TIME SPIKE – snippet 25
Jeff Edelman shook his head. “History isn’t my area. I don’t know any more about it than any one else does.”
“We don’t need a historian,” Joe Schuler hissed between clinched teeth. “We need a scientist. We need someone capable of reasoning this shit out. We have an Indian who swears he’s from the mid-eighteen hundreds and was shot by a Spaniard named de Soto, who we know was from the mid-fifteen hundreds. He further swears that he ran across a small village filled with primitive people who can only be the early Mounds People. That culture existed still earlier. They’re the ones who built the mounds you see around this part of the country. And to top it all off, everyone is fighting a bunch of animals they’ve never seen before, but which have to be things that died back in the Crustaceous Period. And, God help me, I believe every word of it.”
Jeff nodded, slow and easy. “Okay, but I don’t think there is any figuring this shit out. I’ve already told you what I think. I think we’ve been dumped back in time. Along the way we picked up hitchhikers, or maybe they got here first. I don’t know. But Joe, it doesn’t matter. We just have to go with it. See what we’re dealing with, and do whatever we have to do.”
“It does matter.” Joe scratched at his newly sprouted beard. “What happens if we do something to screw up the future? What if we do something that will let Adolph Hitler win World War II, or maybe prevent penicillin from being invented?”
“Or kill our own grandfather?” Andy Blacklock stood up and walked to the window. “I don’t think that’s a problem. I think what we’re doing now is actually in the present. We’re still moving forward, but in another place.”
“Alternate universe?” Joe nodded. “Yeah, I’ve heard about them. On TV, and in books. It makes sense. In that other universe, or home place, the Cherokees are still traveling the Trail of Tears, de Soto is still butchering his way towards his own un-grieved demise, and the Mounds people are quietly disappearing from the face of the earth. Yeah. That would be good. Real good.”
“This is crazy!” Jenny exclaimed. “You’re saying there are two of us now? Well, which one is the real one? Which one has the soul? The one back there or the one that’s here?”
Andy shook his head. “I’m not saying that is the way it is. I’m saying an alternate universe makes the most sense.”
Jeff Edelman snorted. “Jenny, don’t get pissy. If a theory makes any sense at all, we have to at least consider it. And I think Andy and Joe might be right. I think history is continuing. And I don’t think we have to walk on eggshells because I don’t think we can have an impact on the history of the world we came from. We’re on a new timeline. And this change might have left behind a half-dozen or more possible universes. One for each disruption in the original line.”
From the window, Andy could see what had once been the parking lot and bluff. Now it was grasslands and sand. In the distance, he could see a volcano. Fortunately, it didn’t seem to be active.
“Does it really matter?” he asked. He turned to look at the others. “I don’t believe there are now two of us. One at home and one here. I think we’re gone. That the people back home are as confused as we are. I also don’t believe we can change what happens in our future. I don’t think we’re in our own timeline or that we’re in our own universe. Not that what I think matters. Even if everything we do and say is happening in our own past, we still don’t have to worry about doing something that changes man’s future.”
“Why?” Joe asked.
Andy motioned for them to come to the window. “Look to the east, right above the tree line. See that bird? We’re over a mile away. That thing is huge. It’s a pre-historic creature. It died out when life on Earth was all but destroyed by a comet strike, or whatever. We had the Permian extinction about two hundred and fifty million years ago, according to Jeff. Then, about sixty-five million years before the Quiver, something—once again—wiped life’s slate almost clean.
“We don’t know if that is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month, or twenty million years from now. It doesn’t matter. If this is our own past, then the one thing we know is that we didn’t make it. Whatever civilization we manage to start will disappear without a trace. So, we don’t have to worry about which timeline we’re in—ours or a new one. All we have to do is build our present. The one we want to live in and the one we want to leave to our children.”
Jenny wiped her eyes on her sleeve. “So, we’re the new Adam and Eve.”
“What are we going to do?” Hulbert asked.
“Go meet the Cherokees. Our guest says he was traveling with them on the Trail of Tears. By then, the Cherokee weren’t even close to what any sane man would call ‘wild savages.’ They even had their own alphabet. I figure we can get along with them okay.”
Joe looked dubious. “Has it occurred to you they might be holding a grudge?”
Andy shrugged. “Against who? Americans almost two hundred years back? A lot’s changed since then. I don’t see any reason to think they can’t figure that out for themselves. I think Stephen McQuade already has. It helps, you know, that he can look around and see for himself that we’re now a multi-racial society.”
He picked up the pad he’d use to take notes while talking to Stephen McQuade, the wounded Cherokee. The Cherokees had been in southern Illinois when the Quiver caught them. So had the prison. “Yeah, it’s starting to make sense.” Everything we’re running across is something that existed somewhere in this area, at one time or another. Not exactly where the prison is, maybe, but pretty close. The Trail of Tears passed through this area. So did De Soto. And I’ll bet money the Indians McQuade spent the night with were Mounds people.”
He handed the pad to Edelman. “I think your theory about us getting shoved into the past and taking others with us is pretty accurate. Look at this. All of these people were here in Southern Illinois, within a few miles of the prison. They were just here at different times.”
Edelman looked at Andy’s notes. “If it’s the real De Soto, we’re in trouble. That bastard was nothing but a butcher. Everywhere he went he stole everything he could get his hands on, and enslaved anyone he could. Of course he only murdered, robbed, tortured and raped in the name of God and gold.”
Jenny gave him a strained smile. “Christians didn’t exactly corner the market on that type of behavior, you know.”
“True enough,” Edelman said. “But the conquistadores were right at the top of the class. It wasn’t just De Soto. When I was in high school, I did a report on gold mines. During the 1500s, the Franciscan monastery was running the show in Cuba. Those Spanish monks were so ruthless, the Indians they enslaved to work the mines would commit mass suicide. They would get their hands on enough rope to hang themselves, and then during the middle of the night they would say goodbye to each other, wrap those ropes around their own necks, then jump.”
Andy suppressed the urge to shudder. He knew the way things used to be done. He had the same history teacher Edelman had. Mr. Carter had refused to sugarcoat anything. He believed the only way to correct things was to make sure kids grew up knowing just how evil people could become if left unchecked. And he didn’t restrict that lesson to the Europeans and Adolf Hitler. He had rubbed man’s inhumanity to man in their faces using every civilization on the planet. He wanted them to know there was no such thing as the good old days.
“When we get through with the Cherokees, assuming we can,” Andy said, “then we’ll try to work something out with De Soto. He’ll be a lot tougher to deal with, I expect. But he might not be impossible. He was greedy. He wanted to be rich and move up the ranks in power. Once he realizes there is no gold, no Catholic church, no monarchy to give him land that does not belong to them, we should be able to come to some sort of agreement with him and his men. When the only thing of value is your next meal, a man’s perspective tends to change. I speak a little Spanish, and some of the C.O.’s are fluent in it. We won’t have trouble understanding each other.”
“I hate this place!” Jenny didn’t look at any of the men in the room. She kept her eyes on the floor. “Andy, you’re talking about dealing with people who act worse than the ones we have behind bars. If you strike a deal with De Soto, how do you justify keeping our murderers, our rapists, our thieves, behind bars. How do you say, this devil is our friend, but that devil has to stay locked up?”
“Jenny, we have no choice. We can’t go back to our world. We have to live in this one. We have to adapt, or we die.”
“Adapt, or sell our souls?”
He walked across the room and stood directly in front of her. “I will do whatever I have to do to keep us alive. I’m trying, Jenny. The first thing we have to do is warn the Cherokees. From what McQuade told me about the shape they’re in, they won’t be able to survive an attack from de Soto. Then, we’ll try to warn the Mounds people. Then, we will try to talk some sense into the conquistadores. When we get back we will start releasing the non-violent prisoners.”
“Release them, or let them out of their cells?” Joe asked.
“That’s going to depend on what we find out there. Until I know more, I’m not willing to hand any of them a gun or a knife. Every gun and every box of ammo given away is less we have to defend us from dinosaurs, Spaniards, and I don’t know what else. So, how do they take care of themselves? You’ve seen the things roaming around outside the walls. If I open the gate and send them down the road, unarmed, they’re dead. And if I unlock the gates, and then let the prisoners remain inside the prison, every one of us could wind up murdered in our sleep. The decision on what we do with and for the prisoners waits. Now,” Andy said, “get the department heads together. We have a trip to plan.”