by Dan Swanson
Several years passed in the subjective life of Aki Amazing, yet she would once again find herself back in the 1950s — specifically on October 26, 1953. It was strange; she had never before had a case that required her to return to the same decade on three separate occasions.
Ida Autumn had showed up at the offices of Dewey, Ketchum, and Howe, looking to hire the agency. She had hoped that one of the partners would take her case, but none of them were available. She and Tomas Thomas mutually impressed each other on the pistol range, so she decided to take a chance with him, and he figured he should take the case. While they were talking, an aneurysm in Ida’s heart burst, killing her. The rest, as they say, was history. (*) But there was still an untold story to tell, one involving Aki.
[(*) Editor’s note: See Suspense Detective: Times Past, 1953: Tomas Thomas, P.I.]
Somewhere in Chicago, not far from the offices of Dewey, Ketchum, and Howe, two women sat in the living room of an abandoned house, watching television, no less. The living room belied the condition of the rest of the house; it was clean, not dusty, and had minimal furnishings — a couple of comfortable chairs, some end tables, a lamp, and a TV on a stand. A close observer would have noted that neither the TV nor the lamp were plugged in, yet both seemed to function just fine. A third look would have revealed that the TV was showing color, which wasn’t standard in 1953.
The TV show wasn’t very exciting — a man and a woman sat in an office, talking. Strangely enough, one of the women in the living room was an exact twin to the woman on the TV, down to her features, hairstyle, and even clothing. She followed every word closely, and they seemed to strongly affect her emotionally. The woman on the screen was describing events in her life, and the woman watching the screen seemed to be mentally reliving that life as she heard it told.
The twins were both about five feet, four inches tall, with long blonde hair, very good-looking, and quite well-dressed. The woman watching TV was Ida Autumn, and the woman on the TV also claimed to be Ida Autumn. The man was Tomas Thomas, a trainee detective at the firm.
The other woman was also about the same height, and Asian. She had given Ida her name as Aki, and she claimed to be from the future. She looked nervous, and increasingly more nervous as time passed. She had a good reason to look nervous, for there was a chance — a pretty small chance, she thought — that she and Ida would both be dead in a few minutes.
The Ida Autumn on the screen suddenly leaped to her feet, clutched her heart, and collapsed, her face turning pure white as she fell. Moving almost too quickly to see, Tomas caught her before she hit the floor and set her gently on the couch. Aki heaved a great sigh of relief, and if the Ida Autumn next to her hadn’t looked so stricken at the death of her twin, she probably would have cheered. It the universe was going to prevent her from making changes in the timeline, she and Ida would have died at the same instant the phony Ida on the TV screen had died.
“Are you sure she wasn’t really alive?” Ida asked. “She sure looked and acted like me!”
“I’m sure,” said Aki cheerfully. “She was an android, constructed so that even the best science of this time couldn’t tell the difference, but she never had any brain activity. Paca supplied the intelligence through a sort of radio remote control. Everything your ‘twin’ did was based on computer simulations of you, modified on the fly by your reactions to what you were watching.”
“I don’t get it. What killed her?”
“You were right about your ‘brother’ being somebody else. What you didn’t know was that he used to be a Nazi scientist working to develop secret super-weapons during the war. This morning, he put one of his nastiest inventions into your breakfast, in a small plastic capsule. The capsule stayed in your twin’s stomach, and her stomach acid finally ate through it.
“That belch was caused by the capsule releasing its contents in a small explosion. The explosion shot a tiny missile through the stomach lining. It crashed into the wall of the heart and ripped a hole in it, and your twin bled to death in seconds.”
Ida looked sick. “That would have been me, if you hadn’t kidnapped me in the middle of the night! Thanks so very much! But why did you save me?”
“Actually, saving you wasn’t the main goal of my mission. In the original timeline, you went to Smitty’s Detective Agency to engage a detective, and died in Smitty’s office. My mission was to get you to go to Dewey, Ketchum, and Howe instead. I could have found some other way to divert you, but I didn’t want to just let you die. I ran some computer simulations and was astonished when the computer insisted that I had to save you. I don’t know how or why, but your death in Tomas Thomas’ office could change history more than I’m allowed to do. Still, if I rescued you and helped you set up a new identity somewhere else, the impact on the timeline would be neutralized. So I could save your life and still accomplish my mission. To me, that’s a real victory!”
Ida had so many questions she didn’t know where to start. So she just picked one at random. “What’s a computer simulation? You mentioned it twice.”
“Hmm… you don’t have intelligent computers yet, do you? Well, in my time, a computer is a machine that can think. Paca is a computer, among other things. A computer simulation is a computer-generated prediction of the future. We use them to try to predict what will happen when we make changes to the timeline.”
Ida nodded her head. “OK, I get that. So you made several changes to my ‘timeline,’ as you call it. You saved my life by replacing me with an ‘android,’ and that android went to Dewey, Ketchum, and Howe instead of Smitty’s. Why couldn’t you have just saved my life by preventing me from swallowing that capsule?”
Aki thought for a minute, then nodded her head. “It’s complicated, and it involves temporal theory, and I’m just a field agent, not a mathematician. I don’t really know. But I do trust Paca, so I set up my plan to save your life. It was either that, or let you die at Smitty’s, which would have forced me to figure out some other way to accomplish my mission.”
Ida Autumn shook her head. “I still don’t get it, but I’m not going to complain!” She smiled at Aki Amazing — a stunning smile, full of life and hope. “So, tell me about my new life!”