Guys’ Night Out






©2010 The Angst Guy (

Daria and associated characters are ©2010 MTV Networks



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Synopsis: Three young men search time and space for true love—or the next best thing.


Author's Notes: Lycissa's stories "Second Chances" and "End of the Line" inspired me to drag out this unfinished tale and finish it. The plot is loosely derived from ideas offered by Brother Grimace (in a long-ago Iron Chef, “Who Let the Boy Dogs Out?”), Richard Lobinske (who created John Lane), Roentgen (who once made an interesting suggestion about John Lane and Darius Morgendorffer, from “Darius,” as a team, plus another interesting comment he made on SFMB about Helen Morgendorffer that I would rather not repeat here), and of course CharlieGirl (who started the “Illusions” series of alternate-universe Daria stories). I must also credit National Lampoon author Chris Miller for the inspiration provided by his utterly tasteless and offensive (if quite funny) science-fiction tale, “Remembering Mama” (NL, January 1972). Enjoy.


       This story makes use of a cheery type font called Franciscan, which is available for free here.


Acknowledgements: See “Author’s Notes” above. And thanks to smk for correcting typos. Actually, I shouldn’t blame this one on anyone but me, but for legal reasons I’m afraid I will have to.







Chapter One:

Time Enough for Love



       Given that they were only two teenage outcasts, albeit brainy outcasts, it was amazing they’d even gotten this far. It began with a pivotal night of property damage and grand theft, under the guise of fixing the hole in the back wall of the Good Time Chinese restaurant as a favor to the owner. After removing the object of their desire, the pair struggled through weeks of planning and toil, pretending nothing was going on even when increasingly curious family members intruded on their workspace in the attic of the Morgendorffer home. And now, back from their freshman years at Boston’s finest colleges and with the other Morgendorffers away on Saturday-night errands, the duo could enjoy pure, lovely research to the ends of space and time.


       “Okay, your call,” said Darius Morgendorffer, finishing a few notes as he sat on a folding chair in the attic. A battery-powered lantern hung from a nail in the low rafters above him, throwing light over his olive-green T-shirt, black cargo pants, and military boots. The floor was covered with carpet scraps to muffle the noise of their footsteps. “This will be gate opening number thirteen, or if you want to avoid the superstitious angle, number twelve-A.”


       “Make it thirteen,” said John Lane, finishing a sketch of a strange-looking forest in a swamp. He wore a black tee, charcoal jeans, boots, and a sleeveless red vest with many pockets. He brushed strands of long black hair from his eyes. “We’ve done pretty well so far. We could use a little bad luck to even it out.”


       “Bad luck is exactly what we don’t need,” Darius grumbled, reading through the notebook. He scratched the back of his neck, ruffling his thick auburn hair, then pushed his glasses farther up on his nose. “To recap, since we figured out how to work this gateway thing, we’ve gone to the rock quarry on the southwest side of town, the girls’ athletic locker room at Raft College—which was a complete waste of time since no one was there—then that road outside Nome, Alaska, then Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, then that secret Air Force island in the Pacific—”


       Boooring,” muttered John. “And I shouldn’t have let you talk me into going to Alaska. I nearly died from frostbite.”


       “We were there for only a minute, and we were just testing the system,” said Darius mildly. “And no way was that island boring. You saw all the stuff they had there. There was a missile on a launch pad, right?”


       John closed his eyes, tilted his head to one side, and made snoring noises.


       Darius ignored him. “And then you picked again and we went to that nude beach in Brazil so you could, um, make sketches, then to London to shop around, then right back to London so you could meet that Paki girl again while I went to buy some books, then Baikonur—which was pretty cool, you have to admit.”


       John sighed and nodded, looking into space. “All those rockets. Wow.”


       “That was cool.”


       “It was like something out of a graphic novel. Glad I took pictures.”


       “And then you were so happy you gave up a turn, so I picked that secret base in Nevada that was on Sick, Sad World, where UFOs are supposed to drop off Orion slave girls for the White House—a jaunt that turned out well, all things considered—”


       John rolled his eyes. “Excuse me? They almost killed us, remember? We were ordered to halt and we didn’t? Gunshots? Running away? Remember any of that?”


       “We got away, right? Anyway, then we went back to London so you could see that Paki girl one more time and then you got her family all pissed off, and we’re not going back there anymore because your damn libido is going to get us both killed, and—”


       “Hey! What happened in Nevada, Buckaroo?”


       And then we tried Lawndale during the Pennsylvanian Period to see if we could go through time, and we can and we did, and now it’s your turn again, so stop complaining.” Darius put the notebook aside. “Okay, where—or when—do we want to go now? Your call. Pick someplace that won’t kill us right away.”


       “Like you’re really careful. Okay, let’s go back again to that psychotic fern forest with the giant cockroaches. It smelled like the biggest fart in the world, but it rocked. I want to take some more pictures.”


       “If one of those foot-long cockroaches got into the house and Quinn saw it, she’d drop dead, and then she’d come back from the dead and kill me. Once into the Pennsylvanian Period was enough, thank you.”


       “Man, you’re no fun. Think of their pet potential! People in Florida would buy them just to keep the local roaches away. We could corner the market. Hey, there were supposed to be giant dragonflies way back then too, weren’t there? Barch said something about that once. Let’s get one of those.”


       “Forget it. You saw what else was there when the gate opened.”


       “That alligator-newt thing wasn’t that close to us.”


       “It was twenty feet long and had teeth, John.”


       “Chicken,” said John. “You’re chicken, Morgendorffer. Buk buk buk buk-aww!


       “We can’t do other planets,” said Darius, tapping his nose with his pencil. “Too dangerous.”


       “Ah, c’mon. Titan, man. Let’s go to Titan.”


       “We’ve talked about the effects of opening a door into a three-hundred-degree-below-zero methane atmosphere, I believe.”


       “You are so chicken.”


       “How about another timeline?”


       John raised an eyebrow. “Timeline?”


       “Alternate history world, some other version of Earth, to see if it’s possible. See if they exist.”


       “You mean like what? Like, what if so-and-so did this instead of that, how would it all turn out? What if George Washington had a giant invisible robot to help him during the Civil War, would he beat the Germans?”


       Darius gave John a weary gaze over the top of his owl-eye glasses. “I knew having you around would be a mistake.”


       “Hey, I’m the one that found the gateway, remember? I’m bringing all the good luck here. You need me. What if you opened that gateway and found a whole planet full of naked women? Would you know the proper thing to say or do? I think not.”


       “I could think of a few things to say, I’m sure.”


       John snorted. “On second thought, I bet you could. You sure made out like a five-armed bandit with Elsie Sloane, and you didn’t even need a gateway to get into her gateway, Morgendorffer.”


       Darius sighed. “That was a year ago, and she’d already broken up with you, Lane.”


       “She sure hadn’t told me about any damn breakup.”


       “She didn’t tell either of us a lot of things, like the fact that she wasn’t seventeen at all. She was barely over sixteen.”


       “Yeah,” said John. He leaned back in his chair, laced his fingers behind his head, and grinned. “She was hot, though, wasn’t she? Damn, she was fun! The most cynical, sarcastic, rich little minx ever!”


       Darius nodded, staring into space. He smiled, too. “She was. And everything was going so well till her brother found out and tried to kill us.”


       John’s grin faded. “Yeah. That sucked.”


       “He’s still looking for us, you know.”


       “Bummer.” John looked at Darius. “You know, I don’t know what you liked about Elsie anyway, aside from the obvious. I mean, she had that attitude problem.”


       “Correct me if I’m wrong, but we both thought that was what made her really fun to be with.”


       “She had a mouth on her. She’ll make a great waitress one day.”


       “Or a great porn star.”


       John laughed and held out a hand, palm up. Darius slapped John’s hand, flipped his hand over, and John slapped that. “Word, dude,” said John. “You know, if her brother ever finds us, he’s going to be so freaking—”


       “Pissed,” said a new voice.


       Darius and John were on their feet in an instant, their papers falling to the floor. They looked back at the attic stairs.


       Tom Sloane stood by the folding stairs, hands clasped behind his dark sweater and khaki pants. “I hated to interrupt such a fascinating conversation,” he said in a deadpan voice, “but it was too much to resist.”


       “Whoa,” said John, looking around for an avenue of escape and finding none.


       “How’d you get in?” Darius asked, frowning. “The doors—” He grimaced. “Crap, I didn’t check.”


       “Wouldn’t have mattered,” said Tom. “I have a key.”


       Wha—how’d you get a key to our house?”


       “Your sister Quinn gave it to me.”


       Darius’s brown eyes grew large behind his glasses. “She what?


       Tom shrugged. “Quinn comes by our house often enough, so why can’t I drop by here once in a while?” One hand came from behind his back and flipped a small Polaroid photograph across the attic. It landed near Darius’s feet. Darius bent down to pick it up. A look of outrage spread over his face as he stood, staring at the picture.


       “I trust I was able to capture her good side in that shot,” Tom said.


       What the hell?” Darius abruptly ripped the photo into scraps before John, who was leaning closer, could get a good look at it.


       “Fair is fair,” said Tom blandly.


       “We didn’t take any pictures of Elsie like that!” yelled Darius.


       You didn’t,” said John under his breath.


       “I’ll ignore that last remark,” said Tom, both hands behind his back again. He nodded toward the gateway. “Interesting piece of postmodern art you have there.”


       Darius and John turned and looked at the gateway, too. It was a door-sized loop of gray metal, irregular in outline though close to rectangular in shape, ribbonlike with the flat side facing inward. It was crudely held upright with large C-clamps mounted on wooden beams and blocks. At its highest it was about seven feet tall, averaging four feet wide.


“Yeah, modern art,” said John, looking nervous. “We’re trying to make junk sculptures. Say, Tom, in case you have anything like a gun or something there behind your back, listen: nothing bad happened between Elsie and either of us, I swear.”


       “I’m glad I can trust you on that,” said Tom, taking a casual step closer. “Guns are certainly bad, aren’t they?”


       “Damn it, were you going out with my sister just to get back at me?” Darius yelled.


       “Of course not,” said Tom calmly. “I went out with Quinn because... she was fun. Rather like Elsie was fun for you, I think.”


       Darius’s face flushed with rage. “How long has that been going on?!?”


       “Darius,” warned John. “Chill out, all right? Ix-nay so we don’t get ot-shay.”


       “You called that thing a gateway,” said Tom, nodding at the gray loop. “Is that the thing you took out of the back of that Chinese restaurant?”


       Darius and John looked at each other and fell silent.


       “Quinn said something about that,” Tom went on. “You’ve not been as careful with your secrets as you think you’ve been. She thinks you’re both certifiably insane.” He smirked. “For what it’s worth, Elsie does, too.”


       Tom came to a stop about twenty feet from the other two young men. “Care to show me how it works?” he asked brightly.


       Darius licked his lips and glanced at John. John raised an eyebrow.


       “Sure,” said Darius carefully. “Why not?” Keeping on eye on Tom, he put a hand against the outside of the gray ribbon. “You have to touch it,” he said. “We had to experiment with it for a while to figure out how it works. We thought about mounting it over a doorway, but decided to just stand it up like this and see if it worked. It does. You just have to visualize where you want it to open up, and there it is.”


       John’s anxious expression made it clear he thought telling Tom this information was a very bad idea, but he said nothing. He took a step back to remove himself from the ongoing action and its potential consequences.


       Tom nodded thoughtfully. “And where are you opening it now?” he asked.


       Instead of answering, Darius stepped in front of the gate—and ran through it. The gateway’s interior changed as he did. Tom caught only the briefest glimpse of what lay on the other side, but it was enough. He spun around, pulling his hands from behind his back. Darius appeared out of the air behind him, preparing to tackle Tom. Instead, Tom dodged to one side and jammed a short, dark rod into Darius’s midsection. There was a loud electric snap. Darius cried out, muscles jerking in a huge spasm, then he fell to the floor, twitched once, and lay still.


       Tom again glanced behind him, then looked at John, who had raised his hands in surrender. “Calm down, dude!” said John, his eyes wide. “You want to go out with one of my sisters, be my guest! Penny’s back from Nicaragua but she’s got kind of a bad attitude and is maybe a little nuts, but Summer will go out with anyone if she’s drunk enough. I’ll even introduce you and supply the liquor!”


       “Forget it,” said Tom, looking down at Darius. “I’ve already checked out both your big sisters, and I wouldn’t share bodily fluids with them for a trillion dollars. I’ve got my standards, low as they are. Our buddy Darius should be coming to in a few more seconds. The shock baton is fully recharged now, in case he didn’t get enough of a jolt the first time. Or in case you didn’t.”


       John moved farther away. “You came here to settle out things about Elsie?”


       “It crossed my mind.” Tom pointed to the gateway with the baton. “I also came to see that. Quinn overheard the two of you talking about it and she told me.” He shrugged. “I had to look. Damnable and detestable curiosity, I think Darwin called it.”


       Uuuh,” said Darius. He tried to get up from the floor without immediate success. Oooh.”


       Tom stepped back. “Sorry we got off on the wrong foot at the start,” he said to Darius. He collected Darius’s glasses, made sure they weren’t damaged, and handed them over when Darius rose to his knees—the shock baton at the ready. Looking bleary-eyed, Darius took them and put them on—then glared at his benefactor.


       “‘Tis well an old age is out, and time to begin a new,’” quoted Tom. “John Dryden.”


       “‘Screw you,” snarled Darius, sitting down on a chair to collect himself. “Eric Cartman.”


       “I’m serious,” said Tom. “I think we need to start over again, and dump all this grief about going out with each other’s sisters.”


       “Like hell. That was why you came up here to begin with.”


       “True, but not anymore. Your gateway project wiped the slate clean, especially your impromptu demonstration of its tactical capabilities.”


       Darius rubbed his face instead of answering.


       “Look,” said Tom, “you’re right. I came up to see the two of you for less than fraternal purposes. You were going out with my little sister, who frankly drives me insane with her faux jaded attitude about life on one hand, and this running around with older guys who should know better on the other hand, and I came up here expecting to find Neanderthals and instead discover the Mad Scientists’ Club. We should talk this over like civilized Neanderthals, wouldn’t you agree?”


       John cleared his throat to catch Darius’s attention, then jerked his head toward Tom and waited for a response from his friend. Darius merely glared at Tom.


       “At least tell me how all this started,” Tom put in. “I’ll buy pizza.”


       Darius and John started to protest—but stopped and looked at each other before a word left their lips.


       Tom allowed himself a smirk of triumph.


       They ordered two extra-large Carnivore King Specials by phone from Pizza Place, then ate them in the kitchen as they talked. Grudgingly, Darius told Tom everything, with John pitching in with frequent color commentary.


       “Space and time in your control,” said Tom, reading over Darius’s notes. “This can’t be a human artifact. It has to be alien.”


       “Good thinking, Einstein,” grumbled Darius before chomping into another pizza slice.


       “We were about to test for alternate worlds,” said John. “Nothing big, like Hitler winning, but something small, like... um...”


       “Washington winning the Civil War?” asked Tom pleasantly.


       John frowned. “That was a joke,” he said. “I already knew Washington wasn’t in—”


       “You’re going to try to get to an alternate-history world?” Tom interrupted. “One where, say, Elsie Sloane doesn’t have an older brother?”


       “Oh,” said John, taken aback. He thought quickly. “Well, now that you mention it, we—”


       “—we hadn’t figured that out yet,” Darius growled, glaring at John.


       “Listen,” said Tom snapping his fingers, “I know of a way we can bury the hatchet without planting it in one of us.” He leaned forward. “What we have here is a Nash equilibrium. All we have to do is use the gateway to solve it.”


       Darius stopped in the act of reaching for more pizza. “Wait a minute,” he said, dropping his hands into his lap. “I think I know what you mean, but I’m not sure that’s exactly the right—”


       “Find an alternate universe in which a special girlfriend exists for each of us, a girlfriend that won’t cause the three of us to go after each other.”


       Darius hesitated, on the verge of speaking, then looked down at the tabletop, wrapped in thought.


       “Can we look for these girls in London?” asked John. “That Pakistani girl I met there was really—”


       “Her family swore to Allah that they would kill us if we showed up again,” Darius snapped. “Forget it.”


       “But it could be her in an alternate universe!”


       “Not alternate enough,” said Darius irritably.


       “But what about the baby?” said John.


       After a beat, Darius and Tom turned to look at John with narrow eyes.


       “I’m kidding, swear to God!” said John, sensing trouble. “No, really, I was! Joke, man! Don’t worry about it. Joke! Ha, ha! Get it?”


       Darius shook his head and looked at the pizza. “We could try it, the alternate-universe girlfriend thing. You never know.”


       “No sisters, though,” said Tom. “Not mine, not yours.” He turned to John. “And definitely not yours.


       “I still hate you,” said Darius under his breath to Tom.


       “And I you,” said Tom amiably, “but let’s not let that get in the way of the glory and excitement of scientific discovery. Shake on it?”


       Darius thought it over for a few seconds. John had already thought it over and merely waited for Darius’s reaction. They shook, Darius glaring and Tom smiling. John shook both their hands afterward in relief.


       “Thanks for not killing us,” John told Tom.


       This time,” said Tom, still smiling.


       They went back upstairs to the artifact. “So, we’re looking for girlfriends, right?” said John. “Things came out differently somehow, and now there’s three girls somewhere across time and space hot to make our acquaintance. That’s the ticket, right?”


       “They can’t be sisters to any of us,” Darius added, giving Tom one last glare.


       “You can still go out with Summer,” said John. “She’s thirty-something and I don’t know if she’s been tested for STDs for a while, so you might want to—”


       “Shut up,” said Tom. He turned to Darius. “What do we do to get rolling?”


       “All three of us should touch the gateway with our bare hands,” said Darius, and he did. John and then Tom followed suit. “Now,” Darius added, “just clear your mind and think about the kind of girl you want most to meet. We’re all going to the same time and place, but an alternate world of some sort.” He closed his eyes, inhaled, and concentrated. John and Tom exchanged glances, shrugged, and did the same.


       A minute later, the three of them opened their eyes at the same time. “And now we go through the gateway, one at a time,” said Darius, “and let’s see what we get. Oh, we have to mark where the gate is hovering, too. Put a rock or something on the spot where you stepped out. The gate’s invisible on the other side. That’s not really logical, since you should be able to look back through it, but it must have its own cloaking device or something. Always mark where you came out.”


       “Gotcha,” said Tom.


       “Me first,” said John, and he stepped through the door-sized hole in the metal frame—and disappeared. Tom went next, and then Darius.


       The attic was quiet and empty for a few moments, then the gateway made a series of soft ringing noise like pure musical notes. It had been designed by alien beings that latter-day races called the Architects, aliens who had lived a half-billion years before. They had used it and uncounted other gateways like it to cross time and space and even bridge the abyss into new realities. The Architects were all dead now despite their achievements, even after building the artificially intelligent gateways that responded to their users’ subconscious desires and granted them their every wish—even wishes that should not have been granted in the first place.


       The gateway emitted more soft ringing tones. Only the aliens who had built it would have recognized the sound, which had always puzzled them. By the time the aliens finally discovered what the sound was, it was far too late, and they were extinct to the very last one only two days later.


       The sound that the gateway made was laughter.





Chapter Two:

I Want a Girl, Just Like the Girl...



       The trio stepped out into a warm, still night, in the midst of a grove of maple trees with stars shining high overhead. Street lights were visible through the branches. The grass they stood on had been recently mowed. The trunks of several of the trees had sheets of paper stuck to them, their words illegible in the semidarkness. In the distance they heard young men singing “Light My Fire” in drunken, off-key voices, accompanying Jim Morrison on a very loud stereo system. The air smelled like someone nearby was smoking cannabis.


       “Where the hell is this?” muttered Tom, looking around with wide eyes. Darius snorted in derision, then broke off a few small tree branches to mark the spot where they had stepped out of thin air.


       “Not the Pennsylvanian period, that’s for sure,” John whispered. He reached for a paper thumbtacked to a maple and pulled it free, then squinted to read it. “Whoa,” he said. He held up the mimeographed sheet for the other guys to see. “Woodstock,” he said with a grin. “Someone needs a ride to Woodstock in New York State. It can’t be.”


       “What?” Tom took the mimeographed sheet and stared at it. Astonishment spread over his face. “‘Will share gas money, stash, and munchies,’” he read aloud. “‘Up the revolution!’”


       “This one’s about organizing a sit-in against the Vietnam War, over at the Student Union,” Darius whispered, reading another stapled paper. “We went back in time again. It’s nineteen sixty-nine!”


       “The summer of sixty-nine,” said John, and he began to hum a tune. He pointed to another paper stapled to a tree. “This one’s for typing services,” he said. “Dissertations and other papers. We’re on a college campus—the perfect place to pick up the perfect girlfriends. Is that gateway cool or what?”


       “Which campus are we on?” asked Tom in a low voice. “Where is this?”


       “Can’t tell,” said Darius. “Probably not Alaska, probably not Hawaii, and judging from the non-British spelling, probably not Can—”


       “Shhh!” John motioned violently for silence. He was peering at something through the trees. Darius and Tom moved over to see what John was watching so intently.


       “Bye-bye!” called a young woman not far away. “See you guys tomorrow!”


       A chorus of other feminine voices cried “Bye!” in response. Darius and Tom stopped. They saw a trio of girls in hippie garb waving goodbye to a young man and woman climbing into a light-colored Volkswagen Beetle covered in Crazy Daisies, which clattered to life and sped away from a small parking lot. The lot was now deserted except for the three young women, who watched the VW leave. One of them was taking a deep draw on a very small cigarette. A thin cloud of smoke surrounded them. The source of the pot scent was clear as crystal.


       “Man,” said one of the girls, “I am sooooooo hungry.”


       “I could eat a whole oatmeal pumpkin-seed loaf,” said another. “Maybe two.”


       “I believe I can be of service.” Without warning, John walked out of the grove of trees as Darius and Tom tried to grab him. “Are you ladies in need of a treat?”


       The three girls started when they turned and spotted him, backing away. The one with the little cigarette hid it behind her. John stopped and reached in a back pocket of his jeans, then pulled out a plastic-wrapped package and held it aloft. “Gummi Bears, anyone?” he said.


       “Gummy what?” said one of the girls.


       “Gummi Bears,” said John. “It’s a kind of candy. I had a bag of extra ones left over from an edible art project. They’re delicious.”


       “Oh, man,” groaned Darius. “I don’t believe—”


       “Is there someone back there with you?” asked a girl, looking behind John at the trees.


       “Two friends of mine,” said John easily. “They’re cool.” He shook the plastic bag. “Seriously, try some of these. You want munchies, these are the best.”


       “What are you doing out here?” asked another girl.


       “We were taking a short cut across campus, getting some night air,” said John. “Didn’t mean to bother you.” He lowered the bag. “You want us to go away, hey, we’ll go, no problem.”


       The girls looked at one another, huddled for a moment for a whispered conference, then parted and snickered. “Nah, that’s okay,” said a girl. “C’mon over. You’re not narcs, are you?”


       Narcs? Nah, narcs don’t carry around Gummi Bears, trust me.” John motioned for Darius and Tom to come out of hiding. “Are you planning to go to Woodstock?”


       “I wish,” said one of the girls. She took the candy bag from John as he walked up and looked it over closely. “These have drugs in them?”


       “Afraid not,” said John. He waved at his two companions, walking nervously up behind him. “This is Darius, and that’s Tom. We’re not from around here.”


       “Oh,” said the young woman talking to him, a long-haired brunette with a significant figure. “I’m—” She hesitated, looking off in the direction of the departed Volkswagen, then pointed to herself and her two friends “—Janice Number One. That’s Janice Number Two, and that’s Janice Number Three.” With this, all three girls broke up in a major fit of giggling.


       “This is the wildest hallucination I’ve had yet,” whispered Tom. “Beats the one I had with the hundred-and-five-degree fever in eighth grade, when I thought I was stranded on Venus.”


       “You know how to pick ‘em,” muttered Darius to John as he eyed the girls, bent over and clutching each other to keep from falling down with laughter.


       “I wasn’t the one who picked ‘em,” John muttered back. “The gateway did. Go with the flow.” He grinned and spoke up. “Three Janices. Well, great, Janices One, Two, and Three, let’s get those Gummi Bears out and feed those munchies!”


       The six teenagers settled down. As they talked about trivial things, getting a sense of each other, they slowly began to pair off. The parking lot was fortunately surrounded with picnic tables that provided some privacy and a place to sit.


       In the distance, Jim Morrison’s “Light My Fire” gave way to Jimi Hendrix’s “Are You Experienced?” And trivial things soon gave way to important ones.



* * *



       “The most important thing for me is liberation,” said Janice Number One. “We’ve gotta have equal rights for the sexes. Women are just as good as men. We should get paid the same for the same work, and if a woman is the right person for a job, even if it’s President of the United States, she should get the job.”


       “Sounds good to me,” said Darius. “I’m all for it.” He stole yet another look at the stunning globes of soft firmness pressing against the fabric of the stoned girl’s peasant blouse, hoping he wasn’t being too obvious. She had incredible hips, too. Dead solid perfect.


       Instead of this show of support making the girl happy, however, she looked downcast. “Yeah, right,” she grumbled. “All the boys say that, even J—um, all of them. Then when it’s time to wash dishes or take out the trash, they’re off drinking berry juice again.”


       “Hey, I wash dishes,” said Darius truthfully. His mother made him do it, though he hated it—rather, he had hated it until this very moment. Now he loved it. “I take out the trash, sometimes cook dinner, all of that,” he added. “I swear. I mean, I don’t always like it, but housework is still work, and someone’s got to do it.” That last bit was from his mother. She said that all the time as a way of making everyone else do the housework while she stayed late at the office.


       Janice Number One looked up at Darius with a strange expression. He decided to take a chance. He reached for her hand and took it in his own. “What do you want to do with your life?” he asked.


       She blinked. “No one’s ever asked me that before,” she said. “Are you serious?”


       “As serious as women’s liberation.” He gave an inward smile. Man, that was a great line.


       “Oh.” She squeezed his hand and did not let go. “Um, well, I’d like to change the system, but working from within. I’d like to revolutionize the way the law treats people.”


       “Do legal work, you mean?” He fought down a smile. His mother was a lawyer. How funny.


       “Yeah. Yeah, I was thinking about that.”


       “Well, go for it,” said Darius with real feeling. “Don’t let anyone stand in your way. Stand firm for what you believe in, until and unless logic and experience prove you wrong.”


       Janice Number One moved closer to Darius and leaned toward him. He could look straight down the open front of her peasant blouse. She was definitely not wearing a bra. The view was light years better than magnificent. It bordered on the holy. The sight of her stupendous twin glories, rich with shadowed promise, made his head swim. It would have struck a lesser man speechless.


       “Keep talking,” she said in a deep throaty voice.


       “When the emperor looks naked, the emperor is naked,” Darius went on, thinking about how Janice Number One might look if she were naked. She had a body that great men would die to hold, a body that could launch a thousand and one ships. “The truth and a lie are not ‘sort of the same thing,’” he continued, “and there’s no aspect, no facet, no moment of life that can’t be improved with pizza—and, um, sharing the work as well as the joy with the one you love.”


       Janice Number One’s brown eyes were shining pools. “That was like... so beautiful,” she whispered.


       “No—you are beautiful,” Darius corrected her, his brain as well as other parts of his body on the verge of exploding.


       She stared at him for a moment with an open mouth. “I never met anyone like you,” she said. “Do you have any like weird little quirks, like, oh, yelling about how much you hate your dad or anything?”


       Darius shook his head and said, “Not that I know of.” Funny, he thought; his father Jake always raged about how badly his own father had treated him, but Darius had never felt the same urge. His father’s problems were his own, thank heaven.


       “You really think I should do it?” said Janice Number One tentatively. “Go to law school? I mean, it’s such a big leap, and—”


       “Go for it, tiger,” Darius said. “Stand proudly and proclaim, ‘I am!’”


       Janice Number One regarded Darius in silence for a moment, then reached for the back of his head and pulled him to her. Her mouth tasted like pot smoke, her lips and tongue like Gummi Bears. The kiss awoke a primal hunger in both of them. He reached for her, meaning to put his arms around her, but she guided his hands under her peasant blouse instead, because she had been watching where he had been watching and she knew what he wanted. She wanted it, too. She groaned when he touched her and ran his fiery hands over her tight, aching skin. In a moment, neither of them could stand it any longer.


       It was time to get experienced.



* * *



       “I can’t stand sad stuff,” said Janice Number Two, a thin brunette with dangly earrings. She passed the tiny toke to John. “The war, the government, the hassles, it’s getting to me. People should be free, man. People should...” She sighed. “People should be themselves. Everyone will work things out in their own way, in their own time, I know, but—oh, I don’t know.”


       John took a hit, held his breath and kept himself from coughing, and passed the joint back. “I hate hassles, too,” he said in a squeaky voice. “I go running to get away from things, be by myself a while. It helps me settle down.”


       “I’d like to travel, but not like running and stuff.” Janice Number Two took a deep pull on the jay until it disappeared into a bud of ashes. She blew out a huge cloud of smoke and tossed the remains of the joint into the grass, then leaned back on the picnic table, supporting herself on her hands. “I’d like to go all over the world someday.” Her face fell. “But I can’t. My parents say I have to be responsible, get a job, make money and support myself. I hate even thinking about that. All I care about is—” She then shook her head and looked away.


       “Tell me,” said John. He playfully bumped her jeans-covered thigh. She had a nice, moderate figure—not too much of anything, just enough of everything to be perfect. She looked like the flexible kind, too. He wondered if she was into yoga. “C’mon, tell me. What do you care about?”


       “Nah, you’ll think it’s stupid,” she mumbled.


       “All right,” said John, changing tactics. “I’ll tell you what I like to do. I like art. I paint, sculpt, shoot pictures, do all kinds of things like that. Nothing but art. That’s what I like to do, art.” He bumped her thigh again, letting his hand rest longer than usual against her leg before withdrawing. She had great legs—definitely flexible, probably into yoga like his mom.


       She did not pull away. “You like art?” she said. “Wow! That’s so far out! So do I! I mean, what I like doing best is pottery, but—”


       “Hey, pottery’s cool!” John gave her a warm smile. His mother loved pottery. She loved it to the exclusion of everything else in life, like running a family or having a steady and reliable income, but John had gotten over it long ago. “What kind do you like? What do you like to make?”


       Wha—oh! Oh, I like all kinds of pottery! Mostly I like making jars, ‘cause they’re kinda cool, but I like making about anything, you know? I like red clay best. It feels so good on your hands, you know?”


       “Yeah, I know.” John had used his mother’s pottery wheel numerous times, but he was thinking about how Janice Number Two would feel if she was in his hands. “I love that feeling when you’ve made something new, and it comes out just right. The clay doesn’t collapse, you get just the right feel of it, and it’s just like massage—”


       “You know what I’m afraid of?” said Janice Number Two suddenly. She got off her hands and leaned forward, staring at John with great intensity. “My boyf—um, this guy I know, he’s sometimes my boyfriend and sometimes not, like not right now, he’s not my boyfriend right now or anything, but this guy, he’s into taking pictures, you know? And he says he likes to travel, too, but he goes away sometimes for days or even weeks, and I’m sort of afraid he’ll run off one day, or that any guy I’m with will run off, you know? ‘Cause I had like a lot of almost-boyfriends run off on me ‘cause they can’t stand pottery and stuff. They think it’s stupid, and I’m just afraid that anyone I’m with will up and leave, and... and...” She stopped to wipe her teary eyes.


       John thought hard. His dad was a photographer who was away for months at a time, so the feeling of being abandoned wasn’t unknown to him. On impulse, he quoted something his mother liked to say. “You know, if you try to hold a butterfly tightly in your hand, it will die—right?”


       “Yeah.” Janice Number Two looked up and nodded, waiting.


       “Well,” said John, “you have to let it go anyway. It has to be free. But if that butterfly comes back to you, it’s yours. If it doesn’t, then... it never was yours.”


       “Wow,” said Janice Number Two. After a moment of thought, she said, “You’re like saying I should just let him go, or let whoever I’m with go, and see if they come back?”


       “It saves a lot of heartache later worrying about it,” said John. “You can’t tear off a butterfly’s tiny precious wings. You have to let it be.” He pressed his hand against her thigh once more, but he left his hand there. He thought he could feel her pressing back. “You’re a butterfly, too, you know. Whoever’s with you has to let you go, too. You need to be free like everyone else.”


       Janice Number Two stared at him in surprise. “I never thought of that,” she said. “I never thought of it that way.”


       “It’s true. You’re a butterfly, too. You’re free. You always will be.”


       She nodded slowly, looking John in the face. “So,” she said, “like, if you were my boyfriend, you’d have to like let me go off and do my own thing, whatever it was, and trust that I’d come back?”


       “That’s how it works.” He’d always trusted that his mother would return home whenever she took off on one of her wild jaunts to other continents. And she had always come back, even if he never knew when she’d arrive.


       Janice Number Two turned so she was facing him directly. “You’d wait for me,” she said. “If you were my boyfriend, you’d wait.”


       “I would,” he replied, not thinking about what he was saying. “I would wait for you forever.” He ran his hand up and down her jeans-covered thigh from knee to hip. She looked like she could bend herself up like a pretzel. That would be so hot if she could do that. She looked like the kind who would try anything you suggested. He wondered if she shaved anywhere. He liked girls who didn’t. It looked more natural, more... artistic.


       Silence reigned for several long seconds.


       “It’s hot out here, isn’t it?” she said.


       “What?” John said, not quite following the abrupt change in topic.


       “It’s really hot out here,” Janice Number Two repeated, and she stood up and unbuttoned her jeans and kicked them off into the grass. She wasn’t wearing underwear. She didn’t shave anywhere, either; she was as natural as natural got. She peeled off her top and tossed it away, too, then kicked off her sandals and sat down next to him on the picnic bench in a relaxed pose. “That’s better,” she said. “That feels a lot better. Hey, aren’t you a little hot, too?”


       John thought about that for one quarter of a second. “Yeah,” he said, getting to his feet. “You know, you’re right, I am.” A minute later they sat side-by-side at the picnic table, completely naked, enjoying the warm night and the crickets chirping and the blanket of quiet around them and the feeling of the sides of their thighs pressed against each other.


       John put his arm around Janice Number Two. She leaned close, then turned her face to his. “It’s damn hot out here,” she whispered. She closed her eyes and met his mouth with hers. Her body flexed in an interesting way as she pressed close against him.


       It was damn hot out that night.



* * *



       “The Carpenters?” said Tom, raising an eyebrow at Janice Number Three.


       “Yeah!” the girl giggled mischievously. “It’s this new band, and they’ve got two albums out so far, ‘Offering’ and ‘Ticket to Ride.’ I’ve got ‘em both at home. My parents hate ‘em, ‘cause they sort of hate everything that’s hippie stuff, but I really like ‘em. They’re really cool.”


       Tom smiled and shook his head. This grinning young girl with shoulder-length black hair reminded him a little of his mother, who also loved the Carpenters. His musical tastes were more in the alternative-rock category, but he liked all sorts of music.


       “What, you don’t like them, either?” said Janice Number Three with a mock frown.


       “Oh, no, they have their charms, yes, but—”


       “Are you making fun of me?”


       “Not at all,” said Tom quickly. “I like listening to the Carpenters when I’m trying to relax. If I’ve had a bad day, I need something like that to take the edge off.” He rubbed his mouth, thinking it was time for the zinger. “Plus... well...”


       “Well, what?”


       “Well, it’s romantic. A lot of their stuff is good for, um, you know, romantic stuff.”


       “Yeah.” She smiled and tried not to appear so nervous. “They’ve got only two albums so far, so they don’t have a lot of stuff to listen to.”


       “Um, yes, I know. I’m sure they’ll be around, though. It’s great music.”


       “Thanks.” The girl looked relieved. She kicked her feet in the air, sitting on the edge of the picnic table. “You know,” she said, not looking up, “I’ve kind of got a secret.”


       “A secret,” said Tom, and he appeared to be deep in thought. “Let’s see... you’re a fan of Josef Stalin’s poetry?”


       “No!” She grinned. “He was a Soviet dictator! He didn’t write any poetry. At least, nothing we’d think looked like real poetry.”


       “I don’t think he did, either,” said Tom. “He had trouble finding words that rhymed with ‘gulag.’” He was pleased that she knew who Stalin was. Many teens didn’t.


       She giggled again. “‘Blue fog’ rhymes with ‘gulag’,” she said.


       “You’re cute,” he said, and it struck him as odd that he said it, because he usually never told any girl that she was cute. He liked brainy girls in general, but this brainy one was hitting many of his buttons at once, and hitting them hard. He wondered what her secret was, but was determined not to push it.


       “I am not,” she protested, looking down and hiding her face behind her black bangs.


       “No, you are,” he said. “Tell me that’s not the first time anyone’s told you that.”


       “Um... that is.”


       Tom reached out—gently, carefully—and brushed the black bangs back from her’s face. Even in dim light, he could tell she was blushing furiously. He could feel the heat from her face on his fingers.


       “What do you like?” he asked.


       “What do I like?” she repeated. “What do you mean? Like what?”


       “Oh, like... anything. What would you like to do after you get out of college?”


       She said nothing for a while. “I’d like...” she began hesitantly, “. . . to work at an art museum.”


       “Hmm,” said Tom. He had not expected this. His mother liked doing that, too. “Doing what?”


       “Oh, I dunno. Running things, I guess. I can’t paint worth a damn—oops! Sorry! That slipped out.”


       “‘Damn’ is a perfectly fine word. Use it all you like.”


       “Um, okay. Um, I can’t paint, but I like... I like organizing things. I’m good at that. I like being in charge.” Janice Number Three made a face. “My parents don’t like that too much. They’re so stuck in their ways. They never change.”


       “Parents can be like that,” said Tom in sympathy.


       “Yeah, they can. They always get on me about my grades and tell me I need to go to college to get my M-R-S degree, and that just makes me so... damn mad!”


       Tom leaned close, puzzled. “M-R-S degree?”


       “Like in missus. Get married. They want me to go to college to get married to some rich guy, not have to work anymore. That’s so... I don’t know.”


       Tom laughed in spite of himself. “M-R-S degree,” he said. “That’s not very liberated of them.”


       “Yeah. Yeah! That’s what I think, too!”


       “Wait,” said Tom, rethinking the conversation so far. “Aren’t you already in college? You said—”


       “Oops.” The girl looked mortally embarrassed and bit her lower lip. “No,” she finally said in a low voice. “I’m... I’m still in high school.”


       Whoa. “How old are you?”


       “Oh, I’m, uh... old enough. You know, just... not in college yet. That was my secret.”


       Oh, great, thought Tom. I’d better be careful. Sort of careful. A little. “How did you get out here with those other girls?”


       “Oh... um, I’m supposed to be over at a friend’s house, but I kind of went off on my own.” She looked up. “I wanted to see what college was like, so I took a bus out here to Middleton and... and I’m just looking around. Helen and Amanda said they’d—” Janice Number Three put a hand over her mouth in horror. “Damn it! I don’t think I was supposed to say their real names!”


       “Your secret is safe with me,” said Tom, keeping a straight face. “Cross my heart.”


       “Thanks! Thanks a lot, I appreciate that! Yeah, Helen and Amanda were showing me around. There was this other girl, Willow, going around with us, but she had to leave on account of her boyfriend Coyote said so.”


       “Ah. Not very liberated of him.”


       “Right!” Janice Number Three coughed. “We, um, they, I mean, they were... um, smoking pot.”


       “I could tell,” said Tom. “I could smell it a mile away.”


       “I didn’t smoke any.” She looked up again. “I swear I didn’t.”


       “It wouldn’t matter to me if you had, though.”


       “Good. Uh, thanks. I maybe did, um, take a little puff. But I didn’t inhale.”


       Tom had to smile at that one. “Art museum,” he prompted. “You wanted—”


       “Art museums need people to look after them,” said the girl with the black bangs. Her face took on a curious earnestness as she spoke. “Most people—I don’t want to sound mean, but most people don’t really think about art. It’s like it’s there but not there, you know what I mean? They normally don’t even think about it.”


       Tom nodded, intrigued with where this was going. He knew exactly what she was talking about. He had always wanted to do something to support the arts, too. So had his mother.


       “Well,” the girl said, “I want to change that. I want to find ways for people to think about art, but in good ways, not like, ‘Oh, that’s art, I don’t understand it.’ I want them to think about art and feel something. I want to go to college and learn whatever I have to learn to get people to see art as essential to their lives. Do you know what I mean? They have to—”


       “They have to feel like art is a part of them,” said Tom, surprised at himself.


       “Yes! Yes, exactly! People are so stuck in their ways, and sometimes you have to help them open their eyes and really see!


       Tom pulled back. She was staring at him with the most intense gaze....


       “Yes,” he said, his voice low. “People are too thick headed to notice real art. But you can. You’re smart, funny, and insightful—none of which I could say about everyone else in the world right now.”


       Her eyes widened. “What?”


       He went for broke. “I really like you. You’re smart and you’re funny, you have a great attitude, you do everything on your own terms. You’re, like, from a cooler world.”


       “You’re kidding me,” she said after a long moment.


       “No, I’m not kidding at all! You’re great! Everything you’ve said, that’s exactly right! That’s what needs to be done!”


       “Thank you,” she said softly. She looked to one side, frowning into the distance. “What’s that?”


       Tom listened and immediately identified the sounds. “Uh, I think that’s... that’s Darius and Janice Number One over there—”


       “Darius and Helen,” said Janice Number Three. “Her name’s Helen.”


       “And that’s John and—”


       “—Amanda over there. Oh!” The girl clasped both hands over her mouth, listening and blushing. Tom looked off into the distance and heard the groans and pants and cries in the night.


       “Are they... are they doing something?” Janice Number Three asked. Her voice held both shock and delight.


       “Uh, yes, that seems to be the case.” Tom felt his face burn with embarrassment. “I think they are indeed doing something.” Way to go, guys. Leave me behind in the dust here with


       “They’re having sex?”


       Tom laughed. “I think so, yeah.”


       “So,” said the girl with the black bangs, looking straight at Tom with a wide grin. “Do you wanna do something, too?”


       Tom’s smile froze. Slow down! Slow down! Danger! After a moment, he swallowed. “I... well...”


       “Not sure if you’re ready?”


       “Oh, no, I’m... surprised, that’s all. I mean, if that’s not what you want, then we don’t have to rush into—”


       A mischievous grin broke out on her face. “I’m ready,” she said. She reached for his hand. Her touch was warm and getting warmer by the second. “I’d like to do something with you. Now.”


       Tom’s resistance, which had never been strong to begin with, melted away. The hell with it, he thought. If it was good enough for Elsie... He was turned on like never before—even with Quinn, who hadn’t acted much like a virgin even if she had been, which he gravely doubted.


       “Sounds like a good idea,” he said. “Ready when you are.”


       She reached up and unbuttoned her blouse, grinning all the while. Mesmerized, Tom watched as she undid every button and let the gateway fall open. Her breasts were cradled in small lacey bra cups, each one perfect and inviting.


       “Shouldn’t we have some Carpenters music playing?” he asked with a dry mouth.


       “Maybe some other time,” she said. She got up from the table and walked up, pressing her chest to his. She looked up, her pink lips parted. “Do you know... ‘Close to You’?”


       “Do I ever,” Tom said as he put his arms around her. She tilted her face up to his and met his kiss halfway. Everything came together perfectly after that.







Chapter Three:

Oedipus Wrecks



       The sun rose in the east, gently illuminating and warming the peaceful maple grove. One minute after the sun cleared the top of a three-story dormitory to shine down on the entire park, new travelers began to appear out of thin air at the same place the previous three travelers had appeared the night before. The new travelers were quick to get their bearings.


       Ohmigawd!” cried the fashionable Quinn Morgendorffer, reading the mimeographed flier in her left hand. “We went back in time! We’re in the Age of Aquariums! Everyone’s into hippie beads, peasant blouses, dirty jeans, and unshaved underarms! Ewww!


       An equally fashionable teenage girl with shoulder-length black bangs snatched the page from the redhead’s hands, studying it with a shocked gaze. “I knew those guys were screwing around with something big in your parents’ attic,” said Elsie Sloane, “but I didn’t know it was anything like a time machine!”


       “Great, as if having to hear about the good old days from my parents wasn’t bad enough,” said Penny Lane, a wiry hard-faced woman in her early thirties. “Now I have to live through the damn good old days myself.” She ran a hand through her short red hair as she looked around. She wore combat boots, camouflage cargo pants, and a black wife-beater T-shirt. Her right hand clutched a fully charged shock baton that she had found in the Morgendorffers' attic, next to the loop of metal she and the other young women had walked through.. “Nineteen sixty-nine, huh? Any ideas where we are?”


       “Sixty-nine?” cried a fourth figure with a slurred voice: a giggling thirty-something blonde wearing low-rider jeans and a semi-transparent tank top. She carried a half-empty bottle of Jack Daniels. “Did someone say something about sixty-nine?


       “Shut up, Summer,” said Penny. She turned to Elsie and Quinn. “You girls ready?”


       Quinn and Elsie raised their aluminum baseball bats and nodded.


       “Then let’s go find our wayward brothers and encourage them to come home,” said Penny. She led the way out of the grove with Quinn and Elsie behind her. Summer stayed behind to finish off the Jack Daniels.


       Their scouting mission quickly revealed that they were on a college campus. “I know this place!” cried Quinn abruptly, staring at a distant clock tower. “This is Middleton College, where Mom and Dad went! They took Darius and me here a couple years ago!” Her eyes grew wider. “Oh, no! If this is nineteen sixty-nine, Mom and Dad are still here! Ohmigawd! It’s like that Michael J. Fox movie, except different!”


       “We have to be careful not to disrupt the time stream, or we’ll change the whole future,” said Penny. “I read about this once in a Ray Bradbury story. If one of us steps on a butterfly, Bill Clinton will never become president!”


       Elsie Sloane heard Penny’s remark and frowned, deep in thought. Every chance she got after that when Penny’s back was turned, Elsie smashed a butterfly with her baseball bat. Far behind them, the three girls could hear Summer Lane drunkenly singing a Bryan Adams song (“Those were the best days of my life! Oh, yeah! The summer of sixty-nine!”)


       “I can’t get over it!” Quinn moaned. “We’ve gone back to a decade when women didn’t wear bras or shave their legs! What did God give us razors for, anyway? And Cashman’s Junior Five department won’t be invented for a hundred more years!”


       “I should invest some money in Microsoft, if it’s around right now,” muttered Elsie, smashing another butterfly. “Or maybe just leave it in IBM and that company that makes Viagra later on.”


       “Nixon’s in the White House,” grumbled Penny to herself, peering around some bushes. “The draft is going, Women’s Liberation is getting started, and nobody uses ecologically friendly footwear! And I thought I had a lot to protest about in the nineteen nineties!” She spotted something and motioned to the girls following her. “Over here! Some people are on the ground over there, behind those picnic tables! Let’s see if they saw our brothers!”


       The three young women hurried across a small parking lot to what appeared to be a tangle of arms, legs, and discarded clothing in the picnic area. When they came within twenty feet of the scene, the three caught the full picture of what was before them—and stopped dead in their tracks in shock.


       “Oops!” gasped Quinn, flushing red with embarrassment as she looked down at the naked bodies before her. “Excuse us, hippie people! We didn’t mean to—” Her eyes grew to enormous size and she inhaled sharply “—DARIUS!”


       “TOM!” cried Elsie, looking at another body.


       “John,” said Penny, looking at a third body with a narrow gaze.


       “Shhh,” said Darius groggily, shading his eyes to look up at the speaker. “Not so loud, you’ll wake up Janice.”


       The red-haired Quinn gaped at her older brother in astonishment—then turned to take a look at Janice Number One. When recognition struck, Quinn’s face turned plaster-white. She tried to breathe but her throat had closed up.


       “Quinn?” said Darius, coming almost fully wake. “What the hell are you doing here?” He grabbed for some clothes to cover himself.


       “Who is it, Darius?” mumbled the young brunette lying next to him. She pushed herself up on her elbows and gave her new boyfriend a silly grin. “Morning, Tiger!” she said.


       “Morning, um, Janice,” said Darius, still grabbing at clothes.


       “My name’s really Helen,” said his new girlfriend. “Helen Barksdale.”


       “What?” said Darius. Helen Barksdale? Not possible, that was his mother’s maiden name. He tried to focus on this girlfriend but couldn’t, so he picked up his glasses and put them on before looking at her in the full light of day. It took two seconds for the image to sink in and match up with a very similar image in his recent memory.


       The match-up hit him with a solid 10.0 on the Richter scale. His face turned as white as his sister’s. His mouth fell open and his eyes almost fell out of his head, despite his glasses.


       “Who’s this?” asked Helen, squinting up at Quinn. Unlike Darius, Helen wasn’t bothering to cover herself up. She liked being naked.


       “She’s m-m-my sister!” gasped Darius.


       “Oh, hey!” Clothing-free teenage Helen happily waved at a speechless Quinn. “Glad to meet you! Your brother’s so cool and sweet and like wow, so liberated!” Her gaze wandered over Quinn, and she giggled. “You know,” she added, “if you have some pot with you, we could all go back to my dorm room and get stoned together, and maybe then we could make it a threesome, if you’re into that scene. I’ve always wanted to do that!”


       “J-J-Janice!” Darius cried in horror. “I m-mean Mom—I mean, Helen, you can’t—we can’t—it’s—I’m—you’re—”


       Darius’s stuttering explanation was abruptly cut off when the impact end of Quinn’s aluminum baseball bat slammed into his crotch with the speed of a Japanese bullet train. The wind shot out of his lungs and he instantly curled into a ball, his nervous system overwhelmed by a flood tide of pain-receptor data. Then the bat whipped down a second time and connected with his exposed rear end, unleashing a new flood of pain-receptor data, and then it came down a third time, and then a fourth—


       “Oh, wow,” said Helen in awe as she watched. “Your sister is one freaky chick, Darius.”



* * *



       John heard the ruckus going on and scrambled to his feet, snatching up his discarded jeans. He spotted Quinn whaling the living daylights out of Darius with a shiny baseball bat while Janice Number One looked on in puzzlement. Elsie Sloane was also present, similarly beating her older brother Tom within an inch of his life with another bat while Janice Number Three rubbed her eyes and yawned, sitting up nearby. It took no time at all to figure out what had happened, what was currently happening, and what was probably going to happen if he didn’t leave at once.


       “What’s the hassle?” asked Janice Number Two. She looked up at John in confusion. “Who are those girls?”


       “Crazy uncool downer people on a bad head trip!” he yelled, trying to get one leg in his jeans but not being very successful in his panic to escape. “Grab your clothes and run for it, Janice!”


       “Amanda,” said his new girlfriend. “You can call me Amanda.”


       “That’s my mother’s name,” said John, and then he blinked and stopped trying to put his pants on so he could take a good look at Janice Number Two. She looked familiar, like someone in his mother’s collection of old college photos, the ones taken by people other than his mother, because his hippie mother was in those particular shots.


       He blinked again as reality dawned. “Bummer,” he said, unable to think of anything else worth saying.


       “Well put,” said a hard feminine voice behind him.


       He suspected it would be a bad idea to do so, but he turned around anyway.


       Penny jammed the shock baton straight into his groin and squeezed the trigger.


       I knew that was a bad idea, John thought as his pain receptors exploded.


       It was too late to make any real difference, but someone watching the scene called the police, and five minutes later the biggest campus riot in Middleton’s history was in full swing.



* * *



       “Wow, we’re going to have some great fun!” shrieked Summer as she stood up in the back of the beat-up convertible, her blonde hair whipping in the seventy-mile-an-hour wind. She raised the bottle of Annie Green Springs wine and drained it dry in seconds, then threw it over the side of the car to smash into a speed-limit sign.


       “I’ve got some uppers!” yelled Jake Morgendorffer, in the back seat with her. “And Coyote and Willow have some acid at their place!”


       “Groovy!” said Angier Sloane, on the other side of Summer from Jake. “Hey, let’s all get naked!”


       “Yeah!” yelled Summer, and she tried to pull off her tube top but got her arms and head stuck inside it. The three guys with her didn’t mind, since she wasn’t wearing a bra. They loved liberated women.


       “Full speed ahead!” cried Vincent Lane. He floored the gas and the four of them drove past the spreading riot in the park on Middleton campus and headed off to have the best time anyone had ever had, in this alternate universe or any other.







Author's Notes: In case you are interested, the chapter titles for this story were significant. Time Enough for Love was a 1973 science-fiction novel by Robert Heinlein in which a time traveler ultimately falls in love with his own mother. “I Want a Girl, Just Like the Girl…” is a lyric from the 1911 song by Will Dillon and Harry Von Tilzer, “I Want a Girl,” whose relevant refrain goes: “I want a girl just like the girl that married dear old dad.” Oedipus Rex is the classical Greek play by Sophocles in which—well, you know. Oh, and the bit about George Washington having a giant invisible robot came from a John Belushi routine about alternate histories on Saturday Night Live. Tah-dah!





Original: 07/01/07, modified 11/04/07, 10/21/08, 05/05/10