Sunday, September 10, 2017

More Time Detective

Undercover Mission
Being a time detective isn’t always about catching bad guys.  Sometimes it requires finding and recovering the bodies of our travelling researchers.  How hard can that be?  When the body you are trying to recover has been dead for three centuries, and local authorities may burn you as a witch if you explain where you came from, and why, it adds some… complexity.
Jane called me to her office at 7:30 PM, well past normal business hours.  “Ryan, we have a problem.  One of our researchers seems to have died in 1692 Salem Village.  We need you to either retrieve or burn the body.”
“Why?  He’s dead.  What can he tell them?  Or is he carrying some modern technology that might contaminate their time?”  I was having a nice pale ale with a very pretty redhead when Jane called me in; I was not sympathetic to her plight.
“Depending on how he died, there might be a coroner’s inquest.  If they examine the body closely, there is a problem.  Dr. Marchetti had a quadruple bypass a few years ago, and an appendectomy.  The coroner or any curious members of the inquest jury, is going to look at that roadmap of scars, and ask, ‘How did guy survive this much cutting and recover?’”
“How do we know he’s dead?”
“We have started putting a tracking device on our researchers for occasions like this.”
“So, how does GPS work 300 years before the satellites go into orbit?”
“Langley usually uses GPS for their deep cover agents, but somehow the technical boys were persuaded by some really lame excuse that we needed a non-GPS solution.  Maybe they were told this guy was going into concrete ISIS bunkers deep underground.  What Dr. Marchetti has transmits his pulse, a compass direction, and a range, based on how much the signal has degraded on the way to the relay box.”
“And where is this relay box?”
“At the drop point.  It encodes the signal in neutrinos to send to our time.  We thought of just putting a display on the box and watching it visually, but that seemed like a wonderful opportunity to blow some 17th century mind.”
“So what do we know? “
“Dr. Marchetti’s pulse rose fairly rapidly to 140, then suddenly went to zero, somewhere three miles from the drop 32 degrees north of magnetic north.  Magnetic north was eight degrees west of true north in 1692, not 14 degrees west like today.”
“So….” Trying to recall my map of Salem Village in my mind, “Marchetti is the other side of the center of town.  How old is he?”
“Fifty-two.  Old enough that a heart attack is a likely possibility.  We also considered the possibility that he ended up in a fatal fight.  Adrenalin drives up his pulse fast and then a fatal cardiac artery cut causes sudden shutdown.
“If he has died a violent death, an inquest is a certainty.  If it is a heart attack or some other apparently natural cause, an inquest is unlikely.  He died this afternoon.  They are having a warm August.  He will likely be in the ground within a day or two.  Embalming is a recent idea, and they don’t want to handle a decomposing body.”
“So my mission?”
“Verify his state; recover the transmitter which is secured to his groin, and make sure he is buried.  If there is an inquest, make sure that his body is misplaced or burned first.  His family knows only that his work is slightly risky.  They will be told it is a closed casket because of the severity of the injuries.  If you can identify where he is buried, we can try and exhume him in our time.”
“So, should I leave now?  When it’s almost dark?”
“We’ll drop you a bit early in the evening so you have enough light to get into town.  We also need to do so to keep you from landing in the Pyrenees; our rotational position is a few hours out of sync with 1692 right now.”
“Should I go home and pack my bag?”
“No, we have one packed.  Yes, we know you have taken that cute little pistol the last few times, which we ignored on the X-rays.  But we have a nearly era-appropriate repeater for you.”
I snickered.  “A Colt revolver?”
“No.  It’s a flintlock pepperbox.  Six barrels that rotate and fire one at a time.  I’m told that it is about 100 years too early, but at least it isn’t obvious witchcraft.  They have been known to fire all six barrels at once, by accident.  As dangerous to the shooter as the target.  Go outside for a few minutes to get used to it.”
She reached into her right desk drawer, and handed me the pepperbox, with the aplomb of someone handing me a rattlesnake.  I knew Jane hated guns, or at least expected one to climb out of the drawer and shoot her someday. 
“So, why are you issuing me a not quite era-appropriate sidearm for this trip?”
“Because you may run into significant local official resistance.  They are doing their job.  Please do not kill anyone; threats, and even a couple shots in the air should be enough.  Sovereign immunity does not apply more than a century before the federal government is created, and I’m not sure that they find would your argument particularly believable.  And Massachusetts doesn’t have insane asylums until a century later.”  Jane may not like guns, but she sure knows a lot about the period that we are studying.
I went outside to a makeshift gun range behind the building.  The Sun was already setting, but I fired a shot, rotated the barrels, and fired another shot.  It wasn’t very accurate compared to the flintlock pistols I have previously been issued, but six shots in an era of single shot firearms made me feel pretty safe, and not much inferior to my Walther until the first magazine change.  I spent a couple minutes figuring out how to reload it.  Not something to do in a hurry, or a dark alley, even if one existed in 1692 Salem Village.
A few minutes later, I was squatting in 1692; hiding my atomic bomb goggles under the leaves in front of my hatchet marked tree.  I’ll let the official report tell the rest of the story.
To: Inspector General
From: Ryan Martin
Subject: Recovery of Dr. Simon Marchetti’s Remains
Inquiries in Salem Village about a stranger in town soon informed me that he had been seen chopping firewood for the Widow Peabody, who lives north and east of the Meeting House.  “How Christian for a stranger to take an interest in helping a widow in need of a man’s help,” one woman told me.
I soon found the Widow Peabody’s farm.  Approaching the front door, I heard a moaning sound.  Concerned that Dr. Marchetti’s death might be at the hands of someone committing another violent act, I cocked my pepperbox, and entered the front door (no one seems to lock doors here).  The moaning noise seemed to be diminishing but I followed it to a door off the main room.  Opening the door quickly, I found Dr. Marchetti quite clearly alive under the comforter with a pretty brunette in his arms.  He looked at me with considerable irritation.
“A little privacy, please.”
I withdrew from the room and uncocked my pepperbox since it was clear that there was no risk of harm.  A few minutes later, Dr. Marchetti came out of the bedroom.
“Sorry, Dr, Marchetti, your pulse stopped yesterday, and I was sent to retrieve your body.”
“Understood.  In yesterday’s… passion, the sending unit ended up in the deepest part of the bedding.  I just noticed it when I started dressing.”
“Is this the level of detailed research you were doing?”
“I was surveying how consistently late 17th century Puritan women conformed to the dominant sexual morality.”  Then he laughed.  “Actually, I started out doing some of the physically demanding chores that Patience needed done.  After chopping an enormous amount of firewood, we went through a fair amount of ale.  Patience lost her husband to a fever two years ago, and has been very lonely ever since.  One thing led to another.  They may be Puritans, but they are still people like us, with emotional and sexual needs that sometimes lead them to sin.”
“What shall I say?”
“Tell them the truth.  ‘While measuring to what extent Puritan women conformed to the cultural and sexual norms of their society, Dr. Marchetti’s sending unit became separated from his body.  He is well, and will return from his research mission at the planned time.’”

I returned to the dropoff place in the forest, verified that Dr. Marchetti’s sending unit was showing a pulse and returned home.


  1. Dr. Marchetti is a researcher determined to get to the bottom of the matter under investigation, and deserves commendation!

    I'm still wondering how the pepperbox would have fared if it had been needed, though.

    Well done, Clayton!

  2. Pepperboxes, I think, were like motorcycles, I think. If you are so unafraid of death that you ride one, you are not afraid of anything.

    Forensic medical journals at the end of the 19th century are still giving examples of criminal use.

  3. ‘How did guy survive this much cutting and recover?’

    Because he was tougher than a two-dollar steak and lucky to boot. (The man in question is middle-aged, and unfit I guess, but he could have been a real hard case when young.)

    There is a case from the Civil War of a man who was shot in the abdomen, and written off as doomed by the Army surgeons. He had some medical training himself, and with the aid of a very brave nurse, he opened his own abdomen, extracted the bullet, stitched up his damaged bowel, then closed and stitched the abdomen. IIRC, he passed out several times, but the nurse roused him with smelling salts. He survived - the story is in his memoirs.

    If he survived, lots of other men survived comparable injuries.

    In any case, surface scars only indicate the person was cut on, not necessarily cut into.

    As to the pepperbox - almost certainly dangerously unreliable, and poses a major risk of anachronism. I would take a two-barrel derringer pistol (or two - if the agent needs more than four shots, he's screwed up badly).

  4. Rich: Good point. Revising to clarify risk is if a doctor opens up the body and sees how deep.