Times Past, 1949
An Alternate Destiny
by Dan Swanson
Can Ted and Doris Knight use what they know about Vic Valor’s encounter with Doctor Doog’s Destructo-Ray to save the life of the Starman of an alternate timeline?
Ted Knight was working in his laboratory three days after the death of Vic Valor. He was trying to take his mind off of recent events by studying the applications of the newly invented transistor technology. It looked like transistors could be substituted for tubes in a lot of applications, and Ted was quite excited about the new technology.
But his mind kept wandering back to recent events. He was particularly fascinated by the convergence of events that lead to Vic Valor’s death. Finally, in exasperation, he tossed aside the transistor training materials he was trying to read. He had just reread the same paragraph three times, and he didn’t remember what it said. His subconscious had something important to say, and he wasn’t going to get any work done until he figured out what it was.
Once again, for perhaps the three-thousandth time, he replayed the recent past in the theater of his mind.
Many years ago in 1945, when she was still his fiancée, Doris Lee had received a message from a future version of herself. (*) Ever since then, she had used the information in that message to change their own future. But it seemed as if there was some greater force at work, because Ted’s death scene, which the future Doris Knight had described to Doris Lee of 1945, had been almost exactly duplicated, although with Vic Valor’s death substituted for Starman’s. Perhaps a hero was destined to die that day, and no efforts by mere humans could change that destiny. Something about that event was important, something Ted hadn’t considered yet. What could it be?
[(*) Editor’s note: See Starman: Times Past, 1948: Give Up the Stars.]
Ted had awakened to find himself trapped in the beam of the Destructo-Ray, a half-mile high and falling fast. He had no memory of how he had come to be there. Fortunately, he had been wearing the Valor battle-suit, and had discovered how to make it fly before he crashed to earth. He used every power of the battle-suit to escape from the ray, but Valor’s powers failed him. It looked like the Destructo-Ray was going to kill him, just as it had killed the other Starman.
But Ted Knight had an advantage that neither Vic Valor nor the other Starman had. After hearing Doris describe the Destructo-Ray, Ted had retired to his laboratory and studied the problem. He had eventually figured out how to use the gravity rod to protect himself from the ray. So when he realized that he was indeed in the Destructo-Ray trap, he already knew how to escape.
But he had inadvertently stumbled upon a solution. Ted had used one of Starman’s powers to escape from that death trap, not one of Valor’s powers. That meant that the other Starman could have saved himself as well, if he had been able to think of the right method in time. Or, Ted realized, if someone else could suggest it to him… in time!
The alternate timeline Doris Knight had communicated with his Doris telepathically through time, somehow using Doris’ gravity rod to help transmit and receive thoughts. Ted had theorized that the extraordinarily strong emotions that the other Doris had felt after the memorial service for the other Ted had made the communication possible. Certainly, the other Starman must have been experiencing extraordinarily strong emotions in the last few seconds of his life. Could Ted use his own gravity rod to send a message to the other Starman during that emotionally charged instant in time? It was worth taking a chance. But it would have to be a short message. The Destructo-Ray had caused the other Starman’s gravity rod to explode only seconds after it had trapped him. Supposedly that explosion had killed the other Starman, but his body had never been found. This gave Ted hope that his idea really had a chance to succeed.
He would need Doris to help as well. Ted would have to contact the other Starman at exactly the right time, and then Doris would have to contact the other Doris, and even if both contacts were successful, there was no guarantee that the other Starman would be saved.
Ted and Doris worked out a plan. Doris was anxious to help. She had been in the mind of the other Doris immediately after the other Ted Knight’s memorial service, and she had experienced the anguish and grief of her other self. If they could do something to help her, Doris was anxious to try.
“Oh, Ted, can we really help her? She was me, and I still feel her pain every day! Nobody should have to lose a husband like that! Without even a body to bury…”
“I don’t know, honey. I’m not even sure her timeline exits any longer. It may have ended the moment you changed our futures. There is a theory that says a new timeline, holding an entire universe, is created every time a decision is made, but we have no way of knowing it it’s true or not. And even if I can reach the other Ted, there’s no guarantee he’ll be able to save himself. He didn’t have much time, and he may not believe it’s really me. So let’s not get our hopes up too high! We’ll give our best effort. But even if we both succeed, we may never know it. It might take really unique conditions to communicate between universes, and we may never experience the same set of conditions again!”
“Oh, Ted, I don’t care! I’ve always felt so helpless whenever I think about the other Doris. Even if we never know, at least I’ll know that we tried!”
“That’s my girl!” Ted gave her a hug. “Are you ready? Let’s do it!”
They had planned their actions carefully, and rehearsed them several times. Ted could see no theoretical reasons why they couldn’t try several times, but his intuition suggested that they would have the best chance of success on the first attempt. Ted was used to trusting his intuition and working out the theory later. His intuition was usually right.
They decided not to attempt to introduce major changes into what they already knew about the history in the other universe. Vic Valor’s death seemed to indicate that some historical events had an inertia of their own, and they didn’t want to fight that inertia. They hoped that they could introduce a very small change that would lead to the desired results.
Ted went first. He needed to contact the other Starman as he was trying to escape from the Destructo-Ray. He had no idea how to do this, but Doris gave him some hints she remembered from the mind of the other Doris. He concentrated on the gravity rod, then tried to replay the death scene in his mind.
Ted visualized the episode as Doris had described it to him. Instead of seeing Vic Valor trapped in the Destructo-Ray, Ted substituted Starman. Nothing happened. He tried again. This time, rather than watching the scene from without, Ted attempted to see it from other Starman’s point of view. Still nothing.
It still didn’t feel real to him. So he tried yet again. This time he tried to live the event. He imagined the air blowing past his face as he flew over the lights of the night-shrouded Opal City. He enjoyed the feeling of power and confidence he always had when using the gravity rod. He was looking to getting home to Doris after a long night. Yes, this felt real. He was reliving an experience he had never actually had. He was the other Starman, and for the moment, at least, he had no worries.
The other Starman was taken by surprise when the ultra-bright Destructo-Ray enveloped him. He had not expected it. But, whispered another part of him, of course he had. He tried frantically to escape, using every power at his disposal. All along, there was a little voice at the back of his mind, screaming at him. He was too frantic to pay attention. Ted despaired; he should have realized just how singleminded he could be, in any of his incarnations. He needed more power to make the other Starman pay attention to him before it was too late.
He realized his gravity rod was about to explode. He had to get as far from the city as possible, so he blasted skyward.
Ted tried to use all the power in his own gravity rod to amplify his mental voice. No, Ted — a gravity lens! A gravity lens can save you! Ted screamed in the mind of the other Starman. Gravity bends light. A gravity lens!” And suddenly, Ted was back in his own body. He had no idea if the other Starman had understood his warning in time to save himself.
After this experience, Ted was incredibly exhausted. He hadn’t realized that trying to project his thoughts into the other Starman’s mind, across time and between universes, would require such mental effort, even when assisted by the gravity rod. He felt incredibly relieved. Even if he never found out the other Starman’s fate, Ted knew that, by his efforts, at least the other Starman had a fighting chance.
Now it was Doris’ turn. This was going to be extra hard on Doris, who would be joining minds with the other Doris, who was still dealing with the terrible pain of grief and loss.
Doris remembered the other Ted Knight’s memorial service, as seen through the eyes of the other Doris. She remembered the other Doris taking up the gravity rod immediately after the service, and straining to contact their younger self. She remembered the entire cross-time conversation with the other Doris. But it was just memories; it wasn’t real, certainly not real enough.
Even memories were intensely painful. Reliving the conversation between the other Doris Knight and the younger Doris Lee caused such emotional pain that she burst into tears. She didn’t want to go through that again. But she had to. And because she had to, she did. This time, she knew, she had to project herself into the memories, and through them into the mind of the other Doris. No matter how it hurt, she had to succeed.
Suddenly, she was the other Doris, watching with horror the other Starman’s demise live on television. She felt the fading hope, as the frantic search for him failed, followed by the pain of making arrangements for the memorial service. The staff would have gladly done this for her, but she needed to do it for herself. She greeted all the mourners personally, thanking them for coming. She was thankful that so many of their friends showed up. Dear Albert Einstein had done his best to comfort her. She cherished his fragile hug. The extraordinary mourners at the service proved what an extraordinary man Ted had been, not that she needed any further proof.
In the middle of the service, inspiration struck. If she could tell a younger Doris about Ted’s death in the Destructo-Ray, maybe it could be prevented. She rushed home to pick up her gravity rod, hoping it would let her talk to the younger Doris and change history.
And so Doris once again lived through the contact between the other Doris Knight and the younger Doris Lee. When the other Doris had broken the connection, Doris started talking. “Doris, don’t hang up! Doris, please listen to me!”
To say the other Doris was startled would be like saying Superman was strong. “Who are you? What do you want?”
“Doris, I’m you — or maybe an alternate you. And I’m the Doris you just warned about Ted’s death, but I’m older than she is. You just saved her Ted’s life — my Ted’s life! I may be able to do the same for you!”
“You’re a little late, aren’t you?” the other Doris said, sarcasm dripping from her mental voice. “My Ted is dead!”
Doris pleaded with her. “Doris, he might not be dead! Please listen to me. He might still be alive, and waiting for you to save him!”
The mind of each Doris was joined with the other. The other Doris recognized Doris and saw in her mind that she was hearing the truth. She had a chance to save her beloved.
“Doris, listen! My Ted found a way to live through the Destructo-Ray. He created a gravity lens and bent the ray around him. He tried to talk to your Ted, just like you talked to me, and tell him what to do. If your Ted had time to create a gravity lens before the gravity rod exploded, he might still be alive! If your Ted threw away his gravity rod, being inside the gravity lens would protect him from the explosion. But without the gravity rod, he’d be trapped inside the lens. He might still be alive, trapped inside a gravity lens. And if he is, you are the only one who can save him!”
The other Doris was stunned. “But it’s been a week! Even if he survived the explosion, could he still be alive?”
Doris responded, “My Ted told me that time is different inside a gravity lens. For your Ted, only a few minutes have passed.”
If he really made a gravity lens in time! If Doris can’t find him, how terrible it would be to have her hopes dashed a second time! Doris added silently to herself. Because their minds were joined, the other Doris heard those thoughts. But they couldn’t quench the hope growing like a bonfire in the other Doris’ mind.
The other Doris tried to reassure her. “Oh, Doris! Please don’t worry! It is so wonderful to have hope! I was sure I could never hope again! Please, tell me what I need to do to help my Ted!”
Doris replied, “That’s the easy part! You just need to fly around downtown and use your gravity rod to find any gravitational anomalies. According to my Ted, the gravity lens would fall slowly once the gravity rod was destroyed. It would be attracted to the nearest building, and probably stick to an outside wall. It’s not likely it reached the ground, because you would probably have heard about it already. And once you’ve found it, you can use your own gravity rod to dispel it!
“I don’t know if you will find him, Doris, and even if you do, my Ted tells me that you might not be able to let us know. But I think you’ll be successful. Go out and save your Ted!”
“I know I’ll be successful,” said the other Doris. “Thanks, other me! You’ve given me back my life and my love! I’ll always owe you for this!”
“Don’t be silly!” replied Doris. “Your warning saved my Ted, so we’re even! Besides, you’re me, so I’m only helping you for selfish reasons!”
The other Doris laughed, her first laugh in over a week. “OK, we’re even!” She broke the connection, but Doris could tell that her other self was already speeding toward downtown. “Good luck, other Doris!”