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The digital readout implanted on the back of my right hand tells me that the time to go is coming up momentarily. The kids' sad expressions almost break my heart as I say my goodbyes and prepare myself to leave. This is ever how I go -- I pop in and out of their timeline for brief periods that seem hardly worth it, leaving only memories and loss behind me. Hypnotic blocks keep me from telling the kids that this is the last time they'll see their father and the words catch unspoken in my throat. I won't lie to them and tell them that I'll be back soon, so I say nothing at all.

I'd like to be a normal father to them, I think. Only a month ago, subjectively, I had been single and childless. And now, now I had twins that were almost six years old. I wasn't sure if I loved them -- it had all happened so fast for me -- but I was certainly attached to them in an strong way. Towards me they had only love and affection, which surprises me; in their perception I'm here for them only five days out of every year like clockwork. This is what suffices for InClock's version of planned parenthood.

My wife watches grimly as I sit down on the floor in preparation of the Daze. She doesn't say goodbye to me, and I've never said it to her. We've never really loved each other; we just make do with our agency-arranged marriage in as business-like a manner as possible. I think she resents me; she's a retired agent and I'm still an active. I nod at her, she nods back, and that suffices for our farewells.

When the readout on my hand begins flashing red I cross my legs indian-style and grip my knees hard with my hands. My children run up and tug at me, begging and pleading with their words. I reach into my shirt pocket and pull out two one-dollar bills, handing a bill to each of them, pushing them away gently as I do so. They stand back, staring at their prizes as the Daze comes over me at last and I begin the trip back upstream, to the future. To their eyes I simply blink out of existence, their father gone forever.

I screw up my face, close my eyes, grit my teeth. The Daze -- it picks me up, whirls me around inside it for a while. Somehow, as always, my eyes open and I see the colors and bodies and shapes and the twisted half-human things that inhabit other dimensions within the Daze. The colored mists run through my body as if I weren't completely solid, altering my mind and meddling in my thoughts with their touch. I can feel my identity changing, feel myself changing and being altered in subtle, random ways I can't put my finger on.

The doctors tell me I'm one of the few people sensitive enough to feel the changes, and the only one still alive who hasn't gone stark raving mad or rogue yet. I always leave the daze screaming, though. I suppose the day I stop screaming at the corruption of my personality is the day I'll need a sanity pension.

The Daze rushes out of my head, out of my vision in one split-second. I can hear a loud noise from somewhere that takes a second to register as being my own voice, yelling hoarsely. The accoustics of the Daze Transference Chamber are such that I continue to hear the echoes of my screams for a few seconds after I stop. The feeling of dislocation fades from me, and I know where and who I am again.

I'm sitting on the red metal pad in the Daze Chamber, my legs and knees tightly drawn up against me. Carefully I unwind myself and stand, shaking out the kinks in my muscles and trying to ignore the new ones in my head. I practice focusing my eyes on the emitter arrays pointing at the pad, from the closest dish to the farthest and then back again. Physically, I seem to have made the trip in one piece.

"Welcome back, Lincoln," says a voice coming from speakers mounted on either side of the Chamber's observation window. I flip off the speakers, the window, and the people in the control room behind the window in one grandiose gesture and stalk off to the main exit.

"Dazing often has unpredictable mental effects after transference," the voice explains to someone I can't see. I curse at the unseen people colorfully as I come to the security doors, and I'm rewarded by the faint popping noise of a microphone being turned off. The fool had forgotten he was still broadcasting, no doubt.

"Let me out!" I shout, pounding on the doors ineffectually with my fists. The doors open with a clank and swish, and I purposefully stomp down the corridor, pointedly ignoring the men waiting for me in the adjoining debriefing room. They watch me stalk past with bemused expressions, but they've become used to my quirks and don't attempt to stop me.

After a few minutes of walking, I enter the barracks and collapse on my bunk without even greeting the other agents. I bury my face in the pillow and try not to envision the young twin faces of my sons, Patrick and Dwayne, as they had begged me not to go again. It simply wasn't enough. They needed a father but they would never have a real one who would be there for them. I've seen the pain in their faces during the rare times they talk about their parents and their upbringing.

Patrick showed me his prized possession once when we were young agents boozing up in the barracks. In a frame he pulled from his footlocker, laminated against the wear and tear of the intervening years, was a single dollar bill. His brother was on a mission then I think, and Patrick and I had a sad and morose drinking session as he reminisced about their long-lost father and the last time they had ever seen them. I comforted him as a friend the best I could, not knowing yet that I would be called on to be their father in a later "loose-end" mission. Now that I knew I can't tell, due to the hypnotic implants.

They might even have their own hypnotic blocks specifically designed to keep them from recognizing me. Their knowing I was their father would only screw up our friendship and make it impossible to live or work together at all. As long as I was the only one who knew, we could still function together somewhat smoothly. It wouldn't be perfect, though -- I felt as if this situation was heralding the end of my career in the InClock Institute. InClock probably wouldn't keep me around for too much longer with this kind of weight on my mind.

Or maybe they knew I was going to go insane or even die soon. It was fairly evident that the heads of the institute didn't play by the same rules we agents were required to; they played around in the timestreams like children sometimes. They probably knew exactly when and where I would crack up, but thinking that way leads to paranoia, another job-related threat. I hate this job.

Lately, I've been hating everything about being an InClock agent. My fellow agents have nicknamed me "Sicko" behind my back, no doubt to the large amounts of time I spend in psychiatric evaluations. Everyone seems to expect me to be crazy and they're surprised when I'm pronounced 'mostly stable'. 'Mostly' will do for an InClock agent.

Tomorrow I have a banking mission on my schedule. Cakewalk -- I'll enjoy it for a change of pace.

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