Quantum Toast

It’s a strange feeling to shoot someone, to watch them crumple to the ground, all without knowing why you shot them.  Nevertheless, that was where Byron, the world’s worse bodyguard, found himself as he stood watching the Governor on floor.

The noise of someone pounding at the door shook Byron from his pondering - he would have to think of something quick to get out of here.  He holstered his gun as he walked up to the door and unlocked it.  He didn’t remember having come into the room.

Restroom, he corrected himself.  The Governor was slouched against the wall across from the sinks in the men’s restroom.  Or at least he hoped it was the men’s restroom.

Arriving at the door, Byron calmly unlocked and opened it.  One of the Governor’s aides tumbled in. Apparently, he had been trying to batter down the door and Byron had opened it just as the man was in mid-batter.

"The Governor shot himself."  Byron said calmly.

"What?!!" The aide said retrieving his glasses and looking over to the corpse.

"I said the Governor..."

"I heard you the first time!" snapped the aide as he got off the tiled floor.

"I’m going to call an ambulance."

The aide gave Byron a strange look, though everything felt strange just then, but then turned to regard the Governor’s corpse.

Byron left the room.  He decided that his flimsy excuse wasn’t going to last long, especially when the aide noticed that Byron had not called an ambulance.

Maintaining an outward calm, he strode over to some escalators heading down as he tried to figure out what had happened.

One moment he had been waiting outside the restroom for the Governor to take care of business, the next he was standing there with a gun after having shot the man.

This was not going to look good on his resume.

Arriving at the ground floor, he strode over to the street doors and left the hotel.  Approaching the nearest intersection he walked up to a car that was waiting at the light, opened the driver’s side door, pulled out the driver, got in the car, and drove away before the hapless motorist could figure out what was going on.

It was while he was driving that he realized that he had no destination, beyond getting on the nearest highway.  Where could he go?  What could he do?

The police were not going to buy and excuse of "Sorry, I don’t know why I shot him" but he didn’t have anything else.

Thinking back to the moment, he remembered lining up the target, choosing the bodyguard as a convenient tool and executing the Governor.

The really odd thing was that he was certain that these were not his memories.

Before he could ponder this further, Byron found himself being pulled back to the point where he had just shot the Governor.  It was like watching and old movie except he was there.

As before, he turned to go to the door, but there was a strange stickiness or reluctance to move this time.  Byron felt like he was having a headache along with a sense of deja vu.

As he strove to reach the door, the hand holding his gun rose and then, alarmingly, started to turn on his own head.  Byron stopped walking and mentally commanded the hand down.  His hand moved down for a but then started rising again.

Taking a different tact, Byron tried to get his had to drop the gun.  Obediently, the gun fell to the floor, just before his hand would have brought it bear on Byron’s head.  Byron got the distinct impression that his hand was upset with him, but by that time Byron was trying to use it to open the door from the men’s room.

Abruptly, the headache and the sense of deja vu disappeared as Byron opened the door and came face to face with the Governor’s aide.

"The Governor has..."

But the aide cut him off before Byron could finish.

"You!  You’re not supposed to be able to do that!"

The aide glared at him as Byron pushed past the man.

"Get back in there and be arrested!  Or at least shoot yourself."

Byron actually stopped and stared at the man, who looked like he expected Byron to actually do what he told him.  Shaking his head Byron walked down the hall towards the door to the parking lot.

The feeling of deja vu returned as he stepped out into the noonday sun.  He walked briskly to his car and got in.  He sat there for a few moments as if he expected to be interrupted again, but everything remained still.

Byron started the engine and drove out of the parking lot.

* * * * * *

Byron sat in the motel room with his face in his hands.  A news program on the TV droned on about the death of the Governor and that Byron was the only suspect.

Definitely not good for his resume.

Before he could think too much about it, the door to his room burst open and two SWAT team members rushed in, guns at the ready.

Byron dove for the bathroom as one of the cops opened fire, the bullets stitching a line across the back wall.  Desperately, Byron closed the restroom door and dropped.  A moment later another line of bullets tore through the cheap pine door at roughly chest level.

"Hey!  Don’t shoot him - ask him to surrender first!"  One of the SWAT team members yelled at the shooter.

"Ohhh....good idea, get him to surrender, then shoot him!"

"No, no, no!  Get him to surrender, then arrest him!"

A pause.

"Could we shoot him after we arrest him?"

Byron looked around desperately, but the only exit from the tiny bathroom was a window that was too small for him to crawl through.

"Hold your fire!"

A new voice sounded from the room.

"Dammit, I told you we should have shot him!" complained a SWAT team member.

There was a muffled conversation in the other room that Byron, though he tried, could not hear. Then:

"Alright, Mr. Anderson, come out of the bathroom."

Byron thought about this and then asked "Are you going to shoot me?"



Another brief, muffled conversation.  Byron could have sworn he heard a whined "Alright," then "Promise!"

Crawling over to the door, Byron reached up and opened it a crack.  In the other room stood several men all dressed in identical black suits.  There was also a woman, also wearing a black suit.  The two SWAT team members were no where to be seen.

Byron got up and opened the door completely.  He walked into the room.  He noticed that all the people in black were also wearing dark sunglasses.

"Mr. Anderson!"  One of the men drawled.  Byron gave him a confused look.  The man’s colleagues also looked at him.

"Sorry, I just always wanted to say that."

"Mr. Anderson, we have come here to arrange your return."

"But what about the Governor?"

The woman tilted her head to the side and said "We would have thought that you of all people would understand that."

"Ummm...OK, so where are we going?"

"And we can offer you considerably better employment than your previous, custodial job."

Byron looked at the man who had interjected.

"What are you talking about?"

The various members of the group looked at each other.

"You mean you’re not Frank Anderson?"

"No, I’m Byron Holmes!"

The various dark suited people looked at each other and then filed out of the room.

From outside, Byron could hear them talking to the SWAT team members.  There was a sudden exclamation of "We can?!" and then the two SWAT guys came back into the room.  One of them raised his gun and grinned broadly.  Byron gave out a startled "shit!" and dove for the bathroom again.

Sitting in the bathroom, his life flashing before his eyes, Byron wondered how the police had found him so quickly.  He thought back to the point that he had checked in to the hotel for some clue.

Byron pictured the scene in his mind.  Coming up to the desk, reaching in his pocket for his wallet and...he was standing in front of the desk, holding his wallet, just as he had earlier in the day.

"Be with you in a second." the clerk hollered.

Byron looked around, feeling very confused.  The motel manager came up to the desk.

"You want a room?" the manager asked in a somewhat belligerent manner.

"I’m not sure." Byron responded, still trying to figure out what was going on.

The manager crossed his arms.  "Well, make up your mind."

In the background Byron could hear a TV news show blathering on.

"So that’s how..." Byron said softly to himself.

"Made up yer mind?"

Byron looked back at the manager and then headed sideways towards the door without saying anything.

"Frickin tourists" muttered the manager as Byron left.

Byron got back into his car and stared at the dashboard.  While the larger question of what was going on tugged at him, the more pragmatic side of him wondered what he should do.  The police would have his license plate number, other people would  be bound to recognize him like the clerk had, or rather like the clerk would, in fact it might be a good idea to get moving right now.

Byron started the car and pulled out of the motel parking lot.  He needed some time to think.  Driving along the road he saw an iHop and stopped there.  He hoped they didn’t have a TV that anyone was watching.

Byron sat in a booth and stared listlessly out the window.  A waitress came up to his table and asked for his order.

"Just some coffee."

A man, wearing a hat, sat down across from him.  Byron looked up, startled, and stared at him.  The man said.

"I’ll have some pancakes."

"What flavor?" asked the waitress.

"Plain" the man replied.  "And some white toast, oh, and some orange juice."

The waitress walked away.  Byron couldn’t think of anything to say except "You know, that orange juice is really just sugar and water, I mean it’s made from concentrate."

The man glared at Byron.  "Do you have any idea how much trouble you have caused me?"

Byron frowned.  "Have we met?"

"Yes and no."

Byron considered this.

"Well, explain the yes part."

"Remember the men’s restroom in the Hilton down the road?"

Byron looked indignant. "You’re some sort of pervert!"

"You know, the one where you shot the Governor?"

Byron’s face registered relief "Oh, that restroom."

"You’re being hunted by the cops for murder and you’re worried about...about encounters in a restroom?!"

"Yeah well, you can get diseases from that sort of thing."  Byron said sincerely.  Then "What do you have to do with all this?"

"Now he begins to figure it out.  Sheesh, I can see why you are still a bodyguard."

"And I’m not paying for your pancakes."

The man starred at Byron for a while.  "I also ordered toast...and orange juice."

"I told you, that stuff is not orange..."

"Shut up" the man said flatly.

"So who the hell are you?"


Byron cocked his head to one side.  "You know, I ran into some people who were looking for you."


Thinking back to the event, Byron realized that it had not exactly happened.

"Well, actually, no."

"You are a pain."

"How so?"

"You’re messing up all the timelines."

"So they are time jumps after all!"  Byron was excited.  Frank just starred at him.

"Aren’t you worried that I’ll think you’re crazy?"

Byron considered this.  "Well, that’s coming from someone that thinks the iHop serves real orange juice."

"You know, that does make a certain amount of sense...from an insane point of view."

"You haven’t lived through my morning."

"Don’t be too sure of that; but I have some good news: your life won’t be bothering you for much longer."

Frank concentrated on Byron, who felt his hand move to his shoulder holster.  Byron didn’t try to resist.

"You forgot that I dropped it in the restroom."

Frank cursed.  Byron’s hand came back under his control.

"That doesn’t seem like a time travel sort of trick."  Byron observed.

"It isn’t." Frank said, massaging his forehead.

Just then the waitress came back and asked Frank "Did you want white or whole wheat toast?"

"Whole wheat would be healthier."

Frank locked eyes with him.


"Whole wheat."

The fabric of reality seemed to tear.  The waitress left the table.

"What just happened?" Byron asked.

"If things went the way they were supposed to or if something screwed up?"

"Suppose that everything went OK."

"Then I’ll get white toast."

At that moment, the 5 black suited people that Byron had seen in an alternate time line sat down in the booth across from them.

"That’s them."  Byron remarked.

"What?" asked Frank.

"The guys who were looking for you...sort of."

Frank looked across at them.  "Who the hell are you?"

"Agent Davidson." said the closest.

"Agent Albertson." said the next closest.

"Agent Reynolds."

"Agent Porter."

"Agent Atkins." said the woman.

"Do you know these people?" asked Byron.

"No clue" said Frank.

"But you are Frank Anderson" cut in Agent Reynolds.

"No." replied Byron.

"Not you, this guy." said Agent Porter, pointing at Frank.

"Well yes" admitted Frank.

"Mr. Anderson!" drawled Agent Davidson.

"Yeah, yeah, you’ve always wanted to say that." said Byron in a disgusted tone.  Agent Davidson looked taken aback.

While they were talking the waitress had returned with Frank’s pancakes and toast.

"At least it’s whole wheat." commented Byron.

"It looks white to me" said Frank.

"No way, it’s wheat!"



Agent Porter cut in "Look, Mr. Anderson, we’re from the government and we’re here to help you." Agent Atkins elbowed him in the ribs.  "That is, we’re not from the government and we’re not here to help you."  Agent Atkins elbowed him again.  "OK, we’re not from the government but we are here to help you."

Atkins went to elbow Porter again but thought better of it.

"And?" Frank prompted in a disinterested manner as he munched some of his toast.

Byron picked up a slice of toast and took a small bite.  It tasted like whole wheat.

"We can take you home, Mr. Anderson." said Agent Reynolds.

"Back to my wonderful life."  Frank drawled and reached for another slice of toast.  As it so happened, Byron had also grabbed that particular piece.  After a brief struggle, they each were in possession of the same slice, which was disconcerting.

"We can offer you a bit more, Mr. Anderson." said Agent Davidson.

"Yeah, and what’s that?" said Frank.

"We can get you a promotion to custodian first class."

"You were a janitor?" asked Byron as he nibbled his toast.

"Shut up." Frank said flatly to Byron.  Then to the agents "Thanks, but I think I’ll pass on your ‘generous’ offer."

"Do you guys know what caused all this?" Byron directed his question to the agents.

"Yes" said agent Davidson.

"That’s classified." said agent Atkins.

"That is, no." said agent Davidson.

"Well, what didn’t happen?" asked Byron.

"Are you familiar with the storyline from the computer game Quake?" said Davidson.

"No" replied Byron.

"Well, if you had, then you would know that didn’t happen." Davidson finished.  Byron frowned.

"Can you add anything to that?" Byron asked Frank.

"Well, just because it’s not what these clowns want, I’ll tell you."  Byron and the agents leaned in.

"I was cleaning up in the lab one night..." Frank began.

"Where was this?"  Interrupted Byron.

"SUNY Buffalo." answered Frank.

"Don’t you mean MIT or some government lab?" interrupted Byron again.

"No, they turned me down there." Frank snapped.

"For a job as a janitor?" Byron asked incredulously.

Frank glared at Byron "Look, do you want me to tell this or not?"

Byron held up his hands; the agents glanced at each other.

"So I was cleaning up one night and I must have hit a switch or something because some gizmo..." Frank explained.

"The anti-graviton emitter" interrupted agent Reynolds.

"Some gizmo" Frank continued testily "lights up with all kinds of electrical whoojamajoobies and lights and stuff.  The next thing I know I’m in someone else’s body and back a year in time."  Frank picked up a slice of toast and munched it.

"Still tastes like white to me." Frank mumbled.

"You can switch bodies?" Byron asked.

"Yeah" Frank looked smug.

"In fact, he has to." interjected agent Porter.

"Every couple of weeks." said agent Davidson.

"And I thought my life was chaotic." mumbled Byron.  He looked up again "So you are just zipping around, changing bodies, killing people for no reason?"

Frank looked hurt "Not for no reason, I’m just trying to get back."

"To your life as a janitor" Byron supplied.

"Well now that you put it like that it does seem like rather a waste."

"We can help you there." cut in agent Reynolds.

"Yeah, how?" asked Frank.

"That’s classified" said Atkins.

Frank rolled his eyes.

"Is it dangerous?" Frank asked.

"Absolutely not." answered Reynolds.

"Wonderful." said Frank.

"Look, this is all very interesting, but I’m sitting here, being televised on America’s Most Wanted.  Isn’t there anything you can do about that?" Byron asked.

The agents looked at each other.  Frank shifted his eyes about.

"How many days of vacation do I get a year?" said Frank to the agents.

Byron massaged his forehead.  He thought back to how nice the day had started out.  He had woken up in his crappy, mid-town apartment, he had noticed the time and panicked...and he was back.

Byron turned around slowly to confirm that what he had thought had happened, had actually happened, as it happened.  It had happened.

Byron sat back down on his bed and pondered the situation, then picked up the phone.  He called in sick, weathering the tirade from his boss secure in the knowledge that, whatever he had to go through now, it was peanuts compared to what waited for him.

As he hung up the phone Byron reflected that the old maxim was true: while hard work did pay off eventually, being lazy paid off now.  He went back to sleep.

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