Book 2 in the Physics, Lust and Greed Series
Date Published: October 1, 2020
When time travelers fail test after test to significantly alter the past,
most financial backers abandon the Global Research Consortium leaving
veteran traveler Marta Hamilton to administer a vastly scaled-down project.
She must protect the past from a greedy future, fend off political meddling,
and foil a murder plot originating in a parallel universe. She presides over
a conspiracy to hide the truth of her best friend’s death while coping
with a confusing and discomforting romantic entanglement involving fellow
traveler Marshall Grissom.
Marta, who has by professional necessity always distanced herself from
emotional commitment, lapsed by allowing herself the luxury of friendship
with Sheila Schuler and a night of wild sex with Marshall. Now, Sheila is
probably dead, and—according to a genius physicists’
theory—Marshall soon will be. As she assumes her role as administrator
of the time travel program, Marta must choose between the risks of loving
someone, or the lonely safety of emotional solitude.
(No cats were harmed in the telling of this story.)
“So, if someone is killed in the past of another universe,” Marta asked Elvin, “what does that portend for the future counterpart?”
“When left alone,” Elvin said, “quantum theory holds that the histories of parallel universes tend to be, well, parallel. Theoretically, the visit of a time traveler from the future skews that parallelism and the historical paths diverge. How much or how little is anybody’s guess. But I think there would have to be a helluva divergence for a major historical figure to escape his fate. I think once you’re toast in one universe, as soon as it can get around to it, history will catch up to you everywhere else, too.”
Like Marshall, Marta had clung to a skeptical hope that Elvin was wrong, until history caught up with Carla O’Neill. Carla fell off a stool while drinking at the Time Warp and hit her head on the bar.
In one of Marta’s first bureaucratic confrontations as program administrator, she had used Elvin’s theories to successfully argue that Carla’s death was work-related.
Secret or not, federally funded and supervised programs must meet federal guidelines, of which there are, Marta now realized, roughly about a gazillion. And someone must be sure all those guidelines were met. So while the number of people occupying the secret underground chambers of the Global Research Consortium had been drastically reduced as it evolved into the Historical Research Initiative, a healthy contingent of bureaucrats still scurried about in the big office building upstairs, auditing and accounting their little hearts out.
The bureaucrats wanted to write off Carla’s death as a fluke accident, having nothing whatsoever to do with time travel. As the new administrator, Marta knew she couldn’t display weakness. She wanted Carla’s death to be declared work-related so her family would be appropriately compensated.
Citing Elvin’s theories, she won that battle only to find she had waded into a quagmire when she received the auditor’s official findings. His report declared Marshall Grissom’s death to be work-related, as well.
Marta had taken the elevator to the surface, stomped into the chief auditor’s office and said, “You can’t do this. Marshall isn’t dead.”
“According to your Mr. Detwyler,” the auditor parried, “he surely will be, and sooner rather than later.”
“Don’t you think you should at least wait until . . . until it’s official?”
“We are thinking of the political ramifications,” the auditor said.
“The . . . what?”
The auditor leaned back in his chair and shook his head, as if he could not believe the poor naïve creature before him.
“We must file a report every quarter regarding workplace death and injury. The congressional oversight subcommittee tends to become alarmed at death and injury, as does OSHA. We had several mishaps during the construction and testing phase of the project. We expressed these events as the rate of person/days lost, divided by incidents of fatal accidents or maiming injuries on the GRC site. By doing it that way, because the GRC staff at that point was so large, we could present a number that appeared to be very low. And every day that passed without further casualties, the number got lower.”
The auditor stood and adjusted the window blinds to cut the glare of the sun streaming into his office. Since Marta’s office was underground and she didn’t have any sunshine, she thought the twit was just showing off.
“Now, however,” he continued with an elaborate stretch of his back, “there aren’t very many of you. So, the ratio will be much higher. With the death of Ms. Schuler and Ms. O’Neill within the same six-month period, well, that will draw a lot of attention. Thus, Mr. Grissom’s impending death is not a simple matter. The question was, should we just let it occur in its own good time and create the appearance of an ongoing problem, or should we arbitrarily include it with this quarters’ report, and argue that, while we had a bad few months, we’re doing better as the year progresses.”
“We decided the latter would be the more politically defensible position.”
Marta’s first instinct was to return to her apartment, get her gun and add another work-related fatality to the report. She was an administrator now, though. She needed to refrain from shooting the auditors.
“Well . . .” she said after a long moment, “what if he doesn’t die?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“What if Marshall doesn’t die?”
“Ms. Hamilton, you can’t have it both ways, now can you? We can’t call Ms. O’Neill’s death a work-related incident and then treat Mr. Grissom differently.”
“That wasn’t my question. My question was, what if he doesn’t die?”
“Everybody dies.” The auditor smiled.
“I mean not any time soon!”
“Well,” he said, in a smug show of victory, “I would certainly advise him to retain an attorney when the time comes to apply for social security benefits. That will be an argument I would dearly love to hear, because as far as the federal government is concerned, Marshall Grissom is dead.”
About the Author
Mike Murphey is a native of New Mexico and spent almost thirty years as an
award-winning newspaper journalist in the Southwest and Pacific Northwest.
Following his retirement, he enjoyed a seventeen-year partnership with the
late Dave Henderson, all-star Major League outfielder. Their company
produced the Oakland A’s and Seattle Mariners adult baseball Fantasy
Camps. Wasting Time is his fourth novel. Mike loves fiction, cats, baseball
and sailing. He splits his time between Spokane, Washington, and Phoenix,