by Dan Swanson
The Tower of Fate, 1967:
John Garrick saw the whole thing in his mind as if he, like Nabu, was a nigh-omnipotent, godlike being. He could draw back his attention and get the big picture or zoom in and get local details.
The alternate reality:
It started simply enough. Just as the other models were about to tell Zeta Harris about the miracle weight-control drug, the other Whiz Kid knocked on the door of the models’ lounge, then scurried down the hall to the next corner. Zeta opened the door, and no one was there, although she saw John’s back disappearing around the corner. She went back into the lounge.
“Just a prank by one of the boys,” she told her friends. “Say, what’s the matter, Pinya? You’re all white!”
Pinya was shaken by how close she had come to being caught, but she’d had close encounters before. “I just realized we’re going to be late for a really big gig! Gotta run. See you later?” She’d try again tomorrow, although she’d be a little more careful.
“Sure. I’ve gotta head to a client site for some pictures as well! Have a wonderful day!” Whiz Kid had invisibly reentered the room, and when he heard these words, he smiled in satisfaction. It was a job well done, and he started back to the future. This had been easy.
Meanwhile, back in the Tower of Fate:
“See, Doc, it was simple!” said John. “I don’t know what you were worried about.”
Doctor Fate’s voice was even deeper and more disapproving than before. “Nothing about time travel is ever as simple as you think it is, youth. Continue to observe!”
The alternate reality:
Satisfied, Whiz Kid had returned to his own time, but when he checked his scrapbooks, there was no change to the news reports regarding Henrietta King. Nothing had changed. His time-scope showed that all he had done was delay Zeta’s first use of cocaine for a day. Those other two hadn’t given up just because of a small scare.
Using the time-scope to check up some more on them, he discovered the reason. Both of them worked for a ring that smuggled cocaine into New York. They distributed to their model friends, and they made more money from coke than they did from modeling. He would have to find a way to keep them away from Zeta.
He would have to go back in time to an earlier period, but do what? He would expose them and get them arrested. That sounded right. Not only would he save Zeta and Henrietta, he would also be saving all those other models as well. He wanted to avoid a third trip into the past, so he planned this one more carefully.
The Tower of Fate:
John Garrick was proud of his other self for working out the details so quickly, and also of all the good that Whiz Kid would do for the world. And one nice result of Doctor Fate’s intervention was now that he knew in advance of the failure of his first effort, when this movie show was over, he could skip past his failure and go right to the good part.
Nabu saw the sly smile on John’s face. He remembered when, half a million years ago, as a Lord of Order he had been sent to Earth from the planet Cilia and himself had shared the same kind of brash confidence John was filled with now. He regretted how hard the upcoming tableau would hit the youngster, but John had to learn to accept reality. There were some things that were beyond the scope of his powers.
The alternate reality:
In 1964, three years earlier than his first visit to New York, the modeling agency had a poltergeist. The employees sometimes overheard bits of conversation. Pinya and Alexetta kept misplacing things. And unfortunately for them, the other employees started finding those same things, such as a small mirror covered with white dust under a desk, or a razor blade and a plastic straw dropped in a trash bin that was then accidentally knocked over, spewing its contents onto the floor. Also found were little plastic bags the size of a fingertip supposedly incinerated, but the incinerator stopped working, and the repairman had to take it apart.
One of the employees confronted the two drug distributors in private, hoping he could help them without getting them into trouble. But that proved to be a fatal mistake. The police investigated the murder, and the two models were eventually caught and imprisoned, pending trial.
The drug scandal destroyed the modeling agency. Zeta Harris wasn’t discovered for several more years, and she was never as famous in the alternate reality as she had been in the original reality. A few years later, the night that Dr. Henry King, alias the Brain Wave, had met her at a wild, cocaine-fueled orgy, he had met someone else instead. Henrietta was never born.
The Tower of Fate:
“I see,” John mused sadly. “You can let me go now, Doctor Fate. I understand. My good deed helped Zeta stay clean. But it killed that other guy, and Henrietta will never exist in that reality.”
“Yes, John, I believe you do understand. Though the ripple effect of this action would continue to grow in that alternate world, I don’t believe you would benefit from further observation.”
John almost rebelled but then remembered that he had doubted the ancient sage earlier and had been flat wrong. “You’re right, Doctor Fate. Thank you. I’m sorry; I’m pretty shook up. I would have killed two people if you hadn’t stopped me.”
“Your human logic is limited, young Garrick. My own logic tells me otherwise. Still, your instinct is correct — those who attempt to change their pasts usually produce results that they ultimately find less desirable than the original conditions they are attempting to change.”
“Thanks for the save, Doctor Fate!” said Whiz Kid, and the ancient mage that was Nabu bowed his acknowledgement. “I guess I’d better go home now.”
“Please seek the further counsel of Doctor Fate if you have other questions, youth.” With a wave of his hand, John was sent back to his own time in 1988.
After a moment of silence, Doctor Fate seemed to be talking to himself, but it was merely Nabu communicating with Kent Nelson.
“It is a relief that he gained wisdom without requiring full knowledge of the phantom reality,” said Nabu.
“Yeah, it was close,” said Kent. “My God — who would have thought that such a small action would lead to such devastation? Who could have ever guessed that the Flash could be so deadly?”
“The rage the followed the death of his wife at the hands of Brain Wave was fearsome, indeed. Without the restraint of his sanity, there are few who could match his power.”
In the phantom reality, without Zeta Harris to distract him, the Brain Wave had accidentally killed Joan Garrick during the commission of a crime. The Flash had gone on a murderous rampage, killing first Henry King and then all other super-villains he could locate. With his speed, almost a hundred were dead before Superman tried to stop him. What the Flash had done to Superman in that reality was beyond incredible.
“Do you think we should tell Superman that Jay can vibrate his body at the frequency of kryptonite radiation?” Kent asked. “Or should we thank our lucky stars that there’s a way to stop even our most powerful mortal hero if he ever turned on us?”
“It is something of an understatement to call the loss of Superman luck, don’t you think? The true good luck in this case is that we convinced John Garrick to abandon his quixotic quest, and none of those terrible things will happen.”
“After all the time we’ve shared Doctor Fate’s mind, you still don’t understand humans very well, do you?” Kent Nelson was amused. “This quest wasn’t nearly as idealistic as your quixotic label makes it sound. Twenty or so years from now, Henrietta King will become John’s first love, and he won’t give up easily. I’m sure he’s back in his own present, thinking of some other quixotic way to save her.”