io9 is proud to present fiction from Lightspeed Magazine. Once a month, we'll be featuring a story from Lightspeed's current issue. This month's selection is "The Cristóbal Effect" by Simon McCaffery. Enjoy!
Top image: Detail of Lightspeed #25 Cover.
The Cristóbal Effect
by Simon McCaffery
All existence is a theft paid for by other existences; no life flowers except on a cemetery.-Remy de Gourmont
"Eternity? . . . That is one hell of a movie." -J.B.D.
The wooden detour barricade is barely in place when I spot the car closing fast from the east. Just a glint of light against the desert hills, yet I know it is his car. I ignite the last flare and toss it onto the centerline of the lonely rural two-lane highway.
Intersecting Highway 466 is an unpaved county road. Four miles west is a second, more infamous Y intersection: State Route 41, near Cholame. In arid, remote Cholame, working men and ranchers are returning home in rattling pickups and dust-coated sedans like so many wind-blown tumbleweeds.
The car's mid-mounted 1.5 liter aluminum engine sings as it streaks toward me, gold rays of fading sunlight dancing along its sleek contours. It isn't slowing. Does he think the detour signs and hissing flares are a mirage?
The trained physicist in me recognizes the irony: If I stand still and die, I prove I've entered a malleable universe, a Wobbly-Brane. If not, he'll swerve to miss me instead of the Ford Tudor driven by a Cal Poly student, and die of internal injuries as he does in all the rigid-event universes. Like the one in which you live.
Tires shriek and the Porsche 550 Spyder slews to a stop a foot from my knees. I stare at its eternally youthful driver: the go-to-hell hair, high forehead, jutting chin and those cool baby-blues squinting at me behind tinted aviator glasses. I can hear my own heart pounding in my ears.
The tiny car crouches only inches above the road. The driver and a dark-haired passenger stare up at me.
"What's the emergency here, friend?"
"Detour," I stutter, a B actor suffering from stage fright.
The driver turns down the blaring radio.
"Detour," I repeat. "Highway's blocked off. Chemical truck tipped over and sprayed poison gas everywhere a mile from here. Heck of a mess."
The passenger is his racing mechanic, Rolf Wütherich. Dead from a 1981 auto accident after several failed suicide attempts, he grins. "Taking the back roads was a bad idea. The girls will be mad if we're late."
The driver scrutinizes the truck parked on the opposite shoulder. The hand-painted letters on its flaking side read: MONTEREY COUNTY ROAD DEPT. Is he suspicious?
"You fellows in a hurry to get someplace?"
The driver cocks a finger. "Got a race to win up in Salinas tomorrow. Will that road get us back on the highway?"
I nod, pointing with the flag. "It'll take you a few miles out of your way, but not far. Go six miles and take the first right. It's that or go back the way you came."
He removes his sunglasses and wipes road dust from the lenses on his white T-shirt. My mind records the tiny moon-shaped shaving cut along his chin; the way his hair curls back in carefree waves from his brow; the full, sensual lower lip, so like Brando's.
"Thanks for the warning, fellow. Try to stay out of the middle of the road."
He pops the race car named "Little Bastard" into gear and roars away into the twilight, the dry air whipping his hair, leaving a rooster tail of dust.
I wait ten minutes in the hot ticking silence to make certain he doesn't double back.
Science fiction writers had it wrong. In rigid-event universes-an infinite paper-doll chain of Earths separated by a quantum frequency shift that only a Device can interpolate-a mysterious, immutable law binds everything down to the subatomic level of reality. Elasticity is limited. Visitors may alter only the most negligible of details. In an ordinary universe, no matter what story I fabricate, he'll get lost and return to find my barricade removed, and he'll proceed to his fate. Or he'll ignore the detour and roar past on the shoulder with a one-fingered salute. Or he'll take Highway 1 north from L.A. to Salinas.
In a Wobbly-B, phase space is unchained and events are malleable. We have a stiff, scientific acronym: Fluid-Event Branes.
I load the signs into the truck bed and kick the guttering flares onto the shoulder, hastily burying them under sand. A deep chime sounds inside my mind.
A two-tone Ford sedan wheezes by from the west, a lanky bespectacled young man behind the wheel. Mr. Turnipseed, saved from a lifetime of notoriety. Half an hour later another Ford will pass this spot trailing the Spyder, a station wagon driven by photographer Sanford Roth, with fellow racer Bill Hickman riding shotgun.
The sun, a fiery egg, slides behind the desert foothills. Soon people will shut their windows against the cold night air and the howl of coyotes prowling the Diablo Range like gray ghosts. And in the morning, James Byron Dean will stumble out of bed in a Salinas bungalow, his hair corkscrewed from sleep and his eyes sporting the dark bags immortalized in LIFE.
Alive and ready to race on the first day of October, 1955.
‘Brane-slicer' contraband, case D-T 5154:
SHIPWRECKED (1957). JAMES DEAN, RITA HAYWORTH, JAMES GARNER, ROBERT WAGNER. WWII rebel James Dean and a strong supporting cast battle Japanese soldiers on a balmy pacific atoll. Directed by George StevenS, Warner Bros., color, 137 minutes. First-generation 35mm Technicolor print.
Final Bid: $268M US
[bidder identity redacted pending prosecution]
CONTENTS OF THIS INVESTIGATION ARE CLASSIFIED by order of Director of National Intelligence (DNI) and Department of Defense / DARPA-TUNNEL
It isn't time travel. Please keep that firmly in mind.
Traveling to the past inside one's home universe is impossible. Traveling to a precise multiverse spacetime coordinate inside an adjacent reality is possible, if you possess a Device. Their inventor remains unknown. The trip utterly destroys every atom in your body, but a new copy of you arrives safely on the other side.
It's best if you don't think about that part.
My identity was erased after I stole a Device and deserted my job as a military physicist, but we'll use one of the aliases I take to deal with my carefully selected, extremely wealthy clients: Jason Blackstone, brane slicer. That's the slang term for outlaws like me.
Finding Jimmy in this 1956 isn't difficult.
The scene is the Villa Capri, Jimmy's favorite Hollywood bar. It's a popular hangout for stars, including the sexually indeterminate and closeted gay actors. I spot Anthony Perkins, buxom Terry Moore, bronzed Tab Hunter and an incredibly youthful Dennis Hopper. They stop at Jimmy's table to pay their respects. Rebel has opened and teenagers are flocking to theaters. George Stevens is trying to edit Giant down to two-hundred minutes to meet an August release, two months early, because he doesn't need to secretly hire Nick Adams to dub Jimmy's muffled, drunken lines in the last-supper scene.
From my bar stool I make eye contact.
I've replaced the filthy overalls and dust with slacks and an open-throated shirt, dark hair combed back. No flicker of recognition.
Brooding is Jimmy's specialty, so I step to his table and buy him a drink. He stops fooling with those bongos he carries everywhere. He has bags under his eyes and is dressed in the rig that so infuriated the studio heads until they realized its marketing potential-scuffed boots, T-shirt, faded jeans, and a dirty leather jacket.
My face is familiar but he hasn't made the connection. We drink and talk about the races and the new Triumph 650cc Tiger motorcycle.
In his nearby bungalow he falls asleep as I rattle on about classic films and performances. He would often fall sound asleep in restaurants during conversations. When he finally stirs, I recount our meeting on the road to Cholame and Paso Robles. His face hardens in a mask of suspicion. If a ten-gallon hat were pushed back on his head, the image of Jett Rink, the angry, loveless cowboy, would be complete. He glances at my bare forearms, looking for the needle marks of a heroin addict.
"You're from the future and I'm a ghost."
"It's a lot to process."
He laughs. "So is Eisenhower going to be re-elected? When are the Reds gonna drop an atom bomb on New York?"
I'm not about to discuss a technology that shifts a conscious organism through the multiverse, burrowing through infinite branes, if you'll excuse the morbid turn of phrase. The time-travel hokum works best.
Jimmy stabs out his cigarette and vaults up from the sofa. He smiles, exhaling smoke from both nostrils.
"You're a fruitcake."
I stay seated, keeping my voice low and even.
"Jimmy, you should at least hear what I have to say."
He slips on the black leather jacket over the crumpled T-shirt and is instantly transformed into Jim Stark, the volatile middle-class rebel with smoldering eyes.
"I think you better hit the road."
I do as he says, but pause at the door.
"Your first dog, Tuck, used to piss all over your Aunt Ortense's back porch in the winter, next to that little black potbelly stove. Stunk like hell. Your favorite ice cream is coffee and raspberry mixed together. Revolting. Your favorite book is The Little Prince. Favorite poet: James Whitcomb Riley. Favorite waiter in New York: Louie de Liso at Jerry's Bar and Restaurant. Louie used to serve you plates of spaghetti on the house when your money ran out between jobs-"
Jimmy doesn't blink. "Anybody could have dug all that up with a P.I."
"And the detour near Cholame?"
His eyes narrow. "I've done lots of work on television. You recognized me. I just can't see what your angle is."
That gets an instant reaction.
"She seduced you after the Sadie Hawkins dance your senior year in high school and you sweated until you were certain she wasn't pregnant."
He opens his mouth to reply, but I interrupt him in my omnipotent, time-traveler-knows-all voice.
"I've studied your entire life, Jimmy. Right up until the end."
Stark is gone. He looks like a kid jarred awake from a nightmare only to discover that it has crawled out from under the bed.
"It was a near head-on collision with a 1950 Ford sedan driven by a kid named Donald Turnipseed," I continue. "You weren't traveling twice the speed limit as people reported for years, but you weren't wearing a seat belt. Rolf was thrown clear, but you were declared dead in the ambulance on the way to the hospital in Paso Robles at 5:59 Pacific Time."
He runs a hand wildly through his hair. "This is nuts."
"Would I make up a name like Turnipseed?"
"Next you'll tell me you ride around in one of those flying saucers," he says in a sulky tone.
Jung was right: flying saucers are a manifestation of our collective fears in an epoch in which mankind's own creations are more horrifying than any brimstone Underworld. But parallel universes, which precede early Hindu mythology, are quite real.
This jaunt has almost expired.
"I protect unique, lost works of art, like 20th-century motion pictures."
"So why me? I'm a nobody."
This is the hook, and the only undeniable truth.
"You're one of the greatest actors of your generation, and three films wasn't enough. You'll have the opportunity to develop your craft and not be pigeonholed as the bad-boy rebel. Isn't that what you've dreamed of since you raised sheep on your uncle's farm?"
Disbelief and desperate hope collide in his eyes like a stormfront.
"What if I decide to never step in front of a camera again?" He crosses his arms, dips his chin. That willful petulance-
I smile. "Jimmy, it's your life and future. Except with one possible caveat."
"When I saved your life, I created a small fracture in reality. Like a fault line."
"What does that mean?"
"If you move back to Indiana and become a dentist, events could snap back like a rubber band."
His enigmatic mother, Mildred Dean, succumbed to ovarian cancer when he was nine. She has haunted his life. Jimmy's greatest anxiety is the specter of death, and he instinctively rejected the afterlife espoused by his aunt and uncle. That's the lever I use.
"You'll die, Jimmy. Like you were meant to."
‘Brane slicer' contraband, case D-T 2756
Diana: My Story (2017). Autobiography of the former Princess of Wales chronicling her privileged childhood, education, life before and after Prince Charles, motherhood, her second and third marriages, a failed 2008 suicide attempt, and her re-dedication to charitable work. Random House, 398 pages. Stated first edition. Signed by the author.
Bid: $71M EUR [convicted bidder identity redacted]
In 1974 an Air Force corporal named Pete Moss (no more a joke name than Turnipseed) found a small transistor radio that wasn't a radio. It was constructed using highly advanced fabrication technologies, unrecognizable at the time. A Device's invisible skin resembles graphene, incredibly strong layers of carbon arranged in a hexagon honeycomb lattice an atom thick. Inside there are no solid-state circuits or chips. Instead, intricate networks of nano-machines and quantum computers the size of large molecules link with other Devices across universes using an entanglement codec like a cosmic GPS unit, calibrating frequency shifts and navigation. Devices aren't solid objects in the conventional sense and they easily take the form of ordinary items, chromatic surface particles coordinating to mimic a pack of cigarettes or a smartphone.
Moss's discovery lay forgotten in Pentagon storage for forty-five years until a brilliant young DARPA analyst named Dick Jenks activated it. More on Jenks later.
DARPA-Tunnel physicists failed to reverse-engineer the Devices, but they uncovered a wholly unexpected view of existence: that endless paper-doll chain of Earths characterized by a puzzling dominant sameness. All those stories we loved of snuffing out Hitler or arming the Rebs with machine guns or stopping Oswald from murdering JFK-hopeless.
And the Devices impose three primary restrictions. Considering that we're still homicidal primates, I think that's fortunate, don't you?
You cannot visit a future coordinate on another Earth. Maybe this is a fundamental law of travel of the multiverse, or maybe it's a governor function.
Second, you can never revisit the same coordinate in the same universe.
Third, you always arrive on Earth. The Devices don't double as transdimensional portals to Altair IV or exo-planets like Gliese 581g. A Tunnel sub-team is exploring this possibility: A cornucopian New World of raw material would vault America back to superpower status. If there's an indigenous population, well, I think of Chris Columbus, and shudder.
Dick Jenks whimsically called it the Cristóbal Effect.
The Devices deny us the tantalizing power to redirect history, but someone with access could employ one in that most signature human enterprise-making astounding amounts of money on a black market unlike any in history. Brane slicers.
What exactly were you expecting?
"You're some kind of criminal, aren't you?"
We're poking around the engine of Jimmy's Spyder, parked at the edge of a dusty Bakersfield raceway. It's March 20, 1956.
I grin at Jimmy. "I prefer the term rebel."
Beneath that teen-idol exterior he's a maelstrom of driven ambition and vulnerability.
"You've got to tell me one thing," he asks. "Am I going to win it this time?"
"You'll have to wait, I'm afraid."
I clap an oil-blackened hand on Jimmy's shoulder, and he winces.
Eight days later he beats out Anthony Quinn, Robert Stack, and Anthony Perkins to accept the Best Supporting Actor Academy Award for Giant.
I studied film history at Colombia while majoring in particle physics. I loved the magic of early cinema before digital effects and motion-capture, so it's easy to convince myself that I'm doing a Great Thing. Saving important films that should have been made, etc. The row of glowing numbers in my encrypted offshore bank account strongly suggests that I am as full of shit as Dick Jenks.
Ask yourself why Christopher Columbus petitioned various European crowns for nearly a decade to finance his dream of a quicker trade route to India. Any classroom of overfed American children will tell you that the son of a wool weaver and sometimes cheese-stand merchant was a visionary explorer whose brave tenacity forever changed world history. Forget that their nation is erected atop a graveyard of butchered and displaced human beings. Forget the titles (Admiral of the Ocean Seas) and riches (Hispaniola gold and ten percent of all profits made in the new lands) that drove Columbus to make four hazardous journeys to the New World. Catholic priest Bartolome de las Casas catalogued the crimes committed against the people "discovered" by Columbus and his hired Spaniards during the years of single-minded pursuit of wealth and prestige: "My eyes have seen these acts so foreign to human nature, and now I tremble as I write."
Humans are explorers, but our motivations haven't changed since before we stood fully upright.
For myself, money is no longer a valid motivation. The next films are purely for art, for posterity.
Jimmy's name, in glowing ruby capitals, dwarfs even the picture's title, Shipwrecked, atop the Grauman's Chinese Theatre marquee.
Inside the lobby I stop to admire a movie poster depicting Jimmy battling Japanese soldiers on a lush pacific atoll. Jimmy gleams like a knight in his pearl-white Navy uniform, a blazing .45 Colt in either hand. A banner blares, George Stevens' Greatest Epic Yet! and Over Two Years in the Making! I shake my head in wonderment. In an eternity of 1957s, The Bridge on the River Kwai dominated the awards, but now?
I approach Jimmy, with Ursula Andress at his side radiating glamour like a quasar. I pluck a fluted glass of champagne from a passing waiter and spill it down the front of Jimmy's tuxedo jacket. The sycophants surrounding him draw back, aghast.
"Godallmighty, I'm sorry! Let me get you cleaned up!"
Inside the men's washroom, I dab away at his soggy jacket with a wet silk handkerchief, but he shoves me against the porcelain sink.
"That was intentional, but my hands are shaking," I say. "I'm about to see the fourth great James Dean film. You once said you wanted to do Hamlet while you were young, and re-create the role of Billy the Kid onscreen. The future is yours."
He glares into the ornate mirror. "You'll come back for those, too."
He turns and the bipolar, fear-shrouded Jimmy emerges.
"I ain't afraid of the future. I'm afraid of you. I have awful dreams after you go . . . wherever. I didn't sell the Spyder because of what that fop Guinness said in the papers, I just couldn't stand riding in it anymore. I'm not some damned puppet."
Jimmy pivots and punches me in the face. Flashbulbs pop inside my head and I sag to the tiled floor.
"Sorry about the eye," Jimmy says, "but I've got a reputation to maintain."
The tissue around my eye tingles and swells. I grin up at him. "No need to apologize."
This body, face, and sizzling nerve endings will be annihilated in fifteen minutes.
Jimmy stalks out to rejoin his waiting entourage.
‘Brane-slicer' contraband, case D-T 6987:
The Wolf (1905), Frank Norris, Doubleday, Page & Co., 354 pages - Norris's final Naturalist novel in his sweeping The Epic of the Wheat trilogy (following The Octopus and The Pit) describes the American-grown wheat relieving a famine-stricken village in Europe. Signed clothbound first edition.
Bid: $48.6M US [buyer identity redacted based on plea-bargain to assist in the apprehension of the seller]
The paramount rule in the unwritten Brane Slicer's Guide to Survival is, don't get caught. The second rule is, never get altruistic about your work. You're a quantum-tunneling conquistador, not Captain Kirk. The only Prime Directive is to make money.
Consider the tale of Dick Jenks.
Jenks was obsessed with Lennon. He abandoned his research and became the founding father of brane slicers so he could prevent the shooting outside The Dakota and allow his idol's musical renaissance to flourish beyond Double Fantasy and the posthumous, incomplete Milk and Honey. Jenks tried to intercede on a thousand Earths and watched Lennon die again and again. He eventually located a Wobbly-B, but the D-T boys were closing in, and he cracked. Jenks disguised himself as Lennon, identical clothes, black wire-rimmed glasses and a wig. He arrived sixty seconds ahead of schedule and Chapman, waiting in the gloom, emptied his pistol into Jenks instead. Lennon was so shaken by the near miss that he withdrew from public life, went back on H, and turned the paranoid dial up to ten. He died of an overdose on Christmas Eve 1980.
Poor Jenks. It wasn't a Wobbly.
Having auctioned the Shipwrecked print, my plan is to undergo extensive gene therapy and pop back into my wonderful Wobbly to, say, the high-flying 1990s. Stow the Device somewhere, and live off interest.
"What the hell is this?" Jimmy says.
We're on the Universal backlot in the Old West Town, spring 1963.
"It's the Hitchcock script I gave you. It'll be groundbreaking, like Psycho. Hitchcock will be back on top, and you'll win another Oscar."
Kaleidoscope is the crypt-dark Hitchcock masterpiece that every studio passed on, the story of a handsome young serial killer, told from the murderer's perspective. He planned to shoot it using hand-held cameras, three decades before The Blair Witch Project. Only Jimmy could invoke the necessary mix of sex appeal and tortured soul.
"He's a rapist," Jimmy says. "What would my fans think?"
He drops the script and walks away, spurs jingling.
Jimmy's career is in a tailspin. He is arrested for beating a gossip columnist over a scathing review of his Hamlet, and again when he breaks a director's nose after a botched scene in Billy The Kid Rides Again with John Wayne. The studio heads are tired of the drinking, reckless driving between films and scandals. Jimmy is thirty-three and looks forty-five. He's uninsurable. Jack Warner dumps him. Paramount signs and then drops him after he walks off the set of a love triangle with Jane Fonda and Paul Newman.
Jimmy cables Hitchcock and tells him what a fat, sick bastard he is. MCA drops the project.
I confront Jimmy in his trailer on the set of The Horror of Party Beach. It is June 1964, and Jimmy's hair is thinning, his face hollowed. The trailer reeks of sour beer and marijuana. His dust-covered bongos are piled in one corner, half-buried by soiled clothes.
I am dressed as a stagehand. "The director is waiting for you."
Jimmy is sprawled on a sofa bed, drinking from a bottle of Jack Daniels. He glares at the walls and motions for me to leave.
I say, "Remember when you shot East of Eden? You used to whistle when you were ready for a scene. It was a signal you and Kazan worked out."
Jimmy flinches and his arm knocks the bottle off the sofa. He watches whiskey gurgle onto the dirty carpet before grabbing it. He staggers to his feet and I recoil from the anguish in his eyes.
He gestures around the trailer. "Not exactly the Chateau Marmont, is it? I'm just doing this little picture to . . . to broaden my range." He laughs, a humorless whistling sound. "Will I win an Oscar for this one?"
He hurls something and I duck. The whiskey bottle spins over my head to shatter against the wall.
Jimmy removes a small blue-steel revolver from the mirrored counter and crosses the length of the trailer with surprising speed, kicking litter out of his way. His pale, whiskered face looks feral. He aims the pistol at my head and cocks the hammer.
"Stop screwing with my life." His eyes are flat, like a shark's.
The chime sounds inside my mind. I back slowly to the door. "I gave you a second chance, Jimmy. I warned you about instability-"
"I think you've been lying to me from the start," he says, and his finger whitens on the trigger.
At forty-six, Jimmy is unrecognizable. The hair clinging to his scalp in a widow's peak is gray and closely cropped. His face is an atlas of wrinkles. His eyes are rheumy and vacant. The tip of his left ear is missing. It is November 1977.
I sit beside him on the park bench and sling birdseed to a motley band of Central Park pigeons. Jimmy smokes a lumpy hand-rolled cigarette and stares straight through the bright clusters of playground children.
Given the gift of years, his feverish passion for his craft should have blossomed-but his soul was eaten away by the moths of time like Welles and Brando. If he were alive, crazy Dick Jenks would be rolling on the damp pavement, roaring laughter, scaring the pigeons.
His head swivels like a gun turret. His eyes focus.
"So I didn't kill you."
"No, but it was very close."
His face crumples like newspaper.
"Have you spoken to your daughter? Have you thought about working again, something small like off-Broadway theater?"
Defiant fire stokes behind Jimmy's eyes. I see Jim Stark, not a broken, prematurely old man.
"You can go straight to hell."
I place a white envelope on the bench seat.
Jimmy flicks away the cigarette butt and leans close enough for me to smell his poverty and despair.
"Money inside? What I want is to wake up, and all of this be a bad dream." He grabs the scarf around my neck in his wiry hands and hauls me to my feet. His voice rises in pitch, the lost sound of a frightened child. "I want to be young again. I want to be famous again." His eyes tear up.
"I want to be great again. You can wind all this back," he chokes, "and this time you don't put up that detour."
"Jimmy, I can't return to the same places and times. But I have a plan-"
He opens the envelope as if it might contain a black widow, and shakes the contents into his palm: Marlboro cigarettes and a small drift of diamonds.
He scatters the gemstones to the pigeons and tosses me the cigarettes.
"I quit in prison."
"Wait, that's not a pa-" I stop.
Jimmy shuffles away, gloveless hands buried in frayed coat pockets, disappearing into the gray New York streets he once haunted.
Columbus, our merchant-apostle, fervently believed that as lord of Hispaniola he would bring piety and civilization to the barbarous los Indios he ruled, but all he brought was epidemic and atrocity. He died a bitter pauper, unable to return to the New World with more ships and soldiers. Until his last breath he remained convinced he could rectify his mistakes and his reputation.
In uncounted worlds Jimmy is preserved as a youthful, misunderstood lost soul of postwar cinema, his mystery secure and eternal. Just look at what I've reduced him to in this one.
I return the identical Device disguised as a pack of smokes into my coat pocket next to its twin.
A chime, and the park vanishes in a silent white supernova.
The little car is a nimble bullet.
I blink and grip the steering wheel with white-knuckled hands, feel my right foot pressing the accelerator pedal. The desert wind screams past and the supercharger howls in answer. I glance in the little side mirror and see Jimmy's twenty-four-year-old face. No. My face. Our face.
Memory pours back like freezing stream water.
I return after the older, broken Jimmy shuffles away, the pigeons pecking at diamonds, and they're waiting for me. Commando shapes in night-gear, the cough and bee-sting of subsonic missiles striking my upper back and neck. A short fall into blackness.
"Better ease off a bit," says Rolf Wütherich, resurrected from dust to take this fateful ride again. "Shoot a piston and you won't be racing for a week."
I forgot to tell you how they dispose of brane slicers.
They might strand you 350 million years ago in Paleozoic Kansas when it was a vast lowland swamp, part of the supercontinent Laurussia, a tasty lunch for the twenty-foot crocodiles and meter-long scorpions. Or your consciousness is transmitted into the cranium of a pinstripe-suited stockbroker right before the first airliner knifes into the WTC north tower on 9/11, experiencing that doomed soul's final moments of stark terror.
The last mile unwinds like the final reel of a familiar film. The radio plays "Love's Old Sweet Song." A hawk flaps up from a telephone pole. The mechanical clock in the Spyder's dashboard reads 5:39 P.M.
We round a bend and cruise down a mild hill toward the 41 junction. A car is waiting, a '50 Ford Tudor, idling on the centerline. Jimmy's heart-my heart-begins hammering a slow drum-roll. Sweat rolls into my eyes. Piloted by the dependable Donald Turnipseed, the Ford hesitates and then lurches across the ash-colored highway. Rolf shouts above the wind as I veer directly into its path. His hand reaches for the wheel and I bat it away. No sense in fighting fate unless you're in a Wobbly. The blunt chrome nose of the Ford blots out the high deep-blue sky. I glimpse its driver's white face. It's a good death, and just penance for my avarice.
Jimmy's face smiles in the mirror, young again. Immortal again. In that last instant before we hit, I give him a wink.
Please visit Lightspeed Magazine (www.lightspeedmagazine.com) to read more great science fiction and fantasy. This story first appeared in the June 2012 issue, which also features original science fiction by Maggie Clark ("A Plague of Zhe"), along with SF reprints by Eileen Gunn ("Contact") and bestselling author George R. R. Martin ("The Way of Cross and Dragon"). Plus, there's original fantasy by debut writer Kelsey Ann Barrett ("My Teacher, My Enemy") and award-winning author John Langan ("Renfrew's Course"), with fantasy reprints by bestselling author Seanan McGuire ("Lost") and Hugo-winner Tim Pratt ("Cup and Table"). All that plus our usual assortment of author and artist spotlights, and feature interviews with bestselling author Anne Rice and documentary filmmaker Morgan Spurlock (director of Comic-Con, Episode IV: A Fan's Hope). You can wait for the rest of this month's contents to be serialized online, or you can buy the whole issue right now in convenient ebook format for just $3.99. It's another great issue, so be sure to check it out. And while you're at it, tell a friend about Lightspeed!
If you enjoyed this story, you may also enjoy Lightspeed editor John Joseph Adams's new book, Other Worlds Than These, an anthology of parallel worlds stories and portal fantasies, which features fiction by Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates, George R. R. Martin, Ursula K. Le Guin, Seanan McGuire, Carrie Vaughn, Catherynne M. Valente, and many more. It's due out from Night Shade Books in July.