Saving civilization was well above his pay grade, but he felt he had to do it – provided he could also look out for his own future.
TIME FOR GOLIATH is a science fiction novel dealing with time travel and enclosing a double murder mystery and a tantalizing romance. Within that structure two vastly different stories unfold. In one, a witness to the murders recounts his adventurous and unpredictable life in scenes set in an obscure and isolated Africa and colorful parts of Asia. In the other, the investigator narrates his own personal troubles and internal struggles with issues of belief and personal integrity.
A host of exotic characters are encountered, from modern pirates and a very businesslike witch to bumbling bureaucrats and expert legal witnesses.. As their stories unfold and interact the investigator finds himself adrift in an ocean of woes, from which only dramatic and unexpected actions can save him.
TIME FOR GOLIATH is a science fiction novel that deals more with personalities than gadgets, a romantic adventure story that will also appeal to the reflective reader and a psychological thriller that will engross lovers of action. It also has a few jokes for good measure. Read the beginning, below:
The moving finger writes, and having writ
Moves on. Nor all thy piety nor wit
Can lure it back to cancel half a line,
Nor all thy tears wash out one word of it.
But it ain’t necessarily so
Once upon a Time
A person who is already long dead cannot afterwards be murdered. Cause must precede effect. Chaos is evil, order is good. An unbeliever, I pin my faith on these three assertions. If they hold true, my conscience is clear.
May I tell you a story? May we enter into a small conspiracy, where I tell you a string of lies and you pretend to believe them? I will promise that they are indeed lies, of the most brazen variety, and you must promise that your belief will be pure pretense. Beyond that understanding, there will be no truth between us. Agreed? Then let me tell you about myself before beginning my faerie tale.
In my old career I solved crimes, conscientiously. I worried about my retirement, continually. Saving the world was above my pay grade.
The world in our twenty-fifth century is much like it was four centuries ago. Without much help or hindrance from man, the Earth and its satellites spin around the Sun, which reliably rises and sets each day. The climate is hot except in the places where it is cold; the weather is violent, variable and generally found to blame for all human ills except the imminent death of conversation; the seasons of flood and fire and drought and abundance cycle in regular progression and invariably surprise those who notice them. The political affairs of men are in good order under the benign hegemonies of Chrislam and the Imperial Republic of China, in somewhat less good order under the Council of Supervisors of All the Russias, and probably in disarray elsewhere – who cares to know how man behaves where God is unknown? Business conditions are stable and auspicious in Organized Chrislam, for whose citizens it is a golden age of peace and prosperity. The plagues, migrations, wars and dislocations characteristic of the twenty-first century are long past if not forgotten, as are the disruptive popular habits and beliefs of the Millennium of Change from the eleventh to the twenty-first centuries.
We, the civilized peoples of the world, have never had it so good, and we know it and intend to keep it that way. But stability does not just happen by itself, it needs conscious augmentation. Accidental or even well-intentioned disturbances can have catastrophic long-term effects if left unmonitored and unchecked. This monitoring and checking where necessary has long been entrusted to the Bureau Veritas, authorized and backed by the full authority of Chrislam, China and the Russias and generally if grudgingly respected elsewhere. The Bureau tracks down the Truth, stops the propagation of rumors and falsehoods, and helps preserve the precious status quo. It has offices in most major cities, regional headquarters in Rome, Tehran, Xianggang and Los Angeles, and the Central Office in the Octagon in New Vancouver. The north-east segment of the Octagon houses the Division of Investigations, and within it a 200 square feet office on the eleventh floor with an outside-facing window was mine until my retirement.
After thirty years with the Bureau, a handful of notably successful investigations, no run-ins with my superiors or their external political counterparts, and an undiminished and obvious enthusiasm for perfect truth with no untidy loose ends, I had reached the rank of Senior Principal Factual Investigator [Central]. It was a dead-end position, but an elevated one. It was also, for the most part, a sinecure. Because of my seniority and reputation, the law-abiding tendencies of the citizenry of Organized Chrislam, and the natural ambitions of my subordinates, I rarely participated in investigations any more. I signed off on the reports prepared by my staff, congratulated them where appropriate, and represented them at Divisional and Bureau conferences. In between, since attendance was expected from me, I killed time.
The window helped somewhat, but computer chess was my favorite weapon against boredom. The game is so utterly predictable in its outcome – the computer always wins – and so well regulated in its contents – fixed pieces and a limited repertoire of moves for each – that I find it an excellent analog of modern civilized life. One is born, conscientiously makes a very large number of constrained decisions, then one dies. Yet no two persons have identical lives. In chess, I determine the play of the game and make it different every time, while the computer reacts as it must and eventually it wins. My illusion of free will within legal bounds is reconciled with the reality of final defeat. The machine, with no volition of its own, gets the victory it cannot savor. I don’t mind losing, I enjoy each move of the game itself. After each game, I put the record of moves through another program where the computer analyzes and criticizes the play. Nearly always it then gives me a table showing that about half my moves were less than ideal in some respect, and a monotonous “best play” for each of the computer’s moves. But on occasion, it makes some comment on one of the computer’s moves as well. I hate when that happens. It probably means that the computer overlooked some possible future move among the trillion or so it evaluated, perhaps because of some fleck of dust in its innards or a fluctuation in its power supply or some vibration when I drop my feet on the desk and lean back in my chair to consider the game. Whatever the reason, the result irritates me; it offends my deep sense of truth and order and inevitability. The computer is supposed to play a perfect game and to beat me fair and square; making a mistake and still beating me is unjust and upsets the natural order of things. And both my professional calling and my temperament insist on maintaining that natural order. Without order there is only chaos, and chaos is intolerable, it is the path to Hell.
I have trodden that path to Hell. There used to be a genre of novel, now thankfully out of fashion, known as science fiction. It dealt with such subjects as travel to other planets or even stars, and other implausible adventures based on imaginary scientific or technological miracles. One favorite cliché was known as the temporal paradox. In its simplest versions, a man uses a miraculous machine to transport himself back to an earlier time before his birth where by some happenstance he kills his father. Clearly the dead father could not conceive the patricidal child; but then the child could not exist to perform the patricide, thus allowing the father to live on and procreate; but then his child would return and kill him…etcetera ad infinitum in an unstable series until the dizzied mind recoils from the whole notion. There are of course many variations on the story, with curlicues and epicycles and dramatic embellishments, but in the end the paradox remains. Either the critical action takes place, or it does not. If it does, it makes itself impossible, but if it does not then it makes itself inevitable. There is no solution space that permits both possibilities.
I had the good fortune [although at the time it seemed my misfortune] to meet a man who claimed to have travelled back in time Later he ensured that he had died during that trip. His name was Goliath.
When I was young and had some adventure to relate, my mother used to tell me to start at the beginning and go on to the end. This made it easier for her to follow my tale with only half her mind while she did something useful with the other half. It was good advice and later served me well in my professional career when I also felt I had to deal with half-wits. But how do you start to tell a story where the beginning results from the end, like a snake eating its own tail? Is the snake chewing or is it spewing? Is it scratching an itch in its throat, or is it engaged in a suicide attempt? Can there be any sense in its writhings, or is it all insanity? You can pin down some part of the creature with a forked stick, but the rest of it continues to wriggle and twist and slither in frantic, brainless but dangerous motion. Goliath’s story was such a snake; I carried the forked stick; and at the end, of course, I was bitten in the ass.
I can only start the story at the point where I first became involved. I warn you that ‘first’ is not synonymous with ‘earliest’, that ‘I’ am not always ‘myself’ and that the meaning of ‘is’ is not always self-apparent.
So let me start at the time I’ll call ‘once’, at 1043 Pacific time in the morning of June 6th 2466 AD.
When the message arrived on my desk that morning, a little before lunchtime, I was engrossed in a game of chess that had already occupied eleven working days. The call interrupted my game with four moves to go before the inevitable checkmate, and I was happy to freeze the clocks to await my return. Two people, people important to a major multinational corporation, had been murdered. The circumstances were most unusual. Routine procedures had been implemented, but my presence was required, urgently, in the chrono viewing room. Urgently? That was an old-fashioned word, not used lightly. I walked down the hallway from my office to the chrono viewing room with all the haste that dignity and my fashionable obesity could tolerate.
The chrono room invariably attracts a crowd after any violent incident. The vultures’ roost, built to accommodate 20 people with a good view of the holograms but no way to hear the investigators’ discussions, is generally full. But on this occasion it was empty, its door locked. I entered the investigation area and found only my assistant, Bob Goodhart, and his two Senior Associate Investigators. All three looked strangely unsure of themselves, almost guilty. Bob greeted my entry with a conventional smile of recognition. The other two nodded their heads and politely gazed at their toes. To my surprise, neither Mendez, the Christian, nor Ibrahim, the Moslem, looked indignant. That would normally indicate that the perpetrator was a foreigner, but on the other hand no foreign Representative was present. The videoscreens and holostages were all switched off.
I waited a full minute before speaking. It never hurts to remind the staff of who is in charge, and anyway I needed to recover my breath after my brisk walk. So I tugged slowly at my left earlobe a couple of times, raised a disapproving eyebrow as I looked around the room, sat down in the only reclining chair and finally addressed Bob with the expected question. “What are the facts revealed in your investigation?”
Bob had only to say the perpetrator’s name and follow with a brief standardized description of the crime. He had done this perhaps a hundred times in his career, and I had never known him so much as stumble over pronunciation of exotic names. But for some reason on this occasion his tongue and vocal chords seemed reluctant to the point of rebellion. His lips moved, no sound emerged. He licked them, cleared his throat and tried again. I heard a short croaking whisper, not recognizable as a name, before his speech organs failed again. Bob was a good investigator, a loyal assistant, and I did not like to see him thus embarrassed in front of Mendez and Ibrahim. I asked him again, gently repeating his cue, “What are the facts revealed in your investigation?” The man was behaving as if stunned, still unable to speak coherently, and I could see the beginnings of a tremor on his lip and sweatdrops on his brow. I hate to see discipline break down. I turned to the two associate investigators. “Mendez, Ibrahim, wait outside. And there will be no discussion of this until I authorize it.” What I meant was no discussion of Bob’s strange behavior, but it subsequently and fortunately turned out that they understood me to ban discussion of the whole crime. Anyway, they left the room and I could talk more freely with Bob.
“Bob, what the hell’s the matter with you?”
“I’m sorry,” he mumbled. “This investigation is all screwed up. It’s not possible.”
Now there are few things more routine than a chronocam investigation of a crime. The technology may be baffling, but the procedures are intentionally cookie-cutter. After the crime is reported, any medical or damage-limiting assistance is provided, and the exact time and place of the incident is ascertained. A chronocam is placed on-site. From the local chrono room, the machine is remotely switched on and its calibration automatically checked. The time of the incident is typed into the control console, a suitable lead time, typically 5 minutes, is selected, and the investigator ensures that at least two primary witnesses [in this case, Ibrahim and Mendez] are present. Then you press the start button and just watch the show unfold. You see the crime scene and the participants, identify the perpetrator, send out messages for his apprehension if necessary, and compose your initial report. Why could Bob not give me that report in this case? When in doubt, take over and do it yourself.
“Where and when?” I asked him.
He found his voice. “General Projections, a laboratory in the basement area, 9:15 this morning, the chronocam is on-site and the settings have been inserted.”
“Did you switch it on?” He nodded. “Did all three of you see the holos?” He nodded again.
I was getting exasperated by now, and still didn’t even know the details of the incident. I broke the rules of professional courtesy and looked at Bob’s memoscreen for the original incident report. Category: killing. Subcategory: shooting, premeditated. Location: General Projections Building A, basement level, room A5W2. Time: 9:15. Victims: Professor W T Washburn, Professor S C Washburn. Perpetrator: Unknown.
How could the perpetrator be unknown? The location was unlikely; General Projections, or GP, has one of the most secure worksites in Chrislam, and basements are traditionally where they bury their darkest and most-protected secrets. The victims appeared to be related, although surname coincidences do occur, and Professor Washburn’s name is widely known in the field of zombies. Probably not a run-of-the-mill robbery or crime of passion, but nothing there that should incapacitate a seasoned investigator like Bob. I glanced at him. He still looked shaken and pale, not likely to be of immediate help. Shocked? Or regretting his behavior so far? Hell with him, I thought, I’ll do the whole thing myself.
Chronocam operation is expensive enough not to be repeated lightly, but I saw no reasonable alternative to a private re-run for myself. Irritably but carefully I verified the settings, re-calibrated and watched.
A view of a laboratory, one wall lined with several standard-looking GP projection consoles, all empty. Some worktables with tools and test equipment, coffee cups, papers and magazines. Computer terminals. In the corner, some chairs. Two zombies slumped in the chairs, de-activated. A man and a woman talking, arguing, gesticulating. The man is armed, a small handgun. He half-turns towards the chronocam, has a quick double-take, slowly lowers his hands and takes a step towards a worktable on which he puts the gun. He walks back to the woman and resumes the argument. The chronocam slowly rotates to follow him. Something moves in the corner, at the edge of the camera field of view. It is one of the zombies. It rises, walks to the worktable, picks up the handgun. It looks directly into the chronocam, then turns towards the couple, who are too engrossed in their argument to have seen it yet. It raises the weapon, deliberately shoots the man in the head from two feet away. He drops to the floor. The zombie points the gun at the woman, who has momentarily frozen. She drops to her knees, and the zombie shoots her carefully between the eyes. He fires one more shot through her skull, one more point blank through the dead man’s head. Then he turns back towards the chronocam, retreats towards the chair and sits down again. The chronocam follows and zooms in for a close-up. The zombie smiles, the zombie winks, the zombie almost casually puts the gun to the back of its neck and fires once more. It slumps back in the chair, just as it was before activation except for the blood draining from the neat little hole in its neck.
Nobody likes a zombie, but we tolerate them as uncomfortable necessities which are completely harmless. Zombies do not hurt people. They do not unexpectedly activate. They do not smile or wink. Zombies most definitely are not capable of murder. And that smile and wink into the chronocam was undeniably personal, like one old friend to another. That zombie winked at me, and I felt violated. Right in front of Bob I threw up my breakfast on the chrono room floor.
Can the Chronocam Lie?
Damage control is an art for which I normally have as little respect as need. But now it was badly needed and I treated it with corresponding attentiveness. I left Bob guarding the chrono room with instructions to get the floor cleaned. I had both Ibrahim and Mendez accompany me to my office. While I changed my shirt I let them know that their future careers depended utterly on their silence and cooperation in whatever form the investigation would now take. I called my boss, summarized the situation so that he need not see the holos for himself, and suggested that he invite GP to send an observer to my planned fact-finding conference. Together we concocted a temporary cover story for the probable leaks to the media; distinguished GP employees killed while resisting probable terrorist attack by suicidal foreign gunman, Hindu group suspected but possibly extremist Voodoo cult. My boss loved it and truly believed it was his own fabrication. That completed my standard three-step damage control process: clean up my mess, cover my ass, and get an official umbrella.
However, I was already so uneasy about this case that I felt I should prepare some further defences against any political or commercial landmines I might stumble into. My opinion has always been that the animals with the best defense mechanisms in the world are cockroaches. They are resistant to all insecticides, you can’t exterminate them short of using a flamethrower, they can always find some dark hole in which to hide. They crawl out at night to eat your lunch, and they get away with it. Just in case I found myself eating someone’s lunch, it seemed a sensible precaution to get some survival insurance from the cockroach clan. So I had my secretary, Barbara, call Billy Black.
“You really want to meet him?” she asked me, her tone making it clear that she expected me to say no. In her opinion, and that of many others, even a phone call from him was risking a social disease or two. His charm knew definite bounds, and his reputation was certainly sullied. But for several good reasons he was my horse for this course, and I earned Barbara’s scorn by saying, “Yes, please, Barbara, at his earliest convenience here in my office.” One of my good reasons was that as a cockroach he disliked the light of day, while as a Veritas Investigator my job was to cast light into dark places. We had met before, and though I could not squish him as I would have liked, I had seen enough of his habits and habitats that he would hesitate to ignore me. Another good reason was that he really was an expert on chronocams. His overt occupation was a forensic chronics expert, in which capacity he regularly and lucratively testified in court in cases using chronocam evidence. By night and in dark places he talked to obscure government agencies about similar devices that might or might not exist. So he could help me if necessary by sharing his cloak of darkness, and he could help me certainly with expert professional advice on how much dubiety to place on the chronocam evidence in this case.
For I really wanted that chronocam to be a liar. I did not want to have to believe what it had shown me.
My reflex reaction in vomiting my breakfast was not because of bad food or a queasy stomach. Anyone else would have had a similar reaction; Bob had lost control of his voice; Ibrahim and Mendez, I learned later, had immediately fled to the restroom. This was in large part because of our padding, the process which adjusts citizens of Chrislam to accept the conventional while shunning excessive emotion and other potentially socially destabilizing thoughts or perceptions. Grossly unusual behavior or events are repellent, aversion is felt and hormone levels are disturbed. That is why criminal behavior is becoming so rare and why citizens are so content with our relatively static society. But adding to this was the enormity of the zombie’s actions. Zombies have been among us for almost a generation now but are still suspiciously new technology. Since the mists of time, or at least since the early twenty-first century, there has been only one radically new technology introduced to the world. That new technology, or new science, spawned padding, but it also spawned zombies [and, I might add, the chronocam itself]. Padding and chronocams are accepted without much questioning, but zombies are different. Essentially they are cloned mindless – not brainless, they are physically complete – humans into which a person’s personality and memories can be temporarily transferred. By remotely occupying a pre-positioned zombie body a man can enjoy all the advantages of travel without the necessity of taking the time and energy to physically change his location. They have largly replaced airlines, trains and rental cars for all but local travel. Yet people have a natural inherent fear of these not-quite-human things. To overcome that fear, zombies have always had strictly-enforced safety systems designed into them. They are deliberately over-padded to the point where if the human occupant has the slightest anti-social thought, or any strong emotion, the zombie body suffers an instant and complete nervous collapse. In addition, for the safety of the occupant, such a collapse or any other life-threatening event affecting the zombie body triggers the immediate return of the occupant’s personality and memories to his own body. We all know that zombies are perfectly safe and incapable of doing harm. Yet this one murdered, twice, and committed suicide and, worst of all, clearly considered it some kind of joke. Simply recalling the memory caused waves of revulsion inside me. I needed someone to tell me it was not so; the chronocam simply had to be a liar.
My damage control precautions taken, I returned to the chrono room where I found Bob waiting patiently for me. He had a handful of messages for me. The frst, from GP, said that a Mike Chalker would attend our investigation as an observer. The second retracted that and said a Mr C C Tarango would take his place. The third said that Mr Llewellyn Kim, Head of Internal Security, would represent GP. The fourth regretted the repeated changes and said that Cheryl Li, Vice-President of Staffing and Productivity, would attend along with her personal assistant Mr L Kim. The fifth regretted that Ms Li was presently attending an executive seminar in Xianggang and would be unable to participate until tomorrow morning; would we kindly refrain from action until then? The sixth message, from our Chief of External Relations, directed us not to start our investigation until GP representatives were present. Bob and I shrugged our shoulders and, our appetites regained by the reprieve from action, went out for an extended lunch.
“Bob,” I asked gently and sadly, “Can the chronocam lie?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Can it make mistakes?”
“I’ve heard rumors…nothing that I could ever substantiate.”
“So there is some hope?”
“Not much,” said Bob. “I think the zombie did it.”
“Have you ever met Billy Black?”
A pause. “That Billy Black? No, not yet. Do I have to?”
“It’s not necessary. Take the afternoon off, but be ready to talk to me tomorrow about zombies and how to find out who rides them.”
“And my boys?”
“Well, we can’t start the investigation yet. Perhaps they should prepare by getting hold of all the zombie traffic records in and out of that building. Shame if some had disappeared by tomorrow. GP could hardly complain about us securing the data today so that we can look at it tomorrow. Anyway, I wouldn’t know if some over-zealous employees jumped the gun a little, would I?”
For the second time that day, Bob looked a little green. But he managed a smile as he left, and I picked up the tab for lunch. Then I too tried to smile as I walked back to my office to await Billy Black.
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Copyright 2016 Flight of Eagles