A New Birth of Freedom: The Historian by Robert G Pielke by Robert G Pielke - Read Online

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Summary

Edwin Blair, a time-traveler from the 24th Century BCE, has traveled back to the 19th Century to enlist the aid of the Union and Confederate armies at the Battle of Gettysburg to help stop a future pestilence on earth. When he returns to his own time, he has neither memory of how much, if anything, he has accomplished, nor any memory whatsoever of his journey. Suspecting that this might happen during his travels into the past, he has left seemingly insignificant clues that might later help him learn what he has done. When he figures it all out, he realizes that one more journey to the past is necessary and that his problems have just begun. Even worse, he finds out that he needs the help of the very Pests he has been trying to destroy.
Published: Whiskey Creek Press on
ISBN: 9781611608489
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A New Birth of Freedom - Robert G Pielke

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1816)

SECTION ONE

The Return

November, 2203

Edwin?

Silence.

What does she want? I’m obviously preoccupied. Edwin Blair’s irritation was growing by the second.

No one else spoke. Ida Ralston was the Vice President of the remaining United States of America, and was probably being accorded some degree of deference. A moment or two passed with only the occasional nervous throat-clearing coming from the seven persons assembled in the hermetically-sealed laboratory. It was part of a cluster of buildings at the University of Maryland originally devoted to mathematics and the physical sciences, all recently restored to their early twentieth century, colonial splendor—and untouched by the Pests’ recent invasion. Its bare walls, made all the more stark by the black and white checkered tile floors, amplified the sound, while a dozen empty drafting tables gave witness to the building’s inactivity. The ceiling lights were muted, but some flickered, evincing some kind of loose connection.

Blair! This time it was a male voice, and more insistent.

Regor. Why is he bothering me, now?

What? Blair’s irritation was morphing into a fulminating rage, and while still suppressed it resulted in an unhappy snort a few seconds later.

It’s just not working, the voice came from Vice President Ralston again. You keep pushing the button to...uh...initiate the device, but nothing happens. She scowled and sneered as if it were Blair’s fault. You’re still here.

Blair shook his head in disgust and looked at the device attached to his right forearm, trying to refocus his attention. Then he eyed Ida Ralston. I’m new at this. Remember?

Sorry. I know you’re doing your best. This thing is new to all of us. She softened. We’re lucky they figured out as much as they did about how it works.

Let me give it another try. Blair made sure the silvery valise was secure in his left hand. Then, before any of the seven observers could object, he lifted his left arm, still gripping the case, and gave the little red button on the device that had molded itself on his right arm an angry poke. After an impatient second or two, he followed with yet another, even angrier attempt. Damn it all! He snorted and banged the valise on the floor, and yanked a cloth from his jacket pocket to wipe the sweat from his brow. He looked down at the metallic container and sneered. Good thing I’m stuck taking this old vintage computer. It’s practically unbreakable. Then he muttered, Not so the newer ones. Gritting his teeth, he took in a large draft of air, then forced the breath back out of his lungs while murmuring an unintelligible curse. His lips screwed into a snarl as he jerked the device off of his right forearm and slammed it down on the table in front of him. If we can’t make this damn thing work, what’s the point of doing anything?

Blair’s voice echoed throughout the large room, the supposed sound-proofing offering no effective resistance. It was formerly an engineering lab, now devoid of all educational activity—as was the entire campus since the Pests’ invasion. Unlike most of Virginia and the District, which had been decimated almost beyond recognition, the Maryland suburbs north of the nearly obliterated capital had been relatively untouched. Maryland’s premier university, now vacated, thus became the official location for what was left of the national government. It had served this same function earlier in the century when Washington underwent a complete renovation in an effort to recapture its original, Greco-Roman stateliness.

You see, Regor announced to everyone, I’m not the only one. I tried it more than once too—just like Edwin. He picked up the device, examined it and muttered. We’re obviously doing something wrong. If the Pests can use it to move through time, we should be able to do it too—this thing was unused and we are supposed to know how most of the controls work. He continued to examine it. I’m not given to rash action, Madam Vice President, so for me to attempt this mission had to be based on the belief that we knew at least how ninety percent of the controls functioned.

I know. Ida Ralston rubbed her eyes and muttered a barely audible curse.

I thought once they figured out that the circuitry was organic, Ida, your physicists and chemists... Regor’s voice was dispirited but focused as he turned to address the others as well. They said that they had learned how to use it...most of it. I assumed that meant at least ninety percent. He looked out of the one window in the room, whose pane was made of armored glass. At least that foul, gray rain has stopped.

It was nearing the noon hour. Everyone turned to see a bright blue, cloudless sky, a sight that used to beckon students and faculty outside for seminars al fresco. Across the way they could see the old, rebuilt Reckord Armory, now being used by the surviving members of Congress for their meeting place. That, along with the other brick and colonial styled buildings in the vicinity, would ordinarily comprise a pleasant campus view. The rotunda of the building off to the right, now the office of the President, was also visible. The sight of the sunny sky, instead, evoked a chilled reaction from everyone except Blair, who was too piqued to feel anything but frustration. Rain kept the Pests at bay; dry and sunny weather allowed them to continue their rampage. Were it not for the fact that winter was now upon them and thus the dangers of spring were still many months away, their chill would be accompanied by unmitigated terror. Rather, the Pests were feasting in the southern hemisphere where plant life was still abundant. The weather took no side in this struggle against the Pests for survival, which everyone knew they were losing. It protected them now, but it would turn Quisling in March.

Regor Nivla shrugged his shoulders in feigned protest. I’m a climatologist. It’s my job to notice the weather. He tossed the object back onto the table as if it were deliberately being recalcitrant. I work with probabilities all of the time. But they are not guesses. They are mathematical calculations. Not quite under his breath, he added, Ninety percent should not be the result of guesswork.

Humpf. There’s nothin’ much to see anyway, Lee Ng mumbled in a southern drawl to his wife, Ann Wallace. Just the denuded earth for untold miles. Hardly any plants...no animal life...mostly mud in the winter and dust in the summer. He shook his head. I’m an anthropologist with nothing left to study. He put his arm around her. At least as a mathematician, you don’t deal with reality.

She scoffed. Really? Who figured out their numbering system? She grunted, Well, we sort of figured it out, she added while shaking her head. Maybe that thing only works for the Pests.

Gottlieb Suarez was nattily attired as usual. To be specific, Dr. Nivla. He spoke softly and, as usual, to the point. Many of his colleagues valued this aspect of his Asperger’s Syndrome. We only promised to provide you and Edwin with a few basic key combinations. And that we did. He nodded to the lithe, young woman standing next to him. Dr. Chu and I spent a lot of time trying to put this puzzle together. Yes, there are pieces still missing. But there wasn’t time enough...and now there’s even less. He cleared his throat. And we are...ninety percent sure that the other features of the device can be deduced, if not empirically inferred.

Nirin Chu took the device from the table and looked into the cavity that would envelope, on its own, any appendage inserted therein. Then, with extreme care, she examined the interior of the device. We are lucky that professor Suarez’s work in organic physics and mine in organic chemistry have overlapped so much. Otherwise... She grimaced. We would have lost even more people trying to share a device. She looked out one of the laboratory windows and let the device fall to her side.

And, they died horribly. Ida Ralston caught the device before it hit the floor, and continued, more to herself than anyone in particular. Still, they figured out how to set a date and place. They got that right. Her scrunched brow and tightened lips were a clear indication of the wear and tear visited upon the former surgeon, now the vice president of the severely ravaged United States of America. It’s just initiating the transfer and return that seems to be a problem. She shook her head. So, it doesn’t work. She addressed them all. Is that what you all are saying? Do we give up? Then she gritted her teeth. I’ll be damned if we do!

Maybe it’s a perception problem. Blair had calmed down a bit by now. Remember, the Pests don’t work with a base ten system...or even a binary code. He swallowed. We’re probably still relying on too much…yes, guess-work and faulty assumptions. He rubbed his brow. "I’m sure Ann did her best, but it still hasn’t allowed either Regor or me to make a trip to the past. But don’t forget, we did program their two massive prisms...and they did disappear."

The one person not yet offering a comment on the morning’s fruitless effort was Xeno Pappagapolus, a short balding man with an engineering specialty in the use of weapons. He had been pondering over the problem, then spoke softly. While we now know how to use the device as a weapon, we don’t know yet how to control it very well. He sighed. That, too, may be a function of their numbering. Who knows? They’re insects. But, God knows, they’ve got to have some way to calculate...some kind of numbering system.

Blair looked around at the dour faces. That one time we used it to destroy one of their prisms, I’m sure, must have caught those damned creatures off-guard. And it may have forced them to stop ravaging our planet for a while...but at what cost? To himself he added, My God...the earthquakes and tidal waves...to say nothing of the humanity.

Blair felt around his leather jacket, reassuring himself that the envelopes he’d prepared for the mission were still there. They were. Then, with some evident trepidation, he swirled his fingers around the interior of the pocket that held the scrap of paper with the four names he must include.

They’re well known to me as a historian of the period, but why did I make such a point of them? And include them how? Is this a product of drinking too much? It’s happened before—alcohol induced memory fatigue.

Meanwhile Ralston, still holding the device in one hand and her phone in the other, broke the silence. I’ve just notified the President about this ‘setback,’ as I prefer to think of it. She looked into the open end of the cuff, just as Nirin Chu had done.

What did my father-in-law have to say? Blair’s voice was controlled and almost matter-of-fact.

He’s got to be an emotional wreck like me, but he can control it better. I don’t have to.

He has to be disappointed—to say the least. We’ve got to make them stop somehow. We’ve got one plan. This either works or... He softened his tone. Or, we’re dead...all of us.

Ralston continued her report The president just urged us to continue with all deliberate speed...as if we had any other choice. She pocketed her phone and placed the alien device on the table, then flopped into a chair and reflected aloud. We can suppose that destroying their prism has forced them to relocate. That’s a fair assumption. Why bother with us if they don’t have to? She was tired and exasperated. And we think we can reprogram their two scout vehicles to move them to a place and time of our own choosing...to incapacitate them. Then, just maybe, they’ll leave us alone. We hope. She sighed and shook her head. Just maybe, she muttered with a bitter laugh. Surprising them is our only hope...if we can make that damn thing work. She looked at the device on the table then at Blair. You’re the historian. We’re relying on you to have selected the right place and time to do this. Are you still sure?

Absolutely.

Otherwise, Regor interjected with a bit of trepidation in his voice, the president’s order for us to use their own weapon against them will have been completely in vain. He choked back his feelings.

He had to make that decision. Blair was still trying to find a way to believe this, though he knew it was true. It was the only way to impede the Pests from continuing their devastation of the planet, if only temporarily. ‘Johnson’s Gamble.’ Blair looked disgusted. That’s what they’re all calling it now. But if there’s no alternative, it’s hardly a gamble.

You know what the president has said about that, I assume. The Vice President placed her hand on Blair’s: ‘If I must choose to save only ten percent of the planet or abandon the entire population to the Pests, I’ll let the ninety percent perish.’ Some say it was easy for him to do it, since the Pests had killed his daughter and granddaughter… She continued with her voice lowered. …your wife and daughter. After a long pause, she whispered, You might as well take that awful jacket off. She reached for his valise. And put this damned device away for safe-keeping.

All right, but as soon as we can figure out what we’re doing wrong, I want it back…and my jacket too. And it’s not that awful. He looked directly into her eyes. We haven’t been locked out from their controls. They don’t seem to have any security measures at all. That’s odd in itself. So it’s got to be just a matter of figuring out their controls and calibrations more completely…more than ninety percent. He removed his jacket and folded it over the back of a chair. The standoff between us and them in central Africa and in the South America rain forest can’t last for much longer. We’re giving them too much trouble. They’re going to want to relocate soon, and we won’t know where...or when. He murmured, We’ve got to make this plan happen. He eyed the others with a determined glare. I want to be there when they arrive, so I can kill as many of those mother-fuckers as possible. He took the valise and opened it, and then picked up the device, readying it for its cushioned cradle. But he paused before replacing it and cocked his head to the side with a puzzled expression on his face.

What’s wrong, Edwin? The Vice President looked perplexed.

The others in the room looked first at Ralson, sensing her concern, and then at Blair who had exchanged his fuming for foreboding.

She rose from her chair and looked into the interior of the metallic case. What do you see? Like everyone else who knew Edwin Blair, Ida Ralston was familiar with his sudden mood swings ever since the Pests’ massacre of his family.

Blair continued to look into the case while answering her. It’s what I don’t see, Ida. I thought I put my two journals in this sleeve on the lid. He swirled his hand around in the slot. I guess not. He then seated the device within and snapped the valise closed. "Getting this old piece-of-crap computer ready was the main thing on my mind. And it’s still ready…I’m still ready." Thinking about his journals produced a sudden twinge in the back of his head, but rubbing his brow eased the discomfort somewhat.

Your journals? She stared at the mirrored surface of the valise, as if she could see through its protective sides to investigate its contents.

Blair rubbed the back of his neck. Oh, they really weren’t journals yet. They were empty. It was just an afterthought. He shrugged and turned to her. I was planning to take a couple of empty notebooks with me to record things. I guess I forgot. A sudden twinge behind his forehead caught him off guard, causing him to wince and stumble a bit. I just forgot.

Are you all right? Ida lowered her voice.

Blair recovered and after a moment he nodded to her