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Authors: Jack McDevitt

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BOOK: Time Travelers Never Die
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“It need not be so dire. I hope not. But yes, I think you’re correct.”
Shel sat quietly, trying to absorb it all. “What was the book? Why did you smile when you mentioned it?”
“It was one of my favorites. The Library of America edition of Tom Paine.”
“Why’s that funny?”
“The first essay is ‘Common Sense.’ ”
“DAD,
if you were actually to go back to talk to Galileo—”
“Yes.”
“How’s your Italian?”
“Not bad. I’ve been doing a crash course.”
“Have you done anything like this yet? Have you actually been anywhere?”
“Only a couple of experimental trips.”
“Nothing long distance?”
“No. But let’s get to the point. You’re here because I didn’t come back from this, right?”
“Yes.”
He pursed his lips. Not to worry. Everything’s under control. “Okay.”
“Dad, I don’t think you understand. You’re going back there to Renaissance Italy, or wherever, and something happened. Happens. Probably the Inquisition gets you, too.”
“No,” he said. “Nothing will happen.”
“How can you say that?”
“Because when I’m done with my visit, instead of coming back here, I’ll return in, say, two weeks.”
Shel’s head was starting to spin again. “Then the reason you disappeared is because I warned you you’d disappear.”
“Sure.” He grinned.
“Wouldn’t it be simpler, and safer, not to go?”
“It’s perfectly safe, Adrian. Because I know what I’m doing.”
“What would have happened if I hadn’t shown up here?”
“Pointless question, son. You
did
, and that’s all that matters.”
Shel listened to a car approach, slow down, and pull into a driveway across the street.
“Now, I’m still missing as of when? When did you leave your base time?”
“Base time?”
“Your present.”
“Um. Thursday, the twenty-f ourth.”
“Morning? Night?”
“Morning.”
“Okay. That’s the day I’ll come back. In the evening.” He produced a Q-pod, a converter, and did something to it. “Make it nine o’clock. In the evening. I’ll call you as soon as I get in.”
“Okay,” said Shel. “Good. That’ll work.” A sense of relief flooded through him.
“One other thing: You need to keep quiet about this, Adrian. Tell nobody.”
“Okay.”
Mission accomplished. Shel got up, as did his father. They embraced. “It’s good to see you again, Dad. I thought I’d lost you.”
He laughed. “Nice to know you care, son.”
“So, where’ve you been, exactly? Where were the experimental trips?”
“I sat up front and watched Beethoven play the
Pathétique
. And I went to Broadway for
Over the Top
.”

Over the Top
?”
“Fred and Adele Astaire.”
“Who?”
“Before your time, lad.”
“When was that?
Over the Top
?”
“Nineteen seventeen.” He actually looked apologetic. “I probably shouldn’t be doing it. But it’s been hard to resist.”
“How about if I come?”
“To talk to Galileo?”
“Sure. Why not?”
“How’s
your
Italian?”
CHAPTER 6
. . . To the gods alone
Is it given never to grow old or die,
But all else melts before relentless Time.
—SOPHOCLES,
OEDIPUS AT COLONUS
 
 
 
 
SHEL
returned to Thursday morning, October 25, retrieved his car from the driveway, and went home. He came away from the conversation with mixed feelings. An overwhelming pride in his father’s achievement. Exhilaration at the knowledge that he, too, had traveled in time, had literally gone back into the previous week. Misgivings that his father was going ahead with his intention to travel to Renaissance Italy. Or wherever he finally decided to go.
He called the office and told them he’d be late. He stopped for breakfast at Maggie’s and thought about calling Dave to tell him what had happened. But that meant flying in the face of his father’s insistence that he keep the existence of the converters quiet. Anyhow, Dave would think he’d lost his mind.
When he arrived at the office, Linda didn’t want to let him in. “Have you been to see the psychiatrist yet?” she asked. She tried to make it sound like a joke, but her expression clashed with that notion.
“He’s a
psychologist
,” Shel said.
“What did he say?”
“I’m supposed to be over there at eleven thirty.”
“Okay. Good. Why don’t you take the rest of the morning? Go to Starbucks or something. Relax. See the doctor, then come back.”
“Linda,” he said, “I’m okay.”
“I know that, Shel. But I think maybe you’ve been under too much stress lately. I mean, something like this could happen to anybody.”
In fact, Shel had forgotten about Dr. Benson. “I’ll be fine, Linda,” he told her. “Look, I’ve got work to do, and I’m not delusional.”
“You’re sure?”
“How long have you known me?”
“I’m sorry, Shel. But yesterday was a little scary.”
“I know. Look, I’ll sit quietly in my offic e and play with the computer for an hour. Then I’ll go see Dr. Benson. Okay?”
 
 
BENSON
must have been eighty. He wasn’t much taller than his desk, and he looked as if he didn’t eat enough. But he had a leisurely manner that put Shel, despite his reservations, at ease. “Why don’t you tell me what happened?” he said.
The truth, Dr. Benson, is that I have a time machine. Got it right here in my briefcase. “Doctor, my father is Michael Shelborne, the physicist who disappeared two weeks ago.” He gave a fictionalized account of the last few days. Stress over the loss of his father had left him confused, and he’d lost a day out of his memory. “But I remember it now. It came back to me.”
Benson asked more questions. Had anything like this happened to him before? What sort of relationship did he have with his father? Was there a woman in his father’s life? He asked what day it was. (He almost got Shel there.) Who was the current occupant of the White House?
Then it was over. “These things happen all the time, Dr. Shelborne,” he said. “Nothing to worry about. You’ve undergone a severe shock, and sometimes, when that happens, people simply want to get away from it. So we push it out of our memory. Or, we may forget other things instead.” He smiled. “You’ll be fine.”
Shel drove back to the office and described the conversation to Linda. She was relieved, and said, “See, that wasn’t so hard, was it?”
DURING
the afternoon, Shel’s spirits improved. Linda seemed to have forgotten his odd behavior, and everything returned to normal. He spent most of his time thinking about the converter, where he’d like to go, what he’d like to see. The Wright Brothers, maybe. The “I Have a Dream” speech. And he’d like to go back and watch a couple of the ball games he’d played in for Teddy Roosevelt High School. They’d almost won a title one year. He’d cleared the bases late in the final game, the deciding game, with a double to right center. It gave the Rough Riders a one-run lead, but Lenny Khyber couldn’t hold it.
Damn. It still annoyed him, remembering Lenny walking three guys in the seventh to give it all back. His father wouldn’t like it, wouldn’t approve, but in the end he’d give in. He had to, because he’d been doing it himself.
And there was also going to be the matter of explaining where Michael Shelborne had been the last eleven days. But, ultimately, it wasn’t Shel’s problem.
This would be a weekend to celebrate. Maybe with Helen. He hadn’t asked for her phone number—should have done that—but he found it easily enough in the directory.
It was late in the week to call and try to set up a Saturday date. But another possibility suggested itself.
That evening, he took the converter into the park and, when he was alone, used it to return to the previous night. Wednesday. Then he called her on his cell phone.
She picked up on the fifth ring.
“Hello?”
“Helen? This is Shel.”
“Who?”
“Adrian Shelborne. From the Devil’s Disciples.”
“Oh, yes. Of course. How are you, Shel?”
“I’m fine. I hope I’m not disturbing you.”
“No. I was just reading the paper.”
“Helen, I enjoyed meeting you last night.” Was that right? Had it only been the night before? “I was wondering if I could talk you into having dinner with me Saturday?”
“It’s nice of you to ask, Shel. But I already have a commitment.”
“Oh. I’m sorry to hear that.” For a few moments neither spoke. Then Shel continued: “How about next week?”
“Sure,”
she said.
“I think I can manage that.”
 
 
AT
twenty to nine, Thursday evening, he was parked in front of the TV, watching
Heavy Hitters
, a political show with people yelling at one another over, mostly, trivia. Whom could the ordinary people believe? Who was being inconsistent on the issues? Shel was grateful it was an off year for elections.
He imagined what time travel could do for the media. Take a camera crew back and record what a given candidate had actually done or said. (They’d probably need a court order for that sort of thing.) And for specials, they could record the Caesar assassination. Or Alexander routing the Persians and their war elephants at—Where was it?—Guagamela? They could interview St. Augustine, talk about how it felt to be a god with Amenhotep, and settle the world’s religious arguments once and for all. They could interview Richard III. (“And what did you think of how Shakespeare portrayed you?”) They could talk with Columbus on the way to the New World, and get the native reaction as the galleys appeared on the horizon. He loved the possibilities.
The moderator on
Heavy Hitters
was trying to get one of the experts to quiet down long enough for someone else to say something.
The show that would really draw the ratings would be the talk show from the future.
Tomorrow’s News Today
. Imagine how many people would tune in to watch that. Shel pictured himself as host.
He checked his watch. It was 8:47.
A car pulled up outside. Doors opened and closed. Laughter. Then the car pulled away.
“Love in Bloom” sounded. He picked up. “Hi, Dad,” he said. “You’re early.”
“Shel?”
A woman’s voice.
“Yes. Who is it, please?”
“Charlotte.”
His cousin.
“Have you heard anything new about your father?”
“Nothing yet, Charlotte. Listen, let me get back to you. Just a few minutes. I’m expecting a call.”
“But you haven’t heard anything? I wondered because you answered sort of funny.”
“No. I think I got confused, Charlotte. Listen. I’ll call you right back.” He disconnected and put the phone down on the coffee table. Beside the connector. The calibrator. Whatever the damned thing was called. And he started thinking how he’d explain it to Charlotte. And Jerry. And everybody else.
Maybe it wasn’t just his father’s problem at that.
 
 
HEAVY
Hitters
was running commercials. Take this to increase your sexual prowess. Take that to get rid of arthritic knees. The moderator returned, posed against the standard background of the Capitol dome, inviting everyone to be with him tomorrow when his special guest would be Elizabeth Staple, who was head of the House Judiciary Committee. Then he was gone, and the nine o’clock show,
The News Room
, started, with its discordant theme that suggested the world was going mad. Host Bob Ostermaier appeared behind his desk with a handful of papers. “Tonight,” he said, “Washington has a brand-new sex scandal involving a senator who’s spent most of his career running on family values.”
BOOK: Time Travelers Never Die
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