Lawrence Hogben, Ph.D., sat at his desk and fumed. Before him lay that month's Archeological Extracts, open to Beaglehole's article on the use of toilet paper in Imperial Rome. Deep in his hard, bitter heart Hogben had to admit it was, as usual, brilliant. Pioneering work. And the editor had given Beaglehole the cover again, too. But where was his own article, on Sumerian crop fertilizing techniques? Page 153, and not even an illustration. They'd spelled his name wrong, too. Hobgen.
The journal shook in his hands. The injustice gnawing at his liver, at first he didn't even notice the flash of electric blue light that suddenly appeared almost at his elbow. But when the voice spoke, he reluctantly glanced up.
"Lawrence Hogben." The voice echoed with the artificiality and distance of a bad telephone connection.
"That'sDoctorHogben.." Professor Hogben automatically corrected, and then started at the apparition before him.
Standing there in his office, among his dusty bookcases and piles of unreturned student papers, stood a man made of turquoise light, fortyish, dressed in a tight jumpsuit. There were electronic gizmos with blinking lights on his belt, and a bandanna around his head. The face was long, with large arching eyebrows and a pointed nose. And it looked just a bit familiar.
Normally Dr. Hogben didn't invite students into his office. Almost as strange was the fact that this man was standing so that most of his right side was inside a bookcase.
"Dr. Hogben. I am an emissary of the future, come to this time to impart great knowledge unto you."
"Well," Dr. Hogben stammered, and said no more.
"My name," the figure said portentously, "is Dr. Lancelot Hogben."
"Yes, Doctor." The figure smiled smugly, crossing its arms. "I am your descendant, a scientist like yourself, one of the team that originated the process by which I am now communicating to you. I have sent my image back in time to bestow upon you a gift, a gift of knowledge. My own time has discovered startling truths in your field, unbeknownst to you or your colleagues. Possession of these revelations will win you great honor and fame."
Dr. Hogben had not been breathing; now he inhaled. "You’ve come here why, out of family loyalty?"
"Correct, yes. We've done well, as a family, but there have been needless obstacles to our progress, which I will remove with the achievement of your lasting fame. The first revelation that I will bestow upon you--"
"Yes, but first tell me -- why is it you talk like that?"
"You know. 'Bestow' and 'unbeknownst.' Has the future seen renewed acceptance of words like that?"
"Well, no." Lancelot Hogben looked down. "I just thought it sounded, you know, appropriate. I mean, this is really big."
"I see. But step out of the bookcase, please."
"Pardon? Oh, I see." He stepped forward, with the result that he now intersected the desk, in the traditionally small university office.
Dr. Hogben took a deep breath -- if this Lancelot Hogben's story was true, what a tremendous piece of luck! "I do appreciate this favor, sir. When I see how certain other members of my department are constantly being interviewed by the media, quoted in newspapers, appearing in the best journals--"
"You mean Professor J.C. Beaglehole, of course."
Dr. Hogben's eyes flashed. "Beaglehole! You know of Beaglehole?"
"Well, naturally. Everyone's heard about people like that. Charles Darwin, Albert Einstein, J. C. Beaglehole--"
"What?" sputtered the doctor. "He's a fraud, a simpleton! And he doesn't do any of the work that redounds to his credit. It's all his graduate students, following him around like a damned pop star, gazing up at him with those dewy eyes of theirs..."
"My time here is limited," said the apparition. "Windows open only once every three months, your time, and I have very little time before I am jerked back to my present."
"Then stop wasting time discussing Beaglehole. Tell me something I can publish!"
"Are you ready?"
"Ready to be shocked?"
"Yes, yes! Get on with it."
"Very well." The future Hogben took a deep, portentous breath. "Thomas Jefferson--"
"--the third President of the United States--"
"Yes? I know who he is! What is it?"
"--had a black slave mistress!" Lancelot Hogben paused to let his news sink in. "In fact," he continued, "he even had children by her!"
"Yes, yes, we know all that!"
Lancelot deflated like a pricked balloon. "You do?"
"Oh, yes, that came out years ago. The old stories were confirmed."
"Do you have anything else?"
Lancelot's eyes moved back and forth. "Um, yeah. Let me think." Lawrence waited. "I do."
"The man known to the world as King Arthur--" began Lancelot.
"Putative king of Britain--"
"Yes, I know who he was!"
"Was the last survivor of the Atlantis!"
"Yes. He came to Britain on a Roman ship--" Just then the image of Lancelot Hogben winked out.
"Wait, wait! Explain yourself!" But Dr. Lawrence Hogben was alone in his office, which seemed suddenly dark.
"What a load of rubbish!" he said. "Atlantis!" He sat for several minutes, his head cradled in his hands.
But why would his descendant come back through time just to make such a silly claim? It didn't make sense. And he'd been right about Jefferson, even if the fool hadn't known it was old news.
So -- couldArthur be a survivor of Atlantis? Ridiculous; who could take Atlantis seriously? It was the stuff of those execrable tabloids and self-promoting gurus. His colleagues would just love it if he came out with something like that. And even if Atlantis had existed, it was supposed to have sunk long before even the Golden Age of Greece, thousands of years before Arthur's time.
"Rubbish!" Dr. Hogben repeated. He fidgeted in his seat. Finally he picked up his phone and dialed the departmental secretary.
"Mrs. Wooley? This is Professor Hogben. What were the names of my teaching assistants, again? I remember one had a little scruffy beard and an earring, and then there was the fat girl. Yes, I know. But their names? Ah, let me get a pencil. Adrian Biddle. Was that the girl? No? I see. And Blixa Bargeld. Yes. Would you contact them and have them come see me as soon as possible? Thank you."
Adrian Biddle stood slack-jawed, his gum forgotten. "You want me to cross-research the various correlations between the late Roman Empire and the Platonic legend of Atlantis, and then determine the relationships between these variables with the myths surrounding King Arthur? Was that what you said?"
"That's right. If I understand you."
Blixa Bargeld shifted the strap of her oversized purse to another shoulder. "That's stupid," she declared, tossing her hair.
Dr. Hogben gave her a superior stare. "I'll be the judge of that," he said. "You just do the research. Make it your top priority."
"But you know, we have classes to teach," said Blixa.
Adrian answered. "Yourclasses, professor!"
"Oh, yes. Well, give the students a vacation or homework or something."
Just two weeks later, Adrian and Blixa stood once again before Dr. Hogben's desk, this time with the light of revelation shining in their faces.
"You'll never believe it, Professor!" Adrian began. He was embracing a leather briefcase to his chest.
"It's just incredible, Dr. Hogben!" Blixa interrupted.
"One at a time!" said Dr. Hogben, smiling. Had these jumped-up students actually found something?
"At first we didn't know where to even start," said Adrian. "But then I did a combined search on various historical databases, using as parameters--"
Blixa couldn't contain herself. "And I thought of this letter I'd seen, from a guy in Stuttgart, in the Journal of--"
"Never mind how," said Dr. Hogben. "Just tell me what you have found."
"Here." Adrian set the briefcase on Dr. Hogben's desk, and reverently opened it. "You'll never believe it. We’re going to be famous." He reached into the case and snatched out a piece of paper. "This is just a scan – they wouldn’t let us touch the original – of a document, a ship's list of goods and passengers, which sank off the English coast about A.D. 523," he said. "And here. Listed as a passenger: Artur. Listed as a 'chieftain.'"
"A king, kinda!" said Blixa.
"Fascinating." Dr. Hogben peered at the document. "The years certainly work out... Of course, I knew the Atlantis connection was spurious. Just a little test, seeing if you can separate the wheat from the chaff--"
"But it's from Atlantis!" spurted Blixa.
Dr. Hogben fixed her with a cold eye. "Atlantis is a myth, nothing more. Your critical faculties, my dear, no doubt tainted by perusal of the tabloids--"
"Professor, the Atlantiswas the name of the ship," said Adrian. "See?" he pointed to a line on the parchment.
"Yes, of course," Dr. Hogben said, reading. "The Latin spelling, so nearly that of the ocean, temporarily--"
"This is all just fantastic," gushed Blixa. "Evidence of an historical Arthur! We’ll be on TV!"
"Yes, yes," said the professor, drawing the paper closer to him; Adrian surrendered it reluctantly. "Just let me examine this in more detail, before we go public."
"Be sure to let us know when you have the press conference," said Blixa.
Dr. Hogben lifted a disdainful eyebrow. "My dear, a press conference? That might suit the inclinations of certain media-hungry members of our department -- I won't mention J.C. Beaglehole by name -- but those with a more proper respect for the field do things the proper way, by submitting a paper to a refereed journal."
Blixa, chastened, nodded.
"But you two are to be congratulated on your research," said the professor. "And to celebrate... Let's see. A colleague has lent me the use of his mountain cabin." He fished in his desk drawer and found a key. Maybe these two would water the plants or feed the cat or whatever it was he'd been asked to do. "Why don't the two of you go on up there for the rest of the week, and then stay the weekend, have a good time? Invite friends; there's plenty of room. And there's beer in the refrigerator up there."
"But our classes--" Adrian started to say.
"Oh, never mind your classes. I'll find someone to cover them. Celebrate! You deserve it!"
"Thanks, professor!" Blixa said.
As soon as the two left his office, Dr. Hogben picked up the phone and dialed.
"Professor Beaglehole? Dr. Hogben here. I just thought I would let you know. I'm organizing a little press conference for Saturday afternoon... Yes, I have a little bombshell to drop. Thought you might like to attend... Excellent. I'll let you know the details later."
Dr. Hogben chuckled as he hung up.
"Professor, we didn't even know about the press conference until we heard about it on the radio!" Blixa said, standing before his desk like a plump avenging Valkyrie, Adrian beside her, his face red.
"It's just.. It's just.. It’s really.." Adrian tried to speak.
"Yes, yes, most regrettable," said Dr. Hogben. "Events overtook all of us, I'm afraid, and there just wasn't time to do things as we'd hoped."
"This was our big chance! It was really kinda an assholic thing to do, when we--" Adrian sputtered.
"Oh, Mr. Biddle, Ms Bargeld, you take a mere press conference much too seriously." The two looked at him doubtfully, maybe even suspiciously. "The real attention," Dr. Hogben pointed out, "will focus on the paper that must be written. The paper that countless generations of scholars will refer to." Dr. Hogben rose from his desk and came around in front. He put a fatherly hand on a shoulder of each of his assistants, and gently turned them to the door.
"And as you know," he continued, "when referring to previous research, mention is made not of the paper title, but the authors. Hmmm?"
"So we'll be co-authors?" said Blixa.
"Well, after you submit a draft to me for revision. I'll need your notes. All of them. Please make sure they're legible."
"Of course, professor," said Blixa.
Adrian seemed less convinced. "All right, I guess," he finally said. "But if you have another press conference--"
"No more press conferences," Dr. Hogben chuckled, steering them into the hall. "Now our real work begins."
As the two moved away, Dr. Hogben suddenly sensed a familiar, cold presence behind him in the hallway. He turned. There, standing perfectly still, was J.C. Beaglehole, tall and bespectacled, with his trim grey beard and a hard look in his eye.
"Dr. Beaglehole." Dr. Hogben's voice was stiffly formal, but he rocked a little on his heels, and he couldn't keep a smile from tainting his mouth.
Dr. Beaglehole came towards him. "Dr. Hogben. Quite an announcement."
"Oh, yes, well. Were you at the conference, then?"
"You know I was."
"Ah, yes, now I recall. Sitting in back, weren't you? I seem to remember you asked an impertinent question or two."
"I wonder, Dr. Hogben, why you didn't mention your interest in Arthurian lore to me earlier, as I was preparing my book last year. On early British history."
"Actually, it's a fairly recent interest. I'm involved in many areas of research, Dr. Beaglehole."
"Still, in my researches I made the acquaintance of Vollmer. I assume you know of his work?"
Dr. Hogben thought he had heard the name once. "Of course."
"Yes. Then I'm sure you'll agree that he's the ideal person to take a look at the parchment mentioned in your announcement."
"I am still in the negotiating stage, as the museum is understandably reluctant to lend the original document, Professor Beaglehole. These things, you understand, take time.”
“I have connections that may expedite that process, Dr.Hogben. I can see to it that Dr. Vollmer is given an early opportunity conduct an examination.”
“No need for you to trouble yourself on my behalf, I am sure, Dr. Beaglehole.” Dr. Hogben clenched his teeth.
"It would be no trouble at all, Dr. Hogben. However, if you fear Vollmer will find that the proof of you claim may be, shall we say, questionable, then..."
"All right, then! Have Vollmer take a look, and be damned! He'll confirm its authenticity, and then you will apologize for that base innuendo, Beaglehole!" Dr. Hogben returned to his office, slamming the door.
Three months had passed since the visit of the future's Lancelot Hogben, and Dr. Hogben had been spending as much time as possible in his office, waiting for his prophesied reappearance. Finally, late one evening in December, with an icy rain occasionally tapping at his tiny window, there was the flash of blue light that he had been waiting for.
"Lancelot Hogben! You tricked me!" he said, even before the apparition had coalesced into the form of his descendant. The jumpsuit was less sleek, and was now a dull color, but it was him.
And he was clearly startled. "Tricked?" Then he gathered himself. "My name," he said as portentously as the first time, "is Lance Hogben. I am an assistant technician in a time-communication project--"
"Yes, I know! Except it was 'Lancelot' last time. And I thought you were the leader of the project."
"Huh? Anyway, I am your descendant. I have sent my image back in time to bestow upon you a gift, a gift of knowledge. My own time has discovered startling truths in your field, unbeknownst--"
"Yes. That's the same thing you said last time!"
"Last time? You mean, I was here before?"
"Of course you were! And you said you'd be back in three months, and here you are. But I have a bone to pick with you."
"The gate only opens once every three months..." the future Hogben muttered. Then, "Of course! I gave you some news last time. I probably told you about Jefferson's mistress. And you acted on that information, and so the future was changed, and I'm from a new, improved, timeline!"
"Quiet," said the professor. "The information you gave me was wrong!"
"Not Jefferson, idiot. Shut up about Jefferson. Everyone knows about Jefferson. You told me about King Arthur and the Atlantis--"
"And you were wrong! We found a document, and of course I had it tested. A forgery! The inks were all wrong!"
"Of course it was a forgery," said Lance Hogben. "The original is back home, in a museum. It was time-snatched ages ago."
"People are laughingat me!"
"I see. Well, I'll give you something really spectacular this time, then. Let's see... I told you about Jefferson, and Arthur. I know. There was a species of dinosaur -- a really intelligent species. Just before they were wiped out they'd discovered a simple way to unlock the mind's full potential, allowing for telepathy, telekinesis, all kinds of psychic powers. And humans can use it. It's a simple ten-minute procedure. All one has to do is--"
Professor Hogben waved a hand dismissively. "I would have hoped that a descendant of mine would know the difference between archaeology and paleontology," he said. "Give me something else."
Deflated, Lance Hogben considered.
"Quickly, fellow! You know that you don't have much time back here!"
"Yes, yes, I know. More recent, OK. I know! Here's something good. Bruce Lee was an alien!"
"Yes, that's right. He was an alien! And don't worry, we haven't stolen his body or anything. It's still in the coffin, awaiting your attentions!" Lance Hogben was starting to fade. "Good luck, Professor!"
"Wait, wait! Who's this 'Bruce Lee' person?" But Lance was gone.
Professor Hogben reached for the phone. Perhaps his teaching assistants would be able to discover the identity of Lee. Before he picked it up, however, it rang.
It was the secretary, Mrs. Wooley. "Professor Hogben? There's a man here to see you."
"A man? What man?"
"Uh, from the press..."
"Another who has come to laugh at me and my Arthur proof?"
"Well, I don't know, professor. He didn't--"
"Ask him, then!"
There was a muffled conversation, and then Mrs. Wooley came back on the line. "He says he's not here to bring up the Arthur affair, professor."
"Well, send him in, then." It was about time the press focused on his other work.
The man who came in was a little scruffy -- his suit was cheap and creased, his longish hair falling into his eyes, and there was, well, an odor. Well, Dr, Hogben supposed the best reporters were kept pretty busy.
"Professor Hogben?" The man extended a hand, slightly sweaty. "Hello. My name is Charles Ashley Sudge. I'm a reporter, and I'd like to talk with you. I'm sure you have some fascinating theories which the world should hear about."
"Why, thank you, Mr., ah, Sudge? Please sit. I must say, the press has been somewhat, well, actually, downright hostile, since the evidence I produced to sustain my hypothesis concerning King Arthur--"
"Yes!" Sudge said, excited. He sat in the chair before Professor's Hogben's desk and leaned forward. "But there are those of us in the press who feel that the matter of Arthur was hushed up a little too quickly. We suspect a cover-up."
"Indeed?" Hogben smiled and rocked in his chair. "That's very perceptive of you, Mr. Sudge."
"Yes, sir. And my editor is sure that a mind as free as yours has many other theories equally interesting. And I'd love to bring them to the world."
The professor leaned back, steepling his fingers. "As a matter of fact, Mr. Sudge, I am currently working on a theory. Still in its earliest stages, you understand. It concerns a certain Mr. Bruce Lee."
Mr. Sudge's mouth dropped open, then he smiled. "Bruce Lee? The kung fu movie star? Old, but still hot, and he can’t deny anything ‘cause he’s dead… Oh, this is too good!"
Now it was the professor's turn to let his mouth fall open. Could his descendant have been referring to a movie star? He wasn't sure. Maybe there was another Bruce Lee.
"I really can't say anything more at present, Mr. Sudge. But I will certainly call you when my investigations bear fruit."
Mr Sudge stood up. "Please do, professor. I know that my editor will beveryinterested."
"Ah, thank you, Mr. Sudge. And what paper did you say you worked for? The New York Times? Perhaps something more local?"
"Oh, no, professor. It's a national newspaper."
"Not..." Professor Hogben could hardly bring himself to name his fear. "Not... not USA Today?"
"No, Professor. The National Examiner. Here's my card."
Hogben accepted the card mechanically. A tabloid? The pond-scum of the publishing world?
Oh, well. He re-swallowed his rising bile. They'd reveal his story, publicize it, make him famous, and then the respectable media would come to him. He could make use of these miscreants. It was publicity, and it was only temporary; he'd have to live with that.
"I don't know about this, Professor." Blixa held her shovel as if it were contaminated with smallpox. Adrian, next to her, simply gritted his teeth and slammed his shovel into the ground.
"Come now," said Hogben, waving his flashlight around. "Surely you understand that archaeology often involves excavations." He looked over at Sudge, sitting nearby on a headstone with a camera on his knee, then spoke more loudly. "This is no different than disinterring a pharaoh. Though no doubt certain disreputable members of the media, purveyors of trash to the nondiscriminating and miseducated public, will sensationalize it merely to whet the appetites of their vulgar consumers."
“Come on, already, Blix,” Adrian said. “Get working.”
"But his familyis still alive," said Blixa to Hogben. "We'll get sued or something."
"His family? My girl, once our discovery is made public," he grudgingly nodded over to Sudge, "they won't have a leg to stand on. Either they were duped into believing that Lee was human, in which case they'll be glad to know the truth, or they're aliens too. And aliens never sue."
Blixa looked to Adrian. "I don't suppose they do."
Adrian stopped digging and looked hard at Blixa. “I don’t care if they sue or not,” he said. “I don’t care if we’re sent away or decapitated. We’ve been tricked before –“ he glared at Hogben -- “and I will notbe left out again.”
“An admirable attitude,” said Hogben.
“It’s sorta good we wereleft out last time,” Blixa said. “The Arthur thing blew up in the Prof’s face.”
“I don’t care.” Adrian was again working the shovel. “It’s the principle of the thing. Wedid the groundwork, wemade the find, and then we get left out of the press conference – Not again! No way! I’m going to be involved in things this time up to my armpits!”
"Of course, of course," said the professor. He pointed the flashlight at the other shovel. "Now dig in, if you please, Ms Bargeld. Fame awaits!"
Blixa joined Adrian in delving into the hard earth, and the professor directed their efforts with authoritative instructions.
Hours later, Blixa and Adrian, sweating, dirty and disheveled, stood next to the exposed coffin.
"Stand back, now," Hogben said. "I will now open the casket." He let himself down into the pit, helped by Adrian, and passed the flashlight to Blixa. He looked up to make sure the reporter was ready, and then opened the creaky lid.
Dirt fell away, sliding down the opening lid, and a sharp, bitter smell rose from the opened casket. "Bring the light over here, Blixa." And he saw...
Dry, composed in death. A human body.
The camera flashed.
"Uh, Professor--" began Adrian.
"It sure lookshuman," said Blixa. "But maybe it's an alien like those guys on Star Trek. Check the forehead for bumps."
"--I don't think it's an alien," continued Adrian.
Professor Hogben came back to himself. "The fraud!" He shouted. "The idiot! He did it to me again! Of all the stupid, idiotic, brainless --"
"Ah, Professor?" Adrian's voice sounded different this time.
"-- ridiculous, far-fetched, absurd --" Dr. Hogben raised his clenched fists to either side of his head.
"Professor,look!" Adrian was clutching at his jacket. Hogben looked back into the casket.
"What is that?" he said. "Steam?" A greenish vapor was rising from the body.
"It's bubbling," said Blixa. "It's bubbling all away!"
And so it was. Everywhere the skin was exposed to the night air, it was turning a rich shade of liquid green, then bubbling, then vaporizing. The reporter's camera flashed again and again.
"This is amazing!" crowed Sudge. "Vindication! He wasan alien! Those fools laughed at me back in journalism school! My editor will shit his goddamn pants!"
Hogben was slapping at his pockets, looking frantically around the pit. "A jar, a plastic bag!" he said. "The body is bubbling away to nothing!"
"Maybe there's something in my camera bag we can use," said Sudge.
"Well, hurry, you imbecilic gibberish-pusher! Before it's all gone!" Hogben scrambled out of the pit and rushed over to him. Sudge pulled out some empty film canisters. "Will these work?"
"Yes, fool, yes! Give them to me!" Hogben snatched the canisters and tossed them down to Adrian and Blixa, who were still in the pit. "Collect samples! Hurry!"
"Eeeeuuuwww," said Blixa, scrunching her face. Adrian scrambled after the cannisters in the loose earth.
"Do I hear sirens?" said Sudge.
"What? Sirens?" Hogben looked back to the reporter, only to see him scurrying towards the car. And on the road leading to the cemetery, past some trees, he saw the blinking lights of a police cruiser, its siren cutting the night air.
"Samples! Get lots of samples!" he called down into the pit one last time, and then was sprinting towards the car after Sudge.
"Hey," the ghostly visage of Hogben's descendant said, "this thing really works! Hey, you. What year is it?"
"The year? 2009, you ignoramus! What did you think?" Dr. Hogben looked up from the urinal.
"Hey, I don't know. I was just in the lab cleaning up, and no one was here, so I thought, hey, maybe I'll try this thing out."
Hogben zipped up. "But you've been here before. Well, not here, exactly. That time you had the decency to appear in my office. My descendant, Lance Hogben, come to tell me of discoveries in archaeology that will aid in allowing me to achieve my deserved fame. Though why you should appear in a restroom..."
"Lance? No, it's just Larry. But yeah, I'm a Hogben. Hardly by choice, know what I mean?"
"Larry?" Dr. Hogben's voice was coldly controlled. "First it was Lancelot. Then it was Lance. Now it's Larry?"
The young Hogben seemed taken aback, but recovered. "Hey, so I'm your descendant? Wow. Oh, yeah. It's supposed to trace the DNA thingy and zero in, right. And you want some of that arkylogical stuff? Yeah, I can do that. I read the papers sometimes. I should be able to come up with something. And that would be good for the family, wouldn't it? I mean, if you were a famous ancestor and everything."
"No, no! Don't tell me about any new discoveries. You've ruined my life already!" The professor knew his control was slipping, but there was nothing he could do to hold back the indignation.
"But -- how?"
"You told me that Bruce Lee was an alien!"
"Bruce Lee? Oh, yeah. That karate guy. He was. Everyone knows that! You know, if you dig up his grave, you'll see--"
"Nothing! Nothing! He bubbled away. He turned into green mist and just bubbled away! Even the samples bubbled into gas when I tried to take them out to examine them!"
Larry Hogben blinked. "Well, yeah," he said. "That's what alien bodies do, when some fresh air gets to them. You didn't know that? Huh!"
"So I've got no proof, and I'm the laughing stock of the historical profession. Worse yet, my name and picture are plastered all over those repulsive tabloid magazines, next to Elvis' ghost and the yeti love-child!"
"Elvis?" Larry said. "Hey, I can tell you something amazing about Elvis! He--"
"Don't say it! Don't say a word! Nothing you've given me has brought me anything but grief. I even have to teach my own classes now, with my teaching assistants in jail! And one of them will go right back in, too, as soon as he gets out and kills me. So no more favors from the future, please. Just leave, and never return!"
"No? Oh, I know. You'll love this. Did you know that Thomas Jefferson--"
"Out, I said!"
"But I can help you, professor! Help out our whole family! Why should I be just a janitor? I mean, if it is youwho, like, first breaks the story that John F. Kennedy was actually assassinated by ancient Mayans, why, then the whole world--"
"No more talk! No more news!" Professor Hogben crouched on the tiled floor and put his hands over his ears. He shut his eyes tight.
After a while he stopped whimpering, and opened one eye. Then the other. The time traveling image was gone.
He got to his feet, trembling, and made his way to his office and his chair. Then he put his head in his hands. The phone rang. He didn't answer. Chances were too good it was either the Examiner, wanting a quote, or Beaglehole, wanting to gloat.
"..the irreparable harm to this institution, it is unfortunately necessary that your employment be terminated..." Hogben read the letter again, and took another drink of his scotch, then threw the sheet down on top of the other letter. His tenure revoked, his job lost, his reputation ruined. Already he had found that not even a two-bit community college or diploma-by-mail mill would hire him.
He leaned back on the sofa and sought solace in the TV. A local news show was playing, a young blonde reporter talking breathlessly, and it took the professor a moment before the meaning of her words could penetrate the mists of alcohol.
"...in what has been called the most stunning find of all time. Professor J. C. Beaglehole himself spoke to throngs of reporters from all over the world, explaining how he had made his discovery."
Professor Beaglehole's smug face was on the screen in a close-up. "Then it became clear to me that the ancient Mayans had gained access to time-travel machinery from the distant future, and had used it to come to our time and assassinate President Kennedy. It was actually a simple matter to obtain material evidence to support this -- shall we say, unlikely?" -- here he grinned, and the reporters all laughed with him -- "claim. The time machine behind me, and the testimony of the Mayans I have here with me, I think leave little doubt--"
Lawrence Hogben fumbled with the remote control and turned the TV off. He began to chuckle, then giggle. His hand shook, spilling his drink down his front as he raised it to his mouth.
And then there was that flash of blue light next to the sofa.
"Professor Hogben! Yeah! I told that old alky that sleeps on the grate next to me this would work! I'm 'Hogs' Hogben, your great-grandson or something, here in the future. A pair of perfectly good wire-cutters someone threw into the trash, and here I am! Some security they have in this lab, huh? So I was thinking I could help out the family. I got some--"
"I know, I know," the professor said wearily, stilling his giggles. "We've been through this before. But tell me, O descendant. How is it that the damn Mayans can travel though time, and all I get from you is a lousy blue specter?"
"Huh?" Hogs said. "Oh, the Mayans? Yeah, well they got their tech from further on. Not from the future, where I am, but the futurefuture."
The professor nodded, taking another drink. "Fair enough."
"Anyway, I have some news that will make you famous -- they won't be calling you a hack anymore, after you tell them that the ancient Chinese landed on the moon, in I think the year--"
"Yeah, give me all you got, sonny," said the professor. The glass was empty. He set it down. He picked up the letter of dismissal again, and tossed it away. He picked up the second letter, and unfolded it. It wasn't much of an offer, but it was the only one he'd had.
"I'm not a historian or an archaeologist anymore, but I can use the news, everything you got. I'm taking a job with the National Examiner. Let me find a piece of paper. OK, Ready. Now, forget the Chinese. Don't you have something on Elvis?"
This story originally appeared in New Myths.