STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND
Always he could see and feel flashes. They came once a day,
or twice or more, or not at all on that particular day. When
a flash would occur, eveything would get another one of
those soft things next to it...indeed, the soft thigs would
each get another soft thing alongside. He was a child when
he noticed he could switch the hard things with the soft
things near them. So he could take a bite out of a candy
bar, then swich it with a soft candy bar next to it and take
a bite out of that, and so on until he got sick. He soon
learned not to do that! When his bike broke in an accident,
he switched it with an intact soft one near to it. His
mother saw what happened, and asked how the boy had fixed
his bike. His mother had him fix other things. Then she
wondered if he could fix people by what he called
"switching" with "soft" versions when his father cut off his
finger in a workshop room accident. Not only could he fix
the finger, he fixed it so well that his father did not even
remember the accident. So his parents took him to hospitals,
and he cured the sick. But the longer the person had been
sick, the softer the version of the person he had to do the
switching with. And the healed people never remembered their
illness. They would be confused as to how they had gotten
into the hospital and, if they were sick long enough, about
current events. But they soon accepted that they had been
sick, since everyone said they had been sick. At least, they
said they accepted it. Most of them...
Then came the day when a man came who had been sick most
his life, with the disease of alcoholism. A scientist put
sensors on the boy's head, and had him switch the man with
the softest version he could find, to see if the alcoholism
could be cured, and to see how he did it (or truth be told,
if he could do it...scientists are skeptics). The man had
killed a girl and crippled a boy in a drunken traffic
accident, and taking part in the experiment was part of the
social service he required to be paroled after years in
prison. And the boy looked for a softer version of the man
than he ever had before, and switched...
Young David Knight sat on a chair, a helmet with wires on
his head. The wires led to a computer with a large screen,
showing a graph of a human brain above a number of wavy
lines. On the hospital bed he faced was Tom Mazanec, laying
on his stomach dressed in a hospital gown. A slight elderly
man, a large middle-aged man and David Knight's parents
stood next to this tableau.
"The important thing is that you lie perfectly still. The
images around you flicker in and out more when you move. I
have to pick the softest one I can find and switch you with
it." said David.
"What do you mean by 'softest'? How can an image be soft or
hard? Do you mean blurry or faded?" asked the old man.
"No. I might as well call it 'prizzy' or something. I asked
mom and dad what the words were for the different kinds of
images, but they just laughed. Then they got mad and said I
was making things up, at least until they caught me
switching the images. But they never told me the right words
to use. The older an injury or sickness is, the softer the
image has to be for me to switch"
"Well, I can see on the screen that your brain waves and
brain scan are unique. I have never seen or even heard of
these patterns. Can you perform this switch now?"
"Yes, at any time. Just give me a few quiet moments to pick
out the image."
David seemed to stare out into space beyond the man on the
bed. Then he jerked slightly, and the computer screen went
berserk. Tom seemed to flicker an instant, and then he
"Don't worry" said David's mom. "They often scream when
they are healed. He will probably be confused for a bit."
Tom looked around goggle-eyed. "Where am I? What happened?
What am I doing here? What happened to my Kindle? To my
clothes? What is going on?"
"Wow! It was like every neuron fired at once! Let me look
at your stomach, Mr. Mazanec." said the old man.
Tom was white as a sheet. The old man helped him off the
bed and turned around his gown, to look at his stomach.
"Well, the scar is gone, at least."
"Scar? What scar?" asked Tom.
"The scar you got from that shiv in prison."
"Yes. You are here as part of your parole. You've been in
prison for the last 20 years."
"Twenty years? What year is it?"
"That makes no sense. That was the year I last remember."
"You remember this year? Excellent!"
"Is this some kind of CIA experiment? What the hell is
going on here? Who are you people?"
"I am Dr. Henderson. This man here is Mr. Lowell, your
parole officer." pointing to the large middle-aged man
"These are Edward and Alice Knight and their son David.
David healed you."
"Healed me? Healed me of what?"
"Well first, that scar you got in prison. And secondly, of
"Alcoholism? I'm not an alcoholic."
"Maybe yes, maybe not." said Mr. Lowell. "I go with
AA...you are a recovering alcoholic."
"Mister, my lifetime consumption of alcohol would fit in
one bottle...most of it communion wine."
"How long does this confusion last?" asked Mr. Lowell.
"We don't follow the patients after David heals them, so I
don't know." said Mr. Knight.
"I understand that the softer the image, the longer the
confusion usually lasts." said David.
"Look, I'm not a patient man. Mr. Mazanec, in 1991 you were
at point one six, twice the legal limit, driving with a
suspended license when you struck two children crossing the
street on their way home from school. You killed one and
crippled the other for life. You were sentenced to twenty to
fifty, and the only reason you are out of prison now is
because you agreed to serve under the Human Experimentation
of Felons program. After you are examined I am to take you
to the halfway house."
"Let me test his memory. How far back can you recite the
list of Presidents?" said Dr. Henderson.
"Presidents? I guess to Hoover. Then Roosevelt, Truman,
"You forgot Nixon" snapped Mr. Lowell.
"I wish I could! Kennedy, then Johnson, THEN Nixon, then
Ford, Carter, Reagan, Bush Sr., Clinton, Bush Jr., Obama and
"No, it was Eisenhower, Nixon, Humphrey, Richards,
Stillwell, Grunninger, Millhouse, Brown, Heathcote, and now
"Is this some kind of a joke?"
"This is no joke. Take him to the lab and examine him, and
then I'll take him to the halfway house."
They lead a staggering man in a hospital gown out of the
They drove up to a large building. Mr. Lowell pulled Tom out
of the car and dragged him over to the door, ringing on the
bell. "Here he is, Ms. Oglethorpe." he said as a hatchet
faced woman came to the door.
"I am Ms. Oglethorpe. Not Miss, not Mrs., Ms." she said as
she hauled Tom into the building. "Come into my office." She
led Tom into the office, and sat down at a desk.
"Can I have a chair to sit down?" asked Tom.
"No. I understand you knocked your Grandmother down the
stairs and broke her hip when you were 9" said Ms. Oglethorpe.
"No. I never did that."
Ms. Oglethorpe looked into the folder on the desk. "It says
quite clearly in your file that you were running around and
knocked her down the stairs."
"The files are wrong. I used to run around when I was a
kid, and my grandmother always said I would knock somebody
down, but that never happened."
Ms. Oglethorpe pursed her lips. "Really. I will look into
that. It will go badly for you if you are lying."
"I do not lie."
"We shall see. I see you worked as a librarian before your
"What accident? And I never worked as a librarian."
Ms. Oglethorpe stood up. "You will cooperate or you will
"What are you talking about? What am I doing here?"
"Are you retarded?"
"No. My IQ is nearly 130."
Ms. Oglethorpe took Tom by the arm and dragged him out the
office and down the hall. They came to an elevator and went
up to the third floor. "This is your room. You will stay
here and think about your lies. And you will have no supper
Tom sat on the bed for several minutes after she left. Then
he looked in the dresser. There were a few clothes, like the
uniform they had put on him at the hospital, and a little
underwear. There was a jacket and a coat in the closet. Tom
was glad that there was winter wear for the weather, since
it had snowed that afternoon...wait, there was no snow. And
the weather was brisk, not really cold. How had it warmed up
Tom went out of the room and slowly walked down the hall.
He found a phone attached to the wall and dialed 9-1-1.
"What is the nature of your emergency?"
the operator said.
"I've been kidnapped and am being held in this building."
Tom said. "Can you get here and rescue me? I don't know
where I am."
"You are at the Stromgren Halfway House at 4872 Maple Road.
A squad car is nearby and is on its way." the operator said.
Tom hung up the phone and went to the stairs he had seen at
the end of the hall. He ran down the stairs and had just
found the door when the police car, siren blaring, drove up.
Tom ran to the car and said "My name is Tom Mazanec, I live
at 10790 Ravenna Road, Twinsburg. You will have to help me
in, I don't have my key." The policeman typed the name into
the computer. "Thomas A. Mazanec, Social Security number
284-49-7155, Date of Birth March 6, 1958?"
"No, my middle intial is R, for Richard, and my birthdate
is March 5. The Social Security number is wrong, too., after
the first two digits. But it is weird that you came one day
off, and the same first and last names right. My 'R's look
like 'A's, someone must have confused me with someone else."
Ms. Oglethorpe came to the car. "What is going on here!?"
"This man claims to be kidnapped. He claims he is someone
else than the Tom Mazanec released from prison this morning.
We'' take him down to the station and DNA and fingerprint
him, get to the bottom of this."
"Yeah, and you can keep him there, as far as I am
concerned!" Ms. Oglethorpe called out as the car pulled
"You know, if you made a false emergency call, you are in
"I did not make a false call. I don't know what is going
on, but I was taken there against my will."
"The computer says someone a lot like you went to the
Halfway House on being released under the Human
Experimentation on Felons program. That someone lost the
right to his will when he broke the law. And if you are that
someone, you are going back to prison, not to the Halfway
After a bit Tom said "I bet you are having a lot of hassle
enforcing the curfew here in Twinsburg, aren't you? In fact,
it should be starting soon."
"What curfew? They probably should make kids stay in at
night, but we don't bother to focus on kids here in
Twinsburg. It's a pretty good town."
"By the way, where are your masks? You don't know if I have
the flu incubating....actually, I had it last month. Got
sick as a dog. Couple of my relatives died."
"That's too bad, Bub, but why should we wear masks? We're
cops, not the Lone Ranger."
"Why, the flu. The bird flu."
"Look, Mr. Manazac, quit fooling around already!" snapped
Tom did not bother risking the correcting of his name. He
rode the rest of the way in silent thought. He had not seen
a mask all day. And the buildings looked intact, not a
broken window or other damage anywhere. What was going on?
Was he having a bad dream? Or was the martial law, the
nuclear wars in Korea, South Asia and the Middle East, the
riots and all the other horrors of the last three months,
since the first reports of human transmissable avian flu the
week after Romney's election, been the bad dream?
They reached the station and Tom was led in. They took a
blood sample and fingerprints. "It will take several hours
to get the results. You'll just have to wait there. Frankly,
I know you're this ex-con. As soon as we get confirmation,
you're going back to the Big House to finish the rest of
your term, after making a false kidnapping accusation." said
Tom went to a chair and looked at the magazines laying on a
stand next to it. He sat down and began leafing through
them. There were hunting and woman's magazines which he had
no interest in, but there was a Newsweek for February 4,
2013. There was a cover story "The Falling Sky", about
President Tollman addressing Congress about devoting his
second term to helping the world cope with ozone depletion.
Apparently, the ozone depletion properties of CFCs had not
been discovered until the 1980s, when scientists observed
and tried to explain a growing ozone hole in the Antarctic
and then, soon afterward, the Arctic. The chemical
manufacturers waged a publicity and politics war similar to
that of the cigarette manufacturers of a generation before.
Only this year, with the sudden and rapid depletion of ozone
over the tropics in the last several years, had CFCs finally
been abolished. But ozone would continue diminishing for a
few decades. Already, fears were being raised about eye
damage and skin cancer for the residents of the equatorial
nations. But the unexpected result was the severity of the
damage to the crops of those countries in the last couple
years. In 2012 it was so severe that food riots and
political instability was spreading throughout the
That was too far for Tom. He distinctly remembered an "All
in the Family" episode where Mike predicted CFCs of spray
cans would destroy the world, and he was sure that was
before the 1980s. And President Tollman's second term? He
did not even remember the first. And advertisements had
things like "WNT:cococola^contest#srv133872" which did not
look like any web address he had ever seen. The ads also had
circular fingerprint like bullseyes that did not look like
any QR code or HCCB code he had ever seen.
Tom was a fan of alternate history. He wondered if he was
what such fans call an ISOT, although that was also what
fans call an ASB. He looked through all the magazines,
noting differences with what he remembered.
Finally, the sargeant called him to his desk. He was
holding the phone "Let's get the results." He smiled as he
listened to the phone. Then his smile dropped. "What the
hell do you mean!?" he demanded. Another moment passed.
"What, he's got an evil twin or something? How can that be
possible?" Again he listened. "You're sure? There's no
mistake? OK." The sargeant looked at Tom. "The DNA matches,
but the prints don't."
"Well, I guess you are out of trouble. But where is your
twin brother?" said the sarge.
"I don't think I'm out of trouble. I have nowhere to go.
And I have no brother."
"Just go back home. And who was the ex-con, if you don't
have a brother?"
"I probably don't have a home here. My doppleganger was
supposed to be sent to a halfway house, I don't know where
else he is supposed to live.. He has messed up my life. If
he is here somewhere, I can't take his place, and even if he
isn't I don't -"
"What are you babbling about? You must have an identical
twin to have someone with your DNA and different
fingerprints...I know that much. And we have to get that
twin to the halfway house."
"I don't have a twin. I am from a different timeline...a
world where history happened differently."
"You mean like Mars?"
"No...a different dimension, where history changed...at
least since 1960? Was that when Nixon was elected here?"
"Yeah, 1960. Why?"
"Because John F. Kennedy was elected in 1960 in my
"Timeline? You mean you're reincarnated or something? From
a different time?"
"No, timeline. I am from another universe, that split off
from this one...probably in the summer of 1957 when I was in
my mother's womb, to give me different fingerprints than I
"Look, just tell me where your brother is."
"I don't have a brother. I was somehow transfered to this-"
"OK, that is it. If you are not going to cooperate and keep
giving me this bullshit, I am going to have you committed."
"Then you'll just have to have me commited." replied Tom.
Come to think of it, maybe he was crazy. With nowhere to go,
it would be the best place for him. But what about the
fingerprints and DNA? Did he have a twin he couldn't
Tom slept for a long time after being assigned a room...but
then, it had been a long time since he had slept before,
even before the finding himself here. He had read on the Web
of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan a the day before everything
went crazy, and that was enough to keep one awake. Of course
it could be just a rumor...rumors were half of what had gone
wrong with the world in recent weeks. The rumor that America
had a cure for the superflu that brought several million
Mexicans across the border in a fruitless search for the
nonexistant cure. Or the rumor that the cure was being
rationed to Whites, leading to mass riots in America's
African-American areas. But Tom had read somewhere that
China had 3,000 nukes pointed at the United States. Would
Romney go to war with China over Taiwan? Or was that a fever
dream...was the president someone else...Tollman, was that
They gave Tom food and kept him locked in his room. There
was a television, but most of the channels were unfamiliar.
The news was about issues he was vaguely familiar with, like
Ozone Depletion, or totally unfamiliar with, like the
Vasharian Compact or Krasnomics. On the History Network
(wasn't it the History Channel, thought Tom) was a ten year
after retrospect of the California Crisis. California,
facing bankruptcy, attempted to claim the Federal Tax monies
of its residents. President Brown obtained a federal
injunction, and sent federal marshalls to enforce it. They
met militia violence, and hackers crashed the IRS computer
systems. New York also tried to seize their residents'
Federal taxes. A financial panic ensued, and Brown declared
emergency powers. Congress tried to rescind his authority.
The nation came to the verge of collapse, before Justin
Heathcote's "Grand Compromise" led to the resolution of the
crisis and put him on the fast tract to the Presidency. And
Tom remembered nothing of it. On the Golden Oldies Music
Channel, all the songs were different after 1958, even when
he recognized an artist. In 1958 they sounded...off, not
quite right somehow. Tom grew more and more sure he was in
an ATL with a PoD in the summer of 1957, when he was first
forming fingerprints in utero.
Over the next several days he saw three doctors. They
interviewed him about his background, his life, and about
events in history. They wrote a lot about his answers in
thir notebooks, and tried to get him to remember what they
remembered. But he insisted on remembering what he
remembered. He told them of the mess in E2K, when the
Supreme Court had to pick the Presidential winner (who had
lost the popular vote). The doctor countered with the
"Orwellian election" of 1984, "won" by Democrat Joseph
Blackstone until an elector had a near fatal heart attack
and was "born again" to vote for Howard Stillwell, throwing
the election into the House, which voted along party lines
to give Stillwell and the GOP the Presidency (but the Senate
gave the Vice Presidency to Democrat Maxwell Grunninger).
There was a Constitutional Amendment because of that one.
Tom agreed that was a bigger mess.
Then they let him alone a couple days, only to wake him at
the crack of dawn one day and exhaustively interrogate him
on details from his described life history and world
history, until he was tangled up in the details. Again he
was taken at last back to his room, but the television was
cut off, and he was told it would be cut off until he
cooperated. Another day passed, and he was led into a room,
where he was given an injection that made him light-headed,
and a man kept telling him he was going to sleep, but would
still hear and obay. This was a waste of time. Yet again he
was led back to his room.
Then the next day a doctor came in with a man in a dark
suit, who said the sentence Reagan called the scariest in
the English Language..."I'm from the government, and I'm
here to help you."
Tom was taken to a black car and got in. The government man,
who identified himself as Mr. Smith, said they were going to
Glenn NASA in Cleveland (John Glenn was the first man on the
Moon here, in the summer of 1976...a single 6 man mission of
two weeks, said Smith). He claimed not to know what was up
with this, just that he was to take Tom to the center. Tom
was silent, watching the scenery pass. Finally, he arrived
and was led to a room with several men and the lad he had
seen at the beginning of this ordeal. One of the men said
"Mr. Mazanec, come over here and look at this." On the table
indicated was a smartphone with the number 497116 on the
screen. "OK, David, do the switch." said the man. The lad
frowned at the smartphone and suddenly it was a couple
inches to the side and the number was 398952. "Again".
497116. "Again". 398952. "See, we have two different
smartphones, with two different randomly chosen numbers. I
programmed the random number generator to use the output of
a geiger counter as the seed. I ran the generator after the
last 'flash' David perceived, then placed the phone on the
table based on the number generated. The phones are in two
different timelines, where radioactive decay happens to
"You know I come from an alternate timeline? And is this
kid the one who brought me here? And what is a 'flash'?
"Yes, we know you come from an alternate timeline now. And
yes, Mr. Knight is the one who brought you here. A 'flash'
is what David calls what seems to be the splitting of the
timelines. We have timed two of these flashes, and both
agree, to within the time delay of David reporting them,
with the time of gamma ray flashes recorded by satellites.
Gamma ray flashes are believed to be the formation of black
holes, events apparently singular enough to split the
universe in two. Random quantum differences in radioactive
decay then change the two universes from each other, and the
changes snowball over time. The further back Dave makes the
switch from, the more different the things switched. You are
by far the farthest back he has ever done, so you are the
most different by far."
"Are you going to send me back?"
"Actually, we don't seem to be able to do that. If the
universe splits once a day on average, after a month there
will be a billion timelines. After two months a quintillion
and an octillion after three months. Out of all these, David
"sees" the dopplegangers that are at the same place, and in
the same bodily position and size as the person here, and
switches one of them with the person here. In order to send
you home, you would have to be in the same place as your
doppleganger and in the same position as him...and we don't
know what that is. And even if we did, by now, after some 55
years since the divergence, there would be astronomically
more duplicates of you, even with those restrictions, than
there are atoms in the universe. David would never be able
to find our timeline's Thomas Mazanec."
"Maybe it is for the better. At least a billion people have
died in the last twelve weeks or so there, of the flu and
"What flu and wars?" asked another one of the men.
"There is a superflu ravaging the world where I came from.
I got it myself last month...lost half my weight. I used to
be fat. It's already killed hundreds of millions directly,
and hundreds of millions more indirectly from war and social
"And you had this? You have been exposed and contracted
this? Get the CDC on the phone immediately, we have to
quarantine anyone who has been in contact with Mr. Mazanec
"I'm probably not contagious anymore, I've mostly
convalesced. And I had a relatively mild case. But I'm not
"We'll have to make sure. Get everyone who met Mr. Mazanec
into isolation. And we can't have David switching people
anymore...he's not curing them, he's just stranding them in
other timelines and kidnapping doubles to take their place.
And we might get another wonky virus if we keep it up."
"What becomes of me? I will never finish my Starweb game or
find out what happens next on the Kevin and Kell webcomic,
but I would like to have a decent life here."
"Well, you will be in isolation till we are sure you are
not contagious. After that, I don't know. Perhaps someone in
your family can take care of you."
"What about the money my doppleganger had? Do I get access
"I'm afraid your doppleganger had no money...he spent it
all trying to beat the rap for his drunken driving,
vehicular homicide and vehicular assault. Maybe we can
arrange something with the government to get you
acculturated to here."
"I guess I will have to get used to it. But I will sure
miss my old culture...and I can never go back. Maybe I
should thank David...it looked like there was about to be a
complete holocaust with China last I heard and he probably
saved my life. But at what a cost."
What a cost.
DRIZZLE DRAZZLE DRUZZLE DROME
TIME FOR THIS ONE TO COME HOME