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My Pa disappeared somewhere in the wilds of 1975, when I was just fourteen years old. He was the Ambassador to 1975, but back home in 1898, in New Jerusalem, Utah, they all thought he was Ambassador to France. When he disappeared, Mama and I came back through the triple-bolted door that led from our apt in 1975 to our horsebarn in 1898. We returned to the dusty streets of New Jerusalem, and I had to keep on reminding myself that I was supposed to have been in France, and "polly-voo" for my chums, and tell whoppers about the Eiffel Tower and the fancy bread and the snails and frogs we'd eaten.

I was born in New Jerusalem, and raised there till I was ten. Then, one summer's day, my Pa sat me on his knee and told me we'd be going away for a while, that he had a new job.

"But what about the store?" I said, scandalised. My Pa's wonderful store, the only General Store in town not run by the Saints, was my second home. I'd spent my whole life crawling and then walking on the dusty wooden floors, checking stock and unpacking crates with waybills from exotic places like Salt Lake City and even San Francisco.

Pa looked uncomfortable. "Mr Johnstone is buying it."

My mouth dropped. James H Johnstone was as dandified a city-slicker as you'd ever hope to meet. He'd blown into town on the weekly Zephyr Speedball, and skinny Tommy Benson had hauled his three huge steamer trunks to the cowboy hotel. He'd tipped Tommy two dollars, in Wells-Fargo notes, and later, in the empty lot behind the smithy, all the kids in New Jerusalem had gathered 'round Tommy to goggle at the small fortune in queer, never-seen bills.

"Pa, no!" I said, without thinking. I knew that if my chums ordered their fathers around like that, they'd get a whipping, but my Pa almost never whipped me.

He smiled, and stretched his thick moustache across his face. "James, I know you love the store, but it's already been decided. Once you've been to France, you'll see that it has wonders that beat anything that store can deliver."

"Nothing's better than the store," I said.

He laughed and rumpled my hair. "Don't be so sure, son. There are more things in heaven and earth then are dreamed of in your philosophy." It was one of his sayings, from Shakespeare, who he'd studied back east, before I was born. It meant that the discussion was closed.

I decided to withhold judgement until I saw France, but still couldn't shake the feeling that my Pa was going soft in the head. Mr Johnstone wasn't fit to run an apple-cart. He was short and skinny and soft, not like my Pa, who, as far as I was concerned, was the biggest, strongest man in the whole world. I loved my Pa.


Well, when we packed our bags and Pa went into the horsebarn to hitch up our team, I figured we'd be taking a short trip out to the train station. All my chums were waiting there to see us off, and I'd promised my best pal Oly Sweynsdatter that I'd give him my coonskin cap to wear until we came back. But instead, Pa rode us to the edge of town, where the road went to rutted trail and salt flats, and there was Mr James H Johnstone, in his own fancy-pants trap. Pa and me moved our luggage into Johnstone's trap and got inside with Mama and hunkered down so, you couldn't see us from outside. Mama said, "You just hush up now, James. There's parts of this trip that we couldn't tell you about before we left, but you're going to have to stay quiet and hold onto your questions until we get to where we're going."

I nearly said, "To where we're going?" but I didn't, because Mama had never looked so serious in all my born days. So I spent an hour hunkered down in there, listening to the clatter of the wheels and trying to guess where we were going. When I heard the trap stop and a set of wooden doors close, all my guesses dried up and blew away, because I couldn't think of anywhere we would've heard those sounds out in the desert.

So imagine my surprise when I stood up and found us right in our very own horsebarn, having made a circle around town and back to where we'd started from! Mama held a finger up to her lips and then took Mr Johnstone's soft, girlish hand as he helped her down from the trap.

My Pa and Mr Johnstone started shifting one of the piles of hay-bales that stacked to the rafters, until they had revealed a triple-bolted door that looked new and sturdy, fresh-sawn edges still bright and yellow, and not the weathered brown of the rest of the barn.

Pa took a key ring out of his vest pocket and unlocked the door, then swung it open. Each of us shouldered our bags and walked through, in eerie silence, into a pitch black room.

Pa reached out and pulled the door shut, then there was a sharp click and we were in 1975.


1975 was a queer sight. Our apartment was a lozenge of silver, spoked into the hub of a floating null-gee doughnut. Pa did something fancy with his hands and the walls went transparent, and I swear, I dropped to the floor and hugged the nubby rubber tiles for all I was worth. My eyes were telling me that we were hundreds of yards off the ground, and while I'd jumped from the rafters of the horsebarn into the hay countless times, I suddenly discovered that I was afraid of heights.

After that first dizzying glimpse of 1975, I kept my eyes squeezed shut and held on for all I was worth. After a minute or two of this, my stomach told me that I wasn't falling, and I couldn't hear any rushing wind, any birdcalls, anything except Mama and Pa laughing, fit to bust. I opened one eye and snuck a peek. My folks were laughing so hard they had to hold onto each other to stay up, and they were leaning against thin air, Pa's back pressed up against nothing at all.

Cautiously, I got to my feet and walked over to the edge. I extended one finger and it bumped up against an invisible wall, cool and smooth as glass in winter.

"James," said my Pa, smiling so wide that his thick moustache stretched all the way across his face, "welcome to 1975."


Pa's ambassadorial mission meant that he often spent long weeks away from home, teleporting in only for Sunday dinner, the stink of aliens and distant worlds clinging to him even after he washed up. The last Sunday dinner I had with him, Mama had made mashed potatoes and corn bread and sausage gravy and turkey, spending the whole day with the wood-fired cooker back in 1898 (actually, it was 1901 by then, but I always thought of it as 1898). She'd moved the cooker into the horsebarn after a week of wrestling with the gadgets we had in our 1975 kitchen, and when Pa had warned her that the smoke was going to raise questions in New Jerusalem, she explained that she was going to run some flexible exhaust hose through the door into 75 and into our apt's air-scrubber. Pa had shook his head and smiled at her, and every Sunday, she dragged the exhaust pipe through the door.

That night, Pa sat down and said grace, and he was in his shirtsleeves with his suspenders down, and it almost felt like home — almost felt like a million Sunday dinners eaten by gaslight, with a sweaty pitcher of lemonade in the middle of the table, and seasonal wildflowers, and a stinky cheroot for Pa afterwards as he tipped his chair back and rested one hand on his belly, as if he couldn't believe how much Mama had managed to stuff him this time.

"How are your studies coming, James?" he asked me, when the robutler had finished clearing the plates and clattered away into its nook.

"Very well, sir. We're starting calculus now." Truth be told, I hated calculus, hated Isaac Newton and asymptotes and the whole smelly business. Even with the viral learning shots, it was like swimming in molasses for me.

"Calculus! Well, well, well —" this was one of Pa's catch-all phrases, like "How about that?" or "What do you know?" "Well, well, well. I can't believe how much they stuff into kids' heads here."

"Yes, sir. There's an awful lot left to learn, yet." We did a subject every two weeks. So far, I'd done French, Molecular and Cellular Biology, Physics and Astrophysics, Esperanto, Cantonese and Mandarin, and an alien language whose name translated as "Standard." I'd been exempted from History, of course, along with the other kids there from the past — the Chinese girl from the Ming Dynasty, the Roman boy, and the Injun kid from South America.

Pa laughed around his cigar and crossed his legs. His shoes were so big, they looked like canoes. "There surely is, son. There surely is. And how are you doing with your classmates? Any tussles your teacher will want to talk to me about?"

"No, sir! We're friendly as all get-out, even the girls." The kids in 75 didn't even notice what they were doing in school. They just sat down at their workstations and waited to have their brains filled with whatever was going on, and left at three, and never complained about something being too hard or too dull.

"That's good to hear, son. You've always been a good boy. Tell you what: you bring home a good report this Christmas, and I'll take you to see Saturn's rings on vacation."

Mama shot him a look then, but he pretended he didn't see it. He stubbed out his cigar, hitched up his suspenders, and put on his tailcoat and tophat and ambassadorial sash and picked up his leather case.

"Good night, son. Good night, Ulla. I'll see you on Wednesday," he said, and stepped into the teleporter.

That was the last time I ever saw him.


"He died from bad snails?" Oly Sweynsdatter said to me, yet again.

I balled up a fist and stuck it under his nose. "For the last time, yes. Ask me again, and I'll feed you this."

I'd been back for a month, and in all that time, Oly had skittered around me like a shy pony, always nearby but afraid to talk to me. Finally, I'd grabbed him and shook him and told him not to be such a ninny, tell me what was on his mind. He wanted to know how my Pa had died, over in France. I told him the reason that Mama and Mr Johnstone and the man from the embassy had worked out together. Now, I regretted it. I couldn't get him to shut up.

"Sorry, all right, sorry!" he said, taking a step backwards. We were in the orchard behind the schoolyard, chucking rotten apples at the tree-trunks to watch them splatter. "Want to hear something?"

"Sure," I said.

"Tommy Benson's sweet on Marta Helprin. It's disgusting. They hold hands — in church! None of the fellows will talk to him."

I didn't see what the big deal was. Back in 75, we had had a two-week session on sexual reproduction, like all the other subjects. Most of the kids there were already in couples, sneaking off to low-gee bounceataria and renting private cubes with untraceable cash-tokens. I'd even tussled with one girl, Katebe M'Buto, another exchange student, from United Africa Trading Sphere. I'd picked her up at her apt, and her father had even shaken my hand — they grow up fast in UATS. Of course, I'd never let on to my folks. Pa would've broken an axle. "That's pretty disgusting, all right," I said, unconvincingly.

"You want to go down to the river? I told Amos and Luke that I'd meet them after lunch."

I didn't much feel like it, but I didn't know what else to do. We walked down to the swimming hole, where some boys were already naked, swimming and horsing around. I found myself looking away, conscious of their nudity in a way that I'd never been before — all the boys in town swam there, all summer long.

I turned my back to the group and stripped down, then ran into the water as quick as I could.

I paddled around a little, half-heartedly, and then I found myself being pulled under! My sinuses filled with water and I yelled a stream of bubbles, and closed my mouth on a swallow of water. Strong hands pulled at my ankles. I kicked out as hard as I could, and connected with someone's head. The hands loosened and I shot up like a cork, sputtering and coughing. I ran for the shore, and saw one of the Allen brothers surfacing, rubbing at his head and laughing. The four Allen boys lived on a ranch with their parents out by the salt flats, and we only saw them when they came into town with their folks for supplies. I'd never liked them, but now, I saw red.

"You pig!" I shouted at him. "You stupid, rotten, pig! What the heck do you think you were doing?"

The Allens kept on laughing — I used to know some of their names, but in the time I'd been in 75, they'd grown as indistinguishable as twins: big, hard boys with their heads shaved for lice. They pointed at me and laughed. I scooped up a flat stone from the shore and threw it at the head of the one who'd pulled me under, as hard as I could.

Lucky for him — and me! — I was too angry to aim properly, and the stone hit him in the shoulder, knocking him backwards. He shouted at me — it was like a roar of a wild animal — and the four brothers charged.

Oly appeared at my side. "Run!" he shouted.

I was too angry. I balled my fists and stood my ground. The first one shot out of the water towards me, and punched me so hard in the guts, I saw stars. I fell to the ground, gasping. I looked up at a forest of strong, bare legs, and knew they'd surrounded me.

"It's the Sheriff!" Oly shouted. The legs disappeared. I struggled to my knees.

Oly collapsed to the ground beside me, laughing. "Did you see the way they ran?
The Sheriff never comes down to the river!"

"Thanks," I said, around gasps, and started to get dressed.

"Any time," he said. "Now, let's do some swimming."

"No, I gotta go home and help Mama," I lied. I didn't feel like going skinny dipping anymore — maybe never again.

Oly gave me a queer look. "OK. See you."


I went straight home, pelting down the road as fast as I could, not even looking where I was going. I let the door slam behind me and took the stairs two at a time up to the attic ladder, then bolted the trap-door shut behind me and sat in the dark, with my knees in my chest.

Down below, Mama let out a half-hearted, "James? Is that you?" like she always did since I came back home. I ignored her, like always, and she stopped worrying about it, like always.

Pa's last trip had been to the Dalai Lama's court in 1975. The man from the embassy said that he was going to talk with the monks about a "white-paper that the two embassies were jointly presenting on the effect of mimetic ambassadorships on the reincarnated soul." It was all nonsense to me. He'd never arrived. The teleporter said that it had put him down gentle as you like on the floor of the Lama's floating castle over the Caspian Sea, but the monks never saw him.

And that was that.

It had been a month since our return. I'd ventured out into town and looked up my chums, and found them so full of gossip that didn't mean anything to me; so absorbed with games that seemed childish to me; so strange, that I'd retreated home. I'd prowled around our house like a burglar at first, and when I came back to the attic, all the numbness that had enveloped me since the man from the State Department had teleported into our apt melted away and I started bawling.

The attic had always been Pa's domain. He'd come up here with whatever crackpot invention he'd ordered this month out of a catalog or one of the expensive, foreign journals he subscribed to, and tinker and swear and hit his thumbnail and tear his pants on a stray dingus and smoke his cheroots and have a heck of a time.

The muffled tread of his feet and the distant cursing while I sat in the parlour downstairs had been the homiest sound I knew. Mama and I would lock eyes every time a particularly forceful round of hollers shook down, and Mama would get a little smile and her eyes would crinkle, and I felt like we were sharing a secret.

Now, the attic was my private domain: there was the elixir shelf, full of patent medicines, hair-tonics, and soothing syrups. There was the bookcase full of wild theories and fantastic adventure stories. There were the crates full of dangerous, coal-fired machines — an automatic clothes-washing-machine, a cherry-pitter, and other devices whose nature I couldn't even guess at. None of them had ever worked, but I liked to run my hands over them, feel the smooth steel of their parts, disassemble and reassemble them. Back in 75, I'd once tried to take the robutler apart, just to get a look at how it was all put together, but it was a lost cause — I couldn't even figure out how to get the cover off.

I walked through the cool dark, the only light coming from the grimy attic window, and fondled each piece. I picked up an oilcan and started oiling the joints and bearings and axles of each machine in turn. Pa would have wanted to know that everything was in good working order.



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