46 Putting Things in Their Places

After Nikki demonstrated to my chagrin that neither of us was strong enough to carry the amp, she called Alvin to help. I really shouldn’t have been surprised after my experience with the suitcase when I returned to school, but I had been so used to hauling my amp around at will, that finding myself too weak to do it now was disheartening. Still, the prospect of being able to practice, of actually having a guitar in my arms once more, more than made up for it.

When the three of us arrived at my dorm room, my cradling the guitar like a beloved child, Lee Ann was sitting in the common room, reading. “What’s this, Marsh?” she asked.

I indicated Alvin. “Lee Ann, this is Alvin Tomlinson, my director, and Nikki’s boyfriend. Alvin, this is my roommate, Lee Ann Taylor.”

I watch enviously as Alvin shifted the amp to one hand and shook hands with Lee Ann with the other. I used to be able to do that.

“Nice to meet you, Alvin,” Lee Ann greeted him. Then she looked back at me. “I mean the guitar, Marsh. What are you doing with a guitar?”

“Oh. I’m borrowing it. I’m going to teach myself to play.”

“Aren’t you already kind of overwhelmed as it is?” She looked at Alvin and Nikki. “I think we should talk… when you’re free. And isn’t that going to be a bit noisy?”

“I’m going to plug headphones into the amp. I promise you won’t hear anything.”

“Marsh, why don’t I just put this in your room?” Alvin interjected.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” I said, aware that I was ignoring him. “Lee Ann, let me just–”

“No, it’s OK,” she replied. “We’ll talk later.”

“OK, this way,” I instructed Alvin.

After we had dropped off the guitar, amp, and of course the appropriate cables, I walked Alvin and Nikki to the door and thanked them. Then I returned to Lee Ann.

“I know it seems like a lot…” I started.

“It’s OK, Marsh,” she stopped me. “You’ve been talking about your grandfather and his guitar for some time. It’s obvious you’ve wanted to learn. I just worry that you’re avoiding things. I don’t believe that you’re really OK ignoring boys. Maybe this Jeremy thing isn’t going to go anywhere, but there are still lots of nice boys around. Don’t just lock yourself in your room all semester.”

“I… I’m not,” I protested. “I just really want to play the guitar.” She eyed me doubtfully. “I’m serious, Lee Ann. That’s all this is.”

“So you’re coming out with us this weekend?”

“Sure. Absolutely.” I remember some of the girls discussing an outing of some kind, although I hadn’t paid an awful lot of attention. At this point, though, I was ready to agree to almost anything to get Lee Ann off my back; I really didn’t want her trying to ‘fix me up’ or anything of the sort. This had seemed like another girls’ night out, which should be pretty safe.

I finally managed to escape back to my room. I had told myself that I needed to deal with the reporter, and my failure to play the guitar in Nikki’s room made that all the more dire. So far, I had failed to find the experimenters, failed to play the guitar, failed in fact just about any test that could demonstrate that I was really Marshall. This was probably my last chance. If I couldn’t find somebody who remembered me that way… I just didn’t want to think that through.

My idea was simple. Cracraft had called me, “Miss Steen,” which suggested that he was possibly an older gentleman, and didn’t care for the title, “Ms.” I figured a man his age would have trouble resisting a sobbing teenage girl, so I was going to go see him in person, and if he wouldn’t help me, I was going to cry. After all, I might as well make use of the tools I’d been handed. So first, I needed to figure out where the Messenger was located. But that guitar was calling me…

I really couldn’t resist. It had been so long. I plugged everything in and started with a simple chord progression: D7 – G – A7. This used to be as easy as breathing for me, but now it took real effort. Each change took me about a second, and I had to watch my fingers to get them to go into the right place, and I had to concentrate to make sure that each finger was actually pressing down on the string enough so that it would sound when I plucked it. I didn’t have a pick, so I used a quarter; I could check to see if the bookstore had picks tomorrow. I practiced those chords for about fifteen minutes before my fingers hurt too much to continue.

It wasn’t much, and it was depressing to hear how bad I was, but it was a start. It was a connection to my past, to the real me, the one nobody knew… unless Chad’s idea worked out. And it was enough to get me willing to work on that idea, now. I found the office location pretty easily; according to the online map, though, it was about eight miles from campus. Clearly, I was going to need a ride or to borrow car. Somebody in our group should have one, surely.

At dinner, I waited until most of our group was seated before making my request. Unfortunately, that included Jay, and even more unfortunately, he was already in a testy mood over something. But I was a man with a mission – well, in my heart, anyway – and I wasn’t going to let him deter me.

“I need to go into town tomorrow afternoon,” I announced. “Would somebody be able to lend me a car or give me a ride?”

Phil was the first to respond. “Where do you need to go, Marsh?”

“I… I wanted to go to the newspaper offices,” I said, and I couldn’t help glancing at Jay as I did.

“Why?” Sheila asked, sounding just a bit curious.

But I should have known that Jay would be suspicious. “Oh for crying out loud!” he raged. “She’s still on that time travel kick. Marsh, how can you –”

“Let me try, Jay,” Sam interrupted him. “Marsh, don’t you say that the whole story is impossible?”

“No,” I said, a bit impatiently. “Why is it impossible? Just because Jay doesn’t believe it?”

“It’s not a question of belief –” Jay started, but Sam cut him off again.

“Look at what they said,” Sam pointed out, patiently. “They found themselves changed, right?”


“But look at what they didn’t say. They didn’t say that everything else was different. If somebody went back in time and changed something, everything should be different. Not just their bodies, but also all of their friends, and their clothes, and school, and… everything! Right, Jay?”

But Jay didn’t give Sam the affirmation he was evidently expecting. Instead, he looked even more aggrieved. “No,” he stated flatly. “No, no, no!”

“Sure it should,” Sam insisted. “Because a lot of those depend on random happenings, and if you run a random event over again, you’re almost certainly going to get different results.”

“No,” Jay repeated, glaring at both Sam and me. “Look, you picked a really bad day to try this with me, because I just sent half an hour arguing with this idiot over the same idea.”

“Time travel?” I asked.

“No, the idea of random events.” He took a deep breath. “This moron was insisting that science inherently conflicts with religion, because it describes how things happen from the creation of the universe and through evolution of species, and works through random processes plus selection.”

“Well, that makes sense,” Fred commented. “After all, what do you need God for if you can explain everything scientifically?”

“Because when scientists say that something is ‘random’ that doesn’t mean that anything could happen, or that all of the choices are necessarily undetermined.”

“Then what does is mean?” Sam challenged him.

“A more precise term might be ‘uncorrelated.’” And now Jay’s tone took on the sound of a lecturer. His words sounded almost rehearsed. “Look, science is all about predicting future observations based on past ones. If something is inherently non-observable, it is also irrelevant to science. So, for example, we think the Big Bang was a singularity. If so, then it is impossible for anything that might have preceded it to affect our universe, and so we ignore it. Similarly, the Many Worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics says that the universe splits whenever an event happens, but once again, if we cannot observe these hypothetical other universes, whether they exist or not may be interesting to philosophers, but is irrelevant to science. They cannot affect us.

“When we say that something is ‘random’ all we are saying is that we cannot correlate it with something that happened earlier; we cannot predict it. But that doesn’t mean that there can’t be some more basic reality that we cannot observe that could determine it.”

“You mean, like God?” somebody suggested.

“Maybe,” Jay continued. “Maybe God controls all the dice, all the random events, and just makes them happen with the right frequencies to make us think that they happen randomly – randomly as most people use the word. Maybe they do happen randomly and if you could run them again, they would all happen differently. Maybe some of them would happen the same and others wouldn’t. The point is, we have absolutely no way to tell, because we cannot rerun an individual dice roll. All we can do is roll the dice again and again and see how they behave in the aggregate.”

“If you had time travel, you could do the experiment,” I pointed out.

“Yes, we could,” he said, hotly. “But we don’t. Time travel is impossible, not because some reporter didn’t describe a chaotic effect, but because it conflicts with some really fundamental things we know about the Universe. Things like conservation laws.”

“But don’t physicists change their ideas of laws when they learn new facts?” I insisted. “Why wouldn’t you just rewrite the laws if somebody could prove time travel?”

“Because…” he sighed in exasperation and threw his hands up. “Look, just trust me on this one, Marsh. You’re a science major. You know how science works. There are some basic things that you know aren’t going to have to change. Some things we can be pretty damn sure about.”

“And we decide all of this via evidence, right? We’ll, I just want to explore the evidence. I want to see what the reporter learned that he didn’t report. I want to find the people who made the claims and see exactly what happened. That’s the scientific way, right? Going to the evidence rather than just taking things on faith?”

“Fine. Fine,” he said. “Go ahead and waste your time. I’ve tried to help you get off this kick. You won’t listen. You can apologize when you wind up with egg on your face.”

“I don’t think I will,” I said, calmly. “I just need a way to get to the newspaper office.”

“What time did you want to go, Marsh?” Phil asked quietly, once Jay had turned away from me and assiduously attacked his dinner.

“My last lab tomorrow ends around two-thirty, and I’d like to leave soon after that. I don’t want to miss him if he leaves early on Fridays.’

“No problem,” he smiled. “Why don’t you come over to my room when you’re done and I’ll lend you my keys?”

“Finally got up the courage to ask her back to your room, Phil?” cracked Fred.

We both ignored him. I might not be interested in dating Phil, but he was showing himself to be a good friend to have.


  1. Harri says:

    “I watch enviously as Alvin shifted the amp to one hand and shook hands with Terry with the other. I used to be able to do that.”

    You mean Lee Ann, don’t you?

    “So, for example, we thing the Big Bang was a singularity.”


    This is a weird chapter. Is Jay the reporter? Is Jay the experimenter????

  2. Russ says:

    Thanks for the corrections; Jay is the physics major who is part of Marsh’s dining room group, and who keeps giving her a hard time about her obsession with the time-travel experiment described in the article. We’ve seen him in chapters 19, 20, 22, 30, and 36.

  3. Eduardo says:

    I do not see how time travel would afect any of our basic laws, except by the causality rule (cause precedes effect) that has already been quite battered in some specific cases.
    But I also do not see how time travel would be possible for a material body with the size of a human being.
    And here is the point, isn´t it? To alter the past you do not need something as big as a human being.
    But than, the alteration will be definitive.

  4. von says:

    Time travel is a fascinating subject, and much depends on what is even meant by ‘time travel’. Some have posited resulting multiple realities… thereby avoiding many of the problems.

    However in this case Marsh is not presumed to have been ‘time traveled’, but to have his past changed. the keeping the memory thing is very problematicl, altho much can be done by a willful suspension of disbelief.

  5. Harri says:

    “Jay is the physics major who is part of Marsh’s dining room group”

    Yeah I know who he is but I was speculating he might have caused this or been involved.

  6. Don says:

    It sure sounds like he was involved somehow, either as part of the group running the experiment, or as another ‘guinea pig’ who remembers ‘Marshall’, though it’s most likely the former. They realize they screwed up badly in how they did the experiment and are trying to cover things up, but may not realize that Marsh used to be Marshall.

  7. Richard says:

    On the subject of time travel I can give you what I think is the answer in this story, being mindful that this is as far as I’ve read so far so I don’t know if it’s been answered farther in the story. Before I tell you what I think it is however it’s best to look at the two problems which present themselves, those are that Marsh is a girl and remembers being a boy. Now Marsh theorized that the ones running the experiment went back to the day they subjects were conceived and somehow messed up the timing of their conception. That’s viable but the problem was already pointed out that if that was the case then Marsh wouldn’t have memories of being a boy, like everyone else who wasn’t a subject had no memory of their alternate lives. So Marsh had to have been the one to go back in time but that presents another problem. Upon coming back the ones running the experiment would have seen that he was a boy and they would have been expecting a girl, if Marsha had even signed up for the experiment. If she didn’t then there would be a male Marsh and a female Marsh. There is a simple way to explain the inconsistencies however, Marsh didn’t physically time travel. Instead he and the others had their consciousness/minds/souls sent back, perhaps through hypnosis, and their parents were able to sense them somehow thus delaying their conception by a few minutes. This of course has the effect of creating a new timeline where they got different genetics, and maybe one or two weren’t conceived. Of course since they had created the new timeline they had to follow it back to the present when they returned. This led them to returning into their alternate bodies along a timeline where they had volunteered for the experiment. And I know that you’ll ask why Marsh didn’t realize he was now she right when he got back. Well marsh hadn’t been paying much attention at the time and was probably a bit disoriented by the experience.

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