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Girlfriends and Grandfathers

The place outside of Ann Arbor was everything that Hasenpfeffer said it would be. Everything was well built, clean and new. The house was a big brick ranch style thing, and while I would have picked some other color than pink for the bricks, even that sort of grew on you.

There was a big living room that we dubbed a "parlor" and filled with Ian's old three quarter sized furniture, agreeing among ourselves that we wouldn't use it except for entertaining people we didn't like. I mean, it had a white carpet and white walls. Ian was a painfully neat person, but the best thing you could say about Hasenpfeffer and me was that he was a filthy slob, and that I was a filthier one. Obviously, the room wouldn't stay white if we were allowed to use it. Anyway, you've got to have someplace to use if the girl's folks want to come over, right?

There was a big family room with a fireplace and enough bookshelves to hold all of Hasenpfeffer's books and Ian's as well. Ian put his little leather easy chair in there, and Hasenpfeffer found out that there were companies that made stuff big enough to fit me, for a price. I got this glorious real leather recliner that actually fit my back while Hasenpfeffer chose a leather and chrome Eames swivel chair and hassock for himself.

Of course, Danish Modern, chrome and leather, and Lazy Boy don't match, but then we didn't match, either.

The kitchen was full of gadgets that I wasn't used to, like a microwave oven, a garbage disposal and a dishwasher, but modern man is pretty adaptable, and it's remarkable how quickly these fabulous luxuries became absolute necessities.

I got a new set of bedroom furniture, and that was wonderful. For the first time since I started to grow hair below my waist, I had a bed long enough to fit me! I got the master bedroom, too, since I needed it to get my new bed and an oversized desk into it. It had its own bathroom, but then so did the other two bedrooms.

The door into my room was of only normal size, so I could still bump my head on it. I was half tempted to cut the door frame out on top so I could walk through standing straight up, but I decided against it. The guys had been pretty reasonable about everything else, and I thought it wise not to push them too far.

The place had a three-car garage, and that was filled up pretty quickly. We kept Ian's Corvette as group property, since he owed more on it than it was worth, and I think Hasenpfeffer liked it even more than Ian did.

Only, while the 'vette was a pretty little plastic toy, the damn thing was too small for me to get into. I threw a temper tantrum about it, so we bought a secondhand Chrysler as group property so I had something to drive in the winter, too. The bikes took up the third stall, and we soon had to buy an old pickup truck to run errands for the factory. The truck was never granted garage privileges.

There was a full basement with a ten-foot ceiling, and I took that over for my electronics lab. It was air-conditioned and the factory wasn't. Electronic equipment works better at a constant temperature, and so do I. I'm one of those people who think that sixty-five is a wonderful temperature, provided that I can sit naked in front of a fan.

All told, the move was a big step up for all of us, and for me more than the others.

We settled into our new quarters in a few weeks, although a month went by before all of my oversized furniture arrived. I had to camp in my bedroom until then.

While the shop already had most of what Ian thought he would need, I had to put together an electronics lab from scratch. It took two months before I got all the big stuff in. I was another five weeks building the first breadboard circuit, mostly awaiting parts. Having almost everything doesn't make it. Not in electronics.

Cheop's Law: Everything costs more and takes longer.

But the very first time we tried the thing out—from a quarter mile away—it worked perfectly, dutifully putting a thirty-yard hole in our back forty.

This meant that we could have gotten into the mining and tunneling business almost immediately, but after a nine-hour-long meeting, we decided to hold off on that until we could develop the whole concept a bit further. We still didn't know the basic principles that the gadget worked on, and without knowing those, we'd be hard pressed to get an all inclusive patent.

If we started using or selling the circuit, well, I'd copied the thing easily enough, and so could any other competent tech. Given a hint on what we were doing, hundreds of outfits would soon be out there competing with us.

Competition might be a good thing for the economy as a whole, but it is a bad thing for an underfinanced little company like ours was.

For the rest of that first year, we made solid steady progress. The field did not have to be generated from a point source. We found out how to set up steady-state fields, where a given volume was irradiated evenly and could be transported through time without being sliced into sushi.

We found out how to shield the field, so we could send what we wanted to send without cratering the landscape.

We learned how to operate it with the circuitry inside the field, so it acted sort of like a car, taking its motive power with it. We also figured out how to work it with the circuitry outside the field. We got to calling this the "cannon" technique.

All this time, we were only putting things into the future. From a practical point of view, we could have accomplished much the same thing by locking whatever it was in a box, and taking it out of the box later. The real prize would be to be able to send things into the past.

From everything we had been able to learn, it looked as though if you simply reversed the phase in one section of the circuit, it should reverse the circuit's total temporal effect.

A circuit thusly configured should have been able to send things back in time, but when I tried it, the circuit overloaded, every time, and burned to a blackened pile of ashes and melted metal. We had no idea what the problem was. Coupled with it was the impossibility of just how a tiny, nine volt transistor battery could possibly put out enough power to so thoroughly fry a good sized epoxy-glass circuit board. Ian calculated that over its entire lifetime, such a battery couldn't put out a thousandth of the power we saw repeatedly generated.

"So, gentlemen, it appears that in addition to everything else, you have discovered a new source of industrial power!" Hasenpfeffer said one morning at breakfast.

"A fucking expensive source of power, if you ask me," Ian said. "When you spend thirty dollars worth of circuitry to generate thirty cents worth of power, you aren't making a profit."

Nobody had a good way of answering that, and in the momentary silence, Hasenpfeffer's lady of the night walked in, wearing one of his old housecoats. She was a gorgeous, slender young thing, with long, straight blond hair, like most of the others. Ian offered to make her breakfast, and since Hasenpfeffer was here, she nodded acceptance. After that, it was as though Ian and I didn't exist, as far as she was concerned. After a bit, we picked up our coffee cups and drifted off, leaving the two lovers, or at least sex partners, alone.

We were used to it. The same sort of thing had been happening for seven years, since we all were freshmen in college. But being used to something doesn't mean that it no longer hurts. I couldn't help but look on Hasenpfeffer's success with the ladies with mixed emotions, the most prominent of which was envy.

We settled into the family room, out of earshot of Hasenpfeffer's latest.

"Over the years, he's got to have had two hundred of them over," Ian said.

"Counting college, yeah, it has to have been be at least that."

"Well, you'd think that at least one of them would want to have something to do with at least one of us."

"It seems statistically likely, only it just hasn't happened. The books all say that women want permanence in a relationship, yet all of Hasenpfeffer's chicks have to know that he'll drop them in a week or three, just like he dropped all of the others. If either of us latched onto a girl as fine as any of his, we'd want to keep her forever. They've got to know that, too. But will one of them even talk to us for ten minutes? No!"

"Tom, I don't think that we'll ever understand women. It's like they're a strange, alien species."

"You could be right. You know, the biologists, or maybe the biochemists, figure the separation of two species by computing the time since the two groups had a common ancestor. If the chimpanzee's branch separated from the human branch five million years ago, then that's the measure of separation between the two species. Now then, biologically, sex was discovered back in the days when single celled critters were the most advanced things around. Even bacteria occasionally get together and exchange genetic information. So male was separated from female at least a billion years ago. By the rules the biologists use, you and I are two hundred times more closely related to the chimps that we are to women. That makes them a very alien species, indeed."

"You tell me," Ian said.

"That argument is so ridiculous that it's probably true. Shall we accuse Hasenpfeffer of sodomy? What I want to know is why I can't get laid."

I said, "Look, don't ask me about it. All I know is that whatever the typical woman wants, it ain't me. Try asking Hasenpfeffer, or better still, one of his many chicks."

"Dammit, I've done that very thing. Jim can't explain a thing, except to say it might have something to do with pheromones. The girls always say that there's a good woman out there for me somewhere, and then they take off at a dead run. I'm totally lost."

"I was never found in the first place."

After a silence, the conversation dropped back to an old, unresolved issue. The paradoxes of time travel.

"So what are you going to do when I kill your grandfather?" I asked.

"Well, I can't kill one of yours in retaliation, since nobody knows who they were. Anyway, why would you want to kill one of my grandfathers? By all accounts, they were both fine, decent gentlemen."

"You know what I mean. If we can really get it together, and get our time machine built, and go into the past, what happens if we change something? It wouldn't have to be a big change, you know. The tiniest change in the wrong place could make everything different. How many alternate history science fiction stories have we read between the three of us? Dozens?"

"I'd guess it to be more like hundreds, Tom, and fully a third of them seemed pretty plausible. If you really want to know what I think, it's that we shouldn't fuck with it."

"You mean that we should build the thing and then not use it? That's crazy! If we aren't going to use it, why bother to build it in the first place?"

"No, that's not what I mean, stupid. I just mean that we should at least try not to change anything. Even an atheist like you should know that none of us is God. We shouldn't try to act as if we are Him!"

"I'll second that one," Hasenpfeffer said as he came in from the kitchen. "Be it moved that we should not play God."

"Third, and be it so moved," I said. "At least at first, we've got to be super cautious, until we get a better handle on this thing, anyway."

Before long we'd agreed that it would take a unanimous vote to change the rule. Nothing new, there, of course. All of our agreements were unanimous, the thought being that if one of us couldn't go along with the others, we just hadn't talked it over long enough, and anyway, none of us had any way of forcing anybody to do anything.

Future planning is something that every company ought to do now and then, even though we were still a long way from having our time machine.


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