STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND Tom Mazanec Prologue 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 screamed. "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." "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?" "2013." "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, presumably." "Alcoholism? I'm not an alcoholic." "Maybe yes, maybe not." said Mr. Lowell. "I go with 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, Eisenhower, Kennedy..." "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 now Romney." "No, it was Eisenhower, Nixon, Humphrey, Richards, Stillwell, Grunninger, Millhouse, Brown, Heathcote, and now Tollman." "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 room. __________________ 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 accident." "What accident? And I never worked as a librarian." Ms. Oglethorpe stood up. "You will cooperate or you will suffer." "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 tonight." 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 so fast? 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!?" she demanded. "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 away. __________________ "You know, if you made a false emergency call, you are in big trouble." "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 House." 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 the cop. 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 the sargeant. 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 underdeveloped world. 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 least since 1960? Was that when Nixon was elected here?" "Yeah, 1960. Why?" "Because John F. Kennedy was elected in 1960 in my timeline." "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 have there." "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 remember? __________________ 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 the name? 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, 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 different atoms." "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 the wars." "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 breakdown." "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 at once!" "I'm probably not contagious anymore, I've mostly convalesced. And I had a relatively mild case. But I'm not sure." "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 to it?" "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 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. __________________