Bradley H. Sinor and Lou
Joel Rosen ignored the
artificial voice and continued to stare at the digital
display on the dashboard of his car. The readings
weren’t what held his interest. Rather it was the
shifting color display monitor of his music program,
shapes and colors morphing from one to another and then
another seconds later.
“Mr. Rosen,” the voice
repeated, with just a slight change in timber, enough to
catch his attention.
“We are reaching the edge of
The DFW Grid. You will need to take over control of the
car or I will need to pull it over until you can. The
only other option is a reroute back into The DFW Grid.”
Joel twisted his neck one way
and then the other, the crack of his neck bones sending
a satisfying feeling through him. The car was a
two-year-old Arctic Eight, designed to seat two people
comfortably, although he had claimed that was only true
if the two were five feet tall or less. At just under
six feet tall, Joel was definitely over the design
“Mr. Rosen, I will need a
decision in the next three hundred yards or I will have
to initiate one of the stated options,” the car told
“Yes, bwana,” he said and
punched the green acceptance button, tearing his eyes
away from the monitor. “I think I can handle it from
here,” he muttered sarcastically. Sarcasm was a subtlety
lost on any of the Singularity’s many AI minds.
Remember, even out of range you can still call for
emergency help,” said the Gridvoice “Have a safe day.”
When the car began to slow, the
thought struck Joel that he really did have to
drive the thing. After a moment’s hesitation he punched
the accelerator and the electric motor hummed, pulling
the car back up to speed as he headed along an exit ramp
toward Highway 271.
Over the next hour and a half,
what traffic there was had slowed to a trickle, a sight
almost unheard of on The DFW Grid. Twice the road
crested hills and Joel expected to see some sort of sign
that would tell him he was heading in the right
direction; both times he was disappointed.
He had just decided to give it
another two miles before turning around to try to find
someone to give him directions, when he saw the old,
dingy sign, probably put up when there still were public
works employees, even out in the boondocks. It read:
“Mount Pleasant 3 Miles.”
“Okay, maybe I didn’t dream the
whole thing.” Joel reached over and touched the notebook
lying on the passenger seat. It contained everything he
remembered of his trip five years before.
It still took another three
turns and somewhere around two dozen curves on a
hard-packed dirt lane before the dilapidated farmhouse
and barn, complete with fifty old gas engine automobile
wrecks, scattered around a collapsed grain silo, came
Three Australian Heelers
materialized around the end of an ancient truck thirty
feet away from where the electric car came to a stop.
They weren’t the biggest dogs in the world, but from the
sound of their barking, they thought they were.
. “Bill! Chelsea! Hi! Git
yourselves back here! Now!” The voice came from the
shadows on the wrap-around porch on the ancient house.
The dogs stopped, looked at
Joel and then toward the house, as if they were
uncertain whether to challenge the alpha voice. A
moment later all three animals turned around, vanishing
under the huge porch in less than a minute.
Once the path was
cleared, the speaker headed toward Joel. He looked to be
anywhere from fifty to seventy-five; someone who had
spent most of his life in the hot Texas sun. The faded
jeans, patched work shirt and baseball cap all added to
the man’s image.
“You must be the fellow
from Dallas, eh?” The man stopped a few feet in front
of Joel. and stuck out a hand smeared with rust and
grease. “Good to meet you, Mister Rosen. I’m Tom
“Good to meet you in
person, too, Tom. Call me Joel.”
“Did you have any trouble
finding the place?” asked Gaines.
“I was wondering for
awhile. This is the first time I’ve actually driven
myself in quite awhile. Driving off of The Grid takes
some getting used to; it’s not like I do it every day,”
“Yeah, the Sing-Sing controls
everything,” said the farmer with a frown, repeating a
line from the old satirical jingle. Gaines stared hard
at Joel for a long time. Gaines turned and walked down a
fencerow. “Now that I see you, I do remember you. Five
years. There are times that seems like a long time and
others that seem like it was just a few days ago.”
Before Joel could say
anything, his belt comm unit began to beep.
Gaines arched an eyebrow.
“Reception out here is kind of spotty. I’m surprised a
call can get through.”
“It’s just a reminder to
take one of my meds.” Joel pulled a metal dispenser from
his pocket and slipped a pill from it, dropping it into
his mouth and swallowing in a quick movement.
“I got some cold tea you
could wash it down with,” said Gaines as he motioned for
Joel to follow him along the western fence line. “That
“It’s called Pecarian. A
new treatment for...”
Joel did a double take. This was not the sort of
question that someone expected to hear these days. Sure,
the nano virus cures made Alzheimer’s something that
could be dealt with, even cured. But the number of
people who knew the drug protocol was limited. And
certainly finding one out here in Hicksville was not
something Joel had expected to have happen.
“Yeah, early onset,
pretty bad, actually. I was diagnosed a few years ago,
started to go downhill pretty fast.”
The farmer turned at a fencepost and looked at
Joel as the two men walked on into an over-grown back
pasture. “You look like you’re doing fine now. I’m
guessing the drugs are helping. The Cartermien helped my
sister, until she got hit by some crazy drunk college
kids on their way back to College Station.”
“I’m sorry about your
sister. But yeah, the Pecarian helps, along with a new
drug, just released by… well, it,” said Joel. They cut
through a field heading towards another distant fence
line. “Part of that ‘serve and protect’ Singularity
bullshit -- but it works. I feel a lot better.”
“I guess there were some
benefits to the Change,” the farmer said distantly.
“Doesn’t really bother me none. I still get to do what I
did before.” He pulled up short in front of an old
claw-foot bathtub, almost obscured by weeds and trash.
He looked at Joel as he changed direction. “What did you
use to do?”
“I am an antiques
dealer,” said Joel. “I used to be able to go to markets
and auctions, not hunt up staff in backyards and barns.
That’s why I came through this area five years ago.” He
stopped as he recognized the cluster of trees. “It’s
still there. I really didn’t expect to find it”
“I told you it was.”
There was a small grove
of trees, with what might have been mistaken for a
large, old, rusting freezer lodged within them. It was
just as he remembered, maybe a little rustier, the paint
a little more weather faded, but the vehicle hadn’t
moved, not that it could have.
“A vintage Volkswagen
micro bus,” Joel murmured. “This is a T1, from at least
The tires were flat, sunk into
the earth years ago, the rubber no doubt totally rotten.
He could see the interior better than the sides. The
windows were long gone, and the still-intact roof
shielded a jumble of rusted springs and wildly sprawling
Joel walked around to the
front of the rusted vehicle. He could clearly see where
the VW in a circle logo beneath the windshield had once
been repainted into a peace sign. The remains of
psychedelic paint interspersed with large splotches of
Joel stopped and clapped his
hands. The farmer came up behind him.
“Yep, a regular damn
hippie-mobile,” said Gaines. “Been parked in this spot
since the Singularity knows when. Probably been sitting
here sixty-nine or seventy years then, since 1968 or
1969, I think. The trees look like they’ve almost got it
Joel leaned his head in
one window, letting his eyes adjust to the darkness.
Drawing a deep breath, he grinned, thinking for a moment
that he might have caught a whiff of marijuana.
“How much do you want?”
“You offering credits? I’m
more than a little bit off the grid here, son. What else
you got?” He made a gesture moving his hand with two
fingers extended to his mouth and then away.
This was one of the parts about
the antiques business that Joel enjoyed, the bargaining.
“I think we can reach an agreement, I have some contacts
that can move a few cartons of cigarettes in from
overseas, without the customs people knowing. Before we
discuss the exact price, let me see if I can sweeten the
deal a bit.”
From his inside jacket pocket
Joel produced a small wooden box. Even though he knew
that Gaines and he were completely alone, he still
glanced around before opening it to display a half–dozen
“Cuban?” asked Gaines.
“Yep.” Joel passed one to the
old man. “And I got three whole boxes of these that are
looking for a home.”
Producing a silver lighter
from his back pocket, the old man smiled. “I think we
can do business, son.”
There has been a minor disturbance noted in Lambda 678
----Fluctuation in temporal
---Very well, initiate
Protocol Magellan, continue to monitor.
projection of success sixteen percent.
Harry Gaskell ran a long, thin
paint brush to the center of a spiral starburst on the
side of the van. Leaning back, he inspected the results
and then added two more strokes into the design. It was
a classic that he had found in the archives of Haight
Ashbury, San Francisco circa 1967.
He looked over toward the back
door of the shop and watched Joel come toward his work
“I was wondering when you would
show up,” Gaskell told the younger man. “The
upholsterer left an hour ago. He said that as far as he
was concerned, the interior was finished.”
Joel leaned in through the
window, surveyed the upholstery and then ran his hand
across the driver’s seat. “Magnificent! Looks just as it
must have the day it left West Germany. The paint job --
“As authentic as I can make it.
I used the best reconstruction software to determine
what the paint job originally looked like,” said
Gaskell, wiping his brush on a rag “I even used
authentic period paints. I’ll have the final touchups
done on the outside tonight. By the way, who did you
say was paying for all this?”
“A big Top Human muckity muck
in Upper Seattle,” said Joel. “Apparently one of his
ancestors was a so-called hippie.”
“Figgers. Only a Transhuman
could get away with such a waste of resources, and have
the credits to do it,” said Gaskell. “What’s in it for
“An obscene amount of credits.
I could use them. Remember, they agreed to treat my
Alzheimer’s the way I wanted, with a regular
pharmaceutical, instead of a nano-insert job.” He patted
the top of his head. “It's more expensive, but I’m kinda
old fashioned. I don’t want them tinkering in the
Gaskell leaned on the front of
the van. “Where’d you find this thing again?”
“Not that far away; it was in a
small town between here and Texarkana called Mount
Pleasant. I saw it from the road five years ago, but it
was very far from the highway, at the back side of a
farm, and I knew it would take a long side trip to get
there. I was in a rush, so I decided to go back later.”
“Five years later?”
“Uhh, well, I kinda forgot
where it was for a few years, as the Alzheimer’s kicked
in. Then just a few months ago, as the drug reversed it,
it came back to me -- where I had seen it. Hell, I was
surprised it was still there. Had to cut down a few
trees to drag it out. The payment will clear up my
account with Uni-Q.” He stepped toward the van, pursing
his lips as his eyes never left the drivers seat.
Gaskell sighed and stepped up
beside his friend, gently shoving him in the small of
the back. “For Christ’s sake, hop in and get behind the
wheel! You’ve been dying to since you walked in the
“Is it that obvious?” Joel
pulled the door open wide and slid into the driver’s
“Like an earthquake,” Gaskin
He leaned forward and grabbed
the steering wheel, trying to imagine what it looked
like to be driving on an asphalt highway in the 20th
century. The restoration team had tried to recreate the
interior as best they could, but it was rather sedate,
compared to the riot of colors on the exterior.
Joel blinked, and then blinked
again, closing his eyes finally because of what seemed
like an eternity with a dull pain. A wave of white
light, followed by a rainbow of every color in
conception came and went in a fraction of second.
It was the woman’s giggle that
dragged him out of the darkness, a high, happy sound
that would have made even the most somber of people
“Jesus!” Joel muttered and
shook his head forcing his eyes to focus. The van was
moving, not being dragged, but rolling under its own
power down a black-topped highway. Out the side window
he could see fields of corn. Everywhere Joel looked the
colors were intense, the roadway stunningly black, the
yellow and green of the corn almost incandescent.
He heard the giggle again,
coming from the passenger seat, where a pretty
blonde-haired girl sat. She was perhaps, at the most,
twenty years old. Her eyes were covered in granny
glasses and she had a crocheted shawl, with every color
of the rainbow in it, wrapped around her shoulders and
covering a purple tie-dyed tank top that left very
little to the imagination, as did the cut-off jean
shorts, that did nothing to hide the blue dove tattoo on
her right thigh.
“Hey, big boy, what’s with
the startled look?” she said seductively at him.
Joel look away, his eyes
falling on the van’s rear view mirror. The face was
familiar in a distant sort of way.
Everything went blurry as Joel
felt his head and shoulders slamming into the concrete
floor of the warehouse.
Joel looked up to see the
girders of the warehouse above him, shifting in and out
of focus for a minute or so. Gaskell dropped down next
to him and began to shake Joel’s shoulder.
“Joel, are you OK? What’s
wrong? What happened?”
“Stop it, I’m OK, I’m OK.”
He managed to gasp, his throat suddenly dry and rough.
“You don’t look it. You started
shivering in there like you were in a refrigeration
unit. Then your eyes were all big, like you saw God in
the headlights, and you grabbed the steering wheel and
went all pale. I was afraid you were having a seizure or
a stroke of some kind,” said Gaskell.
Joel pushed himself up on all
fours and considered whether or not he remembered how to
get to his feet. “I had some kind of flashback, some
kind of vision.”
“What do you mean,
vision? Like those TV psychics? You didn’t happen to
pick up the winning lottery numbers while this was going
on, did you?”
Joel wiped his face with his
hand and ran his fingers through his hair as he pushed
himself into a sitting position; he’d think about
standing in an eon or two. “There must be some kind of
psychic impression in the van. Like it was haunted or
something, but it was a good kind of haunting,” he said.
“Someone who sat in that seat once had very happy
feelings about some girl that he was with. It just sort
of swept me up.”
looked like you were possessed,” said Gaskel. “You look
like you need something.”
stiff drink or two,” said Joel, finally forcing himself
to his feet. “Several, I think.”
Attention! There has been another temporal temp
------------Have you been
able to locate the epicenter?
However, using Protocol Magellan, the area has been
one of several districts in the southern part of the
monitoring; draw on whatever resources required.
probability of success thirty-nine per cent.
“I’m impressed by someone who
can stay in business when nobody needs to buy anything
anymore. But then, I’m your mother, and I’ve always been
impressed by you.”
“Thanks, Mom.” Joel rattled the
ice cubes in his glass. “Well, you know me; I’ve always
been a workaholic. The Change didn’t change that.”
Aurora Rosen sat back in the
heavy leather chair that filled up the corner of the
living room. It wasn’t that she really liked the chair,
but it had been her late husband’s favorite chair and,
as such, was special to her.
“You know, it’s not fair,” she
said. “This whole thing with the Singularity.”
“What, letting the Singularity
take over control of things?” he asked. “We did it to
ourselves. It was just a natural outgrowth of things.”
“No, no, it’s not fair that
your father didn’t live to see the Singularity. I’m sure
it could have cured his Alzheimer’s like it cured yours.
But that damn car wreck in ’07 ended any chance of
that.” she said, staring into the cocktail glass like it
was a scrying bowl.
Joel pulled out his iPad and
thumbed up a picture on the three-inch screen. It showed
a dark-haired young man with a neatly trimmed goatee,
wearing a pair of what he had been told were John Lennon
glasses, with a peace symbol hanging around his neck.
For just a moment he considered flipping it on to the
next couple of photos in the queue.
“I found a picture of Dad;
thought you might like to see it,” he said and passed
the iPad over to his mother.
Aurora smiled as she looked at
the screen. There might have been a tear at the corner
of one eye, but Joel couldn’t be sure.
“Yes, that was your father. He
was a handsome devil; I’m still amazed, even after all
these years, that he was interested in me.”
“Funny, I’m fairly sure that
Dad said the same thing about you being interested in
him. Take a look at the next couple of pictures; it’s
that van I’m restoring for Simmons up in Seattle.”
“Ah yes, the 'vee-dub',”
she smiled. “Let me see it.” Aurora Rosen’s eyes widened
as she pulled up first one, then another and another
photo. He could see her eyes focus — and then her wrist
went limp. She almost dropped the device.
“Oh, my,” she said in a
“What is it?”
“It can’t be. This looks just
like, it looks like….” She shook her head, then squinted
“It does have the same
“Jeez, mom, there were probably
a million vans that looked like that, back then,” he
“Back in 1968, your father and
I started from the Coast in a vee-dub that looked just
like this one, heading cross country to a big music
festival, Woodstock,” she said, her eyes misting over as
she rode the waves of memory back so many decades.
This wasn’t the first time Joel
had heard his mother, or his father for that matter,
talk about Woodstock. He remembered, and once again he
rejoiced in being able to recall as much as he did, when
he was a child watching and re-watching an old
documentary about the festival to see if he could catch
a glimpse of his parents.
“When did you last see it?”
“We had dropped off two friends
in Kingman, Arizona, and then this space cowboy, Joe Bob
Briggs, in Dallas. He had a job running a drive-in
theatre. We left Dallas heading towards Arkansas, just
the two us,” she said with a smile and hummed a few bars
of the song ‘Just The Two Of Us’. “But the damn thing
broke down between Dallas and Texarkana. It was the
alternator, and we didn’t have the money to replace it,
so we abandoned the van in a cornfield and thumbed the
rest of the way to New York.”
“Do you remember where you left
it? The city?”
“Not really, ‘hill’ something,
“Maybe ‘mount’? Like Mount
The color drained out of Aurora
Rosen’s face as she stared at her son. “Omigod, that’s
it! I remember the highway sign. It said ‘Mount Pleasant
3 Miles’. Your father later joked about what an
un-pleasant experience we had there.
“Actually, it wasn’t that
unpleasant, as I recall,” a sad smile drifted across her
face. “We spent the night in it, after we realized we
couldn’t get it fixed, and hit the road the next
morning. Oh, it was so chilly that night.”
Joel chuckled. “I’m sure that
two died-in-the-wool hippies like you and Dad found a
way to keep warm.”
“Actually, that was the first
time that we made love.” Aurora smiled a very pleased
smile. “That might just have been where you, sir, were
conceived. Of course, it might have been a week or so
later, there on Max Yasgur’s farm.”
Joel did a quick mental
calculation and found that, given his birth date, either
could be possible.
“So this really was your van,”
he said. “That just makes things even weirder.”
“What are you talking about?”
she asked “What’s the matter?”
“Maybe I’m just wackier than
anything, but when I first got behind the wheel of the
vee-dub, after we had the restoration done, I had this
kind of vision, flashback or a déjà vu event. I
was somewhere else and driving the van; it was brand new
and there was this girl sitting in the passenger seat,
wearing a rainbow shawl and granny glasses.”
“Are you sure this isn’t some
kind of side effect of that new drug they’re giving
you?” Aurora stood up and began to walk slowly back and
forth, pausing next to the fireplace mantel at the far
end of the room.
“I almost hope it was. Mom,
didn’t you tell me once that you had a tattoo removed,
just after Sis was born?”
“Yes I did. Somehow it seemed
out of place for the mother of two kids to have a blue
dove on her leg,” she said.
“A blue dove,” said Joel. He
picked up his iPad and paged back to the picture that he
had uploaded of his father, staring for a long time at
the same face that he had seen in the rear view mirror
of the van during his flashback.
“That’s a heck of a story,”
Gaskel said. “It fits your mother and dad. I knew them
both for thirty years, and there wasn’t a time when they
could keep their hands off each other, right up to the
day that your dad died. I think they were making out in
the back room of their shop.”
“Harry, even at my age there
are somethings that one does not want to hear about
their parents,” laughed Joel as he began peeling the
backing off the sticker that would soon sit below the
“Watch it, junior; I’ve got
three girl friends, myself, and I’m only a year older
than your mother. So did you tell her about your little
incident in the van?”
“Yeah, finally. I’m not really
sure if she believed me or not. I’m not sure I believe
me. After all, whoever heard of déjà vu passing
from one generation to the next? If that was what this
was. Or maybe some sort of psychic impression if they
got really hot and heavy that night in the van.”
“I thought you said there were
some things that you didn’t want to think about
concerning your parents?” Gaskell said, trying to sound
like he wasn’t a few seconds from laughing, and failing.
“Yeah, right,” muttered
Joel, though thinking about his parent’s joy in their
life made even the thought of them having sex in the
back on the van a pleasing one, not that the would admit
it to Gaskell. “Hey, are these stickers originals?”
“Like Mr. filthy rich
Seattle man would be able to afford originals, if there
were any still around. No, I doubt they go back to the
‘60s, but they probably go back to the late 1990s; there
was a hippie era renaissance then. But the company that
made them went down when the dot com bubble burst. So
you got that yellow daisy ready yet?”
“Here,” said Joel, passing it
over with two fingers lightly holding the edge. “I hope
our buyer thinks it’s authentic enough.”
“Hey, Aurora’s pictures are
helping us, a lot. When you brought her in I thought she
was going to cry when she saw this thing sitting here.
You realize that the mechanic who told them it was going
to cost so much was just ripping them off? They just
needed an alternator belt, not a whole new
alternator, a few bucks and an hour’s time at the most,”
“They were hippies, not
handymen/mechanics,” Joel said. “They had no idea. Just
as well. Otherwise…” said Joel as he began to hum.
“I’ve got the last couple of
stickers in the back of my car. I’ll go get them,” said
the older man. “By the way, that’s a nice tune. I didn’t
know you liked tangos.”
“I detest them.”
“Well, little buddy, I hate to
tell you this, but that was a tango you were just
“No, it wasn’t.”
Gaskell grinned and then began
to hum exactly the same tune as Joel had. “That,” he
said after a dozen bars. “Is most definitely a tango.”
“That’s right,” Joel said
slowly, listening to himself as he began to hum. “If
this is because of the van, it is getting even weirder
than before because I don’t think hippies listened to
that kind of music.”
Disturbance continues. Magellan protocol search
continues. Probability of success sixty-eight per cent.
The photo showed Aurora with
the van, making a rather limp old-fashioned peace sign
with her fingers. A few seconds later it was replaced
with a picture of her and Joel’s father that was taken
the day they got married.
“I never imagined I would have
a photo of that van.” She wiped a tear away. “It makes
me think of your father, of when we were young….”
Joel hugged his mother.
“You sure you don’t want me to talk to Simmons and see
about keeping the van?”
“That’s sweet dear, but
no. You made a bargain, and your father would insist
that you keep it. Besides, I’ll always have that van,”
she touched her heart and then the side of her head.
“Right here, along with your father.”
For a long time mother and
son just stood in front of the mantle looking at the
picture. Joel’s comm unit beeped to remind him to take
his meds, which he quickly swallowed.
“Hey, the other day,” he
said before Aurora could comment on the meds and how
much more efficient the nano treatment would have been,
“I caught myself humming a piece of music -- a tango of
some kind -- that I don’t recognize.” He puckered up and
began to whistle. She listened intently and a smile
creased her face after a few bars
“Ah, that anti-Alzheimer’s drug
must be working,” Aurora said. “You probably heard that
tune when you were just a little boy. It’s ‘Blue Tango’
by Leroy Anderson.”
“Where would I have heard
“From your grandfather Evan; it
was one of his favorites. I’m sure you heard him play it
when we went to visit at his house. I think he had every
Leroy Anderson recording in existence.”
Joel nodded. His grandfather
had died when he was seven, so that put this memory a
very old one.
“This new drug therapy is
impressive,” said Joel. “I hope I don’t begin to
remember bad things, things I really want to forget,”
said Joel as he promised to go to his mother’s for
dinner the next Sunday.
That night at home Joel played
the tune on the humanet, and googled some background
“Interesting,” he thought as he
read. “Leroy Anderson was a composer with the Boston
Pops, and Grandma and Grandpa went to college in
He clicked on a John
Williams-conducted version and let the sound of the
Boston Pops roll over him. “Yeah, I do remember Grandpa
Evan playing this.”
A wave of white light, followed
by a rainbow of every color in conception came and went
in a fraction of second.
He looked out the window and
across the apartment building’s lawn at a band shell
that had not been there a moment before. A moment later
he was sitting near it, next to a double-trunked tree.
“What the f…?”
It was the Esplanade in Boston.
Looking toward the band shell, he could see musicians
and a figure standing in front of them waving a baton.
“Well of course, silly; who
else is going to be conducting the Boston Pops?” Joel
turned to see a smiling girl sitting on the ground
across from him. The hair style and padded shoulders in
her blouse seemed to shout 1940’s.
“Sorry,” he mumbled.
“About what, Evan? Although you
do look a bit pale. I wond….”
A wave of white light, followed
by a rainbow of every color in conception came and went
in a fraction of second.
. Joel felt himself slip off
the edge of the recliner he had been sitting on; a
moment later he landed, hard and painfully, on the faux
hardwood floors that had been one of the selling points
when he bought the condo.
“Oh, ouch, shit,” he said as he
shifted and rubbed his ass. “For my next amazing trick,
I’ll do a double axel and land on one foot.”
Joel grabbed onto the edge of
his desk and pulled himself up. Looking out the window
he could see the park, but there was definitely no band
shell and certainly no sign of the Boston Pops.
After pouring himself three
fingers of unblended Scotch, downing it and then
repeating the process, he punched up his mother’s number
on his home phone.
“Hey, I have a sort of
genealogy question for you,” he said. “Didn’t Grandma
and Grandpa meet in college, in Boston?”
“That they did; she was getting
an education degree, your grandpa studied….”
“Do you know if they liked the
Aurora was silent for a long
time. “Well, now that you mention it, I remember them
talking about the Boston Pops concerts they used to go
to, usually the open-air ones in that city park by the
“Yes, it was. Joel, what’s
He cut the connection and
continued to stare out the window for a long time. For
some reason he was fairly certain that those were his
grandparents and that moment was within a few hours of
the conception of his father.
“Cheddar, on line.”
“Yes, sir,” the house AI
“I need to talk to Dr. Epie,
like soon. See if you can move up my next appointment to
as soon as possible.”
Narrowing search parameters. Temporal distortion
increasing but still minor. Centered on a single matrix.
Probability of success, sixty-three per cent.
The Dallas offices of Uni-Q –
the outfit that handled unique drug therapies – had that
post-Singularity architecture look. Austere in a Bauhaus
kind of way, but somehow somewhat “off”, what some
people called “Post-Ess Architecture.”
The lobby was glass and chrome
and empty. Post-Ess efficiency kept waiting rooms empty.
The receptionist – an obvious hologram, since he could
see through her – quickly sent him on his way down the
There was a lot that Joel
didn’t know about Dr. Epie, like his first name or if he
was real or a snap clone or a holographic ‘made man’. It
really didn’t matter; the older man did his job and did
“Good to see you again, Joel,”
he said with a thick Caribbean lilt. “I understand
you’ve had some flashbacks recently. They’re a very
common effect of your memory returning and then being
“That’s the problem. I’ve had
‘flashbacks’, as you say, that were obviously not my own
memories,” said Joel.
“Really. Did you order some
from that vacation simulation place that does the
late-night info-mercials?” said the doctor.
“No, although a couple of their
packages do look like fun, especially the one to the
Atlantis colony. Seriously though, I’ve traced their
sources. They’re memories of my parents and my
The doctor knitted his brow.
“Now that’s not what we see normally. Are you sure about
After a good 20 minutes of Joel
going into all the details, the doctor was scratching
his chin with the curled tips of his fingers and rocking
back in his seat. After a minute, he leaned forward and
slapped the desktop with both palms.
“I’m sure there’s a rational
explanation, and I’m sure we can find it,” he said. “One
thing we can do is record these visions.”
“With a chip? No way,” said
Joel firmly. “The whole reason I went the drug route is
to avoid implants.”
“Oh, this is hardly an
implant,” said the doctor. He waved one hand in the air
and his desk projected holographic designs for a small
microchip. “The Kay-Be can be programmed to only
transmit, so you can be assured there’ll be no
interference in your own mind.”
we’re successful in recording these flashbacks, we can
see if they are indeed hallucinations or actually
memories,” said the doctor.
“What if they’re actually
The doctor tented his fingers
and stared at Joel. “Then, you’ve opened up a whole new
line of investigation, of whether memories can be
genetically encoded and passed from one generation to
the next. What I suspect is happening, though, “ he said
with raised eyebrows, “is that your therapy is working
so well that you are visualizing memories you only
barely remembered before, if at all.”
He extended his hand with an
open palm. “For example, although you may not recall it
consciously, perhaps in the past you heard your parents
talk about that Volkswagen van, and your unconscious
recognized it when you stumbled across it.”
“I guess,” Joel said with
a shrug. “Would the chip be temporary?’
“We can set it so that after
receiving a cutoff signal it will deactivate and
dissolve into nothingness into your own bloodstream.
It’s possible to do one outside the body, but it cuts
the chance of success by more than sixty per cent.”
“I still don’t like it, but,”
he sighed. “I need to know.”
#78A: Magellan Protocol. Search parameters have been
narrowed in southern political entity. Temporal
displacement signal has strengthened.
additional resources are to be allocated to project.
Joel rubbed the back of his
neck. There was still an area that was numb from the
anesthetic, so he knew the area where the insertion had
been made. But there was no sign of the actual incision.
“So now we wait,” he said.
“Cheddar, any special programming available tonight?”
“There is a Frank Capra
retrospective this evening on Murdoch Vision,” said
Cheddar. “This is the 100th anniversary of
his first famous film, ‘It Happened One Night’.”
Joel had taken a few film
classes years ago when he had been in college. “I have
a better idea,” he said. “Look up ‘Our Daily Bread’.”
The story from the First Depression – centering on the
spontaneous assemblage of a socialist farm collective by
unemployed workers and professionals – had many
documentary-like scenes of the conditions of the time.
“I need a few more key
words,” said Cheddar. “That’s a very common phrase.”
“Try King Vidor. I think it was
“Got it. It was released the
same year, 1934. Do you want it plumped?”
“Dear God, no! Straight flat
screen. I can’t believe people watch these classics in
3-D,” he snarled. “No fucking colorization, either.”
“Just as well, it doesn’t have
either. I’d have to do it myself.”
“Good. start it, will ya?”
As he watched, some parts
seemed strangely familiar to Joel, though he was certain
he had never seen the complete feature before. One scene
featured a rather cynical young lady with marceled hair
and a cloche hat, who was short and had to look up
sharply at the protagonist.
She took a step back. He took a
She stepped back again, and
struck a wall. Joel pressed himself against her.
“Don’t be a pig,” she groaned.
“You want a job, missy baby,
this is your interview,” a cold voice with a strange
“Hey, Blackjack!” came a voice
from outside the office. “You okay?”
The man grabbed the girl, muffling her groan with
his hand, holding her up against the wall under her
“That’s not my voice,” Joel
‘thought. “And it’s not the voice from the movie.”
“I’m fine. Me and Miss Emily
Rosen are just discussing the terms of her employment,”
the man’s voice was as gravely and rough as a country
Emily Rosen? This was his
great-grandmother! His grandfather was the result of a
rape. Joel screamed and forced the wave of white light,
followed by a rainbow of every color in conception,
which came and went in a fraction of second.
The next time Joel was aware of
anything, he was laying on the floor in front of the
television screen, covered in sweat, a line of drool
rolling from the corner of his mouth. He used his elbows
to raise himself partially up off the carpet.
“Goddamn,” he muttered. “And
this shit needs to stop. Cheddar!”
“Kill the movie and get me Dr.
“At once! Hold sir, there is an
incoming call; the number matches the one I have on file
for Dr. Epie.”
Joel looked at the comm unit
for a long time, watching the red light continuing to
blink to indicate an incoming call.
Joel sat up and then leaned
forward. “Put him on speaker. Hello?”
“Joel, this is Epie. My
receptionAIst responded to a pre-set command. You had
“Yes, a bad one. Something
really bad, and another generation up the family tree.
Doctor, this needs to stop.”
“I’m reviewing the recording
now. Get to my office as soon as you can.”
-------------Have you been
able to locate the epicenter?
Certainty ninety-eight point seven three five nine per
Despite the hour there were
still a few people who boarded the Red Line light rail
car in Mockingbird Station. Joel noticed that two young
couples had moved to the opposite end of the car from
where he was sitting. That was when he noticed the man
sitting across the aisle from him, apparently having a
deep conversation with someone that no one else,
including Joel, could see.
Joel looked down at his hands.
He had calmed down somewhat from “seeing” the rape. But
the knowledge of what had happened to his
great-grandmother was so fresh in his mind it was hard
to accept, but deep in his gut he knew it was true. He
had never known his great-grandmother, though the
stories he had heard were that she was a kind and loving
“Yea, though the flying monkeys
are everywhere,” said the man across from Joel.
Supposedly, the Ess-mind cured
these sorts of mental trauma. If this guy is nuts,
the Ess Mind wants him nuts, or made him nuts,
thought Joel, as he leaned forward to catch better what
the other man was saying.
“I needs must be thrust through a quickset hedge as cry
boo to a callow throstle, Milady, or lief my liege,
mine own lord besmatter me, wouldst I such a liberty at
dulcimer take,” the man said rather softly and rather
matter-of-factly. His face was vaguely familiar; after a
few minutes Joel was almost certain that he had seen him
at the institute when Joel had gone for his treatments.
He wondered if he was an Alzheimer’s patient and being
treated with the same sort of meds Joel had.
This fellow’s lost in an Elizabethan conversation,
thought Joel. Jesus, how far back has he regressed?
He rose and quickly crossed to the other side, sitting
down next to the man. He poked him gently in the
The man continued his ‘conversation’ and didn’t respond.
He gestured as if he was talking at table. At one point,
his hand dropped down, as he obviously adjusted a
non-existent napkin, and Joel saw a small white triangle
protruding from a pocket of his denim blue jeans.
Something made Joel reach down and tug at it. When he
saw what it was, he pulled it out and then away.
“Dr. Aguam Epie, PsyD” it said.
“Uptown Village”, the voice called on the loudspeaker.
Joel stood up quickly. “Sorry, this is my stop,” he said
rather uselessly to the man who continued to mutter. He
headed for the door.
“How far to Downtown Cedar Hill?” asked one of the young
ladies at the far end of the car.
“I think it is the next stop,” said Joel as he bounded
off the car. The station was otherwise deserted. He saw
a set of lights come on in the parking lot as an
auto-car recognized him and then pulled up to the curb.
Considering the hour, thought Joel after he arrived, Dr.
Epie was dressed rather neatly.
“I reviewed the video,” said the doctor. “I see why it
was so disturbing.”
“Is this a memory or a hallucination? Are the new meds
doing it to me?”
“I need more time,” said Epie. “It’s very uncertain.”
“Has this happened to other people?”
“Recalling memories made by ancestors?”
“Not that I know of.”
Epie’s emotionless exterior reinforced the certainty in
Joel that the doctor was lying. Joel knew that as sure
as he knew the sun comes up in the east every morning.
He reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a
crumpled business card.
“Then why did I find this in the pocket of a crazy man
on the light rail. I think he’s gone right up his family
tree and clear back across the Atlantic. He was carrying
on a one-sided conversation at an Elizabethan or
Shakespearean banquet.” Joel held out the dirty card he
had taken from the man on the train. “Yours, isn’t it?”
The doctor looked at him blankly and made no move to
take the card. Joel threw it at him, and the cared
sailed through him and hit the wall behind him.
“You’re a fucking projection!” Joel snapped.
“Now, yes. I’m solid during the day when I have to see
numerous clients,” said the doctor, “but it’s a poor
investment of energy to materialize for just one man. I
do care about you, Joel. That’s why I agreed to meet you
right away.” Epie shifted over behind the desk, sitting
in the chair.
“Were you a real person?”
“No, I’m not someone who
was uploaded, if that’s what you mean. I’m based on a
doctor who lived and worked in Conakry, though. Your
medicine is based on a very good protocol. We only
realized it has this side effect recently.”
Joel pounded a fist into his palm, resisting the
urge to slam it against the wall. “OK, this is where I
say I need to get some answers.
I don’t want to end up like the guy I just saw on the
“Victor Peterson. He was a very early case,” said the
doctor as he steepled his fingers. “We lost control of
him. Sad, really.”
Joel gestured towards the back of his head. “So what’s
with this implant, then? Did you really need it?”
“To diagnose your problem? Not really. “The doctor
smiled broadly. “We pretty much knew what was going on.”
“Then why did you stick that damn thing in my head?
What is it being used for?” shouted Joel.
“We want to record the past.” The doctor looked down his
nose. “You humans never realized that these visions that
you thought were signs of past lives, reincarnations,
were really these deep memories encoded on what you
dismissed as Junk DNA.”
He laughed rather sardonically. “You didn’t realize that
after tens of thousands of years. We – I – solved the
problem in less than ten. The thing is, you seem to have
been able to do something no one else has; you pushed
yourself away from that last encounter with your
great-grandfather. I need to know more.”
“I?” repeated Joel. “Are you a manifestation of the Ess
The West African accent disappeared. “Yes,” said the
voice with no tone or inflection. “I’m tired of
patronizing you. You can cooperate, or you can be
disembodied. You exist only to the extent I find you
useful or harmless.”
“You must have other subjects,” said Joel as he began to
sweat. “How about leaving me alone?”
“You avoided any kind of implants previously, which
marked you as potentially disruptive,” said the Ess
Mind. “Now that you have an implant, your irksome
autonomy is eliminated. I’ve been tracking a number of
cases who are suffering the same symptoms as you”
“So what do you want, then? To continue to record these
memories as they appear in my mind. What if I go
“What is sanity? Just a word to describe a different set
of circumstances. If the conditions in your brain
deteriorate into what you would call insanity, you would
be harmless, like the man you saw in the light rail car.
The mental state of lower life forms is of no interest
to me,” said the Ess Mind. “And this interaction with a
primitive organism is a waste of energy. I am going
dissipate your individuality and accelerate the
accessing of those encoded memories for my archives of
the human race after it is extinct.”
A searing pain shot through Joel’s head. It was as if a
blast furnace opened in his mind. Then, as he went into
shock from the unendurable pain, Joel saw that the blast
furnace had dimmed to become a fireplace.
It was one of his own memories, a memory of his own
early childhood. He sat on the floor between the legs of
his mother. She was young again, and she was reading to
him from a book of fairy tales.
He looked up to his mother’s face as she formed words he
only now understood.
“Run, run, as fast as you can. You can’t catch me….”
The toddler jumped up and dashed towards an open doorway
that led to a corridor with a number of open doorways.
Joel drew on things so deep inside his own mind that he
had never even suspected they were there, and kept on
“Fuck you, smart-ess!” a grown man’s voice shouted. “I’m
the Gingerbread man. Catch me if you can.”
A wave of white light, followed by a rainbow of every
color in conception came and went in a fraction of
Bruce/Joel turned from facing his girlfriend and tried
to focus back on the road.
“What is it?” asked the hippie girl.
The engine of the vee-dub van began to knock, badly.
He rubbed his forehead. “I just had the biggest sense of
déjà vu.” He cocked his head. “Shit, sounds like
the engine is about to die. Where the fuck are we?”
She looked out the open window. “It says ‘Mount
Pleasant, three miles.”
Blackjack/Joel zipped his fly and turned to walk out to
the sidewalk. He almost walked straight into the street,
but a boy on the sidewalk shouted and he stepped back
before being hit by a Model A.
“Hey, mister, what’s the matter?’ asked the youngster.
Izzy shook his head. “I just had a real strange feeling
come over me, like someone – what’s the saying – just
stepped on my grave.”
The boy patted him on the back. “That’s OK mister, it’s
just déjà vu.”
And little Larry Berra rushed off to play sand lot
Evan/Joel looked across the few feet of grass and smiled
at Bonnie. In the last year she had become such an
important part of his life, he couldn’t see any kind of
life without her. It was a perfect day. The sun was
shining, there was a little breeze, and the grass was
clean, green and cool.
The Esplanade band shell was perhaps 100 feet in front
of them. Arthur Fiedler had his arms raised and poised
as he checked the orchestra.
Bonnie looked over and smiled at him. “Wow, Evan, you
got a strange look on your face. You look very happy,
but your smile is crooked.”
“I just had the strangest feeling,” he said. “Like some
kind of inrush. It’s like déjà vu. Maybe it’s
because I love you so much!”
She playfully pushed him away. “Behave, you wolf! The
concert is about to start.”
Joel kept his own consciousness segregated, to keep his
grandfather from knowing he was ‘there’. He looked with
his grandfather’s eyes and listened with his
grandfather’s ears as the Boston Pops struck up “Blue
“It is a pretty tune,” Joel thought. “No wonder “I” came
He sensed the Mind was nowhere to be found. “I have
ancestors, so I could come here. It has none. I’m
He listened to the strains of the “Blue Tango” echoing
across the Charles River, feeling Bonnie slide close to
him and wrap her arms around him. Before it had been
memories, this was different, this was real. With his
left hand he reached out and scooped up a handful of
dirt. He didn’t understand, but right now that didn’t
Yes, this would do just fine. Later he could move
forward and take steps to keep the Ess-Mind away. Joel
began to hum “Blue Tango” in time with the orchestra.
But right now there was the music and that was enough.