In A Million Years
Part I: Saving Abraham
“You realize that it will not work, Johnson?” questioned Locke, “Not only that, it is a prohibited practice. You will never get a license from the Time Management Bureau.”
Johnson ignored Locke’s query. Instead, he remained stooped over his most recent treasure, the last known paper copy of Louis J. Weichmann’s epic historical saga, A True History of the Assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the Conspiracy of 1865. He had just come into possession of the tome a week before, and since then, he had become totally absorbed by it. Moreover, impracticalities and permits were details that put Johnson off--he left these fiddling matters to his partner Locke.
“Our license for Time Travel will be revoked. Worse, if you disrupt time, you may not have this future to return to!”
“What are you mumbling about now?” asked Johnson, “More worries about my upsetting what is by changing what was?”
“Yes, since you put it so lightly.”
“Well, stop worrying. We have yet to conclude that the present can be changed by altering the past. If it can, then saving Abraham Lincoln from an assassin’s bullet can only improve our lot.”
“That is the point.” countered Locke, “You say ‘our lot.’ If you change the past, we may not have a ‘lot’ in the here and now!”
“Negative speculations, Locke? Where would we be now if we had listened to all of those negative speculations about our work? I will tell you. We would have never invented the Timatron, and time travel would still be a notion of science fiction writers the world over. Imagine that. The greatest invention of man is a machine that can not only move a person through the dimension of time but that of space as well. One that allows a lowly scientist like myself in Atlanta, the year 2197, to visit the birth of Christ in Bethlehem, the year 0000!. This machine would only be speculation if we listened to those who said we could not build it.”
“But the council will--”
“Damn the council! There would be no council if it weren’t for us!”
“Still, they are empowered to stop you.”
“Nonsense, Locke. The government only empowers them to stop people who ask for their permission. I will not ask.”
This last response so disturbed Locke that he began pacing the room--as he always did when agitated. Johnson watched his partner and felt terrible that his ways of doing things upset him. Poor Locke! A “by the book” man from the cradle to the grave! An invaluable asset to someone like Johnson, whose head was always in the sphere of a separate reality.
Nevertheless, Johnson was going on his mission.
“Oh, don’t fret so, Locke,” soothed Johnson, “I have thought it all out. I firmly believe that changing one event in the course of time cannot change the course forever. Time is! Time will always be!”
“And what does that mean?” shot back Locke.
“It means that I have drawn some conclusions from my recent studies concerning our visits to the time of the dinosaurs.”
“The dinosaurs,” cried Locke, “You wish to risk the present and future of humanity based on something that occurred hundreds of millions of years ago?”
“Calm down, Locke. I am not risking anything. If you give me a moment to go over my notes, I think you will agree with me.”
Without waiting for assent, Johnson strode over to the Dataskimmer, punched in his access code, and searched for the subject “Dinosauria, The Death of.”
In the meantime, knowing that there was no stopping Johnson when he began postulating on a new theory, Locke made himself comfortable in the Easachair that he kept in the lab for these moments. He thought of the many times he had sat in this very chair and listened to Johnson’s rambling. Often, he had been able to glean a practical--and profitable--venture from his partner’s meandering. The Timatron was just the latest of these enterprises. Well, he would listen to Johnson again, but if there seemed to be anything that would interfere with his leisure, Locke was going to be sure to stifle it. For if the truth be known, he did not care a great deal about humanity in general; but his own comfort, in particular, was something that he would not allow to be disturbed.
After a few nanoseconds of searching by the ’Skimmer and a few minutes of perusing of his notes, Johnson began: “Locke, you know that for centuries man speculated about how such a large creature like the dinosaur disappeared off the face of the Earth? We blamed their demise on comets, mass plagues ravishing the ecosystems, drastic meteorological changes etcetera, etc. Now, because of you, my friend, we know that all of these theories were false.”
“As well you recall, it was due to your suggestion that we made the first task of the Timatron a trip to see if any of these theories were true. This we did, and we not only found that all of them were erroneous, but we also found that man and the dinosaur existed at the same time. In one trip in time, we put to rest two ideas that until then had been taken as fact!”
Johnson stopped to scan a note and then continued, “Therefore, in essence, Locke, we ’changed history .’What we thought had transpired had not happened at all! Instead, we found that it was mankind who caused the demise of the dinosaurs. We infected them with bacteria that thrived in our bodies but was deadly to their kind. Our belief that both dinosaurs and men existed at different times was merely due to inadequate dating techniques. We were relying on the belief that dinosaurs and humans were made up of the same basic chemistry, which they were not. We discovered all of this yet the ’here and now, as you call it, remains unchanged.”
“You’re splitting hairs now, Johnson.” rebutted Locke, “You’re manipulating words to justify playing God with man’s future. No matter what we perceived the truth to be, the real events happened just so. These events were building blocks in the wall of the future. Discovering that the blocks may not have been formulated from the material we presumed they were made of did not change the blocks. We just painted them a different color. The blocks themselves remain.”
“Ah, my good friend, Locke. Always the solid upright type, just as your imaginary wall is.”
“I apologize for the use of that word, Locke. It was a poor choice as you are a good man--who possesses or little no imagination. Your ‘theory,’ as I will refer to it from now on, is based on the supposition that time is a fixed structure and that any structure movement would cause cracks in it. Indeed, an earthquake in time would cause it to all fall down. I, for one, do not hold to this theory.
“Since you feel that I am lacking your insight, perhaps you will enlighten me with your beacon of intelligence.” retorted a sarcastic Locke.
“I will, but not because I perceive you as being dimwitted. I just oppose your most concrete theory. I hope that you took no offense at my doubting you?”
“No, no.” said Locke, “We have had differences before with no offense taken. None will be forthcoming at this time as well. Do continue.”
“Very well, Locke,” Johnson replied.
He paused again for a time, gathering his thoughts before proceeding.” In my mind, I do not envision time as the unalterable edifice as you do. No, I see time as a river. A mighty river, one such as we have never seen in a physical presence on this or any other planet. Thus, I submit this parable: I am but a young boy, small in stature, standing on the banks of this mighty river. I am in awe of the greatness it presents to me. As if to exert some proximity of control over it, I reach my diminutive hand down to grasp a pebble. With a vigorous heave, I throw it into the river. For an instant, the river parts as my pebble breaks the surface, and for a few seconds afterward, ripples disrupt the flow before the current swallows them up, and the river resumes its proper course. In my theory, this course represents the events in time that have already happened. Like the mighty river flowing past, the events will continue to occur regardless of minor disruptions. At the most, all will be as it was with only slight shadings put on current events. What was good might be better. What was bad might be worse. My saving Abraham Lincoln from an assassin’s bullet will be the first good rock.”
Locke contemplated this idea. In all the years he and Johnson had been partners, he had never known this man to put an idea into words unless he had a great deal of certainty behind it. Could what he is saying now be true? If it was, could there be any financial gain for the firm of Johnson & Locke in it? His continued silence brought a response from Johnson.
“I know what you are thinking, Locke. Being the pragmatic person you are, you are looking for a monetary gain if my concept is accurate. Is that true?”
“Someone has to look after the books, Johnson.”
“And a fine job of it you do, Locke. If not for your rapacious side, I dare say we would not be in the position that we now occupy, but in this case, I have anticipated you.”
“How so?” questioned a suddenly more attentive Locke.
“If my theory proves accurate, we will be able to hire our services out to any person. There will be plenty of them who wish to change the course of their family history or who simply wish to unburden themselves of a skeleton in their closet by changing one simple deed or the other. Who among us has not said, ‘If only I had done this differently.’? None would be my guess.
We could go back and change this item or that to suit the individual. The fees for our service would be one to fit the job. I speculate that none will be less than a king’s ransom. What do you think?”
Locke became caught up in the last portion of his friend’s speech. He was sampling the planet’s population for those rich enough to afford such an operation. By the time he multiplied the amount by the fee, he had become bogged down in carry-forwards ad infinitum! There were too many zeros! Just the way he liked it. Then a thought came to him that halted the calculations.
“Are you not forgetting something, Johnson?”
“What is that, Locke?”
“The Chaos Theory.”
“Oh yes, ’chaos .’That was quite a popular little theory in the latter part of the 20th century, was it not? The ‘if a butterfly beats its wings in Tokyo, it will change the weather in Montana’ group. Whatever became of them? I understand that the last of their leaders were jailed some time ago.”
“Yes, yes, in the last Great Intellect Purge, they were incarcerated for a time, but they were all released as being harmless fanatics.”
“Well, that says that about them.” sniffed Johnson.
“I remember when the scientific community thought of us as being considered fanatics, too, Mr. Johnson. If we had not created the Timatron, we might have well joined them behind bars.”
“True.” responded Johnson, “But we did, and we invented it using sound, acknowledged principles. Not unsound conjectures such as theirs.”
“Johnson, you know as well as I do that all sound, acknowledged theories start out as unsound conjectures. You have to ask yourself, “What if they are right?” What if the ripple caused by your rock manufactures a wave in time? What then?”
“Then we will know that they were right.”
“You are willing to risk that?”
“At the minimal chance that a wave will occur balanced against our and mankind’s possible gain, yes I am,” concluded Johnson.
Locke sat quietly in his Easachair. Figures with many zeros after them spun through his head again. He pondered the practical and dubious points of both his argument and Johnson’s. Both had merit, despite Johnson’s snobbery regarding another group’s theory. In Johnson’s favor, they could make a sizable profit; those zeros were not too numerous to be ignored! On the other hand...
“Okay, Johnson. We will do it your way one time and hope there will be another time to try again, but I promise you that if you destroy my future, I will come back as a ghost to haunt you. That is if I have a life in the first place.”
This grisly approval satisfied Johnson, but he could tell that Locke still wondered about something. So he inquired: “What is it, Locke? Do you need more assurances? If so, I have no more to give.”
“No, Johnson, those that you have provided are quite good enough for me. But I do have one more question. Why Lincoln? Why not Kennedy, Sadat, King, Gandhi, or any of hundreds of other great men who have met their ends through an assassin’s bullet?”
Johnson squirmed while looking at his colleague; evidently, he was trying to decide a troublesome matter. He appeared to have resolved the question with an unseen shrug, but he still did not answer right away. He walked over to Weichmann’s book, picked it up, turned to a picture--the last photograph taken of Lincoln before he was killed--and looked at it quietly for some time. Locke began pacing again to get his stubborn friend to come forward with an answer.
“For pity’s sake, stop pacing, Locke, I will tell you what you desire to know, but it is rather embarrassing as I have never held any secrets from you in the past. The fact is that I made a trip in the Timatron while you were in Washington DC securing the patents for it. I was curious about my lineage, so I followed my ancestry back several generations. In doing so, I discovered, to my significant discomfort, that my family had roots in the slave trade.
Roots! Ha! Much more than that! I discovered that one of my greater-grandparents was a ruthless slave trader! As ruthless a one as there ever was. To him, a black person was a machine. He used the women for his carnal pleasures--he bore many bastards and used the men for work. When the machines broke down or acted up, he would whip them!
Yes, Locke. As I said, all families have skeletons, and I have found my own. In the first trip of our new venture, I will attempt to rid my family of the one we possess. By saving Lincoln, I believe I will significantly advance the rights of the black people and perhaps undo some of the damage perpetrated by my distant progenitor. If unsuccessful, I will know that I have at least tried.”
Johnson sat strapped in the Timatron. Much preparation had taken place since Locke agreed to go forward with the Lincoln project.
With the help of Weichmann’s book, they decided to start the assignment shortly before dawn on April 7, 1865, one week before Lincoln died at Booth’s hand. Johnson would arrive late at night, under cover of darkness, on the outskirts of Georgetown near the banks of the Potomac River. He would arrive, fully dressed and documented, in the guise of a traveling liquor salesman--a man welcomed heartily by all, without question, in those tumultuous times as long as his samples held out. He would also be a man that people expected to be well funded. That is why Johnson was taking along $10,000 in greenbacks that Locke had purchased from several private collections. He needed this money just in case he had to buy his way into or out of any given situation.
For the night of April 14th, Johnson had a replica of a Union Army uniform and fake facial hair in his bag. He and Locke decided that the best way to have freedom of movement in and around Ford’s Theater on that night was to pretend to be a part of the large army attachment that always stayed in Washington to protect it from attack. Though fully documented as a soldier, Johnson expected no trouble, as few people would challenge him. That an actor had found Lincoln so easily accessible to deliver a bullet to was a grim testimony to this.
The only weaponry he would take was the necessary sidearm that men of that time carried. Locke had the idea of just eliminating Booth with a Vapor Ray, but Johnson had objected to this idea. For one, he was far from the assassin type; he was not sure that he could kill a man in cold blood no matter what end result was achieved. No, he wanted Booth caught and jailed for the crime he had planned to commit. It was essential to Johnson that Booth be held accountable for plotting this deed.
Upon arrival in 1865, he would send the Timatron back to Locke, programmed to return to him on his command. Although the Timatron was a small device, not much larger than ancient phone booths, hiding it in 1865 would be out of the question. Johnson would be stranded in that era if someone found it and damaged it until Locke built or borrowed one to retrieve him.
Due to his fragile posterior, Johnson planned to buy a carriage and a team of horses for getting about. With this means of transport, he would make his way to Washington, where he planned to take a room in a boardinghouse near Mary E. Surratt’s boardinghouse. She was the mother of conspirator John H. Surratt. Weichmann had lived there for several months before the assassination. From his position, Weichmann had been able to observe, entirely oblivious to their intentions, the comings, and goings of all the Confederates involved in the plot to kill Lincoln. Johnson wanted this same view.
He needed to keep a close watch on the movements of Booth. If he was going to stop him as he planned, he had to be near him at the exact moment Booth intended to murder Lincoln. Just exposing his plot in some way to the authorities would not be enough, for Weichmann showed in his book that the conspiracy was beginning to unravel in the weeks before it took place. The authorities had been aware that some sort of connivance was afoot, as they had made some preliminary investigations into the whereabouts of a few members of the group. Johnson wanted the authorities to catch Booth with the gun in his hand.
To this end, Johnson also packed several portable Auditory Intensifying Devices, popularly known as “ears.” These small, metal, numbered, button-like devices allowed a person equipped with the proper Auditory Implant Receptor to hear the conversations, even whispered conversations, of everyone within 35 feet of the device. Johnson had Locke place his receptor just under the lobe of his left ear, so all he needed to do to activate it was give it a slight tug. With the portable “ear map,” Johnson could keep track of each place that he planted the ears.
Everything was ready. Johnson checked the destination coordinates one last time, gave a “thumbs up” to Locke, who was standing by with his protective eye-wear and pressed the “GO” button on the control pad.
In an instant, the lab vanished into a swirling vortex of colors. Gold became red, red became purple, purple became pink, pink became gold as the cycle repeated. It was the same pattern every trip.
The slight disorientation that this always caused passed quickly. Johnson could see the years passing like seconds on the digital display panel in front of him. He knew that it would only be a matter of minutes before he arrived at the predestined time and place. Still, he marveled at the speed and precision of the machine that he had built with his own hands. As he passed through the 19th century, he checked his seatbelt and prepared for what may be a rough arrival.With a lurch, he was there. 1865!
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