Conversations With Myself

A Novel by Altimexis

Book One — A Bridge Too Far

The Whispers of Time
 
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Chapter 1 — First Contact

September 1978 • Chris-12

“Watch where you’re going, dork!” I heard just before someone shoved into me from behind, sending me flying forward. The books I was carrying — I had five of them with me — everything I needed for my morning classes — went flying out of my right arm where I’d had them nestled. My three ring binder, complete with individual tabbed dividers and pockets for each class, went careering out of my hands as well. Of course as soon as it hit the floor, it sprang open and all of my papers scattered all over the place, to be trampled on by all of the other kids who were trying to get to their own classes.

No one bothered to stop and help me get up. No one bothered to stop and help me gather my things, which by now were all over the whole hallway. The kid who’d shoved me was long gone.

Slowly, I started to get up and assess the damage. Although it was my ego that was the most damaged, I looked down at my knees and noticed that my right pants leg was ripped at the knee (in an age when tattered clothes weren’t popular). ‘Shit’, I thought to myself at a time when no twelve-year-old would dare get caught uttering the word aloud.

And then I looked around at the mess of my ruined homework and class notes flying all over the place as kids were running to get to class. I thought about how fucked-up I was and I did what no self-respecting kid should ever do in front of other kids — I sat down in the middle of the hallway and I started to cry.

<<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>>

September 2008 • Chris-42

I woke up from my dream, gasping for breath. Slowly, my heart rate began to return to normal and my surroundings came into focus. My bed sheets were absolutely soaked! It took a moment for me to remember where I was and to realize that I was no longer twelve years old and had graduated from junior high a very, very long time ago. Indeed, there was no such thing as junior high any more. Today they called it middle school — not that it really made any difference — they just started the torture a whole year earlier, so that eleven-year-old kids got to experience the total humiliation, insecurity and ridicule that kids foisted upon each other as part of the ritual called adolescence. Lucky them.

It was particularly tough on me, though, as my brother and sister were so much older than me, and had already gone on to college by the time I finished grade school. My mom’s brothers were only a few years older than she was, and helped pave the way for her. Now she admits it was a big help to her, but back then, she was clueless as to the tragedy that awaited her youngest son. Likewise, my dad was the middle kid out of a brood of five. But let’s face it — would I have even listened to what they might have said? How many kids listen to their parents about such things, no matter how cool their parents may be? Do we ever really believe our parents can relate to us as kids?

No, I really, really needed an older brother or at least a best friend to lead the way — to show me the ropes. I needed someone I could turn to for advice and who could help me from making some of the more serious mistakes I made along the way. I mean, I knew I couldn’t help but make some mistakes and probably needed to learn from them, but it was often my reactions to my mistakes that led to disaster. What I really needed more than anything was someone to reassure me that my life wasn’t going to disintegrate because of everything I did — that every kid was going through exactly the same thing.

Well, not exactly the same thing. I also needed someone to tell me what those funny feelings were all about that I got when I looked at a cute boy — especially a cute shirtless boy. Yeah, according to the things I read about puberty, I put a lot of energy into trying to convince myself that those feelings were perfectly normal and that I felt just as excited at the thought of seeing naked girls. As much as I love my kids today and wouldn’t even want to think of life without them, how much different my life might have been otherwise.

Yeah, I played the role of the insecure, shy teenager throughout my junior high and high school years. I never even dated until I went away to college, and then I tried throwing myself at woman after woman, hoping I could ignite the spark that all the other guys seemed to feel when they were with the opposite sex. The possibility of living my life as a gay man never even entered my mind until it was too late.

Yet if I had recognized what I was at an earlier age, might I actually not have come home to an empty apartment today? Might I actually have someone with whom to share my bed? But was I ready to face the truth back then, and if I had faced the truth, might I have fallen prey to AIDS along the way?

Yes, my life was one big fucked-up mess, and a lot of it stemmed from events back in early adolescence. I just didn’t know how to handle all the teasing, I fell prey to a lot of bullying, I was a geek in an era when there was no salvation for my kind, and I was gay in a very conservative, Bible Belt city with little hope of coming to terms with who I was. I lacked self-esteem and allowed that to dictate the rest of my life. Now, I was forever living in the shadow of a twelve-year-old boy, even to this very day.

The one thing that made up for all of this was my intelligence. No, I wasn’t an Einstein, but when it comes to Math and the Sciences, I’ve never gotten a score less of less than 100% on a test — ever. I sailed through the Physics program at Stanford and earned a doctorate and a post-doctorate in quantum physics before being hired by Lawrence Livermore to do research for the Feds.

I’ve been here more than a decade-and-a-half, now. Seventeen years as of today, actually.

My research is super secret — and it has the potential to change everything. I can’t really talk about it except that it has to do with communication theory — and time.

For the record, let me state emphatically that time travel isn’t possible. One can’t go back in time. Information, on the other hand, is another story, and I think I’ve found a way to communicate with myself in the past.

The government is interested in the technology for obvious reasons, and although I have my own interests, there really are national security reasons for my research. Of course everyone recognizes the potential harm that could happen by changing the past. We wouldn’t contemplate doing so without good reason, but the advantage of being able to do so at a time of national calamity could not be denied. Funding for my work has always been at a bare minimum as the project is categorized as being of exceptional worth, but highly unlikely to succeed. Only a handful of people even know of its existence — not even the president is aware, nor would he be informed until and unless we have a working prototype.

Unlike everyone else involved, however, I always believed that, ultimately, we would succeed. In fact, my recent experiments have been so promising that I’ve taken the precaution of withholding the results from my superiors. I know that the moment they become aware we may actually have a working prototype, I will lose control of the project. No longer would I be able to design and conduct experiments as I see fit. I wouldn’t even be able to test the prototype without intense scrutiny.

My research relies on something called paired quantum states — a quirk of quantum mechanics that allows us to violate some of Einstein’s theories on Relativity and send information instantly through space or time. But sending information back in time is particularly difficult, because you can’t simply go back in time! For example, let’s say you wanted to prevent the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor back in 1941. Not that I’d suggest trying to do so — it would change so much of history — and might have delayed America’s entry into World War II long enough to have allowed Germany to win! But let’s say for the sake of argument that you wanted to do so. Paired quantum states originate from nuclear reactions in which two particles are generated with opposite properties — for example, one with a positive spin and one with a negative spin. If you then measure the spin of one of them, you instantly know the spin of the other, no matter how far away it is — hence instant communication. If one of the particles is a tachyon, it will travel back in time while the other travels forward in time — hence the ability to communicate back in time.

So to prevent Pearl Harbor, you would need to use paired quantum states originating half-way between 1941 and now, ’cause the particles each travel in opposite directions through time. Since it’s now 2008, you’d need to identify particles that originated from a nuclear reaction in 1975. But there just aren’t enough naturally occurring particles to send more than a word or two back that far. There isn’t enough bandwidth, as they say. We could get around that if we’d had an artificial particle generator — a specially designed linear accelerator — back then, but there were no temporal paired quantum particle generators back in the 1970s. We didn’t even know such things existed until I completed my PhD dissertation. Like I said, there’s no going back in time.

There is another way, though. If we build an artificial temporal quantum particle generator today, we could simply wait around until another 66 years have passed. Then we can make use of the particles that were generated today as they arrive in the future, to send information back 132 years into the past. There are two problems with that. First of all, the particles decay exponentially, so there would be damn few particles left in 2074 with which to contact the people of late 1941. There still wouldn’t be enough bandwidth! More importantly, no one alive in 1941 would have a clue that the particles were there, let alone that they contained a warning from the future. So much for trying to prevent World War II.

As with many things, there is a workaround, but it’s complicated. It turns out that the human brain can share thoughts with itself in the past or future if the brain waves are synchronized. The mechanism isn’t well understood, but the phenomenon has been studied extensively and it’s real. This is why some people have premonitions about events that haven’t happened yet. Some people have a natural ability to synchronize their subconscious thoughts from minutes, hours or even days into the future. My research has shown that by using the few naturally occurring particles that exist in the human brain that have temporal paired quantum states, it’s possible to extend that ability to anyone, and to extend the reach by a matter of years. Not only that, but paired quantum states make it possible to synchronize the brainwaves more precisely, facilitating the passage of more than just premonitions.

With paired quantum states, one can have an entire conversation with one’s former self, but because paired quantum states can only be identified in the past, the method serves as a one-way ticket to fix things in the past. I know that it can be dangerous to meddle with the past but, at the moment, I’m the only person in the world who knows how the technology works. My superiors of course know of my research and they understand its potential, but I’ve done my best to keep them thinking that practical applications are still years away. I’ve only been allowed to continue my research because of the potential, huge rewards. My research team is small and I have chosen the members carefully, such that I am the only one who fully understands all of the aspects.

With the technology safely under my sole control and making sure to change the past only to the bare minimum, what would be the harm, then, in making a few changes to my own past. The thing is that, even though I recognize there are dangers involved with meddling with the past, there’s a part of me that would like to do nothing less than that… a big part. I just want to go back and straighten my own life out. Perhaps I’m being selfish, but I’d like another shot at life — given the chance, who wouldn’t? How much harm could there be in fixing my own past, so long as I don’t mess with the bigger picture. I wouldn’t need to change much — just a few of the more serious mistakes that led to my life being the fucked-up mess it is today.

It’s not like I’d get to relive my life over again or anything like that, but what I’ve discovered should make it possible to establish an information conduit for a short while — just long enough to be able to communicate with myself at a point in the recent past. It can only be with myself because the brain patterns have to match identically and, for much the same reason, it has to be within a span of at most seven years. Any further back in time and the differences in my brain would be too great — we’d risk causing brain damage if I could make the connection at all.

We’ve actually done some pretty extensive research on this in adults and children over the course of the last ten years. By measuring brain wave patterns in response to a variety of stimuli, we can ascertain just how much the brain changes over time. Not just functionally, but structurally. My research has shown that brain wave patterns are remarkably stable over the course of a decade or more in adults. There would be no second chances if we fucked up someone’s brain in their own past, so we can’t take a chance on pushing the limits of the technology except in an absolute emergency.

Although we could probably get away with going back eight or nine years into the past, it seems that seven years is the upper limit for repeated encounters. After all, any damage we might do would be cumulative and irreversible. For the older adult brain, over the age of sixty or so, the time span would have to be reduced, owing to the gradual die-off of brain cells with aging. Likewise, the young adolescent brain changes rapidly, necessitating additional reductions. Going even younger, the brain in childhood seems to change dramatically by the month rather than by the year and changes in brain function would be too great for communication to work at all. In any case, I’m not willing too push the technology any younger than the age of twelve, nor would I really need to in my specific case.

So if I actually did this, what I’d need to do is to communicate backwards through time in stages — sequentially. I’m 42 years old now, so I would need to reach back to myself at the age of 35. Once I’ve contacted myself at age 35 — let’s refer to me as Chris-35 then, Chris-35 could then contact myself at the age 28 and so on. But establishing each link to the past will take time, perhaps several months — maybe a year. You see, the thing that makes it so complicated is that I would not only have to send information about the future back to myself in time, but also I’d have to communicate the technology to do so back in time as well. That’s the rub.

So when I contact Chris-35, I’ll not only be coming to him inside of his head, but I’ll have to convince him that I’m real and that it’s essential that he contact himself in the past as well. On top of everything else, I’ll have to teach him how to build his very own machine for communicating with himself, seven years in his own past and fourteen years in mine. Not only will he have to do so with components that today would be considered seven years out-of-date, but he’ll have to teach his younger self to do it again, and with components that are fourteen years out-of-date, and so on down the line. Hence I might be as old as 43 by the time Chris-36 succeeds in reaching Chris-29, and I might be 44 by the time Chris-30 establishes a link to Chris-23.

I would like to think it won’t take so long, but I have to be a realist. It’s not at all inconceivable that I won’t manage to reach my twelve-year-old self until I’m approaching fifty. That’s another thing — changes may have to reach fruition in the past before they can have an effect on the present. For example, if I were to talk myself into taking another course in college, chances are I would have to wait four months to actually pass the class before it would have its full impact on the present. Truthfully I don’t know what to expect — will a change have an immediate effect on the present, will it have to play out in the past before there is a change in the present, will it have to work its way through the entire time line before it affects the present, or perhaps might it be a combination of all three, depending on the nature of the change made? It’s all so confusing!

There are so many things that could go wrong. At any point along the way, the chain could be broken. One of my former selves could decide to alter the information I’m trying to send back, based on their own perceptions of what’s important. The message could simply get garbled as often happens when one makes a copy of a copy of a copy. There could end up being unintended consequences I didn’t account for. The technology could indeed fall into the wrong hands and be developed at a time when the world isn’t prepared to deal with it. Or there could come a point where there just aren’t sufficient resources in the past to build the equipment at all, even with all of my planning.

At least there’s one consolation — so long as I don’t change something in the past that results in my death, once the chain is established, I could always pass more information back in time along the chain. Although there are limits, there would always be a chain of communication reaching from the present back in time.

On the other hand, if the process does succeed, how will I know? How can I verify the results? The change will affect the very memories I have today, going all the way back, perhaps, to when I was 12. Will the ‘changed’ me go ahead and reinvent the process again, and if I don’t, will the changes I make be undone? When and how will I know that I’m done? Conversely, would the passage of time in the present, stop the process? There is a paradox.

So will I really do this? No way, no how! I would never have the courage to go through with it — or maybe I should say the stupidity! There’s just too much uncertainty. Too much that could go wrong. Still, it’d be interesting to try and, who knows, someday the technology might indeed prove vital to national security. Since I’m going to develop the technology anyway and since I need to find a way to test it, why not test it on myself? Maybe I really could make my life today a little less fucked up in the end. What would be the harm in that? Perhaps with a little minor tinkering, I wouldn’t have to return home to an empty apartment every night.

I’ve been calling the project Operation Time Tunnel as a tribute to the 1966 science fiction television series that went by the same name — well, Time Tunnel anyway. The terminology is apropos, as I’m literally using quantum mechanical states to form a tunnel connecting two different points in time. The tunnel has no physical dimensions — it is what lay people might refer to as a wormhole — but it is artificial and can be traversed only by my brainwaves. It is an exclusive tunnel for my thoughts to flow back through time only to me, and I hope to God that I don’t fuck up.

As far as my boss is concerned, the technology isn’t ready yet. If I were being honest with myself, I guess I’d have to agree that he’s right. Not even the President knows of my work — it’s just too preliminary to rely on it, even in a time of crisis. I’ve proved the existence of paired temporal quantum states and I’ve proved that they can be used to send information back in time, albeit by only a few minutes. I know I can interact with a stream of quantum particles through my dreams and I’ve demonstrated all of the steps necessary to open a conversation with myself. The thing is, there really is no way to test the technology other than actually by using it. Hence, I’ve decided to take a leap of faith.

Tonight I will visit myself in the past. It’s only the first step in reaching out to that twelve-year-old boy I used to be. It’s only the first step in trying to fix my messed up past. It’s probably the only step I will ever take, but tonight there will be an opportunity that will not come again, to prove that the technology works. I can only pray that nothing goes wrong.

<<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>>

September 2001 • Chris-35

“Surprise!” everyone yelled out as I entered the lab on the morning of Monday, September 10, 2001. I was stunned. For ten years I’d come and gone, swiping myself into and out of the laboratory, pretty much keeping to myself. I didn’t think anyone really cared. My research was really super secret and except for one or two colleagues and a couple of post-doc fellows from Stanford, my alma mater, and a grad student from UC Berkley, very few people had a clue as to what my work involved. Even the colleagues, fellows and students had only an inkling, and they didn’t know the half of it.

Yet here they were throwing me a surprise party.

“I can’t believe you guys remembered,” I managed to croak out.

Jack Craegen, the director of our section and my senior by not quite a decade, threw his arm around me and said, “Chris, I remember it well when you came to interview here. You didn’t know what to do with your hands. You could barely make eye contact… in fact, you had an intense fascination with the pattern of the tiles in the floor.” I could feel my face turning beet red as he said this — it was so embarrassing. “But there was no denying the work you’d done at Stanford. An outstanding dissertation, a brilliant post-doc in Rankin’s lab, and more than twenty, first-authored papers in top-notch journals, all by the age of twenty-five. You could have gone to any of a number of fine academic institutions, and yet the eminent Dr. Michaels was interested in coming here.

“You had some pretty wild ideas… things that could change history.” Jack was the only one in the room besides me who knew just how literal that statement was. “So we decided to take a chance on you, and here it is, ten years later, and you still have those crazy ideas, and that breakthrough is still just around the corner.”

Jeff, one of my post-docs, popped open a bottle of champagne and poured everyone a glass, and then raised his glass in a toast and said, “Here’s to breakthroughs.”

Everyone else chimed in, “To breakthroughs,” and then we all drank up, but this was so unlike me. I just wasn’t into the social scene. I was pretty much a loner who lacked confidence and barely interacted with my peers at all. Still, we had managed to make some amazing progress in our research of late and I really thought we were on the right track. Soon I hoped I would be able to prove that a rat could learn how to navigate a maze from doing so in the near future. I feared, however, that the rat brain might be too primitive, but we had to start somewhere.

Later that evening, after almost everyone else had left to go home, I was still at my desk, my shiny new titanium PowerBook open in front of me while I was running yet another simulation on our IBM ASCI White supercomputer. Carl, one of the newer additions to our staff and a recent recruit from the faculty of Cal Tech, came up behind me and started to give my back muscles a message.

“This may feel like your real life, Chris, but you do have a wife and two wonderful children waiting for you at home that you ought to see once and a while,” he said. “We both know that marrying Jen was probably a mistake,” he continued, inhaling deeply, “but she is the mother of your children and I think your children are much better off with a father in their lives.”

“Sometimes I wish we’d met first,” I admitted to Carl.

“But then your children would have never been born,” he pointed out.

“And I couldn’t bear that,” I sighed, just before I turned around and gave him a quick peck on the lips. One peck became two, which turned into a deep, passionate kiss. We might be past our prime, but we were far from old men, and had more than enough passion. In fact, I had a lifetime of unspent passion stored up, hardly any of it given to my wife over the years.

“As much as I’d like to continue this,” Carl said, “this is your special day, and you really should spend it with your wife and kids. Call me old fashioned, but I still believe in monogamy and being faithful. I’m not telling you to stay in a bad marriage, Chris… staying in a bad marriage for the sake of the kids isn’t smart… but I don’t get the sense yours is a bad marriage. In fact the only problem I see is your wife’s gender.”

“Yeah, that’s the crux of the problem all right. I really did love her at one time,” I admitted, “but it’s been a long time since I’ve been able to satisfy her, and that only leads to resentment… and guilt. She deserves better than that… and so do I. It’s sad, but the only thing holding us together anymore is the children. I doubt the marriage will even last long enough for them to graduate high school.”

“That’s too bad,” Carl said as he drew me into one last long, passionate kiss. “Now go home while you still have children to go home to.”

“Yes sir,” I replied.

The drive to our home in Oakland Hills was pleasant and gave me a chance to clear my mind and think about what was really important in my life, not that my work wasn’t important. For better or for worse, I’d made my choice to ignore my sexuality a long time ago, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that I was attracted to guys and had minimal attraction to women. Jen did do something for me, however. She really was my soul mate in a way — more of a best friend than a lover — but there was a physical attraction, too — just not a very strong one. If I were honest, however, when we made love, I’d always had to fantasize about — other things.

By the time I arrived home, it was almost eleven o’clock and the kids were already in bed. Who was I fooling? I was a lousy father and my marriage was a sham.

“Even on your anniversary, you had to stay late?” Jen said as I walked in the door.

“Guilty as charged,” I answered her in return. “I guess I was just feeling a little more mortal than usual, thinking back on the last ten years and what little I’ve accomplished in my life.”

“Oh, don’t be so hard on yourself, hon,” she said. “Your work’s going well, isn’t it?” she asked.

“Very well, actually.”

“I know our marriage isn’t what it could be, but we’ve got two wonderful kids, and you can’t help that… that you’re gay.” She said the words dejectedly — her tone somber.

What!” I practically shouted.

“Honey, I know,” she said, patting me on the shoulder. “I’ve known for a while. Looking back, I probably knew all along, but like you, I didn’t want to know, and so I ignored it. We both saw what we wanted to see… the perfect marriage.

“Now we’ve got two great kids and from what I’ve heard from most of my girlfriends, we’re not all that different from most families. Most of them don’t have much sex, either. Most of them aren’t all that happy with their husbands, but they love them nonetheless. I don’t know if we can stay together after Karen leaves the nest in eight years… I don’t know if anyone can make that kind of commitment these days.”

“So, in the meantime you’re really OK with my being gay?” I asked.

“I didn’t say that,” she answered. “I said I know about it. I can live with it. I still love you, and I hope you still love me, but if I ever find that you’ve been unfaithful… that you’ve been sleeping around on me… it doesn’t matter if it’s with a woman or with a man… you’d better lock up every knife and every razor blade in the house because so help me God, by the time you wake up one morning, your family jewels will be in the next county.” I couldn’t help but wince at the mere suggestion of that.

“Dad?” came the sound of our son’s voice as he entered the kitchen. “Is it really true?” he asked. “Are you really gay?”

This was not what either Jen nor I had been expecting. What were we going to tell our son? How do you explain to a twelve-year-old boy that his father is a homosexual? What words can you use to comfort him — to explain that it really doesn’t matter that his dad is sexually attracted to men rather than women?

“Why don’t you sit down, Andy?” I said to our son.

“Would you like a snack, maybe some milk and cookies?” Jen asked.

Pulling up a chair and sitting down at the table with us, he said, “Actually, I have a feeling a cup of coffee may be more appropriate.” That was pure Andy — twelve going on twenty. “Why don’t you just give it to me straight.”

Jen just looked at me and raised her eyebrows, throwing the ball right into my court.

“Well, Andy,” I started to say, and then I paused and looked at my angelic son’s face. What could I say to make this right? He was so beautiful — so innocent. No matter what I said, he’d never look at me the same way again. He looked so much like his mother, with long, golden strands of hair, a flawless complexion, and yet there was the barest hint of a mustache on his upper lip — just enough to let me know that hormones were raging through his body. His golden eyes were bright and had that same sparkle of life he’d always had since the day he was born. There was just a hint of mischief in his smile — enough to let me know he knew more than he was letting on.

“Yes, Dad? At this rate, I will need that coffee,” he said with a smirk.

“First of all, how much of what your mother and I discussed did you hear?” I asked.

“Dad, I think I heard pretty much all of it. That she’s always known you were gay, that most of her girlfriends aren’t having sex,” he said with a laugh, “and that she’ll cut off your equipment if you mess around… not that we see you very much as it is, Dad.”

Thinking about what my son had said, it was obvious he knew a lot for a kid; a hell of a lot more than I did at his age, and so I decided to feel him out a bit more.

“Andy, what do you know about being gay, and what do you think about it?” I asked.

“Well, you know, you hear all sorts of stuff at school. We had a chapter on it way back in sex-ed, and the teacher made it very clear that it’s genetic and that most people are attracted to both boys and girls to some degree. Josh Reynolds and Dave Franklin are boyfriends and everyone knows it. They don’t try to hide it. If you’re gay, Dad, you can’t help being attracted to men, but then why’d you marry Mom?”

“Andy, I don’t know if they taught you about all the discrimination based on sexual orientation that existed in the past, and that even exists to this day in many parts of the country and the world, but when I was your age, where I grew up, being gay was considered to be a sin by more than half the people, and thought to be a psychiatric disorder by nearly everyone else. Hell, gay sex was even illegal in most places even here in the U.S. I certainly didn’t want to be a sinner and I didn’t want to be mentally ill.

“You may have heard about the Stonewall uprising for gay rights in your history classes, or if not yet, you will. It took Stonewall to change things, but even then, Stonewall happened in New York, and I grew up in St. Louis, and these changes took time. Stonewall happened when I was only three, but I might as well have been twenty-three… it came too late to have an impact on my growing up. By the time I graduated high school, it was ingrained in me that being gay was wrong.

“That’s just stupid, Dad. If you’re gay, you’re gay. There’s nothing wrong with being gay. You couldn’t help it. Why’d you let anyone tell you otherwise?”

Reaching around the table, I gave my boy a big hug and said, “you’re a great kid, Andy, but you’ve seen the stuff on the news… you see how many people still feel homosexuality is wrong. Look at all the flack there is about gay marriage. Do you think it’s wrong for two men or two women to get married?” I asked.

Andy scrunched up his face for a moment the way he always does when he’s considering something thoughtful, and then he said, “Jeremy Campbell has two moms… I don’t think they’re married. Well, I think one of them was married to a man, once, but then she got divorced, and then she had a civil union or something with his second mom. I mean, I know they can’t have children with each other, and I don’t really want to know how they have sex with each other… that’s just gross… but if they love each other, what difference does it make whether they’re married or not?”

“That’s an excellent question, Andy,” I answered him. “Gay people want to have the same rights that heterosexual married couples have, including the right to inherit each other’s property, to visit each other in the hospital and make legal decisions for each other without having to draw up separate legal documents to do so, and to serve as guardians for each others’ children.”

“Shit,” Andy said before he realized he’d accidentally used a curse word in front of his parents and blushed. “Oops, sorry. It just reminds me of the whole civil rights movement we learned about in school, you know?”

“That’s exactly what this is all about, Andy, and nothing less,” Jen chimed in.

“But you still haven’t answered my question, Dad. Why did you go along with it?” my son again asked.

Thinking for a second, I said, “You ever notice how Grandma writes with her right hand, but opens jars left handed and even uses a left-handed pair of scissors?”

“She does?” Andy asked. “Why’s that?”

“Because when she was a girl, the teacher used to go around the room with a ruler in her hand and hit Grandma’s knuckles every time she tried to write with her left hand. You see, back then they thought it was abnormal to write left-handed. They thought it was unnatural. They forced Grandma to switch to writing with her right hand. That’s just what they did in those days.”

“But why did that do that?” Andy asked.

“Because they were absolute idiots. They didn’t want to know what the truth was and didn’t know what the hell they were doing, bud. Just like the religious nuts were and still are, well, nuts. Some thought a person was just plain stupid if they thought there was nothing wrong with boys who liked boys.

“The problem is, when everyone tells you it’s wrong to feel what you feel, what are you going to believe? Who are you going to believe? All the guys were talking about girls and, naturally, I wanted to be like them. All the kids made jokes about queers or, worse still, used words like fag, fairy, pussy, and so on. I simply couldn’t be one of them.

“I think I understand, but you eventually came around, right? But not until after you met mom, and married her, and had us, huh?” my son asked.

“Andy, I guess you could say I’ve been in varying states of denial since before I even started high school. There were times back then when I realized I had a crush on a boy and came tantalizingly close to coming out, only to slam the closet door shut, just as I realized what I was about to do. At other times, I was convinced I’d ‘cured’ myself of my malady and was as straight as the next guy. By the time your mom entered the picture, I was certain there wasn’t a gay bone in my body.”

“Well, there was one…” Andy joked, teasingly.

“Ooh Andy, that was bad,” Jen said.

Suddenly, I got my son’s joke. Was he really only twelve? “Don’t you know that kids aren’t supposed to tell dirty jokes to their parents? Certainly not at your age.”

“On that note, I think it’s time for us to all go to bed,” my wife said.

“Sounds good to me,” I agreed.

“Mom, Dad, one more thing. Do you think you’ll get a divorce?” Andy asked as he started to stand up.

“Not on your life, tiger,” I answered. “Even though I may be gay, your mom and I still love each other very much.”

“That’s great to hear,” he said, “’Cuz I’d hate to see you guys stay together just because of us. But you know… I have a lot of friends with divorced parents. If you guys do divorce some day because of the gay thing, I’ll understand. I’m not saying it’s what I want… not by a long shot.” He looked like he was about to tear up as he said, “It would make Karen and me very sad, but I’m cool with the gay thing.”

Wrapping my arms around my son, I said, “You’re a great kid, Andy. I love you very, very much.”

“I love you too, Dad. Thanks for being honest with me.”

I kissed Andy on the cheek as I released him and watched him head back to his bedroom, I couldn’t help but think about how much I loved him — how much I loved both my kids. It would have been a shame if I’d never met Jen. Who knows, I might be happier living with a man, but I couldn’t imagine life without my kids.

I’d been spending entirely too much time at the lab in an effort to avoid my marriage, and that had to change. I was missing out on seeing my children grow up. They’d only be kids once in their lives, and I had been relegating myself to a seat in the next county. Carl was right — my priorities had to change.

As I got into bed with Jen, for the first in a long time, I felt at peace with myself. I even kissed her on the lips before snuggling into my pillow and drifting off to sleep.

<<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>>

I was having the weirdest feeling, like I was floating in space. It was like I was dreaming, but wide-awake at the same time. I’d never felt anything like it before. At first, I saw myself, but it wasn’t me, but it was. I knew this didn’t make sense, but then I was dreaming, right?

Slowly, things started to clarify and I really was looking at myself, but it wasn’t the ‘me’ I was used to seeing in the mirror every morning when I get ready for work. No, for one thing, this ‘me’ was older. I had more lines in my face — a lot more when you got down to it, and my hair was a lot grayer, too. My hair was parted the wrong way, but it was more than that. My mole on the left cheek was on the other side! No, everything was backwards. Or rather, everything was rightwards. This wasn’t a mirror image of me — this was the way I look in a photograph rather than in the mirror. This was the way everyone else sees me.

“Hello, Chris,” the vision said to me.

“Who are you?” I asked in return.

“Well, I’m Chris, too, but isn’t that obvious?”

“Sure, but what are you doing in my dream? I mean it’s not like I have an older brother or twin cousin or something.”

“Chris, think about your research,” the apparition answered. “The answer is, literally, staring you in the face.”

My eyes, at least the ones I had in my dream, opened wide in shock as I understood what my older apparition was saying — that he was me, communicating with me from the future! Could it really be? If so, how could I know it was real and not just my wishful thinking, manifesting itself in a dream?

“Chris, I chose tonight to come to you for a reason. I could tell you about your tenth anniversary celebration, but that wouldn’t prove anything. By tomorrow, your anniversary and even your conversation with Andy will be a very distant memory. Tomorrow is a date no American will ever forget, comparable in stature to Pearl Harbor Day.

“Unless you break from your usual pattern and watch or listen to the news in the morning, you’ll arrive at the lab to find the entire facility in lockdown. Tomorrow morning, terrorists will hijack four airplanes, flying two of them into the World Trade Center in New York, causing both towers to collapse, and a third into the Pentagon. Passengers on the fourth heroically will rush the cockpit, forcing the hijackers to run the plane into the ground, saving a fourth target, thought to be either the US Capitol or the White House.

“When I return to you tomorrow night, you’ll know that I’m real, and our true conversation can begin.”

With that, the image of my older self faded to black and I awoke with a start.

“Honey, are you alright?” my wife asked.

“Sure, I’m fine. I just had a nightmare is all,” I answered her.

“Then just relax and go to sleep, darling,” she said in a soothing voice.

Yeah, right. How could I go to sleep? If that really was my future self, communicating with me through the technology I was developing in the lab, then thousands of people were about to die. Could I do anything to stop the carnage, and might there be unintended consequences if I did? Failing to act was not an option — that’s what this whole project was supposed to be about. If only my future self had given me the flight numbers, I would have had so much more to go on. Perhaps it really was just a dream, but I didn’t feel I could take a chance.

Getting out of bed, I headed to the study and called Jack. Jack would know what to do. After telling him the nature of my dream and what my future self had said, he replied, “That sure sounds pretty specific. Maybe it was a dream, but if so, it was a pretty elaborate dream, and knowing you, it’s not the typical sort of thing you’d dream up. Next time, remember to give us the flight numbers! Oh well, there’s still enough for us to put out an alert and catch the bastards if the threat is real.”

“Thanks Jack. Give me a call if anything happens, OK?” I asked.

“Will do,” he replied.

I went back to sleep, wondering what September 11, 2001 would bring.

The author gratefully acknowledges the assistance of David of Hope and Anthony Camacho in editing this story, as well as the support of Awesome Dude for hosting it.
This story is purely fictional and any resemblance of characters to real individuals other than named historical figures is purely coincidental and unintentional. Some characters may be gay and at times engage in homosexual acts. Because the story explores characters at various stages of their lives, they may be underage during early sexual explorations. Obviously, anyone uncomfortable with this should not be reading the story, and the reader assumes responsibility for the legality of reading this type of story where they live. The author retains full copyright, and permission must be obtained prior to duplication of the story in any form.

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