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This was a bad first start.  I was no longer able to work at a real job, and my home was quickly becoming a prison since I could seldom leave it.  I needed something to do.  I decided to write.

I love mysteries and science-fiction, so...I decided to write a science-fiction murder mystery.  That sounded easy enough.  Working with time travel (the machine is used as the "murder weapon") is tricky and after fourteen chapters I threw my hands up because I kept seeing social/cultural difficulties that I would have to address (Yes, I'm anal).

Anyway, here is the first part of the novel and one day I WILL FINISH IT!

 

MURDER IN THE PAST TENSE 
Presently abandoned, but could be CPR'ed back to life

Ann squealed, “If you buffoons drop me, I’ll leave you in the 17th century for a month!”

She bounced from side to side as the ‘boys’ trotted along, as well as three men could, carrying her on a palanquin rigged from a thrift store armchair and a couple of two-by-fours.   Primus had the front end and MC and Ace brought up the rear.  The early morning air was brisk and the labored breath of the three men looked like an old steam train of the last century.

* * *

Earlier they had arrived in the small parking lot in Ace’s and Primus’s classic 1980 pickup.  Ann was cramped between the two men, her hands on the dashboard trying to steady herself at each turn.  She had thought that being blindfolded would be an easy and short inconvenience.   The short ride had become too long.

The light from a single fixture on the side of the building brightened the moonless night with a cone that was filled with hundreds of moths flying in a chaotic pattern.  Occasionally a bat would dive through the edge of the cone, and gracefully catch a moth and in the same motion bring it to its mouth.  MC stood at the far end of the light, admiring the accuracy and speed of the bats.

Ace slowly rolled the pickup to a stop at the far end of the parking lot.  He got out and MC joined him in taking the palanquin from the back of the pickup.  Primus helped Ann out of the truck and led her to the seat.

Ann felt the two-by-fours bump her shins.  “What’s this?”

Primus grinning said, “It’s only a chair”

“Then what are these?”  Ann reached out and explored the two-by-fours.

“You’ll find out”.  Primus turned her around and lowered her into the seat.  “Hold on.”

The three guys got into position and lifted the sedan.  There was a slight wobble as they straighten up.  Ann squeaked and the giggled at what she thought it must look like.  They started walking toward the building.

Although Ann’s 145 pounds and the weight of the chair were not too much to handle, the timing was.  After a few steps, MC stumbled a bit.

“That’s it!” screamed Ann, “I’m taking this damn blind fold off!”

“No! No! We’re almost there!” shouted Primus.

Ann seemed to settle down some, but the white knuckled grip on the arms of the chair evidenced just how little she had really settled down.

The trot became more of a fast walk when Primus realized they had forgotten something in their plan for the morning.

“Stairs!” he shouted as he tried to slow down.  He managed the first two treads but as his end of the palanquin rose, MC, being the shortest and between Primus and Ace, lost traction with the sidewalk.  The sudden new load of MC’s weight caught Ace off guard and down he went to be followed quickly by the other three in a less than graceful three point landing.  The boys began laughing uproariously but Ann…

“Shit!” she cried out as she stood up and jerked the blindfold off.  She stopped and stared for a count or two, “Are you guys crazy?  You wake me at 3 AM for a birthday surprise.  And it isn’t even my birthday.  That’s next week.  You blindfold me, drive me around town for twenty minutes, bounce me along in an Oriental Express and I end up at work!  I’m outta here!”

She crawled out of the now broken sedan and started toward her apartment, which was only three blocks away.

“No!” called MC from his seat on the sidewalk.

Primus was still down, massaging a banged knee.

Ace managed to get up and run after her.  He caught up quickly and walked backward in front of her as he pleaded, “Oh Ann, if we told you we were taking you to work, you won’t have come.”

“Damn straight!”

“But we got it all planned out.  A great surprise.  It’s all set up.”

“What’s set up?”

“It’s a surprise.”

Ann stopped, putting her fists on her hips.  “I’m going back to bed!  Alone!”

She and Derrick Stahlt had been casual lovers for a while.  It wasn’t an affair but more of friendly stress reliever now and then.  They both were married to their work and neither had time to devote to a relationship and so gradually they come to an unspoken agreement.  But after the Primus/Ace incident, she didn’t feel quite right with either of them.  There was no animosity.  They were all still great friends.  Just no sex.

“That was below the belt.  No pun intended.  It’s a great surprise.  You can trust me….You can trust us!”

MC joined the two as Primus still nursed his knee.  “He’s telling you the truth.  We’ve worked on this for three weeks, and telling you would spoil the fun.  Please.”

“Why couldn’t you wait until my birthday?”

As Ace walked back to the steps, he said back over his shoulder, “The DOD is coming in this morning and we may not have after hours access after they get here.”

“Don’t you mean before hours?”   

Ann looked at MC, Mike Charles.  She had seen him first in his office at the Foundation of Past Studies.  He was looking down at her personnel file as she entered his office.  Seeing his gray hair and leathery hands, she had thought he must be in his sixties.  When he looked up, she saw the broad smile and bright eyes and thought he couldn’t be much over thirty.  Every time she looked at him, he seemed to be a different age although she now knew he was fifty-one.  Ann and MC went to the same gym and she often saw him there working out.  He had a well-defined hard body and he worked to keep it that way.  His only weakness was his love of the sun.  Hardly any one had tans these days with all that was known about later health problems.  His tan went beyond his gym shorts and she had no desire to see if the tan had an end.  His five foot eight height was a little too short for her five foot eleven.  It irked her a little when she realized she was prejudiced.

Ann was thirty-one years old.  Her bright hazel eyes and naturally blond hair that was shoulder length and pulled back into a ponytail, made her look younger.  But it was her quick wit, broad smile and bouncy step that made you believe she was younger.  Ann was the first employee at the Foundation.  She had started as a girl Friday, but both Gerald and Josh had encouraged her to finish her degree in engineering.  Her position was now an ad hoc assistant to Gerald, and third in the line of responsibility.

Ann looked down into MC’s eyes and said, “Do you guarantee that I will like this?”

“Yes!  Absolutely!”

“Okay.  Your lead.  And if anything goes wrong, you’ll pay.”  Ann turned and started back.   She stifled a laugh at the sight.  Primus was still massaging his knee as Ace was trying to pull the now broken chair back from the steps.  She marveled at the thought that they had believed the flimsy contraption would have stayed together.  She didn’t say anything.

Primus remained seated as they past.  He pulled himself up and with a slight limp and followed.

They went up the six steps of the loading dock at the back of the FoPS offices.  The dock was ten feet wide and along the wall there were three doors.  The first was a double door, the second was a twelve-foot wide roll up and the last was a single door with a ten key pad.  As MC punched in the six-digit code, Ann said with smug face, “I would have known we were at work.  I would have recognized the tones.”

Ace countered with, “We were going to use the double doors.”

Ann would not give up the advantage, “The double door has a squeak.  I would have known.”

In triumph, Ace added, “We oiled it.”

Ann didn’t say anything.

MC opened the back door and they entered the area that used to be the lab in the early days of the foundation.  It was now used only for storage and occasionally a receiving area for new equipment.  The ceiling was high enough that stairs on one side lead up to a storage area over the older offices.  Shipping boxes for equipment, some ten years old, were stacked just in case they would be needed to ship something back to the manufacture.  There were a couple of tables at one side with stacks of office supplies and on the other side exercise equipment was pushed together gathering dust.  Gerald had tried to use the area for an employee’s gym but no one used it.  He finally just bought everyone a membership in a local gym.

They went through the double doors at the rear of the room and down a wide corridor that ended in an employee break room.  The room was actually an intersection of two halls in the older part of the offices.  The halls were deliberately off set to provide a twenty by twenty foot area.   When the expansion was built the area was enlarge by another ten feet and a third hall now lead to the expansion.  The chairs and tables had been shoved to the side.

Primus said, “See, we moved every thing out of the way so we could make the turn with the chair thing.”

“Palanquin.” said MC.

“Oh, yeah” Ace piped in.

“Shall I make some coffee?” Ann asked.

Ace and Primus said together  “Since when do you make coffee?”

MC cut in, “I’ve had your coffee.  No thanks and besides we don’t have time.  The cleaning crew gets in at six.  That gives us just over two hours.”

“Two hours for what?” Ann asked.

The trio sang, “Never mind”.

They turned down the left hall.  This was part of the newer section of the foundation.  The walls were a graduated green, starting at the bottom with a deep green and gradually fading to white at the top.  No one had ever figured out just how that was done and it was a favorite topic of speculation.  No one bothered to call and ask the painters.  That would spoil the fun.

The doors on both sides of the hall were marked with large black letters over the sills and a keypad was next to each door.  Ann stopped at the ‘Gallery’ and turned to go in.

MC yelped, “No not there.  We’re not going to the gallery.”

Ann, “I thought you had a special Viewing setup for me.”

Ace, “Well that’s...”

“…part right.” Primus finished.

“It’s a Session alright,” continued MC, “but we not running a Viewing.  We will be Free Interfacing.”

“What!  I’ve never been a Jumper.  Neither have you, MC.  I wouldn’t know what to do.  Where and when are we going?”

“Right here and right now.” Primus dryly said.

Ann barked, “Don’t be an ass. You know what I meant!”

Ace stepped between them and in a falsetto voice said, “Now children, be polite or you shan’t play.”  He walked on to ‘Lab three’ and entered the code.  The door opened and they walked in.

Lab three was actually equipped with the older components from the first days of research.  The lab was simple enough; a long thin room with one long wall filled with computer racks and components straight off the delivery truck and with customized units from the R&D section of FoPS.  The opposite side was lined with six consoles set under a long window onto another room.  The connecting door to the other room was at the far end from were they had entered.  Four spring-loaded applicators lay on a table at the far end from the entry.  A capsule the size of a grain of rice was in the end of each.

Ace walked the length of the room and picked up one of the applicators.  He pulled down the back of his jeans and pressed it to his butt.  He picked up the three remaining applicators and walked back to the group.

Handing the other three out to everybody, Ace advised, “Put them somewhere were there’s the most fat.  It feels like a big splinter if you don’t.  MC, you skinny bastard!  I don’t know where you’ll put yours.  I’ve set the time interval for sixty minutes.  Be sure to take everything out of your pockets.  Ann and MC, that includes any jewelry.”  Everyone dropped something on the table.  “Make sure that nothing is loose on you clothes.  I think we can do without changing to jump suits but we should put sterile boots over our shoes.”

Ann held her applicator up and looked at it and then scan her body for a second, “Hey guys, excuse me.”  The three guys turned their backs to her.  MC was the only one who actually blushed.  “You know;” she continued, “I’m doing this on a lot of faith.  I still don’t know where we’re going.”

“Or when!” all three sang out.

As they walked into the launch bay room, Ace leaned over console thirteen and typed in a command.  “Consoles fourteen, fifteen and sixteen are tied to console thirteen and it will control the session.  Hope no one is superstitious.”

Primus stood at a small screen and keypad on the bank of components on the opposite wall from the consoles.  He watched Ace and keyed in a command as Ace did.

As Ace and Primus joined Ann and MC at the far end of the room, they all entered the door to the windowed room.  Ace closed the door.  Ann thought how strange it felt to be here like this.  She had been working at FoPS since the foundation had started, when she was still at the local University.  She had finished her MS in mechanical and electrical engineering and had been a qualified session monitor for over two years, but she had never been pass the door that was just closed.  The decontamination process was too difficult and expensive for just a looky-loo.  She looked around.  They stood in a glassed off section at one end of the room.  The jump room was the same length as the lab.  The six monitoring consoles could be seen through the window on the right hand.  Immediately to the left on the over side of the glass partition, there was a single door that lead to the decontamination showers. The remainder of the left side was lined with six jump bays; each was five foot wide and four foot deep.  A dim light was on in each of the first four bays.

Primus went to the shelf on the back wall and handed everybody a facemask.  The shelves also held mask, boots and vid recorders.

The mask covered their month and nose.  They were fairly comfortable but talking was a little strange feeling.  “I’ve never been this far before.  It will be exciting to use the recorders.  Even though I designed them, I’ve only used one in the lab.”  Her voice had a slight warble to it caused by the flutter of the filter in the mask.

“Sorry, Ann.  No vids this time.  Session protocols require a four hour familiarization.”  Ace said.

“Right.”  Ann hoped they didn’t notice her blushing.  She had written the protocols but had forgotten them in her excitement.

Primus then handed out the sterile cloth boots, more like sacks with drawstrings.  After they had finished adjusting the mask and boots, Ace pressed a red button next to the door.  The decontamination lights came on and they were bathed in a bright light that seemed to vary through several steps of the spectrum.

Primus said, “The visible light is just for show.  It’s the ones you can’t see that are doing the work.  We didn’t have the rainbow in the beginning.  But the jumpers are a bit more at ease if they see something.  Standing here for forty-five seconds with nothing going on can be a bit unnerving even when you know what is happening.”

Ann thought to herself, ‘Great!  Since I screwed up on the protocols, they’re going to treat me like a novice.’

The light show stopped and the glass wall slide to one side.

They walked in, without talking, and they each stepped in front of a bay.  They paused.  Looked at each other.  They stepped in.

As they stepped in, the dim lights in each of their bays brightened and they all turned around to face the window that was between them and the lab and its consoles.  Across from each of the four bays there was an LED counter above the window.  9…8…7…

Ann’s anticipation grew to an anxiety and she started to reach for the abort button.

…3…2…1…0.  They disappeared.

Some time between 1 and 0, the light in bay eighteen came on.

Ann had watched the count down, her fingers inches from the abort, frozen, spellbound.  She had known what was going to happen.  She had read all the after-session reports and had talked to all the jumpers.  But still the slight vibration and rush of heat that seemed to flow from her feet to her head caught her by surprise.  She instinctively closed her eyes.

The chill she felt wasn’t supposed to be real.  Some had reported feeling a brief chill but it was only a subconscious counter reaction to the heat wave.  She squeezed her eyes shut, waiting for the chill to pass.  It didn’t.  She felt a cool breeze on her face and heard the ocean somewhere near and below.  She opened her eyes.

“Okay, clowns!  Your big surprise is putting me on a coast road at dawn.”

Ace looked around.  The four of them were standing in a line on the edge of a narrow paved highway, only two lanes, a double yellow line between them.  A sheer rock face was on the other side of the road, with signs that the road had been cut into the cliff side.  Each of them instinctively took a step back off of the asphalt and onto a narrow band of sand.   The edge of the sand gave way to several feet of loose stones partially hidden by tall grass and a few thick bushes.  The waves were crashing below.  The sun and horizon were kissing softly.

Ace mused, “Sunset I reckon. West Coast.  The air is heavy with moisture but there’s no dew on the grass.  Other than that, I don’t have the foggiest idea where or when we are.”

“You mean this isn’t where you were taking me?  We’re lost!”

Primus walked over and put his arm around Ann’s shoulders.  He felt her tremble and felt the fear building within her.  “Don’t worry.  The resonating crystals we put in are set for one hour.  We’ll pop back home then no matter where or when we are.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah.  No sweat.”

MC was just standing, staring at the low sun.

Ace, “Hey, MC.  You okay?”

MC turned.  “Sure.  This doesn’t look like a birthday party to me.”

Ann turned to MC, “What birthday party?”

Ace looked down and shuffled his feet a bit, “Yours.  Your thirteenth actually.”

“My thirteenth birthday!”

Ace stepped in closer to the small group, “Well, last year when your dad died, we knew you weren’t close to him for the last few years, but we knew you were a bit saddened.  And with your mom dying just before your fourteenth birthday, we thought you might like to revisit the thirteenth, when things were right.”

Ann’s family had been part of the great high middle class and her childhood was wondrous and full of happiness until a month before her fourteenth birthday.  Ann was with her mother shopping for groceries early one morning when everything changed.  They were in the frozen food isle when her mother leaned over to get a half-gallon of ice cream.  As she straightened up, she continued back and fell to the floor.  Ann tried to catch her; but she was too heavy.  Ann quickly opened her mother’s purse and dialed 911.  It was over a minute before another early morning shopper came down the isle to see Ann trying to place her rolled coat beneath her mother’s head.  She was trying to comfort her mother who was beyond comforting.  Her father began to drink and after six years, Ann moved out to her own apartment.  She never had ice cream.

Ace, “ Yeah!  When we were...were…you know.  You talked about that birthday with a certain fondness.  You know…when we were looking at the album.”  Ace was clearly not his normal confident self.  He was in fact embarrassed by the mention of their past relationship.

Ann slowly spread her not-to-often-seen silly grin over her face.  She held her arms out and embrace the three men.  “You’re all crazy.  It was a good idea.  I would’ve loved it; but, what happened?”

“Don’t know.  We’ll just have to..Duck!  In the bushes!  I see someone’s headlights!”

They all dove into the low bushes between the road and the cliff that dropped to the ocean.  As they turned around, the headlights quickly flashed across their faces.  The car approached, passed them and sped away.  Where the cliff turned hard to the left, the road kept straight and out over a steel and concrete bridge over a small river that emptied into the surf below.  The time-lost travelers came out of the bushes.  Brushing leaves and twigs from their clothes, they watched the diminishing taillights.

“Hey, a bridge.” MC cried out.

Ace and Primus struck a chord, “Bridge. Big deal!”

MC immediately engaged the defense shield; “It might have a sign on it.  We could find out where we were at least.”

Ann intervened, “That’s right.  Let’s look.”

They all turned and in single file walked toward the bridge.   The mood was somber; no one actually believed that knowing where they were would actually help.  It was something to do.  The bridge was a hundred feet down the road.  About half way there, they saw a large boxy object on the side of the road.

“What’s that?” Ann asked no one in particular.

The three guys squatted down around the box and looked it over.  It was about three feet high, three feet long and a foot and a half wide and solid black.  The black was a soft black that seemed to absorb the low light of the setting sun.  They had not seen it until they were within a few feet.  On one side there were several patterns of holes with about ten holes in each pattern and each hole was about an eighth of an inch in diameter and one three inch glass window.  On the opposite side, there were four glass windows about six inches in diameter.  The inside of the box was too dark to be seen through the windows.  And there was no discernable way to open it.

“Well,” MC stood up triumphantly, “that settles that.  We can’t be too far back in time.  This is a holo-projector.  We use them in the Gallery.  This model didn’t come out until about 2020.  It’s been put in a bigger housing but I don’t know what the other side is.  Some kid of modification.”

“I don’t know about that.  The car,” Ace stroked his chin like he was trying to pull something deep out of the recesses of his mind, “had to be a fifty year old model and it looked brand new.”

MC, still on at least yellow alert, snapped back, “What about the holo-projector?  If this is fifty years in the past, how did it get here, huh?”

“It came with us.” Every one turned to look at Primus.

“What!” the trio yelped in a quick falsetto.

“I was in bay sixteen.  MC and Ann were probably watching the count down.  I’ve seen it too many times.  I was just waiting without looking at anything in particular.  Just before we popped out, I thought I saw a light reflected in the observation window.  It was just a quick flash as we went.  I didn’t think too much of it then.  Now that I look back on it, it came from bay eighteen.  Ace, you might have noticed it too.”

“No, I was in thirteen.  The light from eighteen would have just seemed like the lights from fourteen, fifteen and sixteen.”

“Car!” MC shouted and they all again dove for the bushes.

As they watched the car pass them, there was a quiet hum from the strange black box.  No one heard it.

Ann stood up and brushed off.  “Why are we doing that?  They can’t see us.”

Ace rolled his eyes upward, “Actually, they can.  What if they stopped to see if we needed help.  This does seem like a remote area and people were more helpful in the old days.  And besides, helpful or not, four people standing around with mask over their face would make anyone, past or present, curious.”

Ann didn’t like his condescending tone.  “If they can see us, wouldn’t we have been seen at the birthday party, smart ass?  Besides, no one has reported being seen.  It’s impossible!”

“We had set the party session up as a standard interface but without cameras.” Ace ignored her jab.  He knew she was stressed out like everyone else.  “We would have been out of phase.  We could have seen them but they could not have seen us because we wouldn’t have really been there.  But we are really here.  For what ever reason, when we went to the wrong place, we also went not out-of-phase.”

“What do you mean we are really here?  We’re actually in the past?  Not just watching?”

Both Ace and Primus both reached over and grabbed a branch of the brush and shuck it.

“Oh.”  Ann felt she had just been passed the dunce cap.

Primus consoled her, “Don’t worry.  This is your first trip back and the obvious is not all that obvious at first.  After a little experience, you catch these things without thinking about them.”

“Experience!  This is my first and last trip…If we get back.  We shouldn’t be here!”  Ann’s voice was trembling and her eyes widened.  “Car!”  She screamed, the necessity of keeping unobserved shook her back to a more controlled emotion.  She bent down and slid under the brush.  MC, frozen and blankly staring at ACE, had to be pulled down.

As the car heading south came closer, the box hummed and a dim light appeared in the small window.  They all turned to watch the car as it passed and approached the bridge.  Just before the car got to the bridge, it started bouncing wildly and then dropped out of sight through the bridge.  There was a sound of crashing that for a brief moment challenged the sound of the waves below.  Then it was quiet except for the never-ending beat against the shore.

 Ann screamed and they all stood frozen for a heart beat.  Ann and MC, who before were visibly fearful, forgot their shock of being in the past as the reality of the disappearing car grabbed them.  They started for the bridge in a staggered run. 

The bridge and cliff face shimmered and disappeared only to emerge twenty feet to the left.

Ace stopped and looked from where the bridge had been, to the black box and back again.

Ann, Primus and MC stepped quickly over the rocks that were between the road and the cliff below.  They looked down, but the car was not in sight.

Ann started looking for a way down. “Hurry, some one may still be alive!  We can help.”

Primus just stared down.  “No, we can’t interfere.  We can’t alter history.”

Ace joined the three looking down trying to see the car.  “History has already been altered.  Didn’t you see the bride shift?”

“Yes.” Primus said, “I thought I had stumbled.”

“Me too.”  MC didn’t sound too sure about it.

Ann asked the obvious question, “Ace, what do you mean it’s been altered?”

“The holo projector.  It came through with us.  It projected an image of the cliff and the bridge beyond, but turned the image enough to the right so that anyone driving along would follow the road over the side and down the cliff”

Ann gave orders like she meant them to be followed.  “MC, you and I will try to get down there. Primus, you and your evil twin, see if you can stop that projector from claiming anyone else.”  She turned and peered over the edge looking for some way down.

The boys looked at each other, shrugged and started back to the box.

MC found a path along the side of the bridge.  He and Ann went down. 

©June, 2004, Fred (Woody) Hendrick

 

 

 

What follows is a looping back and forth of ever spiraling changes to history; and ever loop leaves someone else out of the future.

Let me know what you think and don't worry, I have a thick hide.  Woody

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since posting on September 12, 2006