by Thomas Wm. HAMILTON
It was at this low point that Greg tried to cheer himself by turning on his television. There was a loud crackle, and after a brief bright flare, the thing died. "Son of a bitch," Greg yelled.
"I'm terribly sorry, this gadget blows out anything electronic that's operating within twenty feet of wherever I arrive," a voice said from behind him. Greg whirled around. His jaw dropped. The face he was looking at was the one he saw every time he shaved. After a few moments he started spotting differences. The stranger looked at least a dozen years younger, and had many pounds less weight than Greg carried. Some metallic boxy thing was strapped to the stranger's chest, with what looked like a pair of USB cables going to a headband. "Who the hell are you? And how the hell did you get in here?"
"That's a bit complicated to explain. Just call me Greg fifteen. I'm your -- ah -- let's say doppelganger from a parallel universe. This thing on my chest not only unintentionally blew out your television, but deliberately brought me here."
"You expect me to believe that crap?"
"Oh it's quite true. The headband I'm wearing is the controller. The box on my chest picks up the commands I think, and takes me to any parallel universe I command that's not logically inconsistent or impossible."
Greg made a rude sound. "You do expect me to believe that crap."
"Why are we all so thickheaded? Okay, I'll prove it by taking the two of us to a parallel universe of your choosing, so long as you pick a valid one that's reasonably safe."
"No worlds with rampaging dinosaurs, nuclear wars or alien invasions."
"Alien invasions are possible?"
"I don't know. No Greg has ever had the nerve to try to visit such a world."
Greg thought a moment. What could he ask for that would, if this character wasn't lying, be worth visiting. "How about a world where all the women go topless?"
"It's scarey how consistent we are." With that Greg fifteen grabbed Greg with both hands. A flash of brightness and a wave of dizziness, and Greg found himself in a room even more depressing than his apartment. Dusty and filthy, it appeared no one had been there in years.
"You seem to have proved your point about travel, but you certainly missed on what I asked for."
"Not at all. You expected to appear in the middle of a busy street? Locals tend to get upset when people appear out of nowhere. Just take a look out the window."
Greg started to walk to a filthy window, and stopped. "Where the hell are my shoes?"
"Back home. You weren't touching them because of your socks, so they stayed behind."
"I really don't believe this crap." Greg walked to the window mincingly because of the dirt on the floor, and looked out. He gasped.
"So tell me what you see."
"Some fairly ordinary looking cars and buildings. Men dressed like George Washington. And women, the uhh, the women have skirts that drag the ground, but every last one of them is topless. A couple of them shouldn't be."
"Now, now, be a gentleman. After all, you asked for this world."
"Yeah, it looks like Hefner's delight."
"Hefner was President in your timeline also? Amazing!"
"President? He published a skin magazine."
"Really? In my world he was elected President in 1968, and impeached six years later for seducing all the female interns on Capitol Hill."
"Humph. That sounds like a mix of Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon."
"Never heard of either of them."
"Hey, I'm going out and meeting a couple of these babes. Do they speak English here?"
"Oh, you could commicate quite easily. But don't you think that the way you're dressed might attract some attention?"
"Damn. Couldn't you have found a world where I'd fit in without being noticed?"
"Sure, but I didn't want you wandering off. We have business to take care of. Grab my hand again."
Greg followed orders, and after another flash of light and spell of dizziness, found himself back in his wretched apartment. He sat down on his bed, and noticed his abandoned shoes on the floor nearby. "Well, you sure fooled me. I would have sworn that story you gave me was pure, unadulterated garbage, but you proved your point. Now what?"
"Well," began Greg fifteen, "first of all, to answer an inevitable question, I don't know who invented this gadget. A Greg like ourselves, from another timeline, somehow got possession of it, and used it for years for his own amusement. Then he decided to retire to a universe he liked, and chose to pass the gadget on to another Greg who could benefit. I'm the fifteenth Greg, or so I'm told, making you the sixteenth. Any valid universe you can imagine is open to you once I give this to you. That will be after I go to the timeline I've chosen to retire to. Of course, you'll have to accompany me there, after which I give you the gadget."
"Wow, do I have questions. Okay what's a valid universe, and what happens if I pick an invalid one to go to?"
"Valid just means logically consistent and not physically impossible. Physically impossible would be something like replacing the Sun with, oh, say a black hole, but the Earth's climate is unaffected. Logically inconsistent would be something like the South overruns the Union in the Civil War, but the USA is still the world's dominant power today. Although I suppose even that could somehow work out if the USA were to have a successful revival."
"But what happens if I ask for one of these invalid universes?"
"Absolutely nothing. You'd just keep on standing here with the gadget, looking foolish. You wouldn't want that to happen if you were using the gadget to escape an embarassing situation, so try not to bother with requests for the invalid. Anyhow, I imagine one of the first things you'll go for is money (Greg muttered "yeah!"), so let me recommend a dead world. These are timelines where the entire human race was wiped out by some mutant virus or other. Some are the results of biological warfare gone wrong, others are just natural mutations."
"Safe worlds? You won't go near rampaging dinosaurs, nuclear wars, or alien invasions, but lethal viruses that kill everyone you recommend to me? What are you, nuts or stupid?"
"If you drop into a world that was wiped out ten years ago, all the viruses will have died also, from lack of anything to live on. The banks will be yours for the picking. Believe it, all the Gregs start with money obtained that way."
"Good grief! Let's go right now."
"I understand your eagerness, but what would you choose after the money?"
"I don't know. Who cares? With that kind of money, the sky's the limit."
"You start visiting some worlds with really advanced space travel, and you'll find the sky is no limit at all. Anyhow, you're forgetting your health. If you're like me, not only do you obviously still have the overweight I got rid of, but you've got allergies and arthritis."
"True enough. You mean there's worlds that can cure that stuff?"
"Certainly--remember, logically consistent and not impossible. So far as I know, a cure for any disease is possible, so some universe will have the cure for anything that ails you."
"Okay, I'm convinced, money, then health. Then fun."
"You'll learn. And when you're ready to retire, find Greg seventeen. Take my hand again."
Greg obeyed, a lot more eagerly this time. The flash, dizziness, and they were standing in a fantastic courtyard. Marble statues of Greco-Roman origin stood around. Lush green plants were offset by a rainbow of flowers, many of them unfamiliar to Greg. Scents of blossoms and spices tickled his nose. As he stared around he could hear water splashing nearby. Turning, he saw a fountain spraying water into a pool in which half a dozen beautiful women were swimming. Not one of them spoiled the view with a swim suit. A gong sounded. Greg fifteen said, "Welcome to my chosen home. Do not try ever again to visit here. I'm now giving you the gadget. Go home and try not to get into too much trouble."
Greg strapped the gadget to his chest, put on the headband, and thought, "Home."
Once home, Greg opened a closet and took out his two largest suitcases. The junk in them was dumped on the floor. He then carefully instructed the gadget to take him to a world which used money identical to his home, but where everyone had died ten years earlier of a now extinct virus.
He was standing in a street resembling Wall Street in his home world, but this Wall Street was littered with windblown trash. No people were visible. A couple cars and a truck stood empty. On one of the cars a tire was not quite flat. A solitary dog stared at Greg and whimpered. The dog turned and ran in the direction of what might be Broadway. Greg noted what seemed to be a Stock Exchange, its doors open, but the lobby a pool of polluted water. He shrugged and picked his way through the litter to what appeared to be the Subtreasury Building. As he climbed the stairs going past George Washington's statue, he heards barks and snarls. Turning, he saw a pack of dogs coming up Wall Street towards him. He climbed faster. Unlike the Stock Exchange, the Subtreasury Building's doors were locked. The dogs were advancing up the stairs towards him.
Greg again stood in his apartment, cursing softly to himself. This time he directed the gadget to place him inside the Subtreasury Building in a world where the nearest dog -- no, any carnivore -- was at least five miles away. Despite a sunny day outside, the lobby of the Subtreasury was dark and gloomy. He popped home one more time, to pick up a flashlight. Again in the Subtreasury Building, he searched for an hour, certain it must contain money somewhere. Finally he got smart, and had the gadget place him in a world where the next door he opened would be to a room jammed with cash. He happily stuffed his suitcases with packs of hundred dollar bills. A shelf held a single packet of $500 bills, a bill he had never before seen. This packet went into a knapsack.
After three trips, he was tired but happy. A count showed he had $250,000 in $500 bills, and just over two million in hundreds. Greg figured that the larger bills could only be used in a limited number of situations, but the hundreds were safe for a lot of purposes. But there was an errand he was delighted to do. Picking up the phone, he dialed his boss. "Hi, shithead."
"What! Who is this?"
"It's Greg. I'm just calling to tell you I quit."
"Quit? Now? Why? We still need you."
"Yeah, well, you'll just have to do without. You know, your wife is the only person I ever met with two fat asses--the one she sits on, and the one she married. Come to think of it, that means she sits on both her fat asses."
"Are you drunk?"
"But I do admire your wife for her mustache. It's much more impressive than yours. Except for your nose hairs, that is."
"You son of a bitch, you're fired. And don't try to find another job anywhere I can warn people about you."
Greg laughed. "Maybe someday if I feel sufficiently vindictive, I'll buy up your mortgage and have you put on the street." He listened with delight to some screams, and gently lowered the phone into its cradle.
After a restful nap, Greg put two five hundreds and twenty one hundreds in his wallet, and went to the most expensive men's clothier he knew. He was almost to the store when he realized he was being stupid. He returned home and used the gadget to visit the store in a world where it was closed for a holiday. At his leisure he picked out several suits, shirts, shoes, ties, even belts, returning home to drop off his loot as a load reached the point where he was unsure of touching everything. Money, he realized, was not automatically necessary for all that he wanted. But be nice. He dropped the money on a counter, muttering "Easy come, easy go."
Health. He next sent himself to a world where arthritis and all allergies were cured, and the nearest clinic was around a corner from the dark alley he appeared in, and where a secret hidey hole received his gadget. As he walked in a receptionist stared at him in horror. "Sir, how many problems are you bringing in?"
"Problems? I'm overweight, arthritic, and I've got allergies."
"Why didn't you come in years ago? This is really careless." While reprimanding him, she was pushing buttons. She spoke into an intercom. "We have a serious case out here." Turning back to Greg, she handed him a clipboard with papers attached. "Please fill this out as completely as possible."
He groaned audibly. Even an ideal health system capable of curing everything had paperwork. Apparently a world without paperwork to be filled out was invalid or impossible. Greg set to work completing the form, telling them that he had spent years in an isolated commune that rejected the modern world.
From Greg's point of view the next two days were no fun, but worthwhile, since he came out with his arthritis and allergies eliminated, and an assurance that his weight would decline to its ideal level over the next four weeks. As soon as he was out of sight in the alley next to the clinic he returned home to plot his next move.
Now, at last, he was ready for some fun. Wine, women, and song. He shook off the usual slight disorientation and stared around. He was in a giant, well decorated hall. The decorations tended towards the Norse barbaric. Loud singing, not too off key, seemed to be celebrating something between the Student Prince and the quality of beer outside Heaven. The singers all had large steins that they were waving in the air. The men were stalwart, good looking fellows, but the women...! Greg took a deep breath. The least good looking of the women surpassed any ideal he had ever dreamt about. About half were blondes, a third brunettes, and the rest redheads. He had never appreciated redheads very much until this moment. Just looking at the tables of women gave him ideas.
"Hi, there, handsome. Looking for a place to sit?"
She was slender, blonde, green eyed, and holding a glass of something that looked potent. At 5'3", she was well stacked, and dressed in a green shift that left little to a man's imagination.
"Why, yes, I am. By the way, I'm Greg."
"I'm Veronica. You can call me Vicky. Let's sit over here." She led him to a table not yet totally crammed with partiers. "What's that thing on your head?"
"This? Oh, I'm, uh, an experimenter. This is supposed to, mmm, prevent headaches."
"You get a lot of headaches?"
"Me, no. But if I can get this ever to work, there are people it could help. It's just that, uhm, I can't get it working." He removed the headband, and placed it and the box from his chest under his chair. "Let's not worry about that. Tell me about yourself, Vicky."
Their chat went so well, that when Vicky led him to a private room two hours later, Greg almost forgot to take the equipment with him. Almost, but not quite. It went into a corner, while he and Vicky tried out the privacy the private room afforded them.
The night of private revelry ended with Vicky giving Greg an enthusiastic kiss. With an eye to the future, he said, "Would you be interested in joining me for dinner at a fancy restaurant some time?"
"A girl's gotta eat. Tuesday okay with you?"
Greg made the date, and waited until she had left the room. Then he put the equipment back on, and returned home. He collapsed on his bed and slept for ten hours. He awakened to a pounding on his door. Groaning and aching, Greg stumbled to the door.
"Greg, what the hell did you say to our boss? He's been foaming at the mouth the past two days whenever your name is mentioned. And work is piling up. Is it true you were fired?" Andy Bartell was a co-worker, and one of the few people Greg could tolerate on his job.
With a final melodramatic groan, Greg waved Andy in and invited him to sit down. "I'm coming down from a hell of a hangover, and I had a smashing old time of it with an exceptionally passionate blonde. Lemme rest a bit." He paused, and thought over what Andy had said. "Fired? Bull. I called that fat bastard and quit after I gave him a few comments on him and his wife."
"How could you do that? Did you hit the lottery or something?"
"Yeah, or something. Look here." Greg let Andy see a stack of hundred dollar bills.
Andy's eyes popped. "My God, what bank did you rob?"
"Banks are for the small time crowd. I hit the Subtreasury building. Maybe I'll loot Fort Knox, next."
"Very funny. Where'd you get this, for real?"
"I already know you won't believe me. Let me just say that I haven't broken any laws, although I can imagine someone trying to write a law prohibiting what I've done."
Andy narrowed his eyes and stared critically at Greg. "You may have a hangover, but you look--mm--healthier. Have you lost some weight?"
"Yeah. Look, obviously I don't need that stinking job any more. I don't need this crummy apartment, either. Is there anything here you would like?"
"Anything I'd like? You're giving away everything here?"
"Giving away or throwing away. There's nothin' here I want, and with the money I've got, I can buy anything I want."
Andy looked around a bit and shrugged. "I can see you why you're ditching this crap if you've come into real money."
"You've got that right, man. Here, take this instead." He held out a fistful of one hundred dollar bills.
Andy's eyes bugged out. Then he said, "Very funny. Like I wouldn't like to have some of that."
"No joke. Take it." He thrust the bills at Andy, who slowly and disbelievingly stuck his hand out and took them.
He stared at what he held in his hand. "There's over a thousand bucks here. Are you serious?"
"Hey, I got plenty more where that came from. Just don't tell people I gave you this. The tax people might get too interested, and I don't feel like handing out money to every schmuck that comes along."
Andy nodded slowly. "Yeah, I'm satisfied to be the only schmuck you give this to."
"Hey, don't take it like that, I wouldn've offered it if I felt that way."
"Yeah. I guess I should say thanks. You're not gonna tell me where you got this?"
"Honest, it came straight from the Subtreasury."
"Uh, huh. If you say so. Why should I doubt it when I got the proof in my hand?" He made this statement appear a bit questionable by taking out his wallet and stuffing it with the money Greg had given him.
After Andy left, Greg began thinking more about what he could do with the gadget. He slowly began to realize that he had no need for money and no need to hang around the world he was born in. Still, he had the date lined up with Vicky, and she was a bit too hot to throw away like a bunch of unneeded C-notes. The thought made him giggle.
The date with Vicky was still several days away, so Greg thought about what else to visit. The South Sea islands, with beautiful wahinis who wore nothing but a colorful wrap around their waists. Gentle warm breezes. Waves lapping at coral reefs and sandy beaches where friendly natives barbecued delicious meals He no longer staggered when the dizziness hit. He was standing in a palm-thatched hut. Gentle music was playing somewhere, and he could hear waves lapping at a shore. "This is great" he muttered as he stepped out of the hut.
Three days later Greg felt mildly exhausted, but very relaxed. It was time to rest up and prepare for the date with Vicky. He idly wondered why he would bother, but he could always return here. Just where was here, he suddenly wondered. "Latila," he said to his current companion, "what's the name of this island?"
She giggled. "You have been with us for days and not known where you were? Perhaps you should be less busy. This is High Barbaree."
"Amazing. Maybe I should visit Shangra La also, some day." He used the gadget to return home.
The date with Vicky went as expected, and it was nearly two full days before he was again home, again taking needed rest. He found, however, that as the medical treatment he had received settled into his body his stamina was improving even as the last of his allergies vanished and his weight dropped to its ideal level. He mounted the gadget and headband, wondering if there were others who travelled to alternate universes.
He shook of the slight dizziness the gadget always caused, and looked around. In front of him was an ornate red booth, with a plaque bearing the word "Police" above the door. Just exiting the door was a tall, curly haired man wearing a ridiculously long scarf. Following him was a nicely attractive blonde. The man smiled in a friendly manner and said, "How do you do? I am The Doctor, and this is my companion," gesturing to the young woman.
Greg snorted. "I'll just bet you are."
A man in what appeared to be a police uniform came up. "I detected no Ghaldron-Hesthor paratemporal transposition field. Who the devil are you people, and how did you get here?"
Greg replied, "My name is Greg, and I'm afraid you'll have to dump the fancy lingo if you expect me to understand you. How about starting by telling us who you are."
"I'm Paratime Police Inspector Verkan Vall, and you seem to be outtimers, but I can't figure how you got here."
The Doctor said, "I used my TARDIS, which is capable of a lot more than your primitive device, even though mine is a mere Mark 50. I'm not just an outtimer, I'm from a completely different planet, despite externally resembling you humans a bit."
Greg snickered. "Inspector Vall, check around this guy, and see if any Daleks followed him here."
The Doctor grinned as Vall whirled on Greg. "So what's your story?"
Before Greg could respond, a conical device appeared a few feet from the group. A man stepped out. "I'm Imperium Agent Bayard. Just where are we?"
Greg said, "It would appear we are at a meeting place for people travelling the time lines. Where is this Imperium of yours, Rome?"
"No, Stockholm. We're one of the few viable lines in the Blight."
Verkan Vall said, "Blight? I believe we know it by another name. You have to be first level to have Ghaldron-Hesthor technology, but we always thought we were the only line to have developed it."
"Ghaldron-Hesthor? Now that's a weird name."
"This is very jolly, but I must be moving along," the Doctor said.
Vall turned on him. "You claimed to have not merely Ghaldron-Hesthor capability, but also time travel, and to be non-human, not that your appearance supports that claim. As a representative of the Paratime Police, I'm afraid I'll have to ask all of you some questions."
"As a representative of the Imperium, I'll have to tell you to shove it."
"On Gallifrey we have police with limited powers."
Vall and Bayard looked at Greg, who had kept his mouth shut. In unison: "Well?"
Greg assumed his most innocent look. "Well what?"
"You," said Vall, "are the only one not to have claimed some special status. Who are you?"
"My name is Greg, and I don't claim anything special. I just visit different timelines for fun and profit."
"Profit? Are you introducing anachronistic technologies anywhere?"
"Not at all. I visited a timeline that gave me great health, and tried grabbing money from some dead worlds. Otherwise, it's all fun and games."
"May I see a sample of the money?"
Wordlessly, but with increasing anxiety, Greg pulled out his wallet and handed over one of his hundred dollar bills. Vall looked at it intently, and said, "Fourth level, Euro-American sector."
Bayard took the bill, scrutinized it, and said, "Different terminology, but if I understand you correctly, I agree. So how the devil did you get to having transporter capability?"
Greg said, "Screw this" and punched the botton on his chest pack. Vicky was surprised and pleased to see him again.