Copyright 2017 Len Downing
Published by Len Downing at Shakespir
Shakespir Edition License Notes
This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your enjoyment only, then please return to Shakespir.com or your favorite retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
This report was prepared by Miles Ree in a narrative structure for rapid syncretic absorption. A full semantic analysis is available from any hot terminal. Holographic record not available.
The translation to local vernacular was performed by a Mark VII SynCC system under direction of Apprentice Hodl. Where possible, all measurements and cultural references have been adjusted to local spacetime.
Word Count: 7268
Estimated Accuracy: 86.4%
It all starts with a cherry pie.
As was customary for COs at the time and place, Lt Jameson brought his squad into his family home the day before deployment for a home cooked meal – the last one some of those boys would ever have.
It was a large event, formal, and very popular. Mrs. Jameson, the lieutenant’s mother, and Ms. Jameson, his sister, has spent days making sure everything was just right. Ms. Jameson – Alexandra – even made one of her special cherry pies.
PFC Thomas Lazar was in attendance. Having been raised by a struggling single mother just outside the flash zone of New Detroit, he was especially – almost painfully – class conscious. And he was hopelessly out classed here. He tried his best, but his embarrassment came off to others as dullness at best, arrogance at worst. He was not a popular man.
Except with one particular young woman. Alexandra Jameson’s special cherry pie plucked at the home strings of PFC Lazar’s heart, being very, very similar to the ones his dear, decreased mother used to make – and very delicious besides. So nostalgic for him was it that PFC Lazar actually managed to overcome his social anxieties and request a second slice.
Ms Jameson was more than happy to oblige him, assuming this handsome (if a bit cold) young man’s interest in the pie was, in fact, a thinly veiled interest in the pie maker. She served him the second slice personally and later, once they’d all retired to the garden, she managed to get him alone. What happened between them then is lost to the annals of history, but we may certainly assume she gave him a proper soldiers send off.
The next time he returned from duty, PFC Lazar was a little bit older and a lot more learned in the ways of the world, and it was with no social anxieties whatsoever that he approached Alexandra Jameson for a date. It went well, and others follow. Shortly before his next deployment, they were married.
Thomas Lazar didn’t make it home from that second deployment. Standing face to face with enemies out numbering him six to one, SecLt Lazar lead a heroic charge into the fray with abandon, inspiring the men in his charge to one of the most unlikely victories in the Six Minute War – a victory that would become a rallying point for the weary, run-down Resistance that would, incidentally, lead them on to an eventual total victory.
Mrs Alexandra Lazar nee Jameson would not remarry. She remained childless all her days…
“So, where do we make the change?” the woman sitting across from him said. She was as pretty to him as Alexandra Jameson had been to Thomas Lazar, with upswept brown hair and dancing green eyes. Unfortunately, she also seemed to be all business.
Ah well. If there was one thing he liked more than women, it was business – and even if she’d been as ugly as Baba Yaga, the particular bit of business she brought with her would have captured his complete attention.
Miles smiled. “The pie,” he said. “I told you, it all started with the pie.” He chuckled. “It’s pretty amazing, really. The whole history of the Resistance hinging on a pie.”
The woman frowned. “I’m not concerned about the Resistance. I’m concerned about the child. If the pie is the key, then… what? Convince Alexandra not to bake a pie?”
“No,” Miles said, “Oh no. If you could somehow convince Alexandra Jameson not to bake a pie – which would be a feat in and of itself – it would send history spiraling of in a whole different way. PFC Lazar would die on his first outage, the Resistance would wage a long, bloody war of attrition before ultimately surrendering at Io, and Alexandra would go on to become the Grand Dame of the New Aristocracy – and not in a good way. Sort of an Imelda Marcos figure, if you get the reference.”
The woman grunted, but whether that indicated understanding was unclear. “So, what do we do with the pie?”
“Chocolate?” She said, her pretty face twisted with some confusion, “But chocolate was… of course. Of course! Chocolate was rationed. Lazar, painfully self-conscious, could never bring himself to ask for a second slice of the rationed chocolate.”
“Exactly,” Miles said, “and thus never attract the attention of Ms Jameson. So when he finds himself on the dark side of Ghermeen outnumbered six to one, well, he’s not got a pretty new bride and potential children to defend. He’s just a soldier doing his job, with no motivation to do something heroically stupid.”
“So he lives through the battle.”
Miles nodded. “So he lives through the battle, and ultimately the Resistance loses the war. Lazar is stripped of his rank, but is treated humanely by the Empire. He goes back to school to study micro-electronics, where he meets Jane Harris. They go on to marry and produce two children. Thomas is somewhat older than Jane, so when he dies of congestive heart failure before the children are grown, Jane is not exactly surprised. Shocked, absolutely, and heartbroken, but she’d always known she was going to outlive him. Would that it weren’t so soon – but widows always say that. And Jane is a hard headed realist.”
“That’s for damn sure,” the woman muttered.
“Sorry? I didn’t catch that.”
“Nothing,” she said with a wave of her hand, “go on.”
“Jane is a hard headed realist, so she raised the children the best that she can, right up until she and her son are killed in a freak float platform accident. The daughter lives.”
The woman sitting across from him nodded, as if in consideration. She stared off into the distance, taking in the rows and rows of books in the Archive library they’d chosen as a meeting spot – although, Miles suspected, she wasn’t seeing them at all. She was looking inward.
“What happens to Alexandra?” She said after a time.
A shrug. “Dies.”
“We all die, bean counter,” she said, “When? How?”
“Is it important?”
The woman sighed. “No. Not really. Just curiosity, I suppose.”
Miles chuckled. He, too, couldn’t resist running down every little thread. It’s what had lead him into this position. “Six months after the dinner party she is taken by the Orange Plague.”
“Nasty,” the women said with obvious fascination. “But how did baking a pie save her from Plague? That doesn’t scan.”
“Inoculation,” Miles said. “Or rather, lack thereof.”
“The Orange Plague vaccine wasn’t discovered until the end of the war,” the woman said. “Everyone thought it was a bio-agent, so they overlooked the simple, mindless cruelty of nature.”
Miles quirked an eyebrow at her. “In which timeline?”
“Actually,” Miles said, “that was true in all three of our scenarios. But you can’t afford to assume when you’re making changes. Sloppy thinking.”
The woman bristled. “I don’t need you to tell me how to do my job, bean counter.”
Which, Miles suspected, was typically true. Time Agents operated with a remarkable degree of autonomy, exchanging oversight for accountability. But this was obviously a special case – she wouldn’t have come to him if it wasn’t. “Sure thing, puppetmaster,” he said. “I’ll just collect my papers and go.”
“No,” she said as he was rising, “no, wait. I apologize. You’re right; I wasn’t thinking correctly.”
Miles grinned. If nothing else, you could always count on a Time Agent to admit when they were wrong. After all, time will out and they’re the only people sure to be there when it does. “Apology accepted. Want to hear the rest?”
The woman nodded.
“Inoculation doesn’t have to come from a syringe or a hypo spray,” Miles said, “There is always the more… Ah… practical method. PFC Lazar was raised just outside the corona of New Detroit, so he’d been exposed to the alpha variant from childhood. When Alexandra was giving Lazar his hero’s goodbye, it’s safe to assume some bodily fluids were exchanged.”
“Safe to assume?”
“A historical certainty.”
For the first time since they’d met, the woman smiled. In fact, she even laughed. “Oh dear,” she said. “Oh poor dear Alex. The lady or the tiger – the Private or the Plague.” She sobered for a moment, but a hint of a smile still played around her lips. “I feel bad for laughing at a woman’s death.”
“We all die,” Miles parroted, “or, at least, all of us that chance to be born.”
All of the humor went out of the woman, and she nodded as if she’d made a decision. “It’s too close,” she said. “We need more distance. Is this a full analysis?”
“No,” Miles said, “no, certainly not. This was a back of a napkin sketch. The mathematics behind this are hellacious – and I would know. A full analysis would take weeks, maybe months. And that’s going full time. I do have my own projects to work on, you know.”
“I need it faster than that,” she said. “I could get a G-class crash-priority override.”
Miles shrugged. “Or you could just step forward a couple of months, let me niggle over it properly, and have your results just as quickly, subjective. More quickly.”
The woman frowned, drawing get brows together. “I’d rather not leave the Archives for the moment. Personal reasons. What can I do to get it done more quickly? Requisition some assistants?”
Miles shrugged again. “You could always get a G-class crash-priority override,” he said. “Or you could try asking nicely.”
The woman flushed. “That’s twice I’ve been unintentionally rude to you. I understand if you no longer wish to work with me.”
“Get your feathers down,” Miles said. “Obviously, your personal reasons are a bit more serious than you’d like to let on. It’s understandable you’re a bit distracted from social niceties.”
Both her voice and bearing were stiff. “There is no excuse for poor manners.”
“I forgive you,” Miles said. He held out his hand across the table. “Miles Ree.”
She took his hand and shook. “Amy Lazar.”
“Nice to meet you, puppetmaster.”
The woman smiled. “Pleasure is all mine, bean counter.”
Miles hadn’t invented the theory of historical inertia, of course. He’d been a simple mathematician, blissfully unaware of Hoshido, Kael, and Kaaden or even the idea of time travel, when they’d hired him out of Fejer’s classroom with the promise of more money and a chance to make a real difference.
Immortality on the installment plan, as he’d come to think of it. As long as he continued to produce, they’d keep him kicking – well paid, well taken care of, sitting in his ivory tower outside of time.
He’d thought they were crazy, at first. When they’d hired him air travel was only just becoming a real thing that people did. When this mysterious group of men had told him of space travel, and time travel, and wonders unseen and unimaginable, perhaps he can be forgiven for his skepticism.
Two hundred and fifty subjective years later, Miles seldom found himself doubting anything – except for the quality of the work of some of the apprentices. Time travel was accepted as a matter of course, and the manipulation of time lines was his particular specialty. He’d written numerous papers on the subject.
Of course, with everything ever written or recorded with in history saved in the Archives, having one’s papers read was a statistical anomaly. Few and far between. So he continued to produce them for his own edification, but privately considered them to be write-only documents (as they used to call them centuries before in the army).
So when a Time Agent sought him out on the basis of a paper he’d written, he was flattered and intrigued.
To be fair, it was a particularly good paper, even if he did say so himself. A Reformation of the Historical Inertia Model with Respect to Uncertainty Theory. A pompous name for a simple idea: if one wanted to change history, there were simpler points and more difficult. History had its own particular weight, and seldom wanted to shift.
Before his reformation, the idea of historical inertia had been simply linear – the farther one got from a specific event, the more force must exerted to alter it. If one wanted to eliminate Hitler (as an example that was particularly close to his heart, in his life before this) it was more efficacious to simply kill him in his crib than to kill his father before his conception – because his father of record may not have actually been the one to do the deed. History doesn’t like to change.
Miles speculated that the inertial model was not so purely linear. He favored a parabolic model in the small scale, with minor variances once you’d gotten out a few thousand years or so. Would it not be easier, he proposed, to prevent the rise of the social and economic conditions that lead to Hitler’s rise to power in the first place? Maybe as simple as eliminating a particular bug on a particular farm in Austria, leading to a successfully crop rather than a failure, leading to an increase in production and snowballing economic stability?
It was a good theory, and a very good paper, but without a Time Agent to actually make a change, it would stay simply that – a theory. An unrealized mathematical model, gathering dust on a shelf. (Actually the dust was electrostatically precipitated from the air in the Archives, but Miles neither knew not cared about that.)
That’s where Amy came in. She’d claimed to have read his paper but not understood it, and then proceeded to give lie to her second statement when she requested a work up around the birth of a particular child during the Siege on Rho, with a particular focus on the minimum required forced.
Six days into the work up, though, he was beginning to suspect his initial back of the napkin speculation was actually correct. The pie was the lowest point on the curve, and but for a few small bumps 400 years prior, it had fared out to a smooth logarithmic increase.
It was a shame, really. He liked Amy, once she’d calmed down enough to be human, and he’d like to have been able to give her better news – she was insistent that The Pie Incident (as they’d taken to calling it) was too close to the target and thus unviable. But the math was clear, and he’d gone back almost seven thousand years now with no variances. He sighed, and placed the call.
The phone rang twice before she answered. A full color Tri-D hologram of her torso, three quarter scale, appeared hovering above the desk before him. Her long brown hair hung loose around her shoulders and she was wearing a white terrycloth robe. He must’ve caught her in chambers. Miles grinned. “Bad time?”
Amy shrugged. “I’m just having some coffee. Good news?”
“No,” Miles said, “the opposite.”
Amy didn’t seem phased. “Well,” she said, “Bad news is best delivered over breakfast. Why don’t you come by my room and fill me in?”
Amy answer the door herself, and let him up a long flight of stairs to a well-appointed rooftop terrace overlooking the city. She poured him a cup of coffee, topped hers up, and took a seat at the wrought iron café style table.
Miles took a sip of the coffee. It was exceptional. “This isn’t from the Archive kitchens,” he remarked.
Amy grinned. “Ethiopia, 16th-century local time.”
“I thought you weren’t leaving the Archives?”
“I’m not,” Amy said. “I got one of the apprentices to get it for me. Obviously he was still pretty green – hasn’t yet realized he doesn’t have to do everything a Time Agent asks.”
Miles chuckled. “Probably just excited he gets to use the Door. Field time is rarely approved.”
Now it was Amy’s turn to laugh. “Then he must be happy as a clam. Abu Dhabi for coffee, Paris for croissant, and back through Edinburgh for some smoked salmon. Help yourself to some salmon, by the way.”
“You probably made his whole year,” Miles said. He wrapped a thin slice of salmon in a torn off corner of croissant. Like the coffee, they were both amazing. “Ah, The stressful life of the Time Agent.”
Amy shrugged, causing the front of her robe to open slightly, showing off a little more décolletage than women typically did in his youth. That he had more experience now with women than even the most storied Casanova of his youth (he’d had plenty of time, after all) didn’t matter. Childhood prejudices tends to last – and she was very pretty. He flushed and looked away, almost missing her response.
“It has its moments, I admit. It’s not all stealing the king’s slippers.”
Miles brought his attention back around. “Stealing the king’s slippers?”
Amy topped off for coffee. “My last mission, before here,” she said. She then proceeded to tell him a long, involute, and wildly improbable tale of a rogue Time Agent, eyeshadow, underground football, and a pressing need for a very specific piece of royal footwear that, for the sake of the credibility of the reader will not be re-created here.
“And so,” she finished up, “the giraffe had them the entire time!”
“There is no way,” Miles choke through his laughter, “there is no way that happened.”
Look it up,” Amy said with a wicked grin. “Now, are you entertained, bean counter?”
Good,” she said. “Now this is the part where you tell me that you can’t do it I tell you that you’re going to. Would you like to start, or shall I?”
Miles was still smiling. For as urgent as she’d been initially, she seems to be taking it remarkably well. “I can’t do it.”
“You are going to.”
“I’ve gone back 7000 years. The curve has fared out,” he said. “At this point, you need an army of 1 million men.”
“7000 years?” Amy said with a scoff, “Hell, that’s nothing! I’ve got bras older than that.”
Which she was currently not wearing, Miles noticed. He chastised himself for letting his obviously one-sided attraction distract him from the task at hand. His first chance to test this theory, he was behaving like a hormonal teenager.
Amy was still talking. “Is it exhibiting asymptotic behavior?”
“No.” he admitted, “Not yet.”
“Then get cracking,” Amy said. “Come back to me when you’ve got 1 million years – or an answer.”
Miles frowned. “It will take time. I’m only averaging 1000 years a day,” he said. “Of course if I had more computing power…”
“So have it,” Amy said. Miles waited. “Oh,” she said. “Right. How much do you need?”
Another shrugged. “No idea, he said, “No one has ever done this before. 500 XFLOPs, a thousand?”
Amy nodded, and drew a communication unit from the pocket of her robe. She thumbed a few keys and set it down on the table. Four rings and it was answered, audio only.
“Benjamin Morris,” came to voice, seemingly from all around them. Surround sound built into the patio, Miles speculated. Nice.
“I need a VFLOP of processing power piped to a terminal in the Archive,” she said without preamble.
“Will parallel work, or does it have to be straight line?”
Amy thumbed the mute button and looked at Miles.
“That’s 1000 times what I asked for,” he said.
“I know my prefixes, bean counter. Straight line or parallel?”
“Parallel will work,” he said.
Amy released to the mute. “Parallel.”
“What’s your vector?”
Amy ruled off a long string of letters and numbers signifying their location and time and space.
“Got it,” Morris said. “Access codes are being sent to your phone.”
“Thanks,” Amy said and disconnected the call.
“That was easy,” Miles remarked. In fact, it been exceptionally easy. Had he made the request himself, he’d have had to fill out half a dozen forms in triplicate, submitted them in person, been rejected, fill them out again, justified his project, and then hope – hope – it got approved. “Must be nice, being a Time Agent.”
Amy picked up a piece of 22nd century Scottish salmon and placed it on an 18th-century French croissant, took a bite, and washed it down with 16th century Ethiopian coffee. “Yeah,” she said. “It has its perks.”
“So,” Amy said, “with 1000 times more processing power, you’ll be done I thousand times more quickly right? We’ll have this wrapped up before breakfast tomorrow.”
“That’s not how it works, and you know it.”
Amy sighed. “A girl can dream.”
It wasn’t breakfast the next morning or even the next month when Miles ran into the next wall. 30,000 years prior to the moment, the equations went off the rails. A radical, continual deviance from the predicted course can only mean one of three things: human error, a flaw in the theory, or missing data or data set.
The first option was the most likely. He’d dragooned 16 apprentices to help him program has equation into the computer, and surely one of them had made a mistake. So Miles sent them all back to their previous projects and brought in a whole new set, 22 this time, to tear the equations downs and re-enter them. He want a little bit nuts, authorizing countless man hours in Benjamin Morris’ name, but ultimately it came to naught. The equations had been entered and processed correctly.
The second option – that he screwed up his theory – was so absurd as to be ridiculous. But that didn’t stop him from holing away in his own rooms for two weeks pouring over it, running simulation after simulation, until he was absolutely certain he hadn’t made a mistake.
Which left the third option – he was missing data. There was something Amy hadn’t told him. Thus with heavy heart, he took the speed tube to her building.
“Hello stranger,” she said when she answered the door. She was wearing a sky blue watered silk dress that complements her eyes beautifully. Miles was in no position to notice.
“You lied to me,” he said.
“Do come in,” and he said with no change in the tone for voice. She was already turning away and leading him in, leaving him no time to respond.
Miles had been to her rooms a few times, delivering progress reports on the project. Every time she taking him upstairs to the rooftop for exquisite coffee and exotic food stuffs, laughing and making him feel welcome. This time, she led into a small, white sitting room done up in the French colonial style just off the main floor.
“Can I offer you anything?” Amy said, waiting for him to be seated. “Coffee, tea?”
Miles didn’t sit. “You lied to me, Amy.”
Amy side. “I’m a Time Agent, Miles,” she said almost pityingly. “My job – my life – my raison d’etre is to travel through time and space manipulating people and events. Lying is a necessary eventuality. Sit down and let’s discuss this like adults. What particular inconsistency has caught your attention?”
Miles sat stiffly. Amy followed suit. “The third variable,” he said. “Or, in this case, the 407 millionth. Or the first.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Why is correlation not causation?” Miles said.
Amy looked puzzled. “Because events don’t occur in a vacuum. They are often acted upon by an outside force.”
“Yes,” Miles said, “a third variable. A variable that defines the relationship but is not included in the initial summation.”
“I’m still not following.”
“Who is the little girl, Amy?” Amy paled, and clenched her fists in her lap. She didn’t speak, though, so Miles continued. “Who is she to you? Why is so important that she be born, and that we affect her birth from further on? I’m trying to program around an active interference by an outside force only to discover the outside force was inside all along – the forest for the trees, Amy. Why-”
She cut him off. “It’s me.”
If he hadn’t already been sitting, Miles would have fallen into his chair. “Say that again, because I’m sure I didn’t hear it correctly the first time.”
“She is me,” Amy said quietly. “The little girl is me.”
“You realize,” Miles said, “that altering your own timeline is a violation of the number one, most important and most prime rule of HKK?”
Miles nodded, and stared speculatively out into the distance. This changed everything. He’d have to invent a whole new set of theorems, in order to account for active but ignorant participation…
The idea of turning her into the Oracles never even crossed his mind.
“But why?” Miles ultimately said. “Why are you trying to bend history to ensure that you are born? You’re here.”
“I screwed up,” Amy said. “Big time.”
“How?” Miles said. “No, that doesn’t make sense. Paradox is a null signifier. That you’re here, now, affecting this change means that you were there, then, the beneficiary of that change. That’s not a theory – that’s how it works.”
Amy shrugged, and stared down at her folded hands. “I don’t know, Miles,” she said. “One minute I was looking over my shoulder to see if I could get a glimpse of the giraffe, and the next I was standing in the Oracular Chamber with a full council glowering down at me and telling me that they had no idea what I’d done nor how I’d done it, but I was damn sure going to fix it. Then the cautioned me not to enter the main timeline on account of I don’t exist there. I don’t know what else to do, except see to it that I do exist.”
Miles nodded. It didn’t make sense to him, but he was more than capable of operating around a blackbox. “I’m going to have to go back before the naissance of humanity,” he said, mostly to himself. “Maybe back before life on Earth.”
“Can you do it?”
Miles scoffed. “Of course I can,” he said. He rose to leave.
As he was approaching the door, he heard Amy’s voice behind him, “Will you do it?”
“What?” he said, looking back over his shoulder, “Oh, yeah. Of course. Nice dress by the way – really brings out your eyes.”
The next time Miles called Amy, she answered audio-only. It was the first time she done that. In background behind her, he could hear a strange mechanical whirring and her voice was clipped when she said, “Lazar. Go.”
“Amy,” he said, “Miles. Are you OK? You don’t sound so good.”
“Spin class,” she replied. “I was going stir crazy; this helps. Have you got good news for me?”
“No,” Miles replied. “Problems.”
“You sure are a charmer, Miles,” she said. “Always telling a woman just what she wants to here. Is it big? I can meet up with you later, once I’m done.”
“They have a spin class at the Archives?” Miles said. It made sense, though. They had everything at the Archives. That was the point.
“Kinda in the middle of something, Miles,” Amy said. “Whats the news?”
Miles shrugged, then realized that she couldn’t see him and felt a bit stupid. “I don’t have a symbology for pre-human terrestrial life. I need it for the equations.”
Amy huffed away for a few moments, and somewhere in the background a whistle blew. “Chen Ro did a symbolic treatment of pre-human Terran life in late 115th. He was a biologist, not a mathematician, but I suspect you can adapt it.” It took her a long time to say it.
“Any idea what the paper was called?” Miles said.
“Well, I’m hardly going to be able to find it on the basis of-“
Amy cut in. “He was at the Ten Planets Symposium.”
“And I was at the opening of Electric Park,” Miles said, “What does that have to do with anything?”
More huffing, and the mechanical whirring changed. “You’re being unusually dense today, Miles. Go get him.”
Oh. “Oh,” he said. “Yeah. How?”
What that a snort? Miles chose to put it down to exertion. “Kidnap him, for all I care.”
“I hardly think he’d do his best work under duress,” Miles said.
“Miles!” Amy snapped. “Think like a Time Agent. I don’t care what you have to do to get him; just do it. Intellectual curiosity will probably be enough, but if it’s not, offer him something else. Violence. Sex. Money – a work-for-hire or bribe. Solution oriented.”
Miles considered it. She was right, of course. It was beginning to be something of a trend with her. “I don’t really have the money for a bribe,” he protested, but it was only a token.
“Expense it,” Amy huffed, “Charge it to my account.”
“You’ve got an expense account?” Miles said.
“Later, bean counter,” Amy said. She disconnected the call.
Chen Ro, Miles discovered, was a ferociously intelligent scientist and a more than capable mathematician. He had fostered for him a level of professional respect that he’d seldom felt for anyone, since his early days in the Archives, and he suspected it was reciprocated.
“That is the dumbest goddamn thing I have ever heard, in my entire life!” Ro shouted.
Miles made a rude gesture. “That’s because you’re as simple-minded as the damn dinosaurs you love so much!” he shouted in reply.
The apprentices were all staring at them, two giants in their field standing the middle of a library and shouting imprecations at one another over a question of the importance of a comma. It was good, Miles reflected, for them to be able to see the professional remediation of disagreement.
“I don’t have time for this,” Ro said, whirling on his heel. “I’ll be in my quarters when you’ve pulled your head out of your unusually large rear end.”
“I hope you rot there,” Miles replied. Of course, if Ro had threatened to actually quit the project then Miles would have had to capitulate. But quitting a project of this interest and magnitude was as unthinkable to Ro as it was to Miles. They’d rather try to swim, unaided, through the vastness of space.
After Ro’s ignominious exit, Miles turned back to the apprentices. They were staring at him as if he would bite. “Well?” he snapped, “Back to work.” They went back to it. Miles went to see Amy.
“Chen Ro is going to be the death of me,” Miles said to Amy, once they were safely ensconced on her rooftop terrace, sipping a straw-pale wine made from grapes grown on the moons of Betelgeuse II and nibbling a cheese of dubious provenance.
Amy laughed. “So bad?”
“He’s intractable,” Miles said. “Willing to fight – at length and in depth – over the smallest of details. No conception of scope.”
Amy pursed her lips, then took a sip of wine. “Sounds familiar,” she said. “All you academics are that way. Trust me, I know. Used to be one myself.”
“Academic?” Miles said, in faux distain. “I’m not an academic, honey. I work for a livin’. Ten hours a day behind a mule – that’ll make a man of you.”
Amy chuckled. “Miles,” she said, “I suspect you may be a little drunk.”
He nodded. “Yeah,” he said. “A bit. I don’t drink much. You, on the other hand, seem to be holding up just ducky.”
“Professional skill,” Amy said. “If three glasses of wine put me under the table, I wouldn’t be much good on a mission.”
“Hmph,” Miles said. “Well, don’t worry. I won’t start crying on you – or trying to fight.”
Amy swatted his arm. “I could take you.”
“Another professional skill?” Miles said.
Miles hummed. They were quiet for a long time, before he finally spoke again. “I don’t know if we can do it.”
“We’re millions of years back now,” he said. “Almost a billion. The energy level required to affect a controlled change at this point is astronomical. More than astronomical – galactic. We’re talking Kardashev Type III level energy. Maybe type four.”
Amy nodded, and took another sip of her wine. “Logarithmic increase?”
“Yeah,” Miles said. He set his glass aside.
“You predicted that,” Amy replied.
There was another protracted moment of silence. “You also predicted that there was a second valley, closer to the wall,” Amy said.
Miles shrugged. “It’s just a theory,” he said.
“So is gravity.”
“Yeah, but – wait,” Miles said, snapping out of his reverie, “Gravity is still just a theory? In all this time, no one has cracked it? This is the oldest one in the book.”
Amy chuckled. “No idea,” she confessed. “I sure someone did. It was still a theory when I was growing up.” She paused, and looked down at her hands. “I’d like to be able to do that,” she said. “Have done that. Whatever. Grow up, I mean.”
“I’d like that, too,” Miles said. He stared off into the distance. “I just don’t know if we can do it. The formula seems to call for it, but it’s not showing up.”
“Miles,” Amy said, “If I’ve learned one thing from all my years as a Time Agent, it is this: if the mathematics and the Universe disagree, then the Universe is wrong.”
If Miles had thought that he liked her before that statement, he’d been wrong. He was madly in love.
When the solution finally did come to Miles, it was so absurdly simple and obvious that he burst into laughter – and then couldn’t stop laughing. He fell down into a chair at one of the tables dotting the library, and giggled into his hands until one of the apprentices finally came over to see what was wrong.
“Mr. Ree?” The apprentice said. His voice was tentative, and his hands were sweating. He’d heard rumors of people going insane in the Archives – whispered tales of an event horizon of human knowledge, that if a man passed he would collapse in on himself like a psychological black-hole. “Mr. Ree? Are you OK?”
Miles managed, barely, to get himself under control. “It’s so easy,” he said. “It’s so. Damn. Easy. How did we miss it? How did we waste all this time, all this effort, for something so ridiculously simple?”
The apprentice took a step back. “What?”
“Where is the easiest place to change a future past?” Miles said. The apprentice hesitated. “It’s a serious question,” Miles continued. “I’ve not gone crazy.”
“I don’t know,” the apprentice said, “Isn’t that what we’ve been trying to figure out?”
Miles choked off another laugh. “That’s just it,” he said “We’ve been trying entirely too hard.”
“I don’t follow.”
“It’s not important that you do,” Miles said, waving him off. “Belay all other research and bring me a portable computer.”
The apprentice hurried off to relay the message to the others, and lay his hands on a laptop. Once he returned with it, Miles dismissed him. He patched into the master computer on which he was running his simulations, and changed a few variables. A few more variables, a couple of tweaks to the formulas, and then it was done. He clicked compile.
The previous simulation had taken three days to fully compile, even at a VFLOP. This one was done in minutes. Miles clicked run. The program ran.
He was right.
Of course he was right – or course he was! He wanted to laugh again, to sing, to dance – but, instead, he quickly got up and made his way to a speedtube. He was going to see Amy. It would be the second time he’d ever shown up at her quarters unannounced, but this time the news was good. Great. The best.
Or was it? As his capsule whipped through the vacuum of the speedtube, Miles wondered. Doubt crept into his mind. Not about his solution, of course, but about his future. If he told Amy about the solution, she’d have what she wanted. And having finished her mission, she’d be gone. She’d have to, wouldn’t she? She was a Time Agent, after all. And there was nothing to keep her here…
Miles chided himself. He was being foolish. Worse, he was being selfish. He knew very well that Amy was going stir-crazy hanging around the Archive all the time. She’d told him so herself. That he’d prefer her to stay was his own problem.
So he buried his fears, and made his way to her door with a smile. It was the right thing to do. He pressed the buzzer.
Amy answered the door herself. She always did – probably swept the floors and washed the windows herself, too. There was never any sign of domestic help around the place. She was wearing the same white terrycloth robe she’d been wearing the first time she’d invited him here – the first and the last, Miles thought, how appropriate.
“You look like a hot mess,” Amy said in lieu of hello.
“You look radiant,” Miles replied.
Amy treated him to a kilowatt smile. “Why thank you,” she said. “Come in. Can I get you anything?”
Miles shook his head. “No,” he said. “No. For once, I’m going to be the one doing the giving.”
Amy’s eyebrows rose. “Miles,” she said, her voice oddly soft, “Is this the sort of news that should really be delivered in the hallway?”
“No,” Miles conceded. “I’m sorry. I’m flustered. Let’s go up.”
Once they were posted up on the terrace, drinks and finger food having been brought out, sampled and deemed excellent, Amy finally deemed them ready to talk. By which point, Miles had made a decision of his own. He wasn’t going to withhold anything from her – anything.
“So,” Amy said, “I take it you’ve made some significant progress?”
Miles nodded. He took a sip of his Rylairi wineapple juice, and then replied, “I’ve solved it.”
Amy sat back hard in her chair. “Solved it?”
“Solved it,” Miles said. “Completely. Every simulation, every model yields the same results. It’s done.”
“That’s wonderful!” Amy said. She bounded out of her chair, literally jumping for joy. Miles had no idea people actually did that. Then she paused, tilting her head in confusion as she looked at him. “That is wonderful, isn’t it?”
Miles nodded again. “Oh yes.”
“And yet, you don’t seem very excited,” she said.
Miles swallowed hard. “I’m thrilled,” he said. “This is the high point of my professional career – a true masterwork.” He took another long drink of his juice. “But…”
He’d trailed off, so Amy picked up. “But?”
“Amy,” he said, “I’ve grown… fond of having you around. I like our little breakfasts, and the sarcastic way you call me ‘bean counter’ when I’m rambling. I like you.”
Amy took a step toward him and frowned. “Miles,” she said, “for someone so amazingly intelligent, you’re really very stupid sometimes.”
Miles offered a sad grin in response. “Comes with the territory, I suppose.”
“I like the pie, bean counter.”
The pie? What pie? What did pie have to do with anything? Had he overlooked something on the table – no, it was just wineapple juice and croquettes. Had they had pie at some point, during one of their status meetings? He rolled his memory back through every interaction they’d had, all the way back to the very first time they’d met…
The first time they’d met. Before he’d even learned her name, when he’d knocked out a back-of-the-napkin scenario that hinged on Alexandra Jameson’s special cherry pie.
“And how about the pie-maker?” He said.
Amy’s smile was the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. “Not too shabby, she said
Three steps covered the distance between them.
As they lay in the quiescent afterglow, Amy snuggled up against Miles and said, “So, you’ve solved it.”
Miles nodded. Amy didn’t so much see it as feel it through the top of her head. “Yes.”
Miles could feel the vibrations of her speech in his chest. It made him smile. “A different way of thinking. Bigger. Actually, you’re the one that put me on the right track.”
“Mmhmm,” Miles said. “When you mentioned that gravity was just a theory, I had to look it up. It kept niggling at me. Surely someone had worked out gravity – and they had. Have. Will have. Something like that. How do you Time Agents resolve language around what you do?”
“We’ve got our own,” Amy said, “Purpose built. But what does gravity have to do with anything?”
“Planck time,” Miles said. “Unified field, gravity as strong as all the other forces or maybe one with them. Poolidge did some excellent work on it.”
Amy hummed. “Planck time?” Suddenly she sat up. “Planck time! Miles, you’re talking about the Big Bang.”
“Yep,” he said. “Lay back down. I’m getting cold.”
Amy obliged. “Can we… Can I… I mean, it’s the Big Bang. What would I have to do?”
“Nothing,” Miles said. “That’s the best part. Reduce the applied force to zero, and the time frame becomes obvious.”
“So I’d be doing… nothing?”
“Just slightly more than nothing,” Miles said. “And I do mean slightly.”
Amy shifted impatiently next to him. “Spell it out for me,” she said. “Pretend I’m stupid.”
She swatted him playfully.
“Door theory,” Miles said. “Where does a Door go?”
“And when?” He continued.
“Anywhen,”Amy said. “We I said ‘pretend I’m stupid’, I didn’t actually mean it.”
Miles chuckled. “We’re getting there, puppetmaster. What goes through a Door?”
Amy was quiet for a moment. “I still don’t get it. Anything goes through a door. Anything we want.”
Miles nodded. “Anything we want and nothing else,” he said. “So, we’ll open a Door to Planck Time and send nothing through it.”
“But if we –” Amy cut herself off with sudden laughter. “It’s Schroedinger’s Cat!”
Miles grin was so wide it hurt his face. “It’s Schroedinger’s Universe, my dear.”
Now that the problem was solved, the sense of urgency that it had carried was abated. They spent several hours in Amy’s rooms, feasting and toasting and generally making merry, before they finally reverted back to the problem on hand. And so it was that Amy Lazar and Miles Ree found themselves, fully sated and slightly tipsy, lounging together on a divan in a small, dark room staring at a plain wooden door.
But this was not just a door – this was a Door. The ultimate in time and space travel devices, capable of opening to anywhen and anywhere, subject only to the programming mastery of the operator.
“So,” Miles said, “What do we do?”
“I already plugged in the coordinates,” Amy said. “So all we’ve got to do is open the Door.”
There was a long moment of silent stillness. Then, Amy nodded. “Right,” she said. She got off of the divan, two steps across the room, and flung open the Door.
“A bit anti-climactic, isn’t it?” Miles said after a bit. “Not much of a view.”
In fact, there was no view – not even the uniform blackness of vacuum, literally nothing.
Amy sat back down on the divan. “It may take a minute to catch up,” she said. “We’re pushing Door technology to the absolute limit. I don’t think anyone has ever gone this far.”
Miles chuckled. “Still, not nearly as exciting as jumping through with daggers in our teeth,” he said. “Maybe we should say something?”
Amy flashed him a wicked grin. “Let there be light.”
And there, before their eyes, the nothingness exploded.
About the Author
Len Downing lives in Tampa, Florida. He enjoys jazz music, 20 year old scotch, and anti-tank rifles. You can connect with him via https://www.facebook.com/len.downing.16 and/or https://lendowning.wordpress.com/
If you enjoyed this story and would like to spend more time in the Hoshido, Kael, and Kaaden universe a feature length novel entitled Ophiuchus Rising is available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B075FTZLF8
Changing the past is not easy - Miles should know; he did the math. In full point of fact, he invented the math. So when a time travelling secret agent shows up in his lab and asks him to prove it, Miles takes to the project with a passion. But as time goes on, Miles comes to realize that there is more to this project - and to this secret agent - than he initially bargained for... Before The Morning is a science-fiction romance short story of 7000 words set in the Hoshido, Kael, and Kaaden universe. Adult themes are present, but no explicit violence or sexuality.