Detective Knudson looked at Dr. Jamieson.
“You look like laundry,” he said.
Jamieson laughed. “We both do, Detective. Not to worry. Where we’re going, everyone else does, too.”
It had taken Jamieson another three months to figure out where Kelso had gone. The probes he’d sent to the actual coordinates had returned damaged, or had sent back images of destruction. Jamieson had thought Kelso might encrypt his coordinates – and it turned out he was right. They’d’ve died had they gone where the probes materialized.
Triple-encryption was not easy to break – but it didn’t take them forever, nor did they give up on it. Jamieson had ‘friends’ in places which Detective Knudson could only imagine, and they’d been more than helpful in helping Jamieson with his math.
“We’re sure of this?”
“Yes; Detective – quite sure. Dirty trick; that – but Kelso’s about to learn a few things – starting with the fact that I’m pretty smart, too.”
“Why did he go back, Doctor?” Detective Knudson was still trying to get his mind around things.
“I believe he went back because he wanted to prove something. He’s trying to prove it to me, really – but I think he’s trying to prove it to himself, also. Regardless, I’ve got 80% use of my right arm for life, and that means I’m going to go back and help you get this fellow. He’s no longer my friend. I want that understood.”
Jamieson stood; walked to the panel and checked some figures on the display. “We’ve got another twenty minutes before the array is charged; did you want some coffee? Last we’ll get for a while.” Jamieson motioned to the coffee-maker at the far wall in the lab.
“Thanks, Doctor.” Knudson was still fiddling with his Roman clothing.
Returning with two cups of hot brew, Jamieson continued. “Kelso’s an odd one – but many tell me that I am, too. He doesn’t appreciate my views on nearly everything – especially this project.”
“So, what got you at odds, anyway?”
“A dog”, said Jamieson.
“I thought it was the whole morality of this – thing here.”
“In the beginning, it was. I never mentioned the dog. I sent my dog back to mediaeval France. I fetched him back a few months later. Kelso was disgusted with me.
He continued, “I’d talked about going back and actually changing the root-problem with the rest of the world – pollution; war; all of it. Kelso wasn’t having anything to do with it – so he shot me.”
“You’d actually change the past?” Knudson looked alarmed.
“Yes. I’d change the past. Look at where you are right now. You’re sitting in a lab that’s air conditioned against ozone. It’s March, but you drove your car to work today behind triple UV-protected glass – and your office has the same. Fedoras are back – because no one leaves a protected structure without a hat.”
Knudson began to see the truth of it.
“You eat hydroponically-grown vegetables, because the dirt-grown variety gave up almost eighty years ago. Tell me – when was the last time you heard a songbird?”
“I don’t remember,” said Knudson.
“My point exactly. Your children will know them only from books, video, or holography. What do you suppose caused all this?”
Knudson just shook his head, silently.
“Religion, Detective. It was religion. It’s the only force powerful enough to sustain this sort of thing.”
Jamieson continued. “You see, Detective, while governments in Europe tried to sort themselves out, it was really the power of the Church which held sway. We were told to conquer the earth and subdue it – and we did. The religions of the western world told us to reproduce – and now there are too many of us. They told us that we were better than everyone – so we set about ‘proving’ that in countless wars. Governments simply do not hold that kind of power – because, as I explained to Doctor Kelso, while a government can order an eighteen-year-old into battle, he won’t fight – not unless he believes to a certainty that he’ll go to a ‘better place’ if he dies for that order.”
“You were – going back – to…” Knudson’s words trailed off as he contemplated the enormity of the thing.
“Yes. I’d sent the dog to prove I could. I was going to send myself to prove that I was right – because I was going to change the historical points at which we began to destroy the world. There’s only one problem with it.”
“And what’s that, Doctor?” Knudson was now enthralled with the potential of the thing; with the idea….
“Kelso was right,” said Jamieson.
Knudson tried to pick up the trail here; tried to find an angle. “So, you were going to go back – and do what? Kill the Pope, or something?”
Jamieson laughed. “No, not at all. Actually, the Pope isn’t the problem – but no matter. Kelso was right. I could change things – perhaps even solve the problem – but people have the right to be fools.”
“How did you reach that conclusion?”, said Knudson.
“It wasn’t from anything he did. It was from a dream I had while everyone was busy trying to save my life.”
“By the way,” said Knudson. “Why are we going back three years after he arrives?”
“To give him time to settle in – knowing Kelso, he’ll be pretty resourceful; besides – someone with his knowledge will find a way to get useful – and if he does that, he’ll be visible. Prevents our looking for a needle in a very strange haystack.”
Knudson’s head was spinning – perhaps from what he’d just been told; perhaps from the rarefied air in the lab, or from what they were about to do – but he quickly refocused himself.”
“Look – I don’t care what you do afterward. All I care about is that you help me bring Kelso back. That’s why I’m here.”
“I’ll help you bring him back, Detective. You can count on that.”
Almost on cue, the reminder-alarm chimed. Everything was ready.
Jamieson stood, and walked to the panel. “Detective, would you come here, please?” Knudson stood, and walked to the panel beside Jamieson.
“I’m going to press this button here, then this one. You’ll see a grey cloud form; then a blue one. Walk beside me through the blue cloud – on the other side is our destination.”
Knudson laughed. “Y’know – I’ve never asked where we were going in these get-ups.”
Jamieson pressed the second button; the cloud shifted from grey to iridescent blue.
“A place called Nicaea,” he said, as they walked back to the blue cloud, and vanished.
“Shit”, he exclaimed, gagging. “This place stinks!”
Jamieson laughed. It wasn’t quite like his dream, but close. The city smelled like several kinds of ordure; animal, human, and – other things, not quite recognized.
There were other absent smells – ozone; auto exhaust; mechanical smells were not present at all.
It wasn’t long before they were noticed – this time, it was by a late-Empire legionary.
To Knudsen, in a low voice, Jamieson said “You’d better let me do the talking, Detective.”
“Salve; Centurion!” Jamieson went on to ask about lodgings for proper citizens; the centurion directed them to a domus for traveling government officials, which Jamieson and Knudson appeared to be. Jamieson proffered a carefully-forged document under the Emperor’s seal – something which a centurion wasn’t likely to question.
He didn’t. Instead, he sent them on their way.
“Where are we going, Doctor?”
“Other side of town; it appears we happened into a rather poor market-section of Nicaea. Government buildings aren’t far from the lake.”
Arriving at the government lodging, Jamieson showed the innkeeper his credentials and offered to pay up front – which was accepted. They were shown to the baths, and then to their room, by a servant who might have been eighteen on a good day.
Dinner was as Jamieson expected – but he had to apologize for his friend’s ‘rough manners’, and show him how proper Romans dined. Jamieson asked one of his couch-company about the Council.
“You must see a lot of strange types come through.”
“Do we! Odd sorts from Pannonia; hairy fellows from Gaul – all of them bent on proving one thing-religious or another. Be happy to get my trading done and get out of this place.”
“We’ve been afield for some weeks – how is the governor?”, asked Jamieson.
“Busy, as always. I’ll be lucky to see him in a week; meantime I just keep spending money in this place.” The trader seemed unhappy. ‘Business travel’, thought Jamieson. ‘The same, the world – and time – over.’
They learned, however, that the Governor had recently – within the past year or so – sponsored a strange fellow who was looking for a magisterial appointment – that is to say, introductions to the local collegium. Jamieson bet it was Kelso.
The trader’s description of the man – and his odd Latin – all but confirmed it.
Motioning to Knudsen, after explaining that he had no Greek or Latin, Jamieson began a low conversation with him after leaving the dining-room. “It’s Kelso, all right. He’s wangled himself a commission as an educator. Chances are he’ll also be working on things for the Governor. Time enough for that tomorrow. Tonight, let’s get some sleep.”
This was an idea of which Knudsen approved. Their room was Spartan, but clean, and the bedding didn’t smell, which was a wonderful thing, on balance.
Morning came soon – they both had a hard time sleeping, as there simply wasn’t any sound – the city, for all its importance, simply buttoned-up at night and that was that. Still sodden with sleep, Jamieson dragged himself out of bed when the light woke him. He woke Knudson shortly after.
Breakfast was simple – bread and water, with a little wine in it. Thus fortified, they went looking for the government buildings.
As in their own time, the government-complex wasn’t hard to find – they just went looking for the largest group of buildings, and walked to the courtyard where they saw men en toga, milling about; obviously awaiting their time.
“So what do we do? Walk up and ask for ‘Kelso’?”, said Detective Knudson.
“In my case, that’s exactly what’s going to happen,” said Jamieson – which he proceeded to do, to the shock of the Detective.
“And what is your business with the magister?”, said the clerk behind the desk. While Jamieson thought of how to tell him that he had visitors from a very long distance, and that their business was very urgent, he said, “This man is detached from the garrison at Rome. Here is our letter of transit and introduction, under the Emperor’s seal. We are here to question magister Kelso.”
The bluff worked – clerks being clerks the world (and time) over; the greater fear was of losing their job; the ‘right’ thing, when viewed from that light, was heavily nuanced.
As Jamieson and Knudson walked behind the clerk into Kelso’s – office? – the clerk greeted Kelso, and left the two men in his office. He was gone before Kelso looked up; eyes wide, a look of terror beginning to cross his face.
Jamieson couldn’t resist.
Knudsen walked up behind him after circling him just out of vision’s range. Grasping him firmly by the arm, he said, “Doctor Kelso – come with me, please.”
Knudson’s grasp left little room for argument; he’d practiced his ‘trade’ well over the years, and it showed. He walked Doctor Kelso quickly to an anteroom, followed by Jamieson.
Kelso turned white.
“Did you think I was going to just leave you to your own devices, Kelso?”
“I – I thought I’d – killed you.” Saying it – in English – made it seem final.
“Well, you didn’t. What on earth do you think you’re doing here? You don’t speak Latin well; you don’t speak Greek – how on earth did you manage to get along?
A young man, obviously a servant, had ducked his head into the anteroom. Kelso answered him in halting Latin; stating he’d be along shortly.
Jamieson’s eyes grew wide. Kelso didn’t wait for the question. He just smiled.
“I’ve convinced them that I’m a scholar. Wasn’t hard. I now have a ‘position’ of sorts with the local governor. Here, I specialize in teaching ‘natural history’ – it’s what passes for physics here – and I’ve shown them a thing or two. Sanitation will come here, one way or another; I’ve also convinced them that boiling water the drinking water is a good way to stay healthy.”
“I’m here to take you back to stand trial for–” Knudson’s words were cut off by Kelso’s voice, louder this time.
“You’re doing nothing of the kind.” His voice startled both Knudson and Jamieson.
Continuing, he said, “Here, I’m respected. Back ‘home’ – as you call it – I was this man’s glorified servant, after teaching him for years,” pointing at Jamieson as he spoke.
After that slight had soaked in, he continued. “I’ve helped these people clean up their water supply; I’ve built them a small steam-engine, and I’m thinking we’ll fit one to a ship soon – it’ll be the easiest thing to do. Think of how it’ll affect trade!”
Jamieson’s eyes grew wider.
“You see, you were right, Jamieson, but for the wrong reasons. You don’t need to alter their beliefs – just help make their lives better.”
Jamieson almost forgot where he was; for a moment, it was as if he were still in his living-room, sharing a bottle of wine.
That sounded like a good idea, actually. Jamieson asked if he could bring the servant back, and with him some bread and wine.
This accomplished, the three men sat in Kelso’s reception room and talked. It turned out that Kelso had ideas of his own.
“I’ve convinced them – some crude optics helped; I suppose I’m now the father of the microscope – that there are a lot of bad things which people can’t see. As a result, this will be the first Roman city to have a true sanitation system outside of Rome itself – and by edict, flush-toilets will wind up in every block as well as public ones in every quarter.”
He continued, “Do you know they’re arguing across town about what goes in the Bible, and what gets left out? I attended one of the meetings; it was a free-for-all. Jamieson; you were right. Religion is a problem – but you’re wrong regarding the solution.”
Jamieson listened again; it was as if he was back in class at the university; Kelso’s voice carrying the room as in the old days.
“The answer is education, Jamieson – not destruction. Destroy their religion; these people will create something else – and who knows what it will be. Give them knowledge, and – well, you know the rest of that proverb.”
Jamieson saw what Kelso had done here – and began to feel something he hadn’t felt for a while – empathy.
“Doctor. You need to tell me what to do here. I’m rather – out of my jurisdiction – and there’s the matter of why we came….” Knudson’s words trailed off.
“Give us a few minutes alone, will you?,” said Jamieson.
Knudson stepped from the anteroom into Kelso’s ‘office’ – which was actually a study. There were homemade instruments, crude by modern standards – but which had never been seen before that time. Knudson recognized a microscope, lovingly hand-made, plus a small telescope, some sort of circular instrument with a pointer, several small maps as well as other written documents.
In the anteroom, Jamieson and Kelso settled down for some third-century wine and bread.
“If it helps at all, I’m sorry, Jamieson.” Kelso was looking at his old friend in a new light now – one which had literally been humbled by centuries.
“It’s good to see you again,” said Jamieson. He meant it.
“So – I’m assuming you brought that – fellow – back here to ‘arrest’ me?”
“At the time, yes, I did. Seeing you here, though – and what you’re doing…”
“How’s your shoulder?”
“Better,” said Jamieson, slowly moving his arm around by way of proof. “There are some things I can’t do from now on, but I’ll do all right.”
Kelso continued. “So far, I’ve been able to prove to them that the light from the moon doesn’t originate from there – something about seeing light and shadow for the first time which makes for a pretty convincing argument. All I had to do was build a telescope – I suppose they’ll pin that on me, too.” Kelso grinned, sheepishly.
“Larry – those people across town – are putting together a monstrous sort of new ‘religion’ – and they’ll come looking for people like you, because truth and light are a threat. Why stay? Why wait for the knock on the door?”, said Jamieson.
“Are there not people knocking on doors in your time, for things not terribly unrelated? How many people died a hundred years ago, relative to where we both originated, based on their ethnic background, or whether one side or another said they were ‘terrorists’?”
“Yes, but dear Doctor Kelso – do I have to remind you of the root cause of all of that nonsense? You’ll have to fly in the face of something you’ve sworn not to oppose or change! And this time, there’s no Constitution – either original, or 2018 Reformed – they’ll burn you at the stake or crucify you for opposing them. The notion of separating religion and government is a bad idea to these people!”
Kelso paused. “I don’t suppose you’ve thought that I might actually be happy here?”
“I came here to arrest you. Now, I’m considering it more of a ‘rescue’. What you’re doing here is marvelous – but how long do you think the Governor of this province can keep you safe, once their ‘Church’ levies a charge of heresy?”
“It’s a risk I’ll take to see them with running water, proper sanitation, and steam power. I’m working on giving them electricity. The collegium is fascinated with my experiments in physics. The place is dynamic again; they’re not just reciting the things they learned so many years ago. Did you know that they had an entire copy of Galen’s writings on medicine, gathering dust? Of course you didn’t – you couldn’t. My point, though, is that there’s real accomplishment going on here along with the learning.”
Jamieson reflected on his friend. Kelso’s hair was wild now; the result of no ‘proper’ barbers in this time – but Kelso was as reinvested in himself as he’d ever been.
‘Rehabilitate: To reinvest with new standards and dignity.’ Jamieson remembered that definition as he watched his friend sip some wine, eat some bread, and sit in the half-light of afternoon which was filtering through the clerestory windows.
“You can take me back, Doctor Jamieson – but you’ll have a hard time explaining all of this in court. I doubt they’ll know how to deal with it.”
“You can relax. I’m not going to take you back. But you have to answer me a question: Why Nicaea? And, while I’m at it – why did you set the machine for a fifty-year future-relative return?”
Kelso smiled. “You see, in the three years – which seems like a lifetime, depending on your point of view – -that I’ve been here, I’ve learned a few things I didn’t count on.”
He continued, “I came here to prove to the world that ‘Jesus’ was a real person. I came back in time to settle myself and make myself useful, in a position which would give me access to the council to come and go, learning what I could. Instead, I learned that what’s been going on over there for over a year is a truly a free-for-all. They can’t even agree on the name of the person who lived three-hundred-odd years ago; what he did; where he was even born. You were right – there were no contemporaneous records. What comes out of that council is going to be invention; the literal creation of a character which will then be ‘sold’ to everyone in the Western world.”
He continued, “I wanted to find proof – real proof, you see – and return, of a time when the people involved – including you – were either very, very old or dead. At the time, I’d figured my information would trump any remaining ‘charges’.”
“Crisis of faith, eh?” Jamieson smiled at the irony of it.
“You could say that. I still believe there’s a universal force – but it’s patent and clear now that no one person or group of people know what that is.”
“Welcome to agnosticism, Doctor Kelso!” Jamieson began to laugh.
Jamieson continued. “The ironic thing here is that if there was ‘rehabilitation’ to be done, you’ve done it yourself, by the passing of time and the work you’ve accomplished, even at the expense of exposing yourself to great danger. You’ve learned a lot – and so have I.”
Knudson entered the room again. “What’s it gonna be, guys?” He looked impatient.
“Doctor Kelso isn’t coming back, Detective, and I’m not going to press the issue.”
Knudson looked first at Jamieson, then at Kelso. “We’ve come to take you home, Doctor Kelso.”
Kelso paused; smiled, then spoke.
“I am home, Detective.”
Kelso and Jamieson said their good-byes; Kelso had a meeting ‘near the time they changed the guard’ (time being reckoned far differently in third-century Nicaea); he had to go, or he’d lose the light (light also being measured differently); he shook Jamieson’s hand warmly, they took each other’s measure one last time, and Kelso left; his pace dynamic and his purpose a bit of a mystery.
“Why did you let him go, Doctor?” Knudson was confused and frustrated – as well as suddenly realizing his distance from anything he could call ‘home’, himself.
“Because there are some things which should never change. I learned that in a dream – and some things which should. I learned that, here.” Jamieson pressed the first button; a grey cloud appeared in front of them. He pressed the second; the cloud turned to blue.
Together, they stepped into the light – for home