Conversations With Myself

A Novel by Altimexis

Conclusion • Hall of Mirrors

The Whispers of Time
 
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October 2012 • Chris-46

“Could it really be that simple?” I asked.

“You yourself said he told you as much,” Frank replied. “These equations bear that out. The answer has been staring us in the face all along.”

“Hell, I’m the only one with a functioning, independent TTT lab. Now that we know about Jack, we can’t take a chance on doing any of this where he could find out about it. That’s all we’d need is for the Russians to get their hands on any of us.”

The realization that Jack had been working for the Russians all along came as a shock to all of us. Although the information came from Chris-25 back in 1991, there was no way to build the case against Jack without resorting to exposing TTT to the public; hence he still oversaw everything related to OTT in all the timelines but ours. We did all that we could to cut off his access to knowledge of the future — knowledge he could then pass along to the Russians — but OTT itself was still very much under his thumb.

“At least, now, you’re the director,” Frank pointed out.

“In this time period, yes,” I noted, “but not in any time period or timeline before now. It’s pretty fucking ironic, isn’t it? I’m the only one who has their own independent TTT facility, and I’m the only one who doesn’t need it.”

“You might need it if Trump wins,” Frank pointed out. “It’s quite a surprise he managed to defeat Dole to win the nomination. To say he doesn’t fit the Republican mold would be an understatement.”

Sighing, I replied, “The voters are angry. Kerry oversaw the start of the Great Recession. The voters blamed him and gave him the boot at the ballot box. Unfortunately, he was the only one with a plan to actually deal with the banking system collapse. The only thing Dole had to offer was austerity, which only made things worse — way worse — so the voters wouldn’t even give her the opportunity for a second chance. They chose a bombastic idiot who can’t give the same answer twice in the same hour, let alone in the same week. He’s an habitual liar, but uneducated white rednecks love him because he ‘tells it like it is.’ How ironic.”

“I’m sure his supporters see it differently, Honey, but what are you going to do if he does win?” Frank asked. “He wouldn’t hesitate to use TTT, you know. Hell, he’d use it every week if he knew it existed. Multiple times a week. Every time his enemies did something he didn’t like, he’d use TTT to change it. He’d fuck up the timeline so badly, God would go back and call off the Big Bang entirely, rather than let Trump fuck it up.”

“Trump will never know about OTT,” I replied. “It wouldn’t be the first time that a president was kept in the dark about the existence of a weapon system either. Some things are just too dangerous to be left to politicians. But don’t worry. Trump will never win.”

“You really think America is ready for a black president?” Frank asked.

“Obama will win because he’s black,” I countered. “African Americans will vote like they never have before. Hispanic voters will vote in record numbers too. With Trump’s stance on immigration, they’ll flock to Obama. About the only group Trump can count on in the end will be uneducated white men.”

“Well that certainly leaves us out,” Frank agreed, “although his stance on gay issues isn’t bad.”

“Obama may not be our biggest supporter, but he’ll get it right in the end,” I countered as I got up, lovingly squeezing Frank’s thigh as I did. “Fuck, Chris-39 still has that stupid ankle bracelet to deal with. I can’t believe they put it back on after the second Iranian incident. He can’t go anywhere on his own without Craegan finding out about it.”

“Actually, they never took it off,” Frank reminded me. “The surgeons had to work around it. They would have had to get a court order to have it removed, but there wasn’t time if they had any hope of saving the foot. But whatever happened to the lab he built in his home?” Frank asked.

“It was dismantled and destroyed,” I replied, “and he can’t exactly build a new one in his small home on the Alameda base without anyone else knowing about it.”

“But I can,” Frank pointed out. “If Chris-39 were to ask the Frank of his time to assemble a TTT apparatus in secret in the house we shared on the Alameda base, I would have been able to do it. A third-gen machine isn’t all that expensive, and with my government clearances, I shouldn’t have too much trouble sneaking in the necessary components.”

“No, it’ll just take time… lots of time,” I pointed out.

“And the process will have to be repeated in each and every time period, too,” Frank added.

“At least things seem to have stabilized, since Chris-25 escaped from the Chinese,” I noted.

“Call it the calm before the storm,” Frank replied. “There are still thousands of realities out there with varying degrees of stability. Some of them have dissipated or will dissipate on their own, but others will form micro-singularities. It’s not a matter of if they will coalesce into a singularity, but how much time we have before we can no longer stop it.”

“Do you still think we have to worry about Dawson?” I asked. “Now that we know Creagan was the spy?”

“It still doesn’t exonerate Dawson,” Frank pointed out. “We still don’t even know if his defection was voluntary, but under the circumstances, we have to assume that it was until proved otherwise.”

“Which means that Marion Dawson has to be considered to have always been a Soviet spy until proved otherwise,” I echoed.

<<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>>

December 2005 • Chris-39

As the days rushed past and the holidays approached, I couldn’t help but feel an impending sense of doom. Halloween was past, Thanksgiving was past and we were well into the Christmas season. Before I knew it, it was Christmas Day as well as the one-year anniversary of Andy’s disappearance, and he was still missing. The Russians took him. We knew that. They’d sent me his finger, but then nothing. Why hadn’t they tried to contact me ever since? The only reason I could think of was that Andy was dead. That was a wound that would never heal. Frank did all he could to reassure me, but what did it matter anyway?

Ironically, it was Andy who discovered a solution to the fragmentation of time. It would take months to set it up, as each and every one of me in each and every time period would have to build their own TTT apparatus. In the end we'd have the equivalence of a conference call, a single night in which we all connected through TTT. The effect would be like a hall of mirrors, I imagined, with all the various versions of myself visible to each other at the same time.

Thanks to Frank, I was nearly finished with building my own independent TTT apparatus. Soon, I would use it to contact Chris-32 and set him on the path to building his own facility. And I’d been giving a lot of thought to how Chris-13, who’d likely be Chris-14 by then, would complete his part of the mission. It would be his job to contact a pristine version of Chris-12 — one that hadn’t been contaminated by TTT yet, and to convince him to forget about pursuing the technology. It was the linking of all time periods that would cause all the various timelines to collapse. It would then be up to Chris-12 to set a new course — one devoid of TTT. Unfortunately, it would also be a timeline devoid of Andy.

<<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>>

February 1999 • Chris-32

It was sure good to be in contact with Chris-25 again. Just knowing he was back on American soil did wonders for us, but the biggest surprise was in the debriefing. Chris spent months in Hawaii where, isolated from friends and family and hypnotized at times, detail after detail of his captivity had been exposed. Of course he wasn’t isolated from me and I found I could even break into the sessions where he was hypnotized, even though he was awake. It was much like the way I was able to enter his mind when the Chinese had him drugged.

If only we’d known about this before, we could have saved ourselves the trouble of involving Marion Dawson in OTT! How ironic. After all, the only reason for using him was to take advantage of his photographic memory, but if we’d known we could use hypnosis instead of sleep, a photographic memory would’ve been irrelevant. Under self-hypnosis, we could’ve simply copied down the circuit diagrams and computer code sent back to us by our future selves. How different things might have turned out, but it was too late now.

Anyway, the intelligence community learned much about the Chinese from Chris-25, but the real shocker was what I was able to pick from his brain during the interrogation process. It’s amazing what seemingly trivial information can be gleaned from a well-conducted interview. It’s even more amazing what can be deduced from trivial data when combined with other information.

When all was said and done, a seemingly innocent comment by Wang Lee pointed to the identity of a Russian spy in our lab at Lawrence Livermore. To Wang, the comment meant nothing but to us, it narrowed the identity of the spy down to a single individual — Jack Craegan, my friend and mentor. Every aspect of the comment checked out, leaving little doubt.

The ringing of the doorbell brought me out of my reverie. My whole mood lightened as I opened the door for my little man, who was almost ten. Jen did little more than wave at me as she drove off, leaving Andy with me for the weekend. Winter weather was still in full force in spite of the date on the calendar, with a steady, cold rain falling outside. Temperatures felt like they were in the fifties, or maybe even forties, but that didn’t stop my son from arriving in his usual summer attire of a wifebeater, shorts and sandals.

“Is that all you wore?” I asked incredulously.

Rolling his eyes, he replied, “If I could get away with it, I’d wear even less, you know. The sandals are a complete waste, ’cause the first thing I do is kick ’em off when I walk in the door.” As if to prove his point, he did just that, then he continued, “The shirt is for little more than hidin’ my nipples. People seem to get hung up on nipples for some reason. They don’t serve any purpose in guys, and in girls, it’s just where the milk comes out. Now I admit, I don’t mind seein’ girls’ nipples. Tits are sexy on girls… they get me hard… definitely not sexy on guys though. But in some cultures, everyone goes topless. I know I have to wear a shirt indoors in public… there’s no getting away from social norms… but maybe it’s time to put my money where my mouth is and go shirtless in my own house.” With that he pulled his wifebeater over his head and dropped it on the floor. When I frowned at him, he shrugged his bare shoulders, picked it up, carried it to the dining area and draped it over a chair.

“Now shorts really don’t do anything except provide pockets and a place for keys and a wallet. Since I don’t need those inside my home, I don’t really need to wear my shorts in the house either, do I?” He then emptied his pockets, placed his wallet and keys on the kitchen counter, removed his shorts and draped them over the same dining room chair. That left him only wearing his boxers.

“If you think I’m going to let you go naked in the house, you have another thing coming,” I volunteered before things went any further.

“But why not, Dad?” he challenged. “I wasn’t gonna say anything, but the only reason to wear my boxers is to cover my penis, but we’re both guys, and you’re my dad and have seen my penis hundreds of times. I know you’re gay and all, but you’re not into boys and, after all, I’m your son. So why do I need to wear my boxers inside the house?”

“What if someone comes to the door?” I asked.

“Then I’ll put my shorts on, just as I would if I just got out of the shower.”

“Fine, Andy,” I responded as I threw my hands up in the air. “If you want to go naked, go naked. You’re nearly ten years old and I won’t stop you, but don’t expect me to warn you if a pretty girl stops by, and I happen to let her in.”

“Dad, you know me better than that. I don’t care if someone else sees me naked. If they get embarrassed by it, then it’s their problem… not mine. And if it’s a pretty girl, maybe I can talk her into getting naked too,” he added with a sexually-charged smirk that reminded me how much he was nine going on nineteen, soon to be ten going on twenty.

As he shucked his boxers and draped them over the chair, I couldn’t help but wonder how my son managed to have far fewer hang-ups than I ever did. The boy had no modesty at all. Talking about getting hard and getting naked with a girl or, in my case a boy, I’d have been red as a beat.

“Oh, and Andy?”

“Yeah Dad?”

“I’m going to have to do some work over the weekend,” I brought up. “I’ll try to keep it to a minimum and most of it’ll be at night, but I just wanted to warn you about it.”

Getting a serious look on his face and coming close to me, he responded, “You’re getting ready to collapse all the timelines, aren’t you?”

“How do you know about that?” I asked.

“I’m the one who first brought it up with you, remember?” He replied. “But back then, you weren’t ready to listen. But I knew that sooner or later you’d figure it all out.

“Since we’re in the middle of all the timelines, that means you’re halfway done with all the preparations. It’ll be, what, maybe another three to six months or so ’til everyone has their own equipment… a year at most… before you’ll be ready? And then you’ll collapse all the timelines and I’ll be history.”

“Andy, don’t say that,” I admonished my son. “We don’t know that that’s what’ll happen.”

“Yeah, Dad, we do,” Andy countered. “At least I do.”

As tears flooded his eyes, I pulled my naked nine-year-old son into a tight embrace and held onto him with all my might as if holding onto him could keep him from disappearing from eternity.

“Dad, I’m scared,” he cried. “Not that I’ll remember any of this, ’cause I’ll never have existed in the first place, but I don’t want not to be. I don’t want to lose my friends, my mom, and you. Most of all, I don’t want to lose me. Life is so precious and although we have no control over it, most of us at least get to live some of it. After you collapse the timelines, all of this will be gone and I will have never existed. I’m so scared, Dad. I’m so scared.”

Andy was breaking my heart. How could I make him feel better when my own heart was breaking? I would do anything to keep him alive. Anything. But if we didn’t collapse the timelines, we would all die, and that wasn’t something I could allow, even at the expense of sacrificing my own son. Andy knew that, and I knew that.

<<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>>

April 1992 • Chris-26

It had been a challenge, putting my life back together after returning from China. I’d long ago moved in with Wang Lee, so the only apartment I had was the one we’d shared, but that apartment, unbeknownst to me, had been bought by a Chinese shell company. When Wang returned with me to Hong Kong after my abduction, the shell company simply sold the apartment, giving little heed to the contents, which were simply discarded. That actually was a blessing in disguise, as I doubted the hard drive with its hidden partition would have escaped detection, had Chinese agents actually dissected it.

The bottom line, though, was that I returned to the States a penniless ex-post-doctoral student with virtually no savings, no possessions of my own and no place to go. Over a year had passed since my sudden disappearance, and I wasn’t even sure if the post-doc in Rankin’s lab was still available. More than likely, as far as he was concerned, I had failed to return from the winter break, effectively abandoning my post-doc. And now that I knew that Jack Craegan was a Soviet spy, I didn’t know if I could even trust Rankin in the first place. Still, Rankin was the one person with access to funds for my work, and Jack Craegan was my one link to OTT. And there was Jen, the mother of my son and the only woman I’d ever really loved. For the sake of the future and for the sake of our son, could I find a way to put my life back together with her? I knew she hadn’t married and that she’d found a job at Genencor, literally right next door to Stanford. She and Andy lived in a townhouse condo nearby in Woodside.

I came very close to just saying, ‘To fuck with it all,’ and just returning to Saint Louis to move in with my parents until I could figure out what to do. But that would have meant abandoning OTT and any possibility of restoring the timeline, and it would have taken me away from Andy, who’d just turned three. Somehow, for his sake if not for the world’s sake, I had to get my life back on track and resume my work on OTT.

Without letting on that I knew he was a Soviet spy, I approached Jack, who was the one person from my former life who knew the full story of what had happened. Jack offered me a permanent job at Livermore on the spot, and he offered to make things right with Rankin, getting him to allow me to complete my post-doc while employed full time at Livermore. It also gave me access to the resources I’d need to build my own TTT apparatus. That took care of my financial and my career objectives, but it still left me wondering how in the fuck to rebuild my social life, to reconnect with my former girlfriend, and my son.

My first thought was to simply call her up on the telephone or to send her an e-mail, but somehow I knew I needed to meet with her, face-to-face. I needed to contact her in person and not using technology as a crutch. I knew she had Andy in daycare and it turned out he was in the same daycare center as before my abduction. I went there one afternoon and watched my son at play — he’d gotten so big! I waited until I saw Jen pick him up, hoping to confirm the timing so that I could catch her at home on another night, but she looked up, and she saw me. How she recognized me, sitting in a strange SUV, I didn’t know. But she did see me and just stood there, outside her car, Andy at her side, staring in my direction.

It was when Andy recognized me that things happened quickly. Breaking free of his mother and starting to run toward a busy street, thinking only of getting to me, I had no choice but to abandon my car and run across said busy street, risking my own life and limb to keep my son safe.

Screaming, “Daddy, Daddy. I’ve missed you. I’ve missed you,” he threw himself into my open arms and I scooped him up, held him close to my chest and spun him around and around.

“I’ve missed you too, Tiger,” I responded, just as Jen caught up to us.

“Chris, what happened,” she began. “We thought you were dead. You disappeared without a trace. We searched everywhere. We tried everything. I even borrowed money from my parents and hired a private investigator. We traced you to a New Years party on a houseboat in Sausalito, but then… nothing. We couldn’t even find out who hosted the party. The houseboat was leased by a…”

“Chinese shell company?” I asked, completing her sentence.

“Yeah, and Wang Lee got into graduate school at Stanford using false papers. There was no Wang Lee. The State Department thinks he may have been a Chinese spy. But then, why’d he take an interest in you? Were you involved in something you shouldn’t have been?”

“What? No,” I answered, but then corrected myself, “actually, yeah, but nothing illegal. I can’t believe you went to so much trouble to find me, though. What I didn’t realize was that, if my research in particle physics was of interest to the folks at Livermore, it also was of interest to the Chinese Government.”

“Or Russians who attend thesis dissertations?” she added as realization dawned on her.

“Yeah, that too,” I agreed with a wan smile. “I guess maybe I was the only one who didn’t realize just how useful my research could be to the military, and not just ours.”

“Listen, Chris,” she continued. “I know we didn’t exactly part under the best of circumstances, but after you disappeared, I did a lot of thinking. I had a lot of time to think in your absence, after I realized you probably were dead.

“I know it’s not easy, being gay and in the closet, and I know you probably did love me… you just couldn't get from me what your body craved, and that made you an easy target for a Chinese agent posing as Wang Lee. I’d like to think that someday I’ll find a straight man to love me, but that’s not likely to happen when you have a small child to care for, and when you’re still in love with his gay dad.

“I know you’re going to have sex with men. It’s your biological imperative and I’d be foolish to interfere. I can live with that as long as you don’t do it by sneaking around on me or going to prostitutes, and so long as you’re safe. Anything else you do is fine with me as long as you come home to me at night. But for the sake of our son, so that he never has to know a life without his father, are you willing to give ‘us’ another chance?”

Overcome with emotion, rather than say anything, I answered by pressing my lips to hers. I faintly heard my little man shout, “YES!” as I saw a little fist shoot up into the sky, out of the corner of my eye, but I wasn’t much paying attention as my tongue was getting reacquainted with Jen’s.

<<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>>

June 1985 • Chris-19

June 1985, my senior year in college! In the fall I’d start the third and final year in my undergraduate education, and my second year at Stanford. Not that I was taking the summer off or anything. Actually, I was taking a full course load so that, with my advance placement, I could finish up in three years. I was also spending a lot of time in the lab, putting together my own TTT apparatus. At least Stanford had all the facilities I needed to do it. And unlike for my older counterparts, cost was not a major factor. My tuition and laboratory fees entitled me to use any parts and equipment already available on site. Thanks to Stanford’s humongous endowment, everything I needed was available on site.

The only problem was that, if I wanted to fabricate something such as a custom quartz emitter-detector or a ‘disco ball’ precision mirror array, I had to do it myself. Fortunately, there were plenty of technicians and graduate students available to show me how to use the equipment in Stanford’s state-of-the-art optical shop, but the actual machining, grinding, polishing and aligning of components was up to me, which was why it took so long. Still, I learned a lot from my mistakes, and there were a lot of mistakes.

I could have fabricated my own vacuum tubes as well, which was something I already knew how to do, and Stanford did have outstanding facilities for doing so, but that would have taken additional time. Stanford was in the heart of Silicon Valley and students could buy a personal computer for pennies on the dollar. I already had all the software I needed and, although slow by future standards from what I’d been told, today’s PC was a Hell of a lot faster than the computers I’d started out with in Saint Louis.

For me, the hard part was gonna be in tryin’ to help Chris-14 build his own TTT apparatus. In his time, Chris had never even attempted to reach back to contact himself in the past, which was why it was so important that he do so now. He needed to reach out to Chris-12 at a time before he’d been contaminated by TTT. The rest of us would all work together to collapse all the extraneous timelines, but it would be up to Chris-12 to make sure we never fucked things up again. And there was another thing I wanted Chris-12 to do and, for better or worse, it would fall on Chris-14’s shoulders to make it happen.

You see, there’s a saying that those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it. Although it made sense that the best way to prevent the fragmentation of time was to prevent TTT from bein’ developed in the first place, the reality was that someday, someone else would invent it and we’d end up going through the whole thing all over again. I felt very strongly that the best defense was a good offense, and that we needed to have some kind of record of TTT — a time capsule of sorts — that could be used in an emergency to fix whatever kind of mess we found ourselves in in the future. Chris-26 was worried that if TTT was known to exist, the temptation would be too great to use it. My intent was to bury knowledge of the existence of TTT so deeply in the subconscious mind of Chris-12 that he’d never remember it unless something jogged his memory — something like someone else meddling with time.

The bigger issue with creating a time capsule of TTT was that the only one who could do it was Chris-12. If any of the rest of us tried, the time capsule would likely disappear, right along with the existence of alternate realities, when we collapsed all the timelines. But Chris-12 new nothing of TTT and he lacked the background to derive it on his own. Besides which, we wanted to keep it that way! There was no way Chris-12 could remember it all if Chris-14 fed it to him in his sleep, so we were gonna hafta make use of what we learned about conscious TTT from Chris-26. We were gonna hafta train Chris-12 in self-hypnosis and then he could transcribe everything about TTT into a journal as Chris-14 dictated it to him. Poor Chris-14!

<<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>>

May 1980 • Chris-14

How the fuck was I gonna build a TTT apparatus of my own? It was impossible! All the money I had saved from my allowance wasn’t enough to buy even one mirror for the ‘disco ball’ reflector. Then there was the stepper motor, and the multiplexers and, worst of all, the custom-fabricated emitter-detector. And I’d have to make all those custom vacuum tubes from scratch. I’d watched Professor Dawson do it, but could I even get my own access to the university facilities? I was just a lowly freshman, still in junior high.

More than that, time was of the essence. Although he didn’t want to worry me, there are no secrets in TTT and more than once I’d gotten wind of only sporadic communications from Chris-47 — something about all Hell breaking loose under President Trump, or something. No, I needed to reach Chris-12 now, to convince him not to pursue TTT and to get him to create a kind of time capsule of TTT for safe keeping, just in case it might be needed someday.

In the end, I concluded that I was gonna have to steal Professor Dawson’s TTT apparatus. It was the only way I could proceed in time. But what if I was caught. And Professor Dawson would panic if he thought that someone had gotten their hands on TTT. There were so many things wrong with this, but I could see no other way. I’d hafta wear a disguise, and I’d hafta make it look like the apparatus was destroyed rather than stolen. Well, Professor Dawson certainly had enough prototypes layin’ around and smashing them up would leave enough debris to make it look like the apparatus had been destroyed… wait a minute! The latter prototypes were fully functional, but Dawson was a perfectionist. The problem was that Dawson scavenged parts from each prototype to build the next. Could I find enough usable parts from all the prototypes to assemble my own TTT apparatus? Sneaking them out and taking them home wouldn’t be much of a problem. Assembling a fully functional machine would be a challenge, but a Hell of a lot easier than breaking into the lab and trashing the place, just to cover my tracks. And trashing the place would wreak havoc with so many other students’ projects… no, using Professor Dawson’s discarded prototypes would be so much better.

<<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>>

July 1978 • Chris-12

It was an incredibly hot night and my incredibly cheap parents didn’t see the need for an air conditioner in my room. They had one in their bedroom and, after all, my brother and sister had gotten by without air conditioning, so why couldn’t I? I guess suffering is supposed to build character in kids, or some kind of crap like that.

I’d stopped wearing pajamas when I turned twelve back in April, but tonight I was so hot that even my tighty-whities were discarded, laying on the floor next to my bed, just in case Mom checked up on me. The covers were pushed down all the way off the bed too, and were lying in a heap on the floor. Even so, the air was still and the humidity oppressive. I was hot and sweaty, tossing and turning and wondering if I could talk my parents into getting me a fan.

Eventually I drifted off to sleep but then something strange happened. A cool fog formed all around me — boy, that felt good — and then I felt as if I was leaving my body, floating in space above my bed. That felt even better! Slowly, another presence precipitated out of the fog… another boy… a teenager… and it was me! I could tell it right away. He looked like maybe a ninth grader — there was even the beginning of a mustache on his upper lip — I guess they call it peach fuzz — but his skin was otherwise smooth except for a coarse patch of hair over his dick. Yeah, I could see that part of him too. ’Course I had a few hairs over my dick now too, but you still needed a magnifying glass to see ’em.

There was no mistaking the face, though. It was an older version of my face, except that the hair was combed the opposite way and my mole was on the other way from what I saw every day in the mirror. That was ’cause I was seeing me the way everyone else saw me — the way I look in pictures, but why was I dreaming about what I’d look like in a couple of years, even down there?

“You’re not dreaming this, Chris. It really is me, Christopher, coming to you from September, 1980. I’m here to tell you some stuff about the future.”

“But as every fan of science fiction knows, it’s dangerous as Hell to mess with time,” I replied. “Knowledge of the future is evil. Surely you haven’t forgotten that.”

“Of course I know it just as well as you do,” he responded. “As you already figured out, I am you. But we’re gonna forget it when we’re old. In 2008, when we’re 42, we’re gonna invent a machine that lets us share our thoughts in our sleep, just like we’re doing right now. It only works for up to seven years, but by repeating the process, you can go all the way back to when you’re twelve years old.”

“Like you’re doin’ with me!”

“Exactly! But Chris,” he continued, “you’re absolutely right about fucking things up…”

“You used the ‘F’ word,” I interrupted.

“As will you,” he came back. “As I remember, a lot of our friends already do.” He was sure right about that! I never thought of doing it myself — it seemed kinda naughty — but maybe it was time I started acting more like the teenager I’d. After all, I’d be entering junior high in less than two months.

“So did we fuck things up?” I asked. It felt weird to use the ‘F’ word so casually like that, but it felt good too. Real good.

“More than you can imagine,” he answered. “We came real close to destroying everything. Our son… I mean we figured out how to fix it, but it’s gonna be difficult and sacrifices will have to be made. In order for it to work, I need you to do two things. The most important thing of all is that I need you to not develop the technology. Not ever. It’s far too dangerous and leads to fragmentation of the fabric of the universe. Used repeatedly, the fabric of time starts to disintegrate and a black hole will form that will swallow up the earth and everything around it. We can’t let that happen. It’s imperative that you never develop what you called Time Tunnel Technology…”

“Like the TV show!” I interrupted.

“Exactly!”

“What’s the other thing you need me to do?” I asked.

“I need you to keep a record… a journal of sorts, of everything related to TTT. A kind of time capsule, no pun intended. I can’t do it, nor can all our future selves, ’cause it’ll just disappear after we collapse all the alternate timelines. I need you to ask Mom to buy you a bunch of hardcover journal notebooks… the extra large ones, like you’d use for a lab notebook, and a file box to put them in. Have her buy enough notebooks to fill the box.

“Now I’m gonna teach you some mental exercises you can use to hypnotize yourself…”

“Cool!” I responded.

“This is necessary, so that you can write in the journal at the same time I communicate with you. Tomorrow night we’ll work on that, and then we can start work on the journal…”

<<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>>

September 2006 • Soul Survivor

The boy couldn’t believe he’d been there nearly a year-and-a-half. He was now seventeen and in seven months, he’d be eighteen and legally an adult! But that was not to be, he realized with a sigh.

It was strange — Crimea almost seemed as much his home now as did the San Francisco Bay Area. He even spoke the language. Yeah, he’d accidentally let it slip that he knew Russian when he responded to a question asked in Russian by one of the Soviet scientists of another. The question, however, was appropriate to him as well and, without thinking about it, he answered the question in flawless Russian.

So much for his attempt to keep them unaware that he could understand them! From then on, he spoke to them in Russian.

Much had happened over the course of the past sixteen months. Much of it had been spent in just getting the scientists up to speed on his formulations. He’d had to give them time to ‘discover’ his mistakes so that they would feel ownership of the equations, the underlying theory and the expected results. However, the formulations and theory were a hoax perpetrated by the boy. He’d deliberately led them in the wrong direction so as to ensure the integrity of time.

Coming up with a strategy for leading the scientists in the wrong direction, yet that justified the equipment he needed and the experiments he wished to run had been the hardest challenge he’d ever faced. Not even the professor knew, which was just as well, as there were limits to what they could communicate safely in their environment. Besides which, no one understood the math the way the boy did.

The lab came together nearly a year into their time in Crimea, and for the past five months, they’d been running experiments that at least in part, supported the formulations the boy had shared with the Soviet scientists. The scientists were thrilled that the results so closely matched those predicted by the formulations, even though there were discrepancies that the boy would have considered unacceptable from his own standpoint. Fortunately, the results fully supported the real theoretical framework he’d developed of the universe — the one he kept stored in his brain, safely away from prying eyes and ears — the formulation he shared with no one else — not even with the professor.

But now the boy was about to get to the hard part — the part of the experiments that could make everything go wrong. There was a piece of the puzzle that had always been missing — that just didn’t fit. Up until recently, no one could explain the workings of human memory. Oh, scientists pretty much knew how immediate recall and short-term memory worked, but this wasn’t all that much of a mystery in the first place. Short-term memory worked a lot like volatile dynamic random access memory in a computer. It was such in all mammals and, to a lesser extent, in all vertebrates. Long-term memory, however, remained a mystery.

It had long been assumed that long-term memory involved the formation of synapses within the brain. There was strong evidence for this and a number of models seemed to indicate that synaptic junctions within key areas of the brain could account for perhaps as much as a petabyte of data. Surely that would be enough to account for all the memories one accumulated in one’s lifetime — except that it didn’t.

Although memories became less distinct with time, a simple back-of-napkin calculation easily showed that, by the time a person reached the age of ten, already they had at least the equivalent of a hundred petabytes of long-term memories stored away… detailed memories that could be extracted decades under hypnosis. Even with extensive compression, that was an order of magnitude more than the best estimates of what was available in the brain. Not only that, but dementia affected the areas of the brain associated with memory more than any other. Short-term memory was one of the first things affected and, yet, long-term memory was usually spared until the very end. Even in the face of massive synaptic die-off, long-term memories dating back from childhood remained, often in exquisite detail.

It was as the boy was attempting to unravel the mysteries of long-term memory with the intent of learning how to read, erase and re-write memories, that he made a startling discovery. Long-term memories existed outside of normal space-time. Once he discovered evidence for an extra-corporeal storage mechanism for long-term memory, it was a trivial matter to devise experiments to prove it. What he wasn’t expecting was that he would make use of this science to prove the existence of the human soul.

It turned out that humans are sentient, not because they have evolved self-awareness, but because they have developed a symbiotic relationship with string-like entities that exist outside of the physical universe. They existed before the so-called Big Bang and they would continue to exist long after the universe collapsed upon itself. Humans provide the string entities with a corporeal existence, with a purpose and with meaning. In turn, the string entities provide humans with long-term memory, the ability to reason and basic self-awareness. More than anything, the string entities provide humans with a burning desire to amass knowledge, both individually and collectively, and to pass that knowledge on from generation to generation. It is a desire that closely mirrors their own.

Although the boy was not raised with religion, he couldn’t help but recognize the parallels between the string beings and the concept of a human soul. The string beings attached themselves to humans at the moment of birth, stayed with them throughout life and left them when the host died. Whether or not they too died, the boy couldn’t know, nor perhaps if they went on to some other kind of existence, much as most religions favored the existence of an afterlife. Truthfully, he didn’t care. What mattered to him was that he’d found a scientific explanation of how long-term memory works and, in the process, he’d discovered what makes humans what they are.

So why was this so important to the boy? There were two reasons. First of all and perhaps a bit selfishly, he was convinced that if he succeeded in reversing the effects of TTT, he would cease to exist. Simply put, he didn’t want to die or, worse yet, never to have existed in the first place. Far more importantly, however, was the need to ensure the integrity of time. The boy knew that, even with his best efforts to prevent it, his father couldn’t help but reinvent TTT, repeating the cycle of time fragmentation and restructuring endlessly until something went wrong and the earth was consumed by a singularity. He needed to find a way to nudge his father off course permanently, and the only way he could think to do that was if he could somehow find a way to be in the right place at the right time in the past. Only then could he intervene to ensure the integrity of time.

Accessing the Internet from within the USSR was a bit tricky, but the boy was exceptionally smart and was already adept at accessing systems and networks he wasn’t supposed to be privy to. In the end he had little difficulty surreptitiously accessing birth records and death records in Saint Louis in the 1960s and 1970s. Although he’d long suspected it, he was able to find records of an attempted suicide of a twelve-year-old boy, along with evidence that, before the existence of TTT, the suicide attempt had been successful. In short, this boy — his target — was in the right place at the right time, and with a little push from the boy, the target could make sure that Chris Michaels never went on to invent TTT.

There was also the matter of the professor’s involvement in TTT, and for that the boy needed to remove any reason for him to get involved in meddling with time. That turned out to be fairly simple. A note planted in the professor’s boyfriend’s scholastic record, about his homosexuality, and he would never get into medical school, let alone the military. Without a need to fund his education, he wouldn’t have enlisted and wouldn’t have gone to Vietnam in any case. The boy discussed the idea with the professor and suggested how they could use one of his experiments to make it happen. The professor readily agreed.

So the boy was rapidly approaching the point where he could create a stable wormhole back in time. As with TTT, the wormhole was dimensionless and although technically suitable for sending information back in time, it could not be used to transport physical mass and, hence, a person could not be sent back in time. Interestingly, the string entities that comprised long-term memories — the human soul — could traverse these wormholes with ease.

Now that the boy had identified his target — a boy who would be in the right place at the right time to influence the direction of his father’s life, the boy’s plan was to overwrite the long-term memories of the target. In other words, the boy wished to exchange his soul with that of the target boy — the boy who’d committed suicide at the age of twelve. Such an exchange was possible, but it could only be done once the target boy was dead. Timing was therefore critical. If done too soon, the target’s original soul might still be connected to the target and might not allow the boy to replace itself with his own soul. If he waited too long, the target might have suffered irreversible brain damage, making it impossible for the boy to accomplish his mission.

On top of that, the boy had to have a clear method of interrupting the suicide so that the target wouldn’t die. Although not foolproof, he came up with a simple scheme. He would first establish a wormhole to the target’s mother’s brain. He would implant the thought that something was wrong with her son. This he knew he could do from his experiments. The mother would discover the boy, hanging from the rafters in his attic bedroom, just as he lost consciousness. Timing again was critical, because if she found her son too early, his original soul would not have yet fled its host. He could restart the target’s heart, but only if the mother had restored his airway.

The biggest question mark about the procedure was that the process was destructive to both the target and the donor. The only way to separate the boy’s soul from its host body was for the boy to die, but then he would cease to exist in all future realities. With a wormhole established between the two dying brains and with a significant temporal gradient, the boy’s soul would have to fight to keep from being sucked into the wormhole. He did not know if his soul would retain consciousness or control, and if he failed to attach to the target, he would be left in limbo with an uncertain fate. But since he was going to die anyway as a result of the restoration of time, he felt he had nothing to lose, and so he was willing to take a leap of faith.

However, of necessity, the original soul of the target would be left without a corporeal vessel. That of course was the result of the original suicide, but the boy couldn’t help but wonder if he was in some way causing the destruction of a human soul. This thought was almost enough to get him to call the whole transfer off, but the integrity of time was far more important in the end.

Late at night, while everyone including the professor was asleep, the boy connected himself to the equipment and set the array of emitter-detectors upon his head. He then loaded a heavily encrypted file into the computer and opened the computer program it contained. When he was ready, he injected himself with a neural toxin that, at first, put his mind into the sleep-like state that was necessary for formation of the wormhole he was about to create. He initiated the sequence to run the program and as his brain slipped into a state of semi-unconsciousness, and then death, he felt his body take its last breath, and then he slipped away.

<<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>>

“Hello, Andy, I’ve been waiting a lifetime for you.”

“Who… who are you?”

“For a genius, you sure aren’t that bright.”

“Huh?”

“I’m your target, you dummy. I’m the soul who’s been keeping your new home warm for you.”

“What, you’re his soul? Fuck, I didn’t mean to kick you out. I thought you’d have left already.”

“I would’ve, but I knew you were coming and I wanted to meet you.”

“But it’s wrong for me to kick you out. I can’t just steal your body from you!”

“Listen, punk, this body is meant to be yours. It always has been. I only took this gig because it was the only thing available at the time. I wanted to try out being gay, but it just didn’t work out for me. I couldn’t deal with parents who couldn’t love me this way, and with bein’ raised in a religion that saw it as evil. I’ve already got a nice gig lined up to be a kid in Bangladesh. Poverty and famine beat being gay any old day.”

“You’re going to be reincarnated?”

“Of course I am. What a stupid question! A lot of souls choose to have another go at it. Sometimes it takes a soul several lifetimes to get what they want out of life. And then they move on.

“Speaking of which, my new body’s gonna be born any second now. It’s time for me to go. Enjoy your new body, and take good care of it. It may not be what you’re used to, but it’s still pretty smart and it’s not half bad looking either.

“Oh, and don’t freak out about sex! You’re a perfectly healthy twelve-year-old gay boy now. So you’re gonna be horny all the time. But when you do have sex, remember, it’s the body that’s gay. So if you end up having sex with someone you knew in your old life, don’t freak out about it, OK? You’re just a horny gay boy is all, and it’s all natural. It’s all good. Just don’t let the old folks catch you, or the shit’ll really hit the fan.”

<<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>>

December 2013 • Chris-47

“Chris, we’re running out of time,” Frank told me for the tenth time today. “Your other selves are waiting for you. I know you’re distraught about Andy’s death, but if we don’t collapse all the timelines now, there may not be anything left to collapse. Look it’s been seven years…”

“In chronological time only, and you know it,” I interrupted. “In reality, his death just happened and we just became aware of it. You don’t know what it’s like to lose a child, and now I’ve lost two…”

“But you don’t even remember your daughter,” Frank countered.

“I remember that she existed,” I cross-countered. “But even forgetting her, Andy was such an incredible kid. He was so smart, such a genius, and he had the most amazing personality. It’s hard thinking I’ll never see him again. But adding insult to injury by erasing his very existence from time… I just can’t do that now.”

“You have to, Chris,” Frank admonished me. Then getting a softer look on his face, he continued, “I wasn’t going to tell you this until the time was right, after we successfully collapsed all the alternate timelines. But maybe you need to know it now.

“Dad, I didn’t die. I’ve been right here, all along. The original Frank hanged himself when he was twelve, when he was still in the sixth grade, when he first realized he was gay. We should have never met, but then I downloaded my memories to his brain, and I saved him. The Frank you have always known, is me.”

Stunned, I asked, “But how is this possible? I’ve known you, practically all along. You only just went back! And we had sex!”

Laughing, Frank responded, “I figured it would be the sex that would freak you out about it. Look, after I went back, we were the same age, we were two horny gay kids and it was perfectly natural. It wasn’t at all like I was having sex with my old man, nor was it like you were having sex with your son. I have no regrets, nor should you.

“Now as to how it was possible that I was around from the earliest of the altered timelines, side-by-side with Andy… Let’s just say that we’ve been down this path before, but you’re a stubborn man, Christopher Michaels. Try as I might to push you in a different direction, you keep coming back to TTT, and each time we come a little bit closer to our own destruction.

In shock, I asked, “How many times have we done this before?”

Shrugging his shoulders, my husband — my son — answered, “ I can’t really say for sure, and it’s complicated. I’d explain it all to you, but we’re running out of time and the explanation will be forgotten once we collapse the alternate timelines. Perhaps it would be best if we waited until after we have fixed the essence of time.”

“You really are Andy?”

“I’ve gone by Frank far longer than I went by Andy but, yes, Dad, I really am your son, Andy. I’ve been with you all along…”

Seeing the look of determination on Frank’s face — on my son’s face, I knew he was telling me the truth. His existence hadn’t been erased and one day we would see each other again. I nodded my head in assent, and we got started with the procedure.

Firing up the apparatus, Frank injected me with lorazepam and I felt myself relaxing into a pleasant alpha rhythm as the familiarity of establishing the link to Chris-40 came upon me. But this time, it was like joining a conference call. Already in the fog, besides Chris-40 and myself, were Chris-33, Chris-26, Chris-19, Chris-14 and Chris-12.

“It’s about fucking time you showed up, Chris-47,” Chris-40 admonished me.

“Sorry, guys,” I responded. “I still had a few loose ends to tidy up.”

Just then, another form took shape from within the fog. It was Frank! The Frank from my time period.

“Frank!” Everyone said at once. Then Chris-40 asked, “Does this mean we’re still together in seven years?”

“Very much so,” I answered.

“Wow, I didn’t see that coming,” Chris-19 responded, and then continued “In my time, Frank and I didn’t exactly part amicably.”

“And in my time, Frank was in a military boarding school,” Chris-14 noted.

“I’m sorry, Chris-19,” my Frank replied. “I just wasn’t strong enough back then. I was so convinced my parents would send me back to that horrible military school… actually, they were going to send me back there. I had to promise to have nothing to do with you. But at seventeen, I had a legal right to leave home. I didn’t know that then, nor did I understand how to fight for my rights. I’m so sorry, but I was just a kid.”

“We were both just kids back then and, besides, there was far worse to come that was clearly my fault,” Chris-26 chimed in. “I chased every skirt at Stanford, knocked up Jen and then cheated on her with Wang Lee, a Chinese spy. The only good thing to come out of it was Andy.” That certainly dampened the mood, as we all recognized that we were about to wipe Andy’s existence right off the face of the earth. I was the only one present, besides Frank of course, who knew that Andy was right there among us.

Unfortunately, the moment I had that thought, all of my former selves picked up on it.

“Holy fuck!” Chris-19 exclaimed. “Frank is Andy!”

“Yes, it’s true,” Frank confirmed. “When the Russians took me, I used my knowledge and their equipment to send myself back in time. In simple terms, I sent my soul back to inhabit the body of a twelve-year-old boy who’d just killed himself. In scientific terms, I overwrote his memories, but the soul is real and it exists outside of normal space-time. Our souls were together before there was a Chris, an Andy or a Frank, and they will be together long after they are gone. We are, in fact, soulmates.”

No wonder I felt so close to Andy, and to Frank, in every time and place. Andy was more than my son. Frank was more than my lover. They were both my other half and someday we would be together again. It was too bad I wouldn’t remember any of this after we collapsed all the timelines.

“Chris, all seven of you, may I remind you that there is some important work at hand… something about saving the universe. Perhaps you guys should proceed?” Frank suggested.

“Definitely,” I agreed.

“You guys know what to do,” Frank continued. When you merge, all of the various realities will merge along with you and time will be reset to back before the start of our interventions. It will be as if TTT never existed, and only Chris-12 will remain.

“I’m going to leave you now as I must. Good luck!”

In traditional TTT, we experienced shared thoughts through a shared dream state. To eliminate and collapse the extraneous timelines, we needed to merge all our thoughts in all time periods in which TTT had ever been used. This didn’t account for Marion Dawson’s meddling, but then Frank had assured me that he had taken care of that problem, personally. I didn’t know how, but now that I knew that Frank was in fact Andy, I had no doubt that he had done so.

With great trepidation, I approached Chris-40 in our shared consciousness and the two of us willed ourselves to come together into a single entity. Chris-33 then joined us, followed by Chris-26, Chris-19, Chris-14 and, finally, Chris-12. The seven of us were as one entity in one time. Just as I’d imagined it would be, the sensation was similar to looking between a pair of parallel mirrors, creating the illusion of looking into an endless hall of mirrors extending out in both directions to infinity.

And as our thoughts became synchronized and we became as one, the scene faded and I awoke from my sleep in my twelve-year-old body with a boner and raging hormones, and no memory of having been older than twelve. On instinct, after dealing with my boner in the usual way, I got up and looked into my closet, making sure the file box was still there, up on the top shelf, safely out of reach. I couldn’t remember what was in it, except that it was very important and that I must take it with me wherever I go. I also knew that I must never open it — that it must remain sealed for the rest of my life.

<<<<<<<<·>>>>>>>>

August 1978 • Chris-12

“Thanks, Dad,” I said as I got out of the car. “You don’t have to wait for me, you know,” I added.

“I just want to see you get inside,” he responded, “to make sure you get in OK.”

Rolling my eyes, I slammed the car door shut and headed to the imposing stone structure in front of me. Just ahead of me was another boy who appeared to be around my age. He was just standing there, looking up at the heavy wooden doors that led inside. As I approached him from behind, I heard him say, “Fuckin’ awesome.”

When I laughed, he turned toward me and I was stunned. He had to be the best looking boy I’d ever seen, yet he was kinda familiar, like somethin’ outta a dream. He had longish blond hair, vivid blue eyes and a deep tan. He was wearing skimpy shorts, a loose-fitting tank top that showed off his arm pits and even left one of his nipples exposed, and sandals. I knew it was wrong, but I couldn’t help myself — I was hard, instantly. Insanely so. With courage I didn’t even know I had, I struck a fake pose and asked, “Were you referring to the building, or to me?”

With a hearty laugh of his own that melted my heart, he looked me up and down and replied, “Definitely to you.” Although my tank top was skin tight, rather than loose fitting, I was similarly attired. With a grin on his face, he then stuck out his hand and said, “I’m Frank, by the way.”

“Chris,” I responded as I shook his hand, then asked, “You here for the physics program… the one with Professor Dawson?”

“Yup, and you?” he asked.

“The same,” I replied. “And you’re right. It is gonna be fuckin’ awesome, especially if we get to study together.”

“Definitely,” Frank agreed. It was only after seeing the smile Professor Dawson gave us that I realized, ever since we’d passed through the door, Frank and I had been holding hands.

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.

Epilogue