As I closed up the final book of the journal — a journal I’d apparently generated over the course of a week — a journal I’d written when I was just twelve years old — I pondered why I had no memory of ever writing it in the first place. I even wondered if it might be fiction — a complete fabrication from my imagination, but the amount of detail was extraordinary. What would have been the point in making such precise drawings or of deriving equation after equation after equation if this were meant to be nothing more than entertainment? I had no idea if they were accurate, but why so many equations if this was just fiction? Why so many drawings?
No, as impossible as it seemed, this journal was real, but the story it told was hard to wrap my brain around. Had I really lived those other lives? Had I really invented a sort of time machine and used it to change the past? Had I really been with a woman and fathered children, in particular a son, Andy, who was a genius on a par with Einstein? Not only that, but he was a great kid too, self-assured and imperturbable with a slightly irreverent personality. I’d sacrificed my son for the sake of the world, but now that the world was safe, might there be a way of using the knowledge contained in these pages to save my son without sacrificing everything I had now?
Of course even if I could save my son, Andy would be an adult now. He’d be 26 — no, 27 years old as of last month, according to the journal. If I saved him, would I have any memories of our lives together over all these years? Would he? Or would we be total strangers? Now that I’d found him, was I obligated to try to save him? Or would I just end up messing up time again?
If the journal was real, the one person who might have some clues to the answers to these and other questions was my old boyfriend, Frank. We’d met back when we were only twelve, when we both attended a program for gifted junior high and high school students. The program was run by Professor Marion Dawson, of the Physics department at the University, and it allowed us to study college-level math and physics in small groups and independently. Marion and I became close friends and remained so to this day.
Frank and I both started the program in the late summer, at the beginning of seventh grade and, because we had similar abilities and interests, we did most of our work together, right up until we graduated from high school. Even though we went to different schools and lived in different suburbs, we hit it off immediately and without even realizing it, approached Professor Dawson holding hands. Even though we’d just met, there was little doubt that our relationship ran far deeper than mere friendship and later that same day, Marion caught us kissing.
Thank God for Marion! Of course Frank and I were horrified over what had happened, and about being caught. Because both of us had been raised in religious households, we thought we’d committed the worst sin possible. I for one wasn’t nearly as scared of what God would do to us, however I was scared of what our parents would do if they found out. The first kiss just kind of happened and the implications hadn’t even occurred to me until the moment Marion walked in on us. By then, I was practically sitting in Frank’s lap as we made out in earnest.
It turned out that Marion was gay too and he had a partner, David, who was a counselor that specialized in this sort of thing. Marion had had a lot of gay kids as students over the years and he assured us that above all else, we were perfectly normal and that there was nothing wrong with boys loving other boys. He knew just how to handle our parents too, and so he called a meeting of all four parents and told them what he’d seen. He told them it wasn’t the first time, nor would it be the last time he caught young boys at the start of puberty satisfying their curiosity. He told them this sort of thing was usually innocent and ended once boys discovered girls. Just to be sure we kept on the straight and narrow, however, he suggested that we have some counseling, and he knew just the person.
Marion’s strategy was brilliant. If left up to our parents, they would have shipped us off to some God-awful Bible camp or military school to get us straightened out. Instead Marion brought in an expert — someone he trusted and who would take a scientific approach — he just never mentioned that the expert was his lover.
Of course there were family as well as individual sessions and over the course of more than a year, our parents were introduced to competing philosophies on homosexuality. In the end it was my parents who concluded that I was born gay and that they couldn’t change me if they wanted to, but even so, I was still a great kid who deserved their love. Frank’s parents came to the same conclusion, although it took them a bit longer, and in the end all four parents accepted our relationship — begrudgingly — approval came later.
But according to the journal, David wasn’t even a counselor in the original timeline. He was a doctor and he went MIA in Vietnam. For Frank and me, things hadn’t gone so well and in most of the alternate realities, we both wound up as the victims of horrible torture. Technically, Frank and I shouldn’t have met at all, but then we wouldn’t have become boyfriends and I would have probably ended up knocking up a woman all over again. I would have never gone off with Paul to MIT and undoubtedly would have taken the job at Livermore. No doubt about it — I would have gone on to invent TTT all over again, and I would have fucked up time, just like before.
One of the other more interesting things I read in the journal was that Frank supposedly had the ability to sense the existence of multiple realities. Hence, it was with this in mind that I called my former boyfriend. As I did so, I thought about how close we had been over the course of some five years, and how we could have so easily ended up together. But I took early graduation at the end of my junior year and Frank’s parents wouldn’t let him. I would have been content to stay in Saint Louis for my Freshman year in college, but Frank insisted I pursue my dreams and go to Stanford as I’d already planned. A year later, Frank started his freshman year at Cal Tech. In spite of the best of intentions, getting together just didn’t happen. We were several hundred miles apart and spending a weekend together meant spending half of it driving. In the end we agreed to an open relationship, which amounted to no relationship, and so we both moved on. And then I met Paul…
“Hey, Chris, It’s been a while,” Frank began when he answered the phone. “I was gonna call you later for the big 5-0, but you beat me to it. Happy birthday old man. Hope you got my card and gift in time.”
“Old man… you’re older than me by three months, you know,” I pointed out, “and dinner for two at the Cliff House in San Francisco means Paul and I have to spend our hard-earned money to come out for a visit.”
“Too subtle for you?” Frank asked with a laugh. “Just imagine a romantic dinner at Sutro's, seated in front of a panoramic window overlooking the Pacific Ocean from majestic Point Lobos. The superb food, the outstanding collection of vintage California wines and the ambience of the Cliff House... can you think of a better reason to return to California for a visit, besides me, that is?
“Look, I’ve been to Boston three times in the last five years…”
“For two conferences and a site visit,” I noted.
“But the bottom line is, it’s been nearly a decade since you and Paul came out to visit. California used to be your home. It’s where the two of you met, for cripe sake. The dinner was my way to remind you of how long it’s been. It’s high time you returned here, and not just for a weekend or even a week. If you don't already have plans, you should spend the summer here, or if you can stomach the rainy weather, winter break.”
“That’s certainly food for thought,” I responded. “Summer break starts in a few weeks, and I have post-docs to keep the lab running, as you well know. Paul too. But that’s not why I’m calling.
“I’m curious to know if you ever heard of something called TTT.”
After a long pause on the line, Frank responded, “You found the notebooks, didn’t you? You’ve read your journal.”
“So you know about the journal,” I remarked, then asked, “but Frank, did all that really happen?”
“First, tell me how much of it made sense to you. Did you understand the concepts? Could you follow the equations?”
“My field is high temperature superconductors,” I replied. “You know that. Quantum mechanics plays an important role in my work and although I can recognize a wave equation or a probability density function, it’s been decades since I studied particle physics or String Theory. Not that I couldn’t learn it again, but so much has happened in those fields since we were in college. That kind of math is way out in left field for me.”
I could have sworn I heard Frank breathe a sigh of relief at that, and then he continued, “We debated whether or not there should be any record at all of OTT. The technology is so fucking dangerous, but at the time we thought there might be an urgent need for it someday, and there’s always a possibility someone else will develop it and without the journal, we might not respond to it until it’s too late.
“But now that’s no longer necessary and I’d just as soon you burn the journal… except for its historic significance.”
“Frank,” I exclaimed, “You’re not making any sense! It almost sounds like you were there when I wrote the journal, but you couldn’t have been.
“And then there’s Andy. I can’t help but wonder if there is anything I could do now to save him…”
After yet another long pause, Frank responded, “This isn’t a conversation we should be having over the phone. No, we shouldn’t talk about it at all this way. The line isn’t secure. You never know who’s listening in. Besides which, this really is something to discuss face-to-face. Not on the phone. And we need time… plenty of time to talk.
“I have some funds set aside for this sort of thing, so consider this a formal invitation for a visit, at my expense. An extended visit. I’ll make the reservation for the start of your summer break and I’ll e-mail the tickets for you and Paul. Business Class. It’s a long flight and I can justify it for anything over four hours. This isn’t a request. Plan on spending the summer. Three months. Of course you’ll stay at my place. As you know, I have plenty of room.”
“It doesn’t sound like you’re giving us a choice,” I commented with a laugh, but Frank responded, “No, I’m not. If you refuse, I’ll have to kidnap you.” The shocking thing was that he sounded deadly serious — not at all like my Frank.
“Oh, be sure to send the journal on in advance of your trip,” he continued. “Don’t worry, I’m not going to burn it, but I would like to preserve it for historic purposes. We’ll photograph the whole thing, We’ll scan it in high-res and etch it onto a gold-plated silver disk, sorta like what they did for the Voyager mission so many years ago. Unlike conventional CD or DVD, or the original paper, for that matter, they won’t deteriorate with time. I’ll send you a pre-paid FedEx label. No use in taking a chance on the airline losing it.”
“You sound so serious,” I noted when I finally got my voice.
“Trust me, it couldn’t be more serious, Chris. That’s why we need to meet. That’s why we need the whole summer. When you talked about saving Andy, well, you need to understand why that’s not possible, or necessary. More than anything, I cannot take a chance on you developing an interest in pursuing TTT again. There’s a reason I pushed you into high-temperature superconductors. I couldn’t have you recreate OTT. It’s far too dangerous, especially in the hands of the naïve.
“Anyway, I’ll e-mail you the tickets for the week after the semester ends. That’ll give you plenty of time to pack. I’ll pick you up at the airport when your flight arrives.”
With that, the line went dead. Rather than getting the answers I sought, I had only more questions. One thing was obvious — Frank knew far more about TTT than I figured he ought to. My first boyfriend certainly wasn’t who I’d thought he was. I could only hope I hadn’t stepped on a hornet’s nest.
The flight from Boston to San Francisco had been smooth and Paul and I slept most of the way. True to his word, Frank met us as we exited security, and hired a porter to gather our rather extensive luggage. We were staying for three months and so there wasn’t much we could leave behind.
I knew Frank had done well for himself, but was still surprised when we were met by a Cadillac Escalade and a driver. Frank sat in back with us — there were two sets of luxurious leather seats facing each other — so Frank took one of the rear-facing seats, leaving the front-facing seats for my husband and me. Frank offered us a large selection of hard and soft drinks for the trip to his house, but we both passed. Even though we’d slept for most of the flight, we were still tired and suffering a bit from jet lag. For us it was to be a 27-hour-long day.
From what I read in the journal, Frank had originally lived in a small house in Santa Clara, and then he lived on the military base in Alameda with Andy and me. At one point he even lived with us in a small but modern house I’d bought with Jen in Oakland Hills — or perhaps I bought it alone — I wasn’t really able to tell for sure on that one.
The house we pulled up to with Frank bore no resemblance to any of those. Of course it wasn’t the first time Paul and I had visited Frank since he bought the sprawling mansion in the hills of Marin County, but in many ways I was seeing it for the first time, now that I knew something of the alternate history we had supposedly all lived.
The property was some twenty acres, and the house itself took up more than twenty thousand square feet of it on a hilltop with spectacular views of San Francisco, the San Francisco Bay and the Pacific Ocean. I could only imagine how many tens of millions of dollars it had cost to build, and yet Frank lived there alone. Oh, he’d had his share of boyfriends over the years, most of them little more than hook-ups. How he’d managed to avoid the scourge of AIDS after we split, I never did figure out.
One of Frank’s servants — an Hispanic boy who didn’t look to be no more than fifteen — gathered up all our luggage to take to our room for the summer. One thing about Frank — he’d always managed to surround himself with attractive boys and young men.
“There’s a double Jacuzzi on the deck off your room,” Frank began. “You may want to take advantage of it, and then maybe take a nap before dinner. Raul will be sure to wake you just before dinner, which will be served on the veranda at eight. As always, it’s informal, so terry robes will suffice.”
“I think we just might take you up on your suggestion,” I agreed as Paul nodded his head.
The Jacuzzi felt heavenly and we could have easily fallen asleep in it, but that would’ve left us as wrinkled as prunes, and so reluctantly we got out, showered and settled down on our luxurious memory foam, King-size bed. Pulling the duvet over us, it scarcely seemed we’d rested our heads on our pillows when Raul was gently waking us up.
Dressed only in a Speedo, his disarming smile went a long way in making our awakening as pleasant as possible. Raul didn’t bat an eye when Paul and I got out of bed in the nude. We emptied ourselves in front of a pair of urinals in the bathroom, and then combed our hair, what little was left of it in my case, and brushed our teeth. Raul was waiting for us in the bedroom when we finished, and he helped us into our terry bathrobes for dinner.
Frank was waiting for us on the veranda, where the lights of the city never failed to impress me. Apparently, it would just be the three of us for dinner tonight. We started the meal with a selection of fresh greens, and then enjoyed a heavenly gazpacho before we were each served a selection of fresh seafood, fish and roasted vegetables. If we ate this way every night over the course of the summer, I was sure to gain fifty pounds!
“I know you have a lot of questions,” Frank began, “and in time they will all be answered. Thanks for sending me the journal, by the way. It has already been scanned and will be etched onto a gold-plated silver disk as we discussed. The journal will be returned to you of course, but I’d like you to strongly consider leaving it here with me to be disposed of. Now that the contents have been preserved safely in an encrypted format, we shouldn’t take risks that this information could fall into the wrong hands. I’ve handpicked everyone whom I’ve entrusted to handle this information, but no security is foolproof. Compared to my level of security, yours is nonexistent, so why take a chance on the information being compromised?”
“You behave as if TTT is more dangerous than nuclear weapons,” I quipped.
Without any hesitation, Frank came back with, “It is.”
“Nuclear weapons can do tremendous damage and send us spiraling into a nuclear winter or even an ice age but, nevertheless, we can survive them. TTT cannot be used without doing irreversible damage to the fabric of time itself. There is no safe use of TTT. At the best it can create an alternate reality that will exist alongside and vie for dominance over the original timeline. At its worst it will create a singularity that will consume the earth and the surrounding region of space, past, present and future.”
“But you or someone did change the past, I pointed out. “In the original timeline, Marion Dawson’s boyfriend, David, went to Medical School and then Vietnam, where he was captured by the Russians and most likely sent to Siberia. Now, he’s just retired from a career in psychology and a lifetime of counseling gay youth. Obviously, that’s a significant change.”
“Certain liberties had to be taken to ensure the integrity of the timeline and to ensure that TTT never came to fruition… at least not until humanity is ready to deal with it. By keeping David from getting into medical school, there was no need for him to go to Vietnam to pay for it. His career choice instead was one that had a limited impact except for the small number of gay kids he counseled, although the impact was substantial for both of us to be sure. The main thing that keeping David stateside did however, was to remove the one incentive for Marion Dawson to throw away everything he believed in and meddle with time.
“You, on the other hand, had to be diverted entirely from a career path in particle physics. High temperature superconductors offered something that was equally challenging to your intellect, and that offered a satisfying, but not likely history-changing outcome for your life. It was also something that could be pursued at Stanford with little change in your overall coursework. In short, it minimized the potential impact of the changes in your life until it was absolutely necessary to send you off in a different direction. And the best way to send you off in a different direction was to keep you from getting together with Jen. I had to make sure you were gay and only gay, which ensured your getting together with Paul and moving with him to Massachusetts.”
“But at the cost of my son,” I pointed out. “In order to prevent TTT from coming to pass, we sacrificed the birth of someone who was an extraordinary young man. A genius on a par with Einstein who might have gone on to do great things for humanity. For all we know, he might have eventually found a way to undo the damage from TTT.”
“As you already know, to a large extent, he already did,” Frank pointed out. “The whole situation’s complicated and we’ll have plenty of time to discuss it later. We’ll talk about Andy later…”
“NO!” I interrupted. “We’ll talk about Andy now!”
“The situation with Andy will become much clearer once we’ve had a chance to discuss the entirety of what was done to undo the damage of TTT,” Frank countered. “However, recognizing your curiosity and that you have a vested interest, suffice it to say that Andy did not disappear from existence. Although he never was born in this reality, his existence in the alternate realities that were generated in OTT… all of the alternate realities, has been preserved.”
“If you’re implying that his life was recorded in my journal, well, that’s not good enough,” I argued.
“No, you’re right. It wouldn’t be good enough. It wouldn’t be worth shit, frankly,” Frank agreed.
“No, Andy’s existence was far too valuable to waste… It had to be preserved. He had too much to offer the world, and who better to ensure the integrity of time? No, part of repairing the damage from TTT involved making sure that a living, breathing Andy Michaels survived and he now walks the earth among us…”
“You mean he’s here?” I asked in incredulity.
“Not only is he here, but you, and he and I have crossed paths, many times over the years,” Frank answered, much to my shock. “Of course you aren’t his father in this reality and you wouldn’t recognize him in any case. His name isn’t even Andy in this reality. But you do know him and the three of us remain close friends.”
“Wow, I wasn’t expecting that!” I exclaimed as I finished off the last of my meal. I was stuffed to the gills and, fortunately, dessert consisted of only a light lemon sorbet. “I don’t suppose you’ll tell me who it is?” I asked.
“Chris, in time I promise I will tell you, but not tonight. Truthfully, I don’t think I’ll have to tell you. Once you learn a bit more about what happened behind the scenes, I think you’ll figure it out on your own.”
“Geez, the way you put it, it’s almost like you’re saying you’re Andy,” I responded with a laugh, but when Frank didn’t say anything, my eyes suddenly flew open as it dawned on me that my first boyfriend was, in fact, my son!
“I’ve always been here, Dad. Always,” Frank explained. “And yes, I know we were boyfriends and we had sex, but surely you can recognize that we were two horny gay boys at the time and not father and son.”
Seeing my confusion, Frank went on, “The original Frank Sanford killed himself when he was twelve, not long after he realized he was gay. He was still in the sixth grade, for fuck sake, but he couldn’t handle the revelation that he was attracted to boys, so brainwashed was he by his religion.
“TTT allows you to send back information in time by synchronizing your thoughts in your sleep. In effect, you can hold a conversation with yourself. It’s a simple strategy for altering the past, or more correctly for creating an alternate timeline, but it’s not the only strategy.
“Human memory is something that remains poorly understood to this day, but it’s a riddle I solved a long time ago in an alternate reality. There are three kinds of memory… immediate recall, short-term memory and long-term memory. Recall and short-term memory work a lot like dynamic RAM in a computer. Electrochemical impulses are kept viable in neural loops that minimize their decay. The laying down of long-term memory is much more complex, however, and it doesn’t fit traditional models of human physiology. We may get into it in more detail later, but suffice to say that there is no cellular structure that can account for the formation of long-term memories.
“Most current theories of neurobiology hold that short-term memories are converted to long-term memories through a process of creating new synapses. That is exactly what happens in non-human animals and it explains why they never achieved sentience. In humans, however, memories are much more detailed than can be accounted for by synaptic formation, and they’re virtually immune to disease processes and injuries that result in synaptic degradation.
“The experiments I conducted on the nature of space and time as Andy Michaels while in Russia put me in a unique position to discover the true nature of human memory. I would never have discovered that nature, however, had it not been for my desire to find a way to record, erase and rewrite human memories. I was trying to find a way to send my knowledge back in time by overwriting the memories of a kid who’d just died… more than likely one who’d just killed himself. At the time, I considered it to be an extreme long-shot, but it turned out to have a simple solution.
“To cut to the chase, it turns out that the seat of human long-term memory isn’t even within the brain. Memories involve a symbiosis with non-corporeal entities comprised of strings that exist outside of normal space-time itself. It is this symbiosis that makes us sentient… that makes us human.”
“Gees, Frank, it almost sounds like you’re saying we have a soul,” I interrupted
“That’s exactly what I’m saying,” Frank explained. “String entities have existed since long before there was a Big Bang and they will continue to exist long after the universe collapses upon itself, but by themselves they are meaningless and purposeless. Without symbiosis, they don’t even have awareness. It is only through symbiosis that these souls are borne into a meaningful life, and it is only through the symbiosis that we are self-aware. I have never been religious and I remain skeptical, particularly when it comes to organized religion, but if there is a God, this is her plan.
“Memories can be shared. Some people are able to do so without the need for any equipment or technology. The ability has existed since the beginning of humanity, just as has the ability to have premonitions of the future… an ability you made use of for TTT. Long-term memories can be replaced… an exchange of souls if you wish… but the process is destructive, both to the person whose memories are replaced and to the one doing the replacing. It would be unethical to replace someone’s memories with one’s own except in someone who has just died… in someone who’s soul has already left them. That is what I did, Dad. I replaced Frank’s memories with my own. However, in the process, I did meet Frank’s original soul. It wasn’t expected, but it happened. The exchange was entirely voluntary as it turned out, and beneficial to both souls in the end.”
“But I always knew Frank, from when we were both twelve!” I countered. “The only time I didn’t know you was in the very first, pre-TTT timeline. If the original Frank committed suicide when he was in the sixth grade, we should have never met. It would have been impossible. Andy couldn’t have gone back and replaced Frank’s memories until the very end… until we collapsed all the alternate timelines and erased the existence of TTT from history. This reality should be the first time we should have met and yet you, Frank, were a constant part of my life throughout the alternate realities chronicled in my journal.”
Smiling, Frank responded with a simple question. “What makes you think this is the first time we have done this?” My jaw dropped open as Frank continued, “In spite of my best efforts, Dad, you always seem to find your way back to discovering TTT, no matter what I do to push you in another direction. I’ve tried staying with you in college and graduate school, and I’ve tried staying out of your life altogether, but you still stumble upon paired quantum states and go on to invent TTT.
“You always manage to knock up Jen too, no matter how much I try to push your relationship with Paul, or your relationship with Carl, or your relationship with Chad, or even your relationship with me. She falls hard for you every time, even knowing you’re gay. Perhaps subconsciously, I still want her in your life. She’s my mom and without her, there would be no Andy Michaels to come back and take over where the last Frank Sanford left off… or maybe the previous one would have had another go at it. As I said, it’s complicated.”
“But this time was different,” I noted.
Nodding his head, Frank responded, “This was the first time I actually succeeded in preventing you from pursuing TTT. Getting you interested in high temperature superconductors was the key. It took you into an area of particle physics that has no overlap with TTT, and your success in the field has kept you away from TTT. Already your research has had an unforeseen, positive impact on climate change. I hate to mess with time, but this change has no real downside.
I am aware of several failed previous attempts, and some of those memories do persist in spite of resetting the timeline. Perhaps it has to do with the nature of the soul and its existence outside of normal space and time. There is also the fact that I had direct contact with the previous incarnation of Frank… and we talked. I do know that we came perilously close to our own self-destruction the last time around… closer than ever before.”
“This is all so much to take in,” I replied. “And I slept with you! I slept with my own son!”
Shaking his head, Frank responded, “It doesn’t work that way. When I opened a wormhole from my brain to Frank’s brain at the moment of his suicide, I only replaced his memories with my own and… of course I arranged for him to be saved at just the right moment. I remember the process clearly. I remember losing consciousness as Andy died, and then waking up in Frank’s body. It was in between the two events that I met Frank’s original soul, but it was like having a dream… perhaps it was just a dream, but it seemed so real. I know it was real. Clearly, I became Frank. However, the underlying structure of Frank’s brain did not change. His emotions, his basic personality, his perceptions of the world remained as they were before the memory transplant. I went to sleep a mostly straight, left-handed young man, and I woke up a right-handed gay kid, and decidedly so. It wasn’t something I expected, but it was my new reality. So as I said already, although you befriended your son, strictly speaking, you had sex with the original Frank.”
“But Frank, or... Andy…”
“I go by Frank now,” he interrupted. “It’s just easier that way. I should probably continue to call you Chris, even though I remember you very fondly as my dad. You were a wonderful father, and a terrific lover too.”
“But you altered time,” I pointed out.
“I did what I had to do make time whole,” Frank answered, “but I also made a pledge to myself to never again alter the past, and I haven’t. I also made a pledge to myself to ensure that humanity would never again be solely dependent on the survival of the earth for its own survival, and I’ve dedicated my life to that goal. Finally, I can say quite honestly that the earth could cease to exist tomorrow, but humanity would go on, quite well, thank you.”
“But how is this possible?” I asked.
Sighing, Frank said, “It’s getting late and we'll have three months to talk more about it in detail.” When neither Paul nor I made any attempt to get up, Frank continued, “Actually, I wouldn’t mind if you wanted to get involved with it, now that you know what I’ve been up to.
“Perhaps you remember reading in your journal about the time when we spent my winter break together in Joshua Tree National Park. I was fifteen at the time…”
“Yes, I remember reading about that,” You were kidnapped by the Russians!”
“What?” Paul interjected.
“And you chopped your finger off,” I added.
“No way,” Paul interrupted.
“It was just the tip of the pinky on my right hand,” Frank replied. “I was left-handed at the time, or rather Andy was, so it was no big deal, and I needed a way to show the Russians I was as strong as they were. Of course I’m right-handed now, as Frank has always been. As with being gay, it’s a matter of how you’re wired and not what you remember.
“Anyway, being captured by the Russians had a lot to do with my being able to replace Frank’s memories with mine… to exchange our souls… and it got me together with Marion Dawson, which ended up being critically important for both of us. However, I digress…
“The last discussion we had together before I was abducted was about the improbability of intelligent life arising de novo. I compared it to the likelihood of a pile of silicon assembling itself into an iPod. In fact, it’s so improbable that intelligent life arises at most once in the entire lifetime of a galaxy. More than likely, we’re it for the Milky Way. Ours is the only civilization the has ever existed or ever will exist in this galaxy and if we destroy it, there will be none other to replace it.”
“But I thought that, in the presence of organics and liquid water, life was inevitable,” Paul countered, “and that once life forms, intelligence has such a high survival benefit that it is always the result. Given the right ingredients, the right environment and enough time, shit happens. It has to.”
“It’s easy to assume that intelligent life is inevitable because in our case, we are here to observe it… therefore it must be true,” Frank explained, “but there is no one there to observe all the hundreds of thousands of false starts and outright failures, so we cannot know about those.”
“But what about self-replicating membranes?” Paul asked. “Lipid bi-layers form spontaneously whenever lipids and water come together…”
“And so do soap bubbles in the atmosphere,” Frank pointed out, “yet no one would ever consider a soap bubble to be a form of life.
“Now I know what your next question will be, so I’ll answer it without you having to ask it. Nucleic acids such as DNA and RNA assemble themselves spontaneously. Nucleotides are among the most fundamental building blocks of life, with ATP forming the energy currency of aerobic metabolism in the cell. Therefore it seems that life must form once Nucleic acids come into being.
“But Paul, what happens when you put a chimpanzee in front of a keyboard?” Frank asked. “It will type a bunch of gibberish, and it may occasionally type meaningful words, but they will be out of context. Could it generate Shakespeare? Of course, but what are the odds of a chimpanzee typing the simple phrase, ‘To be or not to be’?”
“I don’t now,” Paul answered. “Perhaps one in a billion?”
Laughing, Frank said, “Not even close. Ignoring punctuation and case, the odds of typing those eighteen characters in sequence are one in 26, raised to the eighteenth power. That amounts to one in 3.4 times ten to the minus twenty-sixth power. That’s 0.034 trillionths of a trillionth. If we optimistically assume that the chimp can type one hundred characters a minute, it would take that chimp a half-billion, billion years to randomly type that simple phrase. The universe itself is thought to be only fourteen billion years old.
“The human genome is three billion base pairs long. Would you care to hazard a guess as to the probability of the human genome arising spontaneously?”
Shaking his head, Paul replied, “Not a chance, but it didn’t arise spontaneously, did it? The human genome arose through the process of natural selection. The basic structure of DNA had to arise only once. The size of the genome necessary to initiate the process of evolution was considerably smaller. I have no idea of how many base pairs, but enough to code for the apparatus of DNA replication and no more.”
“And as reasonable as that may seem,” Frank countered, I’m telling you that, out of tens of thousands of stars over the course of fourteen billion years, the basic machinery for cell reproduction arose only once in this galaxy. Not only were the right basic organics necessary, not only was liquid water necessary, not only were the right temperature, magnetic flux to shield from harmful radiation, stability of the Star system and tidal pools from a binary planetary system necessary, but pure chance and luck were necessary. The formation of life is a rare occurrence. Intelligent life even more so.”
“So if that’s true, what does it have to do with preserving life on earth?” Paul asked.
“As I said, intelligent life is a rarity and I am not willing to live with the possibility that we may destroy it in our lifetime,” Frank explained. “Between our incessant wars and human-induced climate change, catastrophe could occur at any moment, ending all life as we know it in the Galaxy.
“In some ways I think we need to survive these challenges before we will be ready to be entrusted with the knowledge of what I learned during the life of Andy Michaels. For years physicists have been searching for an equation for everything… a single formulation that can explain everything there is to explain about the universe. I found that formulation and more. Unfortunately, even I have difficulty understanding it. Such was the brilliance of Andy Michaels. I may have all of his memories… I may consider myself to be Andy Michaels… but I’m still Frank Sanford and I still have his brain. Don’t get me wrong, you might say I’m brilliant in my own right, but I’m no Andy Michaels. Although I carry all of his memories… his soul… with me, it has been a life-long struggle to comprehend and apply what he learned.
“But as I was saying, in many ways I think that humanity needs to learn how to solve the problems of war and environmental destruction that plague us today, before we will be ready to make use of the knowledge of how the universe actually works. However, that doesn’t mean I can’t make use of that knowledge as a hedge against the destruction of humankind in the interim, and that’s what I have done.
“But even more importantly, there are trillions upon trillions of potential souls with nowhere to go. So many potential sentient beings and so much potential for life in the universe… what a cruel joke it is that intelligent life is such a rarity. That is the main reason I feel an imperative to extend life throughout the galaxy. Call it a God complex if you must, but with so many minds, so much intelligence that has yet to be realized. There is a universe of discovery out there just waiting for us to discover it. I have made it my life’s mission to make it happen to the fullest extent possible, at least in our galaxy, just as other sentient beings have done so in their galaxies. Yes, I have been contacted and told in no uncertain terms to keep our hands off of other galaxies, but that’s another discussion for another time.
“There are hundreds, perhaps thousands of star systems in the Milky Way with lifeless planets that could support life if we placed it there. For life to evolve on a planet takes hundreds of millions or billions of years, but we have learned much from our observations on earth. Through a process of genetic engineering, we can cut the time down to thousands of years to terraform a planet to the point of supporting a sustainable ecosystem, but we can make small portions of a planet habitable by humans in a matter of mere decades. In little more time than it takes to raise a kid on earth, we can have a viable colony, virtually anywhere in the galaxy.”
“So you’re going to colonize the galaxy?” I asked.
“I’ve already started the process,” Frank admitted.
“But even if you identify suitable planets, won’t it take thousands of years to get there?” Paul asked.
“With conventional space travel, it would take generations to get between planets,” Frank agreed, “but we’re not using conventional space travel.” Tearing out a sheet of paper from his notebook, Frank continued, “If this sheet of paper is a two-dimensional representation of the universe,” then crumpling up the paper into a tiny ball, he went on, “this ball represents the universe in hyperspace. You see, the Big Bang wasn’t much of a bang at all and our entire universe still exists within the singularity from which it was formed. Just as any two points on this sheet of paper, no matter how far apart they are on the paper, are physically no more than mere millimeters apart in 3-D space, all points in our own universe are physically adjacent, too.
“Creating stable wormholes, connected to points elsewhere in our galaxy, proved to be much more of a challenge that I was expecting, but I did ultimately succeed and I have been exploring our galaxy, seeking out potentially habitable worlds ever since. Colonies have already been started on some of those worlds and they will achieve sustainability within our lifetimes.”
“Aren’t you afraid that one or more of your colonies will become militant and come back to attack the earth?” Paul asked.
“The inhabitants of the colonies will be kept in the dark with respect to the wormholes and the technology used to generate them,” Frank explained, “and the capacity of the wormholes is limited. We can send an army of human embryos through a wormhole, but not an army of soldiers. By conventional means, it would take them generations to travel back to the earth and by the time they are able to develop the technology of warp drive or wormholes on their own, I would hope they will have long since moved beyond war. In fact, just as I expect the effort needed to solve the problems of war, disease and climate change will put an end to all the fighting on earth, the effort needed to terraform an inhospitable world should have the same effect on the colonies.”
“Aren’t you afraid you’ll make mistakes?” I asked. “What if the artificial life forms you create run amok on one of the planets, destroying all you have built?”
“I’m certain there will be mistakes,” Frank replied. “That has always been the way we learn. But so long as the planets remain isolated from each other, our mistakes will be limited to a single planetary system and I trust the colonists will learn to fix them.
“Gentlemen, it’s after midnight,” Frank noted, “and there will be months ahead to discuss what I’m doing and how you might want to relate to it. In the meantime, Raul will be happy to assist you with anything you need before going to bed. If you wish, he will wake you at ten for brunch, and then we can all go skinny dipping in the pool. The boys are a most enjoyable site in their natural state.”
Paul and I didn’t need any assistance from Raul, other than to get us some towels and to show us where various things were kept in our suite. Soon, Paul and I were lying on our king-size bed, in each other’s arms.
“I’m still having trouble wrapping my mind around some of what Frank told us… most of what he told us, if I’m being honest,” Paul began.
“I’m having trouble wrapping my mind around the idea that he’s my son!” I responded. “I mean, we were boyfriends for some five years as teenagers! He’s my age, yet he has memories from all the different realities I’m supposed to have created as part of something called OTT.”
“I don’t remember who said it, but sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction,” Paul replied.
“Amen to that,” I agreed, “assuming Frank isn’t making all of this up.”
“Do you think this is all a fabrication?” Paul asked.
“No,” I replied, “I’m certain it’s not. I realize I could be remembering what I read in the journal, but I swear I have some memories from some of the alternate realities… memories that have been with me for a very long time. For example, that Iranian hostage situation. I could swear I have memories from that. They’re distant, almost as if remembering something from a dream, but the smell of Jen’s rotting corpse… I can remember that smell as if it were present in this room right now.”
“I can remember being inside one of the Twin Towers on September 11,” Paul responded. “The memory is so vivid, it almost seems real. I remember running down the stairway, fleeing for my life, but we started out so high up in the tower. I wasn’t much below where the plane hit the tower, and there was smoke… thick black smoke. I must have run down forty or fifty flights of stairs when the whole tower started to shake, and then the stairway started to collapse around me and then I was in free fall, and then a large slab of concrete slammed into me and I felt my ribs breaking and then my skull was crushed.”
“Good God,” I replied. “We thought it was such a shame when you caught my cold and lost your voice, and couldn’t make your presentation. And then we felt so fucking lucky when September 11 came and the Twin Towers collapsed, and you were spared. To think that in the original reality, you really did die on September 11…”
“I don’t have much in the way of experiences from alternate realities, but I have a vague sense we lived together before we met,” Paul related. “I can almost remember the physical layout of the little house we shared together in Alameda.”
“So can I!” I exclaimed. “All the rooms were paneled with this ugly fake wood laminate.”
“With wood trim that didn’t quite match,” Paul added.
“And a Formica countertop in the kitchen that didn’t align properly in the corners,” I added.
“Not to mention the beige and pink ceramic tiles in the bathroom,” Paul remembered.
“Exactly!” I replied excitedly, and then added, “I guess one of the effects of collapsing multiple realities into a single dominant one is that the original memories never quite go away.”
“Apparently not,” Paul agreed. “I guess they’re part of our soul,” he added with a smile. “So there seems to be little doubt that all of this is real.”
“Which means that Frank really is the incarnation of my son from all those other realities.”
“And that he really is colonizing the galaxy,” Paul added. “It’d be interesting work if we decided to join him.”
“Are you interested?” I asked.
“Can you think of anything more fascinating than that?” Paul asked. “It’s not that I’m not interested, and no offense, but I’m just not sure how much I can trust Frank, you know?”
“Yeah, I do know,” I related. “There’s a lot he’s not telling us, but then maybe that’s why he invited us for the entire summer. Maybe he figures it’ll take that long for us to absorb everything we need to know… everything we should know. Obviously he had good reason to hold back on telling us about what he’s been up to. However, now that the cat’s out of the bag with my discovery of the journal, he seems to be withholding nothing.
“You know, I always wondered why Frank allowed our relationship to die. I know I was just as responsible too, but now it all makes sense. When I went off to Stanford, we’d been together for five years already. I wanted to find a way to make it work, but Frank insisted that we each pursue our dreams first. In the end the relationship didn’t survive, but I think that was Frank’s intent all along. Frank already knew about you and your role in my life, and he assumed correctly that you’d take me away from Livermore and TTT.
“Had he and I remained together, he would have been in a better position to prevent me from developing TTT, but he couldn’t have built space colonies. In fact, I think that’s the main reason Frank hasn’t let anyone else get close to him since we went our separate ways. He needed complete independence to be able to do what he’s doing, and privacy.”
“Now that you’re in the know, do you think Frank will try to take you away from me?” Paul asked with evident worry in his voice.
Shaking my head, I replied, “No, Frank would never do that. Look, he even brought you out here with me. Why would he have done that, and told you about his plans, if he wanted to steal me away from you? Perhaps he knows something we don’t about the future of our souls and maybe he and I will be together then. I don’t know… but Frank always did have a big heart, and now I know where he got it from,” I added with a grin, inferring he got it from my raising Andy as a child.
That caused Paul to hit me over the head with his pillow as he sported an equally big grin. “It’s certainly a lot to think about.”
“That it is,” I agreed. “One thing’s for sure,” I continued as I felt myself drifting toward sleep. “I’ll never look at my dreams the same way again…”
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.