Authors: Craig W. Turner
Book 3 - Fate
by Craig W. Turner
Edited, Produced, and Published by Writer’s Edge Publishing 2014
All rights reserved.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher.
All characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental.
For Grumpy, whose success in life inspires me daily
September 5, 1930
Dexter Murphy jumped several inches into the air in a desperate attempt to see over the rippling sea of fedoras and newsboy caps. There were people everywhere, and he simply wasn’t tall enough.
Other than the way the businessmen were dressed, his perspective of the crowd on Fifth Avenue didn’t seem altogether foreign to him. Though there were only a handful of women. What immediately struck him most was that the people weren’t in black-and-white – instead he saw a spectrum of dark suits, while some wore dark colored trousers and baggy button-down shirts like he and Kane were wearing. All the pictures of 1930s New York City he’d ever seen were in black-and-white. When they’d first emerged into the throng, he’d had a sense of Dorothy Gale taking in Munchkinland for the first time. While his historian’s mind had been trained to know that this was the Great Depression, and that life here was grey and dark and sooty, he found it comforting that the scene in front of him was alive with color.
But that realization was about the extent of his comfort. No sooner had he taken a peek skyward at the naked metal frame towering over 34th Street than he’d been hit over the head with something glass – probably a bottle. It had shattered and sent him sprawling to the ground. There had been a quick struggle, and then his traveling partner Benjamin Kane had darted into the crowd.
Kane was president & CEO of Kane Industries, one of the world’s leading grain producers and, as such, one of the few fortunate Americans with the means to afford Dexter’s services. Or, more precisely, the services of the U.S. Time Program, which was responsible for facilitating their arrival here in Manhattan of Yesteryear. For the first time, though, everything was not going to plan. Even as Dexter searched the crowd for Kane and massaged his quickly bruising head, he searched his mind for what detail he might have missed.
Dexter, hired by the United States Time Program – the USTP – for his historical savvy, had guided fourteen successful trips through time before this one. Each had gone without incident, to the point where, after a handful, he’d actually begun to allow himself to enjoy the experiences. Like the others, this one had fulfilled all of the required parameters. Crowded place. No link to any event of historical significance. No connection to Kane or his family, which was based in St. Louis at the time. It should’ve been a pretty uneventful mission: see the Empire State Building in the midst of its construction, walk around Old New York for an hour, and then head back to the present. He couldn’t imagine what Kane was up to. Especially since they were now separated and the time device was securely in Dexter’s pocket.
That Kane was in the final stages of terminal cancer hadn’t raised an alarm previously, but now it was foremost on Dexter’s mind. The man had nothing to lose.
of a gunshot caught his attention. He heard people screaming, and his hand immediately went to the shoulder holster hanging underneath his sport coat. It was empty. Kane had commandeered his gun.
Dexter swore as he headed toward the commotion. He had never been in favor of carrying the gun to begin with. While he knew how to handle one, mostly from his historical reenactments, he’d been uncomfortable about the possibility of introducing a more modern weapon into the past – among the thousands of other ways a gun could be misused in this type of situation. But the government folks said that it was necessary. They’d forced him to take it, and now it seemed his fears had been realized.
Scanning the street to find movement among the array of hats, he spotted a swell of the crowd on the other side of 5th Avenue and darted toward it. It was not an easy route, with far more people running from the scene of the crime than toward it. He continued to be pushed and pounded backward as he crossed the street until finally he simply put his head down and rumbled through. Though he knocked what seemed to be a teenage boy to the ground in the middle of the street, he made it across, arriving at a newsstand. Two police officers in uniform had arrived on the scene and were attending to a suited man lying on the ground, clutching his blood-stained stomach. Dexter could see the man’s eyes starting to roll back into his eyelids as one officer attempted to clear the scene while the other held him on his lap, scanning the crowd for the shooter.
Like the officer, Dexter scanned the crowd, though he had the advantage of knowing exactly who to look for. Kane was nowhere to be found. While the area had cleared and people were watching from a safe distance, there were four men milling around, appearing to be trying to find a way to help. He decided to join them.
“Did anyone see who shot this man?” the cop was yelling in a predictably Irish accent to anyone who would listen. Dexter noted with curiosity that the attendant at the newsstand was quiet. He likely would’ve had the best vantage point of anyone.
He bent down next to the cop holding the wounded man, who was starting to convulse. “Is there anything I can do?” he asked softly, but loudly enough for the man to hear him over the din.
“Not unless you have the holy healin’ power of Christ,” the cop said. “This guy’s done for.”
“Do you know him?”
“Do I know ‘im? Everyone knows ‘im. It’s George Mellen.”
Dexter searched his memory for any possible reference and came up with nothing. “Why would someone shoot him in the middle of the street?”
“You his mother? Then step away, Sonny. I’ve got bigger fish to fry here.”
Dexter did as he was told, backing away until he was in line with the edge of the crowd. He looked over at an Italian-looking man next to him. “That’s George Mellen,” he said, putting as much shock into his voice as he could. The man looked at him and nodded, but said nothing. He turned to the other side and repeated it, catching the attention of a homeless-looking man with a white scraggly beard and tattered clothes.
“Yes, it’s George Mellen,” the man said in a nasally, sick voice. “I’d have shot him myself if I’d known he was across the street.”
Dexter pulled back to get an audience with the man. “Who is George Mellen?”
“Only one of the richest pisspots in this cesspool of a city. Everyone has such trouble. I used to work building cars for Henry Ford. Now I live in that alley over there. With all of these other people.” He waved his hand in a flourish. “But not George Mellen and his pals. They’ll come out of this Depression just fine. Waving their money around.”
“He’s a good man,” a kid’s voice to Dexter’s right said, interrupting the old-timer. He turned to see a teenage boy with a satchel strapped around his shoulder, staring him down.
The man didn’t want to argue, so he waved his hand and walked away muttering to himself. Dexter looked back to the scene of the crime to see that Mellen had now expired and was lying on the sidewalk. Much of the foot traffic around him had resumed, though the two cops were trying to clear a perimeter.
“Who’s George Mellen?” he asked the kid. The boy shrugged and started to turn away, but Dexter pulled a 1922 issue $1 bill out of his pocket and waved it at him. It’d probably put food on the table for a week.
It worked. The kid turned back to him, wide-eyed. He took the bill from Dexter’s hand, bent down and tucked it in his shoe, then stood and cleared his throat. “George Mellen owns the grain mills out in Brooklyn. Whole bunch of them. He’s one of the richest men in the city.” The kid had unbridled enthusiasm after his payment. “He makes cereal for breakfast!”
The points were not connecting in Dexter’s mind. Why would Kane seek out Mellen and murder him? Especially since breaking contact with Dexter meant that he would not be able to get back to the present. He patted the kid on the shoulder and thanked him. The kid ran off into the crowd.
The thought that Kane would be stuck in the past unnerved him. He could do an awful lot of damage – even more than he’d probably already done. He knew about time travel. He knew about modern technology. He had a gun. He was a loose cannon stuck in 1930 New York. On top of all that, if Kane was successful in changing anything else, it was quite possible that Dexter would have no way of knowing what could have possibly been affected once he got back to the present. He wouldn’t be able to research because the changes made by Kane would be a part of the new history. There would be no record of the reality he knew to measure it against. If George Mellen was no longer around to make whatever mark on history he was supposed to make, there wouldn’t be anything Dexter could do about it. He hoped that he’d done enough research prior to the trip to be able to connect the dots.
Feeling like the only thing he could actually do that would be beneficial was to get his butt back to the present and deal with the consequences there, he sidled through the crowd and back to the alley where Kane had assaulted him. He knew it was possible that Kane would be watching him, though it was more likely that he would have gotten himself as far away from the scene as possible. Even worse than being stuck in the Great Depression was being arrested and jailed during the Great Depression. Still, he wanted to hurry.
He pulled the metal time device – a sleek white-and-blue composite instrument with a touch screen display – from his pocket. After double-checking the coordinates for his return trip, which he’d programmed immediately upon arriving as protocol dictated, he looked around to see that there were no on-lookers, and then took one more glance upward at the skeleton of the Empire State Building. Even if Kane had an ulterior motive, Dexter was glad that he had the chance to see the building during its construction. It was magnificent.
Dexter pushed the button on the device and everything around him melted into a blur. A moment later, life reappeared and he was in the dark of night. Above him towered the bright white lights of the renowned skyscraper, complete in its present composition. He let out a long sigh. It wasn’t a sigh of relief. He was back, but it would not be good tidings awaiting him.
He left the alley onto 34th Street and headed for his hotel, where his laptop and a night of probably futile research awaited him. With what he’d just endured, though, he wasn’t particularly surprised when he reached the hotel to find out that they’d never heard of him. Which meant no room, luggage, laptop or wallet. And no research.
He’d just experienced a trip that never happened.
Dexter could not begin to imagine what he’d come back to, and it all needed to be explored. Of course, his first order of business was just trying to figure out a way home.
December 10, 2018
“There are many dangers inherent with time travel, which is why the United States Time Program has installed protocols and procedures to mitigate every possible degree of malfeasance,” Dexter said, standing at a wooden podium in front of roughly 200 physics graduate students at Johns Hopkins University. With the Time Program up-and-running, the speaking circuit was quickly beginning to become a monopolizer of his time, even more so than the actual time travel missions. “A team of experts in astrophysics, history, psychology, security, data analysis and the military have created a program that is more or less fail-safe. Anyone with the probability of doing harm, weighed against each of those criteria, is simply not let into the program.”
He looked out at the faces in the crowd as he continued his talk. They were riveted. He found it interesting that even though it was a room filled with scientists and/or future scientists, what kept them on the edge of their seats was the imagination of the possibilities. Not the hypotheses that had been formed from their time travel research. Not the physics that went into transporting someone back or forward through time. But the ability to go back in time and see cowboys. That’s all that most people really paid attention to when he and his colleagues spoke, no matter what their background. The ability to experience different eras in history, the simple entertainment value of it all, belittled what they’d actually accomplished in terms of real science.
The panel members on stage were all representatives of the USTP. Dexter was the resident historian; Dr. Victoria Graham, the program’s chief psychologist, who’d just given a fantastic presentation on the psychological exams administered to every participant to determine if there was risk; and Dr. Arlen Schmidt, an astrophysicist who’d served as head of operations for about the last year-and-a-half. This was the fourth presentation they’d given as a team in the past few weeks, fortunately all around the capital region. With as much planning and research as was necessary for each of the time travel missions, let alone the trips themselves, Dexter didn’t have the time or stamina for any additional lengthy travel right now.
A young man in the front row of the auditorium raised his hand and Dexter acknowledged him, pulling the microphone from its stand and walking forward to escape the glare of the stage lights. “How do you define the possibility of doing harm?” the man asked. “Some of the worst people in history appeared to be pretty normal folk at one point in their lives.”
“Thank you,” Dexter said into the microphone. The man had spoken softly, so he repeated the question for the benefit of the audience. “The question was, ‘How do you define the possibility of doing harm?’ You make a good point about history – there have been many seemingly good people that ended up being best known for having done bad things in the end. There are many personal and political agendas out there. We believe that under Dr. Graham’s leadership, though, through her research team, working in concert with our data analysis team – made up of some of the top minds on the planet – there is a meticulous and efficient means of determining risk. It’s not by coincidence that there have been sixteen missions and every one has gone without incident. Dr. Graham?”
Victoria Graham stood up and Dexter handed her the mic. He liked working with her, and thought that she’d been a great addition to the team from the time when his friend Jeff Jacobs had brought her on board. As they’d recruited for the various positions that needed to be filled as the USTP kicked off and rapidly grew, approaching people in the right way was tricky. As far as anyone knew, there was no such thing as time travel. So to expect anyone to jump at the opportunity to engage with a new governmental entity designed to oversee something that supposedly didn’t exist was borderline insanity. Even for government. Jeff was very good, though. Just the same as he’d talked Dexter into getting involved several years ago, he’d targeted Victoria delicately, and through the power of persuasion brought her into the fold. She’d been an incredible asset to the program.
“Research for the Time Program falls into two buckets,” Victoria said, looking out over the crowd. “I’ve already discussed the psychological evaluations that take place, though the point you make is correct – motivations can sometimes be hidden from even the most invasive of evaluations. We like to think that our analyses are thorough enough, but to your point, the London bomber last year was a family man who worked at a bookstore and everyone said was one of the quietest, sweetest people they knew. We recognize that, so the program goes beyond just that first evaluation. We do detailed historical and genealogical research, conducted in collaboration with Dr. Murphy’s department, to ensure that the time travel mission does not put the participant into a situation where he or she could profit personally, professionally or politically. The Time Program researchers work off of a 256EB database that checks all iterations of a person’s history against the location and time period they wish to visit. In all, over one billion – is it a billion?” She looked at Dexter.
He nodded. “Several billion.”
“… several billion possible relationships are evaluated that could cause a conflict. If there’s an obvious conflict, such as, I want to go back to my hometown of Charleston, South Carolina in the ‘50s, where my grandfather just happened to own a small business, so that I can tell him that people in the future will pay $4 for a cup of coffee, the system will sound an alarm. Because of the nature of relationships, with something that obvious many of the relationships being evaluated would be drawn to that one and we’d end up with a substantial percentage in the so-called conflict column. If over 30% of the relationships come back as conflicting, you’re not going on the trip you’ve proposed.”
Dexter looked out at the crowd. They were still on the edge of their seats. Of course, a computer system that works in exabytes was fascinating in itself. He remembered when computer hard drives started to be measured in gigabytes and how unbelievable it was. Now people personally had a hundred gigabytes in their pockets at any given time.
Even so, he was amazed at what they were able to do in their research. Which is why he still hadn’t been able to comprehend how there had been holes in the Kane mission. Kane’s PCS – or “potential conflict score” – had come back at seven percent, which was well under the threshold for eligibility. But they’d missed something. Which was not only alarming for that specific scenario, but more so for the future. What else could they miss?
Victoria continued, “Typically, there will be
conflicting relationships. The world is not as big a place as we all think it is. There are only so many degrees of separation for all of us. But there is an acceptable degree of manageability. For a score of 10%, say – meaning the system gives a report that there are about 10% of a billion possible relationships that have potential conflict – we are then able to separate those and evaluate the nature and the danger of the relationships, and weigh them. For example, possibly running into a second cousin three times removed would not weigh as heavily as having the opportunity to be in the vicinity of the home your great grandmother grew up in. Once we are able to determine the severity of the potential conflicts, we can eliminate those that pose no threat. For all fourteen missions, we have been able to bring the conflicts down to a circumstantial level.”
Dexter’s phone buzzed in his pocket. He swore silently and reached in to stop the alert. He’d meant to turn it off before the presentation. Victoria looked his direction. He thought it was about the phone at first, but then realized that she was done and was turning the microphone back over to him.
He stepped to the podium. “The other fail-safe is in the actual mission. Participants are accompanied by expert staff of the USTP, and are not able to bring anything with them. No personal items, no souvenirs to have signed, no weapons. Nothing. Just them and period clothes. They get from one to three hours to enjoy their destination, and then we return. There really isn’t much room for error.”
Unless the participant bashes you over the head with a bottle and takes your weapon
, he thought to himself.
A woman several rows back raised her hand. Unlike the young man, she projected her voice. “What’s the future of time travel? Like any technology, it won’t always just be for rich people. Isn’t there a worry that everyone will want to do it? And then what happens?”
Dexter’s phone buzzed in his pocket again. It had to be important, but he knew the session was almost done. He held up a finger. “Let me clear up one misconception,” he said. “The concept that the program is only for ‘rich people’ is inaccurate. Like any technological pursuit, this one must be funded. Time travel research is unbelievably expensive, and we’re in a time when governmental budgets are strained and R&D funding isn’t what it used to be. The public component of the USTP is a creative way to facilitate private funding for the continuation of research – it’s not just a luxury perk that only the rich can enjoy, but a reasonable way to achieve scientific progress.”
That was bunk, of course. Once the U.S. government had decided this was a priority, they’d plunked a few billion dollars into it, much of which went to the USTP facility in Northern Virginia. The privately-funded research was a nice spin, but the program was truly for elitists who had the wherewithal to participate. As well as the willingness to completely open their lives up to the evaluation.
“The question you asked is an interesting one, because you’re right. Time travel has the potential to get out of hand very quickly. It is the intent of the USTP to control it in a manner that allows for research to take place in a safe and controlled manner.”
“That’s impossible,” a male voice to the right of the stage said.
“No, it’s not impossible,” Dexter said, squinting to see who the voice had come from while his phone buzzed in his pocket again. “I can assure you that we have had this very conversation at the highest security levels.”
The detractor stood, a tall man with a long face and sculptured beard. “It
impossible. Just like the atom bomb, if we’re able to create it then someone else can, as well. Only an atom bomb leaves a mushroom cloud and a lot of carnage. With time travel, we would never know that something changed. It’s only a matter of time. No pun intended.”
Dexter didn’t want to get into a back-and-forth with the man, especially with the incessant buzzing in his pocket. The man was actually right in his statement – in fact, it was a concept that he’d discussed often with Jeff, a conversation they never got to finish. Because their missions, their experiments, were so buttoned-up, there really was no way of knowing what would happen if someone outside of their circle got their hands on the technology and made a change that severely altered history. Or – the scarier possibility – that someone could have already done so.
He glanced at the moderator, Dr. Chopra, Dean of the College of Sciences, who picked up his cue and started to walk in his direction. Dexter leaned in to the microphone and said, “That’s a great observation. I’m sure you can understand why I can’t go into details on the security of the system, but I can assure you that for the part that we control, which is the only known technology available to produce time travel, the security is unparalleled.”
Dr. Chopra took the podium and thanked the audience for their attendance, which was followed by obligatory applause. Dexter shook hands with the Dean, nodded to Victoria and to Dr. Schmidt, and pulled behind the curtain on the side of the stage before people could come up to ask one-on-one questions of him, which was inevitable.
He pulled his phone from his coat pocket and looked at the call log. Five calls from the same number, though he didn’t recognize it. Five calls and one voicemail, which he initiated. After a moment, he heard a familiar voice say, “Dr. Murphy, it’s Agent Fisher, FBI. Call me immediately.” Obediently, Dexter hung up the voicemail and called Fisher. It had probably been over a year since he’d last talked to the FBI and their point-person, Fisher. He thought the entire situation had been put to rest, but apparently not.
After two rings, Fisher answered. “Dr. Murphy, I have news for you. Your friend is back.”
Dexter left silence on the phone. Not intentionally, but more that he didn’t have anything to say in response. Jeff had been gone long enough that Dexter had mentally and emotionally closed the book on him. Given the political nature of his departure, though, no one had formally done anything to address his disappearance – meaning a funeral or other ceremony of any kind. The USTP had sold his house and placed his belongings in storage on the off-chance that he would someday come walking back into the picture. None of them ever entertained the notion that it would actually happen, though. He glanced toward Victoria, who was standing with a short line of students waiting to pick her brain, then backed further behind the curtain and out of sight. “Where’s he been?”
“Russia.” He could hear the smirk on Fisher’s face.
“Why Russia? How’d he get there?”
“Well, that’s what we’re going to have to figure out. I need you at Andrews tomorrow morning at ten. Dr. Jacobs arrives from Russia at ten-thirty. It’s important that you’re there.”
“Sure,” he said, unable to actually process what was taking place. “Anything you need.” The words barely came out.
Fisher told him where they would meet on the base and they hung up. Dexter peeked around the curtain and saw a line of students who had obviously seen him retreat and were waiting for him to reappear. But there was no way. Not after the news he’d just been given. Russia? Why and how had Jeff Jacobs been in Russia for the last year-and-a-half?