The Stacks


by Ian McIntire

Aaron Yeoman Blinovitch

Born April 1st, 1890

Died May 9th, 1937

Born June 17th, 1984

He will be with us always.

He will be with us again.

It's often been claimed that sentience is the result of a universe trying to comprehend itself. We are born from the universe, into the universe.

It's an intriguing notion. The idea that we're all simply tiny parts of a whole, a whole that is curious, inquisitive. Our lives interact with others, still groping almost blindly for understanding. It's a slow process, perhaps, but one that will ultimately uncover whatever massive scheme is behind the universe itself.

But I digress.

- Excerpt from the J'grenna religious text "The book of the circle," written by the prophet Bellin Vosh.

But I digress.

If sentience is a response by the universe to its own complexity, then isn't it possible that time is a tool created by the universe so that we, as sentiences, can make better attempts at deciphering it?

In many respects, time is nothing more than an invention of a sentient mind. It is consciousness' response to this strange universe into which we've been thrust, out of which we've been born. We take for granted phrases like "Time flies when you're having fun."

It returns to the old metaphysical argument about the tree falling in the forest. Can sound exist without someone there to hear it?

- Excerpt from Dr. Inertia Countant's report of Patient 19's slow slide into schizophrenia. The above passage was written on the wall of 19's room.

It returns to the old metaphysical argument about the tree falling in the forest. Can sound exist without someone there to hear it?

Can time pass with no one to realize that it's passing? Now, as with the tree question, one's gut instinct is often to respond "Of course it can. What kind of a stupid question is that?" But think about it.

Time is relative. Subjective. It can't exist without *something* there to perceive it.

This, I feel, is the key to free motion through time. I can't explain it. But given enough time, I'm sure we can work it out. The universe wants us to work it out.

-Excerpt from a lecture given by Vegan temporal physicist 923GUI

The order of fricasseed fungus arrived steaming at Arenblovit's table. He glanced down at the plate, already knowing in what arrangement the sticks of mushroom would fall.

The taste of the dish, the best of all possible meals in the best of all possible restaurants in the best of all possible worlds, echoed on his tongue already. Perfect recall. Even of the future.

Whenever he went around in this life, he always made sure to keep an envelope of surety around this spot. He dug a utensil into the section of fungus that he knew would cool quickest, and raised the triangular array of prongs to his mandibles.

The difference hit him like a boulder. This was not his fungus. The chaos had managed to claim it. Granted, it wasn't bad, but it was demonstrably not what he'd expected.

The chaos, for all its disruption, for all the not quite normal taste in his mouth, was invigorating. A rush, adrenaline-analogue flooding through his circulation nodes.

Chaos always meant that he was nearby, and that was always exciting.

Arenblovit looked around the room, smelling for the first time the scent of a second dish of fungus. A petite red-haired human was busy slicing the entree into minuscule pieces.

Mel. And where Mel was, he couldn't be far behind....

"Doctor," Arenblovit said, without turning around. "Join me for a drink?"

He pushed his pseudopodia against the floor, spinning his chair 180 degrees. Arenblovit, silent partner in the Retachi Admin Corporation, and predictor of every event in Retachi space, came face to face with a human - well, humanoform, at any rate - with a mass of curly blond hair. He was wearing a yellow and green striped trousers, and a dark blue cloak. The Doctor.


"Nice to see you again. I like the cloak a lot better than the jacket."

Sarah had known her share of tense silences, but the atmosphere inside the Gajidtra cell was filled with enough enmity to sour milk. Remarkably though, most of it seemed to be coming from the Doctor. He sat in one corner of the room, still in his shirtsleeves, his jacket having been confiscated by the guards. They'd become frustrated with his attempts to empty his pockets. His arms were crossed in front of him, his whitish-grey hair framing a scowl. His brows were furrowed, to the point where they looked like they were straining to reach each other across the chasm of the top of his nose. His steely eyes gave Sarah a cursory glance, and then returned to glaring at the other occupant.

The other man in the cell was sitting in a similar posture, but to Sarah's eye, he seemed slightly more relaxed. He was snappily dressed, wearing what looked like the Hetveci version of a black tuxedo. A slightly receding hairline was matched by a neat greying beard. The man's eyes were sharp, quickly meeting hers, and he nodded a greeting.

"Hello," she said to the man, then turning to the Doctor. "Doctor, what's going on? I thought you were going to talk to the Gajidtra Premier?"

"So that's where you were going," commented the other man. "No wonder the Kevetti Order was so unforgiving when they found you with that bomb."

"Who are you, then?" she asked.

"That, Sarah, is one of the most evil men in the universe, and one of my oldest enemies..."

The subject of the Doctor's description tutted. "I see your aptitude for hyperbole is still as well-honed as your bomb-defusal skills." He smiled, close-lipped at her and said, "I'm afraid it doesn't translate very well into your language, but you may refer to me as the Master."

Sarah looked askance at him. "And how should I address you? Because I'm not about to call you 'Master.'"

He glared at her with murder in his eyes, but it quickly mellowed, and she realized it was only mock indignation. "'Hey, you' will suffice should the need arise. And what, may I ask, is your name?"

"Sarah Jane Smith," she replied, and sat down next to the Doctor. "You didn't answer my question, Doctor. What happened?"

The next twenty minutes or so were filled mostly with exposition, interrupted only by the Doctor's frequent accusations that the Master was lying.

After their stories were finished, (and the Doctor had cast a final aspersion on his veracity,) the Master finally dignified the Doctor's comments with a response. "Despite your continued insistence of viewing our aims as diametrically opposite, the simple fact is that I have no interest in seeing Gajidtra and Hetveci go to war. Now, I suggest that we temporarily put aside our differences, and work together to escape this cell."

The Doctor snorted. "Even if I accept what you're saying is true, you must have some ulterior motive for preserving the peace. Some grander scheme that relies on these civilizations not being at war with each other."

"Possibly. But isn't that beside the point?" The Time Lords' eyes locked.

"How do I know that I can trust you?" the Doctor asked.

"You don't. Trust implies faith, which in turn implies a lack of knowledge. How do you know you can trust me? You'll have to trust me."

A pause. "No."

The Master sighed. The tense silence returned for almost a quarter of an hour. It was finally broken when Sarah asked, "Do they plan on feeding us in here?"

"I'm sorry, Sarah. I had an apple or two in my coat, but I'm afraid they confiscated it." As the Doctor finished his apology, the Master began searching his own pockets. He began to withdraw something, and the Doctor thrust himself in front of Sarah, thinking it was a weapon.

It was a Hershey's Milk Chocolate Bar. With almonds.

"There you are, Ms Smith. Enjoy it with my compliments."

The Doctor snatched the confection from the Master's hand, inspected it, unwrapped it, sniffed it, and generally put it through the third degree before finally, grudgingly, handing it to Sarah.

"Thank you," she said. "Where did you get it from?"

"'From where did you get it?'" corrected the Doctor.

"It was left over from my trip to Paradise. You remember that, don't you, Doctor?"

"No, I don't. It must be in my future."

"No, Miss, Grant was with you. Do give my respects to her and her new husband when next you see them, by the way."

"I'm sorry, but you must be mistaken. I've never been to a planet called Paradise."

"But.... Ah, of course!" the Master exclaimed. "The Blinovitch Limitation Effect. There was a future version of yourself there, so your memory of the encounter is now with him."

"Blinovitch Limitation Effect?" asked Sarah. "What's that when it's at home?"

"The Blinovitch Limitation Effect," the Doctor began, "is... a theory... which states..." he trailed off, his gaze fixed on the door of the cell, as if waiting for someone to enter and interrupt him.

No one did.

"Oh, for pity's sake, man!" the Master shouted. He turned to Sarah and began to explain. "The Blinovitch Limitation Effect is a relatively simple way of explaining why interfering with one's own timeline is near impossible, even under ideal conditions."

Sarah waited a moment for him to continue. "That's it?"

"Did you want more?"

"Well, it doesn't really explain anything, does it? It just says that there is an explanation, it doesn't tell me what that explanation is."

The Doctor leaned forward, about to say something, when the cell door burst open. Two wiry Gajidtra guards quickly ran into the cell, grabbed the Doctor and dragged him out.

"Where are they taking him?"

The Master shrugged. Silence.

"So... what is the explanation?"

"I did say 'relatively simple.' That still means it's beyond the grasp of mere humans."

"Blinovitch himself was a human, wasn't he? Try me."

"Ah well, why not?" The Master grinned, pulling a piece of string from inside his pocket. "Imagine this string as the timeline of an object. Any object; an atom, a planet, a person, whatever." He looped the string, so that it made a rough circle, with the ends of the string trailing out tangentially. "Now, this is what happens when the timestreams cross: all of the timeline between the two occurrences is now resting on the instant in which the two time frames meet. You have a finite amount of time being forced to occupy a moment which was only meant to contain an infinitesimal point of now."

"So what happens?"

"Oh, a colossal release of energy, at the very least. If you're really unlucky, it can cause permanent ruptures in the vortex."

"How much energy?"

"There's a formula, but you'd claim it was nonsense. It's proportional to the mass of the object and the amount of time separating its iterations."

"Hang on, though. You said this effect worked on people, too."


"Why? Everyone's cells are constantly dying and being replaced. The only ones that are around for your entire life are brain cells, and they're not likely to come into contact with one another. An organism from one point on her timeline is comprised of entirely different matter than the same organism from a different point."

"True. But it still works. This, you see, is where the lines between time and matter and thought begin to become blurred. A meeting between two iterations of a person will have the same effect as a meeting between two iterations of an inanimate objects, despite the fact that the person is comprised of different matter. It doesn't work with nonsentient organisms, however, which tends to suggest a link between consciousness and time-travel. It implies that sentience is as much of a fundamental part of the universe as matter is - a basic tenet of Time Lord temporal theory. Quite an impressive derivation for a mere human, working alone in a reading room of the British Museum."

"Hang on a moment. If this Blinovitch was such a genius when it came to time-travel, why have I never heard of him before?"

"Blinovitch's work was almost entirely theory. He never worked out exactly how to build a working time machine, only made predictions about the nature of time travel that could only be proven using a working time machine. He's forgotten among humans, simply because there's no way of testing his hypotheses. It's only among time-travelling species that he holds any clout. He only published a single volume, Temporal Mechanics, and it's impossible to find a copy on Earth, despite the fact that it's an integral part of every Time Lord's library. It was quite sad, what happened to him in the end."

"What happened to him?"

"He derived - and solved - the Agathon equations."

"And those are...?"

"Equations that give a mathematical explanation for the necessity of entropy in our universe. The Time Lords themselves had only managed to derive the equations. It was thought that an ability to solve them would, in essence, give the solver almost complete control over the nature of reality itself. The knowledge to unscramble an egg, or turn smoke, ash, and ambient heat into a tree."

"So Blinovitch is - what, some kind of god now?"

He grinned. "Hardly. It didn't quite work out the way he'd planned. The very knowledge of how to reverse entropy did something to his biology. It made him start aging backwards. His memory didn't quite do the same - he still remembered his life in the same order, with one exception: his knowledge of time began to gradually deteriorate. But the strange thing was, it deteriorated at the same rate that he originally learned it. He solved the Agathon equations seven months after he derived them, and he forgot the derivations seven months after that. In the end, he reverse-aged to death. He became nothing more than a collection of cells, with nothing to hold him together."

Sarah thought for a while. There was a hole or two in the Master's story. "Wait a moment. You say his knowledge of all this temporal physics left him at the same rate that he originally gained it, right?"


"And that this deterioration started when he solved the Agathon equations?"


"Then he must have solved the equations only for a moment before they started to drain his knowledge of them."


"So how can you be sure that he solved them? You would have had to have an inside knowledge of his mind at the very instant that the equations were solved. But you couldn't have had that, because then you'd be reverse aging as well."

The Master only grinned in response.

"Do I know you, sir?" the Doctor asked.

"Not exactly. We've never met this time." Confusion blossomed across the Doctor's face. "Sorry. You know how difficult it is to jam temporal concepts into language. I'm Arenblovit... along with millions of others, but just Arenblovit right now. Have a seat, Doctor. Can I get you something to eat, drink?"

"You're not making sense." Despite his apprehension, the Doctor sat down at the table.

"I don't know what you call it. Maybe... reincarnation, being unstuck in time, whatever. The upshot is, I've millions of lives, all over the universe, all over history, all in an endless cycle. This is the only life where I get a really good memory of them all. While I'm Arenblovit, I get perfect recall of all the other times I've been around as Arenblovit, and brief flashes of my other lives. At least, as far as I know."

Filipino Protectorate Center for Repatriation, 5002


"So how long is this supposed to take?"

Cloth rustled. A shrug? "Dunno. Her memory might be coming back right about now, but it'll be completely gone in an hour or two. Motor skills take longer; maybe a day or so."

"Think she remembers her own name yet?"

Ann. Ann Belling-Vetz.


"Is this the one?"

"No. Next one down."


"Urf. Ah, damn it."

"Should we set her down?"

"No. I've got -"

The world turned upside down briefly.

"Oh, good one."

"Shut up -" A quick fizz of air. "- now, let's get her in here."

The world rocked briefly, mimicking a day at sea.


Another quick fizz of air. A pause.

"I dunno. Seems like a lot of trouble to go through."

"Reiner, how else are we supposed to get her back in her cell? It's not like she can walk there on her own."

"No, I mean the whole process. Mental reconstruction? I mean, yeah, she was working for the Alliance, sure, but I thought it was only as an engineer."

"Doesn't matter. How many Centris troops do you think are dead because of what she thought up?"

"Well, it's not what she thought up, it's who she thought it up for. Wouldn't it be better for her to correct some of that damage by having her think up things for Centris, rather than just assigning her menial labor-" Cardboard rustled, as if a tag were being consulted. "- in janitorial services?"

"Shut up."

A new voice, now. Commanding, stern. Familiar. "Excuse me, but would you two gentlepersons please take your discussion elsewhere? I have precious little time remaining, and I'd like to spend it getting my thoughts in order, not listening to a pair of halfwits debate the nature of wartime research."


"'Wartime research'?"

"Easy, Clark."

"This bastard kills my entire family, and he calls it wartime research?"

"Think about where he is, and where we are."


"Right. See you in a few hours, old man. Good luck with your thoughts."


Softer now. "Hey, Clark."


"Did you ever think that maybe we were ... repatriated?"

"Don't be stupid."

"All I'm saying is...."

"He's right, Mr Reiner." The third voice again. "When you're reprogrammed, your new identity is designed not to be able to seriously consider the possibility that you were ever reprogrammed. However, if you find yourself doing nothing but dismissing such musings outright, well then..." Silence. Quick footsteps. A long sigh, followed by what sounded like muttering.

Her memory was beginning to return. In bits and pieces, to be sure, but it was nonetheless returning. Unfortunately, it was just as obvious that her mind was being rewritten. She knew that the person that she'd been her entire life had only an hour or two of existence left to it.

She rolled her head to the side, desperate to prove Clark and Reiner wrong, to regain her motor control before the end came. She managed to pry her eyelids about three millimeters apart before the exertion became too much for her.

He was sitting in a cell across from her. She knew him, knew him intimately. They'd worked, side by side, on the Zygma Project, pushing back the boundary of mankind's knowledge of time. She recalled his odd affection for one of the prototypes. But why couldn't she remember his name? In the space where his name should have been, she found only his betrayal.

Betrayal. She mentally snorted. In retrospect, she wished she'd had the guts to "betray" the alliance, as he had. They'd turned out to be nothing but a bunch of sadists, megalomaniacs, bureaucrats and hate-mongers, in the end - but they were intelligent, too, and her fear of their reprisal had cowed her.

Of course, he was now about to undergo the same procedure she'd been put through, both of them victims of a victorious Centris. Fat lot of good his betrayal had done him in the end.

As she watched through blurry eyes, a brownish shape walked down the row of cells, stopping in front of the collaborator's and blocking her sight of him.

"Oh, very nice," he said bitterly. "A last chance to confess my crimes? That's more than you gave the young doctor over there."

"That's right." The visitor's voice had a hint of amusement. "'Repatriate, my son. Go and think no more.'" The visitor chuckled. His joke apparently failed to garner a response from the collaborator. "I'm hurt. Don't you recognize me?"

Realization dawned. "You!"

"Yes. Me."

"How did you...? What -" The prisoner paused a moment to regain his composure. "Why are you here?"

"Isn't it obvious? I came for you."

"Who sent you?"


"Who sent you? I can call in my favour, and make you answer, you know."

"You could, but the only answer I'd give you would be 'Me.' I love loopholes, don't you?"

Ann could feel the neural restructuring beginning to take effect. Memories shifted across her mind's eye with agonizing slowness. Her life didn't so much flash before her eyes as much as it oozed.

But it wasn't just her life. For every memory of temporal physicist Ann Belling-Vetz that she had, she also had one of Erin Blentov, janitor of the Denver Public Library. And there were more, as well. She remembered BNOVZ, William Novice, Arenblovit, Fuller, and others, a number gradually approaching infinity.

But the Blentov memories were growing, pushing everything else first to the periphery, and then to oblivion. Like a virus, monopolizing her mind's run-time until it was her mind.

"Go away."


"Leave. You seem to have no reason for being here, other than to socialize with a condemned man. I'm not in the mood. Leave."

"You're right. Perhaps I should come to the point."

Even through blurred eyes, the golden key that the visitor held out was crystal clear to Ann.

"And what exactly is that?"

"Freedom. A chance to escape repatriation. I can't guarantee it'll work perfectly, given your - well, let's be charitable, and call it 'singular' - physiology, but it's certainly more chance than you've got now."

The prisoner reached out, his hand piercing the forcefield as though it wasn't really there. His fingers curled around one end of the key, but paused before they made contact. "What's the price?"

Laughter. "Price? No charge. On the house, as it were. Just the knowledge that you owe me. Your life, your memory, a favour, whatever. You owe me."


"What do I do?"

"Take it. And then let the doctors take you. In a week or so, you'll remember enough to allow you to escape under your own power."

The ice that had been Ann Belling-Vetz was cracking, releasing a torrent of memories from her other lives, Patient 19, Bellin Vosh, from everyone. For an instant, she remembered everything. She recognized the collaborator. She recognized the visitor. She saw their entire future and past spilling out of them like unshielded radiation, contaminating everything it touched. She called out, desperate to warn them of what they were fated to do, what they were destined to become.

"Yaaaaargh..." The prisoner looked over for a moment, responding to the grunt Dr. Belling-Vetz had disgorged. Seeing nothing, he returned his attention to the key.

The flood was gone, leaving behind nothing but a desert known as Erin Blentov.

His hand closed around the key.

"I've been responsible for the destruction of thousands of species, just by giving them knowledge of time travel. More often than not, they rewrite themselves out of history," Arenblovit said, pouring the Doctor a goblet of water.

The research unit wheeled itself into the Central chamber, its organic components quaking in fear and anticipation. Its feedback loops kept trying to force tranquilizers upon it, but the action only managed to give it a tolerance for the drugs in question.

The Species had no term for it, but somehow the research unit kept finding its databanks calling up the phrase "Red Queen's Race."

It was a pointless datum. It must be deleted.

The innermost door opened, and for the first time - probably in decades - the optical circuits of a unit beheld the Species' supreme leader. The central cog, the brain, the soul of the entire Species and its war machine. The concepts were almost indivisible from each other.

The Species had almost no concept of independent thought. Indeed, had the leader any inkling of the information flooding through the research unit's central processing lobe, the research unit would have been marked for immediate culling and recycling.

For a moment, the unit could have sworn it detected tectonic shifts occurring in the upper crust. Impossible. One of the criteria by which the Species' adopted homeworld had been selected was geologic stability.

The "quake" actually turned out to be the voice of the leader.

"Research Unit BNOVZ." The unit shuddered. It, like all of the Species, hated to be reminded of its individuality, slim as that individuality may have been. The leader continued. "You are here to present your analysis of the destruction of the homeworld."

BNOVZ had a long and distinguished history regarding the time travel experiments. It had been instrumental in the development of the single viable "time machine" the Species had produced, and was responsible for the new "time corridor" technology as well.

A scale tipped in the mind of the unit: fear of punishment due to silence vs. fear of punishment due to speaking out of turn. It made sure to be as concise as possible. "The temporal signature discovered in the homeworld's vicinity shortly before its destruction corresponds roughly with the known schematics of the retrieval mission's objective. It is likely that the destruction of the homeworld was an inadvertent effect of the mission itself."

The leader barely paused. "The reparation is obvious. We will again time-travel back to the mission's origin and alter history so that the homeworld was not destroyed."

The research unit didn't have gears running in its brain, but if it had, they would have been grinding furiously. No. No. No. No. The leader is incorrect. The Species is incorrect. The Species cannot be incorrect. Yes. Yes. Conflict.

Conflict is good. Conflict is the mechanism by which the universe removes impurifications. Conflict is the medium by which the lesser species may be destroyed by the Species. Conflict is the pursuit of purity.

This conflict will destroy the Species. The Species cannot be allowed to be destroyed. This conflict cannot be allowed. The Species is in error. The leader is in error.


"No? Your research is all that is needed. You will be deleted." The leader activated BNOVZ's destruction protocol. The rewriting of history would proceed apace.

The unit died again, and the cycle restarted itself.

"I've been what you might call gods...."

Once - just once - one of the eagles met his gaze. It was difficult to read its expression, given that it had bits of his liver dangling from its beak, but he was sure he saw a flash of remorse, guilt, and apology.

"Don't worry about it," he said. "You're just doing your job, and I've been in much worse places than this."

"Hell, I think they may even have a statue of me on Gallifrey. I can't quite remember. It's been quite a few iterations since I've been back there."

"Why are you telling me all this? And why should I believe you." The Doctor asked, ignoring the goblet he'd been handed.

Arenblovit shrugged. "I don't know. I thought it might be nice to just sit and talk for a while. We do that so rarely. Or if we do, one or both of us doesn't know the whole story. And as for why you should believe me - well, why not? Benefit of the doubt, and all that. You do owe me your life a few times over." He chuckled under his breath. "Oh, I forgot. You don't know about that yet. I joined you once, chucked aside my life and jumped on board your TARDIS. But never mind about that. I just wanted to say hello... and ask a favour."

By rights, Favorites's World should have looked brand new. Metal fittings should have gleamed, paint should have still been drying, and specks of dust should have looked ridiculously out of place.

Reality, however, rarely meshes with expectation.

In the twenty years since the terraformers had finally declared the planet habitable for Class I sentients, settlements had only ever sprung up around the one and only spaceport. Although the city had a name, Francistown, no one ever used it. The city was Favourite's World. Everything else was just extra space.

After the ribbon-cutting, Favorites' World had quickly developed a distinctive patina, spread fairly evenly across the surface. The coating was a tasteful melange of dirt, blood, sweat, filth, grime, sewage and sludge, with a careful measure of the native dust thrown in. It was a coating that could easily be scrubbed - or at least scraped - off, but what was the point? Within an hour, the planet would have re-applied a new layer of the material, like a cut scabbing over.

Life was drawn to Favourites' World. Every conceivable species of sentient was represented here. A Kalekani with a crippling sugar addiction shivered in a gutter, forced into a life of destitution and petty theft. A privacy-obsessed Number, its holographic shield turning the air surrounding it jet black, stood on a streetcorner... presumably. A Traxi vomited on the plate of food it had just been served, and waited for the digestive acids to make the thing stop squirming.

It wasn't just sentients that Favorite's World attracted: a menagerie of animals prowled the streets, desperately clinging to ecological niches filled to the bursting point. The law of the jungle bumped elbows with the law of the city. "Kill or be killed," and "Stay out of my way and I'll stay out of yours." The city writhed with life.

Traffic flowed like liquid through the streets, oblivious to traffic laws (if, indeed, there had ever been any) or the proximity of other vehicles.

Bizarre edifices dotted the city landscape. One of the most likely stories told that in the early days of the planet, a local entrepreneur had commissioned an architect to design amazing buildings that would dazzle the eye, befuddle the intellect, and pack in the tourists by the droves. It hadn't worked. At least, it didn't work until someone - and the stories are unclear on who - decided to make up histories about the buildings. No one wanted to see "Captured Sunlight" by N. Architect commissioned by A. Businessman, but they'd line up around the block to see the "Fort Dauntless," site of General Ronson's last stand against the Sontarans in the Great War of '27. Or '28. Or '29. Or whenever.

But whoever it had been that began inventing the stories, it didn't help the entrepreneur, who went bankrupt shortly thereafter. Of course, it must be noted that most people who tell this story then go on to claim to be the businessman in question, and ask for forty more cents in exchange for telling the story of how they came to be in such a deplorable state. The real businessman also sells maps to where he's hidden his secret horde of wealth.

Whatever the origin may be, the practical upshot is that the planet lies in a zone of "Choose Your Own History." Even the planet's own government can't be sure of its pedigree. There was apparently at least one revolution in the planet's past. The victors ("All hail the benevolent New Order!"), appalled by the revisionist tactics employed by their predecessors ("May their cruel and sadistic eyeballs be reverse-fed to their bastard children!"), junked their lying history books altogether, and wrote their own versions.

No one knows why the planet's named "Favorites World." No one's even sure of the spelling.

The only thing to be sure of is that the planet's 21 years, 7 months and 11 days old. That's the figure that the scientists arrive at every year when they take the readings during the annual Quadricentennial celebration.

The cafe was built in the shadow of the invisible floating fortress of Favourites World. Bevel looked out the window, searching the sky for any sign of it. He mused what a truly beautiful world this was, as the line shuffled forward. His reverie was broken by an inquisitive cafe worker wanting to know what his order was.

Cousin Bevel took the coffee back to his seat, and watched as the worker doused the counter with clear liquid from a spray bottle. The liquid was holy water, designed to bless the counter and make the gods of commerce smile upon the establishment. It was also a modified version of the virus used by the first terraformers, a mild cleaning solution, just plain water, and a pheremonic concoction designed to make customers want to spend more.

Beautiful planet, really.

The recruit was waiting at Bevel's table. He lifted his head, watching as the Cousin set the drinks down in front of him. Bloodshot eyes scanned the Cousin, quickly registering disappointment. A scraping sound came from inside the prize's throat, as he cleared it of a week's worth of phlegm. The recruit, William Novice, croaked, "Where's my bagel? You promised a bagel."

Bevel suppressed a grin. "They're preparing it now. I thought that we could fulfil your end of the bargain while we waited."

"You wanna talk? Fine, talk." Novice had promised that he would listen, but he seemed to be more intent on infusing his tea with as much milk and sugar as possible. Bevel took a chance that the homeless man would be able to split his attention. He was supposed to be an avatar of the most brilliant temporal physicist ever, after all. Bevel started his pitch.

"Do you know what predestination is?" Novice shrugged in a vaguely affirmative manner. "It's the idea that no matter what we do, we were always destined to do only one thing. To follow a single path, laid out by a force beyond our control, something capricious, powerful, and uncaring. It eats free will, and shits history."

Novice was looking up now, giving Bevel his attention, or at least giving his tea a chance to cool. "History has its claws sunk deep in the universe, and when it's done, there won't be any universe. Even if free will isn't an illusion, even if there's an infinity of possibilities open every instant... well, isn't that even worse? Every instant that passes annihilates a multitude of possibilities, leaving just one, infinitesimally narrow trail of history in its wake. Either way, all the infinite possibilities will be gone, and there'll be nothing left but a single, monolithic slab of history."

Good. A mind like Blinovitch's should have been scared to death. Or at least angry as hell. Both could be useful. Now, to let the recruit know that there was more to him than he realized.

"We know you, Aaron Blinovitch." Novice looked confused, and Bevel sensed Novice's discomfort growing. "You understand time. Somehow, parts of your consciousness have been scattered all through the universe, all through time. But that doesn't diminish your abilities. It doesn't decrease your value.

"I represent an organization dedicated to retaking the universe's free will. Dedicated to tearing down the tyranny of history, to removing the shackles of linear time.

"We want you, Bill. We want you as a member of Faction Paradox. Join us, and we can offer you anything. We can change history so that you'll have never had to spend decades living on the streets of Favorite's World. Anything, Bill. Hell, forget anything. Everything. Every possibility you've ever wanted to explore is yours. Help us destroy the hold that time has on the universe. Help us corrupt this unjust regime, and bring it to its knees."

Novice sat back in his seat, carefully treading a line between interest and caution. "And how exactly do you intend to go about your masterplan?"

"Simple, really. Like our name suggests, paradox. Change history. Make it mutable. That's the one thing about history: it only likes to do things one way. Rewrite it, and it gets confused. Confuse it enough, and it has nervous breakdown..."

Novice interrupted at this point, bent almost double, gasping for air. Bevel thought he was crying, at first, before he realized that the man was laughing.

"What?" Bevel asked as a waitress brought Novice his bagel. "What's so funny?"

"You and your whole attempt to 'destroy reality.' It's hilarious! Listen, you're laboring under a huge misconception. Time isn't static. It isn't a thing. It's a process, and it's never finished with any instant, not even ones that have passed. You're pathetic. You're like a kid cutting labels off mattresses, and waiting for the police to show up."

"I don't understand," said Bevel, not recognizing the analogy.

Novice sighed. "No, you don't, do you? Look time is huge. Huge and alive. Think of it like a forest. You can cut down a tree here and there, but it won't change the shape of the forest. All you do is make room for more saplings. Even if you clearcut the thing, the surrounding environment still expects a forest there. And you've gotta keep mowing the lawn, or else the forest comes back eventually. Ecological reclamation. Time is patient, and sneaky. The more you rail against it, the more power you really give it in the end." He picked up the bagel. "Of course, that's just one way of looking at it. From another perspective, you could say that the timeline doesn't need the help you're offering. It's already more fucked up than your little club could ever possibly make it. Thanks for the bagel, kid." Novice walked out the door.

Cousin Bevel just sat there, until the waitress returned with the cheque.

It would have been nice to claim that this was exactly how the Faction had wanted the conversation to end; that they'd deliberately sent their most idealistic Cousin to recruit Novice. It would have been nice to claim that having Novice decline was all a part of one of the Godmother's Byzantine plots.

That would have been a bald-faced lie, though.

Sending Bevel had been an act of desperation. They'd tried to recruit Novice at least a hundred other times, receiving nothing but the same reaction each time; scorn and laughter, sometimes even pity. Undaunted, they kept sending different Cousins, with different approaches, back to different points in Novice's history. Or, more frequently, the same point in his history.

Of course, that should have been impossible, according to the Blinovitch Limitation Effect, but the Faction had obviously slept through class that day. It was a moot point, in any case, given their failure to recruit him. One particularly snide Little Brother had suggested that Blinovitch had suspended the Effect in this case, in favour of handling the situation personally.

But that, of course, was impossible too.

The night had worn on. Mel had finally gotten a little bored, so the Doctor gave her the TARDIS key and told her to run along home. The winterberry juice flowed freely, and the Doctor and Arenblovit attempted to top each other with their stories of infinite universes. The primary sun began to rise, and the Doctor decided it was time to get going. He shrugged into his cloak, and headed for the door. As he passed the frame, he turned back to Arenblovit, and asked, "Didn't you say that you wanted a favour?"

Arenblovit nodded. "It's just .... If you see a man standing by himself on a bridge, talk to him."

The Doctor nodded, waved, turned and left.

The man stands alone on the bridge. The cold does not envelop him, does not whirl about him like a banshee, plunging its icy fingers into his heart like knives. It does not laugh at his flimsy coat, does not eagerly look forward to his frozen death.

It does none of these things, because the cold doesn't exist. The man knows that what he considers "the cold" is just a slightly less warm region of space than that which he occupies. His body's heat is simply trickling into the immediate area, attempting to reach an equilibrium. The principle is simple enough, and there's no reason to romanticize it.

"Heat death." The words are so melodramatic. There's nothing hot about it, really. Just a spreading of energy so thin that there's no way to get anything useful out of it. Nothing particularly hot about it. And as for death... death is just the absence of life, just like cold is the absence of heat.

His daughter isn't dead. She simply isn't alive anymore. The river below beckons.

"Hello. Mind if I join you?" The man turns his head, looking towards the bank of the river. Another man is standing there, looking right back at the man.

The newcomer is short, with piercing eyes and dark unruly hair jammed under a white fedora. He wears a cream-coloured suit that almost matches the fedora, and a blue silk shirt. A black umbrella with a red question-mark handle is clutched in one of his hands, while his other curls around the railing. The newcomer carefully makes his way toward the man, and despite his friendly tone, the man thinks that answering "no" won't change the newcomer's mind. He shrugs, instead.

The newcomer joins him, staying carefully out of grasping range. "Nice view."

"Hmmmph." The man waits for the newcomer to ask him why, to beg him to step away from the ledge, to tell him that whatever is wrong, it isn't worth killing himself over it.

The newcomer does nothing of the sort. Eventually, the silence becomes a little too much for the man to take.

"It's strange," he says. "Somehow I know that even if I do this, it's not going to help any. It won't end anything. It'll just send me on to my next lifetime, and let the cycle of pain start all over again."

"It may seem like that," the newcomer concedes.

"Why? Why does it have to be like this? Is it like this for everyone? Is this neverending cycle something that everyone goes through, and I'm the only one who realizes it? Or am I utterly unique?"


"What's your name?"

"People usually call me the Doctor."

"Are you a religious man... Doctor?"

The Doctor smiles. "I used to be an agnostic, but now I'm not so sure. I am, however, willing to say, 'I have faith that the universe is not malicious.' Whatever its faults, whatever its shortcomings, the universe isn't working against us." The Doctor leans forward. "Maybe it's meaningless, maybe there's no fundamental force designing it all, creating the universe, but all that means is that there's nothing trying to harm us. A universe with a god means that there's some design behind it all, and a universe without a god means that we have the freedom to create our own design. You might say that it's a responsibility, but I'd say that it's an option. I don't know how you got here. I don't know what's keeping you in this cycle of endless death and life and chaos, but given enough time, something will free you. By design, or by accident, something will set you free from this cycle."

The man snorts a bit. "That's not religion. It's philosophy."

The Doctor looks back. "That's not an argument. It's semantics." He climbs under the railing, standing on the bridge's walkway once again. "I'm going to get a drink. Something to warm me up, perhaps. If you'd care to join me...?" He lets the offer hang in the air, and walks back the way he came.

The man looks down towards the water, watching the waves, and imagining the molecules in his mind's eye. Tiny spherical objects, moving roughly independently, pressing against each other, forming brief groups, and being torn away from them.

Buckminster Fuller ducks under the bridge's railing, and goes to get a drink.

This is an unauthorised and unofficial fansite. Faction Paradox is created and owned by Lawrence Miles and licensed to Random Static Publishing and Magic Bullet Productions. All characters and situations depicted herein are copyright their respective owners and/or creators, whose moral and legal rights we cherish and uphold.