smile lit up the room as Professor Dawson walked the short distance to the bathroom and relieved himself. Vladimir soon followed, and then they made love for what seemed like hours, until the doorbell rang. A ringing doorbell was never a good thing. They had very few neighbors and those with whom they shared their exile were there for a reason, and no one really wanted to know the specifics. Knowing more than one should was never a good thing in the USSR. Few Westerners could fathom the nature of common existence in the Soviet Union. Housing in particular was in short supply, with most people living in tiny, crowded apartments, often with a toilet down the hall that was shared by the occupants of the floor. Shared kitchens were common and, in more destitute situations, even unrelated families had to share an apartment together. The apartments themselves were immaculate, but common areas such as hallways and stairwells were usually filthy and poorly lit if at all. It was accepted that it was each resident’s responsibility to take care of their own apartment, but the common area was always someone else’s responsibility. Unfortunately, money hadn’t been budgeted for ‘someone else’ to clean the common areas for years. In spite of the crowded living conditions, nearly everyone had access to a place in the country. The Soviet territory is vast and much of it sparsely populated, so there was plenty of room for the private gardens that so many Soviet citizens kept for themselves and their families. Although it was mostly the party members that owned their own dachas in the countryside, the abundance of land and raw materials meant that most families could afford to build one if they did the work themselves. Even if not, they could afford to share or rent one. These dachas were very basic — sometimes little more than a log cabin with an outhouse and no running water — but they offered privacy and a chance to get away from the crowded conditions in the major cities. For party members and those with resources, however, they could be quite lavish, at least by Soviet standards. If Professor Dawson had been considered a political prisoner, he would have been housed in a remote area in Siberia, in less than hospitable conditions, as has been the case since the days of the czars. A high-value asset such as the professor, on the other hand, even though his defection wasn’t entirely voluntary, demanded the utmost deference to his physical and mental well-being. That meant housing that was nicer than that afforded most party officials. Although he’d been cooperative when it came to helping Soviet scientists fabricate advanced devices previously beyond their capabilities, as far as the KGB was concerned, he had failed to deliver on his promise to deliver a fully functional laboratory for TTT, and for that he could never be allowed a return to regular society. That the failure to deliver what he’d promised was entirely the fault of the Soviets was immaterial. Obviously, the professor was holding back and for that, he had to be punished. Had it not been for the intervention of an influential Soviet scientist, he might well have ended up in a Siberian gulag. Instead he was given a luxurious dacha in a remote region of the Russian Urals. But to Marion Dawson, it seemed very much like what it was — a prison. It could be considered little else — just a spacious dacha with very few neighbors, located miles from the nearest town or village. By Western standards, it wasn’t all that spacious either. Built on an A-frame, it had a large single bedroom and storage area upstairs, an open area that served as a combined living room, dining room and study downstairs, and a small kitchen and laundry area. The bathroom was small, with a separate room for the only toilet in the house. The one nod to luxury was an outdoor balcony with a hot tub — a must in Russian culture. However, he was always under the watchful eyes of the KGB, and so the sound of a doorbell ringing on New Years Day in this remote region of the Russian forest could not be a good thing. Reluctantly, the professor and Vladimir each threw on a terry bathrobe and the professor went to the door. As luxurious as his year-round dacha might be, he didn’t have a peephole in his front door. Apparently security wasn’t something he was entitled to worry about — not with the KGB there to ‘protect’ him. Throwing open the door and feeling the intense cold air from outside, he was greeted by the sight of Staas, one of the agents who was responsible for his oversight, and by a tall, teenage boy who bore a striking resemblance to Chris Michaels, a man he hadn’t seen in years. It was the boy who responded first, in a young, adolescent voice as he reached forward to shake the professor’s hand. “Professor Dawson, oh my God. I never in a million years thought I’d get to meet you. I recognize you from a picture my dad once showed me. ’Course I never expected to be in Russia either,” the boy prattled on. “I was on a camping trip with my dad in Joshua Tree National Park. That place is awesome, even in the middle of winter. Anyway, I went to sleep while talking to Dad about the improbability of intelligent life forming in the Universe and about the nature of the Big Bang, only it wasn’t really a big bang at all. It was more like the collapse of space into a singularity until the speed of light collapsed, giving the appearance of an expanding universe. But anyway, we were talking about life and shit, and the next thing I knew, I was riding in the back of a truck with nothing but a blanket covering me. “Anyway, when they realized I was awake, they sprayed me with something and I guess it put me to sleep. Next thing I know, I was bein’ loaded onto a plane and, finally, they gave me some clothes. So no one would tell me what was going on and even the ones who I knew spoke English wouldn’t speak to me. I recognized that everyone was speaking Russian. Didn’t tell them that in high school, I’ve been taking Russian for over two years now. “So from what I overheard, I guess they tracked us to the Park through someone named Victor. I guess he’s a spy or a double agent or something. So they used some of that spray stuff to knock us out, but then they realized that Dad still had an ankle bracelet. Ever since the Iranian hostage thing, when they discovered Dad had a secret lab in our basement, he’s had to wear that bracelet. I guess the Feds can track those bracelets with satellites, anywhere in the world, so it didn’t take the Russian guys long to figure out that the only way to take Dad would’ve been to chop off his foot, but they didn’t have the instruments to do it properly and, besides, some of these bracelets can detect removal by amputation and send out a silent alarm, and I guess they thought Dad’s bracelet looked sophisticated enough to be one of those. “So instead they decided to take me. They figured they could use me to get to Dad and get him to do what they want without actually kidnapping him. So they kidnapped me instead. But what they don’t realize is that even if they threaten to kill me, they won’t get anything out of Dad. We talked a lot about this after the Iran hostage thing and Dad knows I wouldn’t forgive him if he tried to save me by hurting America. He knows I’m prepared to die for my country…” Then realizing how he was just blathering on about stuff he definitely shouldn’t have been telling within earshot of a Russian agent, he apologized. “I’m sorry, Professor Dawson. I tend to chatter when I’m really nervous. I’m generally not like this. I’m not like this at all. Forgive me for not introducing myself in the first place, but my name’s Andy. I’m Andy Michaels, Chris Michaels’ son.” “Andy,” the professor began. “I knew who you were the moment the door opened. I’ve heard so much about you, although I knew your father primarily when he was your age, and a little bit older. “I’m sorry we’re meeting like this under these circumstances. Neither one of us came here voluntarily, although the circumstances of my so-called defection were not nearly so clandestine as yours. The threats against my students, including your dad, were sufficiently real that I knew a lot of boys would suffer if I didn’t cooperate with the Russians. I assumed that if I cooperated, I could at least keep the Russians from doing anything that would cause serious harm to the future, but that turned out to be a moot point anyway. The main thing was that I couldn’t stand to see my boys harmed.” Then realizing that he himself was blathering on, the professor added, “Please forgive me my manners.” Then stepping aside, he said, “Why don’t you come inside. I suspect you’re going to be staying here a while.” Turning toward Vladimir, he added, “This is my house boy, Vladimir, although he’s not much of a boy anymore.” Speaking up for the first time, the man accompanying Andy, Staas, said, “Mr. Michaels will be living with you here permanently, Dr. Dawson. He is to be Vladimir’s replacement.” With a look of horror in his eyes, the professor said, “No, no, I don’t need or want a replacement for Vladimir. Vladimir and I love each other. Andy is just a boy. I don’t want to have sex with boys. It would be wrong. He is way too young for me, and as I recall, he’s straight, too. I could never have sex with him.” Then turning to Andy, he continued, “In spite of what you might have heard, I’m gay, but I’m not a pedophile. I like to associate with teenage boys because I like to teach and the American school system does such a poor job of teaching physics to our youth. Until recently, it was only boys that were interested in my lessons, but now there are girls too and, up until I left, I enjoyed teaching them no less than the boys.” Turning back and facing Staas, he concluded, “You see, Andy cannot replace Vladimir, who is much more than a house boy to me. Vladimir is the man I love, and I am his mate too…” Getting right in front of the professor, Vladimir interrupted, “It is OK, Professor Dawson. I always knew this day would come. I made you Happy, no? I gave you a good time and I even enjoyed talking to you, in spite of our differing interests.” The professor was shocked. He’d always thought Vladimir was just as interested in their discussions as he was. He still couldn’t see that all along, it had been nothing more than an act. Vladimir was simply a child prostitute who had grown into manhood with him. Even the intellectualism was an act, drawn from an extensive and rigorous education. “Thanks to you,” Vladimir went on, ”I am now well-prepared for field work. Now I can go to a posting anywhere in the world and serve my country.” Finally it dawned on the professor that Vladimir had been groomed to be a spy, and he’d been a part of the training! Vladimir had the looks, the raw sexuality and the sharp mind to make himself attractive to just about any guy, or woman, in the world. And thanks to their time together, Vladimir was well-experienced in relating to Americans. He was a valuable Soviet intelligence asset. “I’ll go get dressed and pack my things, and then I’ll go and you can start to get to know your new house boy,” Vladimir said as his final words of parting. He left all of his books, as apparently he no longer had a need for them. To him they were just props. With scarcely more that a couple of suitcases full of clothes and personal belongings, he merely nodded his head and walked out the door. After Staas and Vladimir left, it was just the professor and the boy. The professor knew the KGB had plans for the boy — horrific plans to use him to get to Chris Michaels. The boy expected as much, but planned to make the best of a terrible situation. “I know you probably have a lot you want to say, Andy,” Marion Dawson began, “but you have to keep in mind that in the Soviet Union, everywhere there are eyes and ears, and this house is no exception. I would advise you not to talk about your father’s work while staying here… not that anyone would expect you to know anything about it at your young age. “As you can see, the house is built on an A-frame, with most of the facilities located on the main floor.” Showing Andy around as he went, the professor continued, “Down here we have a great room where we tend to spend most of our time. There’s no TV I’m afraid, but the stereo system is outstanding and there is an extensive collection of vinyl records. I don’t suppose they use them anymore in the States, but the records we have are among the best recordings ever made… if you enjoy classical music. “Actually, I do,” Andy interjected. “I particularly like the Russian composers too.” “There’s an extensive library with about half the books in English and half in Russian, many of them not available to ordinary Soviet citizens.” The professor was surprised when the boy walked up to one of the bookshelves and started perusing the collection, reading the titles and authors on the spines until he found something of interest. Pulling out a fairly large, leather-bound volume, he opened it and started rifling through the pages. “The Collected Works of Dostoyevsky,” the boy translated. “I read The Brothers Karamazov when I was nine and Crime and Punishment when I was ten. I always wanted to read them in the original Russian.” “Pretty advanced reading for someone so young,” the professor noted. “Were you mature enough to understand them back then? There are so many subtleties in Dostoyevsky’s writing... so many allegorical references that are often lost on Americans.” “That’s one of the main reasons I’d like to read this now, and in Russian,” he answered. “It’ll be a great chance to learn about Russian history and Russian culture. I had no trouble reading the English language translations at nine. Hell, I taught myself how to read when I was three. But you’re right. Understanding an author like Dostoyevsky requires maturity, something my dad says I have yet to acquire,” the boy added as he looked at the professor with a mischievous grin. He re-shelved the classic volume in the precise spot from which he’d taken it. Walking toward the large windows that dominated the entire southern expanse of the dacha, the professor continued the tour. “The entire end of the house is all glass and because it faces south, the sun streams in most of the day in the winter, keeping us warm… sometimes a little too warm. We get up early with the sun, as there are no window coverings. You can see the hot tub outside, which is very welcome during the long winter months. Keep in mind that virtually the entire inside of the house can be seen from outside through these windows, and that sound can be picked up from miles away with the aid of a laser beam reflected off of vibrating glass.” Walking back toward the north end of the dacha, the professor continued, “Back here on one side is the only bathroom, which is just about the only place with privacy. There is a separate ‘water closet’ for the toilet, in the traditional European style. On the other side is an open kitchen with a washer and dryer for doing the laundry. You cannot imagine how much of a luxury a dryer is in the USSR. Unfortunately it and the washer are Russian-made and they break down quite often. Getting a repairman out here can take six months or more, so we do most of the repairs ourselves. If we need a part, it means washing our clothes by hand or hanging them up to dry, for months at a time,” he added with a laugh. But then it dawned on the professor that the boy didn’t have any luggage. “Andy, where is your luggage? Where are your clothes?” With a sheepish smile, the boy said, “They didn’t exactly take me shopping when they abducted me. I was taken, naked, from our camp site and the only clothes they gave me are what I’m wearing now, and this parka,” he added as he removed the parka, revealing nothing more than a threadbare, tight-fitting pair of jeans, and flip-flops. Shaken and looking the boy up and down the professor realized that virtually nothing of his own clothes would fit. The boy was actually quite a few inches taller than he was, with a waist size less than two-thirds of his own. The professor almost smiled as he imagined the boy in a shirt that hung loose on him, but with sleeves that only came down to just below his elbows, and with pants that only came down to mid-calf, but so loose that even with the belt tied, they would keep falling off. And the professor’s underwear would be useless. No, they would have to obtain clothing for the boy, but this was the USSR, where nothing happened quickly. It would be months before anyone even took a look at his request for clothes for the boy, who didn’t even have a shirt or a pair of socks, and the long winter was still ahead of them. Sighing, the professor led the way up a spiral staircase to the second floor, which was one big room. Closet rods extended along both sides, providing the only place to hang clothes, and stacks of boxes could be seen behind the clothes, providing storage for basic necessities. Built-in drawers adorned the entire north wall, and a king-size bed dominated the center of the room. As the professor had feared, Vladimir had taken all his clothing with him, leaving nothing that could be used for the boy. “I’m sorry, Andy, but this is the only bedroom in the house and the only bed. I can request a second bed, but it could take years to get one. In the meantime, we could take turns sleeping on the sofa downstairs.” Although the professor was saying otherwise, the look of hunger in his eyes gave him away. The boy himself had no issues when it came to sharing a bed with a gay man. He expected that they would use the bed for sleep primarily, although it was evident that the professor and Vladimir had engaged in sexual activities just that morning. The smell of sex was heavy in the air and to a sex-starved teenager, the effect was overwhelming. The boy wasn’t worried about unwanted advances from the professor, particularly when he wasn’t sure those advances would be unwanted. Without giving much thought to the implications, the boy responded, “That’s OK, Professor Dawson, or perhaps since I’m prolly gonna be here a while, maybe I should call you Marion. Anyway, the bed’s plenty big enough for the both of us. Besides, I bet the winter nights can get mighty cold here. I may not be Vladimir, but we can still keep each other warm.” “Andy, you’re just a boy, and you’re straight,” the professor reiterated. “If you’re insinuating what I think you are, I can’t have sex with you. I’m 63 years old. Why would you want to have sex with me in the first place?” The boy got a wry smile on his face as he gave some thought to the idea of having sex with the professor. The fact of the matter was that the boy had been pleasuring himself since the second grade, but ever since the hostage incident and the move to Alameda, girls — and even some boys — had been practically throwing themselves at him. The boy took pride in always thinking with his ‘big head’ and not his little one, but he was a teenage boy with hormones and more than a passing interest in sex. Presented with ample opportunity, over the course of the past few months he’d lost track of the number of girls and boys with whom he’d hooked up. Although nothing in the world felt better than being inside a girl, much to his surprise, he’d found that the feeling of being inside a boy, or of a boy being inside him, or even of going down on a boy, truly was amazing. It was evident to the boy that he was more than a little bisexual and, truthfully, he had no problem with that. The professor might not be much to look at, but he wasn’t bad looking either and he was available. Considering the lack of other options, the boy answered, “It’s not a big deal. I’m a sex-starved teenager and although you may be old, you obviously still have sex,” Andy said as he gestured toward the unmade bed, causing the professor to color up. “Yeah, I’m straight, but I’ve fooled around with my friends and I like it a lot. My dad is gay, but he managed to knock up a girl, which is why I’m here in the first place. Gay, straight, young, old… none of it matters. I hate to be blunt, but when it comes to sex, a dick is a dick, a mouth is a mouth and we’re all assholes with assholes,” he concluded with a smirk. With an exasperated sigh, the professor responded, “You sure you’re only fifteen?” “Going on fifty, as my dad likes to say. I’m not sayin’ I wanna jump into the sack with you, but it’s prolly gonna happen. I’m not gonna worry about it when it does, and neither should you.” “Not if I can help it,” the professor muttered, mostly to himself. Then after a pause, the professor asked, “Now what are we going to do about your clothes? None of my stuff will fit you, and Vladimir took every thing he has with him.” Seeing the stricken look on the professor’s face, the boy replied, “Hey, don’t worry about it, I’m sure there must be a mall around here and you can prolly take me there in the morning.” “No, Andy, you don’t understand,” the professor said. “This is Russia. You’ve probably seen pictures of Russian department stores, but those are much nicer than the reality. The store shelves have already been picked clean of warmer, winter clothing and the spring and summer fashions, such as they are, won’t arrive for months. When they do come in, we’ll have to wait in line for hours over a period of days, just to get a few basic outfits for you. No, I’m going to have to requisition some clothing for you, and it will be days or weeks before a party apparatchik even takes a look at my request. Don’t be surprised if it takes two or three months to get you some clothes.” With a sigh of resignation, the boy responded, “Then I guess I’m gonna hafta be a nudist for the next few months,” as he toed off his flip-flops and dropped his jeans to reveal that he didn’t even have underwear. The boy was a breathtakingly beautiful, but the professor couldn’t and wouldn’t allow himself to think that way. “Andy,” the professor began, “you don’t need to go around naked…” “Yeah, I do,” the boy replied. “These jeans prolly won’t last more than a dozen washings, if that, and so I need to save them for when we go outside, or when we have visitors. I suspect that will happen a lot, ’cause they obviously abducted me to try and get to my father. So the way I see it, I really don’t have a choice.” Although the professor couldn’t know it, this was pure Andy — always a step ahead of everyone else. Noticing just how threadbare the jeans really were, the professor found himself responding in agreement with the boy. “Actually, as thin as those jeans are, I doubt they’d survive even one washing in a Soviet washing machine.” Both the professor and the boy broke into unrestrained laughter, helping to lighten the mood considerably, but then the professor had a sobering thought. “Andy, the KGB seldom does anything without a great deal of forethought,” the professor continued, “and dropping you off in the middle of nowhere with nothing more than jeans virtually guaranteed to disintegrate with their first washing undoubtedly is part of an overall strategy. I suspect that they hope to take advantage of your teenage insecurities, perhaps by using your nudity and a promise of new clothing to get you to do their bidding.” Laughing, the boy responded, “Then they sure as fuck got the wrong kid.” The professor was a bit taken aback by the teen’s casual use of profanity, but the boy kept right on going. “As my Dad’ll tell you, I have no modesty whatsoever. Hell, I’m practically nudist as it is, and I really don’t give a fuck who sees my privates. Besides, I kinda enjoy goin’ naked.” “But that’s the problem,” the professor responded. “I may not have raging hormones like you do, but I’m a normal gay man with normal attractions. You’re an incredibly handsome young man, and it’s only natural that I find myself attracted to you. It’s torture to see you like this when I can’t have sex with you.” “Why can’t you, as long as I want it too?” the boy asked with a pout. The truth of the matter was that, by virtue of his raw sexuality and his extraordinary intelligence, the boy held incredible power over those in his presence, but he was far too young and far too desensitized to casual sex to recognize it. Noticing the professor’s obvious arousal, the boy began to become aroused himself. The professor might not be much to look at, but the thought of spending what might well be the rest of his life alone was too much for the boy. He needed companionship and he had a physical needed sex that couldn’t be satisfied by his own hand. Now fully aroused, Andy began walking up to the professor as seductively as a fifteen-year-old boy could. He reached out and began to unbutton the professor’s shirt. The professor found himself unable to resist.
  15. Altimexis

    Beijing by the Bay

    December 2004 • Chris-38 “Dad,” I heard the voice of my son in my head, “I just want you to know that I’m all right. I can’t tell you more than that now, ’cause it could really fuck things up and cause a disaster if you try to do more than you’re already doing right now. Just know that I’m safe, and that I will get home… eventually. The people who took me have no idea what they’re up against. In the long run, it’ll be really, really good for us and bad for them. “By the way, I’ve figured some things out that you need to know about. Don’t tell anyone else what I’m gonna tell you, ’cause what I’ve discovered can be used for tremendous good, but it can also be used for unthinkable evil. Those who have me could do irreparable harm if they were to know about it, which is why I cannot even think about it after today. They still don’t know that I know anything about TTT. If they did, they would waste no time in doing everything they could to get it out of me, so I won’t let them. As far as anyone is concerned from this point on, I’m nothing more than your son… a pawn to be used to try and get you to reveal your secrets. Don’t let them get to you. We’re stronger than they are. “What you need to know is that TTT isn’t the only way to send information back in time. It's not only possible to communicate between any points in time, but between any points in space too. The seven-year limit only applies to the specific method you’re using. There are some alternate methods that can completely remove the seven-year limitation. Also, the technology isn’t limited to communicating only with yourself. You can communicate with anyone you want, whether they’re asleep or awake. You can even transfer memories between space and time. This is what’s gonna allow you to fix things. “But Dad, sending memories from one person to another in another place and time is far more dangerous than anything you’ve ever done, which is why TTT can never be allowed to come to pass in the first place. It needs to be used to fix things, and then it must disappear entirely. I’m telling you this, just in case something happens to me and I never make it back home. If that happens, just pick up where you left off and take my advice to heart. You already know everything you need to know to restore space and time to what it should be. <<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>> I sat bolt upright as I awoke in a cold sweat, at first completely disoriented. It was still dark but instead of seeing a sky full of stars, I saw only darkness, and light filtering in through a window in a strange room. It was then that I realized I was not in a sleeping bag, but in a strange bed. I felt some movement in the bed next to me and instinctively I knew it was Frank. Then I remembered and I knew further sleep would be a lost cause. It had only been a few days since Andy was taken from me in Joshua Tree National Park. Already there was talk of abandoning the search, as it was clear Andy had been removed from the area. Frank drove down right away on Christmas Day and made it here in record time. He was my rock and my support, but he could do little else besides comfort me. But even then, the words, “Trust me, Everything will work out in the end,” offered little solace. Getting out of bed, taking care not to wake my lover, I threw on a hoodie, jeans and sandals, I stepped out into the brisk desert air of the motel parking lot. Even with the warm clothes I’d put on, the winter night temperature caused me to wrap my arms around my torso as I shivered involuntarily, wondering if I’d ever see Andy again. <<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>> December 31, 1990 • Chris-24 “Are you ready to start a new decade,” my boyfriend Wang asked as he snuck behind me and kissed me on the neck. Before I could respond, however, he added, “Yes, the 1990’s may have begun last year, but tonight we close out the ninth decade of the twentieth century and start the tenth and final decade of the final century of the second millennium. The next time we close out a decade, it will be to start a new millennium, which makes tonight kinda special, doncha think?” “That will be sooo fuckin’ cool,” I agreed, “but not half as cool as nine years from now, when all those nines turn to zeros. Think we’ll still be together then?” Using his finger to turn my head in his direction, he kissed me briefly but passionately on the lips, then answered, “Of course we’ll still be together. Why would you even ask?” Shrugging my shoulders, I replied, “No reason. It’s just that no one can know for sure what the future holds and I was just engaging my mouth before my brain is all. You’re the one for me, Wang Lee. Don’t ever doubt that I believe that.” Truthfully, I did know something about the future, and Wang Lee wasn’t in it, at least not from what Chris-31 had told me. The strange thing was that neither he nor our older counterparts had any recollection of an affair with Wang Lee. That could mean only one thing — that the direction of my future with Wang was highly uncertain. If there had been a definitive end to it, Chris-31 would remember the affair and how it ended, more than likely, vividly. That he didn’t have those memories was more than concerning. The longer the affair lasted, the more fuzzy the future became. If the affair didn’t end, chances were that the future direction of my life would be altered and TTT might never come to exist. But without TTT, my affair with Wang probably would have never happened in the first place. It certainly hadn’t in the life I lived before I invented TTT and started altering the time line. So if I stayed with Wang Lee and never invented TTT, that would create a fundamental paradox. Perhaps the Chinese would try to get me to invent TTT in a future, revised timeline under their control, but that would be a naïve approach to resolving the paradox. Creating an alternate reality didn’t mean that the original one ceased to exist. More than likely, the two would continue, side-by-side, building paradox after paradox until the fabric of time itself unraveled. My counterparts from the future seemed to think that the future would be resolved by the formation of a black hole that consumed everything, leaving a unified future of nothingness. The safest thing for me to do would be to simply break up with Wang. By ending the affair myself under my terms, I could ensure the integrity of the future. I wasn’t sure if I could do that if I tried, for the simple fact that I loved Wang. Perhaps it was selfish, but I didn’t want to give him up. More importantly, my future counterparts felt that breaking it off would be a bad idea as well. Wang’s former lover and mentor, Charles Hudson, would one day be discovered to be a Chinese spy. That he was currently a spy was a given. Through Wang, the Chinese had a means of keeping an eye on me that, ironically, gave me control over their access to TTT. By taking precautions I might not have otherwise done, I’d put TTT safely out of their reach. On the other hand, if I broke things off with Wang, then they would know that I knew they were on to me. That would make it more likely for them to use a more direct approach to forcing me to reveal my secrets. “We are invited to a party tonight,” said my boyfriend as he smiled at me, tilting his head in rhythm with his words. “A party?” I asked. “Why didn’t you tell me about it before?” “Because I didn’t know about it until a few minutes ago. I got a call from Charles to tell me he was in town. Originally he’d planned to ring in the new year in Hong Kong… after all, it practically starts over there… but he found he’s gonna have to be in New York on the second to close a business deal, so he decided to spend the holiday here instead. We’re invited to a party on his houseboat in Sausalito.” “Charles has a house boat?” I exclaimed more than asked in alarm. “You afraid of getting seasick?” my boyfriend asked. “You needn’t be. Calling his house a boat is a bit like calling the Hearst Castle a cottage. Yes, it floats on the bay, but it’s mother-fuckin’ huge and it’s not seaworthy at all. It’s really just a mansion… a mansion that’s anchored at a slip in Sausalito. There are hundreds of similar house boats in Sausalito. Those slips are even more valuable than a plot of land.” Even still, I was a bit skeptical. I’d been avoiding any kind of boat excursion with Wang for fear that the Chinese could use it to abduct me. Suggestions for taking fishing trips and sightseeing cruises thus were postponed — indefinitely. “If it’s any consolation, Charles’ house boat doesn’t even have a motor or anything. It’s permanently connected to the mainland by electrical wires, telephone lines and plumbing. Not only would you have to disconnect all of that, but you’d need to attach it to a tug boat and tow it to take it out to sea, and even then, it wouldn’t go very fast at all. “So you see, you have nothing to worry about,” Wang admonished me. “It’s too big and heavy for it to move enough for you to get seasick, and you’re never more than a hop, a skip and a jump from being on dry land. “Trust me, Charles throws great parties. We’ll have fun!” Much as I still had concerns, I couldn’t resist my boyfriend’s adorable, smiling face and so what was to have been a quiet night ringing in the new year would now be a raucous night of drinking and dancing among a crowd of dozens of Charles Hudson’s friends and associates. Wang insisted we get ready and leave right away, and he was right. Traffic into and though the city would horrendous. It took hours for us to reach the Golden Gate Bridge for the short trip across to Marin County. I’d never been to Sausalito and I had to admit that the views of San Francisco from there were incredible. Sausalito was a different world entirely, however — a world of quaint shops, fancy restaurants and elegant homes and mansions. The downside of living in Sausalito was the commute. Getting into San Francisco meant driving across the Golden Gate Bridge, every day. There was no viable public transportation. The BART didn’t go there, there were no trams and buses into the city were few and far between. There was a ferry, but with only one boat making the round trip, using it meant being tied to a limited schedule, and transportation to and from the ferry terminals was a hassle. I had to admit that Charles’ houseboat wasn’t at all what I’d expected. Walking along the pier, you almost got the feeling you were walking along a traditional suburban street as you passed house after house, mansion after mansion. Only by looking more carefully would you notice that the walkways to the houses were gang planks, as they had to be to accommodate the rise and fall of the houses with the tides. Charles Hudson’s houseboat wasn’t the largest one, but it was far from being the smallest. It was grand by any scale, rising three stories above the water line and, I surmised, at least one below. We arrived at 8:30, which was a half-hour after the party was to have begun. That meant we were a bit on the early side for California. The door was answered by a boy who looked like he couldn’t be more than fourteen, but was more than likely seventeen or eighteen, given that Asians tend to look young in comparison to Westerners for a given age. Or as Wang likes to say, Westerners look ‘mature’ for their age. The other thing I couldn’t help but notice is that he wasn’t wearing anything. Being greeted by a naked teenage boy was enough to put anyone on edge, but I was already on edge, so the effect was doubly unsettling. Instead of loud music and dozens of gyrating men and women filling every space, as I’d been expecting, there was soft classical music playing in the background, and what guests there were were all young teenage boys and young men. None of them appeared to be any older than Wang and I, and all of them were as naked as the boy who’d greeted us at the door. “Wang, Chris, Come in!” Charles shouted from somewhere inside. Coming into view, I could see that he was also naked, and in surprisingly good shape for one of his age. I was surprised when he grabbed Wang in a bear hug and kissed him on the lips, and shocked when he did the same with me. “As you can imagine,” Charles began, “most people I called already had plans, so there will only be a handful of guests tonight. Since the only guests will be men and some boys, I decided to spice things up a bit by making this a ‘clothing optional’ New Year’s Eve party. There wasn’t time to call you, as you’d already left by the time I thought of it. “Of course, ‘clothing optional’ means that going nude is strictly up to you. If you prefer, you can remain fully dressed as you are now, or you can change into Speedos, or you can go naked like the rest of us, It’s strictly up to you.” Without a moment’s hesitation, Wang asked, “Is there a place we can undress?” “Of course you will stay the night,” Charles interjected. “I wouldn’t want either of you to have to worry abut how much you drink tonight, and I certainly wouldn’t want to think of the two of you being hit by a drunk driver on your way home.” Then he called out, “Huang?” which brought a boy who looked to be twelve in every way, including the lack of pubic hair. “Could you show these gentleman their room for the night?” “Of course,” the boy said in a high-pitched voice that hadn’t changed at all. Then turning to us, he said, “Follow me, guys,” and we headed deeper into the houseboat and started up the stairs. We climbed two flights of stairs and followed Huang to a spacious suite that contained a king-size bed, a sitting area with a sofa, a love seat and a huge 32-inch TV, built right into the wall. Huang showed us that the suite included a large, luxuriously-appointed bathroom, complete with a double Jacuzzi. Showing us a button on either side of the bed as well as similar buttons in the bathroom and sitting area, he siad, “I’m one of Mr. Hudson’s house boys. If you need anything… anything at all, day or night, just press the button and I’ll come running. “There’s hangers in the closet. If you’d like some assistance, I can hang up your clothes for you, or help you undress if you like.” “I think we can handle that,” thankfully said my boyfriend. With what could only be called a look of disappointment, Huang said, “That’ll be fine. Please come down when you’re ready. I’ll be waiting for you downstairs, ready to attend to your every need.” As soon as the boy departed, Wang closed the door and said, “I’m sorry, Chris. I didn’t realize it would be like this. I never did tell you about Charles’ orgies, did I?” “You brought me to an orgy?” I practically shouted. “You shouldn’t knock it until you’ve tried it,” Wang said with a cute smile, “but not everyone is comfortable with this sort of thing. If you’d prefer, we can leave…” “Perhaps that would be best,” I suggested. “Keep in mind, however, what traffic was like getting here, and what it’ll be like heading home. If we stay, I can guarantee you you’ll have a good time. Charles always has incredible food and some of the best California vintages and imported beers you’ll ever taste. There’ll be food and drinking… and sex… and more food and drinking and sex. But you don’t have to be worried about being raped or anything. The sex is mostly just guys getting each other off or getting themselves off. You won’t have to do anything you don’t want to. You should feel free to leave during the sex, or you can just watch. “Why don’t we stay, Chris? We can always come up here after eating, if you’re uncomfortable with the sex. Please?” After weighing the risks involved with trying to drive home at such a late hour on New Year’s Eve, I responded, “OK, I’m willing to give this a try, but I have to tell you up front, I’m not interested in group sex.” “You shouldn’t knock it until you’ve tried it,” Wang chided me once again as he swatted me gently on the behind. “C’mon, lets undress and get down there.” “You really want to go down there in the nude?” I asked incredulously. Turning me to face him directly and placing both of his hands on my shoulders, Wang said, “Chris, once you get past the initial nervousness, it’s really fun! The thing about being naked in a group like this is that it’s impossible to be pretentious. Everyone is equal without their clothes. After the initial shock of it, you’ll find it’s incredibly liberating. And trust me, you don’t want to be the only one down there who’se wearing clothes! Even a Speedo will leave you feeling over dressed. OK?” Shrugging my shoulders and regretting it already, I agreed and we started undressing. Of course, my nervousness not withstanding, the thought of doing down naked into a party full of men and teenage boys was having a predictable effect on me. I was faithful to Wang and I wanted to keep it that way, but damn, this was more than a bit exciting. Smiling and almost laughing, Wang noticed my predicament and said, “It’s gonna be pretty hard to feign disinterest in sex down there when you’re so big… down there. Wadayasay we take care of your problem before we go down, maybe take the pressure off both of us?” Wang didn’t have to ask twice. We couldn’t take much time without it being obvious what we’d been up to, so we got into our favorite numerical position and sucked each other off, fast and furious. With the immediate need taken care of and taking care to milk out any incriminating evidence, we opened the door and headed downstairs. The party had picked up considerably since we’d left it and there were now several men who were much closer to our own age, and even a few who were closer in age to Charles. Interestingly, I noticed that besides Charles and myself, all of the other men were Asian. Talk about feeling like a minority! Although I didn’t pick up on it at first, I later realized that the effect of being in a room full of naked men was quite the opposite of what I’d thought it would be. In junior high and high school, being in a locker room full of horny naked teenagers had been shear torture. The fear that I’d suddenly spring a boner was always there, particularly in the shower room. Here, the effect was, if anything, desensitizing. Other than noticing that some men were better endowed than others, I didn’t really think about being naked in a room full of naked men. Surprisingly, it felt rather natural. Of course the liquor might have had something to do with it too. Alcohol may loosen up people’s inhibitions, but it also reduces libido. Many a man has gone to a bar to pick up a sexual partner, only to pass out before they could perform. I wasn’t near passing out, but there was no doubt that I was a bit inebriated. It was a good thing I didn’t need to worry about driving home! Although starvation was clearly not on the menu as boys kept circulating with tray after tray of finger foods, I was surprised when Charles announced that dinner was being served. I had assumed that the snacks we were all eating would be it for the night. I certainly wasn’t hungry enough for a full meal, but I guess I was going to have to make room. Within moments, covered serving dishes were placed on a long buffet at one end of the living room. A serving line formed as boys behind the buffet heaped our plates with generous portions of prime rib, salmon, pasta, potatoes and fresh vegetables. It was an incredible feast with some of the best food I’d ever tasted, surprisingly none of it Asian. Although I’d planned to merely sample a little of everything, I ended up shamelessly eating every morsel, cleaning my plate. I even went back for a little bit more! Whereas the appetizers had been served with beer and mixed drinks, dinner was served with an abundant supply of the finest wines California had to offer, some of them among the best in the world. By the end of the meal I noticed I was having trouble standing, and so I realized I would need to slack off on the drinking a while, at least until we all drank Champagne at midnight. Thankfully, the serving boys did not bring dessert out right away, giving us all time to digest the main course. My stomach was disgustingly full, so I doubted I’d touch the dessert when it did appear, even if it wasn’t until next week. Dessert did make its appearance at 11:30, however, and I found myself unable to resist trying a slice of peanut butter cheesecake and bowl of Key lime mousse. Finally, we were counting down the seconds until midnight and then we were all screaming at the top of our lungs, and then I kissed my lover long and hard. The decade of the 1980s was now history — at least until we changed it with TTT, that is. In homage to the decade just passed, Charles put on a selection of top hits from the 80s and we all started dancing and dancing, literally ’til we dropped. I didn’t know how we did it, as over-stuffed and inebriated as we were, but we danced long into the night, finally going to bed as the sun came up. When Wang and I reached the top of the stairs, I turned to my lover as realization dawned on me as to what had happened, or rather hadn’t happened at the party. “That bit about the orgies, you were pulling my leg, weren’t you?” Laughing, he replied, “You’re so gullible, Chris, but that’s one of the things I love about you.” “You stinker!” I shouted at my boyfriend as I chased him into the bathroom. We were both having trouble standing, however, and we ended up taking a shower together, more so we could help keep each other from falling than to do anything sexual. After brushing our teeth, we exited the bathroom only to find Huang and another teenage boy fast asleep in the middle of our king-size bed. “As weird as it may sound, it’s not uncommon in our culture for a host to lend their children to a guest to keep them warm in bed. There’s nothing sexual about it… it’s more a gesture of friendship and courtesy than anything else. As late as it is and with the wine and champagne they drank, they probably fell asleep while waiting for us.” “Even as tired as I am, I don’t have the heart to kick them out,” I said. “There’s plenty of room for all of us,” Wang commented, “so shall we?” “Sure,” I replied as I got in bed on my regular side of the bed and Wang did the same on his. Because there were only two generous, but not huge pillows on the bed, and because the boys were already using them, Wang and I had no choice but to cuddle up with the boys in order to make use of the pillows. I was surprisingly comfortable and content, snuggling with this strange teenage boy, and it took me no time to fall asleep. The next thing I knew, bright daylight was flooding the room and I had the worst headache of my life. Sitting up abruptly in bed, my stomach churned in protest and the entire contents of last night’s meal threatened to make a repeat appearance. On top of that, I had to pee like never before and I ran to the bathroom, letting loose my stream. Before I could even finish pissing, the pressure in my belly became to great and I was forced to bend over and vomit into the toilet, which only made my headache much worse. It was only after I’d stood back up that I realized that I was still pissing and had managed to pee on myself and all over the floor. Wang was soon joining me in front of the toilet, and nearly went flying when his feet hit the puddle of piss I’d left there. Regaining his balance, he too vomited into the toilet as his bladder emptied all over the floor, and on me. The boy I didn’t know, with whom I’d cuddled all night cautiously came up to us and said, “Don’t worry about the mess. We’ve cleaned up much worse. Huang went to get you guys some medicine to settle your stomachs and to help with the headache. Let’s get you showered and I’m sure you’ll both feel better. “My name’s Angus, by the way. A lot of us who were born in Hong Kong have English names.” I wasn’t sure how Angus managed the both of us at once, but he led us to the shower, adjusted the water temperature and washed both of us and himself without dropping us on the floor. When finished, he dried all three of us and even helped us apply deodorant and brush our teeth. Shaving ourselves would have been a disaster, so we let that go. When we exited the bathroom, Huang was waiting for us with a glass of what looked like Alka Seltzer. “Here, drink this. It should make you feel a lot better.” I felt myself become incredibly sleepy right away, and I lay down on the bed, not even bothering to get under the covers. The next thing I knew, I was no longer in bed, but was in a luxurious airline seat. Startled, I sat bolt-upright and looked around at my surroundings. I was definitely in an airplane of some sort, perhaps a corporate jet from the appearance of it. There was a single seat on each side of the aisle and Wang was in the seat across from mine. We were both still naked. Raising the window shade I found myself looking out at the red running lights on the wings of the plane. Beyond that was only darkness. Finally, I noticed that there was another set of seats facing mine and Wang’s. It was Angus and Huang, both of them naked as well. From somewhere further toward the front of the plane, Charles Hudson came ambling down the aisle toward me. He wasn’t naked. He was wearing an elegant terry robe. “Welcome to my corporate jet, Dr. Michaels,” he began. “I know you have a lot of questions and they will all be answered in time. In another five hours, give or take, we will be landing in Hong Kong, where you will be my guest.” “You kidnapped us!” I practically shouted. “No, Dr. Michaels, I kidnapped you. Everyone else here is here willingly. I knew you would never come with me of your own accord, however, so I had to use a little persuasion in the form of an additive to your hangover medication. I trust you feel much better now?” “Except for being a captive,” I countered. “You’re not a captive, Dr. Michaels. You will be free to leave as soon as you tell us what we need to know.” “You’re a Chinese spy,” I stated flatly. “I am a hero to the people of China,” he replied. “Before the end of this decade, Hong Kong will be returned to its rightful owners, the People’s Republic of China. There will be great celebrations as we are finally reunited. You do know that the British were not benign liberators, don’t you? They took Hong Kong by force and enslaved its people to the opium trade.” “I do know,” I answered, “but that was nearly a hundred years ago. That was a different time! Since the end of World War II, the U.K. has extending the same rights to the citizens of Hong Kong that it gives it’s own citizens.” “Except the right to vote, Dr. Michaels,” Charles countered. “Hong Kong has been ruled by a governor appointed by the king by an act of the British Parliament. Only now is there change, now that Hong Kong is about to rejoin it’s own people.” “How do you plan to get me into Hong Kong without my passport?” I asked. “Actually, your boyfriend brought us your passport, but that is irrelevant. We have a new passport for you. You are now Dr. Michael Christopher, a Canadian Citizen and a professor at the University of Calgary.” “You know I’ll never give you time tunnel technology,” I stated flatly. “I have faith that you will, Dr. Christopher,” Charles responded. “We can be very persuasive if we have to be, and we are prepared to be patient. Very, very patient. Cooperate and you will soon regain your freedom. Resist us and you will be with us until your dying day.”
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