by Rik Hunik
Published by Rik Hunik at Shakespir
Copyright 2015 by Rik Hunik
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: (2070 words) This story was published as a separate ebook on Sep. 30, 2014. A slightly different version appeared in Perihelion Science Fiction, Feb. 12, 2013.
: (2690 words) This story was published as a separate ebook on Oct. 30, 2014. A slightly different version appeared in Perihelion Science Fiction, Aug. 12, 2013.
(1600 words) This story was published as a separate ebook on Dec. 9, 2013.
: (9600 words) This story was published as a separate ebook on Jan. 28, 2013.
: (3600 words) This story was published as a separate ebook on July 31, 2014. A slightly different version appeared in Midnight Times #20, Winter 2008.
Table of Contents
The Emperor Germanicus
Other titles by Rik Hunik
About the Author
TWO TIMING 2070 words
“This is awkward,” said the police detective. “I was just coming to tell your wife that you were dead.”
“Obviously there must be some mistake,” Tim said, letting his irritation show in his voice.
“Apparently.” The detective backed away a couple of steps and ran his narrowed eyes the length of Tim’s body, as though verifying its presence. “A body was found. We ran the DNA and came up with your name and address.” His eyes came up, met Tim’s without blinking. “Apparently you’ve done some classified research.”
“Highly classified,” Tim said, emphasizing the first word and staring down at the slightly shorter man. “How was he killed?”
The detective looked away. “I’m not at liberty to say.”
“Where was the body found? I have a right to know.”
The detective shook his head, a hint of a smile curling his lips. “Not if it isn’t your body. May I come in?”
“Do you have a search warrant?”
“Then you can’t come in.” The detective said nothing, he just stood there looking, so Tim closed and locked the door. Let him look at that.
Something had gone drastically wrong and he hadn’t even turned on the machine yet today. How much did this cop know? Was he just a cop? Was he lying about the body being found?
Tim knew he had no twin, so the only explanation for a dead body with his own DNA was that somebody had duplicated him with an extremely illegal use of a modified matter transmitter. Tim was pretty sure he could do it himself, but he couldn’t think of any reason he would want to.
A second explanation occurred to him. His colleague and frequent collaborator, Bill Cryder, had suggested a way to modify the matter transmitter to send something back in time. What if he travelled back in time and arrived dead, or was killed when he arrived? That would account for a duplicate body, but it would be easy to avoid that situation by not travelling back in time, which should be easy to do since he hadn’t yet modified the transmitter, and now had no intention of ever attempting to do so.
But the body had already arrived in Tim’s present time. So, what if he duplicated himself, then sent his other self back? If that self died it would account for the body the detective told him about, but that would be like killing himself.
Too bad he hadn’t been able to get more information from that detective.
His cell phone buzzed in his pocket.
Tim pulled out his phone, flipped it open, said, “Hello.”
“They’re cracking down hard.” The voice came through an electronic filter that made it sound flat, mechanical, hard to identify, but Tim knew it was Bill. “They’re on to me. You better lay low for a while.” The line went dead.
The general public knew about the existence of matter transmission, but were misled to believe that it was expensive, unstable, and dangerous to use. While it was true that matter transmission was prohibitively expensive for practical purposes, there was no truth to the claim that it was unstable or unsafe. Still, the government was convinced it was dangerous enough to suppress, so if they suspected he had his own matter transmitter and receiver, and was conducting forbidden experiments with them, they wouldn’t hesitate to terminate him.
Before Tim went down to his secret basement library he detoured to his bedroom, dug in the closet and pulled out the snub-nosed .38 revolver he had bought years ago, when he was more nervous and less self-assured than he usually was now. He snapped it open. Six shells, ready to fire. Not terribly accurate, but effective at close range.
With the gun hanging from his hand, Tim headed downstairs.
As Tim finished locking and barring the laboratory door his receiving chamber activated. Usually that only happened when he was sending something to himself, or, more rarely, his friend and co-conspirator, Bill, was sending something, but the phone call indicated that Bill was already on the run and Tim’s place was a high risk, so he wouldn’t be using his equipment to send anything here, and Tim hadn’t sent anything to himself, which left only the government with the required equipment.
Were they sending an assassin after him already? Tim left the lights off and crouched in the green glow of instrument panels, with the gun held in both hands, pointed at the curved door of the egg-shaped chamber, while he counted down the seconds, waiting for the cycle to finish so the door would open.
The safety latch clicked as it released and hydraulics hissed as the door slid aside. When it was about half open the man inside said, “Don’t move,” and Tim saw him raising his hand to shoot.
Tim was so startled his finger twitched ever-so-slightly on the trigger and a bullet exploded out the end of the barrel and nailed the sucker in the chest. Damn. He’d used this gun so seldom he’d forgotten it had damned near a hair trigger.
Tim turned on the lights and saw that the man sprawled on his side on the floor of the chamber was unarmed, he had only been reaching out. In his mind Tim replayed the man’s words and figured he might have been trying to say, “Don’t shoot.”
Still shaky from the adrenaline, Tim rolled the body over with his foot and stared down at his own features, the dead body of his future self. Was that his destiny?
How far in the future had he come from? What was he going to do with the body?
Then the idea came to him. He could rewire and reprogram the matter transmitter in just the way the government was afraid of, and use it to send the dead body to a distant location without a receiver. It cost exponentially more in energy, the location wasn’t precise with his equipment, and living things couldn’t survive the trip, but it would do for his purpose.
Tim and Bill had discussed the theory a number of times, and Bill had come up with the hardware to make the modifications, but neither of them had tried sending anything nearly as large as a man’s body. When he had it programmed he dragged the inert body into the chamber and left it there, then closed the door and hit the button.
Static electricity made his arm hairs tingle and stand straight out, and he felt the hair on his head trying to do the same thing as sparks jumped from his body to the outer shell of the transmitter. This was the kind of effect he would have had to endure inside the chamber just prior to a jump, if not for the shields and dampening fields. The excessive power being used to send the body without a receiver was distorting the field far more than he’d anticipated. He tried to back away, out of the field, but his muscles didn’t respond. Like it or not, he was along for the ride, destination unknown.
His muscle control suddenly returned and he took a step back, bumping into a wall. He had been caught up in the field and transmitted somewhere. His eyes focused on a painted symbol, and he realized that it was the symbol painted on the inside of the door of his own receiving chamber.
Dammit, was this how his future self had travelled back in time in the matter transmitter? Somehow he’d assumed he had come from at least a day or two in the future, not just a few minutes. Now it was his turn to be shot.
Tim’s future self had tried to warn him not to shoot, but that hadn’t worked. Tim would have to act first, shooting his past self before his past self shot him. He remembered where he’d been standing. He dropped into a crouch, raised his gun and held it with both hands, aimed at that spot.
The safety latch on the door released, and as soon as the door opened a crack he saw himself aiming a gun at the opening door. He adjusted his aim up a hair and squeezed off a couple of shots at himself’s head. One shot missed but the other was effective and past Tim fell dead to the floor.
He had just killed himself for the second time. By not getting shot he had changed the timeline. He’d just shot his earlier self. So how could he be here now if he’d killed his past self before his past self had a chance to travel forward in time, at the normal rate, in order to be sent back through time? Standing in the chamber with the door about to open he hadn’t had time to think things through, so now he’d gone and created a paradox.
But he was here now and he hadn’t been shot.
No time to worry about all the permutations of that. He had another body to get rid of, and the previous attempt hadn’t been very successful. Not that it mattered at this stage of the game. He had prepared long ago for a quick exit.
Tim loaded the body into the transmission chamber but this time he made damn sure, before he energized anything, that he was far out of range of any possible field malfunction or wild fluctuation.
With the body safely gone and no cops yet beating on his doors, Tim heaved a sigh of relief. A few minutes on his computer transferred all his liquid assets to a numbered account on the Cayman Islands.
He brought up the view from the security camera in front of his house and saw police cars and unmarked cars parked on the lawn and street. Cops, a SWAT team, and black-suited agents hurried across the lawn, coming for him. Close, but they still had to break through some reinforced doors to get to the lab. By then he’d be long gone.
He hurried to the transmission chamber, stepped inside and punched in a code that would send him to a receiver hidden in a remote area a couple of hundred miles away. He wondered if Bill would be there waiting for him, or if he had been caught before he could escape, or if he’d already fled from the hidden receiver.
He pushed the big “SEND” button and heard the machine hum into life as it started scanning him. Half a minute later the hum stopped and a big green LED started flashing the countdown from ten seconds.
His anticipation grew as the count hit one. The second dragged on impossibly long and a sinking feeling in his stomach accompanied the realization that something was wrong.
The door slid open and he found himself facing two men in dark blue uniforms, with round white helmets and mirrored visors. Looking past the black circle of a gun barrel, he saw a white patch embossed with the words, “TIME POLICE”.
Without preamble the slightly taller one said, “Tim, you are under arrest.”
“For what? Causing a paradox?”
The cop shook his head. “You have been found guilty of using time travel technology to facilitate murder.”
“No,” he protested automatically. “It was an accident.”
“The first time, maybe. The second time was premeditated and deliberate.”
“No, it was self defence.”
“You didn’t even try to communicate. You’re guilty.”
“What? This is all the trial I get?”
“We know you’re guilty. You know you’re guilty. What more needs to be said?”
“I want a lawyer.”
“No lawyers. They only confuse the issue. The sentence for murder is death, to be carried out immediately.”
“You can’t do that. It would make you murderers too.”
“There is no need for us to do anything so crude. We can manipulate time and space and matter. Your death is already arranged.”
The door slid closed. Tim blinked and shook his head hard. Had that been for real?
The counter hit zero and the safety latch released. He reached for the gun as the door slid open but the gun wasn’t there. They had manipulated it away.
As the door slid aside he saw the big, round, dark hole of the gun pointed right at him by himself.
“Don’t shoot,” he shouted, but his mouth and throat were dry, his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth and the words didn’t come out clearly.
The gun muzzle flashed. The bullet impacted his chest and tore through his heart. He was dead before he hit the floor.
DOUBLE TIME (2690 words)
The government grants paid for only one shift on the matter transmission project, and most of that shift was used for government condoned experiments, controlled by the government, with government staff. He didn’t have much say in that, but he’d made enough money from his other patents to power the equipment and buy what he needed to continue with experiments of his own in the evenings. No one else needed to know anything about those experiments, so he had spent a good deal of time and effort bypassing the government installed security and surveillance system.
Tonight he was testing a new chip that deliberately induced a field distortion in the transmitter. By calibrating the receiver to take advantage of a harmonic wave pattern he hoped to allow the receiver to accept ten times as much mass.
Working alone as usual, which meant nobody was near the transmitter, he almost jumped out of his skin when the receiver powered on as soon as he finished installing the chip. The gauges, dials and lights all indicated it was preparing to receive a payload. He took a long look at the transmitter and it remained silent, inert, inactive, dead. Of course it did. He had locked out the power source.
Since it was the only transmitter with the right code so, theoretically, it was the only one his receiver could receive from. Something smelled very fishy here.
Curious, and a bit apprehensive, he returned to his keyboard and called up the monitor camera inside the capsule. For a few seconds he couldn’t tell what filled the cramped space, but then he realized he was looking down on the body of a man squeezed into it in a fetal position.
That was far more mass than he’d considered sending, especially at this early stage. At the power levels required there could be too much field distortion for his chip to control, which would cause unpredictable, potentially messy, results.
Not entirely unpredictable. A few weeks ago, during the day shift, a researcher had shown him a new set of equations she’d worked out that indicated the matter transmission equipment, with enough power, might be modified to send through time as well as through space. He had concealed his excitement, studied the equations, and pointed out a flaw. He didn’t tell her he had found a solution to that flaw. He pointed her down a path that indicated infinite power would be required, like travelling at light speed. She accepted his correction and he set her on a different path, then filed the equations where only he could find them.
He was sure time travel could be done with far less power than she’d thought. It was almost within his reach, but even though he’d worked on the equations since then, and come up with some interesting possibilities, he had not made any breakthrough.
But his immediate concern was getting that man out of the receiver, making sure he was okay, and running some tests. He undid the latch, the door swung open and the man’s arm flopped out, but the rest of him was jammed in and didn’t move. He grabbed the arm to help the man out but the arm was completely flaccid, and then he saw the bullet hole and some blood on the front of the white lab coat, right over the heart. The arm still felt warm, but there was no pulse; no surprise there.
The surprise came when he reached in, tilted the head up and saw his own face. He froze for a couple of seconds. It was almost like looking in a mirror, but subtly wrong. Then it sank in and his blood pounded in his head. He thought, That’s me. I’m dead.
But how can I think that if I’m dead?
“I think,” he said aloud, “therefore I am not dead. Not yet.”
This was clearly murder, and it looked like the body dump had gone wrong, but it could not have been sent to his receiver without using his transmitter. Apparently he, or some unknown party, would apply those equations and use the matter transmitter as a time machine, leading up to or causing his own death.
He had to prevent that. His future self must have known what was going to happen to him, just as he did now. Forewarned is forearmed, but he still got shot. It didn’t make any sense.
He massaged his forehead to fend off an impending headache.
He glanced at his wristchron, saw that it was after nine PM, about the time he usually stopped for a bite to eat. Struck by inspiration he reached into the chamber and found the wristchron on the corpse’s wrist but he couldn’t see the face, so he unfastened the strap and pulled it out where he could read it. “11:22 PM.” He did a double take and looked again, this time checking the date. Yes, it was today. Unless he did something about it he had only a couple of hours to live.
He could think of no individuals who would want to kill him. That left governments, both domestic and foreign, and corporations. To his own government he was far more useful alive than dead, so either a foreign government or a corporation had an agent, or agents, on their way, right now, to kill him. Or maybe he was just collateral damage.
Either way he wound up just as dead.
Well he wasn’t going to just stand around waiting. He called security and put them on high alert, not really expecting it to help any, and told the security computer to let him know of any discrepancy, no matter how slight, anywhere on the premises, inside or out. He put the views from the perimeter cameras onto his wall screens, then called up the equations on his computer monitor, hoping for a flash of inspiration.
He studied the receiver’s recordings of the last transmission and extrapolated the transmitter’s settings. Plugging the numbers into the equations showed that conditions could be set up for a temporal wormhole to come into existence when a transmission was sent, with his new chip, to two receivers simultaneously. A second transmission could exploit that wormhole to travel through time. He had never tried that before, had no reason to. In fact, he’d done his utmost to avoid those conditions. In order to duplicate an object he had simply sent the signal a second time, with an accuracy loss of less than a thousandth of a percent.
That’s when a possible solution to his problem occurred to him.
First things first. Getting rid of the body was simple. He bypassed some safety settings, started the cycle, and just before it was ready to send he shut off the receiver. The body was widely dispersed past the focal point of the receiver, and came back into the world as a fine mist of sludge a mile away in the forest outside the facility. As a final touch he hacked into the memory and completely deleted the backup copy of that transmission.
His wristchron read “9:48.” Later than he thought. His killer could show up at any time.
He ran downstairs to the storage room. A few years ago it had been the basement lab where the prototype receiver had been built, and was still kept, fully functional, as a backup. It had been assembled in a haphazard way as parts were made, most of them not at all miniaturized, and nothing was covered. It looked ugly and ungainly but functioned the same as the one upstairs. The prototype transmitter was no longer functional.
He wasted several minutes trying to find a heavy cord to power it up, but in his search he picked up his .38 revolver, which he had stashed several months ago for reasons he no longer recalled, and dropped it into the pocket of his lab coat. It was accurate enough at close range, and big enough to cause some damage.
He got the old machine running and calibrated it to match the new one. Back upstairs in his lab he had to bypass all the safety protocols in order to send to two receivers, but since he’d done most of the programming himself it didn’t take him long to hack the system. He set the transmitter for a delay of one minute, grabbed a screwdriver and ran to the receiver. He quickly undid the three wafer screws on the inside of the door and a small metal panel dropped to the floor.
The computer’s voice came over the PA. “Intruders detected in main corridor.”
How had they gotten inside without being spotted crossing the perimeter? No time to worry about that. He started folding himself into the transmitter chamber.
The heavy steel doors blew open with a loud bang and a cloud of smoke. Three figures in black skintights and masks charged in, their guns covering the entire room. One gun pointed at him, the goggles above it staring at him like alien eyes.
He was inside now, but there was no handle on the inside of the door. He wedged the handle of the screwdriver at an angle into the hole the panel had covered and pulled the door closed. The black figure ran toward him but the minute was up. He had a split second to wonder if he would be the copy to appear in the lab and end up taking a bullet.
He was cramped in an awkward position but he managed to pull the gun out of his pocket. The part of the screwdriver handle that had been stuck in the hole in the door had not been transmitted, but he jammed the tip of the screwdriver into the latch mechanism and the door opened. Yes, he was in the basement.
“That was foolish doctor.” The mask stared at him but the gun lowered, as if he was no threat.
No, he was upstairs.
“You might as well get out of there now. This is a corporate takeover and if you play right you can still have a job, if you don’t mind being closely supervised by the woman who sold you out. Yes, she hacked your system and saw what you were doing with her equations.”
He shook his head and he was back in the basement. He gripped the gun, wrapped his finger around the trigger. He was upstairs and downstairs at the same time. The identical bodies had some kind of mental link.
He was downstairs, his other self was upstairs and was no doubt experiencing this same duality. In his situation he didn’t need extra confusion. He closed his eyes and didn’t move.
Virtual reality war games and paintball parks had given him some familiarity with guns, but he had to be careful not to get too cocky because he was up against professionals here. And he knew in advance that he was going to die.
Upstairs he dropped his legs out of the chamber, using the movement as a distraction while he brought the gun to bear and put a shot through the left lens of the goggles. He dropped to a crouch on the floor while the body fell. He spotted a black figure standing at a computer terminal, probably already downloading files, and squeezed off three shots. One shot hit and the figure went down.
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Two Timing: (2070 words) A time travel story. A short science fiction story about what happens to a scientist when a payload from an unknown source is sent to his teleporter receiver. A slightly different version of this story appeared in Perihelion Science Fiction, Feb. 12, 2013 Double Time: (2690 words) A time travel story. A short science fiction story about what happens to a scientist when his prototype teleporter receiver receives something, despite the fact that the only transmitter is shut off. A slightly different version of this story appeared in Perihelion Science Fiction, Aug. 12, 2013. Good-bye Grandpa 1600 words The Emperor Germanicus: 9600 words. Germanicus was groomed to be emperor but he died young. Far in the future, Marcus Geni, like many others, believed Germanicus could have and should have become emperor. He believed it so strongly he stole a time machine and made it happen. Sort of. He inserted himself into Germanicus's timeline and made himself emperor, which wasn't quite the same thing. Friday: (3600 words) Too much deja vu for Valentine Biggs, who keeps reliving the same Friday over and over again, doing things he normally wouldn't do.