A Stitch In Time A scientist's attempt to bring back his dead son results in a time-splice for a deceased advertising executive.

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Nov 28, 2014 No Comments ›› admin

FICTION
by Lynn Woolley

Editor’s note: This story was written in 1978 and was originally published in the November 1980 issue of AMAZING SCIENCE FICTION STORIES. It provided the basis for a 2007 (and still unpublished) novel entitled “Rules of Ascension.” amazing_science_fiction_stories_198011

In looking back on it all, I suppose the biggest hassle of my “experience” was dealing with my insurance adjustor. That, and filling out a myriad of government forms. Of course, reporters were very interested in my case also, but who could blame them? It’s not every day that someone returns from the dead!

Shortly after my revival was confirmed, the United States Office of Parapsychic Phenomena (OPP) stepped in, and its director, Jon Chapel, suggested that I hold a news conference. I protested at first, not caring to be the World Network’s lead story, and preferring that my name stay out of the lnternational Press. It wasn’t so much publicity that I feared, but rather the chance that worldwide holovision would make me into a freak. Chapel was adamant, though, and he finally convinced me by saving that the public is more suspicious when it isn’t informed. I was briefed on what I could and could not say, and Chapel scheduled the conference for the next day at noon, and had his secretary inform the media.

After a restless night, I spent the morning with Norman Gilbert, the agent who had sold me my life insurance policy — before I died, of course. It was not a pleasant prelude to the dreaded news conference.

“Tony,” he said, in an inflection designed to show the hopelessness of it all, “Either you are dead or you aren’t. The living can’t collect on this policy; neither can the almost dead, the partially dead, or the formerly dead. Granted, I don’t know all the facts. But since you are sitting across from me, and since you are very much alive, I can only assume that reports of your death were, as they say, greatly exaggerated.”

He sat there and stared at me, his pregnant pause obligating me to offer some kind of an answer. I tried to think of one, but what could I say? I was as confused as he was. Finally, I decided to shift the topic away from my state of being.

“Norm, if I could, I’d return the entire adjustment, but you know as well as I do that I didn’t collect personally. I was dead at the time; I don’t even know what papers were signed, or how much the adjustment came to, or anything. Liz handled all that, and now she’s heaven-knows-where, and I don’t blame her for staying there. She must be scared to death by all this.”
I’ll accept the premise that your wife has the money, which amounts to almost a hundred grand, by the way, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Home Office thinks you and she are pulling off a fraud. Naturally, I don’t believe that.”

I knew he had thrown that last comment in for my benefit only, and he knew that I knew.
“Look at it this way, Norm. What would you do if you were a woman and your husband died, and was buried, and you collected on the life insurance policy, and then he turned up alive again? You’d run, like she did. Who knows — she may have already spent the money; she may have remarried.”

“In a month?”

“Stranger things have happened.”

“I’ll say. This whole incident is a ‘stranger thing.’” Gilbert looked flustered. I decided to put him off, and get ready for the news conference.

“Look Norm, the government wants me to meet with reporters in a little while over at the Government Center where the OPP office is located. Why don’t you let me get that over with, and I’ll meet with you later in the week?” I was hoping he’d take the hint, and leave.

“Tell you what,” he said as through making a great concession. “Suppose I give you until the end of this government investigation to come up with the money. I can keep in touch with you from time to time, and if you start to piece this thing together…” He stopped in mid-sentence realizing that for the first time he had admitted that there might be an answer to all this besides a gigantic fraud.

“All right, Norm, I’ll agree to that. If OPP draws a blank, I’ll do my best to pay you back.”

Gilbert leaned back in his chair, and looked somewhat relieved. “Don’t forget that Star Farms Insurance has a fine staff of investigators. If you come across something that might bear some checking into…”

I’ll tell Jon Chapel at OPP. My orders are to keep my mouth shut except in government-chaperoned news conferences.”

“In that case, I may have a visit with Mr. Chapel myself.” he said rising. “If you should get a lead on the whereabouts of your wife, I hope that won’t be classified information.”
I didn’t answer as I saw him to the door.

“I’ll be in touch, Tony. And it’s good to have you back. Or whatever…”

I closed the door behind him, and then changed into a suit for my date with the holocameras.

***

Jon Chapel was the kind of man who commanded attention. He was extremely professional-looking in his pin-stripe suit, his thick black beard and his glasses. As he ushered me into the meeting room, the reporters and onlookers readied their cameras, recorders, and notebooks. We took our places behind a table, and soundmen immediately were strapping lavaliere discs around both our necks. They were cordless, but made me uncomfortable just the same.

“Many of you have asked about the Sutton case,” Chapel began all of a sudden. “Today, we’re going to explain as much as we can to you, because we feel the public has a right to know.” Holocameras were grinding. “Most of you have already learned that Tony Sutton was killed in a solar-bus accident on January 3rd. On January 31st, Mr. Sutton turned up alive, and apparently well. Not knowing how to cope with the situation, he came to our office to ask for assistance. We made positive verification of Mr. Sutton’s identity through his brain wave prints, which are, of course, handled through the FBI.”

As I listened to Chapel’s opening remarks, I was carefully scanning the crowd and I immediately recognized Chuck Storer of the World Network. Who wouldn’t? He was top rated. I also recognized reporters from two smaller holovision networks and noticed that the five audio services were represented, as was the International Press. I was getting nervous. I sneaked a peek at Chapel, who was stroking his beard as he continued:

“To head off one question, we did exhume Mr. Sutton’s body, and performed an autopsy. As paradoxical as it seems, the embalmed body of Tony Sutton is identical in every way to the man sitting beside me today, all the way down to the fingerprints. The only difference is, one body is alive; one is a corpse.”

Someone walked in. It was Norm Gilbert. I was disgusted, but at least my nerves were settling down. Chapel was concluding his speech.

“OPP has obtained grant money to launch a full investigation into the matter, and that probe is underway currently. And now, ladies and gentlemen, let me introduce Anthony Armstrong Sutton, who will field your questions.”

Storer was not number one for nothing. He was quick to take command of the meeting, and the other reporters seemed to be used to it. “Mr. Sutton, a month’s time elapsed before your so-called revival. Do you have any memories at all during that time?”

I cleared my throat, and assumed my best pose for the holocameras. “None whatsoever, Mr. Storer. It’s as though I were asleep for twenty-eight days, then awoke as though nothing at all had happened. I noticed some changes at the house, for example, most of my things had been moved out, and that was my first indication that something was wrong. A calendar confirmed my fears.”

“What happened after you realized that almost a month was missing from your life?”
“I called my wife Liz at the office where she worked. She was shocked to hear my voice, as you might imagine. I wasn’t able to learn much from her, except that I was supposed to be dead. Then, she disappeared.”

One of the other reporters managed a question. “At that time, did you believe the story about your death?”

“What could I believe? I certainly had not gone through the normal de-freezing process for suspended animation patients. I didn’t believe in Rip Van Winkle. So I checked with the head of the advertising agency where I work. He, too, was flabbergasted, but I managed to learn the date of my death.”

Gilbert was taking it all in. I occasionally stared at him as the questioning continued.

“Is that when you called OPP?”

“No, first I went to the library, and checked back issues of the International Press. I found my own obituary. The whole thing seemed impossible to me, but by that time, I was beginning to believe it.”

Patrick Flynn, who I remembered as the reporter who had written the article on my demise, raised his hand, and asked a question.

“It’s my understanding that you tried several agencies before calling Mr. Chapel. Didn’t any of them listen?”

“None at all. I was dismissed as a crazy person, so I came to OPP. I didn’t know whether I was parapsychic or not, but I figured I qualified as a phenomenon.”

I gestured at another newsman, and he stood and asked Chapel a question.

“Mr. Chapel, I’m Jules Hardman, the science editor at the I.P. Have you considered the possibility that the current Anthony Sutton might be a clone?”

Gilbert loved that one. Damn him. If I were a clone, what a way to perpetrate insurance fraud. Of course, that could mean Liz might be accused of murdering my original body. I didn’t want to believe that, but even if it were true, how did she manage to replenish my memories so quickly? Chapel put my mind at ease.

“Mr. Hardman, all cloning is under direct government supervision at this time, and there are strict laws against any unauthorized use of the process. As a science writer, I’m sure you know the problems in duplicating the mental processes as exactly as the body itself. It’s my opinion that Mr. Sutton here is much too advanced mentally to be a clone.”

In spite of the cameras, I smirked at Gilbert.

The conference lasted a full forty-five minutes, during which all kinds of weird theories were advanced. Parallel worlds, other dimensions, vibratory planes, space warps — could I really be involved in all that? Jon Chapel methodically discounted those theories, to the point that I couldn’t tell if he was being a good scientist or a good bureaucrat. At last, the media meet was over; Chapel told me I did just fine; and I went home to try and relieve the tension.

***

Six o’clock found me in front of the holovision set trying to get the contraption tuned in for the evening news. The depth control seemed to be out of whack – made me wish for an old style television – but after a few minutes of adjustments, I managed to get an acceptable graph. I decided to watch the World Network channel first, to see how Chuck Storer would treat the story, then flip flop to the secondary network affiliates. The story came on just after an Inter-Bank commercial for Handy-Pay Credit, which reminded me of another problem I had so far failed to consider. I dismissed Handy-Pay from my mind entirely when the newscast flashed on.

“Some new information was revealed today in the case of Anthony Armstrong Sutton, the man who is both living and dead at the same time,” said Storer’s holographic image. “I met with Sutton and with Jon Chapel of the Office of Parapsychic Phenomena this afternoon at the Government Center.” Storer was making it sound as if he had been the only reporter present at the news conference. He couldn’t fool me, though; we advertising folks know something about shaping a viewing audience’s opinions. (Storer, you’ll recall, is number one.)

The studio graph faded, and dissolved into a mini-graph of the OPP meeting room. Chapel was on camera doing his little background speech, and while his voice continued, the scene cut to Storer taking notes on a small pad. Again, I couldn’t help but notice the care given to creating the illusion that Storer was the only newsman on hand. They used a clip of me explaining my revival as best I could (luckily, they edited out the part where I cleared my throat), and they continued with Storer’s question about the month missing from my life. When they threw it back to Storer in the main studio, I changed channels.

The North American News Network was running a bit on shuttle service to the moon and back and how much the new added routes would cost taxpayers. The religious channel had a duo of muppets reading news to children, but they weren’t doing my story. As I reversed the channel selector to locate the European News Service, I suddenly froze on the World Network once again.

Norman Gilbert! There he was, live in the studio with Chuck Storer, talking to beat the band about my insurance problems and the search for my missing wife. I forced myself to watch, and then made a mental note to be sure and punch out Gilbert the next time I saw him. As if I didn’t have enough trouble…

So now I was a world-wide personality, but that didn’t put food on the table. I remembered the Inter-Bank spot, and decided to phone the Agency and see if I could go to work again while OPP continued their checking.

***

The office hadn’t changed much; of course, I had only been gone a month. I sat down at my desk, and pulled the file on Inter-Bank. I was proud of that account, and the way Handy-Pay Credit had caught on. The name “Handy-Pay” was the gimmick, of course, for a credit system where the palm print is used for identification and billing purposes instead of a plastic card. I was putting the Inter-Bank file back in its place when Jerry Epstein, my boss, walked in.

“Welcome back, Tony,” he said as he pulled up a chair.

“It’s nice to be back. For a while I was afraid you might wait out the investigation before putting me back to work.”

“I don’t see any need for that. There’s obviously something out of the ordinary going on, but OPP has positively identified you as Tony Sutton, and that’s good enough for me. Besides, I have a brand new account that I want you to get started on.”

It was nice to know that the boss had some confidence in me.

“Great,” I said with some enthusiasm. “Who’s the client?”

“Star Farms Insurance.”

I almost choked. “St-star Farms Insurance?”

“Is something wrong?”

“No sir. Nothing at all. I’ll get right to work on it.”

I wanted to kill Epstein! I wanted to kill Norm Gilbert! I wanted to commit suicide!

Instead, I read the work order and began planning a campaign to sell more Star Farms policies. (I wasn’t sure a suicide attempt would work anyway, given the situation I was in.)

Several days passed, and in spite of interruptions from Jon Chapel, Gilbert, and the news media, I managed to put together a preliminary package of ideas to take to the Star Farms people. My catch-phrase would be “always on the job” and I could attest to that personally. I would suggest some spots on holovision, but mainly I wanted to buy time on mass transit viewscreens. My reasoning was that working people bought insurance, and most working people rode the solar-buses. I, in fact, had been killed in a solar-bus wreck. I was watching an Inter-Bank spot on the viewscreen when it happened, as best I could remember.

Finally, I took the whole package into Epstein’s office for approval. We spent almost three hours going over it and making revisions, and then Epstein called Star Farms to send a representative. I knew what that meant; we’d have to review the whole package again, and the Star Farms people would undoubtedly have suggestions and revisions of their own. But that’s the advertising business for you. It always seems that be the time your original ideas make it to the holovision sets, or the audio services, or the viewscreens — you don’t even recognize them.

I was still lost in my thoughts when the Star Farms “representative” showed up, and I don’t suppose I have to tell you who it was.

Norman Gilbert.

I found it impossible to disguise my feelings. “Oh no. What have I done to deserve this?” I said.

“Just lucky, I suppose.” He seemed to take delight in the harassment.

“But Norm, aren’t you a claims adjustor? I thought they’d send out a big shot.”

“I asked for the assignment. Besides, I’m in line for a promotion, and if I do a good job on this case, I might get it a little sooner.” He went on to explain that the Front Office thought he’d be the right man to discuss the ad campaign with me because we were such “close friends.”

I got the feeling that Star Farms was trying to use the advertising account as added leverage to recover my adjustment. At any rate, Norm had some news for me before we got down to work on the campaign.

“I got a call from the World Network today,” he said rather smugly. “Chuck Storer says he’s uncovered something new that might be related to your case.”

“And what might that be?”

“As a matter of fact, he wouldn’t say, but he told me not to miss his broadcast tonight. He was going to call you, but I told him I’d pass the information on since I had an appointment with you.”

“Thanks.”

“I took the liberty of promising that the two of us might be in the vicinity of the World Net Studios at news time. Storer said he might want to do an interview with us after he breaks his new lead.”

“I don’t know about that. I’m more or less under the supervision of Jon Chapel right now, and I’d hate to make a comment without his OK.”

“Then let’s take him with us to the studio.”

It seemed like a reasonable idea. And I was quite anxious to find out what new information Storer’s investigative team had been able to dig up. So we called Chapel, and talked him into accompanying us to the World Network that evening. Then, Gilbert and I got down to work for the next several hours on the job at hand.

We broke up the meeting in time to grab a bite to eat, and make it to the network in time to meet Chapel, and watch the newscast. We had almost managed to finish work on the campaign, and Gilbert was to go ahead and present it to the honchos at Star Farms.

***

Chapel was already at the studio when we arrived. The three of us were ushered into a small screening room adjacent to the on-air studio, where we would watch the newscast. We were told that Storer was hoping to have one or more of us on the air live for reaction to his new information. We decided to play it by ear.

It was almost news time; we saw two commercials, and then the World News logo hit the screen — a caricature of the Earth, in three dimensions, with Chuck Storer’s features where North America should be. Then, Storer was on the air.

“It’s seven o’clock in Eastern North America, and this is news from the World Network.” The image of Storer glided into the lower left side of the graph as a shot of another man dissolved into view behind him.

“A well publicized paradox has repeated itself,” Storer said with great emphasis. “The World Network has learned that a man in Pennsylvania has died — and returned — in much the same manner as Anthony Armstrong Sutton.”

I gasped. So I’m not the only one, I thought. I sneaked a glance at Chapel and Gilbert, and they were both watching the holograph intently.

Storer was now interviewing the other man who had returned from the dead. His story was very similar to mine — he had been killed in a solar-bus wreck; he had been dead less than two weeks before his return; and his “other body” remained in its grave.

Storer was ending his interview, and heading into a commercial. I wanted to turn to Chapel and ask what all this meant, but I stopped when I saw a holocamera beginning to focus its three-dimensional eye on us. A panel on the desk in front of us automatically slid forward to reveal sound discs. I realized that Storer didn’t intend to give us much of a choice as to whether we wanted to be interviewed. I wondered if the studio was locked. None of us bothered to check it. Instead Chapel looked at me and had some quick instructions:

“Tony, just be cool. Think before you answer any questions, and don’t let Storer badger you.” Then he looked at Gilbert, but he didn’t say anything else.

In scarcely the time it takes to run to the kitchen and back, Storer was on the air again. “In an adjoining studio, we have with us Anthony Sutton, along with Jon Chapel, the director of the Office of Parapsychic Phenomena, and Norman Gilbert of Star Farms, the insurance company that’s working on the Sutton case. Mr. Sutton, you’ve just seen our story about a second revival. What’s your reaction?”

I could just picture millions of people in living rooms everywhere waiting to hear my reply. “Well, it’s nice to know I’m not alone in all this. Since it’s happened a second time, maybe some of the skeptics will begin to believe my story.”

As Storer asked another question, the graph on the monitor changed to Gilbert.
“Speaking of skeptics, Mr. Gilbert, you once considered this whole episode to be a hoax for insurance claims. Now, I understand that Mr. Sutton’s agency has been retained to develop Star Farms’ next advertising campaign. Don’t you think that’s a cheap trick to cash in on all the publicity?”

Norm was clearly not expecting that question. It was fun to see him put on the spot for a change, especially with his big promotion still up for grabs.

“Mr. Storer, our company retained the agency at least a month before the death of Mr. Sutton. It was pure coincidence that Tony was assigned to the Star Farms account, but I think that points out our firm’s ability to be neutral in the matter until a final determination is made by the government.”

Phooey, I thought. Gilbert would consider it a feather in his cap to get my settlement returned. But he was sure cool about his answer to Storer, darn it.

“Speaking of the government” Storer continued, “Mr. Chapel, will OPP launch a separate Investigation of this occurrence in Pennsylvania?”

“Mr. Storer, we don’t have funds at the current time to explore the two incidents separately, but since they might well be related to one another, I think we’ll have to do some checking.”

There were a few more questions, and then Storer went off into another pre-recorded segment of the newscast. I turned and asked Chapel how many other unsuspecting subjects might have been trapped in the so-called “viewing” studio.

After the newscast, Chapel managed to obtain a copy of Storer’s script with al1 the details about Edward Parry, the man who had revived in Pennsylvania. Chapel said he would contact Parry and get more information, then feed all the data concerning both incidents into the government’s computer system. We kept thinking there must be some link — something in common between me and Edward Parry. Chapel went to work that night to find out what it was.

Two days later, Chapel called me to the Government Center to discuss his progress. When I arrived at the office, Chapel’s desk was covered with computer printouts.

“Nothing” he said. “The computer can find no connection between you and Parry. We’ve tried every angle possible, but if it’s a puzzle we’re working on, the pieces don’t fit.”

I exhaled heavily. “Did you run a check on all the passengers on the two solar- buses?”

“Every single one. We have complete lists of who was on the buses those days, and checked the complete files of them all. No connections anywhere.”

“Did you remember the solar directors of the buses?”

“Yes; still no connection.”

“How about Parry himself – he’s not an advertising man is he?”

“No, as a matter of fact, Parry works for the government, and that made it simple to get all the facts and figures on him. But with all the checking, the only common link is the situation itself — you and Parry, both killed in solar-bus accidents, and brought back to life approximately one month later.”

“If that’s the only common denominator, then maybe that’s the route we should pursue.” I stopped a moment to gather my thoughts. “Were the buses themselves exactly alike?”
Chapel began searching through the mountain of information on his desk. “That’s a viable point. Let’s see here — oh, here’s some background on the buses. The one in Pennsylvania was manufactured in New Jersey by the Flare Corporation; the bus here was made by Butler Industries. So there’s no connection there either.” He tossed the papers back down onto the pile.

But I wouldn’t give up on the line of thought. “Wait a minute, Jon. Why don’t we take it back even farther than just the manufacturer. There’ve been hundreds of improvements made in solar-buses over the years. Do you think the government’s computer system would keep track of all the changes?”

Chapel stroked his beard and nodded. “It’s worth a try,” and pressing the intercom button, he told his secretary, “Linda, get me a computer expert from 13-B.”

In a moment, the computer operator was on the line, and Chapel made an appointment for us to descend to 13-B, where the government’s computer system was lodged.

“B” stood for basement. It took thirteen sub-ground floors to house all the electronic brains that Uncle Sam used in just this section of New York. As we walked through the maze, I couldn’t help but wonder what the nation-wide hook-up must entail. It was all hooked together, so it shouldn’t be too difficult to call up the information we wanted. Chapel wasn’t allowed to fool with the system himself, because he wasn’t a computer expert — oh, these days of super-specialization.

Chapel had to fill out several forms (ironically enough, the left side of the pages were red in color), and show his government I.D., and then we were deposited into a waiting area. Chapel looked a bit frustrated, and I heard him mumble— “You’re always a second class citizen when you’re on grant money.” I remembered reading in the I.P. that OPP would have gotten cut anyway. Might as well take the grant money and like it.

We had each finished our second Coke when our operator informed us that our request would be ready by the time we could walk to the printout area. Upon arrival there, we found only a few pages of information — but maybe there would be something useful — the missing link, as we had started to call it.

The printouts were quite plain, in fact they were practically in conversational English. The one I was scanning described in great detail how the Flare Company had improved upon the early solar cells, added the anti-grav devices, and installed the Girard repelling system. (Once a bus went to anti-gravity the repelling system was an almost essential safety element.)

Chapel was mentally fishing through his report, too, as we stepped on the elevator for the ride back to the OPP section. “My report has basically the same information regarding Butler,” he said. “They picked up the anti-grav system back about twenty years ago, and run their buses an average of twenty feet above ground transportation –” he was thinking aloud. “They’re on multi-range solar cells which can tap moonlight and starlight, but they get 99.8% of their energy from Sol.”

We were entering Chapel’s office again, by this time. “You said they’re an anti-grav carrier like Flare — what repelling system do they use?”

Chapel studied the printouts. “Fischer. No — Girard. They went to Girard last year.”

That’s it, I thought! “Jon, was Parry’s bus wreck due to repeller failure?”

“It was! And so was yours! Tony, we may have hit on it!”

OPP kept a fairly decent library, and we pulled volume “G” of the Who’s Who In Science. Girard merited only a few lines, but it was enough to put us on his trail:

“Girard, William G. (B.S., University of Chicago; Ph.D., Syracuse in Chemistry; Ph.D., Syracuse in Physics; doctoral dissertation: “Theories of Chronal Mitosis”): New York City scientist, specializing in several fields; best known for development of repelling system now used as a safety mechanism in virtually all airborne transportation.”

Chapel was obviously excited, and so was I! I grabbed for the city telephone directory to look for Girard’s address, while Chapel buzzed Linda. When she answered, he instructed her to contact Syracuse immediately and see if the library there could get us a printout of Girard’s doctoral dissertation through the computer lines.

Since most major college libraries have facilities for computer scanning, we felt like we could have a copy of the dissertation within hours. I decided to go home and get some rest until the printout arrived, but before I left I jotted down Girard’s address and left it with Chapel.

***

It was early next morning when Chapel’s secretary called to tell me that the dissertation printout had arrived. An hour later? I walked into his office.

“Have you had a chance to look over it yet?” I asked.

“I’ve read most of it, Tony — enough to be convinced that Dr. Girard is the missing link in our puzzle!” He was stroking his beard again.

“Well let’s have it! I was up all night wondering about it!” I wasn’t kidding. I had waited a long time to find out how I came back to life, and as Chapel began to unravel Girard’s theories, I could feel my heart pounding like a trip-hammer, and my hands were sweating. I rubbed them on my pant legs.

“I’ve underlined the essential portions of the theme, Tony, and I’ll read them to you. He begins by describing what he sees as a basic fallacy in many theories concerning time and time travel: ‘Time has been described as a river, moving in an eternal curve. The present (now) is preceded be the past, and followed by the future, which cannot be changed by tampering with past events. It is my theory, however, that time is not a single flow, but a series of flows, lending many possible futures to a single present. In essence, I am saying that the future does not exist in any specific form, but, can be controlled without necessarily changing the now, through application of my Theory of Chronal Mitosis.’”

“Chronal mitosis?” I asked, butting in. “What does mitosis have to do with time manipulation? That’s a biological term.”

“Correct,” answered Chapel. “Simply put, mitosis occurs when the chromosomes in a cell split in two just prior to the cytoplasm itself undergoing fission. When the process is completed, you have two cells, each identical to the first. Dr. Girard is borrowing the term, and applying it to his own theories, even though they concern time rather than biology.”

“You mean Girard is saying that time can be split in two like a cell?”

Chapel’s eyes were glued to the printout. “No, if I’m reading this right, that’s not what he’s saying at all. Let me read you his exact definition of coronal mitosis: ‘The process through which any particle of matter regenerates itself forward in time at the speed of light, while also remaining stationary in all preceding time frames.’”

He looked at me as he tried to make me understand the definition. “Tony, what he’s saying is that time moves forward in rapid-fire spurts, that he calls time-frames. But as each time-frame moves forward in the flow, each preceding frame continues to exist in the past. That’s where he gets the term ‘mitosis.’ See? Each time-frame is dividing in two; one half remains where it is, while the other moves forward just slightly in time. Then, it too divides, and the process is repeated, over and over and over. It never stops.”

I began to catch on. “Then according to Girard, the speck of time in between each pair of divisions is one time-frame.”

“Exactly. Let me quote from the theme again:

‘Chronal mitosis can be compared to old style motion pictures (or movies), which were used in the Twentieth Century before holography became popular. Movies were a series of pictures, photographed in rapid succession, and printed on celluloid strips of film, which ranged from 8 millimeters in width to 70 millimeters (although I believe 140 millimeter film stock was popular before the art of film-making gave way to progress). When the developed film was moved through a projector at a speed equal to that of the photographing device, the pictures had the illusion of movement. So it is with actual time. Just as each separate picture, or frame of a movie combined to make a flow of movement on the screen, so do time-frames combine to form movement in the real world. With one exception, however, that is where the comparison must end. While the future of a movie lies before it in the frames that have yet to be drawn by the lens, there is no future already in existence in the real world. The future happens only when a time-frame divides thereby pushing hard on the flow of time.’”

Chapel paused in his reading, and I said, “I think I understand the analogy. He’s saying that coronal mitosis is like a strip of film, because as the film progresses, new frames are constantly taking the place of the old, but even so, the used frames continue to exist. But I still don’t see how that explains my revival.” I knew Chapel had an idea forming in his mind, because he was stroking his beard harder than ever.

“Tony, remember what he said about one more comparison to movie film? Well, I think that one final comparison is our answer.” He paused again, and turned a page in the printout. Then, finding the paragraph he was looking for, he continued, “Tony, there’s one last thing you should remember about how they used to make movies, if you ever studied the subject in school.” He stared at me.

“Go on . . .”

“Film can be spliced!”

“Of course!” I was struck be the simplicity of it all. “If Girard is right, and time exists in frames, then why not make a splice in time itself? Jon, do you think that’s what has happened?”

“It’s the only answer we have, Tony. If you need more proof, just look at the dissertation. Right here toward the end of the paper, Girard says that it’s possible to build a machine that can reach out and grab a specified time-frame, and weld it to an alternate probability in the present.”

“But that must change the future, and Girard said that can’t be done!”

“No, Tony! Remember, your body was still in its grave. If Girard built such a machine, he brought you back by splicing a time-frame before your death to a time- frame in the present. The Tony Sutton that died in that solar-bus wreck is still dead, and is still proceeding in the time flow.”

“But the existence I have now — ” I was getting panicky, “– where would this Tony Sutton be now, if the other one had never died?”

“This Tony Sutton,” Chapel answered, trying to keep cool, “would exist only as a probability. It took the time splice to bring that probability to life.”

“Incredible!” I was overwhelmed. I stared blankly at the wall for what must have been several minutes. When I had regained my senses, I asked Chapel if Girard had gone into more detail about the machine.

“He wanted to build a prototype, but was stymied by a lack of funds. According to the paper, he estimated the cost at well over a hundred-thousand dollars, but he never built it because he couldn’t raise the funds.”

“Well, he must have come up with the money somewhere,” I said.

“Shall we find out?” Chapel rose from his chair, and began to gather up the pages of the dissertation. “We looked up the office address last night. Let’s pay a surprise visit to Dr. William Girard.”

I agreed that I was ready to meet the man who brought me back to life, so we headed for the elevator, telling Linda that we were simply going on a research expedition.

***

Stepping off the elevator, Chapel and I couldn’t help but notice Norm Gilbert and Chuck Storer heading our way. Chapel grabbed my arm and we tried to duck around the corner, but it was too late.

“’There they are now!” I heard Gilbert say to Storer.

“There’s no use trying to get away,” Chapel said, rubbing his beard fiercely.

Storer extended his hand, and applied his big, booming, network-announcer’s voice: “Where to in such a hurry gentlemen? You wouldn’t be checking out some kind of a lead would you?” He gave Chapel a you-can’t-fool-me look.

The OPP director looked at me sheepishly for a second. “All right, all right. We’re on our way now to check out a theory. You can call me this afternoon and I’ll tell you if it panned out.”

“Now wait just a minute,” said Storer. “You don’t expect me to…!”

Gilbert and I stood back and watched them go at it. It was a hopeless cause for our side.

After several minutes of bickering (which changed into negotiations) Storer convinced Chapel to let him and Gilbert tag along. In fact, the only concession that Storer made was that he wouldn’t call a camera crew. Chapel was still muttering under his beard when the four of us boarded the solar-bus.

Chapel was too upset to do much talking during the ride, but he allowed me to explain (as best I could) the Girard Theory of Chronal Mitosis. Storer took it all in, obviously visualizing the story he could put together if it all turned out to be true. I even heard him mention the possibilities entering the story in the Holy Award competition. (That’s the award for the best holograph story the year.) When I finished with my explanation of the Girard theories, Gilbert told me about the progress of the Star Farms investigators who had been working on my case. He said they were sending amen out of the Philadelphia office to question Edward Parry. There were no leads in the search for my missing wife. A few more moments, and we found ourselves in front of Dr. Girard’s quarters.

The Girard home (where his lab was also located) was about as suburban as a place could get in this day and age. There were several other houses in the vicinity, but We had left most of the high rise buildings back in the heart of the city. As we left the bus, Chapel admonished Gilbert and Storer to keep quiet, and let him do the talking. I remember thinking how foolish it was to expect those two to shut up, but really I didn’t care. I was getting that nervous feeling again, and my hands ware sweating.

We could hear faint noises coming from inside. Chapel rang the bell. There was no answer. He rang again, then knocked. After a wait that seemed an eternity, we heard a chain slide from within, and the door began to open. As anxious as I was, I never expected to see the face behind that door!

“Liz!”

We stood, staring at each other for just a moment, neither of us knowing what to do. Do you embrace a wife who is a runaway? Or was she? Perhaps she was abducted. Before I could ask, she spoke…softly…

“Tony — please. Don’t try to stop Dr. Girard. He’s in the middle of his greatest experiment.”

Chapel could see how shocked I was, and he pushed me back just a bit, and took my place in the conversation. (I must confess, I haven’t the slightest memory of what Storer and Gilbert were doing all this time, but I suppose they must have been listening to what was going on.) “Mrs. Sutton, suppose we agree not to barge in on Dr. Girard — can you explain what’s going on here?” He was doing his best to speak soothingly (as if back on the hot seat at that news conference).

“I-I had to stay here and help him once I discovered what he hoped to accomplish.”
She looked ready to explain everything. Chapel was silent, and let her talk.

“Dr. Girard is a good man, Mr. Chapel.” (She apparently recognized Jon from his holovision appearances.) “As a man with a conscience, he became very distressed when repeller systems that he designed malfunctioned, and caused some people to die. Even though those people were dead, he felt he could help them.

“He remembered an idea he had once worked out — where he might be able change the way things turn out. He worked on the theory some more, and started building a machine. But he needed money.”

She was sobbing now, and Chapel gently urged her to go on.

He read about Tony…that it happened because of repeller failure. He called me and promised to bring Tony back if I would help him raise the money.”

“And that’s what happened to the insurance settlement, isn’t it?” asked Chapel.

“Yes – and when I got that phone call from Tony — I couldn’t believe it. I came back here immediately. For one thing, I knew that with Tony alive, the insurance people would expect their money back. But more than that, I wanted to help Dr. Girard…”

“Help Dr. Girard do what?” He shook her. “Help him do what?”

A new shadow fell, as Girard himself appeared in the doorway.

“Help me resurrect my dead son, Mr. Chapel.”

Chapel let go of Liz, and I took her in my arms. She was still crying. Girard stood there for a second, looking the part of a desperate man. We knew his age, but he looked much older. A good deal of his hair was gone, he was rather frail, and his clothes were those of a doctor. He looked back around his shoulder for a second as if to indicate his great experiment. Then, he turned to Chapel.

“The process is already underway. The scanner will go back five years. The computer will lock in on a time-frame just before the accident. That frame will be welded to an alternate probability in the present.”

As he spoke, the strange clicking noises stopped. Girard motioned for us to enter the lab.
“The process is complete,” he said as we walked through the two rooms to get to the work area. And then we saw the machine. Not too impressive, really. A visual scanner not even three-dimensional), and a myriad printed circuits, all hooked into a computer. But we knew it worked.

Storer emerged with a question: “If your son has been revived, Dr. Girard — where is he?”

“He exists now, where he might have existed in an alternate probability, Mr. Storer. The machine can’t tell me where that is. We’ll just have to wait.”

But the wait didn’t take long. Someone was coming down the stairs. We all turned, our eyes fixed on the stairway as if we were victims of mass hypnosis. Another instant, and Girard knew that his miracle machine had worked once more.

“David –son!” Girard hurried to him.

“Dad? You…look older…somehow…”

Those were the only words the younger Girard had time to speak. There was an explosion, totally disintegrating the boy, and knocking his father to the floor.

Instinctively, I dropped to the floor, and tried to shield Liz. The others had ducked for cover also, but in a moment, Chapel rushed to Girard’s side, propping his head in his hand.

“Doctor, are you all right?” I heard him ask.

“Yes — I’m fine — but my son…David…”

“I’m sorry Doctor,” Chapel said softly. “Your son is gone. Somehow, he couldn’t survive the process.”

“Too much time…” Girard muttered. “…five years…couldn’t hold…too long…”

With that, Girard lapsed into unconsciousness.

“Tony!” Chapel exclaimed. “I think he’s saying that the splice broke!”

Storer ran to call a camera crew; Gilbert finally peeked from behind some machinery; I walked over to help Chapel with the Doctor.

“Call an ambulance,” I said to Gilbert.

***

You should know, in closing, that Dr. Girard recovered fully. Chapel had some grant money left over from the investigation, and he managed to funnel it to Girard’s research, and the Doctor still hopes to revive his son (although he knows one probability has been eliminated). Gilbert got his promotion, and the Star Farms board of directors was so pleased with all the publicity from my case (and my advertising campaign, too) that attempts to recover the settlement were abandoned. Storer had the exclusive story on the World Network that night — and he won his award. OPP so commanded the public’s favor, that it managed to work its way into the national budget, and won’t have to operate on grants anymore.

For my part — well, Liz and I are back together, and plan to live happily ever after — as long as my splice holds out.

THE END

Originally published in AMAZING SCIENCE FICTION STORIES, Nov. 1980.
© 1980 by Ultimate Publishing Co., Inc.
© 2014 by Lynn Woolley. All rights reserved.

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