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The cluster of poodle-skirted sorority girls gave me a vague smile when I sat down beside them. I liked the way the skirts’ material kept rising up on the poofy slips beneath them, exposing bobby-socked calves and saddle shoes. The girl I had my eye on was tall, blond, and curvy. She met my glaze and my daemon pinged to tell me she’d accessed my site. Then the smile turned cold. Apparently minority grad students didn’t meet her standard. At least I got her name — Beth Ringslaught — when she pinged me. But that was all I was going to get. The rest of the girls turned away; they were probably hooked into a local IRC, and Beth had shared my CV with the rest of them. I leaned back in my chair and sighed.

Dr. Elk strode in, a wild pile of paper under one arm and a teacher’s stick in his hand. He tapped the teaching computer with his stick and the lights dimmed.

“Class! Welcome to your senior thesis! I’m Dr. Elk, and I’m as excited about Thesis as all of you are. Our topic this year is ‘Factors of Old World Imperialism.’” Elk was a tall, thin man, his dark hair starting to fade to gray. He had been my advisor — no doubt we were teamed up by some politically correct wonk because of our similar genetic heritage — when I was in the history department, but I’d not talked with him for a year, not since I’d moved to engineering my junior year.

“Why did European culture eradicate every New World culture it came into contact? Were Europeans intrinsically smarter? No! Did they have God on their side? I doubt it!” He slammed his notes on the word ‘God,’ and the poodle girls jumped. I’d known it was coming; his lectures went back to the aughts.

My mind began to drift, watching the clock tick. I’d heard this lecture a half-dozen times since my freshman year. Professor Elk had asked me to audit, and possibly TA, the senior thesis class, so I signed up for it, but never with any more intention than to check out the women in the class. I glanced around. Slim pickings among the rest of the history seniors. I looked over at Beth; the fabric poodle on her skirt was watching me, panting. Nice effect. Maybe one more try, I decided.

“Were they just better?” Dr. Elk picked up a piece of chalk and wrote a word on the board, punctuated by dull clicks. “No, of course not.”

“They had germs,” I whispered to Beth. She glared at me.

“What they had that was better was G-E-R-M-S. Germs. Centuries of city-life had turned their cesspool cities into disease incubators. Those city-dwellers that survived to breed were slightly more resistant than the ones who clogged their cemeteries. The New World had nothing like it. Pizarro was no better than Atahuallpa. His forefathers had just been lucky enough to have a slightly higher than average immunity to small pox!”

“How about some dinner?” I whispered to Beth.

My daemon beeped that a class one harassment complaint had been lodged against me. The poodle bared its teeth.

“By the end of this year, we will have expanded this idea of Old World disease conquering the new world. We will have built a hypothesis and tested it. And we will prove once and for all, that the exploitation of the New World by the Old was a fluke, a whim, a side-effect of barbaric living conditions and chance.”

I yawned. Elk would have to find himself another TA. There were too many other classes I needed to take, and I wasn’t interested in his hypothetical world — probably some world simulator his grad students wrote — in which the New World tribes beat the imperialist dogs of the Old World. That’s why I dropped history in favor of engineering; I wanted to play with real things in the present, not guesses from the past. I slipped out of class, avoiding eye contact with Elk, and headed to the administration building for a quick add-drop.


The doorbell wouldn’t shut the hell up, no matter how many times I folded my pillow through four dimensional space. I tossed it aside and stumbled to the door. I kicked aside a pizza box, sending it sailing into my CD collection. The thermo text didn’t budge, and I hopped the rest of the way, holding my throbbing toe.

“What the fuck?” I said, opening the door.

“Ryan Greene?”

About the same time my reptilian brain had determined that a reproduction-aged female was standing in my doorway, my daemon had informed me it was Beth Ringslaught, the poodle-skirted cutie from Elk’s senior thesis class, who’d dropped a class one harassment memo on my ass. My boner flagged.

“Oh, it’s you.”

She didn’t have a poodle skirt on today. She was wearing tight-fitting riding pants that hugged her calves, making her look like she had marathon runner legs. My reptilian brain stirred, then went back to sleep.

“What do you want?” I asked, leaning on the door, scratching my nuts.

It didn’t faze her. “Professor Elk asked me to come see you. He wants you to re-add his class.” Too much sun was beaming down on the apartment courtyard and its leaf-filled pool. I leaned my head against the door frame.


“He needs your help, he said.”

“Listen, I’m not interested in being his Native American poster boy. You seniors just blithely run your sims and make the world a pretend happy place. I’m not interested.”

She shrugged. “Don’t take it out on —”

“Just like you aren’t interested in a guy like me, a poor minority grad student.”

She blinked, her eyebrows slowly rising, her cheeks flushing.

“What are you talking about?”

“The way you and your poodle-friends shut me down in class the other day. It’s clear you think talking with me is slumming.”

Her mouth crooked into a half-smile. “Your site says you’re dating a Miss Janice Huckabee.”

“Your daddy — What?”

“Your site says you’re in a monogamous relationship.”

“Oh,” I said, feeling the heat on my face. “That’s out of date, I guess.” Janice had dumped me at the end of senior year, when I took the grad school gig instead of the Buckell Chemical job on St. Thomas. She hadn’t wanted to date a poor grad student either, though the reception her parents had given me when we drove up from Columbus to Lansing for Christmas break might have had something to do with it.

“As attractive as you may have seemed last week, the fact that most of us poodle-girls would like a monogamous, dedicated boyfriend eliminated you as a candidate quickly.” She turned and added over her shoulder, “I’ll let Dr. Elk know your answer.”

I watched her go, noted the lack of panty lines, and made a note to change my site.


I was deep in next week’s Plasma notes, Chen’s Plasma Physics Fundamentals open on my lap, trying to stay one lecture ahead of the students I was TAing for, when someone knocked on my cube door. I figured it was one of my students coming by for a freebie on the homework set.

“Remember that the magnetic moment is invariant!” I called over the cube wall.

Someone cleared his throat, then said, “I’ll keep that in mind, Mr. Greene.”

“Dr. Elk, I thought you were a student.” I sat up, brushing the pork rind crumbs off my chest.

“Aren’t we all?”

“Um, yeah.”

“I know you rebuffed Beth, but I wanted to take one more go at you.”

“Beth?” My daemon supplied the relevant image. “Oh, your senior thesis class. Really, Dr. Elk, my load is tough this term. Grading, teaching —”

“I have funding and permits for use of the MWD,” Dr. Elk said. His bushy eyebrows rose. Then he winked. Then he left.

I sat there, my jaw aching from where it had kerchunked onto the floor. The bastard. He’d tricked or greased some government cog into letting him use the MWD. Casino money, probably. Or some oil-Indian from Texas. Son of a bitch. He was going to use the Multi-Worlds Device to build a new universe. And he’d just pulled me in too.

I slammed Chen shut and ran after him.

“Hold on, Dr. Elk!”


See, the MWD is really about time travel. Only time travel in our own universe is impossible, since it never happened. No time travellers ever showed up in our universe to save Kennedy or patch the O-ring, so there’s no way it’ll work here. If you go back in time and make a change, you build a whole new universe, a malleable one, flexible from the point you make your first change.

Sounds wacky, I know. Where does all the energy come to make a whole universe? Or was the universe already there and we were just tapping into it? And how many universes can the multiverse contain? Are we filling it up to some limit? Is it all going to collapse in on itself? What were the cosmic implications, man? Think!

Back then I didn’t care. I wasn’t a physics wonk, or a morality dweebie. I was just an engineer, but — god damn! — I thought the MWD was cool shit. And the only way I figured I’d ever get involved was from the fusion side of it. It took a lot power to push things to another universe.

That’s why Dr. Elk wanted me. He needed a techie on his side.


Beth Ringslaught gave me a wry look when I sat down next to her the next day in class.

“It’s a little late to add-drop, isn’t it?” Her poodle posse giggled.

“You’re not going to file another harassment memo if I sit next to you are you?”

“Maybe. I see you updated your site.”

“You didn’t tell me he was going to use the MWD.”

“The what?”

“The Multi-Worlds Device!”

“Oh, that. That’s just engineering details. I figured working with Dr. Elk would motivate you enough.”

I shook my head. “Can I borrow your notes?”

“I guess.”

Dr. Elk walked in, beamed at me, then began lecturing on the Incas, discharging large expository lumps on the desecration by Pizarro, the effect of European disease, and the exploitation of native culture in the name of god and king. I’d heard it before, so I flipped through Beth’s notes to see what the project was.

Beth kept good notes. Not a single doodle. So I started to add one. Beth grabbed my pen.

“Don’t do that,” she whispered. Her hand shook as she held the end of my pen. Apparently she took her notes seriously.


Dr. Elk’s thesis was this: European crowd diseases decimated ninety-five percent of the American native populations. Crowd diseases were prevalent in Europe due to high population densities, which were unobtainable in the Americas. High crowd densities were possible in Europe due to the wide range of large-seeded grains, pulses, and domesticated animals that seeped up from the Indus Valley. North America had sunflowers and sumpweed, and the only domesticated animal was the dog. Try pulling a plow with a dog.

The best grain the Americas had was maize. Only it had taken thousands of years to go from corn’s natural ancestor teosinte to the foot-long ears of the modern world. Worse, teosinte had been domesticated in lower Central America, in a climate that was so unlike the rest of the Americas that its propagation was extremely slow. All this added up to the fact that the Americas lagged Europe in food production by about 6000 years.

“Holy shit!” I said. “You’re going to introduce modern maize into ancient America!”

Dr. Elk stopped in the middle of his harangue on smallpox. “I see my faith in you is well-founded, Mr. Greene. It only took you fifteen minutes to catch up with the rest of us.”

“Uh, sorry,” I said, handing the notes back to Beth. She rolled her eyes at me.


“So what does that do?”

Kyle looked at me out of the corner of his eye. He sighed. “I’m trying to calibrate the spatial locator.” We were sitting in the control room of the MWD lab in the Barzak Building, overlooking the clean room where the cross-dimensional hole would be opened up.

“Spatial locator of what?”

“A hole.”

“To where?”

“Ancient Mesoamerica! Don’t you have a screen you need to be watching?”

I did, but the power system was running flawlessly. Watching Kyle run the MWD was much more fun. It had been too much to hope for him to actually let me run the machine myself. Only a licensed MWD engineer could do that, someone with a PhD in Macro Quantum Physics, which Kyle had. To him I was just some engineer.

I’d been watching Kyle all day, and I pretty much could see what he was doing. Find the anchor, locate your temporal zone in relation to the anchor, get within a few thousand years, calibrate, recalibrate, repeat until you find the right time. Then do the same with the X-Y-Z coordinates. I couldn’t see why you needed a PhD to do it.

“So how do we know our universe isn’t one that someone else made?” I asked.

Kyle shook his head. “Dr. Skillingstead proved that we’re the primary universe using a Copenhagen variant —”

My phone beeped and he frowned as I ignored his explanation and answered it.


“It’s Beth. Is the 7500 BC probe ready yet?”

“Kyle’s taking his sweet old time calibrating the spatial locator.”

He glared at me. “Do you want it over Panama or Greece?” he growled.

“I’ll call you when he’s done.”


“How about dinner?”

“No.” She hung up. At least she didn’t file a memo.

Kyle smirked. I don’t know why; I’d seen his Frankenstein’s girlfriend. I didn’t know if he’d picked her up in a bar or built her in the lab. Better for Beth to reject me than to date the greasy-haired grad student from Hell.

“Why can’t this be done robotically?” I asked. “I mean, do we really need a PhD to run this thing?” Yes, I was baiting him.

“Maybe one day, this can all be done automatically. But if we blow a calibration, we black out a whole time zone. I don’t think Dr. Elk would be happy with that.”

That was for sure. His schedule was exacting. And once you closed a hole in a time zone, there was no going back. The future in a new universe was like Schroedinger’s cat, alive or dead until you opened the box. But once you closed a hole and moved forward, you couldn’t go back, since it never happened. Only the unknown future was open.

7500 BC was where we were going to drop the modern maize. Then every one hundred years we’d drop in spyeyes to track the propagation. By 1500 CE, the Americas should be as much a power house as the Europeans. Perhaps the Aztecs would discover the Old World.

They just needed a little help.

The next call was Dr. Elk.

“Are we ready to sow yet?”

“We haven’t even pushed the spyeyes through.”

“What’s the hold up?”

“Calibration. What’s the hurry? We have as long as we want.”

“I’d rather have results sooner than later, Mr. Greene. Dr. Skillingstead at the University of Michigan is attempting similar studies in the area of history as a testable science.”

“I’ll let you know when the spyeyes are in.”

“Good. Make sure you understand everything that’s going on with the MWD. Understand?”

“Yeah, I guess.”

He hung up.

“I’m glad you’re here to buffer me from him,” Kyle said. “He’s one driven son of a bitch.”

“Now you’re glad I’m here.”

“I wouldn’t go that far.”


We opened three holes over the Americas in 7500 BC: North, Meso-, and South America. With spyeyes, we surveyed the locale and found indigenous bands of hunter-gathers. Beth built a huge database of video, and we watched highlights in class. She could have been a fine anthropologist.

“Here we see a group of hunter-gathers — we call them the Snake People because of the tattoo on their chests — gathering the wild teosinte. It grows naturally near their tents.” Small brown men were grabbing handfuls of what looked like grass. None of them used tools. A couple of the students giggled at the nearly naked men.

“Here is a close up of the teosinte. Note the size of the cobs. Three to four centimeters long. Now watch Bob.”


One of Beth’s friends leaned over. “We’ve named them all,” she whispered.

On the video, Bob took a stalk of teosinte, peeled off the husk and looked closely at it. Then he shook the seeds loose. They fluttered to the ground.

“Some sort of artificial selection,” I said.

Beth smiled at me.

“Yes! Perhaps he was propagating a larger seed case; perhaps it had more rows than the typical two-rowed teosinte; perhaps it had a more perpendicular spikelets. Whatever he saw, he decided to make sure more came back next year. I think this is evidence of human selection of maize-like traits.”

Dr. Elk clapped his hands. “Excellent work. I think we’ve found our Mesoamerican drop site.” On the screen Bob took another stalk of teosinte, ripped off the cob, and dumped it into a fur sack. “Mr. Greene, I’d like you to schedule a drop of the modern maize kernels.”


The sowers were modified spyeyes that could carry a dozen kernels at a time. The idea was to push it through the hole, fly it near the ground, and drop the kernels in a likely place. Come summer, we’d have a cluster of modern maize. The next step was beyond our control. Bob and his cohorts would have to discover the corn, figure out that it was a useful grain, and propagate it.

That was the problem with modern maize. The grain didn’t do a good job self-propagating; it was dependent on human interaction to keep its genotype going. If our little brown people didn’t drop seeds from the cobs onto the ground, there wouldn’t be a second season of maize.

“There, I want it there on that plain,” Dr. Elk said. I was flying the spyeye across the terrain from Beth’s video. I dropped it to hover a few meters above the grass.


“No, a little to the left. See that open area there?” His hand was practically guiding the joystick. I bounced the spyeye a bit to the left.



I toggled the payload button.

“Corn away!” I shouted. I jiggled the spyeye to shake free any clinging kernels. Each one of those kernels cost us ten megawatt-hours of power.

I spun the eye around and came in low. There were the kernels sitting on the ground, waiting for rain and spring.

“Now move us ahead six months,” Dr. Elk said to Kyle. “I want to see what happens.”

Kyle nodded. “That will close out this time zone.”

“I know. Do it.”

The spyeye went dead as Kyle deactivated the 7500 BC holes; there was no bringing the eye back across. The power costs dwarfed the cost of the spyeye. Plus there was the concern of disease coming from the other universe.

A few minutes later a new hole appeared, 180 days later. I watched the power level surge as another spyeye pushed through. No human from our universe would ever walk this parallel universe. The spyeyes weighed about a kilogram. The power needed to do an insertion varied with the mass of the object to the third power.

“You guys won’t need me for a while, right?” Kyle asked.

Dr. Elk nodded absently, intent on the image from the spyeye.

“You all have fun, playing god,” he said, leaving.

The sky of the other world was bright, late summer in prehistoric Mesoamerica. I zoomed through the air, looking for the rock that marked our band’s location.

“There it is,” Beth said.

“Let’s see if they figured out how to use corn.”

I sent the spyeye in a barrel roll over the village, then swung down Main Street. All right, it was the only street.

“Nobody home,” I said.

The village was empty. I pulled back, circling around, higher and higher. The fields where they picked teosinte, where we had sowed the maize were overgrown. The stream where they pulled water was empty. Nothing. The village looked abandoned.

“Can you enter one of the tents?”

“Sure.” The tents were tepee style, with off-centered ceiling holes for smoke. I slid down one of the chimneys and switched to IR.

Empty, except for a pile of skins.

“They’re gone.”

“All their tools are still there.”

“Look! There’s a body in the skins.”

I spun the spyeye around the tent to the skins and hovered there. A shrunken face stared up at us, and my hand shook on the control. I barely got the spyeye up and out without bouncing it off the walls of the tent.

I hovered the spyeye until my hands didn’t shake, then I tried a second tent.

Inside were a family of four, a mother, father, and two children. All dead.

“What did we do?” I asked.

“Nothing!” spat Dr. Elk. “This happens all the time in prehistoric societies. We were just unlucky.”

We were unlucky? Those people are dead.”

“This had nothing to do with us,” he said. “Move us ahead one hundred years. We’ll find a new tribe.”

“I can’t do that.”

“Of course you can. It’s easy.”

“I mean, I can do it. But I’m not allowed.”

“Mr. Greene, we need to keep this project moving forward. This time zone and this tribe is useless to us. Now move the hole forward one century.” Dr. Elk held my gaze, his face red and sharp.

Beth touched my arm. “It’s okay, Ryan. No one cares if we move ahead a hundred years. Kyle won’t even notice.”

Okay, I’m not stupid. I know when I’m being manipulated. But I suddenly wanted to be as far away from Bob as I could be. Nothing like a century to turn your friends to dust.


I turned on the MWD and pushed the hole uptime, just as I had watched Kyle do.


That night as I walked back to my apartment, I found Beth walking beside me. We passed the student bars, ringing with techno hip-hop, stepping out into the street to avoid the crush of undergrads waiting to test their fake IDs. In the lab, we’d dropped another load of maize in the new century, near a tribe that had settled in the same place as our old tribe. We’d ask Kyle to move us forward a year in the morning, pretending we hadn’t closed the hole one hundred years before. I hadn’t looked closely at the new tribe. I didn’t want to recognize any faces or name them if they were all dead in the morning.

“Going home to see your folks for Thanksgiving?” Beth asked.

I’d forgotten she was with me.

“Um, no. My family is in Oklahoma, and it’s not our favorite holiday.”

“Oh, right. My family’s local.” She looked tired and stumbled once on the curb. I reached out to steady her.


“Sorry, I’m just tired.” Under my hand her arm was shaking.


She shrugged.

I stopped in front of my apartment building. “Good night,” I said, without looking at her. A part of my brain was telling me I should have been hitting on her. Maybe it was the pre-bellum hoop skirt that was putting me off. But probably it was the stench of death that seemed to hover over everyone associated with the senior project.

“Listen, Ryan. It wasn’t our fault about those people.”

“Yeah, I know. Death is common in the ancient world.”

“It was just a fluke that they died. It had nothing to do with us.”

“Did Dr. Elk ask you to discuss this with me? Are you here to spin this for me?”

“Hey, I saw dead people today too! It’s not just you who’s feeling like shit.”

“Yeah, sorry.” I turned and opened the door to my building. I paused, then pulled it wide enough for both of us.

“Coming up?”

She looked at me, her face pinched. Then she swooshed past me.

It’s not what you think. We didn’t do it. We just . . . talked and hugged. And maybe we kissed once. Yeah, weird.


Kyle didn’t even mention the extra century. If he noticed anything, he probably blamed his own calibration skills. When we punched a new hole the next day, we found a vibrant village. Better yet, we found evidence of the maize being harvested. It wouldn’t be long before the tribe found uses for it, we hoped.

We moved forward in jumps of one year three times, and each time, the maize crop was larger. The tribe was sowing the seeds wider and wider.

“We’ve done it!” cried Dr. Elk. “We’ve successfully introduced modern maize to ancient Mesoamerica. Now we need to do the same in North and South America!”

By the end of the week, or rather by the end of the century, we had three successful tribes across the two continents sowing and harvesting maize. We watched them for a few decades, modeling the dispersal of the maize between other tribes. It caught on quickly, it was so much better than the native teosinte, with more yield and with bigger grain size. Then we moved ahead a century.

The first thing we saw was that our Mesoamerican site, dubbed Columbus, had grown to the size of a small town.

“They’ve set aside hunting and gathering in favor of maize farming,” Dr. Elk explained in class. “With the higher yields of modern maize, they can afford to stay in one spot. They can start to accumulate the immovable technologies that only a city-based culture can.”

Cleveland, the tribe in North America, was also growing. Cincinnati, however, had disappeared, the tribe moving on, uninterested in domestication. The maize was gone.

“Our next step is to watch as the population density increases. Watch as the maize spreads through the continents. Watch as it supplants the native and less domesticated plants. We can expect larger cities, larger populations. All of these starting at the same time as they are in the Indus Valley. Success, ladies and gentlemen. Success!”


Beth and I never said we were dating. She just spent a lot of time at my place. Mostly we talked about the project.

“This would make a great PhD dissertation,” she said one day.

“Thinking of doing grad work, are you?”

“For you, I was thinking.”

“I’m in engineering, remember. I don’t do the history stuff anymore.”

“Except when it’s a cool project.”

She was right. I was spending more of my time on the senior project than I was on my grad studies.

“It’s a cool project.”

We’d been moving ahead centuries at a time, watching the progression of civilization through the New World. Columbus was spreading out into a megalopolis, an Aztec empire eight millennia early. Cleveland had fragmented into a dozen city-states up and down the Mississippi River. But Vicksburg had shown signs of bronze-working. And Cairo had the wheel.

“If only we could give them a decent domesticated animal,” Beth said.

“We barely got the spyeyes through with the maize. It would take a terawatt-hour to push through a breeding pair of horses,” I said. We were eating up Dr. Elk’s funding at a horrendous rate as it was.

“There will be more money if this works,” she said. She looked fetching in Amerind faux cow-skin slacks and vest. A lot of the sorority girls were wearing them, since the article came out in the school paper.

“Why? Once we prove the theory on the impact of domesticated grain, what more do we need money for?”

“There are a thousand thesis topics in the area of historical causality! They’re talking about opening a whole new department for it.”

“I must have missed that,” I said. “With Dr. Elk as the chair, I suppose.”

“Who else? He’ll need good grad students. And don’t tell me you haven’t enjoyed the project.” She snuggled up to me on my couch, her faux leather silky smooth on my arm.

“I’m changing the subject,” I said. “Are we dating yet?”

She leaned back, frowning. “Is it important to define our relationship?” She leaned in again and kissed me gently.

I looked into her blue eyes, ran my finger along her jaw, wondering why she was here with me. Then I kissed her back.


In the next millennium, Columbus started gobbling up North American city-states: New Orleans, Memphis, St. Louis, and Cairo, until just Minneapolis remained independent of a pan-American empire based in the Yucatan.

The centralized bureaucracy seemed to be favoring technological development, and in several placed iron working appeared to be under way. The bureaucracy was clearly using a logogram alphabet, though we didn’t spend enough time to understand the language. Ages of history were closed off to us, never to be surveyed again as we barreled forward to the inevitable collision of Europe and America.

By 1000 CE, the Columbus Empire had collapsed, and in its place was an Alaska to Tierra del Fuego nation of seafarers, who hunted whales and caught fish, and traded up and down the western coast of the Americas, but never venturing beyond a dozen miles of shore. The Mississippi Valley was a confederacy of nation states, each governed by artisan syndicates, which drove technology forward. They had gunpowder, steel, and simple steam engines.

“When Europe meets America, they will be on equal footing. There will be no wide scale destruction of culture. We have made them equal players.”

We moved the hole up the line. And suddenly the Americas were overrun by orientals. Skipping by half-centuries, we had missed the invasion. But in 1150 CE, our experimental subjects were serfs of a Chinese empire, ruled by eunuchs. The cities were gone, turned under into the ground. The artisans gone, now slaves. The Chinese were slowly burning the Amazon to the Atlantic.

“Those damn orientals!” Dr. Elk railed in the lab. “Why didn’t they stay put like they did in our world? They’ve ruined everything.”

Beth tried to soothe him. “We’ve gotten great data, Professor. We proved that a good domesticated grain will raise the continent’s population by two orders of magnitude. We’ve shown independent technological development of language, gunpowder, steel . . .”

“It’s not enough! We’ll do it again,” he said, and stormed out of the lab.

“Again?” I said.

Beth shrugged, then followed after Elk.


Spring break came, and Beth left for Fort Myers. She called once while she was down there, drunk, and in the background I heard male voices calling her back to the hot tub. She giggled and hung up. Hey, we weren’t dating. Though I wasn’t seeing anyone but her. We hadn’t even slept together yet. She dissuaded my advances, but we had kissed a lot. She was beautiful, and smart, and not my type at all. But here I was all jealous and smitten.

Since the Chinese invasion, the class had turned into project prep time. Each student was doing a project based on the new universe’s data, and my time as TA was spent checking standard deviations and logic, correcting bad grammar and unclear arguments. Dr. Elk let me devise, give, and grade the mid-term. Beth got an A+.

The week after spring break, Dr. Elk announced to the class that he had funding to build a new universe, enough funding to introduce a breeding pair of horses.

“If the Chinese arrive now, our Native Americans will have the horses for armies,” he explained.

I whispered to Beth, “Where’s he getting this money?”

She shrugged.

We started over, on an accelerated schedule. The maize was easy. The natives in all three areas took to it on the first try. The horses, donated by the Equine Science Department, were just-weaned mustangs. A special container was fashioned, ultra-light weight material. From birth the foals were trained to follow the high-pitched whine of a spyeye, so that once on the other side, the horses could be led to food or away from danger.

We released them on the Great Plains.

The news stations loved it, the horses peeking out of the container, sniffing the air. You’ve seen the videos, I know. They take one tentative step, look around, and then gallop full speed into the open, as if they know they have a whole continent to fill with babies. The spyeye sizzles to catch up, as they run for miles across the open plains. A beautiful sight.

The first successful transfer of living things between universes. I figured humans would be next.

We had a vet on call around the clock. But we needn’t have worried. The horses were as happy as could be and birthed a foal the next spring. And another one the year after. Concerns of inbreeding were unfounded; the mustangs had clean genomes, no recessives.

In a decade there were fifty in the herd. By the end of the century there were thousands of horses across North America, in hundreds of herds. A few years after that, the first horse was domesticated by Native Americans.

We’d brought them maize and horses. I guess we could have dropped rifles in if we had the power to spare, but they would have used them as clubs. We’d done all we could do. If they didn’t fend off the Europeans and the Chinese now . . . well, then they deserved to lose.

This time we kept tabs on Asia and Europe, but they seemed to be following the same path as they had in our world. Meanwhile in the Americas, empires rose and fell, population burgeoned, technology came and went, and sometimes stuck. The printing press, steam engines, tall sailing ships.

And then in 1000 CE, instead of waiting for the Europeans to discover them, our North Americans discovered Europe, in a single tall ship that plied the Atlantic in sixty-five days, landing in Bournemouth, England. We cheered and celebrated late into the night at the lab. Dr. Elk had a bottle of champagne which we drank in defiance of University rules; even Kyle had a drink.

Tipsy, I guided Beth back to my apartment and began removing her pantaloons and poofy shirt.

“No, Ryan,” she said, as my mouth took her left nipple.


“No. I can’t. Don’t.”

“You seemed interested enough in whoever you were with on spring break,” I said, regretting it.

“That’s none of your fucking business!” She pulled her shirt across her chest and fell back onto the couch.

“I know. Sorry. We never made a commitment, and I’ve just assumed —”

“Listen, Ryan. I like you. But we can’t have sex.”

“I have an implant,” I said. “We can’t get pregnant.”

“I’m not worried about that!”

“Then what?”

She looked away, rubbed her face. “I was wild in high school, Ryan. I dated a lot of men. Older men. Men with many past lovers.”

“Are you still seeing one of them?” I asked, confused.

“No! Don’t you get it? I can’t —”

She pulled on her shirt, dug for her pants on the floor.

“Beth.” I took her hand, but she shook loose.

Then she was out the door, and gone. I’m slow sometimes, but then I got it. I remembered the tremors in her hands, the palsy in her arm. She had Forschek’s Syndrome. “Oh, shit,” I muttered. And I almost chased after her, and said we could use a condom, that it didn’t matter, but at the same time I knew it did, that she could be days, weeks, or months away from the nerve-degeneration as the prions made there way from her sex organs, up her central nervous system to her brain.

It wasn’t okay.


The next day, the entire class met in the MWD lab, and watched as we moved the hole up the line, three months at a time after the trans-Atlantic trip. Beth wasn’t there, and it bothered me enough that I almost ran the spyeye into the rigging of the North American’s ship.

After trading with the locals and provisioning, the ship turned around and headed back across the Atlantic, but not before taking a few of the English with them.

“Translators,” Dr. Elk said. “The first step toward understanding. This is most excellent.”

We watched the ship from high above, as it completed the two month voyage back home. But when it reached pseudo-Boston, we saw that the ship was battered and broken by sea storms; it barely limped into the harbor, and when we dove closer, we saw that half the crew was missing. And those that were left were diseased with a pox-like covering on their skin.


I switched to the Bournemouth spyeye and was shocked to see the black smoke of funeral pyres clouding the sky. Plague.

“If we nuke pseudo-Boston, we can stop the spread,” Dr. Elk said. “We can contain it.”

Kyle and I shared a look.

“Dr. Elk, that’s impossible,” I said.

“I have enough money to send a bomb through.”

“We can’t nuke a city,” I said. “Even one in another universe.”

“We can’t let them destroy this world!” he cried.

Kyle picked up the phone, and dialed a number. “We’ve got a problem with the Maize-2 universe,” he said.

Dr. Elk ripped the phone from his hand and threw it against the wall.

I said to Kyle, “Move us ahead one year.”

“No!” cried Dr. Elk. “We can cauterize the infection.”

“You’ve caused the infection!” I said.

Kyle opened a new hole, and when the spyeyes went through, we saw that the entire world was filled with empty cities and ghost towns, both hemispheres devoid of civilization, and left with just a few scattered pockets of survivors.

The crowd diseases of America had been too much for Europe to handle, and vice versa. They had wiped each other out with their germs on first contact.

We had been party to 200 million deaths.

I stood, queasy, and left the lab, unable to look Dr. Elk in the eye. Unable to do anything but walk.

The sister who answered the door at the sorority house was cool.


“I’m looking for Beth Ringslaught.”

The student frowned. “She’s not here.”

“Where is she?”

“At the hospital.”

“Which hospital?”

“St. Anne’s.”

I took a taxi and found her in the isolation ward. They wouldn’t let me in, but finally told me her status. The palsy had started months ago, but now the disease had reached her brain, and she had lost motor control of her body. She was unlikely to leave the hospital again.

“I’d like to see her,” I said.

“Who are you, just a boyfriend?” the nurse asked, clearly wondering if I was infected too. Maybe I’d infected her.

“I’m a good friend,” I said.

“Well, okay. Her family hasn’t been here.”

She was sleeping, so I sat beside her, took her hand in mine. She looked like she had the day before when we’d talked. But I knew she would start wasting away, that in a month she would be skeletal, her face a grinning rictus as the disease ate at her. I forced the thought from my mind, but it was never far away.

Her eyes fluttered open, filled with terror.

“Ryan,” she said, softly.


“Sorry I missed the big day.”

“It was anything but.” And I told her that we had killed 200 millions of people.

She turned her head away and the tears fell down her face into her pillow.

“What did we do?”

“Nothing good.”

“I wanted you to continue this work . . . after.” She looked up at me, and I kissed her forehead.

“I’m sorry.”


They shut the universe down. Dr. Elk didn’t come back the next year; he disappeared completely, not just from academia, but from all contact with society. Perhaps the magnitude of his deeds penetrated his egotistical side.

The MWD was shut down for a year, and now there’s legislation in place to govern transfers of material between universes. If we did now what we had done, we’d all be up on manslaughter charges. That’s one good thing that’s happened, advances in the rights of parallel people.

Beth died six weeks after she entered the hospital. Her family had disowned her. Her sisters didn’t even send flowers. No one wants to have been associated with one of the Infected. Only a decadent lifestyle led to that disease.

But I was with her at the end. Three years later, she’s still in my thoughts. My thesis is complete, and I’ve taken a professorship here at the University, adjunct to the Macro Quantum Mechanics Department and the History Department both. Yeah, I changed majors again.

Dr. Elk’s senior project was the basis for my thesis in technological morality. It came at a heavy cost, 200 million and one lives.

We are rebuilding Dr. Elk’s universe. We are helping the survivors, and I am directing the effort, making certain we do not play god again. Making certain we do not use entire universes as laboratories.

I wonder if someone farther ahead is watching us. I wonder if we are playing out some scenario to test someone’s pet theory. I hope they’re watching closely and they learn something from us. Something from our mistakes.

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