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Authors: Jack McDevitt

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BOOK: Time Travelers Never Die
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Shel showed the photo.
“Oh, no,” Poppa said. “Michael was much older than this man.”
The woman studied it. “It could be him. When he was young.”
 
 
A
young woman confirmed it. “That’s him,” she said. “He’s buried at Santo Pietro.”
“A churchyard?” asked Shel, in English.
Dave translated.
“Sì.”
“He wasn’t much of a churchgoer,” Shel objected. “It must be somebody else.”
“Can you show us?” Dave asked.
The woman’s name was Carlotta. She was attractive, with dark, luminous eyes and a quiet smile. She said it was only a short distance, and they fell in behind her. Shel walked almost in a daze. He wasn’t sure what he’d expected to find in Galileo’s Italy, but certainly nothing like this. For one thing, his father was immortal. Whatever else might change, he would be there, always ready to laugh, to demonstrate what living really meant.
Carpe diem.
Make the most of your time because you will not forever enjoy the daylight. And that very attitude had somehow imbued him with a cloak of invulnerability.
Carts clattered past. People worked in the fields. Farm animals nibbled on grass. Occasionally, someone rode by on a horse.
Carlotta knew everyone by name, greeted every person they passed, answered questions about her mother’s well-being by saying she was all right. Coming along.
Bene.
When Dave asked, she explained that her mother had recently delivered another child but had had a difficult time for a while.
When she learned that Shel was Michael’s son, she offered condolences. “You look like him,” she added. The remark induced another chill.
They moved at a steady pace, around a curve out of a cluster of trees, and a town came into view. It was a small town, maybe a hundred houses. Carlotta pointed out an attractive villa with a broad deck and bright green shutters, atop a hill. “That is where he lived,” she said.
“Michael Shelborne?”
“Yes.”
They passed a winery and more houses. And finally they approached an old stone church. It was small and looked abandoned. Shel doubted they could have gotten fifty people into it.
“No,” said Carlotta. “Santo Pietro’s still has an active congregation. But they have no money.”
Its lonely steeple thrust up through the trees. “It doesn’t look safe,” said Dave.
Carlotta smiled. “I can’t imagine anyplace safer.”
An angel with spread wings dominated the churchyard, standing guard over three graves. “Priests,” their guide said. “Father Patrizio, Father Agostino, and Father Cristiano. They were good men. Father Agostino baptized me.”
“Carlotta,” said Dave, translating for Shel, “do you know what Shelborne’s connection was with this church?”
“Only that he was a member.”
“Of
Santo Pietro’s
?” said Shel. “That’s not possible.”
“I think he must have been. He left his estate to the parish.”
“You mean, to the
church
?”
“Not directly. As I understand it, it was left to the
parròchia
. Had he left it to the church, it would have simply gone to Rome. This way, Father Valentini was able to use it to help the poorer families in the district.”
“You think well of him,” said Dave. “Father Valentini.”
“Of course.”
“You do not sound as if you care much for Rome, however.”
“It is like everything else. The priests have no real power. They do what they can to make life easier for us. Without them, I’m not sure what hope we would have.”
 
 
THEY
went behind the church, where there was another statue, probably of Mary, looking heavenward. She held a tablet, inscribed with the words RIPOSI IN PACE. And maybe two hundred headstones. They looked through the markers, and it was Carlotta who found it. She pointed and stood aside.
It was a plain headstone with an engraved cross.
 
MICHAEL SHELBORNE
M. 1637
 
“Date of death?” asked Shel.
Dave nodded. “Yes.” The graveyard was very still. “Three years ago.”
“That can’t be right. The Internet entry said he died in 1650.”
“It was a guess.”
“He’s only been gone a few months,” said Shel.
“It’s different here. It looks as if he’s been here for years.”
“He wasn’t a believer.”
While they stood looking at the marker, a door opened in the church, and a priest appeared. He raised a hand in greeting, seemed about to go back inside, when Shel signaled, asking him to wait.
It was Father Valentini. Carlotta introduced them, then explained she had work to do. Shel gave her some
carlinos
. She tried to decline, but he insisted.
When she was gone, the priest invited them inside. “How may I help you?” he asked.
“Adrian,” said Dave, “thinks that Michael Shelborne may have been his father.”
“There
is
a resemblance,” said the priest.
“Father,” said Shel, “can you tell me if there was a connection between Michael and Galileo?”
The priest’s features brightened. He was about sixty, his hair almost gone. His beard was white, and he had sharp amber eyes. “Galileo? Yes. Michael Shelborne knew him, but it was a long time ago.”
“Galileo denied all knowledge.”
“Ah, you’ve been to see him. I’m surprised you got past the Inquisition.”
“Is there any reason he would have lied?”
“I don’t think that’s what happened. Your father was, as far as I know, only a casual acquaintance, and that was a long time ago.”
“Can you tell me when?”
“I believe it was at the time of the nova.”
“The nova?”
“The new star. Professor Galilei was teaching mathematics at the University of Padua when it happened. It was visible for a year and a half, I believe, and was for a time the brightest object in the sky. Except the sun and moon, of course.” He shook his head. “It was so bright, we could see it in the twilight. But you’re too young to remember. We never did figure out what it was. A sign of some sort, perhaps.”
“When was that?”
“I believe 1604. It was one of the things that got the professor in trouble with the Church.”
“Why?”
“Because the new star did not move through the sky like the moon. So he said it was farther away than the moon.”
“And . . . ?”
“It was like the stars. It remained in a single place, and moved across the sky with them. He declared it
was
a star. A
new
one.”
“Why would that have created a problem?” asked Dave.
“Aristotle does not allow for an ongoing creation. You cannot
have
new stars. It is not supposed to happen.”
“And Michael Shelborne was here then?”
“He was in Padua also. It was, I believe, where they first met.”
Dave looked at Shel. “What do you think?”
“That sounds like the way he would do things. Why pop by Arcetri when you can be in town for a supernova?” He looked out the window at the statue of Mary. And the tablet: RIPOSI IN PACE. “Father, of what did he die? Do you know?”
“I assume it was of old age,
signore.

“Old age?”
“He was not young.”
“How old would you say he was?”
“He must have been in his eighties.”
 
 
THEY
stopped at a
caffé
for a drink and some dinner. And to get out of the sun. The menu was posted on the wall. It was midafternoon, and the place was almost empty. Shel commented there were no sandwiches on the menu.
“I don’t think they’ve been invented yet,” said Dave. The waitress brought two cups of cool wine. “We could go back and watch the supernova,” he continued. “Catch your father when he first arrived.”
“And do what?”
“Take him home.”
“If it really was him, he died here.”
Dave hesitated. “I don’t know how I’m supposed to answer that.”
“Maybe it doesn’t matter,” said Shel. “I don’t know. I just don’t know the rules.”
Dave took a long pull on his wine. “I hate to point this out,
compagno
, but he’s already changed a few things. By his presence here, how could he
not
?”
Their waitress was back. She looked good. Black hair, brown eyes, big smile. They decided to try the eggplant, baked with mozzarella cheese. And refill the cups.
When she’d gone, Dave leaned across the table. “You didn’t answer my question.”
“How can I?”
“That’s my point. There’s already been a disruption. The time stream, whatever that
is
, has already been thrown off course. Hell, for all we know, you might have a couple of siblings here. Maybe even that young lady who just took the order.”
“I’m my own grandpa.”
“It’s possible.”
“Look, Dave, I’m not a physicist. I don’t know. My father didn’t know. Maybe we’ll go back home and discover Italy’s ruling the world. But I’m not excited about going to see him in Padua, a day or two after he’d arrived, and telling him what we know.”
“Maybe he already knows.”
“How do you mean?”
“Look, this is wild stuff. But maybe the Michael Shelborne in 1604 had already visited this time. Hell, he might have seen the marker himself. Or maybe he googled himself before he came.”
“That’s goofy, Dave.”
“You think time travel isn’t goofy? Anything goes.”
The waitress returned with more dark wine and utensils.
“This whole thing scares me,” Shel said.
“I think we should just go home and forget it.”
“No,” he said. “What did you say at Selma? I can’t just walk away from it.”
CHAPTER 25
I now believe that television itself, the medium of sitting in front of a magic box that pulses images at us endlessly, the act of watching TV, per se, is mindcrushing. It is soul-deadening, dehumanizing, soporific in a poisonous way, ultimately brutalizing. It is, simply put so you cannot mistake my meaning, a bad thing.
—HARLAN ELLISON,
STRANGE WINE
 
 
 
 
THEY
returned to the villa with the green shutters, set the converters to keep them in the same location, but to take them back seven years. They arrived on a sunny morning in the spring of 1633. Birds sang while five or six children ran in circles through a field. A light breeze was coming out of the west. The house looked much the same, except that the east wing was missing. A later addition, apparently. A middle-aged man was clipping a fern. He saw them approaching, wiped his hands on a cloth, and came forward. “Ah,
signori
, may I help you?”
“Hello,” said Dave. “We understand this is the home of
Signore
Shelborne?”
“Why, yes,” he said. “It is. Did you wish to see him?”
“If you will.”
“Does he know you’re coming?”
Dave looked toward Shel. “
This
is Adrian Shelborne,” he said. “He is Professor Shelborne’s son.”
Shel felt something closing over him. Please let us be wrong—
“Ah,
Signore
Shelborne.” He bowed. Tasted the name. “
Eccelénte.
I am Albertino. And I do believe the master will be delighted to see you.” He led the way to the front door. “He has spoken of you many times.”
God. But Shel kept his smile in place. “How is he? How is his health?”
“He’s quite well, sir, thank you.” He opened the door for them and stood aside. Albertino was short, with a full face and black curly hair. Probably in his fifties which, in this age, was well along. “Please go in, gentlemen.”
They followed him into a spacious, comfortable living room with several armchairs and a sofa and a pleasant view of the town. A full bookcase stood near the door. Oil paintings adorned the walls: a landscape, two portraits of young women, and one of a passenger vehicle drawn by a team of horses. Potted plants stood on a shelf and on a small side table. The servant addressed Dave: “May I ask
your
name, sir?”
“David Dryden.”
“Thank you. I’ll tell Dr. Shelborne you’re here.”
He left the room, headed toward the back of the house through a pair of double doors. Shel could barely restrain himself from following. Especially when he heard voices in the rear and, a moment later, hesitant footsteps. He was on his feet when his father, supported by a cane, entered the room.
The world fell away.
He was an old man.
Shel had to look closely to be sure it
was
his father. His hair had turned white, and his skin was pale and creased. He wore a beard now.
Michael limped forward, gait uncertain, and put his arms around his son. “Adrian,” he said, “is it really
you
?”
“Dad—What happened?”
“I had an accident. Adrian, it’s so good to see you.”
“Good to see
you
, Dad.” They embraced again, then pushed apart to look at each other.
“My God,” said the old man, “I never expected to see you again.”
They clung to each other. Albertino came in but stood off to one side, pretending that nothing unusual was happening.
Then Michael turned irritable. “You shouldn’t be here.”
“Neither should you. Do you have any idea what we’ve been through? Everybody thinks you’re dead.”
“I’m sorry about that.” Michael eased himself into a chair. Then glanced at Dave. In Italian, he asked, “Do I know you?”
Dave replied in English: “I’m Dave Dryden, Professor.”
“Oh, yes.” He turned a withering eye on Shel. “So much for keeping things quiet.”
“I won’t say anything,” said Dave.
Michael nodded without taking his eyes off his son. “Let’s hope not.” He signaled for Albertino to leave them. “Do you realize what you’ve done, Adrian?”
BOOK: Time Travelers Never Die
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