Timeline 5A, or one of the threes -- ask Athene to crack it, I forget -- actually had a time traveling convention in AD 2005 Gregorian. The fact that this was at least a century before the invention of time travel on that timeline mattered little to the MIT undergraduates who organized it -- making them essentially similar to MIT undergraduates throughout the multiverse.
"Well, hand it to them," Zeb had said with a shrug. "If someone with a time machine were to actually attend, time travel would become possible far before they're technologically capable of it."
Which was exactly what the Circle of Ouroboros was concerned about when they decided to send a few Time Corps agents there. (In a time machine, of course. Irony has never really troubled the Time Corps.)
In the end they selected Zeb and Deety, who would blend in well with the graduate students, and me. My own timeline was one of the closest to our destination, and I had actually taught mathematics at the parallel MIT in my own timeline, in roughly the same time period. So away we went, in Gay Deceiver, with orders to lie extremely low and only observe. We landed in the grand open commons near Harvard University, just before dawn. Gay parked herself in orbit, at the edge of communications range, ready to translate to us immediately at need.
It turned out that Cambridge, Massachusetts in that timeframe was different from that of the Interregnum, but quite recognizable. It was more pluralistic -- diverse genders and races that made almost no sense to Deety and Zeb -- but the government appeared to be a religiously-backed plutocracy much like that of my youth. The rulers were kept somewhat in check by the remains of the democracy, but I could almost hear Lazarus rolling his eyes about that one. I took plenty of pictures and notes.
Cambridge was a thriving, vibrant city, if somewhat behind the usual level of technology found on most timelines at the turn of the twenty-first century. But Deety figured out quickly that every tiny credit-card sized whizgig, every chronometer, every thing with a typewriter keyboard down to the size of a matchbook, was a computer of respectable capacity.
"Miniaturization," she said, turning over a portable media player in her hand. "Everything's digitized, there's these teeny tiny chips -- it makes the personal computer ubiquitous. It's impressive -- an alternate technology. They're not behind at all."
"Except on space travel," Zeb groused. The cars were still running on gasoline combustion engines, for Bog's sake, and space travel was sidelined as nothing more than a scientific curiosity.
"How far off is the sentient computer?" I asked, and enjoyed watching her face crinkle up. Deety and I are taken for twins; her expressions, however, are her own.
"As we understand them, I doubt they will ever develop," Deety said. "If they get something similar, it'll be a parallel technology. The big mainframes here won't get the messy humanity or the love that made Minerva or Mike. Even a computer with less capacity, like Dora or Gay -- I mean, they're both Smart Girls, but they couldn't run a whole planet -- but there's a certain multitasking hodgepodginess --"
"A technical term, I assume," Zeb teased, and she thwacked him on the arm. We sat at a cafe in Harvard Square and Deety challenged me to chess. I agreed eagerly, and Zeb went to get us food and drink.
I found that I liked traveling with my younger double. We drew the eye, and it was fun being taken for a girl in my twenties with a charming twin sister. I'd been worried about sexual harassment in this timeframe, but the area seemed safe enough. On the whole, it was not terribly different from Harvard Square as I remembered it -- more colorful, and considerably more pierced and tattooed, but essentially civilized in a way that made me almost nostalgic.
I don't have many regrets about my first life... not exactly. I worked hard and I made mistakes and I fell in love over and over again. That's essentially the point of living, as far as I can tell from the centuries I've had of it, and I don't think my understanding of the world -- the multiverse -- has changed that much between pointer and setter.
Really, as crazy as the disparities are between me-then (as Andrew) and me-now (as Elizabeth), it's nowhere near as crazy as being a planet-hopping time traveler with sentient computers for family. Add in an interdimensional twin who looks exactly like me because we were both -- in yet another dimension -- characters written by the same tits-and-math fetishist.... My existence is weird by definition; I hardly notice anymore.
Deety caught me up from my reverie by capturing my bishop, and then Zeb returned with squat bottles of tangy orange pop and chocolate-covered macaroons that were definitely not miniaturized.
"Nearly time," Deety murmured, and I glanced up in search of a clock. I didn't need one, of course; we had Deety. The clock in her head is a benefit that I lack. (I'm happy to take a few hundred years of subjective experience over her internal chronometer. Most days, anyway.)
The real, or most significant, convention of time travelers -- as we in the trade will tell you -- was a dimension-hopping affair put together a few years ago (subjective time) by my co-wife Hilda, captain of the Gay Deceiver and mastermind of a thousand soirees, salons, and shindigs. The First Centennial Convention of the Interuniversal Society for Eschatological Pantheistic Multiple-Ego Solipsism had been a tremendous success, but you needed a Burroughs continua drive, or similar, to make the trip. It stood to reason we hadn't remembered everyone.
But the main reason we had come to Cambridge was to make certain that no other time travelers would do so. While Deety was probably right about the digital microcomputers (she usually is), I was enough of an engineer to be certain that this society was in no condition whatsoever to develop technology capable of moving either backwards or forwards in time.
(In truth, some scientists had been working on particle physics in such a way that time travel backwards, measured in femtoseconds, was at least feasible. But trust me when I say that they weren't going to get to anything useful by that route.)
We traveled from Harvard Square to MIT by use of the public bus system, which was no different from any public bus in any dimension I've ever been in, save for its chassis being rather badly suspended and its combustion engine running on -- I barely recognized the smell -- diesel fuel. The trip did not take long, and soon we were staring at the campus of MIT, its buildings both familiar and strange to me. I decided that the architecture had diverged at about the time of the Interregnum, and we found a kiosk with a map directing us to the correct location.
The party was already in full swing by the time we found the East Campus courtyard; it didn't take us long to establish that there were, in fact, no actual time-travelers available. Instead, the place was packed with a pleasing array of geeks, nerds, and dorks; I found myself quite at home discussing the minute differences between the three classes with an unwashed, bearded t-shirt in coke-bottle lenses, and an earnest array of piercings with Korean features and blonde hair.
So I barely noticed when Zeb nudged my elbow. "Old British chap in the Quaker suit," he murmured to me, "how do I know him?"
I put the question to my confederates, who were certain he was not attached to the campus, but were otherwise uninformative, beyond agreeing that he looked exactly like someone they referred to ominously as 'Dungeon Master'. I shook their hands -- probably too politely -- and departed on Zeb's arm.
"I know I know him," Deety said when we caught up with her at the DJ's station, where she was investigating his music production technology -- more digitized storage. "Oh, no. Wait a minute." She strode toward him, so Zeb and I followed -- sticking together was SOP ever since the time Mama Maureen went missing.
"... and look," she muttered, "there he is again, and again...." Our legs may be the same length, but I barely managed to dodge a cadre of kegward co-eds in order to keep up with her. Deety's navigated college parties much more often and more recently than I.
"Doctor," she asked the old gentleman sternly, "what are you doing here?"
"I beg your pardon, madam," the old gentleman said, blinking, and then he caught me and Zeb with his keen little eyes. "Sir. Madam. Can I help you?" His diction was crisp -- pure RSC tones I remembered from millennia in my past.
Oddly familiar, but I couldn't quite place him. Deety had identified him, though, so I waited for introductions.
"Well, well!" said a voice behind me, in a cheerful British accent (Estuary? I'd have to ask Ira). "Doctor Dejah Thoris Burroughs Carter. Doctor Elizabeth Andrew Jackson Libby Long. As I live and breathe! Which makes you Zeb Carter, then. Lucky man!"
"Do I know you, sir?" The old man's voice was sharper, now, directed toward the new arrival -- a tall, freckled young man in a sharp blue suit and incongruous tennis shoes. (Pretty, if you liked that sort of thing; my taste in men runs toward a higher level of testosterone. Witness Lazarus, or Jacob.)
"Oh, oi! Look at you!" The young man seemed delighted, and the older one actively repulsed. "So young! Heartbreaking... god, the old days. Good to see you!"
The wizened old man frowned, and then squinted, and then jerked away. "Oh, no. No. No. No."
"Oh, don't worry, old thing -- there's at least three of us walking around. We're pretty immune to paradox at this point, anyway."
"At your point, perhaps, but I prefer not to take any chances, if you'll excuse me. Where is the other one, that I might continue to avoid him?"
"Ugly chap in the scarf, back there. Your future, my past. I say, be good to Susan, won't you? Oh, and Ian and Barbara! Have you met Ian and Barbara yet?"
Some barely-there memory of my childhood, sneaking broadcasts from public broadcasting... the tall, homely-faced man in the scarf... 'Ian and Barbara'... "Doctor," I breathed, now realizing that Deety's title for the man had been a name as much as it had been formal address.
"Please. Knowing that I will look like that," and the First Doctor indicated the Fourth, "or be as ridiculous as you," addressed to the Tenth, "is quite enough of a shock to my system for the day."
I caught Deety's eye and grinned at her. I'd had no idea she was familiar with this old story -- but of course she was. Deety's knowledge of pulp science fiction is nothing short of encyclopedic.
"Oh, don't worry, no trouble, on my way now," the Tenth Doctor said, throwing an arm around Deety. "These three are the only Real McCoy at this little gathering, well, except for him--" the Fourth Doctor --" but that's okay, he's us. More or less. Best to get on now. Good to see you. Keep that youthful idealism."
"Good riddance," his former self replied.
The Doctor joined us on the way back toward Harvard Square, on foot this time. He offered us a lift in the TARDIS, but Zeb firmly refused. With some reluctance, I agreed that Zeb was probably right -- the Doctor often forgot how to steer the TARDIS at opportune moments, and it was clear he wanted us for some reason that might or might not preclude kidnapping.
In point of fact, he wanted the Burroughs continua device, or to speak with its creator, and he had done enough research to know that Jacob was my husband and Deety's father, and he'd also somehow figured out that we would be in the correct part of the multiverse on this date.
(And yes, my twin Deety is also my husband's eldest daughter. Stranger things have happened in Boondock -- I'm one of them. Or ask Lazarus about his mother, sometime.)
"You understand, of course," he said, "I really must speak with Dr. Burroughs. Professional interest. And I know you, Libby Long, the same way you know me."
I was startled, because I had been about to ask. "You've read the books?"
"Fabulous trash. Fabulous. Time travel stories are my favorite; humans get it so wonderfully wrong. Most of the time. But your man Jacob seems to have stumbled on the mathematical truth of it. Bound to happen, really, enough monkeys and all that."
"Pop's no monkey!"
"Chimpanzee, actually, or nearly so," the Doctor agreed cheerfully. "But the author of the story never tells how he achieved time travel -- not the actual equations. It takes a fantastically smart chimpanzee to figure that out -- exempli gratia, your father, Deety, who's so smart that the chimp who wrote about him didn't even bother to fake the equations."
"Solipsism," Zeb said. "Humans may not be capable of the math in your universe, Doctor --"
"But they manifestly are in yours, yes, yes, that's the point. Now are you going to take me to your leader or aren't you?"
We did take him to our leader -- Hilda, that is, and Lazarus, of course. Thus, by extension, Jacob and Ira and Tamara and Ishtar. Hilda threw a big party, and the Circle of Ouroboros met in long closed sessions, and the Doctor took the twins (both sets) and Galahad for a ride in the TARDIS. We even took him to Oz -- he was particularly fond of Tik-Tok.
Over time, it turned out the Doctor was every bit as testosterone-laden, stubborn, and pushy as I like my spouses (including Madeleine, my first wife). It turned out he knew more recipes for mixed drinks with little umbrellas than Lazarus did, and his knowledge of alien threats saved Tertius more than once. He never joined the Long family -- he always managed to deeply insult his way out of any potential nominations -- but he was welcome, always, and brought his companions, and showed up in many guises.
And at one point we used the TARDIS and the continua craft to alter the course of a terrible war, against the Black Hats of the Doctor's own universe. But that's another story.