Jody Nagel
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The End Times
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The End Times
(A satire in the form of a science-fiction short story)
Jody Nagel
- I -
Clarence Jennings Bryon was in high spirits as he walked towards his car. The three-day evangelical convention that just ended had attracted over a million people, and he smiled at several others as he went along. All the "God-bless-you,-brother!"s and the "Praise-Jesus,-sister!"s exchanged between the departing faithful were simply wonderful, and he was once more ready to tackle the world, ungodly as it was. As manager of a large stock brokerage at the age of 33, he knew all about how crazy and evil other people could be!
Bryon inserted his forefinger into the car door's print reader, waited for the panel to slide open and scooted into place. It was exactly noon, and the warm mid-summer sun shone directly over head in a lovely cloudless sky. He might as well save his solar batteries by disengaging them temporarily while using only the overhead photocollectors. He adjusted the view screen's brightness filter and entered his personal start-up code on the keypad. There were well over two hours of driving to do before getting home and so, before leaving the Planetary Coliseum, he had stopped and bought a printed newspaper for the trip. News printed on old-style newspaper was all in vogue these days. He stuck the paper into the electronic scanner/D-to-A converter so that he could listen to the news while he drove. It suddenly struck him that it was rather silly to have a scanner/converter read and play back the news from a printed newspaper when he could have just listened directly to his computer. But it was what everyone was doing these days, and he gave it no further thought as he punched in his request to hear the headlines first:
Sunday, July 19, 2096. The Globe Herald, Region 17 edition.
- The homosexual community was demanding rights to legally redefine cloned children, extracted from themselves, as valid objects for their own use.
- The pope was asking the world to pray for all the possibly-existent souls of all the genetically-engineered headless human bodies designed for organ donation.
- Big business was demanding rights to use the new direct-advertising genetically-engineered mental telepathy techniques in their cyber-marketing campaigns (which outraged all those damn liberals, Bryon knew).
- A support group for would-be relatives of failed clones was being created on the old internet, but there weren't really enough users of that medium left to make it viable.
It seemed that everything on the news these days was about genetic engineering, and it was getting tiresome! Bryon turned the converter off in disgust and stared at his location on the view screen. It just plain made one wish for a simpler, gentler time like back in the late 20th century.
However, he decided he was not going to let the news ruin his great mood. (He should have known better than to buy that newspaper in the first place! All true believers knew, were convinced in their inner hearts, that mankind was nearing the End Times, when God would punish the human race for its sinful arrogance. But true believers could rejoice! - because it was they who each would be an instrument of the Divine Will!) Bryon began to reflect on all the points made at the convention - things he already knew and agreed with, of course, but it was that much more satisfying to have prominent world-class spiritual leaders confirm it all.
To begin with, there was the authority of God's Word. The Bible stated clearly that the Bible was the unquestionable and final Word of God. It was not to be added to in any way. It had a nice kind of recursive logic. It had the perfection of a geometric circle. An argument that was that elegant was always attractive to a God-fearing man, and Bryon pondered the idea with a satisfied reverence.
One of the speakers assured the crowd that their God-given reason could be used to apply the Bible to modern-day situations. The results of "use-of-reason" by believers did not constitute "adding-to-the-Bible" since God had inspired reasonable people to write the Bible in the first place. Bryon thought that made so much sense that he just couldn't understand why all people didn't see it absolutely clearly.
As Bryon changed from the twelfth to the eleventh lane of the freeway, he recalled that he especially liked the presenter that spoke on Genesis. God created the heavens and earth and the plants and animals and Adam and Eve. Period! These modern evolutionists were crazy, and, thank the good Lord, slowly decreasing in number due to the efforts of a great number of dedicated holographically-simulated preaching networks. Apparently certain academic types, presumably for centuries (can you imagine!), had pointed out that the first chapter of Genesis was derived from Babylonian mythology by educated Jewish priests while the Jews were in Babylonian exile, and that the second chapter, concerning the old Adam-and-Eve story, was just a popular folk tale. As if it mattered whether or not a synthesis of preceding ideas was used by God to generate inspiration for the writing of His Holy Word!
They also tried to make a case that, in the first chapter, the order of Creation was (1) plants, (2) animals, (3) humanity (both sexes at the same time). And in the second chapter it was (1) man, (2) plants, (3) animals, and (4) woman. Of course, the reason they did this was to try to introduce an inconsistency and, therefore, a doubt upon God's Word. The speaker at the convention made it clear that both chapters were equally literally true and should be thought of as follows: as stated in Chapter 1, God made plants on the Third Day, birds and animals on the Fifth and Sixth Days, and later on the Sixth Day He made man and woman. From Chapter 2, one is to realize that He first made Adam, and then Eve. But between Adam and Eve, He made the Garden of Eden where He either transplanted previously created plants and animals or, why not, created a few more. The composite order is, therefore (1) plants, (2) animals, (3) Adam, (4) specific plants put into the Garden of Eden, (5) specific animals put into the Garden of Eden, (6) Eve. Bryon had to admit that it pushed his imagination to the limits to follow the reasoning in this explanation, but he knew that his own mental limitations did not imply a limitation on the magnificent omnipotence of the wondrous God of Creation.
Bryon did understand the simple truth that all geological discoveries of the last three centuries were irrelevant. God created the Earth exactly 6100 years ago as is, seemingly in a state of cosmological and geological continuity just to confound those without faith. The speaker at the convention said that he agreed with Irish theologian James Ussher who, way back in 1650, had already figured out that the date of Creation was October 23, 4004 B.C. Some of God's people were so incredibly brilliant that it simply left Bryon in awe. He did remember feeling mildly unsettled once when he had heard that, if God could create the world in progress six millennia ago, complete with a geological record in place, then why couldn't God create the world in progress six seconds ago, complete with all the books and the thoughts and memories currently residing in our minds. Why would God do such prankish things unless He is just amused by playing with our reason-possessed heads -- which He gave us! But Bryon's faith was completely re-solidified when his pastor reminded him that the Earth is neither billions of years old, nor six seconds old, and that he could be utterly sure it was 6100 years old because the Biblical authority had revealed that it was so. The perfection of the circle!
Yes, one had to decide to believe God's word, by His grace, of course, and stick to it at all costs. Bryon turned a knob on the computer-guidance system of his year-old solar-powered sedan. He decided to take an alternate route home through a shopping district and buy a little present for his two-year-old son, Joshua, and maybe a little something for Tammy, his wife. The early afternoon was very pleasant, and a diversion would be welcome. Praise the Lord! He still had half an hour driving remaining but he wasn't really in any hurry. His eyes followed all the shops and store names. Each big sign was projected holographically in such a manner that people thought they were still seeing it long after they had passed. Clarence Bryon was no exception, but he didn't mind.
A particular display caught and held Bryon's attention. It was advertising an antique gun and rifle shop. Now that was a subject that he knew all about. The right to bear arms was a God-given right that even the global legislature wasn't able to deny. Free ownership of thought-controlled guidance systems for personal laser weapons and antique guns was simply necessary, and that was that! He had a small laser pistol hidden at home and no liberal would ever convince him that restrictions should be placed on the instruments of personal freedom and security. Bryon started thinking of all the other issues about which true believers have opinions - opinions based on both "the-Bible-as-starting-point" and "God-given-reason." He was against homosexuals. He was against abortion, both naturally conceived and cloned. He thought he was against genetic engineering, but wasn't really that sure why. He was against the teaching of evolution, of course.
Bryon had forgotten all about buying gifts for his family and was feeling quite confident about all his cherished beliefs when the communications indicator sound-file on his car computer was suddenly triggered. He pressed the receive button and instantly heard Tammy's shrill hysterical voice yelling amidst uncontrollable sobbing. "Clarence! . . ." She was speaking gibberish. He somehow extracted the meaning from her choked words. Joshua was kidnapped. By a. . . a what?!!! He could not believe this. He must have misunderstood that last part. By a . . . No way!
Bryon set the velocity control to maximum and slowly breathed, "Oh my God." He felt like he was suffocating.
He couldn't help it as he cried out.
Dr. William Darrow stretched out his left leg and placed his left heel up on the edge of his large oak office desk. He lifted his right leg and rested his right foot's right ankle over his left leg's lower calf and cupped his hands behind his head as he leaned back and closed his eyes to consider. He was brooding over the details of the implications of one of his newest assistant's temporal-paleontological research. Certain fossilized hominid bones found quite recently did not seem to fit the facts of the latest temporal explorations. He reopened his eyes, studied his crossed feet, and was vaguely amused as he realized that it was the left-ness and right-ness of the ankle bones which was the source of his assistant's problems.
He was tired. That was certain. But he was also excited about the big event soon to take place. He'd sleep later. Darrow had been a temporal-paleontologist for 25 years and, since he was perhaps the very first, had acquired much responsibility within the field. He considered the word: "temporal - paleo - ontology" -- "time - old - existence." He thought it was an imperfect linguistic structure but it was what the subject was called -- Temporal-Paleontology -- the study of prehistoric life by the use of time travel.
Darrow closed his eyes again and thought of the quarter-century history of the T.P. Research Lab in which he now spent the bulk of his time. Only the military and certain scientists, even after 23 years since the perfection of its technique, had access to the knowledge of the existence of time travel. It was a highly classified piece of information for one overwhelming reason: time travel either could or could not alter history. Nobody really knew. Nobody dared to find out. The scientists were constantly nagging the military not to change history. The military wanted time travel in order to conduct espionage against terrorism, after the fact, but the scientists kept reminding them that changing history might result in certain individuals (including those within the military) never having even been born. So far the military had not done anything stupid, but who knows how long that would last, or if any one would even know if they had since everyone's minds would be altered along with the historical changes.
Darrow for the thousandth time summarized to himself the developments of recent history. The news was doing a good job in keeping the public preoccupied with genetics and the usual assortment of human social disasters. This freed up a good amount of time that otherwise might have had to be spent dealing with the media, and it also nullified much potential stress. Incredible as it seemed, the public still was unaware of time travel, except in the sense that "time travel" continued to be a popular science-fiction theme within the holograph entertainment market.
In the early 2030's, the "new math" had come along, which earlier centuries had never dreamed of. An unexpected but almost immediate implication of this math had to do with the physical existence of time. It turned out that the relativistic notion of time (as a function of the speed of light and distance) was not the final word on the subject. An ontological time could then be mathematically described by the very complex science that came to be known as temporalontology. It took almost forty years before a technological application resulted, however, that actually allowed time to be traveled through. Equations correcting for the Earth's rotation, solar revolution, galactic revolution, universal expansion and the still-important relativistic concerns were invented, though they were exceedingly difficult to solve at first.
The energy expenditure involved with time travel was enormous, and most of that energy was finally obtainable only after the huge parabolic solar-facing mirrors were placed, farthest to nearest, in orbit around the sun. Their orbits were identical to Earth's own, regarding plane, radius, and velocity. Each mirror was offset spatially (relative to the sun-earth axis) to a point between 50° and 130° behind or ahead of the Earth-Moon system. The resulting lack of any solar-eclipsed disconnections, significant gravitational interactions, or energy transmissions passing too near the sun, allowed each mirror permanently to maintain an almost uninterrupted, fixed-distance contact between its focus-placed angling transmitter and the energy-gathering stations located in geo-polar orbits along the the sun-earth axis. Since half of the mirrors within the shared orbit were ahead of the Earth and half were behind, the occasional lunar eclipses (and the infrequent but periodic Venusian eclipses for those mirrors farther than about 95° away) never simultaneously effected more than some of only one or the other of the two mirror groups. The net result of all this was a tremendously increased solar energy supply for Earth.
Conversely, as strange as it seemed, and in spite of the delicate calculations and vast energy requirements, it took virtually no time to travel through time. Nevertheless, it was deemed much safer, for various theoretical reasons, to bring objects from the past to the present for brief durations, then to go the other way around. Paradoxically, no one could (as of yet) manage to travel forward in time beyond the current present; the reasons for this still remained unclear.
Darrow lifted his head and looked around his office. He realized that he was being redundant, even with himself, for musing on what was really just the history of his own personal lifetime. Maybe he was getting too old, and should step aside to allow fresh minds to continue battling the problem of human curiosity. The central fact and primary concern was that virtually anything could change history if, indeed, history could be changed. One could go back in time to a million random locations and a million random moments and displace one grain of sand -- and still cause no significant change within history. But if you happened to pick exactly the right grain, at some exact location and time, and displace that particular grain, well then, because of some small trickle of water, some trifling erosion might begin -- that otherwise would not have. The erosion might prevent some sand bar from developing, and the entire ecology of that region might evolve differently. With who knows what kind of ramifications for humanity!
There was, of course, the Asimov-LeFebre maxim, which insisted that paradoxes in time could not take place. It claimed that time involved only statistical developments, and that individual time-travel-induced alterations had only minor effects and diminishing influence the further time went along. If we go back and change time, the maxim says, then it is already a part of our history. So, If we do change time, it already is a part of our history; if we do not change time, well then, it is already a part of our history. We can oscillate in our intentions regarding time travel all we wish, but history is fixed, so we might as well enjoy it. This was a theory, though, and not one that could be comfortably believed. It seemed to assume that one did not already know history. What if one already knew an historical outcome and was determined to change it? In any case, Darrow had serious doubts about the theoretical correctness of the idea.
In actual practice, what the researchers did was as follows. A probe, with an automatic return mechanism, would be sent to check on the safety of a particular time and place. Unknown changes in land elevation and sea level due to plate tectonics was the most serious consideration. However, in an attempt to locate the unoccupied surface of either land or water, there was also the need to avoid the inside of trees and animals or to avoid being underfoot of some creature in motion. The odds of killing an animal by arriving suddenly inside it were considered very small. Even though it had never yet happened, Darrow knew it could someday.
Based on the collected data, then, if it seemed safe for the immediately foreseeable future, an observer would be sent back to the moment one second after the probe's departure. The observer could not be allowed to occupy the same time and space as the probe, and a careful record was kept of all temporal expeditions so as to avoid duplicated destination points by later observers. They traveled in an insulated, microbe-sealed, breakage-resistant, transparent compartment that rested on a base grid of a spongy flotational material. Every attempt was made to minimize the effects of the compartment's weight against the ground, though just as often the compartment would be expected to float on a water surface. Some of the temporal engineers thought it would be much safer to time travel through outer space, out of the Earth's atmosphere, and enter into the air gradually, rather than suddenly appearing within it. The instantaneous atmospheric displacement was a thermally disruptive and dramatic phenomenon, little understood in its temporal-paleontological implications, and not conducive to avoiding historical change. However, for the time being, the space people were still just too uncooperative.
Upon arriving, for very short durations, the observer would use computerized photographic equipment to identify or monitor an object worthy of study. Relative to the compartment, the spatial location of the chosen object, at the specified time, would be pinpointed. The entire mass of the apparatus and its occupant (with not so much as an extra molecule) would, after a fixed interval, automatically be "pulled" by the T.P. lab to home-time, regardless of anything that might have happened. So far, nothing unplanned had happened.
After the observer returned and reported, the temporal-paleontologists would then literally scoop out the desired object from a precise moment in time while maintaining a fix on its exact spatial and temporal coordinates. They would study the object within the T.P. isolation rooms for no more than twelve hours, and then release it so that it would return no more than a ten-thousandth of a second later than the time of extraction. To avoid historical change, it was deemed that this was a safe margin of error, even if the Asimov-LeFebre maxim were false. Also, the sudden vacuum that otherwise would have been created in the atmosphere by temporal extraction did not have time to fill in with air, if the return time was placed almost instantaneously following the extraction time. A creature, therefore, would not experience much bodily impact of sudden air displacement if its body position was placed the same at the moment of return as it had been at the moment of extraction. The 12-hour time limit for lab study was maximum, because after that the energy expenditure would become so enormous as to overload the system, causing permanent temporal extraction, and therefore (possibly) drastic changes in the history of the earth (if the Asimov-LeFebre maxim were false.) Yet, they all were still here, so nothing that important could have been changed.
Darrow sighed. It seemed that he was continuously pushing for greater observing efficiency and more rigorous restrictions on proposed topics for study. The military simply remained out of his control and he brooded over the likelihood of a real disaster taking place. Scientists, so they claimed, only wanted more knowledge. But Darrow sometimes wondered if they weren't playing with fire. (He quickly shook his head critically as he listened to himself. He was starting to sound like one of those damn fundamentalists that were so irritating these days.) Some really remarkable events were taking place and it really was a shame that T.P.R.L. could not tell the whole truth to the public.
The most dramatic success so far was when they extracted a sleeping baby male apatosaurus from 148 million years in the past, and successfully removed a tiny skin sample before sending the unsuspecting creature home. Using modern cloning techniques they then grew their own pet dinosaur, whom they named Darwin. The public was told that it came from cloning techniques applied to fossilized specimens of DNA found within amber. This was total nonsense, of course, but the public loved Darwin anyway, even though they still had the annoying habit of calling it a "brontosaurus."
With all the safety precautions in place, the theorists still fretted. What if the apatosaurus's missing skin sample would have eventually been shed to the ground and become the food for some prehistoric micro-organism. The micro-organism, therefore, died and did not live long enough to compete successfully against some other micro-organism which then mutated into a disease which ended up killing larger organisms in such a way that all history was altered. Or maybe the first micro-organism that died due to lack of food was itself supposed to mutate into a deadly disease and, because of this, animals lived that otherwise would have died. You just can't ever please all the paranoid theorists, Darrow thought (including himself !) Darrow's own philosophy considered the "present" to be the great bottle-neck within infinity. He liked to think that the "present" is the annihilation of the infinite possibilities of "past possible futures" that results in particular "historical events," thereby creating further infinite possibilities for "future possible futures." Virtually any change in time might or might not lead to catastrophic changes in all history.
Well that left Darrow with his own grand experiment: early hominids. His ambition was not at all modest. For over eighteen years he had devoted his allotted usage of the time-equipment to mapping the individual family lineages of early hominids starting at 2.5 million years ago and working backwards. His goal was to locate the one specific individual who contained the mutation that led to the line that became modern man.
He had several assistants in the project, though his primary assistant of the last three years was Yohann Scopes. Scopes, at age 44, might make a good successor as he was simply brimming with ambition and brilliance. Scopes had just about proven that all the really important human physiological changes (like opposable thumbs, front-facing eyes, a bipedal erect posture and a unique S-shaped spinal column) had, to the surprise of many, occurred several millions of years before hominids branched unequivocally into the hominines leading to modern man. Several man-like creatures had arisen that became evolutionary dead-ends, and some of these had never been found within the fossil record. Time Travel revealed many surprises. Furthermore, behavioral items (such as the use of fire, simple tools and art) came much later than that which interested Darrow. T.P. research had found the exact beginnings of the first fearless graspings of lightning-ignited burning branches, the first use of flint wedges, the first use of primitive log wheels. Some of these events were slightly earlier, some much earlier (though virtually never later), than what had been predicted by 20th-century paleontology. Much of the time, a human development would occur that wouldn't "stick" the first time, be forgotten, and then reappear later.
But these were mere details. Darrow was interested in brain mutations that allowed for the beginnings of the self-consciousness of curiosity. This could only be known by tracing all hominid lineages backward to almost six million years in the past, to a time almost 300,000 human generations ago.
And now finally, Darrow thought that they had it. A 5.9 million-year-old male individual, that anybody else would have said was just a slightly unusual-looking monkey, seemed to be the key. Darrow and his assistants had lightheartedly begun to call this individual, Adam. So far, Adam seemed to be the first individual that was observed to look upwards curiously toward the open sky. Without the distraction of treetop predators, flying birds for potential food, weather conditions or other "reasons" for looking upwards, the act of staring curiously at the open sky was considered significant. Additionally, Adam's lineage led directly to modern man. Any actual mutation, of course, may have created the potentiality in any number of earlier generations. But Adam seemed to be the first user of this potential, and even though he was chosen more as a paleontological symbol than anything else, he was still the one selected for study. That did mean something. And in just fifty minutes, Darrow was going to extract Adam temporarily from his time to the present.
A whole battery of biomedical tests was prepared. Skin, body hair and blood samples would be taken. Respiration and heart activities would be monitored. Holographs, photographs and sound recordings would be made. A full ten hours of scheduled events were in store. Darrow was insistent, though, about not even approaching the 12-hour maximum.
He shuddered to think of how crazy this all actually was. Man alive! What if the Asimov-LeFebre maxim were false! He would then argue that, if permanent extraction occurred, man would not evolve to have invented time machines, in which case the early hominid would not have been extracted, in which case man would have evolved, in which case the early hominid would be extracted, and so on. He believed that a permanently frozen infinite loop would begin in time that was the temporal analog of the event-horizon of a black hole. If it could somehow be observed (which it never could, of course) it would make all reality seem like an old-time video or CD player when it skipped and blinked; reality could begin rapidly alternating between two historical states for all eternity. Human history would never quite have existed or not existed. Perhaps the universe had never experienced such an event before; perhaps time itself would be broken, shattered permanently. Nobody really knew how cause and effect would apply to such a case, whether it effected all time or just time beginning 5.9 million years ago, whether it effected time throughout the universe or just locally on earth, but in any case it did not seem like an attractive future for man. Darrow had taken every safety-precaution imaginable. But the bottom line, frankly, was that William Darrow just had to get this early hominid into his lab for study. He had worked his entire life for this moment and was too curious even to think of turning back now.
Darrow stood up. He began to pace. There were only forty minutes left to wait. Everything was in place, and he decided, even though it was still early, to walk down the hall to Iso-Room 3. The isolation rooms adjoined the veranda that overlooked T.P.R.L.'s lovely grounds and the surrounding locality. Perhaps a breath of fresh air would be good. It seemed to be a particularly pleasant day outside.
He got as far as the doorway when the ceiling-panel lights abruptly went off. He hesitated in the sudden darkness. For a moment, he simply stood, without moving, before retracing his steps back to his desk. He continued to consider the probable cause of the outage and its effects on his plans for a full quarter minute, and was about to make an inquiry on his computer, when the computer, just then, signaled that there was an incoming telephone call. He flipped open the two-way switch.
"Darrow here. What's going on?"
"Sir, I think you better get down to Iso-Room 3 right away." It was Yohann Scopes. His voice was tense.
"Why? What happened to the lights?
"Apparently, Darwin has grown too large for his cage! He knocked out the overhead lighting of his pen. A 'live' cable fell into his water supply and shorted the entire electrical system, though Darwin wasn't hurt himself. Only the telephone lines and the emergency medical facility are operational."
"But Darwin's cage is on the grounds entirely at the other end of the complex. How do you know this information so quickly? And why should I now go to Iso-Room 3?" A cold knot slowly began to form in Darrow's stomach.
Scopes had no time for patience. "Darwin's attendant observed the event firsthand and immediately reported the incident to me! Not you," he snapped, "since it was you that placed him under my supervision! Don't you remember? But who cares! Listen to me! I cut him off after three sentences and I will cut you off too, if I have to. Get down to Iso-Room 3. The problem is infinitely worse than anything concerning Darwin, or that you think. You see, I couldn't wait for you. I brought Adam here! Adam! He's here! The outage is disastrous! Don't you see? His link to his space and time has been severed. We must reestablish the link somehow. If we stop trying, who knows what will happen! Who knows how much time we have!"
Darrow had stopped listening and, by some force unknown to himself, was walking towards the door again, desensitized. His worst-case scenario was actually occurring. He only half heard the rest of what Scopes was saying.
"Darrow! Are you there?," shrieked the voice. "It . just . got . even . worse!" The words were hoarse and staccato. "I wasn't watching for one minute because, damn it all, I was blabbering to you! The electrical outage caused the iso-room's safety locks to fail and the outer door panel apparently slid opened. Adam's escaped!"
Tammy Bryon was crying and pacing in the backyard of her normally pleasant two-story upper-middle-class home. She sobbed, "Dear God, please don't let this be happening." Several neighbors had begun to gather in little clumps, all talking and whispering. But Tammy remained detached, hysterical and inconsolable.
It seemed like an eternity ago. But really just fifteen minutes had gone by. She had been standing in the doorway to the deck out back, watching her son Joshua playing outside on the lawn, when, without warning, some largish monkey had run into view, scooped up Joshua in mid-stride, and disappeared around the side of the house. A monkey! It was outrageous! Who ever could guess what would happen next in life? The deed was done in less than three horrible seconds, and she hadn't been able to react for at least two more.
She remembered screaming, wide-eyed, as she ran out the door and down the steps, but her son was nowhere to be seen. A minute later she called the police, and then called Clarence who was still in his car on his way home. She just couldn't believe it. Where had the thing taken her son! Tammy was sure this was some sign from God, some punishment for some reason about which she hadn't the faintest notion. "Oh Lord, please let me know what it is I have done. What should I do?" She couldn't help it as the tears once more streamed from her eyes. Clarence still had five or ten minutes until he would arrive. "Please hurry, Clarence. . . I don't know what to do." A patrol car siren could be heard approaching. Tammy wondered why the police had taken so long to get here, but wished Clarence were already here to deal with them rather than having to herself. She plopped down on the grass and broke down sobbing again.
Clarence Jennings Bryon was nearing his neighborhood and driving much too fast. His jaw ached from having kept it so clenched for the past twenty-five minutes. The three days at the convention seemed like a distant dream, and he wondered exactly how a person's frame of mind could be changed so thoroughly so quickly. He finally had mentally accepted his wife's message. A large monkey, she said, had kidnapped Joshua. For Christ's sake, what was he supposed to do? The closest zoo was over fifty miles away from their house, so that seemed an unlikely explanation for the monkey's presence. It had to have originated from that blasted research lab located on the park-like grounds behind the houses of his street.
As Bryon rounded the last bend, he quickly noticed the police cars and the gatherings of people around his home. He had to park on the road a small distance from his own house because his driveway was partially blocked. He half ran towards one of the policeman, the one that looked in charge, to inquire what the current situation was.
"Are you Mr. Bryon?," said the officer.
"I am. Is there any sign of Joshua?"
"I'm afraid not. Your wife is the only one who's reported seeing a monkey of some kind. A few strange footprints have been found in your rose garden behind your house, and these do point inwards toward your patio. Besides two or three small strands of some kind of animal hair, nothing else has turned up so far. It's quite possible the monkey is terrified and hiding nearby since no one else has said they've seen it yet."
"What are the chances that my son has been hurt? Has this kind of thing happened before? If you find the animal, what will you do? Where is my wife?"
"Try to be calm, Mr. Bryon," said the officer. You will not help matters if you become as hysterical as your wife has been. She's with a couple of officers in your backyard, where they are trying to obtain information from her relevant to the case. This 'kind of thing,' as you call it, has never happened before as far as I know. But your son has better chances if the animal, assuming it's real, is calm rather than terrified. When we have the animal in custody, I'm sure it will then probably be destroyed."
"Probably!" Bryon was livid. "Who are you to tell me how to feel? Are you suggesting my wife is lying? If this has never happened before, then how do you know what to do, standing there so indifferently. Is this what our tax dollars go to pay for?" Bryon knew he was being incoherent but couldn't seem to help it.
He stormed away towards the front door of his house. He had better do his part to search for Joshua. He considered that he should ask the Lord for forgiveness for being so harsh with the officer since it wasn't really his fault. He decided that he would later. "Oh God, help me find Joshua," he gasped instead, as he entered his house.
They said they would probably destroy the animal. Probably! The police were always so callous. And how could some research lab be allowed to conduct their affairs in such a shoddy manner? He prayed God would punish them all. Or, rather, that they would all be forgiven for their evildoings. He realized that he didn't really know what to pray.
Bryon comprehended all at once what the next step was. He headed towards his office on the second floor. If he happened to find the animal first, he intended to be ready. He had a nice little laser pistol in his top desk drawer and he went to get it. He was glad he spent the extra money for the thought-guidance control that went with it. Bryon would have only one thought if he found the creature.
William Darrow was feeling confusion, fear, rage, betrayal, and an incredible sense of loss - all in about equal proportions. He had raced as fast as he could, without even being aware of his motion, from his office to Iso-Room 3. He glared at Yohann Scopes.
"You are a colossal fool!" He spitted the words.
"Perhaps. Fire me later! However, there are more urgent things to do at the moment." Scopes just may have wished for the luxury of time for feeling embarrassed, or maybe even for feeling guilty. But not now.
"Why aren't you chasing after our guest from the past instead of trying to justify your soon-to-be-non-existent existence?" Darrow glared at the younger man. "How can you just stand there?"
"Think, man! We are still here. I am sorry I stole away your grand moment. But I am the one who actually found Adam, and I wanted credit for bringing him here. True, if I had waited, the worst that could have happened is we would have had an irritating delay on our hands. But how could I have known Darwin was going to short-circuit the whole damn complex? He could have done it just as easily an hour from now, and we'd be in the exact same mess."
Darrow smiled predatorily. "Yes. What poetic justice! A dinosaur causes the extinction of mankind! Or is that the correct term? How can something become extinct if it never evolved in the first place?"
"But don't you see? Are you blind?" Scopes stared derisively at the man credited with the very inception of temporal-paleontology. "We . are . still . here! The Asimov-LeFebre maxim must be true! History has not changed. Or else we have royally blundered and our dear Adam is not the father of mankind and somehow not relevant to history."
"Hardly! From when have you extracted the creature? Before or after he left offspring? If afterwards, maybe the remainder of his life, by some miracle, produced no significant alteration in history. Or at least only microscopic changes local to his time period that eventually became irrelevant on their own."
Scopes looked ashen. "I used the settings exactly where you had them last positioned."
"Then we know nothing about anything! I was most recently observing the year immediately prior to his having had first offspring -- which was certainly not the intended moment for extraction. Extraction prior to offspring! Are you purposely a suicidal maniac? Now pay attention closely. From the moment you informed me of the situation it has been my intention to undo the damage. Asimov-LeFebre is just as unproved as it always has been. If we return Adam to a time and place sufficiently close to his starting point, history still could proceed accordingly, even if Asimov-LeFebre is false. Yes, we are still here, so history is not yet undone. However, we can not afford the luxury of indifference. The instant we commit ourselves to doing nothing will be the instant that Asimov-LeFebre will be proved one way or the other. But if it is false, you and I will never know it! We must find Adam now! Come with me. We will leave the electrical problems to the repairmen, and search for Adam's return-coordinates later. Notify the grounds security first."
"I'd notified security before you even got here. But now you just listen as we leave," said Scopes. "if six million years of history are dependent merely on our current intentions, then we must hurry all the more for another reason as well."
"What?" Darrow was already out on the veranda, scanning the area.
"Adam's total life span is possibly an unchangeable quantity. If he died from a condition inherited genetically, then his life span might be unalterable. The longer he lives now, the less time he will have to live then."
"Yes," said Darrow. "But if he died, say, because of a predator attack, he would probably die from the historical event of the attack rather than after a fixed total length. If the fixed-life-span possibility is true, then, as you say, the longer he stays, the briefer will be the remainder of his life in the past assuming we return him to the same moment from which you have taken him. Which we must do! Nevertheless, an earlier historical moment of death will alter which individual microorganisms consume his flesh afterwards. Because of the microorganism rearrangement, changes in the disease structure of his time could become possible and relevant. This increases the chances of larger and larger significant changes in history."
"Also," interjected Scopes, "the longer he remains terrified, or the more he might actually learn here, the more likely it is he will create disturbing historical changes upon his return."
"Yes, and all this would have been true even if the extraction had happened according to my intended schedule," replied Darrow, still taking verbally-intoned stabs at his assistant. He moved onto the lawn and continued peering in every direction. "We have said all this before, but agreed to take the chance. You should never have operated the machinery alone! And you should have found out when and how he died before bringing him here!"
"But that is absurd. When have you ever bothered doing that? Let's assume he died from a predator attack, rather than something genetically caused. (I guess it is rather doubtful that the father of modern man started out with a serious genetic defect!) If timing is that critical, then we should think of this: As his body weakens with age, then, if he had never been temporally extracted, he may still have been just strong enough to triumph by what may have been only a tiny margin over his adversary. Though, by extracting him, his body has lived longer, and maybe, upon returning him, when the crucial event occurs, he isn't strong enough and loses instead. So much for your death-by-fixed-historical-event theory.
"All of these experiments involve risk, but it is minuscule as long as the individual is still strong at the time of his of her leaving offspring. Birth until just after parenthood is all we've ever fully documented. But I seemed to have accidentally removed Adam before he left offspring, instead of after! That particular worry is by far more compelling than total life span considerations! Or have you forgotten that our little Adam is the progenitor. Our dear great-great-etc.-grandfather, with just a mere 300,000 'great's contained in his ancestral title!
"And then there is the tiny little matter that he is at this moment breathing modern open air, complete with 21st-century microorganisms and toxins. Our more-evolved bacteria and viruses may have a deadly effect upon the past. If you think Asimov-LeFebre is false, perhaps we're still here merely because he has not yet inhaled some particular god-damn germ!" His words eventually wound down to a stony silence. They wandered around for another minute and then Scopes started up again. "We chose Adam because we observed him staring at the sky. His heavenward gazes were observed at a moment in his life later than his accidental pre-offspring temporal extraction. Maybe his curiosity was aroused because of this trip to his future. A kind of Revelation. Time travel may be what stirred his awareness and created the true beginnings of humanity. This, along with the fact that we are even still here, would support the Asimov-LeFebre maxim."
"How could a temporal cause-and-effect loop come into existence if it is the future that causes the beginnings of the events that lead to that future." Darrow thought he knew about infinite loops, but this kind seemed maximally illogical. He really wished Scopes would just keep quiet for awhile.
Darrow jumped when he looked down and spotted the footprints crossing the watered, earthy-smelling mulch of a well-kept bed of roses located just beyond the unfenced boundary of the T.P.R.L. grounds. "He ran in that direction! Into the residential area!"
Bryon came out the back door of his house. Ah! There was Tammy. He went over to her and hugged her for a long moment. The police had apparently just finished their report, and were talking to someone over their portable transmitters. They seemed to be leaving.
"Are you OK, Tam?"
"Oh, Clarence, it was awful. It was so . . . so sudden!"
"We'll find Joshua, don't worry. The Lord will see us through this time." Bryon held her in his arms while they both wept silently.
And then, two men came rushing across the open expanse of lawn beyond Bryon's backyard. He only noticed them, he realized, as they had gotten quite near. One was older, the other middle-aged. Men from that research lab! Yes! Now maybe Bryon would get some explanations.
"Hello, sir," said the older man. "My name is Dr. William Darrow. I'm from the T.P. Research Laboratory." Darrow knew the man would have no idea what "T.P." stood for. But most people at least knew of T.P.R.L. And it was almost right in this guy's backyard. "This is my assistant Yohann Scopes. I am exceedingly sorry to bother you, but could you tell me if you have recently seen an ape-like creature near your home? A very important experiment has gone awry due to a power outage, and it would be most helpful if you could tell us any . . ."
Tammy folded into a nearby patio chair, all color drained from her face.
"Seen an 'ape-like creature!?' " Bryon, too, was incredulous. He supposed it was true that they didn't know what was going on. But still! "Your 'ape-like creature' kidnapped our little boy! How could you be so irresponsible that you let a monkey escape into our neighborhood? And then you just waltz over to my property and want me to give you information! How about you telling me where to find this animal that has my son!" He didn't bother introducing his wife or himself.
"Please, sir," said Scopes, looking startled. "We didn't know about your little boy. We will most certainly help you get him back. But please know that this situation is dreadfully dangerous to all the world, not just to your son."
"How can a missing child be dangerous to all the world? Your monkey is the dangerous one. You scientists are all cold-blooded."
"No, no. Please listen," said Darrow. "The 'monkey' is not an ordinary monkey. It's existence is crucial to the existence of all mankind. It's hard to explain. You see, we are paleontologists . . ."
Tammy stood up. She couldn't just sit still uselessly any longer. Why were they talking constantly, just like the police, instead of getting anything done. Though, what could she or they accomplish. They had looked everywhere on their two acres of ground, under the deck, in the pool area, up in the trees, the roof, everywhere! She walked around to the side yard and over to the little row of hedges that separated her lawn from her neighbor's. All at once she heard Joshua.
"Mommy, mommy! Get me, mommy. Get it away!" The little boy came flying out of the neighbor's garage. His left arm seemed to dangle at a strange angle.
"Joshua! Come here, baby. Run, Josh." Tammy ran to intercept her son. "Oh, God! Joshua, are you all right?" Why had no one checked the neighbor's garage? What strange property-ownership taboo had kept her only in her yard. The police had checked neighboring yards, but not gone inside anyone's house except hers. That garage door was up! It was completely accessible, and an obvious hiding place. The most disconnected memory skipped through her mind as she thought of an old book she had read once about an important letter purposely left out in the open. Who was it by? Edgar somebody? She knelt down on the pavement to put her arms around Joshua. She detected a strange animal smell on his clothes. But tears of relief clouded everything, even as she heard his own terrified sobs, and realized his arm was broken.
"Clarence! He's here," she cried. "Come here, Clarence! Oh, Joshua, what happened, my little one? It's all right, darling."
"He took me in there, mommy. He held me so tight. I could not breath right. He hurt me, mommy."
"It's OK, angel," Tammy said, as she stroked his hair. "Clarence!"
"Then all the sudden he let go. And I ran away. But I know he's still there. Take him away, mommy!"
Tammy felt sick at the stomach. Where was her head? The thing was still in the garage. Should she run, or not move? She gently began to lift Joshua.
Bryon wondered who these guys thought they were. They obviously cared more about their monkey than about his son! He would register a complaint with the police later. How did those officers manage to sneak away right before these two appeared anyway? What was that? Tammy was screaming again, and calling his name. She had drifted away without him having realized the fact. He began to run in the direction of his wife's voice. The other two men instantly followed, and Bryon yelled over his shoulder, "Paleontologists! You believe in evolution, and deny Divine Creation. I know all about your type! You secular humanists wouldn't believe God's Word even if Jesus or Moses or Abraham returned here from heaven and told you the truth in person." He was breathing hard.
"If they returned?! Would you care to try for Adam?" Scopes couldn't resist the quip, though he seethed inside for having to deal with this kind of lunatic. He wondered if the guy had ever allowed his little boy to visit little Darwin across the way, or if the guy even knew about the dinosaur. "We are not exactly just paleontologists. We are temporal-paleontologists! We travel through time, and we know what we are talking about!"
Over there! There was Tammy, Bryon saw. She had Joshua! But she looked frozen with fear. Joshua's kidnapper?! He pulled out his laser pistol as he leapt over a hedge and veered towards his neighbor's garage. "The damn monkey," he roared.
"Please put the weapon away," Darrow cut in. "You have no idea what you are doing. The 'monkey' you're about to kill is the father of the human race, accidentally taken from the past. You must believe me. If you press that pistol contact, all mankind might disappear."
Tammy stood by the garage, holding Joshua in her arms, screaming for Clarence to run faster. "Hurry, Clarence!" She blurted the words out through a veil of weeping and blurred vision. Time seemed to be slowing to a halt.
Bryon yelled back to Darrow, "What new nonsense is this? I don't believe a word you're saying!" Bryon stopped running as soon as he reached Tammy. He lifted his arm to take aim at the creature, whatever it was. Adam continued to cower in the garage corner, trying to hide in the darkness. "You people are trying to protect an animal that harmed my son. People like you are sick. And there's so many like you. It's a sign of the End Times!"
"I am telling you the truth," snarled Darrow. "If that creature dies, you, your wife, your son, everybody will cease to exist. Do you think that is God's Will?"
Bryon hesitated for an instant.
Tammy yelled, "For Christ's Sake, Clarence, decide what you're going to do and do it! Decide!"
Bryon sang one line from an old song he knew, "Lord, make me an instrument."
Darrow and Scopes looked at each other as they slowed to a halt, still five meters away from Bryon. They were dealing with a total crazy person. They began to rush at him, panting.
Adam panicked and howled as he lunged toward Bryon. Darrow cried "Noooo!" at the top of his lungs, as he finally caught his first glimpse of Adam within the year 2096 A.D. Bryon was only unsure of God's Will for just that one instant. The animal had to be destroyed. He quickly aimed, and concentrated for a split second on his mark, as he thought-guided the outcome. The other humans were at that second upon him. He just had time to press the contact.
And reality began to flicker.
Jody Jay Nagel
January 24-31, 1998

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