Thursday, June 23, 2016


"The time is out of joint. O cursèd spite,
That ever I was born to set it right!"

"So, it is a cascading chain—one member of the group of photons is entangled in a new way with the next one down the line. And so on and so forth, until the retrocausality effect is obvious on a macro timescale."

"And then what?"

"And then we receive the message before we send it."


"In practice, it would never get so early that our brains would ever detect it. But it could get so early that a machine could detect it. The message would have to arrive before it is sent."

The slides whirled past. Tim Webber clicked through them with the pointing device as if it were itself communicating with a point microseconds in the past. The sun in the windows was brutal and white, and they were hot to the touch. They showed walking paths and saguaros and barrels and pipe-organs performing their standstill dance. There were questions from students in shorts, but all of them were answered without lingering. Tim did not stick around either.

He hefted an old typewriter box weighted with failure, and walked out of the heavy metal doors, pushing on the black painted handles. The sun assaulted his head immediately, and everything glinted. Sunglasses forgotten again. One day it'll go. One day it'll work. One day it had to work. He shook the box. The rules were there, and Tim was just following them.

Linda was at home, red hair flying from standing too close to the air conditioner vent. An angel of fire. Tim kissed her goodbye, lugged the typewriter box into the passenger seat, and took the I-10 to Los Angeles to see his brother, Mack. Before he had even left the Valley of the Sun, he realized he was almost out of gas, and stopped at a grocery store gas station on the west side of town. It was Fry's. He was struck by an epiphany, and wrote the following symbol on a paper, and stuck it into the box. It was this: .

Tim sat in a building in the Mission, showing the device to an investor named Brian. Did they say he was an "angel investor"? The money would have been fantastic. Yes, this device would revolutionize trading—it would give the leading edge to whoever possessed it. No, you could not actually send messages to yourself in the distant past. Theoretically, Tim explained, it was possible, but the practicality just wouldn't even be there for hundreds of years, if ever. It depended as much on new theoretical physics being done as new materials being discovered and new technology being invented. For now, it was just really fast.

He opened the typewriter box and the machine was gleaming. At the top, a black plastic button like a telegraph machine. Right now, that's all it could do, Tim explained. It would need funding to move from a single signal to full language communication. He moved to touch it and heard a morse Q. Dah dah dit dah. He was nauseous.

Brian asked if Tim did that.

Tim explained that no, and that was just a fun glitch. He tapped a Q and no sound came out. Then he paused and tapped once, and the single tap came out at the same time.

Brian said he'd take it under advisement.

Tim said thanks, and he'd be working on it before his roadtrip home.

Brian said he thought Tim lived here.

"Of course," said Tim, "Silly me."

And Tim thought how he missed Linda again, and how he deserved all the hell she gave him, and if it were possible to get back together. Divorce wasn't final, was it?

"Nothing is final," said Tim to no one. Brian was not in the room.

As the door closed, Tim made up his mind to visit Linda in Seattle. He still felt nauseous from that Q. That shouldn't have happened. That should never have happened. When he was in his bed that night, he woke up and wrote this symbol on in a notebook he kept by his bed for just these occasions: . In the morning, he took the I-5 toward Seattle.

Four floors and retail. Tim was on the second, which was lucky because it was hot and he didn’t have an air conditioner yet. The air on Southeast Division and 30th was stale with bus and human, but there was a gentle undertone of ice cream. The number four bus sped eastbound. The bare minimum bedframe held the bare minimum bed and the typewriter box, empty empty empty. The machine should have been there. He still remembered that fateful day with the venture capitalist. The hellish racket of dah-dit-dah-dit, looking for him before he hit the button at all. The sick feeling.

No use crying over broken physical laws, I guess. Tim picked out the sheets of paper from the box, one a legal paper from a legal pad. The other a small paper from a bedside pad. The first was the strange asterisk, dark with flat splay tendrils. The second was a step down and Tim had marked the top of the page with a small dot to remind him which way was up. They seemed such important keys in such distant places. The third was a yellow paper from a yellow pad. It said: .

“Tim there is a very large problem,” said the voice of his hallucination. It was a spider with eight straight legs like the sun. It spoke like a cartoon, like a stick figure drawing. “You have broken the only law.”

“I have done no such thing,” Tim insisted impudently.

“You have broken the arrow.”

“No. No, you think you can fool me by talking in riddles, but they’re not hard. I know what I did. The device could never have sent that letter C. That letter C is a lie. This is all a lie. I am perfect.”

“I am perfect. I am an angel. You are filth, and you have done something that filth shall not be allowed to do.”

“It is done. It can’t be reversed.”

“It is reversed, Tim. It cannot be done.”

“Well, if I am filth and have done something that was not allowed, what are you to do, O Angel, O Perfect?”

“You are imperfect, and so it is time for Truth. And Reconciliation. That letter Q is the only truth, so it shall be undone. Though this riddle is impossible, it shall be un-spoken. Words shall be reversed.”

“It was a C.”

“I will set the broken bone. And you will disappear.”

“I will do no such thing.”

“The only law will be healed. It is a small thing, Tim.”

Tim woke splay on his bed, all arms outstretched. It felt like he had millions, and his head was pounding. There was nothing to be done for it. He reached for the yellow pad he kept by his bed. On a yellow sheet, he drew a symbol much like a lowercase script f. There was no time left—he was soon going to be late. The conference was in Austin, and the plane was going to leave PDX sooner than possible.

Standing at a podium. Auraria Campus. This is familiar. Students, asking questions, and Tim talking to the voice in his head without even hearing it. Without even being in the room. “...and so on down the chain, until the effect becomes obvious on a macro scale. At which point we receive the message before we even send it.”

A question flew from the back of the room.

“No, we could never, ever. And I mean ever detect it with our simple brains. So I know that if I ever got a dit-dit from the machine and then I tapped a dit-dit into the machine and heard nothing, it would be simply a massive coincidence. The universe, having a laugh.”

“Am I laughing,” said the image of a snake, bent in two right angles, starting at the origin, then following the x-axis, then jutting straight in the positive-y direction, then plus-x-ward again. “Am I laughing?”

Tim tried hard not to speak through his body in the classroom. Just to think. You are clearly not laughing and neither am I, but you have not killed me yet.

“Am I laughing?”

Unless you don’t intend to kill me. Do you intend to erase me? Is that what this is? Repairing causality by ensuring I will never have been born?

“Am I laughing?”

Can you even hear me? It doesn’t sound like you’re responding to me at all. Since you don't care what I say, I'll say it: I will not. I will not! I am finding the machine! I will never give up, and I! WILL! NOT! BE! ERASED!

Body-Tim's brow was very furrowed, but he managed to muddle through the rest of the questions. The right-angles snake continued to shout "Am I laughing?" through it all, fading ever so slowly with each iteration.

"But you've made one of these?" asked a student.

"Yes, yes I have."

"Where is it now?"

"Oh. Yes, well I'm not in possession of it at the moment. seems to be on loan, in a manner of speaking."

Skepticism was the water in which he swam, and uncertainty the dissolved oxygen that rammed through his gills. It was over, and Body-Tim stepped into the hall, and made a gesture in the air that looked like this: .

In the corner, Psyche the Bug, flapping her wings like a bitter angel. A Monarch is what Tim thought. A man in a black suit was there.

"Michael Candland, National Institute of Science and Technology."

"Tim Webber. You'll understand if I don't believe you."

"No, I'll actually be escorting you to Washington if you don't believe me."

Body-Tim finally had a reaction. Pins and needles in his hands, flushed face, slowing time. Flight was selected over fight, but not activated. Alas, it was time to get into a black SUV with federal plates and take a plane from Denver to the capital.

It was a small place, some kind of assisted living with medical on site, just south of town along the French Broad River. A Doctor, whose name Tim could never remember, but started with a Q. It was another week trying to reconstruct memories. Memories Tim was sure he'd never had. He didn't remember growing up in Washington, D.C. He remembered a lot about Phoenix, and the doctor told him that's where Mack lived. Mack apparently had a wife named Tara, and Tim couldn't remember that either. They'd been together for years.

He walked on the riverbank. Smell of sycamore and mud. Cold water. The constant voices. He knew the hallucinations. A mechanical man with a face like a violin. He spoke to Tim often, just the voice, in hushed and loving tones, relentlessly informing him that he must die. Tim engaged him, and felt he was getting closer to the end, to revelation, by talking to him, than by talking to the Doctor.

"So, what are you?"

"You've never asked before?"

"I'm sure I have. But I don't remember! Are you some kind of spirit sent to repair what was wrong?"

"Nothing that brutal or sincere or banal. I am inside of you!"

"My madness."

"Your only sanity. The only thing you have left is this."

"I have nothing left, then."

"Well, yes. Better put: the Universe has no You left."

"Then how am I still here?"

"Echoes? I have no idea. As you might recall, I am inside of you. This means that all of my declarations are your declarations. Anything done by only me is done by you. Pretending otherwise is a myth. My old pretenses were just that."

"You were so brutal before..."

"You were so brutal before. I am softening because you are softening. I am growing because you are fading. I must increase and you must decrease."

"You are taking over?"

"Nothing of the sort. You are sort of nothing. I must grow and you must disappear. And then I will be here and you will be dead."

"But you are me."

"Well, I will be here in the universe, as the waves your arms made while you flailed and drowned in the wake of time. You will be under the water, and they will never draw your body out."

"You have become brutal again."

"I have become serious. The shouting and the prophecies were so crass and so frivolous, but in the end, you have still committed the error. You must still be expunged. That only is the way. That is the only way."

"But why only me?"

"Because only you knew. Only you sent the message. Only you received the message, and only you did so before sending it. When I said you broke the arrow, and you understood me, you must have understood something like this would happen."

"Nothing of the sort!" Tim's face was sweating now in the gentle spring humidity. "Nothing of the sort. I thought it simply could never be done. Or that it could only be done in the distant future—mankind in silver suits in space with Greek columns leading nowhere. Austere councils who knew what to do with violated causality. Laws! Directives! Holy orders!"

"There are no holy orders here. There are no angels. You should be considered lucky. Your complicated brain has kept you in some state of existence these many years. A lesser animal would have simply died. But it will all be gone, nonetheless, like messages written on the beach."

"In how long?"

The hallucination, which before today had not taken a physical form in years, stood straight as an arrow pointing into the sky. "YOU DO NOT GET TO ASK QUESTIONS OF TIME," he said brutally again.

"Go to hell, you," Tim said.

"Well, I'm sorry," he said. "But it is ludicrous you know. First, asking questions of time when you have broken time. Then, you have told me to go to hell. I am hell, don't you see? But I will, Tim. I will, and then you will see. And then you will see nothing."

"What will I see?"

"Nothing. You will see the Liminal Place. The Boundary. And if you don't, ask my counterpart to show it to you the next time around. Here. Here's what you have to tell her."

"What?" asked Tim.

"," he said.

As the evening fell, Tim was on a walk with an orderly, when he bolted from his side and plunged into the French Broad River, which was not tremendously deep, but enough to drown in. As he did so, he imagined being on an airplane, headed to Boston, Massachusetts.

* * *

"Más interesante es imaginar una inversión del Tiempo: un estado en el que recordáramos el porvenir e ignoráramos, o apenas presintiéramos, el pasado."

Tim jolted awake when the airplane hit some small turbulence on the approach to Logan. His seat back and tray table had to be adjusted, and Linda's fire-hair draped over his right arm. She woke as well.

"Sorry, honey, looks like I fell asleep too," she said.

"You don't have to apologize for that!" Tim smiled, and his face hurt.

"Did you have any dreams?"

"Yeah, the strangest. I, well, there was something about the device working. I sent myself a Morse Code message into the past, just a few seconds."

"Wow! Is that even possible?"

"Not even in the slightest. Well, at least not my device. Maybe in hundreds of years. But yeah, I was driving to see Mack in L.A."

"Ha! That's funny. Mack, living in L.A.! He'd die there."

"Yeah, that would be pretty terrible, right?"

Mack was at the airport with his new girlfriend, Tara. Lunch was at a café not even very far from Logan. Mack said he didn’t live even very far from Logan.

“The noises are terrible,” he said. Tara frowned.

“I believe it,” said Linda.

“So,” said Tara, to a rolling eye from Mack and a toothy smile from Linda, “What’s this device you’re working on?”

“Well,” said Tim. “It’s not what you’re going to hear from—”

“It’s a time machine,” said Mack.

“It’s not a time machine. It’s a nonlocal quantum communication device. That’s just hot air for it’s a really really fast radio.”

“Okay,” said Tara more slowly than possible. “Why’s Mack calling it a time machine?”

“Because, technically, it can send messages into the very very near past. So near you wouldn’t be able to tell it.”

“So you couldn’t, like, send an SOS to yourself yesterday, right?”

“Right, at least not for hundreds of years. I guess if we knew more about quantum stuff, maybe. It’s for telecommunications companies and for high-volume stock trading.”

“Fascinating,” said Tara. “I was just reading about parallel universes the other day. Does this have anything to do with that?”

“Well, I don’t know! At least, not directly?”

"It absolutely does," said Tara. Her voice slowed to the sound of cracking glaciers, the sound of static noise in the sky on a warm, dark night. Mack was utterly still. Linda was utterly still. They were speechless, mouths ajar. They were not breathing. They were vacant. Tara continued. "It is the beginning of the erasure."

Tim gasped and swallowed air. It felt thin, unforgiving. He managed to speak. "What...what are you?"

"I am your only friend, again," she said.

"You are...the counterpart?"

"You are the counterpart, are you not? You are Mack's twin? I am his lover. You are a copy. I am not a copy."

"But the man, the man in Asheville. He said to tell you something, then he made a noise. He said you would show me the place."

"I will do no such thing. I am here to show you out, not to show you in. Your time is over. It has begun again, and this time, the erasure must be complete." Tara's eyes glowed. "It will be the end again and finally."

Tim opened his mouth to speak and all the air rushed in. Mack and Linda returned to normal. Tara was much quieter through the rest of the meal, and seemed not to let anything on. She doodled on the back of the check when it came. It was a symbol: .

Tim tried very hard to keep inside his head, days on end. He was very relieved when it was time to return to Phoenix.

The building on the outside had a sign that said "National Institute of Standards and Technology" and the inside of the building had labcoats and a man named David Candland, who was a small, unimposing scientist hunched a little too close over the typewriter box. Tim re-seated some glowing components inside the box.

"An unusual method of transport, to be sure," said Candland.

"You wouldn't believe how worried I am that this thing will get away from me," said Tim.

"Has it ever?"

"Yes and no."

"Let's try it, I guess."

"Here goes nothing," said Tim. He gulped and switched on the power. He had been expecting some kind of hallucination, some kind of voice. Some finger from hell, stopping him this time, taking the device, taking Linda, taking his life, but there was nothing. The device beeped.

Dit-dit, dah-dit dah-dit, dah-dah dit-dah. Shit. Tim sweated. Hell. It did it.

"So, the bootup is an ICQ sign?" asked Candland. "That's funny."

"Well," Tim said. He debated whether to sound crazy or not, and settled quickly on yes—after years he had given up on cause and effect. "It's not. It's not! That ICQ should never have happened. I don't know where or when it came from. I could tap it out now, and we could pretend that's the end of it, that's where it came from, but I don't think I will."

Candland reached his hand to the actuator button.

"No, I don't think so," said Tim. He slammed the case shut and closed the clasps. He tucked it under his arm. "Goodbye," he smiled.

He immediately hallucinated.

Linda was walking along the Embarcadero, throwing pieces of what looked like food on both sides of the walkway, and even into the water. She was dressed in red. She never dressed in red. She was beautiful and sad and full of hate.

The camera eye of his vision got closer, and he saw that the food was actually parts of his device, and that she held the typewriter box in front of her. Tim began to cry, to try to push himself into the dream. To stop her. But he could not. When she was finished, she wiped her hands together to rid herself of the crumbs, then threw the box, like an Olympic hammer, into the San Francisco Bay. A yellow paper flew out, and it was the only piece left. Linda stepped on it, but Tim saw the symbol. It was .

It was the old familiar road. Brown grass and heat—the northbound to his left, the frontage road to his right. Interstate 35 to Austin. He should have stopped in Temple for a piss and fill, but he was lost in thought. Next stop Salado. There's the exit, missed again, and now he's stuck on the frontage road, looking for gas. Nothing could be big enough for a gas station out here; everything's too close to the road. Gasping slightly, Tim muttered "there it is" and found a truly ancient wooden building with atavistic gas pumps. "Doubt those still work".

He knew better than to go straight for the pump. Gotta pre-pay. He checked the trunk again: typewriter box, still there. Typewriter box, still empty. Tim sniffed.

The woman at the counter was young and blonde, and had a weird face. She looked one unit off of normal. Like a mannequin, or someone on a lethargic drug trip. Someone under anesthesia. Someone about to fall asleep. Her nametag said "Candy".

"I'd like a fill on Pump...well, the left one," said Tim, his childhood Texas drawl coming back ever so slightly.

"You'll get it," said Candy. "You'll also make it on your trip," she said, eerily.

"Excuse me?"

"You'll make it. You must be destroyed, of course, but you will make it to the place. If you can only divulge the key."

Tim thought. "Oh, of course. The man in Asheville gave it to me." He set his mouth as well as he could. "It's ."

"You have given me the key, and now I must guide you. It is the law. You must prepare to see the Liminal Place. The Day-Line. The Terminus. The Prime Meridian."

"I am ready," said Tim. He wasn't ready.

"Here ya go," said Candy, with jarring perk. She held up a beaten brassy key attached to four inches of two-inch diameter PVC pipe. "Behind the drinks, first door on your left."

The door said "" and the key fit. Tim went inside.

The Liminal Place was bright. Not a celestial bright. Garish bright. There was a tall, very clearly plastic chandelier. The walls, apparently at an indescribable distance from him, were painted in a sort of design, like a two-year-old created a national flag with yellow crayon on a bright white canvas. There was a sink and a mirror in front of him, about two feet away. There were two symbols on the mirror, and two numbers. The two symbols were and . The two numbers were a three on top of a zero.

Tim spoke and his voice was swallowed in the mass of the room. It was not beautiful, and the noise that returned was not beautiful. It was as if he spoke under a heavy polyester pillow that flattened his face. It was as if the world were made of styrofoam, and this room was the center of it. It left him with neither awe nor comfort. It felt like being an unwelcome guest in a sharply tilted house for hundreds of years. A voice came through the bright white and the bright yellow and the thick, thick air.

"You must resolve the equation."

"What?" came Tim's miserable, squelched response.

"You must resolve the equation to be saved."

Tim stared at the mirror. The equation was just 3 over 0 equals question mark, written in cheap lipstick, darker and pinker than blood. The two symbols stood above the question, in the same shade.

"Undefined," said Tim.

"Take your time," said the voice. It was Candy's voice, as spoken by an eternal worm. A giant monster from outside time.

"I don't need to! The answer is Undefined! Not a number! There's no solution. Anything divided by zero is unsolvable. It's counter to the nature of division!" His words piled up in the thick atmosphere, and a sound like a cacophonous crash of voices that were only Tim's rang against the infinite walls.

"Take your time," said the voice. "You can try as many times as you like."

Tim drew his finger forward and touched the mirror. An icy pain shot through his hand, but he drew his finger beside the equals sign to the right of the zero, and a redder color came out of his fingertip: NaN. His hand shook.

The words disappeared. His finger bled drops onto the floor.

"Take your time," said Candy.

Tim drew an infinity sign. "This is wrong," he said. The pain was heavy, and Tim's hand instinctively withdrew from the mirror surface. The lazy 8 disappeared.

"You can try as many times as you like."

"But I don't like!" shouted Tim. "It hurts!"

"It hurts, but there are those around you who would say it's worth the effort," said Candy. "They don't want to see you go."

Tim drew his hand back and excruciatingly wrote a "U". He bore down, dripping blood down the mirror as he desperately poured himself into n, d, e, f, i, n, e, and d. It disappeared as soon as the final stroke of "d" was drawn, and the drips of blood that muddled his writing disappeared too. Tim cried and fell to his knees.

"You can try as many times as you like," Candy's voice was almost kind this time, as if she understood the pain.

Tim was struck with an idea. "Which of these symbols is it?" he shouted to Candy in the void. "Which one of these is the thing that means 'the answer to anything divided by zero'?"

"Take your time," said Candy.

Tim deduced. If was the key, surely must be the answer. It was the name on the door. This is the Liminal Place. The must mean "The Liminal Place". That's as good an answer to "divide by zero" as anything.

He took his left hand to force his right index to draw a curly backward f. As he crossed it, the pain in his hand came over his entire body and he fell again, like a stone. He tried to wail but could not. The air seemed to become even denser, folding in around him and making a crumpling sound. A million plastic bags. He writhed on the ground, and faced away from the mirror and sink. There was a door behind him, the one he had come in. In his pain, he managed to hook his foot around that slightly open hollow wooden slab, and kick it wide—it weighed nothing.

Lifting himself to his knees with every tiny effort available to his brain, he rolled himself out of the door and back into the convenience store. The pain left. His finger was no longer bloodied. Candy the attendant looked at him vacantly and cracked her gum. He stood and closed the door, seeing briefly a mirror with three over zero equals question mark. He still had to pee, but he would hold it.

He returned to the car, and everything had changed. He was at a modern pump, at a station near the bank of a very wide river. He hadn't touched the pumps at all, and an employee in an orange vest smiled at him. Filled up with regular, sir.

A roadsign uphill from his location said Interstate 84, West. Further in the distance, he could see a green sign telling him that Portland was 50 miles away. His Texas plate was an Oregon plate. The typewriter box was still empty.

The lights were bright in the waiting room. Flickering slightly, annoying. They gave Tim a headache. There were art pieces on the wall, small ones. Abstract, uninspired. A man with a salt-and-pepper beard came out and called his name, and then the two went to a room with a desk and a couch, and a small office chair. "Pick whichever one you want, Tim," said the man.

Tim thought sitting on a couch in a counselor's office would have been too much of a cliche. He took the chair. "Always take the chair," the counselor muttered.

"Well, hello, Tim," the counselor continued. "It's good to see you. Do you remember why you're in here?"

Tim paused. The view out the window was from a high floor down on a city full of trees and hills. There was a gray sky. Had he made it to Portland? Had he finally stayed in one place? It didn't strike him as right. He looked at the counselor.

"I'll take that as a no," said the counselor. "Well, let me fill you in. First off, my name is Doctor Travers, but you can call me Phil if you'd like. We've been meeting here for a number of years. You have a mental disorder which is so rare, it's not actually named yet, and you've been coming to see me here and Dr. Kat Taniguchi down at Swedish for other treatments. Do you remember Dr. Kat? My job is to help you remember what you can about your life, manage and respond to and hallucinations you might be having, and keep your perception in a place where you could maintain a running memory of your life events as they occur. Do you have any questions?"

"No," said Tim, because he knew this was the right answer.

"Okay, let's start off with the basics. How long have you been living here in Seattle?"

Tim stared at Dr. Travers's face.

"I'm sorry to see that you're having trouble with this one this week. Usually you've been pretty good at identifying the basic, long-term details of your life. Well," Dr. Travers breathed deeply, "you've been living here your whole life. You currently live in your childhood home. Your parents willed it to you, and your father passed about eight years ago. Alright, on to the next thing. Do you remember any people in your life? Anyone who's close to you?"

"Yeah, sure. Mack and Linda and Tara and...Candy?" Tim offered.

"Alright, getting somewhere. Your twin brother Mack, who lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Tara White. Your ex-girlfriend Linda Lovell. I...I'm afraid I don't know who Candy is, that's a new one. We may spend some time dealing with whether Candy is real or not later on, but for now, this is good. This is good. Do you remember anything else about your life?"

"The box?"

"Alright, this is consistently something that comes up. Yes, the nonlocal quantum communication device. This is something you were working on. Do you remember you have a PhD in physics? You got a PhD in physics from University of Washington, and this was your dissertation. It was on some kind of device, and you'll always correct me if I'm wrong, that can communicate with the recent past?"

"Yeah, that's it. But only fractions of a millisecond."

"Right, that's right. Do you remember anything more about that?"

"That's the only thing I do remember. I sent myself a message with it."

"A sort of hello, wasn't it? Like a 'looking for somebody' message?"

"ICQ, it's the old Morse signal you would send back in the telegraph days and sometimes now with ham radio. Yeah, I sent that back in time to myself. Only I tried to stop it, and something terrible happened."

"Okay, okay. Well, Tim, I have some good news on that front, but when you've heard it in the past, sometimes you've responded poorly to it. It's, well, it's this: the device doesn't really exist. Your dissertation was purely theoretical, and as far as anyone who knows you or who has worked with you can tell, you've never actually built one. No one in the field has been able to do it. And I read tons of quantum science news every week, stuff that's way over my head, just to see if anyone is actually accomplishing it. So far, it seems to be impossible."

Tim felt anger rising in his head. He thought this whole scene with the shrink was a kind of test, so he kept it under control.

"Well, that's a relief," he said through clenched teeth.

"I'm going to call that some pretty significant progress," said Dr. Travers. "Alright, let's go onto some of the other details of your life. Your condition seems to involve your brain rewriting important memories in exceptionally dramatic ways, and producing some lengthy and vivid hallucinations. They tend to center around your being persecuted for your work on quantum communication devices."

Tim sighed and looked down. The carpet was a terrible pattern of faded colors on gray, and the air was stale and smelled of office. This was almost worse than the trial in the gas station. If anything, it was simply more tedious.

"Can you tell me anything about the circumstances of your home life? Do you remember any details about high school or college?"

"Linda?" Tim said weakly.

"Ah yes, of all the people in your life, your brother and your ex-girlfriend are the two that seem to...stick. Here's what I know about Linda, having spoken to her and to Mack about your relationship: You and Linda were together for three years, two and a half of which you spent living together. About six months of that was in an apartment not far from here, actually, and the rest was in your childhood home after your father passed. Mack helped you get settled in, then moved to Los Angeles, where he's been working as an executive in a robotics company. You and Linda grew apart as your work began to consume your life, and she left you about six years ago. You have been in contact since your diagnosis, but you probably don't remember that fact."


"We'll spend some more time talking here after a small break for you to process all this information, but I'd like to know: is this sinking in? Does what I'm telling you all real to you? We're hoping this can combat some of the effects of the history-editing your brain is doing. Well, along with the treatments at the hospital."

"Yeah," Tim lied. Of course none of this seemed real. None of it was real. Somehow, having been on a road to Austin and writing in blood on a gas station bathroom mirror to reverse the causality gods' death edict was more real than having been a lonely physicist in a somewhat run-down house in Bryant, Seattle. Of course this wasn't real.

The conversation continued and was miserable and boring as expected. Upon leaving the waiting room, Tim heard the elevator bell ring, and entered it. He was alone. The button to return to the ground floor was labeled . He pressed it. "Here it comes," he said to no one. The elevator car descended.

“Hello, Tim.”

“Hello, Tara. Hello, Mack.”

“You’re not surprised to see us?”

Absolutely the hell not. Nothing makes any damn sense anymore. “Should I be?”

“Well...good! We are a little used to you forgetting.”

“Do you have your things ready?”

“My things?”

“To come with us?”

“Oh,” said Tim. Play along. “I’m afraid it’s difficult for me to say whether I have everything ready. We should probably go back to the house.”

“No worries. It’ll only be for a little while. We’ll come help.”

The house was a small red-brick number next to a cemetery. Tim had never seen it before in his life, but he’d never seen Seattle before in his life, either. The sun was shining now. All his stuff was in the house: clothes he remembered buying in a Target in Phoenix, a pipe that a particularly eccentric resident of the home in Asheville had given him. A University of Colorado pen. The typewriter box: the almost-cubic behemoth with the weird checked pattern made of some rough and synthetic fabric.

Containing one Smith-Corona typewriter, beige.

Mack’s voice came from the other room. “I think you’re really going to love L.A. Not nearly as gray as here. I mean, you know. It’s not gray right now, of course, but it usually is.”


Oh God, I'm in a car. Whoa. Watch that red one there. OK, control, control...Where the hell am I going? Oh, little readout right there...pretty fancy looking...east. I'm in the...2030's? 40's? My arms! Wow, so wrinkled. I must be old. Older than...older than Asheville for sure. I wonder if that means I won. Did I win? Did I put right what once went wrong? Have I stuck it to the demons from the wherever that needed to erase my existence?  Holy shit, blue car, you need to slow it down! OK, there's a cop. Check your speed. You're fine. And there are even some pills on the passenger seat. Excellent.

Where am I, anyway? Junction of I-5 and I-10 in three miles. That's...L.A.? Again, I went where I thought I was going. That hasn't happened since...Boston, right? When I...when I died. Died and went to Boston. Wonder if that means I was good or I was bad. I'm sure the Time Weasels would tell me I was neither. I was irrelevant. But clearly I was relevant or they wouldn't be trying to kill me. I'm probably the most relevant person in the history of the world! Who else has been targeted for total nonexistence by otherdimensional creatures?

Oh, coming up on the interchange. This is terrifying. What a stack. It's like something out of Dante. OK, straight on through. Keep going east. It's not like you know where you're headed, anyway. Ah, Phoenix. Where it started. That's where I must be going. Maybe I should ask them.

Is that where I'm going? Oh, right, they can't hear my thoughts.

"Is that where I'm going, time bastards?"

I have no idea what you mean by that.

"Whoa, you're in my head now. That's terrible. Can you at least do me the favor of being a real hallucination?"

Again, I'm not sure what you mean.

"This is much worse than before. Alright, so be it. Am I headed to Phoenix?"

You appear to be. Eastbound on this path will take you to Phoenix.

"You know, you're neither being very helpful nor very menacing. It's disturbing to me."

Your glibness is disturbing to us. It is as if you still do not know what is going to happen.

"Damn straight I don't know what's going to happen. Seems like I've lived a whole life, two lives, waking up in a different place every day. Sometimes I'm with Linda, sometimes I'm not. Sometimes I go on a terrible trip into a gas station bathroom. Sometimes I literally change the course of history. How would I know what was going to happen?"

Because we have told you.

"You told me I was going to die. And then I died. And apparently that wasn't good enough for you."

It is but the beginning.

"It is the end, jackasses. I'm done with you. I have meds. I have a car. I have a direction. I might have a few years left, even. I win. I finally win."

Tim heard a screeching sound, a bang, a scratching sound, and was soon outside of the car, face up, looking straight into the sun. He was numb, but he knew he was dying, again. Am I going to come back? he thought. Against the sky, he saw a symbol in red: . Mack stood over him with Tara. Linda stood over him, with the device, throwing the empty old checkered typewriter box into a stiff breeze. Candy stood over him and laughed. And Tim closed his eyes before he could imagine a new destination.

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