The proof was incontrovertible. Billing records spanning a decade, backed up with signatures, phone logs, documentation of all sorts, confirmed a fact with terrifying implications for the stability of the very space-time fabric of the universe: in any given year, a typical attorney at the Thorn Law Firm would put in about 2.5 years of billable hours, equivalent to nearly 900 24-hour days, a physically impossible feat even if these lawyers never slept. Only one explanation made any sense: illicit time travel, with lawyers of the Thorn Law Firm revisiting the same hour of our time over and over again to achieve superhuman productivity, possibly coupled with forbidden relativistic phase shifting operation giving a time frame far faster than the laws of physics could sustain. However they did it, these guys were Violators, Big Time Violators, and my job was to make sure that whatever they did with time in the future was compatible with legal space-time paradigms, and preferably behind bars.
Senator Clanstone was behind it all. Thorn had been his law firm, and he had been the main Violator, according to the records I saw when I broke in last Tuesday night, shortly before they were mysteriously shredded. Before his election to the Senate, Clanstone often put in over 100 billable hours in a normal six-hour working day (and that apparently included time for a lengthy lunch and frequent breaks for coffee and interns, from what I've heard). Not only did his time travel crimes allow him to accrue numerous billable hours, he was able to cash in on the futures market with incredible success, turning a $1,000 investment into tens of millions of dollars overnight. Only someone with access to the future could have done that little trick.
Clanstone was in town for the week, and had been into the Thorn building almost every day since I had found the billing records. Someone must have clued him in to my investigation, or maybe he saw his future conviction using time travel. Anyway, as I was setting up instrumentation to monitor space-time disturbances near the Thorn building, hoping to catch his gang red-handed, I noticed bins of shredded documents being hauled out the back of the Thorn building. The billing records, no doubt.
I wasn't worried about the loss of the damning documents. I had more than enough information already to convict him before the Sci-Cops Natural Law Tribunal, where normal legal obstructionism and an obsession with civil rights don't get in the way of the security of the Universe and the enforcement of its laws. And once I recorded a few space-time perturbations (the kind of data that could score me a cover story in the Sci-Cops Technical Bulletin), we'd be able to seize and destroy the entire firm and all their time travel apparatus, whatever it was. You see, anyone who tinkers with time travel is a terroristic threat to the whole universe and needs to be stopped by any means. Once we've identified the threat, the Sci-Cops bulldozer doesn't wait until some sissy judge says OK. "Just the facts, ma'am" - that's all we SciCops need. As for Senator Clanstone, once the Tribunal knew his guilt, we would have several options to knock him out of office. Maybe it was time for an endorsement from Strom Thurmond, who still owed us a few favors (that's another story). Once out of the limelight, we could put him behind bars more discreetly.
But first I needed some scientific data on space-time perturbations. The first batch of sensors were now in the thicket of roses in front of the Thorn building. Posing as a gardener, I had been able to work around the plants, apparently undetected. My disguise included authentic overalls, an old baseball cap, boots caked with mud, and a pile of used rakes and shovels I had picked up at a yard sale the day before for the authentic gardener look. I had just powered up a series of miniature cascading Hall effect sensors shrouded with inverse pulsed-laser inductive transducers. Data were already being acquired and stored on a 20 megabyte portable SCI datalogger with dynamic range stabilization and custom chrome trim - a real man's datalogger, for sure. I began walking back to the van to pick up some broad spectrum frequency analyzers to place in some shrubs when a raspy Southern voice called out, "All right now, lunch is ready! Y'all come and get it, especially you, Mister Gardener." I was turned and was startled to see Senator Clanstone, with a creepy kind of smile that made me feel like some kind of intern.
"You talking to me?" I asked.
"Oh, didn't they tell you? All temporary employees here get treated like staff at lunch time. 'Specially gardeners. So come on in and eat with us. We've got an in-house chef today who's cooked up something really special."
Were they on to me? Was this a trap? My Sci-Cops senses were screaming DANGER!
"Why that's incredibly kind," I said. "But I've got so much to do to get this place spruced up. So I'll have to decline. But thanks."
"Nonsense," Clanstone said. "All members of the underclass matter to me and deserve to have lunch provided. It's the least we can do for them. So come in and dine with us. Believe me, I feel your hunger."
My muscles tightened up, fearing an ambush, a physical attack. I could almost taste the danger. What excuse could I offer without letting him know of my concern?
"Why thank you. Yes, I am hungry. But it's for, well, for religious reasons. I'm Muslim, you see, and this month is our month of fasting, so no matter how hungry I am during the day, I can't eat anything. So sorry."
In retrospect, I should have realized that someone as powerful and as connected as the Senator had the resources to identify almost anyone and tap all sorts of databases. He knew my weaknesses, and he knew where to hit to crush any semblance of resistance. With a sickeningly sweet smile, he said, "Too bad. I was hoping you'd be impressed by our sushi chef."
"Sushi? You've got a sushi chef? Here? In Arkansas? But, no, no, really, I can't . . . no . . . sorry." The sense of danger was still too great. Must . . . not . . . yield.
"Yes, and it's a real shame you're fasting, because he worked so hard to make sure we'd have my favorites: uni and, of course, fugu."
Ah, uni! The succulent, buttery roe of the sea urchin - it had been literally days since I had dined on uni. But - oh my - fugu!? They had fugu? Fugu - the most prized sushi of all, the tantalizing, unearthly rich flesh of the blowfish, a fish whose skin contains a deadly poison that can kill if the chef makes a mistake in preparation. During my three years of exile at the Kyoto Technical Institute, I bribed a sushi chef to teach me the art of fugu preparation (strictly illegal and unethical, he assured me). I nearly died four times, but persisted. I still got sick many more times after that, even though I was applying the rigorous laboratory safety precautions that I had used throughout my graduate work. But in spite of the pain and illness, the experience had been worth it. But now I had been fugu-free for months, and was struggling with withdrawal. Surely just a little bite of fugu couldn't hurt. . . .
Before I passed out, I could feel the numbing sensation that meant only one thing: I had ingested a heavy dose of fugu poison. I looked up, startled, and notice that Clanstone hadn't touched his fugu. He smiled knowingly.
"You knew, then?" I asked, still in control of my vocal chords. He nodded. "How?"
He pointed to my pocket protector and its array of pens in the pocket of my overalls. "You're no gardener, Agent Zeta. I don't know what a geek like you is doing investigating me, but I'm convinced you're the one who broke in and saw my records. So you must know about Ching Lee. And that's why you must die."
I didn't know anything about Ching Lee. Perhaps this was the scientist that set Clanstone up with time travel equipment. I think I recalled the name on some records, but I wasn't after those kind of details - just raw hours, raw numbers, not names, not connections, not . . .
My head was still buzzing from the poisoned sushi when I woke up inside the trunk of Senator Clanstone's limo, wrapped in a large plastic bag. He knew my weakness, but he didn't know that I had built up some degree of tolerance for fugu poison, which the sinister chef had deliberately introduced into my fugu. By all rights I should have been dead. I was still numb, and breathing was painful, but I was alive. And even if I was about die, what awesome sushi that had been!
No, I couldn't die. The Universe depended on me. Clanstone's time traveling gang of natural law breakers had to be stopped.
The bag had been ripped, apparently by the upside down mechanical pencil in my pocket protector, allowing enough air in that I hadn't suffocated yet. I ripped the rest of the bad off - quietly and slowly, still in pain. I could hear Clanstone and someone else talking and laughing through the backseat that formed the rear wall of the trunk. From what I could infer, my lifeless body - so they thought - was on its way to the municipal solid waste processing plant, where I would be shredded and burned like so many of the files from Senator Clanstone's cronies at the Thorn Law Firm, where I had found the evidence that the Senator had been violating the most basic natural laws protecting the fabric of space and time. These laws are several formulations for these laws:
Thou Shalt Not Partake of Time Travel
Thou Shalt Not Build a Time Travel Machine
Thou Shalt Not Create Asinine Paradoxes by Traveling Backwards in Time
There's Only 24 Hours to a Day
Senator Clanstone and his fellow lawyers had been violating all of these laws and more - including a host of criminal laws as well, but I can overlook that. But Natural Law - nobody messes with that in my book. But now they were messing with me. Any minute I would be joining literally tons of AOL disks, headless Barbies, malfunctioned HP computers, Pokemon cards, and dozens of discarded prom dresses with enough cumulative material to literally cover an entire female body. My macerated flesh would be heated, pyrolyzed, oxidized and vaporized - pretty much in that order - wafting upwards with the fuming remnants of random garbage from all over this part of the South. But before I became one with the atmosphere, I had a date with the Universe whom I intended to save from the likes of these time traveling lawyers.
Why did I get myself into this pickle? Let me tell you one words that says it all about us Sci-Cops: Commitment. That's what being a Sci-Cop is all about. Above all, commitment to Law and Order, the law and order of Nature. Without us, what kind of Universe would your kids look forward to? But being big on law and order doesn't buy any love for lawyers. They're not looking out for the Universe, just for Number One. For some of them, the law is like putty in their hands to be twisted, stretched, and squashed against color comics to strip the very ink from the paper fibers of our being, to coin a metaphor or two. Lawyers - if they ever got past high-school level science, who knows what vile permutations of Natural Law might spring from their machinations?
Driven by commitment to Universal Ideals - and the desire to still be around when the Ultimate Woman, whoever she is, finally wises up and asks me out - I was determined to escape. It was pitch black, but I could feel the latch of the trunk and the cable that could release the latch if pulled. My strength failed me, but then I found the tire jack and used the crowbar-like handle to spring the latch open. The driver slammed on the brakes when he saw the trunk pop up, giving me a chance to fall out onto the pavement. I thought I could run, but my legs felt like they had been dipped in liquid nitrogen, maybe even liquid oxygen - but not, thank goodness, liquid helium, or I'd really have been in trouble. I stood, and fell, and things went black again.
Fortunately, the ice cream truck driver who had been about 50 yards behind us on T Street sensed that something was wrong. I don't know if most people around here would be surprised by someone falling out of the trunk of a limo, but he was - and thank goodness he didn't buy Clanstone's story about his dear drunk brother preferring to ride in car trunks. A half dozen bystanders gathered around before Clanstone could use any muscle to get his way, and then I came to and blurted out: "He tried to kill me." Clanstone sped away. Sadly, the state trooper who came on the scene would disappear within hours. As for me, I was rushed to the hospital, where fellow Sci-Cops whisked me away to safety before being attacked with needles and hospital food (the opposite end of the food chain from sushi).
I survived. The datalogger survived. In fact, the data showed a strange dip in all readings at 2:49 PM, undoubtedly due to a time-travel event. We had the data we needed! I called in a raid on the Thorn Building, and within minutes nearly every attorney and all staff members were in our custody, where they continue to be held until we have the confessions we need for a proper but secret hearing. When you're dealing with terrorists that can wipe out the whole fabric of space and time, there's no room for "habeus corpus" or "due process." We're Sci-Cops - the elite, the best, the ones bringing you what you need most: security.
We searched the building, but didn't find anything that had the trappings of a time travel device. But we were sure it was there. To be safe, we took AK-47s shot the place up like a slab of Swiss cheese that someone had riddled with bullets. Then we demolished the building with bulldozers and wrecking cranes, and then we blew it sky high, first with 16 packs of solid rocket fuel in a Lorraine matrix for maximum detonating force (part of an ongoing research project that Agent Mu and I are working on for the Bulletin of Ballistic and Explosive Studies), and then with 10 pounds of C-4 plastic explosives just for kicks. And then we used napalm to torch the remnants, and then more bulldozing and explosives. Sure, it was overkill, but you gotta find a way to make your work enjoyable, otherwise even the best agent might crack. And we couldn't afford to leave violating equipment intact, could we? A few locals were scared when the detonations took out some nearby windows (along with a few cars in the Thorn parking lot - but they probably belonged to the violators we had captured), but with our BATF jackets on, no one dared to question our activities. Ain't this a great country?
As for old Clanstone, we got the public endorsement from Strom Thurmond, and leaked photos of Clanstone marching with neo-Nazis. Our allies in the media cooperated nicely - we are a well connected group. The fact that the photos were doctored didn't matter much when a few key players in the media are with you. Clanstone resigned in shame hours later. He then went into hiding, so they say - but you can rest assured that he's in good hands, where we're keeping him far from anything capable of generating a space-time discontinuity. He's still claiming total ignorance of time travel, sticking to his phony story about just being an ordinary corrupt politician. All his talk about bribes, interns, banking fraud, and the Red Chinese almost sounds convincing, but we'll get the technical details out of him someday. Sarge says he's gonna try the Barry Manilow therapy as a last resort - not many men have had the strength to endure 48 straight hours of that musical genre.
My publication looked great, but didn't make the cover story. Someone on the peer review panel said the space-time perturbations might have been due to a failed transformer in the town's electrical grid that caused local voltage to plummet at precisely the same time we recorded the space-time aberration - but I don't think so. Just another rotten example of bad luck. That cover should have been mine - but I know I've done my duty and done it well, all for the Universe. Now it's payback time. As I write, I'm still sitting here by the phone, waiting for that ultimate woman to give me a call, whoever she is. But for now, it's just me and a pack of take-home sushi. But no fugu - not for a while.