WITH MALICE AFORETHOUGHT
(part 2 of 2)
Morgan came to, opened his eyes, and realised he could see stars, stars in the firmament... The deja vu feeling overwhelmed him. He jerked his head in its awkward helmet.
Thank God, she was all right! Floating beside him, Naomi offered a brave smile. They were both lucky to be alive; their suits had escaped intact. He glanced over his shoulder as the rescue shuttle encroached. The space station's outer lab spoke was askew.
Once inboard, the station patrolman stepped forward as they clambered out of their suits.
‘You're both under arrest.’
Naomi paled. She didn't understand, looked at Morgan in bewilderment. Even Morgan was a little confused. One advantage with the Temporal Module was that you didn't lose your own sense of time; the brain impressions were indelible. The old concept of time-travel would not have worked: once you travelled into the past, your future and the brain-patterns of that future would cease to exist; you would exist in the now... So, thanks to the mnemonic head-phones in the Booth, he was fully cognisant of his criminal act; he was aware that he had illegally time-travelled. What Morgan could not understand, however, was how the authorities knew that he had done it.
For, in this present, there could be no record of Naomi's death, of his use of the Module. He had no intention of going back in the Booth. He’d planned to live in this particular continuum. His other-self - whom he had so recently seen - would now be suffering the trauma of losing a wife.
So, how did they know?
‘...charged with crimes against the Universal Code.’ An awed look came over the assembled shuttle crew.
Morgan shrugged his broad shoulders, intent on bluffing his way out.
‘I don't know what this is all about, patrolman. That's a very serious charge - I only hope you know what you're doing.’
The Twenty Eight Intergalactic Jurists from every accessible galaxy studied him with variegated intentness.
Morgan had initially been daunted by the sheer presence the Jurists exerted on him. The Universal Code was a just one, he knew; they would desist from any form of extra-terrestrial interrogation such as telepathy or the tapping of prescient imagery. He would be tried as if in a court of law on his native planet, Earth.
Floating voice-boxes filled the auditorium; each one a microphone link and translator for the hundreds of worlds listening and watching. The entire auditorium itself was an image-purveyor, a circular camera. Apart from the Jurists arrayed in a heart-shape on shimmering cerise-coloured plinths, the place was seething with representatives from the planets: ambassadors, Justice Societies, Earth-reporters and the Somnolent Sentries colloquially known as The Recorders who constantly scanned the Time-vortex.
Morgan found the courage to smile reassuringly at the woebegone Naomi, though inwardly knowing he was doomed.
There appeared to be something wrong with the concept of time as he was given to understand it. Even though he’d triggered the camera's spy-eye on entering the Booth - as he had only now learned from the Prosecution - he still could not comprehend how the film existed in this particular continuum. Perhaps there was another, negative law for films. Did that explain the apparitions and ‘shadows’ on some photographs? Instead of being ghosts, were they in fact images from the future? He didn’t know. The only irrefutable fact was that they had him dead to rights, on videotape, breaking the Universal Code.
His sentence would be very harsh indeed. He had put everyone's future at risk.
The Prosecution was coming to his summing-up: ‘The Earthman in the Dock has already signed an affidavit confessing to his most heinous crime.
‘The decision required of this Court is not regarding his culpability; that has been defined in accord with our Code. No, your verdict is on his sentence.’
The mountainous tetrahedron-shaped Prosecutor faced the Jurists. ‘Here is a man who warped back in time to look upon his wife, knowing of her incipient death, and with malice aforethought spared her life! I believe that for this kind of selfish action there is only one solution to adopt. The risk of our present or future being altered - hitherto unbeknown to our Esteemed Recorders - is too great.
‘Therefore, I must call for a verdict not of mercy or retribution, but essentially of practical expedience.
‘I implore you, Revered Wise Ones, revert the Accused into the past, to kill his wife and thus set the finely balanced temporal scales right again.’
Stunned, Morgan's chin dropped, mouth wide in abject horror. The alarmed eyes of Naomi sought his own, momentarily pleading; then they softened, as if saying she understood that he was helpless, that she would go back to be murdered by him, that at least he had tried...
His eyes smarted as a banana-shaped warder laid an invisible feeler on his shoulder, about to escort him into the subterranean cells whilst the verdict was considered.
He had no doubt that the Prosecutor's suggestion would be adopted; Defence had rested on the Court's mercy. There didn't seem to be any alternative. Schemes for outwitting the sentence flitted through his giddy brain but were as instantly dismissed. The Jurists would make sure he carried out the murder, of that he could be certain. He tried convincing himself: it wouldn't be killing Naomi, she was already dead. He remained unconvinced.
If he hadn't gone back, if he hadn't fought with Gregory, there might never have been an explosion, he berated himself, reluctantly stepping down.
He halted, thunderstruck.
‘Wait, please!’ he called, mind reeling. He had to get it right. The whole idea was mind-boggling, but it was a chance. He must get it right.
‘Oh, Wise Ones, please hear me!’
The warder tried restraining him, struck him dumb with lancing thoughts.
‘Desist, warder!’ a Jurist commanded.
‘It is his prerogative - let him be heard!’ roared twenty-eight ‘voices’ in unison, all simultaneously translated, clamorous.
‘If you consult the videotape recovered from the damaged lab, you'll learn that the explosion was caused by me and Assistant Gregory fighting. He was molesting my wife Naomi. I stopped him...’
The Jurists switched their attention to the Orb suspended high from the cavernous roof of the auditorium. Within the globe the video-film reeled off in split-seconds. The ephemeral scene sent a grim chill through Morgan, detachedly seeing himself struggling with Gregory.
‘Now that I've established that, Wise Ones, let me state my case.’
‘If I hadn't gone back in time, there would not have been an explosion.’ He eyed them all. As one, the Jurists concurred. ‘But if there hadn't been an explosion - thereby killing Naomi - I wouldn't have gone back.’
Frowns circumnavigated the miscellaneous features of the Jurists.
He had stated two truths, each contradictory to the other. ‘We come to the vicious circle, the Time Paradox,’ he said.
The Jurists agreed simultaneously.
‘My case is - you cannot condemn my wife to death, for she shouldn't have died in the explosion I caused because I shouldn't have gone back in time as there wasn't an explosion until I caused one!’
Viewers around the universe were stupefied; people and creatures rose, ‘gaped’. It was difficult to follow and yet it made complete sense. They could not quite grasp it, yet understood.
Completely in accord, the Jurists announced: ‘You have proven Sufficient Doubt, Morgan Bland. We must therefore acquit you...’
‘Morgan, I still don't see how you were acquitted.’
‘We became part of a paradox,’ he smiled. ‘The point is - have I changed things? By my selfish love for you, have I altered the future? And what of my other self, in that other time-continuum where you died?’
Naomi shuddered. ‘Don't talk like that, Morgan, please.’
‘We'll just have to wait and see. But if and when the change occurs, will we know?’
They had a child. He became the most murderous space pirate in the history of the known galaxy.
Previously published in Dream, 1986.
Copyright Nik Morton 2015
Note: This story evolved from a 250-word competition for The Writer.
If you enjoyed this short story, you’re invited to read others to be found on this blog; search for ‘Saturday Story’.
My anthology of crime stories Spanish Eye featuring Leon Cazador, half-English half-Spanish private eye, written ‘in his own words’ can be found in paperback and e-book.