A Common Purpose
by Tony Noland
The sun was a mottled green, bright as an apple in the center of the disk and fading to a foggy gray that filled the sky, the world and everything in it. Hector had expected everything to be utterly, completely black after turning on the timestop, but he had forgotten about the neutrinos.
In this frozen Planck-slice of a second, all the normal photons were motionless. The light of everything from the stars in the sky to the fluorescent bulbs on the ceilings was held mid-flight. He'd brought along a couple of wind-up flashlights, but they'd turned out not to be necessary. The stream of neutrinos from the sun dropped into something close to the visible spectrum, giving him more than sufficient light. He had plenty of time to think about the phenomenon as he walked from prison to prison.
At first, he tried to keep an idea of how much subjective time had passed. In this timestopped state, he never grew tired, hungry or thirsty, so the usual body clues were useless. He thought about counting his steps, but that would grow tedious. In the end, he decided to just wait until he had finished and could go back into normal time to figure it all out later. If he assumed a walking speed of three miles per hour, the distances between the prisons would let him calculate travel times. Within each prison, if he assumed three minutes to kill each inmate, he'd be able to calculate time per prison based on each one's population.
For a while, he kept track of the number of inmates at each prison he visited, but then gave it up. It didn't matter. The news people would eventually get a clear body count, if he ever really needed to know. It took so long to walk the hundreds and hundreds of miles between federal and state prisons, county lock-ups and local sheriff's holding cells that the numbers jumbled together. In the slums of the cities, he could kill the prostitutes and the drug dealers and their customers easily enough, but he didn't do much else in those neighborhoods. He disliked making subjective judgement calls on who was a criminal vs. who simply looked suspicious. Prisons were easier. Everyone in a cell was clearly guilty and was therefore a legitimate subject for culling.
Hector and the sun were the only things that moved. The sun's motion was subjective. As Hector walked from Florida to Maine, killing every criminal and prisoner he could find, the sun slid southward. As he walked across Quebec and Ontario, the sun lifted above the horizon. The sun moved fractionally, almost imperceptibly, since its subjective motion was dependent on the speed of Hector's actual motion. Three miles per hour wasn't much on this scale, but it added up.
By the time Hector had finished with Washington, Oregon and California, he was ready to take a break. His original plan had been to do all of Mexico in addition to the U.S. and Canada, but he had been working non-stop for what felt like many, many years. Even for a dedicated, tightly focused man such as he knew himself to be, he felt that he had exerted sufficient effort on behalf of the nation. He turned toward the desert and started walking.
The instant he turned off the timestop, every one of those filthy criminals would drop dead of an apparent heart attack. There would be an outcry, of course, and autopsies would show severe cellular disruption in their cardiac tissue. Investigations would look for the conspirators, the media would go crazy, and so on and so forth. It would pass. With the criminal element gone, a huge drain on the economy would vanish, society would be far better off without them and normal, decent people could get on with their lives.
Hector's sense of satisfaction grew as he walked to the termination site, which his calculations placed sixty-one miles northwest of Reno. Yes, this was a great day in the history of science, and in his own life. He was not only the cleverest physicist in history, he was also the most selflessly altruistic. Who else could have figured out how to stop time, and then put the knowledge to such good use? To such clear benefit to humanity?
Still many miles distant from the geographic locus of temporal energies that would take him back to his lab in Chicago, Hector saw movement. It had been so long since he had seen anything move that he was shocked into stillness. There was something just over the next rise in the desert scrubland. After a long time, his mind freed itself from its gridlocked state and he dropped to his hands and knees to creep forward.
Cresting the hill, he looked out over a sea of people, some standing and milling around but most sitting or lying on the ground. From just on this side of the hill, the crowd stretched to the far horizon. There must have been thousands, tens of thousands of people. They were mostly men, mostly white. Even from where he lay, he got such a sense of grim, pathetic despair from their voices, their posture and their expressions that he felt a deep chill of apprehension. He looked up at the sun, still green, still dim, still frozen in the sky. When Hector returned his gaze to the crowd, he saw the man nearest to him standing and pointing at him. Like many of the others, the man wore a tattered, white lab coat. His voice carried clearly through the foggy neutrino-light.
"Hey fellas. Here comes another poor time-stopping bastard."
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