Reality 252
Wilderness Season
         We did it!  We Travelled in Time!  We’ve actually been to the Future.  Less than a Second into the Future, but still, we’ve Travelled through the Fourth Dimension.  There’s nothing there, of course, but there’s no denying we’re Time Travelers.
         I love Time Travel!  We all do—we can’t help it.  We all want to be Time Travelers.  It’s all so, well, romantic.  So at the end of Reality 252 when we’ve come for our third ride in a Time Machine, we’re rarin’ to go.  We’re all dressed pretty much the same, except for Belinda, but our attitudes have changed.  It’s been over two weeks, and we’re as eager as a bunch of dogs going for a ride in a car.
         Amos does a head count as we scramble inside Room 999.  “You’re all still alive,” he says.  “I’m glad to see it.”
         Still alive!  That again?  We just saw him two weeks ago.  What does he expect?
         We take our seats in the stuffed chairs and couches same as last time.  Once we’re belted in, Barlow starts hollering, “Hey, let’s go!  What are you waiting for?”
         Our pilot’s one of the Monks on the other side of a partition, so Barlow bangs on the wall with his fist.  “Crank her up!  Bust out the jams!  Voidspace, here we come!”
         Zeke and Cartmell join in with the yells.  I’m not yelling, but I am grinning, and so are Amanda and Pete.  Jackson and Jessalyn are squealing in delight.  We’re ready Freddy—ready to rock ‘n roll.
         Cooper and Amos exchange looks.  Amos is the only one of us who’s not grinning—like the only adult with a bunch of out-of-control preschoolers.  Our Cub Scout Pack is juiced up and ready to roll.  We’re about to bust out with campfire songs, start roastin’ wienies and toastin’ marshmallows.
         We’re all set to go!
         So Amos gives the nod to the guy behind the partition, and the Pilot pulls his Lever and hits the thrusters.  The portholes ahead of us turn black with the Void, and we’re pressed into our seats.  Gravity lets go of us completely once we’re past the Threshold, and it’s like a slingshot into the Void because it’s Protospace out there, and in Protospace you have only three options—acceleration, deceleration, or rest.  There is no inertia.
         Viva Protospace!
         Once the thrusters cut off, we’re out of our seats and floating around the cabin in no time.  Zeke’s got his camera and is trying to take pictures through the portholes.  Everyone else is turning somersaults or swimmin’ through space.
         The Monks have cleaned up the room since I barfed all over it last trip.  I get motion sickness sometimes.  I just wasn't ready for zero gravity.  It doesn't seem to bother anyone else.
         Cooper thought it was pretty funny when I tossed my cookies during our second flight.  "Don't worry," he told me.  "You'll get used to it.  Newcomers get sick a lot.  It's normal."
         He seems to know all about it.  He and Amos have been hanging out a lot recently.  I don't get it.  They never used to be so close, but now they act like they're in some secret club. 
         I’m used to my brothers and sisters having exciting private lives that I’m not part of.  I’ve been “brother of” my whole life.  It’s who I am.  I suppose that’s why Amos has chosen me to keep this journal.  I’m the spectator in the family, so I’m the natural choice.  Someone has to do it, he says.  And he doesn’t have time for it.  Neither does Amanda.  Barlow’s not going to do it.  And Amos can’t trust Belinda with it.  She’d turn it into a protest.  Cooper’s the one who would be really good at it, but he’d embroider, “improve” on the facts, and that’s not what Amos wants.
         He knows I’ll be fair and honest.  I’ll do my best.  I asked him what my role is supposed to be:  critic, apologist, family historian, scientific researcher?  He won’t say.  He liked that first journal entry I made.  So I guess he wants more like that.  Stories of the family’s adventures in Time.
         This isn’t a diary of my life—just of my life as a Time Traveler.  So I’m leavin’ out the mundane stuff:  school and studying and all that and just focusing on myself and my brothers and sisters in Amos’s Time World.
         It’s not hard, making these journals, especially with the Subvocalizer he’s given me.  I can record my entries without speaking out loud, while I’m in the Safe House between Realities and everyone else is clowning around.  I’m only keeping this as long as I feel like it—and as long as I have a reason to.  Once I’m too busy or the Changes are over, I’m done with it.  Who knows—maybe I’ll become important enough that I won’t have time for this, either!
         I keep hoping one of these mornings I’ll wake up with some super talent and I’ll become a stand-alone person like my brothers and sisters.  But who am I kidding?  I know that’s not gonna happen.
         What will happen is this:  I’ll get my college degree, and then I won’t be only “brother of.”  I’ll be Dexter Vann, engineer.  I won’t be at the top of my class like my brothers and sisters.  I won’t be Ivy League like Amos.  I won’t revolutionize the field of civil engineering.  But I’ll be somebody and not just the brother of somebody.
         Of course, Time Travel makes everyone feel like somebody.  We’re all feeling pretty important.  Even Amanda’s excited for our third Trip.  We don't need to trick her into coming this time.  We've all been eager during the last month.  This next Time Change couldn't come too soon for us.  We wanted Amos to give us a ride sooner, but he said he couldn't do that.  These Timecraft have been built only for a serious purpose, he says—they're not a carnival ride.
         They are to us!
         We’re astronauts now—or Chrononauts, whatever you want to call it.  Little Jackson doesn't understand that the Safe House is a Timecraft.  He calls it "that floaty room" and thinks it is a carnival ride.  In his view, what else could it be?
          I think Pete likes it just as much as he does.  He's a kid at heart.  You should have seen him smile.  He’s big like a Vann but soft in the face.  He’s not intimidating like us.
         Even Belinda—world-weary Belinda—is  enjoying the Trip.  She isn’t a ganger anymore.  The gangers completely disappeared after our second Trip.  Amos says they’ve been Wiped Out of Time like a bunch of dodo birds.
         It seems so weird to think those people are gone.  Just like that.  Vanished forever.  And they didn’t Exist before last Reality.  Their Alternate Selves Exist, but not as gangers.  They have no memory of Reality 251 or 250, where we come from.  They have the same names, but they’re different people.  They look similar, but their memories have changed—and so have their lives.
         It doesn’t seem right.  There’s something wrong about this.  Terribly wrong.  But it’s not my problem.  I can’t waste my time thinking about it.  I’ve got textbooks to read and tests to study for.  I don’t have time to dwell on this Time Travel stuff.  I may as well start worrying about the Mongolians as get worked up over a bunch of Bystanders.
         I need to finish my degree and get a job.  Then I can settle down.  I don’t need any detours now.  I need to focus.  I need to finish my junior year.
         Once we maneuver onto the Plane, we can’t see the Three Dimensional Earth anymore because it’s behind us.  All we can see is a shining star in the distance.
         “What’s that?” Barlow asks Amos.  “Venus?”
         Zeke groans.  “Come on, Barlow.  Get with the program.  Venus is in the Three Dimensional Universe.”
         We’re looking at Amos for an answer, but he seems reluctant to tell us.  He’s not wearing the same purple suit as last time.  Now it’s something in electric blue with oversized lapels and yellow stitching
         “It’s called Duration Station,” he says finally.  “It’s one of the Time Stations in the Void.” 
         Time Stations?  Amos’s Time Travel World just keeps getting bigger and bigger.  The implications are staggering, but I can’t let myself think about them.  I’ve got to keep my eyes on the road.  It’s too easy to get obsessed with this Time Travel stuff.  It can take over your whole life, but I don’t want that.  I want the life I’ve already got.  I don’t want to get lost in this Time Travel universe.  I don’t want to forget what’s really important.  I have goals.  And they don’t include Time Travel.
         This is just a family outing for me—nothing more.  I’m just here for the fun.  I can’t let myself get sidetracked.  I can’t let myself get distracted.  I’m gonna have a good time and get back to the books.  That’s all.  My brothers and sisters are enjoying themselves.  I want to have my fun too. 
         So I turn away from the portholes.  Barlow turns away too and starts rebounding off Belinda like they’re bumper cars in free-fall.  She’s gone back to normal now, wearing her usual jeans and t-shirt with her jagged spiky haircut.  Even the scar on her cheek’s gone.  Maybe she’s covering it up with makeup—or maybe it was makeup to begin with.
         Cooper turns on some tunes, one of his oldies, “Treat Her Right” by Roy Head and the Traits, and Barlow and Belinda start trying to dance.  They’ve got their shoes off like this is some kind of sock hop.  She’s swiveling her hips to the beat, sending her twirling through the air, but Barlow’s got her by the hand and pulls her back, hits the ceiling and gives her a whirl.  They join hands and rock from side to side in midair.
         We’re all having a high old time.  I don’t want to make it sound like Time Travels just a big party, but--
Jackson and Cartmell are wriggling through the air to the music like a couple wriggly eels.  Barlow’s yellin’ the lyrics, and Belinda’s doin’ flips in midair.  It’s like one of those circuses we used to put on in the back yard when we were kids.  Barlow and Belinda are the high wire act.  The rest of us are clowns and acrobats and dancers.
         We’re twistin’ and jivin’.  Cooper’s got his flask out and he’s beltin’ a few back.  Even I’ve joined in the scene now that I’ve taken my drammamine.
         I can see Zeke peering out the portholes and scribblin’ equations on his notepad, grinnin’ the whole time.  A classic Vann party.  Fun all around.  No one goes home disappointed.
         I smell pastrami, and I look over to see a picnic basket floating across the cabin.  Cartmell and Zeke have discovered Amos’s lunch stash, and they’re in mid air, chowing down on hot pastrami sandwiches.
         Then I see Jackson sail up to the flat-screen TV between the portholes and hit the “on” button, and the picture springs to life.  It shows some kind of newscast.  Two ‘casters in silver jump suits sit behind a desk, speaking to the camera, but there’s no sound.  It must be muted.  Their names “Myra Case” and “Red Phillips” appear briefly below them.  Down the screen scrolls a list that goes something like this:
CTA Counterstrike
No More Gangs
No More Gun Control
Standard of Living Index Up
Programs for the Poor
Immigration Reform
Wilderness Season Stabilized
         The two ‘casters continue speaking in close-up for a minute.  Another list titled “Anachronisms” appears on the screen, and I have time to spot only the top item—switchblade knives—before the camera cuts to a breaking news story.
         A Wanted poster appears of some bearded guy with pale skin, gray eyes, and a white headband with Japanese characters on it.  The name “Catterus” appears at the bottom of the poster “aka The Terror of the Void.”  Wanted for Traveling, Tampering with the Past, Violation of the 14th and 15th Directives, Assault, Murder, Piracy, and an assortment of other crimes, Bycrimes, and Timecrimes.  But the kicker is the text that appears on the screen as part of the story:  “Hired to kill the Vanns?”
         Amos sails over and shuts off the set.  He glances around, but no one seems to be paying attention but me.  Everyone else is crowded around the lunch basket. 
         “What was that?” I ask him.  “Did that mean us?”
         “Never mind,” he says.  “Just ignore it.”
         Come again?  “It looked like some sort of newscast.  How can we be getting a newscast in the Void?”
         Amos turns away from me.  “I’ll explain later,” he tells me.  “Just drop it and enjoy yourself—while you still can.” 
While I still can?  He’s acting like we’re doomed.  I look back at everyone else to see if anyone’s noticed the TV, but they’re too busy partying to care.
        “If that was about us, shouldn’t I warn everybody?”
         “It wasn’t about you,” Amos says.  “That’s an old rumor.  Just forget about it.”
         Now the music’s stopped, and in between sips from the nipple of a plastic bottle of beer, Barlow's talking about buying a Time Machine of his own, but Amos tells him they’re called Safe Houses, not Time Machines.  Time Machines are for trips into the Past, and they cost about a billion bucks.  Safe Houses Travel only into the Void.  So maybe we'll build our own.  Zeke's really keen on that idea.  All of us want a Safe House now that we've ridden in one.  I guess everyone does once they've taken their first few Trips.  It makes you feel so powerful and special.  It completely changes your perspective on the world. 
         We all want to Travel to the Past and have a look, but Amos says absolutely not.  You have to have a special permit, and they're hard to get because it's so easy to cause a Change in Time by accident. 
         Of course, Safe Houses can't Travel into the Past anyway.  You'd have to have a more powerful Machine, extended life support, provisions.  Because Travelling back in Time requires a long voyage.  Amos makes it sound like a real production.  You have to wear a spacesuit and everything.  Bring your own sources of food, water, and air.  And you can't take back any souvenirs with you, because you can’t remove matter from the Past.
         “You say we’re in the Void,” Barlow complains to Amos.  “But where is that?  I mean, where the heck are we?”  He’s got this baffled look.
         Amos smiles slightly.  “The Future.”
         Barlow draws back at the answer and looks out the portholes at the darkness.  “But there’s nothing here.”
         Barlow rubs his cheek.  He looks like he’s starting to get it.  “Well then, how far into the Future are we?”
         “Less than a Second.”
         Barlow’s looking baffled again.  He just can’t wrap his brain around the geometry of it.  There are only three dimensions in his head, and he can’t translate time into space.  He can’t imagine a Second being a distance, especially not a long distance.
         “The speed of light, Barlow,” Zeke says.  “Translate a Second into a distance by using the speed of light.  That’s the Speed of the Universe.”  When Zeke sees Barlow’s crinkled-up face, he says.  “186 thousand miles.”
         But that doesn’t help Barlow.  He just gives up.  He’s never liked math and science, and he’s never been good at them.  So he stops trying to understand his Trip and goes back to enjoying it.  That’s when Amos decides it’s time to spoil all our fun.  He unbuckles himself and rises up to the ceiling, where he can eye-stab us.
         “You can’t tell anyone about this,” he announces, “about this Traveling in Time.”
         We all start to groan and protest, but he cuts us off with a chop of his hand—like his hand’s a guillotine blade.  The gesture makes him rebound off the ceiling, but he’s ready for that and kicks like an expert to right himself.  He’s better at maneuvering than even Barlow and Belinda
         “Not a word,” he growls.  “You hear me?”
         We all fall silent because he’s really mad, and we don’t want him taking it out on us.  But he can tell we’re not convinced and we’re gonna blab.
         “Talking about this will only cause you trouble.  If no one believes you, you’ll be a laughingstock.  If they do, it’ll be worse.”  He’s angrier than a truant officer.  He looks like the librarian catching you stealing books.
         “If the Bystanders believe you, you’ll get detained by Homeland Security.  They’ll interrogate you mercilessly, and they will never ever let you go.  They’ll consider it a matter of national security.  You’ll end up Wiped Out of Time just like them.”
         We’re all sitting or floating in stasis, trying to absorb the bad news.  Ol’ buzz kill Amos.  He has to fire-hose our parade.
         “But you’re part of the government,” Cartmell says.  “You could get us out, couldn’t you?”
         “I’m a city planner!” Amos yells.  “I’m not part of the Bystander government.  They’re beyond reasoning.  They can’t be saved.  We don’t have enough time or enough Machines to do that.  There will always be Bystanders.  Get used to it.  And they will never understand.  You can’t tell them about us.  They don’t get it.  They are our natural enemy.”
         So there you go.  Time Travel is top secret, and you can’t tell anyone about this journal or my experiences.  It’s just between you and me.
         But I’m telling you Time Travel is a blast!  We all enjoy these trips in the Time Machine—it’s afterwards the problems start.
         After our second trip I rush to campus for my structural analysis class.  I don't want to be late.  I think I’m going to be an hour early, but when I get to the classroom, I see everyone handing in tests and leaving.
         "What's going on?" I ask Professor Gomez.  He puts his hand up to his glasses and holds onto them for a second while he stares at me.  He’s short and round, not tall and skinny like the Vanns.
         "Dexter, where have you been?  Did you forget we were taking a test today?"
         I don't know what to say.  I was out getting a science lesson of a different kind.  "No.  That's why I'm an hour early."
         He gives me this strange look.  "I announced the test would be during regular class time.  What made you think it would be at 1:30?"
         "But that is—"  And I figure out the starting time of class must have changed.  Amos warned us of things like this, random changes in our lives caused by the Time Change.  I’m just not expecting it to ambush me.
         Professor Gomez looks at my expression and laughs.  "You didn't forget when class starts, did you?"
         And I hang my head like I can’t believe what a screw-up I am.  The last student hands in his test, and Professor Gomez picks up the stack of tests and taps the bottom of it on his old wooden desk to even up the ends.
         He looks down and thinks for a second.  "Okay, come to my office, and I'll let you take it now."
         So I go with him, and I'm feeling ecstatic until I see the test.  It covers Chapter 12, not Chapters 10 and 11, which I studied.  I do my best, but I'm not sure I’ve gotten more than half the answers right.  I haven't heard him lecture on this material, and I only skimmed the chapter.  It hasn't even been assigned yet.
         I ask him about that when I hand in my test, and he frowns at me.  He hands me a copy of the syllabus, and I can see Chapter 12 has already been assigned and lectured on.  And I notice that class started a week earlier than before the Time Change, and I realize I’m probably a week behind in my other classes too.
         Whew, that was tough!  I'll just have to laugh it off, I guess, and make up for the points later in the semester.  Amos says things get screwed up after Time Changes a lot, but I'll bet there'll never be another one as bad as this one!  And I can’t tell Professor Gomez about the Time Changes, because Amos says that would be a violation of Longtimer Law.
         After our hot pastrami lunch in Room 999, my brothers and sisters trade their own stories about the mix-ups they experienced due to the Time Change between Reality 251 and 252.  Everyone has a tale to tell.
         Barlow got a reprimand for missing a meeting he didn't know about.  Amanda missed her two o'clock and her meeting with the vice president because both got rescheduled for the hour she was on her lunch break at the Brotherhood Lodge.
         Cooper's plane tickets weren't any good, which was just as well because the movie he was going to be in doesn’t Exist anymore.  I feel sorry for him, but I'm glad he's not leaving town because I'd miss him.  We all would.  Cooper doesn't seem to mind—as if he saw it coming.
         Cartmell missed a party she didn't know about.  And her assignments at school have changed.  She says her teacher's someone different now.  She thinks it's pretty funny.
         Belinda couldn't find the painting she started before she left—of the Earth as seen from the Void of the Fourth Dimension.  She got all bent out of shape, really had a fit, but now she shrugs and says she's going to start another one.   Now she and Barlow are doing a duet in free fall.  It's pretty funny to watch.  Those two are always clowning around.  I’m floating around this time too.
         Zeke says he wants to bring his friends along next time like I did on our first Trip.  But Quint didn't show up today or last time. I waited out front for nearly half an hour, but he never made it.  I guess that first Trip was enough for him.  Well, maybe he'll come along next time.
         Amos doesn't float around during free-fall like the rest of us, just stays in his seat.  He’s so somber.  He explains things to us, but there isn't any zip in his voice.  I wonder if we'll feel the same about riding in Safe Houses after a dozen trips.  It's hard to imagine getting tired of this.  But Amos is from the Masterpiece Season more than ten Realities ago, so I guess he’s had enough.  I'm afraid he's getting depressed.  Cooper says he and Maggie have become separated.   They’ve—what?  Already?  But I’m not finished.  Okay, sure.


View from the south of the former State Bank of Illinois, located on the northern corner of the junction of Main and Washington Streets in Old Shawneetown, Illinois, United States. Built in 1839, it was once Illinois' premier financial institution, but as the village sank into obscurity, it became insignificant, especially after most residents left in the wake of the Great Flood of 1937; it closed in the 1950s and is now a continuously closed Illinois state historic site. The building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. This photograph was taken by Netted in 2013.  I, the copyright holder of this work, release this work into the public domain. This applies worldwide.