PROJECT PHOENIX Tom Mazanec I write this in the forlorn, almost silly hope that they will someday send this, somehow, back to my "home". But from what I know of where I am, that is impossible. And from what I know of them, they would not do so even if it were possible. I had just been woken up by my alarm clock, and was turning to shut it off, when I felt myself falling and saw a flash of blue light. A sudden jolt, and I found myself in what looked like a hospital room, lying on the bed. I looked around and saw a guard at the door, and three people at the other side of the room. One was a military officer,one a doctor, one was sitting in a chair. He looked both young and old, and was bald with a huge head. He was breathing hard and the doctor injected something into him. "Who is the president of the United States?" demanded the officer. "Huh? What?" I replied. "Who is the president of the United States?" he repeated. "Who are you?" I demanded. He looked like he was struggling for patience a moment, then replied "I am Major Lehman. Who is the pres-" "Dole. Robert Dole. What is going on here?" "Have any nuclear weapons been used in anger since 1945?" "NO! WHY ARE YOU-" "O.K. Major. He's a good one. Let him go now...things are different where he is from, remember." said the doctor. "Very well. I'll let you speak to him for awhile." the major answered. "I understand you are very confused, are you not, Mr. Turner?" "Howard Turner. How did you know my name? Who are you?" "I am Doctor Eliot. Please try to be calm, and listen to what I say now. I will try to explain what has happened to you. Please do not interrupt, or question me, until I have finished. Thanks to that...individual...over there, we have learned a great deal about the nature of time. Time has often been called a river, but it is actually a vast river delta, forever branching into distributaries. Each of these branches is equally real, just as each hair on your head is equally one of your hairs. The individual you see was born of parents who were both born in 1963, what we call bomb babies. Occasionally such children are, as we say, punished by God. Their parents were born with mutations, either from the war or from the Castro's Revenge virus which-" "WHAT ARE YOU BABBLING ABOUT! I AM GOING TO CALL MY LAWYER AND-" "Trust me, your lawyer cannot help you, or even learn of your experience-" began Major Lehman, but I interrupted him, and Dr. Stokes interrupted my interruption, and I felt the tiny burn of a hypodermic needle enter my arm. "Just a mild sedative. We often have to do this when transferees are first introduced to this world. Look, I'll try to keep it as simple as I can, but it is just not a simple situation. The universe exists as millions of millions of versions of itself, in each pair of which history progressed identically to a time when it went into a different path in each of the two. You are now in a version where an atomic war broke out between America and Russia on October 31, 1962. That person in the chair there is what you would probably call a mutant or mutation. The vast majority of those punished by God, as we refer to this misfortune, are simply sickly or deformed. A few are different in some obvious but harmless way. Subject Prime, as he is called, is unique. He was put in an institution as a hydrocephalic at birth, but he did not have water on the brain, he had brain on the brain. While his intelligence is, by all normal tests, subnormal and even retarded, he somehow has the ability to switch people with their alter egos in these other timelines. We can't get him to do this in a consistent way...maybe it is not possible to find the same grain of sand in the desert of time. But the vast majority of doubles which are snatched here are from 2003s which are far more technologically advanced than ours is. The Howard Turner here was a biologist. I see you are in pajamas. Are you employed?" "I am a zoologist. At the San Diego Zoo." "Ah. That would explain your attire. Three hours difference, of course. It is a shame you do not seem to have any advanced articles on your person, something electronic for example. Well, we can only hope that your mind has something useful, although as a zoologist it seems unlikely. But we have the rest of your life to explore that possibility. Anyway, Howard Turner...*our* Howard Turner, attempted to propagate opinions concerning such concepts as evolution, for which he was convicted and sentenced to give special aid in the recovery effort-" "What do you mean 'sentenced'? For talking about evolution? What about freedom of speech?" I managed to ask through the buzzing haze that seemed to surround me and fill me. "Of course, this is America! We treasure freedom of speech as much as we treasure all our sacred freedoms! But if, in exercising their freedoms, an individual is deemed to be hindering the recovery effort by the government, then quite rightly he is sentenced to undo the damage by aiding in that recovery effort. Now, the Howard Turner of our world spread unholy lies about science falsely so called, and was quite fortunate that he was not sentenced to be a medical research subject for experiment and sacrifice. Instead, he is able to enjoy the rest of his life in your world, and you have the honor of helping to rebuild your country into the great nation that it was!" I actually knew of this concept...there was a show, "Sliders", only lasted for one season but was convenient for my schedule. I had enough of a biological background to know what "sacrifice" meant, but it was probably the injection that made me so calm. "You mean we lost World War Three?" I asked. "Lost!" shouted the Major. "We only lost 60 million Americans in the Hell Year out of 180 million. The Soviet Union lost 190 million out of 210 million. Red China lost 600 million out of 800 million. Even our European allies lost over two thirds of their population instead of only one third. Does that sound like we lost!?" he cried as his chest bulged with pride. "You should be proud to be part of Project Phoenix and to help pull your country out of the ashes!" And I have been "helping" ever since. They have been interrogating me ever since that day, and I am believe that they occasionally use truth drugs to help. I tell them what I can of my world, but I can only describe high temperature superconductors, nanotechnology or the Internet. I do not know how they work, and I did not bring samples. But of one thing I am quite sure. The country I am helping might call itself "America". But it is not my country.