Conversations With Myself

A Novel by Altimexis

The Whispers of Time
 
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Book One • Chapter 7 — A Deal with the Devil

June 1982 • Chris-16

First there was a clank. Oh, how I hated that clank. Sometimes if I was quick and I could actually wake myself up fast enough, I could shut the damn thing off before the hum, but I was too fucking tired this morning to do anything about it, and so the warm hum started, and then slowly — ever so slowly, the sound of music started to fade in, out of the background. This being 1982, you’d think I’d have a nice, modern solid-state clock radio with an LED display and no moving parts. I’m sixteen, for cripe sake, but no, I have a hand-me-down radio dating back to the early sixties, with a dial clock that clanks when the alarm goes off and vacuum tubes that hum that lovely sixty Hertz hum, and the music takes forever to come on. Maybe by the time I finish my shower, I’ll actually be able to hear it.

Finally, the music was loud enough to recognize the song. Yeah, Chariots of Fire by Vangelis. Cool song from a cool movie — been playing on all the stations. As I swung my feet out of bed, two things came to me. First of all, it was Saturday, so why was I getting up early on a Saturday — well, that was easy — for the last couple of years I’d been spending my Saturday mornings in a special program at the University learning advanced Math and Physics from Professor Dawson. It was the highlight of my week. Secondly, yesterday was the last day of school for the year, and that meant I’d be spending the whole summer in Dawson’s lab, earning college credit from one of the best-respected universities in the country, and a little cash on the side, too. I was groovin’. This was going to be a great summer!

I quickly made my bed to the sounds of the old tube radio — yeah, my mom was a real hard-ass about keeping my room neat. Most of my friends’ rooms looked like war zones, but my room had to look like something out of Good Housekeeping. It was so unfair. There was nothing I could do about it, though.

I threw on some terry shorts — couldn’t let my mom see my stuff, after all — headed down to the bathroom and took a quick shower. While I was at it, I thought about how it had been a while since I’d last jerked off — maybe since yesterday morning, and my balls were achin’. I needed to get off. I quickly soaped up and started working on it, thinking about Stacy Williams, but that only made me get soft, so I thought about Jennifer Greene. She’s really hot, with long, straight blond hair. She’s every guy’s wet dream, but she just wasn’t doing it for me today, either. Her twin brother, Brad, however, he made me hard in a millisecond flat. Damn, why’d that happen every time? This was just plain unacceptable. I wasn’t going to be a fag! No way! Instead, I thought about going camping outdoors and hiking in the nude. Yeah, that usually worked. Before long, I was spurting. I wasn’t getting off on a hot babe, but at least it wasn’t on a guy either. After I finished my shower, I then shaved. Heading back to my room, I threw on a polo shirt and some shorts. For school, it woulda been a short sleeve dress shirt and some slacks but, hey, this was the summer, man! I was psyched!

Dad had to work today and had already left for work and Mom was in the kitchen eating her toast and drinking a cup of Folger’s instant. Gees, how could she drink that shit? I filled the teakettle with a little tap water and set it on the stove, and turned the gas up all the way. While the water was heating, I grabbed some Sugar Frosted Flakes and doused them with some chocolate milk, and finished off my first bowl while my Lipton’s was still brewing. ’Course I needed a second helping to take care of the milk that was still left and to complement the tea, once it was ready — not that I didn’t top off the milk, too. Man, I have my breakfasts down to a science.

A quick trip back to the bathroom to brush my teeth and I was set to go. Mom had given me her old ’72 Dodge Dart for my sixteenth birthday, but I still had to pay the upkeep and gas, and that ain’t cheap, I’ll tell you! Gas is up to 55 cents a gallon now. Ever since the Arab oil embargo of ’73, they’ve had us over a barrel, so to speak. It’s literal fucking highway robbery! At least with the cash I earn this summer, I’ll have the money to pay for my car expenses.

The university where Professor Dawson worked was in downtown St. Louis, in what was not the best of neighborhoods, but the campus was well protected to say the least. Some years ago, Dawson had begun a program on Saturdays to teach advanced Math and Physics to high school students. There were no special requirements to get into the program. The only thing a student needed to do to attend was to show up — and to be able to keep up with the coursework, which was rigorous. There were no formal lectures or textbooks — only handwritten outlines and one-on-one sessions. Either a kid ‘got it’ and would embark on a program of self-study under the guidance of Professor Dawson, or they were destined to remain in the conventional high school math and science curriculum.

For me, well, I ‘got it’. I got it right away. Professor Dawson showed me the first set of lecture notes on the first day and I read through them, figured out the nomenclature and symbols and what they all meant, and went back to him at the end of the morning and asked if he had anything else I could read to keep me busy until the next session.

He smiled at me and said, “That’s why I call this one the ‘zeroth lecture outline’.” He handed me another stack and said, “Here’s the first lecture outline. We’ll discuss it next week.”

I went through basic algebra, trig, pre-calculus and calculus and advanced vector calculus, all during my first year with Professor Dawson. I went on to college level physics and advanced physics too, all while still a sophomore in high school. I even helped Dawson write an NSF grant application to get funding to expand the program, making it possible for kids like me to get college credit for our work, and that was the crux of what I was going to be doing this summer. Not only would I be getting some of that college credit I was so deserving of, but also I would be helping him to develop educational ‘milestones’ that would be used in awarding that credit, and getting paid for the ‘work’ component of the time spent in his lab. I was going to get paid to do what I loved. How utterly cool was that going to be?

I pulled into the University campus and passed by the Medical School, which was considered one of the best in America. Pulling up in front of the Physics building, I drove around until I found a parking space where I was allowed to park with the permit Dawson gave me. I walked into the main entrance of the stately old stone structure and walked up the central stairway, taking the steps two-at-a-time.

Rounding the corner, I found Professor Dawson leaning over a precarious pile of journals stacked from the floor to about the level of the middle of my chest. I knocked quietly on the door, causing him to look up, nearly toppling the stack over.

He looked briskly at his watch, then smiled that goofy grin of his and said, “You’re late. You were supposed to be here nearly thirty seconds ago.”

“I’m sorry, Professor D,” I replied, “I promise, it won’t happen again.”

“Alright, I’ll forgive you this time, but don’t make a habit of it.” He winked at me and gave my shoulder a gentle squeeze. As he let me go, he said, “Now that I’m paying you, I expect an honest day’s work. No goofing off like a student,” and then he laughed. Yeah, Dawson was a little odd at times, and sometimes a little arrogant, but he was a damn fine teacher, and I was well on my way to graduating high school a year early, thanks to him. There was a good chance I’d get into the physics program here at the University, thanks to him, or maybe even the one at Cal-Tech, MIT, or Stanford.

“So where do we start?” I asked.

“Well, you have all my so-called lecture outlines, and all of them need to be updated, and we need to set up metrics that can be used to establish levels of college credit to be awarded at each point along the way. Now that we have some funds, I’d also like to set up some formal experiments for the students to complete… or maybe ‘informal’ would be a better word for them, as I want to allow students a lot of flexibility to design their own experiments so long as they demonstrate the principles involved with each lesson. There’s a lot of material to update, and you’ll be paid for the time you spend updating it, and given credit for all of the levels you complete.

“Unfortunately, all of the existing notes were typed by hand, and we now have Wang word processors, which allow you to store your work on eight-inch floppy disks and go back and edit them. In other words, you’ll have to retype everything from scratch, but you’ll only have to do it once. It’s a good thing you can type… that’s part of what I’m paying you for.”

My face kinda fell as I realized I was going to spend my summer being a glorified secretary.

“Don’t be so glum,” Professor Dawson said when he saw the look on my face. “Secretaries don’t know the material and they invariably get it wrong. They make lots of mistakes and they have no idea how to handle the mathematical nomenclature. You, however, know this stuff, cold, and you’ll have no trouble handling the all the Greek symbols. I can afford to pay you a bit more than I’d pay a secretary because I know you’ll do the work in less time and get it right the first time.”

He reached out and gave my shoulder another gentle squeeze. “Now let’s go over the first few lectures and let me show you what I have in mind about how I’d like to reorganize the material.”

<<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>>

May 2003 • Chris-37

“You didn’t want me to participate directly in OTT, and yet you want to involve a psycho in the project?” Jack Craegan asked me, clearly incredulous at the mere suggestion.

“He’s not a psycho, and he was my mentor,” I reminded him. “Without him, there would be no OTT.”

“Chris, I don’t care if he’s the Pope. If he’s delusional as you say, he’s not exactly predictable.”

“Delusional isn’t exactly the right word,” I tried to explain. “He’s brilliant, and he loves teaching, but he thinks the public education system is out to make bright kids ordinary. He thinks there are a lot of genius kids out there whose minds are being ruined by ‘the system’, and he’s done his part over the years to try to rescue them.

“He really did with me. I certainly wouldn’t have gone to Stanford if it hadn’t been for him. I hated math the way they taught it in junior high, but then Marion Dawson showed me the way. I am what I am today, thanks in no small part to him.”

“He has a brilliant mind,” I said with a sigh, “but he’s unfocused and unpredictable. He won’t be able to resist the opportunity to experiment with time, and he could do so in ways we can’t predict. We need to keep him on a tight leash… that’s all. I know him and I know he’ll be willing to give up his freedom for a time in order to gain access to TTT, even if it’s under our terms.”

“OK, let me think about it and all that would be involved, and then perhaps you and I could meet with this Marion Dawson and see if he would be willing to make a deal. He’d have to be willing to be taken into custody by the Feds, and then he would be offered a limited sort of freedom in exchange for going into the Witness Protection Program… he would have to agree to that, if I can even get permission to offer that. He would have to move here, permanently, and he would have to wear an ankle bracelet and agree to be tracked.

“The biggest problem as far as he’s concerned would be giving up his freedom in exchange for the opportunity of a lifetime… the chance to experiment with time. He’d have to start working with us in 1989 for all intents and purposes, so we’d have to have some reason for the Feds to lock him up… be it fraudulent use of grant money or whatever. We’d have to convince him that what he’d get from us would be a lot better than what he’d be giving up. That’d be a tough sell for anyone.”

“But the chance to play with time itself...? How could any physicist resist that? I know Marion Dawson could not.” I countered.

“And in terms of what excuse we could use to lock him up,” I continued, “several years ago, one of his former students accused him of sexual molestation. The kid eventually recanted his story, admitting he was just angry because he couldn’t keep up with Dawson’s program, but by then two other kids had come forward. They, too recanted their stories, and no other student came forward, but after that, a lot of people wondered if he might be a pedophile. He never married, and he never seemed to have a girlfriend, or a boyfriend for that matter. The FBI couldn’t find any supporting evidence of wrongdoing, however, and all charges were dropped.

“There’s no question that he’s dedicated much of his life to helping kids, even though he’s a bit of a jerk, but it is curious that he’s managed to surround himself with teenage boys… not that he ever tried anything with me, or with anyone I knew, for that matter.”

“But you want him transferred to federal prison and moved to our jurisdiction, and then placed under some sort of house arrest? I can see how much you trust him,” Jack stated sarcastically.

“If we could frame him for distribution of child pornography, that would give us a hell of a lot of leverage over him,” Jack thought aloud.

“My counterpart in 1989 would probably never agree to frame his former mentor,” I protested.

“Then we won’t tell Chris-23 it’s all a fabrication. If Dawson agrees to our terms, it could be the break we’re looking for, but if he only uses us to feed his egocentric behavior, we could have a royal mess on our hands. On the other hand, I guess it might not matter if he still needs a key from the future, each time he uses TTT. Without the key, the technology’s useless.”

I’d been hoping to avoid this conversation, but now that Jack had raised the issue, I felt it only fair that he be fully appraised of the risks involved. “Dawson is smart enough to reverse engineer TTT from the designs we feed him on his own. In fact, I suggest we don’t even try to keep the fundamental technology from him. Knowing Marion Dawson as I do, I can virtually guarantee that if we try to keep him in the dark about any aspect of OTT, he’ll only be more inclined to bypass the security features.

“No, I believe that the best way to ensure Dawson’s full cooperation is to keep him fully in the loop. In that way I believe we can convince him of the need for the security key. We can keep him from trying to bypass it.”

“My God, he really could bypass the security key if he wanted to, couldn’t he?” Jack asked.

“As could I,” I pointed out, “but I have good reason not to. That’s one of the reasons I wanted to keep TTT to myself. But Dawson would have the means to bypass the security key entirely if he so chose.” The reality was that I had bypassed the security key, of necessity, with the equipment in my private lab, but that was something that no one ever could know about. I’d be locked up for life if anyone ever found out about it.

“If the Russians get wind of Dawson, or the Chinese, or who knows whom else, they could force him to build them a machine that doesn’t have a security key at all,” Jack stated as realization dawned on him.

“Let us pray that never becomes the case,” I agreed.

<<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>>

June 1982 • Chris-16

Working for Professor Dawson was great! Each morning, we’d go over another section of his lecture outlines, discuss how to make it more logical for a high school or even a junior high student to understand, discuss some ideas for self-study problems a kid could work on as a ‘homework’ assignment during the week, and discuss ideas for experiments that students could work on in pairs and small groups. We discussed metrics and ways to pull everything together, like a teacher would. It was awesome! When he was satisfied with the way it all looked, he’d have me type it all up and save it on an eight-inch floppy. That way, if we came to a later lecture and found we were missing something, we could always go back and revise the earlier lecture. It was pretty cool to be able to do that.

Dawson was like a second father to me, you know? He was always coming up to me and saying encouraging things, and asking me personal stuff about what I liked and how things were at home. He was always squeezing my shoulder and giving me half-hugs and pats on the back and stuff. He really was a touchy-feely sort of guy, but in a good way. He might have been a little weird, and he was really pretty goofy, but I liked him.

There were other students in the lab, too, but I was the only one getting paid. Most of the other students were in high school, like me, and were working on learning advanced math and physics, though most weren’t near as far along as I was. I guess that’s why the professor hired me to help him for the summer.

A few of the kids were still in junior high, and they acted like they were hot shit, studying advanced math before they were even in high school. Truthfully, I could’ve started the program back then if I’d only known about it, but I didn’t even know about it until I was fourteen. I started the summer between eight and ninth grades — technically still junior high. I’d have given anything to have known about Professor Dawson when I was twelve and just about to start seventh grade. I was more than ready back then.

<<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>>

May 2003 • Chris-37

It had been a long time since I’d been back to Missouri. I’d tried keeping in regular contact with my parents, but they’d never approved of my marriage to Jen, and even though they had grandchildren in California, the fact that Andy was born out of wedlock was something they were just never able to get past. My son was illegitimate, and even though I went on to marry his mother and although my daughter was born to my legally married wife, since they didn’t accept the marriage, the whole situation was strained. We exchanged cards at Christmas and sent cards and gifts for birthdays, but that was about it.

Returning to the University was like a trip back in time. There were a lot of new buildings to be sure, but the main quad itself hadn’t changed since I’d last set foot on campus more than a quarter century before. The feeling of déjà vu was incredibly intense as Jack and I walked up the stone steps and opened the heavy wooden door, then made our way up the ancient stairway.

Marion Dawson was a little older than when I’d last seen him. He would be taking mandatory retirement in a few years, when he turned 65, but he looked more to be in his forties and still had the vitality of someone in his thirties. There was little doubt that he’ stay on as an emeritus professor after he retired, continuing to teach perhaps for another decade or two. He retained the same office he had when I attended his program, and still had his cadre of teenagers, nearly all boys, to whom he taught advanced math and physics on Saturdays.

“Professor Dawson!” I exclaimed, “It’s so good to see you again after all these years.”

“Chris, I could say the same about you!” the professor replied.

“Professor, this is Jack Craegan, Professor in the Physics Department at UC Berkley, and Director of Particle Physics at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory,” I said by way of introduction. The two men shook hands, and then Professor Dawson started looking for a place for us to sit. Nothing much had changed since my studies with Dawson, and virtually every horizontal space, including the chairs, was piled high with papers and journals.

Finally, he managed to shuffle some stacks around, clearing a couple of chairs for us to use. The adjacent conference table was completely covered, making it useless as anything other than a file cabinet, but such was the Dawson way. The walls that weren’t lined with books were covered with immense white boards that were filled with equations. Yes indeed — nothing had changed.

After we were seated, Dawson asked, “So tell me, Chris, why are you here? What can I do for you gentlemen?”

Mustering all the courage I could, I began my hard sell. “Professor Dawson…”

“You don’t need to call me that anymore, Chris,” he interrupted, “What, with a PhD of your own? Please, call me Marion.”

“OK, Marion,” I continued, “I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t need you. What we’re about to discuss with you is highly secret and if you don’t agree to help us, this conversation never took place. Are we clear on that?”

“What conversation?” Professor Dawson asked with his crooked, goofy-looking smile.

“Good,” I agreed. “As you know from the theory of quantum variations, when a quantum event occurs, very often paired particles are generated that have opposite quantum states. These particles may travel light-years through space and yet their quantum states may remain unknown. If, however, we capture one of them and measure its quantum properties, the properties of the other one will be instantly known, effectively resulting in the transmission of information at faster than the speed of light. The problem has always been in knowing how to use that information.

“What I’ve discovered is that paired quantum particles exist not only in space but also in time, and that we can use these paired particles as a beacon back into the past. We tried a number of direct approaches to send information back in time without success, but discovered that we can actually create a quantum time tunnel within an individual’s brain through which they can synchronize their thoughts while asleep. In other words, they can experience a shared dream state between the present and the past.

“The effect is of having a conversation with one’s self in the past, but there is a limit of about seven years over which we can track quantum particles. I was initially contacted by my counterpart from seven years in the future, and he taught me how to contact my counterpart seven years in the past, and I taught him how to contact his counterpart seven years before that. That’s as far as we’ve been able to go back so far in establishing a chain of communication into the past.

“We believe there will be some sort of cataclysmic event in the future sometime after 2012, but we’re not sure exactly when it will occur, or even what it will be. We believe that the problems that led up to whatever happens began in the 1970’s. Unfortunately, the further back we go, the more limited is the technology available with which to fabricate the equipment necessary for communication using quantum variations, and the fewer resources there are available for my younger selves to rely upon.

“What I’m getting at is that I’ve hit a brick wall. My thirty-year-old self just can’t remember enough of the computer code and details of the circuitry to proceed using 1996 technology, and the situation’s only going to get worse as we try to push back further, reaching back to that lonely teenager you taught about advanced physics.”

“So how can I possibly help you?” Dawson asked. “It’s not like I had anything to do with your memory skills.”

“No, no, I’m a lost cause that way, but you have a photographic memory, as I recall, plus you’ll be in the right place at the right time to help me as a kid and you’ll have access to the most advanced computer equipment available. You’ll be able to help me pull it off. It’s also a chance for you as a physicist to play with time.”

“Sounds intriguing,” he said, “but fraught with danger as I’m sure you realize, and something tells me there must be a catch.”

“There’s always a catch, Professor,” Jack spoke for the first time.

“Dr. Craegan,” Dawson began, “I’m impressed that they sent someone with actual clout, but I’m not sure it’s necessarily the right kind of clout.”

“I’ve got plenty of clout where it counts,” Jack countered. “Ever since Chris warned us of the terrorist plot to bring down the twin towers, Operation Time Tunnel has had virtual cart blanche from the Oval Office itself.”

“That was your doing?” Dawson asked me.

Before I could answer, Jack said, “I have no doubt that had the Chris of 2008 not sent a message back through time, there’d be nothing left of the World Trade Center but a smoldering hole in the ground, and the Pentagon would have been partly destroyed, too.

“Believe me, I don’t like the idea of working with you,” Jack continued. “Frankly, I don’t trust you. I’ve looked over your curriculum vitae and your history of grant funding, and it doesn’t take a genius to see that your use of Federal funds has not always been on the up and up. There were also those allegations back in the late eighties of child molestation. Although the evidence suggests you were innocent, it wouldn’t be hard for someone to use your past history to frame you. This makes you particularly vulnerable to coercion by the enemies of America.

“I would never do anything to hurt my country!” Dawson practically shouted as he rose to his feet.

“I didn’t say you would,” Jack countered, “but if someone threatened to ‘expose’ you… if they came to you with fabricated evidence that you’d had sex with dozens of boys… unless you cooperated with them, would you be willing to go to jail for the rest of your life rather than cooperate?”

As Dawson started again to protest, Jack went on, “It’s not like they’d come right out and ask you to betray your country, mind you. They’d likely start off small, asking you to help them with things completely unrelated to OTT. It could be something as simple as supplying advance copies of your results before they’re published in the literature, or giving them access to your laboratory for a few hours. They’d make themselves out as being someone from private industry, when in reality, you’d be working for the Russians, or the Chinese, or maybe the Iranians.

“Once they have their hooks into you, their demands would become more and more significant, to the point that you’d be directly funneling them information on Time Tunnel Technology. You might not even realize the significance of the information you’re passing them. These people are professionals and are expert at assembling the whole picture from seemingly insignificant bits and pieces.

“After looking at our options, however, I think Chris’s right. You have the skills we need to bring Operation Time Tunnel to fruition, and you were in the right place at the right time. We need you, but we need your full cooperation, and we’d have to take measures to keep you out of harms way.”

“How do you propose to do that?” Dawson asked.

“As they say, the best defense is a good offense,” Jack replied. “The best way to prevent someone else from framing you for child molestation is if we do it first.”

As Dawson started turn red in the face and rise from his chair, Jack held up his hands and practically shouted, “Please! Hear me out on this. You can’t be blackmailed for being a pedophile if you’re already convicted of sexual predation. I know how that must sound, but a conviction for, say, trafficking in child pornography would only be a means to an end, and I can assure you that if the need ever arose to return you to your current position, you would be fully exonerated of all charges.”

“What do you mean by, return me to my current position?” Dawson asked. At least he was sitting back down.

“Once you’re taken into Federal custody,” Jack explained, “we’d enter you into the Witness Protection Program under the guise of using your testimony to catch a major international pornography ring. You would then resurface under a completely new identity in California. You’d receive a faculty appointment at U.C. Berkley or even Stanford if you’d prefer, and you’d be given employment and a title at Lawrence Livermore.

“For your own protection, we’d have to keep you under unofficial house arrest and you’d have to wear an ankle bracelet, but that’s only so we could track you. Otherwise, you’d be a free man.”

“The kicker in all of this,” I interrupted, “is that we’d need you in California, starting in 1989. If you agree to our terms, we’d plant manufactured evidence on you back in 1989. You wouldn’t know what’s really happening at the time, so in that sense, it would be a bit underhanded, but we trust that the Marion Dawson of today could convince the Marion Dawson of 1989 to cooperate fully.”

Dawson looked first at me, and then at Jack, and then he smiled and said, “Gentlemen, you’re asking a hell of a lot of me.”

“But think what you’ll be gaining!” I countered. “You’ll be able to study the fabric of time itself! How many physicists can do that? This is truly the opportunity of a lifetime.”

Suddenly, Dawson got a strange look on his face, as if he were remembering something excruciatingly painful, and then he smiled at us and said, “This is an offer I can hardly refuse. I give you my full cooperation in the present, so that you can frame and capture me in the past and force me into Witness Protection. I’ll move to California and cooperate with your OTT in any way that I can.”

“Marion,” I replied, “You can’t imagine how much this means to me. You may very well be saving all of humankind.”

As we shook hands with Dawson, Jack explained that we’d be in touch with him in the near future to make all the arrangements.

The look on Dawson’s face, however, was peculiar. I couldn’t quite put a finger on it, but he looked way too happy for someone who’d just agreed to give up the last fourteen years of freedom to help save the world, even if it was in the name of science.

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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