Archive for the ‘Section 11: Making Choices’ Category.

138 A Nibble of Something

Author’s Note: Taxes are done, hurrah! Now Pesach looms, which will likely impact the posting of the remaining chapters, but I’ll do my best.

There was something a bit disturbing about the way Dad was looking at me as we drove to the restaurant. “Is something the matter, Daddy?” I asked.

“No. Nothing at all,” he said, snapping his attention back onto the road.

“You’re disappointed that I turned out not to be a boy, after all,” I guessed.

“What?! No, Princess, not at all. Why would I prefer a boy I don’t know to the little girl I’ve known all her life? I… It’s just that it feels almost as though you… that I don’t really know you any more.”

“I know, right?” I said. “I don’t know myself, either. At least when I thought I was Marshall, I thought I knew who I was supposed to be, and remembered my life. Now? I’m just lucky I have such great roommates. When I introduced you to them today…”

“Well, you really couldn’t be expected to remember that you’d introduced us already.”

“It just makes me seem… feeble-minded. And I don’t even want to think about how many times in the past few months, I’ve done the same. All this time I thought I was being really clever, pretending to really be ‘Marsha,’ when in fact, I was just being stupid.”

He clucked sympathetically, and somehow that comforted me a bit. Clearly, Marsha had – that is, I had always been something of a Daddy’s girl. I wondered if I was embracing that part of myself to compensate for the nagging feeling I still had that I really should be a boy.

We pulled up at the restaurant and Dad let me out while he went to park the car. Even when I thought I was “playing the role” of Marsha, having a guy take care of me this way had felt weird and uncomfortable, but I’d gone along with what seemed to be expected. Now? I decided that I was going to have to change it somehow; the problem is, my Marshall memories told me that I might wind up hurting Dad’s feelings, or Jeremy’s, if I handled it wrong. Oddly, I seemed to care a lot more about hurting people’s feeling that than I remember having done so – of course it had been Marshall, not me, who hadn’t cared as much.

I went inside to wait, out of the cold. The reception area offered a couple of padded benches, so I sat on the one against the window and watched for Dad.

“Marsh?” I turned and saw Brian just standing up in front of the opposite bench. “Are you alone?”

“My father’s parking the car,” I answered.

“Your… father?”

“You said I could bring somebody.”

“Yeah, but… I mean, I just wanted you to not feel afraid of me. Why would you bring your father?”

“It was his idea. Anyway, he’s a lawyer, and–” I stopped because even in the sparse light of the reception area I could see that he had just gone pale.

“A lawyer,” he gasped. “Oh boy…” He sat down heavily.

That’s when Dad came in. I turned and introduced him to Brian, who nodded, his head down.

“What’s wrong with him?” Dad whispered to me.

“He seems to have an issue with lawyers,” I answered in the same tone.

We didn’t get anything more from Brian but small talk until we’d been seated; I had the feeling that he was starting to regret offering this meeting. He looked back and forth between Dad and me and a few times looked as though he was about to say something but thought better of it. He hid behind his menu for bit.

Finally, Dad said, “You know, in my experience, more lawsuits are triggered by lack of communication than by just about anything else.” Brian looked up at that. “When people talk, they can often work out their differences without needing to go to court. I will promise you, that I will not use anything you tell us today as the basis of a lawsuit against you.”

Brian licked his lips nervously and exhaled. “Well, I don’t really have anybody else to talk to about this.” He studied us carefully. “Thing is, Marsh, you really caused us a problem. I don’t know if you’ve actually told anybody yet…?” I nodded. “Well, as you said, it could get back to the administration, and then we’d be in trouble. I assume you’ve told your father the situation?” I nodded again. We’d reviewed it in the car on the way over.

“Well, Rolf – that is, Professor Davis – didn’t want to take any chances, so he called the Dean first. They seem to have come to some sort of agreement; Piques will release funding, but we have to bury these results – everything we’ve done for the past half year, plus most of what we did the previous two. My entire thesis is gone, and I’m going to have to start all over again.”

I winced in sympathy, and tried very hard to suppress the thought, serves you right.

“The problem is,” he continued, “Piques is convinced that if we did publish, if we announced what had happened to our test subjects, that we’d be openly admitting that we’d harmed them and the could sue us, and especially the school for allowing it. Now we did have everybody sign a release, and I think that should be enough, but they don’t want to take the chance.” He looked at Dad. “Sir, don’t you think a release is enough?”

“It would depend on what you disclosed,” Dad informed him. “If you have a copy with you, I could have a contracts expert look it over.”

“You’d have to convince the administration, and they have their own lawyers,” Brian said sadly. “I do have an idea, though. Marsh, maybe if you could persuade the Strangers…”

I looked at Dad, who shrugged, so I asked, “What’s the idea?”

“Well, and you understand that Professor Davis might not go along with this, but… we had a couple of subjects besides Luke come in and tell us that they thought we’d changed them. They weren’t as angry as… well, some people, but they demanded that we change them back, which of course we couldn’t. But Professor Davis thought it might be an interesting psychological experiment, so he contacted a psych prof friend of his from back home.”

“Yes…?” I prompted him when he paused. This was new.

“Well, we put them in touch with Professor Gr– I probably shouldn’t tell you his name – and one of his students started running an experiment with them.”

“Go on,” I urged him.

“So, and I guess this isn’t news to you, but the people we’ve seen so far who reacted this way not only were confused as to who they are, but they had a lot of foreign memories.”

“And we’re missing a lot of our own,” I pointed out.

“Right, so the question is whether the new memories are in addition to the old ones, or in place of the old ones. Kel- er, the student who’s actually doing the experiment, thinks that there’s no way a new memory would overwrite an old one, and that the old ones have to still be there, somewhere – the subject just can’t find them.”

“Which amounts to the same thing, right?”

“Maybe, maybe not. The idea is that maybe it is possible to find these memories, but since the person doesn’t believe that they exist, they can’t find them. I think that was the explanation. So, as long as you believed you were a boy, you had no was to find your own memories, since they weren’t part of what you remembered remembering.”

“Sounds pretty circular,” Dad observed. “Isn’t it the memories that made Marsha think she was Marshall?”

“We’re sort of getting out of my expertise,” Brian admitted. “The point was, they did manage to recover some additional memories, using… I think she said it was trans… derivative search, or something like that. They would try to find a memory that was original and delve into it, and sometimes the person would remember other things that were clearly original. If identity is associated to memory, it should theoretically be possible, if enough memory is recovered, to restore original identity as well. Or maybe it’s something independent. The point is, they were getting results. And then we got the orders to shut everything down.”

“So some other students did know the truth?” I asked, started to get a bit excited.

“Right, and we swore them to secrecy, with the promise that they could continue the experiment – only we’re not allowed to have any contact with them or the professor running the lab.”

“So it’s still going on?”

“I assume so; for all I know, it’s stopped. We’ve had no contact, remember? And no, I’m not going to just give you their names.” He looked as determined as I’d ever seen him.

“You mentioned an idea,” Dad reminded him.

“Right. Well, this experiment might be a solution to your identity problems – you and all of the Strangers. But they can’t publish without explaining our experiment, and we can’t allow that as long as there’s a threat of lawsuits.”

“So you want to be indemnified.”

He looked at Dad. “If that means a promise not to sue anybody over this, yeah, that’s what I mean. I need an agreement, signed by everybody affected, that we won’t get sued. I want it in a form that the college will accept, and I want it to be clear that I can publish without running into problems. There are two degrees riding on this: Kelly’s and mine.”

“So what happens to our foreign memories if we do this?” I asked. “I’d feel kind of strange forgetting things I remember now, even if they’re not really my memories.”

“Marsh, I can’t promise anything,” Brian reminded me. “It’s an experiment. All I know is that they’ve managed to recover some memories. It’s really the best deal you’re likely to get, you know? It’s a chance.”

Dad and I exchanged glances. “We’ll take this under advisement,” Dad told him. “Why don’t we enjoy this delicious food before us and talk of other things. We’ll get back to you.”

We talked of other things during dinner: Brian’s and my non-school interests, how we felt about Piques in general, social lives. But underlying it all for me was the idea that he held the key to my memories. With his help, I might be able to remember my high school performances, my times growing up with Tina, time spent learning with Mom and spent doing whatever a Daddy’s girl does with her father. It all depended on him. But at what price?

139 Suited for its Purpose

I went to the bathroom at the end of the meal while Daddy paid the bill. When I came back, he was talking earnestly and quietly with Brian. Or perhaps I should say, to Brian, since he seemed to be doing all the talking, while Brian just keep nodding, although he didn’t seem particularly enthusiastic. Then Dad handed him a card, which he put into his wallet.

“What was that all about?” I asked as we drove back to campus.

“Getting his help with a lawsuit,” Dad answered.

“I thought you’d promised not to sue,” I said, surprised. “Wasn’t that the point of the discussion?”

“Actually,” he pointed out, “I promised not to sue him. There’s really no point in suing an impoverished student. But the school… that’s different. I pointed out to your friend–”

“Not my friend.”

“Well, to Brian then, that with his advisor making a separate deal with Piques, he was sort of out in the cold, and it was now in his interest to make a deal with us. I intend to bring a suit on behalf of the Strangers in the Mirror and any other victims, and I will ask for things that will benefit both you and he.”

“Didn’t you tell me that you thought it would be hard to win a lawsuit like this? That nobody would believe that we’d be changed? Or rather, that our memories had been changed?”

Dad chuckled. “Piques’s lawyers obviously think there’s a risk. You get me those movies you took, the email from Brian and the location of the new lab. Get the Strangers to agree, and Brian will cooperate with us, and with that, I think I can build a case good enough to force a settlement.”

“But…” I started to object. “What good is that going to do any of us? I’m pretty sure what we want is our lives back. I want my memories back. I want to feel like myself, and not this boy I thought I’d been for so long.”

“And part of the settlement has to include a way to get that for you. That means that Professor Davis has to cooperate. Brian needs to cooperate. And the school needs to provide whatever facilities are needed to figure out a way to help you.” He patted my cheek. “Trust me, Princess. This is the kind of thing I understand.”

When he dropped me off at school, I was starting to feel optimistic. The process Brian had described sounded pretty safe, just talking and using… what was it he had called it? Associative memory? At least we weren’t going to be doing any new physics experiments. The thought made me laugh for some reason – I could just imagine myself trying to convince the Strangers by saying, “Oh, don’t worry! They’re pretty sure they have it working right now!”

I took out my phone to call Vicky as I walked to my room, but then remembered how she had reacted the last time I’d tried to tell her the truth. I hated to see what she was doing to herself, and I didn’t see any easy way to convince of the truth, short of actually introducing her to Brian. She’d recognize him from the video, wouldn’t she? If I could pull this off, get the Strangers to agree to join Dad’s lawsuit and avoid other legal action, I could make it happen.

In the meantime, I needed either Ian or Luke to arrange a meeting. I was still a bit annoyed at Luke, so I called his roommate.

“Actually, I’m no longer rooming with Luke,” he informed me when I suggested the meeting. “I just didn’t feel like I could trust him, you know? He could at least have let me in on the big secret; we’d been friends for almost a year, and now I feel like such an idiot, telling everybody that we had no idea where Davis was, or even if he even still existed.

“And the problem is, my new roommates don’t know about the experiment and I don’t really want to tell them, so we can’t exactly have the meeting here.”

I tried to hide my annoyance; Ian wasn’t the right target for it, anyway. “If I can find an alternate location, can you organize the meeting? And make sure everybody shows up? We can’t have anyone left out. We’re only going to be able to get cooperation if Piques knows it can totally avoid a lawsuit if they go along.”

“I don’t know, Marsh,” he objected. “If we’re all in one place, wouldn’t that make it really easy for the administration to round us up?”

“And do what?” I asked impatiently. “Ian, they knew about the experiment, even if they didn’t have the list of subjects. The only reason Piques was interested in us was to make sure we didn’t sue and to check if Davis was keeping his agreement not to contact any of us.”

“Which they broke, gotcha. Well, could we have two meetings, one with half the group and one with another? If you have a place where half of us could meet, and if you can really bring this Brian guy, I should be able to get the Strangers there.”

That sounded like a reasonable compromise, so I thanked him and hung up.

When I got to my room, there was a small vase of flowers sitting outside my bedroom door. The card said, “Hope your meeting went well. Call me? – J.”

With a big grin, I picked up my flowers and smelled them. Delicious. I called Jeremy as I set them on my desk close to my sewing machine.

“Hey, Sweetheart,” he said, answering the phone. “How did your meeting go?”

“I think it went pretty well,” I told him. I explained about the new information we’d received and Dad’s plans for a lawsuit.

“Is there something I can do to help?”

I smiled. “Just be there for me as you have been. I’m not sure the Strangers would be comfortable with you coming to the meeting. And by the way, I love the flowers. Thank you.”

“No problem. So, when am I going to see you again?”

“I… might have some time tomorrow afternoon, if you can pull yourself away from your schoolwork,” I teased.

“It’ll be tough,” he joked back, “but I think I can squeeze you in.”

“That should have been my line,” I giggled. “Um, just to get a rise out of you.”

“Oh, believe me, you are,” he laughed.

When we hung up a few minutes later, I was feeling on top of the world. Terry commented on it when I knocked on her door.

“Well, somebody’s in a good mood, considering she went out to dinner with her father rather than her boyfriend.”

“He gave me flowers… and we talked…”

“Uh huh…”

She had no problem with the idea of my having the Strangers over for a meeting, and neither did Lee Ann. A couple of phone calls later, and the first meeting was planned for Thursday evening. At my request, Ian had included both Vicky and Ben in the first group.

Ian and Luke, as leaders of the group, showed up a bit early. Luke looked as though he wanted to make up, but Ian wasn’t having it, and sat on the far side of the room when I told them how I wanted to make my pitch. Vicky was the next to show up and pulled me aside for a private chat.

“It’s really nice of you and your roommates to let us use your place, Marsh.” She nodded her head toward Ian and Luke. “Did they give you any idea of what the big news was going to be?”

“Actually,” I said, “I’m the one who asked for this meeting.”

“Oh no,” she moaned, a look of alarm in her eyes. “You’re not going to make a fool of yourself, are you, Marshall? Are you really going to tell everybody that you’d met Davis and that he told you it wasn’t a time travel experiment?”

“Will you trust me, please, Vix?” I begged. “I know what I’m doing, and I’m going to try really hard not to say anything I can’t prove, OK?”

“OK…” she said, not really sounding mollified.

A bunch more people had arrived by the time the two of us finished talking. Luke and Ian seemed to be taking turns greeting them, but still managed to remain a good distance apart. Finally, Ian indicated that we had all the people we’d expected, about a dozen and a half, and moved to the center of the room.

“I want to thank everybody for coming,” he said. “I realize we haven’t done anything particularly exciting for quite a while. I assume most of you have met Marsh Steen?” He indicated me, and I waved. “She has some news that I think a lot of you will find extremely interesting.”

“Hi, guys,” I said, taking his place in the middle of the room. “If some of you don’t know me, and I realize that there are some of you I haven’t met, it’s because I joined kind of late, about a month after the last midterm break.” I heard some quiet murmurs of surprise. “Apparently, I woke up to what had happened to me a bit later than most of you. I have some guesses on why, but the point is, I never gave up trying to find the experimenters. I had my reasons, although I’d never told most of you guys.” I took a deep breath and looked around. Vicky was watching me warily. “In the life I remember… I was male.”

That started a lot of talk, but it died down very quickly – and now I seriously had everybody’s attention.

“So the rest of you guys felt a bit ill at ease? Imagine how I felt.” A bunch of them laughed appreciatively. “I had some great help. Vicky, who actually remembers me as her ex-boyfriend…” People looked over at her as I said that. “Allie’s brother Eric, who is in our physics department, and a physics grad student, Martin. I’d have liked them to be here, but I didn’t think you guys would feel comfortable about having strangers at a meeting of the Strangers.” I was kind of pleased with that wordplay, but all I got were some nods.

I explained about how Eric had started his search, and how it had led to Martin contacting him about the misdirected package. I told the group how we’d caught the experimenters on video, and how I’d found the piece of a crate that had pinpointed their location. When I mentioned then that I had actually met the experimenters, I got a big reaction. Vicky visibly cringed, and several shook their heads, but more than half started firing questions at me, asking where they were, if they had plans to fix everybody, and so on.

Luke finally stood up and shouted them down. “Let’s let Marsh go on. She’s done a lot of work to get this far.” (“You mean, he,” somebody shouted, but Luke ignored him). “I’m sure Marsh will answer everybody’s questions before she finishes.”

He sat down again, and nodded to me, as the group quieted down. I reached into my purse and unfolded a piece of paper. “I think most people sort of remember the grad student who signed us up…?” Several people nodded. I turned over the paper and showed them the picture I’d printed, showing Brian and me at the restaurant. “My Dad took this with his cell phone yesterday. I assume you guys recognize him?” I handed the paper to Vicky, who stared at it and then passed it on.

The others exclaimed over the picture and passed it around, but I was watching Vicky. She looked shocked. Then she stared at me, and I could almost hear her mentally pleading with me to deny the whole thing. After a moment, though, she sagged and her head drooped.

The picture was still being passed around, so I briefly knelt next to her, put my hand on her shoulder, and whispered, “Vicky, I promise I’m going to try to make things work out for you. It just won’t be the way we’d hoped. Trust me?”

She shrugged, but I knew her well enough to know that she was listening. I was hopeful that she’d come around.

I stood up and collected the picture. “I passed this around,” I said, “so that you can believe that I’m telling the truth. And I learned something very surprising. I’ve explained to Vicky and to Ben, and I think they believe me. But… the bottom line is, we were wrong about what the experiment was. I know that even before this, I had some flashes of… what things were like for me – as a girl, I mean – in this reality before midterm break. I tried to tell myself that there were really memories from my male life, or that somehow my female self’s memories were leaking. Did any of you guys have that same experience?”

Again, several people nodded. I hadn’t been as sure, since most of their changes – physical changes, anyway – we’re all that big, but apparently it had happened to them as well.

“I remembered a time from a year ago when I had smaller boobs,” one girl said. “I thought at first that it was my imagination, but I think you’re right. My memories were leaking.”

“So then,” I continued, “why exactly did we assume this was a time travel experiment? Because of the name?” I checked my notes. “The experiment was titled, ‘viewing variations in time and the effects of alternative paths on future events,’ so it does have ‘time’ there.”

“We woke up changed,” somebody said. “What else could it be?”

“Memory transfer,” I explained. “We have memories from a different reality. Our bodies are the same as they always were, but the people we remember being don’t exist in this universe.”

“How is that any different?” One boy challenged me. “Isn’t it my memories who make me who I am? Whether you go back in time, or drag my memories and self from one universe to another, you’ve changed my body and my reality around me. I don’t see how this is a big deal.”

“No, it does matter,” another guy insisted. “It means that our memories were changed, not our bodies. It means that there’s no going back. We’re stuck this way.”

“It’s fine with me,” a girl said. “I like my life better now. I have no complaints.”

“Didn’t you hear her?” another girl argued. “This is your old life. Only those bastards stole your memories of it!”

That was about all I could follow, as everybody seemed to be talking at once. This must be why they weren’t looking, I realized. They just seem to like to argue, or something.

One of the guys yelled at me, “How is this a big announcement? We’ve gone from being stuck because we couldn’t find Davis to being stuck because the change is irreversible.”

Things were getting out of hand, and I looked over to Luke, who stood and managed to quiet the crowd. I didn’t understand how he was doing it. Was I losing control because I was a girl? That would be kind of annoying.

“As I said,” Luke announced. “Marsh has a lot to say. If you want to argue, please do it later. If you have questions, you’ll have a chance to ask them. Please don’t blame Marsh for what’s happened here, though.”

For just a second, I searched his words to see if he was putting me down. I shook my head. Not the thing to be imagining now, Marsh. I turned back to the group once I knew there were listening again.

“We’ve collected a fair bit of evidence now, and my father, who is a lawyer, believes we could prevail in a lawsuit against the College and–”

“Yeah, sue the bastards!”

“Shut up!” Ian yelled at whomever had spoken. “Are you guys paying any attention here? We’ve been stuck, just feeling sorry for ourselves and arguing endlessly for months. Marsh has a way forward for us. Can you please control yourselves long enough to hear what she has to say?” As he turned to sit down, he met the eyes of Luke, who had also stood up to do much the same thing, only not as quickly. Maybe it was my imagination, but I thought the shared glance wasn’t quite so hostile as earlier.

“As I was saying,” I went on. “My Dad wants to use what we have to sue the school. He thinks he can push for a decent settlement, but will need everybody on board. And… if we can get an agreement, and finish this, there might actually be sort of a ‘way back.’”

“How?” one of the earlier arguers asked.

“The idea is that our memories might still be there, and that psychological treatment might be able to bring them back. Professor Davis actually had somebody do some experiments with some subjects, and seemed to be able to recover some. And it’s all talk therapy – no weird science.”

“Who’s going to pay for that?” somebody muttered.

“Could it be part of the lawsuit?” somebody else asked.

“Yes! That’s the idea. My Dad is thinking of ultimately settling for free-ride scholarships all around, psychological therapy or experiments or whatever, and maybe some money on top of that. It seems to me like the best deal we can get, right now.”

“Why would Piques agree?”

“To avoid a big lawsuit that might cost them even more money and bad publicity. That’s why our agreement would not let us go public with the experiment and what happened to us.” Beyond what might get written up in a paper, I thought, but didn’t think this was the time to bring it up.

“So what are the people who actually did this supposed to pay?”

“They don’t have enough money to make it worthwhile to sue them,” I told him, and explained about how the school had forced them to hide by withholding funds. About half of them seemed to think it served the experimenters right, while the other half blamed Piques.

“And as an added incentive, I will arrange for Brian to come in and talk to us. He’s the one who can answer everybody’s questions. What do you think?”

Well, it certainly didn’t surprise me that they just started arguing. I sat down next to Vicky and waited, and in about half an hour, they had all agreed, and signed papers Dad had given me.

“OK,” I said, standing once again. “I hope you’ve got time, since I’m going to call Brian now. Be nice.”

140 Choices and Consequences

I had arranged for Brian to wait with Terry and Lee Ann in the hall lounge during our meeting; since nobody outside the Strangers was likely to recognize him, I figured that would be safe. So he was knocking at our door thirty-seconds after I called him.

The room fell silent when he first walked in. Along with him, I studied their faces, seeing hostility, fear, and confusion. I could almost hear them asking, who is this monster who did this to us? He looked at me, uncertain. I nodded, hoping to give him confidence. We’d discussed the first things he would say, but he was pretty much on his own after that.

I watched him take a breath and let it out slowly. “My name is Brian Harlan,” he said. “I’m sorry. I… really didn’t know what was going to happen. And… when we first found out, well, we were ordered to close up and hide. Obviously, it was… it just made things worse.”

Nobody had interrupted him, but the silence was too perfect. Normally, an audience makes some noises: coughing, shifting positions. When they don’t, it means that they are paying extremely close attention. When you’re working from a script, that’s great – you’ve got them really into the show. When you’re trying to keep them from lynching you, that’s a horse of a different color.

“By now, Marsh has told you that you were mistaken about what we did. Thing is, we knew what you thought because of that article, and we didn’t say anything. I don’t know if you would have felt better if we had, but we probably should have tried.”

“So why didn’t you?” somebody snapped. It was one of the boys who had started arguing near the end of my own talk.

Brian flinched slightly, and looked toward both Luke and me before answering, “Because we were being threatened by the administration that they would cut off our funding if we did,” he admitted. “I don’t know, maybe we could have tried to find money elsewhere, but it’s really hard to walk away from years of work like that.”

“So now you’re screwed, huh?” his challenger asked. “Why the change of heart?”

Brian was starting to remind me of the proverbial deer in the headlights. “Um. I don’t want to sound like I’m claiming to be a hero. The truth is, Marsh finding us sort of forced our hand. My advisor called the administration and told them what had happened, and I didn’t like the deal he worked out with them. So… I’m hoping to come up with something better.”

“And you expect us to help you?” a girl sneered.

If there’d been any place to run, I think he might have tried. “I’m just hoping that you’ll see it in your own best interests to go along with the lawsuit that Mr. Steen is planning, and that that’ll work out better for me, as well.”

“They’ve already agreed to the lawsuit,” I reminded him.

“Then just tell me what I can do to make things better,” he pleaded with the crowd. “I know I messed up. I’m still hoping I can find a way to save my thesis–”

“Over our dead bodies,” somebody muttered.

“Um, excuse me?” Ben said from the back, raising his hand timidly and standing up. Everyone had to turn to look at him, which made them face away from Brian. “I know I haven’t exactly been active with this group…”

Several people assured him that it was OK, that he had had reason to be uncomfortable. As I’d hoped, many of the Strangers seemed to be protective toward him.

“Marsh actually told me… what you guys heard tonight… a few days ago. Um. If it’s true – well, I guess it is true, at least it makes sense and she sort of showed me, well… I was supposed to be this big jock, OK? And she… well, Marsh had it a lot worse and… I felt really bad. Embarrassed, you know? I shouldn’t be showed up by, well…” He wasn’t looking at anybody, but at least he was forcing himself to talk.

“So, I don’t really know who I am. I liked the idea of being the guy I remember being, only… I guess he’s not me. I don’t know if I’m going to like being who I am, but my sister says I used to, and… well, Marsh tried teaching me to the play the guitar like… like I’m supposed to know how, and it did feel almost like my hands knew what they were doing, so anyway… I think we should try. To listen, I mean. And to see if we can be what we used to be, if that’s what we want. This guy messed with us, so I don’t really want to cut him any slack, but if he didn’t do what I thought he did, well, I think he owes us, and I want to know what he plans to do to help.

“I don’t know if I’m making any sense at all, but I think I want to hear what this guy can tell us. Don’t kill him, OK?” His face reddening, he sat down.

I watched the faces of the rest of the Strangers as they turned back to Brian. I’m not saying that they were mollified by any means, but I thought they looked a bit embarrassed over their hostility. The boy who had spoken up earlier certainly sounded calmer. “OK, look,” he told Brian, “we’re not going to assault you or anything, but as Ben says, you owe us. So what are you planning to do?”

“Well,” Brian offered, “did Marsh tell you about our idea to maybe help you guys recover memories?” He got plenty of nods, and hesitated. “Um, well…”

“Tell us what went wrong,” Ian suggested. “What did you expect to happen, and why didn’t it? I’m pretty sure you never warned us about massive memory loss or identity loss.”

“Oh! Well, the experiment, right.” He summarized what he’d told me about discovering that people exposed to their device had come away with new memories that clearly didn’t match reality, and his conclusion that he’d stumbled onto a ‘Many Worlds’ alternate universe. “What we didn’t realize was that younger subjects might have a different response.”

He explained how they’d concluded that the alternate reality must have split off before those of us in the Strangers had been conceived. “As far as we’ve been able to tell, nobody with a group 2 response was born before October 4, 1993.”

“What do you mean by a ‘group 2 response’?” The girl who’d sneered earlier asked, only this time she sounded curious, not hostile.

“OK, let me back up a bit,” Brian said, sounding more comfortable. First of all, I should note that we interviewed everybody – and that includes you guys, although you don’t seem to remember it – immediately after subjecting them to the device, and the responses were fairly consistent – 78% of our subjects were able to find something in their memories either then or in the next week that didn’t match reality – our reality. One thing that was different was that about one in ten had a memory of being the opposite sex. Not all the time – it was easy for them to identify it as a new memory, since they were clearly different in it; still, it was something we hadn’t seen at Rocky Lake. The bigger change, though, was something that happened a couple of weeks later.

“We had two girls come in, a bit confused. They remembered the experiment and remembered that they were supposed to be interviewed, but didn’t remember having done so. Further, they claimed that their appearances had changed, and they were happy about it. One girl said she was thinner than she remembered being, and the other claimed that she looked ‘prettier’ in ways that she couldn’t quite remember. Neither had reported anything of the kind when we’d interviewed them initially.”

“So what happened to them?” another girl asked.

“We spent a fair bit of time interviewing them, and we found some curious things. There were a lot of things that they remembered differently than the first time, and differently than we could verify independently. We asked them about a lot of events that we knew about happening at Piques since we’d gotten here, including the big welcoming program at the start of the school year, and we caught a break. One of the girls told us how she’d developed a bit of a crush on the guitarist who’d opened the program, but I didn’t remember him. I even checked the program the school had put out, but the first act was a duo. As it happened, the other girl had the same memory.”

“But we already know about that,” somebody pointed out.

“We do now. This is how we found out about it. So we decided that their response was different from our initial subjects that we called them ‘group two’ but didn’t know why they had reacted differently. We did find some evidence, though, that their memories had changed since the initial exposure.”


Brian looked uncomfortable. “We have some guesses on that point, but we don’t know yet. We’re working at an empirical level here. Theory will come later. At any rate, when we went back and analyzed our Piques data from earlier, we realized that every subject who reported memories of being different, not just remembering different events, had been born after September of 1993, so we called the rest of those with differing memories, ‘group three.’

“Then we started hearing some alarming things from the administration. Some students had come to them, claiming that we had changed them and disappeared. They were really hazy about exactly what we had done, or who we were, but they remembered doing an experiment and then couldn’t remember where we were. We were ordered to shut down everything and disappear for real, and threatened that if we did not, our grant money would not be paid out, and the College would deny any knowledge of our work.

“They didn’t even give us time to take our equipment with us, and we’d brought that from Rocky Lake. They ordered us not to have any further contact with anyone from Piques, to take down all public accounts like Facebook, Twitter, and so on. But before we were done what little packing they permitted, Luke came in.”

Everyone turned to look at Luke, who gave them an innocent, “who, me?” look in return. This time I could feel the interest intensify as they looked back at Brian, expectantly.

“Unlike the two girls,” he continued, “Luke was not happy about the change, and wanted to know if we could undo it. Well, we’d already had knew that we were going to need to defy the school on the no communications with students thing if we were to get to the bottom of the whole ‘group two’ phenomenon, so we suggested that he start the Strangers in the Mirror and report back to us on certain observations we wanted him to make.”

That started a firestorm. “What? Luke knew?” “This was your idea?” “You knew about us?” “What did he tell you?” A few of the guys actually stood up and took step towards him, but were immediately stopped by the others. I think everybody wanted to know what was coming next.

“And of course, there was that article, which completely mischaracterized the experiment. We did learn of a couple of students whose remembered lives were noticeably different from their real ones, and that group two was a lot larger than we had realized.”

Vicky asked, “So what actually happened? Are you saying that we swapped memories with… with the people in the other universe? That some girl out there no longer remembers dating, um, the guy I thought I’d been dating?”

“I have no reason to believe that we had any impact on the other reality,” Brain said. “And I don’t think you have all of their memories, anyway. Now they could have your memories if the same experiment was done there, but I think in that case, you’d all remember their experiment, which you don’t.

“What I think is going on, is that your lives and those of your counterparts are similar enough that what parts of your memories you retain fit well enough with their memories, that you concluded that those memories were your reality – anything you remember makes enough sense that you’ve constructed them as though they happened to the people you think they are. Even though group three includes a fair number of people with memories of being the opposite sex, those memories are the exception rather than the rule. In fact, we’d figured that the group two response was impossible with cross-gender memories.” He looked over at me. “Then we met Marsh. We haven’t interviewed her in detail yet – and I hope she’ll allow it later – but I suspect that we’d find a lot of similarities between her life and that of her counterpart – more than for most brothers and sisters. Or alternately, that the memory-transfer was a lot more complete in her case. That might do it as well.”

“Wait,” I asked. “So why was I different from group three? Why did I get so many of… of Marshall’s memories?”

“Marsh,” he said, “I just don’t know why. I’m guessing right now that some of you found it easier to assimilate those extra memories than others. Maybe you pulled in more than others, or everybody pulled in a lot and stored them in your brains somewhere and then were able to recover them. I don’t know. I think it’s an interesting problem, and one I wouldn’t mind helping with, but it’s probably way out of my field. But you said that you ‘woke up’ with this boy’s memories in your head over midterm break and that was a lot later than everybody else. It might be that it just took time, but once you’d reached some tipping point, it was just easier to treat your own memories as things that Marshall had experienced.”

“And suppressing my own as not consistent with them?”

“I would guess so. As I said, there’s a lot more work to do, here?”

Ian stood up. “So after all this, how do we get our own memories back? Marsh said something about a psych experiment.”

“Right. We had somebody do some experiments and they were able to help those first two girls recover some of their memories. It is possible that the same techniques will work with you guys. It is also possible that your memories might simply start returning as you encounter more and more things that don’t make sense in light of the memories you have. I don’t know; this wasn’t part of the things I was looking for, but now… I’ll do whatever I can to help you guys, and I know it’s probably not much.”

That was my cue. “How many people can you get into this psych experiment?” I asked. We’d discussed this in advance, so I already knew the answer.

“Right away? Well, I’m pretty sure they’ve got room for two more right now. Not sure they have the resources for more.”

Luke stood up. “OK, folks. Looks as though we need two volunteers. Who wants to be a test subject again, only this time with a guarantee of no untested scientific equipment?”

I would love to have volunteered. I really did want those memories back, but the goal right now was to get the group committed. And as I’d feared, nobody moved, at first. But after a few minutes, Ben put up his hand. “If nobody else is interested… I mean, I won’t push anybody else out…”

“That’s great, Ben,” Luke said. “Anybody else?”


“Vicky,” I whispered, but she turned her face away. I whispered again, “Vicky,” and knelt at her side. “Do it, please. I want you to find good memories, so you’ll feel better about yourself.”

“What if all I have are worse memories?” she whimpered. “What if all I ever dated were creeps.”

“I don’t believe that,” I said watching everybody else. Then a girl did finally put her hand up and claimed the last spot.

“I’m just not ready, Marsh,” Vicky told me.

“OK, we have our volunteers,” Luke said. “We still need to meet with the rest of the group, but I think we’ve made some real progress. Any more questions?”

There didn’t seem to be any, so the meeting broke up.

As people started to leave, I followed Vicky out. “I’m just too confused, Marsh,” she protested. “I just don’t know what to do anymore. As you said, I don’t know who I am anymore, and I’m really afraid to find out. I thought I was learning to like myself; you really helped me there. But now, you’re telling me that the self I was starting to like isn’t me.”

“Vicky, that’s not true. The only you that I know is the one you’ve been since we met for the first time when we thought we already knew each other. I think you’re a lot nicer than the other Vicky, at least based on the way Marshall remembered you.”

“Marshall loved the other me!”

“Yes, yes, you’re right. I just–”

“It’s this me that’s not nice, then.”

“Wait… Vicky, let’s try something else, OK? Tell your roommates about the experiment. I have. Tell them that you don’t remember your own past, or at least that you don’t know how much of what you remember is true. Ask them what you were like before you did it; what they thought of the guys you dated, and so on. OK?”

“What if I don’t like the answers?”

“At least you’ll know the truth.” She looked at me, a look of doubt in her eyes, but she gave me a hug and headed off down the hall.”

I went to the lounge to let Terry and Lee Ann know that the meeting was over; when we got back to our room, Luke, Ian, Brian, and a couple of other guys were left. Ian and Luke seemed to be getting along a bit better, and the conversation between Brian and the others seemed very civil; in fact, the guys seemed to be very interested in what he had to say. By tacit agreement, three of us chose not to interfere, but started tidying up the room around them.

Finally, the conversations started winding down and I introduced everybody. “We want to thank you ladies for letting us borrow your room,” Ian said. “Is it all right if we meet with the rest of the Strangers here tomorrow?”

My roommates agreed, and the meeting the next day went off even easier. Luke and I split the initial speech, with him apologizing up front for having hidden the fact that he’d been in touch with the missing professor. It was pretty clear that the first days attendees had passed on the word to the second group, since there was no surprise when I spoke of the lawsuit or introduced Brian. Everybody signed on pretty quickly.

Vicky called me afterwards. “Looks as though you were right again, Marsh,” she said, sounding a bit happier than I’d heard her in some time. “Mandy and Christine were practically raving about a couple of the boys I’ve dated. So… maybe I’m worth something after all.”

“I always knew you were,” I said.

“Thanks for believing in me. Um, if any spots in that psych treatment thing open up, do you think I could get in? I’d kind of like to know my secret!”

Dad’s negotiations apparently went off without any problems. Shown photos of the old and new labs and videos of the experimenters emptying the old lab, the administration caved and gave us what Dad had hoped for: the scholarships were the least of what they should have done, and with the additional money they provided, the psychology professor, who turned out to be located at a university just twenty minutes away, was able to include three more subjects, and promised to bring more in the following year. We held a lottery for the places, and Vicky got in, but I didn’t – at least this year.

As for my relationship with Jeremy, I really can’t complain. He’s seemed a lot more amused than disconcerted at the things I remember. “So you were how tall?” he’d ask, and I would remember him that I wasn’t, I just had the memories of a boy who was. I made it a point never to mention Marshall’s sexual history, suspecting that if we ever did achieve a sexual relationship of our own, he’d be intimidated at the prospect of somebody a lot more knowledgeable watching him fumble his way toward a satisfactory result. I suppose if it ever came down to it, I could tell him about Marshall’s first and very embarrassing time, but silence has seemed the wisest policy.

I try not to be amused myself at his boyish propensity to exclaim over unique rocks and stones he finds on the ground. He recognizes all of them and explains to me their properties, or how they’re formed, or where appropriate their use as semi-precious stones, and has continued to shower me with his own creations. I’ve struggled with reciprocating; it’s so hard to find things that he wants or needs. I’ve finally realized that my listening to him and learning to appreciate his hobbies and creations is one of the things that makes him the happiest.

His rock collecting led to, or rather was an excuse for a very exciting incident that the two of are going to remember for a long time. It was just after his graduation that he’d come over to have dinner with my family, and even apparently managed to be polite to them when Vicky called me in a panic, and needing to talk right away. The subject turned out to be, to my surprise, her nascent romance with Brian, of all people, and her guilt at enjoying the company of a young man who had caused all of us such grief. I had to remind her that most of the Strangers had managed to, if not forgive him, quite, at least tolerate him, and that if she was happy, that was what really mattered.

When I got back, I discovered that the family had decided that Jeremy and I should go pick up some ice cream, and that given the light and the weather; we should walk to a nearby convenience store and take our time. I certainly had no objections to a romantic walk.

“So what did you guys talk about while I was gone?” I asked as we walked across the field just outside of our development.

“Oh, different things. Where I’m going to live while in business school next year, what I’ll be studying… you… Mostly, you, actually.”

“Well, that’s kind of embarrassing,” I said.

“No, it seems to be one of your parents’ favorite subjects. I know it’s one of mine.”

“Mmhmm,” I smiled. “So where did you decided to live? Have you found a roommate yet? Are you going to have a place for me to stay when I visit…?” Suddenly I realized that I was talking to the air.

“Come look at this,” he said, kneeling on the ground again.

Rolling my eyes, I turned and stretched out my hand to receive his latest find. “I don’t even know how you can see rocks in this…” Then it registered. Him down on one knee, holding out his hand, and in his hand something that sparkled a lot more than any found semi-precious stone had a right to.

I don’t know that I was even aware of conscious thought any more until he asked, “Jennifer Marsha Steen, I am very familiar with gems and precious stones and have never found one as precious as you. Will you marry me?” and I was hugging him and crying. And kissing. And hugging some more.

And then I winked and said, “So, you think this would be a good time for me to start sharing your bed?”

Of course he whispered back, “Wedding night, hon,” but that wasn’t some remote might-be time anymore.

Or so I thought. When we got back to the house and everybody congratulated us (they’d known all along that he was going to ask me) I discovered that my parents and my new fiancé had agreed that we would be having a June wedding – after my graduation, two years hence.

“It makes perfect sense, Babe,” he said, trying to placate me. “I’ll be in school a couple hundred miles away. Then I’ll graduate from B-school when you graduate from Piques and I can look for a job near your Med school.”

“And I have to be celibate for two more years, even when we know that we’re going to be together?”

“But we’ll have the whole rest of our lives together…”

So. It looks as though happily ever after is going to take a bit more work, but considering where I started on that horrible lemon of a morning in the fall, I’d say the lemonade tastes pretty sweet.