Karl, I Hope You Don’t Read This Letter
by Robert Bagnall
I hope you don’t read this letter. I hope you just throw it away without opening it. I hope you know it’s me—you—that’s written it. And what it says.
But… if you’re reading this for what feels like the first time, then it means something’s gone wrong. Or, at least, not as right as it could. I only have a few minutes to scribble this note, so let me explain.
You’ve gone back in time. You’re a time traveler. I know. Weird, huh?
The previous three You’re the first to time travel, and the scientists really don’t know what happens. There’s a theory that your mind is blanked. We just don’t know—if it happens at all, or, if it does, whether the amnesia is temporary or permanent. Nobody knows how time travel works, how it feels, beyond the theory. Nobody’s returned to tell us. Hence this letter. They thought I should write to myself, explain the mission. Brief myself.
So. You’re Major Karl Tharp, you’re thirty-one, from Houston. You
have had a wife and two children.
Sorry if that’s a shock.
Where When you’re from, billions have died. Billions will die. It’s a chain of events I can’t go into here, but it starts with a biochemist called Emily Jackstone. She’s working on neural interfaces, ways to link the mind to computers, wetware to hardware. Find her. Kill her.
I’m serious. It’s our
best only hope of saving billions. Your only hope of saving Amanda, Sacha and Jason.
Thirty years before I’m writing this, her research changes direction. Something about catalysts and ‘sputtering’. I don’t pretend to understand the science. It gets into lobsters, crabs, the animals with copper in their blood, and then gets into the human food-chain and affects something called ceruloplasmin in human blood.
Do I need to spell it out? Zombie apocalypse.
I still can’t believe that’s an everyday phrase now, that I’ve just written those words.
I’m just trying to give you some context. Bottom line, Karl: you’re a soldier and you’ve volunteered. If you don’t remember—can’t believe—you’ve volunteered to commit murder, then the you reading this hasn’t seen the things the you writing this has. If they catch you, you’ll be headlines, hated. Life for you, but life for countless others. Maybe this letter will help with a plea of insanity. You won’t be able to explain, so don’t even try.
Oh, and all that crap about not treading on a butterfly so you don’t change events in the future—that’s exactly what you’re there to do. Tread on the butterflies. Your wife is dead. Your children are dead. Your parents are dead. Almost everyone you knew and loved is dead. Change history, please. For them. For me. For you.
God be with you.
Sitting at her desk in her book-lined office, Professor Emily Jackstone read through the letter for a second time before thrusting it back at Detective Blakley.
“Some kind of hoax,” she said brusquely, snatching reading glasses from her nose.
Blakley, heavy-set and nearing retirement, pocketed the letter. “You think?”
“What else is there to think?”
The policeman’s face creased. “To be honest, we’re not quite sure what to think. Sputtering? Does that mean anything to you?”
“It means you bombard something with energetic particles or a plasma to kick other particles off its surface. It produces a fine coating of, well, copper seems to be suggested in this case. This is all at a molecular level, of course.”
Blakely nodded and repeated ‘of course’. Jackstone knew he would have parroted that to almost anything she had chosen to say.
“So, do you think another scientist wrote this? Do you recognize the handwriting?”
She shrugged. “Scientist. Science student. Anybody who reads Scientific American. Anybody who can use the internet. I’d start there if I were you, Detective,” Jackstone said acidly. Her mind was busy turning over the possibility of copper-based catalysts.
Blakley persisted. “Would you call this a threatening letter? Is there anybody…”
“Threatening? Delusional, more like. Amusingly creative, though.”
Blakley raised an eyebrow as Jackstone’s reading glasses went back on and her mind returned to the papers strewn across her desk. “It makes reference to your murder.”
“If I end up murdered, Detective, I’ll be sure to call 911.” She had just had a lightbulb moment. What if she were to try sputtering a copper and silicon dioxide catalyst, freezing the copper in a zero-valence state? Now, that may just work…
“If you think of anything, Professor, please let me know.”
Blakley handed over a card, which Jackstone unthinkingly covered with notes as she made space to work through her new idea.
“Oh,” he added, although Jackstone was barely listening. “I told you the letter was found in a jacket, in amongst a pile of clothes, as if somebody had just got undressed and walked away. There was something else in there as well, may interest you.”
Blakley paused, but Jackstone didn’t even look up from her scribbling.
“A baby,” he said. Perhaps, he thought, if she engaged, he would mention the other three unoccupied piles of clothes similarly abandoned in recent days.
“If you need anything else, do call my secretary,” Professor Jackstone said absently, waving vaguely towards the door.
About the Author:
Robert Bagnall was born in a doubly-landlocked English county in the days when the Royal Navy still issued a rum ration, but now lives by the sea in Devon. He is the author of the science fiction thriller ‘2084 – The Meschera Bandwidth’ and his short fiction – twenty-four of which are collected in the anthology ‘24 0s & a 2’ – has appeared around fifty times in a variety of magazines, websites and anthologies, including three ‘Best of British Science Fiction’ anthologies. He can be contacted via his blog at meschera.blogspot.com.