Conversations With Myself

A Novel by Altimexis

The Whispers of Time
 
Chris
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Book Two • Chapter 6 — Jihad

July 1979 • Chris-13

Frank and I were going at it, hot and heavy. We were in Danforth Center at the University, making out like crazy with our tongues down each other’s throat, literally writhing on top of each other. I could feel our erections rubbing against each other as our passion flowed over us. The fact that we were out in the open, naked as the day we were born, never even entered my mind. Students were milling about and walking right by us as if it were a perfectly normal phenomenon to see a couple of naked thirteen-year-old boys in the throes of their passion.

Suddenly I heard someone shout, “WHERE IS HE! WHERE’S YOUR FATHER! TELL ME NOW OR I’LL BLOW YOUR FUCKIN’ HEAD OFF.”

I was no longer making out with Frank, although I could still feel his presence with me. It was more like he was there with me in my head. I was still naked — no, I had on a pair of briefs and nothing else — and I was sitting on a stool at a counter in a very fancy and modern-looking kitchen. When I heard the shouting, I sprang up from the stool and started to run toward it, a sense of dread coming over me as if someone I loved were in danger.

My body felt awkward — almost foreign to me — like it was twice my normal size. I could feel my heart pounding in my chest as I tried to run, but my legs felt like lead weights, not moving nearly fast enough.

Finally, I burst through a doorway out into an entrance hall, where I saw two men, one of whom was holding a teenage boy who looked vaguely familiar, while the other man held a gun to the boy’s head. The boy was shirtless and barefoot, wearing a pair of khaki shorts with the waistband of a pair of old-fashioned boxers visible above the waistband of the shorts. For some reason, I didn’t think there was anything unusual about the way he was dressed, even though it was strange.

I felt as if this boy was precious to me, even though I didn’t know him. One thing was for sure — he was drop-dead gorgeous, with smooth skin, long blond hair, piercing blue eyes and a muscular physique. He was a walking wet dream — he reminded me so much of Frank — yet the thought of actually doing anything with him seemed repulsive, although I didn’t understand why.

I continued running toward the boy and toward the men holding him. The boy’s eyes locked onto mine and he shouted out, “DAD!” The man with the gun turned toward me and shouted, “Don’t come any further or I’ll fucking blow your son’s head off!”

It was then that I noticed the men’s appearances and suddenly thought to myself how stupid I was for letting my son (my son?) answer the door. I realized that UPS would have never made a delivery so early on a Saturday morning (Saturday morning?), and noticed that although they were wearing brown shirts and brown pants, they weren’t wearing a UPS uniform. They had dark skin and black hair and definitely looked foreign, but there were a lot of students at the University that looked like they did. I had a thought that they were probably Iranian, but I wasn’t sure where the thought came from. I wasn’t even sure where exactly Iran was, although it had been in the news a lot lately.

Once my body finally responded to the situation and I’d stopped dead in my tracks, the man with the gun said, “Dr. Michaels, if you cooperate with us, we might let your son live. If you don’t, you’ll both die. Do you understand?”

I heard myself say, ‘yes’, but it was with the voice of an older man.

“Good, we have an understanding, then,” the man said. “Take us to where you keep all of your papers having to do with Operation Time Tunnel.

“I have no papers here,” I said in the older man’s voice, but somehow, I knew I was lying. “The only records on the project are at the lab.”

The man with the gun pushed it firmly against the boy’s head and the other man said, “Just kill the boy. I’m sure Dr. Michaels will talk by the time we finish breaking all of his fingers, one at a time.”

NO!” I heard myself shout. “Don’t hurt Andy! I’ll do anything you ask.” A thought came to me — a sense of determination — that I’d already ‘lost’ my daughter and I was not gonna lose my son.

“That’s much better,” the man with the gun said. “Now take us to where you keep your papers!”

“Everything’s in the basement,” I heard myself say.

“Then take us there,” the man with the gun said, “but remember that if you try anything funny, Andy dies.”

I nodded my head and then started walking down a hallway and opened a door, turning on a light to reveal a flight of stairs leading downward. Seemingly knowing what I was doing, I led the group of us downward into what appeared to be a finished basement with rich wood paneling. Inside were a pool table and an elaborate model train set. There was a sofa and some chairs, and on one wall, mounted above a fireplace, was the hugest TV I’d ever seen. At least I instinctively knew it was a TV, but it was much wider than normal, and it was flat and hung on the wall.

Continuing into the room with purpose, I led us all to a door, which I opened, and we all walked into what appeared to be an unfinished area of the basement. To the right was a laundry area with a washer and dryer — at least that’s what I knew they were, but they both had large, round glass doors that opened in the front rather than on top. We turned to the left and walked into a workshop area, with a large workbench and a bunch of power tools. I reached out and grabbed hold of a large sheet of plywood that was propped against a wall, and pulled it aside to reveal a steel door. The door had a fancy lock with a keypad on it.

“Open it!” the man with the gun demanded, and I felt as if I was about to make a vital decision. I had a choice of codes to enter, and if I entered the wrong one, my ‘son’ could die. If I entered the wrong code and I lived, I would almost certainly go to jail — somehow I knew this — but I knew that if I entered the ‘right’ code, the very survival of Earth was in doubt. Summoning every bit of courage I had, I entered the ‘hostage’ code. There was a beep, and then a click, and then I reached for the doorknob, turned it, and pushed the door open.

Flipping on a light switch as we entered, we wound up in a surprisingly large, well-lit room with an amazing assortment of electronic equipment, the likes of which I’d never seen before — not even at the University. But then I saw something familiar. Off to one side was a comfortable-looking recliner, and above it was mounted a helmeted contraption. A table next to the apparatus held a shiny flat metal object with what looked like a white plastic apple with a bite out of it, on top. I instinctively knew I was looking at a first-generation TTT machine. This one used a complicated array of quartz emitter-detectors instead of the ‘mirror ball’ we were building back at the University, and it used a computer to do what we were gonna do with vacuum tubes.

The two men began speaking excitedly in a language I didn’t understand. The one without the gun pulled a small black object out of his pocket and opened it up to reveal something that looked surprisingly like a miniature telephone. He pulled an antenna up out of it and then looked at the inside of the thing for several seconds before saying, in English, “No fucking signal!” The two men spoke to each other again in a foreign language, and then the one with the phone-like object left us alone with the man with the gun.

Suddenly, there was the sound of a car horn — a double honk — and the boy said, “Shit.” It sounded so funny to hear a cuss word coming out of that angelic face, but I knew the implication had to be serious.

Then I heard myself say, “That’s my wife. She’s just arrived home with groceries and your van is blocking her way into the garage. If we don’t go out and help her, she’ll come storming in here in a minute or two and she’ll be pissed as hell.”

The man with the gun seemed to ponder the situation for a bit, and then he said to the boy, “Come with me, but don’t try anything or you’ll both die.”

We left the room with the TTT machine and walked through the workshop and laundry area back into the finished part of the basement. Just as we reached the stairs, I heard a woman shouting, “What the HELL is going on here? I have a ton of…” and then there was a scream, followed by the sound of a gunshot.

I heard the boy shout out, “MOM!” and then I was suddenly sitting bolt upright in bed. My heart was racing and I was covered with sweat. Frank sat up and threw his arms around me as I said, “What the fuck was that?” I musta still been under the influence of the dream, ’cause I almost never cussed otherwise.

“It seemed so real,” I said, practically in tears as Frank tried to comfort me.

Finally, he responded, “I was there, too, in your dream. I saw and heard everything you did, but this was not the first time for me. I’ve had this same exact dream, many times before, only I’ve always seen it through the eyes of the son. It was always I that had the barrel of a gun pressed against my head. It was always I that saw my own mother bein’ shot. This time we both saw it through the father’s eyes. This time I think it was your dream and we saw it through your eyes.”

“Are you sayin’ I’m the father of the boy in this dream,” I asked incredulously, “and that you’re my son? That’s just wrong, man.”

“Actually, this is the first time I’ve actually gotten to see the boy in the dream — his name is Andy — and although he bears a striking resemblance to me, we’re not the same. I don’t think we’re even related, but to be honest, except for the hair, he bears even more of a resemblance to you, Chris.”

I started to open my mouth in protest, but then I thought about it and I realized Frank was right. The boy in the dream could easily be my brother, or at least a close cousin.

“I take it that you agree with me,” Frank went on, “but there’s even more. You didn’t get a chance to see what the father looks like in the dream, but I have, many times. His face is etched into my memory. Now that I’ve had a chance to see how you’ll look when you’re seventeen, there can be no doubt. The father in the dream is you. He looks like I imagine you’ll look in another twenty or thirty years. He’s incredibly handsome for an older guy, by the way.”

“That’s just plain weird, man,” I replied. “It was so bizarre, and why have you been having the same dream? You say that this time it came from me but that that cannot be. It had to be from you, ’cause it’s always been your dream, man… not mine.”

“No, Chris, you don’t understand,” Frank responded. “We experienced it as a dream but what we just saw was real. I think we just saw something that’s gonna happen in a future alternate reality… one that we created.”

“You mean that horrible nightmare we just saw is really gonna happen?” incredulously, I asked.

Nodding his head, Frank continued, “This was the first time I actually got to see into the lab in the basement… not that I would have recognized an OTT lab before I met you anyway. And those fake delivery guys are obviously foreign nationals, probably Iranian. The thing is, it looks like this dream means the Iranians are gonna try to steal TTT.”

“But I thought the Iranians were our friends,” I protested.

“We used to think they were,” Frank answered, “but who knows what they’ll be in thirty or forty years. We supported the Shah of Iran to help fight the Communists, but the Shah was never popular in his own country. If I remember my history right, I think the Americans and the British actually helped the Shah depose a democratically elected, Western-style government in order to restore the monarchy, which was a repressive regime.”

“Why the fuck would we do that?” I asked.

“’Cause we only care about our own self-interests. ’Cause Iran has oil, and our oil companies were essentially stealing it from them. ’Cause the democratically elected government nationalized the oil fields and demanded a fair price for their oil, and the Shah reversed all that, returning the oil fields to our greedy oil companies in return for bein’ restored to power. And then the Shah squashed all his dissent and took away the people’s freedom while we looked the other way. ’Cause we thought the Shah could do a better job of keepin’ the Russians outta the Middle East.

“That’s why the people of Iran rose up and deposed the Shah back in February. Now I think the people of Iran resent America for propping him up all these years. And the new government ain’t no democracy, either. It’s an Islamic republic that’s even more repressive than the Shah, but the people support it ’cause it’s their government. No, with all that hatred in them, the people of Iran probably reject everything Western.

“I imagine a fundamentalist Iranian superpower would love to get their hands on TTT and use it to erase the Shah’s reign entirely. They’d probably use it to destroy our future as a superpower, too. They might even work with the Russians on that one,” Frank concluded.

“What a fuckin’ mess!” I exclaimed, “and how do you know so much about Iran, anyway.”

Shrugging his bare shoulders, he replied, “I’ve read a lot, and I don’t forget much.”

“I guess not,” I responded, “but what do we do about all this. I mean the thought of what we just saw makes me sick, but it would be even worse if Russia or Iran or anyone else got their hands on TTT. How do we stop them?”

“That’s a tough one,” Frank admitted. “Short of using TTT to go back and convince the White House to cut off aid to the Shah, I somehow doubt there’s anything we can do to change the future… well to create an alternate reality in which the Iranians don’t go after us.

“Maybe we should wait to hear from Chris-17 and ask him to find out what happened. If we’re lucky, maybe you escaped the Iranians, in which case we may not need to do anything.”

“The code I entered to open the door,” I related, “it was a hostage code. It caused the alarm system to send an alert to the local police that we were being held hostage and had been forced to disarm the system.”

“Oh cool,” Frank responded. “I guess ’cause you were seeing things through the eyes of your future self, you could sense your own thoughts, whereas I couldn’t.”

“I wonder what happened after that gunshot,” I asked rhetorically. “I wonder if the police got there in time to save us.”

“Not for Andy’s mother, your wife,” Frank replied. “I very clearly saw her being shot. I always woke up right after seeing her lifeless eyes, though… it’s an image that has haunted me ever since the first time I saw the dream… so I have no idea what happened afterwards.”

I couldn’t help but think about the grief my future self and my ‘son’ would go through if my future wife was killed, and then I remembered the thoughts I had about going to jail…

<<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>>

September 2004 • Chris-38

We’d just been through a very difficult few weeks. Going through a hostage ordeal was something Andy and I would never forget. Our very survival had been in doubt for the more than 60 hours that the siege had lasted before the SWAT team finally stormed our house and killed the terrorists. The memory of the sight of Jen’s lifeless body and her blood splattered all over the walls and kitchen cabinets, not to mention the smell of her decaying body and the shit she released in death, was something that would always be with us.

During the siege, our every move was monitored by the terrorists. We were bound and gagged with my own duct tape. They stripped us of even our underwear, so we were forced to sit naked in the great room, which was open to the kitchen and my wife’s corpse. We weren’t even allowed to go to the bathroom and by the end of the siege, the whole house stank from our shit and piss. We were also severely dehydrated and had to be hospitalized once it was all over.

Thank God for the large skylights we had in the kitchen and great room. Thanks to the skylights, even with the shades closed and the lights off, we were not sitting in the dark the whole time. It was also through those skylights that the SWAT team was able to take out the terrorists in the early morning hours of the third day of the siege.

Although Jack had left us alone after the hostage incident, I knew my day of reckoning was coming. I’d never forget the look of shock and disappointment on his face when he visited me in the hospital, and I told him that there were records and an actual full OTT lab in my basement. Because of that and because our house was already a crime scene, the entire Oakland Hills police department had to be brought into the loop to a limited degree. They weren’t told of the nature of OTT, but they were told the files and equipment were vital to national security, and everyone involved in the investigation had to undergo a thorough background check, and be sworn to secrecy. We also had to assert veto power over what could and could not be collected as evidence and, indeed, some of the evidence already collected had to be returned to us, and the record of its ever having existed had to be expunged.

Yeah, I’d created quite a mess, for we couldn’t even acknowledge the existence of a secret lab in my basement without the news media going ballistic. It would have been international news, and we simply couldn’t have that. On the other hand, I’d very clearly broken the law and by all accounts, should have been punished severely for it. True, I’d only set up the lab in my basement because Chris-45 had asked me to, but Jack was not at all happy that we’d found it necessary to bypass his authority in the first place.

The only thing that was keeping me out of jail was the potential impact that jailing me could cause to the timeline. If I were imprisoned, OTT would never come to fruition and everything we’d worked so hard for would have been in vain. It was a true no-win situation. Of course I discussed the whole thing with Chris-45, who was now fully aware of the hostage incident and was living with our old high school sweetheart, Frank Sanford. That we’d reconnected with Frank after all these years was a real shocker, to say the least. There was nothing Chris-45 could do for me in my time period, however. Everything was in Jack’s hands.

Burying my wife had been tough. The funeral itself had been a real media circus. There was no way it could have been otherwise. Iranian terrorists taking a top Lawrence Livermore scientist hostage was front page news in papers around the world. Of course the Iranian government was denying any connection with the incident, but with Iran’s known interest in acquiring nuclear weapons and with the assumption that I was involved in nuclear weapons development — an assumption based solely on where I worked and my top-secret security clearance — no one was buying that the Islamic government wasn’t involved in some way.

And then there was Andy. Andy was surprisingly strong throughout the hostage ordeal, but he was devastated by his mother’s death. I had never seen Andy so withdrawn as I’d seen him during the past few weeks. He just didn’t want to interact with anyone — not even his closest friends, nor the girl he’d talked about asking out just before the terrorists arrived at our doorstep. We were both in counseling with a psychologist who specialized in the treatment of survivors of hostage incidents, but it didn’t change the fact that Jen was dead. What should have been an exciting time in Andy’s life was instead a time of despair. My son would probably never be the same. Nor would I.

We’d hired a professional firm to clean up the mess in our house. Human blood is extremely difficult to remove and we ended up having to replace our kitchen cabinets. The sofa Andy and I had been bound to also had to be replaced — not even reupholstering it could have fully gotten rid of the smell. In the end, we decided to replace all the great room furniture and to completely redo the kitchen. The memories of what had happened in those two rooms were just too strong to leave them as they were.

I vowed not to make a snap decision, but I suspected that we might ultimately have to sell the house and move — otherwise the memories would always haunt us. Indeed, the only thing keeping us there was my desire to keep Andy in the same school with all of his friendships intact, but all bets would be off if I ended up going to jail. In that case, I feared that Andy might even be sent to live with my parents in St. Louis — parents who hated him because he was born out of wedlock, and who hated me even worse for having had a homosexual affair while in high school. I shuddered at the thought.

It was on the Tuesday after Labor Day that Jack finally sat me down in his office to lay out the terms of my reprimand.

“I’m really disappointed in you, Chris,” he began. “I understand why you did what you did, particularly with Chris-45 telling you to do it. I’m sure he had good reason to ask you to set up your lab at home, and it disturbs me that he probably has a lab of his own in his time period. I can’t do anything about Chris-45, other than to clamp down on your activities now, and I certainly intend to clamp down on your activities now.

“I don’t think I need to tell you now that having your own independent laboratory at home is an unacceptable security risk. Keeping any records of your work at home is no longer acceptable. If the Iranians could get to you once, they could try it again. We’ve secretly assigned a 24-hour security detail to watch your house for your own safety, but you’re going to have to move to a more secure location for your own protection, and for Andy’s. This isn’t a request. We’re also going to have to assign a Secret Service detail to Andy when he’s at school as well as at home. We can’t take a chance on him being abducted as a way for the Iranians to get back at you.

“As much as I’d like to send you to jail and throw away the key for what you did, I’ve come to the conclusion that I can’t do that. You have to be allowed to complete your work on OTT, at least until it reaches fruition. After that, depending on how well you cooperate, or not, all bets are off.

“In the meantime, you will effectively be under house arrest. You’ll have to wear an ankle bracelet. Your secret service detail will be as much to keep an eye on you as to protect you. You’ll only be allowed to go between your home and here. Even trips to the grocery store will have to be cleared in advance.

“I know that with what happened, you didn’t get to take your annual vacation, but I’m going to have to cancel all future vacation time. You will not be allowed to travel beyond your work and your home. You will not be allowed to attend national or international conferences. For Andy’s sake, I recommend that he enroll in something like the Boy Scouts so that he can have a life outside of home and school, but he’ll still have to have his Secret Service detail with him at all times, and trips out of the area will need approval in advance.”

Getting a much softer look on his face, he then said, “Chris, I know what you’re going through, and then some. When I lost Susan and the kids, I thought my life was over. It may not seem like it now, but in time the pain will subside and you’ll be able to move on, but if there’s anything I can do right now to help, just let me know.”

“Thanks, Jack,” I replied. “You’ve been more than fair. I appreciate your allowing me to continue my work on OTT and allowing me to remain free, even if under house arrest. It’s as much as I could have hoped for, and at least Andy will be able to get back to a normal life eventually. I just hope we can stay in Oakland Hills and he can continue to attend the same school. It’s hard on a teenager to have to be uprooted, to leave their friends behind and to start over.”

“If possible, we’ll try to keep you in Oakland Hills, but I can’t guarantee it. Tenet wants us to house you at the Alameda Naval Complex, right off the coast of the City of Oakland and on The Bay. I’ll say one thing… it would be much more difficult for the Iranians to get to you there, and it would be a lot easier to protect Andy as well. He could go to middle school on base, which would give him a lot more freedom. It’s also an easier commute than the one you have now. I do understand, however, how difficult it is to uproot a teenager from their lifelong friends.”

“Actually, Andy’s in high school at Skyline High,” I pointed out. “He’s in his junior, but final year.”

“Right… where’d the time go. And I forgot that he’d skipped a grade. Bright kid. If you do end up in Alameda, Alameda High’s one of the best public schools in the state. The math proficiency’s more than 90%, which is a great deal better than where he’s going now. Alameda High isn’t as secure as being on the base, but with the military presence on the island, we can make it secure without having to have him shadowed by the Secret Service.”

“I’m not sure what he’d prefer to do,” I related. “I would think he’d prefer to remain in Oakland Hills, but given the choice between doing so under the watchful eye of the Secret Service and of having more freedom in a new place, knowing him, he could go either way.

“You know,” I said, changing the subject, “I can’t help but feel guilty for what happened. That room I have in the basement is a concrete-reinforced safe room. They could have blown the house up around us, and we’d have still been safe if only we’d been in that room by ourselves. If only I’d stopped to think about how absurd it would be for UPS to make a delivery that early on a Saturday morning, I could have stopped Andy from opening the door.…”

“And when Jen came home a few minutes later, they might well have taken her hostage and used her to force you to open the door, anyway,” Jack pointed out. “You might have all ended up being killed if you’d played it that way.”

Instinctively, I knew he was right, but it still didn’t make it any easier to accept it.

That evening after work, I arrived home with my new ankle bracelet in place and my Secret Service detail in tow. Andy was already home, and had his Secret Service detail with him as well.

“I just wish they’d have warned me about this,” he said at dinner. “I understand why they’re doing this, but did they have to pull me out of class on the first day of school to tell me about it? The whole school already knows about what happened, but now everyone’s gonna treat me like a freak.”

“Andy,” I began, “you certainly don’t need to make up your mind right now, but the CIA Director has ‘offered’ to put us up in military housing at the Alameda Naval Complex. If we did that, you’d be able to attend Alameda High School without the need for Secret Service protection. You’d still be somewhat restricted, but the military can keep us reasonably safe, there. Alameda High has a much higher ranking than Skyline, too.”

“I don’t even need to think about it, Dad,” he replied. “My life here is wrecked. I can’t go anywhere or do anything without being stared at, and my friends won’t even sit with me. Everyone treats me like a piranha.  I know some of my troubles will follow us wherever we go, but right now I’d like a chance to start over.

“Dad, I need to get away from here. I’ll always miss Mom, but I’ll never get over what happened as long as we live in this house. If it’s OK with you, I’d like to move, and Alameda’s prolly as good a place any and maybe better than most. I say we do it.”

“A military house won’t be nearly as nice as what we have now,” I pointed out.

“As long as we have our privacy, I don’t care,” he replied. “I’d be happy to live in five hundred square feet if it meant I could be a normal kid again.”

“I’m sure it’ll be a lot better than that, but don’t expect anything fancy.”

“As long as it has four walls and broadband, it’ll be fine,” Andy stated, and I couldn’t help but laugh.

“Something tells me you’d take broadband over running water,” I laughed.

“Need you even ask?” he said as the first smile I’d seen since the funeral overtook his face.

I drew Andy into my arms and we hugged each other tightly. No matter what, no matter how, I was going to do everything I could to protect my wonderful son until the end of time.

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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