November 6, 2000

I woke in the dark to banging on my door.  I rolled over to look at the clock:  4:30 AM.  Must be Ralph, then. All the sane people are still in bed. I got up to open the door, still mostly asleep—fur ruffed, eyes half shut, wearing nothing but an old pair of blue-and-white-striped boxers.

“Beautiful tiger,” Ralph said, “Time to face destiny.”

“Ralph, I’m sleeping,” I said.

“Yeah, yeah, you can keep sleeping, sweetheart.  Don’t worry about it.  Just sleep.  Would you like to go for a piggyback ride?”

I’m half sure I had fallen asleep on my feet and was dreaming at that point, because there’s no way that should have worked, but I found myself climbing on Ralph’s back and being carried through the dorm out to Ralph’s truck, still in just my boxers and sporting a serious case of bed fur.

He heaved me into the bed of the truck and I fell asleep immediately, into a dream replaying the events of Saturday evening.

“That’s actually a pretty dangerous one,” Steve said.  “I’d wait till we figure out what specifically it is you can do before you try anything.  I can run a few more tests, but it’ll take a couple of days.”

He took a couple more measurements­­—photos of my face and feet—and all the while Ralph was unable to sit still, talking excitedly about time travel, freezing time, and all the other possibilities Steve said might fall under the heading of ‘temporal manipulation’.

“There’s no use in speculating, buddy,” I said.  “We’ll know by—”

“By Monday,” Steve said.

“That’s the best part, though,” Ralph said.  “We might not even have to wait till then.  You could come back from the future and tell us!”

While I was trying to come up with a reason why that would be a bad idea, he went on: “Of course, Steve, you’ll still have to do the tests—the information will have to come from somewhere…”

“Just—hold on, hold on…” I said.  “Can I just say, I’m totally not comfortable with this?  I don’t want… doppelgängers popping in with oracular proclamations from the future!”

“Then let me do it,” Ralph said.  “I can switch places with you and—ho, crap, I can do what you can do!”  He hugged me so tight I was sure I heard bones crack.  “My chrono tigger!”

I tried to peel my crazed boar off me.  “We’ll wait for the tests,” I said, dragging him away.

I was just about to relive the more intimate portion of that night when Ralph shook me awake.  “We’re here.”

I recognized the place, or at least the area—a couple miles down Apison Pike.  Steve’s house was small and run-down, dingy white paint cracked and peeling, and no lights on.

“Are you sure he’s up already?” I said.  The sky was still dark; it was still a couple hours before sunrise.

“Yeah—yeah, I got his email.”

“Email?  Ralph, you don’t have a computer.”

“Dorm does.  Couldn’t sleep, so I’ve been checking the lobby computers every fifteen minutes or so.  I don’t know how he thinks he can live without a phone, but he does.”

Ralph didn’t knock; he just opened the door and went in.  He led me down to the basement, a windowless room whose entry was dimly lit by a small lamp covered in seashells. The walls were plywood and the carpet was a garish orange-brown.  The most distinctive feature of the room, though, was the one blacklighted wall entirely covered in electronics.

About half a dozen monitors of various sizes were laid out on a workbench; a couple were partially dismantled, three were running Matrix screensavers, and Steve was sitting at the last.

“Hey guys—you’re gonna love this.  Sit down.”

There were no other chairs in the place, so we sat on the floor.

“There’s good news, there’s bad news, and there’s good news.  The good news is, your skill is pretty much undifferentiated over the potential spectrum.  You have the capacity to do pretty much everything, temporally, that you can imagine.”  Beside me, Ralph was squealing with anticipation.  “The bad news is, to balance that, the strength of the effect is very weak—your natural range could be measured in picoseconds.  The other good news, though, is that I’ve been working on augmenting abilities with computers.”

“Isn’t that impossible?  I mean, you can’t just feed the energy into the machine…” I said.

“Lots of things are impossible… but heck, you saw me do it the other day—with the scanner?”


“Charging a computer that way is—was—my brother’s knack.”  He pointed to a battered-looking Commodore 64 sitting on the counter.  “That’s the one he set up for me back then—it’s kind of old-school, but it still works just fine, and I can connect it to one of these babies if I really need heavy calculating.”

Ralph started snoring beside me.

“Wow,” Steve said. “60 to 0 in…”

I shushed him.  “He was up all night,” I whispered.  “Mind if I sleep too?  I’m not supposed to be up this early, and… who knows when I’ll get another chance, eh?”

“Go ahead,” he said.

I held Ralph and dozed off, wondering why being up all night never stopped him before.  I looked through my memory of Ralph’s mind, and realized he probably hadn’t slept since Saturday.

When I woke up, Steve was hooking a laptop up to the C64.  “I want to try and set this up so you can take it with you.  It’s no good if you can only work from this basement, or someplace with Internet access…”

“Instead, I’ll be working on about 45 minutes of battery power?”  I said.  “Wait—‘work’?”

“Well, even if you don’t go into the heroics business, you’ll still want to practice.”

“I’m not going into the heroics business.”

“Suit yourself.”  He fiddled with one of the wires between the computers.  “Damn… the connection’s not going to take.  I unplug this, and the power that works with it now—stops working.”

Ralph came up behind me, resting his chin on my shoulder.  “What’s going on?” he said.

“He’s trying to give me a computer with the same power as his,” I said.  “Isn’t working.”

He stepped around me and looked the setup over.  “You can get them working together, though?”

Steve nodded and hooked the cable back up.  Ralph stared at the command prompt that appeared, its cursor blinking slowly.

“How’s it work?”

“Just type in what you want to do.  It’s basically just extending your mind, so it can understand natural language—and it’ll let you know if you ask it to do anything it can’t.”

I’d never actually seen Ralph at a computer before.  He typed with one finger, hunting out each key, till at last he managed to produce: “BOOST MY POWER.”

The computer responded: “OK.”

Ralph stood up and laid a hand on each computer.

“They’re not minds, exactly…” he said, “But they’ve got magic, which makes them more than just things.  With this boost I should be able to pull this off.”

“What’s he doing?” Steve asked me.

“Well it’s his knack to switch minds.  That’s actually how we sort of ended up as…such…close friends.”

A progress bar appeared on the new computer:  “Transferring…”  After about a minute, whatever was being copied was done, and Ralph sat down hard in Steve’s chair.  “All right, unplug it, see if it works.”

Steve separated the computers and asked the new one:  “All ok?”

“Functional,” it answered.

“All right, tiger,” Ralph said, “Let’s get out and have us some fun!”

We’d slept enough that by now it was already after noon, so we stopped at Taco Bell for lunch.  We sat down with a couple of trays piled high with burritos at a booth in the back.  Ralph pulled out the laptop with one hand while the other started stuffing his face.

“So excited,” he said, mouth full.  “What do you want to try first?”

“Ralph,” I said, “You’re pushing me.”


“I’m not ready for this.  I know it’s something you’ve been looking forward to your whole life, but… I haven’t—I haven’t been dreaming about this like you have… I was used to being mundane.”

“But you’re not mundane, tiger,” he said.  “You have this totally amazing ability!”

“No,” I said.  “You heard what he said.  I can move picoseconds.  That’s, like, infinitesimal.  I mean, I don’t even know how small it is.  I don’t have an ability. What I have is a machine.  Let me get used to the idea?”

Ralph looked disappointed.  “Tiger…. Where’s your imagination?  Why don’t you have any dreams?”

I didn’t have an answer, and I didn’t want to keep fighting.  Neither of us said anything for the remainder of the meal.

After lunch, Ralph took me back to his place.

We sat on the couch.

I wanted him to say something.

“I love you,” he said.  “I’m sorry.”

I leaned against him, and he put an arm around me.  I felt tears at my eyes, but I didn’t want to let myself cry over this…

“I don’t understand you, though,” he said. “I wish I did.”

And that just confused me.  “You don’t remember anything about me from the day you were me?”