Glen woke up on the aircraft in a sweat, but at least this time his mouth was not bone dry. Alice, Boston and Pumpkin hovered over him with worried looks on their faces.
“Was I talking in my sleep?”
“You were tossing and turning.”
“A few moans and groans.”
“You were having nightmares,” Pumpkin spoke up and flitted around the inside of the craft on her fairy wings. She looked like a trapped and agitated bird. “I don’t like nightmares. They’re scary.”
“I don’t like them either,” Glen agreed, but this one had a point. He gratefully accepted the coffee Wilson brought, blessed the young man many times over, and then he shouted toward the cockpit. “Are we there yet?” He put a good whine into his voice.
Lockhart shouted back. “No, son. Read your comics and stay away from your sister.” That got Sergeant Thomas to lower yesterday’s newspaper. He shook his head before he went back to reading.
“What are you, the three witches of Macbeth?”
Pumpkin flew up to hover between Alice and Boston. “Oh, I don’t like witches.” Alice and Boston joined her on the conclusion. “They’re scary.”
Glen sipped his coffee and grinned.
“Seriously,” Alice said. “You were getting pretty agitated.”
Glen sat up. He called to his clothes. They disappeared from the back of the chair and reappeared around him.
“Neat trick,” Alice said.
“Yeah, if only I could get a shower and my hair brushed the same way.” He pushed his hand across his head to be sure no strays were sticking up. “I have so little hair at my age you would think it would behave.”
“I could brush your hair,” Pumpkin offered.
“No thank you. But maybe Alice will let you braid her hair if you ask nice.”
Pumpkin put her hands behind her back, looked down and rubbed her toe in mid air like a little girl might turn her toe on the ground. “May I, please?” She asked in her sweetest voice. Alice could not say no.
“Makes me wish I had long hair,” Boston said. She twirled a curl she had beside her ear, but the rest of her naturally red locks were cut rather short.
“So what was the nightmare about, if I can ask?” Wilson came over again with sweet rolls, danish and more coffee. Glen grabbed the coffee pot and had to be convinced to give it back.
“Well, let me ask you a question first. What do you know about parallel universes?”
“About what?” Alice asked. She was a bit distracted with little hands flying around her face.
“Alternate realities, different dimensions, other earths.”
“Oh, I know.” Boston piped up. “Like every time a person makes a decision, like going left or right, the universe divides and one universe goes left and the other goes right.”
“That would make a lot of universes,” Wilson said.
“Oh, infinite,” Boston agreed.
“Wrong.” Glen smiled when he said it. “That is such a silly theory when you think about it—like we have this god-like power to create whole universes whenever we think or move or breathe. No. The choices we make are real, universal choices, cross-universal choices and we are responsible for our actions. I mean, there isn’t a good Boston here and a bad Boston somewhere in some other universe balancing each other out.”
“So then there aren’t other universes?” Alice wondered.
“Oh, yes there are, by the trillions.”
“So there were trillions of universes from the beginning?” Wilson was not following either.
“No.” Glen smiled and shook his head. “Imagine reality as a tree. The Norse understood something like this ages ago. God planted the roots deep so the tree would grow firm and tall. We don’t see that part. But then the tree started to grow and mostly at first it was just trunk, like one reality. But then branches started to grow, and branches of branches and so on down to the smallest twigs bearing the leaves. God said, any branch that does not bear fruit will be cut off and thrown into the fire, and I believe that.”
“But something had to make the branches, didn’t it?” Boston sounded a bit defensive. “If not our daily decisions, then what?”
“Time travel, the H. G. Wells way.” They did not get it. “I mean with a time vehicle of some kind.” They still did not get it. “Okay. Let’s say you decide that Hitler was the most evil creature that ever lived. So you invent a time machine and go back to some point before his rise to power, and you kill him.”
“Doesn’t that change history?” Wilson asked.
“No. You come home and find out Hitler never got killed. So you go back again, even earlier, and this time you make sure and leave the body mangled and in pieces.”
“Gruesome,” Boston said.
“Yes, but you come home and find out Hitler still did not die. So what is going on?”
“Oh, wait. Wait.” Wilson got excited. “I get it. You’re saying that every time you kill Hitler, you actually make a new timeline, I mean branch.”
Glen nodded. “But when you come home, you always return to your own timeline, regardless. It’s a good way to avoid two of you in the same place at the same time. There’s some law about conservation of something or other. Actually, time can be stretched like a rubber band, but you will return with or without a ship. There are all sorts of calculations as to energy expenditure to breach time and how long one can stay in the past and all that. You don’t need to know all that. The point is after three or four or a dozen tries, someone figures it out and technology as a means of time travel is abandoned. But you figure it out. Small changes make no difference, but if you change history in some significant way, you change the whole universe, not just your world. And with all of the species from all of the planets in all of the galaxies, even if most have not yet reached that level of technological ability, it still means trillions upon trillions of alternate realities.”
“Wait a minute, ouch!” Alice jumped.
“Sorry.” Pumpkin was sitting on her head enjoying herself.
“But you time travel.”
“I do.” Glen admitted. “But I am just moving the same basic genetic code with some equivalent flesh and blood back and forth through time, like I call it, trading places. There is enough relativity in time, as Einstein said, so I don’t disturb the timeline with my actions. The Masters, now that is a different story. They do want to change history and that makes for serious problems.” Glen stopped talking for a second. “You don’t need all that information.” There was silence until Wilson spoke again.
“So what does this have to do with your nightmare?”
“That is for you to not know and for me to find out.” Glen said, and he lay back to look up at the ceiling of the airplane. His eyes were on the ceiling tiles, but his mind was somewhere out in the asteroid belt.