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Chapter 2

As I threw the living room lights on, they fully illuminated Ell’s nimble form. There was an
instant response as she caught my reaction. “Oh. I apologize. I see you humans are creatures who
wear garments for other than protection from the environment.” She immediately appeared in clothes
identical to mine. Then after another awkward moment, switched inexplicably to a clown suit. I
hesitated in surprise. During the pause, Ell got my favorite papasan chair. I settled for the leftover
sofa and wondered if that awkward clown suit would come back to haunt her years from now.

“I appreciate your offer of free service but must insist you come up with an appropriate payment for your help in repairing my glider. As I’ve already stated, it’s protocol.”

“Yes, protocol. I understand. Okay. Give me some time to think about it. As you know, I don’t plan to hang around for long after you leave. But I’ll help you while you’re here, if I can.”

“Certainly, and thank you. And I should add, I will need your help in removing the defective part.
I cannot do the work required and the glider is unable to do the work for me because of the nature of
the defect.”

I started to get up. “We might as well get started then. What tools do I need?”

“No tools. It doesn’t work that way. You’ll see.” Then as suddenly as she had appeared, she was

A moment later I found myself standing on bedrock at the bottom of the crater. An open door
spilled an eerie light out across the night, backlighting the glider in a ghostly radiance. It wasn’t an
elegant craft. I had conjured up an image of a sleek machine with graceful curves and backswept
wings as its name might imply. But it was just a rugged shipping crate-like affair; not unlike an old
boxcar. It was well-worn and grimy from hard use and sat directly on the ground. There were neither
supporting struts nor landing gear. Nor wings. Nor apparent engines. Nothing I would have dreamed
up as a time glider.

Beyond the open door, however, the glider was spotless. Ell stepped up to the opening and
invited me in. The interior was well lit but barren. The air odorless, though slightly astringent. It
reminded me of an empty operating room. There were no chairs, no tables. No dials or switches. Just
the bare gray walls. And a slight tingle on my skin like there might be a lot of static electricity in the

“The superstructure becomes transparent when the glider is working, and you feel like you’re standing in the open,” Ell explained for some reason. Then she pointed down a long hallway that clearly could never fit inside the glider. “Down there is where I came from. If the glider was fully operational we could walk back there and see your moon when it appeared twenty times larger than it does tonight. And your day was a little over three hours long.”

“You mean you’re still connected to the past.” I nodded toward the hallway. “Down there?”

“Not at all points. Just two. Here and there. But that hallway ends not only in the distant past. It reaches across millions of light years of space as well since your earth and our galaxy have moved during that time.”

As she turned, the hallway to the Hadean rotated from view as another chamber took its place.
“This is the, I guess you would call it the engine room or control room.” She led the way into it, her
clown shoes flapping heavily against the deck. “It’s where the quantum paradoxes are set up and
carried out. The little impossibilities that drive the glider in the direction of space and time you want
to go. There’s my broken linkage right there,” she said pointing to a dull gray rod with an obvious
crack through its midpoint. It connected two unremarkable, consoles about the sizes of small
refrigerators. “It’s a simple piece that should never have broken. But it did. After the boulder strike
that should never have happened either. And I have no way to construct another. Almost anything else
could have failed and the glider would have fixed it on the spot or worked around it without my
intervention. But not this.”

I stepped over to the slightly out-of-kilter link. It was about four feet long and as thick as my wrist. “Looks like a solid piece of metal,” I muttered.

“It is. Or was.”

I leaned down to study the broken linkage. “So how critical are the specifications on that thing?”

I thought I detected a feathery probe sweep along my left frontal lobe. Perhaps a scan for the specific measurement terms needed. Then, “Twelve microns in width but only a few tenths of millimeters in length. Is that a problem?”

“It might take a while to mill the width precisely but I don’t see any problems with the rest. What’s the material?”

“Titanium. It’s the only titanium on the glider so I can’t give you any to work with except the piece itself. It couples the spatial and temporal flight actuators. Proper coordination between the actuators requires exacting feedback so the titanium has to be pure to minimize navigation errors due to uneven distortions in the metal.”

“Um, how pure?”

“I’m not sure. The specifications aren’t detailed since the part was never expected to fail. It’s listed only as titanium. Such an entry usually implies pure.”

That was my first clue this creature with the magnificent time glider wasn’t all-knowing. I felt a
little better seeing that chink in her knowledge. Maybe we were more alike than I had first thought. I
didn’t know the composition of the alloy in the crankshaft in my car either. “Can you tell me anything
about its manufacture? What levels of expertise did the builders have in working with titanium?”

“I’m sorry. I don’t know that either. Extensive, I would imagine.”


Another twinge of satisfaction. “Well, like you said, the part was never expected to fail. But I can get a metallurgical analysis to see how pure it is and what minor impurities it might have, if any. I hope it’s not one hundred percent pure. We don’t have the ability to do one hundred percent. But I think we can get pretty close to what you need.”

“Will you be able to lift the piece out and get it up to your car?” “Shouldn’t be a problem if you help.”

“I can’t help.”

I glanced at her disapprovingly.

“I’m not actually real,” she added. “Not like you think, anyway.”

It took me a moment to catch on. “Ah. You mean you’re like a projection into my mind? A thought?” That explained her lips not moving when she spoke. “Then who touched my neck back on the edge of the crater earlier?”

“That was a mental construction too. I can appear to touch you and cause nerve impulses so you to feel my imaginary touch but I exist only in the machinery of the glider. I never exerted any actual force on you. I just didn’t want you to get any closer to the edge.”

“Then why not run a mental construct of the cracked titanium rod and be done with it?”

“Because the glider itself is real. It’s a part of the world you live in. Or more accurately, your brain lives in. You are actually a projection of your brain just as I am a projection of the glider. You think of your body as yourself but you’re only a phantom drifting loose among your neural connections. Much like me.”

“But I see you quite clearly.”

“And yet you live in the dark of your cranium just as I live in the dark of the glider’s machineries. No light reaches your brain. It converts nerve impulses from your retina to represent the bright world around you just as the glider creates the surrounding world for me. Since your retina transmits trains of nerve impulses telling you about the outside world, the glider uses those same neurons to introduce impulses that create the images it wants you to see. You experience me; sight, sound, touch; through the same conduits you would perceive other humans. To your brain I’m just as authentic as they are.” She paused until I caught her eye. “But neither of us are real. Your phantom self controls your body to do physical things. My phantom self controls the glider which serves as my real-world body while I’m here. A body now seriously limited.”

This was a lot of information for an old man to take in all at once. I sort of froze. Was I dealing with a woman in a clown suit or merely the glider itself—a damaged piece of alien hardware using its legerdemain of superior technology to trick me into fixing it? Did Ell really exist? Or was she merely a contrivance of the glider? Who or what exactly was I conversing with? The phrase cogito, ergo sum popped into my mind.


There was no way to know.

But Ell was watching me. Or perhaps better stated, Something was watching me.

“All right,” I muttered after a moment. “Let’s see if the virtual part of me can convince the real-
world part to lift this busted piece of time glider. How much you figure it weighs, anyhow?”

“About 25 pounds.”

“Well, I might was well take it back with me now.” I stepped closer to the broken piece. “Um, you can’t do that, Cager.”

“Why not?”

“You’re not actually here yet. You’re still in the house. Sorry. I should have told you.”

After a brief sense of disorientation I found myself still sitting in the living room staring at Ell. I blinked twice before I spoke. “Nice trick, Ell,” I said as nonchalantly as I could manage. “So how does the real me get down into the real hole to retrieve the real titanium rod?”

“You’ll have to climb down.”

“To heck with that. I can get us some help out here in the morning.”

“No. Only you can know about this for obvious reasons. If word got out about an alien time glider in a hole in your front yard … well, you can imagine. This has never happened before.”

“That’s hard to believe.”

“Oh, we’ve been sighted at times, but we have protocols for that built into the gliders. All the witnesses see are visions of their own kind performing routine activities. This is the first breakdown that has left a glider on the surface of a planet with a civilization and no way to leave without help from that civilization. I suspect you already see the catastrophe that would result from humans having access to a glider.” Her puckish grin was more serious now, her eyes quite solemn.

I thought about the possibilities. It would soon be the end of humanity as we tinkered with
history. The future. Everything. It would probably start with killing Hitler and go downhill from there.

“I think you already sense the threat,” she said. “But reality is far more susceptible to
interference than you probably realize. Changes radiate out like a chain reaction. One imperceptible
change causes two more inconspicuous perturbations until billions of revisions have propagated
throughout reality. And the rate of change accelerates forever once set in motion. Let me give you an

“A minor adjunct of our studies was to trace out the events leading to intelligent life here on
earth. That study was never completed but we did trace back as far as two amphibians battling over a
sunny spot on a rotted log. If the loser had won, you wouldn’t be here. The winning amphibian had the
exact gene sequences leading to humans. The loser didn’t.”

So I was somehow the product of the proto-lizard winner? That didn’t sound right. Surely I descended from the loser somehow. But Ell wasn’t through.

“Even your own birth was a once-in-the-life-of-the-universe event. At only one brief moment in all of creation was the microscopic sperm carrying half the specific DNA sequence defining you in contact with the egg carrying the other half. If the meeting of those two miniscule gametes had been delayed even a few seconds, a rival sperm would have won the battle and your single chance to exist would have vanished forever into that great, cosmic realm of missed opportunities. And the same scenario applies to your parents’ conceptions. And their parents. In fact, if a person with a time glider wanted to get rid of you, they would only have to intercept your father shortly before you were conceived. They wouldn’t have to kill him; just delay him a bit or jostle him around and they would have effectively murdered you before you were even born. Or ….”

I finally stopped her. “Okay. I get it. But right now we need to get that broken part up to my car
somehow so I can order up a replacement and get you out of here. You can fill me in on how lucky I
am later.”

“Certainly. Sorry. I prattle on sometimes when I think about everything too much.” “It’s okay.” I pushed up off the sofa. “And one other thing.”


“Since you’re just a perceptual construct, you can ditch the clown suit. I liked your initial projection much better.” “You mean I’m less threatening without clothes?”
Oh. If only my high school dates had been this easy.

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