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(complete text full story - 5,139 words)
(first of three sections)

        "We have to go now," said Marion.
         "Why?" said Terry. "What's the big rush?"
         "You know full well!" said Marion. "Basque has been my whole life."
         "You mean I don't figure?" said Terry.
         "Hey, Mister," said Marion, who always "Mistered" her husband when she was struggling to control her anger, "do I resent your time on the golf course?"
         Terry shrugged, and then simply walked out.
         "Come back, you!" said Marion. "I want an argument!"
         But Terry kept on walking.


        In the end, it was the Hitler photograph which decided them. A high school kid, one Simon McSurf, hijacked his father's Chronoclick (illegal to start with - the father was one of the new breed of archaeological looters) and somehow found a fragment of 1909 which had not been trashed yet.
         "Hi, Hitler."
         A huddled corpse on the dirty snow, a picture which made Simon McSurf rich overnight and instantly world famous. And the Jews were still dead, and the far right lunatic fringe was as strong as ever, and the last chance at 1909 was gone for good - the last chance to, say, interview Picasso during the days in which he and his buddy Braque were bringing Cubism into existence.
         "That settles it," said Luke. "We have to save something for science."
         And it was Luke's arguments, in the end, which carried the day. Luke Ozlam had the lowest golf handicap, and it was the ineradicable subconscious knowledge of this which finally made Terry bow to Luke's arguments. And Suzy? Suzy Birenda would go wherever Luke went. That was her nature.
         (And Suzy was essential. The rest of them were egghead academics, but Suzy, the daughter of an electrician, was the hands-on grease monkey type could could actually fix their Chronoclick if something went wrong back there in the years BC, the years Before the Common Era.)


        "Marion," said Suzy.
         "What is it?" said Marion.
         "What if we kill them?" said Suzy.
         "Kill who?" said Marion.
         "You know," said Suzy.
         Marion did know. But she didn't expect to have this ethical conundrum stuff dumped on her by a - well, a grease monkey. Suzy didn't even have a PhD. In fact, because of a childhood illness, she hadn't even formally graduated from high school.
         "They don't die," said Marion. "They simply become ... well, unavailable."
         "I think they're like negatives," said Suzy.
         "Pardon me?" said Marion.
         "Negatives. They're on the film. But then, if you take them out, if you expose them to the sunlight - before they're developed, I mean - "
         "What are negatives?" said Marion.
         "Sorry," said Suzy. "I was forgetting."
         Suzy's two big heroes were Edison and Telsa, and she had an encyclopaedic knowledge of the evolution of technology. Marion, on the other hand, knew about the very old - ancient pre-Roman technology - and the very new. A child of an age of digital cameras, she had never seen a photographic negative, and had no idea what one might be.
         "Does this mean you're not coming?" said Marion.
         Suzy didn't answer.


        For a whole day, it looked as if Suzy was going to blow the whistle on them. But then Luke talked her round. Whatever he said to her, it made Suzy fall into line.
         But Marion had been unsettled by the whole incident.
         Marion very firmly cleaved to the unavailability line. The past is not destroyed by inspection: it simply becomes unavailable for further study.
         (And another thought kept surfacing, a monstrous concept which she did her best to suppress. Even if the past is destroyed when we look at it, what good is the past unless it can help us publish? She tried to fight against accepting that thought ...."


        "Okay, so we're going," said Terry. "Suzy's agreed. But it won't help you escape, though. You have to understand that."
         "Escape?" said Marion. "What makes you think I'm escaping from anything?"
         But Terry made no reply.
         That was what Marion really hated about her husband. He just would not argue. Marion needed a flaming row now and then to clear the air. To get things out of her system. But Terry hated confrontations.
         "I have to do this," said Marion. "It's the great adventure I've been aiming for all along."
         For Marion, research science was exactly that: an adventure. But, for Terry, it was more like a monastic discipline. For Marion, science was a way to embrace life. For her husband, it was a way, rather, to retreat from reality.
         "You know," said Terry, out of the blue, "I liked it better when you hair was long."
         Marion glared at him. The kitchen was suddenly full of knives. A rack of them glittering by the oven. A bread knife lying naked on the table. A corkscrew on the sinkbench.
         "You know," said Terry, who seemed in a mood to "you know" Marion to death, "if we're really going to go through with this, I think we should put our stuff into storage."
         "Storage?" said Marion. "Why?"
         "Because," said Terry, "when we get back, we'll be going to jail."
         "No," said Marion. "No way. Whitby couldn't stand the scandal. He'll give us retrospective approval. Otherwise it'll look bad for everyone, including him."
         Whitby Bucks, the Director of the Institute, was just like Terry in at least one thing: he hated confrontations. Couldn't handle the chaos of argument, attack, recriminations. That was why Marion thought they could get away with it. Even so, she planned to check with her lawyer first. To see just how bad it could get if it all went sour.


        Vincent Patel was the lawyer who usually handled Marion's moving vehicle violations. On those occasions he was full of jokes. Today, however, he was serious. Very serious.
         "If we're just talking hypotheticals," he said, "then why do you want an opinion?"
         "You're a lawyer," said Marion, "and you don't want to tell me the law?"
         "It's complex," said Vincent. "First off, unauthorised use of the time machine - well, assuming you brought it back in good shape, that'd be a bit like taking a car for a joyride."
         "I'd get off with parole, you mean."
         "Or a smack on the hand. But the real problem is the dissolution thing."
         "But that's why I want to go!" said Marion impatiently. "These unauthorised incursions, they're dissolving entire fields of study! I have to - "
         "Careful," said Vincent, holding up a hand to check her. "We're talking hypothesis here, remember?"
         "Yes," said Marion.
         "Point," said Vincent. "A zone you visit no longer exists when someone else goes back to look for it."
         "Or can't be found," said Marion.
         "Or that," said Vincent. "Fact is, we don't know. But the law has to function even in the absence of scientific certainty. In legal circles, some people are talking about genocide."
         "Sure. Your Neanderthals - "
         "My ancient Basques."
         "Whatever. Your people cease to exist. Your interaction dematerialises them. Entire tribes, peoples, nations. An entire world at a single sweep, in fact. Maybe they continue to exist somewhere. But what if you're really destroying them by visiting them? That's a big price for them to pay for your thesis material. Isn't it?"
         What was going on here? A lawyer, of all people, was presuming to lecture her on ethics? A guy who had never been in a lab in his life was speculating on scientific outcomes? Marion had come here for a rundown on the law, not a philosophy seminar.
         "You've been very helpful," said Marion, rising to her feet. "There are a couple of other matters I'd like to talk about, so could I see you again tomorrow?"
         "I'm at the mercy of my secretary," said Vincent. "Tell her to fit you in if at all possible."


        On the way out, Marion managed to make an appointment for the next day. But she had no intention of keeping it. It was purely a diversionary tactic. She didn't think Vicent was crazy enough to do a Simon McSurf, but she didn't want to find out the hard way. Best to let Vincent think he had plenty of time in which to reason with her.
         In point of fact, by this time tomorrow Marion planned to be in the Pyrennes, the mountains on the French-Spanish border, in the year 500 BC.


        Marion was woken in the night by a siren, which cut through the effects of the sleeping pills she had doped herself with. She sat bolt upright in bed. The clock said it was nine at night. She had been asleep for two hours.
         The siren was coming closer.
         It was the cops, coming right to her door to arrest her. Conspirator! Genocide artist! Vincent Patel had betrayed her. He had judged her plans to be so monstrous that he had no choice but to breach lawyer-client confidentiality. In this state, you could breach professional confidentiality if you thought your client was about to kill someone.

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This story, "Basque", was first published in Challenging Destiny No. 11, December 2000 (St. Marys, Canada, ISSN 1206-6656) (pp 89-104; 5,139 words). It was first posted online in 2002.

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Copyright © 2000, 2002 Hugh Cook. All rights reserved.


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