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 didn’t pay attention to Locke’s query, instead, he remained stooped over his PocketSkimmer reading his most recent treasure; a complete DataPak containing every known fact regarding the assassination of a long bygone President of the then United States of America. His name was Abraham Lincoln and Johnson had paid a small fortune for the information. He had just come into possession of the data a week before and since then he had become totally absorbed by it. Moreover, impracticalities and permits were things 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 not yet concluded that the present can be changed by altering the past, but 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 the 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, 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 2145, 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—what there is left of it—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 bad that his ways of doing things upset him. Poor, Locke! A “by the book” man from cradle to grave! An invaluable asset to someone like Johnson whose head was always in the sphere of a detached 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 massive 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 your visit 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 Console Dataskimmer, punched in his access code, and searched for the subject “Dinosauria, The Death of”.
Locke, in the meantime, knowing that there was no stopping Johnson when he began postulating on a new theory, 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 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 thought that these often-massive creatures died of a plague like none other before or since their time. We found signs of debilitation among all their fossils and traces of some type of microorganisms which, we called a disease, in many but not all of them. Yet we have never been able to name the exact cause of their demise. We blamed it on this plague of some manner and wrote it off as that. Now, because of you, my friend, we know that our beliefs were erroneous.
It was your idea to take the first trip in the Timatron on a journey to the past so we could finally determine the truth. When you courageously made the voyage, where you found that our conclusions were flawed; we now know that these magnificent beings were destroyed in a meteor shower which engulfed the planet. A catastrophic event so massive that you barely escaped with your life!”
Johnson stopped to scan a note and then continued, “Therefore, Locke you essentially ‘changed history’. What we assumed had transpired had not happened at all! Our belief in our original theory was due to inadequate testing methods. You discovered all of this yet the ‘here and now’, as you call it, remains unchanged.”
“You’re splitting hairs, 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. By 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 little or 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 movement of the structure would cause cracks in it, indeed, a tremor in time would cause it to crumble and fall. 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 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 true course. In my theory, this true course represents the events in time that have already happened. Just like the mighty river running its course, the events will continue to occur regardless of any minor disruptions. At the most, all will be as it was with only minor shadings put on current events. What was good may be somewhat better, what was bad may be somewhat 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 that 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, and there will be plenty of them, who wishes 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 population of the planet 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 fanatics, too Doctor Johnson. If we had not come up with the Timatron, we may 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 concepts start out as unsound conjectures. You must 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 correct.”
“You are willing to risk that?”
“At the minimal chance that a wave will occur balanced against 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 that of 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 that 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 choose Abraham Lincoln? Why not Goshberg, Reynolds, King, Gandhi or any of hundreds of other great men who have met their ends by the means of an assassin’s bullet?”
Johnson squirmed while looking at his colleague; evidently, he was trying to decide on a troublesome matter. With an unseen shrug, he appeared to have resolved the question, but he still did not answer right away. He walked over to his Pocket Skimmer, picked it up, and skimmed 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 in hopes of getting 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 great 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 owner! As ruthless a one as there ever was. To him, a black man was a machine and when a machine broke down or rebelled, he would try to bullwhip it into performing while not caring that he was beating a human being!
He used the women for his carnal pleasures as well and he bore many bastards by 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 I possess. By saving Lincoln, I believe I will greatly 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.”