Benjamin walked down the narrow corridor to his private chambers, shaking slightly from the interview with the Senators. Senator Billings, for all his lack of manner or subtlety, had hit startling close to the mark. The only saving factor had been the restraining tactics of Senators Kiles and Senator Nyguen’s reluctance to side himself with Senator Billings. Nearly all Senators agreed that Billings should never have been allowed in public office. While he was immensely popular to the general public, the rest of the planetary governing body had strong feelings against him. In short, he was suffering a quick political death – and he knew it. While he might be able to linger in public office indefinitely, he would never have the connections to make a difference in any but the most minor matters.
“Motich, Benjamin F.” Approving his retina scan and voiceprint, the door hissed open and Benjamin walked in, slumping immediately on his couch. He removed his shoes and slowly massaged his feet as he ordered the Entertainment System to play something soothing from the late twentieth century.
Benjamin had always had a mild fascination with the late twentieth century and early twenty-first century. Mankind was on the brink of overrunning a tired and depleted Earth without having the option to colonize the neighboring planets and moons. The technology just wasn’t advanced enough then. That depressed time spawned the best and the worst mankind ever had to offer as far as Benjamin was concerned.
There were men who, without a single hesitant thought, committed thousands to death in the name of some illicit cause. Never had the diseases been so bad with mankind so close to being able to cure them. And yet, there were those who would lay in front of a charging tank instead of defending their homes with violence. There were some who tried to reach for racial unity – the human race.
It must have been a very frustrating time to live in. With a sigh, Benjamin reached for the file printed on his coffee table. One of the advantages to being Director was hard copy. There were certain files that were just too sensitive to reside for too long in any computer. Those files were invariably printed on paper and tucked away in a safer place.
This was one such file. Looking at the cover of the manila envelope, Benjamin thought he had an inkling of the mystery and intrigue of the Cold War, a twentieth century phenomenon. Benjamin opened the seal and pulled out the documents.
Robert Jordan. Age 41. Born 1956 ad.. Subjective Age: 247 years. Occupation: Purchaser for IBM Corporation. A holo was attached to the file and Benjamin looked at the all too familiar face of this enigma.
Robert had been unconscious when he had been found. After a maintenance team had cleared away the debris, there was considerable surprise when they found a body under the wreckage. A body that wasn’t supposed to be on the ship at all. A frenzied effort by maintenance team and researcher alike fully uncovered the body and checked for vital signs.
The maintenance team notified a harried Dr. Motich. Benjamin remembered his disappointment with the accident. He had been so sure that conducting the experiment on the outer rim of the Oort Cloud, effectively free of the sun’s gravity, his temporal experiment would be a complete success. The interfering gravity of Sol was what doomed the Unified Industries project.
Benjamin’s calculations told him that the process of physically traveling across the time barrier was impossible. The chances of exceeding the speed of light were more probable than time travel. He could, however, open a “window” to another time. It was possible, in theory, to be able to view history as it actually happened.
After months of research, Benjamin knew he had the key. All that was needed was to travel to a spot “where” and “when” the Earth was when you wanted to open the window. Out of sheer nostalgic flattery, Benjamin had chosen December 8, 1996. The date was random, but the period was specific. He wanted a taste of the twentieth century which had so appealed to him since he was an undergrad at Mars U. That spot, relative to “when” he wanted to be, was just outside the Oort cloud about half a light year away.
It had taken his ship, named Enterprise after the first Space Shuttle, almost a full year to reach the spot. Another month was spent preparing the necessary equipment. After that, it was time to begin. Benjamin thought that the air of tension inside the little ship was almost visible to the eye.
In a simple way, the old picture tubes on twentieth century televisions were the forerunners to this procedure. A massive body like the Earth left a gravity well in it’s wake as it moved through the cosmos. The gravity well wasn’t permanent, but it was observable for at least four hundred years after the Earth moved through that spot. Since space and time are intricately linked, the gravity well also served as a “time-signature” for the planet. Using a flawless iron plate as a “picture tube”, the annals of time could be opened for all to see. Like an old television set, it was possible to view the events on the Earth of the past without actually traveling in time. The further back in time you wished to view, the harder it became as the gravity well lessened.
Benjamin looked up from his file, his personal report on the happenings, and rubbed his eyes. Reading was such a dreary task. Reaching to the implant on the back of his skull, he almost wished that this file was saved somewhere in the net. He could review much faster and with better understanding if it was in the net.
When all the debris has been cleared, the iron plate was gone. There were no traces of it in the air, no molten slag on the bulkheads. It was like it had never existed. Benjamin had felt the first real glimmer of something big at this point. The unconscious man might not be from our time. He might have been snatched against all scientific reasoning from his time to here.
Benjamin had rushed to the infirmary, leaving the wreckage investigation to another researcher under him. The light in the hallway, flickering as the power was slowly brought back on-line seemed to beat in time with his heart. When he reached the infirmary, he stood outside the door for a moment, catching his breath and collecting his thoughts.
The sudden chime indicating a visitor outside sent a surge of panic through Benjamin. Scrambling frantically, he gathered all the papers together and quickly stuffed them inside a small compartment on the side of his maintenance robot. He had programmed it to lie dormant with a word so he could get to it to hide his papers. The word was “kyu”, and ancient Japanese word meaning “student.” Benjamin felt it was appropriate since he would ever be a student of science. His maintenance robot was one of the least likely places, or so he thought, to hide his sensitive documents.
Re-activating his robot, Benjamin stood and walked to the door. He was surprised and instantly wary to see Senator Nyguen standing at the door.
Trying to conceal his surprise, Benjamin stepped aside and beckoned the Senator in, “Senator, this is a pleasant surprise. “
The door hissed shut as the Senator removed his jacket and handed it to Benjamin, “I’m very sorry to intrude at this late hour, Doctor, but I must speak with you alone.”
This was highly irregular. He had expected Senator Nyguen to spring something unexpected, but this was more than even Benjamin had imagined. Smiling, he handed the jacket to a wall-hanger and thought of something to say. This time, he was the one caught off-guard and felt like the floor had been pulled up from under him.
“I was just about to have dinner, Senator. Would you care to join me? I’m having Alaskan Snow Crab legs.”
The Senator raised and eyebrow, “Real crab legs?”
Benjamin nodded and ran his hand through his thinning hair, “Yes. One of the advantages of being in my position is that I get an allotment of one real meal a month. It’s a nice change from the germinated meat we usually eat.”
Benjamin sat on the couch as the Senator gingerly sank into the recliner. Benjamin realized that self-molding furniture was a rarity in Asia 2, even for a Senator. The Senator was on unfamiliar territory here. Quite accidentally, Benjamin had seized the advantage with the mention of real Snow Crab Legs and the self-molding recliner. Benjamin allowed himself to relax, but only a little.
The silence was awkward for a moment as Senator and Doctor stared at each other. Finally, Nyguen spoke, “Doctor, I wish I could say that I was here for a purely social visit, but I am not.”
Benjamin nodded his head ruefully, thinking of something stupid to say to make the Senator think he was still off-balance by the surprise visit, “I imagined as such. I’m not the type of person that people just drop in on unexpectedly. I’m usually the self-appointed bore at any party and my discussions invariably always lead back to work.”
The Senator continued as if he hadn’t heard, but Benjamin thought he saw the corners of his mouth twitch for a moment, “This is completely off the record Doctor. This is business, but I am not here to represent the PLN. I am here for China.”
Benjamin narrowed his eyes. There was no room on this planet anymore for national duplicity. All nations worked for the good of the planet and solar system. To approach on the behalf of China was disturbing news.
Concealing his apprehension, Benjamin spoke through clenched teeth, “Go on.”
“We both know that this investigation is rubber stamp. Two green Senators and a nearly unknown Senator investigating the largest corporation in the system sounds a little suspect, don’t you think?”
Benjamin spread his hands, “I’m sure you’re all very competent and able to conduct this investigation Senator. I am sorry if you lack the self-confidence to believe so.”
Nyguen’s hand cut the air like a knife and his eyes glared, “Don’t play games with me Doctor. I am merely stating the obvious. You have more connections in the Senate that any single living person in the system. If you go down, too many Senators stand to lose with you.”
Benjamin said nothing. It was true that while he had not been able to avoid the investigation, he had been able to stack the odds in his favor. Such dealings were personally distasteful, but sometimes were necessary. While Benjamin wielded immense power politically, he seldom used it. His passion was in his research.
Benjamin sighed and crossed his legs on the coffee table. Nyguen appeared momentarily distracted by the movement, and Benjamin used the opportunity to punch in his order for Crab Legs.
Glancing up from the keypad, Benjamin asked, “Are you joining me, Senator? It will take about twenty minutes before the food will be prepared.”
Nyguen shook his head, shifting uncomfortably in the recliner, “No thank you, Doctor. What I have to say won’t take long.”
“Very well,” Benjamin punched in an order for two cocktails and handed the Senator one as they popped up.
Sipping the cocktail gave Benjamin a chance to collect his thoughts. If Nyguen wasn’t here as part of his investigation, but instead for China as he claimed, that could only mean that China thought he had something they would want or need. It stood to reason that China, too, had a marked interest in the area of time travel. Still reeling from complete economic collapse, China was extremely bitter about the set of events that forced them to accept PLN management. If time travel were possible, they stood to gain much by being the first to utilize it.
Setting his glass on the table, Nyguen looked Benjamin squarely in the eye, “Tell me about Robert Jordan.”
Benjamin sputtered on his drink, quickly accepting the napkin his robot proffered and mopped his shirt off. How could anyone possibly know of the significance of Robert? Benjamin had registered him as a mentally handicapped relative from the mining colony on Europa. He had a net-authenticated biography and official birth entries in the PLN computers. Had Robert talked? Or did Dani slip with the information?
Handing the damp napkin back to the robot, Benjamin set his drink on the table. “Perhaps you had better tell me what exactly you know about Robert Jordan.”
Nyguen smiled. He recognized the slight hint of panic in the voice of Dr. Motich. It had taken four of his best Net-Crashers almost five months to get this information. Indeed, it had even cost one his life. A nasty security protocol in the EarthCo computers had performed a complete Cortexwipe on one of his crashers. He was excited that the information was, after all, valid and extremely sensitive to Dr. Motich.
“No. I will allow you to tell me about Robert Jordan and verify my thoughts. I have the upper hand this round, unlike the interview earlier.”
Benjamin frowned. There was something about the way the Senator said the name “Robert Jordan.” It was too clipped. It was almost as if he thought the name was a reference to something else. He didn’t say it like he would say the name of an actual person.
Deciding to take a chance, Benjamin stood and paced his living room floor, “Very well, Senator. I will enlighten you. ‘Robert Jordan’ is the name of the temporal project we are currently working on at EarthCo.”
Nyguen was delighted. He stood quickly and walked close to Benjamin, “I knew when that name suddenly appeared in the PLN computers with so much security, right after the “accident” in the Oort Cloud, that something was going on. The naming is obvious. Your pit-stop at Europa to pick up your newly discovered relative spawned the name of your project.”
Benjamin walked to the wall-hanger and retrieved the Senator’s jacket, “Quite right, Senator. The news that I had an unknown relative on Europa was well received.”
The Senator took his coat impatiently, “He’s retarded isn’t he? Why did the colonists allow him to live?”
Frowning, Benjamin answered, “Mentally handicapped, yes. He is incapable of being outfitted with info-optic implant and usually has to have a nurse or guardian with him. In fact, I hired one as soon as we landed seven months ago. As to why they let him live; the colonist aren’t as choosy as we are on Earth. He had a strong body and was mentally able to receive direction to work.”
Nyguen nodded, looking at his jacket, “I’m not quite ready to leave yet, Doctor. All we have done is verify my information. Now, I am ready to offer you a deal.”
Arching an eyebrow, Benjamin gave the jacket back to the wall-hanger, “A deal, Senator?”
“Yes. China is willing to pay ten million dollars into your personal account each year as long as you report all progress of project “Robert Jordan” to us.”
“And if I refuse?”
Nyguen took his jacket back from the wall-hanger. Benjamin distractedly realized that damned jacket couldn’t stay put.
“If you refuse, I will be forced, as my Senatorial duty, to expose everything I know to the PLN.”
Benjamin hated blackmail. He had been forced to use it on occasion, but the act of being blackmailed left a bitter taste in his mouth. Reviewing his options quickly, he decided to accept the bribe – temporarily. He would find a way to convince China that his temporal research was a disaster and he could carry it no further. Once they believed that, they would drop him quicker than a “hot potato”, if he remembered the phrase correctly.
Looking at the Senator, Benjamin nodded his head, defeated. “Very well, Senator. I will provide you with copies of my research up to now and forward more information as I get it.”
Donning his jacket, Nyguen handed Benjamin a slip of paper. Impressed, Benjamin took it. Nyguen had obviously went to a lot of effort if he actually printed this out. “This is my net-address. It is as nearly private as you can get in the net. Upload all your data there.”
Benjamin nodded and ordered the door open. Nyguen turned with a smug grin, “It’s been a real pleasure, Doctor. You should feel honored to have the support of the greatest nation in the world.”
Before Benjamin could disagree, the Senator walked away, letting the door hiss shut behind him. Sighing, Benjamin turned his back to the door as the emergency chime on his wall started to flash. He groaned as he canceled his dinner order. This was definitely not a good day.