VOLUME ONE AVAILABLE ON AMAZON

THE REST OF THE STORY

Summer of 2019, my lady-love was on a continent-spanning road trip, shooting pictures at a Utah scenic area when she lost her footing, fell, and slid down a rocky slope below the tourist vantage point. She shattered her arm in three places and the docs said forget trying to keep driving. Requiring me to mount a rescue operation from the Pacific Northwest that, at 76, took a lot of moving parts. After I got to Salt Lake City and drove her home, recuperation and physical therapy absorbed the summer and fall. I didn’t think much about writing, did some light editing of unpublished chapters, and the year slipped away.

Then came 2020, a kind of lost year for almost everybody. I forted up, stockpiled toilet paper, and ducked the plague. But had a series of health issues that first hospitalized me (scary given “space-suited” personnel entering my room between tending plague victims) and kept me bed-ridden into this year.

The PTs anticipate four months of gradually increasing exercise before I am back where I was last year. And I was climbing no mountains, running no marathons then. But I’ve been out of the house now a few times, and I can get to this keyboard and sit for a while and begin to wrap up writing projects. Eldest being “Footnote to History.” Probably ought to get on with it before fate calls “Time, gentlemen, please!” like a London publican.

Without further ado, here begins the unpublished continuation of “Footnote to History.”

If the universe really is in such quantum state there would be no singularities in the history of the universe…when one goes back to the real Time in which we live, however, there will still appear to be singularities…This might suggest that the so-called imaginary Time is really the real Time, and that what we call real Time is just a figment of our imaginations…maybe what we call imaginary Time is really more basic, and what we call real Time is just an idea that we invent to help us describe what we think the universe is really like…Which is real? Real or imaginary Time? It is simply a matter of which is the more useful description….

— A Brief History of Time by Stephen W. Hawking

Like a tunnel that you follow
to a tunnel of its own.
Down a hollow to a cavern
where the sun has never shone…

— Windmills of Your Mind by Alan and Marilyn Bergman

FORTY TWO

Supreme Guardian Blaine thoroughly disliked this modern quantum-tunnel travel when vast interstellar distances were involved. He preferred a substantial ship powerful enough to enfold his vulnerable body with centuries-proven quantum tech. No one could predict where Winds of Change might be blowing.

Scientists considered the Winds a myth, from early legends of spaceships vanishing into a “lost dimension.” But Blaine had seen too much in his career to be sanguine. Present-day ships boasted long-perfected tech to reliably push a quantum bubble anywhere, and emerge where they should. Tribunal ships had the best probability monitors, run by Second Power computer savants who linked seamlessly with machine brains to safeguard quantum transit.

Second Power was a huge step down from First, and the savants possessed none of the dangerous mental capabilities of Arocho’s Scouts. Nor any of their maverick social tendencies. They were happiest facilitating links between computers, engineers and pilots. But they were useless for long-range tunnel transmission of disassembled individuals. Only powerful cyborgs like Joccam were capable of managing the tunnel tech.

Blaine once had made the mistake of telling Joccam his stolidly Newtonian ancestors called the place where long-ago unlucky spaceships vanished the Black Numb. And that he worried newfangled tunnel tech could land him in the Numb. Joccam harbored cyborg amusement at his chief’s old-fashioned nerves. And at Blaine’s native-agrarian society term for tunnel-tech: back door through the ticking of a clock.

Since elevation to Guardian Supreme, Blaine was first and only native of his world to use the tech. The distinction did not fill him with joy. But tunnel tech was magnitudes faster than ships. Tribunal emergencies were increasingly political or criminal rather than military. Speedy transit of key individuals trumped firepower. The Tribunal required its top cop to employ the tunnels.

Scanning interior bugs was routine before a galaxy-spanning jump. Joccam put up a screen that showed a glowing human shape, shimmering with pinpoints of colored light to depict every micro-organism that inhabited Blaine’s body. You had to infer skeleton and organs and skin.

Blaine resolutely said nothing of his newest fear: that given Arocho’s temporal meddling, corrupted programming might land him in Egypt with pyramids under construction instead of a hypothetical Lost Dimension.

Four horsemen had removed Ambiorix from Heritage. Joccam dismissed the incident as poor Roman record-keeping, the Gaul’s escort of four horsemen as coincidence. Blaine was too much a cop to accept coincidence. Given Arocho’s sly taunt about Biblical Apocalypse, he wondered if Scouts had tampered so deeply in Heritage they inspired the Bible passage. Joccam considered such speculation nonsense. But Blaine fretted.

He had precisely calibrated exchange of the C-20 Aulerich freak for a clone to avoid temporal anomaly. Had failed dramatically. Not even Joccam could compute cause for failure. Confirming Arocho’s warning they did not understand risks inherent in using temporal tech. What did the old man know they did not?

One thing they learned from capturing Lasky near the C-20 extraction point was Scouts could find Tribunal operations far down-Time. Joccam insisted individual Scout ships were not equipped to match their watch-tower’s temporal reach. He postulated hitherto unsuspected Scout bases survived the Uprising and must have vectored Lasky. Unsettling notion.

It was Joccam’s genius to see opportunity in Lasky’s capture: use one captured Scout to set an irresistible trap for the other three. Blaine had set the trap in the place best-equipped to control freak ESP: Warder Prison. To be in at the kill he had to go in person. Using tunnel-tech. He didn’t have to like it.

Naked, he settled on the dispatch couch like a condemned man facing gallows, grumbling. “You don’t bother with all this calibration when I jump to Earth from Headquarters.”

“Earth is a routine fortean transmission, sire. Every variable long-since calculated. Rim Sector Command is far away. I would say incalculably far. But you would suspect a jape.”

“You enjoy this too much,” Blaine said grimly.

“Forgive me, sire. For dwelling on the image. Human as symbiotic host to a whole universe of microscopic life. Quite beautiful engineering by the Prime Designer.”

“Cyborgs are not programmed for religion, Joccam.”

“I am programmed to observe and wonder. Wonder can transform to admiration. Even awe.”

“Admire all you will. I don’t need to see my bugs!” The whole symbiotic notion made Blaine feel vaguely unclean.

“If you arrive without your bugs, you could experience intestinal discomfort until Rim Sector replaces them.”

Bad enough to be disassembled together with atoms of internal bugs. Now, his secret fear he might debouch into Mesopotamia or some equally awful place caused intestinal discomfort no loss of internal bugs could match. Damn Arocho and his infernal equations!

He wouldn’t be actually gone — exiled to Mesopotamia — if there was a glitch. Well, this particular corpus would be gone. But Joccam had Blaine’s clone safely stowed. Brain in synchronous operation until departure. If Blaine was lost, another he — everything he was and had been until transit — would awaken here. Fully functional. Knowing full well his original had been scattered in the Black Numb. Or stranded with Neanderthals! He tried not to shudder.

“Medical clean.” Joccam said. “Your tiny passengers are healthy. There is one thing…” Could a cyborg imply a smirk?

Alarm flared. “What?”

“Stress managing this operation has led to over-eating. You gained five percent of your normal weight. Shall I adjust transmission to leave it behind?”

Blaine expressed himself fluently, in several languages. When he wound down, Joccam said, “I take that for no.”

“You take it correctly! Get on with it.”

Transit had improved. There was no longer the dramatic sense of being torn apart and squirted down a rat hole, as he once described it to his parents. No sense of movement at all. His vertigo was psychosomatic. His heart hardly skipped a beat. A new voice spoke: “Welcome to Rim Sector Command, sire.”

The insulated lock dilated into a fresher. Blaine endured a second scanning, raying and spraying. This time he found it calming, relieved at being reassembled correctly. He dialed a field utility uniform and exited. His tall sector general towered over him: slender product of a lighter world than Sector Command’s. They shook hands. “General. You are well?”

“Well enough, sire. You’ve gained weight. You’ll feel it here.”

“Did Joccam put you up to that remark?”

“May have mentioned it.” The general’s eyes twinkled. “My flag squadron is standing by. Will you take refreshment?”

“I will, and heartily. A pox on Joccam’s smart mouth.”

As he followed the general through the communications complex, Blaine concocted an economic excuse to never tunnel again. Power to match orbits between Delta Pavonis IV and this remote sector, and align his office with this specific portal, would meet ordinary annual needs of many heavily populated planets. He had seen an estimate: more than three thousand! He would cite power use, go by ship, be thought frugal. Not fearful.

The general led him to rooftop gardens beneath a ruddy sky: lush floral specimens from many worlds, a heady blend of alien scents, hum and sparkle of insect life. The world’s natural gravity was half again Earth’s. But artifice protected the gardens. Blaine’s pulse settled as they sat.

“How does the local gravity take you, general?”

The giant smiled. “In the joints if I let it. I wear combat armor constantly to avoid strain on my heart. Or stay in adjusted areas like these gardens.”

“I’ll find you a lighter world for your next assignment.” In the protected garden, tea poured normally. The general served at a table spread with delicacies, perched on what amounted to a doll chair for him. “Oh, get someone to bring you a chair your size!”

“If you wish to tour the whole facility, sire, I’ll dial a combat suit. Free you from this accursed gravity. I don’t know your Time constraints.”

Blaine smiled bleakly. “For this one assignment, Time is what I make it. Correct, Joccam?”

His adjutant sounded close as ever. “Correct, sire. Time to enjoy your tea and comestibles, and don a suit for comfort. Then we will close the trap.”

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Professional writer, Pacific Northwest. 20 Books: “Sleeping Planet” 1964 to “Venus Mons Iliad” 2018–19. Most on Amazon for sale. Il faut d’abord durer.

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Bill Burkett

Bill Burkett

Professional writer, Pacific Northwest. 20 Books: “Sleeping Planet” 1964 to “Venus Mons Iliad” 2018–19. Most on Amazon for sale. Il faut d’abord durer.

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