Thoughts of a Catholic convert

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Tuesday, August 06, 2013

The Man Who Folded Himself and my story too

I'm now reading The Man Who Folded Himself by David Gerrold. From Wikipedia ...

The Man Who Folded Himself is a 1973 science fiction novel by David Gerrold that deals with time travel. It was nominated for the Nebula Award for Best Novel in 1973 and the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1974. The book explores the psychological, physical, and personal challenges that manifest when time travel is possible for a single individual at the touch of a button.

The book is ok but it seems a little too much like a thought experiment on the paradoxes inherent in time travel and I'm having trouble empathizing with the main character. Still, it may be worth a read if you like time travel.

A few years ago I wrote a short story with a time-travel theme myself - here it is, for those who might be interested ....


Rick Logan sat slumped on the couch in his shabby apartment, staring with amused disbelief at the flickering screen of the TV.

"Physicists like Stephen Hawking have theorized the existence of wormholes and closed time loops, actual portals through which matter can travel backward through time. Although, phenomena like extreme heat and gravity would render the trip lethal for any organism," commented Special Agent Fox Mulder to his car's passenger as they drove through the rainy night.

Rick loved old episodes of the X-Files and this, Synchrony, was one of his favorites. Ironic that a re-run on time travel was playing the very night he planned to travel back in time himself.

He glanced at his watch. Switching off the set, he picked up his prosthesis, attaching it firmly to the stump of his right knee. He then retrieved his Glock and checked the clip ... fourteen rounds plus one in the chamber. That should be sufficient to save Phillip's life. And, Rick added grimly, to end the life of the man responsible for his partner's death. He reached a shaking hand for the half empty bottle of vodka, hesitated, let his hand fall away. He'd wait.

Rick pushed open the glass door of Stanford University's Physics Research Center and walked toward the elevators, waving to the security guard stationed behind the lobby's desk.

"Hey, Mr. Logan. Why're you here so late?" The guard, more interested in the sports page's box scores than in a member of one of the research teams dropping by unexpectedly, hardly listened to Rick's reply.

"Left something in the lab. I'll be out of your hair in a couple of minutes." As Rick entered an elevator, he smiled - the guard had already forgotten him. In moments he was in the lab, opening the locked door with his ID card. He deftly pushed a number of buttons on a computer console and the room began to hum as machinery awoke. While he waited impatiently for the time travel module to open, he thought about how this had all come to pass.

Nearly a year ago, he and his partner, San Francisco homicide inspector Phillip Crane, had been ambushed at the ruins of the Sutro Baths while following up a lead on a case. He'd lost his leg, Phillip lost his life. Rick had been taken off the case, put on disability, and that's when the bottle had become his new best friend. Survivor's guilt, the department shrink had called it.

The one bright spot in his personal vortex of doom had been Barry. A friend since college, Barry had dragged him back from the brink with an offer of a new job, one Rick instantly recognized as giving him a chance to rewrite history - his and Phillip's.

Barry belonged to a research group at Stanford that had managed to take time travel from theory to actuality. Barry spoke of wormholes, closed timelike curves, four dimensional space-time ... none of it had made sense to Rick, but he could see that Barry believed in it and he believed in Barry. He had to.

The research group was ready to send a human subject back in time. Only two problems remained - choosing an historical event to observe and finding the right observer. The field of events had been narrowed down to three - the shooting of JFK, the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the accidental death of Princess Diana. The big money in the lab's pool had been on the grassy knoll but against all odds, Jesus had won.

Rick's reminiscing was interrupted as the heavy stainless steel door of the time travel module slowly hissed open. He entered. As he checked flickering instrument panels, he saw that the readouts of the digital displays showed the module was already programmed with the date and place of Christ's resurrection. He opened the notebook he'd brought along and scanned the instructions. He'd have to reprogram ... enter the time and place of Phillip's death. As he flipped the pages of the notebook, his mind drifted back once more.

It had been Barry's idea to hire Rick as the research group's observer. Barry argued that the ex-cop had the necessary intelligence and knew how to take care of himself. Rick believed they'd finally chosen him, however, because of his drinking problem - they felt they could control him, discredit him, if necessary. And if things went completely south and he didn't return from the trip alive, he had no one who'd miss him enough to ask troublesome questions. Plausible deniability was the bottom line in a place with government contracts.

"What the hell are you doing with my notebook?" Rick was jerked back to the present, his head snapping up, as Dr. Mary Brooks, the group's multi-degreed researcher, snatched back the notebook. "And why have you turned on the module?"

Rick didn't bother to answer the professor but simply decked her with a punch. Catching her limp body, he lifted her out of the module and recovered the notebook, returning to his task. The group had scheduled the trip back to Christ's resurrection for a month from today, giving Rick time to learn how to use the remote navigational device and to absorb cultural and language skills sufficient to matriculate in first century Jerusalem. But Rick had never planned to follow through. Now that he understood the module's workings, he was ready to pursue his own agenda. He wouldn't need Aramaic to save Phillip's life and he had no use for the remote nav device because he had no plans to come back.

Just as he reached out to reprogram the module, a shadow fell over him and he turned to see an outraged Dr. Brooks swinging a computer keyboard at his head. He grabbed for Brooks, but didn't duck quickly enough and the two of them, tangled together, fell heavily against the programming panel. The last things Rick heard as he lost consciousness were the sounds of the module's door clanging shut and of Dr. Brooks swearing.


Rick waited. He didn't wait well. It gave him too much time to think. His thoughts, now, were of how terribly wrong his plan had gone. He took a deep breath of the cool morning air and struggled into a more comfortable seated position against the rough stone of the city's well. Pulling the fabric of his stolen robe into place, he glared at Dr. Mary Brooks.

He hadn't had a chance to reprogram the module before she'd accosted him. The place and date originally laid in - the tomb of Christ and the time of his resurrection - had been skewed when he and Brooks fell against the instrument panel. They'd ended up in Magdala, a city on the sea of Galilee, and they were years too early for the resurrection.

A local woman stopped at the well, filling a large ceramic jar, and gave them a suspicious glance. Brooks said something in fluent Aramaic and the woman, reassured, left them in peace. "He should be here any time now!" said the professor. Not sharing her enthusiasm, Rick merely grunted and went back to his thoughts.

The first thing he'd done when they'd recovered from their arrival, stunned and retching from the enormous speed and gravitational forces to which they'd been subjected, was to check his prosthesis and his weapon. Next he'd scanned the remaote navigational device Dr. Brooks clutched in one hand - she'd had the presence of mind to snatch the device as they began the transition - it appeared to be functioning properly. The device could envelope them in a temporal field, no matter what their distance in time or space from the time travel module in the lab. He'd then tried to convince Dr. Brooks to use the device to send him back to the where and when of his original destination - the moment of Phillip's death - but she'd refused.

Since he was insufficiently trained for the job, she'd decided to complete the mission herself - meet Jesus, become a disciple, be there when the moment in question occurred. The fact that this would take years didn't faze her - no matter how long they stayed, they'd still return to the lab only moments after they'd left. If Rick had understood how to work the remote nav device, he would have taken it from Brooks then and abandoned her. But he didn't. So he waited ...


Blinking in confusion, Rick realized that he'd fallen asleep. Standing over him were Brooks and a stranger. Struggling awkwardly to his feet, his gaze was caught by her expression. The Brooks he'd come to know was cold and driven, but now she glowed. Her smile was filled with something he'd never seen in her before - hope. She reached out a hand and squeezed his arm in a friendly and uncharacteristic manner.

Puzzled, Rick turned to the man at her side. Was this really Jesus? Rick tried to wrap his mind around the idea that this man was supposedly the Son of God. He was having a hard time with it ... he'd expected someone more imposing, taller maybe. What he saw instead was a man not unlike himself ... no stranger to suffering. But there was a difference between the two of them, Rick acknowledged. This man had a vulnerability and warmth that issued a gently compelling invitation. And those eyes, the mystery that lay within them ...

"Rick, I'm not going back."

Startled, it took Rick a moment to process what Brooks had said. "You're not going back - ever? But, what about ..."

Before Rick could finish, the stranger reached out to him, spoke quietly. Rick didn't understand Aramaic but he got the gist of it. The man was asking Rick to remain with them and there was something more intended - perhaps an offer of healing. Rick gazed into those strange eyes and then stumbled backwards, shaking his head. He didn't realize how much he'd wanted this until it was proffered. But he couldn't accept. If he remained here, Phillip would never get the second chance he deserved. Blinded by bitter tears, Rick lurched away from Brooks and the stranger.

As he tried to regain his composure, he felt a hand rest on his shoulder. Then he heard Brooks say, "I've reprogrammed the remote nav device according to your specifications." He turned to see her holding it out to him. "Good luck, Rick."


Rick stood on the dark shore of Ocean Beach in San Francisco, rain splashing against his face. It was 3:00 am. He scanned the distant ruins of the Sutro Baths. A Victorian bathing palace built into the cave-riddled ocean cliffs in 1896, it had once served 24,000 swimmers as well as housing restaurants and museums. It had burned in 1966 and now only the remnants survived - deep sea-water filled pits and skeletal concrete beams. This was where Phillip had died.

Rick approached the ruins and then ducked into the mouth of a nearby cave as he spotted a car - Phillip's car. That night almost a year ago, Rick had been on the way to Phiilip's home to fill him in on some late-breaking developments in their case. As he'd approached, he'd seen Phillip drive from his garage with a screech and tear off down the quiet street like a bat out of hell. Filled with foreboding, Rick had followed. By the time he'd reached the ruins, Phillip was already dead. As he'd bent, desolate, over his partner's body, he'd also been shot.

Rick shook the memory from his mind and stared in wonder from the cave - he saw not only his partner but his very own past self exit Phillip's car. But how ... ? Then he remembered, Brooks had warned him about this - that because of her remaining in the past, in the first century, the present/future time-line was likely to be corrupted or changed in some ways.

Rick gasped as a gunshot rang out and he saw Phillip fall, saw his past self duck. A dark ski-masked figure advanced on the inspectors, still shooting, and Rick saw his other self pull Phillip behind a concrete beam just before he too was shot. Cursing himself for hanging back, Rick raced toward the ruins, unholstering his weapon. The shooter saw him and faded into another cave but Rick had eyes only for his partner. Phillip lay unmoving but as Rick reached him and put a hand to his neck, he was rewarded with a pulse.

But where was the other Rick? Crouching low, he searched the immediate area and then froze. When shot, his past self must have fallen into one of the deep watery pits connected to the ocean, for he saw his doppelganger floating face down there in the surf-filled ruins. Rick watched as the body was swiftly sucked out to sea. He shuddered - this part of the Pacific Ocean, known as the red triangle, was a hunting ground for great white sharks - he doubted the body would ever be found.

Pushing wet hair back from his face, he returned to Phillip. His original plan had been to save his partner and destroy his would-be murderer but now that he was reliving the moment, Rick no longer felt the need for revenge - all that mattered was helping his partner. As he began to lift Phillip in his arms, something hard and cold was pressed into his spine.

"Get up, Rick."

Rick slowly rose, a sick feeling in his stomach. He recognized the voice. The shooter, his gun held on Rick, pulled off the ski mask. All Rick could think of to say was, "Why, Barry?"

"First, your gun." Rick handed over the Glock and Barry began to explain. "Science ... I did it all for science." Rick shook his head, not understanding. Barry continued, "The research group was so close to finishing the time travel module. I won't go into the details - the very fact that you're here now means you must know about the experiment. All we needed was a source of energy roughly as powerful as a planetary body. A scientist at Berkeley found a way to harness Strange Matter and I believed that would do the trick."

Rick realized Barry was talking about the murder case he and Phillip had investigated a year ago - Dr. Grimes, a Berkeley physicist, and his wife, had been killed in their home. Rick had pegged the wife's lover as the murderer but Phillip hadn't been convinced.

"I see you understand. I didn't mean to kill Grimes - he and his wife came home before I found his research journal. It would've been fine but for your partner who figured the whole thing out. I was arrested. While out on bail, I broke into the lab, made the necessary modifications to the module based on Grimes journal, and went back in time to before my arrest. I called Phillip, told him to meet me here, that I had information about his case. I killed him, wounded you. Feeling guilty about crippling you, I helped you get a job with the research group. But eventually, you figured out the truth as well. So I decided to come back in time once more and kill the both of you."

Numbed by this callous confession, Rick analyzed his chances of overpowering Barry. Suddenly, he was thrown backwards with the impact of Barry's body, a gunshot ringing in his ears. He struggled out from under the dead weight of his former friend while a couple of plainclothes cops ran towards them. As one of them radioed for the paramedics, Rick realized that in this time-line, Phillip must have had the presence of mind to call for backup.


Rick closed the door to Phillip's room and walked down the hospital corridor, holding the remote navigational device. It was now defunct. He supposed this was because Barry had died in this time-line before finishing the module. Rick's mind spun with the various temporal paradoxes of time travel, not to mention the problem of how to explain to his partner why he now had only one leg. He shrugged. All he cared about was that, in this particular present, Phillip was alive. He passed by the door of the hospital chapel and paused, remembering the invitation given him by the man he'd met in Magdala. Maybe it wasn't too late to accept. He opened the door.



Anonymous Richard said...

What a fine story. Thanks Crystal.

8:27 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Thanks, Richard :) I had to rescue your comment from spam-world. I wish I understood why some stuff goes there.

9:08 PM  
Anonymous Richard said...


Actually I think it only happens when I post from my notebook and click out of the page too fast. Let's see, I'll be patient. This time...

9:34 PM  
Anonymous richard said...

And impatient this time

9:36 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Heh - this time it was ok.

9:36 PM  
Anonymous richard said...

Hmmm still a mystery

9:38 PM  

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