Walter and Homeless Joe

What follows is an excerpt from my new eBook, Paradox Eclipse. It’s available from Amazon HERE.

Walter started to roam the streets looking for experiment subjects. He drove through neighborhoods that he wasn’t comfortable in. He doubted that he would even get out of the car. He had no fear, not even when things looked dangerous. There was a timed sender ready to bring him back to yesterday if it had to. In the meantime, he would find someone who would take the big risk.

How does one go about procuring human test subjects for a secret experiment? He certainly couldn’t put up a help wanted ad somewhere. What he could do was find people who had no better option. He felt like a cheap villain from an old novel. He was seeking out the homeless. He would take advantage of the destitute. What other choice did he have?

His first bid was a thousand dollars. He could easily afford it. A thousand dollars couldn’t purchase a human test subject though. The offer was too high. Walter had assumed that people living on the street wouldn’t be able to resist. He was wrong. No one offers random homeless people a thousand dollars for a secret job. No one was interested, even when he showed them that he had the money on his person. They all viewed him with too much suspicion. Whoever he was, he was dangerous.

So that first foray had to be revised. Before Walter had set out to find his subject he had opened a receiver. He was glad that he hadn’t assumed that the obvious approach would work. His note told him what kind of responses he got.

So he tried again for the first time. He drove along the same route that his note said, seeing the people that he had described to himself. This time he offered five hundred dollars instead. He still couldn’t find a willing participant. They were more receptive, but when he refused to explain the work, everyone assumed that he was lying. So he had to revise it again.

He found it ironic that he was paying too high a price to hire a bum for a time traveling job. He tried again. This time he went with a single hundred dollar bill as the bait. Twenty dollars bought attention. He promised a hundred if they would only accompany him for a bit of very easy work. Again his offer was declined. He lost the twenty dollar bait again and again. He didn’t care, of course, especially since, after the experiment, all of this would be revised anyway.

At last he found an older gentleman who smelled bad and needed new clothes. “A hundred dollars for what exactly?”

“Well that’s the thing. It’s a secret. I need you to come with me. You’re going to work for an hour or two, real simple stuff. Then you get a hundred dollars.”

“A hundred dollars. Who the hell pays a hundred dollars to someone like me for two hours work? If you’re thinkin’ I do that kind of stuff, you’re wrong.”

“No, no, I’m not looking for sex or anything deviant. If I were, no offense, I wouldn’t be looking for someone like you.”

“Heh. Yeah, okay, I can b’lieve that. What if I change my mind when I see the work?”

“Then you walk away with the twenty I’m giving you now. No hard feelings. What’s your name, friend?”

“Joe. Let me think about this.”

“Take your time.” Walter watched the old man consider his options. He was surprised that Joe wasn’t quite ready to agree to it all.

“How far we goin’?”

“About ten blocks, I guess. I own a building.”

“How many other people you payin’?”

“I only need one. I just need it quiet.”

“I’m not gonna steal somethin’ or anythin’ like that am I?”

“You don’t look like you’d be good at that anyway. Joe, I’m on the level. I’ll tell you that everything will be okay. I promise. I just need someone who needs the money and who can keep his mouth shut. Okay?”

“You can’t find no one else?”

“How would I hire someone for a job so secret that I can’t tell them what it is until they get there? What do you put in the ad?”

“I’ll see where we’re goin’. One thing. People are seein’ me get into your car. I’m here alla time. I go missin’ and they’ll tell the cops.”

“I’m not worried.”

“I’m serious, man.”

“And I believe you. Are you coming or not?”

Looking like he expected to regret it, Joe got in the car. Walter asked him, “Should we stop to eat or anything? We’ve got time for it.”

“Uh, okay, sure.”

Walter talked to the funny old man over a hamburger. He was surprised again at how sharp this man was. He wasn’t brilliant, but Walter expected quite a bit less. By the time they got to his office, Walter had Joe’s confidence. Or so it seemed. “In there?”

“Yeah, Joe, in there. It’s where I live. It’s also where I work.”

“So what am I doin’? Washin’ a car or sumthin’?”

“For a hundred bucks?”

“Well I don’t know about this. You said I could walk away.”

“You can. You might as well come in though.”

“Man, this is startin’ to worry me.”

“A hundred dollars, Joe. I don’t have anything else to offer you but that. Do you want it or not?”

Joe thought about it. He was a lot less certain about this now that his stomach was full. On the other hand he liked the thought of staying full. “I can walk away even if I go inside?”

“Joe, quit worrying. It’s not a problem. I’ll show you what I want, and you can do it or not. Okay?”

Joe followed Walter in. “Okay, man, what do you want now that I’m here?”

“I want you to try something out. I put it in the next room.” Walter led the old man along to a pair of his machines. “This is it. I have to prepare this one before the other one will work.” Walter was as suspicious as Joe was. He halfway expected to be stabbed if he kept his back to the old man for very long. He watched out of the corner of his eye, but the only thing Joe did was take off his hat and rub it like it was a pet. “That’s done,” Walter said. “Now this one here, you see it?”

“Yeah. What is it?”

“If I told you, you wouldn’t believe me. All I need you to do is sit there while I make it work. You see the circle? You have to sit in that circle. You can’t let any part of you out of the circle. You have to keep completely inside it.”

“It’s glass. Will it hold me?”

“Easily. Don’t worry about that.”

“I don’ want to break it.”

“You won’t.”

“What’s it going to do to me?”

“Well that’s what I’m going to find out. It won’t hurt you though. I promise you that much.”

“You sure about that?”

“Absolutely.”

“Then why don’t you do it?”

That struck Walter as an obvious idea. He should have just tried it on himself. With a timed sender, he would have been fine afterwards no matter the outcome. He had brought this idea this far though, so he decided to see it through. “I can’t sit there inside the circle and also work the controls. That simple. But remember, you can’t tell anyone about this.” Walter wasn’t actually concerned about that. He was only using it as a distraction.

“Just sit on it. What else?”

“That’s all. I need you to tell me what it’s like. That’s all.”

“Man, I don’t know about this. A hundred bucks for sitting in a circle. It gonna electrocute me or something?”

“If there were any risk of that, I’d be using an animal, not a person. I don’t want to go to jail.”

“Huh. I guess that’s right.” Joe thought that one through. It made sense. What did he really have to lose? He still had a vague worry about some kind of pain or accident, but he couldn’t see how this thing would harm him. “All right. A hundred bucks. You promised?”

“It’s in my pocket, Joe.” Walter felt extreme tension and delight as his subject crawled up onto the sender platform. “You’ve got to sit on it, not stand. Okay, now hold still.” Walter walked around him. “You’ve got to pull your toes in a bit. Anything outside the circle ruins the experiment.”

It was the first time Joe heard the word experiment, and it startled him to the point that he almost backed out. Before he could, he did as he was told. He pulled his foot closer, which was a bit hard with his old joints. Walter pressed the button.

Time Revision, less than ten minutes earlier

“— I have to prepare this one before the other one will work.” Walter was as suspicious as Joe was. He halfway expected to be stabbed if he kept his back to the old man for very long. He watched out of the corner of his eye, but the only thing Joe did was take off his hat and rub it like it was a pet. That nervous motion ceased instantly once Joe saw himself sitting there on the receiver. He dropped his hat and stood with his mouth wide open. There was a second homeless Joe, and he was every bit as shocked. His eyes shot open. He demanded, “What the hell is goin’ on?”

Walter stepped back so that the two identical old men could approach each other. “Joe, meet Joe.”

“Who are you, man?,” one asked the other.

“Was gonna ask you the same thing.”

Both of them turned to Walter for an explanation. One Joe asked, “You clone me or somethin’?”

“It’s even more unbelievable than that. That’s a time machine.”

For the first time, the future Joe realized that he was not where he had been moments ago. “My god!” He looked at a clock. “You’re serious! This is for real! I’m from the future.”

The other Joe asked him, “How far in the future?” It was unbelievable, but there he was, a second Joe. He poked his other self on the shoulder. “You’re real.”

“Yeah, he had me set there and then I was there.”

“How long, man?”

“I don’t know. Twenty minutes?”

“Probably not even that,” Walter said.

The Joes looked at him with a new kind of bewilderment. “Now just why in the hell would you send a man back in time twenty minutes?”

“I had to know that it was safe for human travel.”

“And you couldn’t a told him that?,” the present Joe said.

The future Joe asked, “So this ain’t happenin’ like it did the first time. So what happens if he just don’t sit on the machine in a few minutes?”

“That’s pretty smart, Joe. You’re sharper than I expected. He’s not going to sit on the sender and then there will be two of you.”

The Joes looked at each other. Present Joe wasn’t certain if he was joking or not. “Do we both get paid?”

“You get paid ten times what I said. Each of you. I just want to make sure that you’re all right first. Fair enough?”

The Joes weren’t certain what to do. They talked it out while Walter listened intently. They argued a bit, which indicated that even though they were the same person they could react differently, come to different conclusions, at least immediately. In the end, after some gentle prodding from Walter, the two old homeless men figured that they couldn’t be hurt by answering questions and seeing it through. If any damage had been done, then it was already done.

Walter asked them questions. He had them both write down answers to a brief test. He wanted them to put their thoughts down. He read that carefully. “All right then, you’re like the gerbils. I assumed that, but I needed to know that human minds could travel through time. You’ve answered a lot of questions already. I do have one more thing to try, if you want an extra thousand.”

The Joes’ motive for going along with the crazy scientist was simple. They had nothing better to do. They were getting paid to do something that very few people would ever believe was possible.

“What do we gotta do to get the next thousand?,” present Joe asked.

“Go through the machine again.”

“Three of us? I don’t think so.”

“Listen, Joe, I need to know if two organisms can travel at once. You understand?”

“Like we both go through? Four of us when it’s done?”

“No. You and something else. I have a dog ready.”

“You’re kiddin. You want us to end up like in a old movie. A dog person mutant.”

“That can’t happen.”

“Then why try it to see?”

Walter was starting to get annoyed, but only because he had completely lost track of which of these two was the present Joe and which was from the future. They traded off talking every so often, and quite often they would both start to talk with only one finishing. It wasn’t any kind of mental connection. Walter had paid attention for that, and his tests should have given him some clue if anything like that were in effect. It was just a common instinct. Both Joes had a similar sense of social conversation rule. It was easy for one or the other to back out of a question in favor of the other. The only thing Walter couldn’t tell for sure was whether or not those double sentences would have been the same idea every time. He didn’t need to know that yet. Time enough to learn about double beings later. His course was set regardless of that determination.

He explained to his guinea pigs, “I have no reason to think anything bad could happen. I do have to know though. If anything bad does happen, then I’ll fix it.”

“Now how in the hell are you gonna fix it? You’re a time traveler and a geneticist?”

“No. I’ll open a receiver, one end of a time jump. If anything goes wrong, then I’ll send back a note telling us what went wrong. Then we simply won’t go through with it, and I’ll still know what happened. You understand?”

They understood all too well. One of the Joes rubbed his forehead thoughtfully. “Like a reset button on the world.”

“That’s right.”

“So we aren’t getting paid then. You’re gonna undo this whole thing.”

Walter sighed in disappointment. Out of all the possible bums in the city, he had to find the one smart enough to figure him out. He didn’t answer right off. He felt a slight sense of danger. Joe was old and he was a fairly small man, so Walter didn’t think that these two could pose a serious threat. There were two of them though.

The Joes looked at each other. “Not two of us then. That’s good.”

“No money either. No memory this happened.”

One of the Joes turned to Walter, “Okay then, you promise us that you’ll pay us anyway, and we’ll do it.”

“Pay you anyway?”

“I’m still gonna be where you found me, when you found me, right? So you go there that day, that time and you hand me an envelope fulla money. Don’t even gotta tell me what it’s for.”

Walter was grateful for that. These men, this man, was eminently reasonable, but he should have considered that coming from an intellect that could work out the troubles of time travel that fast. It was a shame that this man was wasted living on a sidewalk. Walter was happy to help. “You’ve got my word. As long as it’s something I’m able to do, I’ll get you the money.”

“You’re gonna send you a note yesterday.”

“Not yesterday, but in the past, yes.”

“Okay then.”

Walter had picked up a dog from a shelter. It was, in his opinion, a disposable dog. He viewed it in much the same way that he viewed the gerbils. He would undo the dog experiment regardless of the outcome because he didn’t want to do it any harm. He saw his human subject the same way. He would be certain to revise the trouble or harm that came to them as a result of his experiments. He would use them though.

For the moment, things were happy enough. Joe and the nameless dog took to each other quite well. Walter was grateful for that. It would make things easier. All he had to do, after activating a big receiver, was have Joe sit on a sender and hold the dog on his lap.

This time the gap was only a little over five minutes. Walter already knew that long and short time gaps had the same effect on traveling objects.

Joe and the dog returned. The room was filled with a scientist, three identical bums and two identical dogs. The future puppy leaped off of Joe’s lap and roamed around the room real fast to see who all the people were. To say that the dog was confused by the identical scent from multiple people was putting it lightly, but that was nothing compared to the dog’s amazement at another dog that had his own scent. The two puppies leaped backwards, then approached each other carefully. They sniffed each other multiple places while all four of the men in the room watched with fascination. The puppies decided that they were really smelling what they thought they were. One of them had his tail wagging. The other barked angrily for a moment. That set a puppy running and yapping. The dogs kept their distance from each other since one of them felt aggression. By then it was impossible to tell which puppy came from the future. By then it was possible that they had already passed the narrow time gap, so that the future was a relative concept to at least one of the puppies. Joe seemed to realize that. “We really don’t vanish or anything. We just stick around as copies. Do we last forever?”

“For life, anyway,” Walter said. “We tested this on gerbils first.”

“We?”

Walter didn’t answer that. He had to find something out. “I couldn’t ask you this the first time, but what does it feel like to travel through time?”

“It’s… I don’t know how to say it. It doesn’t feel bad. It’s like, huhn. It’s like the world is a big head, I’m an eye, and the world just blinked real hard.”

“Oh.” Walter wasn’t sure why, but this guy describing something like time travel sensation using a strong metaphor bothered him. He really regretted his choice of test subject. There had to have been a bum with a smaller mind. For the briefest of moments Walter considered revising this situation in order to use someone else. Then he decided that it wasn’t worth revising. He had what he needed and that was what was important.

He kept an eye on the bum to make certain that his situation was safe. Now there were three Joes, and if they realized what the time machine was worth, then they might try to simply take it. Then again, the Joes had a different point of view. There were three of them. Joe thought that living as two people would be unreal enough. He didn’t think he could possibly live as a trio of Joes. There was only one way to solve that. Besides, he assumed that a man smart enough to invent a time machine would have some kind of insurance. Joe strongly doubted that he would be able to take the machine if he wanted to. He was right. There was a timed sender that would eliminate the entire scenario if it came to that.

Walter had taken notes and recorded some of the experiments. He had it all ready, if in a haphazard fashion. As long as the important information was there, then he could organize it in the past when he received it. “Okay. I have it. Joe, you know that none of this is going to happen.”

“I get it. Just do it. There’s no reason to wait is there?”

“None that I can think of.”

“You really gonna pay me?”

“That’s the plan.”

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