Stripped of his memories and trapped in the year 2044 Chris Nost must unravel the mystery surrounding his own murder. If he doesn't, history is at risk of unraveling around him. Weaving through history, rogue time agents, history thieves, gods, and the Time Corps are all trying to alter the paradox Chris finds himself wrapped up in, and each of them is making it worse. Will history shatter? Will the human race be saved? Will Chris manage to save his own life 41 years after it was stolen from him?
Peter J. Wacks is the Managing Editor of my publishing house, WordFire Press, and he’s also my padawan. Since I can’t clone myself, I need to teach someone else how to do it. Second Paradigm is a remarkable novel of tangled timelines, which (according to Peter) can be read in any order whatsoever and still make sense. Wanna try it? – Kevin J. Anderson
"Peter Wacks is a talented writer coming at you from all different genres. Watch out, readers!"–Kevin J. Anderson – International bestselling author
"There are no single chapters in Peter’s stories. If you read one, you are compelled to read them all, beginning to end in one sitting."–Steven L. Sears, Writer/Producer; Xena - Warrior Princess, The A-Team, Walker - Texas Ranger, and others
"A roller-coaster read the melds mystery, history and the destiny of humanity in one wild ride. A page-turner from start to finish."–Brooks Wachtel – Emmy Award winningwriter/producer and novelist
"Peter's vision of time travel reveals a hauntingly believable future and he brings it life in a way that will have you holding your breath with each split second."–Mark Ryan, bestselling co-author of Bloodletting
"Peter Wacks writing has a way of grabbing your attention and not letting go and though you can try...you will fail. An amazing talent who's Bram Stroker nominated graphic novel Behind These Eyes is reminiscent of a young Harlan Ellison. Sit back and enjoy the ride!"–Jeff Sturgeon - award winning illustrator
"Second Paradigm is like the amusement park ride that spins, pins you to the wall, and drops the floor out from under you—except it does that to your brain."–Sam Knight (Jim Sams) Author of Whiskey Jack and a Murder of Crows, and others.
"Peter is an amazing writer who can take the way you see a book and completely turn it around and give you something you totally didn't expect.
He keeps you enchanted at every turn."–Jonathan Lavallee, Editor and Chief, Firestorm Ink
"Peter J. Wacks is an inventive writer whose stories take unexpected twist and turns that will lead you to unpredictable, delightful places and keep you turning the pages for more."–Bryan Thomas Schmidt - Editor, Raygun Chronicles and Beyond The Sun
The First Cause
2620: The Fine Line Bar, Tucson, Arizona.
Particles of hops floated through the beer, catching rays of the evening sun shining through the window, refracting the light through the dark amber liquid. Alexander Zarth watched the play of light with fascination. Subtleties of the environment, little details that so many people missed, never failed to amaze him. He took a sip of the bittersweet ale, enjoying the chill and the thick weight of it on his tongue. Putting the glass down, he stretched back in his seat and looked at the man across the table.
Leaning back in the booth till his shoulders hit the cushion, he got comfortable. Despite the man's apparent youth, an illusion cast by curly blond hair and boyish features, he had piercing eyes and clearly defined muscles visible beneath his shirt. Wiping away the ring of condensation, Alex lowered his beer. Someone watched them both from the kitchen. He extended his senses and felt a time traveler's signature there, one that he recognized all too well. Smiling to himself, he leaned forward again, ignoring the noise from the house music and other drinkers in the bar.
"So let me get this right. Twelve commandos from two C's up the line have all taken failed shots at me, and you," he paused to look into the eyes of the man across from him, "you manage to find me faster than any of them. On top of this, you have an out of time ‘mission' you'd like to hire me for. A mission which puts me back in the crossfire, by the paradox standard of those commandos out to get me, and makes me killable. If I accept this I have to leave the safety of my own time, when they cannot kill me, and go somewhen else—which makes me a target. Do you think I'm stupid, friend? Or do you think greed motivates me past the point of caution?"
Alex locked gazes with the man. His eyes gave him away. Holding a surprising depth; their pure emerald caught Alex in an almost hypnotic spell. Alex had trouble reading him, itself a rare thing. But then again, his eyes gave him away. He was a stone cold killer, and lying through his teeth. Not that Zarth had a problem with lying. Everyone did it, and it was a useful tool.
The man nodded. "That is, looking at the smallest possible picture, correct, Mr. Zarth. It does make you ‘killable' by their standards. And no, I do not think you are stupid, or greedy, for that matter. If I did then I would not have bothered coming here. Frankly—you are the best there is in the time travel business. I've been up and down the line from C forty-five back to the C twenty Origin and there is no one else who can do this. Not even me. And please believe me when I tell you that I am the second best ‘dox spinner ever. Ever. Do not accept that compliment lightly, or think that it is flattery. It is a simple statement of fact, a statement of your résumé, and why I am attempting to hire you for this task."
Alex took another sip of his beer, finishing the glass off, then—with a quick burst of power—switched the empty with the full glass he had been holding fifteen minutes ago. Thinking hard about the term the man had used: ‘dox spinner' while drinking the same beer a second time, he tapped his foot against the ground. Alex had never heard the term before, but he immediately liked it. He made his decision, mainly guided by the presence of the traveler observing from the back room.
Alex raised his glass. "Here is to paradox, Mr. Smith. And the free beer it entails you. All right, I believe you. But why should I accept the job? My odds of survival are low, and frankly money is not a problem for me. And, you should know, there is another who is as good as me. Hell, he's probably better. If this situation is as big as you say, then in all likelihood this man will be opposed to me once my presence is known."
Smith smiled at Alex, and something odd lurked in that smile. "To be frank with you, you don't survive the mission. You change the objective and die in the process. But somehow, it all ends up working. Whatever it is you do—it works. And I'm not good enough to figure out what exactly it is that you do. But as to why you accept the mission, I can only suppose that it is because it is the greatest challenge you will ever face."
Alex raised an eyebrow.
"And because Mr. Zarth, as trite as it is, only you can save the world. And your trick just now, circumventing the block I put on your ability to travel, only goes to reinforce the point to me that you are the best. That you can do what I could not."
With a grunt Alex raised his fresh glass of beer to his lips then set it back down without drinking it. Thoughts ran through his head. "Hmmm. I die? You really know how to upsell, don't you? You might as well drop the block you have on me, all it's doing is annoying me. I've already shown you I can slip it." The other traveler meant something, but the block on his nanotech was messing with his ability to figure out what that was.
The heads up display on his contacts started flashing information as his nanotech fired back to life. Alex grinned. "So you want me to go on a mission that is a secret, bring me against my worst enemies, and get me killed? Yeah, you're right. I'm probably in. Leave the dossier with me."
The look of surprise in the other man's eyes gratified him. "Trace my last jump and you'll find a list of what supplies I need and when I need them dropped. If you can't trace the jump, find someone else for the job, Mr. Smith."
2003: The Pawn Sacrificed
"I ..." Chris flushed, anger pushing through his blood roughly. He could feel every heartbeat in the tips of his fingers. But looking to the jury and seeing sympathetic eyes staring back at him helped calm and stem his rising pulse rate. He answered the question, asked in a different way for the dozenth time, with the same reply. "... I don't remember. I'm sorry."
The prosecuting attorney, James Garrett, flashed a tight, humorless grin at Christopher Nost, and his cold gray eyes bored into Chris's, sparking a fight or flight reaction. Words arced through the connection of their eyes. I've got you. There's no way out for you this time. This has to finish it. Chris felt bile rise in his throat. Fearing he would to throw up all over the witness box, he swallowed it down. The acrid taste burned at the back of his throat.
"What exactly do you mean, you don't remember, Dr. Nost? Do you or do you not have an alibi for the night of August thirteenth, nineteen ninety-seven, or was it, in fact, you who murdered Lucille Frost at the office building you both worked at?" Garrett's voice gained volume as he turned towards the Jury. "How can you know you are not guilty? Your mental condition seems awfully convenient— something that you could easily take advantage of in a situation that played out exactly as this one has for you. I urge you to look deep inside yourself. You ca—"
"Objection, Your Honor." Chris' defense attorney, Alan Dunwich, rose, both fists planted on the long oak table in front of him. "Dr. Nost's memory loss condition has already been established to the jury. At this point the prosecution is badgering the defendant and building straw men!" Livid, his face flushed as he glared at the prosecuting attorney.
"My client has a rare form of mental defect that inhibits PKC Zeta, here documented by Dr. Eric Jorgensen, one of the world's foremost neurologists. As was previously explained—" he drew out the words while staring at Garrett, as if speaking to a young child, "—Dr. Nost can remember concepts and ideas, hence his ability to continue his work in the field of Aerospace Mechanics and Astrophysics, but new experiences and faces fade after a little more than a year, rendering his long term memory useless. The court has already heard Dr. Jorgensen's testimony. I request that the prosecution's question be struck from the record." Dunwich waved a manila folder toward Judge Miller, but he still glared at James Garret.
Chris's head swam and Garrett seemed to blur for a second as his vision went fuzzy. Hold it together, he fought the fear rising in his gut, a wave of nausea burning his stomach, here is not the time or place to break down.
"Objection sustained, defense. Recorder, please strike the last question from the record and the jurors are instructed to ignore it. Mr. Garret, you have been warned once already about bringing up Dr. Nost's disability in an attempt to discredit it without actually bringing a witness to the stand over it. If you continue to ignore the rules of this courtroom I will hold you in contempt. Now, would you like to spend a night in jail, or do you have any other real questions for the defendant?"
Dunwich looked at Garret in triumph, but the lawyer only shrugged, seemingly nonplussed, and said, "I apologize, your honor, it must have slipped my mind. The prosecution rests." Garrett walked back to his seat at the prosecution table and sat, trying to hide the smug smile flitting across his face.
Bastard. Dunwich couldn't conceal the thought so obviously going through his mind. Chris imagined he could see the words scrolling through his lawyer's mind. Inadmissible or not, prosecuting council had planted suspicion in the minds of the jury. It was a dirty tactic, one that ignored actual innocence or guilt in favor of getting a conviction.
Allen glanced covertly at the jury. The defense attorney could see it in their faces; the seed of doubt would grow. Where five minutes ago there was sympathy for Chris etched in their eyes, some now looked doubtful, others loathing—the ones that had already made their decision. The damage had been done, right when Dunwich thought he had this trial clinched.
He clenched his jaw in frustration, gears already spinning on how to turn this around in the closing statement. Damn him, Alan glanced at Garrett, an unknown who relies solely on playing dirty. How did this asshole land this case? Is the District Attorney stupid? I can nail him in an appeal and it will be easy.
Judge Miller looked around the courtroom, his gaze lingering on Chris as he walked back to the defense table and sat. "Then this court will adjourn for a one hour recess. We will reconvene at—" he glanced at the round, institutional clock hanging above the jury, "—three thirty for closing statements. Bailiff, please take Dr. Nost to his holding cell. Dr. Nost, you will not be summoned to this courtroom again until the jury's announcement of the verdict. Do you understand that?" He met Chris's eyes with the last question.
Chris nodded to the judge. He did understand. It meant that he would have to suffer alone in a cell until the jury finished deciding his fate. As the guards led Chris from the courtroom he saw a man stand up in the audience benches and push his way through the milling crowd, waving to Judge Miller. He wore a plain blue suit and thick black-rimmed, military style, birth control, glasses. The last thing that Chris noticed as the guards pushed him from the courtroom was that the man clutched a small stack of folders stamped with a red "CLASSIFIED" across them.
Do I know that man? Chris wondered. A spark of recognition flared and, though he wracked his brain, he couldn't remember.
* * *
Chris waited in the holding cell for over three hours, staring out to the world through a three-inch thick Plexiglas window. The glass, besides obscuring what he could see because of its thickness, also had some sort of thin metal woven through it in a diagonal pattern that formed diamonds, ostensibly to stop prisoners from smashing through the three inches of transparent plastic, squeezing through a tiny window, taking out armed guards, and escaping down the sheer wall. Just in case I had a hope of escaping they had to reinforce it with metal, Chris thought bitterly. Every moment of those three hours dragged by like an eternity as he watched the seconds creeping along on the wall-clock behind the guard, who was ignoring him while reading a science fiction novel at a desk.
It looked like the same clock hanging in the courtroom. How long will it take them? he thought over and over. How long? He fantasized about moving time forward to get it over with, but soon gave up on the idle daydreaming, knowing that it was futile to try and distract himself. It could be days, he thought ... or even weeks. Anger welled in him over this unfair situation, a throbbing tide in his blood, eaten away by a corrupting fear. Conflicting emotions ate at him until he became so lost within himself that he didn't even notice when tears ran down his cheeks.
Chris's stomach lurched when the external door opened. His hopes and fears were answered as the bailiff walked in and, with a quick glance at him, began speaking to the holding cell guard. Chris took a deep breath, trying to make the nausea settle. It's not going to be good. He tried to banish the cancerous thought, but it entrenched even before they opened his cell door. A certainty lay in his stomach like a lead weight. It's not going to be good.
As the holding cell door opened, the guard noticed the despair in Chris's eyes and handed him a small stack of napkins. "Here. Wipe your cheeks off."
The guard looked away for a moment to give Chris a chance to compose himself. "I know it's scary for you right now, but don't give up. Me and the other guards have been watching your case on the TV and none of us think you did it. We can't be the only ones thinking that way."
Their eyes locked for a brief moment. Truth gazed back at him from those eyes and with crystal clarity Chris, realized that his life had finished. Hope ... they know I've lost, too. It's not just me. As he focused on centering himself, trying to retain some shred of his dignity, he looked once more to the guard.
"Thank you," he said with no emotion in his voice, no fear, no hope. As they walked down the hall the guard once again became all business, but as Chris entered the courtroom and started walking towards his attorney, he felt a slight, reassuring pat on his back from the bailiff. He knew it should be consoling, but it only served to reinforce the hopelessness in his mind.
It seemed like he had been through this scene a dozen times prior—and nothing he could do would change the scripted outcome of this play. As he took his seat, his lawyer leaned towards him. Alan Dunwich, a man who surprised him with his humanity and friendship. The man was older, in his sixties with pure silver hair. He was large, not necessarily fat, but headed in that direction as a lifetime behind a desk caught up to him. In many ways Chris thought him to be truly larger than life. "Something has happened," Dunwich whispered. "I don't know what, but as soon as you left a guy came in to talk to Judge M—"
"All rise. The honorable Judge Miller is presiding." The bailiff interrupted. Chris and Alan stood. Judge Miller emerged from the antechamber wearing a troubled demeanor, sat, and banged his gavel. He looked around the hushed courtroom, then turned towards the jury and sighed.
"Foreman of the jury, have you reached a verdict?"
"We have, Your Honor." A wormy man with a greased comb-over and a Freddy Mercury moustache stood and handed the bailiff a slip of paper. The bailiff, in turn, relayed it to the judge, who unfolded it and read. His eyes gave away nothing.
My life is on that paper, Chris thought. My continued existence hangs balanced on a thread of twelve people's interpretations of the words of two men.... A man who cares deeply for me, and a man who hates me.
Judge Miller frowned once as he looked again at the slip of paper, and then handed it back to the bailiff who returned it to the foreman. "Please announce your verdict to the court."
The foreman of the Jury looked at the watching crowd and cleared his throat, "We, the Jury, find the Defendant, Dr. Christopher Nost, guilty as charged of First Degree murder in the case of Lucille Frost."
Chris' mind went blank as a wave of numbness crashed into his soul. He felt like he still waited for something. He could almost see it, hurtling toward him in time, something that he could not quite grasp. Looking deep inside himself, he knew he hadn't done it.
A susurrus swept through the watching crowd as people started to whisper their opinions to each other. Christopher Nost, a condemned man, looked up to the ceiling. It took everything he had to stop himself from bawling like a child in the middle of the courtroom. Even so, a few solitary tears made their way down his cheek.
Judge Miller banged his gavel again, calming the stir of the courtroom. Chris had not been aware of the noise until it once again fell silent. "I am now in a position I have not before found myself in twenty years of serving as Justice of this state. I received a visit from someone who has shown me evidence that the likelihood of Dr. Nost's guilt is very small, indeed."
He clenched his jaw, thinking. "This evidence, however, remains inadmissible. Therefore, this court will waive the lifetime sentence and reduce it to the minimum of ten years. Furthermore, this term will be carried out in a minimum-security prison in which Dr. Nost can continue to work with his employer, GeoTech, Inc., and will be provided with any and all equipment necessary to carry out his duties."
Judge Miller sighed and rubbed the bridge of his nose, then continued. "Dr. Nost is to continue his sessions with Dr. Jorgensen in an effort to find a cure for his condition. And one last point: as a ward of the state, all of Dr. Nost's medical expenses will be paid by Colorado."
Judge Miller looked at Chris. "I personally very much hope that someday you will find your memories returned to you, and I wish you the best of luck, Dr. Nost. This court is now adjourned."
So that's it, then. Chris thought as he nodded to the judge in thanks. His lawyer said something about an appeal but Chris wasn't listening. The feeling of waiting remained. If anything, it had intensified. The sentencing is over, he told himself. The waiting is done. You got off with your life, which is a hell of a lot more than you expected. Relax. Got off how? another voice within him asked. I'm sure I didn't do it. I couldn't do anything like that. I'm going to prison for ten years for a crime I didn't commit. The feeling of shell shock wouldn't go away.
Guards marched Chris into the high, marble hall that led to the front doors of the courthouse. Despite the judge's lenience, he counted six guards escorting him to the waiting prison van. Do they really think I'm that dangerous? he wondered. Yes, he answered his own question. In their eyes I am a convicted killer. I am a dangerous person to them. Then he began to hear something over the empty echo of their footsteps on the checkered black and gray marble floor, and saw, in the light at the end of the hall, (end of the tunnel he thought) more guards, facing outwards.
He heard someone shout, "Here he comes!" and the footsteps were drowned out by the roar of the media circus outside. Dozens of voices all clamored to be heard over each other. Dunwich stepped in front of Chris to attempt to fill in as crowd control against the impending mob of media.
Funny, he thought, you'd think that in a city like Denver a simple murder wouldn't draw the attention it has. But the world didn't work like that. Because of his memory condition, this case had become a sensation. Chris grimaced as his memory flooded with the headlines he had read about himself over the last few months. With no distant past to connect to, this trial was all he remembered of his life. No family, no memory ... the mystery murderer ...
One of the guards leaned in and tried to reassure him by squeezing his shoulder. The guard handed him his jacket, but Chris was lost like a deer frozen in headlights and didn't hear as the man said, "You might want to put this over your head ... you know ... they can attack like vultures when they smell blood." He waited, watching this unstoppable, unnamable event hurtle towards him through time.
What's happening to me? His head spun as he felt something beginning to awaken in him. What is this ... Chris stepped out, brilliant sunlight blinding him, and questions and cameras immediately assaulted him. Why didn't they give me something to cover my face? He wondered, and waived his hand in attempts to still the mob, the feeling of something about to happen churning his stomach as he did so. Dunwich stepped up to the forest of microphones and the cacophony quieted. "I would like to remind those gathered here, and the viewers at home, that Judge Miller offered his condolences to my client after sentencing—so convinced was he of Dr. Nost's innocence. Furthermore, I would like to point out ..."
The waiting was over. Potential had become real. Chris saw a glint from behind one of the crowding news anchors—a woman wearing a red dress and matching lipstick, a permanent, plastic smile molded to her face even as she jostled those around her to catch Dunwich's words. The woman, the moment, the waiting, his body sang in anticipation as his vision swam. What the hell is going on?
I can stop this. The realization hit him below his conscious mind and he felt a primal power begin to surge through his veins. His heartbeat gained a crescendo and the rest of the world faded into silence. His blood caught fire and pumped through his body, surging and ebbing like the tide, orchestrated by the rhythm of his heart.
Duck! Chris felt his blood scream to him, and everything began to move in slow motion. His knee buckled, and he fell down the stairs.
At the same moment he heard a loud crack and felt something hit him hard in the face. Whatever had been fueling him fled, chased off by the gunshot. The world sped back up and the cacophony of the city hit him full force, harder than the bullet that had just lodged itself in his brain. "Murderer!" someone shouted. "Murderer, murderer!" in a familiar voice ... and all went black.