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.
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Tom Underhill
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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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