An excerpt from Time’s Edge, Chapter Two: Do You Believe in Fate?
ON THE THIRD floor of the same building, Professor Albert Artolli paused outside the closed door of his office. Light was glowing beneath the bottom of the door.
It was after four o’clock on a Friday, a time when the science hall was usually deserted. He eyed the door, realizing there were only a few possible explanations for a light being on in his office at that hour, none of which he particularly liked. No one should have been in his office, unless…
The professor thoughtfully stroked his beard, staring at his reflection in the dark glass of the door. Gray steaks ran through his brown hair and beard, and his blue eyes were framed by wire-rimmed glasses. He knew his old-fashioned vest and jacket made him look like a professor from one hundred years earlier. He smiled slightly and grasped the doorknob.
The professor opened the door abruptly, drawing a startled exclamation from the young woman who sat at a desk in the office.
“Oh, it’s you,” she said in relief.
“Who were you expecting? A monster?” the professor asked sharply. He wasn’t particularly pleased to see her there.
“No, not a monster, exactly.” She looked at him with a frown, wondering, he knew, about the tone of voice he had used. He sighed and shut the door.
“Kate, what are you still doing here?” he asked.
“I’m finishing some reports for Dr. Riley.” She gave him that I-have-a-feeling-you’re-up-to-something-look he knew so well. “What are you doing here?”
“I left some files here that I want to work on this weekend.” He headed toward his desk. “Fortunately, I remembered them before I left campus.”
Her dubious look told him she didn’t entirely believe his tale.
He sighed again. Kate had been his secretary for the past six years. She worked for him full-time and went to college part-time. She was now twenty-four years old and in her senior year, a beautiful woman with dark brown hair falling in waves over her shoulders and large eyes of an unusual color—not quite blue, not quite green, but a bright shade that was a combination of the two. He had known her since she was a baby and often felt she was his own daughter. Unfortunately, that meant she also knew a lot about him, such as the fact that he generally didn’t come back to the office on a Friday afternoon.
“I had a hunch you might still be here,” he began, deciding that an offensive approach would bring him less trouble than explanations. “You should have left here over an hour ago.”
“I hate the thought of leaving unfinished work,” she replied. “I’m not doing anything tonight, and I prefer to keep busy.” Then she shrugged. “Besides, I felt I should stay.”
The professor shot her a sharp glance. He had not missed the significance of her remark. “Is something wrong?”
She said slowly, “Do you believe in fate, Al?”
He raised his eyebrows. “That depends on what you mean by fate.”
“Do you think some things are meant to be? That some people are destined to do certain things or to meet each other?”
The professor sat down in his chair, frowning slightly as he weighed the question.
“Fate, as you called it, isn’t carved in stone,” he said at last. “Everyone has a destiny, but how they fulfill it is their choice. Some even choose not to fulfill their fate.”
“How can you escape fate?”
“Because fate doesn’t really exist. No one is fated to do anything. Everyone simply makes choices.” He frowned thoughtfully. “I do believe everyone has a greater purpose or destiny. But that isn’t fate. It’s not certain. You can choose to walk away from your fate.”
“Then why don’t more people do that? Why do people accept their lot?”
“It’s easier,” the professor said with half a smile. “Making a choice is often difficult and many fear to make the wrong one.”
“So they make none?”
“Yes. But that in itself is a choice.”
“I see.” She pondered for a moment. “But accidents happen. There are things that aren’t choices but random events, and they affect your life. Isn’t that fate?”
“No. They are, as you said, random events that are the result of a choice or, perhaps, many choices. They may not even be your choices, but they can affect you nonetheless. No one lives in a vacuum. We all affect each other by our actions.” He eyed her curiously. “Why the sudden concern about fate?”
Kate stared down at her desk for a moment. Then she raised her head and looked directly at him. “Something is coming. I know it.”
He nodded as if she had said the most ordinary thing in the world.
Even writers need to paint their living rooms occasionally. While we work on that, please enjoy an excerpt from Time’s Edge, Chapter Two: “Do You Believe in Fate?” In this scene Commander Michael Blayne has landed in an Old Earth sidetime with a Mutlipurpose Advanced eXperimental Computer (Max).
Michael’s ship passed smoothly through the Time Tunnel, the name Division 9 had given to the passage between two time portals. It emerged into the first of a series of shimmering, rainbow-colored curtains of light.
“Transition complete. Frequency achieved. We are approaching sidetime 7,” Max announced.
“Initiate time braking,” Michael instructed. He swung around in his seat and ran his hands over the multicolored console.
“Time braking complete. We are currently in orbit around the planet Earth.”
“A wise precaution,” Max approved. “Although the technology level is primitive, the sensors of the period would have been able to detect our presence.”
“Thanks,” Michael said dryly. “Did you transmit our history-making arrival to RMB 1020?”
“Certainly,” Max returned. “However, I did not use the term ‘history-making’. In fact, we did not make history since a probe made the trip prior to our arrival.”
“Ah, but we’re the first living beings to do it,” Michael replied sarcastically. “Or so I’ve been told.”
“I do not see how anyone could possibly make that claim with any assurance. The SAF supposes they are the only ones to have the technology, but they cannot prove it. There may be others making the attempt. Also, I am not a living being, so you are the only one to make history.”
“I wonder if I am the first one to make this trip,” Michael said. “When Alrick said I was perfect for this mission, I had the distinct impression he didn’t mean probe retrieval.”
“A probe was sent back to this sidetime. It was launched from RMB 1020 on—”
“I’ve been briefed.” Michael sat lost in thought for a moment. “The probe may just be a cover for whatever the real mission is. Unfortunately, I have no information.”
“Chief Zartollis will most likely provide it when he arrives.”
“When he arrives?” Michael sat up straighter. “How do you know he’ll be here?”
“He told me.”
“Why didn’t you inform me?”
“You said you had been briefed.”
“Don’t be snide, Max.”
“I am not capable of feeling emotions, Commander.”
“No, but you’re very good at expressing them. Division 9 will be overjoyed. Now give me Alrick’s entire message.”
“He will be arriving in this sidetime within one Earth hour of our arrival. If you find the probe during that time, he asks that you wait for him.”
Michael drummed his fingers on the console. “There’s obviously something more than probe retrieval going on here. But it makes no sense. If Valda, Lucas, and Franc are involved, why send us to distant corners of the galaxy? What could be so secret that even the agents involved can’t be told?”
“I cannot answer those questions. There is insufficient information.”
“I agree. We’ll have to keep our eyes open for anything unusual and see what develops.”
“Commander,” the computer said, “I do not have eyes.”
Michael sighed and swiveled back to the main screen. “I suppose we had better get on with it. Show me the last known location of the probe.”
A picture of Earth came up on the screen. It was succeeded by a map of North America and then one of the northeastern section of the continent. This zeroed in on New England and became a state. The town was displayed and then a specific quadrant of the town. The final image was a picture of a cluster of buildings built around a square of grass.
“This is the last transmitted image from the probe,” Max said.
“Any information on what type of institution that is?”
“None from the probe. I will begin scanning as soon as we are within range.”
“Good. Notify me when you have the information.”
Michael brought the ship into orbit and then guided it down to the last location of the probe. As the ship hovered unseen over the buildings, Max began his report.
“I have locked onto the central computer system. My preliminary scan indicates this is an institution of learning, Clarondon University to give its exact name. It is a multi-disciplined school with 10,243 students. The breakdown of teachers—”
“I don’t need that. Print out a plan of the grounds.”
The computer immediately ejected a map of the campus. Michael studied it carefully.
“A university,” Michael mused. “A teacher or perhaps one of the students—”
“Commander,” Max interrupted, “I am receiving signals from the probe.”
Michael leaned forward attentively. “Location?”
“The signal is emitting from the building directly beneath us. The Verne Science Hall, to be exact.”
“This is going to be the shortest mission of my career,” Michael commented as he stood up. “Pinpoint the exact location. Also, do a visual of the inhabitants and generate appropriate clothing. I won’t be able to wear my uniform in this time.”
“Sidetime,” Max corrected.