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The Second Hand Man

By Gary_Kuyper All Rights Reserved ©

Drama / Scifi

Prologue

“Happy Birthday!” said Steve placing a large heavy box on the table in front of the old man.

“Well, well, well,” said Crane frowning at the other man’s forced smile. “Steven M. Ferran, CEO of Vision Global; the man who was with me on that fateful night when…everything went blank.” He narrowed his eyes. “So, to what do I owe this dubious honor? It must be…what…fourteen…fifteen years since I last saw you in the flesh?”

“Fifteen years exactly. Fifteen years to the day.”

“That so? Well imagine that. Shit, one of the nurses told me I was getting an important visitor today. I would never have guessed.” He held out a shaky hand and Steve shook it some more. “Actually, I don’t get any visitors, so in my case I suppose anyone could be considered important.

“Apart from the doctors who see me once a month, and the few in-house nurses, I’m pretty much a loner. Nobody wants to be friends with a weirdo like me; not even my own flesh and blood sister. Well, actually it’s me that doesn’t want to be friends with anyone else, especially in this place. I find them all rather irritating.” He waved a hand at the myriad of books that filled two entire shelved walls. “These are my only and true friends. Them, TV and the internet. They’ve helped to fill in most of the gaps. Not the gaps of my past, you understand, but of mankind in general. Hell, one moment I was six years old in ‘65; and the next I was fifty five in 2014; fifty five in 2014 and without any recollection of how I got there. I was a damn kid in an old man’s body.” Cornelius Crane indicated to an open chair. “Grab a seat already. So, like I asked, what brings you around to visit an obnoxious old fart in a boring old retirement home? It may be fancy and all, but that don’t make this waiting-for-death facility any goddamned less tedious and mind-numbing.”

“I’m here to wish you well, and I brought you a birthday present,” said Steve seating himself opposite Crane. “Fifty five wasn’t such a terribly old age. Hell, I only recently turned sixty, and I still feel fit as a fiddle.”

“Oh, yeah? Well, it was pretty damned old to me. Suddenly having all those aches and pains in my joints and back. The bad eyesight. The poor hearing and the ringing in my ears. The strange teeth in my mouth. Being repulsed by the smell of your own body. Finding out I suddenly have a sister and that she’s already forty eight. And not to mention the fact that both my parents had passed away.

“Of course, with time, I became familiar with it; got used to it; accepted it. But it took plenty time to convince me. I realize now that I must have worn out the patience of many doctors and tutors.

“I still have, and will never abandon, this great sense of being robbed of my most precious possessions…my entire existence was rudely ripped away…forever. One moment I was six, and the next fifty five. Without a single damn intermediary memory, it’s as if I never had a life at all. Even painful memories would be something to give a sense to my…having been. ‘Cogito, ergo sum.’”

“I beg your pardon?”

“René Descartes’ popular philosophical saying. Translated it means, ‘I think, therefore I am.’”

“Oh, yes. I’ve heard that before."

“Well, actually it should be, ‘I remember, therefore I exist. What is man without his memories? Are we not the sum of our individual pasts? Are we not who we are because of our experiences? Every single day is a learning experience. We are taught by our mistakes as well as our successes. Are we not?” The question was rhetorical, so Crane continued, “Not even the proof of my existence could jog my memory.”

“Proof?”

“The pictures in the photo albums. The video clips. The newspaper and magazine articles telling of the great technological and scientific empire that I had built. Even the house, the place where you found me, the great mansion that I had had constructed on Berkley Hill to my personal requirements meant nothing...and still means nothing to me today. It has been like viewing the life of a twin brother that I never knew existed.”

Steve turned towards the bookshelves. “Of course, you would have had to learn to read again.”

“Of course. At six years I had not yet started any schooling. My sister informed me that I had begun to attend Jefferson Elementary only in the year after I turned six.”

“This is quite an impressive collection of books. Mostly non-fiction, I see. And quite a variety too. History, politics, medicine, memoirs, science… ”

“I have had to do much…catching up,” interrupted Crane.

“It must have been like time traveling?”

“Exactly! The only difference being that my body had aged proportionately to the forty nine years that I suddenly found myself rocketed into the future.”

 “Your memory seems to be fine now?”

“Yours, on the other hand seems awry. It’s not my birthday. I turned seventy…just over three months ago.”

“Three months and eight days to be exact, but that was your physical body’s birthday. Do you know what today’s date is?”

Crane placed a pair of gold-rimmed spectacles on his nose and squinted at the large-type calendar hanging on the wall behind and above the PC monitor’s screen. “August 17?”

“Exactly! The 17th August 2029.”

“Of course, as you said, it’s been exactly fifteen years to the day that I lost my mind…literally.” Steve found it difficult to restrain his smile. Unaffected, Crane continued. “Everything since then I’ve managed to recall in absolute clarity, but not a thing from before…except the memories that I had up to when I was about six.”

“Six years, three months and eight days to be exact.”

Crane frowned. “That…is extremely exact. How would you know that?”

“On the night that you…lost your mind, you gave me this.” Steve patted the top of the large heavy box. “Just before everything went blank for you, you had called me up and said that you had something of great importance to tell me.”

“I did? How come you’ve never told me this before? What was it?”

“You sounded quite frantic and desperate. Somehow your pleas had a ring of sincerity, and although I despised you immensely, I decided to drive up to your big mansion in the hills and…humor you.”

“Why? Why on earth did you despise me?”

“Because, before you lost it all; that is, your mind and everything else as well, you were undoubtedly the most despicable, conceited and arrogant bastard to walk upon the face of this planet. That was my own personal view of Cornelius Crane back then. The rest of the world considered the man behind Crane Global Visions to be somewhat of a phenomenal genius and inventor.

“I’m not ashamed to say that I was later thrilled when I heard that your sister had been given the custodial rights to all your property and assets. It was an even bigger pleasure when, during the redistribution of the liquidation process, I was able to buy up the majority of shares in the Crane Global Visions company. I even had enough pull to change the name to Vision Global.

“At first, when you claimed that you could not remember anything, I thought you were trying to make me the victim of some elaborate and perverted joke. It took some time to realize that the fifty five-year-old man that was crying bitterly in the fancy mansion’s huge living room was, in fact, a terribly frightened and confused six-year-old child.”

“Yes, I remember you being angry. You almost left me alone. It was truly the most terrifying moment in all my life. Luckily you found my sister’s number on my cell phone.”

Steve laughed, “Yes, you didn’t even know that it was your phone. Hell, you didn’t even know what a cellular phone was. You thought it was a walkie-talkie.”

“Yeah, I suppose, in retrospect, it must seem kinda funny now.” Cornelius gave a quick smile, but then quickly and seriously asked, “What happened that night? What happened just before my slate was wiped clean? What was it that I was so desperate to tell you?”

“Something preposterous and totally unbelievable.”

“What?”

“You said that in a previous life, you and I had been the greatest of friends. It was the new turn of events that had changed things for the worse. You had hoped to repeat the mind projection procedure before the 17th August 2014, but your arrogance and reckless actions…action had driven away the only man capable of helping you complete the project on time.”

“What mind projection procedure? What project?”

“Don’t laugh! You claimed that the two of us together had managed to devise a means of…traveling through time.”

“What?”

“I kid you not! That’s exactly what you told me.”

“I told you that we had built a…time machine?”

“Uh-huh.”

“I guess my mind was already…on the way out?”

A serious cast set onto Steve’s face, and after a short silence he said, “Maybe.”

“Maybe? You don’t seriously suggest…?” Crane shook his head slowly. “I lost my mind a long time ago. Don’t you be doing the same now.”

“Don’t knock it before you’ve heard the whole story and had a chance to look through the stuff in this box.”

“Go on,” said Crane frowning.

“Well, when you said that we had been friends in a previous life, I first thought you meant that we had been buddies a really long time ago, like say two guys in the French Revolution or maybe a couple of sailors on Columbus’ Santa Maria. And we were somehow destined to be friends yet again through…reincarnation or something. But no! Your claim was that we had been friends in this very same life. A friendship that had lasted almost nineteen years from ‘95 to 2014. The friendship had ended in 2014 on the 17th August because it was on that day that you had used the…time machine to travel back to 1965. November 28th, 1965 to be exact. That is, according to what you told me. And also according to the contents of this box.”

“Shit, really? What the hell’s in the box?”

“Diaries.”

“Diaries?”

“Diaries,” said Steve picking up the box and tipping out all its contents onto the floor in front of the old man.

“Whose are those?” asked Cornelius gazing at the large pile of books and papers at his feet.

“Yours, of course!”

“Mine?”

“All yours! Every single word!”

“What?”

“That’s right. You managed to keep quite an extensive record of your life before…the incident on 17th August 2014. This is that large gap in your life that you’ve been wondering about.”

“Why have you kept these from me until today? Did you not think it possible that some of the stuff written therein might trigger my lost memories?”

“I’ve read through all the stuff, and after considering the material very carefully, thought that it would be best for you to become more…mature in your thinking before reading what you wrote so many years ago. A lot of it is rather…delusional, to say the least. And besides, today is your official coming of age.”

“Coming of age?”

“Yes, it has been exactly fifteen years since the incident. And since you were six years old, or only had memories from when you were six years old, it would now make you …”

“Twenty one!” said Cornelius finishing the sentence.

“Bingo!” said Steve palms spread and raising his arms. “Think of these as your key to life.”

“Life? I’m a twenty one-year-old in a seventy-year-old body. Not much life left.” Cornelius lifted the diary lying on the top of the pile. He turned it over and opened the stiff cover. On the first page, printed in a fancy font, was the declaration, ‘This diary belongs to.’ Beneath that, in the space provided, and in a handwriting that he knew only too well, was written, ‘Professor Cornelius Crane.’ “‘Professor?’ Why on earth would I have called myself that?”

“Because, in that,” Steve used his fingers to make a set of inverted commas in the air before saying, “Previous life…when we were apparently…,” More inverted commas, “Friends. You claim in the diaries that you were actually a…,” One last set of commas before stressing the word, “Professor! A professor of rather exceptional note who once graced the hallways of Dartmouth College.”

“Good Lord above!” exclaimed Crane. “I must have been suffering from some form of psychosis even long before the incident happened on August 17th, 2014. What happened that night must have been my final descent into delusional darkness.”

“At present, it would seem that you are now a man of rational thoughts and actions.”

After a short deliberation Crane said, “Perhaps what happened that night was my brain’s way of rebooting itself back to normal. Not too unlike resetting a device to its defaults.”

Steve laughed. “You certainly seem to have done a splendid job of catching up on your knowledge of all the new technology.”

“The doctors have informed me that my I.Q. is much higher than most. They also claim that it could also be the reason for my brain malfunctioning the way it did.”

“Like a type of autism?”

“Uh-huh,” nodded Cornelius. “Or perhaps even a form of epilepsy. They were never certain about the facts. There have been many people with memory loss, either through injury or trauma, but nothing quite similar or even close to mine has ever been reported before…or since.”

“Well, although you may not be a bona fide professor, you should certainly be an honorary one at least.”

“Oh?”

“Hell, yeah! You certainly…rocked the scientific world with many of your theories and inventions before the incident knocked your brain back into the Stone Age. For three straight years you managed to make it into Time’s Hundred Most Influential People. God only knows what you may have accomplished if fate hadn’t dealt you such a bad hand? You probably would have made Fortune’s Hundred Richest as well.”

“Ah, the folly of hubris,” said Cornelius reaching for the book that lay on his bedside table. It was the Bible. He flipped open the thick book to where the bookmark lay and staring Steve in the eye, quoted the words perfectly that were written on the page below: ‘And I, even I, turned toward all the works of mine that my hands had done and toward the hard work that I had worked hard to accomplish, and, look! Everything was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing of advantage under the sun.’ That is from Ecclesiastes; chapter two and verse eleven. Of course, these words make much more sense to a man of seventy than one of, say…twenty one. Only when we sense our mortality can we truly begin to appreciate the gift of being.”

“It’s hard to believe you’re the same man that I utterly loathed and despised so many years ago. Right now it would almost seem possible that we could have been the best of friends.”

Crane noticed a picture frame lying face-down amongst the pile of papers and diaries. “What’s this?” he asked picking it up and turning it over.

“That, allegedly, is the first dollar bill that Scrooge McDuck ever earned.”

“What?” frowned Crane giving the dusty surface a wipe with his elbow. There was a yellowed handwritten note neatly centered on a piece of black velvet beneath the glass. He read it aloud: “‘I am neither proud nor relish in the things I have done. So, when Judgment Day cometh – I pray that God forgive us both.’” Then he looked up at Steve. “This isn’t my handwriting. Who wrote this?”

“That, apparently, is a note written to you by Joaq Du Maille.”

“Joaq Do Who?”

“Du Maille, a serial killer who lived in the area where you grew up.”

“A serial killer?”

“Uh-huh. I actually did some research. The archives of the Sedgefield Oracle had quite a bit on him. Raped and murdered some kids back in the sixties. He was finally apprehended when he failed to kill a one-legged man by trying to strangle him with a piece of piano wire.”

“What?”

“That’s right. And at the time of his arrest, you would have been a tender nine years old.”

“What? Shit! Why would a serial killer write a note like this to a nine-year-old kid?”

“Read the diaries.”

“What was the connection between us?”

“Read the diaries.”

“Why does he ask for God to forgive us both?”

“Read the diaries.”

“You sound like a stuck record.”

Steve waved a hand over the pile. “The answer to all your questions is here. Only problem is that you, like me, will have to decide whether or not the contents are true, or just some elaborate joke that went terribly wrong?”

“Ah, yes, I was meaning to say earlier that even if it was possible for a 55year-old man to travel back in time from 2014 to1965, by the time he again reached 2014 he would then be…a104. So, not only was I delusional, but my train of thought was seriously tainted in its conception. Not very deserving of an honorary professorship or any other significant academic award or title; would you not agree?”

“But what if your age was also to diminish? And this, at the exact same rate at which you are projected back into the past?”

Crane rolled the thought around in his head before replying, “Under the circumstances described, the concept would then be valid if, and only if, the time traveler was able to retain all his previous memories. For how else could he be aware that he is traveling through the exact same period of time for a second time?”

“That, is exactly the way you have diarized the event.”

“Absurd!” But after another short deliberation added, “Absurd, yet brilliant.”

“Sorry?” frowned Steve.

“According to theorists, it would require far too much energy to rip a hole into the fabric of time to send a physical entity back into the past. Not to mention the added necessity of the object being able to move through space. But…” Crane gazed at, but never saw, the ceiling above his head. 

“But?” queried Steve concernedly.

The old man tapped his finger tips frantically together. “But…it would take far less energy to send an incorporeal entity; say for instance, just a person’s consciousness.”

“But how would the consciousness survive without a physical body. You’d be like a…well, a ghost. A disembodied thought pattern floating in the ether.”

“Correct! And without the physical to contain it, it would eventually disperse and…most certainly perish.”

“So, once again the theory flops?”

“Maybe,” said Cornelius tapping his fingers all the more feverishly as his brain sort an answer. “Not if…”

“Not if what?”

“Yes! Not if the consciousness was projected back through time and into another suitable physical entity. A host, if you will.”

“Suitable?”

“You couldn’t send a human consciousness into a…dog for instance. The brain matter of a dog, or any other creature, is far too different to accept or retain a human synaptic brainwave pattern. It would have to be another human.”

“But what about the…host’s consciousness? What would happen to that?”

The answer came swiftly. “The projected consciousness would have to displace the existing one.”

“This would obviously take place without the host’s consent.”

“Obviously.”

“And, in effect, you would actually be killing the host without causing any harm to his physical body.”

“Perhaps. Then again it might just be that the new consciousness merely dominates the old.”

“Either way, it still sounds to me as if it would be the worst form of rape. A sort of mindfuck.”

Crane stared at Steve for a moment, then he snapped his fingers and pointed at him with both hands. “Actually, that statement has got me thinking. I was only recently going over some of the files that were on my computer the night of the incident. My sister was kind enough to hang onto them. It seems I was busy working on a project that involved some extremely detailed brain scans. I’ve never seen anything else like them before. None of the new medical stuff I’ve seen or read through in the past five years has anything nearly as sophisticated. I must have been working on a pretty fancy device at Crane Global Visions just before the mind-wipe occurred.”

“Oh?”

“You betcha.”

“Could I see them?”

“The scans?” Steve nodded feverishly and Crane frowned. “Why?”

“Just curious. Vision Global has a room full of your stuff that our reverse engineers were never able to figure out. This may help to shed some light. If you were working on a way to achieve better brain scans, it could mean a lot to the medical world.”

“Then again,” said Crane removing the top data disc from a storage spindle and placing it into his PC, “It might have been that very same device that was the cause of my mind being wiped clean.” A folder marked, ‘Project Trojan Horse’ appeared on the monitor. Crane touched the screen and the folder opened to reveal yet another 20 folders. He touched on the last one marked, ‘Brainprints – Series 42.’ A series of thumbnail images appeared, and a shaky finger touched on the ‘Slideshow’ option.

Both men stared for awhile as highly detailed 3D brain-scan images appeared and disappeared on the screen. Below each image was a digital record of the date, time and subject.

“You’re right,” said Steve moving closer to the screen. “Those are damned sophisticated. If the device that took these images is also, as you claim, the possible cause of your dilemma, then how come nobody else was affected? After all, that’s quite a lot of scans you got there. Surely, at least, one other person would have suffered the same consequence. Yet you say there have been no reports of a similar occurrence.”

“The answer to that is quite simple. One thing is very clear about the synaptic map of the human brain. It’s even more unique than a fingerprint or retina scan. It’s the ultimate snow-ice crystal. No two are the same.”

“That’s fascinating, but although I haven’t a trained eye in the matter, the images I’m looking at all appear to be the same to me.”

“Exactly! That’s because they are.”

“Eh, but you just told me that…”

“They appear to be the same because they are all of the same person’s brain. See here,” said Crane pointing to the bottom left hand corner of each image.

As each new image appeared, Steve read aloud the recorded data, “‘Subject: C. C.…Subject: C. C.…Subject: C. C.…C. C.…C. C.…C. C.…C. C.…’”

“And it don’t need no rocket scientist to figure out who C. C. is either?” stated Crane.

“My God! Of course! It’s you! Cornelius Crane!”

“Well done, my dear Watson. And now we can also see why the mind-wipe must have occurred?”

“Probably due to the excessive exposure to the device.”

“Give the man a cigar!”

“Funny you should say that?” said Steve bending down and scratching amongst the diaries. He found the cigar and held it towards Crane. “Apparently you once smoked these.”

“What’s it doing amongst the diaries?”

Steve found the cigar box. “There are a few other keepsakes in between there as well. This contains a whole bunch of newspaper clippings. Some of Joaq Du Maille, others of your brilliant achievements at Global, but the most fascinating and disturbing items are the two video recordings of…”

Crane interrupted. “For a brilliant scientist, it was extremely foolish of me to stick my head into an untested device. Whatever was I thinking? What the hell was I trying to achieve? No scientist worth his weight in gold makes himself the subject of his own experiments.

“You ever read The Invisible Man or The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde? Those so-called brilliant scientists both made the one same mistake. The term guinea pig is pretty damn old in the…”

“What if it had been a matter of life and death?” blurted Steve chipping in. “And what if time…or the lack thereof was a motivating factor?”

“Eh? How…?”

“What were you saying earlier about projecting your consciousness back through time?”

“That was just an absurd theory I was entertaining; a great concept for science fiction fans and such. It could never be actually realized.”

“Why not?”

“Because, as I’ve been explaining to you, your consciousness, which is created by the myriad synaptic connections in your brain, could not be projected into just any human. A man could not decide to go back and live his next life as a handsome film star or perhaps even as a woman. So, the theory is once again proven impossible?” Then a revelation suddenly struck Crane. He pointed at the images on the screen. “Unless…”

“Unless?”

“Unless…again, in theory, it could still work if a person’s consciousness were projected back into themselves; back into a younger version at a time when the synaptic pattern of his brain was firmly established and permanent. In this way a man of fifty five could become himself again at, say, thirty. But now at thirty he would have the memories of the fifty five-year-old man.” Crane got an insane glimmer in his eyes. “My God, I actually think it could work. The identical brainwave patterns would even make it easier for the projected consciousness to find its mark; just like placing two magnets inside a rotating barrel filled with styrofoam balls. It is inevitable that they will find each other.”

“Shit!”

“What?”

“I may have made a mistake bringing you the diaries.”

“Why?”

“I’m beginning to expect that you just may have achieved the impossible; that maybe the diaries’ contents are actually true. You seem, if I may say, much too keen and excited about the concept. Still, what harm can a seventy-year-old do? It’s too late for you to do anything about it now.”

“Harm? What on earth are you talking about?”

“If the theory and the diaries are true, then you’ve already screwed up the natural timeline. Also, would you not attempt to construct a device that could send you back? Since you feel so cheated of your life, would you not make every effort to right that wrong?”

“Perhaps? Yes, of course!”

 “Exactly! It’s really damned ironic then.”

“I fail to see the irony of my predicament.”

“You claim not to have had a life, when in fact you may be the only man to have had two.”

“Two?”

“Yes, two. Two very full and eventful lives. Also two very different lives.”

“Absurd! Only a raving lunatic would believe or even suggest that it is possible that the theory could actually work in practice.”

“Then perhaps the only suggestion I have for you right now is to read the diaries after all. And, oh, by the way, start with the big black folder. The black folder contains all the earliest entries that were written on odd scraps of paper that were apparently stolen from your father’s study.”

“What? Why? What benefit could they possibly have now?”

“Because they’ll afford you the peace of mind you seek in order to accept your death.”

“My death?”

“Shit, Crane, we all gotta go sometime, but I gotta hand it to you though - you damn near managed to attain immortality.” Steve walked towards the door. “I have a strong feeling you’ll want to contact me once you’ve finished reading them.” Then just before he left he said, “Don’t waste your time, because the answer to the question that you’ll be wanting to ask is, ‘No!’”

“Crazy bastard,” mumbled Crane at the empty space where Steve had stood. “Hard to believe he’s the goddamned CEO of a big company like Vision Global. Maybe he’s been sticking his head in the same device that screwed up my brain.” He gazed down at the pile of diaries. “Yeah, sure! Happy birthday to me. Let’s see what the raving lunatic was on about.”

Crane reached towards the big black folder.


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