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About the Author
Gordon Rupert Dickson (1923 ¿ 2001) was a Canadian-American science fiction writer. He was inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame in 2000 and is best known for his Childe Cycle and Dragon Knight series. He has won three Hugo Awards and one Nebula Award. The first book in the Childe Cycle was published in 1960 as The Genetic General but was retitled Dorsai in 1976.
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Feb. 16, 2631--Dear Diary: Do I dare do it? It's so frustrating to have to be dependent upon the whims of a physicist like Croton Myers. I'm sure the man is a sadist--to say nothing of being a pompous ass with his scientific double-talk, and selfish to boot. Otherwise, why won't he let me use the time-grapple? All that folderol about disrupting the fabric of time.
He actually patted me on the shoulder today when I swallowed my righteous indignation to the extent of pleading once more with him. "Don't take it so hard, Bugsy," he said--imagine--'Bugsy'--to me, Philton J. Bugsomer, B.A., M.A., L.L.D., Ph.D., "in about twenty years it'll be out of the experimental stage. Then we'll see if something can't be done for you."
It's intolerable. As if a little handful of people would be missed out of the whole Roman Empire. Well, if I can't do it with his permission, I will do it without. See if I don't. My reputation as a scholar of sociomatics is at stake.
Feb. 18, 65: MEMO TO CAPTAIN OF THE POLICE: The emperor has expressed a wish for a battle between a handful of gladiators and an equal number of Christians. Have gladiators but am fresh out of Christians. Can you help me out?
CAPTAIN OF THE ARENA
Feb. 19, 65: MEMO TO CAPTAIN OF THE ARENA: I think I might be able to lay my hands on a few Christians for you--possibly. And then again I might not. By the way, that's a nice little villa you have out in the Falernian Hills.
CAPTAIN OF POLICE
Feb. 19, 65: Papirius:
All right, you robber. The villa's yours. But hurry! We've only got afew days left.
Feb. 21, 65: Dear L:
Thanks for the villa. The papers just arrived. By an odd coincidence I had overlooked the fact that we already had sixteen fine, healthy Christians on hand, here. I am sending them on to you.
Love and kisses,
Feb. 22, 2631: Dear Diary: Congratulate me! I knew Thy would come. Late last night I sneaked into the physics building. That fool of a Myers hadn't even had the sense to lock the door of his laboratory. I opened it and went in, pulled down the shade, turned on the light, and was able to work in complete security. Luckily, I had already played on his credulity to the extent of representing myself as overawed by the mechanical mind, and so induced him to give me a rough idea of how he operated the time-grapple (this over the lunch table in the Faculty Club) so, with a little experimenting, and--I will admit it--some luck, I was able to carry off my plans without a hitch.
I bagged sixteen young males from the period of Nero's reign--along somewhere in the last years. By great good luck they happened to be Christians taken prisoner and destined for the Roman Games. Consequently the guards had them all huddled together in a tiny cell. That's why the time-grapple was able to pick up so many at one grab. They came along quite docilely, and I have quartered them in the basement of my house where they seem to be quite comfortable and I can study them at my leisure.
Wait until the Sociomatics department here at the University sees the paper I'll write on this!
Feb. 23, 65: MEMO TO CAPTAIN OF POLICE: Where are my Christians? Don't think you can gyp me out of my villa and then not deliver.
CAPTAIN OF ARENA
Feb. 23, 65: MEMO TO CAPTAIN OF THE ARENA: You got your Christians. I saw them delivered myself. Third cell on the right, beneath the stands.
CAPTAIN OF POLICE
Feb. 24, 65: MEMO TO CAPTAIN OF POLICE: I tell you they're not there.
CAPTAIN OF THE ARENA
Feb. 24, 65: MEMO TO CAPTAIN OF ARENA: And I tell you they are:
CAPTAIN OF POLICE
P.S. Are you calling me a liar?
Feb. 25, 65: MEMO TO CAPTAIN OF POLICE: I tell you THEY'RE NOT THERE. Come on over and look for yourself if you don't believe me.
CAPTAIN OF THE ARENA
Feb. 25, 65: Listen, Lictus:
I don't know what kind of a game you think you're playing, but I haven't time to bother with it right now. Whether you know it or not, the Games load is a lot of extra work on the police. I'm up to my ears in details connected with them, and I won't put up with having you on my neck, too. I've got the receipt signed by your jailer, on delivery. Any more noise from your direction and I'll turn it; together with your recent memos, over to the Emperor himself and you can straighten it out with him.
Feb. 25, 2631: Dear Diary: What shall I do? How like that sneaky, underhanded physicist to be studying historical force lines in the Roman era, without mentioning it to me. Myers came into lunch today fairly frothing with what can only be described as childish excitement and alarm. It seems he had discovered a hole in the time fabric in the year 65, although he hasn't so far been able to place its exact time and location (this is, of course, my sixteen Christians) and he tried to frighten us all with lurid talk about a possible time collapse or distortion that might well end the human race --if the hole was not found and plugged. This is, of course, the most utter nonsense. Time collapse, indeed! But I can take no chances on his discovering what actually happened, and so I realized right away that I had to plug the hole.
The idea of putting back my Romans is, of course, unthinkable. They are beginning to respond in a most interesting manner to some spatial relationship tests I have been giving them. Therefore I cleverly sounded out Myers to find the necessary factors to plug the hole. I gather that any sixteen men would do, provided they conformed to the historically important characteristics of the Roman group. This sounded simple when he first said it, but since then the problem has been growing in my mind. For the important characteristics are clearly that they be all Christians who are willing to die for their faith. I might easily find such a group in Roman times but in order to hide the gap my replacements will make I will have to take them from some other era--one Myers is not studying. I have only a day or two at most. Oh, dear diary, what shall I do?
(Feb. 27, 2631). When Croton Myers, outstanding physicist and professor of Physical Sciences at the university here showed a marked tendency to snore during his after-lunch classes, his students became alarmed and carried him over to the University Hospital. There, doctors discovered that the good professor had somehow been doped. There were no ill effects, however, and Dr. Myers was awake and on his feet some eighteen hours later. Authorities are investigating.
Feb. 29, 2631: Dear Diary: SUCCESS! Everything has been taken care of. I am so relieved.
Feb. 28, 1649 (From the Journal of John Stowe)--Today, by the will of the Lord, we are safely on our way from Appleby, fifteen men under the valiant leadership of Sergeant Flail-of-the-Lord Smith, having by our very presence in Appleby served to strike fear into the hearts of the papist plotters there, so that they dispersed--all of the troop in good health and spirits save only for one small trouble, of which I will relate.
It hath come to pass, that, being on our way from Appleby to Carlisle, there to join the forces of Captain Houghton, if God shall suffer such to come to pass, we have found ourselves at nightfall in a desolate section of the country, wasted by the late harrying and pillaging. We decided to pitch camp where we found ourselves rather than adventure farther in the dark.
Therefore, we made ourselves comfortable with such simple fare as contents a servant of the Lord, and our provisions supplied, and having sung a goodly hymn and given ourselves over to an hour or so of prayer for the pleasing of our souls, some among us fell to talking of the nature of the surrounding waste, recalling that from heathen times it hath had the name of being a place of most evil and supernatural. But our good Sergeant Flail-of-the-Lord, speaking up cheerily, rebuked those who talked so, saying "Are we not all servants of the Lord, and strong in his wrath? Therefore, gird ye up your courage and take heart."
But there were still some among us--and I do confess some sort of the same weakness in myself--who found the blackness and desolation press still heavily upon our souls, reminding us of manifold sins and wickedness whereby we had placed ourselves in danger of the Pit and the ever-present attacks of the Enemy. And our good Sergeant, seeing this, and perceiving we needed the sweet comfort and assuagement of the Word of the Lord, he bade us sit close by him, and opening his Book which was the Word of the Lord, read to us from II Kings Chapter 9, concerning the overthrow and just fate of Jezebel, whereat we were all greatly cheered and entreated him that he read more to us.
But it happened at this time that a small trouble was thrust upon us, inasmuch as it appeared to all of us that the wide and empty fields of night which surrounded us were whisked away and the appearance of a cell, stone on three sides, and a thick iron grating on the fourth, surrounded us. Whereat we were at first somewhat surprised. However, our good Sergeant, looking up from his Book, bade us mind it not, for that it was no more than a manifestation of whatever unholy spirits plagued the spot and which they had called up in jealous defiance of the sweet virtue of the Lord's word, as he had been reading it.
On hearing this, all were reassured, and, the hour being late, lay down to rest, inasmuch as we are to march at the first break of dawn. So, now, as I write these words, by God's mercy, nearly all are disposed to slumber, saving that the enchantment of the cell do'th make somewhat for cramped quarters and I do confess that I, myself am somewhat ill-at-ease, being accustomed to the good pressure of my stout sword against my side as I go to sleep. This, however, may not be helped, for, since it is the custom of our troop to lay aside all sharp tools on coming into the presence of the Lord our weapons are hidden from us by the enchantment and it would be a mark of lack of faith to pretend to search for them.
And, so, thanks be to the Lord, I will close this entry in my journal rest. dispose myself for a night of rest
March 1, 65: MEMO TO CAPTAIN OF POLICE: I notice you got cold feet and got those Christians over here after all. But I warn you, I'm not yet altogether satisfied. They look like pretty odd-appearing Christians to me. More like barbarians. And if you've rung in something like that on me, I warn you, the Emperor will hear of it. My gladiators are too valuable to risk with a group of Goths or Vandals.
CAPTAIN OF THE ARENA
March 1, 65: MEMO TO CAPTAIN OF ARENA: Papirius has unfortunately been called out of the city on police business, and it is uncertain when he will be able to get back. I am sure, however, that if the Captain said that these men were Christians, they are Christians. However, if you're doubtful, there's nothing easier than to test the matter. Give any of them a pinch of incense and see if they'll sacrifice to the gods to gain their freedom. If they won't they're Christians. You know how these things work.
Acting CAPTAIN OF POLICE