Perihelion Science Fiction

Sam Bellotto Jr.
Editor

Eric M. Jones
Contributing Editor


Fiction

Super Plunge Lady and the 3D Printed Rocket Car
by Erin Lale

Scabs
by Daniel Huddleston

Portraits Hung in Empty Halls
by K.C. Ball

Mouse Trap
by Fiona Moore

Basket in the Sky
by Igor Teper

Worlds Less Traveled
by John C. Conway

Redemption of Colony Venturis
by Wayne Helge

Where the Grass May Be Greener
by Rob Butler

Double Time
by Rik Hunik

Articles

Do Beavers Rule Mars?
by Thomas Elway

Science Fiction at the Box Office
by Adam Paul


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Double Time

By Rik Hunik

THE GOVERNMENT GRANTS paid for only one shift on the matter transmission project, and most of that shift was used for government condoned experiments, controlled by the government, but he’d made enough from patents to power the equipment, buy anything he wanted, and continue with experiments of his own in the evenings, experiments no one else needed to know anything about, which was why he had spent a few hours early on bypassing the government installed security and surveillance system.

Tonight he was testing a new chip that deliberately induced a field distortion in the transmitter. By calibrating the receiver to take advantage of a harmonic wave pattern he hoped to allow the receiver to accept ten times as much mass.

Working alone as usual, which meant nobody was near the transmitter, he almost jumped out of his skin when the receiver powered on as soon as he finished. The gauges, dials and lights all indicated a payload coming in. He looked at the transmitter and it remained dead, inert, inactive. That was the only transmitter with the right code so, theoretically, it was the only one his receiver could receive from.

Something smelled very fishy here.

Curious, and a little bit apprehensive, he returned to his keyboard and called up the monitor camera inside the capsule. For a few seconds he couldn’t tell what filled the cramped space, but then he realized he was looking down on the body of a man squeezed into it in a fetal position.

That was far more mass than he’d considered sending, especially at this early stage. At the power levels required there would be too much field distortion for his chip to control, which could cause unpredictable, potentially messy, results.

Not entirely unpredictable. A few weeks ago, during the day shift, a researcher had shown him a new set of equations she’d worked out that indicated the matter transmission equipment, with enough power, might be modified to send through time as well as through space. He had concealed his excitement, studied the equations, and pointed out a flaw. Where her equation called for enormous amounts of power, his correction showed infinite power would be required, like traveling at light speed. She accepted his correction and he set her on a different path, then filed the equations where only he could find them.

But he had pulled a fast one on her; time travel could be done with far less power than she’d thought. It was within his reach, but even though he’d worked on the equations since then, and come up with some interesting possibilities, he had not made any breakthrough.

But his immediate concern was getting that man out of the receiver, making sure he was okay, and running some tests. He undid the latch, the door swung open and the man’s arm flopped out but the rest of him was jammed in and didn’t move. He grabbed the arm to help the man out but the arm was completely flaccid, and then he saw the bullet hole and some blood on the front of the white lab coat, right over the heart. The arm still felt warm but there was no pulse. No surprise there.

The surprise came when he reached in, tilted the head up and saw his own face. He froze for a couple of seconds and it was almost like looking in a mirror, but it just looked wrong. Then it sank in and his blood pounded in his head. He thought, I’m dead. But how can I think that if I’m dead?

“I think, therefore I am not dead. Not yet.”

This was clearly murder, and it looked like the body dump had gone wrong, but it could not have been sent to his receiver without using his transmitter. Apparently he, or some unknown party, would apply those equations and use the matter transmitter as a time machine, leading up to or causing his own death.

He had to prevent that. His future self must have known what was going to happen to him, just as he did now. Forewarned is forearmed, but he still got shot. It didn’t make any sense.

He massaged his forehead to fend off an impending headache.

He glanced at his wristchron, saw that it was after nine PM, about the time he usually stopped for a bite to eat. Struck by inspiration he reached into the chamber and found the wristchron on the corpse’s wrist but he couldn’t see the face, so he unfastened the strap and pulled it out where he could read it. “11:22 PM.” He did a double take and looked again, this time checking the date. Yes, it was today. Unless he did something about it he had only a couple of hours to live.

Now it was personal, but he could think of no individuals who would want to kill him. That left governments, both domestic and foreign, and corporations. To his own government he was more useful alive, so either a foreign government or a corporation had an agent, or agents, on their way, right now, to kill him. Or maybe he was just collateral damage, but either way he wound up just as dead.

Well he wasn’t going to just stand around waiting. He called security and put them on high alert, not really expecting it to help any, and told the security computer to let him know of any discrepancy anywhere on the premises, inside or out. He put the views from the perimeter cameras onto his wall screens, then called up the equations on his computer monitor, hoping for a flash of inspiration.

He studied the receiver’s recordings of the last transmission and extrapolated the transmitter’s settings. Plugging the numbers into the equations showed that conditions could be set up for a temporal wormhole to come into existence when a transmission was sent to two receivers simultaneously. A second transmission could exploit that wormhole to travel through time. He had never tried that before, had no reason to. In fact, he’d done his utmost to avoid those conditions. In order to duplicate an object he had simply sent the signal a second time, with an accuracy loss of less than a thousandth of a percent.

That’s when a possible solution to his problem occurred to him.

First things first. Getting rid of the body was simple. He bypassed some safety settings, started the cycle, and just before it was ready to send he shut off the receiver. The body was widely dispersed past the focal point of the receiver and came back into the world as a fine mist of sludge a mile away in the forest outside the facility. As a final touch he hacked into the memory and completely deleted the backup copy of that transmission.

His wristchron read “9:48.” Later than he thought. His killer could show up at any time.

He ran downstairs to the storage room. A few years ago it had been the basement lab where the prototype receiver had been built, and was still kept, fully functional, as a backup. It had been assembled in a haphazard way as parts were made, most of them not at all miniaturized, and nothing was covered. It looked ugly and ungainly but functioned the same as the one upstairs. The prototype transmitter was no longer functional.

He wasted several minutes trying to find a heavy cord to power it up, but in his search he picked up his .38 revolver, which he had stashed several months ago for reasons he no longer recalled, and dropped it into the pocket of his lab coat. It was accurate enough at close range, and big enough to cause some damage.

He got the old machine running and calibrated it to match the new one. Back upstairs in his lab he had to bypass all the safety protocols in order to send to two receivers, but since he’d done most of the programming himself it didn’t take him long to hack the system. He set the transmitter for a delay of one minute, grabbed a screwdriver and ran to the receiver. He quickly undid the three wafer screws on the inside of the door and a small metal panel dropped to the floor.

The computer’s voice came over the PA. “Intruders detected in main corridor.”

How had they gotten inside without being spotted crossing the perimeter? No time to worry about that. He started folding himself into the transmitter chamber.

The heavy steel doors blew open with a loud bang and a cloud of smoke. Three figures in black skintights and masks charged in, their guns covering the entire room. One gun pointed at him, the goggles above it staring at him like alien eyes.

He was inside now, but there was no handle on the inside of the door. He wedged the handle of the screwdriver at an angle into the hole the panel had covered and pulled the door closed. The black figure ran toward him but the minute was up. He had a split second to wonder if he would be the copy to appear in the lab and end up taking a bullet.

He was cramped in an awkward position but he managed to pull the gun out of his pocket. The part of the screwdriver handle that had been stuck in the hole in the door had not been transmitted, but he jammed the tip of the screwdriver into the latch mechanism and the door opened. Yes, he was in the basement.

“That was foolish doctor.” The mask stared at him but the gun lowered, as if he was no threat.

No, he was upstairs.

“You might as well get out of there now. This is a corporate takeover and if you play right you can still have a job, if you don’t mind being closely supervised by the woman who sold you out. Yes, she hacked your system and saw what you were doing with her equations.”

He shook his head and he was back in the basement. He gripped the gun, wrapped his finger around the trigger. He was upstairs and downstairs at the same time. The identical bodies had some kind of mental link.

He was downstairs, his other self was upstairs and was no doubt experiencing this same duality. In his situation he didn’t need extra confusion. He closed his eyes and didn’t move.

Virtual reality war games and paintball parks had given him some familiarity with guns, but he had to be careful not to get too cocky because he was up against professionals here. And he knew in advance that he was going to die.

Upstairs he dropped his legs out of the chamber, using the movement as a distraction while he brought the gun to bear and put a shot through the left lens of the goggles. He dropped to a crouch on the floor while the body fell. He spotted a black figure standing at a computer terminal, probably already downloading files, and squeezed off three shots. One shot hit and the figure went down.

A bullet zipped past his ear. He spun around and fired his last two shots at the third intruder. The intruder returned fire and he felt something heavy slam into his chest and he blacked out.

And came to still crammed into the basement receiver. He felt his chest with his hand. The lab coat was dry and intact, the pain was just a memory. He let out a huge sigh of relief, then sucked in a deep breath and focused on the problem at hand.

He extricated himself, located a computer terminal and brought up the views from the security cameras in the lab upstairs. One intruder was busy downloading files on all the terminals while the other awkwardly bandaged a wounded right arm.

One was wounded but they still outnumbered him. He needed an edge.

He transmitted the wide angle view to his cell phone screen so he could keep track of them, queued the computer to play back the sound of breaking glass through a speaker on the far side of the lab when he pushed the send button on his phone, then crept up the stairs.

Adrenaline flooded his system and he had to pause at the door for a while to steady his nerves. This was way more intense than any paintball games.

When he was ready he checked his screen to see where his targets were, pointed his gun in the general direction of the unwounded one, then punched the send button while he pushed the door open with his foot and held it. The amplified crash of a rock through a picture window made both intruders turn to look in that direction, giving him time to aim and shoot. He thought both shots scored and his target dropped to the floor, but the other black-clad figure spun around and aimed at him.

He shot first, missed, the return shot went wild, and his second shot spun the black-clad figure around, flinging the gun from his hand. He squeezed off the last two shots but they missed as the man ran straight at him, arms hanging useless at his sides, leaped into the air and aimed a kick at his head. He managed to avoid it by the slightest of margins, but the man bounced and spun with another kick.

He threw the gun at the man's face and retreated out of range, grabbed a chair and held it up by two legs. Yes, it was dirty, but he was fighting for his life and it was just too humiliating to get beat up by someone not even using his arms.

He blocked the next kick with the back of the chair and when the man staggered he stepped in, swinging the chair at his head, staggering him further. He wound up for the next swing, spinning around and catching the black-clad man across the shoulders and the back of his head, sprawling him across the floor, where he lay motionless.

He dropped the chair and felt for a pulse, found none. It was the same for the other two.

High on adrenaline and still breathing hard he stuffed the body of his double into the transmission chamber and closed the door, thinking, this is no funeral for a hero, but I have to send him back to warn myself. He sighed and started the machine. He checked the equations, made some adjustments, read all the dials and gauges, made another adjustment, and realized he was stalling.

He took a deep breath and hit the button.

When the transmission was finished he shut off the power, turned the surveillance cameras back on and called the government man directing the project, rousing him from bed.

“We have a situation here. I don’t want to hear any excuses, and I don’t care what you’re doing, just get your ass to the lab. You have a big mess to clean up. Here’s the visual.” He fed the image through his phone for about three seconds, then hung up.

He grinned. That would get some action. He would probably catch a bit of flack himself, especially when he refused to tell them what had happened, but he wasn’t concerned about that. They needed him, now more than ever. They would make up some story that fit most of the facts they knew and pretend to be satisfied with it.

Even doling out little bits of the breakthroughs he’d made tonight would have them eating out of his hand for months. Maybe this raid would show them how important others found his research and they would increase his funding, perhaps enough for another lab, so he could have this one to himself. That sounded like lots of fun.

He lay down on the couch in his office for a well-deserved nap. infinity

Rik Hunik mostly builds houses to earn a living but has written dozens of stories. His work has been published in “Ascent Aspirations,” “Buzzy Mag,” and “Barbaric Yawp.” His previous story for “Perihelion” was in the 12-FEB-2013 update.

 

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