Displacement: The Confession

 

The Confession

Sergeant Oliver Durant stuck his head in my office, “Got time for a murder confession?”

“Uh, tell me more,” I suggested.

“I’ll just bring him down,” Durant gave me one of his grins as he popped back out of sight. That told me what I should expect. Olly was passing on a problem he didn’t want. RHIP, and all of that.

A few minutes later Olly came back with another man. The man was not handcuffed or in any way physically restrained. He was diminutive and had some sort of foreign ancestry, probably East or Southeast Asian. He was very dapper in his dress, although it seemed a bit outmoded, perhaps something from a hundred years ago with a three-piece suit, watch chain, and pince-nez glasses. He also had several contusions on his head and a bandaged cut on his hand. There was something vaguely familiar about the man, but I couldn’t place it.

“Mister Brodeur, this is Detective Gage. He can take your report,” Olly introduced me to the man and disappeared like smoke in a gale.

“Would you like to sit down, Mister Brodeur? Can I get you a cup of coffee or some tea?”

He sat down rather primly bringing the cane he had to stand in front of him with his hat in the other hand resting on the cane, “No, thank you.”

“Alright,” I sat back down and brought up and logged into our computer system, bringing up our database, “Let’s start with your name?”

“Lazarus Brodeur,” and he spelled it for me. He seemed to be rather unanimated and mechanical in his speech so far.

“Now, Sergeant Durant said something about a murder?” I prompted.

He nodded his head, looking very sad.

“Whom did you murder?” I asked.

He visibly swallowed, “Marion Gilchrist.”

“Was that a male or female?”

“Female.”

“Alright. Where did the murder take place?”

“Glasgow.”

As a policeman, one gets to know all of the streets in a town. Even if I had been off the streets as a detective for a few years, I still knew them well, “Glasgow Court? Glasgow Boulevard?”

“Oh, no, Glasgow, Scotland. In the United Kingdom.”

“I see,” I said. I was beginning to see why Olly had wanted to pass this off to someone else. “Okay, when did the murder occur?”

“1908.”

“1908? Do you mean August 19th of last year?”

“No,” he shook his head, “it was December of 1908.”

“More than a hundred years ago?” I asked.

He nodded dejectedly.

“I must say that for such an elderly gentleman, you look to be in great shape. Are you a vampire, perhaps?”

Brodeur bristled, “Don’t be ridiculous. I’m nowhere near that age. I displaced myself through time.”

I was about to say something cutting when some attribute in his manner clicked. When one is used to seeing someone on television in Twenty-First Century clothing, and then that person appears before you in person in late Nineteenth or early Twentieth Century clothing, the person can be difficult to recognize. Likewise, when you are used to seeing a contentious and combative presence, but he comes in meek and dejected, perhaps a bit in shock, he can be hard to recognize. His dismissiveness at my vampire suggestion was enough for me to finally recognize him. I looked back at his name on the screen, “Wait a second, are you Doctor Russ Brodeur?”

He rolled his eyes, “Yes, of course, I am. Lazarus is a horrible first name that I only use for legal purposes. I really should change it officially one of these days.”

“You built a time machine?” I asked.

He looked pained, “Not exactly. I came up with a way to change a person’s displacement in various dimensions. One of those dimensions is what we generally call time.”

“Yes, sir,” I said, “give me a minute to check a few things, please.”

He nodded and I brought up a browser to search out the murder of Marion Gilchrist. I got the basic details quickly and then opened a new tab to search for more information on Russ Brodeur. Information about him was not difficult to find. As a scientist who had shared in three Nobel prizes under different topics, he was quite famous, and our small city’s favorite son. He had opened his institute and science museum in town, partially funded by various prizes he had received. I made one further check in our police database. The only thing on his record was an arrest for soliciting a young man for sex. He had been released and no charges were filed. I smiled at that.

I turned back to Brodeur, “Okay, Doctor Brodeur, maybe you should just tell me how this all happened from the beginning.”

He nodded and took a deep breath and let it out slowly before starting, “How much do you know about physics?”

“I’m a cop with a bachelor’s degree in law enforcement. I vaguely remember F=ma, and a couple of other things from high school physics. I’ve heard terms like String Theory and Quantum Mechanics, but really have no clue what they mean.”

“Right, keep it simple,” he sighed. He visibly gathered himself to tell the story, “One of my earliest works, which led to my first Nobel prize, had implications for a possible means of displacement in all dimensions.”

“All dimensions including time?”

He nodded, “One of my colleagues had recognized the implications and challenged me to find a way to displace an object in time and bring it back. He suggested a video camera that could record its journey. I have been working on that for the last twenty-five years, and most of my subsequent papers and inventions have been related to this set of theories and implications.

“Most of the work has been conducted under other types of experiments with only Gilchrist and I knowing what we were really trying to do.”

“Gilchrist?” I asked.

“Gilchrist Donner. He’s at the university,” Brodeur said. “He was the one who recognized the implications of my theory.”

“Didn’t you say the person you murdered was named Gilchrist?” I asked.

He nodded, “She was some sort of grand-aunt or great-grandaunt of his. The unsolved murder in his family was one thing that interested him in time travel. Gilchrist had always wanted to find out who killed Aunt Marion.

“Anyway, fast-forwarding through all of our failures and our few successes, we had finally found the way to successfully displace a mass from one set of coordinates to another. Because of the time dimension, there is a lot of calculation involved. You may know that the Earth spins on its axis and that it has a dance around the sun. Well, the sun is similarly moving around the galaxy, and the galaxy is moving. To move something five feet to the left instantaneously, is not such a big deal, since it would just move it over there,” he pointed. “But to move something in time as well, means that over there has moved. All of those different vectors add up, and it gets more and more complex with more time involved in the displacement. And then there is the worry of landing where something solid already is. We learned the calculations we needed to factor in through our experiments. We started with very small displacements at first.

“We learned and we developed our equations and programs to calculate. I had suggested animal experiments to Gilchrist, but he insisted we should stick to technology. The problem was that for his ultimate goal, to find out what had happened to Aunt Marion, I thought technology, such as a drone or phone or other recording device, would stick out too much. We had various incidents where some of our experiments had seemed to be noticed as anachronisms.

“The equipment was at the Institute, so I started experimenting in the off hours when Gilchrist wasn’t around. It has no adverse effects on any animals I tried it on, so I started experimenting on myself. Again, no adverse effects. I decided that when Gilchrist went on vacation with his family, it would be a good time to solve the mystery of who killed his Aunt Marion.

“I prepared myself,” he gestured with one of his hands to indicate his outfit, “and then I went back to Glasgow in December of 1908. The further back in time one goes, the calculations get more complex. I was intending to displace myself to a nearby alley from which I could have seen the old lady’s building and its entrances. The problem is that being off by even a second on the time can mean being off by feet or yards in the other dimensions. I’m afraid my calculations were slightly off.

Brodeur took another deep breath, “I found myself in the old lady’s home. She saw me, and since I should not have been there, she attacked me, using rather vile language about my heritage. That old lady was more fit and tougher than she looked.” He gestured with a hand at his various contusions.

“You defended yourself?” I asked.

“Yes,” he agreed and lifted his cane, “I had this in my hand. I tried to push her away with it, but she just ducked under it and continued hitting me. I swung it at her. I may have gotten carried away. It was an adrenaline moment.”

“I have been through a few of those,” I said. “And then what happened?”

“I triggered my return to my lab in the present.”

I looked back at the story I had found about the murder on the Internet, “What about going through her papers and stealing the brooch?”

He shrugged, “Maybe it was the nurse or the neighbor or someone else involved?”

I nodded as I continued to look through the details of the story.

“You haven’t been writing this up,” he gestured at my keyboard.

“Right now, I’m trying to figure out what, if anything, to write up. As you explained the situation, it became obvious that whatever crimes you had committed, if any, they had not been in any jurisdiction where I have legal authority to arrest you.”

“But, I murdered a woman,” Brodeur objected.

“Sure,” I nodded, “in another country and more than a hundred years ago. I could suggest you go back and turn your self in.”

“I’m not sure that I can,” he said. “I did not historically, or we would know about it. Besides, they seem to have been rather death-penalty happy back then.”

“You were acting in self-defense,” I pointed out.

“Still, it might cause some sort of causal problem in time,” he said, and then explained, “we both know I didn’t go back in time to turn myself in. It is also obvious my calculations were not perfect, and I could land somewhere unexpected and cause more murder and mayhem.”

“Another possibility is that I could arrest you and we could try to extradite you to Glasgow and see what charges they come up with. But that has a lot of drawbacks, such as having to explain to some Scottish cop how you managed to commit a murder over a hundred years ago. And imagine the headlines, ‘Nobel Scientist Invents Time Machine and Murders Old Lady.’”

“It’s not really a time machine,” Brodeur objected.

“You expect reporters or headline writers to get things precisely right?” I asked.

“Good point,” he said dejectedly.

“That leaves the third alternative,” I said.

“What is that?”

“Write it off as an experiment that went wrong, and try to forget about it. I would not suggest talking about this with anyone else. Your buddy Gilchrist would be pissed that you murdered his aunt, even if it was self-defense. A therapist will think you’re nuts, and that you are imagining you have a time machine. It’s not really a safe thing to be talking about or experimenting with anyway. I can’t see any way that it doesn’t end in more tragedies or the Nazis winning WWII or something equally bad. Dismantle the equipment and find a new line of research.”

“I can’t do that!” he said.

“You know how technology spreads. It gets cheaper and smaller over time. How long before everyone has a time machine? How many more accidental murders will occur? How many purposeful murders will occur if someone realizes all they have to do is go back before fingerprints and DNA and other forensic technologies to kill someone? Right now, you and Gilchrist and I know you have this technology. Does anyone else know what you’ve been doing?”

“Well, no, it sounds a bit crazy, and we didn’t want to be outcasts by talking about it. Nor did we publish anything pursuing the displacement implications. It just seemed too far-fetched until we had more proof.”

I nodded, and turned back to my computer, closing out of the browser and escaping out of the database without adding the record, “I am not filing a report on this interaction. No crimes were committed in this city. I advise you to come to an understanding with Gilchrist and delete your files and dismantle your equipment.”

“I don’t know that we need to stop everything,” he said.

“Trust me, you do. All it would take is one nut to drop H-bomb plans on Hitler in 1933, and you have gone back to 1908, so it can be done. You remember how the Nazis treated certain sorts of people, don’t you?” I asked.

He looked as if he weren’t sure what I was talking about.

“Tell you what, you’ve obviously had a hard day. I’ve had a long one, and my shift ended ten minutes ago. Why don’t we go to Barney’s, and I’ll buy you a drink? You can think about how dangerous your research is in the meantime.”

“Barney’s?” he asked in surprise.

“Sure,” I gave him a smile.

Understanding came over his face. I shut down my computer and locked my desk. “Did you want to stop off at home to change first?”

He smiled, “I seem to be harder to recognize this way.”

I rose and indicated the doorway with a wave, and then followed him out.

***

I didn’t worry or even think about Marion Gilchrist or any other Gilchrist for a few days.

Then I received a call from Hawaii about Gilchrist Donner.

I answered the phone call coming in from the switchboard, “Detective Gage.”

A pleasant feminine voice said, “Good morning, Detective Gage. I am Detective Lieutenant Hokulani Ekewaka of the Honolulu Police Department. I am investigating a missing person, and was hoping that someone in your department might be willing to run down some information there locally.”

“Tell me more, and I’ll figure out what paperwork is needed to cooperate with your investigation.”

“A gentleman from your city was vacationing here, a Doctor Gilchrist Donner. He disappeared, and his wife thinks it could be related to his work. Apparently, his vacation was dual-purpose with some negotiations for funding. She thinks the people he was negotiating with were Chinese, although she doesn’t seem to know many details.”

“Alright, Doctor Donner is associated with the university here, I believe. What do you need from us?”

She shuffled some papers in the background, “First, do you know if Doctor Donner was involved in any defense work or federal contracts?”

Published in Literature
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  1. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    This is the first chapter in a new serial novel that will be presented here on Ricochet. Information on the Marion Gilchrist murder can be found here.

    • #1
  2. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    • #2
  3. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    It’s a good setup, though. It’s almost a story in its own right.

    • #3
  4. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Percival (View Comment):

    It’s a good setup, though. It’s almost a story in its own right.

    Hopefully, it gets even better to come.

    • #4
  5. Bishop Wash Member
    Bishop Wash
    @BishopWash

    Interesting take on the Bootstrap Paradox. Looking forward to more installments.

    • #5
  6. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Bishop Wash (View Comment):

    Interesting take on the Bootstrap Paradox. Looking forward to more installments.

    Thanks. So am I. I only have a vague notion of where this is going.

    • #6
  7. CorbinGlassauer Inactive
    CorbinGlassauer
    @CorbinGlassauer

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Percival (View Comment):

    It’s a good setup, though. It’s almost a story in its own right.

    Hopefully, it gets even better to come.

    I was actually perturbed that it ended so abruptly, and kept wondering what would happen next and why.  Darn you, and finish the story.  And yes, I like it a lot.

    • #7
  8. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    CorbinGlassauer (View Comment):
    I was actually perturbed that it ended so abruptly, and kept wondering what would happen next and why.

    That’s when one knows one is doing a serial correctly. Thank you. In theory, I may be doing daily installments.

    • #8
  9. JosePluma, Local Man of Mystery Thatcher
    JosePluma, Local Man of Mystery
    @JosePluma

    Not to mention the statute of limitations, so I won’t. 

    • #9
  10. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    JosePluma, Local Man of Mystery (View Comment):

    Not to mention the statute of limitations, so I won’t.

    In some places, there isn’t one for certain crimes, which is why Detective Gage didn’t bring it up. He wasn’t sure about the law in Scotland regarding murder.

    • #10
  11. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    But now you made me go and look it up, and. . .

    Unlike other European countries, the United Kingdom has no statute of limitations for any criminal offence.

    • #11
  12. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Oh, here’s a great one. It’s Connecticut’s statute of limitations for felonies:

    Terrorism resulting in death: 55 yrs; Murder involving rape, cannibalism, or a child: 50 yrs; Mass Murder: 45 yrs; Murder: 40 yrs; Terrorism not resulting in death: 30 yrs; Manslaughter: 25 yrs; Rape: 15 yrs;

    Mass murder? If you get away for 45 years you’re fine. But murder and rape or murder and chew or murder a child? Nope, we’ll keep that one open an extra five years.

    • #12
  13. Judge Mental Member
    Judge Mental
    @JudgeMental

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Oh, here’s a great one. It’s Connecticut’s statute of limitations for felonies:

    Terrorism resulting in death: 55 yrs; Murder involving rape, cannibalism, or a child: 50 yrs; Mass Murder: 45 yrs; Murder: 40 yrs; Terrorism not resulting in death: 30 yrs; Manslaughter: 25 yrs; Rape: 15 yrs;

    Mass murder? If you get away for 45 years you’re fine. But murder and rape or murder and chew or murder a child? Nope, we’ll keep that one open an extra five years.

    Most places I think there is none for murder, so they’re getting off easy.

    • #13
  14. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Judge Mental (View Comment):
    Most places I think there is none for murder, so they’re getting off easy.

    True.

    • #14
  15. HankRhody Freelance Philosopher Contributor
    HankRhody Freelance Philosopher
    @HankRhody

    Arahant: You may know that the Earth spins on its axis and that it has a dance around the sun. Well, the sun is similarly moving around the galaxy, and the galaxy is moving. To move something five feet to the left instantaneously, is not such a big deal, since it would just move it over there,” he pointed. “But to move something in time as well, means that over there has moved. All of those different vectors add up, and it gets more and more complex with more time involved in the displacement.

    Yes, it moves, but with respect to what? 

    Looking at a simpler problem, picture the solar system. A time traveler blips out of existence and back into existence six months later (or earlier, whichever). The Earth is on the opposite side of the solar system and he dies an agonizing death. But in that picture there’s a Cartesian coordinate system implicit, that the motion is defined with respect to the sun. The Earth moved, the person didn’t. Why though should we assume that the position of the sun is any more fundamental than the position of the Earth? 

    The time traveler at position zero at time zero is still at position zero when time has advanced. But where is position zero? The theory of relativity tells us that there’s no absolute coordinate system in the universe. If the time traveler is still at position zero when time has advanced then position zero must have been defined according to such an absolute coordinate system. If instead position zero is defined by one or more of the bodies in the system then you only have to pay attention to your motion with respect to that body. I would expect the motion of the galaxy to be less important that the dominant gravitational body nearby (the Earth, seeing as I haven’t fallen into the sun. Yet.) 

    All this was worked out by noted chronophysicist Bill Shakespeare, who was heard to say “It is not in our stars, but in our selves.”

    • #15
  16. HankRhody Freelance Philosopher Contributor
    HankRhody Freelance Philosopher
    @HankRhody

    All that assumes the laws of relativity are still in force. Hey, maybe not.

    Let’s say I’ve got a time displacement device. I take a block of wood, I put it in the machine in the laboratory, I hit the +30 seconds button on the machine (I mean I could type in the numbers but who’s got time for that?) and we see where the block of wood ends up. It blinks out of existence and it blinks back into existence… where?

    • Right where it started; position is defined relative to the local area, relativity is safe, and Einstein can quit with the turning over in his grave already.
    • A touch to the east (or west, I get crosseyed trying to work out which). The main influence is the rotation of the Earth, be precise when you define your time displacement otherwise half a day off might leave you in China.
    • Backwards, downwards, and to the left. Position is defined to some other coordinate system; run more experiments and see if you can’t figure out which.
    • Embedded in the wall. Say, how far away were you when you triggered this experiment? Maybe you should be further away. The next state for example.

    If you did get that third option your next task would be to figure out which motion dominated. Earth’s motion around the sun? The sun’s revolution around the galaxy? If you added all those vectors together and you got the wrong spot, then perhaps there is a universal coordinate system, and relativity is bunk. This would be, in a scientific sense, very interesting.

    Your next experiment runs as follows:

    1. Paint a line some distance in this universal coordinate system.
    2. Get on your bicycle.
    3. Ride your bike next to that line at some large fraction of the speed of light (pump darnit!)
    4. Observe what happens to the line. Does it undergo length contraction?

    If it does, then relativity is still in force, there’s an error in your calculations, and you should probably hydrate. If it doesn’t, well, I don’t know what comes next. But you should probably hydrate then too.

    • #16
  17. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    HankRhody Freelance Philosopher (View Comment):
    Yes, it moves, but with respect to what?

    To where it was.

    • #17
  18. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    There is a lot of computation involved in even simpler scenarios, such as where the missile isn’t:

    The missile knows where it is at all times. It knows this because it knows where it isn’t, by subtracting where it is, from where it isn’t, or where it isn’t, from where it is, whichever is greater, it obtains a difference, or deviation. The guidance sub-system uses deviations to generate corrective commands to drive the missile from a position where it is, to a position where it isn’t, and arriving at a position where it wasn’t, it now is. Consequently, the position where it is, is now the position that it wasn’t, and it follows that the position where it was, is now the position that it isn’t. In the event of the position that it is in is not the position that it wasn’t, the system has required a variation. The variation being the difference between where the missile is, and where it wasn’t. If variation is considered to be a significant factor, it too, may be corrected by the GEA. However, the missile must also know where it was. The missile guidance computing scenario works as follows: Because a variation has modified some of the information the missile has obtained, it is not sure just where it is, however it is sure where it isn’t, within reason, and it knows where it was. It now subtracts where it should be, from where it wasn’t, or vice versa. By differentiating this from the algebraic sum of where it shouldn’t be, and where it was. It is able to obtain a deviation, and a variation, which is called “error.”

     

    • #18
  19. HankRhody Freelance Philosopher Contributor
    HankRhody Freelance Philosopher
    @HankRhody

    Arahant (View Comment):

    HankRhody Freelance Philosopher (View Comment):
    Yes, it moves, but with respect to what?

    To where it was.

    Where was it?

    • #19