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Authors: Jack McDevitt

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BOOK: Time Travelers Never Die
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How long ago had it happened? When had his father developed the first working model? Had he possessed this thing for years? Or was it connected with the government project?
No. He knew the answer. The letter had gone to the lawyer a few months ago.
Why had he told no one? More to the point, why did he want the devices destroyed?
 
 
HE
turned out the lights. He wasn’t sure why. If David’s car actually showed up, carrying both Dave and himself, he’d open the front door and charge out onto the pavement and shake his own hand. Explain to himself what was going on.
In
credible.
But wait. That wasn’t the way it had happened.
As much as he liked the idea of meeting himself, he decided caution would be a better policy. He couldn’t have said why. Maybe he was driven by his father’s secrecy.
Hammer them flat. Throw them into a fire. Then weigh them down and drop what’s left into the ocean.
The Shel coming back from western Pennsylvania, though, had no keys. He unlocked the front door. Save them from having to break a window. Then he picked up a spare key from the wicker bowl and put it in his pocket.
Minutes later, a car pulled up outside.
Shel was so excited he could hardly breathe. He went over to one of the dining-room windows and peered out through the curtain. Headlights swept across the driveway, and Dave’s white Regal eased in off the street. It was dark, but he could just make out the passenger. A chill slithered up his spine.
The engine died. They got out of the car, and Shel—the one outside—stood looking around, wondering, of course, how he was going to get into a locked house. Shel watched, unable to believe what he was seeing, and, somehow, mildly disappointed in his appearance. He didn’t look as good as he’d expected.
Abruptly the man outside turned Shel’s way. Shel ducked back into the dark. The outside Shel stood staring for a minute. Then he shook his head, and said something to David. He remembered:
“Somebody’s in there.”
Shel retreated from the dining room into the kitchen and stood near the side door.
They’d be coming in the front. When he heard them on the porch, he eased the side door open and slipped out into the driveway.
He went for a walk. Gave it an hour just to be safe. When he returned, the lights were out, and the Shel who had arrived with Dave had by then consented to the time machine’s query: RETURN? It had put him back in the town house early Wednesday morning.
 
 
HE
sat cradling the Q-pod in his hands. His father must have had a big time with this. The guy who’d lived to visit Urquhart Castle and the Palmengarten and the Hanging Gardens had extended his reach dramatically.
He wondered how far back he’d been able to go. A few days? Years? Was the Mesozoic within range? Had he been able to travel in the other direction? Into the future?
And that explained his disappearance. He’d gone somewhere, and, obviously, something had gone wrong. Maybe he’d landed in the middle of the Little Bighorn. If Shel could figure it out, he could follow him and, he hoped, do a rescue. If he was in time.
Wait a minute.
Shel had a time machine. If you have a time machine, there’s never any question about the cavalry arriving on cue. If he was too late with the first attempt, he could just reset the clock and go back another hour. Or whatever it took. All he needed to do was figure out where his father had gone.
He visualized him on Lincoln’s train to Gettysburg, or watching Washington cross the Delaware. Maybe he’d decided to tour the Renaissance. Hell, that would explain the robes! He
had
been going back pretty far.
But how to know where to look?
Then he realized how dumb he’d been: There was no need to follow his father into the past. Or the future. Whatever. He’d left from the house on Moorland Avenue a week ago Monday. All Shel needed to do was to show up at the house on Monday the fifteenth and say hello.
CHAPTER 5
We were the first that ever burst
Into that silent sea.
—SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE, “THE RIME OF THE ANCIENT MARINER”
 
 
 
 
SHEL
would have liked to transport himself directly into his father’s house, or, failing that, onto Moorland Avenue. Why drive over there when he had, in effect, instantaneous transportation? But he didn’t know how to do it. There were provisions for narrowing down the arrival site, but he had no idea of the precise location of the house in terms of degrees, minutes, and fractions of seconds.
So he waited until morning. Usually, breakfast was his big meal, but he got up with no appetite, settled for a cup of coffee and a piece of toast, wrapped the Q-pod in a plastic bag, and drove to Moorland Avenue. He parked in the driveway, got out, walked behind the house, where he was more or less out of sight, and set the converter to take him back to Monday night, October 15. With no change of geographical position.
Then he pressed the button.
The sun went out, and the sky filled with stars. The house remained dark.
He walked back out to the driveway. And voilà. Shel’s car was gone. Now it remained only to wait for his father to arrive.
But, come to think of it, there was no need to wait. Time travelers don’t have to wait for anybody. And there was the title for the book he would one day write about all this. My God, he felt good. The vast realms of past and future were opening up. And, more important, he didn’t have to worry anymore about a tumor. Life had become a dream.
What time had he spoken with his father on that night? On
this
night?
He couldn’t remember. He’d been watching the TV but wasn’t sure what had been on. Okay. It was simple enough. The time at the moment was eleven minutes after nine. He set the Q-pod to take him forward to ten o’clock.
The darkness faded and came back. And he realized he was standing in the middle of the driveway. Time traveler run down by father.
But no car was coming, and the garage was still empty. He was sure the call hadn’t come in after eleven, so he set the device to move forward one hour. This time he walked onto the lawn before activating.
And the black Skylark had arrived. Inside the house, lights were on.
Who said Shel wasn’t brilliant? He congratulated himself and knocked at the front door. There was movement inside, the living-room lights came on, and the door opened.
His father’s eyes went wide. “Adrian.”
“Hi, Dad.” They stood for a long moment staring at each other. “Did you want to invite me in?”
“Yes. Of course.” He stepped back. “I just got finished talking to you.”
“I know.”
Michael Shelborne resembled Jerry more than he did Shel. Or would have had Jerry not picked up weight. His father was tall, lean, with thick black hair and the kind of face that would have allowed him to play Sher lock Holmes. “Adrian, were you in your car when we talked?”
“No.”
“I thought not.”
Shel showed him the Q-pod. His father acquired a distinctly unhappy expression. “Come in,” he said, using a tone that one might adopt to a sixteen-year-old caught smuggling his girlfriend into the house.
They sat down while the elder Shelborne contented himself with glaring at one of the walls. Then the eyes, dark, penetrating, cool even when he was irritated, locked on him.
“Where are you going, Dad?” Shel asked innocently.
“Why does it matter?”
“That lunch tomorrow?” Shel made no effort to hide an accusing tone. “You never showed up. Or, rather, you
won’t
show up.”
“What happened?”
“That’s what I wanted to ask you.”
He’d settled into an armchair. Now he pushed back in it, licked his lips, and braced his jaw on one fist. “Is that why you’re here?”
“Isn’t it sufficient reason?”
“Don’t tell me any more,” he said.
“Why not?”
“Trust me.” He indicated the Q-pod, which Shel had attached to his belt. “How long have you known about that?”
“A couple of days. To be honest, it’s hard to be sure. What day is this?”
“Monday.”
“Incredible. A few minutes ago it was Thursday.”
Michael’s eyes closed. “Look, Adrian, I know you’re probably upset.”
“Did you make this thing?”
“You were supposed to destroy it.”
“I’m glad I didn’t.”
“I’m sure you are.” Michael pressed his lips together. “Yes, I made it. Along with a colleague.”
“Why do you want it destroyed?”
“Because it’s dangerous.”
“Why’s that?”
“For a number of reasons.”
“Tell me about them. I don’t have a clue what’s going on.”
“I take it I haven’t turned up since the lunch?”
“No. You’ve been missing nine days.”
“Okay.”
“Where were you planning to go?”
He laughed. “You wouldn’t believe it.”
“At this point, I’m ready to believe
anything
.”
He smiled, casually, easily, like a man in charge of the world. “You know what the converters can do.”
“A converter. Is that what you call it?”
“Yes. But the name’s not important.”
“I guess not. So where did you go? Where are you going?”
“I’d always wanted to spend some time with Galileo.”
“Galileo.”
“Or maybe Cicero. Or Ben Franklin.” He managed a smile. “I haven’t made up my mind yet.”
“You’ve had this thing—what?—three or four months? It’s part of that government project, right?”
“More or less.”
“How do you mean, ‘more or less’?”
“It was an accidental discovery. We were working on something else.”
“Okay. So now the government has time-travel capability.”
“No.”
“No? Why not?”
“It’s too dangerous to put in anybody’s hands. Let alone a government.”
“You keep saying it’s dangerous.”
“I don’t think we would be permitted to change the past. Though there are people who’d want to. Hell,
I’d
want to. You could save Lincoln. Kill Hitler. Things like that. But I’m not certain what the result would be.”
“I’m not sure I’m following.”
“We had reason to believe that the time stream has a lot of flexibility. You can go back and do things, and the continuum will adjust. As long as you don’t create a paradox. A loop. Something that can’t be absorbed.”
“What makes you say that?”
“The math suggests it. But we pushed it too far. We did an experiment.”
“I’m listening.”
“Adrian, my partner in the research was Ivy Klassen.”
“Was?”
“She’s dead.”
“What happened?”
“The experiment.”
“Explain.”
“What happens if someone goes back and rescues JFK? Prevents his going to Dallas?”
“I don’t know. We stay out of Vietnam?”
“I don’t know either. What we
do
know is that it didn’t happen. Look, Adrian, the standard theory is that if you go back and rescue Kennedy, you cause a split in the timeline. Another reality is created. That’s nonsense, of course, but if it happened, there’d be diverging timelines. The one we live in, and the one in which he survives.”
“And that’s what you wanted to test?”
“Yes.”
“What did you try to do? Post somebody at the Texas School Book Depository?”
“We did a different kind of test. We put a copy of a book into a briefcase.”
“Why are you laughing?”
“Because of the book. Anyhow, we closed the briefcase. Left it alone in Ivy’s office for fifteen minutes. Then we went in and opened it. The book was still there.”
“I would think so.”
“Then Ivy used the converter to go back five minutes, to a time before we looked in the briefcase. The intention was that she’d remove the book.”
“So it should have been empty when you opened it.”
“Yes. But had it been empty when we opened it, then Ivy would have done nothing. Either way, we’d have had a paradox. We would have changed reality.”
“So what happened?”
“I found her dead in the office.”
“What? How?”
“The doctors said it was a heart attack.”
“My God.”
“She was twenty-seven. In perfect health, as far as anyone knew.” He sighed. “It was my fault, Adrian.”
“Why do you say that?”
“I should have realized there might be a factor, something built into the continuum that prevents our screwing around with it. No paradox allowed.”
“But we’ve both traveled in time. I did it tonight. This was a conversation that did not take place. And here we are.”
“How can you say it didn’t take place? It
is
taking place. I did not live through a variant of this evening in which I called you, agreed to meet you and Jerry at Servio’s, and you
didn’t
show up here with a converter.
“Listen, son, if we went back to watch the signing of the Magna Carta, then we
were
part of the event. If photographers had been there, taking pictures, they would have gotten us, as well as the other witnesses. There never would have been a Magna Carta event that we did not attend. I think—I can’t be sure, but I
think
—it’s only when we violate the time flow, when we create a situation we know could not have existed, that a corrective sets in.”
“A corrective.”
“Call it a principle that maintains chronological integrity. That prevents modifications to history. It disallows paradoxes. Negates contradictions.”
“A chronological integrity principle.”
“Yes.”
“You mean a
cardiac
principle. Threaten the prescribed chain of events, and your heart gives out.”
BOOK: Time Travelers Never Die
10.19Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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