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     The man who folded himself. David Gerrold.
     OCR by Quentin J. Tarantino (October 2005)
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     This book is  for  Larry Niven, a good friend  who  believes that  time
travel is impossible. He's probably right.
     Oh wad some power the giftie gie us
     To see oursels as others see us!
     It was frae monie a blunder free us,
     An foolish notion.
     Robert Burns
     To a Louse, stanza 8
     * * *
     In the box was a belt. And a manuscript.
     * * *
     I hadn't seen Uncle Jim in months.
     He  looked  terrible.  Shrunken. His  skin hung  in wrinkled folds, his
complexion was gray, and he was thin and stooped. He seemed to have aged ten
years. Twenty. The last time I'd seen him, we  were almost the  same height.
Now I realized I was taller.
     "Uncle Jim!" I said. "Are you all right?"
     He shook off my  arm. "I'm fine, Danny.  Just  a  little  tired, that's
all." He came into my apartment. His gait was no longer a stride, now just a
shuffle. He lowered himself to the couch with a sigh.
     "Can I get you anything?"
     He  shook his head. "No,  I don't  have  that much time.  We have  some
important business to take care of How  old  are you, boy?" He peered  at me
carefully. "Huh? I'm nineteen. You know that."
     "Ah."  He  seemed to find that satisfactory. "Good.  I was afraid I was
too early, you looked  so  young" He stopped himself. "How are you  doing in
school?"
     "Fine." I said it noncommittally. The university was
     a bore, but Uncle Jim was paying me to attend. Four
     hundred dollars a week, plus my apartment and my car.
     And an extra hundred a week for keeping my nose clean.
     "You don't like it though, do you?"
     I said, "No, I don't." Why try to tell him I did? He'd know it  for the
lie it was.
     "You want to drop out?"
     I shrugged. "I could live without it."
     "Yes, you could." he agreed. He looked like he
     wanted  to say something else,  but  stopped  himself instead. "I won't
give you the  lecture on the value of  an education. You'll  find it out for
yourself  in time. And  besides, there are other ways to learn." He coughed;
his whole chest rattled. He was so thin. "Do you know how much you're  worth
right now?"
     "No. How much?"
     He pursed his lips thoughtfully; the wrinkled skin folded and unfolded.
"One hundred and forty-three million dollars."
     I whistled. "You're kidding."
     "I'm not kidding."
     "That's a lot of money."
     "It's been properly handled."
     One hundred and forty-three million dollars !
     "Where is it now?" I asked. Stupid question.
     "In stocks, bonds, properties. Things like that."
     "I can't touch it then, can I?"
     He looked at me and smiled. "I keep  forgetting,  Danny, how  impatient
you were  are."  He corrected  himself, then  looked  across at me; his gaze
wavered slightly. "You don't need it right now, do you?"
     I  thought about it. One hundred and forty-three million dollars.  Even
if they delivered it in fifties, the apartment wasn't that big. "No, I guess
not."
     "Then we'll leave it  where it  is," he said. "But  it's your money. If
you need it, you can have it."
     One hundred and  forty-three  million  dollars. What would I do with it
what couldn't  I do with it?  I  had  known my parents  had left me a little
money, but One hundred and forty-three million /
     I found I was having trouble swallowing.
     "I thought it was in trust until I was twenty-five," I said.
     "No," he corrected. "It's for me to administer for you
     until you're ready for it. You can have it any time you
     want."
     "I'm not so sure I want it," I said slowly. "No I
     mean, of course, I  want  it!  It's  just that " How  to explain? I had
visions  of  myself  trapped  in a  big  mansion  surrounded by  butlers and
bodyguards whose  sole duty  was to make sure that  I dusted the  stacks  of
bills  every morning. One  hundred and  forty-three million dollars. Even in
hundreds, it would  fill several closets. "I'm  doing okay on five hundred a
week," I said, "All that more "
     "Five hundred a week?" Uncle Jim frowned. Then, "Yes, I keep forgetting
There's been  so much Danny,  I'm  going to increase your allowance  to  two
thousand dollars a week, but I want you to do something to earn it."
     "Sure," I said, delighted in  spite of myself This was a sum of money I
could  understand. (One hundred and forty-three million I wasn't sure  there
was that  much  money in the world; but two thousand  dollars,  yes, I could
count to two thousand.) "What do I have to do?" "Keep a diary."
     "A diary?"
     "That's right."
     "You mean write things down in a black book every
     day? Dear diary, today I kissed a girl and all that kind of
     stuff?"
     "Not exactly. I want you to record the things that
     seem important to you. Type out a few pages every day,
     that's all. You can record specific incidents or just make
     general comments about anything worth recording. All I
     want is your guarantee that you'll add something to it
     every day or let's say at least once a week. I know how
     you get careless sometimes."
     "And you want to read it ?" I started to ask.
     "Oh, no, no, no " he said hastily. "I just want to
     know that you're keeping it up. You won't have to show it
     to me. Or anyone. It's your diary. What you do with it or
     make of it is up to you."
     My mind was working two thousand dollars a
     week. "Can I use a dictation machine and a secretary?"
     He shook his head. "It has to be a personal diary,
     Danny.  That's the  whole purpose of  it.  If it has  to  pass  through
someone else's hands, you might  be inhibited.  I want you to be honest." He
straightened up where he sat, and  for a moment he looked like the Uncle Jim
I remembered, tall and strong. "Don't play any  games, Danny. Be truthful in
your  diary.  If  you're  not, you'll  only  cheat  yourself. And  put  down
everything everything that seems important to you." "Everything," I repeated
dumbly.
     He nodded. There was a lot of meaning in that nod. "All right," I said.
"But why?"
     "Why?" He looked at me. "You'll find out when you write it."
     As usual, he was right.
     * * *
     I'm not fooled. Uncle Jim is trying  to teach me something.  This isn't
the first time he's thrown me into the deep end of the pool.
     * * *
     Okay, this is it. At least this is todays answer:
     There's a point beyond which money is redundant.
     This is not something I discovered just this week.
     I've suspected it for a long time.
     Five hundred dollars a week "spending money"
     ( like what else are you going to do with it? ) gives a
     person a considerable amount of freedom to do whatever
     he wants. Within limits, of course but those limits are
     wide enough to be not very restricting. Increase them to
     two thousand dollars a week and you don't feel them at
     all. The difference isn't that much. Not really.
     Okay, so I bought  some  new clothes and records and a  couple of other
fancy  toys I'd had my eye on, but I'd already gotten used to having as much
money  as I'd  needed  (or  wanted),  so having  that much more in my pocket
didn't make that much more  difference. I  just had to start wearing  bigger
pockets, that's all. Well
     I like to travel too. Usually, about once or twice  a month I'd fly  up
to San  Francisco for the  weekend, or something like  that.  Palm  Springs,
Santa Barbara, Newport, San Diego. Follow the sun, that's me.
     Since  Uncle Jim  increased my  allowance, I've been  to  Acapulco, New
York, and the Grand Bahamas. And I'm thinking about Europe. But it's not all
that fun to travel alone and nobody I know can afford to come along with me.
     So I find I'm staying home just as much as before.
     I could  buy things if I wanted but  I've never cared much about owning
things. They need to be dusted. Besides, I have what I need.
     Hell, I have what I want and that's a lot more than what I need. I have
everything I want now. Big deal.
     I think it's a bore.
     * * *
     So that's what Uncle Jim wanted to teach me.
     Money isn't everything. In fact, it isn't anything. It's just paper and
metal that we trade for other things.
     I knew that already; but it's one  thing to know it theoretically; its
another thing to know it from experience.
     Okay. So, if money isn't anything, what is?
     * * *
     I didn't exactly drop out of the university I just sort of faded away.
     It was a bore.
     I found I had less and less  to say to  my classmates. I call  them  my
classmates  because  I'm not  sure  they were ever  my friends.  We  weren't
talking on the same levels.
     Typical conversation:  "  can I borrow five bucks, is she  a  good lay,
does anyone know where I can score  a lid,  can you spare a quarter, did you
hear what he said  in class,  I couldn't  get  my car  running,  do you know
anyone who's had  her,  my ten  o'clock  class  is a  bitch, lend me  a buck
willya, what're we gonna do this weekend " They couldn't  sympathize with my
problems either.
     "Problems? With two thousand dollars a week, who's got problems?"
     Me.
     I think.
     I know something is wrong I'm not happy. I wish I knew why.
     * * *
     I wish the other shoe would drop. Okay, Uncle Jim.
     I got it about the money. Where's the rest of the lesson?
     * * *
     I think I will  tell this  exactly  as it  happened and  try  to  do it
without crying. If I can.
     Uncle Jim is dead.
     I got the phone call  at eleven this morning. It was one of the lawyers
from his company, Biggs or  Briggs or something  like that. He said, "Daniel
Eakins?" I said, "Yes?"
     He said, "This is Jonathan Biggs-or-Briggs-or-something-like-that and I
have some bad news for you about your uncle."
     "My uncle " I must have wavered. Everything
     seemed made of ice.
     The  man was trying to be gentle. And not doing a very good job  of it.
He said, "He was found this morning by his maid "
     "He's . . . dead?"
     Im sorry. Yes.
     Dead? Uncle Jim?
     "How ? I mean "
     "He just didn't wake up. He was a very old man."
     Old?
     No. It couldn't be. I wouldn't accept it. Uncle Jim was immortal.
     "We  thought that  you,  as  next  of  kin, would like to supervise the
funeral arrangements "
     Funeral arrangements?
     " on  the  other hand, we realize your distress at a time like this, so
we've taken the liberty of " Dead? Uncle Jim?
     The telephone was still making noises. I hung up.
     * * *
     The funeral  was  a horror. Some  idiot had decided on  an  open-casket
ceremony, "so  the  deceased's  family  and friends might  see him one  more
time."
     Family and friends. Meaning me. And the lawyers.
     No one else.
     I was surprised  at that. And a little  disappointed. I'd thought Uncle
Jim was  well known and popular. But there was nobody there apparently I was
the only one who cared.
     Uncle  Jim looked like hell.  They had rouged  his  cheeks in  a sickly
effort to make  him look  like he was only asleep. It didn't work; it didn't
disguise the fact  that he was a shriveled  and tired old hulk.  I must have
stared in horror. If he had  seemed shrunken the last  time I had  seen him,
today he looked absolutely emaciated. Used up.
     No. Uncle Jim  wasn't in  that  casket. That was  just  a piece of dead
meat. Whatever it was that had made  it Uncle Jim, that was gone this  empty
old husk was nothing.
     I bawled like a baby anyway.
     The lawyers drove me home. I was moving like a zombie.
     Everything seemed so damnably the same it had
     all happened too fast, I hadn't had time to realize what it
     might mean, and now here was some dark-suited
     stranger sitting in my living room and trying to tell me
     that things were going to be different.
     Different ? Without Uncle Jim, how could they be the same?
     Biggs  or  Briggs  or  something  like - that shuffled some papers
and managed to look both embarrassed and sorrowful.
     I said, "I think I have some idea. I spoke with Uncle
     Jim a few weeks ago."
     "Ah,  good," he  said.  "Then  we  can settle  this  a lot easier."  He
hesitated.  "Dan  Daniel, your  uncle  died  indigent."  I must  have looked
puzzled. He added, "That means poor."
     "What?" I blurted. "Now, wait a minute that's not
     what he told me "
     "Eh? What did he tell you?"
     I thought back. No,  the lawyer was right. Uncle Jim hadn't said a word
about  his own money. Carefully, I explained, "Uncle Jim said  that I had  a
bit of money . .  .  and he  was  supposed to administer it. So naturally, I
assumed that he had some of his own or that he was taking a fee "
     Biggs-or-Briggs shook his head. "Your uncle was taking a fee," he said,
"but it was only a token. You haven't got that much yourself."
     "How much?" I asked.
     "A little less than six thousand."
     "Huh?"
     "Actually, it's about five thousand nine hundred and something. I don't
remember the exact amount." He shuffled papers in his briefcase.
     I stared  at  him.  "What  happened  to  the  hundred  and  forty-three
million?"
     He blinked. "I beg your pardon ?"
     I felt like a fool,  but  repeated, "A hundred  and  fortythree million
dollars.  Uncle Jim  said  that  I  had  a hundred and  forty-three  million
dollars. What happened to that?"
     "A hundred and forty-three mill " He pushed his
     glasses back onto his nose. "Uh, Mr. Eakins, you have six
     thousand dollars. That's all. I don't know where you got
     the idea that you had anything like "
     I explained patiently,  "My  Uncle  Jim  sat  there, right where you're
sitting  now,  and  told  me that  I  was  worth one hundred and forty-three
million  dollars and that I could have it  any  time I wanted." I fixed  him
with what I hoped was my fiercest look. "Now, where is it?"
     It  didn't faze him at all. Instead  he  put on his I'dbetter-humor-him
expression. "Now,  Daniel Dan, I think you can understand that when a person
gets old,  his  mind starts to get a little well, funny. Your  Uncle Jim may
have told you that you were rich he may even have believed it himself! but "
     "My Uncle Jim was not senile," I said. My  voice was cold. "He may have
been sick, but when I saw him, his mind was as clear as as mine."
     Biggs-or-Briggs  looked  like he wanted to reply to that,  but  didn't.
Probably he was reminding  himself that we'd just  come from a funeral and I
couldn't  be  expected to be entirely rational. "Well,"  he  said. "The fact
remains that  all you have in the accounts  that we're administering is  six
thousand dollars. To tell the truth, we were a little concerned with the way
you've been spending these past  few  weeks but your explanation clears that
up. There's been a terrible misunderstanding "
     "Yes,  there has. I want to see your books. When my parents died, their
money was put in trust for me. It couldn't all be gone by now."
     "Mr. Eakins " he said. I could see that he  was forcing  himself to  be
gentle. "I don't know anything about your parents. It was your Uncle Jim who
set up your trust fund, nineteen and a half years ago. He hasn't added to it
since;  that hasn't been necessary. His intention was  to  provide  you with
enough  money  to see you  to your  twenty-first  birthday." He cleared  his
throat  apologetically.  "We almost made  it. If he  hadn't instructed us to
increase  your allowance two months  ago,  we  probably  could  have made it
stretch "
     I was feeling a little ill. This lawyer was making too much sense. When
I thought of the  spending I'd been doing ouch! I didn't want to think about
it.
     Of course, I hadn't spent it all I hadn't  been trying. I started going
over  in  my  mind how much I  might have left  in cash  and in  my checking
account. Not that much, after all. Maybe a few hundred.
     And six thousand left in trust. No hundred and forty-three million
     But Uncle Jim had said
     I stopped and thought about it. If I'd really been worth  a hundred and
forty-three million dollars, would I have grown up the way I did? Brought up
by  a  trained  governess in Uncle  Jim's comfortable but  not very  big San
Fernando Valley home,  sent  to  public schools  and the  State  University?
Uh-uh. Not likely.
     If I'd been  worth that big a pile, I'd have  been fawned over, drooled
over, and  protected  every  day  of my life. I  would have had  nurses  and
private  tutors  and valets and chauffeurs. I  would have had butlers for my
butlers. I would have had my own pony, my own yacht, my own set of full-size
trains.  I  would have had my  pick of  any college in the  country.  In the
world. I would have been spoiled rotten.
     I looked around my three-hundred-dollar-a-month apartment. There was no
evidence here that I was spoiled rotten.
     Well . . . not to the tune of a hundred and fortythree million dollars.
     You can  get spoiled on five hundred a week,  but that's a far cry from
butlers for your butlers. Ouch. And ouch again.
     I'd  thought I'd never have to worry about money  in my life. Now I was
wondering if I would make it to the end of the year.
     " of course," Biggs-or-Briggs was mumbling, "if
     you still feel you want to check our books, by all means
     we don't want there to be any misunderstandings or
     hard feelings "
     "Yeah . . ."I waved it off. "I'll call you. There's no hurry. I believe
you, I guess." Maybe Uncle Jim hadn't  been thinking straight that  day. The
more I thought about it, the odder his behavior seemed.
     Oh, Uncle  Jim!  How  could  you  have  become so addled? A hundred and
forty-three million! I wasn't sure whom I felt sorriest for, him or me.
     The lawyer was still talking. " Now, of course,
     you're not responsible for any of his financial liabilities,
     and they aren't that much anyway. The company will
     probably cover them "
     "Wasn't there any insurance?" I blurted suddenly.
     "Eh? No, I'm sorry. Your uncle didn't believe in it.
     We  tried  to talk to  him about it many times,  but  he never paid any
attention."
     I shrugged and let him go on. That was just  like my Uncle Jim. Even he
believed he was immortal. "You're  entitled  to his personal  effects and  "
"No, I don't want them."
     " there is one item he specifically requested you to have."
     "What?"
     "It's a package. Nobody's to open it but you."
     "Well, where is it?"
     "It's in the trunk of my car. If you'll just sign this receipt "
     * * *
     I  waited until  after what's-his-name had left. Whatever it was in the
box, Uncle Jim had intended it for me  alone. I hefted it carefully. Perhaps
this was the hundred and forty-three million
     I wondered could you put that much money into a box this small?
     Maybe it was  in  million-dollar bills, one  hundred and forty-three of
them. (I don't know do they even print million-dollar bills?)
     No,  that  couldn't  be.  Could  you imagine  trying  to  cash  one?  I
shuddered. Uh-uh, Uncle Jim wouldn't  do that to me. . .  . Well, let's see,
maybe it was in ten-thousand-dollar bills. (That would be fourteen thousand,
three hundred of them.) No, the box was too light
     If  it was  my  fortune, it would have  to be in  some other form  than
banknotes. Rare postage stamps? Precious gems? Maybe but  I couldn't imagine
a  hundred  and forty-three million dollars' worth of  them, at least not in
this box. It was too small.
     There  was  only  one  way  to  find out. Tripped away the heavy  brown
wrapping paper and fumbled off the top.
     It was a belt.
     A black leather belt. With a stainless-steel plate for a buckle.
     A belt.
     I almost didn't feel  like taking it out of the  box. I felt like a kid
at Santa Claus's funeral.
     This was Uncle Jim's legacy?
     I  took it out.  It wasn't a bad-looking  belt in fact,  it  was  quite
handsome. I wondered  what I could wear it with almost anything actually; it
was just a  simple  black  belt. It had a  peculiar  feel  to it though; the
leather flexed like an eel, as if it were alive and had an electric backbone
running through  it. The buckle too; it seemed heavier than  it looked,  and
well,  have  you ever tried  to move the axis  of  a  gyroscope? The  torque
resists your pressure. The belt buckle felt like that.
     I looped it around my waist to see what it would
     look like. Not bad, but I had belts I liked better. I started
     to put it back in the box when it popped open in my
     hand. The buckle did.
     I looked at the buckle more closely. What had
     looked like a single plate of stainless steel was actually
     two pieces hinged together at the bottom, so that when
     you were wearing the belt you could open it up and read
     the display on the inside of the front. It was a luminous
     panel covered with numbers.
     Great. Just what I needed. A digital belt buckle.
     Clock, calculator, and musical synthesizer all in  one. And wasn't that
just like Uncle Jim. He loved these kinds of toys.
     But  the  only  thing that  looked  like  a  trademark  said  TIMEBELT.
Everything else  was  display. Two of the rows  of  numbers kept flickering,
changing  to  keep  track  of the  tenths  of  seconds, the seconds, and the
minutes. Also indicated were the hours, the day, the month, the year
     Not  bad, but I already had a watch  and that was good enough. Besides,
this seemed such a silly idea,  putting a clock in a belt buckle. You'd feel
embarrassed every time you opened it.
     Fine. I had the worlds only  belt buckle that told the time.  I started
to close it up again
     Wait a minute not so fast. There were too many numbers on that dial.
     There were four  rows  of  numbers,  and  a  row  of  lights  and  some
lettering. The whole thing looked like this:
     [clr] Wednesday [act]
     D 1975 May 21 13:06.43.09
     00 0000 000 00 00:00.00.00 F
     0000000000000000000000000
     T AD 1975 May 21 13:06.43.09 B
     D 1975 May 16 17:30.00.00
     hol] TIMEBELT [ret]
     dd. What were all those numbers for?
     The  date  on the  bottom,  for instance: March  16, 1975  what  was so
special about that? What had happened at 5:30 on March 16?
     I frowned. There was something
     I went looking for my calendar. Yes, there it was.
     March 16: Uncle Jim coming at 5:30.
     The date on the bottom  was the last time I  had  seen Uncle Jim. March
16. He had knocked on the door at precisely 5:30.
     Uncle Jim was always punctual when  he made appointments.  On the phone
he  had said  he would be at my place at 5:30 sure enough, he was.  But why,
two months later, was that date so important as  to still be on his calendar
belt? It didn't make sense.
     And there  was  something else I hadn't noticed. The  other part of the
buckle the side facing  the clock was divided into buttons.  There were four
rows of them, all square and flush with each other. The top row was cut into
two; the second  row, six;  the  third  row, three;  and the bottom row, six
again.
     My curiosity was piqued. Now, what were all these for?
     I touched one of the top two. The letter B  on the lower right side  of
the panel began to glow. I touched it again and the letter F above it winked
on instead. All right but what did they mean?
     I put the belt around my waist and fastened it. Actu-
     ally, it fastened itself; the back of the clasp leaped against
     the leather part and held. I mean, held. I tugged at it,
     but it didn't slip. Yet I could pop it off as easily as  separating two
magnets. Quite a gimmick that.
     The buckle was still open;  I  could  read  the numbers  on it  easily.
Almost automatically  my hand moved to the buttons.  Yes, that was right the
buttons  were a keyboard against my waist,  the panel  was the  readout; the
whole thing was a little computer.
     But what in hell was I computing?
     Idly I touched some of the buttons. The panel blinked. One of the dates
changed. I  pressed  another button and the center row of  lights flickered.
When I pressed the first button again, a different part of the date changed.
I didn't understand it, and there was nothing in  the box except some tissue
paper.
     Maybe there was something on the belt itself I took it off.
     On the back of the clasp, it said:
     TIMEBELT
     TEMPORAL TRANSPORT
     DEVICE
     Temporal Transport Device ? Hah! They had to be kidding.
     A time machine? In a belt? Ridiculous.
     And then I found the instructions.
     * * *
     The instructions were  on  the back  of  the  clasp when  I  touched it
lightly,  the  words TIMEBELT, TEMPORAL TRANSPORT  DEVICE winked out and the
first  "page" of directions appeared  in their place. Every time I tapped it
after that, a new page appeared.  They were written in a land  of linguistic
shorthand,  but they were complete.  The table of contents itself ran on for
several pages:
     OPERATION OF THE TIMEBELT
     Understanding
     Theory and Relations
     Time Tracking
     The Paradox Paradox
     Alternity
     Discoursing
     Protections
     Corrections
     Tangling and Excising
     Excising with Records
     Reluctances
     Avoidances and Responsibilities
     FUNCTIONS
     Layout and Controls
     Settings
     Compound Settings
     High-Order Programming
     Safety Features
     USAGES
     Forward in Time
     By a Specific Amount
     To a Particular Moment
     Cautions
     Backward in Time
     By a Specific Amount
     To a Particular Moment
     Additional Cautions
     Fail-Safe Functions
     Compound Jumps
     Advanced
     High-Order
     Compound Cautions
     Distance Jumps
     Medium Range
     Long Range
     Ultra-Long Range
     Special Cautions
     Infinity Dangers
     Entropy Awareness
     Timeskimming
     Short Range
     Long Range
     Ultra-Long Range
     Timestop
     Uses of the Timestop
     Stopping the Present
     Stopping the Past
     Stopping the Future
     Special Cautions on the Use of the Timestop
     Multiple Jumps
     Programming
     Usage
     Cautions and Protections on Multiple Jumps
     Emergency Jumps
     Returns
     Timestops
     Timeskims
     Height and Motion Compensations
     (moving vehicles and temporary heights)
     Other Compensations
     (ordinary and specific use)
     General Cautions
     Summary
     ACCLIMATIZATIONS
     Cultures
     Determinations
     Languages
     Clothing
     Shelter
     Currency
     Living Patterns and Customs
     Religions and Taboos
     Health
     Protocols
     Timestop Determinations
     Additional Acclimatizations
     Cautions
     ARTIFACTING
     Transporting
     Special Cases
     Cautions
     I was beginning to  feel a little dazed  of course this couldn't be for
real. It couldn't be. . . .
     I  sat down  on the couch and began  reading  the directions in detail.
They were easy to understand. There was a great deal about the principles of
operation and the variety of uses, but I just skimmed that.
     The readout panel was easy enough to understand.
     The top row of numbers was the time now; the second
     row was the distance you wished to travel away from it,
     either forward  or back; and the third row was the  moment to which you
were traveling, your target. The fourth row was the moment of your last jump
that is, when the belt had last come from. (Later I found that it could also
be the date of the next jump if you had preprogrammed for it. Or it could be
a  date held in storage one that you could keep permanently set  up and jump
to at a moment's decision.)
     The letters F and B on the right side, of course, stood for Forward and
Back.  The letters J  and T on the left side  stood for Jump and Target. The
lights  in  the  center  of  the panel  had  several functions;  mostly they
indicated the belt's programming.
     In  each  corner of  the  readout  was  a  lettered  square. These were
references to four buttons on  the face of  the  buckle itself. (I closed he
buckle and looked there weren't any obvious buttons, but  in each corner was
an area  that seemed  to depress with a slight click.) CLR stood for  Clear,
HOL meant Hold, RET was Return, and  ACT was Activate. Each button had to be
pressed  twice  in rapid succession  to  function;  that  way  you  wouldn't
accidentally  change  any  of  your  settings  or  send  yourself off on  an
unintended jaunt,
     CLR  was meant  to  clear the  belt of  all  previous instructions  and
settings. HOL  would hold any date  in storage  indefinitely, or call it out
again. RET  would send you back to the  moment of  your last jump, or to any
date locked in by HOL. ACT would do just that act. Whatever instructions had
been  programmed into the  belt, nothing would happen until ACT was pressed.
Twice.
     There  were more instructions. There was  something called Timestop and
something else called Timeskim. According to the instructions,  each  was an
interrupted time jump  resulting  in a controlled out-of-phase  relationship
with the real-time universe. Because  the rate of phase congruency  could be
controlled, so could the perceived rate of the timestream.
     What that meant  was that  I could  view events like a  motion  picture
film. I could speed it up and see things happening at an ultra-fast rate via
the Timeskim, or I could slow them down I could even  freeze them altogether
with the Timestop.
     The  Timeskim was necessary to allow you to maintain your bearings over
a  long-range jump; you could skim through time instead of jumping directly.
The movement of people and animals would be a blur, but you would be able to
avoid materializing inside of a building  that hadn't been there before. The
Timestop was  intended to help you get your bearings after  you arrived, but
before  you reinserted  yourself into the timestream, especially if you were
looking for a particular moment. With everything seemingly frozen solid, you
could find  an  unobserved place to  appear,  or you could remain  an unseen
observer  of  the  Timestopped  still life.  Or  you  could Timeskim  at the
real-time  rate without being  a  part of real-world events, again an unseen
observer.  I  guessed  that  the  Timestop  and Timeskim were  necessary for
traveling to unfamiliar eras especially dangerous ones.
     There were other functions too, complex things that I didn't understand
yet. I  decided to  leave  them alone  for  a  while. For instance,  Entropy
Awareness  left me a bit leery. I concentrated on the keyboard instead. If I
was going to use this thing, I'd better know how to program it.
     The top two buttons controlled Jump  and Target,  Forward and Back. The
second row of six controlled any six  digits  of  the date; the third row of
three was  for  programming  they  determined the settings of the second and
fourth rows.  The  fourth row had  six buttons; used in combination with the
third row,  they determined ways of  using the belt. Maybe more. Each of the
buttons on the keyboard  was multi-functional. What it controlled,  and how,
was determined by which other buttons it was used in combination with.
     Clearly  this timebelt  was  not a  simple device. There  was a  lot to
learn.
     * * *
     I felt like a kid with  a ten-dollar bill in a candy store  no, like an
adolescent with a hundred-dollar bill in a brothel.
     I was ready but what should I do first?
     Possibilities  cascaded  across  my  mind  like  a  stack  of  unopened
presents. I was both eager and scared. My hand was nervous as I fumbled open
the buckle.
     I eyed the readout plate warily. All the  numbers had  been cleared and
were at zero; they gazed right back at me.
     Well,  lets try something simple  first. I  touched the third button in
the third row, setting the second row of controls  for  minutes, seconds and
tenths of seconds. I tapped the first button in the second row twice: twenty
minutes.  I set  the top right-hand  button for  Forward, the  top left-hand
button for Jump.
     I double-checked the numbers on the panel and closed the belt.
     Now. All I had to do was tap the upper  right-hand corner of the buckle
twice.
     The future waited.
     I swallowed once and tapped.
     POP!
     I  staggered  and   straightened.  I  had  forgotten  about  that.  The
instructions  had  warned that there would be  a slight shock  every  time I
jumped.  It had something to do with forcing  the air  out of the space  you
were materializing in. It wasn't bad though I just hadn't been expecting it.
It was like scuffing your shoes  on a rug and then touching metal, that kind
of shock, but all over your whole body at once.
     Aside from that, I had no way of proving I was in the future.
     Oh, wait. Yes, I  did. I was still wearing my wristwatch. It said 1:43.
I strode into the kitchen and looked at the kitchen clock.
     It said 2:03.
     If the kitchen clock was to  be believed, then the belt was real, and I
had just traveled through time. Twenty minutes forward. Assuming the kitchen
clock hadn't suddenly
     No! This had to be real. It was real. I had actually done it!
     I'd  been  sort  of treating  the whole thing  as  a game; not even the
jump-shock had convinced me. That could have been  faked by a battery in the
belt. But this I
     I knew my watch and I knew that  kitchen clock; they couldn't have been
faked.
     I actually had a time machine.  A real  live, honestto-God working time
machine.
     I took a  deep breath  and forced myself to  be calm.  I tried to force
myself to be calm.
     I had a time  machine. A real time machine. I had jumped twenty minutes
forward.  The  room  looked just the  same,  not  even  the quality  of  the
afternoon sunlight had changed, but I knew I had jumped forward in time. The
big question was what was I going to do next?
     I had to think  about this no problem, I had all the time in the world.
I giggled  when  I realized  that. Hmm. I knew. Suddenly I realized  what  I
could do.
     I opened the belt and reset the control for  twentyfour hours. Forward.
I would pick up a copy of tomorrow's  paper, then  bounce back and go to the
race  track today.  I  would  make  a fortune. I  would  MIGOD! Why hadn't I
realized this ?
     I could be as rich as I wanted to be.
     Rich ?  The word lost all meaning when  I realized what I could do. Not
just the race track Las Vegas! The stock market! Anything! There were boxing
matches to  bet  on and companies to invest in, new products from the future
and rare objects from the past my head swam with the possibilities.
     I  wanted  to laugh. And  I'd  been worried  about a mere  hundred  and
forty-three million dollars!
     Uncle Jim had been right after all! I was rich!  I  wanted to shout!  I
felt like dancing! The room twirled with wealth and I  spun with it  until I
tripped over a chair.
     Still gasping and giggling, I sat up. It was too much too much!
     Before before  I had  proven  that  the belt  really  worked all  those
possibilities had been  merely fantasies: fun things to think about, but not
taken seriously. Now, however, they were more than  possibilities. They were
probabilities. I would  do them all. All of them! Because I had all the time
in the world! I was hysterical with delight. Giddy with enthusiasm
     I forced myself to stop.
     Be serious  now,  I  told myself. Let's approach  this  properly. Let's
think these things out; take them one at a time
     Tomorrow. I grinned and touched the button.
     Pop!
     * * *
     This time the shock wasn't so bad, I
     There was somebody in the room.
     Then he turned to face me.
     For a moment it was like staring into a sudden mirror
     "Hi," he said. "I've been waiting for you."
     It was me.
     I must have  been staring, because he said, "Relax, Dan " and I  jumped
again.
     The  sound of  his voice it was my voice as  I've heard it on tape. The
look in his eyes I've seen those eyes in the mirror. His face it was my face
the features, everything: the nose, short and straight; the hair, dark brown
with a hint of red and with the wave that I  can't comb out; the mouth, wide
and smiling; the cheekbones, high and pronounced.
     "You're me " It must have sounded inane.
     He was a  little  flustered  too. He  held out  something  he  had been
holding,  a  newspaper.  "Here," he  said.  "I believe  we were going to the
races."
     "We?"
     "Well, it's no fun going alone, is it?"
     "Uh " My head was still spinning.
     "It's all right,"  he said.  "I'm you I'm  your  future self.  Tomorrow
you'll be me. That is,  we're the same  person. We've  just doubled back our
timeline." "Oh," I said, blinking.
     He  grinned with the  knowledge of a joke  that  I  hadn't gotten  yet.
"Okay, let's do it this way. I'm your twin brother."
     I looked at him again; he stared unabashedly back.
     He  was almost delighting in my confusion, and he had hit on one of  my
most secret fantasies of course. He couldn't help but know, he was me.  When
I  was younger,  my greatest  desire  had been  the  impossible wish for  an
identical twin  a second me, someone who understood me, whom I could talk to
and  share secrets with. Someone who would always be there, so I would never
be alone. Someone who
     I gaped helplessly. It was all happening too fast.
     He reached out and took my hand, shook it warmly.
     "Hi," he said. "I'm Don. I'm  your  brother." At first  I just  let him
shake my hand, but after a second of his  silly  grinning  at me, I returned
his grip. (Interesting.  Some people  shake  my  hand and their grip is  too
hard. Others have a grip that's too weak. Don's  grip was just right but why
shouldn't it  be? He's  me. I have  to  keep reminding myself  of that; it's
almost too easy to think of  him as Don.) The touch of his hand was strange.
Is that what I feel like?
     We went to the races.
     Oh, first we bounced back  twenty-eight hours; both  of us.  He flashed
back first, then I followed. We  both reappeared at the same instant because
our target settings were identical. He was  wearing a  timebelt too well, of
course; if I  could be duplicated, so could the belt.) I couldn't  shake the
feeling that this fellow from the future was invading my home even though it
was meaningless but he seemed so sure of himself that I had to follow in his
wake.
     When I glanced at the kitchen clock, I got another start. It was just a
little  past ten why, I was still at Uncle Jim's funeral! I'd be coming home
in an hour with the lawyer. Maybe it was a good thing that Don had taken the
lead; there was still too much I didn't know.
     As we walked out to the car,  Mrs. Peterson,  the old lady in the front
apartment,  was  just coming out of her  door. "Hello,  Danny " she started,
then she stopped. She  looked from one to the other of  us confusedly. "This
is my brother," said Don quickly. "Don," he said to me, a gentle pressure on
my arm, "this is Mrs. Peterson." To her: "Don will be staying with me  for a
while, so if you think you're seeing double, don't be surprised."
     She smiled  at  me. I nodded, feeling like a fool. I knew Mrs. Peterson
but Don's grip on  my arm reminded me that she didn't know. She  looked back
and forth, blinking. "I didn't know you were twins "
     "We've been living separately," said Don quicky, "so we could each have
a chance to be our own person. Don's been up  in San Francisco  for the past
two years."
     "Oh," she said.  She turned  on her smile again and  beamed politely at
me. "Well, I  hope you'll like it in  Los Angeles, Don. There's  so  much to
do."
     "Uh yes," I said. "It's very exciting."
     We made our goodbyes and went on to the car.
     Abruptly, Don started giggling. "I wish you could have seen your face,"
he said. "Well, you  will tomorrow." Still laughing,  he  repeated  my  last
words, "Uh yes.  It's  very exciting.  You looked as  if  you'd swallowed  a
frog."
     I stopped in the act  of unlocking the passenger-side  door. (It seemed
natural for him to  take the drivers side; besides, I was unsure of  the way
to  the  track.)  "Why  didn't you  let  me  explain?"  I asked.  "She's  my
neighbor."
     "She's  my  neighbor too," he  replied, giggling  again. "Besides, what
would you have said? At least I've been through this once before." He opened
his door and dropped into the drivers seat.
     I got  in slowly and looked  at  him. He was unlatching the convertible
top. He didn't notice my gaze. I  realized that I was  feeling  resentful of
him he was so damned sure of himself, even to  the way he was making himself
at home in my  car. Was  that  the way I  was?  I found  myself studying his
mannerisms.
     Suddenly he turned to  me.  "Relax," he  said.  He  turned  to  look me
straight  in  the eye.  "I know what you're going through. I went through it
too. The way to do  this is  at least, I think so  is the first  time you go
through something,  just watch.  The second time, you  know  what's going to
happen; that's where the arrogance comes from. Only it isn't arrogance. It's
confidence." "I guess this is happening a little too fast for me."
     "Me too," he said.  "I know this  is a weird thing to say, but I missed
you. Or maybe I missed me. Anyway, it'll work better this way. You'll  see."
He pushed the button on the dashboard and the convertible top lifted off and
began folding back. "Put  on  a  tape,"  he  said,  indicating  the  box  of
cassettes on the floor. He started to name  one, then stopped himself. "Want
me to tell you which one you're going to choose?"
     "Uh no, thanks." I studied the different titles with such  an intensity
I couldn't see any of them. It would be impossible for me to surprise him no
matter  what tape  I  chose, no matter what I did, he would already know, he
would have done it himself.
     Of course, he  had been through all this before. He had every reason to
be sure of himself. When I became him, I'd probably  be cocky too. Perhaps a
little giddy you couldn't help but feel powerful if you knew everything that
was going to happen before it happened. Of course he should be the one to do
the talking.
     Later  I'd  get my turn; but right  now I was feeling  a little unsure,
both of myself and of the situation. I could  learn by following his lead. I
put on a tape of Petrouchka and concentrated on the road.
     I'd  never  been to the race track  before.  It  was  bigger  than  I'd
expected.  Don  steered  his  way  into  the  parking  lot  with  surprising
familiarity and arrowed immediately toward a space that shouldn't  have been
there, but was.
     Instead  of seats in  the  bleachers, as  I  had expected, he  bought a
private box. Grinning at me, he explained, "Why not? We deserve the best."
     I wanted to  point out that  it wasn't necessary; besides, it  cost too
much. Then I  realized he was right; the money made no difference at all. We
were going to make a lot more than we spent, so why not enjoy? I shut up and
let myself  be awed  by  the great expanses of green lawn. Under the  bright
sun,  the wide sweeping track seemed poised in midair, a curve  of stark and
simple  elegance.  The  stands  loomed  high  above us  and  I was  properly
impressed.
     We ordered mint juleps from the bar nouveau riche I thought, but didn't
protest and made our way to our seats. Don made a great show of studying the
paper, which I thought was  funny  it was today's race results he was poring
over. "Yes, yes . . ."he muttered in loud tones of feigned thoughtfulness.
     "I think Absolam's Ass  looks pretty good in  the first." He looked up.
"Danny, go put a hundred dollars on Absolam's Ass. To win."
     "Uh " I started fumbling in my pockets. "I only
     have sixty " And then I broke off and looked at him. "A
     hundred dollars ?" On a horse? A hundred dollars?
     He was eying me with cool amusement. There was a  crisp new bill in his
hand.  "You want to get rich?"  he asked.  "You have to spend  money to make
money." I blinked  and took the bill. Somehow I found my way to  the betting
windows and  traded the money  for  ten  bright printed  tickets. The  clerk
didn't even glance up.
     Absolam's Ass paid off at  three  to one.  We  now  had  three  hundred
dollars.  Don  ordered two more  mint  juleps  while I  went to  collect our
winnings and put them on Fig Leaf.  This time the clerk  hesitated, repeated
the bet aloud, then punched the buttons on his machine.
     Fig  Leaf paid off at two to one. We now had six  hundred  dollars. And
another mint julep.
     Calamity Jane also paid off at two to one. We were up to twelve hundred
dollars, and the clerk at the window was beginning to recognize me.
     Finders Keepers came in second, and I looked at
     Don in consternation. He merely grinned and said,
     "Wait " I waited, and Harass was disqualified for
     bumping Tumbleweed. Finders Keepers paid eight to
     one. Ninety-six hundred dollars. The betting official
     went a little goggle-eyed when I tried to put it all on Big
     John. He had to call over a manager to okay it.
     Big John came in at three  to one. Twenty-eight thousand, eight hundred
dollars. I was getting a little  goggle-eyed. The track  manager  personally
took my  next bet; with that much money at stake,  I couldn't blame  him.  I
made a little show  of hesitating thoughtfully as if I couldn't  make  up my
mind,  partly  to keep him from getting curious about my "system" and partly
because  I was getting nervous about all the  people who were watching me to
see which way I would bet. Apparently they were  betting the  same way. Word
of my "luck" seemed to have spread. (I didn't like that I'd heard  somewhere
that too  much money on one horse could change the odds. Well, no matter. As
long as I still won. . . .)
     As I climbed back to our seats, I thought I saw Don leaving, but I must
have been  mistaken because he was still sitting there in  our box.  When he
saw me, he folded the newspaper he'd been looking at and shoved it under his
seat. I started to ask  him about the odds, but he said.  "Don't worry about
it. We're leaving right after this race. We're through for the day."
     "Huh ? Why?
     He waited until the horses broke from the gate; the crowd roared around
us. "Because in a few minutes we're going to be  worth fifty-seven thousand,
six hundred dollars. Don't you think that's enough?"
     "But  if we keep  going," I  protested, "we  can win almost  a milllion
dollars on an eight-horse parlay."
     He flinched at that. "There are better ways to make a million dollars,"
he said. "Quieter ways. More discreet. "
     I didn't  answer. Evidently he knew something  I didn't.  I  watched as
Michelangelo crossed the finish line and paid off at two to one. Don scooped
up his two newspapers and  stood. "Come on," he said. "You go get the money.
I'll wait for you at the ear.
     I was a  little  disappointed that  he didn't want  to come  with me to
collect  our winnings; after all,  they were as much his as they  were mine.
(I'm  getting my  tenses confused they were  all mine, but  it  seemed  like
ours.) Didn't he care about the money?"
     No matter. I found my way down to the windows to
     turn my tickets in that is, I tried to turn my tickets in.
     There were  some forms to be filled  out  first, and a notification for
the  Bureau  of Internal Revenue. And I had  to show my  drivers license for
identification and my credit cards  too. The track manager was beaming at me
and kept shaking my hand and wanting to know  if I would please wait for the
photographers and reporters.
     At first  I  was pleased  with the idea, but something inside  me  went
twang just a warning sensation, that's all, but it was enough. "I don't want
any publicity," I said; now I knew why Don had beaten such a hasty retreat.
     I shook off the track manager and collected my
     check for $57,600 as quickly as possible. It felt like a
     mighty powerful piece of paper; I was almost afraid to
     put it in my pocket. I must have walked out to the park-
     ing lot like my pants were on fire. I was that nervous and
     excited.
     Don  was sitting on the passenger  side, looking thoughtful, I was  too
giddy to notice. "You want to see the check?" I asked, waving it at him.
     He shook his head. "I've already seen it." Then he pulled it out of his
pocket to show me his check for $57,600. He'd had it with him all the time!
     I blinked from one to  the other. They were identical, even down to the
last curlicue on the signature.
     "Hey!" I said. "Two checks!" Why don't we cash
     them both?"
     Don looked at me. "We can't. Think about it. If you cash yours, how  do
I get it back so I can cash it?"
     He was right, of course. I wanted to hit myself for being so stupid. It
was the  same check.  He I we  just hadn't cashed it yet. He slipped it back
into  his pocket; I did the same with mine.  Well, at  least it was nice  to
know I wasn't going to lose it.
     * * *
     I drove  home. Don was strangely quiet; I noticed it almost immediately
because I had gotten  used  to letting him do all the talking. (There wasn't
much point in my saying anything; he  already knew it, and anything I needed
to know,  he would tell me.) But now he had lost  his former exuberance.  He
seemed almost brooding.
     I  was  still  too  excited by the  whole experience.  I  couldn't stop
talking. But after a bit I began to realize it was a one-sided conversation.
I trailed off, feeling foolish. (He'd heard it all  before, I  had to remind
myself After all, he'd said it too.)
     "Well," I said. "What happens now? Do you go back
     to your time?"
     He looked at me, forced himself to smile. "Not yet.
     First we go out to celebrate. Like rich people."
     Of course. Its not every day you make $57,600.
     We stopped at home to change clothes. (There was a bit of hassling over
who was  going to  use the bathroom first and who was  going  to wear  whose
favorite sport  jacket, but eventually we  compromised.  Even so,  this  was
something  I might  have trouble getting used to sharing my life.  I like to
live alone, and this business of another person even when it's only yourself
sharing  your  apartment,  your  clothes,  your  bathroom, your razor,  your
toothbrush, and  even your  clean  underwear, can be unnerving.  To say  the
least.)
     The restaurant was called simply The Restaurant. It was supposed to  be
one  of the best places in the city, but  I'd  never been there before, so I
didn't  know.  Don,  of  course,  was  quite familiar  with  the  layout. He
presented himself  to the maitre  d'  and announced, "You have a reservation
for Mr. Daniel Eakins . . .?"
     Yes, he did when had Don arranged that? and
     led us to a table on a balcony overlooking a splashing
     fountain. Fancy.
     We  started  off  with cocktails, of course, and an  hors d'oeuvre tray
that was meal  in  itself, and then had another drink while  we  studied the
menu and wine  list. I went  goggle-eyed at the prices, mostly out of habit,
but  Don merely announced, "Last night I  had the steak. Today I'm going  to
try the lobster."
     His "last night" was my tonight. I had steak.
     It was still early in the evening. We were in a quiet and empty corner.
Somewhere  a violinist  was teasing a  Bach concerto  until  it giggled with
delight.  I sipped  my drink  and studied Don; I was  beginning to find  his
selfassurance attractive. (I  knew what that  meant. I wanted to be the same
way and I'd begun to imitate him.)
     He was studying me too, but there was a detached
     smile on his lips. I could  tell his thoughts were not running the same
course  as mine and I wondered what he was thinking about. I kept looking at
him and he kept looking back at me.
     Finally  I had to break away. "I can't get  used to  this," I  said. "I
mean, I thought I'd be doing all this  alone. I didn't realize that you'd be
here "
     "But why should you have to be alone?" He'd
     started to answer my question before I'd finished asking
     it. "You'll never have to be alone again. You'll always have
     me. I'll always have you. It makes more sense this way. I
     don't like being alone either. This way I can share the
     things I like with somebody I know likes them too. I
     don't have to try to impress you, you don't have to try to
     impress me. There's perfect understanding between us.
     There'll never  be  any of  those destructive  little  head games  that
people play on each other,  because there cant be. I like me, Danny; that's
why I like you. You'll feel the same way, you'll see. And I guarantee, there
are no two people in this world who understand each other as well as we do."
     "Um " I said. I studied the pattern of bread
     crumbs on the tablecloth.  Don's intensity  scared  me. All my life I'd
been a loner; I  wasn't very  good at talking to people, and when they tried
to get too close to me, I backed away in a hurry.
     (Uncle  Jim had arranged  for  me to visit an analyst  once.  It hadn't
worked. I wouldn't open up to him. The most I would admit was a feeling that
I wasn't living my life, only operating  it by remote control.) So now, when
Don opened his thoughts to me
     but I couldn't reject him. He was me. How could
     I put up a psychological barrier between myself? I couldn't, of course,
but it was the candidness of Don's admissions that made me uncomfortable.
     Abruptly,  he  was  changing  the  subject. "Besides,  there's  another
advantage,"  he  pointed out.  "With  me  along, you'll never  be  taken  by
surprise. Whatever we do, I'll have  been through  it  before,  so I'll know
what  to expect, and  you'll be learning it at the hands of an expert guide.
Whatever we do."
     "I've always wanted to try parachute jumping," I offered.
     He grinned. "Me too." Suddenly he was serious again. "When you go, Dan,
you have to take  me. I'm  your  insurance so you can't be killed." "Huh?" I
stared at him.
     He repeated it. "When  you're with me, you can't  be  killed. It's like
the check this afternoon. If anything happens to the earlier one, the  later
one won't be there beside it  it won't  exist. It's more than me just  being
able to warn you about things my sitting here across from you  is proof that
you won't be  killed  before tomorrow night. And I know that nothing happens
to  me" he thumped  his chest  to indicate which "me" he was  talking  about
"because I've got  my  memories. I've  seen that nothing will happen  to  me
tonight, so you're my insurance too.
     I thought about that.
     He was right.
     "Remember the automobile accident we didn't have last year?"
     I shuddered. I'd had a blowout on the San Diego Freeway while traveling
at seventy miles an hour. It had been the  left front tire and I had skidded
across  three lanes and found myself the wrong way, with  traffic rushing at
me.  And the motor had stalled. I just barely had time to restart the engine
and  pull  off  to the  side.  It had been fifteen minutes  before  my hands
stopped trembling enough for me to attempt changing the tire. It was a mess.
For weeks afterward I'd kept a piece of it on the dashboard to remind me how
close a  call I'd had. I still had nightmares about it: if traffic  had been
just     a     little    bit     heavier    .    .    .     the    sickening
swerve-skid-bumpety-bumpscreeeeeeech
     I figured  I  was living on  borrowed  time. I really should  have been
killed. Really. It was only a miracle that I hadn't been.
     I realized  my hand  was shaking. I forced  myself to take  a sip of my
drink. I looked  at Don; he was as grim as I was. "There's too much to lose,
isn't there?" he said.
     I nodded. We shared the same  memory. There was a lot we didn't have to
say.
     "Dan,"  he said; his  tone was intense, as intense  as before. His eyes
fixed  me with  a  penetrating  look.  "We're going  to  be  more than  just
identical twins. We can't help it. We're closer than brothers."
     I met his gaze, but the thought still frightened me.
     I'm not sure I know how to be that close to anybody. Even myself.
     * * *
     We  ate  the  rest  of  our  dinner  in  silence,   but  it  wasn't  an
uncomfortable silence. No, it was a peaceful one, relaxed.
     I had to  get  used  to the situation,  and Don was  letting me. He sat
there and smiled a lot, and I got the feeling that he was simply enjoying my
presence.
     I  had to  learn how to relax, that  was the  problem. Other people had
always unnerved me because I thought they were continually  judging  me. How
do I look? What kind of a person do I  seem?  Is my  voice firm enough? Am I
really  intelligent or just  pedantic?  Was that joke really funny, or  am I
making a fool of myself? I worried  about the impression  I was making. If I
was shy, did they think I was being aloof  and call me a snob? If I tried to
be friendly, did they  find me overbearing? I was always  afraid that  I was
basically unlikable, so I wouldn't give anyone the chance to find out; or  I
tried too hard to be likable, and thereby proved that I wasn't.
     And yet
     Here was this person, Don, sitting across from me
     ...  he  wasn't  unlikable at all.  In fact, he  was quite  attractive.
Handsome,  even. His face was ruddy and tanned (well, that was  the sun lamp
in  the  bathroom, but it looked good); his eyes were clear,  almost glowing
(that must be from the tinted contact lenses); his hair was carefully styled
(that was the hair  blower, of course) he was everything I was always trying
to  be. His  voice  was  firm,  his manner  was  gentle, and he was  in good
physical condition. Perhaps I had been too hard in judging myself.
     Yes,  I  liked  the look of  this person. He was capable, assured,  and
confident. He projected likability. Friendliness.
     And  something  else. There was  that same  kind of  longing no,  maybe
desperation was the word in Don; that feeling of reach out, touch me, here I
am, please that I so often felt in myself. Under his assurance was a hint of
helplessness? need? And I could respond to that. I enjoyed his presence, but
more than that, I sensed a feeling that he needed me. Yes, he needed to know
that / liked him.
     I  realized  I was smiling. It  was nice to be needed, I decided. I was
glowing, but not with the liquor. Not entirely. I was learning to love no, I
was  learning to like  myself. I was learning  to relax with another person.
No. I  was  learning  to  relax with  myself.  Maybe it was the same  thing,
actually.
     We spent a lot of time drinking and thinking and
     just looking at each other. And giggling conspiratorially.
     Our  communication  was  more than  empathic. We  didn't  need words he
already knew what  I  was  thinking.  And  I would know the rest,  if I just
waited. We simply enjoyed each other's existence.
     After dinner we went to a nearby bar and played a few games of pool. It
was  one  of the few  things we could do  that wouldn't be boring the second
time around. Most kinds of  spectator entertainment, like a movie  or a show
or a baseball  game, wouldn't work  two nights in a  row,  but participation
activities  would  work just  fine. Swimming, sailing, riding; I could learn
from  watching my own technique.  (I wondered  if  I could get a  poker game
going let's see,  I'd need at least five of me. I doubted it would work, but
it might be worth a try.)
     We got home about eleven-thirty; we were holding each other up, we were
that drunk. Don  looked at me blearily. "Well, good night, Dan. I'll see you
tomorrow no, I'll see you the day after tomorrow. Tomorrow I have to see Don
and you have to  see Dan  " He frowned at that,  went over it  again  in his
head,  looked  back to me. "Yeah, that's  right." He  flipped  open his belt
buckle,  set it,  double-checked  it, closed  it,  and vanished forward into
time. The air gave a soft  pop!  as it  rushed in to fill the space where he
had been.
     * * *
     ' i
     After  he left I stumbled through the  apartment, wondering what to  do
next another  trip through time? No. I  decided not.  I was too tired. First
I'd get some sleep. If I could.
     I paused to pick up  the  clothes that I'd  scattered on the floor this
afternoon when  we'd  changed for dinner; I  realized  I was  picking up his
clothes  too  wait a minute, that meant that  he'd  left wearing some of  my
clothes.
     I looked in the closet. Yes, the good sport jacket and slacks that he'd
borrowed  were missing.  So was my red tie.  But the sweater and slacks that
he'd discarded were still there.
     No, they weren't they were in my hand! I blinked back and forth between
the clothes I was holding and the clothes in the closet. They were the same!
I'd lost a jacket and slacks, but I'd gained  a sweater and a pair  of pants
identical to the ones I already owned. I had to figure this ' t.
     Ah, I had it. The jacket and slacks he'd  borrowed had traveled forward
in time with him. They'd be waiting there for me when no, that wasn't right.
I'd be going  back in time  tomorrow that  is, I'd be coming back  to today,
where I'd put them on and take them forward with me. Right.  They'd  just be
skipping forward a few hours.
     And  the  sweater and  the  other  pair of pants  the  duplicated  ones
obviously, that's what I'd be wearing tomorrow when I bounced  back, leaving
only  one  set in the future. The condition  of having  two of them was only
temporary, like the condition of having two of me. It was just an illusion.
     Or was it?
     What would happen if I wore his  sweater and slacks back  through time?
The sweater and slacks that he brought  from  the future  would  then be the
clothes that I would leave in the past so  that I could  put them on when  I
went back to the past to leave them there for myself, ad infinitum . . . and
meanwhile, my sweater and slacks would be hanging untouched in the closet.
     Or would they?
     What would happen tomorrow if I didn't  wear either  sweater or pair of
slacks? But something else entirely? (But how could I? I'd already seen that
I  had worn  them.) Would  the pair  that he brought back cease to exist? Or
would they remain would I have somehow duplicated them?
     There was only one way to find out . . .
     I fell asleep thinking about it.
     * * *
     The morning was hot, with that crisp kind of unre-
     ality that  characterizes the northern edge of the San Fernando Valley.
I  woke up  to  the sound of the air conditioner already beginning its  days
work with an insistent pressing hum.
     For a while I just stared at the ceiling. I'd had the strangest dream
     but  it  wasn't  a  dream.  I bounced out  of  bed in  sudden fear. The
timebelt glittered on the dresser where I'd left it. I held it tightly as if
it might  abruptly fade away. All  the  excitement of yesterday flooded back
into me.
     I remembered. The race track. The restaurant.
     Don. The check. It was  sitting on the dresser  too, right next  to the
belt $57,600!
     I opened the belt  and checked the time. It was almost eleven. I'd have
to hurry. Don would be arriving  no, I was Don now. Dan would be arriving in
three hours.
     I showered and shaved,  pulled  on a sport shirt and  slacks and headed
for the car. I wanted to go to the bank  and deposit the check  and I had to
pick up a newspaper
     Actually, I didn't need the  newspaper at all, I could  remember  which
horses had won without it, but there was a headline on the front page of the
Herald Examiner: FIVE-HORSE PARLAY WINS $57,600!
     Huh  ? I hadn't  seen that before.  But  then, Don hadn't shown me  the
front page.
     The story was a skimpy one and they'd misspelled my name; mostly it was
about how much I had bet on each horse and how it had snowballed. Then there
were some quotes from  various track officials saying how pleased  they were
to have such a big winner (I'll bet!), because it helped publicize the sport
(and probably attracted a lot of hopeful losers too.) Finally there was even
a quote from  me about what I was  planning  to do  with the money: "I don't
know yet, I'm still too excited. Probably I'll take a vacation.  I've always
wanted to  see the  world. I'd like to  invest some of it too, but I have to
wait and see what's left after taxes." Faked, of course. I hadn't spoken  to
any reporters at all; but apparently some editor had felt the story wouldn't
be complete without a few words from the happy winner.
     I was both pleased and annoyed. Pleased at being a "celebrity." Annoyed
that  they were  putting words  into  my  mouth.  Maybe  today  we'd  do  it
differently. Could we?
     Suppose we didn't stop at $57,600 suppose we
     went after an eight-horse parlay. That would be worth
     almost $750,000! Hmm. I thought about it all during
     breakfast at the local coffee shop.
     Afterward I went to the bank and withdrew two hundred and fifty dollars
from  my  savings  account  so we'd have  some money  for the track today. I
couldn't deposit the big check yet, because I needed it to show to Danny, my
younger self, this afternoon.
     I got home  with time to  spare. I decided to  change into some  cooler
clothes  then I remembered the  sweater and slacks.  What would happen  if I
wore something else instead?
     I went burrowing  in  the  closet,  found some lightweight  trousers, a
shirt and a windbreaker. They would do just fine. Now, what else was there I
had to take care of?
     Nothing that I could see. I scooped up the check
     and put it in my pocket; I didn't want to leave it lying
     around. Dan would be arriving at
     There was a soft pop! in the air.
     I turned to see a startled-looking me.
     "Hi," I said. "I've been waiting for you."
     His eyes were wide; he looked positively scared.
     "Relax, Dan " I said. He jumped when I spoke.
     For a  moment,  all he  could  do  was stare. His  face was a  study in
amazement. "You're me "
     I  suddenly  realized how silly this  whole tableau  was. I  thrust the
newspaper at him. "Here. I believe we were going to the races . . . ?
     "We?"
     That's right he didn't know!! "Well, it's no fun going alone, is it?
     "Uh "
     "It's all right," I  said. "I'm  you I'm  your  future  self.  Tomorrow
you'll be me. That  is,  we're the same person.  We've just doubled back our
timeline."
     He blinked. "Oh."
     He  looked so confused, I wanted  to touch him to reassure him,  but  I
remembered  how scared I had been. He'd probably jump right out of his skin.
I smiled at him. "Okay, let's  do it this way. I'm your twin brother." There
was  so much I wanted to  explain. I wanted to tell him everything that  Don
had told me last  night, but  it  wasn't the right  time yet. He  was  still
looking at me too hesitantly. Instead I reached out and took his hand, shook
it  firmly.  "Hi,"  I said.  "I'm Don.  I'm your  brother." After  a  bit he
returned my grip.  I knew how scared he was  but I also knew how curious  he
was about to become.
     We bounced back in time  in his  "today." (I snuck a peek in the closet
when he wasn't  looking. There was only one  sweater and slacks of course, I
hadn't brought them back with me. But there were duplicates of the trousers,
shirt and windbreaker I was wearing  now. So you could change the timestream
. . . !)
     On  the way  out to the car, old  lady Peterson surprised  us surprised
Danny, I should say; I'd  been expecting her. "This is my  brother,"  I said
quickly.  "Don,"  I touched his  arm. "This  is Mrs. Peterson." To her: "Don
will be staying with me for a while, so if  you think you're  seeing double,
don't be surprised."
     She smiled at us. "I didn't know you were twins "
     "We've been living separately," I answered, remembering quickly how  my
Don  had explained it. "So we could each have a chance to be our own person.
Don's been living up in San Francisco for the past two years."
     "Oh," she said. She beamed politely at  Dan. "Well,  I hope you'll like
it in Los Angeles, Don. There's so much to do."
     He went kind of frog-faced at that. He managed to stammer out, "Uh yes.
It's very exciting."
     I couldn't help myself. I started giggling; when we
     got to the car I couldn't hold it in any longer. "I wish you
     could have seen your face " I said. Then I realized.
     "Well, you will tomorrow." He was half glaring at me.
     "'Uh yes. It's very exciting,'" I mocked. "You looked as
     if you'd swallowed a frog."
     He stopped in the act of unlocking the passenger-
     side car door. "Why didn't you let me explain?" he asked.
     "She's my neighbor."
     "She's my neighbor too," I pointed out. "Besides,
     what would you have said? At least I've been through this
     once before." I opened my door and got into the car. I
     could see this twin business was  going  to take some getting used  to.
Already I was noticing  the differences between the Dan of today and the Don
of  yesterday. Sure, it was only  me but I was beginning  to realize that  I
would never be the same person twice in a  row. And I would never be viewing
myself through the same pair of eyes either. Dan seemed so uncertain; it was
as  if he was  a little  cowed by me. It  showed  in little  things his easy
acquiescence of the fact that I would drive, for example. All I had done was
point  him  at  the  passenger  side  of the  car  while I headed toward the
driver's side myself, but he had accepted that. Not without some resentment,
of course;  I could see him eyeing me as I unlatched the top, preparatory to
putting it down.
     "Put on a tape," I said, pointing at the box of cassettes. I started to
name  one, then  stopped.  "Want  me to  tell you  which one you're going to
choose?" I realized  that was  a mistake  as soon as I'd  said it.  "Uh  no,
thanks," he muttered. He was frowning.
     I  could have kicked  myself. I'd let myself get carried away with this
wild sense of  power. I hadn't been considerate of Dan at all.  Belatedly, I
remembered  how I had  felt yesterday. Resentful,  sullen, and most of  all,
cautious. Poor Dan here he was, flush with excitement, filled with a feeling
of omnipotence at the wondrous  things he could do with  his timebelt  and I
had stolen it all from him. By my mere presence, my know-it-all attitude and
cocksure arrogance,  I was relegating him to  second  fiddle.  Of  course he
wouldn't like it.
     As  he put  on the tape of Petrouchka, I resolved to  try  and  be more
considerate. I should have realized how he would feel no, that  was wrong, I
did know how he felt; I simply hadn't paid it any mind.
     Thinking  back, I remembered that as Dan,  my arrogance had bothered me
only  at first later, as I had gotten used to the idea of "Don," I had begun
to see the wisdom of following  his  lead. Or  had that been  my reaction to
Dons suddenly realized consideration of me?
     It didn't matter. There was bound  to  be some  confusion at first,  on
both sides.  What  counted would be what happened later  on,  over dinner. I
remembered how  good  I  had felt last night in Don's  presence and I looked
forward to it  again tonight. I would make it up to Dan. (The reservations I
hadn't made  them yet! No, wait a minute; it was all right. I could make the
reservations any time. All I had to do was  flash back a  day or so; I could
do it later. Boy, I could get used to this )
     I  found  my  way  to the track  easily  enough;  I'd been watching Don
yesterday. Today  Dan was watching me. Now, if I remembered correctly, there
should  be a parking place, right over  . . .  here. There was, and I pulled
neatly into it.
     I bought a private box and had  no trouble finding it. Dan was properly
impressed with how well I knew my way  around; actually, I was trying not to
be  so  cocksure, but it  wasn't easy. He was  such a perfect audience to my
newly discovered self-confidence.
     After we'd gotten our drinks, I remembered how
     Don had  pretended  to study the  newspaper  yesterday and  how funny I
thought  that had been. So  I  did  the same  thing.  I frowned and muttered
thoughtfully, and Danny giggled  in  appreciation. Maybe he  was starting to
warm up to  me. "I think Absolam's Ass  looks pretty  good in the  first," I
announced. "Danny, go put a hundred dollars on Absolams Ass. To win."
     He started  fumbling in his pockets. I pulled out some bills from mine.
"Here," I said impulsively, "make it two hundred."
     He blinked and took the two hundred-dollar bills I
     was holding out. "You want to get rich?" I said. "You have
     to spend money to make money."
     He  went  off to  place the bet, leaving me to wonder  what I  had just
done. Don had given  me only one hundred dollars. I  had given Dan  twice as
much. I had changed the past again!
     First the sweater  and slacks,  now the amount of the first  bet, yet I
remembered it happening the other way
     Paradox? A pair of paradoxes?  I finished my  drink thoughtfully,  then
finished Danny's.
     Absolam's Ass paid off at three to one and we had six hundred  dollars.
I went and got two more drinks while Danny  went to bet on Fig Leaf. I found
myself wondering  if I could  change the past so easily, maybe it  wasn't as
fixed as I thought it was, maybe Fig Leaf wouldn't win this time. But on the
other hand, I hadn't done anything that should have had any effect  on that,
had I?
     Fig Leaf paid off at two to one. We now  had twelve hundred dollars.  I
had another drink. Ginger ale. For some reason, this was getting scary.
     Calamity Jane came in on schedule too. We doubled our money again.
     The  next race was  the  fun one.  I'd  forgotten about  Harass bumping
Tumbleweed.  When  Finders Keepers  came in  second,  Dan  looked at  me  in
confusion. "Wait "  I grinned.  After  Harass was  scratched, we were  worth
nineteen thousand, two hundred dollars.  I felt great. We could keep this up
all  afternoon and  we  would end  up  with $750,000  no, twice that; I  had
doubled our original bet. We'd take home  a million  and  a half! "Go put it
all on Big John," I said. I must have been getting a little dizzy.
     Dan went off, but almost  immediately, he  was  back. No I stood  up in
surprise this was Don. "What are you doing here?" I asked.
     "Sit down," he said. He looked grim.
     "What's the matter?"
     He  handed me a newspaper. It  looked like todays  Herald  Examiner.  I
opened it up
     The headline blared: IDENTICAL TWINS TAKE
     TRACK FOR $1,500,000! And in smaller type: Track
     Officials Promise Full Investigation.
     I looked at Don. Confused.
     He looked back. Angry. "Don't be greedy," he said. "Quit before it gets
too big."
     "I don't understand " I started to stammer.
     "I've come from the middle of  next week," he whispered.  "Only in that
future, we're in trouble. Big trouble.  We  won too much money  here  at the
track today,  so  I've  come back to tell you not to win any  more.  They're
going to get suspicious."
     "How about one more bet?" I asked. "Michelangelo
     will make us worth a hundred and fifteen thousand, two
     hundred dollars."
     He frowned. "Even that might be too much." His
     eyes blazed; he gripped my arm. "Dan, listen to me
     you don't want publicity! None at all! Don't let them
     take any pictures and don't talk to reporters." He looked
     at his watch. "Dan will be back any minute. I've got to
     go. Read the newspaper if you have any doubts " Then
     he left. I watched him as he strode away, then I looked at
     the Examiner. The story was pretty ugly. I folded up the
     papers and shoved them under my seat just as Danny
     returned.
     He started to ask me something about the next  race, but I cut him off.
"Don't worry about it. We're leaving right after this. We're through for the
day." "Huh ? Why?"
     I waited till after the horses  broke from  the gate. Sure enough,  Big
John  broke first  to take an early lead. I  said, "Because in a few minutes
we're going to be worth fifty-seven thousand, six hundred dollars. Don't you
think that's enough?"
     ,"But if we keep going," he protested, "we can make
     a million and a half dollars on an eight-horse parlay."
     I winced. I thought of the newspapers under my
     seat. "There are better ways to make a million and a half
     dollars," I said. "Quieter ways. More discreet."
     He didn't answer. I waited till  Big  John  crossed the finish line and
paid off at three to one. I scooped up my newspapers and stood. "Come on," I
said. "You go get the money. I'll wait for you at the car."
     I think he wanted me to go with him, but I had to
     be alone for a while. I had a lot to think about and I was
     suddenly in a very, very bad mood.
     Oh, it wasn't the money I'd already realized that if
     I could make fifty-seven thousand, six hundred  dollars  in one  day at
the races, I could easily turn that into more in the stock market. And there
were other ways I could make a fortune too
     It wasn't the money. It was the implications of the visit from Don.
     This Don, the new one, the one who had given me the newspaper where had
he come from? The future obviously, but which future? His world was one that
no longer  existed no, never would exist. We were leaving the races  without
taking the track for a million and a half dollars.
     I reached the car and got in on the passenger  side. I didn't feel like
driving back. I started to toss the papers into the back seat, then stopped.
I looked at them again. One had a small story on page one: FIVE-HORSE PARLAY
WINS $57,600! The other: IDENTICAL TWINS
     TAKE TRACK FOR $1,500,000! A banner headline.
     Both  newspapers were dated the same, yet they were from two  different
alternate worlds.
     The $57,600 world was mine; I knew the events in it because I had lived
them. The  $1,500,000 world  was  Don's,  but he had  talked me  out  of the
actions that would eventually produce his future.
     Where had  that future  gone?  Where had that Don gone?  Had they  both
ceased to exist?
     No. I still had the newspaper. That proved something.
     Or did it?
     I had the paper in my hands it was real. But you couldn't take it  back
I  mean, forward  to the future  it came from because that future  no longer
existed. Shouldn't the newspaper cease to exist too? The "Don"  who had come
back in time to talk me out of the actions that had produced the time he had
come from what had happened to him?
     Where was he now?
     If he stayed here like the newspaper he wouldn't disappear. (Were there
actually two of me now?) In fact, he couldn't disappear, unless he could get
back to  his  own  future,  except that future didn't exist  anymore, so  he
couldn't do that.
     Now, wait a minute. . . .
     If he bounced forward from now, where would he
     end up? His world's future? Or this world's future? If he
     went back to his world, he'd have to disappear with that
     world, wouldn't he? Or would he? But if he disappeared,
     then he wouldn't exist and couldn't come back to warn
     me. So, he had to exist. Where was he? Unless maybe
     his original world didn't disappear at all. Maybe it just
     got left behind.
     So, where was Don?
     Was he waiting for me in tomorrow?
     If so, then he wouldn't be my future self anymore.
     He'd be a different duplicate.
     No. The whole  thing didn't  make sense.  It didn't  seem logical  that
every  time I went back  and  talked  myself out of an  action that  I would
create a duplicate of myself
     But  it  seemed the only  answer. Every time I changed the  past, I was
creating an alternate world My head was starting to hurt.
     Now, wait a minute I had already changed the
     past! I had worn different clothes and I had given Dan
     two hundred dollars to bet instead of one hundred. And
     the newspaper I had brought with me
     The newspaper, of course! It  had  been  staring  at  me all  the time.
FIVE-HORSE PARLAY WINS $57,600!
     But it wasn't a five-horse parlay not anymore! It was only a four-horse
parlay!  We  hadn't stayed to  bet on bet on Michelangelo. We'd doubled  the
first bet. It was only coincidence that we'd ended up with the same amount.
     But  the  important thing was: I had  changed the past. Just as Don had
come back in  time to  change his past,  so I had done  the same thing to my
past,  though not on so large  a scale. I  remembered my  past differently I
remembered different clothes,  a different bet and  a  five-horse parlay.  I
remembered it the way it had happened to me and then I had changed it.
     So where was my Don the one I had gone to the races with? Where was he?
     The  situation  was  exactly  the same:  I had  changed  the  past  and
destroyed the future. So where was he?
     Well,  that  was silly. He was me. He  hadn't disappeared he was  right
here. I had simply done things differently this time around.
     Ouch.
     That  meant  that the Don who had come back in time with the  newspaper
was me too.  (Of course but would I have to go back in  time to warn myself?
No, because I hadn't let the bets go that far.)
     Then, if he was me . . . there  really was only  one of me! He would go
back to the future my future, our future with his memories, but
     But  if his memories were different than mine, how could we be the same
person?
     So the question  was still unanswered: Where was  the Don I had gone to
the races with? The one  who had  worn a sweater and  slacks and bet only  a
hundred dollars? Where was my good sport jacket?!!
     Danny showed  up  then, he  was  giddy  and  excited like he'd invented
money. He waved the check at me. "You want to see it?"
     I took it thoughtfully and looked. I took my check out of my pocket and
compared them they were not identical. The check number on Danny's was lower
and the signatures were not quite the same.
     Of course, how could they be identical? We were
     leaving earlier in the day after a different set of bets. The
     situations were not the same why should the checks
     be?
     Then, this  check I was carrying it was no longer any good, it was from
a world that no longer existed.
     And it  was  the  same  situation with  the disappearing Don; he was  a
canceled check in this world, wasn't he?
     But the canceled check hadn't disappeared. I still had it.
     (I remembered myself asking if we could cash them both.)
     I'd been fooled once  by the illusion of the duplicated check, but this
time the check had been duplicated!
     And  if I could duplicate  the check,  then couldn't I have  duplicated
myself?
     There was another side to it too.
     I'd already eliminated  two  possible futures:  the  one where I'd worn
slacks and a sweater and the one where I'd won a million and a half dollars.
     As far as I knew, both of  those Dons had  ceased to exist  along  with
their futures. Neither seemed to be still around.
     And if I could eliminate them
     what was to keep some other Dan from eliminating me?
     Perhaps even now
     * * *
     No. There must be something I was misunderstanding.
     Danny  drove. He  babbled  incessantly; he was like a schoolgirl. But I
wasn't listening anyway. I was too preoccupied with my own thoughts.
     I knew there was an answer.
     There had to be.
     For one thing, paradoxes were supposed to be impossible.
     Oh, sure, I  know time  travel makes the most horrendous  of  paradoxes
possible,  even probable;  but that's just  not  so.  A  paradox would be  a
violation of the laws  of nature. By definition, they're the laws of nature.
And inviolable.
     Therefore, paradoxes are impossible.
     Because if paradoxes were  possible, then time travel would have to  be
impossible otherwise, we'd have people killing their  grandfathers right and
left. We'd have people seducing their  mothers  or kidnapping their fathers.
We'd have time  travelers killing  the inventors of time machines. We'd have
all  manner of anachronisms and flukes, and  the  laws  of  nature  would be
violated in so many different ways, it would take the  invention  of a whole
new science to catalog them all.
     But time travel was possible. I had proved it myself
     So paradoxes were impossible.
     It sounded  all very  neat  when  I explained  it to myself  that  way.
Paradoxes had to be impossible; therefore,  they were.  Everything could  be
worked out logically
     Then,  dammit,  why couldn't  I  work  this one out? If this  wasn't  a
paradox, it was still way ahead of whatever was in second place.
     * * *
     All right.  Let's assume that paradoxes are impossible then where do  I
go from here?
     The  checks, for instance. Obviously, Danny's check  was  the good one,
the  one  we  would have  to cash  in order to collect our winnings. But the
question was how?
     Should I  take it forward with me into  the future? But then what would
Danny  have to show himself when he  was  Don? (Of course, I hadn't  made  a
point of  comparing  the checks  this time around, had I?) But if  I left it
here in the past, how would I get it in the future?
     My check shouldn't exist. It was  from a canceled world.  Danny's check
was  the only valid one here because I had  done things differently from the
way they had originally occurred. If I had done things the way Don had done,
I would have had the "duplicate" of Danny's check.
     But  I hadn't. I  had  tampered with the  timestream and  didn't have a
valid check at all. And that meant that I was a canceled check too.
     Because whatever I did now, this Danny when he became Don and went back
in time would not do exactly the same as me. It would be impossible for  him
to do so. Just  as I had  eliminated  the Don  preceding  me, this Danny was
going to eliminate the Don preceding him me!
     Did I still exist?
     Was I about to wink out?
     Was it just a matter of time?
     Yes of course it was a matter of time. Ha, ha. The joke's on me.
     No, this couldn't be right;  I was thinking  in  paradoxes again. After
all, I was here and  alive I  was me. I hadn't eliminated  Don at all. I had
become him and done things differently, that's all.
     Sure but  I still couldn't stop asking myself what had become of my Don
who had done things the other way and the Don who had given me the newspaper
and told me not to be so greedy. ("Forget about them you simply won't become
them, that's all," I told myself. "How would you know?" I answered.)
     Let's see . . . there must be a way to figure this out.
     Danny had to go back in time and become Don to his Dan.
     If he takes his check back with  him, I won't have it to  cash. On  the
other hand, if I take it  forward with me, he won't have a check to show his
Danny. (He'll be changing the timestream, just like me. Unless )
     What if I gave Danny the false check to take back with  him? Would that
undo the damage? Or would it just make it worse?
     My mind began to boggle.
     But  it  was the answer, of  course. This Danny  would  become  my Don!
That's why his check would match mine when he went back to meet me (and he'd
test  to see  if  he  could change the past too!  He'd try wearing different
clothes than me: the slacks and sweater!)
     And I'd still end up with the money!
     Yes, of course. It had to be the answer.
     I'd been sitting and staring at the checks for the past ten miles.  Now
I handed  Danny the false one and he slipped it into his pocket without even
looking at it. (Ha-ha! I cackled gleefully to myself.)
     I realized Danny was  saying something: "  what happens now? Do you  go
back to your time?
     I  grinned at him. "Not yet.  First we  go out to celebrate. Like  rich
people."
     This time, I won the argument over who was "gating
     to use the bathroom first. I don't mind sharing my razor,
     but at least I ought to get the first shave off a new blade.
     Danny seemed a little bothered by the pseudo-intimacy
     of us  both  dressing out  of the same closet, so I compromised and let
him  wear  the  red sports jacket.  While he showered,  I  reset my belt and
flipped back  to morning,  phoned  The Restaurant and made reservations  for
two,  then flashed  forward  again, appearing  at  the exact  instant  I had
disappeared and in the same spot. The  air  hadn't even had time to rush in.
(That was one way to minimize the jump-shock.)
     It was at The Restaurant that I began to realize what Don had meant the
night before and why he had said what he did. Danny looked  so ... innocent.
So unprotected.  He  needed someone. And I  could be that someone I was that
someone; I knew Danny better than anyone.
     He was my "little brother"  I would  watch out for him; and that  would
make him feel as secure  as I felt when my "big brother" Don  was around. It
was a strange feeling exciting.
     "You'll  never have to be alone again," I told  him. (I knew how lonely
he  was; I knew how much he  hated it.) "You'll always have me.  I'll always
have you. It makes more sense this way." (I would keep him from falling into
those bitter, empty  moods, those gritty moments  of aching  frustration. It
would be  good for both of us.) "I don't like being alone either. This way I
can share  the things  I  like with  somebody I know likes them too." (No, I
would never be lonely again; I would have my Danny to  take care of.  And my
Don to take  care of me. Oh, it was such  a  wonderful  feeling to  have how
could I make him  see?) "I don't have to try and impress you, you don't have
to try to  impress  me. There's perfect understanding between  us.  There'll
never be any of those destructive little head games that people play on each
other, because there  can't be." It  all  came  spilling  out,  a  flood  of
emotion. (I wanted to reach  out  and touch him. I  wanted to  hold him.) "I
like me, Danny; that's why I like you. You'll feel the same way, you'll see.
     "And I guarantee, there are no  two people in this world who understand
each other as well as we do."
     * * *
     Life is full of little surprises.
     Time travel is full of big ones.
     My worrying about paradoxes and canceled checks
     had been needless. If I had thought to read the timebelt
     instructions completely before I went gallivanting off to
     the past and the future, I would have known.
     I was right that paradoxes were impossible, but I was wrong in thinking
that the timestream had to  be  protected  from them.  After all, they  were
impossible. It wouldn't have mattered whether I  had given Danny a check  or
not; changes in the timestream are cumulative, not variable.
     What  this  means is that you can change  the past as many times as you
want. You can't  eliminate yourself. I could go back in  time nineteen years
and strangle myself  in my crib, but  I wouldn't cease to exist. (I'd have a
dead baby on my hands though . . .)
     Look, you can change the  future, right? The future is exactly the same
as the past, only it hasn't happened yet. You haven't perceived it. The real
difference between the two the only difference is your point of view. If the
future can be altered, so can the past.
     Every change  you make is cumulative;  it goes on top  of  every  other
change you've already made, and every change you add later will go on top of
that. You can go back in time and talk yourself out of winning a million and
a  half dollars, but  the resultant world is  not one where you didn't win a
million and a half dollars; it's a world  where you talked yourself  out  of
it. See the difference?
     It's subtle but it's important.
     Think of an artist drawing a picture. But he's using  indelible ink and
he doesn't  have  an  eraser. If he wants to make a change, he has to  paint
over  a line  with white. The line hasn't ceased  to  exist;  it's just been
painted over and a new line drawn on top.
     On the surface,  it doesn't seem  to make much difference. The finished
picture will look the same whether the artist uses an eraser or a gallon  of
white paint, but it's important to the artist. He's aware of  the process he
used to obtain the final result and it affects his consciousness. He's aware
of all the lines and drawings beneath the final one, the layer upon layer of
images, each one not quite the one all those discarded pieces; they  haven't
ceased  to  exist, they've just been painted out of view. Subjectively, time
travel is like that.
     I can lay down one timeline and then go back and do things  differently
the second  time around. I can go back a  third time  and talk myself out of
something, and I  can go back a fourth  time and change it yet again. And in
the end, the timestream is exactly what I've made  it  it  is the cumulative
product of my changes. The closest I can  get to the original  is to go back
and  talk  myself  out  of  something. It  won't be the same world,  but the
difference will  be  undetectable. The difference will be in me. I  like the
artist  with his painting will be  conscious of  all the other  alternatives
that did exist, do exist, and can exist again.
     The world  I came from is like my  innocence. I can never recapture it.
At best, I can only simulate it. , You can't be a virgin twice.
     (Not  that  I would,  of course. Virginity seems like  a  nice state of
existence only  to  a virgin, only to someone who doesn't know  any  better.
From this side of the fence, it seems like such a waste. I remember my first
time, and how I had reacted: Why, this was nothing to be scared of at all in
fact, it's wonderful! Why had I taken so long to discover it? Afterward, all
the time beforehand looked so ... empty.)
     According to the timebelt instructions, what I had done by altering the
situation the second time around was called tangling. Mine had been a simple
tangle, easily unraveled,  but there was no limit  to  how  complex a tangle
could be. You can tie as many knots in a ball of yarn as you like.
     There really isn't  any  reason to unravel  tangles  (according to  the
instructions) because they usually take care  of themselves; but the special
cautions  advise against  letting a tangle get too complex  because  of  the
cumulative  effects  that might  occur. You might suddenly  find that you've
changed your  world beyond all recognition and possibly beyond  your ability
to live in, let alone excise.
     Excising is what you do when you bounce back  and talk  yourself out of
something when you go back and undo a mistake.  Like winning too much at the
races. (How about that? I'd  been tangling  and excising and  I  hadn't even
known it.)
     The belt explained  the  impossibility of paradoxes this  way: If there
was only one  timestream, then paradoxes would  be possible and time  travel
would  have  to be impossible.  But every time  you  make  a  change  in the
timestream, no matter how slight, you are actually shifting to  an alternate
timestream. As far as  you are  concerned, though, it's the only timestream,
because you can't get back to the original one.
     So when you use the timebelt, you aren't really  jumping  through time,
that's the illusion; what  you're  actually doing  is leaving one timestream
and  jumping to maybe even creating  another. The second one is identical to
the one you just left, including all of the changes you made in it up to the
instant of  your appearance.  At  that  moment,  simply by the fact  of your
existence in it,  the second timestream becomes  a different timestream. You
are the difference.
     When you travel backward in time, you're  creating that second universe
at an  earlier  moment. It  will develop  in exactly the  same  way  as  the
universe you just left, unless you act to alter that development.
     That the  process  is  perceived as time  travel  is  only an illusion,
because the  process is  subjective. But because  it's subjective, it really
doesn't make any difference, does it? It's just  as good as the real  thing.
Better, even; because nothing is permanent; nothing is irrevocable.
     The past is the future. The future  is the past. There's no  difference
between the two and  either can be changed.  I'm flashing across a series of
alternate worlds, creating and destroying a new one every time I bounce. The
universe is infinite.
     And so are the possibilities of my life.
     * * *
     I am Dan. And I am Don.
     And sometimes I am Dean, and Dino, and Dion, and Dana. And more . . .
     There's a poker game  going  on  in my apartment. It starts on June 24,
1975. I don't know when it  ends.  Every time one of me gets  tired, there's
another one  showing up to  take his  place. The game is  a  twenty-fourhour
marathon. I  know it lasts  at least  a week; on July 2,1  peeked in and saw
several versions of myself some in their mid-twenties still grimly playing.
     Okay. So I like poker.
     Every time I'm in the mood,  I know where there's an  empty  chair. And
when. Congenial people too. I know theyll never cheat.
     I may have to get a larger apartment  though. Five rooms is not enough.
(I need more room for the pool table.)
     Strange things keep happening no, not strange
     things, things that I've learned not to  question. For instance, once I
saw  Uncle  Jim  he  looked surprised and  vanished  almost immediately.  It
startled me too. I was just getting used to the idea of his death. I  hadn't
realized  that he would have been using  the timebelt  too. (But why not? It
was his before it was mine.)
     Another time I heard strange noises from the bedroom. When I peeked in,
there  was  Don  in bed with  well,  whoever  it  was, she was covered  by a
blanket; I  couldn't see. He just looked at me with a silly expression,  not
the slightest bit  embarrassed, so  I shrugged  and closed the door. And the
noises  began  again.  I'm  not  questioning  it  at  all.  I'll  find  out.
Eventually.
     Mostly I've been  concentrating on  making money. Don and I (and later,
Danny and I) have made a number of excursions  into the past, as well as the
future. Some of our  investments go  back as far  as  1850 (railroads, coal,
steel).  1875  (Bell  Telephone).  1905  (automobiles,  rubber, oil,  motion
pictures).  1910  (airlines,  heavy  industry, steel  again).  1920  (radio,
insurance companies, chemicals, drugs). 1929 (I picked up some real bargains
here.  More steel.  Business  machines.  More  radio,  more  airlines.  More
automobiles). 1940 (companies that would someday  be involved  in computers,
television, and  the  aerospace  industry).  1950  (Polaroid  and  Xerox and
Disney). 1960  (More  Boeing stock, some  land in  Florida especially around
Orlando). Turned out that 1975  was a good year  for  bargains too. It was a
little too early to buy stock in something called Apple, but I could buy IBM
and Sony and MCA  shares. Oh, and Don said I should also  pick up some stock
in  20th Century Fox. There was a nifty little movie coming up in 1977  that
would make a bit of money.
     Down  through the decades, I bought a little here, a  little there  not
enough to change  the shape of  the  world, but  enough  to supply me with a
comfortable  lifelong  fortune.  It  was  a  little  tricky  setting  up  an
investment firm to  manage it, but it was worth the  effort. When I got back
to 1975, I found I was worth one  hundred  and forty-three million  dollars.
Hmm.
     Actually, the number was meaningless. I was worth
     a hell of a lot more. It turned out I owned an investment
     monopoly worth several billion  dollars, or let's  say I controlled it.
What I owned was the holding company that held the holding companies. By the
numbers, its value was only one hundred and forty-three million, but I could
put  my hands on a lot more than that if I wanted.  What it meant was that I
had unlimited credit.
     Hell! If I wanted to, I could own the country! The world!
     Believe it or not, I didn't want to.
     I'd lost interest in the  money. It  was  just so much numbers. Useless
except as a tool to manipulate my environment, and I had  a much better tool
for that.
     Those frequent  trips  to the past had whetted my  appetite. I had seen
New  York grow like a living creature, the  city had swelled and soared; her
cast-iron  facades  had become concrete;  her  marble  towers  gave  way  to
glass-sided  slabs  and  soaring  monoliths.  And beyond  that,  she  became
something enchanted: a fantasy of light and color. Oh, the someday beauty of
her!
     I became intrigued with history
     I went back to see the burning of the Hindenburg. I was there when  the
great  zeppelin shriveled in flame and an excited announcer babbled into his
microphone.
     I was  there when Lindbergh took  off  and  I  was there again  when he
landed. The little airplane seemed so frail.
     I was there when another airplane smacked into the
      Empire State Building, shattering  glass and concrete and tumbling to
the horrified street below. It was unreal.
     I saw the Wright brothers' first flight. That was unreal too.
     And I know what happened to Judge Crater.
     I  saw the blastoff of Apollo II. It  was  the loudest sound I've  ever
heard.
     And  I  witnessed  the  assassination  of Abraham  Lincoln.  It  wasn't
dramatic at all; it was sad and clumsy. I was there (via timeskim) at Custer
s last stand.
     I witnessed the completion of the first transcontinental railroad. (The
guy  who was  supposed to pound in  the  gold spike slipped and fell  in the
mud.)
     I've seen the Chicago fire and the San Francisco earthquake.
     I was at  the signing  of the Declaration  of Independence. (How far we
have come since then. . . .) I saw the burning of Atlanta.
     And  I've  seen  the  original  uncut  versions  of  D.  W.  Griffith's
Intolerance and Merian C. Cooper's King Kong and 2001: A Space Odyssey.
     I was there the day the Liberty Bell cracked.
     And I saw the fall of the Alamo.
     I witnessed the battle of the Monitor and the Merrimack.
     I attended a band concert conducted by John Philip Sousa.
     I heard Lincoln deliver his Gettysburg Address. I recorded it on tape.
     I've seen Paul Revere's midnight ride and the
     Boston Tea Party.
     I've met George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.
     And I watched Columbus come ashore.
     I saw Ben Franklin flying a kite on a rainy day.
     I was there when Bell tested his first telephone.
     "Mr. Watson, come here. I want you."
     I witnessed Galileo's experiment when he
     dropped two lead balls of different weights from the
     tower of Pisa.
     I have seen performances of plays  by William Shakespeare. At the Globe
Theater in London.
     I watched Leonardo da Vinci as he painted La Jac-
     onde, the Mona Lisa. (I will not tell you why she smiles.)
     And I watched as his rival, Michelangelo, painted the
     Sistine Chapel.
     I've heard Strauss waltzes, conducted by Strauss himself.
     I  saw the disastrous  premiere of Stravinsky's Rites  of  Spring.  And
Ravel's Bolero too.
     I've heard Beethoven's symphonies as conducted by Beethoven himself.
     And Mozart. And Bach. (I've seen the Beatles too.)
     And the beheading of Ann Boleyn and Thomas More.
     I've seen the signing of the Magna Carta.
     I have  visited Imperial Rome.  Nero  and  Tiberius  and Julius  Caesar
himself. Cleopatra was ugly.
     And ancient Greece. The sacking of Troy was more than a myth.
     I have witnessed performances of plays by Sopho-
     cles and watched as Plato taught Aristotle and Aristotle
     taught Alexander. I saw Socrates drink the cup of
     hemlock.
     I have witnessed the crucifixion of one Jesus of
     Nazareth. He looked so sad.
     And more.
     I have seen dinosaurs. I have seen the thunder lizards  walk the Earth.
The  Brontosaurus, the  Stegosaurus,  and Triceratops  and the Tyrannosaurus
Rex, the most fearsome monster ever to stalk the world.
     I have seen the eruption of Vesuvius and the death of Pompeii.
     I have seen the explosion of Krakatoa.
     I watched an asteroid plunge from the sky and shatter a giant crater in
what would someday be Arizona.
     I've witnessed the death of Hiroshima by atomic fire.
     I've timeskimmed from the far distant past and watched  as the Colorado
River  carved out the Grand Canyon a living, twisting snake of water cutting
away the rock.
     And more.
     I've been to the year 2001 and beyond. I've been to the moon.
     I've walked its surface in a flimsy  spacesuit and held its dust  in my
hands. I've seen the Earth rise above the Lunar Apennines.
     I've visited Tranquillity Base and flashing back to the past, I watched
the Eagle land. I saw Neil Armstrong come ashore.
     And more.
     I've been to Mars. I've been to the great hotels that orbit Jupiter and
I've seen the rings of Saturn. I've timeskimmed from the far past to the far
future. I have seen Creation.
     I have seen how Entropy ravages everything.
     From Great Bang to Great Bang the existence of
     the Earth is less than a blink; the death of the sun by
     nova, almost unnoticeable.
     I've seen the future of mankind
     I like to think I understand, but I know that I don't.
     The future of the human race is as  alien and incomprehensible to me as
the  year  1975 would be to a  man of Charlemagne's era.  But wondrous it is
indeed, and filled with marvelous things.
     There is nothing that I cannot witness
     but there is little that I can participate in.
     I am limited. By my language, by  my appearance, by my  skin color, and
my height.
     I am limited to life  in a  span of history maybe two hundred  years in
each direction. Beyond that, the languages are  difficult: the meanings have
altered, the pronunciations and usages too complex to decipher. With effort,
perhaps, I can communicate; but the farther I go from 1975, the harder it is
to make myself understood.
     And there are other differences. In the past, I am
     too tall. The farther back I travel, the shorter everybody
     becomes. And the farther forward I go, the taller. In the
     not-too-distant future, I am too short humanity's evolution is upward.
     And there are still other differences. Disturbing ones.
     There are places where my skin is the wrong color, or my eyes the wrong
shape. And there is one time in the future when I am the wrong sex.
     There are places where people's faces are different.
     I can witness.
     I cannot participate.
     But witnessing is enough: I have  seen  more of  history than any other
human being.  I  have timeskimmed and timestopped and my  journeys have been
voyages of mystery and adventure.
     There is  much  that  I  don't  understand. There  are things that  are
incomprehensible to one who is not of the era and the culture.
     But still the proper study of humanity is humanity itself.
     History is not just old news.
     It's people. It's the ebb and flow of life. It's the sound of bells and
horns, the stamp  of boots in  the street, the flapping of  banners  in  the
wind, the smell  of smoke and flowers. It's bread and trains and newspapers.
It's  the acrid smell of the herd, and the press of the crowd. It's surprise
and glory and fear. It's confusion, panic, and disaster
     and above all, history is triumphl
     It  is  the  triumph  of  individuals  creating,  designing,  building,
changing,  challenging  never quitting. It  is the continual  victory of the
intellect  over  the  animal;  the  unquenchable  vitality  of life! Passion
overwhelms despair  and  humanity  goes  on; sometimes  seething,  sometimes
dirty, sometimes even unspeakably evil.
     But always despite the setbacks the direction is always upward.
     If I must taste the  bitterness, it  is worth  it; because  I have also
shared the dreams.
     And the promise.
     I have seen its fulfillment.
     I know the truth and the destiny of the human race.
     It is a proud and lonely thing to be a man.
     * * *
     This part, I think, may be the hardest to record.
     It was inevitable, I suppose, that it happen,  but  it has caused me to
do some serious thinking. About myself. About Dan. About Don.
     When Uncle Jim died, I  thought my life would be changed, and I worried
about the directions  it  might take. When I thought I had eliminated myself
by a timebelt paradox,  I  realized  how much I  feared dying I realized how
much I needed to be Dan to my Don and Don to my Dan.
     But this
     this makes me question the shape of my whole life.
     What am I? Who am I?
     What am I doing to myself?
     Have  I made  a wrong decision? Am I  moving in a strange and  terrible
direction?
     I wish I knew.
     It started when? Yesterday evening? Time is
     funny when you don't live it linearly. When I get tired, I
     sleep, I flip forward or backward to the nearest nighttime
     and climb into bed.
     If I'm  not tired, and its night, I flash to day and  go to the beach.
Or I  jump to winter and go skiing. I stay as long as I want, or as short as
I want. I stay for weeks or only a few minutes. I'm not a slave to the clock
nor even to the seasons.
     What I mean is, I'm no longer living in a straight line.
     I bounce  back  and forth through  the  days like a  temporal Ping-Pong
ball.  I  don't  even know  how  old  I am  anymore. I  think I've passed my
twentieth birthday, but I'm not sure.
     It's strange. . . .
     Time  used to  be a  flowing river.  I sailed down  it and watched  the
shores  sweep  past: here, a warm  summer evening,  ice tinkling in lemonade
glasses;  there, a cool fall morning, dead leaves crunching underfoot and my
breath in frosty puffs. Time was a slowly shifting panorama along  the river
bank. I was a leaf in the water. I was carried helplessly along, a victim of
the current.
     Now I'm out of the river and standing on the bank. I am  the motion and
time is the observer. No  longer a  victim, I am the  cause. All  of time is
laid  out before me like a table,  no longer a moving entity, but a vast and
mutable landscape. I can leap to  any point  on it at will.  Would I  like a
nice  summer day? Yes, there's a pleasant  one. Am I  in the mood for a fall
morning? Ah, that's nice. I don't have to wait for the river to  carry me to
a place where I might be able to find that moment I can go exactly to it.
     No moment can ever escape me. I've chased twi-
     light and captured dawn. I've conquered day and tamed
     the night. I can live as I choose because I am the master
     of time.
     I laugh to think of it. Time is an everlasting smorgasbord and I am the
gourmet,  picking here, choosing there, discarding this unnecessary  bit  of
tripe and taking an extra piece of filet instead.
     But even  this temporal  mobility,  no matter how unlimited it is, does
not keep me from arbitrarily dividing things into "day" and "night." It must
be  a human thing  to want to  divide  eternity into bite-sized chunks. It's
easier to digest. So no matter how many jumps I make, anything that happened
before my last sleep  happened "yesterday," and everything since  I woke  up
(and until  I go to sleep again) is part of my "today."  Some of my "todays"
have spanned a thousand years. And "tomorrow" comes not  with  the dawn, but
with my next awakening.
     I think  I'm  still on  a twenty-four-hour life cycle,  but I  can't be
sure. If I add a few extra hours  to  my "day"  so as to enjoy the  beach  a
little  longer,  I  find my  body tends  to  obey the  local time, not mine.
Perhaps humanity is unconsciously geared to the sun. At least, it seems that
way. I don't get  tired  until after the world gets  dark. (But like I  said
before, I'm not sure how old I am anymore. I've lost track.)
     Anyway. What I'm getting to is that this happened "yesterday."
     Don and I were listening to Beethoven. (The origi-
     nal Beethoven. I had gotten a recorder from 2050, a multichannel device
capable of greater fidelity than anything known  in 1975,  and had taped all
eleven of the master's symphonies. Yes. All eleven.)
     We had spent the day swimming skinny-dipping
     actually  (it's strange to  watch your  own nude body from a distance),
and  now we were resting up before dinner.  I have this mansion in the hills
overlooking the San Fernando Valley; the view is spectacular. All fields and
orchards. Even the bedroom has a picture window.
     It was dusk. The sun was just dipping behind the hills  to the west. It
was large and  orange through the haze. Don  had  turned on  the stereo  and
collapsed  exhaustedly  on the  bed (a  king-size water  bed)  without  even
toweling off.
     I didn't think anything of  it.  I was tired too. I  made an attempt to
dry myself  off, then lay down beside him. (I'd gotten into a very bad habit
with Don  with Dan with myself. I'd  discovered I didn't  like  being alone.
Even when I sleep, I need the  assurance of knowing there's somebody next to
me.  So more and  more I  found  myself  climbing into bed with  one or more
versions  of myself. Sometimes there's a lot of horseplay and giggling. What
did  I want? Did I know? Is that why I did it?  It  extends to other  things
too.  I  won't  swim  alone.  And  several  times  we've  showered together,
ostensibly so we could scrub each other's back.)
     We were both stretched out naked on the water
     bed,  just  staring  at  the  ceiling  and  listening to  the  Pastoral
Symphony, that  part near  the  beginning  where it goes  "pah-rump-pah-pah,
rump-pah-pah .  . ." (You know, where  Disney's  joyous trumpets  announce a
cascade of happy unicorns.)
     It  was  a  good tiredness. Languorous. I was floating oh so pleasantly
and  the light show on the ceiling  was swirling in red and pink and purple,
shifting to blue and white.
     I'd been getting strange vibrations from Don all day.
     I wasn't sure why.  (Or perhaps  I  hadn't wanted to  admit )  He  kept
looking  at me oddly.  His  glance  kept meeting mine  and he seemed  to  be
smiling about some inner secret, but he wouldn't say what it was. He touched
me a lot too. There had been a lot of  clowning around in the pool, and once
I thought he had been  about to (I must have sensed it earlier, I must have;
but I must have also been refusing to recognize it.)
     The symphony had reached that point where it sug-
     gests wild dancing, with several false stops, when a soft
     pop! in the air made me look up. Another Don. I had
     long since gotten used to various versions of myself ma-
     terializing and disappearing at random. But I sat up any-
     way.
     He looked troubled. And tired.
     "Which one of you is Dan?" he said. He looked at
     me. "You are, aren't you?"
     I nodded.
     Don, beside me,  raised up on  one elbow,  sending  ripples through the
bed, but his gaze was veiled. Don II looked at him but stepped toward me. He
was holding a sheaf of papers I recognized it as my, no, his diary; that is,
his version of my diary.
     "I want to excise something," he said.
     "What?"
     "That is, I think I want to excise it. I'm not sure "
     He looked at  me. He sat down on the bed, and for a moment I thought he
was close to tears. He was trembling. "Look, I don't know if this this thing
is  good or bad or what. Maybe the terms are meaningless. I just don't know.
I'm not sure if I should tell you to avoid this or whether I  should let you
make your own decision." He looked at both of us. "I can't talk  about it. I
mean, I can't talk about it to you because you wouldn't understand. Not yet.
That's why I have to do it this way. Here's my diary. Read it, Dan. Then you
decide for yourself if if that's  what you want. I mean, it's  the only way.
You shouldn't stumble into this. You should either go into it with your eyes
open  and  be  aware of what you're doing,  or you  should reject it because
you're aware of its possibility. Either way,  it's going to change your  our
life."
     He was very upset,  and that made me very concerned.  I reached out and
touched his arm.  He flinched and pulled away. "Tell me what it is " I said.
He shook his head adamantly. "Just read the diary."
     "I will," I promised. "But stay here until I  do, so you can talk to me
about it."
     "No, I can't. I tried that once and we ended up
     doing exactly what I came back to stop. I mean, I mustn't
     be  here if  you're  to  make  your  own choice." And he  popped out of
existence. Back to his own future my future perhaps? I won't know till I get
there.
     I picked up the papers and paged through them.
     The early parts were identical  to mine, even up to the point where Don
and I were listening to Beethoven, stretched out on the water bed
     * * *
     What I'm trying to get at is that it started almost accidently.
     Don  rubbed himself abstractedly and then stretched and rolled over  on
his  stomach. He  reached over and grabbed a pillow above my head. "You want
one?" I nodded. He  fluffed  it and shoved  it  under my head, then  grabbed
another one for himself. He didn't roll away; instead, he sighed and let his
arm fall across my chest.
     Absentmindedly  I reached up and stroked his arm. In response,  he gave
me a casual hug.
     And then he was looking at me and our eyes  were locked in  another  of
those glances. He was mysterious.  I  was curious. His smile was bottomless.
"What is it?" I asked.
     In answer, he slid himself upward and kissed me.
     Just a kiss. Quick, affectionate and loaded with desire.
     He pulled back and looked at me, still smiling, watching my reaction.
     I was confused. Because I had accepted it. I had let
     him kiss me as if it were a totally natural thing for him to
     do. I hadn't questioned it at all. His eyes were shining,
     and I studied them carefully. He lowered his face to
     mine again. . . .
     This time the kiss was longer. Much longer.
     And he didn't just kiss me. He slid his arms around me and pulled me to
him.
     And I helped.
     We stretched  out side by side, facing each other on the  water bed. We
put our arms around each other. And we kissed.
     I realized I liked it.
     I liked it.
     "Don," I managed to gasp, "We shouldn't "
     He studied me. "But you want to, don't you?"
     And I knew he was right.
     "Yes, but  " His face was  so open, his eyes  were so  deep. "But  it's
wrong "
     "Is it? Why is it?"
     "Because it's not right "
     "Is it any worse than masturbation? You masturbated yesterday, Danny, I
know. Because I did too. You were alone in the house, but you're never alone
from yourself."
     "I I but masturbation isn't I mean, that's "
     "Danny " He silenced me with a finger across my
     lips. "I want to give you pleasure, I want to give you me,
     You have your arms around me. You have your  hands on me. You like what
you feel, I know you do."
     And he was right. I did like it. I did enjoy it.
     He was so sure of himself.
     "Just relax, Danny," he whispered. "Just relax." He kissed me again and
I kissed him back.
     * * *
     I've done it  twice now. I've been seduced and  I've seduced myself. Or
maybe I should say, after Don seduced me, I seduced Danny.
     I'm  filled with the joy of discovery. A sense of sharing. My relations
with Don  with Dan have  taken  on a  new intensity.  There  is  a lot  more
touching, a lot more laughter, a lot more . . . intimacy.
     I look  forward  to  tonight and  yet,  I  also  hold  myself back. The
anticipation  is  delightful. Tonight, tonight . . . (I begin  to understand
emotion. Now I know why there are love songs. I touch the button on my belt.
I fly to meet myself.)
     * * *
     So this is love.
     The giving. The taking.
     The abandonment of roles. The opening of the self.
     And the resultant sensuality of it all. The delight. The laughing joy.
     Were I  to  describe in clinical  detail for  some unknown reader those
things that we have actually done, the intensity and pleasure would not come
through. The joy  would  be filtered  out.  The written paragraphs  would be
grotesque. Perverse.
     Because love cannot be discussed objectively.
     It is a subjective thing. You must be immersed in it to  understand it.
The things that Danny and I (Don and
     I) have done, we've done them out of curiosity and delight and sharing.
Not compulsion. Delight.
     And joyous sexuality. We are discovering our bodies. We are discovering
each other. We are  children  with a magnificent new toy. Yes, sex is a  toy
for grownups.
     To describe the things we have been doing  would deprive  them of their
special intimacy and magic.  We  do them because  they feel good. We do them
because in this way we make each other feel good. We do it out of love.
     Is this love?
     It must be. Why didn't I do this sooner?
     * * *
     And yet, I wonder what I am doing.
     A vague sense of wrongness pervades my life. I find myself looking over
my shoulder a lot Who's watching me? Who's judging my days?
     Is it wrong?
     I don't know.
     There is no one  I  can talk to about it, not even myself. Every  Don I
know every Dan is  caught up in the same whirlpool. None of us is any closer
to the truth. We are all confused.
     I'm alone for the first time in days.
     It makes no difference. I'm still talking to myself.
     I wish some Don from the future would come back  to advise me  but even
that's a  useless wish. Any  Don who  did come back would only  be trying to
shape me toward his goals, regardless of mine.
     (I did meet one once. I don't know if it was intentional or accidental.
He  looked to be in his mid-thirties, maybe  older; there were tiny lines at
the corners of his eyes. He was  a  little darker and a lot heavier than me.
He said, "You look troubled, Danny. Would you like to talk about it?" I said
yes, but when we sat down on the  couch, he put his arm  around my shoulders
and tried  to pull me  close. I fled into yesterday Is that my future? Am  I
condemning myself to a life of that?)
     (Is condemning even the right word? There are
     times when I am lying in Danny's arms when I am so
     happy I want to shout. I want to run out in the middle of
     the street and scream as loud as I can with the over-
     whelming joy of how happy I am. There are times when I
     am with Don that I break down and cry with happiness.
     We both cry with happiness. The emotion is  too  much to contain. There
are  times when it is very good and I am happier than I have ever been in my
life. Is that condemnation?)
     (Must I list all those moments which I would never excise? The times we
went nude swimming on a California beach centuries before the first man came
to this continent. The night  when six of us, naked and giggling, discovered
what an orgy really was. [I've been to that orgy four  times  now does  that
mean  I  have to visit it twice  more? I hope so.]  I had  not realized what
pleasure could be )
     But  when I think about it logically, I know that its wrong. I  mean, I
think it's wrong. I'm not sure. I've never had to question it before.
     Man was made to mate with woman. Man was not made to mate with man.
     But does that mean man must not mate with man?
     No matter how many arguments I marshal against
     it, I am still outvoted by one overwhelming argument for
     it.
     It's pleasurable. I like it.
     So I rationalize.  I tell myself that  it's simply  a complex  form  of
masturbation. I know  it. This is  something more. I respond to Dan as if he
were another person, as if he  were not myself.  I am both husband and wife,
and I like both roles.
     Oh my God what have I done to myself?
     What have I done?
     Rationalization  cannot hide the truth. How can anything that has given
me such happiness leave me so unhappy?
     Please. Someone. Help.
     * * *
     I  put the pages down and  looked at Don.  The  mood of the  moment had
abruptly evaporated. "You've read this, haven't you?"
     He wouldn't meet my gaze; he simply nodded.
     I narrowed my  eyes in sudden suspicion. "How far ahead of me are you?"
I asked. "One day? Two days? A week? How much of my future do you know?"
     He shook his head. "Not much. A little less than a day."
     "I'm your yesterday?"
     He nodded.
     "You know what we were about to do?" I held up the papers meaningfully.
     He nodded again.
     "We would have done it if he hadn't stopped us,
     wouldn't we?"
     "Yes," said Don. "In fact, I was just about to "
     He stopped, refused to finish the sentence.
     I thought about that for a moment.  "Then you know if we are going to I
mean,  you know if  we did it." He said, "I know." His voice  was  almost  a
whisper.
     Something about the way he said it made me look at  him. "We did didn't
we?"
     "Yes."
     Abruptly, I was finding it hard to talk. He tried to look at  me, but I
wouldn't meet his gaze.
     "Dan," he  said.  "You  don't  understand.  You won't understand  until
you're me."
     "We don't have to do it," I said. "Both of us have free will. Either of
us can change the future. I could  say no. And you even though you have your
memory of doing it, you  could still refuse to do it again. You could change
the past. If you wanted to."
     He stretched out a hand. "It's up to you. ..."
     "No,"  I shook  my head. "You're the one who  makes the decisions.  I'm
Danny, you're Don.  Besides, you've already you've already done it. You know
what it's like. You know  if it will... be good, or if we should . . . avoid
it. I don't know, Don; that's why I have to trust you." I looked at him. "Do
we do it?"
     Hesitation. He touched my arm. "You want to, don't you?
     After a  moment I nodded.  "Yes. I want to see what it's like. I I love
you."
     "I want to do it too."
     "Is it all right,  though?" I held my voice low. "I mean, remember  how
troubled Don looked?" "Danny, all I remember is how happy we were."
     I looked at him. There was a tear shining on his cheek.
     It was enough. I pressed against him. And we both held on tight.
     * * *
     I  put  the  papers down and looked at  Don.  "I had a  feeling we were
heading toward it," I said.
     He nodded. "Yes." And then he smiled. "At  least,  now  it's out in the
open."
     I met his gaze. "I'm surprised it didn't happen sooner. ..."
     "Think about  it," he said. "It can't happen until Danny  is ready. Any
Don can try  to seduce him, but unless Danny wants  it to, it won't happen."
"So it's really me who's doing the seducing, isn't it?"
     Don  grinned.  He  rolled  over  on his  back and spread  his  arms  in
invitation. "I'm ready."
     So was I. I moved into them and kissed him.
     And wondered why previous versions of myself had been so afraid.
     I wanted to do it. Wasn't that reason enough?
     * * *
     Evolution, of course.
     I had provided a  hostile environment for those of me with doubts about
their sexuality. They had excised themselves out of existence.
     Leaving only me. With no doubts at all.
     Survival of the fittest?
     More likely, survival of the horniest.
     I know who I am. I know what I want.
     And I'm very happy.
     If I'm not, I know what I can do about it.
     * * *
     As I was going up the stair,
     I met a man who wasn't there.
     He wasn't there again today.
     I wish, I wish he'd go away!
     Hughes Mearns
     The Psychoed
     * * *
     only, the little man was me.
     I  keep running  into versions of myself who  have  come back from  the
future to  tell me to be  sure to do something or not to do something. Like,
do not fly American Airlines Flight 191 from O'Hare to LAX on  such and such
a date. (It's a DC-10 and the engine falls  off.)  Or, do not go faster than
seventy  miles per hour on the freeway today.  (The highway patrol is having
radar checks.) Things like that.
     I used to wonder about all those other Dans and Dons even though I knew
they weren't, it still seemed like they were eliminating themselves. They're
not, but it seems that way.
     What it is, of course, is that I am the cumulative  effect of all their
changes.  I  that  is, my  consciousness  have never  gone  back  to  excise
anything. At least I have no memory of ever having done so.
     If they didn't exist to warn me, then I wouldn't have been warned and I
would have  made the  mistake they would have warned me against, realized it
was a  mistake and gone back to warn  myself. Hence,  / am the result of  an
inevitable sequence of variables and choices.
     But that precludes the concept of free will. And everything I do proves
again that I  have the ultimate free will I don't have to be responsible for
any of my actions because I can erase them any time. But does the erasure of
certain choices always  lead to a  particular one, or  is  it just that that
particular  one is the  one  most suitable for this version of me?  Is it my
destiny to be homosexual and some other Danny's destiny to not be . . . ?
     The real  test of it, I guess, would be to try  and excise  some little
incident and see what happens see what happens to me. If it turns  out I can
remember excising it, then that would prove that I have free will.
     If not  if  I find  I've talked myself out  of something else  then I'm
running  along a  rut, like a  clockwork  mechanism,  doomed to  play out my
programmed actions for some unseen cosmic  audience, all the  time believing
that I have some control over those actions. The test
     * * *
     was simple. And I passed it.
     I simply went back to May 21, 1975,  and talked myself out of going  to
the races. ("Here todays paper," I said. "Go to  the races yesterday." Danny
was startled, of course, and  he must have thought me a little crazy, but he
agreed not to go to the races on May 21.)
     So. I  had excised  my first trip to the track. In this world  I hadn't
made it at all.
     Just to double-check, I  drove out  to the race track. Right. I  wasn't
there. (An  interesting  thing happened though. In  the fourth  race, Harass
didn't  bump Tumbleweed and wasn't disqualified. If I had been there to bet,
I would  have lost  everything or would I? The  Don  I might have been might
have foreseen that too. But why had that part of the past been changed? What
had happened? Something  I must have done on one of my other trips must have
affected the race.)
     But I'd proved it to my own satisfaction. I had free will.
     I had all of my memories of the past the way I had  lived it, yet I had
excised part of it out of existence. I hadn't eliminated myself and I hadn't
had any of my memory magically erased. I remembered the act of excising.
     There might  have  been  differences  perhaps  even  should  have  been
differences in  my world when I  flashed forward again.  Perhaps the mansion
should  have disappeared, or  perhaps my fortune should have  been larger or
smaller; but both were  unchanged. If there were any differences, they would
have to be minor. I didn't go looking for them.
     The reason?
     The mansion had been built in 1968, a good seven years before Danny had
been given  the timebelt. (I  had done that  on  purpose.)  Because  it  had
already existed in 1975,  it was beyond his  (our? my?) reach to undo unless
he went back  to 1967. The same applied to my financial empire. It should be
beyond the reach of any of my casual changes.
     Of course, from a subjective point of view, neither the mansion nor the
money existed  until after I'd gotten the  timebelt but time travel is  only
subjective to the traveler, not the timestream. Each time I'd  made a change
in the timestream, it was like a new layer to the painting.  The whole thing
was affected. Any change made before May 21, 1975, would be part  of Danny's
world when he got the timebelt. Unless  he later on went back and excised it
in a  later  version  of the timestream. And  if he  did,  it still wouldn't
affect me at all. It would be his version of the timestream and he  would be
a different person  from  me, with different memories and different desires.
Just as there were alternate universes, there were also alternate Dannys.
     My  house already existed. My investments in the past  were also firmly
in existence. He could not erase them by refusing to initiate them, he would
only  be  creating a new timestream of his own, one that would  be  separate
from mine.
     In effect, by altering my personal past, I am excising
     a piece of it, but I'm not destroying the continuity of this
     timestream. I'm only destroying my own continuity
     except that I'm not, because I still have my memories.
     Confusing? Yes, I  have to keep reminding  myself not to think in terms
of only  one  timestream.  I  am not  traveling in time.  I am creating  new
universes. Alternate  universes each one identical to the one I just left up
to the moment of my insertion into it. From that instant on, my existence in
it causes it to take  a  new shape. A  shape I  can choose  in fact,  I must
choose; because the timestream will  be changed merely by my sudden presence
in  it, I must make  every effort  to exercise control in order  to  prevent
known sequences of events from becoming unknown sequences.
     This applies to my own life too. I am not one person. I am many people,
all stemming from the same root. Some of the other  Dans and Dons I meet are
greatly variant from me, others are identical. Some will repeat actions that
I have done,  and I will repeat the actions of others. We perceive this as a
doubling back  of our  subjective  timelines. It doesn't matter, I am me,  I
react to it all. I act on it all.
     From this, I've learned two things.
     The first is that I do have free will.
     With all that  implies.  If I am  a  homosexual, then I am that way  by
choice. Should it please  me to know  that? Or should it disturb me? I don't
know I'm  the me  who likes it too  much to  excise. So  I guess  that's the
answer, isn't it?
     And that's the second thing I've learned that every
     time I travel into the past, I am excising. I am erasing the
     past that was and creating a new one instead. I didn't
     need to excise my first trip to the races to prove that I
     had free will I'd already proved it the first time I was
     Don, when I'd worn a windbreaker instead of a sweater.
     Every  time I excise, I'm not erasing  a world. I'm only creating a new
one for myself.
     For myself meaning, this me.
     Because every time I  excise, I am also creating  versions that are not
me.
     There are Daniel Eakinses who are totally different people than I am.
     The Danny that I told not  to  go to  the races  he'll  go off  into  a
timestream  of   his  own  creation;  he'll  have  different  memories,  and
eventually, different  needs and desires. His resultant  timestreams may  be
similar to mine,  or, just as likely, they'll be different. And if he can be
different from me
     then there are an infinite number of Dannys who are different from me.
     Somewhere there exist all  the possible variations  of all the possible
people I could be.
     I could by any of them but I cannot be all.
     I can only be one of the variations. I  will be the variation of myself
that pleases me the most. And that suggests
     that my free will may be only an illusion, after all.
     If there are  an  infinite number of Dans, then each one thinks  he  is
choosing his own course. But that isn't so. Each one is only playing out his
preordained instructions excising, altering, and designing his timestream to
fit  his psychological template and following his emotional  programming  to
its illogical extreme . . .
     * * *
     But if each of  us  is happiest in the universe he  builds for himself,
does it matter?
     Does it really matter if there's no such thing as free will?
     * * *
     It bothers me this me.
     I need  to know that there  is some important  reason for my existence.
There must be something special about me.
     * * *
     I will find the answer!
     * * *
     Yes. Of course.
     * * *
     I know what my mission is. I know who I am.
     I should have realized it when the timebelt was first given to me.
     I am destined to rule the universe.
     I am God.
     * * *
     But I must never let them find out, or they will try to kill me.
     * * *
     I think I will kill them first.
     * * *
     If I ever get out of this room, I will kill them all!
     * * *
     I made a point of cautioning  Danny, "I  don't know if he can be cured.
But I am sure we can never trust him  with a  timebelt again. I think  we'll
have  to be  very careful  to  see  that  he  doesn't  get  out. A  paranoid
schizophrenic running amok through time could be disastrous not only for the
rest of the world, but for us as well."
     Danny  was  thoughtful  as  he peered through the one-way  glass. "It's
lucky that we caught  him  in time." His  voice  caught on  the last word; I
think I know he was a little shaken at  seeing the drooling maniac he  might
have become. I hadn't gotten used to the sight either.
     I said, "I think he wanted to be caught. We got him at a point where he
was still conscious of what was happening to himself."
     "If he  ever does get his hands on another  timebelt," Danny asked, "he
could come back and rescue himself, couldn't he?"
     I nodded. "That's partly why it was so hard to trap him. We had to  get
him into a timeline where  he had  no foreknowledge of where  he was  going,
otherwise he would have jumped ahead to help himself against us. We wouldn't
even have known about him if he hadn't kept coming farther  and farther back
into the past; one of us must have eventually recognized what  was happening
and  gone for  treatment, then come  after this one who was  still rampaging
around. That's when I was  called  in to help. We had to deny him any chance
to look into his own future  until we could get  the belt off him.  The fact
that he  hasn't been rescued yet is a pretty good sign that this is  the end
of the line for this variant."
     Danny  grinned.  "Well, just the  fact that we're standing here talking
about it proves that."
     "Uh-huh," I said. I put my hand on his shoulder.
     "I'm from a line where they caught it in me before it got
     this far. I never went through that." I pointed at the
     glass. "You, you're a variant too. You're from even earlier.
     Neither of us  is in there. He  could be  incurable  and if that's  the
case, then he has  to stay in there. Forever. He and I mean all of us has to
be either completely safe,  or the timebelt  must be  held beyond his reach.
The consequences " I didn't have to finish the sentence.
     Danny bit his lip.  "You're  right, of course.  It's just  that I don't
like seeing him there."
     "It's for his own good," I said. "More important, it's
     for our good.  If  time travel is the ultimate  personal freedom,  then
it's also the ultimate personal responsibility."  "I guess so," he said  and
turned away from the glass.
     I didn't add anything to that and  we left  the  hospital for the  last
time.
     * * *
     Today President Robert F. Kennedy announced that
     "in response to recent discoveries, the United States is
     initiating a high-priority research program to investigate
     the possibilities of travel through time."
     So  in order to protect myself (and my one-man monopoly),  I had  to go
back and unkill Sirhan Sirhan. Dammit.
     The  "recent  discoveries" he was  referring  to  were some unfortunate
anachronisms which I seem to have left in the past.
     I thought I had been more careful, but apparently I haven't. One of the
Pompeiian  artifacts in the British Museum has definitely been identified as
a fossilized Coca-Cola bottle from the Atlanta, Georgia, bottling plant.
     Well, I never said I was neat. . . .
     I  don't  remember dropping  the Coke bottle, but if it's there, I must
have. Unless some other version of me left it there
     That is possible. The more I bounce around time,
     the more versions of me there are; many of us seem to be
     overlapping, but I have observed Dans and Dons doing
     things that I never have or never will at least I don't
     intend to so if they exist in this timeline, they must be
     other versions, just "passing through."
     Either they're around to react to me, or I'm supposed to react to them.
Or  both.  Certain fluxes must keep  occurring, I guess  I  assume there are
mathematical formulae for  expressing them, but I'm  no mathematician  which
necessitate two or more versions of  myself coming into contact: such as the
Don  who came back through time  to  warn me against winning  three  million
dollars at the race track on May 20.
     That  one was  a situation where  three  versions of me  had  to  exist
simultaneously  in  one  world:  Dan, Don,  and ultra-Don  (who was excising
himself).  Other  situations  have  been  more complex;  the more complex  I
become, the more me's there are in this world.
     The whole  process is evolutionary. Every time Daniel Eakins eliminates
a  timeline, he's removing  a  nonviable one and replacing  it with one that
suits him better. The  world  changes  and develops,  always  working itself
toward some unknown utopia of his own personal design.
     My needs and desires keep changing, so does the world. (I must be about
thirty now.  I have no way of keeping  track, but  I look about that age.) I
have lived  in worlds dedicated to the pursuit  of pleasure sexual fantasies
come true. I had lived in other worlds too,  harsher  ones, for the sense of
adventure. World War II was my private party.
     But always,  whenever I create a specialized  world, I  make a point of
doing it very, very carefully with one or two easily reversed changes.
     I do not want to get too far from home meaning
     my own timeline. I do not  want to get lost among alternate worlds with
no way to get back and no way to find out what changes I made to create that
alternate world.
     So I make my changes one at a time and double-
     check each one before introducing another. If I decide I
     do not like a world, I will know exactly how to excise it. (I thought I
had done right when I kidnapped the baby
     Hitler and left  him twenty years away  from his point  of  origin, but
that had serious repercussions  on the  world of 1975, so I had  to put  the
baby back. Instead I let Hitler be assassinated by his own generals in 1939.
Much neater all around.)
     For a while I  was on an anti-assassination kick. I have had the unique
pleasure  of tapping Lee Harvey  Oswald on  the shoulder  (Yes, I know there
were  people who had doubts  about who did it but I was there; I know it was
Oswald) just before he would have  pulled  the trigger. Then I blew his head
off. (John Wilkes  Booth, James  Earl Ray, and Sirhan Sirhan were  similarly
startled.  In two cases, though, I had to go back  and excise my removal  of
the assassins. I didn't like the  resultant worlds. Some of our heroes serve
us better dead than alive.)
     Once I  created a world where Jesus  Christ never existed. He went  out
into the desert to fast and he never came back.
     The twentieth century I returned to was different.
     Alien.
     The  languages  were   different,   the   clothing  styles,  the  maps,
everything. The cities were  smaller;  the  buildings were  shorter  and the
streets  were narrower. There  were  fewer  cars and they  seemed  ugly  and
inefficient. There  were slave  traders in the city that would have been New
York. There were temples to Gods I didn't recognize. Everything was wrong.
     I could have been on another planet. The culture was incomprehensible.
     I went back and talked myself out of eliminating Jesus Christ.
     Look. I confess to no  great love  for organized religion. The idea  of
Christianity (with  a capital C) leaves me cold. Jesus was  only an ordinary
human being, I know  that for a fact, and everything that's been done in his
name has  been  a sham. It's been  other people using his name for their own
purposes.
     But I don't dare excise that part of my world.
     I might be able to make a good case for Christianity
     if I wanted. After all, the birth of the Christian idea and
     its resultant spread throughout the Western Hemisphere
     was a significant step upward in human consciousness
     the placing of a cause, a higher goal, above the goal of
     oneself, to create the kingdom of heaven to be created on
     Earth. And so on.
     But I also know that Christianity has held back any further advances in
human consciousness  for the past  thousand years. And for  the past century
its  been in  direct conflict  with its  illegitimate offspring,  Communism
(again  with a  capital  C).  Both  ask  the  individual  to  sacrifice  his
self-interest to the higher goals of the  organization. (Which is okay by me
as long as it's voluntary; but as soon as  either  becomes too big and takes
on that  damned capital  C- they  stop  asking  for  cooperation  and  start
demanding it.)
     Any higher states of human  enlightenment  have been sacrificed between
these two monoliths. So why am I so determined to preserve the Church?
     Because,  more  than any  other  force  in history, it has  created the
culture of which I am a product. If I eliminate the Church, then I eliminate
the only  culture in which I am a native. I become, literally, a man without
a world.
     Presumably there are worlds that are better than
     this one, but if I create them, it must be carefully, because I have to
live in  them too.  I will be a part of whatever world I create, so I cannot
be haphazard with them.
     Just as a time-traveling Daniel Eakins keeps evolving toward a more and
more inevitable version of himself, then so does the world he creates.  It's
a pretty stable world, especially in the years between 1950 and 2020.  Every
so often it needs a "dusting  and cleaning" to keep it  that way, but it's a
pretty good world.
     Just as I  keep excising  those of me which  tend to extremes, so am  I
excising those worlds which do not suit me.  I experiment, but I always come
back.
     I guess I'm basically a very conservative person.
     * * *
     Once in a while I wonder about the origins of the
     timebelt. Where did it come from?
     Who built it and why?
     I have a theory about it, but there's no way to check
     for sure. Just as I am unable to return to the timeline of
     my origin, so is the timebelt unable to return to its. All I
     can do is hypothesize . . .
     But figure  it  this  way:  At  some point in  some timeline,  somebody
invents a time machine. Somebody. Anybody. Makes no difference, just as long
as it gets invented.
     Well, that's  a  pretty powerful weapon. The ultimate weapon. Sooner or
later some power-hungry individual is going to realize  that. Possession and
use of the timebelt is a way for a man to realize his every dream. He can be
king of the world. He can be king of any world every world!
     Naturally, as soon as he can, he's going to try to implement his ideas.
     The first  thing he'll do is excise the world in which the timebelt was
invented,  so no  one else will have a  belt and be able  to come after him.
Then he'll start playing around in time. He'll start rewriting his own life.
He'll start creating new versions of himself;  he'll  start evolving himself
across a variety of timelines.
     Am I the trans-lineal beneficiary of that person?
     Or maybe the timebelt began another way
     It looks like a  manufactured product,  but  very rugged. Could it have
been built  for  military uses? Could  some no longer  existent  nation have
planned   to  rule   throughout  history  by  some  vast  timebelt-supported
dictatorship?  Am I the descendant  of a fugitive who found a  way to excise
that tyranny?
     Or  and this is the most  insane of all is  it that somewhere there's a
company that's  manufacturing and  selling timebelts like transistor radios?
And anyone who wants  one just goes to  his  nearby department store, plunks
$23.95 down on the counter, and gets all his dreams fulfilled?
     Crazy, isn't it?
     But possible.
     As  far  as the  home  timeline is  concerned,  all  those people using
timebelts have simply disappeared. As far as each subjective traveler knows,
he's rewriting all of time. It makes no difference either way; the number of
alternate universes is infinite.
     The  more I think about it,  the more  likely that  latter  possibility
seems.
     Consider it's the far future. You've  almost got utopia the only  thing
that keeps every man from realizing all of his  dreams is the overpopulation
of  the planet Earth.  So you  start  selling timebelts you  give  them away
pretty soon  every  man  is a king  and the  home  world is depopulated to a
comfortable  level.  The  only responsibility you  need to  worry  about  is
policing yourself, not letting schizoid versions of yourself run around your
timeline.  (Oh, you  could, I suppose, but could you  sleep  nights  knowing
there  was  a madman running loose who  wanted  to kill  you?) The reason is
obvious you want to keep your own timelines stable, don't you? Is that where
it started?
     Is  that where Uncle Jim came from? Did he  buy  himself a timebelt and
excise the world that created it? I don't know.
     I suspect, though, that  a timebelt  never gets  too  far from the base
timeline,  and that  the user-generated  differences  in  the  timelines are
generally within predictable limits.
     Because the instructions are in English.
     Wherever it was manufactured, it was an English-
     speaking world. With all that implies. History. Morals.
     Culture. Religion. (Perhaps  it  was my  home timeline  where the  belt
began, perhaps just a few years in my future.)
     Obviously  the  belt  was  intended  for  people  who  could  read  and
understand its instructions. Otherwise,  you  could kill yourself. Or worse.
You  could  send yourself on a one-way trip to  eternity. (Read  the special
cautions.)
     If the  average user is like me, he's too lazy to learn  a new language
(especially one that might disappear  forever  with  his very next jump), so
anyone  with a  timebelt  is likely  to  keep himself  generally  within the
confines  of his own culture. His  changes will be minimal: he'll  alter the
results of  a presidential election, but  he won't  change  the country that
holds that election. At least not too much. So the timebelts remain centered
around the English-speaking nexus.
     Those users who do  go gallivanting off  to Jesus-less  universes  will
find themselves in worlds where English  never developed. If  they  elect to
stay, making it their new homeline, they can continue to spin off any number
of themselves. But when the last version dies, that's where  the belt stops.
There's no one in that timeline who can read the directions.
     A  timebelt  either stays close to home, or it stops being used. Should
anyone attempt to use the  belt,  they'll probably eliminate themselves. You
can't  learn  time-tracking by trial and error.  It's crude, but  effective.
It's an automatic way of eliminating extreme variations of the homeline.
     Just what the homeline is, though, I'll never know.
     I've come so far in the ten or more years I've been using the belt that
I'm not sure I even remember where I started.
     I wish  I could talk  to Uncle Jim about it,  but I  can't. He's not in
this timeline.
     Too late I went looking for him, but he wasn't there. I don't know what
it was, I've  made so many  changes, but  something I  did must have excised
him. I don't know what to undo to find him.
     I've removed myself from my last real contact with with what? Reality?
     I've never been so lonely in my life.
     * * *
     Maybe I'm lost in time.
     It's a fact, I don't know where I am.
     I  went looking for Uncle Jim and  couldn't  find him. When I  realized
that I must have accidentally excised him (probably by one of my "revisions"
in  this  world), I  went looking for myself. If I caught myself on May  19,
1975,  when  I  was given the  timebelt, perhaps I  could  keep myself  from
editing out my uncle.
     But I wasn't there either.
     I do not exist in this timeline.
     There is no Daniel Eakins here,  nor any  evidence to  indicate that he
ever existed.
     In this world I have no more past than I did in the Jesus-less world. I
have no origins.
     And no future either.
     If I cannot find younger versions  of myself, perhaps  there  are older
versions  but if there  are,  where  are  they? I have  met no  one in  this
timeline, at least no one whom I have not become within a few days.
     Where is my future?
     The house has never seemed so empty.
     The  poker game is deserted, the pool table is empty, the bedroom  lies
unused. The stereo is silent, the swimming pool is still, and  I feel like a
ghost walking through a dead city. The crowds  of me have  vanished. My past
has been excised, and I have no future. Am I soon to die in this timeline?
     Or do I just desert it?
     Is that why I'm no longer here?
     (Am I hiding from myself why doesn't a Don come back to help me?)
     If this timeline is a dead end, then where am I going?
     I wish I had my Uncle Jim.
     I wish I had my Don.
     Or even my Dan. Sweet Dan . . .
     I've never been so scared.
     Don, if you read this, please help me.
     * * *
     I must be logical about this.
     One of two things has happened is about to happen.
     The  me I am about to become has obviously found a new timeline. Either
he doesn't want to come back to this one, or he is unable to. Perhaps he has
made some change that he can't undo. Perhaps  he doesn't even know what that
change is.
     Is it a change  in  the world timeline? Has he created a universe where
Aristotle never existed? Or did he accidentally kill Pope Sextus  the Fifth?
Maybe it was something subtle,  like stepping on a spider ... or fathering a
child who shouldn't have been. Whatever it  was, has the Daniel Eakins  I am
about to be lost himself in some strange and alien timeline?
     I keep remembering the timeline where Jesus never lived am I to be lost
in a world like that?
     Or is the change something else? Is it in me instead?
     Am I about to make some drastic alteration in my personality? Something
I can't excise? Something I won't want to excise?
     Something I am unable to excise?
     What  if I  turn myself  into  a  paraplegic?  Or  a  mongoloid  idiot,
incapable  of understanding?  Or am  I  on the verge  of  killing myself? Or
worse?
     For the first time since  I was given the  timebelt, I am unable to see
the future my own personal future and it scares me.
     Now I know what those other people feel. The ones who aren't me.
     * * *
     Suppose just suppose that I wanted to meet another version of myself:
     I travel through time and there  I am, an earlier  or later Dan.  I can
stay as long  as  I want and without any obligation  to relive the time from
the other side. After all, we're really two different people. Really.
     The first time I used the timebelt  I met Don. Then  I had thought that
there  was only one  of me and  that the seeming existence of two of  us was
just an illusion. Now I know that was wrong.
     There's  an  infinite  number of  me, and  the existence  of  one is an
illusion.
     An illusion? Yes, but the illusion is  as real  to me and my subjective
point of view as the illusion of travel through time. I still feel like me.
     As far as I'm concerned, I'm real.
     I think I exist, therefore I exist. I think.
     And so do all others.
     Now. How do I go about meeting one of them?
     One of those other versions of myself, one of the separate versions?
     Not one who is simply me at some other part of my subjective life as so
many of the  Dons and Dans are but  a Daniel Eakins who has gone off in some
entirely different direction. How would I meet him?
     The problem is one of communication.  How do I let him know that I want
to meet him? How do I get a message across the timelines?
     Well, let's see . . .
     I could  put something  in  the  timebelt itself,  a date and  location
perhaps, then substitute it into Uncle Jim's package . . .
     No. That part of my past no longer  exists in this world.  I excised it
remember?
     Well, then, how about if I left a message far in the past . . .
     No, that wouldn't work. Look at the trouble the
     Coke bottle almost got me into. Where would I leave it
     where only I would discover it? How would I how
     would he know where to look for it? How could I even
     be sure of its enduring for the several thousand years it
     might have to? (Besides, I'm not sure it would exist in
     any of the timelines that branched off before I got myself
     into this  dead  end. Changes  in  the  timestream are  supposed to  be
cumulative, not retroactive.)
     I guess  the answer to my question  about  getting a message across the
timelines  is obvious:  I don't. There simply  isn't any  working method  of
trans-temporal  communication. At least none that  I  can  think  of  that's
foolproof.
     But that doesn't mean I still can't meet another version of myself.
     I meet different  versions of myself all the  time.  The mild variants.
The only reason I haven't run into a distant variant is that we haven't been
tramping a common ground.
     If I want to find such a variant, I have to go somewhere he's likely to
be.
     Suppose that  somewhere there's another me  a distant me who's thinking
along the same lines: he wants to meet a Daniel Eakins who is widely variant
from himself.
     What memories do we have in common?
     Hmm, only those that existed before we were given the timebelt . . .
     That's it, of course!
     Our birthday.
     * * *
     I was  born  at 2:17 in the morning, January  24, 1956, at the  Sherman
Oaks Medical Center, Sherman Oaks, California.
     Of course, in  this  timeline, I  hadn't been  born  wouldn't be  born.
Something I had done had excised my birth; but I knew the  date I would have
been born and so did every other Dan.
     It was the logical place to look.
     In 1977 the Sherman Oaks Medical Center was a
     row of seven three- and four-story buildings lining Van
     Nuys Boulevard just north of the Ventura Freeway.
     In 1956  it  comprised only two buildings,  one of  which  was strictly
doctors' offices.
     I twinged  a little  bit as  I  drove  down  Van Nuys Boulevard of  the
mid-fifties. I'd been spending most of  my time in the seventies.  I  hadn't
realized . . .
     The  two movie theaters were still the Van Nuys and the Rivoli. Neither
had been remodeled yet into the  Fox or the Capri  and the Capri was soon to
be torn down. Most of the tall office buildings were missing, and there were
too many tacky little stores lining the street.
     And the cars my god, did people actually  drive those things? They were
boxy, high, and bulky. Their styling was atrocious Fords and Chevys with the
beginnings of tail fins and double  headlights; Chryslers and Cadillacs with
too much chrome. And Studebakers and DeSotos and Packards!
     There  was  a  big  vacant  field  where  I  remembered a  blue  glass,
slab-sided building that stretched for more  than a  block. But  the teenage
hangout across the street from it was still alive, still a hangout.
     I twinged,  because in 1977 I  had left a city.  This  was only a small
town, busy  in its own peaceful  way,  but  still a  small  town. Why had  I
remembered it as being exciting?
     As I approached the Medical Center itself, I real-
     ized with a start that something was missing. Then it hit
     me in 1956 the Ventura Freeway hadn't been built yet,
     didn't extend to Van Nuys Boulevard. (I wondered if the
     big red Pacific Electric Railroad cars were still running. I
     didn't know when they had finally stopped, but the
     tracks had remained for years.)
     I'd seen  Los Angeles in its earlier incarnations, but the Los  Angeles
of 1930 had always seemed like another city, like a giant Disneyland put  up
for Danny the perpetual tourist. It wasn't real. But this this I recognized.
I could see the glimmerings of my  own world here, its embryonic beginnings,
the bones around which the flesh of the future would grow.
     I parked my  '76 'Vette at the corner  of Riverside Drive and Van Nuys,
ignoring  the stares of  the  curious. I'd  forgotten  what I was  doing and
brought it back with me. So what? Let them think it  was some kind of racer.
I couldn't care less. I was lost in thought.
     I'd been  living my whole life  around the same  three years. Sure, I'd
gone traveling off to other eras,  but those had been just trips. I'd always
returned to 1977 because I'd always thought of it as home.
     I'd folded  and  compressed  my whole  life into a span of  just  a few
months.
     Consequently,  I lived in  a world where the  landscape  never changed.
Never.
     They'd been  building the new dorm for the  college for  as  long  as I
could remember. They'd been grading for the new freeway forever. (Oh, I knew
what  the  finished structures would look  like.  I'd  even  driven  the new
freeway; but the time that I knew as home was frozen. Static. Unchanging.)
     I'd lived in the same year for over ten subjective years. I'd grown too
used to the idea that  home would endure  forever.  For me, the San Fernando
Valley was a  stable entity. I'd forgotten what a dynamically  alive city it
was because I'd lost the ability to see its growth
     because I no longer traveled linearly through time.
     Other people  travel through time in a straight  line. For them, growth
is a constant process,  perceived only when  the changes are  major ones, or
when there is something to compare them against.
     To me, growth is
     it doesn't exist. Every time  I jump, I expect  the world  to change. I
never equate any era with any other. Until now, that is.
     I knew this city; I'd grown up here but I'd forgot-
     ten that it existed. I'd forgotten what it was like to be a
     part of the moving timestream, to grow up with a city, to
     see it change as you change. . . .
     I'd forgotten so much.
     So much.
     * * *
     There was no one at the hospital, of course.
     That is, I wasn't there there were no other versions of Daniel Jamieson
Eakins waiting to meet me.
     I should have known it, of course. My birthday fell within the range of
changes I'd been making. I was the only me in this timeline. If I  wanted to
find another me,  I'd  have to go outside the scope of my temporal activity.
I'd have to go into the past. Deep into the past.
     The  only way  to escape the effects of any change is to jump back to a
point before it happened.
     I'd been  making changes for the past two hundred  years. If I  was  to
meet a variant Dan, we'd both have to go back beyond that span.
     But how far back?
     I  stood by the car, jingling my keys indecisively. The  one location I
was sure of was this hospital; the one date, my birthday.
     Okay
     This spot. The middle of the San Fernando Valley.
     The date: January 24. My birthday.
     one thousand years ago. Exactly.
     I got in the car, set the timebelt to include it, and tapped twice
     * * *
     POP!
     I'd been expecting it, but the jump-shock was still severe. The pain of
it is directly proportional to the amount of mass making the jump.
     Rubbing myself ruefully, I opened the door and got out.
     My Corvette and I were in  the  middle of a flat brown  plain. Scraggly
plants  and  bushes  all around.  I  recognized the  Hollywood Hills to  the
southeast.  Crisp blue sky.  Unreal;  no  smog.  And  dry, almost desertlike
ground stretching emptily to the purple-brown  mountains that surrounded the
valley. The San Bernardino range had never looked so forbidding; those black
walls at  the far  northeast  end were undimmed by  human haze, undwarfed by
human buildings, unscarred by human roads. I gazed in awe; I'd never  really
noticed them before.
     "Well?"  said  a female  voice behind me. "Are you going to stand there
and admire the view all day?" I whirled
     she was beautiful.
     Almost  my  height.  Hair the same  color brown  as mine. Eyes the same
color green, soft and downturned.  The same cast of features,  only slightly
more delicate. She could have been my sister.
     She indicated the car  with a  nod and  a giggle. "Are you  planning to
drive somewhere?"
     "I uh, no that is  I didn't  know  what I was planning.  I Hey, who are
you?"
     "Diane."
     "Diane? Is that all?"
     She twinkled. "Diana Jane Eakins.  Hey,  what's the matter?  Did I  say
something wrong?"
     "I'm Dan!" I blurted. "Daniel Eakins. Daniel Jamieson Eakins "
     "Oh " she said. And then it sunk in. "Oh!"
     * * *
     The silence was embarrassing.
     "Uh . . ."I said. "I have this timebelt."
     "So do I. My Aunt Jane gave it to me."
     "I got mine from my Uncle Jim."
     She pointed to  a gazebo-like affair about a hundred yards  off. "Would
you like to sit down?"
     "Did you bring that with you?"
     "Uh-huh. Do you like it?"
     I followed her  through the weeds. "Well, it's different." Judging from
its distance and the angle from the car, she had  put it  up in the hospital
parking lot. "It's more comfortable than a sports car," she said.
     I shrugged. "I won't deny it." I recognized the  gazebo as a  variation
of  the Komfy-Kamper (1998): "All the comforts of home  in a single unit." I
wondered if I should reach out for her hand. She was looking strangely at me
too. I reached out . . .
     We walked side by side the short remaining distance.
     "Why did you come back here?" I asked.
     "To see if anyone else would," she said. "I was lonely."
     "Me  too,"  I admitted. "I  suddenly discovered I couldn't find myself.
I'd excised my past and there didn't seem to be any me in the future "
     "You too? That's what happened to me. I couldn't
     even find my Aunt Jane."
     " so I thought I'd come looking for a variant Dan
     and find out what happened."
     I stopped  abruptly.  I  certainly had  found a  variant Dan. About  as
variant  as I could get ... I  wondered  what I was shaped like  under those
clothes.
     She let go of  my  hand  and took  a  step  back; she  cocked her  head
curiously. "Why are you looking at me like that?"
     "You're very pretty."
     She flushed, then she recovered. "You're kind of
     cute too." She peered closely at me. "I've always wondered what I would
look like as  a boy. Now I know; I'd be very  handsome." Impulsively she put
her hands on my  chest. "And very nicely built too not too  much muscle, not
so many as to look brutish; just enough to look manly."
     Now it was my turn to be embarrassed. I dropped my gaze to her breasts.
     "You can touch me if you want."
     I wanted to. I did.
     Her breasts were nice.
     "I don't wear a bra," she said.
     "I noticed."
     "Do I pass inspection?" she whispered.
     "Oh, yes," I said. "Very much so."
     She pressed close to me, she moved her face up to mine. . . .
     The kiss lasted for a very long, long time.
     * * *
     The sun was lowering behind the western  hills.  The sky was all shades
of purple and orange. Twilight was a gray-blue haze.
     We'd been  talking for hours. We'd stopped to eat and then we'd  talked
some more.
     We had pulled the shades on three sides of the gazebo  and  turned  the
heat up.  We sat naked in the  glow  of  the  electric fire and  watched the
sunset.
     "The more I look at you, the prettier you get," she murmured.
     "You too." I stretched across the heater and kissed her.
     "Careful,"  she said after  a moment. "Don't burn anything off.  We may
want to use it again."
     "I hope so." I  kissed her again, while she cupped  me  protectively. I
moved closer.
     We lay there side by side  for a while. "I  can't get over how good you
feel." Her hands  stroked up  and down my back, my sides, my legs; my  hands
held her shoulders, her breasts. I kissed  them gently, I kissed her eyelids
too.
     She looked up at me. "I liked having you inside me. It was very good."
     "I liked being inside you."
     She hugged me tight. "I could stay like this forever."
     "Me too."
     There was silence.  The  night  gathered softly. Our words hung in  the
air.
     Finally I said, "You know, we could. We could stay here forever."
     "Do you want to ... ?"
     "Yes," I whispered. I began to move again. "Oh,
     yes."
     "Oh, Dan," she gasped. "Oh, my darling, my sweet, sweet Dan "
     "Oh, baby, yes " I rearranged my position on top
     of her and again the silvery warmth tingled
     Exploded.
     Delighted.
     * * *
     slid into me.
     He was  around me and inside me, his arms and legs and penis; we rocked
and  moved  together,  we  fitted  like  one  person.  He  filled me  till I
overflowed, kindled and inflamed
     We  gasped  and giggled and sighed and soared and sang  and laughed and
cried and leaped and flew and
     dazzled and burst, exploding fireworks, surging fire
     We rustled and sighed. And died. And hugged and held on.
     He was still within me. Sweet squeeze, warmth. I
     held him tight. I loved the feel of him, the taste of him. I
     loved the smell of him the sweaty sense of masculine
     man. Musky. I melted, under him, around him.
     Loved him.
     * * *
     January night. Cold wind. We pulled the last shade.
     There was just one more thing. I had to make it complete.
     "Dan," I whispered. "I have to tell you something."
     "What?" In the pink light, his face was glowing.
     I took a breath. "I I'm not exactly a virgin."
     "Of course not," he grinned. "We just took care of that."
     "No, that's not what I meant. I wasn't a virgin
     before."
     "Oh?"
     "I mean " I forced myself to go on. I had to tell
     him everything or it wouldn't be any good. "I was only a
     'technical virgin.' I'd never done it with a boy before.
     You were the first."
     "Yes, of  course," he  said quietly. "I  should have realized. You only
did it with ..."
     "Only Donna and Diana. I mean, I only did it
     with myself. When I was Donna, I "
     He cut me off gently, "I know."
     "Is it all right?" I had to know. "You're not disappointed in me?"
     "Of course not. I understand."
     "I only did it because I was lonely."
     "No," he said slowly, shaking his head. "You wanted
     to do it and you enjoyed it. You did it because you're the
     only person you can trust, the  only person you feel completely at ease
with, and you wanted to express your feelings and your affection. You did it
because you loved yourself"
     "I yes, you're right." I couldn't deny it.
     "Diana," he whispered. "Think a minute. About
     me. I'm both Don and Dan. I'm the male reflection of
     you."
     His eyes were bright.
     "Did you ?" I couldn't finish the question.
     But he knew what I meant. He nodded. "We did I did."
     I thought about that. Dan. Diane.
     Dan. Diane.
     Boy, Girl.
     Same. Person.
     And suddenly I was crying. Crying, sobbing into his arms. "Oh, Dan, I'm
so sorry "
     He stroked my hair. "It's all right, sweetheart.
     There's nothing to be sorry about, nothing at all."
     "I'm so stupid "
     "No, you're not. You were smart enough to come
     looking for me, weren't you?"
     "Oh, no I didn't know what I was looking for. I  just didn't want to be
alone anymore."
     "Neither did I. I didn't know what I wanted either,
     but you're just perfect "
     "So are you " I wiped at the tears on his chest. I
     didn't know what I was feeling anymore. I felt ripped up
     and ripped open. I felt so vulnerable. And at the same
     time, I felt everything was all right too. He wasn't me.
     But he was. And I couldn't get enough  of him. He tasted good. Was I in
love  or just  infatuated? Or was I trying to prove  something to  myself? I
don't know.  But he was the first man I ever  felt I could trust.  I started
crying again, I don't know  why. "Hold me, Dan, hold me tight. Don't let go.
I want you inside me again."
     "Oh, yes, baby. Yes, yes. Yes Oh, Danny, I love you."
     "Diane, I love you too!"
     * * *
     The sensuousness of sex. The maleness of me. The femaleness of her. The
physical sensations of strength and warmth. Flesh against smooth flesh. Firm
resistance, supple yielding.
     Sex  with  Diane  is different  from  any kind  of sex  I have ever had
before.  There  is  something  boyish  about   her  that  I  find  strangely
attractive, yet deliciously feminine. I put  my  arms  around her and she is
neither  male  nor  female,  but a little  of each.  And  there is something
feminine in me that she responds to. (Perhaps it is a quality that is common
to both of us and independent of physical gender. An androgynous quality. My
body may be male or it may be female, but I am neither I am me.)
     I keep  thinking of  Danny,  and it  is hard  not to  make  comparisons
between the two of them, even though  I know it is unfair to both. But Danny
and I (Don and I) have been through so much together,  have meant so much to
each other.
     Diane lacks Danny's intensity (yes), but Danny
     could  never  match her sensuality. The sheer  physical  delight of her
body, the perfect matching of male to female, the tenderness of her response
to mine; all of these combine to make sex with her an experience that is new
to me.  I  delight in being  with her, in  being  inside of her, just as she
delights in opening to me. I admit it, I am  fascinated by her  body, by the
femaleness of her, the geography, the open depths  that I plunge into, again
and again. ... I lose all consciousness. All that exists is the feeling, the
incredible wallow of emotion and silly talk and discovery after discovery. I
know what is happening to me and I don't  care. I admit  it  happily. I have
become a horny little schoolboy, not just discovering  sex but  inventing it
fresh and new, as if it had never existed before.
     Well, it hasn't. Not for us.
     I  see  her as  something special. Not  a new person, no,  but  another
reflection  of myself. Another Danny perhaps and in the most different guise
of all. Yes. Danny with a vagina.
     Think of her as he.  It is the quality  of Danny-ness I see in him that
is  so intriguing, so  independent  of sexuality. There  is a Danny  trapped
inside that female body screaming  to  let me in. Just as  there  is a Diane
inside me.
     I cannot help but like it.
     We enjoy our physical roles as we have never en-
     joyed them before; at least I know I do; but deep inside is
     a sense of loss. I think I loved my Danny more. And I
     think I know why.
     With  Danny, the physical forms were identical; the mental roles  could
be  arbitrary. It  was just me and him. We  could choose our roles, we could
take turns, we could be pansexual. I  didn't have to be male, I didn't  have
to be dominant. With Don I could be weak, with Don I could cry.
     With Diane, it is different.
     I feel limited.
     And in  a sense, I am.  I am  limited to the  role given me by fate, by
gender. My  sex is the  one thing  about myself  I cannot  alter. Our bodies
determine and define our roles  at least  to the extent that I must be a man
to her woman. Despite all the  different roles  either of us  are capable of
playing  for each other, ultimately  we can  only return to the ones already
assigned us. (If this is Danny, then Danny is the only woman here. There are
no tradeoffs  anymore.  Danny  has limited  our roles.)  There is  no  other
relationship for either of us. At least, that's how I perceive it.
     The  relationship is not unenjoyable. Indeed, it is the most  joyous of
all. But still, there is that sense of loss . . .
     * * *
     We have been together how long?
     Months, it must be.
     We have a home on the edge of prehistory, a villa on the shores of what
someday will be called Mission Bay. It's a sprawling  mansion on a  deserted
coast, a self-contained  unit;  it has to be, because we brought it back  to
the year 100,000 B.C. A honeymoon cottage for the outcasts of time.
     The sea  washes  blue across  yellow sands.  Seagulls wheel  and  dive,
cawing raucously.  The sun  blazes  bright  in  an azure  sky. And  the only
footprints are ours. We live a strange kind of life in our timeless world.
     Loneliness is unknown to us; yet neither  of us ever lacks for privacy.
We see each other only when  both  of us want it.  Never  can  either  force
himself on the other. That's part of being a time traveler.
     I  cannot journey to her future,  nor  can she to  mine. When we bounce
forward, I am  in Danny's  world, she  is  in Diane's. The only place we can
meet is in the past, because only the past is unaffected by both of us.
     Should either of us need to be alone, we simply
     bounce to a different point in time. (I have seen the ruins
     of this mansion standing forlorn and alone, swept by the
     sands and washed by the sea, while the sun lies orange in
     the west. These walls will be dust by the time of Christ.)
     Returning, I am  in her arms  again.  I am  there because  I want to be
there.
     She  vanishes  too,  but only momentarily;  she returns in  a different
dress and hair style. I know she has been gone longer than I have seen,  but
I  know she comes back to me with her desire at its fullest. I open my arms.
We  have  never had  an argument.  It is impossible when either  of you  can
disappear at the instant  of displeasure. All of our moments are happy ones.
Life with Diane is almost idyllic.
     Almost.
     Today she told me she was pregnant.
     And I'm  not sure  how I feel about that.  There is a sense  of joy and
wonder in me  but I  am also disturbed. Jealous that something else, someone
else, can  make her glow  with such happiness.  The look on her  face as she
told me I have seen that intensity only in her climax.
     I know  I shouldn't  be, but I am bothered that  I cannot give her such
prolonged intensity of joy. And I am bothered that someone else is inside of
her, someone other than me.
     And yet, I'm happy. Happy  for her, happy for me. I don't know why, but
I know that this baby must be something special.
     It must be.
     * * *
     The baby proves something that I have suspected
     for a long time. My life is out of control. I am no longer
     the master of my own destiny.
     There is little that I can do with this situation. Except run from it.
     Or can I . . . ?
     * * *
     Being pregnant is a special kind of time.
     Within me there is life, helpless and small; I can feel
     it move. I can feel it grow. I wait eagerly for the day of its
     entrance into the world so I can hold it and touch it, love
     it and feed it, hold it to my breasts.
     This is a special baby. It will be. I know it will be. I am filled with
wonder. I see my body in the  mirror, swollen and beautiful. I run  my hands
across  my bulging stomach in  awed  delight.  This is something Donna could
never have  given me. (I miss her though; I wish she were here to share this
moment. She is, of course. She will be here when I need her.)
     Oh, there is discomfort too, more than I had  expected the difficulties
in  bending  over  and  walking,  the  back  pains and  the troubles in  the
bathroom, the loginess and the nausea but it's worth it. When I think of the
small beautiful wonder which will soon burst into my life,  the whole  world
turns pink and giggly. I feel that I'm on the threshold of something big.
     * * *
     The baby was born this morning.
     It is a boy. A beautiful, handsome, healthy boy.
     I am delighted. And disappointed. I had wanted a girl.
     A girl ...
     * * *
     In  2013  the  first  genetic-control drug was put on  the  market.  It
allowed a man and woman to choose the sex of their unborn child.
     In 2035 in-utero genetic tailoring became practical.
     The  technique  allowed a woman to determine which of several available
chromosomes in the egg and sperm cells would function as dominants. The only
condition  was that  the  tailoring must be done within the  first month  of
pregnancy.
     In  2110 extra-utero  genetic  tailoring was  widespread.  The  process
allowed the parent  to program the shape  of his offspring. A computer-coded
germ  plasma  could be  built,  link  by amino-acid  link, implanted into  a
genetically  neutral egg,  then carefully cultured and developed, eventually
to be implanted inside a womb, either real or artificial.
     I do not want to design a whole child. I just  want a baby girl. I want
her  identical to me. I  will have to go back and see Diane before she  gets
pregnant, but that should be the easy part.
     I will not tell Dan this. I  think  this  is a decision  that I have to
make myself. The baby is mine and so is the decision. My son will be a girl.
     * * *
     The baby was born this morning.
     It is a girl. A beautiful, pink little girl.
     I am delighted. And disappointed. I had wanted a boy.
     A boy . . .
     * * *
     I will  not tell Diane this. I think this is a decision that I have  to
make myself (And there are ways that it can be  done so that she  will never
know. I know  when the  child  was  conceived and I know which drugs to take
beforehand.  I will  have to  either  replace Danny,  or  make him take  the
injection, but she will never suspect.) My daughter will be a son.
     * * *
     Why do I keep coming back?
     I get on her nerves, she gets on mine. We argue
     about the little things; we make a point of fighting with
     each other. Why?
     Last night we were lying in bed,  side  by side, just lying there,  not
doing  anything, just  listening  to each other breathe  and staring at  the
ceiling. She said, "Danny?"
     I said, "Yes?"
     She said, "It's over, isn't it?"
     I nodded. "Yes."
     She  turned to me then and slid her arms around me. Her cheeks were wet
too.
     I held her tight. "I'm sorry," I said. "I wanted it to work so much."
     She sniffed. "Me too."
     We  held on to each other for a  long time. After a  while I shifted my
position, then she shifted  hers. She rolled over on  her back and I slid on
top  of her. She was so slender,  so intense.  We moved together in silence,
hearing only the  sound of our breathing. We remembered and  pretended, each
of us lost in our own thoughts, and wishing that it hadn't come to this.
     The sheets were cool in the night and she was warm
     and silky. If only it could be like this all the time. . . .
     But it couldn't. It was over. We both knew it.
     * * *
     I'm not going back anymore.
     Whatever there was between us is gone. We both know it. The bad moments
outweigh the good. There is no joy left.
     Besides, she isn't there all the time anyway.
     I have brought my  son forward  with me. I will find him  a home in the
twentieth  century. And I will watch over him. I will be very careful not to
accidentally excise him. He is all I have left.
     It's  not without regret that I  do this. I miss my Diane terribly. But
something  happened to  us. The  magic disappeared, the  joy  faded, and the
delight we had found in each other ceased to exist.
     The last night... we made love mechanically, each seeking  only our own
physical release. Somehow, my feelings  had become more important to me than
hers. I wonder why?
     Was it because I knew that I would never could never experience it from
her side? Perhaps. . . .
     Love with Diane was . . . sad. I could see the  me in her, but  I could
never be that me.
     And that meant that she  wasn't really me. Not really. She was somebody
else.
     I  couldn't communicate  with  her.  We used  the  same  words, but our
meanings were different. (They must have been different. She wasn't me.)
     I'm sorry, Diane. I wanted it to work. I did. But I couldn't reach you.
I couldn't reach you at all. So.
     I'll go back to my Danny. He'll understand. He's been waiting patiently
for so long. . . .
     * * *
     Oh God, I feel alone.
     * * *
     Grow old along with me!
     The best is yet to be,
     The last of life, for which the first was made .
     Robert Browning
     Rabbi Ben Ezra, from stanza 1
     * * *
     It's been years  since I last added  anything to this journal. I wonder
how old I am now. I really have no way of telling.
     Forty?  Fifty? Sixty?  I'm not  sure. The neo-procaine treatments  I've
been taking in 2101 seem to retard all physical evidence of  aging. I  could
still be  in  my late thirties. But I doubt it.  I've done so  much. Seen so
much.
     I've  been   living  linearly   semi-linearly.  Instead   of   bouncing
haphazardly around time,  I've  set up a home  in 1956,  and  as  it travels
forward through time at its stately day-to-day pace, I am traveling with it.
     Oh, I'm still using the future and the past, but not as before.
     Before, I was young, foolish.  I was like a barbarian at the banquet. I
gulped and guzzled; I ate without tasting. I  rushed through each experience
like  a  tourist trying to  see twenty-one European cities  in two weeks and
enjoying none of them.
     Now, I'm a gourmet.  I savor each day. I  taste the robustness of life,
but not so hurriedly as  to lose its  delicate overtones.  I've given up the
hectic seventies for the quiet fifties the fifties are as early as I dare go
without sacrificing the  cultural comforts I desire. They are  truly a magic
moment  in time, a teeterboard suspended  between the  wistful past  and the
soaring future.
     * * *
     I have not  abandoned the use of the timebelt. I use it  for amusement.
(The lady who cut  me off on the freeway this morning. She suddenly had four
flat tires.) And justice.
     The man who walked into  a schoolyard and started firing  his rifle. He
thought  he had cleaned it,  but somehow a wad of wet modeling clay had been
jammed up the barrel. The gun  exploded in  his  face. (I like that trick, I
use it a lot. There are an awful lot of exploding guns in the world.)
     I read the news every day. I  don't like seeing tragedies. I don't like
plane crashes and murders and  kidnappings and  bizarre accidents.  So, they
don't happen anymore. I go and I see and I fix.
     Planes  that  might have crashed get delayed for odd reasons. One of my
insurance companies watchdogs  the airlines, demanding  fixes of things that
might not be discovered until after a plane goes down.
     Murderers  and  kidnappers  disappear.  Missing   children  are  found.
Terrorists  have their bombs blow up in their faces. Rapists never mind, you
don't want to know. Serial killers never  get a chance to start. Devastating
building  fires don't  happen  without warning. People who start  accidental
forest fires get caught. Famous actors do not die in car crashes. Great rock
stars don't  lose their  talent to drugs. Sometimes it's tricky, but I  like
the challenges. I like making things better. And I never leave any evidence.
     I can't fix it all, but I do my part.
     The odd thing is, I don't do it because I care. I can't
     care. These people aren't real to me. They're pieces on
     the playing board. I just do it because it satisfies my
     sense of rightness.
     Because  it makes me feel a  little bit  more like a  god  to  be doing
something useful.
     And because I want my son to have a reason to respect me.
     * * *
     The  fifties  are  a  great time to live. They are  close enough to the
nations adventurous past to still bear the same  strident idealism, yet they
also  bear  the  shape  of  the  developing  future  and the promise  of the
technological wonders to come. Transistor radios are still marvelous devices
and color television  is a delicious miracle, but blue skies are commonplace
and the wind blows with a freshness from the north that  hints at  something
wild and suggests that the city  is only  a  temporary  illusion,  a  mirage
glowing against a western desert.
     Brave highways  crisscross the state  and (I thank myself again) with a
minimum of billboards. The roads are  still new; they are the foundation for
the great freeways of the future. This is the threshold of that era,  but it
is  still too soon for  them  to be overburdened with traffic and  ugliness.
Driving is still an adventure.
     The hills around Los Angeles are still uncut and
     green with the city's own special color of vegetation. The
     dark trees hover, the dry grass smell permeates the cool
     days. The fifties are a peaceful time, a quiet sleeping
     time between two noisy bursts of years, a blue and white
     time filled with sweet yellow days, innocent music, and
     bright popcorn memories . . .
     * * *
     It is 1961 as I write this. The fifties have  ended and  their magic is
fading quickly. A young President has stamped a new dream on the nation  and
the frenetic stamp and click of  the seventies can already be heard rustling
in the distance. The years are impatient; they tumble  over each other  like
children,  each rushing eagerly  for its  turn  and  each in  turn  tumbling
inexorably into the  black whirlpool of forevertime lost. Well, not  forever
lost, not to me.
     I have watched the fading of the fifties three times now, and perhaps I
shall return again for a fourth. Perhaps . . .
     * * *
     Last week, in  a mood of  wistfulness  for times lost, I went  jaunting
again. I went back to the  past, to  the house  where Diane and  I lived for
such a short, short, long time.
     One of the  walls had collapsed and the  wind blew through the rooms. A
fine layer  of clean, dry  dust  covered everything.  The pillars and drapes
stood alone on the cold plain.
     My own  doing, of course.  I  had not  come back far enough, but I  was
afraid if I journeyed too far back, I would see her again.
     And yet I do want to see her again.
     Just a little bit farther back . . .
     * * *
     And this time,  the  house  was  not  ruined. Just abandoned. It  stood
alone, empty and waiting.  My footsteps echoed  hollowly  across  the marble
floors.
     Was she here? Had she been here at all?
     There was no way of knowing.
     I found  my way to her  rooms. Despite the acrid sunlight, her chambers
were cold. I opened closets at random, pulled out drawers. Many of her silks
were still here. Forgotten? Or just discarded?
     A shimmering dress, ice-cream pastel and deep forest-green I pressed my
nose into  the  sleek  shining material, seeking a long-remembered  smell, a
sweetlemony fragrance with an undertone  of musk. The clean smell of a woman
. . .
     Her smell is there, but faint. I dropped the  dress. I am touched  with
incredible sadness.
     And then a sound, a step
     I ran for the other room, calling.
     Perhaps, perhaps, just a little bit farther back.
     The day after the last day I was there. So many years ago . . .
     * * *
     The air conditioner hums. The house is alive again.
     And my Diane is  beautiful, even prettier than I remembered. Her auburn
hair shimmers in the sunlight. She  moves with the grace  of a goddess,  and
she  wears even less, a filmy thing of lace  and  silk. I can see the  sweet
pinkness of her skin.
     She  hasn't  seen  me  yet.  I  am here in the shadows, deep within the
house. It has been too long. It hurts too much to watch.
     Abruptly, puzzlement  clouds  her face. She  comes  rushing in from the
patio. "Danny? Is that you?" Eagerness. "Are you back?"
     And then she saw me.
     "Danny? What's  happened? Are  you all  right? You look"  and then  she
realized "old."
     "Diane," I blurted. "I came back because I loved
     you too much to stay away anymore."
     She was too startled  to answer. She dropped her eyes and whispered, "I
loved you  too, Danny."  Then she looked  at me again. "But you're not Danny
anymore. You're someone else."
     "But I am Danny " I insisted.
     She shook her head. "You're not the same one."
     I took a step forward. I reached as if to embrace her.
     She took a quick step back. "No, please, don't."
     "Diane, what's the matter?"
     "Danny " There were tears running down her
     cheeks. "Danny, why did you stay away so long? Look
     what you've done to yourself. You've gotten old. You're
     not my Danny anymore. You're you're not young." She
     sniffled and wiped quickly. "I came back, Dan. I couldn't
     stay away either. I came back to wait for you and hope
     that you'd come back too. But look at you. You waited too
     long to come back."
     "Diane, you loved me once. I'm still me. I'm still
     Danny. I have the same  memories. Remember how you cried in my arms the
last night we were together? Remember how  we used to fix dinner together in
the kitchen? Remember the "
     "Stop. Oh,  stop. Please  " And suddenly she was in my arms. Crying. "I
loved you so much. So  much.  But you went away. How could you how could you
stay away so long? I thought you loved me too."
     "Oh, sweetheart,  yes. I did. I do. I love you  too much.  That's why I
came back " I held her tightly to me. She was so warm.
     "But why not sooner? Why did you stay so long?"
     "I  was stupid.  Forgive me. Let me be  with you,  please.  That's  all
that's  important." My  hands could feel the tender silkiness of her skin. I
remembered  how  I used to  caress  her and  I slid into the  motions almost
automatically. Her  breasts were soft. Her hips were boyish. Her skin was so
smooth
     "What are you doing?" She made as if to pull away.
     "Oh, baby, baby, please "
     "Oh, no not now, I couldn't. Please don't make
     me."
     "Diane, I still love you " The youthfulness of her body . . .
     "Oh, no. It's only words. You're only saying  them as if they're  some,
kind of  magic charm to  get me  into  bed." She backed away, wiping at  her
eyes. "I'm sorry, Danny, I really did love you, but I can't anymore. You've"
she hesitated  here  "changed. You're someone else.  You  don't  really care
about me anymore, do you?" She grabbed a robe and pulled it  about her. "No,
don't come any closer. Just  listen a moment. There's a poem. It goes, 'Grow
old  along with  me, the best is yet to  be,  the last of life for which the
first was made . . .' I had thought hoped that was  how it would be for us."
Her  voice caught. "But you've ruined  it. It only took you a day to destroy
both of our lives."
     "No." I shook my head. "It didn't take a day. It took years. Diane, I'm
sorry! Couldn't we ... ?"
     But she was gone. She had fled into the bedroom.
     "Diane "
     And then the gentle pop! of air rushing in  to fill an empty space told
me how completely she was gone. How far she-had fled.
     * * *
     Oh God. What have I done?
     I could try again. All I need to do is go back just a little earlier. I
wouldn't make the same mistake this time.
     I want my Diane. I must have my Diane.
     I will have my Diane.
     * * *
     He's tried to talk me out of it, but I'm not going to let him stop me.
     I know why he wants to keep me from going back.
     He's jealous of her. Because she'll have me and he won't.
     But his  way is wrong. I know that now. A  man  should  have a woman. A
real man needs a real woman.
     Diane, sweet Diane. Please don't reject me again. I'm not old. I'm not.
And you're so young . . .
     * * *
     Oh God, why?
     Am I really that old and ugly?
     No. I can't be. I can't be.
     Do I dare go back and try again?
     * * *
     And again he tries to talk me out of it.
     Damn him anyway!
     * * *
     Somewhere there  is a  Dan who is  getting older  and older.  And  he's
working his way back through time, chasing Diane.
     And  each time Diane is that much younger and he's that much older. The
gulf between them widens.
     Oh, my poor, poor Dan. But he won't listen. He just won't listen.
     I'm  afraid to think  of where he is heading. He'll work  his way  back
through  all the days of Diane, and every  day  she'll reject him. And  Dan,
poor Dan, he'll experience them all. Each time  she rejects  him will be the
last day she'll  spend in  the fading past. So every  day he'll  go back one
more day, and every day he'll be too old for her
     Until  he gets back  to  the very  first day. And then she'll  be gone.
There won't be any Diane at all. Just a memory.
     And, in  the end, he'll  be there waiting for her even before the first
Danny. Waiting patiently for her  first appearance, trying to re-create  his
lost  love. But she won't show up. No, she'll have warned  herself. Don't go
back in  time looking  for  a variant Diane. A grizzled old  ghoul waits for
you. No, she'll never come back at all. Poor Dan. Poor, poor Dan.
     * * *
     And yet, the one I feel sorriest  for  is  young Dan.  He'll never know
what he's missing.
     Because, when he gets there, there won't be anyone there at all.
     He'll never have a Diane. Ever. Old Dan will have chased them all away.
     * * *
     I wish I could change it all. I wish I could.
     But I can't.
     Dammit.
     Now I know what it's like to have an indelible past
     one that can't be erased and  changed  at will. It's frustrating.  It's
maddening. And it makes me wish I had been more careful and thoughtful.
     But when  you can  erase  your mistakes  in a minute,  you tend to  get
careless.
     Until you make one you can't erase.
     I  feel uneasy because  I think  I didn't try hard enough, and  yet,  I
can't think of anything  I didn't do. I tried everything I could do  to stop
old Danny.
     But it wasn't enough, and now  I'm  left with the results of what  he's
done.
     We're all left with those results.
     I could find young Danny in a minute, and  I could  warn him to go back
to Diane right away, before it's too late, before  he gets too  old;  but it
wouldn't  do any good. All he  would find  would be old  Danny, sitting  and
waiting. Sitting and waiting.
     Diane  is gone. Forever. There's no way we can reach her. Old Danny has
seen to that.
     And there's no other place to look for her.
     Any time. Any place. Any when that Diane might
     have thought to visit, there's an old Danny. Sitting and
     waiting.
     I'll never see my Diane again.
     (Can I content myself with Danny? My Danny? I'll
     have to.)
     * * *
     And yet, I wonder . . .
     Perhaps somewhere there is an older Diane, one who has  aged like me. .
. .
     I wonder how I might find her.
     Ah, but that way lies old Danny and madness.
     It's not the answer.
     * * *
     There is a party at my house, the big place in 1999.
     A  hundred and fifty-three  acres  of forest, lake, and meadow. I don't
know how many me's there are. The number varies.
     The party is spread out across the  whole summer. Several days in April
and May, quite  a few in June  and July,  and also some  in  August. I think
there may be a  few in  September too. Generally it starts about ten  in the
morning and lasts until I don't know when.  It seems  as if there's always a
constant number of Dans and Dons arriving and leaving.
     It's  like   Grand  Central  Terminal,  with  passengers  arriving  and
departing all the time, to and from destinations  all over the world.  Only,
all  the passengers are all me and all the destinations  are the same place,
only years removed.
     The younger Dans  show up in May and June. They like  the swimming  and
water-skiing and motorcycling. They like the company of each other.
     I prefer July. Most of the younger versions have faded by then. They're
too nervous for me and they remind me too much of Diane. They're too active,
I can't  keep up  with them,  and  sometimes I  think  they're talking  on a
different plane. I prefer the men of July; they're more my age, they're more
comfortable, and they're more moderate. We still  do a lot  of swimming  and
riding; I remember, I used to enjoy that very much; but  most of the time we
just like to take it easy.
     * * *
     I  don't  like  the men of  August. I've been there  a  few times,  and
they're  too sedentary. No, they're too old. They just sit around and drink.
And talk. And drink some more. Some of them look positively wasted.
     Actually, its the men of late August  I really  don't like. The men of
early August aren't that bad. It's just the old ones that bother me. Some of
them are filthy. Their minds, their mouths, their bodies. They want to touch
me too much. And they  call me their  Danny, their  little boy.  (Several of
them even seem senile.)
     The men of early August are all right. They make
     me a little uncomfortable, but lately I've been visiting
     them more and more. Partly because it seems as if the
     younger men are taking over July and partly because I'm
     in August enough now to compensate for the older ones.
     Several of  them  are very  nice  though. Very understanding. We've had
some interesting  talks.  (And that  surprises me  too  that there are still
things I  can  talk about with myself. I  had thought I would have exhausted
all subjects of conversation long ago. Apparently not.)
     In the evenings we go indoors (there's a pool inside too) and listen to
music  (I  have  several  different  listening  rooms)  or  play  poker,  or
billiards, or chess.
     When  I get tired (and  when I want to sleep alone), there's a chart on
the  wall indicating which days and which beds are  still unused. (The chart
covers a  span of several years. Well, I have to sleep somewhere  .  .  .) I
make a mark in  any  space  still blank and that closes  that  date.  Then I
bounce to that point in time. (Generally  I try and use those days in serial
order. I  have  servants  in the  house then and it  wouldn't do  to confuse
them.)
     I'm  still doing most of my living  in the fifties, but when I'm in the
mood for a party and that's been more  and more lately I know  where to find
one. The poker games, for  instance,  are marathons. Or maybe  it's only one
poker game that's been  going  on since the  party started.  Whenever I  get
tired and want to quit, there's always a later me waiting for the seat.
     But my endurance isn't what  it used to be. I get tired too  fast these
days. That's why I find the men of August so restful.
     * * *
     On August 13 a very strange thing happens. Has happened. Will happen.
     I'd known  about  it  for some time  that is, I'd  known that something
happens, because I don't attend the party linearly.  I stay in a range of  a
week or two and bounce around within it. There's more variety that way.
     After  August 13  the  mood  of the  party is  changed. Subdued. Almost
morbid. Most of me seem to know why, but they don't refer to it very often.
     The last time something like  this happened was just before I met Diane
when all  the  other versions of  me had  disappeared. I knew something  was
about to happen, but I didn't know what until I got there.
     I have that same kind of feeling now. Too many of
     the older me's are acting strange. Very strange. The more
     I hang around them, the more I see it.
     I'm going to have to investigate August 13.
     * * *
     Is this it?
     Three or four of the youngest Dannys are here.
     They're in a quieter mood than usual though, almost grim.
     A couple of us  frowned at them they really weren't  welcome here; they
should have stayed in their own part  of the  party; but most of the rest of
us tried at  least to  tolerate them,  hoping that  they would lose interest
soon and go back to their own time. "They're here to gape at us," complained
one of me.
     "Well, some of us are gaping right back," snapped another.
     "God," whispered a third. "Were we ever really that young?"
     And then there was a pop! as another me appeared.
     It  was  a  common  enough  sound.  Somebody  was  always  appearing or
disappearing  at any  given moment. But this one was  different. A hush fell
over  the room.  I turned and saw two of me reaching to support a  third who
had  suddenly  appeared  between  them. He was  pale  and gray.  He was half
slumped and holding his heart.
     * * *
     Apparently the jump-shock had been too much for
     him; that sudden  burst of temporal energy that jolts you sharply every
time  you bounce  through  time. They helped  him to a chair.  Somebody  was
already  there with a  glass  of water, somebody who  had been  through this
before, I  guess. And the younger Dans were murmuring among themselves;  was
this what they had come to see?
     "Are you all right, old fellow?" someone asked the newcomer.
     He grunted. He was old. He was very old. His
     hands were thin and weak. His forearms were parchment-covered bones, so
were his legs. The skin of his  face  hung in folds and he  was mottled with
liver spots. "Aaah," he gasped. "What day is it?"
     "August thirteenth."
     "Thirteenth?" Slowly he pulled  his  features into a grimace. "Then I'm
too soon. It's the twenty-third I want. I must have made the wrong setting."
"Take it easy. Just relax."
     The oldster did so.  It wasn't a  matter  of recognizing the  wisdom of
their words; he simply  knew that  he didn't  have to hurry. A timebelt is a
very forgiving device. Besides, he was too exhausted to move.
     "What were  you  looking for?"  asked one  of the  younger  Dans. (They
weren't me. I  didn't remember  ever  having done  this before, so they must
have been variations from another timeline.)
     The  fragile  gray  man  peered at them,  abruptly  frowning. "No,"  he
croaked. "Too young. Too young. Got to talk to someone older. Those are just
just children."
     Some of us shouldered the younger ones aside  then. "What  is it?" they
asked. (Others hung back; had they heard it  before? The room seemed emptier
now. There were less than ten of me remaining. Several of us had left.)
     'Too tired," he gasped. "Came to warn you, but I'm too tired  to  talk.
Let me rest ..."
     "Hey, have a heart, you guys. Don't press him."
     That was  one  of  the  quieter  ones of  us. I  recognized  him by his
business  suit;  he  had  been hanging  back  and just watching most  of the
evening. "Take  him  in the  bedroom and let him lie  down for a while."  He
shoved through and picked up the frail old man God,  was  he that light? and
carried him  off to the downstairs bedroom. "You can talk to him  later," he
promised.
     Out of curiosity, I followed. I helped him put the old man to bed, then
he led me out. "You know what's going on, don't you?" I asked him.
     He didn't answer, just got himself a chair and a
     book, and stationed himself in front of the door. "It might
     be too soon for you to worry about this," he said to me.
     "Why don't you go back to your party?" He opened the
     book and proceeded to ignore me.
     There was nothing else to do, so I shrugged and
     went back into the other room. A little later a couple of
     other me's tried to see how the old man was doing, but
     the business-suit-me wouldn't let them. He sat outside
     the room all night.
     The party was considerably dampened by this incident.  Most of the Dans
faded away  and the house became strangely deserted. Here  and there, one or
two of me were  picking  up dirty glasses and empty  potato-chip dishes, but
they only served to heighten  the emptiness.  They were like caretakers in a
mausoleum.
     I  bounced forward to  the morning, but the  bedroom was  empty and the
business suit was gone too.
     So I bounced back an hour. Then another. This time
     he was there, still outside the door, still reading. When I
     appeared, he glanced up without interest. "Hmm? Is it
     that late already?" He opened his belt to check the time.
     I started to ask him something, but he cut me off.
     "Wait a minute." He was resetting his belt. Before I
     could stop him he had tapped it twice and vanished.
     I opened the bedroom door; the old man had vanished too.
     My curiosity was too much. I bounced back fifteen minutes. Then fifteen
minutes more. He was  sleeping  quietly on the bed. His breath rasped slowly
in and out.
     I  felt  no  guilt  as  I  woke  him;  he'd  had  more  than six  hours
undisturbed. I wanted to know what was so important. He came awake suddenly.
"Where am I?" he demanded.
     "August fourteenth," I told him.
     That seemed to satisfy him, but he frowned at me in suspicion. "What do
you want? Why'd you wake me?" "What was supposed to happen last night? "Last
night?"
     "The thirteenth. You came to warn us of something. ..." I prompted.
     "The thirteenth? That was a mistake. I wanted the twenty-third."
     "Why? What happens on the twenty-third?"
     He peered at me again. "You're  too  young." He pushed  himself off the
bed and stood unsteadily. And tapped his belt and vanished.
     Damn.
     * * *
     Naturally, I went straight to the twenty-third.
     My old man was there, of course. A dozen times over. Wrinkled, gnarled,
and white. Their hands hovered in  the air,  or scrabbled  across their laps
like spiders. They clawed, they plucked.
     But not all  of them  were that old. There were  one  or two  that even
looked familiar.
     "Don?" I asked one who was wearing a faded shirt.
     If I remembered correctly, he had gotten that ketchup  stain on it just
a few hours ago at the poker table of the thirteenth.
     He  looked at me, startled. "Dan?  You shouldn't be here. You're  still
too  young.  I mean, let us take care of this  for now. You  go back to  the
party."
     "Huh?" I tried to draw him aside. "Just tell me what's going on."
     "I can't," he whispered. "It wouldn't be a good idea "
     Abruptly, a familiar business  suit was standing before us.  Was it the
same one? Probably. "I'll take over," he said to Don.
     "Thanks," Don said, and fled in relief.
     I looked at the other. "What's going on here?"
     He looked at the  clock in his  timebelt. "In a few more minutes you'll
find  out." He took me by the arm and  led me across the room. "Stand  here.
I'll  stay  right  by  you the whole  time.  Don't  say anything.  Don't  do
anything. Just watch, this time around."
     I shut my mouth and watched.
     The  air  in the room was  heavy.  The few conversations still going on
were  the  merest  of  whispers.  The  supposedly  silent  hum  of  the  air
conditioner was deafening.  Almost all of  these wrinkled faces, pale faces,
were deathly.  The  few  tan ones stood out like spotlights. They  were grim
too.
     The old men, their eyes were like holes in lampshade faces, but nothing
glowed within. Their expressions were bleary. Uniform. Frightened.
     And there were so many of them. More and more; the room was filling up.
This house, so often a happy place, was  now a cloister house of the infirm.
The laughter of youth had shaded into the garish cackling  of senility. What
had  been a firm  grip on life had degenerated into a plucking and desperate
claw, scratching on the edge of terror.
     Who were these men why could I not accept what
     I was seeing? And what drove them together here?
     How old am I? (And here is the fear ) I don't know. I don't know.
     Am  I one of the tan faces  or the pale ones? Does my skin hang in pale
folds, bleached by age? (I touch my cheek hesitantly.)
     As the air pops! softly
     and the body that crumples to the floor is me.
     * * *
     Of course.
     It was the jump-shock that killed him. Will kill me.
     He  was  old.  The oldest  of them  all.  (But  not  so old  as  to  be
distinguishable from the rest. He could have been any of them. Us.)
     There was silence in the room. Then a soft shad-
     owed sigh, almost a sound of relief, as too many ancient
     lungs released their burden of breaths held too long.
     They'd been  expecting this, waiting  for  it eagerly? the curiosity of
the morbid draws them again and again until the room is crowded with fearful
old men. Each praying that, somehow,  this time  it  won't happen.  And each
terrified that it will.
     And perhaps perhaps each is most afraid that the next  time he comes to
this moment, he will not be a witness, but the guest of honor himself. . . .
     * * *
     Two of the younger men (younger? They were older than  I or were they?)
moved to the body. It was still warm. One of them clicked the belt open; the
last  setting on  it was  5:30, March 16,  1975. (Meaningless, of course. He
could have come from there,  or it could have  been a date held  in storage.
There was no way of knowing.)
     They took  charge efficiently,  as if  they had done  this before. Many
times before. (And in a way, they had.)  They slung the  body between  them,
tapped their belts and vanished.
     "What're they going to do with him?" I asked the
     Don in the business suit,
     "Take him back to his own time, to a place where he can be buried."
     "Where?"
     He shook his head. "Uh-uh. When the time comes youll know. Right now it
wouldn't be a good idea." "But the funeral "
     "Listen to  me."  He  gripped my  arm  firmly.  "You cannot  go  to the
funeral. None of us can." "But why?"
     "There'll  be others there," he said. "Others. A  man should attend his
own funeral only once. Do you understand?"
     After I thought about it awhile, I guessed I did.
     * * *
     As for me . . .
     I'm almost afraid to use the timebelt now.
     * * *
     But now I know who I am.
     I guess I've known for some time. I'm not sure when
     I realized; it was a gradual dawning, not a sudden flash of aha. I just
sort of slipped  into it as if it had been waiting for  me all my  life. I'd
been heading toward it without ever once stopping to consider how or why.
     And even if I had, would it have changed anything?
     I don't think so.
     At first  I tried to ignore the events of August 23. I went back to the
earlier days of the party, but burdened  as I was with the knowledge of what
lurked only a few weeks ahead, I could not recapture the mood. (And that was
sensed by the others; I was  shunned as being an irritable and temperamental
old variant. Nor  was I  the  only one; there  were several of  us. We put a
damper on the party wherever we went.)
     For a while I brooded  by myself. For a while I was terribly scared. In
fact, I still am.
     I don't want to  die. But I've seen  my own dead body. I've seen myself
in the act of dying. Death comes black and hard, rushing down on me from the
future, with no possible chance of  escape. I wake up cold and shuddering in
the middle of the night, and were it not for the fact that I am always there
to hold and comfort  myself, I would go mad. (And I still may  do so ) Uncle
Jim  once told  me that  a  man must  learn to live with  he fact of his own
mortality. A man must accept the fact of death.
     But does that mean he must welcome it?
     I'd thought that the measure of the success of any
     life form was its ability to survive in its ecological niche.
     But I'd been wrong. That doesn't apply to individuals, not  at all only
to a species as a whole.
     If you want to think in  terms of individuals, you have to qualify that
statement. The measure of the success of any  individual animal is based  on
its ability to survive  long enough  to  reproduce. And  care for  the young
until  they  are  able  to  care  for  themselves.  I  have  met  half  that
requirement. I've reproduced.
     (It's said that  the only immortality  a man can achieve is through his
children. I understand that now.)
     * * *
     I went back to 1956 to  bring up my son. He was right where I had  left
him.
     I named him Daniel Jamieson Eakins, and I told him I was his uncle. His
Uncle Jim.
     Yes. That's who I am.
     In many ways,  Danny is a great joy  to me. I am learning as much  from
him  as he is learning  from me. He is a beautiful child  and I relish every
moment of his youth. I relive it by watching it. Sometimes I stand above his
crib and just watch him sleep. I yearn to  pick him up and hug him and  tell
him how much I love him but I let him sleep. I  must avoid smothering him. I
must let him be his own man.
     * * *
     I yearn  to leap ahead into the future and  meet the young man  he will
become. It will be  me,  of course,  starting all over again. Wondrously,  I
have come full circle. Once more I am in a timeline where I exist from birth
to  death. So I  must avoid tangling it. I  will try to live as. serially as
possible for my child.
     (No, that's not entirely true. Several times I have bounced forward and
observed him from a distance. But only from a distance.)
     On occasion I still  flee to the  house in 1999. But I no longer do  so
desperately. I go only  for short vacations. Very short. I know what  awaits
me there. But I also know that I will live to see my son reach manhood, so I
am not  as fearful as I once was. I know  I have time; so death has lost its
immediacy.
     And the  party has changed.too. The mood  of it is no longer so morbid.
Not even grim. Just quiet. Waiting. Yes, many of these men have come here to
die. No to  await death in the company of  others like themselves. They help
each other. And that's good. (I don't need their help, not yet, so right now
I can be objective about it. Maybe later, I won't.)
     So I'm relaxed. At ease with myself. Happy. Because I know who I am.
     I'm Dan and Don and Diane and Donna.
     And Uncle Jim too. And somewhere, Aunt Jane.
     And little Danny. I diaper him;  I  powder  his pink  little  fanny and
wonder that my skin was ever  that smooth. I clean up his messes. My messes.
I've been doing that all  my life. I'm  my own mother and my own father. I'm
the only person who exists in my world but isn't it that way for all of us?
     Me more than anyone.
     * * *
     How did this incredible circle get started?
     (Or  has  it  always existed? Could it have begun in  the  same way the
timebelt began in a world that I excised out of existence? In a place so far
distant and  so almostpossible that the  traces of  the  might-have-been are
buried completely in the already-is?)
     Many years ago I pondered the reason for  my own existence. (Why  "me"?
Why me as "me"? Why do I perceive myself  and why do I experience me as "me"
and not somebody else? Why was I born at all? It could have been anyone!) It
almost drove  me mad. I had to have a meaning. I was sure I had to. Variants
of me did go mad seeking that  meaning but only those of me who could accept
the gift of life without questioning it too intensely would survive to  find
the answer.
     I  wrote  in these pages  that  if  there  were  an infinite number  of
variations of myself, then what meaning could any one of us have? I wondered
about that then. I know the answer now. I know my answer.
     I am the baseline.
     I am the Danny from which all other Dannys will spring.
     I  am a  circle, complete unto  itself. I have  brought life into  this
world,  and  that life is me.  And from this circle will  spring an infinite
number of  tangents. All the  other Dannys who have ever  been and ever will
be.
     Who the others are, what  they are  that is for each of them to decide.
But as for me, I know who I am. I am the center of it all.
     I am the end.
     I am the beginning.
     * * *
     So, before it is over, I will have done it all and been it all.
     I will take the body back to the summer of 1975 and lay it gently in my
bed, to be discovered in  the morning by the maid. I will take his  timebelt
and  put it in  a  box, wrap it up for my nephew and take it back a month to
give it to  my lawyer, Biggs-or-Briggs-or-whatever-hisname-is. I will  leave
Danny the legacy of ... our life.
     Later I will go back in time and visit him again. This time, though,  I
will  handle the situation properly. It's not enough to  just give  him  the
timebelt after my  death; I  must visit him early in 1975 and explain to him
how to use it wisely. Especially in the case of Diane.
     I've already  spoken to the nineteen-year-old Danny once, but I  felt I
mishandled it, so I  went back and talked myself out of it. Later I will try
again. Perhaps a little earlier. May  of 1975.  Or April. (I must be careful
though. Each  time  I  change my mind about how to tell Danny,  I have to go
back earlier and earlier. That way  I excise the later tracks, the incorrect
ones.  But  I must be careful  not to  go back  too early  I must give him a
chance  to  mature. I think of the old  Dan who went chasing after the young
Diane. I must be careful, careful.)
     Perhaps I should  just  leave him  this manuscript instead. These pages
will tell the story better than I can. Maybe that would be the best way.
     * * *
     There is just one last thing . . .
     What is it like to die?
     There is no Don to come back and tell me.
     And I'm scared.
     It's the one thing I will have to face alone. Totally alone.
     There will be absolutely no foreknowledge.
     Nor will  there be any hindknowledge. The terrible thing about death is
that you don't know you've died.
     Or is that the terrible thing? Maybe that's the blessing.
     It's the jump-shock that will kill me. I know that. I will tap my  belt
twice and I will cease to exist. Cease to exist.
     Cease to exist.
     The words echo in my head.
     Cease to exist.
     Until they lose all meaning.
     I try to imagine what it will be like.
     No more me.
     The end of Danny.
     The end.
     (What happens to the rest of the universe?)
     I am afraid of it more than anything else in my life.
     Absence of
     me.
     * * *
     Dear Danny,
     Time travel is not immortality.
     It will allow you  to experience all the  possible  variations  of your
life. But it is not an unlimited ticket. There will be an end.
     My body has not experienced its years in sequence.
     But it  has  experienced  years. And it has aged.  And my mind has been
carried  headlong  with it this  lump of flesh travels through  time its own
way, in a way that no man has the power to change.
     I've  had to learn to accept that, Danny, in order to find peace within
my mind.
     My mind?
     Perhaps I'm  not a mind at  all. Perhaps I'm only a body pretending the
vanity of  being something more. Perhaps  it's only the fact that  language,
which allows  me to  manipulate symbols, ideas, and  concepts, also provides
the awareness of self that precedes the inevitable analysis.
     Hmm.
     I have spent a lifetime analyzing my life.  Living it. And rewriting it
to suit me.
     I once compared time travel to a subjective work of art. That was truer
than  I realized. I am the  artist of  time.  I choose the scenes  I wish to
play. Even the last one.
     And that scares me too. Just a little.
     I don't know when that body was coming  from. It he tapped the belt and
came  back  to August 23  Thinking he  was going to  witness the arrival  of
himself. Thinking he was going to witness his death.
     Or maybe he was seeking it.
     I don't know when that body came from. I don't  know when it's starting
point is/was/will be.
     I don't know  when  I'm going to die. But I do  know it will be soon. I
admit it. I'm scared.
     But perhaps it will be a gentle way to go.
     I will never know what happened. I will never really  know  when. And I
will die  much as  I lived in the  act of jumping across time. It will be  a
fitting way to go.
     Danny, you  cannot avoid mortality.  But  you can  choose  your way  of
meeting it. And that is the most that any man can hope for.
     Live well, my son.
     * * *
     Maybe this  will be  the last  page. I think I  should add something to
"Uncle Jim's" diary.
     Uncle Jim has given his life back to himself that is, to me. Now that I
know the directions in which I will go no, can go the decisions are mine.
     I need  do none of the things that Uncle Jim  has described.  (In fact,
some  of them shock me beyond words.) Or I could do all of them I may change
as I grow  older. The point  is, I know what I am beginning if I put on this
belt.
     I feel a strange empathy for that frightening  old man. He  was bizarre
and perverse and  lost. But he was me  and all those things he did and  felt
and wrote about echo profoundly in my own soul. I feel a terrible sadness at
his loss, greater than I did before I knew who he was. And not just sadness;
fear and horror too. I cannot be this person in this manuscript. This is too
much  to assimilate.  Is  this  me?  I  am drawn  to it  and  simultaneously
repelled. It can't be true.
     But I know it is.
     My god. What have I wrought? What will I?
     I wish he were here now. I wish there were some way to reach him punish
him, scream at him, berate him. How dare he do this to me?
     And ... at the same time, I want to hug him and  thank him and tell him
how much he means to me. Even though I know he knows knew.
     I saw him in  his coffin. I sat through his  funeral. He's dead. And he
isn't. I could go looking for him. . . . Should I?
     I want to reassure him. And be reassured by him.
     And the tears roll down my cheeks. I'm crying for  myself now more than
him because now I know how truly isolated I really am. I am abandoned by the
universe. There is no god who can save me.
     I am so alone I cannot bear  the pain of it. Now I know how desperately
isolated one human being can be. What have I done to deserve this?
     I will surely go mad.
     * * *
     No. I will not.
     I can't escape that way either.
     I know what choice I have. And it is no choice at all.
     The decision is mine.
     A world awaits me.
     The future beckons.
     All right, I accept.
     I am going to put on the belt.
     * * *
     About the Author
     David Gerrolds Career began when, as a
     college student  in  1967, he  sold  his first  television script, "The
Trouble with Tribbles," to
     Star Trek. He went on to write more television scripts, as well as such
novels as The Man who
     Folded Himself, the Hugo-nominated When
     HARLIE Was One, When HARLIE Was One:
     Release 2.0, and the first three books in The
     War Against the Chtorr series: A Matter for
     Men, A Day for Damnation, and A Rage for
     Revenge. He is currently working on the fourth novel in the series.

Last-modified: Mon, 24 Oct 2005 18:09:00 GMT