Conversations With Myself

A Novel by Altimexis

The Whispers of Time
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Book Three • Chapter 4 — Compromised

September 1979 • Chris-13

“The surest way to hurt me, Chris, is to keep stabbing me like that!” Marion Dawson boomed at me as I attempted to stick a needle in his arm. The thought of deliberately piercing his skin was kinda grossing me out. Besides which, this was Marion Dawson, one of the top physicists in the world. He was my mentor. He was bigger than life.

“I know that, Professor Dawson,” I responded. “It’s just that I’ve never done this before.”

“Just think, Chris. There are thousands of thirteen-year-old diabetic boys out there who do this every day, several times a day, and they do it to themselves. Surely if they can do it, you can stick me with a needle, check to be sure you're in the vein, and inject me with a little Valium.”

It took me a few more tries, but finally I did manage to inject him with the appropriate dose of sedative. As he started to relax, I fired up the quantum emitter and started up the rotating reflector. When the feedback tone indicated alpha waves, I switched on the vacuum tube apparatus, which had already warmed up, and calibrated the timing of the field generators and the multiplexers. Once that was done, I verified the date and time at which the paired quantum states would be selected, and then engaged the circuitry.

At last it was time for us to make first contact with Marion Dawson’s past self in 1972. The biggest problem with making contact was that, while the procedure could in theory be handled entirely by one person, it wasn’t really safe to do so. Unlike the future, computerized version of the equipment, which could be programmed to monitor the entire process and even call for help should something go wrong, our vacuum tube-based model required intensive monitoring by a second person. For security reasons, especially with all that had happened of late, we were reluctant to use anyone else to monitor the procedure.

Therein lay the problem. Although we could have performed the procedure during one of our Saturday sessions, it was far more likely to be successful if done at night, during the body’s normal sleep cycle. Performing the procedure during the day, if it even worked at all, would require much higher doses of sedation. Further, with end of year term paper deadlines and finals quickly approaching, my parents were reluctant to allow me to spend the night with any of my friends, let alone Professor Dawson.

We ended up using sleep deprivation as our strategy. Professor Dawson used vast quantities of coffee to keep himself up all night Friday night, so that he was exhausted by the time I arrived on Saturday morning. Once everything was ready, I injected him — a first for me — with one mg of Valium. It was just enough to induce sedation without outright putting him into a deep sleep from which he would have been unable to communicate.

Watching the professor enter a state of relaxation and concentration, I wished I could have entered his shared dream the way Frank could, but I lacked that ability. Instead, I settled for monitoring Professor Dawson’s brain wave patterns and making sure the equipment functioned properly. Other than from the whir of the spinning ‘mirror ball’ and the patterns on the oscilloscope, there was no way to know that anything was happening, but then Professor Dawson’s breathing became less regular and I knew he was communicating with himself in 1972.

Now it was just a matter of time, literally. I would need to check the equipment every now and then to make sure it hadn’t drifted out of calibration, but the timing circuitry was designed to ensure that it didn’t, so my job was one of tedium. However, if something did go wrong, it would be up to me to prevent the equipment from scrambling Marion Dawson’s brain, both in the present, and the past. My future selves had advanced computers to make sure that didn’t happen. I only had my wits.

I needed to stay awake for obvious reasons, but was too psyched to concentrate on my studies. I therefore pulled out my copy of Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, and picked up reading where I’d left off. Thanks to the brilliance of the author, I was quickly drawn into the story, which was written more than a century before there were deep sea submersible submarines. For me the problem wasn’t one of staying awake — it was one of remembering to break from the story and check on the equipment now and then.

I was just finishing the lunch I’d packed when I noticed another change in Professor Dawson’s breathing. I’d nearly finished the book, too. Checking the monitors, I saw that Dawson was in deep, theta wave sleep. Man I couldn’t believe that he’d been communicating with himself all morning! Much as I wanted to know what had happened, he was obviously exhausted and he needed the sleep. Therefore I’d let him sleep and talk to him later.

Me, on the other hand — that was a different story. I was way too psyched to go to bed. After taking a short bathroom break, I went back to reading my book, and finished it. After closing the book, I closed my eyes and put my head down to rest for a few minutes. That was the last thing I remembered until later that evening, when Professor Dawson shook my shoulder.


December 2004 • Chris-38

The time I spent with Andy in the backcountry of Joshua Tree National Park was the best time I’d had in my entire life. Andy was truly the most mature fifteen-year-old I’d ever met. Sure, he was a teenager, and he acted like one. He didn’t even bother to bring long pants and he took off his shirt at every opportunity. He even went shirtless during the infrequent afternoon rain showers we were experiencing. He was just showing off his new, muscular body the way so many teenage boys do, even though there was hardly anyone around to see it besides his old man.

All that aside, the depth of his personality, his outlook on the world and his raw intelligence were extraordinary. He had opinions on everything and was able to express and defend his viewpoints better than most seasoned politicians could. With so much time spent together on the trail, we had ample time to discuss these things too. It was particularly fun when his opinion was different from mine, and we ended up debating each other. We sometimes spent hours, just discussing one thing.

Add to that sharing the experience of seeing some of the most spectacular scenery in the world and life couldn’t be more perfect. These were memories I would always treasure.

At the moment, however, we weren’t seeing much of anything as we stood under a rocky outcropping, seeking shelter from a particularly nasty late afternoon thunderstorm. Such storms were unusual but not rare during the winter months, with brief, gentle rain showers being much more common. Those we tended to hike right through, me wearing a rain poncho that also covered my backpack, and Andy going shirtless as he did much of the time. Since our packs were waterproof anyway, that didn’t pose a problem in itself. Personally I found the rain way too cold to even consider going without the poncho, much less without a shirt. Andy, however, found the feeling of the rain against his skin to be invigorating. He also liked taking cold showers — something I could never do.

Although thunderstorms were certainly inconvenient, they could be dangerous for two reasons. Firstly, they posed a risk for flash flooding. Even when there were blue skies and the sun was bright, a distant rainstorm could send a torrent of water cascading through the canyons that often served as beds for the numerous trails that traversed the backcountry in Joshua Tree National Park. Indeed, most of these had been carved by past floods. Hikers had to remain vigilant at all times, being on the lookout for dark clouds on the horizon, clouds coming over the mountain crests from behind the mountains, or for the sound of distant thunder. Likewise, it was a good idea to avoid spending time in the narrow canyons that were the most dangerous to be trapped in during a flash flood.

The other reason thunderstorms were dangerous was because of the threat of being stuck by lightning. Lightning strikes were the most common cause of forest fires in the park, and one of the most common causes of loss of life or limb. Above the tree line in the High Sierras, hikers were sometimes sitting ducks with no place to seek shelter. Below the tree line as we were, trees posed a particular risk in attracting lighting, and the scrawny desert trees provided damn little in the way of shelter in any case. During a torrential downpour like the current one, with slick rocks and zero visibility, the greatest risk was of a serious fall. In this kind of weather, hiking was impossible.

With a storm that came on so suddenly and without much warning as this one did, we were damn lucky to find any shelter at all. As it was, we were huddled tightly together under a rocky ledge that was scarcely bigger than we were. Although big enough to protect us against the bulk of the rain, it did little to protect us against the frequent wind gusts that left us thoroughly drenched nonetheless. For a change I thought that Andy might be better off, wearing only shorts and waterproof hiking boots. My jacket, shirt and jeans were thoroughly soaked and clinging to my skin, leaving me cold with chattering teeth.

Finally the rain abated and the sun came out, illuminating the most brilliant double rainbow I’d ever seen, framing the red rocks and mountains of the desert and silhouetted against a dark cloudy sky. The effect was magical and it left us both scrambling to retrieve our cameras. In a way, I couldn’t wait to get home to have our film developed. I couldn’t wait to see if we’d captured the moment the way I hoped we had.

Days are short and dusk comes early to Joshua Tree in December, however, so the time to savor the rainbow was limited. Soon we were searching for a suitable place to make camp for the night, and were thrilled to find an ideal spot on a ledge overlooking a lake, with desert mountains in the background. As the sun set, stars began to appear as if by magic, filling the sky with their beauty and wonder.

I especially enjoyed watching the nighttime sky with Andy and ‘shooting the shit’ with him, as he called it. The first time he saw the stars above Joshua Tree, he literally gasped aloud. Having grown up in a big city area with abundant light pollution, he’d never really seen the true night sky in all its glory. We chose to sleep under the stars and so after cleaning up from dinner, we undressed — me to my briefs and a T-shirt, and Andy completely — and climbed into our sleeping bags. Every night now, we would look up into the sky and talk long into the night, until one of us fell asleep. Our talks encompassed everything from the surprising victory of the Angles over the Giants in the 2002 World Series, to hard-core philosophy and science. Those were some of the best talks we had of all.

“Andy,” I began, “I’ve been going over your equations, and there are some things that don’t make sense. For example, why’d you treat the speed of light as a variable? The speed of light is constant. It’s the single most important, defining property of the universe.”

“Is it?” Andy replied. “Time itself is variable, and even discontinuous. How can something that’s dependent on time be constant?”

“Because it has to be,” I responded. “A constant speed of light is the very foundation upon which general relativity is built. Every experiment that has ever been run has yielded the same result. If one accounts for all other variables, the speed of light can be measured to more than ten decimal places…”

“And in how many regions of space have we tested this?” Andy asked. “Over how many millions of years have you collected data to support this conclusion?” Try as I might, I couldn’t refute that argument and nodded my head in tacit acknowledgment. “What happens to the Big Bang if you assume the speed of light is constant?” he went on to ask.

“The Big Bang never happens,” I admitted, “and the universe remains concentrated in an enormous singularity. Of course your mathematical construct is the first that can actually model a singularity, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that it isn’t quite right yet. This is still a first generation theory, after all.”

Shaking his head, Andy countered with, “No Dad. It’s not that. The fault is not with the construct but with the assumptions you’re making. And it’s not just with the speed of light either. You are right about one thing… there’s something missing. And when you realize what it is, you’re gonna kick yourself for not seein’ it sooner. Not only are you gonna see how and why the Big Bang happened, but you’ll realize just how rare and precious life is… and how easy it would be for us to fuck it all up.” Just as I was about to say something, Andy put his palm up and added, “and don’t tell me not to use the ‘F’ word. There’s nothing in the English language better suited than ‘fuck’, so cut me some slack here. I may be fifteen, but this shit’s way beyond what most adults can understand, and the consequences couldn’t be more grave.”

Taking a deep breath, I responded, “I have no objection to your language, Tiger.” He rolled his eyes at my use of his childhood nickname. “Lord knows I said things like that when I was your age… just not around my parents… and you’re right. We could really fuck things up. But your ideas would lead to some really bizarre consequences. Hell, if the speed of light isn’t constant, how can we even say that the universe is expanding?”

“Exactly!” Andy exclaimed enthusiastically. “To anyone inside the universe, a collapsing speed of light would give the illusion of an expanding universe. There’d be no way to tell the difference, except when it comes to the effects of gravity. Take a look at the data, Dad. Relativity was better than Newtonian mechanics, but it never really fit the data. Quantum theory improved on it, but the theories are incompatible and there never can be an exact solution to the wave equation. String theory brings us closer still, but there’s no way to test it. My theory gives an exact solution and it fits the data perfectly.”

“But if the speed of light isn’t constant, how do we know if it’s even isotropic?” I asked of no one in particular, but it was my son who answered.

“That’s just it, Dad… we don’t, and it’s not. It can’t be… not if we’re still inside a singularity.”

“Singularities within singularities?” I mused, mostly to myself.

“That’s one way of lookin’ at it,” Andy agreed.

“And all the little micro-singularities we’re creating in OTT will combine to form a black hole… a black hole in the past.”

“There is no time inside a singularity,” Andy countered. “We only see a black hole after it has formed. But a black hole gobbles up everything around it, past, present and future. There is a way to reverse what you have done, but if we fail, it may be as if the earth never existed at all. But Dad, there may be a way out. You realize that singularities don’t always grow, right?”

“What do you mean, Andy?” I asked. “Anything that falls into the event horizon… even light… becomes part of the singularity. Of course they always grow.”

“But all objects emit black body radiation, Dad… even singularities. Unless they have critical mass, they’ll lose more energy than they gain in mass, and they’ll dissipate.”

“Even a small black hole has more than enough mass to take in everything around it,” I countered. “Unless there’s nothing around it, it’ll grow.”

“That’s exactly what happened with the Big Bang, you know,” Andy continued. “The entire universe was concentrated in a singularity, but it was isolated. Nothing was getting out except for black body radiation, which was enormous, and there was nothing coming in to balance it. The speed of light was infinite, but the mass of the universe was zero. It had to be.”

Incredulous, I asked, “How could that be? Without mass, there’s no gravity. Without gravity, there’s no singularity.”

“You got it backwards, Dad,” he countered. “Mass doesn’t define gravity. Gravity defines mass. And as you know, before the Big Bang, there was only a single, unified force. There was no gravity. At the moment of the Big Bang, the unified force was infinite, the speed of light was infinite, temperature was infinite, black body radiation was infinite and mass was zero. The situation was unstable and something had to give. That something was the speed of light. When the speed of light plummeted, temperature plummeted, black body radiation plummeted, gravity became a separate force and mass could finally form. Keep in mind that before the Big Bang, the universe was dimensionless. People talk about infinite dimensions, but dimensions have no meaning without space. Without space… without a universe… there can be no dimensions.

“So as mass formed, strings formed and the basic particles that would form quarks and bosons began to take shape. Because of entropy, most of these by far were one and two-dimensional and, as such, lacked the degree of spatial interaction needed to form atoms or anything like that. The lower dimensional mass is what constitutes the bulk of the so-called dark matter of the universe. We can’t see it and we can’t even interact with it, but it’s there.”

Still considering this pure conjecture on Andy’s part, I asked, “What makes you think that?”

“I don’t just think it… I know it,” he responded. “I’ve worked through all the math using the equations I derived, and everything fits the data. My model predicts reality perfectly. Not to sound conceited or anything but, Dad, I think I got it right.”

I couldn’t help but marvel at this. What fifteen-year-old talked like this but, then again, what fifteen-year-old kid could give Einstein a run for the money.

Later that night, I awoke to hear the unmistakable sounds of Andy masturbating in his sleeping bag. I tried to be quiet but he noticed me looking at him. Grinning, he said, “Sorry Dad, but I can’t help it. I’m so horny… all the time.”

“It’s OK, son. I’m not so old that I don’t remember what it’s like to be fifteen… going on sixteen. I used to do it all the time too.”

“Ewwe, gross. I don’t wanna even think about it,” he responded, and when he broke into a fit of giggles. I couldn’t help but laugh along. Before long he was at it again and I lay there transfixed, watching my own son jerk off under the covers. Seeing me watching again. He grinned and said, “It’s OK, Dad, if you wanna watch. Not sure why, but it’s kinda hot, actually.”

Try as I might, I couldn’t tear my eyes away until he reached orgasm, at which point I finally forced myself to look the other way. But then I heard my son say, “Dad, I don’t want you to feel weird or anything. I kinda liked that you liked watching me. I wouldn’t even mind if you get off watching me get off, strange as it may seem. I know it’s not a pedo thing or a perverted father-son sex thing. It’s the sort of thing best friends do and Dad, you’re my best friend.”

I couldn’t help it as I ran, pulled my boy out of his sleeping bag and engulfed him in my arms as tears filled my eyes. Andy was crying too. We held each other close, but I was clad in nothing more than briefs and a T-shirt, and Andy was completely naked. In spite of our shared body heat, it wasn’t long before we were both shivering.

As if reading my mind, Andy tentatively began, “Um, Dad? Not that I’m not enjoying this or anything, but it’s fucking freezing out.” Shaking my head at my son’s casual use of foul language, I realized all of a sudden that it was because he felt so close to me that he felt comfortable enough around me to talk the way he would with other teens. It was just another way he was showing me that he considered me to be more than just his father. I really was his best friend. I gave him another hug and a kiss on the cheek before we each retreated back into our sleeping bags.

“You know, Dad, the bit about black holes emitting black body radiation that we talked about earlier?” Andy started up, continuing as if we’d never gone to sleep, “That has actually been observed. Not that it’s made it into the lay press yet, but it’s in the literature. In theory, if a singularity is small enough… what you might call a micro-singularity… the black body radiation will exceed the accretion of matter and energy onto the singularity and it will ultimately dissipate.”

Not really understanding where my son was going with this or why he was bringing it up again, I asked, “Andy, why are you telling me this?”

Taking in a deep breath, he replied, “You know, when I look up at the night sky on a night like this, I can’t help but be struck by sheer beauty of it all, and by the miracle of life. I always knew that light pollution in most cities obscures most of the night sky, but I never realized just how much the view is ruined. Not that I’d wanna give up modern tech, but you really need to come to a place like this every once and a while to appreciate the beauty of the the universe, and the incredible fuckin’ happenstance that is humanity… and yes, I’m gonna say the ‘F’ word, ’cause this shit’s important.”

“I wasn’t planning to say anything,” I interjected with a laugh.

“Anyway,” Andy went on, “from our vantage point in the Northern Hemisphere, we can only see the outermost reaches of our arm of the Milky Way. From the Southern Hemisphere, you can see many times the number of stars, and you can see the very center of the Milky Way, and it’s fucking huge. Someday I hope I can go to the Andes in South America, or to Australia, or New Zealand, or South Africa, and see it for myself…”

“You will,” I stated emphatically.

Sighing, he continued, “I hope you’re right, Dad, but I’m not counting on it.

“Anyway, almost all of the stars we see are in the Milky Way… in our own galaxy. Some of what look like stars to us, however, are full-fledged galaxies themselves, each with thousands upon thousands of stars. And there are thousands upon thousands of galaxies; half of them forever beyond our reach even if we could go there, ’cause they’re made of antimatter and we’d be destroyed before we even got close.

“Our travels in space are limited, however, by the speed of light. Even with future technology, it’ll take years to reach the nearest star systems, during which decades will pass on earth. Traveling to the nearest galaxy or even across our own galaxy will take tens or even hundreds of thousands of years. What would be the point in that?

“But the speed of light isn’t fixed! At the start of the Big Bang, it was infinite. It had to be ’cause time did not yet exist. I have no doubt from the theory I’ve developed that it’s possible to modify space and time, to alter the speed of light itself and to travel anywhere we choose. Warp drive is real, Dad… it’s not just the stuff of science fiction. And once we learn how to build wormholes, no place in the universe will be too far away to explore. We’re not ready to deal with the power of that kind of technology yet, but I have no doubt that someday we will be… if we survive.

“But intelligent life is far rarer than anyone realizes. The odds of all of the ingredients for life coming together in one place are extraordinarily small, Dad. The odds of forming self-replicating membranes are minuscule. The odds of DNA assembling into something more than a random chain are infinitesimal. I won’t even mention how unlikely it is that RNA and DNA came together with proteins in a meaningful way, such that chains of DNA can code for the building blocks of cells and manage to replicate itself. The odds are similar to that of a raw pile of silicon and iron spontaneously coming together to make an iPod.”

“Are you sure about that, Andy?” I interrupted. “I mean, yeah, I get it. Life is highly improbable, but we know it arose at least once. With so many stars in our galaxy alone, most of which we think have planets, and with billions of years still left in the universe at least, isn’t it highly likely that life has or will evolve elsewhere? Intelligent life?”

“Perhaps there really is a God,” Andy responded, rather than answering me directly. It’s funny, but we never were religious and never went to church, largely in rebellion against my religious upbringing. This was the first time that Andy had ever brought up religion with me, or the existence of God. “The odds are so stacked against the formation of life, maybe there really is a higher being responsible for its formation on Earth,” he continued. “The thing is that life requires a confluence of liquid water, organics and an energy source. The heavier elements needed for life were formed in the dying days of large stars. Stars had to be born, exhaust their hydrogen and die before there was even carbon, oxygen and nitrogen to form the organic molecules needed for life. And after that, it took billions of years for life to form here.

“Even time and the right molecules are not enough, though, without the right environment. Liquid water is a must, and only a fraction of planets are likely to have it. Ample energy is required to fuel metabolism as we know it, and to provide the natural interactions that can allow DNA to combine, billions upon billions of times over, until just the right sequence comes together to form a stable, self-replicating chain or loop. On Earth, tidal basins almost certainly played a major role in this, but the kind of tides we have only occur on binary planet pairs such as the Earth and its moon. It only seems inevitable to us because we’re here! We cannot know of the failures… of the millions upon millions of times conditions were ripe, but life never happened.

“There may well be thousands of other intelligent life forms out there, but separated by so much time and space, we may never have a chance to encounter them. From a statistical standpoint, intelligent life is so rare that it arises perhaps only once in the entire existence of a galaxy like the Milky Way. We’re prolly it and if we destroy ourselves, it will be unforgivable…”

Andy seemed to have merely taken a pause, but then I heard the unmistakable sound of his soft snores. He’d fallen asleep in mid sentence. The poor boy had such intense thoughts inside that head of his, yet trying to express them left him utterly worn out.

I, on the other hand, was left reeling with the thoughts he’d planted in my head. I grew up with Star Trek and Star Wars. To me, space was filled with Klingons and Romulons and a Galactic Empire that existed a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. The idea that out of all the thousands upon thousands of points of light that filled the night sky, ours might be the only star that harbored intelligent life was incredibly humbling, even though it might seem just the opposite. For most of our existence, we acted as if we were special — as if God created the entire universe just for us — and now my son was telling me that might not be far from the truth! Not that I believed in the existence of a Devine entity, nor apparently did Andy, but that meant there was nothing to prevent us from sewing the seeds of our own destruction.

Humanity had always been careless with our inheritance, and I was no exception. I had played with time as if it was mine alone to explore… as if I could modify it at will without having to worry about the consequences. My son, and Frank had shown me otherwise, and now we were facing down the possible end of civilization, all because of my carelessness, and because of others who were all too ready to exploit it.

But why did Andy take pains to explain about how micro-singularities could dissipate? I had assumed that the micro-singularities created by alterations to time would eventually coalesce into an enormous black hole that would consume us all. Could it be that just the opposite would occur — that time would become so fragmented that all the microsingularities would dissipate into nothingness? Was Andy trying to tell me that humanity’s fate was to simply dissappear from existence? Or maybe was he trying to tell me that this was the solution to the problem — that we could somehow force all of the alternate realities to dissipate except for a single, unified timeline? I would have to ask my son when we resumed our discussion in the morning…

The next thing I knew, it was daylight and I needed to pee. Finding an out-of-the-way tree, I took care of business, then took in the spectacular view of a brilliant sunrise over desert mountains, reflected in the mirror-still water of a desert lake. The moment couldn’t have been more perfect and I considered waking Andy up so that he could enjoy it too, but decided to let him sleep a little longer.

Grabbing the needed supplies from my backpack, I set about making coffee for the both of us. It’s kind of funny but when I was his age, I couldn’t stand the stuff. I couldn’t blame myself, though, when I thought about the mud that came out of my parents’ percolator. Ever since Dawson got me hooked on Starbucks, coffee has been a major part of my morning. It’s a shame I didn’t invest in the company the way Dawson said I should have.

Because of the need to pack only what we could carry for the entire week-long trip, breakfasts usually consisted of a granola bar and coffee. Although packing any kind of meat other than dried meat was out of the question — not that Andy would eat it if it were available, I had taken the liberty of packing some dried eggs and cheese. With the stunning beauty around our campsite, the crispness of the morning air and the special bonding moment we’d shared in the eary morning hours, I thought that today might be a good time to cook my son a real breakfast. Only later would I realize that it was Christmas Day.

I got out the camp stove, a skillet and the ingredients I would need to make a spicy peppers and cheese omelet for each of us. It wasn’t long before the campsite was permeated by the wonderful smells of the breakfast we would soon enjoy together.

The first indication that something might be wrong came when Andy failed to respond to the smell of my cooking. I’d never known a teenager who wouldn’t be roused by the smells of a hot breakfast. Approaching the sleeping form of my son, right away I noticed that he’d drawn the sleeping bag up over his head. That was strange… Andy never covered his face when he slept, no matter how cold it got. Placing my hand on his shoulder, I gave his shoulder a gentle squeeze, only to find there was no shoulder there.

In full panic mode, I pulled the top of Andy’s sleeping bag open, only to find it was filled with his clothes, such as they were. His backpack was still where he’d left it, as were his hiking boots, which meant that he couldn’t have gone far. My first thought was that he’d gone for an early morning walk. But if that were the case, why did he make it look like he was still asleep in his sleeping bag? Why did he stuff it with his clothes? Could he have run away in the early morning hours? After our discussion about dissipating micro-singularities and the rarity of life, perhaps he felt a need to get away from me, for reasons I couldn’t fathom. But his hiking boots and backpack were still there. Wouldn’t he have needed those to hike out of the park? Did he even take any of his clothes with him? Wouldn’t it have been dangerous to go hiking while it was still dark?

But then I noticed the bootprints and everything came crashing down. The bootprints clearly did not match my hiking boots, nor did they match Andy’s. If anything they looked more like the print from the sole of a running shoe than a hiking boot, but running shoes were useless in desert terrain. And then the obvious struck me in the heart — someone had visited our campsite. Someone had taken my son!

With that realization, the coffee and the breakfast I had cooking were quickly forgotten. In a full panic, I dumped the contents of my backpack on the ground until I found the satellite phone I knew was there. The thing was heavy, and huge! Satellite phones were a very recent invention. Although they first appeared some twenty years ago for use in communicating with ships at sea, recent improvements in microwave technology allowed for handsets the size of a shoe that could easily be carried into remote areas. I was very fortunate to have one. Reaching the Secret Service, the FBI and the CIA right away was the best hope I had of finding Andy before he could be taken out of the United States.

Within minutes of placing the call, helicopters were flying overhead, scouring the park for any signs of my son. Not long after that, Federal Marshals arrived at our campsite and began the forensic analysis that would help us to learn who had taken Andy. Molds were made of the bootprints around the site and every surface possible was dusted for fingerprints. A quick inventory was made of Andy’s belongings, verifying that none of his clothing had been taken with him. Traces of chloroform were found, indicating that, most likely, whoever abducted him quickly immobilized him and then carried him out naked, into the night. They undoubtedly had warm clothing and night vision goggles to help them find their way. Poor Andy would have faced a serious threat of hypothermia.

Unfortunately for us, we’d made our campsite fairly near the northern boundary of the park. Tire tracks were found in a nearby canyon wash that led directly outside the park, passing through a drain culvert directly under California Highway 62. A battery powered four-wheel drive buggy was found, abandoned in the drain culvert, explaining how they were able to sneak my son out of the park undetected. Otherwise they would have been seen by the Marshalls stationed at the entrances. A lone fingerprint that was not my son’s, obviously left on the buggy by accident, was our only real clue as to who might have abducted him.

I could only hope that Andy was still in the U.S., but that was more likely wishful thinking than reality. Andy’s abductors could have easily made it to Mexico before I’d even woken up. From there, they could have flown my son anywhere in the world by now.

The author gratefully acknowledges the assistance of David of Hope and Anthony Camacho in editing this story, as well as the support of Awesome Dude for hosting it.
This story is purely fictional and any resemblance of characters to real individuals other than named historical figures is purely coincidental and unintentional. Some characters may be gay and at times engage in homosexual acts. Because the story explores characters at various stages of their lives, they may be underage during early sexual explorations. Obviously, anyone uncomfortable with this should not be reading the story, and the reader assumes responsibility for the legality of reading this type of story where they live. The author retains full copyright, and permission must be obtained prior to duplication of the story in any form.