I must have been a sight, holding a trembling gun pointed at him with one hand while I sucked my wounded hand to ease the sting.
He said it again as we stared at each other, and I realized I didn't know what to say to him. How do you tell someone they helped you ruin the world?
"You don't know what you did." My voice was all winded and croaky.
His gaze darted between my face and the wobbly gun pointing at his gut. He opened his mouth like he was going to call for help.
I found my voice. "Don't yell. If you do, I'll just have to kill you before I tell you why."
His gaze darted from the gun to the door, but his curiosity got the best of him.
It was exactly what I expected from the genius who created the time machine-more curiosity than sense. "You ruined everything. You and your machine."
I shook the gun toward the guts of the machine he was working on. "You ruined history!"
I paused, trying to find words, and when I did, they boiled out, running over each other and doubling back. "First, it was only rich people who could afford to time travel, so they started a lottery so that everybody had a chance. More and more people went back, and then the colleges and universities got into it. And more and more historical mysteries were solved. It became a race, a contest. Who built Stonehenge, where the Anasazi went, what the world was like before pollution and overcrowding. How they built the pyramids and why children suddenly started living longer in the 1300s. Who really invented the lightbulb first and whether Lizzie Borden really killed her family. Why Petra was abandoned and where the Maya went. How their calendars worked and why the world didn't end in 2012. Where the Hope diamond went and who stole the Liberty Bell. Who Mona Lisa really was. Why the Victory Victory sank and where Atlantis is. Who King Arthur was and what the Druids were really like. Why the Greeks never discovered zero." sank and where Atlantis is. Who King Arthur was and what the Druids were really like. Why the Greeks never discovered zero."
My voice sounded mad, even to me. Crazy and shrill. I swallowed and made an attempt to slow down. "Harvard found Hitler's body. Cambridge solved the extinction of the dinosaurs. MIT discovered how the pyramids were built. The University of North Carolina discovered what happened to the lost colony of Roanoke. And a pissant southern college with only a couple of thousand students debunked King Solomon's Mines and took pictures of the creation of the Nazca Lines."
I could see the hunger grow in his eyes, the questions, and the desire to know the answers to all the things I was talking about. It was like watching what had happened to my world in microcosm etched in his face.
I'd forgotten that he had only lived to make one short time trip. He'd died before he could really experience his own creation.
Maybe because of me. I shook my head. Don't go there. Don't get tied up in time knots. Don't go there. Don't get tied up in time knots.
"In the future, I-somebody-will come back with a film of Jesus. At first, Timeshares won't distribute it. But, then, someone will get greedy, or just stupid, and they will. And that will start a race for more information on all the religions.
"Except-except everybody sees their gods their own way. The vids won't be the wonders they were intended to be. Not everybody will agree that they're accurate. Not everybody will agree that it's Jesus or the Buddha, or their version of Jesus or the Buddha. So somebody else will go back to debunk the first film. And somebody else will try to debunk the debunker's film.
"And some people won't stop at arguing their points of view. Somebody will kill the person who blasphemed their god. And somebody else will kill that person. And pretty soon the whole world will be at war. Killing each other because they don't like the other person's version of the past.
"The world Rick saw . . ." I stopped. I could hear Rick's voice in my head. Rick's beautiful, rich velvet voice, twisted with the darkness of what he'd seen in the future.
My stomach churned. I could still taste the perfume of Campbell's time. And somewhere in the middle of my rant, I'd lowered the gun.
He'd been too transfixed to notice. "Tell me more," he breathed. He stood there, in the middle of his lab, with the last piece of the puzzle in his hand.
I knew the shape and size of it as well as I knew a spoon or a key. Or the gun in my hand.
On this day, he'd made an intellectual leap and discovered the last component that would make his time machine work. Today, he'd changed history.
"It's like the whole world is starving, and all they want to eat is the past. And one of these days, they'll hate other people's versions of the past so much, they'll destroy the future."
But he was ravenous, too. I could see it in his eyes. He was like everyone else in my time. He'd heard everything I'd said, and the wrongness of it, the horror, didn't even occur to him. He just wanted to know more.
The gun wasn't heavy, but my arm came up as if I was in slow motion.
I pulled the trigger. It was as loud as a metal gun, but the sound was flatter.
The bullet hit him in the chest. His eyes went wide and round as a red stain grew on his lab coat. He fell back slowly. Slowly. He crumpled to the floor, and he died with the heart of the time machine clutched to his own heart.
Someone would come, a guard or somebody working late in one of the other labs. But I couldn't move until I took a couple of deep breaths, until I offered up a prayer for forgiveness.
Then I took the component from his fingers. It was sticky and warm with his blood.
I put it in on the table with all the other bits and pieces and shoved them together. On the top, I put his notebook.
I knew that notebook. I'd seen it every day for most of my adult life. It was proudly displayed in the lobby of Timeshares, and every morning, the CEO, wearing white gloves, turned a page of it, so that if you were willing to come by every day for more than three months, you could see all Dr. Campbell's handwritten notes. Except that reading was a dying art.
I opened the backpack and took out two blocks of C4.
I shoved the detonator into it, the way Rick had shown me, and I put it on top of things on the table.
And then I put the rest of the C4 into the belly of the time machine. It didn't look like the flashy thing that sat guarded and worshipped in my time. This first version was just a square gray ugly box of machinery with a transporter that looked like one of the old shower stalls in Rick's abandoned building.
The guards came before I had time to push the button.
There were two of them, older men clad in blue uniforms with shiny brass buttons that winked at me. They crashed through the door and slid to a stop when they saw Dr. Campbell's body.
I could have shot them. I pointed the gun at them. But I hadn't come back here to kill innocent people.
One man drew his gun, but the other one forgot to unhook his holster flap. He fumbled at with it. His eyes were tight with fear.
The faster of the two shot me.
It felt . . . odd.
There was a sound like a meaty punch. My chest went numb, and I fell back against the time machine. And then a fiery pain blossomed, right over my heart.
So this was what dying felt like.
I'd thought I would be afraid, but instead I was so calm.
Everything had slowed to half speed.
I forced myself up. My blood smeared the time machine.
I staggered and dragged my hand up so that the two men could see what I held in it.
Rick had built the trigger in a cute little box that had a red, blinking button like something from a child's game.
They understood exactly what I was showing them. They ran.
I looked down at myself. From my breasts down, my silver gray uniform was bright red and wet. Shiny.
I was going to die shiny. It made me smile.
I pushed the button.
Rick stumbled into his apartment, dropped his satchel, and flipped on the lights. His dog, Grady, danced around his feet, glad to see him, but Rick had to sit down to catch his breath.
He'd obviously run up the stairs instead of taking the elevator, but he couldn't remember why.
The library books in his satchel had to weigh fifty pounds. He could have killed himself running with all that extra weight. His heart felt like it was going to jump out of his chest, and his breath was so rasping that it hurt his throat.
When his breathing had eased, he bent down to pat Grady.
Something in his shirt pocket crackled. The mail he'd picked up before his dash up the stairs, he guessed. He pulled out a letter, addressed to him with way too much postage stuck in the corner.
He opened it and pulled out a single sheet of paper so thick and fine that it felt like something from another time. The logo on it was for something called Timeshares Travel Agency. He'd never heard of it.
The note was written in a neat script.
Rick,If I'm successful, I don't think this note will make any sense to you.But if you read it in time, please forgive me. Forgive me for making your beautiful voice dark. Forgive me for lying to you. But if I'd let you blow up the machine of today, they'd have just built another one. And all that would have accomplished was to delay the inevitable. I had to take out the very first one.There are so many reasons why I've done what I did. It was for the Anasazi, and Newgrange and Stonehenge and the Mona Lisa Mona Lisa. For the books and the libraries. But, mostly, it was for the future.I did it for the mysteries. And for the children. Everyone deserves the right to grow up unspoiled, not knowing.
ABOUT THE EDITORS.
Jean Rabe is the author of two dozen books and more than four dozen short stories. She primarily writes fantasy, but dabbles in the science fiction, military, and horror genres when given the opportunity. A former newspaper reporter and news bureau chief, she's also edited anthologies, gaming magazines, and newsletters. When not writing, Jean works on her growing to-be-read stack of books, plays roleplaying and board games, visits museums, and fiercely tugs on old socks with her three dogs. Visit her Web site at: www.jeanrabe.com.
Martin H. Greenberg is the CEO of Tekno Books and its predecessor companies, now the largest book developer of commercial fiction and nonfiction in the world, with over two thousand published books, including more than one thousand anthologies, that have been translated into thirty-three languages. He is the recipient of an unprecedented four Lifetime Achievement Awards in the science fiction, mystery, and supernatural horror genres, the Milford and Solstice awards in science fiction, the Bram Stoker award in horror, and the Ellery Queen award in mystery-the only person in publishing history to have received all three awards.