Keryl Clee has found his beloved Maire and defeated his deadliest enemy, but a new crisis has arisen which threatens both the Earth and Time itself! He must unite the entire planet if he is to battle a menace out of the past and face a reckoning from the stars…
I am Handed the Universe
It is not every day that someone tells you it is your job to save the entire space-time continuum. What do you say? “Thank you”? “Sorry, you must have the wrong number”? Or do you simply mutter, as I did without realizing that I had spoken aloud, “Oh no, not again.”
Zachary Kyle was most apologetic. It was odd, not being able to read his mind, or even glimpse his emotions, but I felt he was sincere. After all, he had risked a great deal to come here and warn me, not only the danger of capture and imprisonment hundreds of thousands of years from his own time, but (unless his era had refined time travel significantly from the last I knew) the very real possibility that he would miss his target and never find me at all. In fact, from what he had just told me, had he overshot his mark by so much as half a year, he would have emerged in a timeless void from which there would be no escape.
“Believe me, Charles, there are a lot people back in my time who wish things were different. They’d rather we could use our own agents to handle this problem. I was one of the ones who argued that you were the right man for the job.”
“Forgive me if my gratitude for your faith in me is limited,” I said. Although I kept my tone wry, I was already struggling with the parameters of the problem. We were talking about finding a needle in a haystack, with a haystack the size of the entire Earth! And once we found it, we had to stop whoever was behind it by convincing him that his experiments were far too dangerous to continue—all without telling him how we knew this in the first place.
“You have no idea,” said Kyle, leaning forward in his chair. He was evidently immune to my brand of sarcasm. “You’re a legend in my time. Not only were you the first person ever to escape execution for illegal time travel, you’re the only civilian we’ve ever sent through time who wasn’t on some kind of research expedition. And even those are rare these days.” He shook his head. “Nobody’s been executed for time trespassing for years, but the law’s still on the books, and they’re talking about using it again. Everybody’s scared of time rips now—if they hadn’t absolutely needed you, they wouldn’t have sent you through again at all. You were supposed to have been brought to my time first so we could brief you, but something to do with the whole time rip phenomenon that’s going on now interfered with what we were doing then and drew you straight here.”
“That would explain why Keryl arrived so close to the deadline, rather than simply re-appearing twenty years ago,” the Librarian noted. “The elevated level of temporal activity is acting like a magnet, drawing time travelers to it.”
Zachary Kyle nodded. “More like a black hole, actually. And that was the only reason they agreed to let me try. It would have been harder for me to miss the target than hit it.”
“And are you certain you will be able to return against that pull?” the Librarian asked.
Kyle looked a little uncomfortable. “We’ve calculated a 73% chance that my return to my proper time will cause a countervailing force that will overcome the temporal drag at this end. That countervailing force will also reintegrate the time stream where my passage here ripped it. Theoretically.”
The Librarian began to speak, but he seemed to think better of it. I understood the impulse, but asking Kyle what might occur should the 27% minority chance come to pass seemed boorish. Knowing the Librarian’s programmed thirst for knowledge, I was impressed that he had managed to override it.
It was Maire who broke the awkward silence. “In that case, we should get you on your way. I would think that the longer you stay here, the more drag you have to contend with.”
Kyle’s face lit up. “Are you people kidding me? I thought this was new to you. You all seem to know as much about this stuff as I do.”
I needed no telepathic insight to see that his enthusiasm was rooted in more than pleasure that we had taken so well to his explanation; he was beginning to persuade himself that we knew more of time travel than we were admitting, knowledge that might be used to his benefit. ‘Twere better to pierce that bubble immediately.
“Honestly, Maire was just guessing. In fact, time travel is a forbidden subject, and aside from whatever cosmic damage your presence may cause, we need to return you because the damage to you if your presence is discovered is not worth contemplating.”
As I suspected it would, a light went out behind his eyes. Although he hid it well, Zachary Kyle was very frightened that he would not be able to return home. Rather than despise him for cowardice, however, his fear only made me admire him the more.
“Then that’s all I came to say, I guess.” Kyle stood up and I followed suit. “It was an honor to meet you,” he said, holding out his hand, which I shook warmly.
“The honor is mine,” I replied. I could have said more, but I was afraid it would sound forced.
Maire followed my example and shook his hand as well. “Do you want us to accompany you? I could get you past the guards without any trouble.”
He smiled. “Not a problem. I got in, I can get out.” With a nod to the Librarian, he left.
Maire and I immediately collapsed into chairs and stared at each other.
What had we gotten into now?