The day I first travelled in time

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 always could be persuasive.

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 knack,” 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… doppelg√ɬ§ngers 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 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.” I’d hesitated, but then realized after saying it that he probably already knew.

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 ran by the dorm so I could get dressed and then 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?”


“Ever since that day,” I said, “I remember everything–everything about you, about what it’s like to be you. I know why you think everything and do everything you do. I thought it was the same with you.”

“I… I had no idea,” he said. “I guess my brain wasn’t big enough to take all that on about you… you know… like how I hadn’t even realized it had worked…”

“I’m sure that’s not it,” I said. I pulled out the laptop and opened it up on the coffee table. “Here–let’s do it again.”


“Hold on, now. We’re not going to do the all-day thing. Use the computer–make it just a minute or two. And no stealing my body and running off on time trips! Just… take a minute to understand me.”

“No tigerjacking? Awh,” he said, laughing, “All right, you drive a hard bargain.”

He pulled up the keyboard and painstakingly tapped out: “Can I learn his mind the way he learned mine?

With my help, yes.

“It talks about itself?” I said.

“It would have to, wouldn’t it? What would you want it to say instead?”

“I don’t know, ‘This unit will comply’?”

“No, I’d rather it spoke English,” he said. “Now… you’re not worried, though? I’m actually kind of terrified you know so much about me… You haven’t run away screaming, though, which I suppose is a good sign.”

I leaned in and kissed him. “Don’t worry about it, sweetheart. I know it all–but I understand it all, too. I love you, all right?”

“All right,” he said. “I am still worried, though.” He jabbed the keys with a finger: “Let’s do it.


I put my arms around him, and he put a hand on mine.

Next thing I knew, I was waking up on the floor, with Ralph standing over me.

“You all right?” he said.

I tried to clear my head.

“I saw it all,” he said, “Just for a bit. But you passed out. Are you all right?”

“I’m fine.”

He sat next to me on the floor and pulled down the laptop. “What happened?” he asked it.

Unable to complete transfer. Source already present in target.

“See what you did? Now it’s talking like you wanted it to. What does that mean? It thinks I’m already in your head?”

“Well, you kind of are, aren’t you?”

“I shouldn’t be!” He started typing again. “Can you cancel the existing transfer?

No existing transfer found. Prior transfer expired normally on June 9, 2000.

“That’s not encouraging,” I said.

“See, see this is why I don’t like computers,” he said. “Enough of that,” he said, and shut it off. “Steve can figure it out later.”

“Anyway,” he said, “I understood it all for a second, but it’s gone now. It felt like you were afraid, though.”

“Of course I’m afraid. I’ve just been given a world a million million times bigger than my own, and you’re trying to push me into it! It doesn’t excite me like it excites you.”

“All right, then,” he said. “Let’s get you excited. C’mon, we’re going to the video store.”

The plan, I suppose, was to check out every time travel movie ever made–at least, out of those carried by the local movie joint.

I don’t know if I was excited yet, but Ralph certainly was–bounding among the shelves, piling up stacks of movies–Back to the Future, Bill and Ted, several episodes of Star Trek–till he seemed to have enough, and marched up to the front and dumped the whole pile of tapes on the counter.

“I still can’t get over how you don’t own any of these,” I said.

“I can’t let you check out this many, man,” the clerk said.

“I can get them anytime I want,” he said, to both of us.

“What?” the clerk said.

“You’re new, right? Call up your manager and tell him it’s for Ralph.”


“Never mind, there he is.” ‘He’ was a rather large rhinoceros in an ill-fitting uniform shirt. “Hey Todd–break in this new guy?”

Todd pointed at the pile of tapes. “Get him checked out–Ralph is always on the house.” He turned back to Ralph. “But bring ’em back tomorrow, aight? It’s Monday, so I don’t mind so much, but you can’t keep me cleaned out like this for long.”

“Don’t worry,” Ralph said, giving me a wink. “I’ve got plans to never be late for anything again.”

November 7, 2000

Ralph’s movie marathon lasted till well into the morning. He’s beautiful when he’s fixated on something. But I still wasn’t all that keen on the idea of time travel–actually, I might have been worse off now, given how so many of the plots focused on how badly time travel can mess things up.

“I’m less than encouraged,” I said.

“Forewarned is forearmed,” Ralph said. “We know to be careful.”


“What, what, you think you’re going out there without me? No wonder you’re scared… You and me are traveling together, of course. Wild dogs couldn’t keep me away.”

“But bringing you with me… I don’t even know how I can make that work,” I said. “Actually, I haven’t learned to do anything yet.”

“We could try setting up a time machine,” Ralph said, totally ignoring my concern. “Dude! We totally have to use the DeLorean!”

So of course me and Ralph ended up at his parents’, where their old DeLorean sat on blocks between a rusty pickup truck and the barbed-wire fence surrounding the property.

“This is gonna rock so hard,” he said.

“Aren’t we gonna want tires?”

“Well, eventually,” he said. “But we’re not going to do much travelling till you get practice and we know what we’re doing.”

“Restraint! I like that.”

“Besides,” he said, hefting the laptop, “the battery in this thing wouldn’t let us get far, anyway.”

“Bah, now you’ve got me worried. What if we get stuck?”

“We’ll play it safe… first trip will be to fetch a better computer.”

“I can get behind that,” I said. “So, five years?”



“Okay, okay, deal.”

We got in the car, me at the wheel. “Now, to get this straight, I’m not actually driving anywhere, no eighty-eight miles per hour, nothing–this is just a container?”

The most appropriate container available,” he said. “Come on, let’s do this.”

I slapped his gut teasingly. “You’re still ten years old inside that pork barrel, ain’tcha?”

“Oh, shut up,” he said, handing me the computer.

I opened it up. “How do I start?” I typed.

I don’t have a way to interface with the car; you’ll have to charge it yourself. But just give me a date or time and I’ll modulate the energy accordingly.”

“It’s talking like a person again,” I said. “Sort of.”

Ralph looked over my shoulder. “I hate you.”

“Sure you do,” I said, and typed in “Nov 7, 2010.


And I felt the charge. I won’t say it was electric, though there was some of that–a feeling in the fur like it was full of static–but mostly it was a kind of intensity. I was eager to move, and felt like I could run and just keep running, or jump over a house, or punch through a wall.

But I didn’t know how to let it out.

“Your fur’s turning purple, tiger,” Ralph said. I looked down and saw the charge crawling up my arms.

“I don’t know what to– how to–”

Ralph grabbed my hand and slammed it down on the dash. There was a bright flash. “Push hard,” he said.

“Push how?”

“Your hand,” he said. “Press down hard. That’s all. Just push against it.”

I pushed hard on the dash, feeling that intensity focus itself and leave me. I watched my fur go back to its original colors, the white light pulling at intervals around my hand.

Then it was all gone, the whole car flashed white for a moment, and then–I felt a different kind of surge, as though I’d been plunged into warm water. My eyes shut reflexively. When I opened them again, I saw it did indeed look kind of like water–full of blue and purple light refracted in the fluctuations of what I could only call the timestream.

I heard Ralph’s voice, almost unreal sounding: Beautiful.

I felt a pleasurable sort of sensation wash over me and for a second felt as though my whole body were about to dissolve into Time–and then all my senses blanked out.

November 7, 2010

The next thing I knew, we were back in normal time and Ralph was already talking. “I know, right?”

“What?” I said.

“You were shouting ‘Fuck, fuck yeah!'”

“I was? Reflex, I guess,” I said, checking myself over. “It did feel pretty good.” In fact there was a damp spot in my shorts. It hadn’t felt that good had it?

A bearded man knocked on Ralph’s window. Ralph rolled it down.

Welcome–to the world of tomorrow!” he said, in full drama.

“What,” Ralph said. “Steve, is that you?”

“Yeah,” he said. “Your future selves figured it’d be best for me to meet you here. This is the first time, right?”

Ralph nodded.

“C’mon, get out of the car–I have a lot to tell you, now that you’re officially time travellers.”

Ralph’s old room in his parents’ house was barren now, save for the bed and a couple of chairs. This time of day, Ralph’s ma and the Chief would probably still be out on the town.

“Now, why aren’t we meeting ourselves?” I said.

“Information management. You wanted to give yourself a huge infodump, but you couldn’t figure out how much to tell. You kept putting it off because you always had more to tell, till a certain point you started thinking it might be too much to tell. So you asked me to do it; I don’t know enough to spoil you guys.”

“So what are you going to tell us?”

“Just a few things about the nature of time, where it differs from the movies. Also to give you some new movies, and some other things.”

“A better computer?”

“A couple, actually–one for each of you.” He reached into the satchel he had with him and pulled out a pair of small palm-sized tablets.

“What’s this?” I said, noticing the Apple logo on the back. “Did they start making Newtons again?”

“It’s a cell phone. We worked out that with a microphone the enhancer can handle speech as well. So you won’t have to mess with typing.”

“That’s a relief,” Ralph said.

“You can get Internet on them, too,” Steve said. “There’s all sorts of things; I’ll show you later.”

“Expensive?” I said.

“Nah, on me. I sell these things now. Some abilities, the enhancer can send them over the phone network. Magic on demand–there’s a huge market for it.”

“Anybody can buy one of these things?” Ralph said.

“Today they can. In the past it’ll be less functional. In the future it’ll be obsolete, like this old monster.” He picked up the laptop we’d brought with us and set it in his satchel.

“You’ve been to the future?” I said.

“No,” he said, “But I know the singularity is coming, and that makes everything obsolete.”

“The singularity?”

“The point beyond which our exponential progress makes it impossible to imagine what civilization will be like. More or less. You can read up on it, if you like,” he said, pointing to the phones. “About just about everything, really. Did they have Wikipedia in 2000?”


“Massive encyclopedia, constantly updated by anyone who feels like it. Like the Hitch-Hiker’s Guide, but more volatile.”

“What, really?” I said. “And flying cars, too?”

“No… those became much more unlikely after 9/11.”


He shook his head. “Look it up.”

Later that night, well after Steve had left, Ralph rolled over in bed, landing half on top of me.

“My tiger,” he said. “Time for timesex.”


“I’m talking you into it. It’s… 11:29,” he said. “In half an hour, you and me are coming back to now, and taking full advantage of you.”

“Ralph…” I said.

The bed creaked and one black arm and one white arm worked their way around me from behind. “Yeah, babe?”

The Ralph in front of me leaned in and kissed me. “I love you,” he said. It came in stereo.

I was rolled over on my back and saw my own double climbing up and straddling my legs.

I shut my eyes, totally unready for this. But six hands were soon on me, stroking my body to a full relaxation. He always could be persuasive.

“I love you too, Ralph.”

Return to library?

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