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Things Undone

Written by John Barnes


With two contracts last spring, both successful, Year of Grace 2014 had already been lucrative by early December; better still, with just over three months left in the year, we had yet another contract. "We are looking for someone who will probably sound as if he has a Dutch accent," Horejsi said. As always she was speaking from an index card, pulled from the envelope that had only just dropped out of the slot on the FBI-only blue phone about ten minutes ago.

"Date of arrival, March 16, YoG 2013, so right before the new year. He can't possibly have survived in Denver for nine months without having had extensive contact with other people, so there's no hope of a true isolation." She was getting that off the card where they set the rate, skipping all the numbers; they never meant much to her.

I said, "Slow down slightly. What are the top and bottom rates they're offering?"

"Seventy percent of the standard for a fully discreet termination, one hundred forty-three percent if it turns out we can do a true isolation, but we won't be able to—"

"One hundred forty-three percent is the exact inverse of seventy percent," I commented. "Rounded to the nearest percent."

Horejsi looked at me, multiple apertures in her Riemann eyes opening and polyfocusing so that she could catch every nuance of the pulse in my neck and the infrared flush of my skin. "There will be a reason why that thing about exact inverses is useful, and that reason is eluding me."

Numbers elude Horejsi like faces and names elude me. But time travelers never elude us for very long, I thought. I enjoyed thinking it.

I said, "The penalty for having to resort to killing him is exactly the same as the reward for getting him all the way into the WPP. Normally the reward is much lower than the penalty—when they pay seventy for a complete screw-up where we have to shoot him and grind him, they only pay maybe one hundred ten for true isolation. So for some reason they are incenting us very, very hard to achieve true isolation, even though it's obvious that true isolation is impossible. That is interesting."

"You're right," she said.

"Furthermore," I said, (Horejsi is a good partner, the best actually, the only one I'll ever want, but she always stops talking about numbers just before it gets really good), "this means that they are incenting us to improve, if only by the slightest margin, across the whole spectrum from barely acceptable failure to triumphant success."

Horejsi nodded. "I think I get it, Rastigevat. The pay scale is telling you that the case is much more important than the usual ballast-tracking job, they want all the results we can squeeze out no matter what it takes, and there's no such thing as 'good enough, we can coast.' Has there ever been a case with a pay scale like this before?"

"Thirty-nine cases since I started working with you, after six cases with Gomez, and in every case the bonus was less than eighty percent of the inverse of the penalty. So no. Never. Not only is this the most urgent case ever, it's the most urgent by a wide margin."

Horejsi nodded. "We're not supposed to notice that."

"If we didn't, we wouldn't be smart enough to catch time jumpers."

"Right." She gave me her weird grimace that meant smile. (She didn't get Riemann eyes till she was in her twenties—she was born blind and Com'n—so she hadn't had the right feedback to develop proper facial expressions when she was young.)

I grinned back. It was nice to work with someone who got jokes.

I estimated that I knew at least two thousand percent more than I was supposed to know about Horejsi. For example, her first name was Ruth, but since I could never call her that, I called her Horejsi, same as she called me Rastigevat, even though she knew my first name was Simon. I estimated that we covertly shared between 820 and 860 simple declarative statements about each other that we were not supposed to know.

We also were the only two people in the world who knew each other at all. I looked a little more normal, but I didn't get to know people much. Except for Horejsi they were boring. And if anyone found out that Horejsi didn't bore me, she'd be gone, literally before I ever knew her. When a Com'n becomes important to a Liejt, there's a waiver on the temporal rules.

Her grimace/grin got more intense and she focused her vision apertures directly at my face. The Lord of Grace alone knows why—knowing Horejsi better than anyone else in the world is like knowing just one fact about a star no astronomer has seen. It was good that I knew how to be fascinated without showing it.

At last she said, "All right, shall I resume reading cards?"

"Please." I took a sip of coffee, careful to set the cup down without making a bump or disturbance that might draw either of our attention from what she was doing, because if we missed anything, it was gone for good—regulations required that as she finished each card she dropped it into the combustor; she had to pull them from their package one at a time, then put them down the combuster.

Basics: Ballast tracking job. Date of ballast's origin, 28 May 1388. Location, Southwark, London, England. She dropped the card into the slot. The combustor made a soft brak! as the swirling white-hot oxygen turned the card to gas and a wisp of glassy ash.

Mass, twenty gallonweights, almost exactly. Cylinder of enclosure, 70 x 11 decifeet, so he was about average height and girth. Into the slot, brak!, more gas and ash.

Our mystery man was the ballast load for the backward journey of Alvarez Peron, which was the alias for a man named CONFIDENTIAL who had worked for the Federal government as a AVAILABLE ON A NEED TO KNOW BASIS while leading a double life. It noted that in his real life he was Liejt and had family, and therefore we should avoid any inquiries in that direction unless specifically authorized.

Peron had departed from an apartment near 30th and Downing, apartment destroyed in fire of suspicious origin. That was unsurprising. It takes time to build an illegal time machine and prepare to use it, so he'd taken a place in the bad side of town under another name, and then probably firebombed it just after the ballast came through. That was a pretty common trick, not least because it forced the ballast to run instead of doing the natural thing and holing up in the place where the time machine had been. Horejsi and me had caught eight ballasts who had barely had a second to realize they were naked or in rags, bleeding and hurt, in a strange place, before the room had gone up in flames and they'd fled for their lives into the street.

30th and Downing was a logical place—in the scummy boho end of town, where many Liejt had apartments for mistresses or for drug parties, and near a levrail station where gravitic power was easy to steal with just an Edison tube of mercury for an antenna.

We could have had the case the day after he left. The Royal Temporal Division had measured the power draw, mass, and cyl-enc but hadn't seen fit to tell us till we asked, and of course we hadn't asked till we detected it by our methods, which meant not until after anomalies began to accumulate and casopropagate forward around the disappearance of Peron's ballast. That was typical; RTD cops gave no cooperation to anyone, least of all us feebs.

"So," I said, "just rechecking your memory with mine; we have it that Peron had no prior record of experimenting with time machines, but given that you can make one out of three old radios and any pre-1985 ultrasonic clothes-cleaner—"

She nodded. "And he could have gotten the physics from the tweenweb—plenty of articles there. Or with his confidential background, and being from a Liejt family, good odds he's a high-level physicist or mathematician."

She turned another card. "This is the longest kinegraph of him they can find, and it's only about forty seconds. He liked tango, so he made it to most of the Argentú clubs here in town."

I watched; faces are all alike, but I remember gaits.

Peron sent his partner through a quick, neat boleo and led her out in a nice cruzada; he took good care of her axis without fussing about it, and I could tell his lead was firm and clear (letting her look good), but not very imaginative (he didn't particularly make her look good). "He's good," I said. "But not great."

"You . . . dance?" She sounded equally astonished on each word. Add one more declarative statement to things she knew.

"Yeah. I met Peron; we danced in some of the same places. He was around for a while—till a few months ago, in fact." I looked at the kinegraph more closely. "You sure can tell he's been gone for nine months, can't you? His face is blurring badly. I don't really remember it well, either, but I don't think that's an effect of the time travel; I think I just never paid much attention to him."

"You'd know him if you saw him again?"

"Yeah, no question. If they drop me back for an exchange, I can do it. Mention it in your daily to the FBI, but they aren't going to want to try. My fuzzy memory is bound to be better than that kinegraph, so combust it."

Brak. Horejsi pulled out the next card. "Peron had a lot of friends."

"How many?"

"Forty-one identified."

"That's a lot for you or me, not so much for a regular social dancer."

"Sounded like a lot."

"Always give me the number."

"Sorry, Rastigevat. You're right." She was checking me, opening apertures to see if I was upset with her, so I smiled and nodded to let her know it was okay. That was Horejsi, always worrying whether I liked her.

Better to get her off that worry. I asked, "So, forty-one friends, in what kind of relationships?"

"Very casual, all of them. Hanging out, bars and movies together, that kind of thing. Nine from dancing, thirty-two from Specthink, which is a philosophy e-kiosk on tweenweb. Now his old cronies on Specthink are arguing about who he was, where he went, and so on."

"May I look at the card?"

She handed it over. I could listen to Horejsi try to explain a table of numbers all month and not learn anything; she just didn't see numbers. If she let me look and then explain to her, we both knew a lot more.

Frequency of contact, frequency of mention, and trust in mention all showed the usual pattern after someone jumps back: his friends were talking about him less and less, being troubled by not quite remembering Old Whatsisname. In the last three months, four of them had decided he was a hoax invented by the rest of the group, and five more were sympathetic to that view. He had been the most frequently quoted member of his personal web; eighty-five percent of quotes originating with him had already been reattributed. "Popular guy," I said. "But one of the things I like about the dance communities, you don't have to talk more than you want to, and most people prefer it if you don't get too involved with each other. And it's nice precise exercise. I love all that. So since I didn't dance with him and wasn't much of a talker, I just didn't interact with him much. The only thing I remember is that there were always people around him. I think I'd recognize him from his gait, though. If he came back."

"You don't think we'll retrieve him."

"No way. He has almost already gotten away with it. It's a miracle the random searches found him when they did; whatever Peron has done, it's already melding with reality. There's going to be uproar, I'm afraid."

Her apertures opaqued and she rubbed the back of her head. "Shit."

Horejsi hates uproar. Me, I barely notice it.


Six hundred years ago, in the One Great Lecture of 1403, Francis Tyrwhitt articulated the theory of indexical derivability, and after his death, his eleven students carried the work on. In 1421, a six-page calculation overthrew all of Aristotelian mechanics and Ptomelaic astronomy, and told them how to build the telescopes and chronometers with which to confirm it. In 1429, Marlow discovered the periodic table of the elements, valence, and carbon chains in his calculations in a single thick codex; Tyrwhitt's last living student, Christopher Berkeley Maxwell, laid out the basic equations of electromagnetism in the notes found in his rooms after his death.

Indexical derivability made all things inevitable. Once you had its fourteen definitions, seven axioms, and forty-one basic theorems, from then on if you could describe what you wanted to do, it was just a matter of doing the steps, deriving the equations (or proving that no equations could be derived, which was equivalent to absolute impossibility), and then solving them. Solving them was a bastard, of course. Newton worked all his life, without success, to unify relativity and quantum.

Then just under two hundred years ago, Babbage saw how to use deoxyribonucleic acid to solve equations; after that, any Liejt sixteen-year-old, if his allowance would cover a few tubes of chemicals from the school supplies at Office Matt's plus an ordinary amino-acid sequencer from the pet store, could unify quantum physics and relativity in about three days. You still needed the occasional genius to explain what the right question was—it wasn't till Einstein that people really understood what time travel would mean or require—but once you could ask a question intelligently, it was only a matter of a few hours to learn whatever you wanted. As for building whatever you dreamed up, with such a variety of tech stuff out there, if you had a Liejt i.d., you could probably get the parts from any junkyard or hobby store.

The universe still is what it is. Turns out questions like "How can I love my neighbor?" are impossible to write in a soluble form, but "How can I make a really big bomb?" and "How can I go back and change the past?" are easy—just slap it together following the directions that come out of the tube and off you go.

Luckily by far the most common jumpers are the ones who are trying to cheat intemporia—the ones who jump back to give their earlier selves a bit of good advice or to take a different turn in the road. Too close to their departure point, there's so little room for casopropagation that the most likely consequences are fatal accidents or little "Appointment in Samara" lessons (often both simultaneously). It doesn't matter how often people hear that the universe is imperfectly reality-conservative, favoring whatever results in the least displacement, in Einstein's famous formulation. All they hear is "imperfectly" and "favoring"—like the Serpent whispering Thou shalt not surely die.

The short-term jumpers, the ones who go back five or thirty years, all think the stochastic exceptions the universe makes will be made in their direction, and that they'll be really happy if they just try to kiss Esther, or pop Bart in the nose when he shoves them in the hall, or buy Plum Computer when it's cheap; and each short term jumper is always the only person surprised when it turns out that actually nothing much changes even if they live and we don't catch them.

The exception to that was that Federal authorities could do a quick, simple edit, when someone crossed a boundary that must never be crossed. In such cases it worked because, honestly, if you changed people, you changed a lot of things, but if you just deleted them, generally you didn't. Most of us don't like to know how disposable we are, but there you have it. If us Feds didn't like what people were doing now, we'd eliminate them at some time back in the past, and history would close around the little space they had taken up—not "as if they had never been"—but just plain, they had never been.

Only freak-memory social isolates like me and Horejsi would recall it. That was part of how the FBI found us. Say a Com'n boy developed a crush on his personal slave. You couldn't punish him for that; he was higher. To punish and forbid meant admitting it was possible to cross the boundary. So you made it that it never had been crossed; a Federal agent took a short hop back and the slave girl had some quick, painless accident as a small girl, and the boy's family was warned to find more appropriate slaves.

But if three weeks after she ceased to exist, the boy was asking about her, you knew you had someone who had that kind of memory; you could fix him by having him talk to a lot of people, but if he wouldn't do that, he would be either an FBI agent, or someone who needed sequestering.

There were rumors that for some cases there were many, many people who needed elimination. I had met one older agent who had once told me of having had to eliminate four generations into the past to get rid of a Diana Spencer, but he didn't say for what; I gathered it involved a Royal person, and noting that the old man telling the tale was drunk, stopped him before he said more. Shortly after that conversation, the man vanished, but perhaps he just died and I didn't hear about it. I never asked around to see if anyone remembered him.

As for me, there was a sad, soft spot in my heart for LaNella, who I think was a Free nurse I must have preferred to my own mother (so many Liejt boys do—we're too young to understand the consequences and after all we see the nurse for hours every day, and Mama for perhaps two hours on Sunday). If it wasn't all a dream, then LaNella ceased to be while I was away at school for my first year, and when I came home at Christmas and asked for her, they took me to meet a nice man who promised I could be an FBI agent when I grew up.

So altering recent history was really nothing: the government did it all the time, whenever it was convenient. Private individuals tried it all the time, and either failed (because they didn't have the government's resources or simplicity of intention) or succeeded without changing much. It was illegal for private citizens, and they eliminated Free and Com'n people to prevent the violation's ever happening, and the fine for Liejts doing it was outrageous. But though the penalties were harsh for short term jumps back in time, in truth there was little harm or difference made, whether we caught them or not.

There was also little harm from anyone jumping into deep history; if you leaped back and assassinated Alexander, there might be a wild divergence for as much as 200 years, but the immense, massive intemporaria of the whole time stream would find its way back to its old bed, and if you went back to, say, the Younger Dryas, whatever you did would be utterly undone—paleobiological expeditions were common school projects.

But every now and then someone decided to change something in mesohistory, which meant the causal delta hits its maximum near the present. Whenever that happened, the first time the Federal Bureau of Isotemporality knew anything, a couple of battles had reversed their outcomes, the linguistic lines between English, Fransche, Russky, and Espano in the Armoricas have moved hundreds of miles, the Untitled States of Armorica had gained or lost ten states, and there was a Yorkist on the Confederate throne again.

The physics could have turned out worse. If the rate of casopropagation were uniform, continuous, instantaneous, or forward-causality conservative—any one of them would have done it—then after each past-changing trip, we'd instantly be in that other world, millions or billions of us would cease to exist and be replaced by someone else, everyone's new memory would conform to everyone else's, and the world would go on without even a fart in time.

Fortunately for those of us who like to go on existing, Einstein showed that casopropagation is stochastic, discrete, metatemporal, and biased toward zero change but not strictly conservative.

Mesohistorical time travelers nearly always wanted to come back to somewhere around the time they left, and the changes they made were reversible until they did, so they found a living human to be their ballast body. If you used an inert ballast body, say a load of mud from a riverbank or a fallen log from a forest, the trackers would find it right there at the place where your time machine took off, and disconnect its causal relation to you (dispersing and destructuring it—blow it up, burn it, grind it up and scatter it). You'd just have pointlessly ceased to exist.

But if your temporal field reached into the past to grab a live person, then with luck, the ballast, arriving suddenly in the future, would wander off and become hard to locate, thus ensuring that the time traveler had somewhere to return to. (Every so often someone would grab a deer; this worked as long as you could count on the deer not to get caught, and didn't mind arriving and returning somewhere unplanned in the woods).

So Horejsi and I were supposed to find the ballast body during the interval between departure and return. Once we did, other agents would change the ballast in enough ways so that the time traveler's forward isotemporal soundings couldn't get a fix, they never came back, and the casopropagation was undone; Horejsi liked to call it the "no deposit, no return" system because that always made me have to cover my mouth and not let any hidden camera see me smile. I sometimes thought she must have some kind of death wish; of course it was fine for her to like me, but she must know how often she put herself in danger of being seen to be liked.

Anyway, finding ballasts was what we did. Once we did, regular agents moved in and did the simple grade-school science of altering the ballasts to break the connection. There are fifty or a hundred things you can do to ballasts once you find them. Some of them are even fairly humane.


"Want to try to ling him out?" I asked. "Dutch accent, odd behaviors, arrived naked with strange injuries—is that enough for a dictionary expansion into a Dodgsonian?"

"I think so," she said. "System up for voice."

"Up," Wingtoes said.

Horejsi stared at the ceiling, took a deep breath, and set her Riemann eyes on opaque; I envied her that ability, though she said it couldn't be all that different from just having eyelids. Maybe she didn't really understand that total darkness is different from very dim red blur.

She held that deep breath, focused her tension, let the breath out, counted down slowly from ten to zero, and fell into a light, lucid trance with a soft sigh. "Dutch, Dutch Boy, Dutch Boy paints, Dutch Harbor, Dutch treat, Dutch chocolate, Amsterdam, Damn-damn-damn, Rotterdam, Hope they'll Rotterdam teeth out, dikes, boy with finger in dike, middle school boy jokes, Richard the Second, Bolingbroke, gutter, alley, Prince Hal, Hal and his pal, Hal-canal, windmills, Chaucer, Wife of Bath, need a bath, bride of Frankenstein needs a bath, mad scientist, Frank the Mad Scientist, Frank Francis Francis Tyrwhitt, Tyrwhitt To-Who a Merry Note. . ."

Her light, flat, fast-talking monotone went on, interrupted periodically by deep, slow breaths. I watched the projected image on the wall; each word or expression popped onto the screen in pale green, and a swarm of blue points—closely related words—would accrete around it like instant fungus, putting off orange shoots of exact antonyms, red coils of strangely-attracted words, and gray filaments of etymological links. Structures accreted, stabilized, or cycled, and eventually homologies emerged in the data; the structures whirled, bounced, adhered, and merged, dragging their parent objects with them, until at last I put my hand up and said, very softly, "Wingtoes, that's enough."

The phrase Wingtoes that's enough flickered in pale green for a moment, then disappeared, replaced by the single word COMPLETE.

I felt Horejsi move, adjusting her Riemann eyes. She sat beside me, as always too close to be polite but not close enough to clearly signal she was offering herself for sex. I had thought about what I would do if she ever moved that close, and I was afraid that someone would notice that it was not merely a Liejt making use of a Com'n co-worker; what if I really liked her and someone saw?

"Four probable synecdoches," I said, "and one almost-catachresis. I'll take the catachresis around and see who gloms."

"Want company?" she asked.

"That end of town is ganged up bad. I don't think I want to be a person with a partner looking for info. Smells like cop and cops have accidents up there."

Horejsi nodded; I was glad she didn't insist on coming with me. Having her along for a physical brawl would only improve my odds by about nine percent, but having the Bug-Eye Lady (as my informants tended to call her) standing beside me would cut the chances of people telling me what they knew by about twenty-two percent.

She hugged me; I hoped it looked subservient enough to any cameras there might be, but I suppose it always had before. "Be careful," she said.

I pushed her away gently and said, "I always am," and did my best to keep my face flat when she smiled. It was another joke no one else got.


Four motivations account for just a shade less than sixteen out of every seventeen mesohistorical jumpers (the next better approximation is 3151 out of 3349):

•obsession with a historical question (nowadays all the photos of Praesidant Reagan's assassination have a dozen guys in costumes of the next three centuries standing around with cameras)

•compound interest schemes (we don't think the Stock Bubble of 1641 even existed in Original History)

•I could-have-been-a-better conqueror fantasies (the Whenness Prophylaxis Program could probably have filled a high-rise apartment block every decade with all the Hitlers and Napoleons who had to be isolated)

•serial killers (there's a lot of history where they're less likely to be caught).

Peron probably wasn't any of those four. Horejsi thought she'd spotted two other categories in the residuals, and she thought Peron was what she was calling "Class Six." If she was right, the situation was worse than it appeared. I didn't have any way to quantify how much worse.


"I'm looking for a guy that is probably called Dutch Lop," I said. "Usual kind of deal, you know I'm good for the benjamins." I flashed her five 1500-dollar bills and Pickles smiled back at the smiling Disraeli. "He might also be called Dutch Einstein or Doctor Dutch, which he probably likes better than Dutch Lop."

Pickles didn't bathe as much as she needed to these days, but she still dressed to give you a view of what was for sale. I sat back away from her but she edged closer. I could see her lips move while she counted one-and-a-half, three, four-and-a-half. . . She'd've been happy with a tenth of what I was going to pay her—the seven and a half was just to make sure she remembered the conversation.

After a minute Pickles nodded. "New guy I've heard of but haven't met. Missing an ear if I hear right." She giggled, or at least shook while she brought up some phlegm. "Get it?" She must've thought that was funny. "He's the cruncher for Brock's Geiger bank. I've bet four eleven forty-four with them a couple times but it's never come up, so I know it's bogus."

Pickles was an informant for everyone—Police, ATF, us, No Such Agency, and all her local crime gangs, probably more I didn't know about. What you told Pickles, you told everyone; I wanted Dutch Lop to know I was looking for him.

I had the same conversation with four similar informants in two more bars within a decimile of Alvarez Peron's apartment. I heard, twice more, that Dutch Lop was a cruncher for Brock's Geiger bank.

A Geiger bank is just a numbers game or a bollita that gets extra cachet by using Geiger counters sitting on a block of vitrified nuclear waste to generate the digits. Weird that 4-11-44 was still a popular combo, a hundred fifty years since Sherman's bombers cratered every railroad yard from Atlanta to the sea; things persist in the Irish parts of town.

Anyway, it wasn't the ghetto of today, but the Bohemian cheap-rent districts of 600 years before that I should be thinking about. Southwark in 1388 had been home to a few eccentric artists and scientists, like Chaucer, Dunstaple, Leonel Power, and Tyrwhitt, a smattering of fashionable young aristocrats, and a lot of garden-variety crooks.

Given that the numbers game is old—Fibonacci mentions it in the same text where he explains Arabic numbers—no doubt there had been plenty of people who knew how to set the line in Southwark in 1388, and if one of them had been dragged forward as Peron's ballast, he'd certainly have been employable enough anywhere around that neighborhood. That much made some kind of sense.

Having sown enough word that I was looking for Dutch Lop, I headed for Brock's. Horejsi often chided me for always taking the direct approach, but I had two good reasons: it often worked and I didn't understand any others.

My phone said, "Horejsi's calling," and I said, "Accept."

In her usual tone of mild amusement, she asked, "Well, do you believe in my added categories yet?"

I smiled flatly toward my phone, tilting the screen to pick up my face, and said, "More evidence that Peron fits your category six?"

"Maybe. Back at your place in say an hour?"

"Sure, I don't have any reason to hurry to the next place I'm trying."

"See you there." She hung up. One of a lot of things I like about Horejsi. Didn't bother with that silly "God ble'ye" that so many people still did. Finish talking, hit the switch, like a sensible person.

I turned back to catch the Liejt-reserved levrail to my place; I'd get there before Horejsi, who had to ride the Com'n.

A whole family of people with brown skins was walking up the sidewalk. They looked exactly like the ones I had seen preserved in museums, except they wore clothes, and were talking among themselves.

With all the training, I can keep a straight face. I don't react much to anything, anyway. Even so, this was probably the biggest challenge to my deadpan ever.

I managed. I looked at them but no more intently than an absent-minded man thinking of nothing would look, and smiled.

The grandfather of the group—there were also a mother, father, and two young children—glanced at me, smiled back, and said, in a sort-of-Confederate accent, "Beautiful day, isn't it? Don't you love a sunny day in Denver?"

"I was just thinking that," I said. "Clear and bright and not too cold."

He nodded pleasantly, and we passed on our respective ways. I didn't let myself run, or grab the phone, or even think too much.


That brown-skinned family had to be the biggest casopropagation anomaly I'd ever seen, and I'd seen plenty. This case must be a billion times bigger than I'd guessed.

Schrödinger's modification to Einstein showed why, although usually changes that least altered energy, causality, or entropy propagated earliest, every so often something big popped up ahead of the small changes.

You'd expect that modern electronic stuff changes rapidly because it's just flipping some qdots into alternate states. After that, old style electronic records change, because that takes only a few thousand electron volts per bit. Paper records might require as much as a single calorie per page, so in the fluctuations of twenty years or so, those change. Finally, gross things—changes of shipwreck locations, emptying and filling graves, shapes of furniture and buildings, placements of trees and roads—take many megajoules, or more, and change across a century, the ones least entangled with others first.

The thing that affects other things the least, and requires the most complex rewriting, is long-term memory in the brains of socially isolated people. That doesn't change until it has to, and ghost versions persist in a few heads until the hermit, or monk under vow of silence—or lonely oddball like me or Horejsi—finally dies.

Now don't ask me about the math. I relate to numbers, not math. I can tell you that 524,287 is a Mersenne prime because it just obviously is, but if you want me to find an eigenvector or a derivative, you'll have to send me to the tweenweb to find the guy that already did.

If you don't understand the difference between those two abilities, you wouldn't understand the math—just as I don't.

But according to Herr Doctor Schrödinger, once there's been a change in history, some changes propagate out of order and out of proportion, because the dimensions of conservation are curved and imperfectly orthogonal. (I can almost picture that in my head). One consequence is surprising inconsistencies in the real world, during the time between the backward departure and the forward resolution, so that long before a couple million quantum computers remember all sorts of different things and frequently consulted dictionaries change the spellings of forty words, a freeway is nine yards west and was built four years earlier. Another is that huge things may change and small things remain the same; Horejsi and I both remembered a four-hour interval when Denver had been named Auraria, and been Espano speaking, but all the RTD levrails had run on the same exact schedules.

Schrödinger's equations also showed why any change, great or small, may or may not persist when the original change is undone; as he said, once you had a cat in a box, if you eliminated its parents, then you either had no cat or a different cat that was exactly the same, and you wouldn't know till you looked. A bridge in Pittsburgh might be there intermittently for a couple of years; the statue of Athena in New York Harbor might permanently change to Dolly Madison or Elizabeth Cady Stanton; the passengers on a Frontier gravliner alighting on the concourse at Denver International might catch a glimpse of what appeared to be a Civil War-era winged rocket with Frontier markings taking off.

Those casopropagation anomalies are in proportion to the overall scale of the change that was made in the past. So whatever it was that Peron had done in 1388 in London, it had caused a kind of people who had not existed in four hundred years to appear on the street in Denver, speaking English and sounding a bit like imported Irish slaves.

One thing it meant for sure: a lot of phone calls to the FBI's Report an Anomaly line. Unless we found Dutch Lop fast, Horejsi and I were about to have to do an absolute mountain of paperwork.


The moment I walked in the door, I told Horejsi about seeing that brown-skinned family—speaking English!—on the streets of Denver. "So Peron's change was at least big enough to undo some part of the Great Erasure. No wonder the Bureau set us such a large bonus. When they tried to measure significance, the isotemporal estimating engine must have spun till the needle broke," I finished.

Even Horejsi, with not a digit or an equation in her head, was gaping. "I think," she said, after a bit, "we'd better get over to that Geiger bank, and see what we can find. I don't think we have any time to spare, so I'd better come along, even if some of your informants are scared of the Bug-Eye Lady."

"They can't be any more scared than I am right now," I said.


We talked on the train, just the usual sort of thing we'd talk about on a case, I guess because the unusual stuff about this case scared the crap out of us.

It was Christmas shopping season, and the Com'n levrail was jammed. Just to get privacy, we had to spend some extra expense account money for a compartment. Even though with the window dimmed, we didn't need the cover of pretending to be a couple, Horejsi slid around to sit closer to me on the bench seat than was polite; I could have put an arm around her. Of course I was Liejt and she was Com'n; that would mean her vanishing. Even a person as socially isolated as I was couldn't forget that. But I kept noticing how easily my arm would have gone around her.

They recruited people like me and Horejsi for our freak memories and social isolation. If the last two digits in the GDP of the Untitled States of Armorica reversed, I'd notice that the book was now "wrong," and if the Third Rogue's Speech in Love's Labours' Won changed "thou'st'll" to "you'll've," Horejsi would pick it up. She'd already been most of the way through Chaucer, the writer nearest to the change point that she had in memory, and said all she noticed was "just three little changes, the kind of collateral connections you get because some printer's apprentice died in childbirth and her replacement made an alternate typo. Which reminds me of a weird thing—I scanned the list of all the printer's apprentices in the Registry of Known Persons for London 1300-1399 Third Edition and it was just like I remembered, but in Registry of Known Persons for London 1400-1499 Second Edition Revised all the girls' names had disappeared."

"Maybe they had a fad for naming girls after boys?" I suggested.

"All of them? There's no such thing as a one hundred percent fad in baby names. And there were plenty of girls in several other crafts. So our boy did something to the printing industry." Horejsi sounded pissed off.

The train glided into the big shopping center they have south of downtown these days—I remember when it appeared there, some guy named Varian who had jumped back to try to tell Mussolini to break away from Hitler and kick out the Pope. It took us forever to find Varian's ballast because it was a pretty girl who only spoke Neolatin. It turned out that one of the Free Irish gangs found her when she first appeared in Varian's neighborhood, enslaved her, and sold her south to Mexespana. "This wasn't a bad shopping center to get out of the deal, as long as we had to fail on a case," I said. "Lots of jobs and it's kind of pretty."

Horejsi's apertures focused on me. My as-usual-lame attempt at small talk had only pissed her off more. "It was hard on that poor girl. Let's not have too many failures if we can help it. Anyway, I think the London registry anomaly shows us that whatever Peron is doing to make a mess of the past, it's pretty bad."

She got mad whenever a case involved gender. I'd probably made her madder by bringing up the Varian case, because so much awful shit had happened to the ballast girl.

I grasped her arm and pointed as I turned left down the next sidewalk, to remind her we were going to the levrail station on the north side of the center; since we were in public it was important that there be no affection in it, and I'm sure I was careful. Nevertheless, she curled her arm upward and brought my hand into hers. This was all right too; we did it often when pretending to be a couple, and the FBI said it was fine as long as I didn't initiate. I didn't know why we'd need a cover. Maybe she just wanted to hold hands. That was all right with me.

"This case is beginning to scare the shit out of me," she said.

Mad, then scared, liked to hold hands to feel better afterwards. I filed that under the mental heading of "understanding Horejsi." Long ago I had noticed she liked being understood.

We had some time before the next train, so we walked slowly through the fake Victorian shops, or "shoppes" as most of them insisted on being spelled. A lot of the shops had dressed their Irish in old time costumes, so there were bonnets and top hats and so forth everywhere in the glaring winter sun, and every other vendor selling indulgences or bratwurst was dressed like one of Santa's leprechauns. It was a little creepy, I thought; I could remember when I was a kid, leprechauns had been entirely monsters that the slaves might conjure up to turn loose on us, but something had slipped or come undone somewhere in time, since then, and there was now a tradition of bad monster leprechauns and good obedient leprechauns.

"Do you remember when leprechauns were all bad?" I asked.

"Oh, yes," Horejsi said. "That was the thing that changed my whole life. When I was nineteen, I was babysitting for a rich family, reading a story to the kids, and one day, in exactly the same old dog-eared ruin of a book I'd read to them a dozen times, Willy Wonka had good leprechauns working in the chocolate factory. I told my mother about it, and she turned me in to the cops."

"And then they turned you into a cop."

"Yeah." She made her smile-grimace; I guess she liked my joke. Maybe that was why she squeezed my arm tighter. "Christmas is pretty. I hope nothing ever happens to change it." I could tell she was happy, maybe about the decorations? Didn't people usually say that at night instead of in bright sun?

Aside from our freak memories, the FBI used us because we didn't relate to people much. Interacting with the ballast jumpers barely changed us and anyway it wouldn't matter because we interacted so little with other people. Horejsi and me, we're like "people without souls," that's what it said when I hacked in to read the documentation about ballast hunters.

What the hell. I liked the job. It was rarely dull, it used many of my skills, and it had made me a rich man, rich even beyond my Liejt allowance. And if we didn't have souls, Horejsi and I still had some fun and were company for each other, now and then.

We got on the Com'n northbound that would take us to the slums east of downtown, and took another private compartment. It would be fifteen minutes before the train actually moved, but we had more than enough things to talk about in the privacy of the compartment.

It was always possible that Dutch Lop would be at Brock's Geiger bank, and talk to us. Naturally we hoped so, but it didn't seem likely. When the ballasts had been living rough on the street, they were often cooperative, but if he was the cruncher at Brock's, he wasn't poor, and he had some kind of a life he might be attached to.

I brought that up to Horejsi and she touched my hand—she was still sitting very close—and said, "Whose favorite phrase is 'theorizing in advance of data'?"

It took me a moment to get it. "Mine," I admitted.


"Yeah." She made that weird grimace she does instead of a grin; another thing Horejsi likes is being right.

We talked through a review of what we knew. "How bad was the weather this spring?" Horejsi asked. "I never remember weather."

"Three spring blizzards after his date of arrival, and that bad cold snap we had in late March—it was minus seven Celsius on March 28 and minus three on March 29."

She nodded, letting apertures open all over the spheres of her eyes, taking in all of the nice, crisp December day through the big window, as the train lifted off and glided through the downtown. "Then definitely, he found friends and shelter of some kind, right away, and something fed him," she said. "No true isolation possible."

The trick with breaking the causality between the traveler and his ballast was to grab and de-link the ballast as early as possible; create a situation in which the easiest Inconsistency Principle resolution would be that the ballast had always existed in our world and the time traveler had not. Then intemporaria would take over and work on our side, erasing most of the changes. But for best effect, we had to de-link them early.

This one wouldn't be early.

Of course you could also deal with human ballast the way we dealt with ballasts of mud or logs or deer; scramble it, chemically treat it, and scatter it. Most ballast hunters just didn't like luring or kidnapping people to have them ground to bits and vaporized. Horejsi and I had occasionally muttered a suspicion to each other—that the Whenness Prophylaxis Program was just a preliminary step to make us investigators more comfortable, and that as soon as we were off the case, the ballast ended up as extremely overcooked sausage. I shuddered.

"Cold?" Horejsi asked.

"No, just thinking of something grim."

"That family you saw means this is something huge," she said, "and the bonus the FBI set makes a lot more sense now."

We both knew that, but maybe it was comforting for her to keep saying things we both knew.

We got off at the Welton Station, and paused to let a Liejt levrail shoot by us, the D line, hurrying down Welton to Smallville. I wondered if the world would still be there when they got there, or if they'd still be the same people. It gave me the creeps.

Horejsi's hand was on my arm again. I covered it with my other hand, to keep it there, because it felt kind of good.

It was still bright and sunny but the wind was picking up in a way that could feel like a nail driven up my nose, and the dry cold air seemed to tear at my skin. The Christmas wreaths and banners on the lampposts whipped and slapped alarmingly; I felt sorry for the poor Irish slaves who had had to put them up.

Changing the subject, she asked, "How many disturbances do you know about so far?" She kept her hand on my arm. I was grateful.

"A lot of statistics aren't what they used to be," I said. "Baseball looks like it's more fun—scores are higher, all the statistics about stealing home from fourth base vanished, and teams are nine players instead of eleven—center and right shortstop are combined, and there's no wing fielder."

"And this is interesting because—"

"Enormous number of public stadiums built to a different design, enormous number of records altered, lots of very public lives altered, and not in a way that maps one to one. Economics is pretty much the same—three of the main estimating components of the Gross Dominion Product are gone, replaced by something called 'foreign trade,' but that looks more like a change of bookkeeping. But the census tabulation changed drastically for the last hundred years, and the date when they started mining coal up in the high country is one hundred four years later."

Horejsi whistled. "Those are some big mass-time changes. Which fits with that. . . anomaly. . . you saw."

"Brown-skinned people wouldn't use as much coal?" I asked, puzzled by what she meant.

"No, silly, I mean the change of skills." She nodded at the Irishmen walking on the street-side sidewalk ahead of us; each was carrying home his coal ration and his little Thermos of LOX for his Franklin stove. "I'm sure any Irishmen that the brown-skinned people owned would use as much coal as anyone else. It's just—their existence—the scale of that change. . . well, it's consistent with changes as big as the ones you describe. That's what I mean." She sighed and rubbed her hand gently up and down my arm, brushing my coat sleeve and pressing a knuckle hard enough for me to feel it in my muscles. "Rastigevat, there were some big physical things in the last few hours. I-70 jumped down to Albuquerque, then up to Cheyenne and for a while ran along the path of US-50, yesterday, so we had a large number of lost and angry truckers and some cargoes just gone. About seventy of those weird little passenger-only trucks that show up sometimes during anomalies drove into Pueblo over the temporary I-70; most of the people who arrived in them are acquiring new memories right now, though a few have just vanished. Three whole train cars of Irish that were going to be put to work in Aspen for the holidays are just gone, along with all their titles and registration. And what that I in I-70 stands for changes from Intergovernmental to Interim to Imperial and back to Interstate all the time."

"Where was Denver when I-70 jumped?" I asked.

"Do you remember what we were doing yesterday?"

I thought for a moment. "Is today Tuesday?"



"Yeah. It's a big mess, Rastigevat. Huge cultural changes too—the name of this continent keeps fluctuating between Armorica, Amorica, and Amocira, and every so often turning back into New Armorica, which is what they called it right after the airships found it and the Great Erasure started. Twice it has wavered into New Arimathea, which I guess means a more religious trend somewhere in the past, and once it was North Arimacha, which I don't get at all. Three changes in Chaucer, thousands of different names in the London Registries, renamed ships with drastically different names in standard histories of England and the Untitled States, the Enlightenment 150 years later and all of history since then compressed to fit.

"Also, and don't laugh at me for noticing—"

"I never do," I said. Actually I never laugh.

"I know and I appreciate that." She squeezed my arm. "Anyway, there were several new authors added to the catalogs in the mid-nineteenth century. That one is okay with me; it looks like Peron undid Perkins's permanent damage, so we have Samuel Clemens back. Even so, it looks like this time he was writing under a pseudonym, Mark Thrine, and I'm guessing from the title in the public library catalog that The True and Romantic Career of Becky Thatcher has been replaced by a novel about her boyfriend, Tom Sawyer, and there's some kind of sequel about a minor character from that book, Irish Jim. I kind of hope we get to keep Clemens's books—I remember liking them as a child."

I had never gotten why people liked to read made-up stuff; it seemed to me it was bound to clutter your memory, keeping track of what was true and what wasn't. But I could appreciate that Horejsi liked it. I rested my hand on hers, on my arm. "This stuff would all be so fun and exciting if it weren't for the whole world disappearing."

"You're always my man for perspective, Rastigevat." She made that smile-grimace again.


Even if they're sort of acting like a normal couple, two people who radiate "cop," one of them with Riemann eyes, don't easily walk into a Geiger bank. Not that Brock's people would be dumb enough to try to keep us out, but there was probably a pretty funny scene out back in the alley as people poured out the door and fell all over each other. Anyway, it was calm enough inside as we walked up to the young girl at the counter.

I ignored the clicking Geiger counters and their rolling digit displays. "We need to speak to Dutch Lop. Official business."

"I—" the girl flushed deeply, her pale skin going as red as her hair. No collar tattoo, so she was freeborn, but as everyone says, it takes generations to get the slave out of the Irish, and the sight of authority just paralyzes some of them especially in this part of town. "Um. I do'na'f'he be—"

"It's all right, Brighd." The accent did sound Dutch, but he pronounced that funny Irish gulp at the end of her name perfectly. The man who limped out to greet us was missing one ear and had an odd hairless scar on the top of his head. It looked like the cylinder of enclosure had been a bit tight, or he'd been moving, because the hand that reached out to shake mine was missing half a thumb.

He was in his early twenties, and his wide-set eyes and square jaw couldn't have been more relaxed, confident, and utterly in charge if he'd been Liejt and expecting us to deliver a pizza. I don't respond to faces much, but I liked the asymmetric shock of black hair around the scar, the big toothy grin, and the twinkling almost-black eyes under the thick brow. "I had thought you might be here sooner," he said, speaking a trifle slowly, "but it is good you are here now."

Horejsi suddenly froze like a squirrel on a levrail track, and opened so many apertures so wide that the spheres of her Riemann eyes were blotched with black dots the size of quarters. After a moment, she let her breath out and said, "It's an honor to meet you."

I looked back and forth, and then she explained. "Mr. Rastigevat, this is Francis Tyrwhitt."

"Frank," he said. "They call me Frank here, at least to my face. I prefer it to Dutch Lop, if I may be Frank with you."

I couldn't help grinning; puns are one of the few kinds of joke I get, and Horejsi snorted and made her smile-grimace. "Is there somewhere we can talk privately?" she asked.

"There is," he said. "Will you let Leo pat you down for weapons, please?"

"Of course," I said. "There's something in my left sock, one in the coat pocket, and something back between my shoulder blades."

I had expected that Leo would be some immense, hulking goon, but he turned out to be a short, bony, big-jawed, freckled Irish boy, maybe fourteen years old, with the fresh scars from manumission around his neck, all big feet and hands and loose gangle.

Nonetheless he was a pretty good frisker, getting everything I had mentioned right away, and finding two of my three spares as well. He flushed red-bordering-on-purple as he searched Horejsi, but did an equally good job on her. When he had finished and nodded, Tyrwhitt touched him lightly on the shoulder, and Leo grinned like he'd won the lottery.

Tyrwhitt's office was surprisingly luxurious—the surprise was not that it had obviously been expensive (you expect that with anything connected with organized crime), but the type of luxury it radiated. The room looked much more like the comfortable working den of a Liejt software developer or investment broker than the sort of medium-level organized crime boss office I'd been expecting. There was no gaudy, kitschy art; no visible gold or drug paraphernalia; only a standard wall projector, not one of the pricey monstrosities. He had gone for solid, practical, but not brand-name furniture. Nothing here would violate the Sumptuary Act, and if this place were ever busted in the media, there wouldn't be much of the usual sneering and tsking about Liejt goods in a slum apartment.

He gestured to a cluster of warm leather-covered seats by a small gas fire, and said, "Well, let me pretend to be a conventional host for conventional guests. Would you like coffee, whiskey, anything?"

"How about coffee officially, and a splash of whiskey that just sort of happened?" Horejsi said. Her hand stroked my arm; I wasn't sure what this was about, but I said, "Same for me." There's no rule about accepting food or drink from suspects; usually we like to stay sharp and avoid the possibility of being dosed, but sometimes not insulting hospitality is more important. I have no sense of that; maybe she was just cueing me in?

Tyrwhitt spoke an order into the air, and before we had quite settled onto the couch, Brighd came in with our drinks. When we had all pledged the Creator and taken a first appreciative sip of the good warm stuff, Tyrwhitt said, "All right, let me begin by saying I will be happy to consent to being disconnected from Alvarez Peron—in fact he intends that I should be—but the reason why I am utterly willing to cooperate is one your superiors will not like."

"Well, when the ballast is cooperative, we're mostly just the go-betweens anyway," I said, "so why don't you just explain it to us, Mr. Tyrwhitt—"


"All right, Frank, just tell us what you want us to tell them, and we can proceed from there."

He did, and bizarre as some of the stories we had heard had been, his was right off the scale. If I were trying to attach a number to how different it was, I'd say, roughly, that on a scale of weirdness-by-ballasts of one to ten, Frank Tyrwhitt was equal to the resultant vector of an isosceles triangle, ep+i, and Wednesday.

"It's the Creator's sense of humor to weave the good and the bad together so tightly, I suppose. Time is one, and that is sad, but so is memory, and that is a blessing," Tyrwhitt said. "There's your problem, your opportunity, and what you need to do with me—if you're smart."

Horejsi, next to me on the couch—stroking my arm, which I found a little distracting—said, "You mean time is all one thing—"

"I mean that experience and theory both show there's only one world, and only one timeline, we don't get to do everything, there's no 'out there,' no cross-time or 'otherwhen,' in which things went differently," Tyrwhitt said. "Which means we have to make the hard choice of what world to have, and there's no compensating for that by telling ourselves that, well, things didn't turn out so well in this version of time, but in the universe next door things are doubtless peachy—gloriously exciting or beautifully serene or whatever it is you personally favor—and the only real tragedy is that some of us have to live in the timelines that did not work out as well. Believing that would be a comforting escape, but it's just not so. This is the world there is, and things are just done or undone and that's all there is to it. There's not a world out there where I didn't come forward in time; this is all there is. And that's sad, because it means that not only can we not have everything, even the whole universe can't. Time is one, eh?"

"And memory is one," I said, seeing his point, "and that means that whatever there was, we get to keep it—as long as everyone and everything gets to keep it. . . yes, I see what you mean. It does seem very fair. Fairer than, maybe, anything else I've ever heard of."

"And it's all there is, anyway," Horejsi added. "Time is one. All right. I bet you've been rehearsing that speech a long time, Frank."

"Since about my fourth day up here in 2014," Tyrwhitt agreed. "Here's what happened; you may judge for yourself—in fact, I know good and well you will judge for yourself."


Tyrwhitt had been soundly asleep in his rented room above an ordinary in Southwark. He felt a disconcerting lurch, and sat up in a strange room where light came from the ceiling. In strangely accented English, a voice told him to check in the large mirror to his right to see where he had been injured, and that on the table to his left there were things to dress and bind his wounds.

The capital Roman letters on what he now knew had been a military medkit made some sense; the artificial lights in the ceiling, that were neither flames nor skylights, were odd.

Following the directions of the friendly disembodied voice, he carefully stayed on the ground cloth on the floor as he applied the 3S strips to his ear, to the sliced-away area on his hairline just above his forehead, and to the stumps of his right thumb and left ring and little fingers. He was amazed at how little pain he felt.

"Most ballasts are amazed by that," Horejsi told him. "A nerve that just ceases to exist at a point, with no shredding or other damage, just doesn't hurt much."

He nodded. "I suspect that if I had contemplated any larger matter, I would have had to doubt my sanity; painless instantaneous amputation, and strangely effective wound dressings, were marvels within my scope of admiration, and most of what I woke to find around me was, at that moment, simply utterly beyond me."

The little discomfort ceased as the 3S strips gripped his flesh. The voice directed him to warm food on a sideboard, with more available in the strangely cold box, which he was to keep closed. It guided him through the other necessities, then asked him to take a seat on a couch. The lights in the room dimmed, and an illusion of Alvarez Peron appeared on the wall, and began to talk to Tyrwhitt.

Horejsi and I had deduced that Peron was a Liejt scientist from a defense project, but we hadn't realized quite how high a level. It fit—everything else about this case was extreme.

Knowing that he had one of the five or ten greatest minds in the whole history of the world on the receiving side, Peron had begun by giving a two-hour lesson in the theory of indexical derivability; Tyrwhitt, just twenty-two years old in experience, had absorbed what would have been his life's work all but instantly. The artificial voice then showed him how to access the tweenweb and gave him a short list of things he was certain to need to know within one week, which was the time Peron had estimated Tyrwhitt could depend on before needing to relocate.

By the time that Tyrwhitt walked out of the apartment and up the street to meet with Gerry Brock, he spoke and understood modern English passably for everyday purposes, and he had a basic understanding of where and when he was, and of why Peron had swapped places with him. Brock had lived up to his contract with Peron, supplying a hiding place and facilities at first, in exchange for Tyrwhitt writing the software for the ultimate Geiger bank. He had wanted to keep Tyrwhitt hidden for as long as possible, but Peron's instructions had been explicit. Reluctantly, Brock had said that, well, he was already rich, and apparently the universe had decided that rather than get still richer, he would be a minor character in an important piece of history.

"You have to understand," Tyrwhitt added, "that there was no question of not following Peron's wishes about what I should do up at this end of the time divide. He knew what he was doing, and once I fully understood what that was, I was in full agreement. Nor do I doubt what he has in mind will work. Admitting that I am rather a talented person, I am a pretty good judge of talent in my own field—and Peron, whatever his real name may have been, was a talent on par with myself, or with Newton or Babbage if you prefer."

"So why did he switch places with you?" Horejsi asked.

"So that I would not give the world indexical derivability in the Year of Grace 1403," Tyrwhitt said. "And then to make sure that the zero-change bias would not force indexical derivability to come into history by some other path, he also eliminated the eleven students that carried the work forward after my death in 1406."

"Eliminated –" I began, and felt the fuzziness in my head; I suddenly found the images of pages from my schoolbooks were becoming fuzzy, that some of the science lectures I had attended in college were. . .

"My dear sweet Jesus," Horejsi said. "And he must have done it in the first few days he was there. That's why he went to 1388, in May. He needed all eleven of them to have been born—so he could kill them all. Maxwell would have been just a few weeks old—"

I knew Maxwell's equations, and suddenly I could not remember the second digit of the Year of Grace when they had been published; it formed a blur, Year of Grace One Blur Sixty-Five. "I can't remember all of the old school rhyme for the eleven, either," I said.

"Thomson, Carnot, DeGrasse, and Barlow,

Someone, someone, Ampirre, and Marlow;

Abelsmythe and Voltman, and—and—"

I could not remember any more of it.

"Blake was hung. . . "

"Maxwell who was very young," Horejsi finished. "And the first 'someone' you mentioned was Paschalle, but now I can't think of the second, and I'm already forgetting parts of the rhyme myself. In 1388, the oldest was—someone—"

"Dryburn," I said. "The only one older than Tyrwhitt himself—"

"And the only one I knew in 1388," Tyrwhitt said. "I thought he was an arrogant asshole, actually, but the only person I could really talk math with. And it's rather sad because they were bright, talented people, and probably without the original discovery and my teaching, they'd just have been smart people who went on to obscure careers, but Peron didn't want to take any chances. With the tools and compounds he took back in his kit, probably none of the deaths looked like a murder, either, at least not to a fourteenth-century coroner." He sighed, swirled his hot coffee and whiskey mix, and took another sip. "Still, murder does stick in the craw, doesn't it? Especially murdering someone for having brains and talent; even more especially, men who apparently would have been my closest friends. So I know something of a whole other life that didn't happen for me, and I don't know quite how to feel about that."

"It's your life," I said slowly, "but it's our world. So we're in process of vanishing or at least transforming. I can feel some sympathy for you, but what about us?"

"Bear with me for a moment. I claim the privilege of explaining myself because you will have to understand, if you decide you want to undo what Peron has done."

"If we decide. If?" Horejsi sounded outraged. "Our job is to—"

"Just so. My own sense of—well, ethics I suspect?—thinks you should have a chance to do your job."

I was hopelessly confused; he sounded like he was defying us, and turning Peron and himself in, and playing some obscure game to delay us, and asking for our help—all at once. "Perhaps," I said, "We don't have much choice except to let you tell us in your own way."

"Perhaps that is true. I dislike presenting a choice so bluntly. It seems rude." He watched the coffee swirl in his cup as if it were a crystal ball, and Horejsi and I sat still as stones until he went on. "Anyway, I've been over the databases and through the libraries, and all of the eleven are gone wherever I look, now. The Inconsistency Principle is kicking in fast and hard, and I've been helping it along by sending out random e-mails, getting people to look for those names—sweepstakes contests, questions to librarians, that sort of thing. You're probably among the last five percent or so of people who remember them."

"Then we're too late," Horejsi said. "Peron has erased the whole modern world, and we're—well, I suppose we're already not who we were, and about to either cease to be or be someone else." She rested her hand on my arm; I put my hand on hers.

"There's a great deal more casopropagation still to happen," Tyrwhitt said, "and I suppose you and your bosses can still do a great deal to undo it, if you choose to tell them what I am about to tell you. If they jump an agent back to take my place in my bed, for example, and position another one to kill Peron on arrival, it might still all be undone.

"But they would have to decide to do it right away—and I'm quite sure they won't make that decision at once, unless you contact them almost right away, shout at them to do it now, and one way or another shake them into it. That's your decision: to try to get through to them, or to just let things happen as they're happening. Hear me out, and decide. After all, Mr. Rastigevat, as you say, it was my decision but it is your world. You get to decide which one you will be retaining.

"So what I propose is that I will explain why Peron did it, and why I have chosen to enlist on his side in this conflict, and finally ask you not to interfere—but I will give you the chance to interfere. You will be able to walk right out of here and call FBI headquarters. I won't stop you if you choose to do that."

"Why not?" I asked. "You have told us several times you approve of whatever it is Peron is trying to do." Truly, I thought it might already be too late. It's an endless source of frustration to FBI field agents that the desk never authorizes anything soon enough to do any good. "Why would you let us walk out of here, call our superiors, and fight for a crisis mission to stop you?"

"My peculiar taste, I suppose." He sighed, and looked from one of us to the other. "It is only that. . . well. There is an idea that interests me, the idea of consent. I suppose you might say it's one of those things that mathematicians love, taking concepts like 'obvious,' 'hard,' or 'complex,' and making them precise. I am interested in the idea of having someone consent to this—actually in following up on Peron's idea about it, which I think was right."

"Peron got someone's consent to end the world?" Horejsi asked. "Whose? How could he possibly—"

"I think Peron made an astonishing and correct judgment about what needed to be done, and why. To carry out his judgment, he performed a more or less permanent kidnapping, and a variety of other crimes against me, but he ultimately depended on my consenting to cooperate; if his recordings had not persuaded me that what he was doing was right, his scheme would have unraveled."

"Did the eleven consent to be killed?" I asked. "Did they agree never to be the brilliant, admired people they would have been?"

"They did not. And that is another part of my evidence in reasoning about all of this, you see. The whole thing is made the more confusing, of course, because I am a superb mathematician, but not necessarily any more ethical than any of the rest of you. So I'm quite sure of my reasoning, and not the least bit sure about my premises. Nonetheless, I find I admire what Peron did and how he chose to do it, and so, as far as my understanding reaches, I intend to try to do likewise." He rose and added coffee, and liquor, to our cups, without asking. Neither Horejsi nor I objected; for myself, I can say that I probably needed all the warmth I could get. "He chose a way that required the consent of one person who would be utterly changed—me. His way of doing things required that I consent to be someone utterly different from the person I would have been. To coin a phrase, you might call me an extremely representative sample."

"You've read Gödel about random numbers," I said. "But doesn't indexical derivability show there's no true randomness, only chaos and complexity?"

"Imagine," he said, "a world where the sciences had to develop without indexical derivability—one where the sciences were based on setting up repeated tests of physical, chemical, and biological processes, or observing the world. And without the eleventh and fourteenth theorems, you'd never know about the complectisons, so you wouldn't be able to study those functions effectively. The numbers might as well have a random component for all you knew, and you'd have to use Gödelian statistics. Probably it would have developed a lot earlier. You see what a different world we are thinking of launching?"

"We're not, you are," Horejsi said firmly. "I have no idea what either of you have been talking about, but I gather that somehow you think the consent of two of us is the same thing as the consent of a billion people."

"Half the people on Earth are slaves, and you know the market is always booming in ways to prevent suicide. What if I decided to obtain their consent?"

That one kind of froze me. Officially I knew slaves couldn't consent to anything; that was basic law. But what if the change of history made a slave Free—or even Com'n, or Liejt while we're at it? Wouldn't he surely consent retroactively?

I could see how Tyrwhitt had been seduced into thinking about this problem. The math was fascinating. I wanted to spend hours just talking about that, but Horejsi had that strange I am about to inexplicably explode expression she often got, right when the math was really interesting, so it didn't seem like a good idea.

"So why not two people, one Com'n and one Liejt, both intimately involved with the case already? Who could I ask otherwise? Everyone? And how would we put their answers together? I suppose we could gather their answers—here, in the Year of Grace 2014, with the forty-third Lancaster on the throne of the world, I have at hand a communication system that would allow me to call the whole almost-one-billion Christian beings on all the continents, every son of Adam and every daughter of Eve, Liejt or Com'n, slave or Free, Espano, Russky, Fransche, English, and all the minor nations as well. I could use that marvelous communication system to call every one of them and ask, 'Would you like to vanish or be someone else utterly, because the world that would come into being would be, in ways that might or might not make any sense to you, better than the one we live in now?' I also have no doubt, speaking as a mathematician, that I could devise some ingenious way of putting all their expressed thoughts, fears, and hopes together into one common thought, as the parliament has sometimes essayed to do, and as the Athenians and Romans are alleged to have done; perhaps something as simple as the casting of a verdict as is done with a jury. Yet somehow that revolts me; I do not think a verdict is made better by the number of hands raised to make it—that seems an idea that could easily become a snare for the half-witted. The decision of one, or a few, reasonably wise, merciful, and kind people, it seems to me, is better than that of a billion indifferent.

"So I have chosen to follow the model that Alvarez Peron has shown me. I was called to stand in for everyone of my time, and all the ones to come after, and given no choice about having the choice; he said, 'These are my reasons, choose,' and I chose.

"Part of what I chose is to pass a part of the choice on to you. We are in the last days or weeks of your possible consent. If you do not choose, what I have done will stand; or you may assent in full and say, let it stand; or—if you choose otherwise—you may try to stop me, and we shall contend and see who is the stronger. But I am offering you two people—and only you two people—a chance, and just a chance, to try to undo my choice, because you are concerned in it. You stand in for all the people who are about to have never existed, or to be someone else entirely; I will tell you what will be gained if you choose to vanish in those ways, and you will decide if it is worth it."

"By deciding to die?" Horejsi asked.

"No, not to die," I said. I could see at once that was one of those times when words just make a muddle of things, because they combine so many meanings that are logically separate, and she was a creature of words. "Once a soul has come to exist, it has no exit from existence but to die, but when souls abruptly have never existed, nothing experiences the death. So he's offering us the chance to try to be what exists after it all damps back down; and since there is only one time, at any given moment we'll exist or not, but we won't cross over—that is, die—between existing and not existing." I looked to see if she got it, and what she might be feeling about it if she did; I was the only person who could read her facial expressions, but she was really the one of us who understood all this human-feelings stuff, and it just seemed to me that if Tyrwhitt wanted us to consent (or not), it had to be a matter of how the Christian souls of the Earth ought to feel about it, or not—which was more her department than mine.

Her head was turned at an angle to get her ear, not her eyes, pointed at me; her Riemann eyes were gone, and she wore dark glasses to hide whatever functionless eyes she did have. A big dog on a harness sat beside her. I knew in a moment I would not remember the name "Riemann."

No, of course I would—it was the name of the dog.

"I have been blind from birth, Rastigevat," she said, "and yet, I have the dearest, sweetest memory of what your face looks like when you're sad, or make one of your terrible jokes, or worry about me. And I try to hold onto it, recall it more strongly, and it slips away. Is that what it will be like for everyone?"

"Probably," I said.

"Then, Magister Tyrwhitt," she said, "how can you ask us to give all this up? And how did Peron persuade you that you should?"

Tyrwhitt sighed, and said, "This will be more difficult than I had thought, and I had not thought it would be easy." He held his breath for a moment, unconsciously stroking the stump of his thumb, and finally went on. "The man we all know as Peron—how strange to think that the real name of a man of his gifts will be lost forever—had taken the step that Einstein, Copland, and Turing all struggled all their lives to achieve. Peron finally united matter and meaning in a single theory, and using that theory he could meaningfully measure meaningfulness itself—know how much meaning there was within our event horizon, as well as how much meaning there had been, and how much there could be. I can tell already, Mr. Rastigevat, that your training in the physical sciences and logic is fading from your memory, and you will not retain the ideas you need to understand me much longer; so do not object, as it will only cost time.

"At root, things and ideas are one; meaning in the soul and causality in the universe are one. Peron cracked this impossible nut—if I remain here and live long enough, I may just barely reach the point he reached, but I doubt I shall have anyone I can teach it to. And what he found was that Christian Europe had made a terrible mistake; when Henry VI of England became Henry I of the World, and decreed that 'all the world shall be under the Pope or under the ground,' and his airships went forth in the Great Erasure, to make an empty world for the Christians of Europe to grow into. . . he was only doing what any other civilization of his time might have done. . . he felt no wickedness, saw no reason to think anything of it. A few thousand preserved bodies in barrels of formaldehyde, and because of Maxwell's pleas, the largely unreadable books of such peoples as had books, was not only all that was saved but all he could have imagined wanting to save."

Horejsi seemed to draw herself up defensively, and said, "The Caliph, or the Sultan, or the Emperors in Peking, Timbuktu, or Cuzco, would have made some similar decision."

"They would. If indexical derivability was found early enough, the culture that found it would make an empty world for itself. That was fated, I agree." Tyrwhitt raised his hands, not remembering that due to casopropagation, she could not see the gesture now; I myself tried to hang onto the name of those immense, ball-like eyes that once graced her face, and with which she had seen me—Riemann stirred uneasily and sadly. He was an old dog, always at her side since I had met her at the FBI Academy, and now his bones were uneasy and never quite comfortable.

"So," Tyrwhitt said, "Peron discovered that the Great Erasure reduced the amount of meaning in the world to very nearly nothing, at least compared to what it might have been. You people in your pointless world understand each other perfectly, for the meanest slave in the Antarctic coal mines has more in common with the Emperor in Nice than two sailors on the waterfront had in common in my time. You can travel along any line around the whole world and find not one surprise. You fight wars in order to run a death toll large enough to reshape populations, with great efficiency in death but no more passion than boys of my time put into a game of football. I have seen the recordings of your Nuremberg trials, and the judges shaking hands with the accused, and finding that Europe had been suitably reduced; I have cracked into the Imperial records to see the decisions for the famines and the massacres to hold the population at what the Emperor thinks tolerable levels. Even you, Mr. Rastigevat, saw something recently that heralded the end of the world, and though you wanted the comfort of your friend's presence, you were more worried, were you not, about the reports you might have to write?"

"That," I said, "and because if I rushed to her, someone might realize I was emotionally attached to her. She could be executed for that. But how did you know? You must have been watching me—"

"I was. I have been for some time. Like most Liejt, you were raised never to be aware of a slave; thus an adroit slave, such as Leo, can tail you with no fear of detection. I should not have been able to do that with Ms. Horejsi, because despite generations of genetic research, your strange little rump of a culture has not managed to produce a class-conscious dog."

I felt as if he'd pried up a carefully nailed down part of my soul and shone a light in, revealing little white things that smelled bad and squirmed."

"And if we do nothing?" I asked.

"Indexical derivability will probably remain undiscovered by any civilization—until I give it to the world after the changes have settled down. Another bit of freedom I believe in, you see. Humans should have the power to use it; all I ask is that they should first become wise enough not to rashly erase the meaning from the world."

"Is meaning such a good thing?" Horejsi asked.

He shrugged. "Is being?"

"You are asking me to give up mine."


Horejsi rose. "Rastigevat, I think we've heard enough. Let's find out if he means what he says."

Tyrwhitt didn't stop us from leaving, so I guess he meant what he said. I wondered how long before our choice would be meaningless. I wondered why she hadn't called the FBI on her cell phone from Tyrwhitt's office, and then found myself thinking, I remember when there were cell phones.

"Keep looking for a phone booth," she said. "God alone knows whether we have any time left at all." Her arm wrapped tightly around mine—it had recently been a strange and marvelous sensation, something which I had just begun to enjoy, but in a day, a week, or a month her hand on my arm would always have been merely a matter of her being blind.

"I remember saying that I remembered what you looked like," she said, "but now I don't remember how I knew, and I'm—"

Her arm jerked on mine, painfully hard, and she fell beside me. I bent to see what was wrong.

Riemann shrieked and tried to drag his harness out from under Horejsi; there was a gory hole the size of my fist in his fur, and then I saw the bullet hole below Horejsi's ear, an instant before I felt the sting in my calf.

I rolled forward, keeping low, part of my brain figuring that the shots had to be coming from the row of parked cars across the street, and most of the rest of it shutting down because the thought Horejsi is dead would have been unbearable. Another shot whistled somewhere above me as I tumbled to a position crouched low where a fire hydrant was close to a phone pole, and the slight rise in the grass strip between them created a little pocket of cover. My pistol, the one that Leo had missed in his frisk (it had not been a pistol when he frisked me, had it?), found its way out of my best concealment spot; I saw motion between two cars and fired. I was rewarded with a groan.

The top of a head went bobbing along, just above the line of cars, as the second one went to his partner's aid. I timed it as best I could, led him what I thought would do it, and squeezed off a second round.

It was better than I could have anticipated; for some reason I will never know, he bounced high on his next hop, and the round went right into his throat. I crouched, waited, thinking, Cars. Those little people-hauling trucks are called cars. I have seen them all my life, and the one with two corpses (I hope) slumped behind it is a Packard Thunderbird.

Riemann was still struggling, whimpering now as he grew weaker, alternately trying to drag himself free from where Horejsi's body pinned his harness, and licking and nuzzling her. Other than that, it was silent except for the distant hum of engines.

People would think this was a gang war. In a sense, it was. I had a memory of being lovers with Horejsi, I thought suddenly. In a short time that that memory would be what was real, and I would miss her even more than I missed her already.

It was a race between my leg and my psyche as to which would give out on me first.

There would be much too much authority around here much too soon. There had been no shots in a few seconds, and past all question the other side knew where I was. I leaped up sideways from my safe position, and nobody shot. My calf blazed up, and blood filled my shoe, but I hopped and hobbled across the street; I almost fell over when an ice cream truck swung wide behind me (ice cream truck? I suddenly remembered one from my childhood, driven by—a black woman? She had called me "sweetheart!").

Memories battered at my mind like furious crows but I pushed them away. The man I'd nailed in the neck was dead, and the one I'd hit before had taken the shot in his floating ribs, and was gasping out pink foam; he didn't seem to be aware of me when I flipped his coat open. He had a badge like mine, only now FBI stood for—what had it stood for?

Never mind. Sirens were wailing. I took a few big lurch steps back out into the street, held my badge up to a cop car, and barked a set of incoherent orders, to get him to drive me back to Tyrwhitt.

He popped his door and I got in. I told him that the Federal officers who were down had been shot by Crips in a drug sting gone bad, and urged him to hurry. He relayed that story to his dispatcher as we zoomed up Downing Street.

I remembered Brock's as being some kind of a bank but that didn't make any sense. It seemed strange to know that this was my first ride in an atuiosmobile, and yet I already had the memories to say, "this is vital, officer, keep that throttle floored and don't spare the steam." I can't remember what reasons I gave the cop not to follow me in or call for backup.

As I lurched past the counter and down the corridor into Tyrwhitt's office, Leo and Brighd trailing after me and telling me frantically that I couldn't, my foot caught on the carpet, the pain in my calf stabbed straight up through my brain, and I finally fell forward. You wouldn't think the floor could hit so hard; it only had a short distance to wind up. It got dark and stayed that way.


"Simon Rastigevat, can you hear me?" I knew that voice—Tyrwhitt.

Tyrwhitt definitely. That was the voice. I opened my eyes. He was leaning forward, his face inches from mine, in a chair by the cot I lay on.

I looked down to see the needle he'd slipped into my arm; his gaze followed mine.

"Sorry," he said. "A necessity if you are going to choose. Do you remember the choice I asked you to make?"

"I do," I said. A great deal came back to me—not as much as I could have wished.

"That choice, I'm afraid, was made by the idiots who must have decided that you had been turned, or were breaching security, or whatever they believed in that brief interval as meaning scrambled everywhere. So rather than talk to you or ask what was going on, they sent out a team to eliminate you. I'm glad the human race didn't land permanently in that history; it must have been very unpleasant. But we're crossing over now, all of us, and the whole universe; every hour the internet—that's the tweenweb to you, but you'll realize in a moment—is full of new complicated history, and there are billions more people in the world, and—"

He started to turn gray and blurry, and then I realized the world around him was blurring out too. He yanked at the needle in my arm and I yelped in pain.

"Sorry, had to do that to keep you here. That's why I had to wake you up, you see." He looked slightly sick, and I realized that the needle hadn't hurt nearly as much as he must have thought it did; I wanted to reassure him but it seemed like too much bother to talk.

Tyrwhitt seemed to assume I forgave him anyway, after a moment, and said, "How much do you remember? You went into shock. It's been three days since you lurched into Brock's. Thanks for doing that, by the way; the cops were only twenty minutes behind you and they were not after you. As I said, I think we jumped through a lot of nasty pasts during that time."

"Horejsi died," I said. "She was gone before I could bend over to see she'd been shot. Poor Riemann; he was hit too, dying I think, and he must have been so upset." I knew how weird and stupid it was but I couldn't get past the way the dog felt. Somehow it was more real to me than Horejsi's death. . . no, it was what was real about Horejsi's death. "I'm going to miss her pretty bad myself." I looked at him and said, "This is strange, though. I remember the old world. I remember what we used to do. But I can feel the new world ghosting in on me, around the edges, as if I'm starting to remember a different world where I've always been."

"You were unconnected to the rest of the world for a long time," Tyrwhitt said, "at least a long time as measured in temporal change."

"Temporal change?"

"Event count. Do you remember who I am?"

"Yes. You are. . . Francis Tyrwhitt. Frank. Dutch Lop. In the history where, uh, when, I came from, you were. . . like Newton or Einstein?"

"Better," he said, grinning. "And who am I here?"

"My star grad student. Jesus, I'm a math professor. Talk about a great deal; I remember thirty years of math without actually having had to do the homework."

We both laughed, slightly sadly. I remembered that too, Frank Tyrwhitt was just about the only person except me who thought the jokes I liked were funny. Like Horejsi.

Who was really dead, and Tyrwhitt and I were really alive, and we were. . . not here. We were now.

It felt painfully strange, as if one memory were a delusion, and another one were real, and I just had no ability at all to work out which was which. "And now you are. . . a mathematical psychologist? Is there even such a thing?"

"There is now. And there always has been, for at least 120 years. Or for about thirty-one hours, depending on exactly what you count." He shrugged. "And I remember indexical derivability, but I am not sure now what to do about it. Do you remember it?"

"You have written dozens of long detailed e-mails to explain it to me, or try to," I said. "It's hard. I can get there through the deep structure of numbers, and just trying to get there. . . haw. I'm a math prof myself, these days. Oh, I remember, I just said that."

"One of the network of eleven," he said. "Eleven math professors I've found who are willing to work on indexical derivability with me. Or rather you are going to be the eleventh, if you want to be, because I need a real number theory person, and you're the one. But you need to get in touch with the other ten, soon, and with many others. You've always been reclusive."

"I certainly remember that. I guess if I want to work on it I will have to see more people—well, more people live. I have so many friends online."

"You do, and you could possibly do all your work with the group online. That is not what I mean. I mean you have to get into this here—this now, I mean, this now—and connect and relate, because if you don't, you'll fade just like you almost did when I twisted the needle in your arm to bring you back. The Inconsistency Principle is still trying to resolve things. With a very few people, apparently the easiest resolution is to let us keep all our memories, as long as we only discuss them among ourselves."

Stupidly, and out of nowhere, I said, "I'm going to miss being in the FBI. And I really, really miss Horejsi now."

I could feel myself start to cry, and he reached out and rubbed my face, gently, with a handkerchief. "How long has it been since anyone touched you?"

"Before you? Horejsi did now and then. I had to wait for her to do it, I couldn't touch her or ask her to touch me. I liked it so much when she did, and I couldn't say that either."

"I remember how things were in the other now," he said, nodding, as if it mattered a lot that he remembered. "You see, like me, you'll keep those memories, many of them, like a vivid dream or a favorite childhood story. That's the lowest-energy, most stable way to be. And you'll be able to write them down before they fade, or talk about them with those of us who remember."

I rubbed my face. "I don't know if. . . do you know how stupid it was that I could never say. . . there was something I wanted to say to Horejsi, and now I won't even be able to speak her name, except to you and a few others."

"Do you remember why you couldn't say it?"

"Damage, there's something wrong with me, I don't get what's going on in other people, I don't see them right. . ."

"Oh, yes, all that. In this now, we're just beginning to see a way to help people fix the problem that you have, and work around it. Over there no one was trying because it was one of the marks of being Liejt, like the thinness, the long thin fingers, the perfect pitch, or the blond hair. But there was a really simple reason why you couldn't reach out to her, but it was okay for her to signal that she wanted to please you, and that was—"

I felt the thought dawn. "Liejt," I said. "I was Liejt, and she was Com'n. If I'd spoken my feelings and anyone had overheard, they'd have killed her. There's no Liejt now, there never has been, no Com'n, everyone is pretty much. . ."

"Free," he said. "No capitals. All the other categories—Noble, Liejt, Com'n, and even slave—are all gone; now everyone's just free. Please stay. I need people who can help me remember—we need, all those of us who do remember, we need someone to help us remember."

"Stay?" I asked.

"Make the effort. Be in touch with people. Meet the people you have only talked to on the internet, speak to strangers, go out in public where you will meet people."

"I liked doing that when I was in the FBI."

"Keep liking it. And act on that liking. In the last few hours while you have been unconscious, you've started to fade, just the way you did just before I hurt you with the needle—and then come back, and then faded again, but the fading is getting more frequent and more severe.

"From what I could doodle out really fast, from what I remembered that one of the versions of Einstein had solved, there's sort of a cusp that you must be balancing on; if you're connected enough, the easiest way for the inconsistency principle to resolve the situation, in the path of least energy in all its dimensions, is probably to let you exist as what I'm calling a polymnemonic, a person with more than one mutually contradictory set of memories. But if you aren't connected, if you don't talk and communicate and get yourself involved with everyone else, then the lowest-energy way for the universe to resolve you is for you never to have existed."

"Why do you care?" I asked.

"Well," Tyrwhitt said, "There's the use I have for your gifts—here, where there was no indexical derivability, you weren't stunted in your training, and there was more to learn and practice. So we can use you within the group, if you want to talk pure obvious practicality.

"Then there's the matter of having some company and someone to talk to. I would like to talk with someone who knows what is real. Purely selfishly, I'll be lonely as well."

"And finally, now that you're awake and emotionally perhaps more ready for it, there is something I'd like to see, as well." He turned toward the doorway and called, "Ms. Horejsi, I think he's ready to join us now."

There was a painfully slow scrape and thud; in a moment I would know, I realized, the thing that had always been wrong; the thing that was on the tip of my mind. The reason why I had only contacted Horejsi via. . . the internet, not the tweenweb.

For a moment I hung suspended.

The scraping sound sped up, and my heart sped up with it. I was already grinning, remembering what I had always known, and sat up in the bed. I felt so well. "Come on," I said, "it's finally time, Ruth."

"What else could it be, Simon?"

And, laughing, I got up to walk to her. Tyrwhitt steadied me—I was still tottering from the wound in my calf—and helped me walk forward, and I forgave him his smug little smirk, just as I always had, so many times before.

* * *


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