Timeline Restorations, Entry 3a: After the Mission

Excerpt from the novel Infiltrator icon-external-link-12x12 icon-search-12x12 by S.M. Stirling icon-external-link-12x12 icon-search-12x12

S.M. Stirling's "Infiltrator" book cover. [Formatted]

A MOTEL, LOS ANGELES: 1995
     Tarissa Dyson sat silent and motionless in the motel room’s uncomfortable chair and watched her children sleep. Blythe and Danny lay totally abandoned to it, like puppies collapsed after a long, hard romp, dark lashes still against soft, plump cheeks. They had wanted so desperately to stay awake for their father’s return, had fought so valiantly to keep their eyes open.
     She felt a twinge of regret for not keeping them awake. But their constant refrain of “Where’s Daddy?” and “When’s he coming back?” had strained her nerves to the snapping point. She’d rather feel guilty for letting them get some much-needed rest than for yelling at them when they were already frightened and stressed.
     She tried to steer her mind away from what had frightened them. Frightened them and terrified me, she admitted to herself. The brutal image of the Terminator peeling the flesh off the metal skeleton of its forearm flashed unbidden into her mind’s eye. That memory was like probing a broken tooth with your tongue, at once painful and irresistible.
     They were in a little motel off the interstate, clean but shabby, showing bare spots in the tired carpet and worn patches on the arms of the sofa, smelling slightly of disinfectant soap.
     The Terminator had said that the T-1000 would probably go to their home, extract information from whomever it found there, and then terminate them.
     Terminate them. What a sterile way to put it.
     So Sarah Connor had chosen this place from the phone book. They would meet here after the mission, she’d said. Mission—another word that distanced people from what they were doing.
     Only the destruction of Miles’s dreams.
     Images crowded into her mind: Miles pressed against his file cabinet, terror on his face as shots destroyed the room, glass shattering and paper turned to confetti swirling around him.
     “Take Danny and go! Run! Just run!” he’d shouted.
     She’d grabbed their son and dragged him toward the front of the house. Then Miles broke from his office, running toward them. A bullet struck him; she could still see the arc of blood as he fell. Tarissa swallowed hard. Then her son had slipped from her grasp and thrown himself over his father’s prone body.
     “Don’t you hurt my daddy!” he shouted.
     She looked at her son, awed by the courage in that small package. Tarissa put her hand down on the bed beside him, fearful that touching him might wake him. She sighed. If what they’d told her was true, then the loss of Miles’s dreams was a small price to pay to ensure that their son and daughter would live to have dreams of their own one day.
     The endless sound of cars shushing by might have been lulling… had there been any possibility that she could sleep. Tarissa sighed again and squeezed her eyes shut, whispering a brief prayer for Miles’s safe return.
     Danny started snoring and she looked at him. The corners of her full lips wanted to lift in affectionate amusement, but she lacked the physical strength, even for such a little thing.
     Call!
     With another sigh she rubbed her face, then got up from the ugly chair to pace the little room. It was taking so long. Too long? Who could say? How long did “missions” take anyway?
     Miles, Miles, come home to me! Please, please, please…
     She looked at the TV and then at Danny and Blythe. If she kept the volume down it probably wouldn’t bother them, and there might be something… Tarissa sat on the end of the bed and tapped the remote. Sound blared from the TV and she groped frantically for the mute button. Her heart pounding, she turned guiltily to Danny and Blythe. The little guy turned over and uttered a muffled protest, but didn’t wake up. Blythe didn’t even stir.
     What kind of jerk leaves the volume on max? Tarissa though, then answered herself: The type who things that sort of thing is funny.
     When she looked back the screen had cleared and there was Cyberdyne Corporation… on fire. There were shattered police cars everywhere and the strobing lights of dozens of ambulances. It was a disaster, a war zone. She watched bodies being carrie out on stretchers and she forgot to breathe.
     “Miles,” she whispered, and her heart shriveled with horror.
     The phone rang and she dived for it.
     “Yes?” she said, amazed at how calm she sounded. Danny and Blythe slept on.
     “Tarissa?” It was John Connor’s voice. The voice of a smart-ass ten-year-old, mature beyond his years.
     “Where’s Miles?” she asked. She heard John take a breath, and froze, screaming silently. Miles should be on the phone, not John. John’s just a kid. Don’t blow up at him. Suddenly she felt very distant, as though she’d been cut free from her feelings. John hadn’t answered yet and the pause was getting painfully long.
     “He’s… gone,” she said, sparing the boy.
     “He saved you tonight,” John said firmly. “He saved Danny and Blythe and millions of other people. You know that. You’ve got to remember that,” his voice pleaded.
     “I know,” she agreed, then choked. With a hard swallow she steadied herself and asked, “Where’s your mother?”
     “She’s been hurt,” John answered. “She needs a transfusion, but that’s out, for obvious reasons. She’ll be all right, I think. Mom’s tough.”
     Yes, she was, and terrifying—maybe because she was visibly hanging on by a thread. Tarissa would never forget the sight of her standing over Miles, trembling and cursing, her finger tightening on the trigger. But Sarah Connor had lived alone with this slowly approaching horror for years and had still soldiered on. She was tough all right.
     And so are you, kid, Tarissa thought with amazement. So much was riding on this boy’s slender shoulders. She remembered the way he’d calmed his mother.
     “Where’s the Terminator?” she asked. With the massive… being beside him, John should be able to take on anything. She became aware of another too-long pause.
     “We had to destroy him,” John said rapidly. “He said so… he said so himself. He climbed into the… he did it, with Mom’s help, himself. We couldn’t risk someone getting hold of his microprocessor.”
     Oh my God, Tarissa thought. “No, I guess not,” she managed to say numbly.
     “Besides, the T-1000 damaged him so badly, he couldn’t pass for human anymore.” John sounded almost distracted, as though more important things were happening around him and his attention was divided.
     You poor kid, she thought. Poor Terminator as well. Poor Miles. My poor love.
     “Then you didn’t really have a choice.” At least I suppose so. What do I know? I’m new to all this. The image of the Terminator’s flesh-stripped arm, of the intricate, exposed mechanism of it, made her squeeze her eyes shut. She didn’t want her imagination to supply her with anything more. “Good luck,” she said.
     “And to you,” he answered.
     Tarissa hung up the phone. She couldn’t say thank you, even though she knew that Miles’s sacrifice had just saved the world. She couldn’t bring herself to thank one of the people who’d brought him to it.
     Tarissa pushed herself up from the bed and stumbled to the window. Pressing her hand hard against her mouth, she kept as quiet as possible so as not to disturb her sleeping children. A great fire made of pain and rage and fear swelled in her chest and sobs like a series of blows racked her.
     After a few minutes the worst was over and she leaned panting against the window frame, feeling sick. Tarissa could feel the world crumble to broken ice as she stared at the dingy parking lot through her tears. How was she going to tell her children that their father was never coming home?

Accident

Excerpt from the novel Jurassic Park icon-external-link-12x12 icon-search-12x12 by Michael Crichton icon-external-link-12x12 icon-search-12x12

Michael Crichton's "Jurassic Park" book cover. [Formatted]

     Grant leaned to Muldoon, and shouted: “What about the others?”
     Muldoon shouted, “They’ve already taken off. Harding and some workmen. Hammond had an accident. Found him on the hill near his bungalow. Must have fallen.”
     “Is he all right?” Grant said.
     “No. Compys got him.”
     “What about Malcolm?” Grant said.
     Muldoon shook his head.

Blink of an Eye

Excerpt from the novel Jurassic Park icon-external-link-12x12 icon-search-12x12 by Michael Crichton icon-external-link-12x12 icon-search-12x12

Michael Crichton's "Jurassic Park" book cover. [Formatted]

     They moved Malcolm to another room in the lodge, to a clean bed. Hammond seemed to revive, and began bustling around, straightening up. “Well,” he said, “at least disaster is averted.”
     “What disaster is that?” Malcolm said, sighing.
     “Well,” Hammond said, “they didn’t get free and overrun the world.”
     Malcolm sat up on one elbow. “You were worried about that?”
     “Surely that’s what was at stake,” Hammond said. “These animals, lacking predators, might get out and destroy the planet.”
     “You egomaniacal idiot,” Malcolm said in a fury. “Do you have any idea what you are talking about? You think you can destroy the planet? My, what intoxicating power you must have.” Malcolm sank back on the bed. “You can’t destroy this planet. You can’t ever come close.”
     “Most people believe,” Hammond said stiffly, “that the planet is in jeopardy.”
     “Well, it’s not,” Malcolm said.
     “All the experts agree that our planet is in trouble.”
     Malcolm sighed. “Let me tell you about our planet,” he said. “Our planet is four and a half billion years old. There has been life on this planet for nearly that long. Three point eight billion years. The first bacteria. And, later, the first multicellular animals, then the first complex creatures, in the sea, on the land. Then the great sweeping ages of animals—the amphibians, the dinosaurs, the mammals, each lasting millions upon millions of years. Great dynasties of creatures arising, flourishing, dying away. All this happening against a background of continuous and violent upheaval, mountain ranges thrust up and eroded away, cometary impacts, volcanic eruptions, oceans rising and falling, whole continents moving… Endless, constant and violent change… Even today, the greatest geographical feature on the planet comes from two great continents colliding, buckling to make the Himalayan mountain range over millions of years. The planet has survived everything, in its time. It will certainly survive us.”
     Hammond frowned. “Just because it lasted a long time,” he said, “doesn’t mean it is permanent. If there was a radiation accident….”
     “Suppose there was,” Malcolm said. “Let’s say we had a bad one, and all the plants and animals died, and the earth was clicking hot for a hundred thousand years. Life would survive somewhere—under the soil, or perhaps frozen in Arctic ice. And after all those years, when the planet was no longer inhospitable, life would again spread over the planet. The evolutionary process would begin again. It might take a few billion years for life to regain its present variety. And of course it would be very different from what it is now. But the earth would survive our folly. Life would survive our folly. Only we,” Malcolm said, “think it wouldn’t.”
     Hammond said, “Well, if the ozone layer gets thinner—”
     “There will be more ultraviolet radiation reaching the surface. So what?”
     “Well. It’ll cause skin cancer.”
     Malcolm shook his head. “Ultraviolet radiation is good for life. It’s powerful energy. It promotes mutation, change. Many forms of life will thrive with more UV radiation.”
     “And many others will die out,” Hammond said.
     Malcolm sighed. “You think this is the first time such a thing has happened? Don’t you know about oxygen?”
     “I know it’s necessary for life.”
     “It is now,” Malcolm said. “But oxygen is actually a metabolic poison. It’s a corrosive gas, like flourine, which is used to etch glass. And when oxygen was first produced as a waste product by certain plant cells—say, around three billion years ago—it created a crisis for all other life on our planet. Those plant cells were polluting the environment with a deadly poison. They were exhaling a lethal gas, and building up its concentration. A planet like Venus has less than one percent oxygen. On earth, the concentration of oxygen was going up rapidly—five, ten, eventually twenty-one percent! Earth had an atmosphere of pure poison! Incompatible with life!”
     Hammond looked irritated. “So what is your point? That modern pollutants will be incorporated, too?”
     “No,” Malcolm said. “My point is that life on earth can take care of itself. In the thinking of a human being, a hundred years is a long time. A hundred years ago, we didn’t have cars and airplanes and computers and vaccines… It was a whole different world. But to the earth, a hundred years is nothing. A million years is nothing. This planet lives and breathes on a much vaster scale. We can’t imagine its slow and powerful rhythms, and we haven’t got the humility to try. We have been residents here for the blink of an eye. If we are gone tomorrow, the earth will not miss us.”
     “And we very well might be gone,” Hammond said, huffing.
     “Yes,” Malcolm said. “We might.”
     “So what are you saying? We shouldn’t care about the environment?”
     “No, of course not.”
     “Then what?”
     Malcolm coughed, and stared into the distance. “Let’s be clear. The planet is not in jeopardy. We are in jeopardy. We haven’t got the power to destroy the planet—or to save it. But we might have the power to save ourselves.”

Control

Excerpt from the novel Jurassic Park icon-external-link-12x12 icon-search-12x12 by Michael Crichton icon-external-link-12x12 icon-search-12x12

Michael Crichton's "Jurassic Park" book cover. [Formatted]

     Lying in bed, soaked in sweat, Malcolm listened as the radio crackled.
     “Anything?” Muldoon said. “You getting anything?”
     “No word, Wu said.
     “Hell,” Muldoon said.
     There was a pause.
     Malcolm sighed. “I can’t wait,” he said, “to hear his new plan.”
     “What I would like,” Muldoon said, “is to get everybody to the lodge and regroup. But I don’t see how.”
     There’s a Jeep in front of the visitor center,” Wu said. “If I drove over to you, could you get yourself into it?”
     “Maybe. But you’d be abandoning the control room.”
     “I can’t do anything here anyway.”
     “God knows that’s true,” Malcolm said. “A control room without electricity is not much of a control room.”
     “All right,” Muldoon said. “Let’s try. This isn’t looking good.”
     Lying in his bed, Malcolm said, “No, it’s not looking good. It’s looking like a disaster.”
     Wu said, “The raptors are going to follow us over there.”
     “We’re still better off,” Malcolm said. “Let’s go.”
     The radio clicked off. Malcolm closed his eyes, and breathed slowly, marshaling his strength.
     “Just relax,” Ellie said. “Just take it easy.”
     “You know what we are really talking about here,” Malcolm said. “All this attempt to control… We are talking about Western attitudes that are five hundred years old. They began at the time when Florence, Italy, was the most important city in the world. The basic idea of science—that there was a new way to look at reality, that it was objective, that it did not depend on your beliefs or your nationality, that it was rational—that idea was fresh and exciting back then. It offered promise and hope for the future, and it swept away the old medieval system, which was hundreds of years old. The medieval world of feudal politics and religious dogma and hateful superstitions fell before science. But, in truth, this was because the medieval world didn’t really work anymore. It didn’t work economically, it didn’t work intellectually, and it didn’t fit the new world that was emerging.”
     Malcolm coughed.
     “But now,” he continued, “science is the belief system that is hundreds of years old. And, like the medieval system before it, science is starting not to fit the world anymore. Science has attained so much power that its practical limits begin to be apparent. Largely through science, billions of us live in one small world, densely packed and intercommunicating. But science cannot help us decide what to do with that world, or how to live. Science can make a nuclear reactor, but it cannot tell us not to build it. Science can make pesticide, but cannot tell us not to use it. And our world starts to seem polluted in fundamental ways—air, and water, and land–because of ungovernable science.” He sighed. “This much is obvious to everyone.”
     There was a silence. Malcolm lay with his eyes closed, his breathing labored. No one spoke, and it seemed to Ellie that Malcolm had finally fallen asleep. Then he sat up again, abruptly.
     “At the same time, the great intellectual justification of science has vanished. Ever since Newton and Descartes, science has explicitly offered us the vision of total control. Science has claimed the power to eventually control everything, through its understanding of natural laws. But in the twentieth century, that claim has been shattered beyond repair. First, Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle set limits on what we could know about the subatomic world. Oh well, we say. None of us lives in a subatomic world. It doesn’t make any practical difference as we go through our lives. Then Gödel’s theorem set similar limits to mathematics, the formal language of science. Mathematicians used to think that their language had some special inherent trueness that derived from the laws of logic. Now we know that what we call ‘reason’ is just an arbitrary game. It’s not special, in the way we thought it was.
     “And now chaos theory proves that unpredictability is built into our daily lives. It is as mundane as the rainstorm we cannot predict. And so the grand vision of science, hundreds of years old—the dream of total control—has died, in our century. And with it much of the justification, the rationale for science to do what it does. And for us to listen to it. Science has always said that it may not know everything now but it will know, eventually. But now we see that isn’t true. It is an idle boast. As foolish, and as misguided, as the child who jumps off a building because he believes he can fly.”
     “This is very extreme,” Hammond said, shaking his head.
     “We are witnessing the end of the scientific era. Science, like other outmoded systems, is destroying itself. As it gains in power, it proves itself incapable of handling the power. Because things are going very fast now. Fifty years ago, everyone was gaga over the atomic bomb. That was power. No one could imagine anything more. Yet, a bare decade after the bomb, we began to have genetic power. And genetic power is far more potent than atomic power. And it will be in everyone’s hands. It will be in kits for backyard gardeners. Experiments for schoolchildren. Cheap labs for terrorists and dictators. And that will force everyone to ask the same question—What should I do with my power?—which is the very question science says it cannot answer.”
     “So what will happen?” Ellie said.
     Malcolm shrugged. “A change.”
     “What kind of change?”
     “All major changes are like death,” he said. “You can’t see to the other side until you are there.” And he closed his eyes.
     “The poor man,” Hammond said, shaking his head.
     Malcolm sighed. “Do you have any idea,” he said, “how unlikely it is that you, or any of us, will get off this island alive?”