"What do you mean, no room at the inn?!" I demanded.
"Just like for Mary and Joseph," Deftshire's innkeeper replied. "We're full up. Didn't you hear? There's a jousting tournament coming in two days. They always attract big crowds. Lots of rough-and-tumble action. Even if the jousters are those no-good Norman French."
I grunted. "All right, how much for just a meal?"
"Dining hall's pretty close to full right now, but I can squeeze you in. Ha'penny for the both of you."
"All right," I said, handing over two of my last farthings. At least Windboy might get to chat with some of the friends he'd made here, and even gruel and ale beat ration cakes and river water.
The dining hall was packed full but, sadly, most of the faces there were new even to Windboy. As we sat and slurped up our mediocre porridge, I glanced around and noticed some new posters tacked to the walls. The first bore a crude — very crude — drawing of a knight on horseback, holding his lance pointed at the sky. The lance standing straight up kind of reminded me of my radio detector's antenna, whenever we'd lofted it into the sky.
The next poster showed two even-more-badly-drawn knights on horseback, charging at each other. Each knight had his lance pointed levelly at his opponent. I imagined how terrifying it would look to be facing down one of those knights. I'd be looking end-on at the point of his lance. Maybe that's why the artist chose to draw these knights from the side; if he'd drawn them from the front, the lance would appear foreshortened to a tiny disk.
Hmmm . . .
Viewed from the side, its cross-section would be its full length.
Viewed end-on, its cross-section would be almost nothing.
If the lance were a radio antenna . . .
"A dipole!" I jumped up onto my feet and shouted. "A dipole antenna!"
Half of the other patrons stopped eating, and turned to looked at me like I was nuts.
I looked straight at Windboy, a fiery excitement in my eyes. "We can make the radio receiver directional! With a dipole antenna, we can tell where the signal is coming from! Or at least, we can narrow it down to two opposing directions. Damn! I should have seen it days ago!" I hastily picked up my glider from where I'd leaned it against the table, and the wrapped-up tray with my makeshift radio equipment. "Come on, Windboy, let's go back out to the meadow again, and this time take a real reading!"
"Hold on," he said, slurping down another wooden spoonful, "Lemme finish this bowl first!"
After spending the very very last of our pence on more of the stale food ration disks, we made it back to the meadow just as the sun was going down again. I was a little worried someone would have overheard us and followed us, but as far as I could tell we were alone again. I set up my radio receiver as before, burying the groundwire and tying the antenna to the hang glider, but this time it was going to be different. "Okay, Windboy," I said, "I need the glider to carry the antenna sideways." I pointed. "Can you pull the wire out over in that direction? Be gentle, though, we haven't pulled the antenna like this before, and you remember the weak splice I made in the middle of it."
Windboy wafted the glider a couple of feet over our heads, and then very gently nudged it in the direction I'd pointed. The wire unfurled along the ground, carried slowly away from us, until it stretched its entire fifty-foot length. I held up the end attached to my diode assembly, and the glider held up the far end, but the wire sagged badly in the middle. Part of it was still touching the ground. "Uh, Windboy, could you grab the antenna half way along in the middle, and hold it up?"
"Sure," he said, walking out along the wire. He gestured continuously, not letting the glider slip. When he reached the center, he deftly picked the wire off the ground with his free hand and held it over his head.
"Hmmm," I said. "That's better, but the wire's still sagging close to the ground in two places."
A feminine voice came from behind me. "Could you use an extra set of hands?"
I turned, and gasped. "Clara!"
"I heard you talking in the inn." She snorted. "I think the whole inn heard you. I had to come out and see it for myself."
"Uh, we were . . " I stopped myself. Don't lie. Don't lie.
She pointed at the glider. "That kite of yours is amazing. How do you get it to just hover in place like that?"
"He doesn't," Windboy replied. "I do." Despite standing 25 feet away, his voice sounded like it was coming from right next to us. The effect seemed to unnerve Clara just a bit. Windboy continued, "I told you I can talk to the wind. I can ask the wind to make the glider rise," he gestured just a tad upward, and the glider carried the wire a few feet higher into the air; "Or descend," he flattened his hand slightly, and the glider settled back to its previous altitude. "People have called me Wind Boy since I was a baby."
Clara stared. "Wow. You really weren't kidding."
I told her, "I wasn't kidding about the invisible radio waves, either. The quartz crystal is buzzing right now. Come over here and feel it."
She approached, and I held up the diaphragm between two fingers. "Place your finger on top of the crystal," I told her. As she did so, her palm touched mine. It felt . . pretty nice.
"Whoa!" she said. "It is vibrating!"
"Now feel what happens when I disconnect the antenna," I told her, and pulled the antenna wire loose from its copper contact post.
"It stopped," she said.
I said, "Now I'll plug the wire back in," and did so.
Clara's eyebrows shot up. "It's vibrating again!"
"That's the radio waves," I said, "They hit the antenna wire and turn into a tiny electric current, which drives the quartz flake. They're too weak to detect by any other means I can think of."
"And you're using them to find a, what did you call it? A time-bending typhoon?"
"A time-warp hurricane, yes," I said.
"But the antenna's sagging," Windboy interjected. "We'll be better off if you can help us hold it off the ground."
"Sure," she said, "I can help hold it up." She paced off along the antenna wire until she was about a third of its length away from me. Windboy spaced himself out a little farther. She bent down and yanked the sagging wire over her head."
"Oh, careful with that wire," I called out to her. "If it breaks, I don't have any replacements."
"Oh, sorry," she said, holding it a bit more gently. The wire was now safely off the ground at all points along its length.
I felt the diaphragm again, and focused on the strength of the vibrations. "Okay, you two. I need you to move the wire very slowly in a wide counter-clockwise half circle. Windboy, have the glider take the lead, and keep the wire pointing straight from the glider to me."
"What's counter-clockwise?" Clara asked.
"Uh," I made a spinning motion with one finger, which only seemed to confuse her further. "Just follow Windboy's lead. Both of you will be walking in your own smaller half circles as you keep up with it. Be alert, because I might need to tell you to stop at a moment's notice. You ready?"
They both nodded.
"Okay, go," I said. "Slowly."
Windboy tilted his gesturing hand just a bit, and the glider wafted gently off to the left. Windboy and Clara kept pace with it, keeping the wire as straight as they could. They only had to take a tiny step every once in a while. I concentrated on the vibrating crystal against my finger. Every three or four seconds, the vibrations reached a maximum, then subsided. But now, these maximums started feeling stronger and stronger. "It's working," I called out, "Keep going. Keep it nice and slow."
Each vibrational maximum got progressively stronger, until the antenna had swept through maybe 30 or 35 degrees; then the next maximum was a little bit weaker. "Hold it!" I called out. "Go back just a bit."
Windboy, Clara, and the glider all stopped, then reversed course clockwise ever-so-slightly. The buzzing of the quartz once again reached its strongest maximum. "That's it," I said, "That's the strongest signal. Hold the wire steady there for just a moment."
I set down the diaphragm and bent down on one knee, still holding my end of the antenna wire as high as I could. I found a spot next to me that didn't have any grass growing on it, and with my free hand, I drew a line in the dirt that ran exactly parallel to the antenna. That was the high water mark, as it were. Now to check and make sure that the antenna would do what I was expecting it to.
I stood back up, picked up the diaphragm again, put my finger back on it, and called out "Okay, keep going!"
They started moving again. The buzzing came back a bit weaker at the next maximum, then weaker again, then weaker still. It kept getting fainter and fainter and fainter as they swept the antenna through ever-increasing angles. Finally, after the antenna was about 80 degrees from its strongest angle, the signals got too weak to feel at all. "Stop!" I called out, and marked another line in the dirt parallel to where the antenna was pointing now. I drew this line fainter than the first, and made sure it crossed the first line.
"Okay, keep going!" I said, and kept feeling the crystal. About 20 degrees later, the first ultra-faint vibrations came back. "Stop again!" I said, and drew a second faint line in the dirt that followed the antenna. "Okay, keep going!" They resumed, and the buzzing once again got progressively stronger.
"Okay, folks!" I said triumphantly, "That's enough! We can reel in the antenna wire now."
Windboy lofted the glider progressively higher as it got closer to us. Clara walked back toward me, but I held a hand up to stop. I pointed at the dirt. "Don't touch these lines!"
As Windboy finished putting away the antenna, I knelt before the lines I'd drawn and looked up at him. "This thick line is the orientation of the antenna when the signal was the strongest. That happens when the antenna presents its maximum cross-section to the signal, that is, when it's pointing perpendicular to the radio source. These other two thin lines cover the range of orientations over which the signal was so weak I couldn't even feel it. That happens when the end of the antenna is pointing directly at the radio source, or nearly directly at it." I smiled broadly. "And you'll notice, if I draw a line perpendicular to the thick one, it fits almost exactly half way between those two thin lines."
I used a fingernail to trace out this perpendicular line. "That's it. That's the bearing for the signal. One end of this perpendicular line points directly toward the radio source, and the other end points directly away." I stood up and brushed the dirt from my hands. "The time-warp hurricane is either that way," I lined my arm up over the perpendicular line on the ground and sighted along it, then turned around 180 degrees and did the same, "Or that way."
"Northwest or southeast?" Windboy said. "Well, it's gotta be southeast, then! Hurricanes never get farther north."
"So," I bundled the radio up, and started putting the hang glider's ropes back around my hips and groin, "Let's head to northern France and chase that hurricane."
Clara looked alarmed. "You're really gonna fly to France?"
"Yep," I said, focusing on the knots in the glider ropes.
"Wow," she said. "I've always wanted to visit France."
Windboy piped in, "I could fly you there with us."
Clara shook her hands vigorously. "No no no no no no no! Flying sounds way too scary. You, you two have fun." She walked up to me and leaned in to kiss me. I panicked and pulled away.
"Hm?" she said, puzzled. "What's wrong?"
Oh! Customs. Right. Like how French people kiss each other on the cheek just as casual friends, with nothing more implied. "Sorry," I said, "It's just that in 1967, where I come from, when a woman kisses a man it usually means she wants to date him."
"Oh! oh," Clara shook her head, embarrassed. "I didn't know. No, no. I've got suitors in Deftshire, and you're really not my type."
Well, that settled that, I thought.
I finished packing and rigging the glider, then said, "Bye bye, Clara!" and turned to Windboy. "Back to Normandy!"
As Windboy lofted us high into the air, I could barely hear Clara call out after us, "Nobody's gonna believe this if I tell 'em!"
"You okay flying by night?" I asked Windboy.
"We did that over the Bay of Biscay, didn't we?" Windboy said. "Don't worry, the wind knows north and south. We'll stay on a southeast course, with or without visual cues."
Soon, the English Channel was rolling by below us. The gibbous moon set just as we landed on the French coast. In the darkness between moonset and daybreak, I didn't want to chance setting up the radio again. We took a brief nap beneath the glider, and awoke to the rising sun in our eyes. Day 17 had arrived.
We took a brief aerial hop to the top of a hill for the best reception. I set up the radio again, and had Windboy and the glider trace out another 180° half circle while I monitored the piezoelectric crystal. It was a bit tricker without Clara, but the antenna wire coming close to the ground didn't matter as much as I'd worried it might. Once more, the strongest signal came when the antenna was pointing northeast-southwest, and the signal went away entirely when the antenna pointed northwest-southeast. But . .
"Windboy," I said, "I'm absolutely sure the signal is weaker here than it was in the meadow outside Deftshire."
"You mean, we're getting farther away from the time-warp hurricane?" he asked.
"Yes. I'd said the hurricane was either to the northwest or the southeast. We chose the southeast, and it looks like we were wrong. We should have headed northwest."
"But, but, that's impossible," Windboy insisted. "Hurricanes are never that far north!"
"This isn't an ordinary hurricane," I reminded him "It's a t—"
"Time-warp hurricanes are never that far north, either!" Windboy was practically yelling.
"Did the wind tell you that?" I asked.
"No," Windboy sneered. "I learned that from studying them. Over and over again. For all the years I've been trapped in these 17-day cycles. I know every ground track they make over the oceans, in every era, by direct observation. I know the historical records each era kept of the previous era's time-warp hurricanes. I know exactly how far each and every one of my observations deviates from the historical records, according to what you call butterfly effects. And I know that none of them have ever gone farther north than the fifty-first parallel."
I leaned in close, and brought my voice down to almost a whisper. "And you also know that nothing like the current deviation has ever happened before."
I went on, "This is the first time you took anybody with you to 1127. You said so yourself. Maybe I represent the biggest butterfly effect you've ever had. The data are saying that the time-warp hurricane is to the northwest. Far to the northwest. I trust in your knowledge of the wind. I'm asking you to trust in my knowledge of radio physics."
Windboy took a slow breath. "Maybe I have been too sure of myself. I thought I had everything figured out about time-warp hurricanes, so I stuck with my explanation." He sighed. "All right. Let's try it. Let's go northwest."
I put my hand on his shoulder. "It takes an amazing amount of courage to question your own convictions. But we should be careful we don't overshoot the hurricane by mistake. Let's follow exactly the heading the dipole antenna is pointing us toward, and keep an eye out for any storms along the route."
Windboy silently nodded his head in agreement, then sighted along my line in the dirt. "That's northwest-by-north-ish." He made a slicing motion along the bearing, and whispered something to the wind. "All right, our course is set."
We packed up, and took off. It was going to be a long flight.
We kept a lookout for anything stormlike along the route. But just like two days ago, the skies were clear over the English Channel. This time, though, we didn't stop in southern England. We kept flying northwest-by-north all the way across England, across the Irish Sea — whose skies were just as clear as the English Channel's had been — and didn't stop 'til we reached the northwest coast of Ulster in Ireland. The trip took us all day, and now the sun was going down yet again.
"Well, the hurricane wasn't anywhere along the route so far," I said after we'd landed. "That means it must be out over the Atlantic, even farther to the northwest."
Windboy frowned. "That's insanely far north."
"Let's take one more reading," I said, "Just in case the hurricane's moved again. If it is in the north Atlantic, we're not going to have any place on land to set up the radio again."
We did. This time, the line pointing toward the radio source was only about 1 degree off from where it had been the last time. And the signal strength, the vibrations in the quartz crystal, were far stronger now than they'd ever been before. "No doubt about it," I said, "We're on the right track now."
Windboy shook his head. "Maybe. Probably. But not definitely. There's still a chance that we're on a wild goose chase."
"It's still the best chance we've got," I reminded him. I started packing up the radio gear.
"But if it's not," he insisted, "I don't want you to be stuck here. Look, I've got the bearing to your radio signal now. The wind knows it. It can point me along that route just fine, even if I'm alone. Let me fly you back to tornado alley, and make a time-warp tornado to send you to 1967. That way even if I don't make it, you will."
I snorted, and finished wrapping my radio equipment up. "Nuts to that."
"But you —"
I interrupted him: "You saw how long it took us just to cross Ireland. You've got maybe 10 or 12 hours before the time-warp hurricane vanishes. If you take me all the way to tornado alley in southern England, you will not make it back in time." I fixed him in my gaze. "I'm going with you to the time-warp hurricane. We succeed, or we fail, together."
Windboy grinned at me, but I thought I saw tears in his eyes. "If you're wrong," he said, "You're stuck in the 12th century."
"If I'm wrong," I said, hoisting the hang glider over my head for takeoff, "I'm stuck in the middle of the north Atlantic and I probably drown. Let's go."
Windboy looked me up and down. "Uh . . . if we do find the time-warp hurricane, you probably won't be able to hold on to that bulky radio tray on the way in."
"Oh," I said. "Good point. Maybe I should leave the radio here." I set the bundle down. "Not much chance the locals are going to figure out its purpose. It'll be something for future generations of archaeologists to bicker over."
"I've done things like that to more timelines than I care to name," Windboy said. Then he gestured and filled the sails of my glider once more, and we headed out to sea.
The nearly-full moon lit our way over the waves. We saw one wooden sailing ship some distance away, but quickly overtook it, and soon the ocean was utterly flat and calm and monotonous. It would have been nice to get a good night's sleep, after travelling all day and all of the night before with only a short nap in between. But I forced myself to stay awake. I noticed Windboy having to shake himself back awake once or twice, too. I wondered, briefly, what the wind would do to him — and to my hang glider — if he weren't awake to control it. Maybe I should do something to help keep both of us occupied.
"I just realized," I said. "We didn't eat dinner back there." I reached into the small burlap sack I still had with me, and pulled out one of the stale ration discs. The moon shining down from our right-rear was just about the same shape. I said to him, "Want a moon pie?"
Windboy looked at the disc, looked at the moon, and chuckled. "Sure." He came up from under my glider and took the disc from my hand, then fell back into formation alongside me. I was surprised he could localize his updrafts that well; I half expected the wind that was keeping him aloft to knock my glider out of my grip. I took out a second ration disc for myself and chowed down. I needed a sip of water from the water skin before I was half through, and offered some to Windboy, who came up alongside me a second time and drank with gusto.
"You know," I said after he'd separated again, "You never did tell me what was so special about 2250."
"Oh," he blushed again. "No, I didn't, did I? Well, um . . . you see, in 2250, the time-warp hurricane is off the coast of South Carolina. And, well, there's this really really pretty girl there named Danielle. She's ten. I really like her. I wanted so much for her to kiss me. But every time I've visited 2250 and tried to get her to like me, she just . . . she just wasn't interested in me."
Oh my. I hadn't thought about that at all. Windboy was ten years old. That meant puberty was just around the corner. He was already getting interested in girls. What'll happen to him when adolescence hits full-force? When his desires flower into something even greater? What kind of relationship can he have with a girl, if all the girls reset after 17 days with the rest of his universe? He already had a hard enough time when he made friends. It was going to be heartbreaking when he stared making girlfriends.
For him, and for the girls he'd have to leave behind.
The ocean rolled past beneath us, sparkling dimly in the moonlight. The night rolled past us as well, with nary a cloud in the sky. The moon was to our left now, sinking down rather than rising up. With each passing hour both the moon and my heart sank lower. Maybe my readings were wrong. Or, worse, maybe the conclusions I'd drawn from those readings were wrong. I looked over at the tired little boy beside me, the wunderkind who was driving both of us across the open ocean.
We sink or swim together, I told myself.
"You know, Windboy," I said, "I'm glad I met you."
"Huh?" Windboy said. "I'm the one who got you into this predicament."
"Yeah, you are," I replied. "You're also the most remarkable person I've ever met. And I'd never have gotten to know you, or learn about all these vast possibilites for the past and future, if you hadn't gotten me into this predicament. I'd have just lived out the rest of my life in a kind of ignorance, stumbling around in the dark like everyone else, trying to make sense of the world with the few tools we could build to observe it. Even if these are the last hours of my life right now, I think this life will have ended up being a better one."
I sighed. "I'm just sorry that you had to be cursed. If we do make it out, I go back to my normal, boring life and take all of these experiences with me to look back on. But you, you'll still have to be trapped in that never-ending series of 17-day repeats."
Windboy shrugged. "I have experiences to look back on, too. Some of them were pretty grand."
I smiled, and kept scanning the horizon. The moon went down, and dawn broke. Day 18. Only a couple of hours left before the end.
And . . . wait . . . laying on the horizon dead ahead . . . were those clouds?
Yes. Yes, they were. We had missed them in the moonlight, but in the twilight glow, there they were. And they were tall clouds.
Storm clouds. There were even lightning flashes, barely visible at this great distance.
We raced ever closer as the sky grew lighter. When the sun peered over the eastern horizon, it cast ominous shadows across the cloud formation, and we could make out the barest details of their shapes.
"The big cloud in the middle," Windboy said, "It's stretching all the way from the ocean's surface to the stratosphere. And it's round." His breathing quickened. "That's a hurricane!"
I'd never been so happy to see a hurricane in my life. My jaw was quivering with nervous excitement, but I managed to ask, "Is it, is it our hurricane?"
"We'll know when we get closer," Windboy answered.
As we closed in, I watched the hurricane intently. It looked so tiny at this distance. The lightning flashes were less visible now that the sun was up, but I could still see dim flashes on occasion. And there was something odd about some of those flashes. Most were tiny points of bright blue-white light, just like what you'd expect a lightning bolt to look like from this distance; but a few of them looked like the entire hurricane blinked on and off for an instant. Sheet lightning?
We got closer, and . . . no. Those flashes weren't sheet lightning. They were something far grander. The hurricane itself was blinking on and off. Only one kind of hurricane did that.
Windboy and I looked at each other, neither saying a word. We both knew. We'd found the time-warp hurricane.
"Before we enter," Windboy said over the eerie howling of the hurricane, "You'll need to fold up your glider."
I balked. "Wait, what? You want me to fly gliderless, like I did when we first started out?"
"I can protect your body from the worst of the winds on the way in," Windboy said. "I can't keep a 20-foot-wide span of canvas intact. The forces involved are just too great."
"How am I going to fold it up," I asked, "When you're blowing updrafts into it to keep me airborne?"
"Point the nose straight down," Windboy said. "Then I can increase the updraft force without blowing you away, and the extra winds along the front edge should make it easier to fold."
"Okaaaay," I said, and angled straight for the ground. Instantly, the winds beneath me grew much stronger and more focused, holding me in place. I reached out to either side and drew the two main struts together. The canvas buckled and folded on itself, and in a second or two the glider was one long narrow 14-foot bundle of sticks. Doing the second fold, where I doubled it back on itself over its length, was trickier, but I managed when I flipped and pointed the back end at the ground.
"You'll need to hold it shut," Windboy said. "Wrap your arms around it near the front, and both legs around it near the back."
I managed, but not without losing significant altitude and slewing to one side. Ugh. I'd almost forgotten how tough it was to steer in these winds without a glider holding me up. And now, with my arms employed just keeping the folded glider from springing back open, I couldn't even stick my arms out to my sides — which meant less stability and no control surfaces. How . . . wait . . . actually, this wasn't so bad. The folded glider itself made a pretty good control surface. I could use it like a surf board, except on air instead of water.
"Have you got a good grip?" Windboy asked.
"As good as it's going to be," I replied.
"Then in we go," he said, and we surged forward into the slashing bands of counter-rotating wind.
I angled the folded glider, and myself, straight on into the winds as best I could. I'm still not sure which winds were part of the hurricane itself, and which were Windboy's creation. We spiralled inward until, like emerging from a thick nightmarish fog into dead calm, we found ourselves in the eye of the time-warp hurricane.
Unlike the first time 17 days ago, we didn't go sailing on through. Windboy stopped both of us, and we hovered in the the hurricane's eye a mile or two above the ocean.
"I made it in time," Windboy said. "I couldn't have done it without you."
I smiled. "Now I need to get back to 1967."
"Unless there've been a lot of butterfly effects in your century," Windboy assured me, "The 1967 time-warp hurricane should still be near the Los Angeles coast."
"Great!" I said. "Now all you'll need to do is escort me back out," I said. I ran through my old calculations in my head. "If we leave the eye at a 35 degree angle from the lower axis, we should end up in 1967. Once you've got me out safely, I should be able to swim to the coast. You can go right back into the eye of the 1967 time-warp hurricane and —"
"No," he said. "I won't be going out of the hurricane's eye with you."
"Wh-wh-what?" I stammered.
"I can't be sure of the exact timing. I know from historical records that this hurricane dissipates at precisely 9:35 Greenwich mean time, but I don't know exactly what time it is now. It could start to dissipate at any moment. If I leave to escort you, I could miss it."
I stared at the terrifying winds whipping around us. He couldn't possibly mean for me to go through them on my own! "Couldn't", I said, "Couldn't you at least start helping me through the hurricane, and then if you see it start to dissipate you could just turn back? It must take a few minutes for the hurricane to wind down! You could —"
Windboy shook his head. "My reset happens the instant the hurricane begins to dissipate. If I'm outside the eye at that moment, it's too late."
"I'll never survive!"
"It's not as bad as you think," he said. "I'll send you out of the eye at the right angle to end up in 1967. At that moment, you'll be 840 years in my future, and I won't be able to control the winds around you any more. The good news is, objects caught in a time-warp hurricane's winds tend to naturally get spit out without losing altitude. You'll be going about a hundred miles per hour when that happens, but you'll also be two miles above the ocean, and that will give you time to unfold your hang glider and start using it."
"Sounds awfully dicey," I said. "I'd rather have a good old-fashioned parachute."
"I'm sorry," Windboy said, "But that's the best I can do."
I nodded. "Well then, you shouldn't wait. If you 'reset' while I'm still here, you won't be here to push me out of the eye at the right angle. It's . . ." I hesitated to say something so trite, but I meant every word: "It's been nice knowing you."
"I'm going to miss this you, Jason," he said.
And with that, he pushed one palm forward, and sent me hurtling toward a stripe in the wall of the eye. I smashed headlong into it. There was an instantaneous flash, and the world became a howling wind-hammered blur. I held on to my folded glider for dear life. The banshee winds receded after less than a minute, and I found myself hurtling through open air and falling toward a twilight-lit ocean two miles below.
The glider. I had to get the glider open. I reached for the sides and grabbed the spars, then realized I was still holding on to the back with my legs and let my legs go. I unfolded the doubled-over spars so that the contraption was now a bundle of sticks 14 feet long, then moved my hands to expand the frame. The last move turned out to be unnecessary. The canvas had caught the falling wind, and the whole glider snapped fully open on its own. I wasn't holding the handle bars, but the rope harness yanked upward on my groin so hard I was surprised my legs were still attached. The glider billowed above me. I was surprised the whole assembly didn't snap itself in two. Good old over-engineered construction.
I grabbed for the handle bars, then tried the steering. It was different without Windboy's updrafts to keep me in the sky. I was losing altitude pretty fast. This wasn't too surprising; a real hang glider usually has a 30-foot wingspan, not a paltry 20-foot wingspan like mine. But even my stubby wings slowed my fall enough that a water landing might not be too dangerous.
Then I realized I had no idea how far out from land I was. I scanned the horizon, and breathed with relief. There was a beach only a couple miles away from me, lit by the glow of dawn behind it. I angled toward it. I still wanted to hit water rather than sand when I touched down, but I didn't want a long swim afterward.
As I approached both beach and ocean surface, I looked over my shoulder at the time-warp hurricane. It was already breaking apart. The flashing had stopped, the bands were evaporating . . . dang. Windboy and I really had cut it close.
The ocean's surface came up beneath me. At the last moment, I flared the nose of the glider upward, using as much of my forward speed as I could to brake my descent. When I finally splashed down, it was almost anticlimactic. I didn't even submerge. I folded up the glider behind me while treading water, and pulled it with me toward the shore, not even bothering to untie the ropes.
And as I got close enough to stand on the sand below my feet, and trudged up out of the lapping waves . . . a small group of people came running toward me. I recognized them almost instantly. It was the same little group of physicists I'd been monitoring the time-warp hurricane with on Santa Monica beach, 17 days ago!
It had worked. I was home.
"Jason!" one of them called out. "Oh my God, it's Jason!"
They all crowded around me, all speaking at the same time. "We thought you were a gonner!" "You survived getting sucked into a hurricane!" "I was sure you went back in time to ancient Egypt!" "We've been following the storm for 17 days!"
"You have no idea how glad I am to see all of you," I said when they'd calmed down.
Dave was pointing his home movie camera at me. It was one of those cameras that didn't record sound, but he asked me anyway: "Jason, what happened?"
"It's a long story," I said. "If you'll take me to my apartment so I can change into some clean, dry clothes, I'll fill you in on the way." And maybe sleep, I thought. And take a long hot shower. And eat some 20th century pizza. I hefted the folded bundle of wet wood and canvas next to me, pulling it upright. "I hope there's enough room in the van for a homemade hang glider."
One of the others piped up: "But what about that Wind Boy who took you into the hurricane? Where'd he go?"
I shook my head. "That's an even longer story."
I marched with them up the beach. They still had equipment to put away. I leaned against my folded glider while they finished, looking back out over the ocean. Only wisps of cloud remained where the time-warp hurricane had just been. As glad as I was to be home, I couldn't help but think that nothing in my life could ever again match the experience of the last 17 days. Maybe I'd make myself a crystal radio set out of modern parts. Maybe I'd take up hang gliding — the real sport, with modern gliders and no artificial updrafts. It might recapture some of the experience, but it would never be the same as hanging from the glider I was leaning against right now, held aloft by Windboy.
Windboy. . . .
I'd never get to see Windboy again. He would have "reset." He'd be back to his version of normal, hopping from one time-warp hurricane to another, meeting people he'd known for years but who wouldn't even recognize him. Over and over, probably for the rest of his life. In all those other timelines, in all those other eras, he'd be bursting onto the scene and then leaving behind people just like me, looking back and missing him.
Not just in my life, but in the life of everyone he'd ever touched, or ever would, he'd have come and gone like the wind.