|電影 • 小說|有雞先還是有蛋先:《Predestination》逆時空狙擊 (2014) ★★★★★

《Predestination》宿命論 / 超時空攔截 / 前目的地 / 命定終途 - The Spierig Brothers(2014)
IMDb Ratings: 7.5/10 from 21,929 users
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 82% – ‎22 votes
Douban Rating: 7.8/10 – ‎6,260 votes

要是你看到這裡就打算會去看電影的話,又不想要劇透什麼,請在看完電影以後才好回來看下文,也同時記得忽略市面上全部影評;因為只差一句,單單一句劇透就毀了你一個故事。也當然,如果你想要在看以前先有個 concept,好讓你有另一番更清晰的體會,先讀讀小說,或者也可以幫助你了解劇情推進啊!(自行選擇啦)

由我來試試組織劇情(以下劇透,慎入):

“Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” “The rooster!”

  1. 1970
    一開場 X 拆爆彈,被炸傷毀容;有人及時出現送上時光機。X 就是後來被招進時光局工作的 John。
  2. 1970 跳 1992(John 獨自跳)
  3. 1992
    炸傷毀容;醫生將 John 整成及媽都認不出來的樣子。
  4. 1992 跳 1970(整容後的 John)
  5. 1970
    整容後的 John 化身酒保在等待化名 Unmarried Mother 的男作家在酒吧遇上酒保(Ethan Hawke 飾),言談間 Unmarried Mother 說明自己身世。Unmarried Mother 原名為 Jane,是個棄嬰,十幾歲那年懷孕產子,孩子父親失蹤;產子過程醫生發現她是個雙性人,子宮在手術後不能要了,醫生以健全的人為大前題,決定把她改做成男人。因此,消失的浪子爸爸被視為毀了他一生的人。酒保說我可以帶你去把他殺死,條件是 Unmarried Mother 需要跟他工作。Unmarried Mother 就這樣跟酒保時光一轉跳到 1963 年。
  6. 1970 跳 1963酒保 + Unmarried Mother)
  7. 1963
    酒保把 1970 年的 Unmarried Mother 帶來 1963 年的 Jane 的身邊。
    Unmarried Mother 在當年 Jane 遇上浪子的地方等待想要殺他浪子,沒料到就遇上當年的自己。他當下就知道,當年 Jane 遇上的浪子就是變性後從未來回來的自己(oh my gosh)。
  8. 1963 跳 1970(酒保自己跳)
  9. 1970
    酒保想阻止爆炸,失敗。見到 John 拆彈被毀容,送上自己的時光機;也就明白了一開場救了 John 的人其實是自己!
  10. 1970 跳 1964(酒保應該是在把自己的時光機給 John 以後拿來 John 的時光機再跳) 
  11. 1964
    酒保在 Jane 產子以後來到醫院把嬰兒抱走。
  12. 1964 跳 1945(酒保自己又跳)
    酒保將嬰兒放到孤兒院門前。
  13. 1945 跳 1963 (酒保自己跳)
    酒保接走 John,含含糊糊說了你知道你自己是誰又知道自己和誰怎樣或者就快會知道我是誰。
    然後 Unmarried Mother 就守承諾去做時空旅人執行任務;也就是回去 1970 即開場時候拆彈啦。
  14. 然後酒保跳到……(應該是 1975?)
    在古董店認識了個女朋友。在打字機用無名氏的筆言寫了本小說。拿著時光局的指示,在洗衣機找來了從未來來的炸彈人(做完這一個 order 本來就可以跟時光機一起退休啦)。沒料到一直追一直阻礙的炸彈人到頭來是老了的自己;炸彈老人跟酒保說不要殺我啊,我每一個爆炸都是為了阻止攻大的災難你看我都有剪報證明(是玩得太大了吧每一次都回到過去炸一次),你殺我以後後悔然後老了就會成為我。oh well,酒保開槍。時光機也退休不成。同時也就是因為他殺了爆彈人,老了看到還能用的時光機才決定回去阻止災難才又成為炸彈人;一切才可以一直 loop 下去。

結果也就是說他本來就是從來沒頭沒尾的一個人,也就是說從頭到尾所有的他都是他自己一個人。這讓我又回到在電影一進場早早時段那個有雞先還是有蛋先的問題了:“Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” “The rooster!”。電影看完,我去找了原著 Robert A. Heinlein 1959 年所寫的《All You Zombies》來看;跟短篇小說一樣的部分電影也拍得很不錯;一小點的改動也完好了故事的節奏和情緒。除了本身的英文版本,我也找到了台灣博客中的中文翻譯本(這版本似乎翻得最穩妥)。

* * * * *

《你們這些回魂屍》羅伯. A. 海萊因

1970 年11 月7 日2217 時,第五時區(東部標準時間),紐約市,「老爹家」酒館:

「未婚媽媽」進門的時候我正在擦一只白蘭地酒杯。我注意到時間─晚上10:17 分,第五時區,或說是東部時間,1970 年11 月7 日。時光特務總是留意日期時間,我們必需如此。

未婚媽媽其實是個二十五歲的男人,不比我高,有著稚氣的長相和易怒的脾氣。我不喜歡他的外貌─從來沒喜歡過─但他是我在這裡要召募的小伙子,他是我的男孩。我給他一個屬於酒保的最佳微笑。

可能我太吹毛求疵了,他沒有馬上過來。他的綽號來自於每當有好管閒事的傢伙問起他的家系時,他那千篇一律的回答:「我是個未婚媽媽。」如果他還沒打算殺人,那他可能會補上一句:「我寫告解的故事,一個字掙四分錢。」

如果他心情惡劣,他可能會等著誰來這樣問他。他有種致人於死的內鬥風格,像個女條子─這是我想要他的原因,不過不是唯一的原因。

他要了一杯酒,表情顯示他比平常更看不起別人。我安靜地倒給他雙份「老內衣」烈酒,把瓶子留給他。他一飲而盡,又倒了一杯。

我擦拭著吧檯。「『未婚媽媽』怎麼來著?」

他的手指捏緊玻璃杯,好像就要把杯子砸向我,我像個傻瓜跌到吧檯下。在進行時光操縱時你會想試著搞懂一切,但是有太多變數會讓你承受不必要的風險。

我看見他極輕微地放鬆了一些些,在局裡的訓練學校,他們教會你要觀察這點。「對不起,」我說。「只是問問,就當我說的是『生意怎麼樣?』,或是『天氣好嗎?』」

他看來悶悶不樂。「生意還好。我寫,他們印,我吃飯。」

我給自己倒上一杯,向他傾身。「說真的,」我說,「你寫的很不賴─我看過幾篇。你對女性觀點有驚人的確切感觸。」

這纰漏是我必須冒的風險;他從來沒承認他用的筆名是什麼。但是他已經醉到只聽見後面那句:「女性觀點!」他用鼻子哼氣,重覆了一遍。「對啦,我很懂女性觀點。我本來就該懂。」

「是哦?」我懷疑地說。「因為你有姊妹嗎?」

「不是。就算我跟你說你也不會相信。」

「說嘛,說嘛,」我和善地回答,「酒保和精神科醫生學到的一點就是,沒什麼比事實更有力。嗯,孩子,如果你像我一樣聽別人說故事─那麼,你會讓自己變得難以置信的有錢。」

「你不懂『難以置信』是什麼意思!」

「所以咧?什麼都嚇不倒我的。更糟的事我也聽過。」他又用鼻子哼了一聲。「想賭瓶子裡剩下的酒嗎?」

「我跟你賭一整瓶。」我在吧檯上擺上一瓶酒。

「好吧─」我向另一位酒保打暗號,請他過來顧檯。我們在遙遠的一端,一個獨立的空間,我在吧檯上堆滿醃漬蛋的罐子和其它雜物,藉以保持這裡的隱密。有幾個人在另一端看別人打架,有些人在玩點歌機─我們的所在地有如一張床一樣的隱密。

「好,」他開始說道,「從頭說起,我是個私生子。」

「和這裡其它人沒啥分別。」我說。

「我是認真的,」他厲聲說。「我的父母沒有結婚。」

「還是沒啥分別,」我堅持。「我父母也沒結婚。」

「當我─」他停下來,我第一次看見他給了我一個警告的眼神。「你是說真的嗎?」

「當然。事實上我是個百分之百的私生子。」我補充道,「我的家族裡沒有人結過婚。全都是私生子。」

「哦,這個啊。」我把戒指亮給他看。「這只是看起來像婚戒罷了。我戴戒指是為了避開女人。」這是我在1985 年跟同事買來的一件古董─他是在前基督時期的克里特島上拿到的。「噬尾蛇…也就是吃自己尾巴的世界蛇,永遠沒有尾端。這是偉大悖論的象徵。」

他幾乎沒對戒指瞥上一眼。「如果你真是個私生子,你就知道那是什麼感覺。當我還是個小女孩─」

「哇哦!」我說。「我有沒有聽錯?」

「現在是誰在說故事?當我還是個小女孩─聽著,有沒有聽過克莉斯汀.約根森?或是羅伯特.考威爾?」

「呃,變性的案例嗎?你是要跟我說─」

「別打斷我或是可憐我,不然我就不說了。我是個棄嬰,那是1945 年,我一個月大時就被丟在克里夫蘭的一間孤兒院。當我還是個小女孩,我嫉妒那些有父母的孩子。然後,當我學到了性知識─相信我,老爹,你在孤兒院裡學得特別快─」

「我知道。」

「─我鄭重其事地發誓,我的每個孩子都會有老爸和老媽。這信念讓我保持『純真』,在那樣的環境裡簡直是個壯舉─我必須學會反抗來維持信念。之後我長大了些,了解到我實在不太有機會結婚─和我一直沒被收養是一樣的理由。」他臉色一沈。「我有張馬臉,暴牙,平胸,而且是直髮。」

「你看起來不會比我還糟。」

「誰在乎一個酒保看起來怎樣呢?或許作家也是吧。但是想領養小孩的人們總是揀走那些藍眼睛、金頭髮的小小低能兒。接下來呢,男孩子都喜歡女孩有大胸部,可愛的長相,還有會說『哦你好強』的禮貌。」他聳聳肩。「我根本不能比,所以我決定要加入『女侍』的行列。」

「啊?」

「女性緊急國家部隊侍候及娛樂部門的簡稱,現在它們叫做『太空天使』─天外軍隊輔助醫護使命團。」

這兩個說法我都知道,不過名稱總是逐漸演變。我們用的仍然是第三個名稱,也就是所謂的精英軍事服務部隊:女性侍候命令增強暨激勵太空人部隊。字義的改變是時間跳躍最大的障礙─你可知道「賓館」以前就只是單純拿來招待賓客的?有次在邱吉爾時代的任務裡,有個女人跟我說,「到隔壁的賓館等我」─她的意思不是聽起來的那樣;(那時的)賓館裡面甚至不會有床。

他繼續說道:「那時他們首次承認你不能把人送上太空好幾年好幾個月,還不試著緩和他的緊張情緒。你還記得那些衛道份子是怎麼慘叫的吧?─既然志願者很少,就給了我機會。女孩一定要受人尊重,最好是處女(他們喜歡從頭訓練起),要有平均以上的智力和穩定的情緒。但是大部份的志願者要嘛是老妓女,不然就是只要離開地球十天就會崩潰的神經過敏患者。所以我根本不需要長相;如果他們要我,他們就會搞定我的暴牙,幫我的頭髮弄個大波浪,教我走路和跳舞,教我怎樣愉快地聽男人說話,還有其它的一切─再加上主要勤務的訓練。有幫助的話,他們甚至可能會幫我整形─對我們的男孩們來說不是什麼太好的事。

「最好的是,他們確保妳在服役期間不會懷孕─而且妳幾乎可以肯定在結束後能嫁掉。跟今天一樣,『天使』嫁給太空人─他們言語相通。

「當我十八歲時,我被安置成為一名『媽媽助手』。這戶人家只是想要一個便宜的傭人,但是我不介意,反正我要到二十一歲才能服役。我做家事,還上了夜校─假裝要繼續我的高中打字和速記課程,但我其實是去上了魅力課程,這樣我比較有入伍的機會。

「然後我遇見了這位城裡的滑頭,他帶著一堆百元鈔票。」他皺起眉頭。「這個壞胚子其實有一大綑百元鈔。那個晚上他給我看了一張,要我幫幫自己。

「但是我沒有。我喜歡他。他是我遇見第一個不耍花招就對我好的人。我也不上夜校了,常常去見他。那是我生命中最快樂的時光。

「接著,某個晚上在公園裡,花招出現了。」

他停下來。我問,「然後呢?」

「然後啥事都沒有!我再也沒看過他。他送我回家,告訴我他愛我─還附上晚安吻,然後再也沒有回來。」他看來滿臉愁容。「如果被我找到,我會殺掉他!」

「好吧,」我感到同情,「我知道你的感覺。但是殺掉他─只是幹了本來就會發生的事─嗯…你有過內心掙扎嗎?」

「啊?這和殺掉他有啥關係?」

「剛好有點關係。也許他活該要為了拋下你斷個幾根手臂,但是─」

「他活該會有更慘的下場!先等我說到那邊。不知怎麼搞的我沒讓誰起疑,我決定這樣最好。我反正沒真的愛過他,也許也不會再愛上任何人─而且我從此更加渴望能加入『女侍』。我沒有失格,他們沒堅持要處女。我很開心。

「直到我發現我的裙子變緊為止。」

「懷孕了?」

「他讓我爽過頭了!那些和我同住的吝嗇鬼看我還能工作就假裝沒這回事─然後把我踢出門,孤兒院也不想把我接回去。我在一間慈善病院落腳,被其它的大肚子和拉滿屎的便盆包圍,直到我要生的時候。

「有個晚上我發現自己在手術檯上,有個護士對我說,『放輕鬆,現在深呼吸。』

「我在床上醒來,胸部以下都沒有知覺。我的醫生進來,愉快地問道,『妳感覺怎麼樣?』

『感覺像個媽咪。』

『自然如此。妳被纏成一大綑,還注滿了麻醉藥好讓妳保持麻木。妳會好起來的─但是剖腹產可不比拔肉刺。』

『剖腹產,』我說。『醫生─我是不是沒了孩子?』

『哦不,妳的孩子很好。』

『哦,是男孩還是女孩?』

『一個健康的小女孩。五磅重,三盎司大。』

「我鬆了一口氣。有了個孩子對我來說意義重大。我告訴自己,我會去某個地方把『太太』兩個字釘在我的名字上,讓這孩子以為她的爸爸死了─我的孩子不會是孤兒!

「但是醫生還在說話,『告訴我,呃─』他避開我的名字。『妳有沒有曾經覺得自己的內分泌怪怪的?』

「我說,『啊?當然沒有。你想表達什麼?』

「他遲疑了。『我會給妳一劑藥,海波會讓妳精神放鬆好入眠。妳可以來上一針。』

「『為什麼?』我請求他回答。

「有沒有聽說過一個蘇格蘭醫生?他在三十五歲前是女性─後來接受手術,成為法律上和醫學上都承認的男性。還結了婚,什麼問題也沒有。』

「『這和我有什麼關係?』

「『這就是我要說的。妳是個男人。』

「我試著坐起身。『什麼?』

『放輕鬆點。當我把妳的肚子打開,發現裡頭一團亂。我把小孩弄出來以後就去找外科主治醫師,我們對躺在手術檯上的妳進行診察─接著努力搶救了好幾個小時。妳有兩組完整的性器官,都不成熟,但是女性的部份倒是發育到了能生小孩的程度。以後妳再也用不上了,所以我們摘掉女性器官,重新整理了一番,以便妳可以以男人的身份適當發育。』他把手放在我身上。『別擔心,你很年輕,骨頭會重新調整,我們會注意你的內分泌平衡─把你變成一個年輕的好男人。』

「我哭了起來。『我的孩子怎麼辦?』

「『這個嘛,你不能養她,你的奶水甚至連貓都餵不飽。如果我是你,我不會再見她─讓別人領養她吧。』

「『不行!』

「他聳聳肩。『你可以自己決定,畢竟你是她的母親─呃,她的家長。但是現在就別操心了,我們會先把你治好。』

「隔天他們讓我看看小孩,我之後每天都去看她─想試著習慣她。我從來沒見過全新的嬰兒,完全不曉得他們看起來有多嚇人─我的女兒看起來就像隻橘色的猴子。在她身邊,我的情感轉變成為冷酷無情的決心。但是四個禮拜後,這些都沒意義了。」

「咦?」

「她被搶走了。」

「『搶走』?」

未婚媽媽簡直就要敲穿我們打賭的那瓶酒。「綁架啦─從醫院的醫護室裡被偷走了!」他呼吸困難。「奪走一個人活下去的最後理由是什麼感覺?」

「這是筆壞交易,」我同意道。「我們再來一杯吧。有任何線索嗎?」

「警察查不出什麼來。有個人來看她,說他是她的叔叔。護士一轉身,他就抱著她走出去了。」

「有什麼特徵嗎?」

「只知道是個男人,有一張有稜角的臉,像我們這樣。」他眉頭一皺。「我想是孩子的爸爸幹的。護士發誓說是個老人,但他也可能化了妝。還有誰會偷我的孩子?沒小孩的婦女會挺而走險─但是誰聽過有男人會幹這種事?」

「你之後怎麼樣了?」

「我在那個可怕的地方又待了十一個月,動了三次手術。第四個月我的下巴開始長出鬍渣;等到我要離開的時候,已經要常常刮鬍子了…而且我也不再懷疑自己是個男人。」他露出扭曲的笑容。「我會偷瞄護士的領口。」

「那麼,」我說,「看來你已經平安走過啦。看看你,一個正常的男人,有正當收入,沒啥說的上的麻煩。女人的生活可不會這麼輕鬆。」

他瞥了我一眼。「你又知道了!」

「不然呢?」

「有沒有聽過『棄婦』這種說法?」

「嗯,好幾年前了。現在沒人這樣說了。」

「我以前頂多就是個棄婦,但那個爛人真是把我拋棄得徹頭徹尾─我甚至不再是女人了…而且我也不知道要怎麼當個男人。」

「我想,慢慢就會習慣了。」

「你完全不懂。我不是指學著怎樣穿衣服,或是不要走錯廁所這種事;這些事我在醫院裡就學到了。但是我要怎麼生活下去?我能找到什麼工作?天殺的,我甚至不會開車,沒有一技之長,我也沒辦法幹粗活─我身上太多傷,也太柔弱。

「我也恨他毀了我加入女侍的機會,但一直到了我轉而嘗試加入太空軍團,我才知道我有多恨他。只要看一眼我的肚子,我就會被貼上不適任服役的標記。全是出於好奇,醫官在我身上花了很多時間;他讀了我的案例。

「所以我隱姓埋名來到紐約。我當過速食店的廚師,然後租了台打字機,把自己以大眾速記員的身份安置好─多麼可笑!四個月來我只打了四封信和一份手稿。那份浪費紙的手稿叫『真實傳說』,不過寫稿的傻瓜還是成功把稿子賣出去了。

「這給我了一個點子;我買了一疊告解雜誌來讀。」他看來很憤世嫉俗。「現在你知道我在未婚媽媽的故事裡怎麼會有那麼中肯的女性觀點了吧…透過我還沒賣出的唯一版本就看得出來─那可是真實故事哪。我贏了那瓶酒嗎?」

我把酒瓶推向他。我對自己生氣,但還有工作要做。我說,「孩子,你還想逮到那個討厭鬼嗎?」

他的雙眼亮起─眼露兇光。

「等等!」我說。「你不會殺他吧?」

他不懷好意地咯咯笑著。「這得讓我試一試。」

「放輕鬆點。我知道的比你想的還多。我可以幫你,我知道他在哪。」

他把手伸過吧檯。「他在哪?」

我輕輕地說,「把我的襯衫放開,孩子─不然你等等會躺在暗巷裡,我們會跟條子說你暈倒了。」我把手上的棍子對他亮了亮。

他放開手。「抱歉,但是他在哪裡?」他看著我。「你怎麼會知道這麼多?」

「只是時機剛好罷了。到處都有紀錄可循─醫院有紀錄,孤兒院有紀錄,還有醫療紀錄。你的孤兒院院長是費希瑞奇太太─對吧?副院長是格若斯汀太太─對吧?你的女性名字是『珍』─對吧?這些你都沒告訴我─對吧?」

我讓他又驚又疑。「怎麼回事?你想給我找麻煩嗎?」

「當然不是。我把你的福祉放在心上。我可以把這傢伙放到你腿上。看你覺得怎麼對付他最好─我保證你會放過他的。我不認為你會殺了他,你要是瘋了才會這樣做─但是你不瘋。一點也不瘋。」

他把東西掃到一旁。「省省廢話吧。他在哪裡?」我給他倒上一杯烈酒;他是醉了,但是怒氣抵銷了醉意。「別急。我會幫你忙─但你也得幫我忙。」

「呃…什麼?」

「你不喜歡你的工作,那麼你覺得換個高薪又穩定的工作怎麼樣?再附帶無限額的消費帳戶,工作上可以自己做主,而且充滿變化和冒險。如何?」

他瞪著我。「我得說,『把馴鹿從我的屋頂上弄走!』滾開,老爹─沒有這樣的工作啦。」

「好吧,那麼這樣好了:我把他交給你,你把和他的事處理完,然後再來試試我說的工作。如果工作跟我宣稱的不一樣─那好,我也沒辦法抓著你。」

他搖搖晃晃;這是最後那杯酒的效果。「你什磨使候要把他交出來?」他口齒不清地說。

他猛力伸出手。「就這樣說定了!」

「如果說定了的話─現在就走吧!」

我向我的助手點點頭,要他注意兩側,我留意到時間─2300 時─我開始鑽進吧檯下的門─點歌機這時大聲唱著:「我是我自己的老阿公!」服務員收到的命令要他在點歌機裡塞些美國民謠和古典樂,因為我無法消化1970 年代的「音樂」,但我不曉得這捲帶子會在裡面。我大叫道,「把音樂給我關掉!退錢給客人。」我加上一句,「去一下倉庫,馬上回來,」然後就帶著我的未婚媽媽往裡頭走。

沿著廁所出來的走廊往下走,是一道只有我的日班經理和我有鑰匙的鐵門;再裡面是一扇只有我有鑰匙的內門。我們走進去。

他迷迷糊糊地盯著沒窗戶的牆壁看。「他在哪裡?」

「快好了。」我打開一個箱子,那是房間裡唯一的東西;它是一組U.S.F.F.座標轉變場工具組,1992 系列,第二型─漂亮紮實,重二十三公斤,充飽電,形狀有如一個公事包。我在那天稍早已經把它調整好了;我要做的只剩下把限定轉變場的金屬網給甩出來。

我就是這麼幹的。「這是什麼?」他要求我回答。

「時光機,」我一邊說一邊把網子拋出罩住我們。

「嘿!」他喊道,往後退了一步。這裡需要一點技巧;網子一定要用拋的,目標才會直覺地往後退到金屬網眼上,然後你再收緊網子,把你們兩個都完全留在裡面─不然你可能會把鞋跟留下來,或者是一小塊腳上的肉,或是鏟走一小片地板。但這就是技術所在。有些特務會把目標騙進網子裡;我倒是實話實說,再利用對方驚愕的瞬間翻轉開關。我就是這麼幹的。

1030 時─第六時區─1963 年4 月3 日─俄亥俄州克里夫蘭─端點大廈:

「嘿!」他重覆道。「把這鬼東西拿掉!」

「抱歉,」我一邊道歉一邊照辦,把網子塞進箱子裡,合上它。「你說你想要找到他。」

「但是─你說那是台時光機!」

我向窗外一指。「這看起來像十一月嗎?像紐約嗎?」當他目瞪口呆地看著新生花苞和春天的天氣,我又打開箱子,拿出一個裝著百元鈔票的包包,確定數目及樣式都和1963 年吻合。時光局不在乎你用掉多少錢(根本不花它一毛錢)但是他們不喜歡不必要的過時。要是犯下太多錯誤,軍事法庭會把你流放到某個討人厭的時代一年,就說是1974 年吧,那時有嚴苛的配給制和受壓迫的勞工。我從來不會犯這樣的錯;錢沒問題。

他轉過身來,說道,「發生什麼事了?」

「他就在這裡,出去外面逮他吧。這是給你花用的錢。」我把錢推給他,補上一句,「把他的事情解決了,然後我會再去接你。」

一疊百元鈔對不習慣的人來說有催眠效果。我安撫他走進大廳,把他鎖在外頭,他一直難以置信地數著鈔票。下一個跳躍很容易,只是時光中的一次小移動。

1100 時─第六時區─1964 年3 月10 日─克里夫蘭─端點大廈:

門下有張紙條,說是我的租約上個禮拜就到期了;不然這房間和前一刻看起來還真是一模一樣。外頭大雪肆虐,樹光禿禿的;我一陣匆忙,只停下來拿了這時代的錢,還有我租這房間時留下的外套、帽子和大衣。我雇了一台車到醫院去。花了二十分鐘醫護人員才覺得無聊,終於等到時機讓我可以不被注意地把嬰兒偷走。我們回到端點大廈。這組撥號設備進步太多了,就像這大樓在1945 年還不存在一樣。但我早就預先計算到了。

0100 時─第六時區─1945 年9 月20 日─克里夫蘭─天景飯店:

轉變場工具組、嬰兒、還有我一起抵達城外的一間飯店。早些我已經以「格里葛利,俄亥俄州華倫」的名義登記過了,所以我們到了一個窗簾緊閉的房裡,窗戶上鎖,門也上了門栓,地板清理出一塊空間,足堪時光機發動時引起的震動。一把不該在那的椅子可以把你撞出討厭的瘀青─當然了,撞傷你的不是椅子,而是轉變場的反作用力。

沒有麻煩。珍沉沉睡著;我把她帶出門,放進我稍早準備好的車子座位上的一個雜貨箱裡,開車到了孤兒院,把她放在台階上,又開了兩個街口到了一間「賓館」(沒有床的那種),打電話給孤兒院,接著開回頭,即時看見他們把箱子拿了進去,我繼續前進,在飯店附近丟下車子─走進飯店,接著往前跳躍到1963 年的端點大廈。

2200 時─第六時區─1963 年4 月24 日─克里夫蘭─端點大廈:

我幾近完美地切入時間─除了回到零點之外,時間準度得依跨距而定。如果我弄對了,在外頭公園這個宜人的春天夜裡,珍正要發現她並不是她自己想像的好女孩。我攔下一台計程車回到那些吝嗇鬼的住處,要運將等等,我則在暗處埋伏。

一會兒我就看見他們沿街走來,手臂環繞著彼此。他把她帶上門廊,費了一番工夫給她一個晚安吻─比我想得還久。然後她進屋,而他走下步道轉身離開。我滑步向前勾住他的一隻手臂。「就這樣了,孩子,」我安靜地宣佈。「我回來接你了。」

「是你!」他倒抽一口氣,摒住呼吸。

「是我。現在你知道他是誰了─等你想通了你也會知道你是誰…如果你想得夠努力,你還會搞懂那孩子是誰…還有我是誰。」

他沒有回答,他太過震驚了。事實證明你沒辦法抗拒誘惑你自己,這點很令人震驚。我把他帶到端點大廈,接著又跳躍一次。

2300 時─第八時區─1985 年8 月12 日─次落磯山基地:

我喚醒值班中士,亮出我的識別證,要中士給我的同伴來顆快樂藥丸好讓他能睡個覺,明天早上再把他帶來。中士看來脾氣很差,但是階級就是階級,不管在什麼時代都一樣;他照我吩吋的做了─毫無疑問,他正在想,下次我們再見面,他可能就是上校,而我則是中士。在我們的部隊裡的確可能會發生這種事。「什麼名字?」他問道。

我寫了下來。他抬起眉毛,「滿像一回事的,啊?嗯─」

「你就做你份內的工作吧,中士。」我轉向我的同伴。

「孩子,你的麻煩結束了。你就要開始從事全世界最棒的工作─而且你會勝任愉快。我知道。」

「你當然會!」中士同意。「看看我─1917 年出生─現在還活蹦亂跳的,一樣年輕,一樣享受生命。」我回到跳躍室,把每件事都設定到預先選定的零點。

2301 時,第五時區,1970 年11 月7 日,紐約市,「老爹家」酒館:

我走出倉庫,為了我消失的那幾分鐘,我帶了五分之一瓶杜林標酒給櫃檯。我的助手在和點播「我是我自己的老阿公!」的客人爭執,我說,「喔,讓他點歌吧,等歌放完再把插頭拔掉。」我累極了。

這是件苦差事,但總得有人來做,而且自從1972 年的「大失誤」之後,最近幾年要召募新人實在很困難。除了把過得一團糟的人們揀選出來,出於必要的緣故給他們優渥的薪水和有趣(即使也很危險)的工作,你還能想到什麼更好的人力來源嗎?每個人都知道為什麼1963 年的「失敗戰爭」會失敗。算在紐約份上的炸彈沒爆炸,上百件其它的事情也都不如計劃般發展─全是被其它像我這樣的人安排的。

但是72 年的大失誤不是這麼一回事;那不是我們的錯─而且沒辦法復原;沒有待解的詭論。一件事要嘛如此,不然就不是如此,從今而後直到永遠,阿門。但是不會再有像這樣的事發生了;註記為「1972 年」的命令比其它年份都要來得優先。

我提早五分鐘打烊,在收銀機裡留下一封信,告訴我的日班經理我決定接受他付錢要我走路的提議,在我放長假的期間裡請找我的律師。時光局可能會也可能不會領走他付的錢,但是他們總想把事情弄得井然有序。我進去倉庫後頭的房間,接著往1993 年前進。

2200 時,第七時區,1993 年1 月12 日,次落磯山總部時光勞動部:

我向值班官登記,往我的營房去,打算睡上一整個星期。我拿走我們打賭的那瓶酒(畢竟是我贏了),在寫報告前先喝個幾杯。味道糟透了,我想不透為啥我以前喜歡「老內衣」,但有總比沒有好;我不喜歡完全清醒,我會想太多。但是我也不會真的酗酒;對別人來說噬尾蛇只是條蛇,但對我來說,我就是條噬尾蛇。

我口述了我的報告,四十件召募案都被心理局認可─加上我自己這件,我知道應該沒問題。我在這裡,不是嗎?接著我錄下一份操作性的任務請求;我厭倦召募工作了。我把這兩份資料都丟進匣裡,一頭鑽進被窩。我的視線落在床頂的「時間法則」上頭:

  • 明日事不可昨日畢
  • 莫再嘗試終於成功之事
  • 及時補救可省下大把金錢
  • 悖論或可成為修正悖論
  • 事情比你想得容易
  • 老祖宗也只是人
  • 頑石也會點頭

這些法則不再能像剛被召募時那樣激勵我;主觀上三十年的時間跳躍會把你磨穿。我了解,我躲起來看看我的肚子。剖腹產留下了一道大疤,但是我現在毛髮旺盛,如果不仔細找的話根本不會注意到。

接著我瞥見我手指上的戒指。

吞食自己尾巴的蛇,周而復始。我知道我從哪來─但是你們這些回魂屍都是哪來的?

我感到一陣頭痛襲來,但是頭痛藥粉是我不吃的東西之一。我吃過一次─接著你會失去意識。

所以我爬上床,把燈吹熄。

你們根本就不在那。沒有別人,只有我─珍─孤零零置身在黑暗裡。

我想你們想得要死!

source: mings0723

* * * * *

All You Zombies By Robert A. Heinlein

2217 Time Zone V (EST) 7 Nov. 1970-NTC- “Pop’s Place”: I was polishing a brandy snifter when the Unmarried Mother came in. I noted the time-10: 17 P. M. zone five, or eastern time, November 7th, 1970. Temporal agents always notice time and date; we must.

The Unmarried Mother was a man twenty-five years old, no taller than I am, childish features and a touchy temper. I didn’t like his looks – I never had – but he was a lad I was here to recruit, he was my boy. I gave him my best barkeep’s smile.

Maybe I’m too critical. He wasn’t swish; his nickname came from what he always said when some nosy type asked him his line: “I’m an unmarried mother. — If he felt less than murderous he would add: “at four cents a word. I write confession stories. —

If he felt nasty, he would wait for somebody to make something of it. He had a lethal style of infighting, like a female cop – reason I wanted him. Not the only one.

He had a load on, and his face showed that he despised people more than usual. Silently I poured a double shot of Old Underwear and left the bottle. He drank it, poured another.

I wiped the bar top. — How’s the “Unmarried Mother” racket? —

His fingers tightened on the glass and he seemed about to throw it at me; I felt for the sap under the bar. In temporal manipulation you try to figure everything, but there are so many factors that you never take needless risks.

I saw him relax that tiny amount they teach you to watch for in the Bureau’s training school. — Sorry, ” I said. — Just asking, “How’s business? ” Make it “How’s the weather?

He looked sour. — Business is okay. I write ’em, they print ’em, I eat. —

I poured myself one, leaned toward him. — Matter of fact, ” I said, “you write a nice stick – I’ve sampled a few. You have an amazingly sure touch with the woman’s angle. —

It was a slip I had to risk; he never admitted what pen-names he used. But he was boiled enough to pick up only the last: “‘Woman’s angle! “” he repeated with a snort. — Yeah, I know the woman’s angle. I should. —

“So? — I said doubtfully. — Sisters? —

“No. You wouldn’t believe me if I told you. —

“Now, now, ” I answered mildly, “bartenders and psychiatrists learn that nothing is stranger than truth. Why, son, if you heard the stories I do-well, you’d make yourself rich. Incredible. —

“You don’t know what “incredible” means! ”

“So? Nothing astonishes me. I’ve always heard worse. —

He snorted again. — Want to bet the rest of the bottle? —

“I’ll bet a full bottle. — I placed one on the bar.

“Well-” I signaled my other bartender to handle the trade. We were at the far end, a single-stool space that I kept private by loading the bar top by it with jars of pickled eggs and other clutter. A few were at the other end watching the fights and somebody was playing the juke box-private as a bed where we were.

“Okay, ” he began, “to start with, I’m a bastard. —

“No distinction around here, ” I said.

“I mean it, ” he snapped. — My parents weren’t married. —

“Still no distinction, ” I insisted. — Neither were mine. —

“When-” He stopped, gave me the first warm look I ever saw on him. — You mean that? —

“I do. A one-hundred-percent bastard. In fact, ” I added, “no one in my family ever marries. All bastards.

“Oh, that. — I showed it to him. — It just looks like a wedding ring; I wear it to keep women off. — It is an antique I bought in 1985 from a fellow operative – he had fetched it from pre-Christian Crete. — The Worm Ouroboros… the World Snake that eats its own tail, forever without end. A symbol of the Great Paradox. —

He barely glanced at it. — if you’re really a bastard, you know how it feels. When I was a little girl”

“Wups! ” I said. — Did I hear you correctly? —

“‘Who’s telling this story? When I was a little girl-Look, ever hear of Christine Jorgenson? Or Roberta Cowell?

“Uh, sex-change cases? You’re trying to tell me-”

“Don’t interrupt or swelp me, I won’t talk. I was a foundling, left at an orphanage in Cleveland in 1945 when I was a month old. When I was a little girl, I envied kids with parents. Then, when I learned about sex-and, believe me, Pop, you learn fast in an orphanage-”

“I know ”

“-I made a solemn vow that any kid of mine would have both a pop and a mom. It kept me “pure, ” quite a feat in that vicinity – I had to learn to fight to manage it. Then I got older and realized I stood darn little chance of getting married – for the same reason I hadn’t been adopted –. He scowled. I was horse-faced and buck-toothed, flat-chested and straight-haired.

“You don’t look any worse than I do. —

“Who cares how a barkeep looks? Or a writer? But people wanting to adopt pick little blue-eyed golden-haired moron. Later on, the boys want bulging breasts, a cute face, and an Oh-you-wonderful-male manner. — He shrugged. I couldn’t compete. So I decided to join the W. E. N. C. H. E. S. —

Eh? —

“Women’s Emergency National Corps, Hospitality & Entertainment Section, what they now call “Space Angels’-Auxiliary Nursing Group, Extraterrestrial Legions. —

I knew both terms, once I had them chronized. We use still a third name, it’s that elite military service corps: Women’s Hospitality Order Refortifying & Encouraging Spacemen. Vocabulary shift is the worst hurdle in time-jumps – did you know that “service station” once fractions? Once on an assignment in the Churchill Era, a woman said to me, “Meet me at the service station next door — – which is not what it sounds; a service station” (then) wouldn’t have a bed in it.

He went on: “It was when they first admitted you can’t send men into space for months and years and not relieve the tension. You remember how the wowsers screamed? – that improved my chance, since volunteers were scarce. A gal had to be respectable, preferably virgin (they liked to train them from scratch), above average mentally, and stable emotionally. But most volunteers were old hookers, or neurotics who would crack up ten days off Earth. So I didn’t need looks; if they accepted me, they would fix my buck teeth, put a wave in my hair, teach me to walk and dance and how to listen to a man pleasingly, and everything else – plus training for the prime duties. They would even use plastic surgery if it would help – nothing too good for our Boys.

“Best yet, they made sure you didn’t get pregnant during your enlistment – and you were almost certain to marry at the end of your hitch. Same way today, A. N. G. E. L. S. marry spacers – they talk the language.

“When I was eighteen I was placed as a `mother’s helper’. This family simply wanted a cheap servant, but I didn’t mind as I couldn’t enlist till I was twenty-one. I did housework and went to night school – pretending to continue my high school typing and shorthand but going to a charm class instead, to better my chances for enlistment.

“Then I met this city slicker with his hundred-dollar bills. — He scowled. The no-good actually did have a wad of hundred-dollar bills. He showed me one night, told me to help myself.

“But I didn’t. I liked him. He was the first man I ever met who was nice to me without trying games with me. I quit night school to see him oftener. It was the happiest time of my life.

“Then one night in the park the games began. —

He stopped. I said, “And then? —

“And then nothing! I never saw him again. He walked me home and told me he loved me-and kissed me good-night and never came back. — He looked grim. — If I could find him, I’d kill him! ”

“Well, ” I sympathized, “I know how you feel. But killing him-just for doing what comes naturally – hmm… Did you struggle? —

“Huh? What’s that got to do with it? —

“Quite a bit. Maybe he deserves a couple of broken arms for running out on you, but-”

“He deserves worse than that! Wait till you hear. Somehow I kept anyone from suspecting and decided it was all for the best. I hadn’t really loved him and probably would never love anybody-and I was more eager to join the WE. N. C. H. E. S. than ever. I wasn’t disqualified, they didn’t insist on virgins. I cheered up.

“It wasn’t until my skirts got tight that I realized.

“Pregnant? —

“He had me higher “n a kite! Those skinflints I lived with ignored it as long as I could work-then kicked me out, and the orphanage wouldn’t take me back. I landed in a charity ward surrounded by other big bellies and trotted bedpans until my time came.

“One night I found myself on an operating table, with a nurse saying, “Relax. Now breathe deeply. ”

“I woke up in bed, numb from the chest down. My surgeon came in. “How do you feel? ” he says cheerfully.

“Like a mummy. —

“Naturally. You’re wrapped like one and full of dope to keep you numb. You’ll get well-but a Cesarean isn’t a hangnail.

” Cesarean” I said. “Doc – did I lose the baby? ”

Oh, no. Your baby’s fine. ”

Oh. Boy or girl? ”

“‘A healthy little girt. Five pounds, three ounces. ”

“I relaxed. It’s something, to have made a baby. I told myself I would go somewhere and tack “Mrs. ” on my name and let the kid think her papa was dead -no orphanage for my kid!

“But the surgeon was talking. “Tell me, uh-” He avoided my name. “did you ever think your glandular setup was odd? ”

“I said, “Huh? Of course not. What are you driving at?”

“He hesitated. I’ll give you this in one dose, then a hypo to let you sleep off your jitters. You’ll have ’em. ”

“‘Why? I demanded.

Ever hear of that Scottish physician who was female until she was thirty-five? -then had surgery and became legally and medically a man? Got married. All okay. ”

‘What’s that got to do with me? ”

“‘That’s what I’m saying. You’re a man. ”

“I tried to sit up. What? ”

“Take it easy. When I opened you, I found a mess. I sent for the Chief of Surgery while I got the baby out, then we held a consultation with you on the table-and worked for hours to salvage what we could. You had two full sets of organs, both immature, but with the female set well enough developed for you to have a baby. They could never be any use to you again, so we took them out and rearranged things so that you can develop properly as a man. He put a hand on me. “Don’t worry. You’re young, your bones will readjust, we’ll watch your glandular balance – and make a fine young man out of you. ”

“I started to cry. “What about my baby? ”

“Well, you can’t nurse her, you haven’t milk enough for a kitten. If I were you, I wouldn’t see her-put her up for adoption. ”

“‘No! ”

“He shrugged. “The choice is yours; you’re her mother – well, her parent. But don’t worry now; we’ll get you well first. ”

“Next day they let me see the kid and I saw her daily – trying to get used to her. I had never seen a brand-new baby and had no idea how awful they look – my daughter looked like an orange monkey. My feelings changed to cold determination to do right by her. But four weeks later that didn’t mean anything. —

“Eh? —

“She was snatched. —

“‘Snatched? —

The Unmarried Mother almost knocked over the bottle we had bet. — Kidnapped – stolen from the hospital nursery! ” He breathed hard. — How’s that for taking the last a man’s got to live for? —

“A bad deal, ” I agreed. — Let’s pour you another. No clues? —

“Nothing the police could trace. Somebody came to see her, claimed to be her uncle. While the nurse had her back turned, he walked out with her. —

“Description? —

“Just a man, with a face-shaped face, like yours or mine. — He frowned. — I think it was the baby’s father. The nurse swore it was an older man but he probably used makeup. Who else would swipe my baby? Childless women pull such stunts – but whoever heard of a man doing it? —

“What happened to you then? —

“Eleven more months of that grim place and three operations. In four months I started to grow a beard; before I was out I was shaving regularly… and no longer doubted that I was male. — He grinned wryly. — I was staring downnurses necklines. —

“Well, ” I said, “seems to me you came through okay. Here you are, a normal man, making good money, no real troubles. And the life of a female is not an easy one. —

He glared at me. — A lot you know about it! ”

“So? —

“Ever hear the expression “a ruined woman’? —

“Mmm, years ago. Doesn’t mean much today. —

“I was as ruined as a woman can be; that bum really ruined me – I was no longer a woman… and I didn’t know how to be a man. —

“Takes getting used to, I suppose. —

“You have no idea. I don’t mean learning how to dress, or not walking into the wrong rest room; I learned those in the hospital. But how could I live? What job could I get? Hell, I couldn’t even drive a car. I didn’t know a trade; I couldn’t do manual labor-too much scar tissue, too tender.

“I hated him for having ruined me for the W. E. N. C. H. E. S., too, but I didn’t know how much until I tried to join the Space Corps instead. One look at my belly and I was marked unfit for military service. The medical officer spent time on me just from curiosity; he had read about my case.

“So I changed my name and came to New York. I got by as a fry cook, then rented a typewriter and set myself up as a public stenographer – what a laugh! In four months I typed four letters and one manuscript. The manuscript was for Real Life Tales and a waste of paper, but the goof who wrote it sold it. Which gave me an idea; I bought a stack of confession magazines and studied them. — He looked cynical. — Now you know how I get the authentic woman’s angle on

an unmarried-mother story… through the only version I haven’t sold – the true one. Do I win the bottle? —

I pushed it toward him. I was upset myself, but there was work to do. I said, “Son, you still want to lay hands on that so-and-so? —

His eyes lighted up-a feral gleam.

“Hold it! ” I said. — You wouldn’t kill him? —

He chuckled nastily. — Try me. —

“Take it easy. I know more about it than you think I do. I can help you. I know where he is. —

He reached across the bar. — Where is he? —

I said softly, “Let go my shirt, sonny-or you’ll land in the alley and we’ll tell the cops you fainted. — I showed him the sap.

He let go. — Sorry. But where is he? — He looked at me. — And how do you know so much? —

“All in good time. There are records – hospital records, orphanage records, medical records. The matron of your orphanage was Mrs. Fetherage – right? She was followed by Mrs. Gruenstein – right? Your name, as a girl, was “Jane” – right? And you didn’t tell me any of this – right? —

I had him baffled and a bit scared. — What’s this? You trying to make trouble for me? —

“No indeed. I’ve your welfare at heart. I can put this character in your lap. You do to him as you see fit – and I guarantee that you’ll get away with it. But I don’t think you’ll kill him. You’d be nuts to – and you aren’t nuts. Not quite. —

He brushed it aside. — Cut the noise. Where is he? —

I poured him a short one; he was drunk, but anger was offsetting it. — Not so fast. I do something for you – you do something for me. —

“Uh… what? —

“You don’t like your work. What would you say to high pay, steady work, unlimited expense account, your own boss on the job, and lots of variety and adventure? —

He stared. — I’d say, “Get those goddam reindeer off my roof! ” Shove it, Pop – there’s no such job. —

“Okay, put it this way: I hand him to you, you settle with him, then try my job. If it’s not all I claim – well, I can’t hold you. —

He was wavering; the last drink did it “When d’yuh d’liver ‘im? — he said thickly.

He shoved out his hand. — It’s a deal! ”

“If it’s a deal-right now! ”

I nodded to my assistant to watch both ends, noted the time – 2300 – started to duck through the gate under the bar – when the juke box blared out: “I’m My Own Grandpaw! ” The service man had orders to load it with Americana and classics because I couldn’t stomach the “music” of 1970, but I hadn’t known that tape was in it. I called out, “Shut that off! Give the customer his money back. — I added, “Storeroom, back in a moment, ” and headed there with my Unmarried Mother following.

It was down the passage across from the johns, a steel door to which no one but my day manager and myself had a key; inside was a door to an inner room to which only I had a key. We went there.

He looked blearily around at windowless walls. – Where is he? —

“Right away. — I opened a case, the only thing in the room; it was a U. S. F. F. Coordinates Transformer Field Kit, series 1992, Mod. II – a beauty, no moving parts, weight twenty-three kilos fully charged, and shaped to pass as a suitcase. I had adjusted it precisely earlier that day; all I had to do was to shake out the metal net which limits the transformation field.

Which I did. — What’s that? — he demanded.

“Time machine, ” I said and tossed the net over us.

“Hey! ” he yelled and stepped back. There is a technique to this; the net has to be thrown so that the subject will instinctively step back onto the metal mesh, then you close the net with both of you inside completely-else you might leave shoe soles behind or a piece of foot, or scoop up a slice of floor. But that’s all the skill it takes. Some agents con a subject into the net; I tell the truth and use that instant of utter astonishment to flip the switch. Which I did.

1030-VI-3 April 1963 – Cleveland, Ohio-Apex Bldg.: “Hey! ” he repeated. — Take this damn thing off! ”

“Sorry, ” I apologized and did so, stuffed the net into the case, closed it. — You said you wanted to find him. —

“But – you said that was a time machine! ”

I pointed out a window. — Does that look like November? Or New York? — While he was gawking at new buds and spring weather, I reopened the case, took out a packet of hundred-dollar bills, checked that the numbers and signatures were compatible with 1963. The Temporal Bureau doesn’t care how much you spend (it costs nothing) but they don’t like unnecessary anachronisms. Too many mistakes, and a general court-martial will exile you for a year in a nasty period, say 1974 with its strict rationing and forced labor. I never make such mistakes; the money was okay.

He turned around and said, “What happened? —

“He’s here. Go outside and take him. Here’s expense money. — I shoved it at him and added, “Settle him, then I’ll pick you up. —

Hundred-dollar bills have a hypnotic effect on a person not used to them. He was thumbing them unbelievingly as I eased him into the hall, locked him out. The next jump was easy, a small shift in era.

7100-VI-10 March 1964 – Cleveland-Apex Bldg.: There was a notice under the door saying that my lease expired next week; otherwise the room looked as it had a moment before. Outside, trees were bare and snow threatened; I hurried, stopping only for contemporary money and a coat, hat, and topcoat I had left there when I leased the room. I hired a car, went to the hospital. It took twenty minutes to bore the nursery attendant to the point where I could swipe the baby without being noticed. We went back to the Apex Building. This dial setting was more involved, as the building did not yet exist in 1945. But I had precalculated it.

0100-VI-20 Sept. 1945 – Cleveland-Skyview Motel:: Field kit, baby, and I arrived in a motel outside town. Earlier I had registered as “Gregory Johnson, Warren, Ohio, ” so we arrived in a room with curtains closed, windows locked, and doors bolted, and the floor cleared to allow for waver as the machine hunts. You can get a nasty bruise from a chair where it shouldn’t be – not the chair, of course, but backlash from the field.

No trouble. Jane was sleeping soundly; I carried her out, put her in a grocery box on the seat of a car I had provided earlier, drove to the orphanage, put her on the steps, drove two blocks to a “service station” (the petroleum-products sort) and phoned the orphanage, drove back in time to see them taking the box inside, kept going and abandoned the car near the motel – walked to it and jumped forward to the Apex Building in 1963.

2200-VI-24 April 1963 – Cleveland-Apex Bldg.: I had cut the time rather fine – temporal accuracy depends on span, except on return to zero. If I had it right, Jane was discovering, out in the park this balmy spring night, that she wasn’t quite as nice a girl as she had thought., I grabbed a taxi to the home of those skinflints, had the hackie wait around a comer while I lurked in shadows.

Presently I spotted them down the street, arms around each other. He took her up on the porch and made a long job of kissing her good-night-longer than I thought. Then she went in and he came down the walk, turned away. I slid into step and hooked an arm in his. — That’s all, son, ” I announced quietly. — I’m back to pick you up. —

“You! ” He gasped and caught his breath.

“Me. Now you know who he is – and after you think it over you’ll know who you are… and if you think hard enough, you’ll figure out who the baby is… and who I am. —

He didn’t answer, he was badly shaken. It’s a shock to have it proved to you that you can’t resist seducing yourself. I took him to the Apex Building and we jumped again.

2300-VIII, 12 Aug. 1985-Sub Rockies Base: I woke the duty sergeant, showed my I. D., told the sergeant to bed my companion down with a happy pill and recruit him in the morning. The sergeant looked sour, but rank is rank, regardless of era; he did what I said-thinking, no doubt, that the next time we met he might be the colonel and I the sergeant. Which can happen in our corps. — What name? — he asked.

I wrote it out. He raised his eyebrows. — Like so, eh? Hmm-”

“You just do your job, Sergeant. — I turned to my companion.

“Son, your troubles are over. You’re about to start the best job a man ever held-and you’ll do well. I know. —

“That you will! ” agreed the sergeant. — Look at me – born in 1917-still around, still young, still enjoying life. — I went back to the jump room, set everything on preselected zero.

2301-V-7 Nov. 1970-NYC -“Pop’s Place”: I came out of the storeroom carrying a fifth of Drambuie to account for the minute I had been gone. My assistant was arguing with the customer who had been playing “I’m My Own Grand-paw! ” I said, “Oh, let him play it, then unplug it. — I was very tired.

It’s rough, but somebody must do it, and it’s very hard to recruit anyone in the later years, since the Mistake of 1972. Can you think of a better source than to pick people all fouled up where they are and give them well-paid, interesting (even though dangerous) work in a necessary cause? Everybody knows now why the Fizzle War of 1963 fizzled. The bomb with New York’s number on it didn’t go off, a hundred other things didn’t go as planned-all arranged by the likes of me.

But not the Mistake of “72; that one is not our fault-and can’t be undone; there’s no paradox to resolve. A thing either is, or it isn’t, now and forever amen. But there won’t be another like it; an order dated “1992” takes precedence any year.

I closed five minutes early, leaving a letter in the cash register telling my day manager that I was accepting his offer to buy me out, to see my lawyer as I was leaving on a long vacation. The Bureau might or might not pick up his payments, but they want things left tidy. I went to the room in the back of the storeroom and forward to 1993.

2200-VII- 12 Jan 1993-Sub Rockies Annex-HQ Temporal DOL: I checked in with the duty officer and went to my quarters, intending to sleep for a week. I had fetched the bottle we bet (after all, I won it) and took a drink before I wrote my report. It tasted foul, and I wondered why I had ever liked Old Underwear. But it was better than nothing; I don’t like to be cold sober, I think too much. But I don’t really hit the bottle either; other people have snakes-I have people.

I dictated my report; forty recruitments all okayed by the Psych Bureau – counting my own, which I knew would be okayed. I was here, wasn’t I? Then I taped a request for assignment to operations; I was sick of recruiting. I dropped both in the slot and headed for bed.

My eye fell on “The By-Laws of Time, ” over my bed:

Never Do Yesterday What Should Be Done Tomorrow.
If at Last You Do Succeed, Never Try Again.
A Stitch in Time Saves Nine Billion.
A Paradox May Be Paradoctored.
It Is Earlier When You Think.
Ancestors Are Just People.
Even Jove Nods.

They didn’t inspire me the way they had when I was a recruit; thirty subjective-years of time-jumping wears you down. I undressed, and when I got down to the hide I looked at my belly. A Cesarean leaves a big scar, but I’m so hairy now that I don’t notice it unless I look for it.

Then I glanced at the ring on my finger.

The Snake That Eats Its Own Tail, Forever and Ever. I know where I came from – but where did all you zombies come from?

I felt a headache coming on, but a headache powder is one thing I do not take. I did once – and you all went away.

So I crawled into bed and whistled out the light.

You aren’t really there at all. There isn’t anybody but me – Jane – here alone in the dark.

I miss you dreadfully!

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source: uca

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