Beware the regressors!

The Time Traveler …
by Dan Simmons

The Time Traveler appeared suddenly in my study on New Year’s Eve, 2004. He was a stolid, grizzled man in a gray tunic and looked to be in his late-sixties or older. He also appeared to be the veteran of wars or of some terrible accident since he had livid scars on his face and neck and hands, some even visible in his scalp beneath a fuzz of gray hair cropped short in a military cut. One eye was covered by a black eyepatch. Before I could finish dialing 911 he announced in a husky voice that he was a Time Traveler come back to talk to me about the future.

Being a sometimes science-fiction writer but not a fool, I said, “Prove it.”

“Do you remember Replay?” he said.

My finger hovered over the final “1” in my dialing. “The 1987 novel?” I said. “By Ken Grimwood?”

The stranger – Time Traveler, psychotic, home invader, whatever he was – nodded.

I hesitated. The novel by Grimwood had won the World Fantasy Award a year or two after my first-novel, Song of Kali, had. Grimwood’s book was about a guy who woke up one morning to find himself snapped back decades in his life, from the late 1980’s to himself as a college student in 1963, and thus getting the chance to relive – to replay – that life again, only this time acting upon what he’d already learned the hard way. In the book, the character, who was to experience – suffer – several Replays, learned that there were other people from his time who were also Replaying their lives in the past, their bodies younger but their memories intact. I’d greatly enjoyed the book, thought it deserved the award, and had been sad to hear that Grimwood had died . . . when? . . . in 2003.

So, I thought, I might have a grizzled nut case in my study this New Year’s Eve, but if he was a reader and a fan of Replay, he was probably just a sci-fi fan grizzled nut case, and therefore probably harmless. Possibly. Maybe.

I kept my finger poised over the final “1” in “911.”

“What does that book have to do with you illegally entering my home and study?” I asked.

The stranger smiled … almost sadly I thought. “You asked me to prove that I’m a Time Traveler,” he said softly. “Do you remember how Grimwood’s character in Replay went hunting for others in the 1960’s who had traveled back in time from the late 1980’s?”

I did remember now. I’d thought it clever at the time. The guy in Replay, once he suspected others were also replaying into the past, had taken out personal ads in major city newspapers around the country. The ads were concise. “Do you remember Three Mile Island, Challenger, Watergate, Reaganomics? If so, contact me at . . .”

Before I could say anything else on this New Year’s Eve of 2004, a few hours before 2005 began, the stranger said, “Terri Schiavo, Katrina, New Orleans under water, Ninth Ward, Ray Nagin, Superdome, Judge John Roberts, White Sox sweep the Astros in four to win the World Series, Pope Benedict XVI, Scooter Libby.”

“Wait, wait!” I said, scrambling for a pen and then scrambling even faster to write. “Ray who? Pope who? Scooter who?”

“You’ll recognize it all when you hear it all again,” said the stranger. “I’ll see you in a year and we’ll have our conversation.”

“Wait!” I repeated. “What was that middle apart . . . Ray Nugin? Judge who? John Roberts? Who is . . .” But when I looked up he was gone.

“White Sox win the Series?” I muttered into the silence. “Fat chance.”

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About PoliTech

Inquisitor of reason and objective analysis of modern politics and technology.