196. Timelines

Here are a couple of pages out of a novel that never could make up its mind where it was going. There is another opening as well, which actually may become the story. At present I have two main characters vying for lead. This fellow Davos is probably not going to get the part. I’ll show you the other version on Wednesday and Thursday.

But first . . .   As I write this, it is July 26, one day into the Democratic convention. Many things are happening, primarily email leaks, which came out of left field and may or may not cause major changes in the outcome of the election. Everything is in flux, but one storyline will emerge. You know much more about it there-then as you read this than I know here-now as I am writing it. Reality isn’t science fiction – quite.

But what if . . ..

There are a thousand events this week whose occurrence, or non-occurrence, or even timing would allow a science fiction writer to generate a thousand different timelines, from utopian to dystopian and every shade between. This is true every day of every year, (see 173. BREXIT is Science Fiction) but at times like this, when the future seems poised on a knife’s edge, we realize how many ways our lives could come out. It goes a long way toward explaining the popularity of alternative history novels, something we will talk about tomorrow.

For now let’s look at the opening chapter of a novel-that-never-was about a timeline-that-never-was, and see what trouble Davos has gotten himself into.

Chapter 1

The headlines were about the Soviet victory at Königsberg, three days earlier.

Jim Fletcher, who now went by the name Davos, felt a chill. Not panic, not yet, but definitely the beginning of fear. He checked the date on the newspaper, April 12, 1945. That was right, but the headline was wrong. He checked his wristwatch – an intricate mechanism of cams and gears and springs that would have been welcomed in any historical museum in his home time. April 12th was the first of three ticks that would verify his target timeline. It was no small item; not something any newspaper would have missed.

Davos folded the newspaper and sipped coffee, staring out the window of the diner and waiting for his breakfast. No need to panic. No need to hurry. Time was something he had an unlimited supply of. Cultivate patience. 

Sure.

He ate, paid, and left. Two blocks toward downtown, there was a news stand that would have the New York Times.

These headlines revealed sketchy news about the battle near Okinawa. It should have read, “President Roosevelt dies in Warm Springs.”

Davos expressed an obscene opinion and headed back to the hotel. Tim Murray was behind the desk reading Life magazine. He was a friendly guy. Davos had only known him since he first checked in four days ago, but Murray looked up and asked, “Did you forget something?” Davos just waved.

Inside, with locked door, security chain, and a few considerably more potent devices out of place in this time to back them up, he said, “Kerbach,” and his mechanical companion woke up. Davos said, “Translate!”

It did and they faded. “THQ. Take us back, Kerbach, we’re in the wrong timeline.”

“No, shit. You sure?”

“Got to be the wrong line. This is the day Roosevelt died, and two newspapers did not report it. What are you waiting for?”

Kerbach did not reply and the knot in Davos’s stomach tightened.

“Kerbach!”

“Trying.”

They waited in a sphere of luminescent fog. As they were between timelines, only his own impatience gave the duration color and meaning. It smelled of sweat and was beginning to taste like panic.

“What’s happening?”

“I can’t make contact. I’ve run my diagnostics eight times. Nothing. Whatever is wrong, isn’t in me. Maybe at THQ?”

“Maybe. We’ll try again later. Right now, I want you to review what you did when you translated us to Armageddon Four. How did we end up in the wrong timeline?”

There was a long pause, then Kerbach said, “I find no errors.”

“Take us back.”

“Are you sure?”

“We can’t just stay here in this fog for the rest of eternity.”

The fog receded and Davos was standing at the foot of an unmade bed, in a cheap hotel, talking to a battered leather suitcase that was much more than it seemed to be. The wristwatch said eight minutes after ten and the clock on the dresser said the same. He had neither gained nor lost time in the translation. In other words, he had never left. For good or ill, he was tied to this place and time.

         *          *          *

Two days later, FDR was in the news again. He would not confirm or deny rumors of large scale fire-bombing of Tokyo. He should have been two days dead and lying in state. Vice-president Harry Truman was still an unknown. Presumably he still didn’t know that America had atomic bombs – bombs he would order dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in forty-one of the sixty-seven timelines in sheaf alpha.

There was no known timeline in which FDR did not die on April 12, 1945.

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