Hallucination . . . or time travel? One man alone against the cosmos, creating his own reality! Exiled on Mars! Johnsmith Biberkopf escapes from a penal colony on the Red Planet and learns that his hallucinations are real—space and time can be manipulated. Kidnapped by Vikings who have sailed through the continua since ancient times, Johnsmith embarks on an epic adventure, an infinite journey through the multiverse. Facing alien menaces, he learns the terrifying truth about the power of illusion.
|Publisher:||Open Road Media|
|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
|File size:||2 MB|
About the Author
Timothy R. Sullivan was born in Maine and grew up there. He has lived in the Washington, DC, area, and in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and South Florida. He currently lives in South Miami with his companion, Fiona Kelleghan. Sullivan began writing science fiction in the late 1970s and achieved some early prominence when he was selected to write a series of novels based on the television show V. He subsequently published four original novels, Destiny’s End (1988), The Parasite War (1989), The Martian Viking (1991), and Lords of Creation (1992). Throughout his writing career, Sullivan has regularly published science fiction short stories in genre magazines, including, most often, Asimov’s. He has been a finalist for the Nebula Award. Sullivan conceived and edited two original anthologies, Tropical Chills (1988) and Cold Shocks (1991). Sullivan has also written a number of original screenplays for low‑budget action movies and acted in several, as well.
Read an Excerpt
THE GEATS WERE on Johnsmith Biberkopf's mind more and more these days. It was odd that this should be the case, since he had so many worries in the present--he was about to lose his job, his wife, and his sanity. Still, those seventh century Danish pirates managed to preoccupy him most of the time.
Maybe that was it. A life of carefree adventure, some fourteen hundred years in the past, seemed infinitely preferable to the anxious life that burdened him today. If he were Beowulf, his wife Ronindella wouldn't have walked out on him. She'd be too busy admiring his physical prowess. It wasn't just any man who could tear a monster's arm out at the socket with his bare hands; the most fearsome monster who had ever stalked Hrothgar's mead hall, at that.
Johnsmith could conjure up images of Beowulf on his screen and forget about the crowd of dozing academics in cubicles around him, but not for much longer. His tenure at the University was about to come to an end, and he had already been kicked out of the apt by Ronindella. Consequently, he'd been forced to take an effapt in one of the worst parts of the city. And now that the draft had been instituted, the jobless and the homeless were among the first to go to the moon, even selected ahead of volunteers. Life at a lunar camp wasn't something he looked forward to with much enthusiasm.
As Johnsmith watched the bright images of man and monster battling in medieval surroundings, he reflected on his previous feelings about the draft. He'd always thought it sort of unfair, but had continually reminded himself not to worry too much about it. The government frowned on activism, and you might end up in front of the SelectiveSpace Service yourself, if you raised too much of a fuss about the injustice of it all. Besides, what good would it do? The poor were always with us, weren't they? (Not anymore, actually; now they were on the moon, or, in a few cases, on Mars or the Belt; but the principle still held.) He had happily maintained this ambivalent outlook until it became clear that he was soon to be eligible for the draft himself. That had radically changed his perspective.
"Beeb, I brought you something that might help."
Johnsmith looked up vacantly, seeing his colleague, assistant professor Ryan Effner, beaming down at him. "What is it, Ryan?"
"Something to help ease the tension." Effner drew closer and said in a low tone, "Some onees."
"Onees?" Johnsmith spoke loudly enough to make Effner wince.
"For Christ's sake, Beeb, they're illegal," Effner hissed, his mouth set in a tight grimace as he glanced furtively about the room. He said nothing more until he was satisfied that the other professors, preoccupied by their work, had not heard Biberkopf's surprised exclamation.
"I'm sorry, but I don't understand how the ... how they can help me."
Effner removed a film canister from an inside pocket of his fluorescent green waistcoat and set it under the screen, at the very moment that Beowulf dove into a misty lake in search of Grendel's mother.
"Still watching the old stuff, huh?" Effner observed.
"Yeah, I even read Beowulf once or twice."
Effner whistled. "That's dedication above and beyond the call, my man. How long did it take you to get through it?"
"Oh, I don't know. A few hours."
"Don't you think it's enough just to know the story, to watch it once in a while so you can remember the details?"
"Rye, you know what I think about that. It was an oral epic originally, so people in our position ought to at least know what the words sound like."
"You can get a program that recites the poem while you watch the action." Ryan nodded toward the screen. "I mean, you've even got a flat screen here. Surely you can get the department to invest in a 'gram."
"It's not the same. All the nuances are lost on projectograms, anyway. You've got to know the poem."
"Then listen to it a few times, and figure out the ... nuances." Effner made a face in distaste, as if he thought the word were somehow harmful to him. "Look, Beeb, your students don't relate to you when you use terms like that. And you can't expect them to understand something written over a thousand years ago. That stuff's too elitist. You're a teacher, so teach. Maybe you can still save your job."
"I don't think so."
"Take those onees when you go down to Triple-S for your physical, and maybe they'll decide you're too schizoid to go to the moon."
"From what I hear, schizophrenia will make me fit in perfectly up there." Johnsmith frowned and reached up to shut off the screen as Beowulf slashed away at a dragon with a bloody sword.
"Maybe, maybe not." Effner looked at him sadly. "What have you got to lose?"
"Nothing, I guess." Johnsmith stood and stretched. "I'd rather go to Mars, but they'll probably assign me to a lunar mine."
"That's where they need people the most, I guess," Effner said.
"Well, my grandfather was a plumber," said Johnsmith. "I guess I can stand doing the work."
"I've heard that they've got an okay library on the moon. You can jack into it on your off hours."
"Yeah." Johnsmith stared at the dead screen, knowing that he would never look at it again. He was going to get his draft notice imminently, and he would be shipped off to the moon almost immediately thereafter.
"Look, I'll see you," Effner said awkwardly. He picked up the film canister and tucked it into Johnsmith's jacket pocket. "I've got to get back to work now."
"Sure. Thanks for your help." Johnsmith watched his friend's back for a moment, and then headed out of the faculty room himself. It was probably best to go home.
Outside the building, he stood under the sunshield, waiting for a bus. The university's gingerbread-castle-like buildings, erected late in the last century, seemed to mock his bleak mood. He would almost be glad to get away from the place now. If he stayed around here any longer, he would go nuts from depression and grief.
As he stepped out of a cleaning robot's way, he reflected bitterly that he'd only wanted to be a good teacher, and look what had happened. The administration had decided that he was an elitist, unfit for the faculty. And now that he was being mustered out, Ronindella refused to have anything to do with him. She wouldn't even let him see Smitty II, their son.
Maybe the last straw had been that lecture when he'd pointed out to the kids that not too many years ago it was not uncommon for people to have computers in the home--personal computers, they had called them in those days. Such a luxury was inconceivable today, of course, for all but the extremely wealthy. A one hundred thousand dollar item for the home was out of the question for the vast majority. And how could you be literate without a pc? The few books that were still available were prohibitively expensive, too, leaving those with access to the computerized library systems the only ones who could learn to read.
He had sinned twofold by telling his students about all this. First, he had implied strongly that the general standard of living had declined sharply under the Conglom, and then he had compounded his crime by tacitly suggesting that a society that could not read was somehow doomed to failure. These were not the things that the administration wanted an associate professor to say in front of his students. In fact, you could even get in trouble for saying it at a faculty party, if the wrong person were to hear you spouting off. And Johnsmith Biberkopf had done enough spouting off on such occasions, especially after a few drinks.
The whoosh of the bus caught him unawares. Its snub nose stopped on the rail a little past him, and it rested a couple of inches above the magnets as passengers got on and off. Johnsmith nearly collided with a woman as he hurried to get aboard. She was wearing a protective mask and hat, and he remembered that he had always meant to buy something to protect his skin from the UV rays. It was too late now; where he was going, he wouldn't need it. He'd be wearing a government issue pressure suit for the rest of his life, every time he went outside of the lunar compound. He just hoped they wouldn't give him one that leaked, like the pressure suits he'd heard about from time to time. People got letters claiming that loved ones had died on the moon while performing heroic actions, when all that had really happened was the poor bastard's suit had fallen apart while he or she was outside. It was probably pretty rare ... at least Johnsmith hoped it was pretty rare.
He stood, holding onto an aluminum ring, since there were no empty seats on the bus. The air conditioning wasn't working, but he didn't really mind sweating for a few minutes. Ignoring the smell of urine and the ubiquitous graffiti, he allowed his mind to drift, thinking of what he would do this evening, his last night of freedom; tomorrow he would appear before the Triple-S, and if, as he expected, they said he was going to the moon, that was it. He wished that his Dad was around to talk to about his sorry state. The old man had died at the tender age of forty-five, nineteen years ago. Johnsmith was almost that old himself now. It seemed hard to believe. He remembered his father railing against the concept of the Conglomerated United Nations of Earth when it was still in the planning stages of the UN. He said it was redundant, and a bad idea all around. And when Johnsmith's older brother, Eddy, had joined the Conglom Marines and was killed in the Jamaica flareup two years later, Harald Biberkopf had never gotten over it. He refuse to accept the government's line that his son had been sacrificed for some glorious principle of a united earth. He knew the war was designed to make the wealthy and powerful even more wealthy and powerful, and his son had paid for it with his life. Harald drank himself to death within a year. Johnsmith's mother hadn't understood the depth of Harald's despair. Kitty Biberkopf had married again, and was living in California quite comfortably to this day. She was content to believe that her first husband had lost his mind, but Johnsmith knew better. Harald's suspicions were proved correct, as far as he could see. And Johnsmith frequently wished that he could tell his Dad that.
Johnsmith decided that he might as well have a good time while he still could. He patted his jacket pocket. The onees were in there, right where Ryan Effner had put them. Johnsmith could enjoy one of these in the privacy of his miserable effapt this evening, of course. He was pretty sure that he really didn't have the nerve to take one before going down to the Triple-S tomorrow. But tonight was a different story.
Alderdice V. Lumumba shoved the robot out of the way. Its shovel-extension scraped along the pavement, as it droned, "Pardon me, sir."
Walking briskly, Alderdice tried to get on the bus without being conspicuous. He saw the man he was following nearly collide with someone getting off the bus, but then the other commuters obscured his vision. He couldn't fight his way through the stream of people in time. The bus vibrated and whooshed off toward the inner city. Biberkopf was getting away. Slightly winded, Alderdice ducked under the heat shield, and removed his sweat-stained borsalino. He really should have been wearing a mask, what with all this running around out in the UV; he was going to contract skin cancer if this kept up. The assignment was an easy one, except for the prolonged exposure to sunlight. Sometimes it was a full two to three minutes before he could find shade. That was just too much risk. Alderdice comforted himself with the hope that the job might be over soon ... unless Biberkopf tried to shirk his duty, and skip out on his appearance before the board tomorrow. Then, and only then, Alderdice would move in. Otherwise, he would remain in the background until Biberkopf was sent to his new home on the moon, or, if the guy was lucky, on Mars.
Alderdice liked his job as a P.A. He got to move around a lot, and proudly felt that he was providing a valuable service for the government. Before the establishment of Pre-Emptive Agents, shirkers had to be traced through orthodox channels, which usually took months, sometimes even years. In many cases, the government never located the criminal. But if the potential shirker was under surveillance before the fact, apprehension was usually a simple matter.
Unless, of course, the P.A. bungled the job, which Alderdice had been known to do on occasion. There was that woman who had gone to South America, for example. She had made it look as though she were going on a vacation prior to her appearance before the Triple-S, but the Agency had become suspicious when she booked a flight for Santiago. Alderdice had been put on her tail, but he had somehow missed the flight, even though his passage had been secured only minutes after the suspect had talked to her travel agent. She was never heard from again.
That had been his worst screw-up, ever. But there had been other, lesser mistakes lately, one right after another, ever since his husband Lon had left him. All minor stuff, but if he made one more boner like that Santiago flight he was going to be out of a job. He would then be put on the official government lists as a nonproductive person, and he, not some shirker, would be up in front of the Triple-S; and before you knew it he would be slaving away in some lunar pit. This was precisely what he had joined the Agency to avoid, of course, having no particular talents or skills that he could parlay into a career.
Another bus whooshed up to the stop, and Alderdice was relieved to see that few people got off. He bounded onto the bus and sat down in the nearest seat, hoping that Biberkopf hadn't flown the coop. This was the optimum period for that sort of thing, the day before the Triple-S hearing. How could he have lost the suspect at a time like this? Now he had to hope that Biberkopf didn't run away, and hope would not be enough if it happened.
As the city flew by in a sun-baked blur, Alderdice decided that the smartest thing for him to do was go directly to Biberkopf's effapt building, in the hope that the suspect had simply gone home. If Biberkopf wasn't there when Alderdice arrived, though, there was going to be big trouble.
"I almost ran into him on my way here, when I was getting off the bus," Ronindella said over the music, her pale but attractive face lined with worry as she glanced around the teacher's lounge. "I can't believe he didn't recognize me."
"You were wearing your mask and hat, and he's got a lot on his mind these days." Ryan Effner pointed at the sweating glass in front of her. "Finish your drink, and we'll get out of here. He might come back to clean out his desk or something."
"Okay." She downed her grappa and stood up. "You know, Ryan, he's got to find out the truth sometime."
"Not if he's on his way to the moon, he doesn't." Effner popped his credit card into the table slot and sucked the ice from his drink while he waited for the transaction to clear. "He'll be there for the rest of his life, and need never know that his wife's left him for his best friend."
"You say that so matter of factly, Rye."
"That's how it is." He snatched his reemerging card and stuffed it into his wallet. "We didn't ruin his life, we just happened to benefit from it."
"I guess so." They put on their protective sun gear and went outside, and Effner hailed a flyby cab. In minutes they were at Ronindella's apt. Johnsmith had lived there with her until he had moved out last month. In fact, they had selected this place because of its proximity to the university, because of his job.
As soon as Ronindella passed by the security screen, the door opened and they went inside. Smitty II was there, playing with a jerkily moving dinosaur.
"Hi, Smitty," said Ryan Effner.
"Hi," the boy said, simulating the dinosaur's roar as he picked up the toy and pointed its gleaming fanged mouth at Effner and his mother.
"How come you're home already?" his mother asked.
"School got out early today, on account of the ceiling fell down."
"What are we paying taxes for?" Ronindella wondered aloud. "The schools are collapsing, and the kids aren't even being taught the classic videos."
Effner nearly said that Beeb thought it was a whole lot worse than that, but he decided that it wouldn't be wise to mention the kid's father right now. Smitty II had to have time to adjust to Beeb's departure. The kid was probably too young to think anything of the fact that good old Uncle Ryan was around comforting Mom these days. And for now, it seemed wise to keep it that way.
The phone rang.
"I'll get it, Mom," said Smitty.
Before Ronindella could object, Smitty snapped on the video. Effner headed for the bedroom just as Johnsmith Biberkopf appeared on the screen.
"Who was that?" Johnsmith asked.
"Repairman," Ronindella lied. "What do you want, anyway, Johnny?"
Smitty II seemed confused.
"I just called to see how you and Smitty are." Johnsmith attempted a smile, but it didn't quite work.
"We're fine. How are you?"
"Uh, okay. I'm going down to the Selective Space Service tomorrow."
"So soon?" Ronindella was playing dumb.
"Oh, didn't I tell you last time we talked?"
"Maybe you did, Johnny. I've had so much on my mind lately, you know..."
"Yeah, haven't we all." Johnsmith looked at Smitty II. The smile was more sincere this time. "How's my boy?"
"Good, Dad. Why don't you come home?"
"Sorry, son, but I can't. Is that a dinosaur you've got there?"
"Yeah. And it moves around."
"What good is a dinosaur that doesn't move around, I always say."
"Look, Johnny, I'm kind of busy right now," Ronindella said. "Maybe you could call back some other time."
"From the moon?"
"You're not leaving this minute, for Christ's sake," she said angrily. "Stop trying to make me pity you."
"It won't be long before I'll be there, Ronnie. And I'm really not trying to make you pity me. It's just the way things are, that's all."
Smitty had lost interest in the conversation, and was playing with the dinosaur again, his piping voice roaring away in the background.
"Smitty!" his mother shouted. "Stop making so much goddamn noise!"
The boy became silent and looked at her resentfully. He took the dinosaur into the bedroom with him.
"Going in to join the repairman, huh, Smitty?" Johnsmith said to the boy.
Smitty turned toward the screen to reply one last time, but his mother looked at him warningly. "Yeah, gonna play in there, Dad. See you."
"You might at least let me hold a conversation with my own son," Johnsmith said, as Smitty closed the bedroom door. "I'll probably never see him again in the flesh."
"Don't be so melodramatic." But Ronindella knew that what he said was true. Life would be a lot easier when Johnsmith was on the moon. Half of his wages would be sent to her automatically by the government, for child support. He'd be more useful to her up there than he ever was here on earth.
"Goodbye, Johnsmith," Ronindella said, ending the phone conversation. "And good luck."
"Goodbye, Ronnie," He watched her flick the connection off. Her face narrowed, shrank to a tiny rainbow point, and vanished. "And fuck you, too."
Alderdice was wheezing badly by the time he got out of the sun. He used his passcard to get inside Biberkopf's building, slumping against a paint-peeling vestibule wall to wipe his dark face while he waited for it to clear. Full employment was a laudable goal, and he was certainly glad to have a job, but on days like this he almost wished that he were doing something else--anything else. The trouble with that wish was that it might come true, and he'd soon be doing something else, all right, but doing it in a lunar mine.
The notion motivated him to start climbing the stairs. He comforted himself with the thought that the life of a public servant was never an easy one, as he labored up toward the fourteenth floor, where Biberkopf's effapt was located. He had discovered on his first visit to this building that the elevator didn't work, much to his dismay. He was usually glad that the Conglom didn't require biannual physicals anymore, but it occurred to him that he might be in better shape if they did. Wheezing, he took a break on the landing between the fifth and sixth floors.
After a short rest, he pressed on, climbing one flight after another, deliberately and ponderously. At last he reached the fourteenth floor, stopping again to catch his breath. Doors were lined up on either side of the corridor, inches separating each occupant's effapt from his neighbor's. Biberkopf lived at N-39, about halfway down the hall on the left.
Alderdice fumbled in his pocket until his fingers found the sound scoop. He pointed it at the door and it picked up a voice from the other side, channeling it to Alderdice subaudibly. Breathing a long sigh of relief at finding the suspect at home, he listened carefully.
Biberkopf was talking. It didn't sound as if anybody else was with him, though. He must have been on the phone. Yes, he could hear a woman's tinny voice, definitely coming in over the phone. She was trying to end the conversation. After she cut the connection, Biberkopf uttered an obscenity. After that, the effapt was silent.