Sunday, March 31, 2013

Stupid Villainy

Unhappy events in my life have reminded me that criminality if far more plausible when it is stupid than when it is genius. We like our detective fictions to be chess matches between masters. We want to see Holmes contending against Moriarty, Spiderman against Green Goblin, James Bond against Ernst Blofeld--the list goes on. But villainy in real life is far more often perpetrated by idiots.

I tend to forget this. I've complained about the villain who feeds minions to his sharks when they displease him. Why would I go to work for the guy in the monocle who kills off his minions? That's moronic.

Consider the movie Fargo. This movie is hilarious. William Macy plays a feckless loser who hires two criminals to kidnap his wife. The criminals are hilariously stupid as you can see in their various interactions. Their madcap antics turn this comedy into darkest black when they start murdering innocents.

This illustrates something significant. You may need to be smart and/or good to make it through life, but you can be both stupid and evil to create a great deal of mayhem. The best crime writers know this and they can make the reader laugh at the stupidity of enterprising criminals who end up re-enacting Wile E. Coyote pratfalls and Darwin Awards. This can add some comic relief to some rather heavy reading. And then you can make your readers feel guilty for laughing.

Unthinking villainy can affect well-educated folk, too. Let's suppose I were a High School Chemistry teacher with cancer and neither money nor insurance for chemotherapy treatment. Sure, I could start cooking meth, but that would entail scary work with scary colleagues. OR I could saw off the end of a shotgun, walk into a bank wearing a Barak Obama mask, and demand the contents of all the registers. The feebs would pick me up before dinner time, and after my conviction on bank-robbing & weapons charges, they'd ship me off to the Mayo Clinic to get my cancer cured at public expense. That's a lot smarter than what Vince Gilligan's villain came up with in Breaking Bad.

Let's face it, you don't have to be Darth Vader to choke the life out of your girlfriend. And you don't need to be Gabbar Singh to toy with the victims of your cruelty.

I think stupid villainy is something like Mr. McGregor's veggie garden. You've got a nice, tidy little garden going on. Then some pestilent little bunnies come along and take what they want and cause damage much greater than whatever value they could derive.

These criminals may aspire for the "big score," but they are seldom capable of more than venal enterprises. Their misdemeanors reflect the lack of trust they inspire. Smart people do not leave high-value items unprotected. They do not entrust high-value items to lame brains. The protection afforded high-value items is seldom penetrated by numb-skulls. The criminal who is a dunce must settle the scrap-metal value of a cast-iron antique he steals because he lacks the sense to take it to somewhere besides a junk-yard. They feel they've put something over on you when they lie about matters inconsequential.

This mindset is what I think lies at the heart of Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing. He has the role of constable, he's not very bright, and he tells himself he's not a criminal by affecting the intelligence he does not possess.

Of course, the cretinous villain does not realize his disability. He thinks he's the smartest guy in the room. This makes him ripe for manipulation. Which I suppose is something the super-villain with a monocle knows. S/he can promise the dimwit shiny things. "After we hold the moon for ransom, you'll be right there at my side."

More likely, the smart villain can set up the blockhead villain with a "big score" to the end of getting him caught, whereupon the smart villain can steal the lolly from the evidence room. (This scenario does not even require a super-genius villain.)

So, next time you're up for some crime writing, or want to put together a mystery, consider putting some addle-brained imbeciles on the chessboard.

From Greenland's Icy Mountains

I think I've been silly about my Science Fiction anthology of time travel stories, Finding Time. I've put out a few excerpts here and there. I think they've been awesome, but I've only been teasing you.

That's not very nice. So, for your reading pleasure my story, "From Greenland's Icy Mountains," in its entirety. If you buy Finding Time, you'll find this story near the front. It is one of Sid & Nell's first adventures. If you prefer science fact, you might read about The Lost Squadron or recovery of Glacier Girl, that helped inspire this tale. (Let me know if you get any of the Math Easter Eggs.)

From Greenland's Icy Mountains

Clomp. Clomp. Clomp. Hobnailed boots goose-stomping on the hut’s rough-sawn planks interrupted the howl of Arctic wind.

“Would you please knock that off?”

A hand shot forth, palm down, held in stiff-armed salute.“Jawohl, Herr Kapitan.”

“Cut that out.”

“Don’t be stupid, be a smarty; come and join the Nazi Party.”

Sidney Feynman looked up from the radio gear arrayed before him on a desk contrived from packing crates. The orange glow of vacuum tubes lit his face from below, distorting his features. “Nell, do you want this to appear in my report?”

“You can’t touch me, Sid. I have tenure,” Nell Playfair replied.

Tenure wouldn’t stop me from strangling her, Sid thought darkly. The jury would understand cabin fever. “You won’t get tenure for over 200 years.” Or maybe some technicality involving the statute of limitations.

Nell flounced into a chair in full pout mode. “It’s not fair. You’ve got something to do. I have to wait.”

Sid sighed. “Why couldn’t you disguise us as something less objectionable, like an Air Force DEW station?”

“If museum-quality reproductions of 1950’s military gear were found in the 1940’s in Greenland, it’d be another Roswell, only worse. We know the Germans had clandestine weather stations in Greenland. Nobody will be the wiser if someone trips over one more.”
Sid saw the logic of it and nodded. “Okay, you’re the historian, but could you be a little more politically correct about it?”

Nell grinned evilly and began to sing, “When Der Führer says, ‘Vee ist der master race’ Vee HEIL! Vee HEIL! Right in Der Führer's face….”

Sid grimaced at the raspberry sounds punctuating each “Heil.” He found the song annoying. Why couldn’t Nell dig up less annoying twentieth-century trivia? he thought. He shook himself and tried to concentrate on monitoring the radio navigation beacon. Its power fluctuated, fading in and out with the whims of the ionosphere. He checked the spectrum analyzer, a bit of twenty-third century gear, and verified the transmitter’s signature. Every radio transmitter had subtle telltales, and the navigation beacon was no exception. This beacon was true.

Nazis, real ones, sent phony signals to confuse Allied pilots flying between America and Britain. They would do so this afternoon, but Sid did not know exactly when. Hearing the bogus signal would help him know when to expect the target’s arrival. Then he could change out of this ridiculous uniform.
Second Lieutenant Carl Galt double-checked his mental arithmetic and came to the same conclusion. Something was definitely wrong. He tapped the glass fronts of the magnetic compass and the airspeed indicator. They moved a little—in the wrong direction. He checked his watch for the tenth time. It was running fine. Carl was certain. He keyed his microphone.

“Ferry leader, this is ferry three. Are you sure our course is correct?”

After a second, the radio crackled. “Ferry three, I’ve got a rock-solid signal. I find no reason to believe anything’s wrong.” Ferry Leader Captain Sam Bollard did things by the book. He even played cards according to Hoyle.

“Ferry leader, I just computed a celestial navigation solution and we’re off course.”

“Carl, what do you mean? You don’t have tables with you.”

“Uh, ferry leader, I used my grampa’s sextant and did the math in my head.” Carl realized the mathematical talent he took for granted hadn’t made it into Sam’s book.

“At this latitude?”

“It makes the spherical trigonometry more interesting, captain.”

“You’re not trained as a navigator.”

“Grampa showed me when I was a kid. It’s straightforward.”

“Carl, you may be the best poker player I’ve ever met, but I don’t believe you can do celestial nav in your head.”

“Yes, sir.”

Carl toyed with the idea of breaking formation with the other P-38s they were ferrying to England. Doing so would be gross insubordination. He flew on in silence, hoping he was wrong. If he was right, he was as good as dead.

Nell bounced around like she had been let out of a cage. “You ready to rescue some flyboys?”

Sid nodded and adjusted his US Air Force uniform. He felt a lot more comfortable leaving the Nazi paraphernalia in the hut. “I finished with the radio gear. How are we doing with the gasoline?”

“Just enough for these.” Nell pulled away a tarpaulin with a flourish to reveal two shiny yellow snowmobiles.

“’Ski-Doo.’ That doesn’t sound German or even U.S. Air Force,” Sid observed.

“It’s Canadian. These snowmobiles are reproductions of a 1960s design, and that’s a problem. But we can push them into a deep crevasse and reasonably expect nobody to find them for a hundred years. We can’t do that with our listening post.”

Sid poured gas from his jerry can into the nearest snowmobile while Nell slowly cranked the two-cycle engine to prime its carburetor. “This is going to be fun,” she exulted. “Check your radio.”

Sid adjusted the miniature radio in his ear canal, and wondered what could be fun about exposing oneself to the wind and snow on some godforsaken glacier. With both snowmobiles fuelled, they donned helmets and roared off, each towing a bobsled. A tiny projection system superimposed mapping data on Sid’s helmet visor.

The snowmobile ride was equal parts adrenaline and speed. Sid immediately fell in love with the experience. Nell was a pain, but she knew how to have fun. He was taking his job too seriously. After alternately flying over or plowing through snowdrifts for a half hour, they crested a ridge and stopped to look.

Nell shouted against the wind. “They’re down there somewhere. We know they left the airplanes. Presumably seeking shelter.”

They roared down into the valley and onto the glacier. The aircraft were exactly where the records said they should be. Sid set a waypoint on his inertial nav system. Slowly the snowmobiles began to spiral outward, seeking the missing personnel.

Nell’s voice came over the radio. “They won’t get far in this mess.”

She was right. The weather was rapidly deteriorating. Visibility dropped from fifteen to ten feet. Sid’s helmet display claimed the wind chill was forty degrees below hell frozen over. After another twenty minutes of searching, Sid saw a dark blob in front of him. Four pilots: three men and a woman huddled together.

“Home in on my signal, Nell. I’ve found them.” Sid pulled his snowmobile beside the pilots. He swung around so they could shelter in the lee of his bobsled. Moments later, Nell’s snowmobile pulled up alongside.

Sid slapped a heat pack against his thigh, activating it, and handed it to the nearest pilot, a captain by his insignia. More heat packs went all around to the other pilots. Nell deployed the space blankets, wrapping each in aluminized Mylar. They distributed fur coats, made space for the pilots in the bobsleds, and then secured them therein.

Sid attached an adhesive medical monitor at the base of each pilot’s neck. Nell made a quick check. Only the woman was at immediate risk of hypothermia. They slipped two more heat packs inside her space blanket. A quick nod, and they were off.

Second Lieutenant Carl Galt was sure the afterlife did not involve a rough, bouncing ride in a sled towed behind something with a two-cycle engine. They’d survived wheels-up landings on the glacier. RAF Lieutenant Lanning managed to tip his plane upside down, but Alex only banged his head. The other Brit, Lieutenant Brenda Bisset, wasn’t hurt, but she had the least body mass and lost heat fastest.

Carl thought it odd that the British should assign a woman pilot to fly ferry missions. He learned why the night before after seeing the movie Desperate Journey. Brenda turned in early while the rest went out for drinks. After he was in his cups, Alex explained Britain’s desperate need for pilots. Since ferrying airplanes was not a combat mission, female pilots freed their male counterparts to fight. An uncomfortable silence followed Carl’s question of why Alex had ferry duty. Later, Sam whispered that Alex had cracked up during the Battle of Britain.

Carl took cold comfort about being right about the radio beacon. Sam had eventually realized the Nazis had spoofed the signal and turned back. They ended up out of fuel over Greenland. Landing on the glacier was better than in the North Atlantic. But they couldn’t survive without shelter. Sam suggested they might find some to the east and that they might as well die walking as standing around.

Then Brenda collapsed. Alex panicked. Sam had to slug him to bring him to his senses. Together, they tried to carry her but didn’t get far. He stopped to huddle with the others for warmth. He remembered nothing until the Army Air Force people showed up and shoved something hot into his hands.

Carl was surprised the Air Force had people in this part of Greenland. Come to think of it, the odds of being found were somewhere between zero and winning seven consecutive Irish Sweepstakes. No, that wasn’t right—more than seven. He spent the rest of the ride refining his estimate.

Eventually, the bobsled slowed. Carl peeked out from between the furs to see a small wooden hut with an attached antenna mast and an anemometer spinning madly on its roof. He waited as the Air Force Captain and his assistant carried Brenda into the hut, with Alex trudging behind them. It was odd that only two men were involved in the rescue.

He moved to get up, only to find himself pinned in place by Captain Sam Bollard, wrapped in furs and sitting in front of him on the bobsled. Carl nudged Sam in the ribs. Something looked vaguely wrong about the weather station, but he could not place it. “Does something seem funny to you, captain?” He felt Sam nod.

Carl eased his hand to the holster that held his service pistol and undid the snap. Sam got out of the bobsled. “That doesn’t look like any weather station I’ve ever seen,” he said as he helped Carl up.

He suddenly shivered from the cold, and felt something chafe his neck. Someone had stuck something there. It came loose with a tug. It was a white, flat square with a sticky backside. He jammed it into his pocket.

A figure came bolting out of the hut. A woman’s voice shouted into the wind, “You shouldn’t have removed the monitor. It’s watching your core body temperature. Get inside now! Without it I can’t tell if you go into hypothermia.” The woman grabbed him by the elbow and pulled at him.

Carl looked at Sam, who shrugged. With his free hand, Carl eased his gun out of its holster and into his pocket. He felt like a guy in a movie.

The hut had a low ceiling, but it was warm and large enough to fit six people without crowding. The inside looked more wrong than the outside. He couldn’t say more than that it just seemed European. He did not recognize the brands of canned food on the rough-sawn wood wall. Looking closer, he saw why. The labels were in German. Scanning further, he saw a pile of smashed radio gear. The most damning sight was the swastika stenciled on a condenser.

Carl’s mouth went dry. The rescuers had to be Germans. But neither had a German accent. Spies were taught to speak without accents—weren’t they? He realized that everything he knew about Nazi spies came from the movies.

Brenda sat up in a cot, wrapped in blankets. The other spy helped her drink from a steaming coffee cup. Alex hovered over them both, sipping coffee. “Can’t you make it warmer in here for her?” he asked.

The smell of the coffee and warmth of the hut was heavenly. Maybe this was the afterlife. No, there were no Nazis in heaven. Carl caught Sam’s eye, and he nodded. Carl pulled his gun, but his mouth was too dry to do more than croak. Errol Flynn and Ronald Reagan never lacked for words when they got the drop on Nazi spies.

Sam closed the door behind him and spoke up, “Back against the wall. Both of you.”

Alex jumped in surprise, looking first at Sam and then at the spies. He took deep breaths. His gaze darted back and forth between them.

The Nazi guy looked up, startled. His eyes grew large as he looked into Carl and Sam’s drawn guns. His Adam’s apple worked up and down, but he didn’t speak. Maybe Raymond Massey’s mouth went dry, too.

Finally, he croaked. “Nell, I told you the Nazi business was a dumb idea.”

Alex dropped his coffee and almost tripped coming over to stand next to Sam. He pulled his gun.

The other Nazi spy—Nell—looked at the guns. She opened her mouth to answer, but no words came out. Everyone stood there looking at each other for an uncomfortable minute.
“Let’s everyone keep calm,” she finally said. “We can explain everything. Captain Bollard and Lieutenant Galt will believe a reasonable explanation, even if it may seem unlikely. We all have jobs to do. Yours is fighting Nazis. Ours is rescuing you.” She paused for a moment for her words to sink in and then smiled tentatively. “Please. I’m worried about Carl’s body temperature. Lieutenant Galt, would you drink your coffee?

Shivering, Carl wanted nothing more in the whole world than coffee and after that maybe a smoke. He checked to see that Sam and Alex had the spies covered before pouring a cup. All the while he eyed Nell warily. Her hands were trembling. That was probably a good sign.
“Stand back now, sister,” Sam growled.

“Sorry.” The woman backed up against the wall a little too quickly. A can of peaches fell to the floor. Everyone jumped at the sound. Carl realized with horror that his finger instinctively tensed on the trigger. His gun had almost gone off.

“How do you know my name?” Sam asked.

“History,” the spy named Sid answered.

The woman interrupted him. “It’s hard to explain, captain. I am Nell Playfair, a historian, and my colleague is Sid Feynman, a temporal engineer. I’m from Memphis, not Germany. And you won’t find any Nazis named Feynman. We’re from the University of Michigan under contract to General Interplanetary. We came to Greenland to save your lives.”

“You’re Nazi spies,” Sam insisted.

“How do you explain the labels on the canned goods and the markings on this radio equipment?” Carl spoke while he inspected the gear closely. With all the vacuum tubes smashed, he wouldn’t be sending any distress calls with this rig.

“I want anyone who finds this camp to think it belonged to a clandestine German weather station. Maybe Sid was right and I should have made it look like a DEW station.”

“What’s a dew station?” Sam asked.

“An acronym for Distant Early Warning. After the war the US Air Force—they renamed the Army Air Force—set up radar stations looking for a Russian attack that never came.”

“You talk like a fortune-teller,” Carl observed.

“No, I’m a historian describing history that hasn’t happened yet.”

Sam blurted, “That’s ridiculous.”

“I can prove it.” Nell slowly reached into her uniform’s breast pocket and with two fingers pulled out what looked like a gray cigarette case. She spoke to it, saying, “pre-mission background lecture,” and held it out toward Carl. “Place this on the table beside you. When you push the button on the top, you’ll see something startling.”

Carl gingerly took the cigarette case and examined it. There were no cigarettes inside. Disappointing. He was dying for a smoke.

The case’s material was not metal or wood. It reminded him of Bakelite but not as stiff. He pushed the button and stepped back. Nothing happened for a second. Then a light sprang from the device. It flashed back and forth, resolving itself into a spectral form. He looked over at Sam, who stood with mouth agape and face ashen. Carl looked back. The light-figure looked exactly like whatever he expected a ghost to look like.

Carl also recognized the figure. It was Nell and she was speaking. “…the Second World War transformed Greenland from an insular Danish colony into a de facto American military outpost. Its significance in the subsequent Cold War with the Soviet Empire cannot be underestimated.” The voice droned in what was a history lecture that went on to describe in detail the fall of the Third Reich and the start of an extended low-level conflict with the Commies. Carl started to doubt that Nazi spy training included boring lectures.

“I’ll cover the spies while you look closer, captain.”

Sam walked around the lecturing ghost, peering at it from all angles. After a few seconds, Alex took over the task of guarding the spies, while Carl studied it. Brenda got up and joined in, first studying the spectral image, and then relieving Alex, who also paled at the apparition. “This can’t be real,” he said.

Sam spoke quietly out of the side of his mouth. “Carl, what is this, a ghost?”

Carl shook his head, “I don’t believe in ghosts.”

“But look.” Sam waved his hand through the ghost-Nell’s torso.

Sid spoke up. “It’s a hologram.”

“A hollow what?” Alex asked.

“Like a movie projection.”

Carl spoke slowly, his words as much a question as statement. “The image is three-dimensional.”

“That’s because the interference patterns retain phase information.”

Carl thought for a second. “How?”

“The lasers take a Fourier transform of the scene and store that for playback now.”

Carl raised an eyebrow. “Lasers?”

“A phase-coherent light source.”

Sam’s voice showed the same irritation as the last time Carl had cleaned him out in poker. “What are you guys talking in, Greek?”

“No, it’s Geek.” Nell said. “Guys like them always talk like that.” Her wave included Sid and Carl. He wondered what a Geek could be.

Sam gave up on getting useful information from Nell. “Lieutenant Galt, what was he talking about?”

“It’s technical. This ‘hollow gram’ uses technology that makes time travel seem like child’s play. I read a story by H.G. Wells…” Carl stopped himself. “Captain, I believe these people are telling the truth. But they may be Nazis from the future.”

Alex snorted.

Sam frowned and whispered, “I will have to start thinking like a lawyer again.” He turned to Sid. “Okay, if this story you’re telling me is true, you’ve gone to a lot of trouble. You must have had some quid pro quo in mind. Why did you go to that trouble, Dr. Feynman?”

Sid pointed at Carl. “For him, Carl Galt.”

Carl jumped in surprise. “What’s so special about me?”

Sid took a deep breath before speaking. Nell muttered, “Lift your feet. It’s gonna get deep in here.” This earned dirty looks from both Sid and Sam.

Sid cleared his throat. “It started three years ago, 2278, when General Interplanetary approached me to do a literature search.” Sid paused and looked at Nell. “I made the mistake of asking Nell for help.” Sam nodded in sympathy. “She focused her investigation on Dr. Greg Brighton of MIT, a pre-eminent mathematician of the middle twentieth century with an Erdös number better than anybody.”

“And didn’t that create a lot of Erdös envy?” Nell muttered.

“He published two papers in the 1940s on what was to become string theory. But they were strangely incomplete. I asked Nell to find out why. What she found was an unpublished paper that had been submitted to Dr. Brighton for peer review. That paper was the mother lode. The cover letter written by Dr. Isaac Cohen of the University of Michigan said that nobody there could understand it and asked if Brighton would kindly take a look.”

“Hey, I just sent a note to Dr. Cohen describing a process whereby higher dimensions might be rolled up onto a four-dimensional manifold. That was last month,” Carl interjected.

“That’s the one,” Nell said. “Brighton wrote back saying the paper was great and he had to talk to the author.

“Cohen told him to never mind. The author had died in Greenland when his airplane went missing. Brighton wrote a couple papers based on the parts of Carl’s work that he could understand. Those were the ones that got us interested. It seems that Carl here is a mathematical talent of Gaussian proportions.”

Carl blushed at the thought. “So, why are you rescuing me instead of Evariste Galois right after he lost his duel over the honor of a prostitute?”

“We think you’re smarter than that.” Sid shook his head. “Besides, we know all we need to about group theory. We need a string theorist. Your paper looks like you understand what we don’t.”

Nell spoke up. “We have to avoid things that would change history. If we showed up with butterfly nets in Paris 1832, someone would notice. That’s why we built this fake-believe Nazi weather station, and used those 1960s-vintage snowmobiles. If this stuff gets found, it needs a reasonable explanation that doesn’t include time travel. Anything that’s from our own time is handheld.”

“Fifty years from now your planes will be found, but your bodies won’t,” Sid added.

Sam pointed at Sid. “None of this explains how Carl can know some math in 1942 that can possibly be useful in the future.” Carl supposed this was how Sam cross-examined witnesses in his civilian life.

Nell answered, “What is pure mathematics now will be theoretical physics in a century. A century after that it’ll be applied engineering. Look at Maxwell’s equations. They’ve been around for a hundred years, and you’re only using them to build radios.”

Carl thought a long time before speaking. “So, what is so important that you need someone who understands string theory?” He rubbed the back of his neck and wished for his pipe.

Sid grinned for the first time. “General Interplanetary is building a faster-than-light starship.”

“That’s impossible. Einstein proved that.”

“We tunnel under space time.” Sid gestured with his hands, trying to describe some shape Carl couldn’t follow. “But intermediate bosons entrain gravitons, limiting the Tolerude singularity. General Interplanetary needs string theorists to sort this out.”

“Suppose we want to go home instead,” Alex said.

“No, you’ll have to come back with us,” Sid replied. “We don’t have a choice. We have to minimize distortions to the timeline.”

“What if we refuse?”

“Then we leave you here.” Nell shook her head slowly. “We’ve done everything possible to preserve the timeline.”

“In which we do not survive,” Carl observed archly.

Sid winced at the sting. “I’m sorry. I wish it were otherwise, but that’s the truth. You can try to hike out, or stay at this camp until the food and fuel run out. I know it’s a terrible inconvenience, but we did save your lives. What do you say? Will you come back with us?”

“I won’t believe any of this no matter how much hand-waving you do.” Alex stepped forward and shoved Sid. He fell heavily. “You aren’t taking anybody to the future, and you aren’t leaving us here to freeze to death.”

“Don’t be too hasty there, Alex,” Sam said.

“Shut up.” Alex stepped back, away from Sam and Carl. Alex’s breath came in short ragged gasps. He pointed his gun at Sid. “Take that yellow motorized sled out there and get help or I’ll kill him.”

“No,” Nell said.

Sid’s hand crept upwards toward his right earlobe.

“Don’t move.” Alex swung his gun unsteadily toward Sid.

Brenda lurched forward and grabbed Alex’s arm. Sam jumped at them, going for the gun. They struggled and the gun went off.

The bullet struck Nell, pushing her back against the wall. Her eyes went wide more in surprise than pain. Nell put her hand to her shoulder and looked at the blood from her wound. She swayed back and braced herself against the wall. In front of her, three pilots wrestled in what looked like a rugby scrum. She staggered forward and fell onto the pile. 

Reaching up, she squeezed her right earlobe.

A flash of blue light enveloped them. It pulsed and then they were gone. This left Carl and Sid alone in the hut.

Carl looked from the empty spot on the floor to Sid. “What just happened?”

“They’re safe.” Sid sighed heavily. “Nell activated the temporal translator.”

“But Alex shot her.”

“Don’t worry. They’re back in the basement of Gates Hall. The doctors in the twenty-third century are pretty good. They’ll patch up Nell just fine.” Sid got up and brushed the dust from his pants. “I think the campus police should be able to disarm Alex without trouble.”

“But my girlfriend—I can’t.”

“Your friend Daphne will marry Stinky Marlow. They’ve already had their first date.”

Carl wrinkled his nose in disgust. “No.”

Sid nodded solemnly.

“Stinky Marlow?” He didn’t like the prospect of never going home again. He liked the idea of 4F Stinky taking his girl even less. What could she see in him? “Did she send a Dear John letter?”

“She did not have to. You were reported missing, presumed dead, a week before they announced their engagement.”

Carl figured there were advantages to living in the future over being dead in the present. “What kind of team do the Buckeyes have in 2281?”


Those more worthy than I: