A techno-thief finds himself on the wrong end of a disrupted time transfer
| TEMPUS FUGIT
Tied for second place in The Escape Day Contest
I realized after submitting that I had accidentally cut part of the requirements, to explain why Gellbrave was sent to that particular time (July 20, 1969). I put it back in so you can read it here.
Gerald Gellbrave broke into the Narci Quantum Laboratory at 23:00, using a key card picked from the pocket of a high-level employee. The security was laughable, for all its high-tech design; his team had hacked it earlier that day, bypassing the cameras and granting universal and invisible access to his stolen card. He walked confidently to the Temporal Studies Room and keyed its door open.
He was reaching into his pocket for the microcomputer he had brought to store stolen files when he realized that the room was not empty. He would have harsh words for the IT nerd who'd assured him all personnel had left the building. He drew his gun instead.
The scientist at the workstation, an elderly man, was oblivious to his surroundings. His gaze alternated between a bank of monitors and a complex room-high apparatus of wire coils and electronics that hummed and glowed in dim blue beside the desk. Gerald stared in fascination as he crept closer. The base of the machine appeared to be a copper plate about a metre across. In the centre was a small cage containing a white mouse or rat. The humming and glow increased sharply and the cage and rat vanished. Fertekank! thought Gerald. Where did it go? Has Narci actually solved the temporal equations?
He grabbed the scientist's hair and pressed the gun barrel against the back of his head. "Move a muscle and you're a dead man. Say 'Yes' if you understand."
"Good. Now, I am going to back you and your chair away from the desk. The same instructions apply. Say 'Yes' if you understand."
"Yes, yes." The reply sounded impatient. Gerald pulled the wheeled chair backwards by pulling the man's hair. It was hard work. The scientist was hefty, solid in the body, and looked muscular. Not your typical physics nerd.
"Who are you, and what are you doing here?"
"Doctor Martin Nmbada. I am a quantum physicist. I am finishing the last of a series of experiments on temporal transfer of living matter. If you even know what that means."
"Oh, I know, Doctor. My employers are quite interested in your experiments, though they had no idea they were so advanced as to actual physical testing. As it is, a download of your logs will be interesting, most interesting indeed."
"Pah. Everything is encrypted. My every keystroke, the readings of every instrument and sensor, the video data -- you do realize that you are being recorded as we speak? -- all are encrypted and backed up in real time to a server in-- well, in another location."
Gerald twisted his hand and the scientist yelped as his hair pulled from his scalp. "What do you mean, recorded? My team put every camera in this place blind! And you aren't supposed to even be here." He rapped sharply with the butt of the gun.
"Ow! Damn! You obviously had some bad intel. This room has its own security. No internet connection, the data is on a dedicated private network. I'm scheduled to work here tonight and my relief comes at 02:00. If you plan to steal data, you'd best work quickly. And good luck with the 32-bit encryption."
"My employers will deal with that, not me." He struck again with the gun butt and knocked Gellbrave onto the floor. He put two bullets into the man's chest and walked to the workstation. If everything was recorded, the murder would be noted. He had less than an hour. He put the gun on the deskl and took out the micro. He studied the setup. There was only the keyboard, a complicated-looking trackball, and five monitors in an arc. He tapped the space bar and growled at the screen asking for a 16-digit password.
The research computer was a large cabinet model under the desk. The micro had operating software to locate signals and automatically copy data, but its tiny screen showed "No connection available". So much for automation; he had a pack of cables he'd have to use. He searched in vain for ports on the front. When he tried to pull the unit forward to check the back, he discovered that it was bolted to the floor. Grumbling, he crawled under the desk to examine the back of the computer cabinet.
He was twisted around, his back against the wall, his head behind the cabinet with a penlight in his mouth, when he heard a sound from the room. He reacted violently, banging his head on the desk and almost swallowing the light, in time to see Nmbada stagger to the desk and reach for the gun. He kicked out his legs and knocked the scientist down. The gun went flying.
Gellbrave scrambled out from under the desk. The gun was on the copper plate, not quite centred. Nmbada was struggling to reach the desk. How can he even be alive? He's covered with blood. Why isn't he dead? Gellbrave stepped forward and delivered a vicious kick to the ribs. The scientist seized his leg and twisted, sending his opponent to the floor. Gellbrave kicked the man away and crawled for the gun. He grabbed it and was just getting to his feet when Nmbada reached the desk and hit the space bar repeatedly before slumping to the floor. Gellbrave was suddenly in the midst of a swarm of brilliant blue humming lights...
...and then he was not. He screamed in agony and looked down to see that half of his right foot was missing, all his toes sheared off, blood spurting onto the floor. He fainted.
He came to a moment later, disoriented and confused.
"Holy Mother of God, where did you come from? First a lab rat and now you. Never mind, let's get that bound up." It was another scientist in a white lab coat. He calmly took the gun from an unresisting hand, and used it to thump Gellbrave on the head. "Not nice to show up with a gun, y'know." He took a box knife from a toolkit and slashed the laces of Gellbrave's shoe. He ripped off what remained of the shoe and sock, ran to a first aid kit mounted on the wall and grabbed supplies, then ran back. He applied several layers of gauze to the pulsing wound, taped it expertly, and wrapped the foot in pressure bandage. A knotted pressure bandage on the thigh served as a makeshift tourniquet. He rolled his desk chair over. "Up we go." He lifted both Gellbrave's feet onto the chair. "Gotta elevate the wound, helps prevent shock," he muttered to himself. He used medical tape to bind both feet to the chair. Another pressure bandage served to tie the man's hands together. He sat in the chair from the next desk to wait until his guest regained consciousness.
"Hi there. I'm Mike Noseworthy. Dr. Mike Noseworthy. Physicist. And," he said casually as he pointed the pistol, "who the hell are you and how did you pop into my lab like that? Oh, and where's the rest of your foot?"
It took considerable time for the story to be unravelled on both sides.
"Really, Noseworthy? Nineteen-sixty-nine?" said a disbelieving Gellbrave. "July 20, 1969? The day Buzz whatsisname stepped on the moon?" He had been knocked back exactly sixty years, to the day and no doubt to the minute. It would appear that Nmbada had indeed mastered quantum time transfer, at least for body parts that were safely on the copper plate. His toes had no doubt remained in 2029.
"Really, Gellbrave? You claim to be from sixty years in the future? Go ahead, pull the other one. And it was Neil Armstrong. Happened this afternoon. I watched it on TV. Wonderful, such an amazing achievement. Took a couple hours off to watch, which is why I'm working late." Nmbada. Why is that familiar? Where did I see that name? Not just the note on the rat, something else.
Right. Journal of Physics, June 1969, there on the desk. He scooted over to the magazine and flipped pages. Yes, 1969 International Science Fair, Martin Nmbada, age 14, University of California at Berkely. Elphair Prize for Theoretical Physics, "Explorations of Temporal Transfer: Closed Time Curves and the Goedel Metric". My God, at fourteen he was already on track. What might have he discovered in 60 years?
The rat and its cage still sat on his desk, with its accompanying stamped envelope addressed to M. Nmbada at a California address. The note in it simply said, "Configuration and calculations complete. One small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind." He flipped the page over and scribbled frantically, partly notes, partly formulae. A scream from Gellbrave interrupted him.
The criminal was groaning, twisting and fighting his bonds. "Aaaah! Christ, my foot hurts like hell. Can't you give me a painkiller? Aspirin? Delcedrin? Morphorine? Anything?"
"Aspirin I've got. The others I've never heard of. Sure, why not? I guess I'd better call the police, too." He went to the first aid cabinet, tipped two pills out of a bottle. He went to a lab sink and filled a clean beaker with water. When he knelt to hand them over, Gellbrave sat up and headbutted him. He wrapped his elastic-bound wrists around Noseworthy's neck and squeezed.
When the physicist was dead, Gellbrave managed to fish the box knife from Noseworthy's labcoat pocket and free himself. His foot really did ache like crazy, so he hopped to the medicine cabinet, leaving splats of blood with every hop, and swallowed several Aspirins dry.
He flopped into the lab chair and wheeled himself to the desk to see what Noseworthy had been writing. When he saw the name on the envelope, he tore it and the note to shreds and dropped them into the wastebasket by the desk.
He began to feel queasy. Shock, I guess. I've lost some blood. The room began to spin. The light began to verge towards blue. The spinning stopped and the light faded to black. He could see nothing, could feel only the pain of his severed foot. What the --? Wait, Noseworthy was writing to Nmbada. Was that what gave Nmbada the knowledge to develop his -- and if he didn't get that information then he could never have invented--but then I couldn't be sent back--I can't be-- His thoughts faded away into a silence as deep as the blackness around him.
He was no one. He was nowhere. He was nowhen. He was trapped in an eternal now, a timeless existence of silence and pain.