2 "All You Zombies"
Testimony of Louise Baltimore
Tell everything, he said.
Fine, but where do I start? The order of events is, at best, a convenient fiction. Seen from another vantage point, things happened very differently. I can hear the universe laughing at me as I try to envision a beginning. However, even us highly evolved mutant-type critters from the seventeenth dimension are, when you get down to it, time-binding apes who live in the eternal Now. No matter how many knots I tie in my lifeline I still move down it the old-
fashioned way, in only one direction, taking it one subjective second at a time.
Seen from that perspective, the story begins like this:
I was jerked awake by the silent alarm vibrating my skull It won't shut off until you sit up, so I did.
Mornings had been getting both better and worse than they used to be. Better because I didn't have that many of them left and valued each new one more. Worse because it was harder to get out of bed.
It would have been easier if I'd allowed myself to sleep plugged in. But you start doing that and before you know it you're plugged into more things than you want, so I didn't.
Instead I kept the revitalizer console on the other side of the room and forced myself to make that long walk every morning.
This time I made the last two meters on my hands and knees. I sat on the floor and plugged the circulator tube into my navel.
That almost makes the walk worth it. I'd been feeling like rd shrunk inside my skinsuit.
Then the go-juice reached my heart and I practically exploded. I could feel the tingling spread down my limbs. The sludge I use for blood was being replaced with something that's half fluorocarbons and half mountain dew. I guarantee it'll get the sleepy dust out of your eyes.
I said, "Listen up, motherfucker."
And the Big Computer answered, "What the hell do you want?"
No toadying servomannerisms for me. When I accessed, I wanted to feel like I was talking to something at least as nasty as I was. Everybody I know likes to have the BC simper at them like a receptionist or baritone its words like a wide-screen Jehovah. Not me. The BC obliges by seeming to barely tolerate me.
"Why'd you get me out of bed? You owe me three hours' sleep."
"A problem has come up in connection with an operation in progress. Since you are Chief of Snatch Team Operations, someone at the Gate had the foolish notion you could be of help straightening it out. No doubt he was wrong, judging -- "
"Shut up. How bad?"
"How soon ... how much time do I have?"
"In the philosophical or the practical sense? You have no time, you should have been there half an hour ago."
If it had said fifteen minutes ago I think I might have made it.
I pulled on a pair of ersatz twentieth-century jeans. I stopped in the bathroom long enough to buzz my teeth clean and choose some hair (blonde, this time) and see if my face was on straight. Say five seconds for the teeth and hair, and six seconds at the mirror. That was an extravagant waste of time, but I like mirrors. They lie so fetchingly these days. You beautiful fraud, you. I grinned at myself. It would most likely be the last chance I had to grin all day.
Then I was out the door, bowling over Sherman the houseboy on the way out. He spilled his breakfast tray.
I ran barefoot down the hall, fell down the drop tube, hurried to the sidewalk and ran on that, too, pushing the more sedate drones out of my way. I reached the speedcaps and got into one. I punched in the code for the Gate, sank into the padding and took a deep breath, then me and the capsule arched out over the city like a high pop fly to centerfield.
Faster than that I cannot hurry. I relaxed and watched the buildings slide by beneath me, not really giving it my attention. It wasn't until then that I remembered this was the day. One of my messages was coming due at the Post Office.
I looked at my Lady Bulova and frowned. There were still several hours before I could open the time capsule. Which meant it was not likely to have a bearing on this crisis, whatever it was. W e seldom see a crisis at the Gate that isn't resolved within two or three hours.
Which meant I could expect another crisis before the day was out.
Sometimes I wonder why I get up.
My capsule was fielded by the retarder rings. When I decapsulated I hurried into the Gate complex and down the corridor to Operations. The gnomes sat there in the blue and green light from their consoles, which filled up a huge horseshoe gallery overlooking the activity on the floor beneath them. Operations was glassed in, insulating it from the sounds of the things happening below.
God, how I hate the gnomes. Every time I went to Operations I could smell their putrefaction. It was nonsense, of course; I was smelling my own fear. In another year or so I'd be behind a console. I'd be built in to a console, with all my guts on the outside and nothing left of my body but the Big Lie. I'm twenty percent fake, myself. They're more like eighty percent.
To hell with them..
I got a few withering looks. They don't care much for wakes, either.
There was something new behind the Operations Controller's console. It was Lawrence Calcutta-Benares. Yesterday he'd been in the deputy's chair, and five years before he'd been my team leader. There was no point in asking what had become of Marybeth Metz. Time flies.
I said. "What's up?"
"We had an indication of a twonky developing," he said, with deplorable grammar. A twonky used to mean some anachronistic object left behind in a snatch, but lately people had begun using the word to refer to the paradox situation that object tended to generate.
"Sorry to wake you," he said. "Still, we thought you should be notified." It's a shame how a good team leader can degenerate into a slackbrain. I should have had the whole situation by then, and there he sat, trying to draw me into a fuggin' conversation.
"Shortly after the twonky alarm, one of your girls lost her stunner on the plane."
"Lawrence, are you going to dribble this story out over the next three days, or are you going to tell it to me and let me do something about it?" Stop doddering, you ancient bag of shit.
I didn't have to say that last part aloud. He got it. I could see his so-called face icing over.
The poor bastard just wanted to talk. He thought he was still my friend. Well, boo-hoo. This was his first day dealing directly with walkies, and it was about time he learned how we felt about each other. I didn't take this job to win the Miss Congeniality award.
He became all business, which is just what I had intended.
"The snatch is to 1955 Arizona. A Lockheed Constellation. It still has about twenty minutes, 55time, and then it's going to lose most of its right wing. All the team is still aboard.
They're looking for the gun and trying to finish the snatch at the same time. Indications from the scanners are still inconclusive. We can't tell if you'll find it. It might be possible."
I thought briefly of the period jokes inherent in losing one's right wing over Arizona, then shoved it out of my mind.
"Give me the bridge, then," I said. "I'm going back."
He didn't argue, though he might have. It's a breach of temporal security to send somebody back who's not replacing somebody else. I suspect he wouldn't have minded if I rode it down and bought myself a piece of Arizona real estate. For whatever reason, he gave the order. One of his scurvy underlings played with his buttons and the bridge moved out over the sorting floor. I slammed through the door and out onto it, ten meters above the shouts and screams and curses of the passengers who'd already come through from 1955.