San Francisco. Spring of 1997. Somewhere in one of the skyscrapers.
“Robert Mira,” the receptionist inquired as she looked over the crowd of applicants in the lobby of Vista.com. She had that power-look about her; toothpick-thin, short, tight-fitted skirt that was as red as a rose, and a stern face to go with it.
In a word, she was intimidating, just as Vista.com’s reputation was. Vista was one of the fastest growing dot-commers in the world and anyone who got a seat at their cubicals had upgraded their resumes by 100-fold. To say nothing of their income…
The young woman led Robert down a meandering road of roofless hallways of cubicals until she finally reached an actual room. Chief Executive Officer Dennis Underland was on his cell phone, looking out of his window. He was an aged man of 30 years old. Probably the oldest in the corporation. He was dressed in the traditional suit and tie, his dark hair trimmed with a slight flop on top. One could tell by the other existing employees that the company normally had a more relaxed dress code and they were only playing dress-up because of all the interviews. Underland immediately finished his call after the receptionist brought Robert into his office. Without delay, the interview started.
With so many positions to fill and so many applicants to interview, Underland kept the interview at a brisk pace. Within ten minutes they were already wrapping up the process.
“…yeah, I never finished my Master’s program,” Dennis admitted to Robert as they both began to gather up their respective paper work. “But after my business partner and I started Vista, I don’t know. Things just got too busy and too much money to be made. Why turn around and go back to school just to get myself into debt when I can be making more money in this new economy?”
“Exactly,” Robert conceded.
“What about you, Robert; you’re already working on your PhD and you’re not even 25 yet! I can see you running your own shop.”
Robert blushed slightly and tried covering it by re-arranging his tie. “Thanks, Dennis…no, I’m not quite the hard-nosed type that it takes in the e-commerce industry. I just want to—“
Underland waited to hear more from Robert.
“What’s wrong,” Dennis asked Robert as he turned around in his chair to look out the window to see what was distracting his interviewee.
It was a middle-aged man with long hair pulled back in a ponytail on a window-cleaning platform. When Underland caught a glimpse of him, the man was hard at work.
“Did he almost fall or something,” Dennis asked with genuine concern.
“No, no…he just…it seemed like he was trying to tell me something. That, and he kind of looks like one of my uncles.”
“Oh, so you have roots around here, huh,” Underland said playfully. “Maybe we can get a discount from the contractor for the cleaning if we hire you!”
Robert obliged in a small laughter. “Yeah, but the thing is that uncle died a few years ago.”
Underland froze, obviously embarrassed. “Hey, Robert, I’m sorry about that.”
“Oh, no need to worry about that. It’s just kind of spooky to see someone that reminds me of him so much after a few years…I don’t know; he also reminds me of someone else, but I can’t place who it is right now!”
The two exchanged a few more pleasantries and Robert was out of the office.
Cindy was looking quite nice that Friday night. She and Robert were on a date out for a stroll at a festival in Golden Gate Park. True to San Francisco’s reputation, it was full of New Age cultural icons and off-beat entertainment. In a word, Fun.
They had been at the festival for a couple of hours and were ready to go to a restaurant to sit down and relax for the rest of the evening. The restaurant they had chosen was one of the many trendy ones in San Fran’: subtly-lit, live music, and the kind of restaurant where you can look into the kitchen and watch the chefs create your edible artwork.
“…Kathy said she would never see him again after that,” Cindy told Robert as he sipped his drink. They were at a corner booth, tucked away from the action where they could get some privacy.
“I should hope not,” Robert responded. “If you ask me, she should have stopped seeing him the first time he laid a hand on her!”
“Yeah, but it’s not that simple, Robbie, especially when you’re a woman with two small kids. You have to remember they’re thinking, ‘How am I going to feed my kids,’ and, ‘Where are we going to stay,’ and most importantly, ‘ Will he come back after me if I try to leave him?’ Single guys like you don’t have to even consider things like that in relationships.”
Robert was shaking his head. “I’m sorry, but I think some things are universal. You hit me, either I leave or you do…end of discussion!”
All that Cindy could do was sigh as she wiped her fingers with a napkin. She worked as a social worker for the State of California in the Bay Area.
“Say, what’s going on with your mom these days,” Robert inquired, changing the subject of discussion. Cindy was more than glad to do so.
“Oh! That’s what I forgot to tell you. She finally got that house! The bad news is it’s…” Her sentence tapered off because she saw that her boyfriend’s attention also tapered during the conversation. “I hope she or he’s your type, Robert!”
It took a few seconds before it registered with Robert that Cindy had made a crack at him. “I’m sorry, Cindy, but I can’t believe it! It’s the same guy again!” His eyes were stuck in the kitchen area.
“Who are you talking about?”
“Frankly, I don’t know who I’m talking about, because I don’t know who he is.”
“The cook with the long hair in a ponytail.” Robert pointed out with the jutting of his chin in the general direction.
They both sat quietly, watching the man for a few seconds. Then his eyes met Robert’s and the older man froze on spot for seconds then resumed at his task.
“Did you see that,” Robert said with a kind of ‘I told you so’ attitude. Cindy rolled her eyes.
“Robbie, the guy probably doesn’t like computer nerds staring at him!”
“No! I’m telling you, Cindy, I’ve seen that guy before.”
“Okay, let’s say you did. I mean, San Francisco’s a big town, but not quite like New York or L.A. So it’s conceivable that you’ve bumped into him before…so what?”
“Remember that Uncle Aaron I told you about?”
“Yeah, the one who died a few years ago…”
“Well he looks a lot like him! I saw that guy out at Vista.com during the interview. But he was cleaning windows!”
“So he’s got two jobs, Robbie. Most people these days have to do that just to get by. And besides, there are a lot of people in this world that look like each other. You should know this better than I do.”
“What are you talking about,” Robert threw back; feeling affronted.
“You know…the genetic dice metaphor. You’re the one between the two of us who keeps saying it: There are only so many genetic features to go around in the human species. At some point in time, after rolling the genetic dice around billions of times you’re going to come up with the same numbers every now and then. Come on,” she insisted as she held out one of her hands to him across the small table, “let’s bring this conversation back to us…better yet, let’s dance!”
Robert had found out within a week after the job interview at Vista.com that he was hired. Needless to say, he was ecstatic. He had taken Cindy and a group of their friends out to celebrate later that evening. The next day he did not even bother to call in or go over to his temporary job as a telemarketer for a local small business, mainly because the managers at the telemarketing dive did not treat their employees the best. But there was the complication of having a hangover that would not have gone over well had he showed up anyway.
After finally getting out of his efficiency apartment past the noon hour, Robert went out for a walk. He usually jogged for exercise, but the partying from the night before was clinging to his head and stomach too much for that. He decided to drive out to a region of the Bay area he rarely used. He didn’t want to bump into any of his friends that used the same jogging routes in the waterfront or at various parks in the San Francisco metro. He needed time to think about how his new job would change things for him. How it had the potential to change things for him and Cindy…
Robert was not even thirty minutes into his walk, which was out in a secluded, hilly area, when he noticed a figure he had been seeing too much of lately. The middle-aged, long-haired man was also walking and going the same direction as Robert; only slower and, perhaps, seventy-five yards ahead of Robert. There were a couple of other people around, both jogging. But they were too far out of range to be of any consequences to Robert and whomever this man was.
Fed up with the mystery, Robert trotted the brief distance to get the whole game out of the way. When Robert reached just feet behind the older man, the stranger abruptly turned to face Robert. That, of course, encouraged Robert to halt on the spot. Robert’s heart pounded harder and his stomach felt a sharp tightening within it. It wasn’t because he was out of shape and could not handle the short jog, it was because he finally realized whom he was gazing upon. The other two times he had seen the older man were from somewhat at a distance. But now, Robert could see the man’s details of wrinkles, jaw and cheekbones, the curves of his nose, the color of his eyes, the form of his lips…and that voice!
“Hello, Robert,” the man said, surprisingly, with some laughter in his greeting. Robert’s eyes were wide open, his mouth unmoving. Whether he knew it or not, Robert’s hands were slightly shaking.
“You, you look younger than I thought you would at this age,” the long-haired man commented with a puzzled face. “But then again, the older I get, the younger everyone else seems to me…well, aren’t you going to say anything?”
“You must be some cousin or brother that no one in my family has told me about,” Robert finally got out of his gut.
“Ah, come on, Robbie! Look at the age discrepancy between you and I! Do you really think your parents or one of your uncles or aunts would have kept a cousin away from you after all these years?”
“Hey, it’s been known to happen!”
“Yeah…I suppose you’re right.”
The man’s head tilted as he contemplated on something. This time his hair was unbounded and it fluttered in the constant wind that caressed the high hill they were on. “Underneath your left arm, just outside your armpit, there’s a tiny mole. For a while you worried whether or not it was cancerous…after you finally got insurance through Taste ‘n’ Shine you got it checked out with Dr. Dallas Cuttor, who told you—and I quote—that ’it was so benign that it was unbenign.’ Let’s see…you lost your virginity with Wendy Combs in middle school during an assembly—“
“She had a big mouth,” Robert said defensively; cutting into the future-Robert’s words. “She could have told that to anyone!”
“Ahh yes, but did you tell her that while you two were going at it that you had your mother’s friend, Mrs. Churnwell, in mind instead of her?”
Robert’s face went blank. The older man had the look of victory on his countenance. “Do you really want me to go on, Robbie?”
“Yes! As a matter of fact, yes! Two experiences out of a lifetime are not enough to prove it!”
The long-haired man threw up his hands and looked up into the sky. “Robert, we’ve got tests where I come from that can put all this to rest. As I remember, it wasn’t too long ago from this time that DNA testing started to do, in principle, the same thing. Do you want to go to a special clinic and have them test our DNA, Robert? Or are you too afraid that you already know what the answer will be?”
Robert blew out a sigh and rubbed his face. He started pacing as he talked. “This—this is insane! No, it’s impossible! According to science, time travel is impossible and so is a time traveler being able to meet oneself…something about the grandfather complexity!”
“You mean if I were to, for whatever reason, kill my—our—grandfather, neither you nor I would exist,” the elder man said impatiently.
“And if grandpa had been killed before producing an offspring, then there went our chances of existing. Because our dad would not have been born.” The long-haired Robert said this quickly, as if he were tired of repeating it. “Yes, Robbie, those were the scientific thought of the time…of your time!”
Robert the Younger stopped pacing and faced his middle-aged version. “What are you saying, that years from now scientists learn ways to circumvent quantum mechanics?”
The elder Robert had waved one of his hands at the younger’s statement while gently clutching one of his arms. “Listen, Robbie, don’t worry about that now…that’s not why I’m here. I’m sorry I had to spy on you the way I did. I figured if I gradually eased into your life it would make it just a little easier to swallow than if I outright jumped into your life and say, ’Surprise, you really are your father, now!′
“As you can understand, there were literally millions of things I would have changed in my life when I was your age. But that’s a bit too complicated and not why I’m here…but I do want to say, from a personal standpoint, keep doing what you’re doing with Cindy. Trust me, kiddo, you’ll do nothing but appreciate her more in your life. Okay, young man, onto business…You know that job you just got?”
“With Vista.com; yeah, what about it?”
“Don’t take it.”
“What! Are you crazy? Getting a job with them is like—“
“I don’t care, Robbie, just turn it down! Trust me on this one, kiddo, that may be a street paved with gold, but it won’t do you any good if that street takes you to a dead end.”
Robert the Younger paused and contemplated on the elder’s words. “Are you…are you saying that, somehow, if I take that job with Vista it will kill me?”
Robert the Elder sighed as he, now, thought a bit more. “Look, Robert, I’m not supposed to tell you too much stuff about the future. I’m allotted only so much time in this time and I can only tell you vague things—big picture stuff. But that’s about it.”
“Who says you can only tell me so much about the future?”
“Can’t say…you should know that it’s for a very good reason why I can’t tell you. Just like why I can’t get into too much specifics about the future. It would alter too much of it and your present-time if I did.”
“If all this is true, then you should know by now that I’ve already accepted the job.”
“Yeah, I do, Robert. Why do you think I’m trying to convince you otherwise? You can still phone them and politely tell them no thanks. Don’t take me wrong when I say this, but there are thousands of people in this town alone who can take your spot, Robert…and that’s the part that really, really bothers me.”
The elder’s eyes drifted away, his mind pensive. Robert the Younger’s face tensed up with curiosity. “Should I ask why?”
“No. But I can say that this job at Vista will, eventually, take you to New York City.”
Young Robert’s eyes widened with excitement. “Wow! I’ve never been to New York yet! It doesn’t sound so bad to me, Robert.”
The elder snapped out of his somber demeanor and blew out a quick sigh, rubbing his forehead out of impatience as he did so. “Oh, Robbie…what I’m warning you about doesn’t really have anything to do with the job itself!”
The elder stepped up to the younger and grasped him by his shoulders, firmly. The young Robert’s attention definitely was on every word that his future self was telling him. “I want you to listen to me, and listen to me well, Robbie. If you should take this job at Vista, and in a few years you get promoted and move to New York City, I’m telling you that you will not live long enough to be my age!”
Robert the Younger was now frightened. Frightened not at the elder’s aggressive posture, but at his words!
Both Roberts were startled by the call. It was one of the other joggers in the hills. She had seen Robert the Elder grab the younger and, understandably, interpreted the action as violence.
“Uh…it’s okay! He’s a very close relative…we’re just trying to iron some things out. But thank you anyway!”
The jogger did not move for several more seconds. Apparently she did not totally accept young Robert’s response. Finally, she proceeded to jog on to her route.
“Here…” Robert the Elder handed the younger one a folded piece of paper. He then took a tiny branch that he found on the ground and made a small prick on his left thumb. Blood started to surface where the puncture was. The elder then made three blots of his blood on top of that folded piece of paper, then folded over where his blood had been so that it was covered. “The blood is my proof to you that we share the same DNA…go to a clinic or doctor’s office and have them compare my blood with yours.”
Robert the Younger quietly nodded as he looked at the folded paper. But the elder had one more thing to say to him.
“And, Robbie, inside the paper is a note for you. I want you to keep it for at least four-and-a-half years…that’s just another way of me proving to you that what you’ve experienced today is quite real. Now, finish your walk. I promise you, you will never see me again.”
Robert the Elder then turned around to walk away. He did not turn around to walk his route in reverse, but he had started walking a totally different direction.
Cindy shook her head out of disappointment while she munched on her hamburger. Robert was picking at his Heinz ketchup-drenched French fries. They were at a local fast food joint and Robert told Cindy the whole ordeal about his encounter with his future self. Needless to say, she was skeptical of anything about time traveling, but, more importantly, she was saddened by Robert’s rejection of the job at Vista.com.
“…so, do you think I’m crazy,” Robert put to Cindy as he took a sip of his drink.
“No, not crazy; just naïve and a little too anxious to believe some stranger that looks like your Uncle Aaron.”
“Cindy, did you hear anything that I said to you? He looked like my uncle because Uncle Aaron and I took on the same traits from my father’s side…it’s no wonder I confused him with my uncle. My uncle died when he was about the same age as my future self that I saw. The guy had memories of things that only I would know! Things that I won’t even tell you now, just to be safe… he wasn’t shy about giving me his blood to test his DNA and see if it would match mine. And I saw him draw out his own blood right in front of me. Tell me, does that sound like someone who’s got something to hide?”
Cindy shrugged her shoulders and dove into her own French fries. “By the way, how long are you supposed to wait before you get that DNA test result?”
“They said in about a week.”
“And you gave them your own blood sample to compare, right?”
“Of course! All this would be for nothing if I didn’t.”
Both remained silent as they consumed their meal. Robert saw that it was a good time for him to review the note that Robert the Elder had given him. He took it out of one of his pants pocket and unfolded it. He scrutinized the simple note. The part with the elder Robert’s blood on the paper was torn off earlier by Robert so he could have the blood examined for the DNA test.
“Is that the note,” Cindy inquired. Robert simply nodded and passed it to her after she wiped her fingers clean of ketchup and grease.
“Nine dash one, one,” she said with a soured look on her face. The note was in numerical form. “That’s all this guy wrote to you?”
It was Robert’s turn to shrug. “He said he couldn’t tell me exact details. I guess he really meant it.”
While Robert finished up his dinner, Cindy did some scrutinizing of the letter on her own.
“How long did he say for you to keep this note?”
“Four-and-a-half years…I speculate that it’s supposed to remind me to call nine one, one for some future emergency. But the more I think about it, that doesn’t make sense. What am I supposed to do, live my life for the next four-plus years and think, ‘Oh yeah, I better get that note for when I need it!’” Robert thought for several more seconds then shook his head to himself. “That just doesn’t make sense!”
“Four years from now is, what, 2001?”
“Let’s see,” Cindy said under her breath. She counted with her fingers as Robert looked on. “April, May, June, July, August…September. By the months, four-and-a-half years from now would be September, 2001.”
“September being the ninth month!”
“Then that would mean we’re talking about a date, here…September 11, 2001—nine, eleven.”
The young couple looked at each other, lost for any thoughts as to what the warning might mean.