by Jill Hand
Outside the clouds hung oppressively low, spitting cold rain that turned to hail. The frozen pellets clicked against the windowpanes, sounding like skeleton fingers tap-tap-tapping, demanding to be let in. The roads were going to be bad if it kept up. I was seated at my desk, eating chicken salad on an onion bagel, when Sanjay phoned.
“I think we may have found him,” he said.
“Alexandria, Virginia. He was born in Boston. Boston! Can you believe it?” He sounded giddy. I pictured him pacing back and forth, as revved-up as a new father by the birth of a son.
“The mom was an actress. Cammie Hodges. Cute, not a lot of talent, but petite and bubbly. She was on that reality show, Summer Interns. Remember it?”
I did, vaguely. Rowdy college kids working at summer jobs with the predictable hijinks ensuing. There was a girl named Vella or Venna who dressed like a tart and fought with everybody but I didn’t remember Cammie.
“Oh, yeah. Killed in a car accident on the Beltway, coming back to collect the kid after doing a dinner theater performance of A Streetcar Named Desire somewhere in Maryland. She played Stella Kowalski.”
“And the father, where’s he?”
“He’s out of the picture. He’s an actor, lives in L.A. Does mostly voice-overs. The relationship was on the rocks even before she got pregnant. He took off around the time the kid was born. He doesn’t see him. Sends the occasional check, that’s all.”
I took a bite of bagel and thought about it. So far, things were lining up. It wouldn’t be a perfect match, but it was close. Both parents were actors. Mom dead. Dad not dead, but he might as well be for all the contact he has with his son. Yes, it was close, maybe even close enough to work.
“Where’s the boy now?” I asked. “You said Alexandria?”
“Yeah, staying with these rich WASPs, Mitch and Suzanne DeGraw. Suzanne’s sort of like his aunt, I guess you’d say. She and the boy’s father had the same stepfather. Their moms were married to him at different times. It gets a little confusing. Anyway, the DeGraws have no kids of their own. Suzanne is fond of little Eddie. She used to take care of him sometimes when his mom was working, so now she’s got him full-time.”
I sat up straight in my chair. I didn’t believe in omens, but the boy’s name gave me pause. “His name’s Edgar?”
“Naw, that would be a little too freaky, wouldn’t it? Who names their kids Edgar anymore?” Sanjay chuckled. “He’s Edward, like the vampire in those Twilight books. His mom thought he was so dreamy that she named the kid after him, if what my sources tell me is correct, which it is.” He sounded smug and I didn’t blame him. This was quite a coup. Our employer would be very interested in this little semi-orphan, the boy named after a brooding vampire.
Sanjay sent me pictures of the DeGraws, and of little Eddie. I started a file, as I did for all our projects. It grew substantially over the years. In the first photo, Eddie was three. His big dark eyes looked sad. No wonder. Suzanne and Mitch weren’t exactly the most cuddly pair to raise a child. She was blonde, tanned, and Botoxed to within an inch of her life. He was dark and intense, giving off an air of irritability, even when he smiled. They led a busy social life and gave generously to museums, symphony orchestras, and charitable foundations. Here they were photographed wearing white linen in the pages of Luxury Yacht. Here was another of them in formal wear in Town & Country. Here they were again, in riding habits, looking at a brown horse in front of a barn in Southern Living. These and other pictures all made it into the file, as well as a number of other documents pertaining to Eddie.
He was just past his fourth birthday when the DeGraws started him at Rolling Hills Country Day School, annual tuition twenty-five thousand dollars. I added a picture of him from the school yearbook to the file. He was wearing little khaki trousers and the requisite navy blue polo shirt with the school crest embroidered in gold on the breast pocket. The picture was taken with him facing front and center, like a mugshot. He stared blankly out at the viewer, his expression one of abject misery.
So far, so good.
Mitch DeGraw was in commercial real estate. He loved commercial real estate. He used to take Eddie around with him to building sites, hoping to instill a love of commercial real estate in him. There’s a photo in the file of them standing side by side next to an excavation where an office building would eventually be, both of them wearing hard hats. In this one, Eddie is seven. His expression says I am not enjoying myself. Not one bit.
He enjoyed himself even less at Granite Mountain Military Academy in Pennsylvania, where he was sent when he was twelve. Mitch thought the boy needed discipline. A picture of Eddie wearing a grey uniform was added to the growing file. In it, he’s standing at attention on the parade ground with a drum strapped to his chest. His jaw is clenched and his eyes hold a hopeless expression. He resembles a Confederate drummer boy, one who is fairly certain that he is doomed.
His father had disappeared by then, having seemingly vanished off the face of the Earth, escaping his many creditors. You can still do that, you know, even in the twenty-first century. All it takes is enough money and the desire not to be found. The money was supplied by an anonymous benefactor: my employer, mine and Sanjay’s and dozens of other people who were mainly academics and researchers and literary critics.
I won’t tell you our employer’s name. I signed a confidentiality agreement when I started working for him. It’s unlikely you’ve ever heard of him, although you probably have at least one of the devices he invented somewhere around your house. All I’ll say is that he’s very rich and very determined, one could almost say obsessive. I’ve met him twice. He’s a delightful conversationalist. He especially enjoys talking about literature. His checks make it easier for me to live on an adjunct professor’s salary.
What were our employer’s intentions for the little boy with the dead mother and the vanished father? It should be apparent to you by now, those of you who are familiar with the life of Edgar Allan Poe. He was attempting to create another Poe, one whom he hoped someday would write something as good as “The Raven”, “The Fall of the House of Usher”, “The Cask of Amontillado” and all the others. We called what we were doing Project Eddie 2.0.
You don’t think it’s possible? It probably wouldn’t be if our goal was to produce another Charlemagne or Cleopatra, but we weren’t trying to design rulers; we were trying to design authors. We’d already had success with the Bickford sisters, Stephanie, Amy, and Elise. They were the daughters of a widowed Presbyterian minister who grew up in a cold and drafty farmhouse in Aroostook County, Maine, with lots of books to read and no other children for company. With assistance from our employer, Stephanie, Amy, and Elise – the Brontë sisters 2.0 – had already published several best-selling novels. If it worked with them, we thought it might work with Eddie.
One of the teachers at Granite Mountain was a former Army officer who taught language arts. He was happy to be paid a little something extra under the table to encourage the boy to write. But could he write? That was the question. We waited anxiously for the answer, which to our delight turned out to be could he ever! For a twelve-year-old he was quite good. I have a copy of one of the first stories he turned in to his helpful tutor. It involved the premature burial of a pet dog, mistaken for dead after being struck by a car. The dog manages to dig his way out of the grave and comes bounding home to his young master, scaring the daylights out of him and everyone else in the house when he turns up scratching at the back door in the middle of the night, tongue lolling, covered in mud and blood.
“This is good,” I said to Sanjay, who leaned against my desk, arms folded. “Really good. Mature use of language for a child that age and excellent pacing. I like it.”
“Do you?” he said. “I dunno. It’s not exactly what we were hoping for, is it?”
“Why? What’s wrong with it?”
He regarded me bleakly. “It’s funny.”
It was. I laughed out loud while reading it. Darkly funny, but was that such a bad thing? True, Poe didn’t write humor. A piece he did for the New York Sun, the hoax story about a hot air balloon crossing of the Atlantic was probably as close as he ever came to writing anything that was funny. The old-time typeface, heralding the amazing feat by eight gentlemen riding in something called Mr. Monck Mason’s FLYING MACHINE!!! looks amusing to twenty-first century eyes, but the story wasn’t exactly a barrel of laughs. Poe’s other fiction writing was uniformly grim. No yuks there at all. Lots of shivers, but no yuks.
“Give him time,” I said. “He’s going through puberty. What do you want to bet he falls in love with a girl and she rejects him? A little teenage angst will get him going in the right direction.”
“Maybe,” he said. “I sure hope so.”
Enter Sophie Ludlow. She attended a nearby girls’ boarding school. They met at a dance and Eddie was smitten. By then he was fifteen and in hot water for writing an article for the student newspaper at Granite Mountain, The Salvo, about the Battle of Gettysburg. It read like a straightforward account of the battle, with loads of facts and interesting little details, until someone happened to notice that the first word of each sentence spelled out an account of a passionate clandestine love affair between the headmaster and the school’s mascot, a ram named General Patton.
“He’s a little scamp, isn’t he?” I said to Sanjay when I telephoned him in Prague to tell him the news. He was over there scouting out a young lady whom our employer hoped might become another Jane Austen.
“I’ll say,” he replied. “Did they expel him?”
The headmaster had wanted to, but Eddie’s foster parents offered to donate money toward the construction of a new gymnasium, and all that happened was that he was confined to barracks for a month.
The DeGraws had never formally adopted him. We weren’t sure how Eddie felt about that. There was a lot we didn’t know about him, although apparently he didn’t mind too much about being confined to barracks. (The barracks in question were more like dormitories at a good college than Army barracks.) Eddie spent the time writing, mostly poems and love letters to Sophie, but short stories too, all of which he mailed to her. One of them was called “The Prisoner of Granite Mountain”. It was high gothic (Barred windows! Lightning flashes illuminating the wretched prisoner dressed in rags, huddled in one corner of a horrible rat-filled dungeon!) But it also contained goofy humor (the wretched prisoner bewails the fact that the internet connection down in the dungeon is no good, and that he can’t get the local pizzeria to deliver.) It was nicely done, especially for a kid his age, but it wasn’t what Poe would have written.
And the love poems were awful. Real sappy stuff, the kind any fifteen-year-old might write. Poetry just wasn’t Eddie’s thing. No doubt he really loved Sophie, he may even have loved her with a ‘love that was more than love’, but he couldn’t express it through poetry other than the most banal moon-spoon-June variety. Most people can’t. We would have liked another “Annabel Lee”, but it looked like we wouldn’t be getting it from Eddie.
How did we get our hands on his correspondence to Sophie? We didn’t send someone to climb through her dorm room window in the dead of night and steal it if that’s what you’re thinking. Sophie didn’t save her boyfriend’s poems and letters in a pretty keepsake box, tied up with a pink satin ribbon. No, she casually read them and tossed them in the trash. We paid her roommate to fish them out and send them to us. Like I said, our employer is very rich. If Sophie wondered where her roommate got the money for her new iPhone and those designer handbags, she didn’t ask.
Eddie was eighteen when Sophie dumped him for the young scion of a family who made their fortune manufacturing paint and solvents. He didn’t see it coming, although he probably should have; three years is a long time for a teenage romance to last, especially when one of the persons involved will be going to Wellesley in September and the other will be going to Virginia State.
The DeGraws had gotten divorced by that time and Mitch stopped paying Eddie an allowance, being fed up with him for a number of reasons, the most significant of which was his failure to take an interest in the commercial real estate business. Suzanne had a little money of her own and she agreed to pay his tuition at Virginia State, but he had to come up with his own money for room and board and books and any extras.
Sanjay and I held our breaths and waited to see what would happen next.
He started firing off a series of despairing emails to a friend in Chicago. He wanted to die! He couldn’t believe Sophie would do this to him! Didn’t she realize how much he loved her? Oh god, it wasn’t fair! Why was this happening to him? It wasn’t fair! If he died, then she’d be sorry! It wasn’t fair! And so on and so forth.
I have a copy of the emails. They were sent to me by Eddie’s friend in Chicago, who bought himself a new laptop computer and a set of new tires for his car, courtesy of my employer. (In case you’re wondering, no one we approached with an offer of cash in exchange for assisting us in our endeavors ever turned us down.) One email in particular stands out. Eddie wrote, sourly: ‘It seems I’m not rich enough for her. When I told her I’d be going to a state school she was horrified, as if I said I’d be going to prison for knifing a convenience store clerk. Now she’s seeing Nash Kincaid, who looks like a brain-damaged horse.’
Even though his hurt and wounded pride came through loud and clear, I chuckled. Eddie had a way with words.
What he did next was surprising. Sanjay was in Seoul, checking up on a girl who showed promise of becoming the next Emily Dickinson. I called him to tell him the news.
“You won’t believe what Eddie is doing,” I said.
“What? Is he drinking? Gambling? What’s he doing?”
If he expected him to follow in Poe’s footsteps that way, he was going to be disappointed.
“Neither one,” I said.
“Is it drugs?” Sanjay asked. “It’s drugs, isn’t it?” Did I detect a trace of eagerness in his voice? I thought I did.
“Not drugs. He’s doing stand-up comedy.”
Sanjay’s reply was unprintable. He ranted about how we’d had such high hopes for him and now everything was ruined and he didn’t know what our employer was going to say and what the hell was wrong with the kid anyway? Why wasn’t he sinking into a black depression and writing some really top-notch stuff about grave robbery or some kind of hideous curse?
“Dammit! It’s all over. All the trouble we went to and for what? So he can get up on stage and tell jokes? He probably sucks, doesn’t he?”
On the contrary. I’d caught his act and it was good. In fact, it was better than good. The audience was mixed, mostly college kids, but some older people, and he made us laugh until it hurt. Eddie told stories about his summer job, which had entailed cleaning people’s basements and garages, working for a company that does that kind of thing. He talked about the items that he found, some of which were very strange indeed. At one point, he picked up a guitar and sang a song about discovering a freezer full of dead cats, all of them dressed in doll’s clothes. The audience joined him in the chorus. It was hilarious, as was his rendition of “Eyeball on the Ceiling”, a song he wrote about an incident at another of his jobs, working for a company that cleaned up crime scenes after the police were through with them.
“That’s grotesque,” Sanjay said.
Grotesque and Arabesque, I thought, recalling the name of a collection of Poe’s short stories, for which he received not a cent, just twenty free copies. Despite his prodigious talent, Poe remained broke pretty much his entire adult life. “You should have been there; it was great,” I said.
Then I told him the best part: Eddie was still writing fiction. He was one of those people who can’t seem to stop writing, come hell or high water. He wrote stories that were gruesome and funny at the same time. That’s not easy to pull off and get it right, but Eddie got it right. He’d written a novel about a priest who runs a business on the side disposing of the bodies of dead hookers. Our employer had found him an agent and a couple of publishers had expressed interest in it.
“But he’s not writing like Poe,” Sanjay said dejectedly.
“Maybe not,” I said. “But he’s not going to marry his fourteen-year-old cousin either – not that he has a fourteen-year-old cousin – but still, the people he cares about aren’t going to waste away and die of tuberculosis. That’s better than being another Poe.”
Sanjay harrumphed. He clearly didn’t agree.
“And listen,” I said. “He’s young. He’s already writing great stuff. He’s got years and years to improve and who knows? Maybe someday he’ll write something that will live on long after he’s gone, just like Poe did.” I’d read Father Mulcahy’s Sideline, Eddie’s book about the dead-hooker-disposing priest. There were passages where I’d caught an echo of Edgar Allan Poe. Lots of authors have imitated Poe, to greater or lesser success, but Eddie wasn’t imitating. He had his own voice. His writing style was leaner than Poe’s, without the nineteenth-century flourishes and furbelows, but the echo was there. It rang through his work like the tolling of an iron bell. It gave me the shivers.
“He seems to be happy, now that he got away from Mitch DeGraw and Granite Mountain. He’s doing what he loves and he probably won’t die broke and miserable. Isn’t that better than being a tormented genius who got paid next to nothing for his work when he was alive?”
Sanjay didn’t answer. Finally he said, “Well, if our employer’s satisfied then I guess I am.” He didn’t sound particularly satisfied. Then he brightened. “Did I tell you? I’m off to Australia. There’s a kid there our employer wants me to check out. His parents are these improvident actors, really bad with money. Loads of debt and they’ve got like, five kids, and this kid had to drop out of school and go work in a warehouse to help support the family. He’s also stringing for a newspaper, covering the local courts.”
He paused to allow me to make the connection. It didn’t take me long. “Dickens? You’re hoping he’s going to be another Charles Dickens!”
“Correct,” he said, sounding happier than when I delivered the news about Eddie. “Better start another file. We can call it Project Charlie 2.0.”
Jill Hand is the author of The Blue Horse, a science fiction/fantasy novella from Kellan Publishing based on a true story. It contains no zombies, moody teenage vampires, or young people forced to fight to the death in a post apocalyptic future. It does, however, contain humor and some lively historical facts.
by Megan E. Cassidy
“Doctor Lynch, can you explain for the jury precisely how your machine works,” the prosecutor began. She had been waiting for this moment for the past seven months. After the investigation, the manhunt, the arrest, the pre-trial hearings, and the standard sets of objections and appeals, the stage was finally hers.
Due to the high profile nature of the crime and the sensitivity of the evidence being given, the judge ordered a closed courtroom, but the drones chronicling the events for the record and future public consumption zoomed in on the witness, as all twelve members of the jury and six alternates leaned forward in anticipation.
It was not just a pivotal moment in the course of the trial. It was, quite literally, the pivotal moment of human history. Thousands of scientists would kill to get even the smallest tidbit of information on the heavily guarded research. Lynch and Pillay might have hidden away the information for years had it not been for the assassination. Instead, Lynch was about to reveal the secrets of the universe to eighteen average citizens with absolutely no scientific background whatsoever.
Lynch cleared his throat, recalling at the last second Prosecutor Janey’s careful instructions during their months of coaching. He dropped his fluttering hands and folded them in his lap, nails digging into his flesh as he tried to calm down. Lynch had always been more comfortable in a lab or library than around people. It was one of the reasons he had become a researcher instead of a professor. He wished that his partner Niemah Pillay had been called up first. But Janey worried about jury bias and wanted testimony from an American male instead of a South African female, whom the jury might see as an outsider in a trial involving the assassination of the President of the United States.
Lynch licked his lips and cleared his throat again, “The device was built after my colleagues and I discovered the flaw in the Einstein-Rosen Bridge hypothesis. By solving the Kepler problem and redirecting the gravitational…”
“In layman’s terms please, doctor,” Janey interrupted kindly, eliciting smiles and nods from the jury. She and Lynch had practiced this dialogue. Both Lynch and Pillay were reluctant to share their discoveries, fearing that other, less ethically responsible parties, would replicate or surpass their research to calamitous results. Janey had assured them that the jury, a group which included an accountant, housewife, preschool teacher, gardener, and grocery clerk, would be unable to understand the precise physics of time travel. Nevertheless, she had coached Lynch to begin elucidating on the subject, just to establish authority. Then, he could give carefully worded examples clear enough for amateurs to understand.
Janey handed her witness the small cardboard box to demonstrate. Lynch nodded and began again, “There are four known dimensions.” He held up box, running a finger across the sides and center of the box, “The first three are easily seen—height, width, and depth.”
“The fourth dimension is time. Historically, we have moved in three dimensional space. You can walk forward or backward, jump up, fall down, and spin around,” Lynch manipulated the box as he spoke, and Janey was pleased to see the eyes of the jury glued on the object, following Lynch’s every minute motion.
“But,” he continued, “thus far, we have only been able to move forward with time.” He slid the box along the rail of the witness stand, pausing momentarily as he said the words, “through the past, present, and future.”
“What do you mean?” Janey asked.
Lynch wanted to sigh. He thought this would be clear, but she had insisted on a further explanation, “Well, I was born July 6, 2013 at precisely 6:07am.” He set the box to his left. “As I wriggled back and forth in my crib,” he twisted the box around, “time continued marching forward to 6:08, 6:09, and so on.”
He inched the box forward by small increments, “I went along in that time, but I could not break the flow of time to jump ahead to noon. Nor could I jump from 6:06am to the minutes before I entered the world.”
“But now you can?” Janey asked.
“Yes,” he replied, and the jury gave a collective jump of excitement.
“Can you explain how,” Janey inquired, “again in layman’s terms?”
“Our machine is able to move backward and forward in time,” he began.
“But not in space?”
“No. It moves along the fourth dimension,” he dragged the box against the railing again, “but it is unable to move up, down, or from side to side. Instead, once it is placed on a particular spot, we are able to observe past, present, and future events only in that singular location. This is somewhat similar to the old HG Wells’ novel , The Time Machine. The device is rooted to one spot.”
“And how are you able to move into the past or future unseen?” Janey’s voice quavered almost imperceptibly. She knew this would be the most complicated part of the scientist’s testimony, and desperately hoped the jury would be able to understand. If not, the case might be lost.
Lynch explained, “Once the device is engaged, our machine, the Tempus V, moves within a fifth dimension, outside of our own.”
He opened the cardboard box and drew out the cube that had been nested within. “Think of this as a location,” he held up the box and placed it on the railing. “And think of this as the machine,” he held the cube a few inches away.
“It’s there. We can see and hear everything on the box. We can even see the box in the future or in the present. But we can’t touch it or interact with it. That’s one reason the machine doesn’t move from side to side or up and down. It’s on a different plane of existence.”
“A different plane,” Janey echoed his last words, “So, to use another literary reference, you become like the ghosts in Dickens’ A Christmas Carol?”
Lynch’s muscles eased and he realized he had been holding his breath, “Yes. We are able to observe, but can neither be seen nor heard.”
“Objection, Your Honor,” Defense Attorney Cain cut in, sneering sardonically with each word she spoke. “Are we really supposed to believe that this man and his,” she paused, “friend, fly around time like some sort of zany spirits?”
Judge Denison looked down, annoyed that the ground-breaking testimony had been cut short. It was standard and almost obligatory to object at such a point, but the seasoned lawyer had to know that she was hurting her case by doing so. “As I stated before, Ms. Cain, there have been numerous government officials who have observed Dr. Lynch’s work. Their testimonies have been recorded, but is highly classified. We will have the opportunity to hear from Dr. Pillay as well, and the defense team will, of course, have the ability to cross-examine both witnesses. Motion is denied.”
Cain nodded and sat back down. The fact was that she did know she was hurting her case, but realized that her client had been found guilty in the hearts of the jury weeks before. She also knew that without at least the appearance of a rigorous defense, Arthur Westcott would have grounds for appeal. After reading over the prosecution’s evidence during discovery, Cain wanted him executed just as much as every person sitting in that jury box.
Janey rolled her eyes at the rapt jury and smiled as if they were sharing an inside joke at the defense attorney’s expense. Turning back to her witness, she said, “You were just explaining that your machine, the Tempus V, exists on a separate plane. Once you reach that plane, are you able to move about and examine the location further since you’re unseen?”
“No,” Lynch resisted the urge to shout, bile rising slightly in his throat. He had known the question was coming, but he still felt unprepared to answer. “Our understanding of the fifth dimension, of this separate plane, is still limited,” he paused now and took a drink of water from the cup sitting by the stand and looked again at Pillay, who was staring into her lap, teary eyed.
“Look, you’re talking about moving about in a completely unknown space. Maybe you could come back into the vehicle. Maybe. But more than likely, you would be trapped within that moment, able to move through time, but not up, down, back, or forth.” His voice rose slightly as he pulled the little cube along the rail, shaking it gently to show the tension in his hand, as if it were trying to move off the railing of its own accord.
He continued, “Without the normal earthly rules of time, your body and mind wouldn’t age the same way. You’d be somewhere in this fifth dimension completely disembodied from our world, unable to communicate with anyone on this plane of existence ever again.” Lynch winced, and the entire jury shuddered right along with him.
“Objection, Your Honor,” Cain stood again. “Isn’t this entirely theoretical? Can we please return to the facts of the case?”
Lynch’s mind moved away from the trial proceedings. It wasn’t theoretical. Not in the least, no matter how he was presenting it here. But only he, Pillay, and a handful of others knew about their former colleague Rikichi Okada, and he wasn’t about to dredge up that painful incident in front of a roomful of strangers who could never understand.
Okada had assisted with the creation of each one of the five Tempus machines. Tempus I and II were complete failures. The first fell apart once the circuits were started, and the second closed up in on itself, thankfully crashing to the floor instead of creating some irrevocable time rift. Pillay had wanted to quit at that point, but Okada was more reckless and daring, and he had convinced a still-curious Lynch to continue on in their research.
Tempus III and IV had been sent out on a trial run with only a remote video feed. Only static was recorded, but they believed the experiment to be successful. The three scientists built the fifth prototype and had agreed to accept the risks of time travel when they boarded the Tempus V. Unsure whether their theories on fifth dimensional space were correct, they kept the machine in the lab, strapped themselves in and moved forward ten years into the future. When the machine stopped whirring, they saw three students cleaning beakers and straightening papers. One of the students passed directly through them, completely failing to acknowledge their presence.
Pillay was horrified when they returned, completely shaken by the experience. Lynch suggested that they had been reckless in jumping into the vehicle themselves and recommended turning the project over to the university at large. The headstrong Okada who had insisted they continue experimentation. “We are the first and only known people to travel through time,” he proclaimed. “Taking such a journey is like Neil Armstrong walking on a moon of another planet two solar systems away before anyone else figured out space travel was even possible!” After much debate and discussion, Okada won the battle.
The research team continued in their secret travels for three months after their first successful excursion. The Tempus V was a small carbon and glass structure wired to receive sound, and so they were able to observe everything, though recording had proved unsuccessful. The vehicle had room for four people, should they wish to bring someone else on board, but was relatively light and easy to transport in the large moving van they had purchased expressly for that purpose. Still, they cautiously limited trips to locations around the small college town, covertly moving the machine from place to place only at night and travelling backward and never forward, having universally agreed that knowing too much about the future could be detrimental.
They were preparing to publish a highly restrained and abbreviated account of their research when Okada suggested they take one last trip. They had taken the machine to a small cul-de-sac on the outskirts of town. Then, the team rolled the machine back to the previous morning and cheerfully observed parents sending their children off to school, dogs being walked, and mail being delivered.
Without warning, Okada had shouted, “I am not a scientist! I am an explorer!” Before the other two could stop him, he threw open the door and dove headlong out of the vehicle.
They quickly closed the door, and looked around wildly, hoping to see their friend moving like a ghost amongst the other citizens of the town. There was no sight of him. They waited for hours. They moved the Tempus V back and forth through time, thinking perhaps Okada might appear in either the future or the past. But he did not, and most likely could not return.
At last, they had to leave Okada behind, wherever he had gone. Upon their return to campus, they had contacted first the university president and then a number of top government officials to report and explain their colleague’s sudden disappearance. All parties concerned had agreed to classify their findings as top-secret and move their research to the Pentagon for security reasons. Under the guise of an alternate energy grant, the two scientists continued to secretly observe and record both mundane and pivotal moments in American history.
It was not until three years later, upon the death of President Ophelia Smithe that Lynch, Pillay, and their highly guarded research were violently thrust into the public eye. The two researchers had been dodging questions and living in near seclusion under a heavily protective guard ever since.
Janey interrupted Lynch’s thoughts with a sharp, “Would you like me to repeat the question, Doctor?”
Lynch cringed, shamed that his attention had wandered at such an important moment. Janey smiled warmly; she didn’t want to alienate her star witness. “Coming back to the matter of the defendant Arthur Alan Westcott, how did you arrive at the conclusion that he had murdered President Smithe?”
The scientist relaxed again. From this point forward, his statements would be limited to those of witness describing a crime. There would hopefully be little room for the jury to doubt this evidence. “To begin with,” Lynch eased back into his chair, steepling his fingers in front of his chest, “the praise must go to the Chicago police department and the FBI for all of their hard work.”
He paused as both Janey and the jury smiled. She had thought this bit necessary, both to elucidate the procedure and to establish Lynch as not just a knowledgeable witness, but a kind, relatable one as well. Back at the defendant’s table, Cain snorted derisively but did not object, and so he continued. “The forensics team first determined the trajectory of the bullets that pierced through President Smithe’s skull and person.”
“How were they able to reach those conclusions?”
“Objection,” Cain stood. “Is Mr. Lynch an expert in time travel, or an expert in forensics?”
“I’m an expert in physics,” Lynched blinked, affronted and speaking out of turn. “I assure you I can speak to both.”
Janey smiled at the unexpected interruption. Lynch was proving to be the best witness she’d ever had. “Your Honor,” she said, “the trajectory of the bullets led directly to Dr. Lynch’s eventual placement at the scene of the crime. And, as he stated, he is in fact an expert in physics and if he can explain the bending of time and space, he can surely describe the simple path taken by a bullet moving along a mere three dimensional plane.”
The jury stifled laughter and the judge’s lips twitched almost imperceptibly in amusement, “I’ll allow it.”
Janey motioned to the scientist to continue and he said, “There are a number of factors taken into account when concluding the origin of a bullet. First, one group inspected the bullets to determine the caliber. They also examined the angles at which the bullets had passed through the President’s podium and through the stage wall set up behind her. Meanwhile, doctors at the morgue examined the wounds in the President’s body to determine the angle at which they had entered her body. Finally, a third group studied footage from television cameras and phones taken during the event.”
“And yet, no one was able to see the origin of the shots?” Janey prompted.
“Correct. No cameras had been trained on that exact spot, but using this footage, the team was able to set up a dummy the exact height of the President in her exact location on the stage. From there, rods were placed from the dummy to the stage wall at the exact angle of entry. Finally, lasers were placed to show through the entrance of the bullets in the stage wall through the President’s body, and up into the buildings surrounding the square. At that point, it was determined that the shots had been fired from the roof of the Granchelli Building.”
“And that’s where you came into the picture?”
“Not quite. The area was inspected first by the brave men and women of both the FBI and the Chicago PD. According to their reports, which were testified to earlier, there was no physical evidence. The area had been completely cleaned. There were no footprints or fingerprints, no gunshot residue, no evidence that anyone had been up there.”
“So then you were called in to help?”
“Yes,” Lynch nodded. “Niemah, that is, Dr. Pillay and I were contacted by authorities and were asked to use the Tempus V to observe events and determine what had occurred.”
“And you agreed?”
“The President of the United States had been shot three days prior. The entire country was turned completely upside-down. Everyone was, and still are, shocked with grief. Of course we agreed,” Lynch finished his impassioned answer, and Janey repressed the urge to smile again.
“Tell us what happened next,” she said. Now that trust had been established and Lynch had the jury hooked, she gave her witness free rein to describe events as he saw fit.
“After all possible evidence had been collected and recorded, a helicopter brought Dr. Pillay, the Tempus V, and me onto the roof. After setting up the device, Dr. Pillay and I entered the vehicle. We then travelled backward to five minutes before the President’s death. From our location, we observed a blond middle-aged man dressed in a green polo shirt and blue jeans kneeling at the edge of the roof. He was holding a heavy barrelled sniper rifle with a high power scope.”
“Objection, Your Honor. Is the witness also a firearms expert?”
“Sustained,” the judge conceded.
Lynch tried again, “He was holding a large gun, which was later identified by a firearms expert who accompanied us on one of the later excursions.”
“So, the man was holding a gun at the edge of the roof where the bullet was determined to have originated from. What occurred next?”
“He fired five shots directly at President Smithe. The first two were fired off within seconds of each other. Both entered the President’s chest. She stumbled backward and a secret service agent dove in front of her, but the agent was unable to prevent the third bullet from entering her skull and piercing through her brain. The assailant moved his gun to a lower trajectory and the fourth bullet crashed through the podium, missing the President, but hitting a second Secret Service member, Agent Cody Michaels in the shoulder. The final bullet went wild and killed Melissa Evans, a five-year-old child standing in front of the stage,” he paused as members of the jury gasped, clutched hands to mouths, and shook their heads. The death of the young girl had engendered almost as much sadness and outrage as the death of the President.
“After Melissa collapsed to the ground in a pool of blood,” Lynch remembered to elaborate on this portion of the story, “the assailant took precisely thirty-nine seconds to disassemble the sniper…the weapon. He had been kneeling on a blanket placed on top of the rooftop gravel. After placing the weapon into a green and white gym bag, he pulled up the blanket and shoved that into the bag as well. He then proceeded out of the rooftop door and calmly exited the rooftop.”
“Can you identify the man you saw that day?” Janey asked.
“Absolutely,” Lynch said, pointing to the defendant. “He’s sitting right over there.”
“And did you identify him immediately?” Janey asked.
“No. After a number of observations, Dr. Pillay and myself along with several other attending witnesses worked with sketch artists provided by the FBI. Once a sketch was created, there was a manhunt for the suspect, which lasted eight days. After Mr. Westcott was apprehended, Dr. Pillay and I were brought in to identify the suspect. Separated from one another and brought in before independent police lineups, both she and I identified Arthur Westcott as the perpetrator.”
“Was there ever any doubt in your mind that Mr. Westcott might not be the person you saw that day?”
Lynch sat forward, “Ms. Janey, seeing him kill the President and that little girl once would have been enough, but my colleague and I observed the murder precisely forty seven times.” He paused as the jury gasped again.
Lynch turned away from Janey and looked directly into the eyes of every juror and every alternate one by one. His voice became slow and deliberate, “Forty seven times. From every angle imaginable. I have absolutely no doubt whatsoever that the man we saw that day over and over and over again is the man who sits before us now.”
“Thank you, Dr. Lynch, for your clear and courageous testimony. Your work will have far-reaching implications not just on the outcome of this trial, but on the fields of science and history. No further questions at this time, Your Honor,” Janey said, taking her seat.
“Would you like to cross-examine the witness at this time, Ms. Cain?” the judge asked, hoping the lawyer would say no so that they could pause for a recess and he, like everyone else in the courtroom, could take time to fully digest the implications of Lynch’s testimony.
Unfortunately, the attorney replied with a terse, “Yes, Your Honor,” and approached the witness stand.
“Mr. Lynch,” she began.
“Doctor,” he cut her off.
“You’ve been calling me Mr. Lynch all afternoon. I have dual doctoral degrees in physics and astronomy. I would prefer being addressed by my proper title.”
“Doctor then,” she conceded, to the delight of the jury and the chagrin of her client. “Dr. Lynch, I am not going to question any of the observations you or your colleague made that day.”
“You’re not?” Lynch tried not to show the shock which was written all over his face.
“No,” she smiled, “instead, I’d like to focus on your theories of time travel.”
He resisted correcting her again, even though theories were unproven concepts and his beliefs on the rules of the space-time continuum had already been proven many times over. She continued, “First, could you explain why you are unable to move about in three dimensional space and why you are unable to be seen by anyone?”
“Asked and answered, Your Honor,” Janey objected.
“I think we could all use a bit more clarification,” Cain smirked.
“I’ll allow it,” the judge decided.
“Well, as I stated before, working fifth dimensionally, we are outside this plane of existence,” Lynch said. “So, first is the fact that within the realms of the fifth dimension, space and time do not…” he paused, searching for the right word, “bend to allow for horizontal or lateral movement. Beyond that, there are two theories of time travel, one of which presents significant complications if one were to be seen.”
“Can you explain?”
“The first school of thought states that the fourth dimension, that is to say time, is unyielding. In this case, any visit to the past and any interference therein would have almost no effect on present or future events. You could attempt to travel back to prevent your own birth from occurring, but would be unsuccessful.”
“Ah. I see, and the second theory?”
“The second school of thought states that time is highly viable. So that any small alteration, even the tiniest of changes, would have enormous repercussions on the future, possibly even causing an unalterable paradox which could theoretically tear the fourth dimension apart.”
“Yes. To draw from the earlier example. If you went back to prevent your own birth and were successful, you would not be born, nor would any of your children or grandchildren. Yet, you were the one to prevent the birth. So, you would be there to do it, but you would not be born to complete the task. This process of being born and unborn might loop, or might destroy a part of the universe in unimaginable ways.”
“And yet, you took the risk that this would occur, at least with your first journey?”
Lynch looked over to Pillay, wondering how much to say, “We knew that working within the fifth dimension, this would not be a possibility. However, as a precaution, we journeyed first into the future as any visit ahead of our time would not cause any sort of alteration such as I have described.”
“Except that you could then know the future,” Cain quipped.
“Objection, badgering,” Janey broke in.
“I’ll answer,” Lynch said, wanting to explain. The judge nodded and the researcher said, “Before our work was brought under the auspices of the federal government, we took only two trips into the future. Both journeys were within the confines of our laboratory, and both lasted less than three minutes.”
“I’ll have to take your word for it,” Cain said. Waving a hand at an already rising Janey, she resumed, “Withdrawn, Your Honor. Now, Dr. Lynch, outside of these two excursions, you have traveled into the past on a number of occasions?”
“I’m afraid that’s classified,” Lynch said. Finally there was a question for which he had been prepared, and he hoped his answer would be the same for every other inquiry the prosecutor threw his way.
“I’m sorry, but this is a federal trial in the case of the assassination of a president. Surely, you should be as forthcoming as possible,” she pretended to be shocked, turning with mock horror to the jury.
“I have been advised to limit my answers to the events of that day,” Lynch said.
“You have been advised,” Cain murmured. “By Counselor Janey, I presume.”
“No,” Lynch said, actually shocking her this time. “By Vice President, sorry, by President Lopez.”
The jury broke out into loud murmurs and exclamations that did not cease until the judge banged his gavel, “That will be enough. Continue, Ms. Cain.”
“I see,” the prosecutor arched an eyebrow, playing the part, but again secretly pleased to see the case was not going her way. She had only one set of questions left and hoped Lynch would be able to refute them. There were weeks left to this trial, but everyone knew the verdict would be truly decided today.
“Are you familiar with multi-verse theory?” she inquired.
“Of course,” Lynch said. His hands began to flutter again with nervousness, and again he folded them in his lap.
“Could you explain it for the jury?”
“In layman’s terms?”
“Of course,” she inclined her head
He turned to the jury, “The theory of the multi-verse proposes that there are parallel universes all existing in different planes of existence. According to these theories, some of these universes are nearly identical to our own. Others may follow entirely different laws of physics.”
“So there could be an earth without gravity?” the prosecutor asked.
“Or there could be an earth with a carbon copy of myself asking you these very same questions?” she probed.
“Possibly, again, theoretically. Unlike our theories on time and time travel, the theory of parallel universes has yet to be proven,” he looked directly into her eyes.
“And yet, don’t many researchers believe that there are at least ten or eleven of these parallel universes?” she asked, staring right back.
“They did,” he said.
“Or, at least, they still might, until Dr. Pillay and I present our findings.”
“I see. Let’s imagine for a moment though that you’re wrong about this theory. Isn’t it possible that the man you and your friend saw on the roof that day was not my client? Isn’t it possible that it was another Arthur A. Westcott living a parallel life in one of ten or eleven or even a hundred other dimensions?”
“No,” Lynch stated.
“And why not?” Cain leaned in toward him.
“Because if other universes existed within the fifth or sixth or tenth dimensions, we would be able to move around within them. Almost like astronauts coming into the moon, we would be able to come into those worlds, be seen, walk around, and interact among the people there. This, we are unable to do.”
“I see,” Cain pretended to look disappointed. “And could you tell us whether you’ve ever tried to do such a thing, to test out this particular hypothesis?”
“We have, but the details are classified,” Lynch took another drink of water, thinking again of the reckless Rikichi Okada and the memorial service they’d held for him back in his hometown of Takayama, Japan. He, Pillay, and Vice President Lopez had flown in on Air Force Two for the solemn occasion. The Vice President gave an impassioned speech about the dedication and sacrifice of the researcher while standing in front of a coffin that could never be filled. Besides the assassination, the empty coffin was the one image which would never leave him.
“I see,” Cain said again, looking defeated. “One final question. Why forty seven times?”
“I’m sorry?” Lynch’s brow furrowed.
“You stated previously that you and Dr. Pillay returned to the scene of the crime forty seven times. Why forty seven? Or is that classified as well?”
“No. It’s not classified,” Lynch said, reaching up a hand to massage the space on his forehead between his eyes, where a migraine was beginning to form. “The original plan was to observe the event one hundred times.”
Cain pounced, “And yet, you stopped short at forty seven.”
Lynch looked up, “It came down to PTSD. We were all developing it. Witnessing a murder once is horrifying enough. To see it over and over again and from every angle as I said before… Well, the scene was shocking, as anyone who saw it in person or in the media knows. We observed it as often as we could. By the time we arrived at that number, more journeys and observations didn’t seem necessary, and no one at the FBI, CIA, or Pentagon felt that we should put ourselves through any further distress than was necessary.”
“The trauma of seeing a beloved leader and an innocent little girl getting shot over and over again without being able to do anything about it,” Lynch rasped, holding back tears. “Once would have been enough. Ten times, more than enough. Forty seven was excessive. We were seeing it in our sleep, in our daydreams, every time we closed our eyes to blink. We didn’t need to see it again.”
“I see,” Cain repeated. She retreated, head bent down toward her shoes as she returned to her table. Her posture was one of defeat and the jury could guess her words before she even uttered them, “No further questions, Your Honor.”
Judge Denison looked to Janey, “Redirect?”
“We don’t feel there’s a need, Your Honor,” Janey said, standing tall and triumphant.
The judge nodded, “We’ll break for today, then and reconvene tomorrow.” He banged his gavel and at the sound, Lynch gave a sigh, wanting to cry tears of relief that he could begin putting this tragedy behind him.
◊ ◊ ◊
The next day, Niemah Pillay was called to the stand. Her description of their research and eye-witness statements were a formality, since her testimony was almost identical to her colleague’s. The trial was paused that Saturday and Sunday, but resumed the following Monday with testimony from Derek Tamworth, the lead investigator on the case. The courtroom was still closed to everyone except those involved in the case. Typically, witnesses were excused from the courtroom to preserve the authenticity of their testimony. In this momentous trial, all the usual rules seemed to have exceptions. Seated in the gallery seats, Lynch and Pillay observed the proceedings, ready and willing to return to the witness box, if necessary.
Under Janey’s direction, Tamworth again covered the territory begun by Lynch and Pillay, describing the forensics of the bullet trajectories in more detail, and using diagrams to explain how they had made their final determinations. After several hours of testimony the jury had already heard and understood, it was at last Cain’s turn to question the witness.
“Deputy Director Tamworth,” Cain began her cross, “isn’t it true that you had absolutely no physical evidence in this case prior to bringing in Drs. Lynch and Pillay?”
“Yes. That is correct.”
“And isn’t it true that even after the eye witness testimony, there was no further corroborating evidence pointing to my client as the perpetrator of this horribly tragic crime?”
“No. That is incorrect,” Tamworth said.
“Oh, so there were records of Mr. Westcott buying a rifle?”
“Or, perhaps there were witnesses who saw him receiving firearms’ training, or accounts of any gun clubs he might have joined or firing ranges he might have visited.”
“And, as you stated before, there were no fingerprints, fibers, DNA, or other pieces of evidence tying my client to the crime scene?”
“That is correct.”
“So, could you tell us just precisely what this other evidence consisted of?”
“There were psychological indications that Westcott was guilty,” he held up a thick calloused hand to ward off her objections before she could make them. “I know, I know. I am not a psychological expert. They’re not due in for another week or two, I’ve been told. So, I’ll just stick to the hard physical evidence within my realm of expertise. In terms of actual physical evidence, we had several suspects after the artists’ renderings were released to the media. However, within all the crackpot calls and tips on individuals with solid alibis leading nowhere, Westcott’s name kept reappearing.”
He cleared his throat and continued, “After questioning peers, family members, coworkers, and neighbors, it was clear that Westcott did not have an alibi during the afternoon of the incident. Based on those interviews, we were able to obtain a warrant, which we used to search Mr. Westcott’s home and office.”
“And in your searches did you find a weapon of the type described by Dr. Lynch and Dr. Pillay?”
“No,” Tamworth admitted, “but we did find clothing that matched their description.”
“That would be Prosecution’s Exhibit E?”
She held up the clear plastic bag containing the shirt and pants in question. Lynch, who had not seen them since the repeated day of the assassination, sat forward in his seat in the second row of the gallery, squinting at the shirt beneath the plastic. “This pair of pants and shirt?” Cain asked the obligatory question.
“The very same,” the man nodded.
“And were you able to read the labels on the clothing in question?”
“And where did those labels identify the clothing as coming from?”
“The jeans were Levis and the shirt was from Lacoste,” Tamworth mispronounced the brand name.
“And are you aware that these are the most common cut of Levi jeans? Or that this shirt is two years old, and that two years ago the Lacoste Company produced 25,000 shirts of the same size and color that year?”
“No. I was not aware of that,” Tamworth said, “I am not an expert on fashion. All I can say is that the clothing described by the two witnesses was found in your client’s closet, a man who matched their description exactly. At the point we found the items in his wardrobe, we made our arrest.”
“So, you arrested a forty-five-year-old school teacher with no evidence of firearm training and no history of violence on the basis of a commonly produced polo shirt and an even more commonly produced pair of jeans?” Cain sneered.
“Yes,” Tamworth admitted again, “and then after the arrest, the perpetrator was identified by both witnesses.”
“After you had spoken to them?” Cain attempted.
“Absolutely not. In a case as important as this one, we wanted to follow everything according to the book. After their work at the crime scene and their eye witness statements, they were kept in isolation both from the other investigators and from each other. Then, each was brought in separately to view the lineup and make identifications with yourself, your paralegal, and your independent investigator as witnesses for the defense. There were no violations here, Ms. Cain.”
“Thank you,” Cain said. “No further questions.”
“Redirect?” Judge Denison asked.
“Not at this time, Your Honor,” the prosecutor smiled, standing tall once again.
“Then we’ll take a break for lunch, and pick up with testimony in one hour,” the judge banged his gavel and the jury exited the courtroom.
As soon as they were out the door, Lynch and Pillay began whispering to each other fervently. She was violently shaking her head, but he pointed again to the bag and then to Janey, and at last, she shrugged, seeming to give in.
“We need to talk,” Lynch tapped the prosecutor’s shoulder.
“Here?” she inquired.
“Better to do it in your office,” he eyed one of the drones buzzing nearby.
She followed his gaze and nodded. Once they were seated in the quiet privacy of Janey’s office, Lynch said, “We never saw the other evidence before today.”
“Your point is?” Janey was tired and annoyed at this impromptu meeting so late in the game.
“That’s not the shirt.”
“What?” she tried not to shout, in case someone outside could overhear them.
“That’s not the shirt,” Lynch repeated as Pillay sat silently next to him, looking at the floor and shaking her head.
“How can you be sure?” Janey whispered.
“The logo on the breast of the shirt. I saw it through the bag. It’s an alligator.”
“Yes. That’s the standard logo for that company,” she replied.
“When we saw the murder, it was a penguin,” he said.
Janey froze, “Are you sure?”
“Forty seven times,” he reminded her. “Each time, it was a penguin.”
“But surely, he might have worn a different shirt, perhaps even bought an almost identical one after the crime,” Janey turned to gaze out her window, speaking more to herself than to either of her witnesses.
“Maybe,” Lynch said, “but it’s their only piece of physical evidence, surely…”
“Surely, he purchased a second shirt, Mr. Lynch,” Janey whipped back around, glaring at him sternly.
“That could be the case, but you don’t understand,” Lynch fumbled. “The multi-verses the prosecutor was talking about could…”
“I don’t want to hear it, Mr. Lynch, and neither will the jury. I see no reason to bring this to Ms. Cain. Discovery concluded long ago…”
“But this is new evidence,” Lynch tried again, wishing Niemah would jump in.
“This is a theory speculating that Mr. Westcott may have worn a different similar shirt the day of the crime,” she said and turned her attention to the silent Niemah. “Dr. Pillay, do you recall the shirt in question?”
Niemah shrugged, refusing to lift her gaze from the floor. Witnessing the assassination had been traumatizing, and now that her testimony had concluded, she didn’t want to talk about the incident ever again.
“Do you recall identifying the murderer from a lineup including nine other nearly identical men?” the prosecutor pushed.
“Yes,” the researcher squeaked.
“That settles it,” Janey brushed her hands together. “We shall assume that if Dr. Lynch is correct about the appearance of the attire, after the murder, Mr. Westcott stripped of his clothing, disposed of said clothing in whatever location he also hid the gun, and purchased a similar shirt to replace the one missing from his wardrobe.”
“But certainly, you could easily check with his wife to confirm the shirt had altered,” Lynch stammered, as Janey stood and ushered them toward the doorway, indicating they were done.
“And you could easily become the laughingstock of the scientific community,” she retorted, opening the door and practically throwing them out.
Lynch stood in the hallway staring as the lawyer quietly closed and then locked her office door. He looked to his colleague, stunned, “Niemah, you know I’m right. We have to go to the defense team with this.”
“Drop it, Gary,” Pillay replied. “We did our part, and we did our best. Let’s just leave it. We can even abandon the research. Go back to the university and start on something new.”
He shook his head, unable to fathom such a possibility. Abandon the research? The research was everything. “I’m going,” he squared his shoulders.
“Then you’ll have to go alone,” she turned and walked away.
Lynch was unsure how to approach the other attorney, and wondered whether witnesses were allowed to confer privately with the other side. He didn’t know what the rules were, but at this point, he didn’t care. He waited in the hallway outside of the conference room Cain and the rest of her team occupied, wondering when she might emerge. He didn’t have to wait too long as the defense attorney came out of the room alone ten minutes later. She was pushing open the door to the ladies’ room when he intervened. “We need to talk,” he said.
Shaken, Cain said, “I shouldn’t be…”
He cut her off, “Alone. Now!”
She pulled him into the bathroom, locking the door and carefully opening each stall to ensure no one could overhear their conversation.
“What?” Cain’s hands were shaking worse than his had been earlier.
“The multi-verse theory you mentioned earlier?”
She nodded and he continued, “There was one other flaw I didn’t mention.”
“What?” she asked again, her heartbeat quickening.
“Flaws, changes from one parallel universe to the next. You said it yourself, one carbon copy of you asking the same questions, another world in which gravity doesn’t exist.”
“Right,” she raised an eyebrow.
“Under that theory, in each universe, there would almost by necessity need to be at least some small infinitesimal changes in each dimension. For example, if true, there could be another me, exactly the same as myself, only with blond hair instead of brown.”
“I see, and did you observe any of these differences in any one of your forty seven trips to the crime scene?”
“No,” he admitted, feeling as if he were under cross examination again.
“You said the multi-verse theory was impossible,” she stated.
“We had a colleague whom we lost when he tried to move within the other dimension. We thought he was gone, but if the theories are correct, it’s possible he’s moving between each universe, or that in moving laterally, he landed in a separate dimension, a different parallel world we couldn’t see.”
“Doubtful and difficult to either explain or understand,” Cain said.
“But Westcott’s shirt,” Lynch exclaimed, “I saw it before. It’s different now. When we saw it on the roof, it had a penguin logo on the breast. Today in court, I saw that the logo on the shirt in evidence features an alligator. If those theories of multiple universes are correct, it could mean that Dr. Pillay and I observed a completely different parallel world in our travels. In those worlds, anything could be possible. There could be a world in which Arthur A. Westcott might be named Arthur B. Westcott. A world in which the mild mannered school teacher and father of three has no children, or has the same family, but homicidal tendencies, or had a different upbringing, or…”
“Or, a world which is precisely our own in which Mr. Westcott simply discarded the shirt along with the sniper rifle,” Cain interrupted.
“That’s exactly what Janey said,” Lynch was shocked that both women had arrived at the same conclusion.
“So you told her,” Cain tilted her head. “What did she say?”
“She told me to keep quiet,” Lynch admitted.
“She was right,” Cain smiled at the man’s wide eyes and gaping mouth. She had shocked him for once.
“She, she, she…” he stammered again. “But, the evidence. You said it yourself. It’s the only piece and if it’s wrong, if I’m wrong…”
Cain held up a hand to stop him again, “What you’re telling me could be enough to cast reasonable doubt in the minds of the jury. Your testimony is what won the prosecution’s case. If you back down or change your story now, it will throw everything off track.”
She leaned forward, causing Lynch to retreat, his back against the door of the bathroom stall. Cain continued whispering, “If you’re wrong, then that still means that some Arthur Westcott in some world somewhere out there murdered the best president this country’s ever seen and took a five-year-old girl down in the process. And someone is going to pay for that. And I don’t have Arthur B. or Arthur C. or Arthur fucking Z. in that courtroom. I’ve got Arthur A., and he’s the only perpetrator this universe is ever going to see. And I’m going to make damned sure he’s punished for the crime, no matter which version of him actually pulled the trigger.”
“But you’re his lawyer!” Lynch cried.
“Wise up, Mr. Lynch. Arthur Westcott is a psychopath and a murderer and not one person in this whole damned country is on his side, including me.” She unlocked the door. “And this conversation never took place.”
For the second time that afternoon, Gary Lynch found himself thrust out into the hallway, alone and desperately questioning every decision he had ever made.
Neither he nor anyone else needed a time machine to determine what was going to happen next. The prosecution whipped through witness after witness including three more forensics’ experts and a bevy of psychologists and psychiatrists, all testifying to the fact that Arthur A. Westcott was a dangerous psychopathic murderer who had shot down President Ophelia Smithe in cold blood, and had maliciously kept firing, injuring a valued Secret Service agent, and murdering an innocent little five-year-old in the process. Then came the pack of other eye-witnesses including Vice President, now President Thomas Lopez, the injured Secret Service agent, Cody Michaels, and Melissa’s parents, each of whom wept throughout their entire testimony.
But, as both lawyers had surmised, it had been Lynch’s testimony that had condemned the man. The rest was all nearly routine. By the time the trial was done, the jury reached a verdict in just under eight minutes, though they waited a respectable seven hours before revealing their decision to the court, wanting to seem as if they had truly deliberated. Westcott was convicted and, in a move that defied the traditions of the American legal system, he was executed for the crime less than six months later, the American people almost unified in their cry to see him punished.
The day of the execution, Lynch and Pillay silently dismantled the Tempus V and erased all of their research. For extra measure, they destroyed the computers beyond repair and then set about first shredding and then burning all traces of paperwork. Neither one spoke of time travel, the assassination, or their doubts ever again, but neither one ever had another night of uninterrupted sleep either.
Until the end of his days, Lynch’s dreams traveled back to the day of the assassination and he watched Westcott from every possible angle as the logo on the man’s chest flickered and changed from penguin to alligator and back over and over again.
Megan E. Cassidy’s young adult novel Always, Jessie will be published by Saguaro Books this spring. Other short stories and essays have appeared in Pilcrow and Dagger, Wordhaus, and Gilded Serpent Magazine. She holds a master’s degree in English from the State University of New York at Brockport and us an Assistant Professor of Literature and Writing at Schenectady County Community College.