First published by Bewildering Stories in 2006.
Edited and revised © 2019 by S.J.Rapala
DREAMS OF BABYLON
“And being full of vanity, they said, 'Come, let us build ourselves a city,
and a tower with its top in the heavens, so that we may reach God’”
- an excerpt from a 2013 A.D anonymous translation of the Genesis, Chapter 11
Rome, 2031 A.D.
Father O’Hara sighed with quiet relief as he entered his dim flat and locked the door behind him. He took off his jacket and poured himself a double Scotch. The partially opened window looked out on the noisy, heavily crowded city streets.
It was a long day at the church. After the afternoon mass he stayed for confessions. Many came today. He rubbed his temples.
The priest loosened the collar, his blood racing and his face flushed. It was a hot day even by Italian standards. Father O’Hara hailed from the windy shores of Ireland and suffered in the overcrowded city.
He turned on the flatscreen. Unrest in Syria continued, third decade now. Seventeen soldiers killed in a roadside suicide bombing, civilian casualties were mentioned but numbers were not given. The reporter connected the killings to the jihad.
A train wreck in India: seventy-eight dead, hundreds more wounded. An earthquake in Indonesia. Villages were cut off from the world and waiting for aid. No food or fresh water. But many refused moving to refugee camps. Not but two days before dozens were trampled to death when panic broke out in one. Pictures of children digging for their parents through the heaps of twisted bodies made short headlines around the globe.
“Oh, Jesus,” Father O’Hara whispered. “Why do you allow such things?”
He changed the channel and watched an American sitcom: the plastic and scripted world of the American Dream. He forced himself to laugh at the antics and the clever dialogue, but the darkness in the back of his mind remained.
The phone rang. Father O’Hara turned off the screen and activated the receiver by touching the back of his ear where he was chipped.
He coughed in order to smooth his cigarette-soaked breath, now further weighted by the smell of cheap Scotch.
“Yes,” he said.
“The VITT is holding a meeting tomorrow. You should be there.”
“What’s the point? They can never settle on anything.”
“It’ll be different this time.”
“It’s never different. We’ve had the Chinese tech for almost three years and the project hasn’t moved up an inch.”
“There were funding problems, Frank. We’re not talking about taking a train to Paris or London here. Legal issues, practical issues; hell, Frank, the Institute sunk millions of euros into the project, hired dozens of experts…”
“And still nothing.”
“It’s a go.”
Father O’Hara straightened his back. His fingers tightened around the empty glass.
“What?” he breathed.
“The vote went through a quarter of an hour ago. You have a green light.”
The priest wetted his broken lips and sat silently.
“I’m here.” He pinched his brows and then rubbed his forehead.
“Be here tomorrow, eight o’clock sharp.”
“I’m going to Israel?” Father O’Hara whispered.
“Looks like,” the voice on the other end of the receiver sighed and hung up.
The Vatican Institute of Time Travel, Rome
8.00 a.m. August 3rd, 2031 A.D.
The VITT was located in an inconspicuous building on the outskirts of the Eternal City. Few people realized that behind the shabby façade of a structure still bearing the signs of a meat-processing plant, there was a state-of-the-art facility jointly funded and coordinated by the Vatican, NASA, and the especially created EU Department of Time Travel that boasted on and off support of various European governments. Dozens of private corporations and international organizations were also involved on various levels, each with their own interests in further developing the technology.
Father O’Hara rested the palm of his hand against the rectangular plaque built into the door. The hidden scanner identified his level of clearance and the door opened, revealing a long, dimly lit corridor.
“Buon giorno, padre.” Two familiar guards appeared out of nowhere with a polite greeting. The priest’s trained eyes skipped quickly over them; they rested longer on the M16A1 assault rifles hanging from their shoulders.
“Heavy machinery,” he smirked pointing at the weapons.
“Follow me, padre.” One of the guards took the priest by his arm.
The soldier led him through the building though he already knew every inch of it. They walked through a maze of long and sterile corridors before the soldier finally opened a door leading into a small room where several men waited around a table.
Father Frank knew them all and nodded his head in a greeting. The strict Vatican protocol was abandoned within the walls of the Institute so the priest refrained from kneeling before Cardinal DiBenedetto. He noted the scowl that passed over the Italian’s proud face and grinned defiantly. Few members of the clergy supported the Institute’s choice of Father Frank as a candidate for time travel.
“Have a seat, Frank,” one of the men, Pat Connelly, said and motioned toward the chair. He was a liaison between the Institute and the American government and it was his phone call yesterday that broke the news to Father O’Hara.
“You know why you’re here, Frank.” Pat waited for the guard to close the door before beginning. “The board approved the project yesterday through an anonymous vote. We have a six week window of opportunity.”
“I’m ready,” the priest said, lighting a cigarette.
“Yes, I know,” the American grunted. “And I assure you, Frank, my government supports you completely. There are those, however,” he added and threw a boorish glance at the Cardinal, “Who still have their doubts.”
“Is that why I’m here today, Your Eminence?” Frank directed this question to Cardinal DiBenedetto.
“Our position is that perhaps we should wait with the choice of a candidate,” the Italian replied sternly, his back erect against the back of the wooden chair.
“And miss our chance?” Laurent Fournier burst out in return. He was a small neurotic Frenchman, a delegate of the European Union. “We have six weeks and after that who knows how long before a trip may be planned again!”
“We feel that Father O’Hara may not be a proper candidate,” DiBenedetto said.
“Pourquoi-pas?” the Frenchman waived his hand impatiently, reverting to his native language in the heat of discussion. “He’s a priest, n’est pas? An expert of the time period, non? He speaks fluent Aramaic and Hebrew proper, non?”
“And he passed the training with flying colors, that same training that sent all of your Vatican golden boys into the ER with seizures and heart failures,” another man, Andrej Jadrankovic, added. He was a renowned Serbian-born doctor of physics who served as head of the NASA-delegated team of experts.
“He’s also a drunk, un ubriaco!” The Cardinal clenched his fist. “How can we send someone like that to meet Jesus Christ?”
A scowl passed over Pat Connelly’s face and his forehead creased. Fournier fumbled his fingers nervously. Jadrankovic stared blankly at the wall before him. Frank continued to calmly smoke his cigarette, seemingly oblivious to DiBenedetto’s hard stare.
“He’s not going to meet Christ,” Pat said finally. “He’s not to interfere in the course of history. He’s there to provide us with an eyewitness account of Christ’s godly nature.”
“The Vatican doesn’t need proof,” the Cardinal stated proudly. “Faith needs no proof.”
“Let me remind you, Your Eminence, that this project has always been the Vatican’s love child,” Pat said with a frown. “You’re is not interested in obtaining definitive proof of Christ’s existence; an account of his life and miracles or an accurate depiction of his appearance? If the Vatican wants to continue having a political presence in today’s world, it needs to reestablish some credibility.”
“Why not let us choose the candidate?” the Cardinal snapped. “It needs to be someone we trust, someone who we know will not do anything stupido. He will be there completely on his own, no supervision.”
“Many organizations and governments have an interest in the project,” Pat replied. “Many have invested more money, time and effort than the Vatican, so I think all should have a voice in this matter.”
“It’s been voted on,” Fournier said with a shrug. “The matter is closed, non?”
“What do you think, Frank?” Pat turned to the priest and asked.
“I told you, I can go today,” Father O’Hara butted the cigarette out and placed his hands on his knees.
“Are you sure?”
“I’ve been through all of your tests.”
“How is your faith, Father?” the Cardinal asked suddenly.
Frank did not respond straight away, waiting for the question to sink in.
“What’s that have to do with anything?” Dr. Jadrankovic asked.
“He’s going to be living in the same time period as Jesus of Nazareth,” DiBenedetto replied without taking his eyes of Father O’Hara. “We’re sending him to Capernaum where Jesus preached and healed during his years of ministry. No other city is mentioned as often in the New Testament. Capernaum had witnessed more of His miracles than any other town in ancient Israel. Do not underestimate the significance of this location. Father O’Hara will see Jesus Christ, hear Him and maybe even speak to Him. I think the question regarding his faith is a proper one in this situation. He may be a perfect candidate for time travel, but what about his faith? How are we to know that he will not change the course of history? That he will not interfere with the work of the Son of God?”
“Frank?” Pat turned to the priest again. “The Cardinal has a point.”
“My faith is as strong as yours, Your Eminence,” Frank responded firmly. “I don’t fear meeting God face to face. I may have my faults, but I am only a man.”
“Trés bien! Well said!” the Frenchman applauded. “Even Jesus of Nazareth admitted to His partial nature and to His human failings.”
“Are you satisfied, Your Eminence?” Pat asked the Cardinal.
“My opinion is obviously taken lightly here,” DiBenedetto grunted. “You’ve made your choice yesterday, I wash my hands off it.”
“I’ll consider the matter closed, then,” Pat rubbed his hands together. “Let’s move on to the details. We’ll have a meeting with the rest of the team this afternoon to sort everything out, but a general outline of the trip is in place.”
“Capernaum it is then?” Father O’Hara asked.
“Located in Northern Israel, in existence from the second century B.C. to the seventh century A.D. It was built on the edge of the Sea of Galilee and at the time of Christ’s ministry it housed between around fifteen hundred residents, give or take a few souls.”
“Today the ruins are owned by two fractions: the Franciscans control the western portion with the synagogue and the Greek Orthodox Church claims the rest.”
“Do we have their permission to stage the TT phase there?”
“The Franciscans were difficult to persuade, it nearly took the Pope’s decree. They insist on having an independent observer.”
“You didn’t agree on it, did you?”
“We had no choice,” Pat conceded. “Remember, the technology allows for particles to be transferred through time, but not space. If we want Capernaum two thousand years ago, we must stage TT there. But don’t worry, their observer will be given only the information necessary and we’ll keep a watch over him.”
“When will it happen?”
“We have six weeks. Starting today you’ll sit in with the experts to hammer out all the details. Clothing, local customs and traditions, languages written and spoken, different accents, local dishes, everything. We have historians, theologians, biblical scholars, sociologists, psychologists, archaeologists, anthropologists, linguists, a whole team.”
“Is three weeks enough?”
“Good. We’ll take care of the logistics: transporting the teams and the equipment, permissions, passports, visas, etc. Another team will prepare the site during this time, we’ll see them off this week.”
“TT has never been attempted outside a controlled environment,” Dr. Jadrankovic explained seeing the priest’s puzzled look. “We need the site to resemble a lab as closely as possible. Stabilize and sterilize, if you know what I mean.”
“You’ll have protestors and lobbyists on your backs as soon as you turn over one stone,” Frank said.
“Privacy is a luxury we can afford,” Pat shrugged. “No one will know. No PR, total media blackout. This whole thing is tightly sealed, no leaks.”
“So you never attempted time travel outside of the lab?” Father O’Hara directed the question to the physicist.
“We did dozens of simulations in VR, of course, but nothing beats the real thing,” the doctor replied. “We sent mice three minutes into the future. Of course,” he added after a moment’s silence, “three minutes is not two thousand years, and mice are not men.”
Jadrankovic threw a quick glance at Pat Connelly and wetted his lips. The American motioned him to continue.
“It all works fine in the VR, Father,” he said. “There is also some evidence to suggest that the Chinese successfully used TT before selling us the technology, but the fact remains that sending a human being into the past means mapping each of his particles and transporting it to the correct coordinate along the time continuum. And we’re not talking about atoms, no. We’re talking about fundamental particles, the smallest possible bits of matter of which everything is composed. The absolute count of our particles, well,” Jadrankovic said with a sigh, “That number has more decimal points then you can begin to imagine. And since each particle has a different, very specific coordinate the mapping itself is a colossal job and the procedure extremely complex.”
“Meaning?” Father O’Hara repeated.
“Meaning that regardless of VR simulations or RL experiments, there is always room for error,” the scientist finished. “Our statisticians have calculated that given the present atmospheric conditions, planet alignments, winds, currents and tides, the Earth’s present degree of tilt, the coming six weeks appear to be statistically optimal. Meaning that if we do our job, there is a 98.9 percent chance that no outside variable will influence the TT phase.”
“Good God,” Father O’Hara absentmindedly reached for another cigarette.
“Meaning that if we’re serious about doing this, we have to do it now,” Pat concluded and turned to Father O’Hara. “Are you ready to meet Jesus of Nazareth, Frank?”
“Good God,” the priest whispered again.
“Amen,” the Cardinal, silent for a long time, added.
VITT Base Camp, Capernaum Ruins, Israel
3.15 p.m. August 24th, 2031 A.D.
“Ok, strap this on, padre.”
“It doesn’t fit.”
“It’s made to fit. It’s a self-regulating thermal suit, modeled on the NASA space suit. It’s made of several layers of super strong fibers tough enough not to rupture in the vacuum of space. Pretty sure it can accommodate your belly.”
“Okay, and why do I need this?”
“Standard op procedure, padre. You don’t think the Institute would let you go on with this without taking all the steps necessary to safeguard you?”
“I signed a waiver.”
“Funny. Time travel is made possible by an intense electric field created between two metal plates set parallel to one another. This field rips open the fabric of the space-time continuum, creating a hole in space that links the point of origin with the point of destination.”
“Try to imagine standing at ground zero during a nuclear explosion. That should give you some idea of what you're about to experience.”
“How goes it?” Pat Connelly asked as he entered the tent where Lawrence Wilburn, a young NASA technician, was busy familiarizing Father O’Hara with the equipment.
“They want me to wear this ridiculous outfit.” Father Frank spread his arms.
“It’s for your own safety, Frank.”
“Lawrence,” Pat motioned for the young man. “Let me have a word with you.”
They stepped outside of the tent into the scorching Israeli sun, leaving Father O’Hara inside to battle with the tight suit.
“What do you think?” Pat asked as they walked away from the tent.
“He’s taking it all in very well,” Lawrence said. “I walked him through most of the equipment and he’s got a general idea of what’s about to take place. I’m leaving quantum physics and mechanics out of the lecture, though, no need to confuse the poor fellow.”
“He’s good to go, then?”
“Sure, but…” The young man hesitated.
“I know he’s a priest and all, and given the nature of this project it seems fitting, but… Hell, this guy is close to sixty. I’m not sure if the best equipment will be able to protect him if something goes wrong.”
“Father O’Hara is as tough as they get.”
“What’s his story?”
Pat glanced over his shoulder, but the tent’s flaps were drawn. He turned his face towards the burning sun. It was awfully hot, close to forty degrees even in the shade of the ruins scattered around the campsite.
“Frank grew up in Northern Ireland,” he said after a short pause. “Very bright and gifted, he studied theology at the Trinity College. Times were still hard back then, though, the truce between IRA and the Brits was shaky. Frank’s idealistic friends joined the struggle and they drew him into it. He interrupted his schooling for what he thought was a more noble cause. Tough training makes tough men. He became an operative and continued active service for more than a decade. Though no charges were ever brought against him, he’s known to have been responsible for at least half a dozen ops that claimed the lives of more than fifty British police officers, soldiers and civilians.”
“Eventually the British intelligence service tapped into his squad and they soon got a whiff of his whereabouts. They planted a bomb in his car, but thanks to a careless intel job it exploded when Frank’s wife and two kids were in it.”
“The Brits put a lid over everything; hell, maybe that’s why no charges were ever raised against Frank. He disappeared after that, went back to theology. Reemerged in Rome after five years, already ordained.”
“I didn’t know any of this.”
“There is more to the man than meets the eye,” Connelly said. “Believe me, Lawrence, the Institute would not make a decision of this weight without careful consideration. Frank is the best candidate for this mission. If we don’t screw anything up on our end, we can be sure that he will succeed on his.”
Father O’Hara emerged from the tent with a disgruntled expression on his face.
“You can’t make me weary this bloody thing,” he grunted.
“Don’t worry, padre,” Lawrence smiled. “The suit will only be necessary on this side of the time tear. We’ve mapped you wearing traditional Israeli clothes and that’s how you’ll appear in 31 A.D.”
“You better be right about that,” Frank disappeared back in the tent.
“Let me have a minute with him,” Connelly held the young technician back.
Once inside the tent he smiled to the priest.
“Looks like you’re all set to go.”
“I’ve another twenty hours by my watch.”
“We’re all counting down.” Pat rested on a folding chair. “You nervous?”
“Not really,” Frank said with a small shrug. “I reckon you’ve got it all figured out. Are you staying for the TT phase?”
“No, duties call, my friend. I’m flying into Tel Aviv in an hour to meet with the State Secretary. The Israeli government has been complaining about our presence and I need to explain some things to her.”
“I won’t be away for long, Pat,” Frank said with a laugh. “As I understand it, even though I’m to spend six months in ancient Israel, I’ll only be gone for five minutes by our clocks. That’s what Lawrence said anyway, the time’s relativity gives us a degree of flexibility…”
“Yeah,” Pat interrupted with an uneasy smile. “There’s something else, though.”
“What? I’ve been through the training, Pat. I know that there is a risk of me not coming back, getting stuck in ancient Israel, or even disintegrating right here on the spot during the attempt.”
“There is one other possibility.” Connelly fiddled his thumbs. “You were on a need-to-know-basis and we thought throughout all this time that all the other alternatives are more possible than this, but…” He hesitated. “Now it seems that we’ve eliminated most of the risks and we’re stuck with the most probable outcome.”
“Which is?” Frank asked after a short pause.
“You know the gist of it, no? The theory goes that every time a quantum particle is faced with a choice, the world divides to allow for every possibility. Basically then, the universe is split into infinitely many copies of itself, alternative universes for all possible outcomes of all possible choices of all possible particles. If we got down to crunching numbers… hell, it would blow your mind. I don't know what to think of that, whether it's right or wrong, this whole multiverse idea, but...” Pat drifted off before adding. "Shit, we're sending you back in time. I guess anything is possible."
“So the chances of me returning to this version of reality are what? Good? Bad? Nil?”
“Think about it, Frank. If the theory is correct then traveling back opens before you an infinite number of alternative universes and the chances of you returning to this particular one are simply non-existent, the range is too big. Over a span of one minute, zillions of alternative universes are created.”
“Oh,” was all that Father O’Hara said. After a moment, he asked, “What happens to me, then?”
“You travel back in time and succeed in coming back, but existing out of your timeline. You come back into some timeline, some universe. The changes may be small or they may be large, either way they would only be changes to you, an outside observer. To everyone else the world would be as it should be.”
“That’s why you’ve come back to say good-bye? We may not see each other again?”
“Unless Einstein missed something. I hear he was a pretty smart guy, though. The truth is, Frank, despite all theories, all of our technology, everything… we just can’t predict how your journey will affect y you or the rest of us. I believe your journey will be a success. You will come back unscathed and with a great story into some universe, some timeline. But not ours. We will wait for you, but you will not come back to us,” Pat rose from the chair and reached out to the priest. “I have to go, Frank. Lawrence will take care of you until the countdown. The team will take you through TT. After that you’re on your own.”
Father O’Hara shook Pat’s hand and smiled.
“Well, I believe in God. And I believe that we will see each other again,” he said.
“I wish I had your faith,” the American said as he turned to leave. He halted by the exit, “Hey, Frank?”
“If you get to see Him, what will you ask Him?”
Father O’Hara paused for a thought.
“You know, I watch the news sometimes,” he replied after a moment’s silence, “Maybe I’ll ask Him about everything that’s wrong with this world and shouldn’t be.”
“Maybe,” the priest added after another moment, “Maybe I’ll ask Him about my family, too. Why they had to die.”
Pat Connelly raised the tent’s flaps and was about to exit, but hesitated one more time.
“You know, Frank,” he said with a soft smile. “DiBenedetto was right about you.”
“I believe in God’s will just as he does.”
“Then why do you question it?” Pat waived his arm and left without waiting for an answer.
11.00 a.m. August 25th, 2031 A.D.
Father O’Hara stood amidst a storm of electrical disturbances; his silver suit clearly visible amidst the impulses bouncing back and forth between the two large titanium plates located on each his side. A screechy sound filled his ears, rising steadily along with the temperature that increased as the countdown continued. The electrical impulses blended into one radiant blue wave that wrapped around him.
Nine, eight, seven…
We’ll get you out in six months, Lawrence told him just before he stepped in between the plates. One hundred and eighty days, we’ll pinpoint you and bring you back here. Six months, five minutes.
Oh, heavenly Father… six, five, four…
Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed by Thy name…
Three, two, one…
11.13 a.m. August 25th, 2031 A.D.
“Lift off! Get this piece of shit in the air, damn it!” Lawrence Wilburn screamed into the pilot’s ear, pounding his fist against his shoulder.
The chopper’s heavy rotors turned faster and the machine slowly climbed into the air, raising clouds of dust and debris. The noise was deafening as they gained altitude. The panic-stricken base camp was slowly disappearing from sight.
Lawrence settled in the cockpit with a sigh and threw a glance back, catching Father O’Hara’s confused gaze. The priest was stretched out on the floor of the helicopter, a folded blanket beneath his head. His long gray hair and thick beard were in complete disarray; the tunic he wore was soaked through with blood. Two paramedics worked on him, feeding him tubes and preparing shots, while two more held his twisting and convulsing body, tying him with down ropes and belts so that he would not jump through the open door of the chopper.
“Dear God,” Lawrence whispered and turned back.
“Head to Tel Aviv!” he barked to the pilot as he snatched a headset and fitted it on his head. “Pat!” he screamed into it. “Pat, you there?!”
“Yeah?” the American’s grunt reached him through the static.
“Someone screwed up the coordinates, the mission’s a complete failure, you hear me?!”
“Repeat." There was a moment’s silence before Lawrence heard another grunt.
“It’s all fucked, d’ya hear that?!” He almost jumped out of the seat. “We’re aborting and heading back!”
“We’ve got him back as planned, but…” Lawrence threw another look back. “Something’s wrong with him! We’re heading to the hospital, meet us there!”
“Look!” One of the paramedics pulled back the priest’s tunic.
“Looks like writing… I can’t tell… There is so much blood here!”
“Ok, we need to stabilize him!”
“How long to the hospital?”
“Thirty minutes! We’ll he make it?”
“God, he’s acting up again, hold him down!
“Get to work! Give him 30 mil of morphine!”
VITT Headquarters, Roma
9.06 a.m. September 1st, 2031 A.D.
Pat Connelly chose to meet the Secretary of State outside of the Institute. He wanted to walk her through the building and brief her along the way. That way he could be sure that nothing that he deemed classified reached her ears and that his version of the story would be the first one she heard.
“Ms. Green.” He shook her hand and motioned for the guards to leave.
“Spare me the small talk, Pat,” she snapped back. “I’ve just come out of a very unpleasant meeting with Cardinal DiBenedetto. Do you know that he’s next in line to take over the Pope’s office? I don’t like to make enemies in such places.”
Pat swallowed hard and cast away the story he had carefully prepared for her.
“It’s best I show you then,” he said after a pause.
He led her through the Institute’s sterile corridors and into a small room. He let her enter first and closed the door behind them.
“What is this?” she demanded.
“This is Father Frank O’Hara.” Pat turned on a switch and the wall before them moved aside revealing a two-way mirror. Behind it, a simple room furnished with nothing but a table and a chair occupied by an elderly man dressed in a neatly pressed black suit. He was clean-shaven and his long gray hair was tied in a ponytail. His tall forehead was creased and his blank stare fixed on the opposite wall as he rested in the chair completely motionless.
“This is O’Hara, our first time traveler?” Ms. Green studied the man.
“What’s wrong with him?”
“Nothing, physically.” Pat turned his gaze away from the priest. “That is, he came back bruised and battered, with a wound to the head, but everything is under control. He’ll be in good shape within two weeks.”
“Tell me, Pat,” the Secretary of State said as she turned to face him. “How is it that a man who was supposed to travel five minutes into the future ends up in ancient Israel?”
A soft knock on the door saved Connolly from an uncomfortable situation. He opened the door anxiously and allowed Lawrence to enter.
“This is Lawrence Wilburn,” Pat said. “He was there, in Capernaum. He’s the one who brought Father O’Hara back to Tel Aviv.”
“That’s great,” Ms. Green growled. “But can either of you tell me what happened?”
Lawrence threw a nervous glance at Pat and withdrew into the back of the room where he leaned against the wall.
“I guess that leaves you, Pat.” Ms. Green turned to face him.
“What did DiBenedetto tell you?”
“If I were you I’d be more interested in what I’m going to tell the President.”
“Christ.” Pat rested on a chair with a heavy sigh. “This wasn’t supposed to happen.”
“We’ve been grooming O’Hara for thirty years, did DiBenedetto tell you that too? Did he tell you how much time and money the Vatican had invested in O’Hara?”
“The Vatican wasn’t going to send just anyone,” Pat sneered. “And since they had the monopoly over the technology, it was their call who to send and where to send him. NASA could care less as long as it could put their hands on the tech and the EU cared only insofar as it was allowed to act as an observer.”
“The Vatican chose O’Hara?”
“No,” Pat said. “O’Hara was to be a guinea pig. He was to be crafted into perfect candidate for this mission so that we could see what effect TT would have on him. He was to believe without a shadow of a doubt that he was going into ancient Israel. In reality, however, we mapped the coordinates to send him five minutes into the future.”
“No one’s ever attempted TT. Before really sending someone back we needed to see how this person – with the exact same motivation, training and background – would react to time travel. O’Hara was groomed to perfection and if he would go through TT without any physical or psychosocial side effects, the Vatican would reveal their person choice.”
“They’ve kept a closed lid over it. All I know is that he’s been undergoing the same kind of training as O’Hara. But whereas O’Hara was to be an experiment, this ace was going to actually meet Jesus Christ.”
“O’Hara didn’t know this?”
“No,” Pat said with a sigh. “The Vatican pinpointed him thirty some-odd years ago, when he first quit theology and joined the IRA. The VITT was just being put together, TT technology was in its infancy, the Chinese were keeping a tight lid over their progress and we were just discovering the remaining fundamental particles and learning how to map them. But the Vatican was thinking ahead, long-term projects. They watched O’Hara and kept a close eye on his ops. They liked what they saw and they made a choice. They staged a car bomb and made him believe his family was dead.”
“The Vatican did that?”
“The Vatican, the SIS, who knows?” Connelly said with a shrug. “The point was to persuade O’Hara back into priesthood. A couple of well meaning friends with scripted advice and a pat on the shoulder, a fatalistic outlook on life and bang, O’Hara was an ordained priest in Rome. They kept him on a leash ever since.”
“So what happened? Someone screwed up the coordinates?”
Pat Connelly glanced at Lawrence, who shuffled his feet nervously.
“That’s what we thought at first, Ma’am” the young NASA technician opened his mouth for the first time. “But we triple checked the coordinates, there was no error.”
Green looked from one man to the next.
“How do you know he was in the past then?” she asked with a scowl.
“We’ve been talking to him,” Pat replied, folding his arms across his chest. “He doesn’t say much and chooses to speak mostly in Aramaic now, but we managed to piece together most of his story. From what we gather, he spent six months in ancient Israel, mostly in Capernaum, but he traveled a little bit to the mountain homesteads as well. Called himself Brother Francis and posed as one of Jesus’ disciples.”
“Did he see Jesus?”
“According to him, yes,” Pat replied hesitantly. “He claims to have traveled with Him and His disciples. He preached with them, ate, and slept with them, the whole nine yards.”
“You’re serious?” Green eyed him suspiciously.
“Apparently he couldn’t resist interfering,” Lawrence said with a chuckle. Connolly threw him a stern gaze and the young man silenced.
“We can’t imagine what he went through,” Pat said. “Coming face to face with God, talking to Him, befriending Him… Can you be sure of your reaction?”
“But that’s just his story, right?” Green asked.
“We have all types of scholars looking into this, experts on the biblical period and texts, but so far they found no mention of Brother Francis in the New Testament, the Gospels, the Scrolls, nothing.”
“It’s just his story then?”
“Not quite, Ma’am,” Lawrence said scratching his head. “You see, he came back with a tattoo on his forearm, a tattoo he didn’t have before so he must have gotten it wherever he was.”
“What sort of tattoo?”
“It’s an Aramaic phrase: Lmishema` 'aden shema`thak wak`an `ayni hazthak.”
“My Aramaic is a little rusty,” Green sneered.
“O’Hara was our resident expert on Aramaic,” Connelly said with a forced laugh. “We had to get a translation from someone else. Anyway, it means ‘An ear that may hear, I have heard You and now, my eyes, I have seen You.’ A clear reference to Jesus Christ.”
“But that doesn’t prove anything,” Green said.
“We ran a carbon dating test,” Lawrence replied calmly. “The blue dye used as ink to inscribe the tattoo was made from Hyacinthus orientalis. It’s a common hyacinth, a flower widespread in ancient Israel. We ran the test on a sample and the result puts the date at around the time of Jesus Christ, give or take a few years.”
“But how do you explain no reference made to him in historical or biblical texts?”
“There is much about time travel we don’t understand,” Connelly said. “There is a couple of theories going around to explain our fiasco: botched tech from the Chinese, sabotage by a crew member who then covered his tracks by resetting the coordinates to original points, a bug in the system... But there is one explanation that's particularly fitting.”
“This isn’t our Frank O’Hara,” Connelly stated calmly.
“How do you mean?” Green asked after a moment.
“Quantum mechanics predict such a possibility, Ma’am,” Lawrence added.
“You’re not going to give a lecture in physics now?” Green groaned pleadingly.
“One theory of time travel rests on the premise of quantum mechanics and it holds that each quantum object, when faced with a choice makes both. This results in two alternate realities being created which operate on parallel space-time continuums.”
“Layman’s,” Green demanded.
“There are universes out there where the timelines unfold differently. There is a universe where Lincoln wasn’t shot, where the Russians won the Cold War, where World War II was lost by the Allies, and so forth.”
“Lawrence mentioned historical events, but think of small things,” Connelly added.
“Infinity times pi plus one.”
“How does it apply to us?” Green asked.
“It means that when he traveled in time O’Hara had opened before him a multiverse of possibilities along the time continuum. The chances of him returning to ours were zero. We had his coordinates, but in the face of so many choices the system crashed. There was no way to bring him back here.”
“It was only five minutes!” Green exclaimed.
“Think of how many things happen in five minutes globally,” Connelly shrugged. “Now think on a subatomic level, think quarks and other fundamental particles.”
“So who’s that?” Green pointed at the silent figure sitting by the table behind the two-way mirror.
“That’s Father Frank O’Hara, but from a different timeline,” Connelly replied. “From a universe where he was chosen as the one to go back and meet Jesus Christ.”
“So all the references to Brother Francis are made in his universe,” Lawrence added. “Our Father Frank didn’t make that impact in the past.”
“And where is he, our Father Frank, that is?”
“It’s a multiverse of possibilities,” Connelly replied.
“How could you not have predicted this outcome?” Green demanded.
“Our worst case scenario predicted O’Hara landing in a different timeline,” Connelly sighed. “We just didn’t expect another O’Hara landing here. Alternative universes are the new final frontier and we still have a long way to fully understanding them.”
“What of this one then?” Green pointed at the priest. “What do you plan to do with him? Put him in a cage, slap a poster ‘Earth’s only Time Traveler’ on it and charge a fee?”
“We’ll keep him under observation for some time. Eventually we’ll send him home.”
“We can’t keep him locked up forever,” Connelly said. “As far as our records show, O’Hara came back five minutes after we sent him into the future. Sure he was a little more roughed up than we anticipated, a consequence of a run-in with an angry mob that tried to stone him for preaching. Got him out just in time, too. Which Frank O’Hara we pulled out, that’s open to debate. But we planned to reunite him with his family after the whole thing and I don’t see why we shouldn’t go on with it.”
“How will you explain it to them?”
“The car bomb was so staged that they thought he had died in it, just as he thought they had. Turns out no one died. We’ll make up a story.”
“Happy endings all around.” Lawrence smirked. “The Vatican washed its hands of the entire fiasco. TT experiments are scratched, no more support, VITT is closing its doors.”
“Sweet Jesus, how am I going to explain all this to the President? The Israeli Foreign Minister is fuming, too. What am I supposed to tell them?”
“Make up a story, Ms. Green,” Connelly suggested. “It’s a multiverse of possibilities.”
She shook her head and fixed her eyes on the man behind the two-way mirror. Father O’Hara continued to stare vacantly at the wall.
Aeoporti di Roma
7.23 a.m., June 16th, 2032 A.D.
Father Frank shook Connelly’s hand and smiled.
“Thanks for everything, Pat,” he said. “I know that they would have never let me go if it weren’t for you.”
“Don’t mention it, Frank,” Connelly returned, studying the man’s infinitely deep eyes and wondering whether he could ever understand him. This was not the Frank he had known.
Father O’Hara turned and started for the gate with a ticket and passport in hand. One-way flight to Dublin. Wife. Son and daughter. A new life waiting for him.
“You know what He said to me, Pat?” Frank turned suddenly.
“What?” Pat asked in surprise and his heart quivered. Throughout this entire time, Frank had been silent about his experiences in ancient Israel.
“When I asked Him about my family, do you know what He said?” And when Pat did not respond, Father O’Hara added, “He said, ‘They are alive and well in the Kingdom of my Father. You will see them yet again.’”
“And you will,” Pat managed a smile.
“Aye,” Father Frank smiled softly. “Tih-teh mal-chootukh. Nih-weh çiw-yanukh ei-chana d'bish-maiya: ap b'ar-ah,” And noting Connolly’s puzzled look, he added, “Your Kingdom is come. Your will is done, as in heaven so also on earth.”
A moment later he was gone, swallowed by the crowds of people rushing to meet their flights.