Lux Perpetua Part II

By W.D. Noble

They’d been running, but it was 8:00AM, and the temperature was already near 80 degrees, and it was time to get indoors before things became too hot to do much at all.

Besides, he had a trip to take.

While Jamieson had been born in ’34, and hadn’t seen the big climate-shift, he knew from reading that the Puget Sound area had changed dramatically.

The Douglas Fir forests were all nearly dead. Many homeowners had embraced the change and planted palm-trees; others were content with bare lots and a lawn. The glaciers had long since melted, turning Mount Rainier into a bare, uninteresting pyramidal form; much like looking at one of the faux-pyramids in the now-ghost-town of Las Vegas.

From May to October, water-rationing was common. There were fines – and reward-incentives, alike – -for people who watered their lawns illegally, and for those who reported the water-poachers.

“Hydropimps” offered to sell water – at outrageous prices – taken from sources which were claimed to be legal, but usually weren’t. Their tank-trucks plied Seattle streets on a daily basis in the summertime, and it was only the wealthy who could afford to keep their gardens and lawns fully-green in July, August, and September.

Every fall, the local churches prayed for rain and snow.

This, Jamieson thought as he walked back to his campus office, was ironic – as it was religion, in his view, which had caused most if not all of the problem.

“I can fix this.”, thought Jamieson. “Starting today.”

First, he took a long shower in the athletic department’s facilities. “This’ll be the last one I get for a while,” he thought.

He’d done the research. Done the math. Determined the exact energy level, and how long to leave the beam ‘on’. He’d computed his return, and knew exactly when and where he’d have to be in order to return. Nothing was left to chance.

Dressed, he walked to his office. It was time. Professor Kelso was going to meet him there; it was Kelso’s job to ensure that his – time machine? – -ran properly.

Larry Kelso was there; his face a little longer than usual.

“Larry!”, said Jamieson, a big smile on his face. “Pardon while I change into something a little more ‘period’.”

A few minutes later, Jamieson reappeared in the trappings of a wealthy 14th-century man. Educated, no doubt, and possessed of personal wealth from either trade or inheritance, Jamieson was a man to be reckoned with – at least, in the era to which he was about to travel – he was a man who could make – or change – history.

“The power-grid is active already; in fact, there should be enough ‘juice’ here to send the both of us,” he joked, checking the last of the dials and gauges. Kelso, for his part, said nothing.

“I’m going to walk directly to the back of the lens. Activate the mains at that point. I should simply fade from view.” He waited for a response; there was none. “Well. I’d best be on my way.”

He turned to walk to the back of the chamber.

The sound of the shot startled him. He stiffened and spun around, surprised.

What he thought was his own reaction – spinning around to the sound of the shot – was actually an involuntary reaction to the impact of the bullet in his shoulderblade. He realized this a moment later, as a searing pain shot through first his arm, then spread to his torso.

Jamieson slumped against the back of the focal-lens – the space where, when the particle-beam was directed, would have disassembled his atoms and reassemble them back in another time – although today, he was taking a detour; another trip entirely.

Professor Kelso slowly lowered the pistol.

“Yes, Jamieson. I’ve killed you. I’m sorry.”, he said, walking over to Jamieson, who had now slumped back against the curved-back of the lens, and slid slowly to the floor.

“Songbirds. Gone.”, said Jamieson.

“Yes, Jamieson. The songbirds are all gone. It’s been twenty years since anyone has seen a hummingbird. There are no more robins.”

“Trees.”, Jamieson said, his eyes glazing.

“Yes, those too, Troy.”, said Professor Kelso. “The trees are nearly all dead.”

“See,” Kelso continued, “you were right. We did do it to ourselves. And, I can’t disagree with you – religion likely is the problem.”

“Why. Kill. Me. Then.” Jamieson was laboring to produce single words.

“I know. I’ll say it plainly – you probably could have saved us. All of us. You could have come back, and there would have been forests, and rivers, and songbirds, and all the rest.”

Jamieson’s eyes changed. He was rapidly dying, but tears still welled.

“You see, Jamieson – in destroying ourselves, we also reaffirm our humanity. That makes no sense to you, I know – but Voltaire was right in defending those with whom he didn’t agree.”

Professor Kelso continued. “Since the beginning, when we encountered the Least of Ourselves, we first made walking-sticks, then crutches, then wheelchairs and contact-lenses. We’ve looked after each other. We’ll continue doing so; not perfectly, but we’ll continue nonetheless, even as we perform the last illogical act of destroying ourselves. You deride what you call the ‘Kum-Ba-Ya’ fest, pointing out that the very same people caused the problem in the first place – and again, you’re right – and wrong.”

He checked Jamieson’s pulse. Troy was fading, fast.

“I’m sorry, Troy. Truly. But what you’ve missed is this – as much as you may be right – you’re wrong on one major point: Everyone has the right to their own belief. As poorly reasoned, wrong, and illogical as it is — even if it kills us. Even if it kills all of us.”

“Songbirds,” said Jamieson, as the light faded.

Kelso turned at the noise behind him.

The man he had just killed was standing behind him, in the garb of a upper-class first-century Roman. He had a decidedly UN Roman-looking firearm in his right hand.

“Kelso – I thought this might happen.”

“Jamieson?” Kelso was incredulous. Eyes widening, he let the pistol with which he’d just killed – Jamieson? – drop from his fingers. He started at the clattering sound it made hitting the tile floor.

“You’re – dead!”

“No. I’m right here. Remember our conversation? That matter can be created or destroyed – but that its source is infinite?”

“Y- yes.”, stuttered Kelso.

“Time is truly the fourth dimension. I actually went back last night. I’d automated the process – so yes; what I did here was to actually trick you – I thought you might do something like this.”

He continued. “You see, there are not only four dimensions, but parallel tracks to this universe. Einstein was right on that, too, after all. I simply found the ‘me’ that I’d sent back earlier, and had him come back here.”

“But – how did you –” Kelso drifted off, trying to comprehend the thing. Had the student surpassed his master?

“Yes, Professor Kelso,” replied Jamieson. “I bribed him. You see, he thought he was going to be able to change our past, as well as his own.”

Kelso, by this time, had backed up; found the wall – and slid down it into a puddled heap.

“You would not believe the alternates! In this fellow’s world, there never was a Columbus – he’d taken care of that. That’s why he’s dressed like a 13th-century merchant. Columbus never reached the new world.”

Kelso stared, wide eyed.

“As a result, Catholicism never took root in the New World. In fact, it’s dying out in this man’s reality! Can you believe it! There never was an Inquisition – in fact, the Catholics are running out of money! They never enslaved and ‘converted’ the native peoples of the Americas; there never was a war between England and Spain; there never was any smallpox – the vaccine was discovered in 1625, about the time that the Pilgrims were driven back from Plymouth – but that’s another story.”

“I mean – can you believe it? As a result, North America still belongs to the native peoples. Christianity is hanging on by a thread in Europe. The only real problem now is Islam – and I’ve got a fix for that.”

Kelso straightened out a bit on the floor; avoiding the other Jamieson’s blood. “What are you going to do now – besides kill me?”

“Professor Kelso; I’m afraid this last bit of business is unavoidable. I’m sorry. Unless you want to come with me, I’m going to shoot you and send you back as far as I can along with – that other body, there.”

“Join me!”, he continued. “We’ll have a chance to prevent everything that went wrong! You see, I was right. Religion is the only force strong enough to really affect a government – especially an absolutist government like a monarchy. Can you imagine what would happen with no religion in the world?”

Kelso stood up, weakly. “You’re trading one form of chaos for another, Jamieson. It’s not ours to tell those people how to live – or to pass yourself off as a tin-god for the duration with your parlor tricks. The dog was one thing – sending yourself back and removing the hope from the minds of simple people is quite another. Yes, Jamieson, you’ll have to kill me. I won’t go quietly.”

Jamieson sighed and shook his head, slowly. “See, that’s the problem, Professor. You still don’t understand. What if I told you that by eliminating Christianity, I could guarantee that most of the evil of the Middle Ages would also be eliminated? What if I could show you that without the savagery and repression of religion, man would be building railroads by the turn of the first millennium; that the first airplane would fly in 1200, there would be no plague, and that the real cause of war was religion?”

“If there were no gods, we’d invent them – isn’t that what one old Roman said?” Kelso took a step toward Jamieson.

“Please don’t move, Professor, unless it’s to stand over there – -with him.”, said Jamieson. “You’re not a young man. Rushing me isn’t an option, and this – he held up his pistol briefly – is faster than anyone.”

Pausing a moment, he said, “So – you’re not interested? You don’t want to see what happens when the shackles of primitivism are removed?”

“You’re removing the hope everyone has of an afterlife. Have you thought of what will happen when there’s no rudder or anchor? People will drift.”

“So, we’re born to follow, is that it? Sheep, available for whatever use a king – or a Pope – will deem fit?” Jamieson was growing impatient.

Kelso paused, then said, “Yes, Jamieson. As sad as that is, it’s true. We’re not the enlightened beings you’d have yourself believe. Without a ‘god’ of one sort or another, we’re rudderless. Without the promise – and fear – of what-comes-after, we’d only create another form of chaos.”

“Professor, I’m tired of this conversation. Please stand over there, or come over here and stand with me. One or the other. One way or another, this changes. I’m going to create a world with no war and no religion. It’s up to you to participate – or not.”

“At least, then, give me a chance. Send me someplace – anyplace – but let me live.”

Jamieson laughed.

“You see, Professor, that’s the problem. You actually believe that life is preferable to dying for what you believe. Now, you bargain. A religious-man’s prerogative, I suppose. So – where do you want to go? Maybe back to 12th-century Jerusalem? Plenty of people thereabouts to believe a ghost. How about Spain in the 1400’s? Being Jewish won’t help you there, let me assure you of that! Want to roll the dice? How about the fourth decade of the twentieth, say, in eastern France?”

“Don’t joke, Jamieson. Just push your damnable buttons.”

“All right. The deal – I let you live. You cause trouble again, I kill you.” He laughed. “As many of you as I find.”

Kelso said nothing. He stood, and waited.

Jamieson activated the power switch, and energized the transfer-coils.

“You’ll regret this, Kelso.”, said Jamieson.

“I doubt it. Get on with it.”

Jamieson then pressed a button. The field blurred Kelso and the other-Jamieson’s body, then they disappeared.

Jamieson set the machine to 33CE; waited for the computer to finish the coordinate calculation. He picked up a satchel after putting his handgun on the countertop near the control-panel.

Calculations complete, he pressed one more button, and walked to the back of the chamber.

Jamieson was headed to Jerusalem, in the year 33. He had an appointment with a certain governor….

The first thing Jamieson noticed was the smell. The second was the dust.

Third, he noticed immediately that there was a distinct lack of ‘mechanical’ smells – no hydrocarbons of any sort. These had, however, been replaced by other smells – the smell of animal and human ordure was pervasive; almost smothering, and the dust from horse, donkey, and cart traffic was everywhere, and on everything.

Jerusalem at the beginning of the first century was, for all of its historic significance to the region, a dusty, grubby little frontier outpost. It wasn’t the kind of place where proper people lived.

“No matter”, thought Jamieson, in Latin. “I will do what I came to do.” Thinking in Latin helped prepare him for speaking in Latin – although he had no idea at all if the courses he’d taken would mark him as a provincial hick, or as a learned man.

Regardless, he had decided to take his chances.

He walked down one of the main streets – or so it appeared; the map he’d studied seemed to indicate so; the archaeologists weren’t quite-right about some things – or perhaps the streets all just seemed narrower – the ruins, of course, weren’t anywhere near as tall as the real buildings had been.

The heat now became noticeable. He’d worked on keeping his toga out of the filth in the street, which made walking rather laborious. He could do with a drink.

A man approached him. Short haired, large arms – he’d spent time in the legions; probably time-expired and paid-off.

“’Ello! You look like a man who could do with a bit ‘o protection, if you catch my meaning.”

“I’m new in Jerusalem. What’s your fee?” Jamieson had actually been counting on this. Anytime a person with means traveled alone, he attracted one of two kinds of people – trouble, and help. In case of the other, he had protection. His luck that the second kind had found him first.

“One As a day and meals, sir. For that, you get this, at your side, day and night” – he reached under his tunic and revealed a nasty looking Thracian knife.

Jamieson smiled. “All right, then. One As each day, and meals. Show me a decent place to eat and proper lodging, and a second As is yours today.”

“Oh, sir! You can’t eat here!”

Jamieson replied, “Of course not! I wasn’t even suggesting it! There’s a place where proper Romans can stay on travel, and I want to go there now.”

“On our way, sir!”, said his new-found friend. “Now, about the money–” He let his last sentence trail off.

Jamieson reached into a money purse concealed in his toga. He removed an As – the standard Roman bronze coin which passed for a day’s pay anywhere in the Empire during the reign of Augustus and beyond.

His new bodyguard and manservant bit the coin with his two front teeth, which seemed in quite good shape, although the rest of him smelled somewhat like an overripe horse. Jamieson imagined he’d smell that way in a day or two unless he found the baths, and a fuller to clean his toga. “Satisfied it’s real, soldier?”

“Oh, I didn’t want to appear ungrateful, sir. It’s just that – well–” He let this statement trail off, also.

“Don’t worry, soldier. I’m not one who makes false coins.” The word for ‘counterfeiter’ had no direct translation into first-century proper Latin.

“Now”, continued Jamieson. “Where’s the lodge? Is it near the palace? I have to meet Governor Pilate.”

“Sir! Right away!” They began up the street until the angle of ascent became steep; the bustle of the merchant-district gave way to hilltop homes of modest means, then to larger city-homes, and finally to estates. They could see the palace, not far from them, although the climb had worked up a thirst in them both.

“You’re in luck, sir! The lodge for diplomats and the like is near the Palace. You’ll find it good, you will!”

Jamieson thought to ask the man his name, but remembered that if anything, proper Romans weren’t concerned about the person and personality of those in their employ. Still –

“Soldier, what’s your name?”

“Titus, Sir! Infantryman; Late of the twenty-second!” He responded as if he was on parade. This man would definitely do.

“We’ll have to get you a bath and proper clothing, Titus.” Jamieson knew that a little kindness went a long way. He intended to own the man’s loyalty.

They climbed the seemingly-endless steps to the palace complex. Jamieson knew from his research that both Herod and Pilate made their homes there, although Herod viewed Pilate as a guest, and Pilate viewed Herod as a pompous idiot who’d outlived his usefulness.

Reaching the gate, Jamieson waited until Titus had an opportunity to speak with the guard. Some brief words exchanged, Titus returned, a smile on his face.

“This fellow will allow you entrance, sir. The lodging for such as you is directly through the gate, then down the hypostyle and into the garden, where you’ll find a servant to guide you.”

“And you, Titus? Where do we get you clothing and a bath?”

“Oh, the common baths are back down the hill. It’ll cost me my As to get cleaned up and dressed proper.” Titus waited.

Jamieson reached back into his purse, and handed Titus two more bronze coins. “Get yourself a proper meal while you’re at it. No drunkenness or bad behavior; I need you back here by sunup tomorrow.”

“As you wish, sir!” Titus was clearly excited. Jamieson didn’t know whether or not he’d just paid the man off and would never see him again, or if he’d come back for more escort duty – and more money. On balance, Canis was just about as loyal, he figured – in the end and in both cases, he figured, it was about who fed him and took him to the vet.

“Tomorrow then! Be here!”

Titus smiled. “Thank you, sir!” – and he was off down the hill with the skill of a mountain-goat; no doubt the effect of much climbing while in the service of Rome.

Jamieson turned, and walked into the palace compound.