Conversations With Myself

A Novel by Altimexis

The Whispers of Time
 
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Book One • Chapter 4 — To Preserve the Timeline

January 2002 • Chris-35

“I can’t believe you could have been so reckless,” my older self said.

“Well, it’s not like I planned it, you know. I didn’t even think I was capable of getting aroused by a woman anymore. The last thing I expected was to get an erection when she came onto me like that, but once I did, there was no stopping it. Before I knew what was happening, I was inside of her, and then it was over. We both came, just like that.

“I guess we’re more ‘bi’ that we thought,” I chuckled.

“Chris, I’m not chiding you,” Chris-42 said, “but you have to understand the seriousness of this… and I have to tell you, I didn’t even consider the possibility of something like this happening, which is why I didn’t even think I needed to raise the issue. I’m not the least bit bisexual. I couldn’t get it up with a woman if my life depended on it.”

“I take it you’re not together with Jen anymore?” I asked with more than a hint of nervousness in my voice.

“Chris, there’s a reason I’ve been avoiding telling you anything personal about my life in the future to you, and that’s specifically because I didn’t want to take a chance on contaminating the timeline by giving you any advance knowledge of the future. What I’d never even considered is that by altering the course of your research, I might be changing your day-to-day life sufficiently that even that might change your personal life enough to contaminate the timeline.

“I can’t give you details, Chris, but you’ll just have to take my word for it that there will be changes in your future. You’ll still have an amicable relationship with Jen, and a great relationship with your kids, and much to your chagrin, Andy will constantly be trying to get you to go out with guys, but other than that, I can’t really tell you anything else.”

“Andy’s going to try playing matchmaker? I love it!” I said. That more than anything else made my day.

“But imagine what might happen if Jen became pregnant. Suddenly, you’d have another young child to raise that I never had in my life. The timeline would be irrevocably altered. True, there could be a number of beneficial effects, but the added burden of another mouth to feed might delay the development of TTT by years. What if it weren’t ready in time to have gotten a message to you in time for 9/11? And we suspect that far worse things are yet to come. That’s why I need your help. You can’t have more children, Chris.”

“What if I told her what’s going on?” I asked.

“Chris, do you really think that would be appropriate?” Chris-42 asked me.

“So I either have to tell her I changed my mind about having additional children, or I have to have a vasectomy behind her back,” I said.

“It’s your call, but knowing Jen, she would not react well to you changing your mind.”

“She would not react well to finding out I’d gone behind her back to have a vasectomy,” I said.

“You’re certainly right about that… in fact, she’d skin you alive, so you’d damn well better be sure she never finds out about it if you decide to go that route.”

“How true,” I realized. “I guess it would be safer to be honest with her in the first place and just tell her I changed my mind… that I just don’t have time to take on the responsibility of a baby at this stage in my life, or that I don’t want to have to deal with teenagers when I’m sixty… but I could very well lose her over this.”

“Given that Jen and I already parted once in spite of having a daughter to raise, I think the writing is already on the wall,” Chris-42 reminded me. “Chances are, you’re going to lose her anyway, Chris.”

“Well, if that’s the case, then maybe a vasectomy’s the better gamble after all. If the marriage is doomed to fail, why not go for broke? I don’t see much of a downside to saving the marriage if it can be saved, do you?” I asked Chris-42.

“Much as I’d like to see it saved, Chris-35, any alteration in the timeline carries a risk. Even saving the marriage could have unintended consequences that might adversely impact the future. Then again, our marriage ended amicably, but if Jen ever found out you went behind her back to have a vasectomy, the marriage could end on very hostile terms. There could be a very bitter fight over custody of the children and given the choice between national security interests and being able to see your children, what would you do?”

“Wow, you’ve given me much to think about,” I told Chris-42. “I’m going to have to sit on my decision for a little bit, but I really don’t have much time. I can’t wait too long, or before I know it, Jen will be ovulating the next time she gets horny, and I can’t take a chance on that happening.”

“No you can’t,” he agreed.

<<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>>

March 1995 • Chris-28

“Happy Birthday to You… Happy Birthday to YOU!… Happy Birthday Dear Andy… Happy Birthday to You!” and then I added by myself, “and many more,” for good measure.

God, we sounded absolutely awful… we were so out of key, but little Andy didn’t care. His partially toothless, thousand-watt grin could have lit up the sky. Six years old! I remembered the day he was born like it was yesterday, and now he was six! So much had happened in our lives since then. Jen and I had finally made it official and tied the knot, I’d finished up my post-doc, I’d gotten a great job at Lawrence Livermore and we’d bought a beautiful house in Oakland Hills.

And my research! I was working on a top-secret government project of my own design, based upon my theories on temporal quantum variations. If I was right, we might actually be able to send communications back in time, well, up to five, or maybe even ten years anyway. I shuddered at the thought we might ever have to use the technology if we succeeded in our quest. Meddling with time was as dangerous as hell, but if we ever did find ourselves faced with the choice of altering the past or living in a totally fucked-up world, my research could be the key to humanity’s survival. Talk about science fiction!

My wife, Jen, was busy cutting a big sheet cake that was half chocolate, half vanilla into squares and adding scoops of ice cream for all of the kids Andy had invited to his party. Me, I was watching Karen, our three-year-old daughter, to make sure she didn’t get into any mischief during the party. Given the choice, I figured it was a lot easier to watch one three-year-old than a dozen six-year-olds — not that I wasn’t helping out with that, too.

All in all, it was an exhausting afternoon, but both of our kids had a great time, and that was all that mattered.

Andy was thrilled with his ‘haul’ as he called it. Gees, he was only in kindergarten and he was already talking like an adult. He ended up with two VHS copies of The Lion King, which he’d seen maybe four times since it came out in theaters last summer, and a Lion King action adventure set. He got several storybooks and some hundred-piece puzzles, which weren’t exactly trivial for a kid his age. The biggest present was the one Jen and I got him — a genuine HO-gauge railroad set. It was rated for kids ages eight and up, so we were definitely stretching things, but if nothing else, Andy was precocious. Time and again he’d demonstrated advanced skills on the computer well beyond what was considered normal for kids his age. He’d been bugging us for a train set since he’d been Karen’s age. For the time being, he wouldn’t be allowed to play with it unless one of us was present, but Andy was a good kid who had earned the right to have a chance at playing with a ‘big boy’s’ toy.

It felt really great sitting on the floor with my son in his bedroom, assembling sections of track as we put together a simple ‘figure-eight’ configuration. “This is just to get you started,” I told him, “but as you get older and start earning more of an allowance, you can use part of it to buy more track. You can buy more bridges and trestles and tunnels, and switches to move trains from one section of track to another. There’s no reason you can’t have something like a smaller version of what you saw at the Exploratorium. The only limitation is how much room you have, how much money you have, and your imagination,” I told my little man.

“And how much I can talk you into buying for me,” he said with the cutest, impish smile. He was absolutely right, and he knew it. I couldn’t help but draw his pajama-clad body up into my arms and tickle him as I gave him a bit of a noogie and a hug. Andy meant everything to me.

It didn’t take long for us to have everything assembled and the transformer connected. Before we started things up, I felt obligated to explain to Andy some basic safety rules when it came to playing with electrical appliances.

“Andy, before we get started, I think I’d better explain to you a little about how electricity works. Now HO trains use a transformer so the voltage is a lot less than what comes out of a socket, and a lot less dangerous, but there is still a risk of getting a shock and you need to be aware of the dangers involved.”

Before I could go any further, Andy rolled his eyes and said, “Dad, I know how electricity works. I even know how transformers work, so you don’t need to explain anything to me. I know about atoms and electrons and protons and neutrons. I know about voltage and current and power.

“Now that transformer has a maximum output of twelve volts and an output current that’s limited to one-point-five amps. That’s what it says, right on the box.” When did he learn how to read? He continued, “If twelve volts at one amp is twelve watts, and if twelve volts at a half an amp is, what, I think it must be six watts, then I guess twelve volts at one-point-five amps must be, what, eighteen watts?”

Whoa, my son… my six-year-old son, just figured out how to multiply with decimal fractions, and he did it all in his head. If I wasn’t mistaken, this was sixth grade math, and he was just finishing kindergarten. My son wasn’t just bright… he was a genius.

“So anyway, Dad, eighteen watts isn’t a lot of power to worry about. Sure, if I short the tracks together, it could create some sparks, but it’s not enough power to do any real damage.” I swore he must be six going on sixteen.

We spent twenty minutes playing around with his train set before I insisted it was time for Andy to go to bed.

“Pleasant dreams, my little man,” I said as I kissed him on the forehead.

Not that I didn’t trust him, but I knew just how tempting having a train set right in his room could be, and so I took the power cord for the transformer with me on the way out the door.

<<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>>

March 2002 • Chris-35

Chris-42 and I had been over and over the preparations for this evening at least a thousand times, or so it seemed. We’d been through more than a month of testing with the new 64-element micro-emitter/detector array I’d built, and it was functioning flawlessly. Chris-42 was, and according to his lab notebooks, always had been getting his EEG data from his own array, based on an idea he’d come upon seven years earlier. Indeed, it was only in my documentation that there was any record at all that Chris-42 had originally used surface EEG electrodes before he first contacted me.

At long last, we were ready to contact Chris-28 — actually, it wouldn’t be long before he would be 29-years-old — so much time had passed already. First contact was a scary proposition. How do you tell someone that the dream they’re having is real, and that they’re receiving a message from the future? Chris-42 nearly bungled it with me. For one thing, the tunnel wasn’t stable and he didn’t have nearly enough time to get his message through. He should have kept his message concise and to the point, with flight numbers and targets only. That would have at least saved us from grounding all flights, but he thought he’d have more time to get his message through. Still, what he did was important and it had the intended result.

At least in my case, I would have the benefit of Chris-42’s experience, both in terms of the psychology of making first contact and in terms of actually using the equipment. Now that the equipment had been thoroughly perfected and tested, we knew it would work. Chris-42 had even gone so far as to test it with an old titanium PowerBook of the same vintage as my own and using the same older integrated circuits I was forced to substitute for the array processors he’d been using in his designs. It drove up the cost considerably, but OTT was very well funded, after all.

Chris-42 and I discussed the possibility of forming a double-tunnel — of the two of us forming time tunnels simultaneously. Although an intriguing possibility, we decided it was definitely not the thing to try for our first contact with Chris-28, and we were concerned that there could be unintended consequences to doing so. It might even be dangerous. The possibility that Chris-42 might be able to channel directly through my brain to tunnel directly to Chris-28 was intriguing, though, and definitely something worthy of further exploration down the road, but there was certainly no reason for doing so now.

The plan was for me to contact Chris-28 on night of Saturday, March 22, 1995, the night after Andy’s sixth birthday party. While not nearly as dramatic as 9/11, there would be events that would unfold over the course of the coming week in the family that would be no less dramatic in their own way. Chris-28, was about to learn just how much of a ‘little man’ his son really was — a little man who already understood how to get into websites and use credit cards, but wasn’t yet aware of the value of money.

<<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>>

March 1995 • Chris-28

I was having the most unusual sensations. I almost felt like I was floating above my body. Out of body experiences were definitely not the norm for me, but then again, I’d always said I’d try anything once. Even in my dreams, I was capable of making bad jokes. Talk about depressing!

As I continued to float, I had a distinct feeling of another presence nearby. Nearby wasn’t exactly the right way of putting it. It was more like there was another presence in my head — another consciousness besides my own. The two of us were floating together inside my head, but outside my body, if that made any sense. Thinking about it was enough to make my head hurt.

Slowly, the other consciousness began to take form. When it did, what I ‘saw’ was me, but it wasn’t me. Well, it was me, but it was a different me than the one I was used to looking at in the mirror. This one was older for one thing, and it was backwards. Yeah, it was at least a few years older — maybe five or six years older, and the mole on my cheek was on the wrong side — or rather the right side. This was the me of my photographs — the ‘me’ other people saw.

And suddenly, I knew. I knew exactly who this was. I was doing research on sending information through time, and this must have been the way I came up with to do it. Somehow in the future I came up with a way to send my thoughts back in time through my dreams.

“That’s pretty amazing, Chris,” the ‘me’ of the future said to me in my dream. “It took me a lot longer to figure out what was happening the first time a ‘Chris’ from my future showed up in my dreams.”

“You mean you’re not the first?” I asked the apparition in my dream.

“No Chris, it’ll take you another fourteen years to develop the technology, which even then will only be capable of sending information back seven years in time. Chris-42 contacted me, Chris-35, so that I could prevent a horrible terrorist attack that would have brought down the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center and damaged the Pentagon. I am contacting you now, Chris-28, so that we can begin work that will allow you to extend the chain of communication back even further. We need to act quickly to alter events that happened in the past so that we can prevent a national catastrophe that may occur in the early twenty-first century one that could spell the end of the world as we know it.”

Chris-42 and I had decided on this approach to convince Chris-28 of the need to extend TTT, rather than the use of a vague theoretical need for a deterrent. It was a much easier sell and didn’t require much stretching of the truth from our standpoint. Chris-42 was convinced we really were facing the prospect of calamity, after all.

“Before we get started, however,” Chris-35, continued, “so you can know what I’m telling you is the truth, here is some personal information to let you know what is ahead in the coming week. As you probably know, Andy is very resourceful. When you took the cord from the transformer to his new train set, you probably didn’t notice that his Nintendo game console uses the same type of cord, and so you’ll find him happily playing with his train set in the morning when you wake up. Don’t worry… he won’t electrocute himself or anything.

“On a more serious note, in my time, people will buy things using their computers and the Internet all the time, but it’s not so common in your time, and you’re not used to being so careful about it. When you gave Andy his train set, you didn’t notice that the attached invoice included the website address and your account information, including your password. After you went to bed, Andy managed to log onto the site and to order several thousand dollars worth of accessories for his train set, all shipped second day air. He didn’t even need to reenter your credit card information to do it. You might be able to save yourself a major headache by calling first thing in the morning.”

“That little stinker!” I said out loud, I think.

“Five years from now, no business would dare run their operation that way. Putting an account number and password inside the box with a toy intended for a minor was an act of idiocy, but in your time, commercialization of the Internet’s still pretty new.

“Anyway, I’ll be contacting you again in a few days to get down to business. In the meantime, I’ve got a thirteenth birthday party to get ready for. He’s still a great kid… as precocious as ever, and Karen’s a wonderful daughter, too.”

<<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>>

March 2002 • Chris-35

“How’s that look?” the doctor said as he put the last stitch in place.

“Pretty good from here, as far as I can see,” I said as I looked down at my equipment.

“You’d have to get pretty close up and personal to see that anything’s been done at all,” the doctor said. “By using a subcutaneous, dissolving suture, there are no visible stitches at all. There shouldn’t be any scars and I took extra care to make the incisions along wrinkle lines so they’re virtually invisible. You can hardly even feel them. Once the sutures dissolve, there’ll be no evidence you had a vasectomy unless someone actually opens you up.”

“Thanks, Doc, that’s great!… Payment in cash so there’s no record of the procedure, right?”

“Well, obviously I have to keep a file for medical-legal purposes to comply with the law, but that’s privileged and no one but you can get access to it.”

“Perfect,” I said with a smile as I walked out the door.

<<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>>

Jack was furious when he found out I’d already used TTT to contact Chris-28. He’d made it clear he expected to be kept informed of all progress in OTT and felt he had a right to know whenever contact was made with the past. “Jack”, I explained, “the order came directly from the White House with strict orders that no one else was to know unless absolutely necessary. Perhaps I took my orders a bit too literally, and maybe next time I can ask for permission to keep you in the loop. In any case, I’m telling you now because I need your input.”

“How so, Chris,” Jack asked.

“Our orders are to extend TTT back another seven years, and possibly even further,” I explained.

“Won’t that create more risk of the technology falling into the wrong hands at an earlier point in time?” Jack asked.

“Our use of a destructive software key should prevent that,” I reminded Jack. “In order to use the equipment, a new software key has to be passed back in time from the future each time the equipment is to be used. That way, the only way TTT can be activated is under orders from the future. That is not only true for the use of TTT in our time period, but it will be true for the use of TTT in all time periods.”

“That’s reassuring,” Jack said, “but what if something happens and the future’s destroyed. What if we need to use TTT ourselves to save the world because the future’s been destroyed?”

“That’s a very good question,” I answered as I scratched the stubble on my face. “Perhaps there could be an emergency key built into the software that could be used once and once only at our discretion in such a situation. I’ll ask Chris-42 about it the next time I contact him.”

“So what kind of input did you need from me?” Jack asked.

“I need a way to convince the Jack Craegan of 1994 that he needs to spend more than a hundred thousand dollars on new technology based on untested theories. I need a way for Chris-28… actually, he'll by twenty-nine next month… to talk him into funding the fabrication of a micro-emitter/detector array. Since no Mac or PC of the era is powerful enough, I need for him to sign off on the purchase of a quad-core Sun workstation. Not to mention that we have a hell of a lot of circuit redesign that has to be done using antique integrated circuits,” I explained.

“Hmm, they did have PLA’s back then,” Jack suggested. “Wouldn’t that be easier?”

“Yeah, but a programmable logic array would be a hell of a lot of overkill. And the amount of time spent programming the darn thing could be counterproductive,” I thought aloud.

“A lot less counterproductive than the time spent making custom circuit boards, don’t you think? It’s Uncle Sam’s dime, so let him worry about the cost and the taxpayers’ waste. Actually, in the end you’ll probably end up saving money and time.”

“So back to the main question,” I said. “How do we convince you in 1995 to loosen the purse strings? How do we convince you that my counterpart has been contacted by me from the future?”

“Well… you know, the simplest approach would be for me to contact myself directly. I could easily convince my 1994 self that this is real and that we need to do this,” Jack suggested.

I winced and said, “Jack, it’s not that I don’t trust you, but is that really a good idea? Not that I’m totally opposed to others communicating back in time, but the more people that do so, the more we risk contaminating the timeline. As long as it’s just me, I can control the information that goes back very tightly. I’m sure you can, too, but think about it… there are so many ways you could inadvertently change things without even thinking about it, and then what about the unintended consequences. Even if you could communicate with yourself, seven years in the past, would that be wise? Remember what happened at the end of April in 1995…”

“Oh my God!”

“Would you be able to resist the temptation to prevent what happened?” I asked. “You know that as much as you mustn’t interfere with the timeline, you’d want to do anything to take away the pain… to have a second chance. You’d do anything to change that fateful day, wouldn’t you? And yet you know the ripple effect of making such a huge change could be devastating in so many unexpected ways.”

“You’re right, Chris, of course you are,” my friend and colleague admitted. “As painful as it is to admit it, you’re absolutely right. There’s no way I can be allowed any prior knowledge of what’s going to happen… only that something is going to happen. That in itself will be enough to convince me that the communication is genuine.”

Working with Jack, I gathered up a modicum of information I would need… information I could safely pass to Chris-29 that he could use to convince his Jack that our communications were real. We would pass along some very personal, private information that only Jack would know about, but that would not compromise anyone’s self-interest. Next, we would pass him verifiable data — information Jack could easily confirm that Chris-29 wouldn’t have had access to — that would convince him the order had come directly from the White House.

Lastly, we give him a hint of what was to come — not enough for Jack to change anything, but enough that when it happened, he would know. The Jack of 1995 would be absolutely furious with us for not doing something to stop what was about to happen. He would curse us. He would probably never forgive us, but he would understand, and he would support OTT ’til the ends of the Earth.

<<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>>

April 1995 • Chris-29

Straightening out the mess that Andy caused with his late night foray on the Internet had proven to be amusing if nothing else, but I could only imagine what it would have been like the first time, when the first indication of what he’d done happened when the boxes had started showing up. Yeah, I was sure grateful for the heads-up Chris-35 gave me, as we were able to cancel the order before it shipped, but not before I gave them a piece of my mind for printing our password on the invoice, of all places.

The operator I spoke to couldn’t have cared less, but I wasn’t going to let it drop, and I didn’t let her off the hook until I spoke to her supervisor, spoke to the owner of the company, and received a full refund, not only for all the stuff Andy charged, but for the original purchase, too. On top of that, they gave us a fifty-dollar store credit for all our trouble. That, together with the refund, would let me buy Andy some really nice accessories for his train set, but I was going to wait a while — I needed to teach him the value of money, first.

I was willing to bet the store would change their policies when it came to printing passwords on invoices from then on!

I had another communication from Chris-35 — or rather Chris-36 now. Yeah, I just celebrated my 29th birthday myself. Actually, I like to call them conversations, since we talk to each other. He told me some information I needed to tell Jack. It all sounded pretty cryptic, but that Jack would understand it all soon enough. He said the information’s essential to getting Jack to fund the building of what Chris-36 calls TTT, or Time Tunnel Technology. I asked if we needed it to reach back another seven years. He said yes, but it’s just another link in the chain, a chain that ultimately needs to reach all the way back to 1978.

I know my jaw must have hit the floor when he said that! I can’t even imagine how we’ll manage to come by all of the technology needed in the early 1980’s to build a time tunnel, but if it’s a matter urgent to national security, somehow we’re going to have to.

Anyhow, Chris-36 told me a bunch of stuff that’s supposed to help me convince Jack that we need to build this time tunnel, and do it right away. Some of the info was personal stuff that only Jack could know about, just to convince him that the communication’s genuine. There’s also some data I couldn’t possibly have access to, that’ll prove the order’s coming from the Oval Office. Imagine that! Finally, I’m supposed to tell him that a life-altering event would happen on Tuesday, but I had no idea what the hell that’s about… only to tell him that word of this came from himself in the future, and that nothing could be done to change it.

This whole OTT thing is kind of spooking me. When I started working on the theories for the project, it was all hypothetical, but never in a million years did I ever dream it would ever have to be used and yet, here we are, furiously working to build a chain of communication extending from 2009, all the way back to 1978.

Insanity! This is all such insanity, but if we don’t do it, the future itself may cease to exist — at least that’s what Chris-36 says Chris-43 told him. That’s a pretty good reason to do whatever it takes to make this happen!

Well, I have a meeting with Jack this morning. He’ll probably think I’m crazy — at least until whatever it is that’s supposed to happen, will happen tomorrow…

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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