The doctor looked at the man across the desk from him.
Edward Carstairs, according to his patient profile, was in his middle 40s. No known history of illness, he had come to Doctor Gordon’s office seeking help for what seemed to be a very strange affliction of the mind.
“Mister Carstairs, I don’t know what we can do for you.” Gordon shifted in his seat. “The battery of tests that we gave you show no problems that we can find that would indicate why you are experiencing this particular feeling of — what did you call it? Temporal distortion.”
Edward looked at the doctor with an expressionless face.
“Nothing at all, doctor?” he said.
“No indication of any illness?”
Edward let out a long slow exhalation. He had the look of a man who was resigned to thinking that there was no way to figure out what was going wrong in his life.
“Why don’t we take a new tack in handling this,” said Gordon. “Perhaps if you go over exactly why and when this feeling started we can get to the bottom of things and come up with a course of action to help you.”
“Sure, I’ll try anything at that might help.”
The man sat back in his chair and began his story. He told it in a matter-of-fact manner, despite the objectively fantastic elements that he was describing. You could tell that it was bothering him, though.
“About three weeks ago, I woke up like everyone does and as I drowsed in bed I was listening to the radio. My routine doesn’t very much, and I always listen to the same radio program every morning. The only thing that seemed weird or out of place was the fact that I had glanced at my watch, and a few minutes later a particular daily segment came on the radio — but it couldn’t have, as the timing of the radio segment did not jive with my watch.”
Gordon had been taking notes. “This was the beginning of things, you say?”
“Looking back now, it seems that that has to have been the beginning of it. At the time, I really didn’t think much of it. It just looked as though somehow my watch must’ve stopped sometime during the night after I had fallen asleep and then restarted in the morning before I woke. It was a little over an hour difference between the actual time and what my watch was saying. I reset my watch to the correct time and then simply went about my day.”
“A few days later, it happened again. This time, the time difference was longer, at almost 2 hours between what my watch was saying and what I discovered when I awoke the next morning. It was puzzling, but I just reset the watch again and went on.”
Pressing his lips together, Edward swallowed before continuing in his narration.
“About a week or so after that, it happened again; waking up in the morning, my watch and the rest of the world did not match, and the time differential was even longer at three hours. I was thinking there was something wrong with my watch, but a jewelry store watchmaker could not find anything wrong with it or the mechanism, nor was there anything wrong with the power cell that runs it. As a precaution, I had that power cell replaced with a fresh one. I figured that would solve the problem of the missing time.”
Gordon paused in his note-taking to look up at Edward. “And you’re saying now that the problem wasn’t solved at all, even after taking these measures?”
“No, it was not. This morning the watch was running as usual when I awoke, but now five hours was the difference between the world and my watch! Since I had had the watch checked out and serviced, I figured the next step was to have myself checked out to see if there was anything wrong with me. Now you are telling me, Doctor, that as far as your tests are concerned, there isn’t anything wrong with me, either.”
The expression on Edward’s face told Gordon about a man who was reaching his limits with the situation. He needed answers, and everywhere that he turned there seem to be none.
Gordon carefully placed is stylus on the pad he had been taking notes on. He steepled his fingers as his eyes bored deeply into Edward’s own. After a moment, he spoke.
“I can see how this might upset you. To have several instances of something that makes no sense would trouble anyone! Hell, I would be troubled by the kinds of things that you told me today. What I’m going to tell you may not be what you want to hear right now, but if you examine it does make sense in light of everything that you have been seeing so far.”
He sipped from a glass of water on his desk before continuing. Edward leaned forward in his chair as if he was desperately clinging to every word the doctor was saying. He probably is, thought Doctor Gordon.
“When I’m going to say now is simply an application of Occam’s Razor. That is to say that the simplest explanation is the right one. Your original idea that there was something wrong with your watch is correct. The fact that the phenomenon continued to happen even after having the watch serviced is strictly coincidence. If you keep telling yourself that — really believe that that is what occurred — you’ll wake up tomorrow and you’ll find with a new watch all’s right with the world again.”
“Now, here’s what I want you to do: first, get yourself a new watch. That old one is obviously going wrong in some way that no one understands or can figure out, so solve that problem with the new watch. Second, take this prescription I am writing out for you for a mild sedative and take one capsule with plenty of water just before bed in order to get a good restful night’s sleep. Third, when you do wake up in the morning, check the new watch against your radio programs or computer clock or whatever that you trust and you’ll find that everything matches up now.”
Handing across the offered slip with a prescription on it, Gordon looked into the hopeful face of Edward Carstairs as he rose from his chair.
“Thank you, doctor. I’ll let you know what happens.”
With that, Edward departed the office to put into effect the advice he had been given.
After Carstairs departed, a side panel slid open in the doctor’s office. Through the opening, there was a great corridor that led to a high-tech center reminiscence of a control room at NASA. A man in a featureless gray uniform stood as the doctor came in and approached him.
“You think he bought it?” asked the gray man.
“He will once you’ve briefed your recovery team to handle his examinations better.” growled Gordon. “This was sloppy — unbelievably sloppy! Did no one notice that he was wearing a watch that might be affected by the time dilation field? He was well on the way to determining that there was a problem with the world and his place in it!”
The gray man sighed. “At least we’ll be able to watch out for slips like that in the future.”
“Be sure that you do! Remember that it’s vital that the people entrusted to our care never realize the true nature of their existence. It’s the least that we can do since the accidental destruction of their homeworld. Until we can find a new place for them to live, the façade has to be maintained at all costs. Now let’s get your recovery team in here so we can brief them on the new normal.”
As the gray man went off to summon the errant recovery team, “Doctor” Gordon crossed the room to a bank of surveillance monitors and searched. He found what he was seeking quickly, as he saw that Edward Carstairs was at the jeweler down the street from his office, looking over watches.
Rest easy, he thought. We’ll find you a place to move to, and you’ll never know your old home was destroyed.