QUANTUM TIME THEORY Second Edition will be available in early October through Amazon and Kindle


The exciting Introduction to the Second Edition is included below.


(The music selected for this Introduction is MUSIC FROM THE MOTION PICTURE OCEANS THIRTEEN #12 Caravan through #18 All Sewn Up)


Introduction

LOST IN TIME

Reality 272

Mystic Season

 

The Seven Dangers of Time Travel

     There are Dangers, Dangers all around us as we walk down the sidewalk of Locust Street in Harrisburg, Illinois. Just you, me, and my older brother Barlow. Stay between us, Reader. Keep up. Act natural. Like you belong here. Try not to stand out.

We can detect no immanent threat, but you can never tell when something unexpected may pop up like a jack-in-the-box. The Salvation Army Thrift Store is visible ahead of us, a whitewashed one-story brick building with a red sign in the shape of a shield covered with white capital letters.

 

Danger #1: Timestorms

     Another Change in the Past will cause a Timestorm to sweep the planet and create the 273rd Reality, but the latest Storm ceased only hours ago, and there shouldn’t be another for two to three weeks, unless the Time Syndicate decides to move up its schedule, which is always a possibility. I glance at my Wristwatcher, but it isn’t flashing a warning. It looks like a simple wristwatch to the Bystanders.

If there’s any trouble, get behind me, Reader. Or better yet behind Barlow since he’s bigger. We’ll protect you and get you to safety. Thanks for coming along. It’s nice to have someone sympathetic around when you’re surrounded by hostiles.

 

Danger #2: Bystanders

     There are no Bystanders near us, though of course, they surround us on all sides. I haven’t found the Locals particularly threatening in this Reality, despite it being a Dark Season. This new Reality does not seem as hazardous as the last. The Bystanders still believe in magic, but at least they don’t wear magicians’ robes like the Locals of Reality 270 and 271. The ones we spot on the street look almost normal—except for their capes. The problem is we do not look normal to them. The clothes we’re wearing are Anachronisms, and that means we’re in Violation of the 42nd Directive, and we need to do something about that right away, which is why we enter the Salvation Army Thrift Store.

Stares are not good when you’re a Longtimer from a Lost Reality in Time. You need to blend in, slip by unnoticed. So you need to dress like the Locals.

I notice Barlow is carrying a copy of today’s Oldspaper in his hand, so I growl at him. “Put that away, you fool.”

One of the headlines on the front page is clearly visible:

 

S. DOLPAN VANDROSSIAN ARRESTED FOR VIOLATION OF 1ST AND 2ND DIRECTIVES

 

There are other minor charges, including Violation of the 42nd.

        Barlow folds the paper and stuffs it inside his jacket pocket. He should know better than to flaunt an Anachronism in front of the Locals. We don’t want to have to deal with any Bystander questions or undercover Enforcers from the CTA.

 

Get In, Get Out

        Our itinerary for this side trip consists of only five items:

 

Get clothes at the Thrift Shop so we’ll fit in.
Find Barlow’s Alternate Self’s apartment
Get his Alternate’s clothes
Look for ID’s and valuables
Go back to Shawneetown

 

We also have a mystery to clear up. Barlow’s Alternate Self in the Past has been missing from Shawneetown for four Seasons, and we don’t know why. I figure he moved out of the area, but now that he’s back, we’re hoping if we visit his Alternate Residence, maybe we can find a clue that will explain what’s been going on.

        Of course, we’re supposed to avoid our Alternate Life, but I can’t blame Barlow for being curious. The rest of us have had the opportunity to visit our Alternate Residences and get into trouble. So why shouldn’t he?  Sure, this is a bad idea. No doubt about it. Harrisburg is a detour and therefore dangerous. We need to get back to Shawneetown as soon as possible, where we’re on familiar ground.

        If you have any Anchronisms in your pocket, Reader, keep them there.

 

The Thrift Store

     The store has no other customers this early in the morning, maybe because August is a slow month for the thrift business. The air conditioning reminds me it’s warm outside, but it’s going to get a lot hotter before we’re finished here. The Bystander behind the counter stops folding and pricing clothes to stare at us. She’s chubby with a pug nose, and she’s wearing a long gray dress that looks like a uniform and probably is since she’s in an “army.” People in the Salvation business don’t believe in magic, so she’s not wearing a cape.

     “We’re from out of town,” Barlow tells her, which doesn’t begin to explain us. “Out of state.”

Far out of state. Really far out.

     She frowns at Barlow and me and just ignores you. She’s trying to figure out where we’re from. Europe? Canada? The nut house? We came here on the Metro from the big city of Shawneetown, of course.

     “We’re Amish,” I explain. “We’re on Rumspringa.” Now Barlow is the one frowning and staring at me.  He doesn’t tell lies, so of course, he doesn’t talk much. So I do most of the talking for us. We’re too old for Rumspringa, but I’m hoping the clerk doesn’t know that.

     “You don’t look Amish,” she says.

“No one on Rumspringa looks Amish.”

There was a time when I never told lies. But times change, and you have to change with them. That’s one thing I like about you, Reader. I don’t have to lie to you. And you don’t have to lie to me, either. I get to relate directly to you, the real you.

     The Salvation Army folks are usually willing to help you if you get on their sympathetic side. That’s why I like to introduce myself. “Hi. I’m Dexter Vann. And this is my brother Barlow.”

You can’t go around telling Bystanders you’re a

Time Traveler. That’s illegal, and they don’t understand what it means anyway. They’ll think you’re joking—or crazy. You can’t waste precious minutes explaining things to them. They’re never going to get it. You have to tell them something they can comprehend.

“And this is the Reader,” I add, indicating you.

She frowns. “The what?’

“Never mind,” Barlow tells her. “He’s just making stuff up.”

 

The Barlow Nobody Knows

     I don’t expect you to care about my brother, Reader. You never knew him back in Reality 250, when he fit right in and always knew the right thing to say and the handy thing to do.  You never knew him when he had perfect judgment and understood everyone and everything. He never sat down with you and listened to your problems and your hopes and concerns. He never patiently explained things to you and gave you advice and encouragement.

     Why should you care about Barlow?

     You’re not one of the hundreds of people he rescued or helped. His commendations as a police officer have been Wiped Out of Time. So has his badge and job. No one remembers anything he did. Those people are gone. Those situations never happened. Barlow’s credit with the universe has been erased.

     I’m the only one who knows better, besides my brothers and sisters. I try to treat him like the old Barlow. It’s hard because he doesn’t understand these new Realities or make the right choices anymore.  Every decision is a blunder. I’m not doing much better. The right thing to do has become an opinion. You never know when you’re in danger, so you’re in danger constantly.

        You’ve got to excuse my brother, Reader. He’s got the Time Change Stress Syndrome, and it’s warped him. I’m the only one in the family unaffected by it.

 

A Masquerade

        Could you do it on your own? Convince the Bystanders of a new Reality that you’re one of them?  Barlow couldn’t. He won’t even try. They’ll accept him because he’s with me. On his own, they’d call the police about a suspicious person loitering on the premises.  He doesn’t recede into the background like you.

        Barlow looks like a football player because he was one—on Shawneetown U’s championship team back in the Wilderness Season. But now that SU doesn’t Exist, he’s just a big gorilla with a muscular build, a handsome face, and a gray jaw. In Wilderness he was captain of the team, a prom king, and later, a cop, but here in the Timeflow, he’s just a big dummy in a letter jacket. Me, I’m kinda tall and lanky. Otherwise average. No one takes notice of me. Between me and my shadow, my shadow’s more memorable. I’m almost as invisible as you.

        The clerk nods to me. “I’m Beatrice. What can I do for you?”

         “We need a change of clothes, something ordinary so we’ll fit in and people won’t stare at us.”

 

The Bystander Sizes Us Up

     She seems willing to buy my story for the time being. She narrows her eyes as she appraises me. “Take off that vest,” she says. “You look like Wyatt Earp, the frontier marshal.”

     So I unbutton my vest and slip it off.

     “Those black jeans are all right. And that white dress shirt. But those cowboy boots—“ She shakes her head and looks at me. “Where did you get those? No one’s worn boots like those in forty years.”

     Anachronisms.

     She blinks. “Is this a costume?”

     “Yeah. It’s a costume.”

     She takes me over to the shoes, so I sit on a chair and try some on until I find a pair of black loafers that fit. I stuff my vest and boots into my backpack.

     “Are you a hiker?”

     “Yeah, that’s right.” She fits me for a cape next. The length of the cape has to be suitable for your age. The older you are, the longer your cape.

 

Fitting Us for a Cape

        She gets out some of the colorful summer capes that are in season now, made of chiffon, silk or rayon, even some of linen. They're so light you can hardly feel them hanging off your shoulders. Mine is purple silk, which is popular in this Season.

        “Get out your best cape for the Reader,” I say, gesturing to you.

        Beatrice frowns. “Who?”

        “The Reader,” Barlow tells her. “His imaginary friend. Just humor him. He’s been under a lot of stress.”

        My brow drops, and the corners of my mouth draw in. “The Reader is not imaginary,” I growl. “The Reader is real.”

        Barlow twirls his index finger around his ear for Beatrice to see. He thinks I don’t know what he’s doing since he’s behind me, where I can’t see him.

        He just doesn’t get it. “The Reader is always there for us. The Reader cares. The least we can do is fit the Reader for a cape.”

        Beatrice hesitates for a moment and stares at me, then Barlow. She sighs. “The good Lord is your Reader. That’s who’s with you at all times.” She gets out a red rayon cape and unfolds it, but she tries to fit it to your front, like she can’t see you, so I have to go over and turn her around so she’ll do it right.

        Barlow just looks up at the corner of his eyes and stares at the ceiling.

 

No Respect

        I don’t get any respect from my family when it comes to you, Reader. But Barlow’s right about the stress. Being a Longtimer is a stressful life. It’s the most dangerous life you can lead. You’ve got to do whatever you can to cope, even cling to an obsolete letter jacket from a Reality Lost to Time.

        I’m glad I’ve got you at my side to face the dangers with. You’re a great person to talk to because you always listen and don’t interrupt me or criticize me like my family. You’re a comfort, Reader. You really are. Thanks for coming along with us. You help ease the stress with your support and positive outlook.

Once Beatrice is done fitting your cape, I jerk my thumb at my brother. “Have you got anything that will fit him?”

 

My Brother the Anachronism

     Barlow raises his arm like a crossing guard. “Not me. I’ve got a whole apartment full of clothes a couple blocks from here.”

     I roll my eyes. He has on neon green sneakers, gray sweat pants, a white t-shirt, and his crimson and black letter jacket from Shawneetown U (which doesn’t Exist anymore). He’s carrying a rucksack.

     Beatrice squints at him. “What in the blazes is that costume?”

     I start to laugh, but my brother doesn’t think it’s funny.

 

Danger #6: Finances

     I take a few Bystander fives out of my wallet. They have Teddy Roosevelt’s portrait on them instead of John Adams’s. I hope they’re still good. A Change of Currency tends to happen only when there’s a Change of Seasons, but you can never tell. These bills are from Reality 271, and the serial numbers are not going to jibe, but otherwise they should be passable.

     I hand them to the Salvation Army woman. She doesn’t inspect them closely, just takes them up front. She motions to me and you from the cash register, and I’m afraid she’s noticed something hinky about them.  I figure we’ve just got to bluff our way through it, so I go up front with you and raise my eyebrows like I’m Little Orphan Annie.

 

Poor Unfortunates

     Beatrice eyes us sidewise. “I don’t know where you’re from, but I can recognize a couple nice guys down on their luck.” I don’t know why she thinks we’re nice. Probably because our hair is combed, though it’s not parted in the middle like the Mystics’.

     “Your brother can’t afford Thrift Shop clothes, can he? But he’s too proud to admit it. That’s why he made up that story about having an apartment. You don’t have to explain to me. I’ve seen it before. I’ve known people who have to wear whatever they can scrounge. I know he wouldn’t dress that way if he had any choice.”

I have to suppress a guffaw. Wait until I tell Amanda and Cartmell! They’ll have a good laugh at that. It just goes to show you we look just as strange to the Locals as they do to us.

Beatrice holds one of the fives on the counter. “Give him this. Tell him you found it on the sidewalk. I

know a couple poor unfortunates when I see them.”

        She feels sorry for us! Like we’re the Bystanders.

I want to be polite, so I take the funny money back from her even though I won’t be able to get even a buffalo-head nickel for it from the Time Bank this late in the Season.

I give you a wink. You look great in your red cape, Reader. You really do.

 

Keep Moving—Before Anyone Notices You

     Out the door—you first, Reader. Barlow and I leave the shop next, ready to run in case Beatrice realizes the bill I gave her is an Anachronism and starts squawking about it. You should be ready to run, too. I scold my brother as we go on our way.

     “You shouldn’t be visiting your Alternate Residence, Barlow. You know the Dangers of Alternate Life.”

     “My Alternate’s clothes will fit me,” he says, “and they’re free.”

     It’s hard to find anything at a Thrift Shop in his size—because he’s huge. We ought to go to a Big and Tall store, but they’re hard to find, and Barlow doesn’t want to blow his cash on a new wardrobe. We’re over halfway through our Initiation. He should know better.

     But he won’t listen to me. He’s stubborn, like the rest of my family.

     “I won’t pay attention to anything in my apartment,” he declares. “I’ll just pop in, grab some clothes, and pop out.”

 

The Threat of Alternate Life

     I groan. “That isn’t going to protect you.” We should refuse to go, but I know then Barlow would go without us, and he can’t cope with these new Realities. They’re like finding yourself in a foreign country with laws and taboos and unwritten rules that everyone obeys but we don’t even know about. We don’t know anything about our Alternate Selves’ lives, about their friends or their enemies, about their commitments or problems or choices.

You remember what happened in Reality 266, Reader. I know—I promised not to bring it up or to mention you-know-who. I’m just saying Alternate Life is a tar baby. Maybe what happened in Reality 266 was a good thing or maybe the opposite, but I can’t forget it. I can’t stop thinking about it. It was a real mind flip.

 

Harrisburg in August

     Barlow and I continue down Locust Street past Jackson to Webster and turn left. We can hear the distant hum of lawnmowers, and our nostrils fill with the prickly smell of new-mowed grass. There’s green foliage everywhere—in the bushes and shrubs and hedges and the canopy of trees. Not a verdant green, more of a sun-bleached green. Everything around us radiates heat, a greenhouse humidity like the air has its hands on us.

     The other color that dominates the landscape is the red of rusty bricks. There’s a massive brick church to our left and a brick mansion on Poplar to our right. Even the streets are made of bricks.

We’re following the red brick road. It’s not taking us to Oz. That’s for sure. Just the opposite. If the Dangers get to you, Reader, just click your heels together and say, “Auntie Em, there’s no place like home.”

Right. Like that’s going to save you.

 

Follow the Red Brick Road

The heart of Harrisburg looks like it was built overnight in 1929 on a wave of prosperity before the stock market crashed. Every edifice in town is preserved like a faded snapshot in an old photo album. Pinned in a scrapbook like a dried-up corsage. Walking the streets is like flipping through the sepia-tone recollections of someone’s grandpa.

     I take my binoculars out of my pocket. Barlow calls them “opera glasses” because they’re so small. I scout out his Depression-era apartment house a block away on the corner of Poplar and Granger. Two buildings three stories high, made of the same rusty bricks as the streets and mansions. The corners of the buildings are rounded, and the surface of the bricks looks like the fabric on an old couch.

As I move my binoculars, I catch sight of a bus stop out front and a man in a black raincoat and fedora hat sitting on a bench.

A Lookout, waiting for us.

I hand my binoculars to you so you can take a look.

 

The Fiend

     The Lookout’s face is a crazy quilt. On one cheek are etched tiny blue-silver daggers. On the other, little red devil’s faces. On his forehead is a green geometric design that flips Escher-like depending on your angle. His neck is a skein of scarlet fishnets with hooks, wave crests, and harpoons. The skin of his features seems to undulate from the pull of strange muscles, as if some tiny beast roams beneath it.

He’s a stunning Anachronism like us.

When you’ve been in the Timeflow long enough, you make enemies. And when you get Wiped Out of Time, those enemies are still there when you come back—if you’re lucky enough to Reinchronate and get Sponsored a second time. You won’t remember them, but they sure as hell remember you.

I stuff the binoculars in my pocket, and we dodge

traffic as we run across Poplar. We’re going down to

Church Street to approach the apartment complex from behind on McKinley.

     “There’s a Void Pirate staked out in front,” I tell Barlow. “Sitting on a bench at the bus stop.”

 

Danger #3: Timecrimers

     He doesn’t want to hear that. “It could just be one of the Locals waiting for the bus.”

     I give him my shut-up-you-moron look, eyes glowering beneath my brow, my smile upside down  like a sad clown.

     “He’s dressed in black like the Night People of Moonglow, and he has facial tattoos from the Sideshow Season. And no cape.”

        It’s The Fiend, no doubt about it. You saw him yourself, Reader. Catterus and his gang are planning to ambush us.

     “We can go around him,” Barlow says.

     “That’s not the plan.” We’ve run into an unexpected contingency, and I don’t like it. We’re not prepared to battle Pirates. We need to abort and get the hell out of here. But there’s no changing Barlow’s mind once it’s made up. He’s got to pretend he knows what he’s doing. Otherwise, he has no self at all.

 

Fit in—Avoid Trouble

I wish my genius brother Zeke was along. He could figure this out. He could quantify the risk we’re taking and tell us exactly how unsafe we are. Maybe Barlow would even listen to him.

Probably not.

Sometime I think Barlow has a different itinerary than mine, and it goes something like this:

 

Ignore all Dangers
Get on Dexter’s nerves
Take unnecessary risks
Exasperate Dexter
Get in trouble

 

        There’s a Safe House in the seven-story Clear Wave Building on the square downtown, and we can Shelter there if necessary—if things get too hot for us in this waste-of-time backwater. But I don’t like having to cut and run. I want more options than that. We need a better plan. We need to look out for your safety, Reader.

     We walk down Church Street and turn up McKinley. We get cagey as we approach the apartment complex from the back. We creep up fence by fence and bush by bush and when we reach a small parking lot, car by car. Like we’re doing surveillance on an enemy camp. Barlow’s apartment is in Building B facing McKinley Street. The Fiend is staked out in front of Building A.

     Be careful, Reader. Try not to be seen. You’re good at that.

 

Danger #7: Yourself and Your Bad Ideas

     We’re the real problem for ourselves—the biggest Danger to us is stupid us and our stupid decisions.

Sorry, Reader, for dragging you into this. You probably didn’t realize the danger you’d be in.

     We creep up to Building B without incident. There’s no additional stakeout that we can see. So we go to the door, and I insert the lock pick I got from my brother Cooper, and I work the pins.

     Inside the door is a lobby with a wall of flat mailbox fronts to our left, each with a keyhole in it. We check the one for 26B just to make sure we’ve got the right place, and I see the name “B. Vann” on the mailbox but also the name “A. Walters.”

     “Hey, Barlow, your Alternate Self has a roommate.”

 

The Unexpected Roommate

He comes and takes a look and shakes his head. “I don’t recognize the name.”

     Do you recognize it, Reader?

     We stand there, staring for a few seconds. A roommate—one of the Dangers of Alternate Life.

     “Maybe he’ll be at work now,” Barlow declares lamely.

     I just want to hit him. “Yeah, and maybe he’s a gun nut like you, and he’ll start firing when we break into his apartment.”

     Barlow scowls at me. “We’re not leaving now. Not after all the trouble we’ve gone through to get here.”

Coming here was a bad idea. We ought to leave right now.

     But we stay, of course. Barlow heads for the stairs, and I’ve got no option but to go with him because he can’t navigate the Bystander World on his own.

Are you coming, Reader? You don’t have to. But I know you will. You’re such a devoted friend.

     There’s no one staking out the hallway on the second floor—the place is deserted.

     So far, so good.

So I knock on the door to apartment 26, but there’s no noise from within.

 

Our Errand Blows Up in Our Faces

     The problem is the door is ajar. That’s our first indication that something is wrong. We look at each other with widened eyes. I want to leave, but Barlow, like the big dummy he is, pushes the door wide open and walks in. And that’s when we get the second indication that something is wrong—because we’re assaulted by this animal odor. A slaughterhouse smell.

     I guess you could say the third indication that something is wrong is the blood on the walls. And the fourth indication is the smears of fingertips in the blood to leave us a message:

 

YOU’RE DEAD, VANN

I’LL FIND YOU

 

     We freeze, and Barlow blanches. “Catterus was here.”

     “Duh.”

     Our plan is blown to hell.

Oh, Reader, what have we gotten you into?

     We ought to leave. We ought to run and keep running into the next Reality. But having come this far, Barlow’s not leaving without some clothes. So he passes the kitchen and breakfast table and heads down the hall. There’s a bathroom at the end with doors to bedrooms on the left and right. Barlow takes the right bedroom, and you and I take the left.

        I’m still trying to figure out whose blood is on the walls. It can’t be from Barlow’s Alternate Self because his Alternate doesn’t Extend into the Present. Barlow is that Extension.

        You don't know whose blood it is, do you, Reader?

 

A Nasty Surprise in the Bedroom

     Inside the left bedroom is a king-sized bed with rumpled bed sheets containing a pair of red and black pajamas. This must be where Barlow’s Alternate was when the Time Change started. He Disappeared in the middle of the night, leaving his pajamas behind. But the closet is full of women’s clothing.

     The pajamas and the closet aren’t what stops me dead in my tracks, though. I recoil because I stumble over the body of A. Walters laid out on the floor with a big gash in her throat as wide as the Red Ridge Canyon, next to a huge pool of blood. It hasn’t dried yet, so we must have missed Catterus by less than an hour.

     Be careful, Reader. Don’t step in the blood.

 

The Dead Body

     She’s wearing a blood-soaked nightgown, but what makes it obvious she’s a woman is she’s got a figure like my sister Belinda’s. And a face like Belinda’s, too. A brunette in her twenties just under six feet tall. At first I think it’s her, but it couldn’t be, because we saw her this morning. Looking closer, I notice the nose isn’t quite right and she’s taller than Belinda. There are probably other differences, but I’m in no mood to keep staring at her pale, blood-drained face.

     I guess it’s clear now what Catterus is going to do if he catches up to us.

You look a little pale, Reader. Sorry you had to see that.

     I feel like I’m gonna be sick, so I go into the bathroom and throw up into the toilet. Barlow comes out of the other bedroom with a stack of clothing.

     “I found my clothes. My Alternate must be out of town because—“ He looks at me. “Are you all right, Dexter?”

     “No.” I wipe my chin with a towel. “Let’s get out of here.”

        I tell Barlow to change his clothes and leave the old ones behind, but he only grunts at me. He thinks he looks fine, the big chimp. His letter jacket is a badge of honor to him, and he’s not abandoning it, even though it’s meaningless to everyone except his family. And we’re sick of looking at it.

        I was hoping we’d get to rest here in Barlow’s Alt Res. We could regroup, plan out our next step. This is the perfect napping place for a visiting Reader. But we’re in too much of a hurry. The longer we linger here, the more likely The Fiend will spot us.

        A search of the apartment reveals no ID’s, no cash, no valuables. Catterus has cleaned out the place. He probably has lookouts staked all over town, waiting for us to show. So our best move is to head back to Shytown now. But first we’ve got to get out of this apartment complex undetected, and that is not guaranteed.

 

Showdown

I’m in no mood to explain anything to Barlow, how his Alternate is shacked up with someone who looks like his sister and Catterus cut her throat just for spite. So we leave—finally. I guess the reason Barlow’s Alternates have disappeared is because Catterus has been killing them in the Past since he can’t find Barlow in the Present. He’s so mad at us that he’s got to murder somebody.

        Barlow stuffs his clothes in his rucksack, and we creep out the back of the apartment complex and down Church Street toward the post office. I have to pause and throw up again into some bushes, but Barlow is chipper. He thinks we’ve succeeded in our errand and there will be no consequences.

     “See? I told you it’d be a piece of cake.”

     If by cake he means a cake of plastic explosive, he’s right. “Don’t tell Amos we came here,” I growl at him as we cross Webster Street.

     “Came where,” Barlow says.

 

Gunfight on Church Street

     Neither of us wants to hear a lecture from our older brother Amos about how stupid we’ve been. Of course, our stupidity so far is nothing compared to what happens next. Because The Fiend jumps out from behind a bush and points his D-Blaster at us.

     “To Catterus wants talk you to.”

     “Like hell,” Barlow cries and pulls his own gun.

DUCK, READER! TAKE COVER QUICK. HIT THE GROUND!

     Barlow and I dive to the side, me left and him right because we hear an “oomph” like a tuba, and a fireball flies from the D-Gun over your ducked head and sails across the street like a comet. It hits a bush and sends it into the Fourth Dimension right in front of a crowd of onlookers outside the post office. That’s a Violation of the 42nd Directive. But the Pirate has already Violated it with his tattooed face, so what the hell, right?

 

Danger #4: The Fourth Dimension

     Getting knocked into the Void of the Fourth Dimension is more lethal than a bullet. You’ll die faster from suffocation and exposure than from a gunshot wound. And the Bystanders can’t take you to the hospital if your body is in the Void. You can’t even Reinchronate unless someone drags your frozen carcass back into the 3-D World.

     I can hear the whine of the D-Gun recharging as

Barlow tackles The Fiend in someone’s front yard, and his D-Gun goes flying.  Barlow slugs him, using the guy’s head as a punching bag. Whappatta, whappatta, whappatta. But I pull him off.

     “Come on. We’ve got to get out of here before the Bycops show up.”

     Are you all right, Reader? You’ve got some grass on your back. Let me brush it off.

     I notice the Bystanders in their capes across the street in front of the one-story post office, staring at us. They’ve got their phones out, and they’re taking photos and calling the authorities. So Barlow picks up his gun, and we hurry away from there. We can hear a siren in the distance. The Void Pirate has Disappeared—and so has his weapon. But we still run because the Bypolice are nothing but trouble to Longtimers like us.

     We need to skedaddle, Reader.

 

Eluding the Bycops

     “What are we running for?” Barlow says, out of breath when we get to Poplar. He bends over, his palms above his sore knees. “Our victim is Gone. What crime could we be charged with?”

     He actually thinks the Bycops are going to let us go. So I have to explain to him there’s a dead body in his Alternate’s apartment.

     “Who do you think they’re going to suspect for the murder? You the roommate—or some Pirate we tell them about from the Fourth Dimension?”

     He avoids looking back at me as I chew him out.  “How are you going to explain removing your clothes?  It’ll look like you’re on the lam. They’ll hold you in a cell while they gather evidence against you. You’ll be locked up when the Timestorm comes in two weeks, and you’ll get torn apart atom by atom.”

     He doesn’t say anything, so I grab his arm and pull him with me along Poplar Street to the metro station across from the courthouse so we can catch a train into Shawneetown.

 

What I Can’t Tell Him

        “So who was it?” Barlow asks me on the way to the square. “Who was the dead body?”

        “I don’t know. Some random Bystander who passed by. Maybe a neighbor who heard them breaking into the apartment.”

        I can’t tell him it was A. Walters. I can’t tell him A. Walters is a woman. He would get twisted up in his Alternate Life, in wondering about her. He’d get sidetracked with wanting to meet her and find out about her. You remember what happened in Reality 266, Reader.

        “Maybe it was my roommate.”

        “Nah,” I say. “I checked the I.D. Someone named Alfred Hasty.”

        Barlow thinks that over. “I thought Catterus took all the I.D.s.”

        Uh-oh. I’ve got to think fast.

        “It was a library card. You know the Pirates consider books worthless.”

     Barlow rubs his chin. He’s thinking way too much. “We’ve got to call it in. We’ve discovered a dead body.”

Ah, Jeez, Barlow!

     “We’re not calling it in. We already know who did it, and the Bypolice can’t catch him. Not when he can go into the Fourth Dimension.”

     Calling the Intertime Police would be a waste of time, too. They don’t care if some Bystander has been killed. Billions are killed every time the Travelers Change the Past, and they’ve Changed the Past more than 272 times.

     Barlow has to mull it over. He just can’t stop being a cop. “Not reporting it is against the law.”

     “That’s Bystander laws, Barlow. They don’t apply to us. Or the Void Pirates.”

I take off my stupid cape. I’ll put it back on when we get on the subway. You can take yours off, too, Reader.

        Barlow wants to get something to eat because he’s famished, so I tell him we’ll stop for deep dish pizza on the way back. In Shytown we like our pizza so thick it’s an entire Italian meal—with the sauce on top so there’s no layer of lubricant to make the cheese slide off the crust.

 

Danger #5: Other Longtimers

     We’ve been followed by a group of Bystanders dressed in magicians’ robes. But they can’t be Bystanders if they’re dressed for the last Reality. These are Tourists who haven’t got a clue what they’re doing. They’re dressed for the previous Reality, and the Bystanders are wondering what’s wrong with them. Of course, the Longtimers know what’s wrong with them because they can spot clueless Newcomers a mile away. I groan inside because I know you and me and Barlow are hardly better than Tourists ourselves.

We want away from them. We don't want anything to do with them. They're attracting way too much attention from the Locals, and they're inviting a citation from the CTA. I don't want to be anywhere near here if the CTA shows up.

     There are three of them, two men in beards and a woman wearing a conical hat covered with stars and crescent moons. They’re probably a family. Their gray-haired companion wears a purple dress and a long black cape like the Locals. She must be their Sponsor.

     “You’re the Vanns!” She’s recognized us—that is, our Alternate Selves from an earlier Era. We used to be the scourge of death to the Crimers in the Longago. She thinks you’re just one of the family, too, Reader.        “Thank god. We’re being pursued by agents of the Time Syndicate. You’ve got to help us.” She looks at us with wide shining eyes like we're superheroes or something.

Oh, please. Give me a break.

     “We’re just Newcomers like you,” I tell her.

     “But you’re the Vanns.”

“Used to be. Not anymore.”

 

No Time for Tourists

        It’s become pretty clear that Amos Sponsored us just so we can start doing his dirty work for him again. Everyone is expecting that of us, especially the Crimers. But we don’t want to do what Amos wants. We want to lead our own lives and do what we want. We had important careers in Reality 250. We had lives. We don’t want to be Longtimers and battle against Time Travelers. We want our old lives back.

        You don’t want to change, do you, Reader? You want to keep living the life you have, right? Not take a bunch of orders from Amos.  You don’t want to live in constant danger and fight the low lifes from the Fourth Dimension. Or tangle with the Chrono-head Bystanders and their loony-tune society. Or scramble for Survival trying to find a Safe House when the next Timestorm arrives.

These Newcomers have some cockamamie notion that we’re romantic figures. Romantic, my ass.  Dodging Time Changes is NOT romantic.  It’s a Death World, and we are not equipped to deal with it.

     We’re not even Rookies, Reader. We’re Newcomers. We’re still learning the ropes. We’re just getting our bearings. We aren’t—

I know the All Clear has been sounded.  Let me finish here. I’m not done talking to the Reader. Hold your horses. I’ll be right there.

We’re halfway through the Mystic Season now, Reader. Next Reality we’re going back to that support group we attended a couple Realities ago. Longtimers Anonymous. Amos is making us go. He still thinks we’re head cases, cracking up from the stress of life in the Timeflow.

Hah. We're fine. We don't need a support group.

It’s a waste of time. We should be celebrating having the Reader with us and getting Barlow's clothes and making it out of



 

      

Ned Huston's CHRONOVERSE