Revisions

The fact that you're reading this means that you're a) literate,

... What...

and b) dead.  Congratulations, you've met both preconditions.  Much is still to be determined, however.

... is going on?...

The pain from your final injury will subside shortly, and you'll notice whatever incidental wounds you
may have incurred are already beginning to close over.

... That car... came so fast...

Most importantly, if you're starting to panic, wondering where, what, and who you are, don't: your
mentor is on the way, answers in hand.

... These words... and nothing beyond them...

But first things first, jump number one.  Don't worry, it'll be quick, and more or less painless.

... Why can't I see anything else... ripping... I'm ripping... twisting... fading...

Enjoy.

                                                                                  ***

Hundreds of people danced and cheered atop a massive staircase stretching at least a football field in length.
Swarms of laughing, yelling, rejoicing, strangers... He squeezed his eyes shut against the visual overload, clapped
his hands to his ears to muffle the deluge of sound.

Gradually, he reopened his senses, this time registering the fact that his clothes were the same as the hordes
around him.  Words became distinguishable, yet were still incomprehensible; Eastern European was as close as
he could come. Russian, maybe, but--

A slap on his back preceded the appearance of a mustached, middle-aged man's face in front of his own.  Furry
lips emitted something rapid and enthusiastic.  He nodded numbly and looked away, down at his feet, and noticed
with a start that they seemed larger than before. The boots were clumsy, oversized.  And yet... they felt bigger.  
He felt bigger.  Kneeling suddenly, he began to free his right foot to disprove this madness.  He was a size ten,
should still be a--

Shouts of a different tone cleaved the air.  Authoritative.  Commanding.  The masses turned as one, and a loud
cracking noise rang out, ricocheting off the stepped acoustics until the whole air was riddled with it.  Smoke
followed, brought with it more thunder, and the masses turned back and ran.

1905 A.D.: Odessa, Ukraine.  

Pushing, stumbling, scrambling men and women of all shapes and sizes streamed down around him.  He left his
laces untied and stood, the date and place that had just scrolled through his head bewildering him long enough
to be knocked hard to the next level, his scalp splitting on impact. Rough hands yanked him to his feet, and the
mustached man bellowed something harsh into his ear.

"...What..."

"...fool!  Potempkin... Czar... attacking Odessa!  Run!"

"...the Hell is happening?"

"Are you deaf, Comrade?  Run, dammit!  Run!"

The mustache swung away and took three steps in a stride, then four.  Then collapsed head first in an explosion
of red mist.

Czarist forces react to a series of strikes and demonstrations across Russia.

Ignoring the words hanging in front of his eyes, he swiveled towards the now rolling gunfire as the mustached
man's feet slid from view, parting his lips to yell.  To scream his confusion at the callous soldiers above, voice his--

Hot, searing pain preempted him. He fell, his head landing only a pace from where it had smashed seconds earlier.

The massacre on the Odessa steps and the subsequent looting in the city's streets cost the lives of over
6,000.

Darkness returned.

                                                                    ***

Log (of what you've done and why), first entry:

I'm... alive?  Dead?... What you've done and why?... These clothes... The same as on the steps... And this
stain... It's so red... Still hurts... Those words... Did I just dream that, or was that meant to be the Odessa
Steps?  But the massacre took place at night... Is this a dream?  Why can't I see anything... except myself?  My
hand before my eyes…and nothing beyond it—

The stain is gone. So is the pain. A light. A figure...

                                                                ***

A thin, decaying voice trills something unintelligible.

"What?" He squints at the coalescing form, one hand still gripping his chest.

"...name, Sonny... Concentrate... any language..."

The figure flashes into focus, becoming an old man who returns the incredulous appraisal with a faint smile and a
knowing twinkle.  A billowing, snowy beard strikes a sharp contrast with the void all around him, an incongruity
outdone only by the accompanying neon-blue tuxedo.

"...Blake."

"And I'm Galen.  Well done, and have a seat.  You'll need it."

Blake whirls wildly as he feels a rounded edge pressing against the back of his thigh.  He nearly trips over the
wooden stool waiting amidst the nothing, recovers his balance, and regards the seat for several moments before
sitting cautiously. Twisting back, he finds the old man stretched out full length in a reclining, deep leather easy-
chair, lifting a glass from a nearby end-table.

"Bourbon? I find something stiff helps one sort out a bit of order from the chaos."

Blake stares, and eventually shakes his head, dropping his hand from his chest as he does so.

Shrugging, Galen downs the cup himself with a grimace. "Hmmm, but memory's never quite as good as the real
thing, now is it?  But humor me by answering a question, Sonny, and then I'll start dealing with yours. I know it's
not particularly fair, but I'm quite literally dying of curiosity."

His brow wrinkling, Blake looks back mutely as his hands start to return to his head and chest to reaffirm their
wholeness.

"Mmmm, my apologies for the poor choice of words.  Rather inconsiderate that."  Galen makes a clucking noise as
he pours himself another glass.  "But you can put your hands down, Sonny.  You're as good as new, mint
condition, maybe better.  Now, as you were about to agree to?"

Blake's gaze wandered around the blackness, hands eventually falling back after several moments of
reassurance.  "Where... what is the place?"

Rolling his eyes, Galen snaps his fingers and the empty glass and bottle wink out of sight.  "All in good time,
Blake.  All in good time.  Speaking of which, we really don't have much left.  Things happen pretty quick at the
beginning.  Which means you really need to get a hold of yourself and start the ball rolling."

His hands raise out of his lap again, this time to explore the stool beneath him and test its substance.  "...What?"

"Blake!"  Galen's voice is hard enough to make the roving hands flinch and recoil. "Where--were--you?"

The image of a mustache shouting Russian flitted across his thoughts. "...Odessa... The massacre in 1905.  But
like "Battleship Potempkin," during the day instead of at night... "  Blake's eyes clear somewhat, as if a film is
being peeled away.

"Good, good, Sonny... And interesting... Someone after you must have modified things to fit Sergei's vision.  A
cinema buff no doubt..."  Galen sits up in the easy-chair, hunching over his beard.  "The precursor to the Russian
Revolution on jump one, though... hmmm... and you certainly seem to know your history, Blake.  That bodes
well."

His eyes narrowing sharply, Blake leans forward to match Galen's pose, bringing their noses within inches. "What
the fuck is going on?"

Galen snorts and crashes back to his relaxed position. "You really should have had some of the bourbon, Sonny.  
A must for our next session.  Now give me a moment, if you would, while I try and remember how mine handled
it.  They don't give you much warning for this, you know.  Just a sudden alert and order to be at such and such
time with such and such—

Blake leaps off the stool, sending it careening back into the darkness as he spreads his arms wide with a violent
fling.  "Dammit, old man, stop dancing around the question and tell me what the fuck is happening to me!"

"Seems to me, Sonny, if fair's fair, that you have to ask me at least one more time before I respond.  And... well,
now you're starting to skip out on me."  Galen put his hands behind his head in resignation.  "Never good to
make a jump riled up.  Bad for the digestion, or at least it would be.  Try and calm yourself before you go,
Sonny.  Can you still hear me?  Remember your history, Blake!"

The void seems to collapse in upon him. Becomes a deeper nothing.  He feels himself distorting, sputtering,
imploding.  A light flickers and fades.

"Remember--your--history!"

Emptiness.

                                                                                  ***

Confusion is normal; you don't need to embrace it at this point (though you will later), but at least try
and accept it for now.

Why can't I feel anything?

At this juncture you should be second-jump-in-transit. This one should be a little more substantial.  
Observe what you can, see what you can do.

Only these damn words... nothing else...

But remember, you're still acting on a trial basis: try not to make too much of a mess.

Not again... my stomach...

Have fun.

                                                                                    ***

"Senate... Forum... another list posted... longer will this madness be allowed to continue?"

"Sounds like you think someone could actually change things if they had the mind to.  Won't end until the old
man gives out on his own; there's no one left who has the nerve... Need another Marius."

Blake shook his head gingerly, trying to make sense of the newest set of sounds and smells.  Gradually, he
risked opening his eyes to slits, and for some moments studied cobblestones so worn they were effectively a
single sheet of brick.

"Another Gaius Marius?  Are you serious?  Have you forgotten the bloodbath after he got his cursed seventh
consulship?  That was worse than this lunacy, and that's saying something!"

"Maruis of twenty years ago, then.  The memory the people so love:  our beloved general who crushed the
Germans."

Tunic hems swished by on all sides, the sandaled feet below them picking their way around his hunched form with
an occasional curse or idle kick.

"See now, I always temper that with the memory of friends' heads spiked on the Rostra by the Marius of five
years ago."

"Have you tallied the skulls lately?  Sulla's already outstripped Marius by half, and he's nowhere near through.  
Old man will kill off the entire Knight class before he's done, laughing on his night walks all the while."

"I never disputed that Sulla's proscriptions may well be the death of the Republic."

"In that, at least, we're in agreement."

Uncurling tentatively, Blake waited for a brief lull in the sandals before trying to rise.

81 B.C.: Rome, Italy.

With a soft groan, he slumped back to the pavement.

"Mark that poor fellow over there, Curio."

"I see him.  Ho there, Citizen!  Can you hear me?"

Two sets of footsteps actually stopped in front of him.  A hand shook his shoulder gently, and Blake did his best
to bite back the whimper that mewed out nonetheless.

"Looks in bad shape; let's get him out of the traffic."

Three more hands encircled his limbs, and he shuddered in spite of the smooth lift.

"He's a slight fellow, isn't he?  Could do with a little of Clodia's cooking, I'll warrant."

"Tunic looks well-to-do, though.  Wonder if he hasn't had a run-in with Sulla's damned bounty hunters."

Lucius Cornelius Sulla, after setting the dangerous precedent of using Rome's own legions against her,
forces the Senate to extend his dictatorship indefinitely.

The swaying paused briefly as a door creaked open, resumed, and paused again as hinges squealed shut.

"He's lucky to have anything above his shoulders if he did.  Either way, though, he'll have shelter here.  Standing
up to that monster has to start somewhere."

"Ahh, but do you have more than words in you?"

"Just lay him down on the table there."

The mild impact was still more than enough to make Blake scream.  Pain welled up, and he sank downwards.

"We're losing him!  Go, Bulla!  Quickly, now! Fetch Clodia.  Citizen?  Citizen!..."

                                                                                  ***

His onetime mentor and longtime rival Gaius Marius finally dead, Sulla sets about reordering the
Republic in his own vision.

Shaking his head to rid it of the unwelcome text, Blake woke to a homely, middle-aged woman's face, a visage
that smiled so warmly he could not help but respond with a dazed grin of his own.

"Awake now, I see.  Good; you're sturdier than you look.  But you could still do with some bread, child.  Baked it
myself not two hours ago."

Sitting up cautiously, he let out a small sigh of relief on finding the pain gone.  He still felt disoriented, but the
closeness of the room was more cozy than claustrophobic, the woman's scent of kitchen revitalizing. "Thank you."

In addition to radically altering the constitution, the aging general begins eradicating his political
enemies by proscribing them, publicly declaring their lives and property forfeit as penalty for treason.

The first bite was more vigorous than Blake meant it to be, and ultimately ineffective: the words remained.  But
the bread was wonderful, and gone within seconds.

Chuckling in a lighter, higher-pitched tone than that of her speaking voice, the woman motioned for him to hand
the plate back.  "I'll bring you some more, then."

She was gone in a billow of skirt before he could respond, leaving him to reconcile the little he had seen and
heard with the blurbs invading his head.

When bounties are offered for whereabouts of the damned, the ensuing backstabbing and
headhunting spirals the city into chaos.

The smell of fresh bread entered the room several seconds before the old woman.  "Here, child."

"Thank you again, but... "

"Eat.  I'll brook no argument."

Blake tried to push the plate back towards her as respectfully as possible.  "It's wonderful-- "

"Chew."

A young Julius Caesar, one of the many proscribed, manages to be one of the few to escape.

After contemplating her expression--decidedly cold and contemptuous now--he slowly reached for the top slice.

She nodded her approval but made no move to go, apparently intending to watch every mouthful.

When Blake began to visibly slow down on the last piece, the woman grunted and eased the plate away.  "You'll
feel better now, child."  Her smile was back, and so was the high-pitched chuckle.  "Mercy, but how you needed
that.  Now, I'm Clodia. What will you be answering to?"

Sulla's absolute power, authority so total the old tyrant could walk the streets of Rome at night
without fear, is not an example Caesar soon forgets.

He hesitated for a moment, waiting until his thoughts were purged of intrusions.  "...Brutus.  And, I'm sorry...
knock on the head... but is this Rome?  Are we really in Rome?"

Clodia looked at him skeptically.  "The Subura is as much a part of Rome as any other, 'Brutus', even if it is
doesn't smell as good as Palatine Hill and all its fancy manors.  Not what Master Curio's accustomed to, but it will
serve until he can pay back his creditors."  She turned to go, lifting the plate off the bed as she did so. "I'll leave
you to your rest."

"Clodia, I -- "

"Sleep, child."  The old woman swept out of the room, slammed the door shut behind her, and left Blake alone
with his confusion.

                                                                                   ***

He woke to what seemed blinding light, slowly realizing as his eyes adjusted that it was only the dim glare of
stars.  Blake listened quietly before making any movement, noting that the house as well as the world outside
seemed remarkably, unnaturally still.  More so than he would have expected for any city, at any time of day or
night, much less the bustling metropolis that was Rome in the first century B.C.

The images that had began pouring into his head after Clodia left had cinched it; montages of such vividness that
Blake could no long deny his current reality.  Legions marching against Germans, Italians, and then themselves,
togaed noblemen shouting hoarsely before being knifed from behind -- he was caught up in the fall of the
Republic.  At a pivotal point, after the first civil wars but before the total unraveling...
His stomach growled -- he must have been out for awhile.  Clodia had apparently been in sometime during his
slumber; four more slices of bread and an earthenware mug of water sat atop the end-table.  He ate and drank
as noiselessly as his greed would allow.  Sated, he moved to set the mug and plate back on the table, stopped,
stared, and blinked in disbelief.

A trick of the light, no more.  His addled mind playing tricks on him. He needed a better look.

The window revealed itself to be no more than a hole in the wall veiled by a sheer cloth.  A moment of brief
clambering saw Blake on the street, silhouetting his arm against the moon as he rotated his hand back and forth
at the wrist.

Smooth as a baby boy's, like it had never known a day's work.  And stained a darker brown, giving the skin an
almost wooden hue.  The day the car... hit him... he had been sun starved, pale and freckled, with fairer hair,
finer hair.  Not these coarse black tendrils littering his forearm.  Had he been taller, too?  Heavier?

A soft laugh echoed down the line of darkened buildings.

Brutus scrambled to the closest doorstep, struggling to control his panting.  Not willing to risk creaking hinges,
he pressed back against the wood as a bent figure tottered into view.

The robed form gradually sharpened into a bald old man whose shadowed features looked increasingly gruesome
as he drew closer.  Blake's labored breaths stopped of their own accord; what may once have been a beautiful
face was now a pockmarked horror, ravaged by some terrible disease.  But the mouth still looked... wise.  Even
kind, set as it was now in a pensive expression.

The old man stopped suddenly as he drew even with Blake.  After a moment of terrifying nothing, the same quiet
laugh came rumbling up, eerily strong for such a crooked form.  And Blake felt something snap inside him.

His emotions flashed from fear to anger to rage; questions demanded answers where there were none, confusion
sought release.  With a growl that rapidly swelled to a yell, he sprang from his corner and rushed forwards.

A twang vibrated through the air, and Blake froze in mid-lunge, staggered back, and fell to his knees and then his
face as the pain exploded through his ribs.  The arrow snapped beneath him as he slumped against the
cobblestones, its feathers whispering as they slithered across the smooth brick.

"Hold, Soldier.  Sheath your sword; the bolt served him well enough."

A rough hand tightened around his neck.

"You don't want me to finish him, Dictator?"

"I would look on him first, Milo."

"As you wish."  The hand squeezed harder, rolled him over, and let go.

He shuddered, his mouth filling with a sweet acid.

"Smallish man, but brave it seems."

Blake's vision began to glaze over, blurring the ravaged face into two overlapping visages, one of health and one
of sickness.

"And not of this era, it would seem."  
... English?... He tried to reply, and managed only a broken gurgle.

"Better luck next jump, Shifter."  The voice switched back to Latin.  "I've seen all I care to, Milo."

His sight failed.

"Yes, Dictator."

Another blade pierced his ribs.

                                                                                          ***

Log, second entry:

The pain's fading... quicker this time... how do I turn this "log" off?... tunic's gone... and my hands are pale
again... He spoke in English... called me "Shifter." In English...

Are you there, Galen?  Was that you in "Rome?"  Did you enjoy killing me?  How many times is that, now?  
What did I do—

A flickering again... Galen?

                                                                                         ***


"Galen?"

"None other, my boy."  Galen's snowy beard flounces in rhythm with the pogo-stick beneath him.  The old man
maneuvers expertly towards Blake, a tank top and biker's shorts hanging loosely off his boney frame. "First
things first: you are the metaphysical law of all you see here, Sonny."  He gestures at the emptiness before
bringing both arms to rest atop the stick's handles, no longer bouncing but instead balancing perfectly five feet
away.

Taking his hand away from his ribs, Blake stares hard at Galen, eyes blazing.

"Just enjoying the last days before my retirement.  Don't worry; you'll be at least as eccentric when your time is
over.  But where were we. Ah, yes.  My favorite part.  Wish for a monkey.

His brows lower even further. "Wish for a monkey?"

"Well done, Blake, that is what I said.  Now, let's see it." The old man nods expectantly.

Blake breathes in, out, and charges, bending low like a football player starting a tackle.

Galen snaps his fingers and a ten-by-ten square of gorillas appears to his left, dancing the Charleston.  Taking
both hands off the pogo handles, he directs with one index finger while closing Blake's gaping jaw, stopped short
only inches away from his own, with the other.  "I suppose gorillas are technically apes, or at least so the
anthropologists would classify them.  Odd lot they are... but that's beside the point... which is that this 'void', as
you call it, is your own personal playground.  You're the genie here.  Now live up to it: concentrate and make
those prancing primates stop for the good of us all."

Freed from immobilization, Blake slouches back, does nothing, says nothing.

"Your age, Blake, not your shoe size."  Galen suddenly starts spinning, gaining speed with each rotation on the
pogo stick.  His beard flies up level with Blake's nose, whirling just an inch beneath before Galen grabs the tip and
throws it back behind him.  "Focus, Sonny.  Close your eyes if it helps.  Seems like that's how I started."

Blake shakes his head, watching incredulously as the gorillas start twirling in time with the old man, a hundred
and one furry blurs amidst the black.

"Just try, Sonny.  Quickly now, before they all have heart attacks.  Easier on the point of a pogo-stick, you know."

Biting his lip unconsciously, Blake stares for several moments before slowly closing his eyes.  His brow furrows,
his hands clench, unclench, and clench again, his breathing comes in rapid breaths.  When a bead of sweat drips
from his nose onto his chin, he collects himself and looks again.

Galen reclines before him in the easy chair of before, dressed in the same neon-suit with a glass raised to his
lips.  "Not bad, Sonny, not bad.  Though I do miss those fellows already.  But keep it in mind, Blake.  You control
the all and the everything in here; it's yours to mould.  Now conjure something comfortable to sit on and we'll
chat in whatever time you have left."

Blake stares for several moments at the point where the gorillas just were before shaking himself and closing his
eyes again.  Upon opening, he finds himself stretched full length in a silk hammock, the ends floating on either
side.  He sways gently to no breeze.

Galen throws back his head and roars.  "So you do have a sense of humor, Sonny.  Not bad, not bad at all.  Oh
my, I haven't laughed like that in ages.  Ahem... now, questions?"

The momentary wonder at manipulating his surroundings begins to wear off.  Anger and bewilderment return.  "...
I'm dead, then."

"Most definitely."

"And did you just kill me?"

Galen leans back slightly and takes a sip from his bourbon.  "Now that I wasn't expecting.  Care to explain?"

"I was hoping you would."

"Humor an old man, Sonny, or we won't get anywhere."

It takes several moments and deep breaths before Blake can respond in an even tone. "The dictator Sulla, just
before ordering my death, called me a 'Shifter' In English."

Galen spews bourbon into the void, the droplets diminishing rapidly as they fall from sight.  His laughter jiggles
the folds of snowy beard into furry waves.  "You tried to kill an epicenter, didn't you?  On your second jump?
Wait Sonny... whew, but that's rich on so many levels. Blake, stop wasting time."

Blake keeps walking into the dark, eyes locked straight ahead.

"Have it your way then, Sonny.  Did you like my brief, though?  I assume it's still mine, or you wouldn't have died
like you did. But a real mover and shaker on the second jump... almost unheard of.  I didn't try and kill Mussolini
until my seventh."  Galen appears on Blake's left, keeping pace in the levitating easy chair as he refills his cup.

Immediately turning the opposite direction, Blake finds the old man sipping directly in front of him.

"Coincidentally, though, that was my old mentor, Philip.  Retired as a Roman power-monger... a lot less relaxing
than I'm planning.  That's how he recognized you, though; Shifters can see each other for what they are."  Galen
laughs again.

"Oh my, Sonny.  So rich... but you can't kill, Blake.  First rule.  Shoot, stab, burn, hang as hard as you like; it's
the only thing beyond you.  Not your purpose."

Whirling, Blake finds Galen has imposed himself on the entire visible spectrum.  He shuts his eyes, his fists
pulsing at his sides.  "And what is my fucking purpose, old man!?!"

"You're not a fighter, Sonny.  You're an observ-- blast it, man!  Focus!  Oh, for crying out loud... we'll talk when
you get back."


Blake feels himself dissolving from the inside.  "Galen!"

"If you were sick last time you'll be fine this trip.  Alternates for some reason... but it'll fade eventually, once you
get more control..."

Everything tornadoes into nothing.

                                                                                      ***

By now your mentor should have briefed you on the basics.  To reiterate, here's the first two rules:

How can I be reading these when I can't see anything else?...

1) You can't kill.
2) You'll get killed.

Is this just in my head?

The third run is the final trial. It should be fairly intense.  Be ready to improvise; you won't have much
other choice.

... Ripping again... but... no pain?...

Bon Voyage.

                                                                                    ***

Recycling waves lapped against a waking beach.  The sun inched out over the water, still only a dull glow but
growing steadily with each crash of the surf.

He rose to his feet, relieved to be feeling none of the earlier jump's pain.  Sweeping the sand off his khakis, he
paused as he recognized them for vintage military apparel.  Already low and sinking further, he resignedly doffed
his white cap for confirmation. Authentic U.S. navy.  He should know: his granddad had done thirty years of
active duty.

Unreal... in the service, then.  With no context this time... and the scrolling text refused to be summoned. A
good four or five inches taller, too. He shook his head and turned to fully take in his surroundings.

A flash of crimson spurted across his vision, vanished behind the now gleaming sun, and reappeared on a palm
tree to his left.

Palm tree?  And that bird...

He had been here before.  One of his few clear memories from age six, and the last period he could remember his
parents coexisting. The air had tasted a little different, the trees had looked maybe that much fresher, and the
sand had felt... cleaner... but he had been here before.  A certainty he clutched to desperately...

Christ.  Shit.  A U.S. navy uniform?  On this beach?  What the hell was the date?  He had the where, but what
the fuck was the when?

Spinning around to reorient, he churned up a plume of glistening sand that sent the red bird streaking skywards
again.

If memory served, the port should be due east, along the coast, maybe ten miles... quite a hike, but there really
weren't any other options.

Slipping off his boots with two smooth kicks, he stuffed his socks into the heels, tied the laces together in a
bowknot, and took off at a brisk jog with the bundle over his shoulder.

1941 A.D.: Hawaii, United States.

Jesus.
                                                                                    ***

"Honolulu Star: December 6th, 1941." The text and images that had stabbed through his thoughts for much of
the trek here should have kept it from having much of an impact.  But it did not: he felt sick.  It was already early
afternoon, and he had no idea what order he should or even could go about doing this... how to overcome
countless combinations of chance and incompetence, military rigidity, miscommunications... and Gramps.  His true
father, his inspiration for picking up that first historical novel, would lose both legs in roughly eighteen hours.  
But warning one low ranking relative -- if he were even believed -- would do little for the other two thousand odd
casualties to be...  This was too much.  Too ironic, too contrived.  "Damn you, Galen!"

The short Hawaiian woman recoiled slightly, but kept her open hand extended.  Mumbling an apology, he fumbled
through unfamiliar pockets until his fingers located a quarter.  Turning his back on the surprised stream of
thanks, he walked to a nearby bench and sat heavily.  He was still sweating profusely from the run here, and he
could already feel himself sticking to--

"Kyle Wilson?"

He started noticeably, swearing not quite under his breath as he barely stayed seated.

"I was told you might be a little surprised."  A bronzed teenager, sixteen at the most, was flashing a bemused
smile.  "For you, Mr. Wilson.  Courtesy of a Mr. Jackson."

Blake nodded dumbly, instinctively closing his fingers around the proffered envelope.

The boy laughed again.  "No worries, sir.  Mr. Jackson already took care of the tip."  Clearly enjoying Blake's
mystified expression, the boy chuckled and walked off, whistling as he went.

His fingers spasmed with the sudden urge to tear the letter into nothing.  His grandfather's name... who knew he
was even here?  And had the knowledge and the gall to call him by it?  "Galen, so help me, if this is another one
of your God damned games... "

The sun began to reflect off the shell-flecked pavement, its movement a reminder of time he did not have.  
Slowly, painfully, his breathing normalized, his reason resurfaced, and he smoothed out the crumpled enveloped
and ran his finger under the flap.

                                                                                        ***

"Please, Sir, just raise the alert status.  If I'm wrong, and nothing happens, what harm will you have done?"

The balding commander stayed staring out the window, watching the dock that still bustled even in the failing
light.  "State your name and rank again, Sailor."

Blake hesitated, painfully aware of the one task he had yet to complete.  "Henry Smith, Sir.  Private on the USS
Arizona.  Please, Admiral Kimmel, Sir-- "

Without turning around, the older man held out his hand a few commanding inches from his side.  After receiving
the expected silence, the hand lowered slowly. "Several hours ago, Privates Lockhard and Elliot of the signal
battalion were telegraphed anonymously that
when they spot an unusual cluster of planes on the Oahu radar
tomorrow around 0700 hours, they are to report it 'immediately and unfailingly', despite all orders to the contrary.

Shortly thereafter, various captains reported being similarly advised, including a Captain Outerbridge who was
instructed by an unsigned note to raise full alarm, bypassing the proper channels of authority,
when he comes in
contact with enemy midget-subs tomorrow morning.  Not twenty minutes ago, our liaison with the
Star contacted
my secretary about the unsolicited tip they had just been given concerning hostile ships sighted within a hundred
miles of the island.  And now a phantom private of the USS Arizona, a Henry Smith who doesn't even exist, who
has been breaking down my door since 1700 hours, is warning me that the Japanese will bomb Pearl Harbor into
rubble if I don't raise the alarm here and now."

Kimmel finally turned and looked at Blake directly, imperiously, in the eye.  "What would you make of all this in my
position,
Smith, keeping in mind that I've had nothing more from Washington than a caution to be on alert
against
sabotage and espionage?!  Sailor?"

Blake stood rigidly at attention, schooling his impatient fingers not to fidget with the denim trousers' ties.  
Play
on Kimmel's insecurities; it's your only chance of establishing credibility.
"The last time you asked your
superiors whether or not you were being fully informed, Sir, did they tell you that Army and Navy cryptographers
cracked the Kaigun Ango?"

The admiral's face screwed up incredulously.

"Over a year ago, Sir.  The diplomatic cipher, too.  We've been intercepting communications to their embassy for
months, now."

"And what proof do you have, Smith?"  The admiral tried his best to sound amused.

The details I leave up to you: you know them better than I.  Just be aware that I cannot forsee the
actions of those who come after me...

"One of the intercepting stations is actually on the island, Sir, less than a hundred yards from where we're
standing now. I can show you, Sir, if you'd like, but we must hurry; Admiral Yamamato is laying his final
preparations as we speak."

The admiral said nothing for several moments before switching on his intercom.  "Charles, I'll need a security
escort as soon as possible."  Releasing the button, the old man looked back up at Blake.  "What else do you
think you know, Sailor?"

Suppressing a small smile, Blake stared up at the ceiling until the other items he could recall from his dissertation
fell back into place.  "Any minute now, the Japanese government will begin relaying a declaration of war to its
embassy in Washington, to be used at 0700 hours Hawaii time.  We'll intercept it at the same time as their
ambassadors, the Secretary of State will enter negotiations pretending as usual he doesn't know what's about to
be said, and the information will never reach where it's most needed, Sir.  Pearl Harbor will be left unprepared,
and there will be a slaughter. Here, tomorrow, Sir, unless we act quickly."

Noting the admiral's reddening face, it was Blake's turn to forestall an outburst with a gesture.  "I can't say why
you've been kept out of the loop, Sir, but it's one of the graver oversights in histo-- "

The door burst open, rebounding off the white wall and crashing back against the outstretched arm of a panting
officer. Kimmel started to open his mouth for what looked liked a reprimand before deciding against it; Blake
followed his lead and stayed silent.  After several moments of heavy, raspy breathing, the newcomer found his
voice.

"I'm sorry, Admiral... didn't realize how out of shape this desk job is making me... one moment... alright, I think.  
Sir, I have evidence that this 'Henry Smith' here is in fact an anarchist attempting to provoke an international
incident with the Japanese."

"That's a lie!"

"Hold your tongue, "Smith."  Kimmel raised his hand again with a renewed sense of majesty.

"All of the recent rumors can be traced to this man, Admiral.  Lieutenant Jacobs is on his way with evidence, but I
sprinted ahead to prevent his harming of your person, sir."

"Very good, Adams.  "Smith," do you have anything with which to deny these charges?"

Blake's mouth opened and shut once before his speech functioned.  "If you would just accompany me to the
intercept station, Sir, we can prove-- "

"I think I know my island, "Smith."  Lieutenant Adams, if you would."

The newcomer nodded and moved forwards, arms tensed but lowered.

Blake looked rapidly between the two men, edged slightly to his left, and stopped altogether when a third man in
naval attire entered the office.

"You're bringing everything that happens tomorrow on your own head, Admiral."

"Everything that happens here already is,
Smith.  Adams, Cell Block Five until further notice."

"Yes, Admiral."

Adams and the summoned security moved to secure his arms, but Blake shook them off.  "I'm going."

As he left, sandwiched between his two escorts, Blake took one last look back at the Admiral, searching for any
flickers of doubt.

                                                                                   ***

He had tried, using everything he remembered in combination with the more useful elements of the mysterious
Mr. Jackson's advice.  The letter would have been sci-fi whimsy a few days (weeks, months, years?) ago, but
unfortunately it had made all too much sense.

"Left here, "Sailor."  Blake turned without really noticing, letting Adams direct him from behind without protest.

In all probability, he had failed, though.  Without accomplishing the most personally important part.

"Right."

The odds of being allowed to make a phone call were pretty slim.  But he was alone with Adams now, the other
guard having been dismissed due to Blake's seeming placidity.

"Through that door, straight ahead."

And not that this was any real justification, but decking this idiot would feel pretty good.  But did he try and find
Gramp's number somehow, or just show up at the house?

"Sleep tight, Blake."

What?  "The fuc— "

Fire flashed through his head.  Unconsciousness followed.

                                                                                                ***

"... your eyes, boy.  I left you alive for this: wake up and see how little effect a rookie like you really has."

Blake's lids fluttered open and took in a night sky, a sneering face, and a raging pain at the base of his neck.  
"Adams?"

The face chuckled grimly, wavering in and out of view, moving in blurring, jarring jumps.  "Sure.  Look to the
East, Boy."  Something streaked behind the face, blotting out the stars for a fraction of a second.  "Too little, too
late."

"... attacking?  But... still... night."

"1:30 AM.  Things just got moved a little ahead of schedule; Kimmel's a fool, but he did try.  Just not hard or
soon enough.  Kind of like you."
His vision seemed to stabilize somewhat, and then the sneering face split into two, one superimposed over the
other in an all too familiar way.  "... Jackson?"

The faces snorted.  "Cyrus.  Jackson's a moron; it's mostly his mistakes that are being erased here.  Days of
Infamy have to happen. Fools like you two are just too short-sighted to see it."  Three more dark blurs shot by
in the background, seeming to speed in one set of ears and out the other.  "It's beginning."

The Cyrus' withdrew as another plane whipped overhead, leaving a dot behind in its wake.  A pinpoint that began
to magnify as it hurtled groundwards.  "Did they tell you the rules yet, Boy?"  Cyrus's voice seemed further
away.  "Number one doesn't apply here."

Blake struggled to stand up, then to crawl, then to roll over, and finally just to shut his eyes.  Failing even that,
he watched helplessly as the dot became an oblong monstrosity which rapidly eclipsed all but itself.

An explosion rocked the world, and Blake was gone.

                                                                                       ***
Log, third entry:

... Body's... gone... disintegrated... reforming... motes of flesh... my flesh... swirling back together... Cyrus?  
Then who was Jackson... and—

Gramps.

Shut this shit off.  Stop recording.  Now

                                                                                      ***

"Leave me alone, Galen."

"If we had time I would, Sonny, but now I'm the one who's short on it."  Galen's form finishes coalescing, his
black robe barely distinguishable from the void around him.  "Now stop acting like-- "

"No."  Blake finally looks up, raising his head from his lap, dried tears streaking both cheeks.  "I'm through."   
Pulling up short, Galen studies him for a moment before continuing in a softer tone.  "I know it can be hard
sometimes, Blake... incredibly hard... but-- "

"I gave up history four years ago, Galen."  Blake lowers his head again.  "Did these damn logs tell you that?"   

"Actually, I don't know anything about you, Sonny.  Barred from any point after my first death, just as you are."

"It took over my life... "  Rocking back on the conjured stool, Blake pauses over the irony of that last statement.

Galen's left hand wanders to the tip of his beard, tugging lightly as he seems to wage an internal debate before
sighing softly.

"Possessed my thoughts, consumed my days, destroyed my marriage... "   Snapping back to level, Blake looks
Galen in the eye, hard.  "The day I quit grad school, I didn't want to go any further back than yesterday's news.  
That's faded some, but... I didn't ask for this.  I've died four times over the span of a few days... thousands of
years... I'm done.  If you want to do any more mentoring, just tell me how I can end it."

"In a few minutes now I'll show you."  Galen's lips betray a slight, sad smile as Blake's expression morphs from
bitter to confused.  "But until then I need you to listen.  This will be a bit of a lecture, but there's no help for it."

His eyes turn wary again, but Blake's mouth stays shut.

"How to keep this short?  Dive in, I suppose... take the plunge, then: you're my successor, Blake.  I was Philip's.  
He was Thomas's.  And so on.  Down the whole course of human history, there's always been one of us.  Which
means, in one sense, that there's always been all of us: except for the bookends, there's only ever a single
Shifter in the Void, but the whole lot of us are forever muddling through time."  Galen begins pacing rapidly,
gesticulating rhythmically with each stride.  "What's more, you have access to the files of every Shifter that's
come before you.  Their logs, their Shift dates, everything.  Study them so you can use them, because rest
assured others will read yours.  It's best to be prepared; the nature of our jobs makes interaction inevitable.  
And messy -- it's rare that two of us agree exactly on how matters should be allowed to unfold."

His eyes bulging suddenly, Galen freezes for a moment before shuddering and taking a seat on an
instantaneously appearing folding chair.  "It's coming fast, Sonny."  Shaking his head once, he squares up with
Blake's eyes and begins rapidly ticking off points on his fingers.  "The rules you don't know: Number three, your
lower limit for jumps is man's first consciousness.  Four, your upper limit is your first death.  Five, you can't
overlap with any point of your prior jumps."

Blake's eyes show a hint of panic at the last item.

"But if you have mistakes to fix... "  Galen starts to tremble, shakes working their way up from his feet to his
head and down his beard.  "Blast... never knew it would hurt... mistakes... contact another Shifter.  Use the
files... strike a deal.  I'm sorry, Blake, but I'm being called."

Galen's robe merges totally with the void, the protruding points of his body floating seemingly of their own
accord.  His skin begins to erode from the outside in, smudging away towards nothing.

Blake leaps up and sprints after Galen's receding form.  "Galen? Wait, dammit!  When does it end?  What am I
supposed to do?  What can I possibly do?  You can't leave yet, old man!"

A sketch of a hand waves a farewell.  "Haven't you figured it out yet, Sonny?"

"Figured WHAT out?"

Galen's disembodied voice sounds from the emptiness, fading as it speaks.   "You, me, us are the powers that
shape history, channel it as it should have flowed.  In Christian terms, Sonny, we, collectively, are God.  Or what
remains of him.  Goodbye, Blake."

"Galen!"  Blake stumbles to a stop, not expecting an answer but still distraught when he does not receive one.

Turning slowly, he stands still for several minutes before sitting cross-legged on the dark.  After a long while, he
shakes his head, sighs, and opens himself to the files.  From the beginning.  Another length passes, and then he
looks up and around, embraces a growing swirl.  The void blurs, his mind divides.

Nothing.

                                                                                    ***

Fourth jump, and you're on your own now.  Be objective, be vigilant, be as wise as you're able.

... I didn't ask for this...

Be careful with my legacy.  Our legacy.

... and I'm not ready...

Good luck.
Tom Underhill
Tom Underhill lives in a little condo in Chicago with his wife, thirty cats, and ten dogs (ok, so there’s actually ten times
less pets than that, but most days it seems like more). He's not quite sure why he loves writing twisted fiction, but
there’s no stopping the weirdness when he sits in front of a computer. Eventually he hopes to merge this stubborn
surrealism more fully with his academic training and produce something in the historical fantasy line. For now, though,
he’s content with what’s appeared or will be appearing in magazines like
Mysterical-E and Bewildering Stories.
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