Aug 6, 2017

Change 2017

Norma and Jack (source)
For the past few years I've been trying (not very hard) to alter a few of my fiction writing habits. These little experiments with inertia even included an attempt to write a fantasy story. This year, I've been quite busy in the real world and so my fiction writing output has declined. To help get back into writing mode, I gave myself the challenge of writing a short story in the format of a mystery (well, not a classic mystery). Also, since this is August, I'm trying to honor Jack Vance, and so my new mystery story is rooted in an (imagined) event during Vance's life that had a big impact on his story writing.
Jack and Norma

Published in the Ekcolir Reality
What follows (below) is a story in which Jack and Norma Vance discover the fact that time travel is possible. Their startling discovery is made when Norma finds a science fiction magazine that has been sent back in time from the future. In that magazine is a message to Jack from Isaac Asimov. Oh, and this story goes part way towards filling in a nanoscopic gap in the backstory of the Exode Saga.

A Future Mystery
Norma Vance set down the sheets of paper that held the hand-written first draft of chapter three of her husband's new novel, Pharism. This new story was set on world number 458 of Alastor Cluster and was in the same fictional universe as Jack's recently published Trullion, but Norma knew that there was something wrong about this new story.

Norma went looking for her husband. Their home, which they had built on a steep lot on an Oakland hillside, had grown over the years to have multiple levels and a unique floor plan with many odd nooks. After looking into Jack's favorite places to write, she eventually found him in the kitchen. Norma said, "I think you skipped something. Who are these Phari and where did they come from?"

Jack chuckled and nodded. "The Phari are the secretive aliens of Alastor Cluster." Jack paused, conscious of a nagging voice in his head, warning him not to say too much about the Phari. He continued, "There are three or four other Alastor stories asking to be told, but I need to get Pharism written down first... even if it does not get published first. In Pharism, the hidden alien secrets of Alastor Cluster are revealed."

Norma asked, "So should I even bother to type up this first draft of Pharism or should I wait until the whole Alastor saga matures and takes shape?"

Jack picked up a notebook from the counter and tore out some of the pages which he gave to Norma. "You can wait on this, it is really just a quick outline version." Jack gestured towards the new set of pages. "Keep these in a safe place, I'll need to refer to them later."

Norma saw that what she now held was labeled as chapter four. "When did you write this?"

"I finished it while you were reading chapter three."

Norma shook her head, counted the pages and looked at Jack in amazement. "You were writing as fast as I was reading!"

Jack shrugged, "These Alastor books are already in here." He tapped his head. "Actually, I wrote most of what is now chapter four last night, then realized I had to put in a chapter three."

"Well, if I won't be typing today then I'll have time to sort out those back issues of Life."

original cover art by Mark Harrison
The previous weekend they'd driven to San Mateo and taken possession of a collection of old magazines; eight large and dusty boxes filled with back issues of Life. Now, having dug halfway down into box number three, Norma found a brightly colored magazine that seemed out of place. It was an issue of Analog, but the date on the cover was November 1993, a date twenty years in the future.

Norma flipped open the issue of Analog and read the introductory editorial, which lamented the death (in 1992) of Isaac Asimov. Included in the issue was a new story by Asimov, discovered after his death: it was titled "Future Mystery". Norma read the first page of the story then went in search of Jack.

He was sitting outside, writing furiously across a sheet of lined notebook paper. She waited until he glanced up and said, "I have a mystery..." She handed him the magazine.

Jack looked at the cover and asked, "1993?" He flipped through the pages. "Is this some kind of elaborate prank?"

Norma impatiently grabbed the magazine, turned the pages to the Asimov story and handed it back to her husband. "Read this."

cover art by Murphy Anderson
The story, called "Future Mystery", began:
"Back in the early 1950s several science fiction story writers, including me, were asked to submit plot ideas for inclusion in some new science fiction comic books. Back then, my thoughts were frequently turning to time travel, so I proposed a story thread that would feature two time travel agents arriving in the 20th century from the far future.

Initially, the comic book publisher seemed enthusiastic and they even sent me a cover mock up (shown here for the first time) and a small advance. Eventually, I was informed that my time travel adventure proposal would not be used and, indeed, I had been bumped from the comic book by a more promising story idea that had been submitted by Jack Vance."
Jack laughed. "Ha! Imagine a science fiction legend like Asimov being bumped by me! I don't believe that really happened. I've never heard of 'Mystery in Space'."

Norma said, "Asimov's time travel story was probably too complex and cerebral for a comic book."

Jack asked, "Are you saying that my writing is better suited for comics?"

"I did not say that, but I'm not a neutral observer. I think your writing is well suited for everything. There have been some comic books made from your story ideas and they turned out good." She pointed down the page, "Keep reading."

"Sadly, I never got to meet Vance before his death in 1976. However, with my own demise quickly approaching, I'd like to send a message back in time to Jack: a big THANK YOU. You see, I'm very glad that my time travel story idea was not used in the comics. I went on to develop the idea into a novel (The End of Eternity), and it became one of my favorite creations. As I recall, in his 'Mystery in Space' story arc, Jack made use of futuristic technologies, particularly an advanced air-car that could deliver his hero to even the most remote corner of Earth in less than an hour."
"The power source for that air-car was not described by Vance, but he hinted that the quick rate of travel was made possible by some kind of teleportation trick, as if the air-car could teleport itself to a destination. Now, I've finally had my chance to observe this technology, the actual teleportation technology that I believe Vance was depicting in his story. But my recent experience with futuristic technology went beyond just teleportation; I've also made use of a time travel machine!"
Jack looked at Norma. He muttered, "This is some kind of joke." He looked again at the Mystery in Space cover illustration. "I'm sure that I never published anything in this magazine of comics."

Norma put her arm around Jack's shoulders. "Keep reading, Jack."
"My experience with teleportation began when I woke up in a strange bed. I found myself in what looked like a modern hotel suite, with unusual furnishings and no window. I had no idea how I had arrived there. I rolled off of the bed and was pleased to see that half of the room contained what looked like a perfect work station for writing. Scattered across the desk were various books and magazines, many of them had the name 'Asimov' visible on the cover. Before I could approach and examine those books, suddenly, the door opened and there was Jack Vance, big as life."
Jack looked up from the magazine with a puzzled expression on his face. Norma said, "That's as far as I got in the story."

Jacked turned pages and skimmed ahead in the story. "It seems to be a science fiction story featuring me and Asimov as characters." He asked Norma, "Where did this magazine come from?"

Norma explained,  "This issue of Analog was in one of the boxes of old magazines that we got in San Mateo last Saturday."

Jack looked through the magazine, felt the texture of the pages and held a page up to the light. "This looks like a real magazine, on high quality paper, not some cheap knock-off created for a prank."

Norma asked, "A magazine from the future? Jack, science fiction is fun, but time travel is impossible, right?"

Jack laughed. "This must be a trick, but I'm hooked. I'm going to finish reading this story." He turned to the second page of "Future Mystery".....

our Reality Chain
The Writers Block
Jack said, "Welcome to the Library, Isaac."

I was startled by Jack's appearance. He looked young and vigorous, not at all like the 50-year old middle aged man of his obituary photograph. I looked down at myself and saw I was wearing the clothing I had worn the previous day, before I had retired to bed. And then I noticed that I was also in the body of my youth, my former slim self, not the old body I had come to inhabit at age 70... that of a sick and dying man. I gasped, "I'm dead."

Jack shrugged. "No, you'll never die. You've been given an immortal body, the strong body of your prime." He flexed his arms. "I've been enjoying my new body for the past 18 days." He gestured through the door. "Come with me. Grean is waiting."

I followed Vance down a short hallway and into what looked like the observation lounge of a spaceship. Waiting for us was what appeared to be a strange looking woman, but who I soon learned was an alien creature: a Kac'hin. She said, "You seem to be adjusting well to your new body, Isaac."

Vance told me, "This is Grean. She's a member of a group of humanoids that were engineered on worlds of the Galactic Core; a human variant called the Kac'hin."

Grean added, "I don't mind being called 'she', but I'm actually a hermaphrodite."

Grean's most alarming features were her sharp fangs and large eyes. I looked past Grean and out into the dark of space and asked, "Where are we?"

Vance went to a table and flipped a switch. The walls changed and suddenly it seemed that we were inside the reading room of a modern library. "This is the Library of the Writers Block. I like to set the wall projectors to simulate a view of outer space."

I asked, "Writers Block?"

Grean giggled. "Your analogue came up with that name for this place. This facility was designed to house the writers who invented a special version of the science fiction genre for the 20th century of the previous Reality."

Of course, I knew what Grean meant by 'the previous Reality'. I could not avoid the implications of what both Vance and Grean were saying. "Time travel? You Kac'hin can move through time?"

Grean nodded. "Yes, and I brought you here, into your past, Isaac. This is 1976 and we need to get Jack's life back on track."

I thought I could guess what Grean had in mind. I suggested, "You want to alter the past? Implement a Reality Change?" Grean gave me a crisp little nod of her head, confirming my guess. "As I recall, Jack died in an airliner crash."

Jack nodded. "Yes, Grean has shown me the debris field from the plane crash that killed me. We need only go back in time, warn me about my fate. I always prefer to travel by cruise ship, anyhow, so it should not be hard to make me change travel plans, avoid flying and avoid an early death."

I asked Grean, "How will this alteration of the past be accomplished?"

Without saying a word, Grean picked up an issue of Analog from the table and handed it to me.

Reality Change
I saw the date on the cover of the magazine. "1993? That's next year."

"Right: next year from your perspective. I already went to 1993 and collected this magazine." Grean pointed to the magazine I held in my hands. "This contains a message from you warning Vance about his impending death. And now, I'd like you to insert this magazine into the timeline of Earth, at a point in 1973."

I opened the magazine and looked at the article called "Future Mystery". After reading a few pages of the story I said, "I never wrote this."

Grean explained, "You will write 'Future Mystery' and I'll get the story published in Analog."

I tossed the magazine back on the table. "Why bother with such an elaborate message? Why not just tell Vance to avoid the doomed airline flight? Or better, go back in time and prevent that plane from crashing."

Vance added, "And why do you want to send the warning back to 1973? That's two years before the plane crash."

Special thanks to Miranda Hedman
for "Black Cat 9 - stock" that I used
to create the blue "sedronite"
who is in this image. The Pact.
Grean sighed rather loudly. "You both ask far too many questions. I can't tell you everything, but here are the basic facts. Within the Reality of the Trysta-Grean Pact, any leaked information about myself or time travel must be cloaked in the guise of science fiction-"

Jack interrupted Grean. "Who is this 'Trysta' who you always mention but never explain?"

Speaking rather impatiently, Grean told Jack, "Trysta has her own life to live on Earth, and we can't disrupt that aspect of Reality. She and I are working together to create a viable future for Earth. Take my word for it: that future requires that you live longer than Asimov."

I demanded, "Why must I die so young?"

"I have need for you off of Earth. You will have completed your work on Earth by 1992."

It angered me that this alien creature was making such heavy-handed decisions about my life and my death. "I was still writing yesterday. Am I now truly dead? If so, I did not have time to complete my Foundation saga."

Grean placed a hand on my shoulder. "You were close enough to finishing the story. Your wife can add the final few pages. Now hush up, Isaac. You must die in 1992. That's a fixed point in time. I've brought you here to help repair Jack's life and that must be the focus of our attention. With your help, Jack is going to live into his 90s." Suddenly I could no longer speak. I later learned that Grean could take control of my mind and control my behavior.

the tryp'At
Grean turned to Vance. "When you started writing the story in 1973, you put too many facts about Deep Time into Pharism. That forced the Overseers to eventually step in and eliminated you, just before the book could be published." She tapped on the cover of the Analog magazine. "Therefore, Isaac's message must stop you from writing that book. It is the existence of Pharism that makes the Overseers take action and crash your flight to Europe." She looked first at me and then back to Vance. "Any other questions?"

Once again I had control of my speech muscles. I said, "Why bring Jack and I here, now? When the past is changed, Jack will live on past 1976. All of Earth will change, including the last decades of my life. After the Reality Change, will we even remember any of this conversation with you?"

Grean explained, "Isaac, you will only need a few minutes in 1973, just long enough to place this copy of Analog where Jack will later find it. I will return you to the Writers Block after your brief visit to the past. Anyhow, at all times you will be protected by a temporal field that will isolate you from the effects of any Reality Change you may cause. Don't, worry, we will all be safe and protected from the change in Earth's timeline. I have a special job for the two of you. You are now both artificial life forms that will continue to exist here, within Eternity, carrying out a special task."

The End of Eternity
I asked in amazement, "We are inside the Eternity space-time bubble?"

Grean nodded. "I know you never pictured Eternity being like this, but yes, the Writers Block is a subsection of Eternity. I need the two of you to do some curation here in the Library... mostly among the records of the Asimov Reality."

I was surprised that a past Reality of Earth was named after me. "Asimov Reality?"

Jack explained, "For the past two weeks I've been here in this Library, exploring records of that past Reality. I was surprised to discover that the future of human space exploration within the Asimov Reality is very similar to what I have written into my science fiction stories about the Gaean Reach. Really, it should be called the Vance Reality."

Grean laughed, "Isaac was responsible for starting that Reality and for establishing the Writer's Block. Given his inescapable ego, it was inevitable that the name 'Asimov Reality' was adopted."

Vance complained, "I still don't understand why you brought Asimov here." He picked up the issue of Analog from the table. "I can deliver this message to myself in the past and thereby save my own life."

In our Reality, Marune
was published in 1975
rather than Pharism.
Grean shook her head. "No, Jack, there is a slight chance that you might be seen while on this mission into the past. You are known to the residents of the target house in San Mateo, Asimov is not." She took the magazine from Vance and handed it to me. Grean continued, "Let's go Isaac."

She took me by the arm and led me out of the Library. "Now, I should explain.... to get you to your destination you will be both teleported through space and transported back through time..."

Grean took me to the part of Eternity where the time travel devices were located. I was amazed to learn that Eternity is an actual place, not just a creation of my imagination. Having gotten so much right about time travel technology, I felt abashed to realize that when I wrote The End of Eternity I failed to make explicit the importance of teleportation in time travel. Apparently, for The End of Eternity, I was allowed to write about only the most general features of Eternity and time travel, just as Jack was only allowed to tell part of the story of the Asimov Reality in his published Alastor Cluster novels.

After a brief introduction to the time travel equipment in Eternity and being shown how to use my portable physiotime generator, Grean sent me back to 1973. I arrived in 1973, inside a large house located in San Mateo, California. The elderly couple living in the house never seemed to notice that I was briefly in their home. Grean herself could have accomplished the mission, but I suspect she wanted me to witness firsthand the fact that time travel was actually possible, given access to advanced Kac'hin technology.

My time travel mission was simple. All I did was put that 1993 issue of Analog inside a box full of old magazines. A minute later I was safely back inside Eternity. Grean assured me that Jack would find the magazine and read my message from the future. The course of Time would be repaired: Vance would not die in 1976 and he would complete his work on Earth, living well into the 21st century. Back in the Library of the Writers Block, I began learning about the secret history of Earth and how alien forces have long struggled to control human evolution. And, of course, I did write "Future Mystery".

Oh, one last thing, Jack (in 1973): I suggest that you destroy the November 1993 issue of Analog. No sense provoking the tryp'At Overseers. They would not be amused to learn that Grean was still making alterations to the timeline in 1973.

                                                                   The End

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