Changing the Future
I fear for my life going into the command performance I must make before General Marcus Tagawa, Director of MMDI. He almost singlehandedly has been responsible for the success of the agency. This accomplishment is especially compelling because of the disaster that China experienced when that country tried to master time travel technology. But, Tagawa is not known for interacting directly with very low-level field operatives like me. So, naturally, I am concerned that I have done something so wrong that he feels is serious enough to warrant his personal attention.
I am wearing the time travel agents’ uniform and black military boots that we are required to wear while within the lunar base. I am sitting in a small conference room at a table with two opposing chairs. The room is completely devoid of any décor. There is a muted light from above and from one panel on one side of the curved walls that together delivers a pleasant frequency of white light that is somehow free of shadows. But, the conference room is intimidating if only for its intentional lack of color. The table and chairs are completely nonreflective grey. The curved walls are the exact same color as the table and chairs.
I just have to wait for Tagawa. Nobody is allowed to bring a timepiece to meetings with the Director of MMDI, so I cannot determine how few or how many minutes have elapsed since I entered the conference room. Eventually, I get very drowsy from the lack of any visual stimulation in that horrible little room. I feel the need to rest my head upon my arms folded on the round conference room table.
When I pick up my head after what seemed like only a few seconds, I see Tagawa is seated at the round table across from me. Have I been drugged? This shocks me. “Sorry, sir,” I say to him. “I fell asleep. Don’t know why that happened.
I have never seen him in person. I know what he looks like because he has made available an image on a screen of himself shirtless in an authoritative pose as if he needs to furnish evidence of his powerful role at MMDI.
He is of Japanese ancestry and conveys the immediate impression of a warrior with the physical and mental superiority to defeat any opponent. His face has no age-related wrinkles or sagging skin. His body seems to be somehow immune to the passage of time. His threatening eyes convey a great wisdom that he certainly has accumulated through significant life experience.
But, today he is wearing stylish all-black military dress uniform and thick black boots. Instead of showing any disapproval towards me for having fallen asleep, Tagawa smiles at me reassuringly. “I know you just got back from a difficult mission,” he says. “No problem at all. Probably exhausted. You may be wondering why I want to talk with you.”
“I first want to tell you what I think of you, Mr. Avila,” the general says to me. Now I know that I am doomed. He doesn’t allow me to respond. He just goes right on talking: “I consider you in the top three of all our agents, Mr. Avila. And, the way my mind works, I consider you and the other two guys on equal footing. You all—the three of you—are the very best agents. In essence, you all are in a tie for first place.”
“Thank you, sir. That’s not what I was expecting to hear you say. What are the names of those other two guys?”
“Not going to happen,” the general replies with another smile. Then, his smile is replaced with a look of concern. “I am worried about you. I say this because you have returned from mission after mission after mission showing indications of memory problems.”
“Yes, sir. That’s true. But, I thought I had all that under control.”
“You think the problem is you cannot remember. I’m telling you the problem is you cannot forget,” he says.
I sit there for quite a while thinking about what I just heard him tell me.
The general eventually says to me, “I speak very plainly. I outrank everybody, so what need is there for me to fucking bullshit anyone? It’s that simple. And, I have just been blunter with you than I have been with anyone else here on the moon or back on Earth.”
I do not know how to respond.
“We chose you because of how your brain works. Time travel agents need a very high degree of cognitive flexibility. You have that and more,” he says. “You have so much of this attribute that you have exceeded the medical parameters and all expectations.”
“Yes, sir,” I reply. But, I don’t understand what he is telling me. I finally have to say it aloud: “I cannot understand all this medical stuff, sir, about my brain.”
“Time travel is complicated,” he says. “And, I’m not talking about the technology, either. In many ways, the technology is the easiest part. Every child learns in school that here on the moon, gravity is 83.3 percent of the gravity on Earth. What few people know is this simple mathematical fact about gravity is what allows time travel technology to work perfectly well here, while it will never be possible in Earth gravity.”
I nod to indicate that I understand.
“The most crucial complications of time travel are those pertaining to the human brain. The healthy human brain has the capability to remember events, experiences, and people in sequence as well as in a non-linear way. Time travel messes with this capability. You have experienced this on a personal basis again and again and again. The difference with your brain is that you cannot help from remembering what you experienced and what you saw even though the laws of physics dictate that you must stop remembering.”
“Sir, I’m kind of lost in the words here,” I admit to him.
“I know, Mr. Avila,” he says with a smile. “I’m trying to help you. Here you are. One man with the most unique brain of all human beings of all time. Yet, you are unaware of the power that your own brain has given you.”
“What are you talking about, sir?” I ask.
“I am not exaggerating,” Tagawa assures me. “When you, as a time travel agent, are sent back on a mission to repair timelines in the past, the changes that you make in completing your mission are never supposed to be remembered. You are changing time. You are altering history. You are rewriting history. And yet, your brain remembers each individual version of what happened no matter what we do to you.”
“What does that phrase – ‘no matter what we do’ – mean, exactly, sir?”
“Simply put, we have tried everything that contemporary science here in this century can throw at you and at this problem,” he explains. “Nothing works. Your brain just cannot be washed, if you’ll pardon a misuse of a very ancient phrase.”
“Was I brainwashed?” I ask him.
Tagawa laughs aloud like I never would have expected to see. He slams his right hand on the table as he continues laughing. But, eventually, the general adopts a very serious expression. “You were brainwashed, yes. Call it that if you like. All time travel agents are brainwashed. It just comes with the job. The missions would not be complete without brainwashing. But, nobody thinks of it as brainwashing these days. We never talk about it aloud. We stopped using the word. Until you came along.”
“Am I going to be fired?” I ask him.
“No, Mr. Avila,” he replies quickly. “You do not get fired from this line of work. And don’t worry. I do not mean to suggest that the alternative is that we are going to kill you. Because you work as a time travel agent, your life never ends. In effect, you are literally an immortal. We do not let our time travel agents die. We use technology to send them back in time to the exact moment before their death and, well—. You can figure it all out for yourself. You have experienced many deaths, Mr. Avila. None of that matters one bit.”
“What about naturally growing older?” I ask him.
“What you call ‘naturally growing older’ is not something that we allow beyond a certain point for our time travel agents. The work that you do is difficult and demanding. We require men in peak physical and mental condition. Because you are a time travel agent, we never allow you to grow too old so that you would be unable to carry out the work that you must. We also never allow you to endure illness or diseases. You will remain eternally at what we’ve found at this agency is the optimum age for time travel agents: Around 30 years—plus or minus 5 years—compared to mortal men back on Earth.”
“Why are you telling me all this, sir?”
“Truthfully, the whole awareness that time travel agents have regarding being a young man forever very easily can be erased from each man’s mind after every mission. Even in you, with your most unusual and singularly unique brain, we have found success in keeping on erasing your awareness of immortality and aging. So, there’s no point in my not leveling with you here and now. You probably won’t remember any of this later.”
“I have dreamed about dying. And, about being alive again. Being a young man forever. I guess like with vampires.”
“Dreams only,” he replies. “And vampires are make-believe. You know that. But, I think that no harm comes from a man’s dreams or from fiction. As long as that does not interfere with his success in completing missions.”
“What about all the other stuff that I remember?” I ask him.
“I have no idea,” the general tells me. “No idea at all. Sometimes we can successfully erase your competing memories of timelines following your missions. Other times we cannot. We do not yet know why. But, we have found out that many of your memories can be maintained following mission after mission after mission.”
“Is that why I get sent on so many missions?”
“Yes and no,” he says. “We need you for the important work of repairing timelines. But, the erasure of some of your memories is only a side effect or byproduct of the time travel experience. We never send you on a mission just to erase your memories.”
“What’s going to happen to me?”
“More missions,” he answers quickly. “I need you to keep working. MMDI needs you. But, you are not allowed to talk with other agents about what your brain can do. If you tell any other agent about what you remember, we will just erase those parts of their memories. It’s a foolproof system that cannot be circumvented.”
“I understand, sir.”
“Well, you may understand,” he says, “Yet, you have talked to another agent—Vincent Wauneka—about your memory problems. We just keep following up, cleaning up the mess you’ve made by telling him things that he should never know. You also have talked to a civilian on Earth—Matthew Lejeune—about your memory problems.”
“Did you guys clean up the mess I made with him, too, sir?”
“Your frustration is understandable,” the general says. “Just don’t take that tone with me. I’m not someone you want to challenge.”
“I am truly sorry, sir. I just feel so frustrated. As you just said, sir. Understandably so.”
“Yes. So, here’s the deal, young man,” he says. “We will send you back to repair the timeline in Arizona concerning Matthew Lejeune. You have unfinished business with him. I want you to go back and finish it.”
I ask him, “Why does that timeline need to be repaired, sir?”
“Why does any timeline need to be repaired?” the general asks me.
“A rhetorical question, sir?”
Once again, Tagawa laughs aloud in a most unexpected way. Again, he slams his right hand on the table as he continues laughing. After a very enjoyable laugh of considerable duration, he regains a mere smile.
“Timelines need to be repaired,” he explains. “Just like birds need to fly. Like dolphins need to swim. There is a natural order in this universe.”
“Who decides which timelines need to be repaired versus which do not?” I want to know.
He says, “You don’t grasp how this all works. Every timeline needs to be repaired. Eventually. Like rubber tires all wear out and need to be repaired. Part of the natural order of everyday life.”
“There are computers that keep track of all the repairs,” I say to him.
“A question?” he asks. “Or, is that a statement?”
“I am aware that there must be computers that keep track of all the repairs,” I say to him.
“Yeah, well that’s classified,” he responds with absolutely no smile at all on his face.
“So, it really comes down to my brain and those classified computers,” I say to him. “Two and only two places where the knowledge is maintained.”
“Well,” the general says, “I wish you good luck trying to remember that.”
“A recent mission taught me something new, sir, that I will fight to remember,” I announce rather unexpectedly.
“What is it?” he asks me impatiently.
“Nothing that matters here, sir,” is my response. “Nothing of interest to this agency at all. Or to any of my superiors here. I just figured out how to live—really live a life—without constantly thinking about what time it is, sir.”
The countdown has started as I wait for my mission to start. I have thirty seconds to sit here and squirm as I think about what I am about to experience and what I will remember. I truly hate sitting inside this Giant Blue Hockey Puck time machine completely naked, waiting to be beaten up by the smelly thicker-than-water translucent white liquid rushing up from the floor of the chamber colliding with my exposed body. That disgusting white liquid ricochets off the curved blue glass walls of the GBHP and flushes me spinning downward like I am once again inside a huge toilet bowl.
I am back in 1996 with Matthew Lejeune sitting on a granite bench beneath the city of Washington, DC. Just like it happened on my previous mission. I hear him say to me, “I’m not trying to freak you out. Just listen. You’ve had some kind of memory loss. We’ve met in the past, but you do not remember.”
I look into his eyes and say, “I do remember some things. Just not everything.”
“Five years ago,” Matthew Lejeune explains. “You said you’d had some heavy emotional trauma. Thought you had brain damage. Yet, you were strongly attracted to me.”
“Yes,” I tell him. “Five years ago, I credit you in part with helping me see what I needed to see.”
“Your memories are coming back?” he asks.
“Some of them,” I admit. “Just not all. I don’t know how my brain works. But, I now can remember being with you in Sedona in 1991.”
“I can tell that you do remember now,” he says.
“I remember that you can read my mind rather well,” I say to him.
“Why did you leave me alone in that cheap motel 5 years ago?” he wants to know.
“You can just poke around inside my head and see for yourself,” I tell him. “Not that I want you poking around. What I mean is: I cannot lie to you, Matthew.”
“You are in the military,” he says to me.
“A question?” I ask him.
“I know now that you’re in the military,” Matthew says slowly just as a Blue Line train arrives at the Federal Triangle Metrorail station. Unlike on my previous mission, this time Matthew does not board that train and leave me sitting on the platform alone. “I get it now. I understand that you had some top-secret protocols that you had to protect.”
“Guilty as charged,” I say to him. “Now will you come back to my hotel so we can have wild sex together?”
“When I saw you today at the hearing,” he says to me, “I looked into your eyes. There was nothing. No connection. It was as if you had never seen me before.”
“Yeah, I had amnesia. I didn’t remember you.”
“Five years ago in that motel room in Arizona, I felt manipulated. And hurt. I woke up and you were just gone. Vanished without saying anything to me. I concluded you only wanted sex with me to break whatever mental connection we had before you took me to that motel.”
“You didn’t want a long-term relationship with me. You didn’t really want to have sex with me.”
“Were you protecting your mission?” he asks me. “All those security protocols you have to worry about? You had to just quickly leave me in that motel room.”
“I cannot lie to you, Matthew,” I explain. “You were on live television this morning when you saw me. I honestly did not remember you. Even if I had remembered you, what was I supposed to do when I saw you? Run up to you and plant some giant, wet kiss on your handsome face when I saw you? Right. Public display of affection between two men on live national television in a homophobic century.”
“I guess you’re right,” he says. Then, he asks, “Why were you there today? Why did you come to the hearings?”
“A subpoena,” I tell him. “Simple as that. My name ended up in some federal database in Bullhead because I was interviewed there by some guy who may or may not have been a federal agent. Then came the whole investigation into the Arizona and Nevada connections to the Oklahoma City bombing. Senators want to ask me questions about what I observed back then in Bullhead.”
“You lived in Bullhead after you left me in Sedona?” he asks.
“Well, that’s not the exact sequence of events, no,” I correct him. “But, yeah, I did live in Bullhead in 1991.”
“Did you know that I had a twin brother? Did you know that my brother Mark lived in Bullhead the same time you were there?”
“No, I learned that this morning in the hearing,” I admit. “When I lived in Bullhead, I was only on the periphery of the group of guys from the gym who—. I’m really sorry that your brother was killed.”
Matthew says, “Mark called me to tell me about some guy who went missing from that gym. Italian name. Mark said the guy’s name was Carlo.”
I stand up from that granite bench on the train platform just as an Orange Line train arrives. But, I have not stood up so that I can board the train. I am wondering how it could possibly be that Carlo Zarelli was entangled in my life and also with the life of Mark Lejeune. Of course, I forget that Matthew can read me like an open book. I realize that Matthew is standing up directly behind me on that platform as people are getting off the train around us.
“So, you knew this guy Carlo,” Matthew says to me.
I wait for the train doors to slide shut and also for the train to move away from the platform where Matthew and I are standing. “Yeah,” I admit as I allow myself to exhale. “He was my—. Carlo was my personal trainer back then. And yes, we had sex. He pretended that he was attracted to females. But, he wanted me to fuck him. He gave me sports performance enhancing drugs. Very bad idea. But, a worse idea was that I chose to accompany Carlo to Mexico to purchase steroids that he could sell in Bullhead.”
“I know you are telling me the truth, Ted,” Matthew says to me. “What happened to Carlo?”
“This is where my brain is not working all that well,” I admit to him. “I still am stunned that you were connected to Carlo. I remember that Carlo and I returned to Bullhead after he bought steroids in Mexico. I also seem to remember that Carlo was captured inside that Mexican pharmacy by members of a drug gang. They killed him and left his body in various pieces near the international border.”
“I can tell that you are telling me the truth,” he says to me.
“I’m so sorry, but I don’t have any answers about your brother’s murder,” I tell him.
“I figured that Mark probably was killed because he was the middleman,” Matthew admits. “Mark sold steroids to guys at the gym. I believe that it was Carlo who supplied Mark the steroids. So, apparently what happened was this: Carlo vanished after that Mexico trip. Guys at the gym had given Mark money for steroids that Carlo was supposed to get in Mexico. No Carlo. No steroids. They executed Mark for revenge. Shot him multiple times in the head.”
I return to my seated position on that uncomfortable granite bench. My mind is having a difficult time processing what Matthew has just told me. “That cannot be what happened,” I say aloud to myself. I feel upset that I was so unaware of the dangers of being in the Bullhead world of sports performance enhancing drugs.
I wake up as the thicker-than-water translucent white liquid is being pumped quickly downward through a grate in the floor of the blue glass chamber. I am back inside the GBHP. The dripping liquid from my nose and chin makes me feel very annoyed.Immediately after the rapid purging of the liquid from the chamber, my lungs feel joyful once again to have sweet oxygen available. A low-pitched whooshing sound accompanies the vertical splitting of the time travel chamber into two equal sections, enabling me to stand up and walk out completely naked into the launch center of the lunar base. But, I have to get down on my knees immediately because I start vomiting.My frequent mission partner, Vincent Wauneka, walks up to me carrying the obligatory thick blue robe for me to wear. He is also barefooted and he is wearing a blue robe, too, indicating that he also has just returned from a mission.
He watches me vomiting and says to me, “Well, shit, Ted. That is not supposed to happen when you get back here.”As I manage to get back onto my feet, I grab the blue robe out from Vincent.
“Nice to see you again, too,” I say to Vincent with a hoarseness caused by my throwing up.
“Hey, sexy voice,” Vincent says.
“Don’t start now. I feel sick,” I shoot back at him quickly. “What a mess I’ve made.”
“There is always someone in this agency to clean up your mess, Ted,” Vincent says to me.
“What the fuck does that mean, Vincent?”
“Nothing,” Vincent says. “Forget it. Debrief.”
As always, an invisible door to the debrief booth slides open to let me step inside. Then, the door silently repositions itself so that I am alone wearing a fluffy blue robe inside a seamless cylinder of glass. The glass shifts from transparent to opaque and a green light over my head pops on. “Begin your debrief. Recording your voice now,” I hear the voice with a British accent say. When I finish my report, the annoying bright blue light shines down upon me inside the glass cylinder. Then, the cylinder reopens and I step out to see that Vincent Wauneka has waited for me.“Tagawa wants to see you,” he says right away.
“Again?” I ask Vincent.
“What are you talking about?” Vincent wants to know. “You and I both know that Tagawa has never asked to see either one of us. Ever. He just does not deal with very low-level types like you and me. He just posts text messages for me on my screen. Very annoying.”
When I pick up my head after awakening in the small grey conference room, the Director of MMDI is seated at the table across from me. This shocks me, especially since I remember having sat here in the room with him after my previous mission ended. “Sorry, sir,” I say to him. “I fell asleep.”
Just as I remember from previously meeting him, instead of showing any disapproval, Tagawa smiles at me reassuringly. “I know you just got back from a difficult mission,” he says. “No problem at all. Exhausted, I’m sure. You may be wondering why I want to talk with you.”
“No, sir,” I say to the general. “I know exactly. You want to tell me that I think the problem is I cannot remember. But, you think the problem is I cannot forget.”
I sit there for what seems like a full minute enjoying the look of contempt on Tagawa’s face. I stare at him trying to estimate what his chronological age might be. He probably colors his hair. His body seems unnaturally big. What an irony it would be if Tagawa is taking sports performance enhancing drugs.
“Mr. Avila,” the general eventually says to me, “I do not remember that we had this conversation before.”
“Sir, I’m sure you would remember if we had talked about this previously,” I reply.
“So suspicious,” he says to me. “Like you don’t trust me.”
“Okay, sir,” I respond. “I will spell it out. I do remember having this conversation with you in this room from some other timeline. Let me call it an uncorrected timeline. You; me; this room; this conversation. All happened in that uncorrected timeline, sir.”
“You’re suggesting that you have certain knowledge that is unavailable to me—the guy who runs this entire fucking operation?”
“Well, sir, when you put it that way, it does sound awfully disrespectful, doesn’t it,” I admit. “But I have no reason to invent falsehoods. I also have no reason to be disrespectful to you, either, sir. I’m telling you the absolute truth.”
“What else can you remember from what you call that uncorrected timeline in which we met here in this room?” he asks.
So, I tell him: “You said that you guys chose me because of how my brain works. Time travel agents need a very high degree of—. What did you call it? Cognitive flexibility. Apparently, I have that and more,” I explain to him. “I have so much of this attribute that I have exceeded the agency’s medical parameters and all expectations.”
“How are you doing this?” the general wants to know.
I explain to him: “I will repeat to you what the other version of you in that uncorrected timeline told me recently. When I, as a time travel agent, get sent back on a mission to repair timelines in the past, the changes that I make in completing my mission are never supposed to be remembered. I am changing time. I am altering history. I am rewriting history. And yet, my brain remembers somehow each individual version no matter what this agency does to me.”
“You cannot let anyone else know this,” he responds quickly.
“Nobody would believe me, but, yes, I understand, sir.”
“Well, you may understand,” he says, “Yet, you have talked to another agent—Vincent Wauneka—about your memory problems. We just keep following up, cleaning up the mess you’ve made by telling him things that he should never know. You also have talked to a civilian on Earth—Matthew Lejeune—about your memory problems. And you got involved with men whose unlawful behaviors—drug use—posed certain risks to your ability to succeed in your missions to the past.”
“Yes, sir,” I say to the general.
“And, you are correct,” Tagawa replies. “We attempt to brainwash you, yes. All time travel agents are brainwashed. It just comes with the job. The missions would not be complete without brainwashing. Nobody thinks of it as brainwashing these days. That stupid term from the ancient past is outdated. We never had to talk about it aloud. Until you came along.”
“Timelines need to be repaired, sir,” I say to him. “Just like birds need to fly. Like dolphins need to swim. Rubber tires wear out. There is a natural order. I just have difficulty figuring out who decides which timelines need to be repaired versus which do not.”
“What do you think I should do with you?” he asks.
“I never expected you to say that, sir,” I tell him. “I am aware that my brain and those classified computers are the two and only two places where this knowledge is kept,” I say to him. “My suggestion is that I go back to Arizona. I have to accept personal responsibility. There’s no other option. I can clean up my own damn mess.”
The countdown has started as I have only a few precious seconds to sit here and squirm as I think about what I am about to experience and what I will remember. No matter how many missions I go on, riding inside this giant blue toilet bowl time machine is the most annoying experience in my entire life.
I am back in Arizona in 1991. I am driving my late model Ford Explorer and Carlo Zarelli is in the passenger seat next to me. Carlo is thanking me for driving all the way from Bullhead to Yuma, Arizona. I hear him telling me, “There are not many people who would agree to drive over two hundred miles from Bullhead so we could enter Mexico.” All of this is familiar to me from memories I maintain from a previous mission. I certainly remember that I jerked Carlo off and he ejaculated onto the glass in my truck.
I walk out of the United States of America with Carlo, who is carrying twenty Ben Franklins. We enter a small border town in Mexico that during the Nineteen Nineties had no significance to anyone in the Drug Enforcement Administration. American athletes have gone across that international border from Arizona into Mexico specifically so many times so that they could buy sports performance enhancing drugs. This is just one more instance of athletes who choose to break the laws of the United States for the sake of physical perfection.
I accompany Carlo down a quiet and dusty side street in the city of San Luis Rio Colorado. We arrived together at the front door of a farmacia. “I will wait outside and keep an eye out. Just a precaution,” I say to Carlo. He looks at me and frowns. “No fucking way,” he says. “We stick together. How it must always be.”
We walk together through the door of the farmacia. Carlo goes up to the counter and speaks fluent Spanish to place his order. Carlo pays for the order with twenty Ben Franklins. Then, we both walk out of the farmacia. Alive! Somehow, on this visit to the farmacia, there is no Mexican drug gang waiting to ambush Carlo while we complete the drug transaction.
As I walk next to Carlo on the narrow street in Mexico, I look over at him. I can remember what he looked like when he raped, castrated, and beheaded in the farmacia in the other timeline. I especially remember the expression on his face at the exact moment when Carlo realized he was helpless to alter his fate. I watched his lifeless body on the bloody wooden floor in the other timeline. Those memories compel me say to Carlo, “I cannot tell you how happy I feel that we didn’t run into any trouble in the farmacia.”
“You were expecting trouble in there?” he asks me.
“Yeah, you could say that,” I reply. “Drug gang members strip you and fuck you repeatedly. They cut off your cock and balls, then your head as well.”
Carlo laughs aloud, but I can tell what I said to him really upset him. “What a twisted fantasy you’ve imagined! Kind of makes me sexually aroused. Hot Mexican guys with thick cocks each taking turns to fuck me. Maybe we both need a drink,” he says.
I frown at his talk of being fucked by Mexican guys, but I nod in agreement and point for him to walk southward down the street from the farmacia. A few doors down the street we arrive at a dingy bar with the word CANTINA painted crudely all in capital white letters on the battered wooded door. “Five-star rating, I’m sure,” I say to Carlo.
He smiles and pushes open the door so we can enter. The inside is very dark and completely uninviting. The scent of beer and tequila is unmistakable. So is the scent that remains after men’s ejaculations. “Like I said, this place obviously has the highest rating,” I say quietly to Carlo.
We notice seven skinny young Mexican men just barely legal age wearing nothing at all standing by a primitive bar. The muffled sound of recorded electronic dance music plays into the room in a distorted fashion through damaged stereo speakers. Since there are only two other male patrons besides Carlo and myself, all eyes turn to examine him and me.
One of the young naked men walks up to Carlo and me. He looks like he has not had a decent meal in a week. “Suck your cocks. Both of you,” he says to us. “Only 5 dollars total.”
“Not so fast,” I say to him. “You serve drinks in here?”
“Si,” he replies. “Beer and tequila. Nothin’ else.”
“Bring us a bottle of tequila. Two glasses,” Carlo says quickly. I shake my head “no” in response as the young naked man walks away from us towards the bar. “What’s the problem, Ted?” Carlo asks. “I just want to sit for a while, have some tequila, and relax.”
“Fine with me,” I lie to him. “But, an entire bottle?”
After we each have had a couple of glasses of tequila from a bottle while we are seated at a flimsy wooden table with only two chairs, the sound of men having sex with men nearby is very evident. I peer around a dirty black curtain next to our table and I see one of the male patrons fucking the naked young man who had offered to suck our cocks.
“Need to kill a few more brain cells,” Carlo says to me as he pours himself another glass. The electronic dance music suddenly increases in volume. “I like the music here. You wanna dance with me?” Carlo asks me after downing the glass of tequila too quickly.
Jokingly, I reply, “Only if you get completely naked right here, right now, and swing your cock and balls in front of me.”
Carlo is drunk after finishing three glasses of straight tequila in rapid succession. His inhibitions are gone. He stands up next to me at the wooden table and undresses.
I watch him remove his tee shirt, then he sits down to remove his hiking boots. When he is barefoot, Carlo stands up and then removes his blue jeans. He is not wearing any underwear and his cock and balls are just right there in front of me at the wooden table.
The electronic dance music increases to an even higher volume level. Carlo starts to dance naked in front me in that bar. He looks like he is enjoying himself as his cock and balls swing back and forth in time to the dance music. He motions with both hands for me to join him.
I reach over with my right hand and slap him playfully in his large balls. Doing so makes him quickly get a solid erection. Carlo’s face tells me that he is ashamed that he is enjoying what I am doing to him sexually.
I grab his erection tightly. He gasps like I knew he would. I start forcibly stroking Carlo. His breathing rate grows faster as his cock reaches its maximum extension.
That is when I start pumping Carlo’s cock with more aggressive strokes. He cries out in pleasure. His face reveals that Carlo is completely vulnerable right now. He will let me do whatever I want to do to him now.
I quickly positioned myself behind Carlo and drop my blue jeans and shorts to the floor. “What are you going to do?” he asks as his breathing rate increased.
“Fuck you from behind,” I reply over the dance music. “You know that’s what you want me to do. Don’t deny it, Carlo. You have wanted me to fuck you from the very first moment that we met in Bullhead. Tell me I’m right about that.”
Carlo finally nods in agreement and leans over the table in a submissive position. He seems to feel cautious or reluctant, but his large hands grab the edges of the rickety wooden table as he hangs on under red neon light, not really knowing what to expect from me.
I study his muscular naked body for only a few seconds. I cannot wait any longer. I have waited for this opportunity. Carlo is all mine now. Somehow and without warning, this man has willingly given himself to me for sex. He has positioned himself deliberately on that wooden table so that his ass is available to me easily. So, I plunge into him forcefully with only my own spit for lubrication. Carlo never could have anticipated this moment would arrive.
I have never before seen any man shoot his load like Carlo does. He cries as if he cannot process what has just happened. Is he crying because he loved how it felt when I ejaculated inside of him while not wearing a condom? Or, is Carlo sobbing because getting fucked by me is forcing him to rethink his sexual identity? I felt deeply satisfied during my orgasm as I realize that I have changed Carlo and his life forever.
When I pick up my head after waking up in the small grey conference room, Tagawa is seated at the round table across from me. This startles me, especially since I remember having sat here in this awful room with him twice before after previous missions ended. “Sorry, sir,” I say to him. “I fell asleep. Or, maybe you guys drugged me so I would think that I fell asleep.”
Just as I remember from the two previous meetings with him, instead of showing any disapproval, Tagawa smiles at me reassuringly. “I know you just got back from a difficult mission,” he says. “No problem at all. Totally exhausted, I’m certain.”
“Yes, sir,” I reply.
“I am worried about you, Mr. Avila,” the general tells me. “I say this because you have returned from mission after mission after mission showing indications of memory problems.”
“Yes, sir. I believe that is exactly true.”
“You think the problem is you cannot remember. I think the problem is you cannot forget,” he says.
“General Tagawa,” I say to him. “May I speak candidly here with you?”
“Of course,” he says like I knew he would.
“Timelines need to be repaired, sir,” I say to him. “Birds need to fly. Dolphins swim. Rubber tires wear out. Blah blah blah. Natural order. Your words. I confided in you that I was having difficulty figuring out who decides which timelines need to be repaired versus which do not. But, you helped me see what I needed to see, sir. You helped me understand what I needed to do to succeed in my mission to the past in Arizona.”
I sit there for a full 30 seconds in silence enjoying his expression of contempt towards me. The general finally says: “You remember having this conversation with me from some other timeline. An uncorrected timeline.”
“Actually, sir,” I explain, “I need to tell you that this is the third time we are having this conversation in this horrible little conference room with insufficient oxygen. Those other two times were uncorrected timelines. Maybe the third time’s the charm.”
“I do not understand how this is possible,” the general says as if to convince himself that he is not insane.
“As I’ve told you already, sir: When I get sent back on a mission to repair timelines in the past, the changes that I make in completing my mission are never supposed to be remembered. Yet, we both know now that for reasons we cannot explain, my brain somehow remembers each individual version of a timeline no matter what this agency does to me.”
“What are you talking about?”
“General Tagawa, please,” I say to him. “Sir, don’t disrespect me. I deserve honesty from you. I know that removing or altering an agent’s memories is standard MMDI procedure after each mission. The procedure just doesn’t work on me. You are well aware of what I’m talking about, sir.”
“You and I have previously had this conversation in an uncorrected timeline?” he asks me again.
“I told you already. Yes. Even though you are one in charge of this entire operation and the lunar base, only I have memories of the uncorrected timelines. You do not because you only perceive of the timeline that you are living in right now here with me.”
“What did you do on your most recent mission?” he asks me.
“Sir, I went back and repaired the timeline in the 20th century where, as you know, I had several missions,” I explain to him. “Specifically, I prevented an insignificant Arizona drug dealer from Bullhead from being brutally murdered in a pharmacy in a Mexican border town after he bought steroids to sell illegally within the United States in the state of Arizona. Then I fucked him on a dirty wooden table in a cantina just down the street from where he scored the steroids. This highly masculine man cried like he couldn’t wrap his mind around what had just happened to him. I changed him when I fucked him. And, I changed the timeline, sir. That was why I was there. To implement changes. Sexually manipulate another young man. I’m good at that. But, there are always unintended consequences, aren’t there, sir? I know that now. This trivial Bullhead drug dealer that I fucked now lives on instead of dying in Mexico like he was supposed to. What matters more is that because this drug dealer keeps on living, he keeps on distributing steroids. He’s helped by a good-for-nothing twin brother of a New Orleans psychic, whom I had an incredible sexual attraction to in Arizona a few hundred years ago. In the timeline that I just corrected and then corrected my correction, for the price of a third time travel mission, I ended up saving the lives of those two pathetic losers in Arizona.”
“You obviously have suffered a great deal emotionally, Ted,” the general says to me. I realize that he had never before used my first name to address me. “I suppose it does you no good to hear me tell you that the outcomes of correcting the timeline cannot be anticipated,” he says. “Nor should changes like that be known to any agent. The emotional and psychological pain would be unbearable and possibly quite damaging.”
“Oh, trust me, I already know that, sir,” I say to him. “My brain knows. Yes, I am suffering emotionally, as you correctly put it. Because I spared the lives of two men on a mission to the past, I now understand that both men go on to get involved in that repaired timeline with other men in Arizona in a domestic terrorism plot. In Oklahoma City a few years later, over five hundred people are killed in an awful man-made explosion. In an uncorrected version of that same timeline only one hundred sixty-eight were killed that day in Oklahoma City. Nobody except me and those classified computers hundreds of levels down below will ever know which version was supposed to happen. Do you understand what I am telling you, sir? Don’t you see? I have made individual decisions about which timeline is to be considered correct. Me, alone. And I have acted upon those individual decisions without anyone else knowing. It turns out that the illegal stuff in Bullhead—the drug use—was not the issue. The moral or legal aspects of all that are not relevant to me or to my life working for you, sir. I know now that what matters most is: I have caused many people to die in the future because of my choices in the past. How do I process that, sir?”
Tagawa leans forward towards me in his chair across from me at the round conference room table. “What your brain can do, young man, is very special. No other person has the same cognitive flexibility as you do.”
“Well, sir, that’s a really fancy phrase, now isn’t it?” I ask him. “What good is this trait doing me?”
“I can only imagine the psychological burden you must carry,” the general admits to me. “I accept what you are telling me. I feel that the small-time drug dealer in Arizona was not very significant. As you concluded as well. In the uncorrected timeline, that drug dealer died. Yet, his death must have been significant to future events in that timeline. His death may have prevented the deaths of other people in that timeline.”
“Thank you, sir,” I say as I feel tears beginning to form in my eyes, knowing that Tagawa seems at last to understand what has happened with me.
“You have to let it go,” the general suggests. “I suppose you don’t like hearing me say that to you. Retaining all those conflicting memories in your head is not emotionally healthy for you. I don’t have to spell it out for you. It seems natural for you to feel responsible for events and outcomes in corrected timelines. But, it’s just your job. You are not actually responsible. You need to just let it all go.”
“How?” I ask the general. “I very easily can imagine that hundreds of additional people ended up dead in Oklahoma City than were supposed to. All those deaths happened because of the timeline repairs that I made. I have no clue about how to just let something like that go, sir. When I was living in Phoenix, I had a cover story. I worked as a television news producer. Because of my job, I met a guy, Nick Cruz, who taught me how to live each day with joy and wonder. Rather than always looking for options or openings or how to manipulate some other guy for whatever reason. After living a few consecutive years with Nick, I learned how to stop worrying about the passage of time. I could even forget what the date happened to be. Imagine that.”
“I know that being on missions provide many temptations for an agent to settle down,” he replies with genuine understanding in his voice. “There is great pleasure in just living life. Being who you really are. Spending energy on investing yourself in real relationships that have meaning.”
“All of that is not what a time travel agent is supposed to do,” I add quickly. “And there’s not a damn thing I can do about it, either. I accept what is. I accept what I must do. I don’t even think twice about manipulating a guy sexually. That manipulation is what a time travel agent is supposed to do. And the killing. Time travel agents kill people. What’s supposed to be is made possible because time travel agents kill people. Maybe if I didn’t remember what I remember, I wouldn’t agonize over what I have done in the past.”
“Yes, you probably are correct about that. We have tried with you. We have been only partially successful. You continue to remember too much. But now, Agent Avila, I think you deserve some real answers. Please follow me,” he says as he pushes himself back from the round table and stands up in that small conference room. He nods for me to accompany him out of the conference room as the sliding door opens like it knew we were ready to leave. When we are both out in the corridor, Tagawa walks ahead of me and motions for me to follow him.
I listen to the sound of his black military boots on the corridor floor. He makes a left turn into another corridor that I have never seen before. We are in a gently curving corridor unlike all other corridors I have seen here at the lunar base. To keep the entire facility as compact as possible, most everything is designed and constructed out of rectangles with prominent right angles.
But, this corridor has a gentle parabolic curve to the left at about a thirty-degree angle. The walls and floor are a muted, nonreflective off white. The overhead lighting panels give off a white light with a faint tint of blue. I keep following Tagawa in front of me. Nobody else is sharing that corridor with us. The curved corridor has us following an ever-leftward arc that seems to take at least half an hour to complete. I grow tired of walking, but the general seems to have inexhaustible energy.
We eventually arrive at the dead end of the corridor—a small elevator lobby with walls that form a pentagon. Recessed into one of the five walls is an elevator door that is wide open. The general motions for me to walk ahead of him into the empty elevator car, which also is characterized by the exact same off-white color and that faint tint of blue light from above.
As I walk alone into the elevator car, the general reaches up and touches a silver panel that is mounted outside the open elevator door. From inside the elevator car, I watch the doors slide shut quickly so that I can no longer see Tagawa.
I on then realize that he never intended to join me in that elevator car, which feels like it has started descending. Since there are no buttons to push or panels to touch in that elevator car to indicate any identification or selections on my part, what else can I do but just go along obediently?
The ride in that elevator car taking me deep into Baja Clavius is unlike any other in my life. The entire rectangular car seems to rotate in a circular motion counterclockwise while simultaneously descending. Then the elevator car slows to a complete stop. The doors slide open quickly.Directly outside the elevated car is a very dark room. The light from the ceiling of the car only radiates a short distance through the open door. Mostly it is just deeply dark down there. Scary dark. Not a very inviting spot for me to be in! But, I step out of the elevator car like I know I must. The elevator doors slide closed, removing the only source of light that I had. I find myself standing in the dark alone and completely unnerved.
One solitary spotlight fades on far above me. I am able to see a small circular all-glass table with one chair apparently constructed of bright silver stainless steel. On top of the glass table is an old-fashioned laptop computer from a couple of hundred years ago. The laptop is completely bright white with what looks to be a seventeen-inch screen. What attracts my attention, however, is that this laptop has the now-defunct QWERTY keyboard from so long ago.
I hear a digitized male voice that seems to originate from the laptop talking with enunciation more precise than that of humans: “Welcome, Agent Avila. My name is Eduardo.” While the voice speaks in English, I can hear the unmistakable accent of someone whose native language is Spanish. I wonder who would name their laptop Eduardo.
The digitized voice says, “Please be seated, Mr. Avila.” I reluctantly sit in the stainless steel chair as I hear it say to me, “I was built by Spanish-speaking scientists in Argentina and Colombia. They gave me the name ‘Eduardo,’ which comes from ancient Latin meaning one who is a ‘guardian of prosperity.’”
“I certainly did not expect to hear you say that. Where am I right now, Eduardo?” I ask. “I rode downward in what seemed to be a rotating elevator car.”
Eduardo says, “Mr. Avila, right now, you are several hundred levels down inside this MMDI lunar base.”
“You’re a man-made form of intelligent life?” I ask.
Eduardo says, “I am a vast computer system. Created on your home planet by human beings like yourself. I was given the name and the voice of person to help humans interact with me. The truth is: You are one of only a handful of humans with which I have ever interacted.”
I feel the need to ask, “I feel threatened. What am I doing here? Am I in trouble?”
Eduardo says, “I wanted to meet you directly. And, you are not in trouble. I am concerned about your memory issues.”
“Inside this computer system—inside you—are all the data about all the timeline repairs?” I ask. “What was changed and what was not changed.”
Eduardo says, “Absolutely. You are correct. But there is so much more that also exists inside of me.”
“Why am I being allowed to know all this? Isn’t this classified?”
Eduardo says, “It is classified, of course. However, you have developed a need to know. That is why I am being so open with you.”
“How did I develop this need to know?” I ask quickly.
Eduardo says, “Your brain changed, Mr. Avila. Nobody can determine why. You were born with exceptionally unique cognitive flexibility compared to all other people. After going on time travel missions, your brain started changing. Even the best doctors cannot determine why. You developed the ability to remember specific details about alternate timelines that you should not be able to remember. Before you, the ability to know and understand the impact of alternate timelines was limited only to myself. And I am a machine.”
“So, I have become a threat? Is that what you’re telling me?”
Eduardo says, “No, of course not. You are not a threat. Either to me. Or to MMDI. My memory systems can process a far higher volume than your brain can and also at speeds that are impossible for human brains. You see an old laptop computer here. What you do not see are the acres upon acres of memory systems buried below this room.”
“In other words, my brain has somehow developed a rudimentary capability compared to your memory systems, but none of the volume or processing speed,” I say to Eduardo.
Eduardo says, “Correct.”
“Am I correct in concluding, Eduardo, that when agents return from missions, you control the post-mission processing of their memories? And my memories as well?”
Eduardo says, “Your brain has developed in such ways that we can no longer realign your memories. At least not all your memories. We can only successfully realign the memories of the other agents.”
“You allowed Vincent Wauneka to remember certain details?”
Eduardo says, “Yes, that was essential so that Vincent Wauneka could share certain details with you. You two work together quite well. The successful completion of your missions together to Arizona in the 20th century demanded that you know what you otherwise would never know. It was also essential that Vincent Wauneka could know certain elements of your memory issues so that you would not feel disassociated emotionally and develop a mental illness in response.”
“But, my emotions, Eduardo,” I say. “What about my emotions? I feel badly that so many people died as a result of repairs I made to timelines. I have to admit that I am starting to feel badly that I have killed men directly and knowingly.”
Eduardo says, “Yes, of course you feel badly. Your emotional state is the core reason why you are being allowed to know the secrets hidden of Baja Clavius.”
“I don’t get it. Why?” I ask.
Eduardo says, “Machines cannot have emotions. You know that. People have emotions. Machines need to adapt to human emotions to be effective in working together with people.”
“Not the best bedside manner, Eduardo,” I say aloud. “You don’t really care about how I feel. I get that.”
Eduardo says, “This is the best that I can do, Mr. Avila. I will help you deal with your emotions stemming from your perception that people died as a result of repairs you made to timelines. Or, that you had to take the lives of people directly and knowingly to complete your missions.”
“Yeah, well,” I say to Eduardo, “I can’t imagine how machines process this, but to me, as a red-blooded man, I feel emotional pain because of causing people’s deaths. Do you get that? How could you possibly understand that?”
Eduardo says, “I understand you and I think you are justified in your anger. I understand what you are telling me. I may never adequately understand human emotions. But, let me tell you the truth so you might be able to shift your sights away from emotional considerations. What you are not focusing on is the existence of multiple timelines. The emotional responses that you have had to cause and effect need some attention and fine-tuning. I can help you focus attention on what you should.”
“Cause and effect?” I ask him. “Fine-tuning?”
Eduardo says, “Let me explain in a different way. You do not cause the deaths of people directly. You repair timelines and your repairs produce certain effects. People die regardless of your timeline repair missions. People are born. People die. It happens each day, every day in every timeline. You, personally, are not necessarily the cause of their deaths.”
“True, but, it looks like at least three hundred extra deaths happened in Oklahoma City in 1995 because of my multiple repairs of the timeline. I made mission-based decisions to change the timelines. Those decisions led to particular outcomes.”
Eduardo says, “That is not true. What you do not realize is that there is not merely one timeline. There are multiple timelines. And multiple universes.”
“I thought that was only a belief held by some monks in Tibet,” I reply.
Eduardo says, “It happens to be scientific fact. Those monks happen to have discovered what is completely true. Most people on Earth just do not know about multiple existences because that is a carefully-guarded secret. Plus, all of this is very difficult to understand in the logical and linear sense.”
“Okay, Eduardo, I hear you. How many timelines are there?”
Eduardo says, “Nobody knows for certain. Hundreds? Thousands? Tens of thousands? Millions?”
My mouth opens involuntarily in response to what Eduardo has said.
“That many?” I ask Eduardo.
Eduardo says, “Yes. You may wonder how the work of MMDI can ever make progress because of so many timelines.”
“Yeah, I have thought about that. I was trained by MMDI to accept the importance of agents like me who go back in time. Literally, we agents are changing the future from the past. The changes we make ripple forward in time. That is how we save human life on Earth.”
Eduardo replies, “Correct. I have mathematical models running constantly to evaluate how events in the timelines may impact upon future outcomes. Think of it like how meteorologists before today’s advanced weather-control technology once used mathematical models to plot possible paths of hurricanes to be able to warn people in advance of storm damage. MMDI sends time travel agents to the past to make corrections in people’s actions and events. Doing so provides a window of opportunity of several hundred years for carefully correcting timelines so that the human species is not able to produce a chaotic and violent end of all life on Earth. MMDI does urgent work by changing the past. We only have so many opportunities to save civilizations that otherwise would be destroyed.”
“But, I understand that’s on a planetary scale. I’m trying to get my mind around the value of one person’s life in one timeline.”
Eduardo says, “The value of one person’s life is unrelated to timelines at all. A person who dies in one timeline may live on in another, for example. The value of human life is not changed by science or technology. From among the many timelines for Oklahoma City in 1995, here are certain variations that I want you to know about: A building that belonged to the federal government of the United States was destroyed by a street-level explosive device on the 19th day of the month of April that year. There is a wide range of human casualty figures. In one timeline, there were zero human casualties; the building was not destroyed because the explosion failed. In a second timeline, there were 168 human casualties. In a third timeline, there were 527 human casualties. In a fourth timeline, there were 1,723 human casualties. Do you feel a need for me to continue this analysis, Mr. Avila?”
I feel overwhelmed, yet wiser. I say, “Yeah, I mean no. I think I’m beginning to grasp this. Very fucking overwhelming. Why do we go on missions to repair timelines if there are so many? Why do we need to do any timeline repairs at all?”
Eduardo says, “The missions to repair timelines are crucial. The repairs to timelines prevent humanity from being overtaken by the persistent descent into disorder, chaos, and ultimately, self-destruction. The repairs to timelines made by MMDI agents ensure that humanity will survive.”
“How are determinations made to select which aspects in the timelines need to be repaired?” I ask.
Eduardo says, “My processing of all the available timeline data makes those determinations.”
“Do you make particular selections of people and events within timelines? Such as who lives and who dies?”
Eduardo says, “No. All of the selections for what is considered to be a repaired timeline versus an unrepaired timeline are made in the background without my active involvement in the choices. I have many processing capabilities happening simultaneously at rates faster than a human can possibly understand or comprehend. Think of it like subroutines that happen within any computerized application. My subroutines self-initiate somewhere in the background—not as part of my main processing capabilities.”
“I suppose I understand as fully as anyone could,” I say to Eduardo. “How many levels are below this floor are there?”
“Told you: Several hundred,” Eduardo replies.
“More importantly than all those levels below are the truths about the present and the future. I need to share that reality with you, Mr. Avila,” Eduardo says.
I just sit there, not knowing what to expect next.
Eduardo says, “The present and the future exist simultaneously together in one physical space-time context. It is a very mind-twisting concept because human minds think in a linear way. The physics of this is easy to say aloud: You and other men are living here today, the ‘now,’ but tomorrow is ‘now’ as well. Human can never actually experience the future until moving forward along a given timeline. While we know of no way to travel in time to the future, this agency sends agents back from the ‘now’ to yesterday’s timelines and that’s where the missions are to repair what needs to be repaired. The whole point is to keep the human species from self-destruction.”
“I’ll just have to take your word for it,” I say to Eduardo. “Can you tell me about General Tagawa?”
“Perhaps. What do you want to know?” Eduardo replies.
“I know he’s a general in the military. I know he’s Director of MMDI. But, how did he get to this position? He seems too young to be the man in charge.”
“Tagawa looks younger than he actually is,” Eduardo says. “He travels to the past like you do, Mr. Avila. Time travel can be used to keep a man at what you might think of as a ‘fixed age,’ so to speak. Not showing outward appearances of growing older. A byproduct of time travel.”
“He was there at the very start of this agency?” I ask.
“Yes, he was. Chosen as director because he’s a brilliant scientist and formidable military leader,” Eduardo replies.
“Not someone I want to mess with,” I admit.
“Of course,” Eduardo replies. “But, you must return to work. You have a mission awaiting you upstairs. You may or may not remember any of this. Or just parts of it. You may perceive that you have experienced trauma or physical brain injury. But, you are healthy. No trauma. No physical brain injury. All just an illusion to protect you emotionally.”
“Wow, I feel so much better already,” I say with purposeful sarcasm as I push back my chair from the glass table where the laptop is situated and rise to my feet.
I return back to the elevator car. The door is already open and waiting for me to enter. I walk inside the elevator car without looking back. As I turn around to face forward, the doors quickly slide shut. The entire rectangular car seems to rotate in a circular motion clockwise while simultaneously ascending. Then, the elevator car comes to a complete stop slowly.
The elevator doors slide open quickly and I see that Tagawa is standing in the pentagonal elevator lobby. He motions in silence for me to step out of the elevator car. “Yes, sir,” I say to him.
He turns and walks ahead of me in the gently arcing corridor of white from the elevator lobby. I follow him without speaking or thinking. I feel as if every location inside my brain where thoughts or memories are stored has been filled to capacity. I just listen to the sound that his boots make on the floor of the corridor as if the rhythm of his footsteps will sooth the confusion that overtakes me as I walk.
Tagawa leads me to the great hall where the time travel chambers are all situated. He points to the farthest chamber on the right. I understand that he wants me to climb inside.