JULY 1ST, 2014


The richest man in the world liked eating pastrami sandwiches in orbit; he also liked conducting certain sensitive interviews there, where it was easier to be really sure nobody was listening in. He and the researcher were sitting and watching the sunset beyond the curve of earth, the planet turning like a great white and blue shield below him. The yacht’s forward reentry plates were retracted, leaving the nose three-quarters transparent. Beyond earth, stars burned in airless clarity. Bright dots moved across their sight, ships and orbital habitats.

“Damn, I’m still not used to zero G,” Henry Carmaggio said, snagging a scrap of pastrami that was floating away. The airscrubber system would get it eventually, but it was a little embarrassing.

The researcher was Japanese. Nomura Takashi by name, an up-and-coming young physicist who had been working for IngolfTech’s Basic Research Division for a year now. He waited politely, occasionally straying up against the restraining harness of his seat.

“You’re wondering why I brought you here,” Carmaggio said, his voice still carrying more than a trace of blue-collar New York. He was a thick-shouldered man in his sixties, with short-cut grizzled hair. Trimly built, like virtually everyone these days—metaboline had been on the market since the turn of the millennium, and obesity was one with Nineveh, Tyre and cancer. The muscle showed the results of effort, though. His face was craggy and big-nosed, with a pleasant, lived-in look.

“Yes, sir,” Nomura said.

“It’s because you’ve been asking questions,” Carmaggio said easily. He chuckled at the sight of the younger man’s alarm. “Oh, no problem. You were bound to do that sometime. Essentially, you’ve gotten through our cover story.”

“Cover story?”

“The pretense that IngolfTech has actually been inventing the stuff we’ve been selling since 1999,” Carmaggio said easily. “Not surprising. The horseshit about how the curve had to start rising exponentially in the late ’90s and we just happened to be riding it—it doesn’t make sense, when you think about it, despite what that SF writer—what’s his name, Winge?—is always on about. People just accept it because all this”—he waved a hand at the spacecraft—“is here, after all. Something had to cause it.”

Nomura ducked his head. “Yes, Carmaggio-san. But . . . you will pardon me . . . the more deeply I became involved in the company’s research effort, the more it seemed . . . somehow . . . that we were trying to determine the physical-law basis of the technology, rather than developing technology from established theory. And even then, many of the theoretical breakthroughs were . . . far too convenient! The researchers who claimed them didn’t have the information trail that would lead one to expect them to make such startling breakthroughs.”

Carmaggio chuckled. Smart boy, he thought. Now let’s see how he handles something really weird.

“Yeah,” he said aloud. “In fact, there’s just no way we could have gone from the stuff available in 1999—chemical rockets, coal-burning power stations, gasoline-powered cars—to what we’ve got now. Hell, IngolfTech and Sony just launched the first interstellar probe toward Alpha C! We’ve got Alfven-drive spaceships all over the solar system, direct-conversion fusion reactors, plasma beam weapons, computers a thousand times quicker and more powerful than at the turn of the century, hundreds of other things that’ve been tying the world economy in knots. We’ve eliminated pretty well every disease except old age, and we’re working on that. Things nobody else can duplicate until we license. Tell me how we’ve done all that in fifteen years.”

Nomura blinked. He’d have been wearing coke-bottle glasses in the old days, Carmaggio thought.

“Sir . . . the only logical conclusion I can reach is that somehow . . . somehow IngolfTech was handed the information it has been releasing. That it comes from outside the sphere of our civilization and its scientific tradition entirely. But that itself is not logical.”

Carmaggio nodded. “You’re right. We were handed it—captured it, to be blunt.”

“Aliens,” Nomura breathed. His hands were trembling; the older man judged that was excitement, more than fear. “Or . . . time travel? There are hints, beyond Tipler’s work—”

“Not exactly,” Carmaggio said. “It’s a long story—and it starts more than two centuries ago, in a history that wasn’t ours. Thank God for that! It runs up to four centuries in the future and then loops over to New York, when I was a cop there fifteen years ago. Settle down and disconnect your critical faculties, Dr. Nomura. This shit is so strange you’re going to have to believe it.”

His face went grim. “The human race had a real close brush with disaster,” he said. “Something worse than extinction.”

“Carmaggio-san . . . what is worse than extinction?”

The young scientist was looking a bit green under his natural amber color, and the American didn’t think it was space-sickness.

“Domestication. On our line of history, the Nazis and Communists and control freaks in general eventually lost . . . but on that other one, they won, a particularly nasty bunch of ’em. They thought they were the Master Race, you see.”

“But that is a . . . a fatuous concept!” Nomura said, with stiff virtue. Fatuous or not, the Children of Amaterasu hadn’t been immune to it; you just had to ask the Koreans or the ita to get an earful, even now. “Surely any culture possessed by a concept so illogical would be defeated, as the Nazis were.”

“Son, don’t generalize from a small sample.” Carmaggio smiled bleakly. “Until recently, that’s all we had—a sample of one history. Now we’ve got access to two, and . . . some things look less certain than they did. Nazis? Here’s what happened there in that other history . . . ”