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November 28, 2022

No Sparrow Shall Fall

By Sailor Jim Johnston

My sex dream had turned nasty, as they always did. This one had taken a definite S&M twist ... which isn't bad, don't get me wrong. I have an occasional playmate that delights with tying me down and playing with me at her pleasure ... well, our pleasure. This was different, though. It felt as making me feel as if something was wrong with my arms and legs. I fought my way to consciousness ... and discovered that I was tied to my bed.

Funny ... I didn't remember Cindy coming over last night ... perhaps a surprise? She did have a key to my place, so ...

"Oh God ... I hate it when the day starts like this!" I muttered, testing my bounds and playing along.

"Bad news then, Mr. Roberts," a deep voice intoned. I snapped my eyes open and took in the tall gent standing at the foot of my bed, garbed in hood and robe. "It's going to get much worse, very quickly." Several other people were in the room, standing in the shadows to obscure their features.

However, the little light coming in through my bedroom window danced wickedly along the edges of their swords. Big and sharp looking swords. I looked back at the hooded man. Definitely not Cindy. I counted an even dozen.

"I believe you, Sir." We regarded each other for a heartbeat or two. "Is there, perhaps, some way we could settle this matter in a more genteel sort of way? Long discussion over a cup of coffee, maybe? Columbian? My treat!"

"No ... I assure you, this will be my little treat, Mr. Roberts." My desk chair scraped across the floor and he sat down. "My great treat, actually, seeing how I've been waiting for this moment for so very long."

I casually ... well, as casually as I could while tied to my bed and surrounded by sword wielding wackos ... shrugged my eyebrows. "Okay, then, let's try this; can I at least be told what this is all about before we go much further? Failing that, couldn't we handle this in a court of law, at least?"

"You will be told everything, Mr. Roberts ... and this is a court of law, Sir." He chuckled without much humor, adding, "Well, a court of justice, rather. Your land has no laws to cover this situation, I'm afraid."

Ah, nuts! "Listen, Effendi ... if this is about that sky-diving stunt in Mecca, I'd like to point out that I had the full and absolute permission and blessings of the government in power at that exact second. No need to get out the knifes and warm up the web-cameras, okay?" I saw teeth gleam in the shadows. Okay, they were amused, but not impressed. "No? Right, then ... base-jump offa Big Ben? Eiffel Tower, perhaps. No? Okay, how about you tell me what country you represent and I'll apologize, publicly apologize, for whatever it was that I did. Fair enough?"

"Which country I represent, Mr. Roberts?" The hood leaned forward and a well-calloused hand brushed the hood aside, revealing a face with a nice goatee and several nasty scars. Tanned flesh surrounded piercing blue eyes and the high forehead indicated a thoughtful personality.

It was a ruggedly handsome face. A lived in face.

It was my face.

"I am ... we are, from countries far removed from your ken, Mr. Roberts. We are citizens of a shrinking population, a statistical universe of our very own." The swordsmen stepped forward. They were all wearing some variation of my face. "We are from various times and places, and we are here to try you for the murder of thousands of us."

"Us?" I was doing my best to fall through my mattress and floor.

"Yes, Mr. Roberts; us. The murder of thousands of Axel Robertses, all across the various levels of possibilities."

"I've ... I've never killed anyone, Mister! Who the hell are you people and why are you all ... why do you look like me, dammit!"

"We look like you, since we are - for all intents - you. I am you from just a scant half dozen lines to the right, where he ..." the robed man pointed out one of the swordsmen, one with a beard and a nasty scar running the length of his - my - face, "... he is the you from an equal distance to the left. We represent those still living and are here to bring you to task for your actions."

'THIS IS INSANE!! HOW COULD YOU POSSIBLY BE ..." I was throwing myself all over the bed, now, trying to get loose. Then the robed man made a gesture and a sweet yellow/tan fog settled around me, calming me down far too quickly to get anything done.

"The only insanity is yours, Mr. Roberts, and I am here to try you for the murders it caused." The yellow/tan fog dissipated.

"I am not insane, Sir!" I could still get indignant, though. "I've had to prove that in a court of law many times and still have all the paperwork readily available! If you'd simply examine the contents of the green folder in my center drawer, the folder marked 'Wackadoo,' all this could be cleared up."

"Insanity, Mr. Roberts, is not a matter for either medical or legal venues. Your obsession with taking risks, risks that could easily end with your death, is more than enough to qualify in reality."

"Nonsense! All my stunts are carefully planned and prepared, and none of them have ever resulted in a single serious injury or any injury whatsoever for any bystander!"

"Really?" My robed double cocked his head. "Are you familiar with the concept of alternate universes, Mr. Roberts? Of branching history and so forth?"

"You mean that science fiction claptrap, where each ... no. No!" I scowled at him, that being the most violent response I could muster. "That's not possible!"

"Yes, Mr. Roberts. We are the various versions of you that have resulted from the many statistical branches of your rather idiotic life. You pride yourself on never attempting a stunt that isn't foolproof, but have publicly gone on record as stating that there is no absolutely safe stunt. The truth is that you perform stunts all the time that only have a 90 percent chance of safety. Isn't that right?"

"Some, but all of them are perfectly safe for by-standers and my crew. Hell, I don't even allow any of my crew to work on the actual on-site preparations for the stunt, so they can't even be arrested as accessories!"

"True ... but what about the 10 percent danger margin?" The judge, as good a name as any, rummaged within his voluminous robes and somehow produced a lit pipe, which he casually puffed as he spoke. "You know the classic example of branching statistical universes, Mr. Roberts ... you turn to the left upon leaving a house and get to work safely, but a branching reality version of yourself steps to the right and gets run over by a truck at the corner. The truth is that there are many, many other branches of this simple event, starting with the Axel Roberts who never woke up that morning, mysteriously dead from some hitherto unknown medical condition and running to ever possible permutation of events." He gestured with his pipe to include the room.

"We are the survivors of your haphazard 10 percent danger margin, Mr. Roberts. We and several thousand others; some crippled beyond medical science's reach and others mentally destroyed by the terror of nearly dying. The rest of us are the walking wounded; survivors who'll carry their scars for life.

"Well, Mr. Roberts, to put it simply, we have had enough, thank you very much. On one of the furthest branches of possibilities, a rather crazed scientist actually invented a device to permit humans to jump branches. The road not traveled could now be studied and minutely mapped and every man, woman, and child could finally answer the single most asked question, 'I wonder what my life would have been like had I ... .'"

The judge paused to tamp his pipe for a moment, then sighed, "Needless to say, one of us stole the device and used it to collect as many survivors of your insanity as could be found. The more damaged souls we found, the more deceased versions we uncovered, the more it became obvious that you simply had to be stopped." He fished a scrap of paper out of a hidden pocket and, peering at it, announced, "To date, you have killed over three-quarters of your alternate selves, close to one hundred thousand of them, and crippled an astonishing percentage of the survivors." He tucked the paper away and sat back. "How do you plead, Mr. Roberts?"

"What?!? How do I plead to what? You break into my house, my home, tie me to my bed, and accuse me of being the greatest mass murderer the world has ever known. Yet you show no proof of your claim other than a cheap visual effect that could be easily accomplished by any competent make-up artist. Prove to me I've killed these doppelgangers and I'll plead! Until then, screw you!"

The judge regarded me, cooling, for a long moment, and then cocked his head to one side. "Proof of nearly one hundred thousand murders might be a tad & cumbersome, Mr. Roberts. Would you settle for a hundred? Or would," he gestured with his free hand at the men in the room, "a dozen satisfy? Would proof of an even dozen deaths convince you?"

I glanced around the room and regarded the swords again. Executed for one, one dozen, or one hundred thousand; I suppose it didn't matter. "Okay, you're on. Prove to me that one of my stunts killed a dozen and I'll plead guilty," I replied with far more bravado than I actually felt.

The judge nodded and took a small something from his pocket. That was as close as I could get to an accurate description, since whatever it was in a state of constant flux. He did something to the something, and ...


Suddenly I was back at the Grand Canyon, sitting in the catapult and listening to the sirens getting closer.

"TOO LATE!" I screamed over the din and pulled the cord. With an indescribable feeling of being compressed for a split second, I was hurled out over the canyon. My trajectory was carefully planned to take me just high enough for my parasail to get a few seconds bite, combining to lift and slow me enough to impact the airbag on the far side safely. The floor of the canyon drifted under me and I watched carefully for the landmarks that marked the apex of my arc.

There! I pulled the ripcord and the parasail popped out, instantly inflating. I glanced over my right shoulder to admire the skull and crossbones that marked another successful Ax Roberts stunt ... and stared in horror at the sight of half an inflated parasail. The other half flapped in the increasing breeze and I could just make out a possible tear. Damn, the pressure of opening shouldn't have ...

My head whipped back around as terror replaced intellectual irritation. The canyon floor was rushing up as I pulled the cord on my back up chute. My body jerked and I all but cried in relief ... then I started spinning in a tight circle. I looked back up. The chute was tangled in the half inflated parasail.

The earth playfully slapped the life out of my body, stopping my terrified shriek.

Suddenly I was back at the Grand Canyon, sitting in the catapult and listening to the sirens getting closer.

"TOO LATE!" I screamed over the din and pulled the cord. With an indescribable feeling of being compressed for a split second, I was hurled out over the canyon. My trajectory was carefully planned to take me just high enough for my parasail to get a few seconds bite, combining to lift and slow me enough to impact the airbag on the far side safely. The floor of the canyon drifted under me and I watched carefully for the landmarks that marked the apex of my arc.

There! I pulled the ripcord and the parasail popped out, instantly inflating. I glanced over my right shoulder and admired the custom laughing skull and crossbones that marked another successful Ax Roberts stunt. Relaxing into the harness, I started searching for sight of the rapidly inflating air bag that would ultimately catch me.

There! God I loved doing this shit! I corrected my course slightly and started counting. When I hit thirty, I pulled the release and dropped away from the parasail. Some lucky hiker on the canyon floor didn't know it yet, but he was going to find something that would bring some heavy coin on ebay! I laughed as my glide turned instantly into freefall and centered myself on the still inflating air bag, determined to hit dead center of the crossed bones.

The bag was fully inflated within seconds, its pump radio triggered by the catapult release, and I started readying myself for impact.

Funny ... I never noticed that it seemed somewhat convex from this angle.

I hit the bag flat on my back, just slightly forward of dead center ... and was absolutely flabbergasted when, instead of absorbing my fall with a controlled release of gas, it held and bounced me back into the canyon like a cartoon trampoline! I never hit my head on any of the outcroppings, so I didn't have the blessed release of unconsciousness until the earth at the canyon floor playfully slapped the life out of my broken body.


Suddenly I was back at the Grand Canyon, sitting in the catapult and listening to the sirens getting closer.

"TOO LATE!" I screamed over the din and pulled the cord. With an indescribable feeling of being compressed for a split second, I was hurled out over the canyon. My trajectory was carefully planned to take me just high enough for my parasail to get a few seconds bite, combining to lift and slow me enough to impact the airbag on the far side safely.

Unfortunately, the rather large bird I impacted with -- face first -- was not part of the plan. I was instantly blinded and my trajectory was ruined. I refused to panic and pulled the ripcord for the parasail. I might not be able to complete my stunt, but I had to be high enough to clear the far wall of the canyon. The police would get me to a hospital and, with luck, my eyes would be repairable. If not, then medical science was close to perfecting eye transplants ... maybe my infamy could guarantee me a place on an advanced study. At any rate, I seriously doubted the police would press charges against a blind man.

I was calmly going over my options when I slammed, head first, into the canyon wall. I never even felt it.

Suddenly I was back at the Grand Canyon, sitting in the catapult and listening to the sirens getting closer.

"TOO LATE!" I screamed over the din and pulled the cord. With an indescribable feeling of being compressed for a split second, I was crushed when the catapult malfunctioned and slammed my body to the ground.

Suddenly I was back at the Grand Canyon, sitting in the catapult and listening to the sirens getting closer.

Suddenly I was back at the Grand Canyon, sitting in the catapult and listening to the sirens.

Suddenly I was back at the Grand Canyon, sitting in the catapult and listening.

Suddenly I was back at the Grand Canyon, sitting in the catapult.

Suddenly I was back at the Grand Canyon.

Suddenly I was back.

Suddenly I ...

Suddenly ...

Suddenly I was back in my bed, limply lying there and listening to my own sobs. "There, that was an even dozen examples. Now, if you're still not convinced, it would only be a matter of some few weeks, subjectively, to experience the entire ... "

"NO!!" I shrieked at the top of my lungs, trying to draw myself into a ball. I was vaguely aware that my bladder had cut loose, but didn't care. "NO! NO MORE! I'M GUILTY! KILL ME, DAMMIT!"

"Kill you, Mr. Roberts?" The disgust that infused his calm voice was enough to make me open my eyes. "What in the name of the Universes made you think we were going to kill you!?"

I stared in shock at his mildly dismayed features. "You're not here to kill me? Oh God, you're going to keep torturing me until ... "

"No, no, no!" The yellow mist settled about me once more, this time wiping out my terror and panic, leaving just a mild sorrow in their place. "Mr. Roberts, we have come to hold you accountable for your acts of insanity, but one doesn't kill the insane for their acts. Good heavens, no! We are here to bring you to task for your actions by convincing you to stop. If you cannot stop, and there are instances of people being so wed to their self-destructive ways as to make them all by essential to their well-being, we would then take the necessary steps to ensure that your mental make-up was subtly altered to make it possible for you to live a long and productive life without repeatedly having to court your own death."

I glanced wilding about the room. "And the swords are for the lobotomy, then?"

"Swords?" the Judge frowned, looking around in puzzlement. Then his feature cleared and he actually chuckled. "Oh! My dear Mr. Roberts, those are not swords! Those are the control devices that make this visit possible! That's why they are so carefully placed spaced out, to contain the energies that power this event. I suppose they might look like swords to anyone with the proper mind set, but -- please believe me -- none of these men would even know what to do with a sword if you handed one to him!"

"No, Mr. Roberts, we are not here to torture and kill you. Just to make you see the error of your ways and, if needed, to perform the slight modifications needed to prevent you from continuing to court death. That's all."

"THEN WHY THE HELL HAVE YOU BEEN T-T-TORTURING ME!!" I screamed at him.

He shook his head and calmly replied, "I haven't been torturing you, Mr. Roberts. You expressed a desire for proof, did you not? How else are you to know I am telling you the truth, other than by your own experiences? Would you have believed a film? Would you have accepted a recording, or would you have denied it, claiming it was yet another example of 'cheap visual effects?' I gave you your proof; do you now believe me when I say that nearly a hundred thousand have died due to your insane acts?"

"YES. God, yes ... I'm -- I'm so sorry ... I didn't realize what was ... oh god." I closed my eyes, then quickly reopened them when the canyon floor came rushing at me. "I'm so damn sorry."

Without thinking about it, I curled into a ball and sobbed out my grief. After a few moments, I was aware of a hand holding my head as I cried. A few moments later than that, I realized that I was free to move about again. The comforting hand was removed and the yellow fog settled around me a third time. My pain and grief faded, my memories dimmed ... it was as if I'd been shown a movie of all those deaths, not had to experience them, one by one.

"Remember what you have learned, Mr. Roberts, and act accordingly. One of the great men of your universe once remarked, "No man is an island." Now you know this to be true." The judge was standing, his hood raised, and the men with the "swords" gathered close to him. I could just make out my father's gentle smile under his hood, "Remember that everything you do affects thousands and do your best to live a good life, Axel."

Just like that, the room was empty except for me. I waited for a few minutes, then reached over and turned on the lamp. The room was empty. The only proof of their ever having been here was my wet face ... oh, yeah, and my wet bed. I fell back onto my mattress, covered my face with my pillow, and screamed until I couldn't.

That had been my father, damn it! That had been his smile and ... wait. I have my father's smile. So would the Judge, then. So that was me ... well, him. The Judge. Not my father.

Waitaminute ... that was me. I was the Judge; the Judge was me.

Ah, shit! This had all been a fucking dream! Ah, damn it! My subconscious was worried about the upcoming Empire State Building jump and was messing with me! Concrete canyons, the Grand Canyon ... it was showing me all the shit that could go wrong. Ah, Jeez ... I'd peed myself over a damn dream!

I couldn't stop laughing for damn near fifteen minutes. That damn New York judge, the guy who gave me such a hard time when they caught me preparing for a base jump from the World Trade Tower. (Hell, what would it have mattered, now, eh?) His bench had swords engraved into the wood of the jury box! Twelve copies of me with swords; twelve jury members in a box with swords.

Aw, hell. What did I have last night for dinner, anyway?!? Oh, well ... I still had several hundred hours of planning and tests before I'd be ready for the Empire jump and had to wash the sheets, anyway. I swung my legs over the left of the bed and sat up.

"Remember that everything you do affects thousands ... "

And sat there.

Hey, c'mon, Ax! It was a damn dream, dude.

I sat there. After a few moments, I rolled across the mattress and swung my legs off the other side of the bed.

"... affects thousands ..."

What the hell difference would it make what side of the damn bed I got out of, for Christ's sake!

"... everything you do ..."

I slowly laid back and curled into a fetal position. After a few seconds, I started to cry in earnest.

*****

The monitor showed the sobbing man from a high vantage point in the room, a flawless copy of his own bedroom, but only bare institution hallways existed outside its single door. The concealed gas jets kicked in and once more created a chemical fog over his body, this one all but invisible. Axel Roberts would awake in his own bed ... for all the good it would do him.

A hand reached out and snapped off the monitor, then touched an intercom switch next to it.

"Liza? Please send a message to our Washington contact. Tell him that 'Operation Good Citizen' should be wrapped up by the next election. Thank you."

The hand released the intercom switch and turned the monitor back on. Roberts was already gone and technical was rebuilding the room for yet another subject, another one of the apparently endless 'individuals' infesting America. "Oh well, give us time ... " Humming the national anthem, he started a new file.

Article © Sailor Jim Johnston. All rights reserved.
Published on 2004-11-13
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