Tristan John S

Writer, Filmmaker, Musician

The Redemption of Robert Peppler.
- a short story from the Christopher Jones universe.

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“That’s when the cameras all turned toward me and...well, the rest, you know.”

“And what were you thinking, in that moment?”

“What was I thinking? ‘Oh bugger’. That, and ‘what was I thinking?’”

“You’ve had time now to consider that.”

“I have. I suppose the truth of the matter is that I’ve never really been a good person. But I used to be a good thief.”

“That it euphemism for what you are, Mr. Peppler.”

“As you say.”

Officer Morgan stared at the man opposite him. It was difficult not to hold him in utter contempt but his duty was to remain impartial. That was the cornerstone upon which true justice was built, after all.
Robert Peppler smiled. It was not an insincere smile and that is what made it seem even more smug. He held Morgan’s gaze unflinchingly – his blue eyes a stark contrast to the grey steel they were enclosed in. His calmness was unnerving. Peppler leaned forward and opened his mouth as if to speak. Then, changing his mind, leaned back in his chair.
“You don’t seem particularly upset, Mr. Peppler. You do know what is going to happen to you?”
“Yes, I believe I do. I’m not sure I completely agree with the first part of it but I can’t pretend I don’t recognise that I probably deserve it.”
“The first part?”
“The execution”
“Is there something after?”
“I’m hoping so.”
“hmph! If I were in your position I might rather hope death was the end of the affair.”

Peppler nodded and shrugged his shoulders.

“Where do you think I went wrong, Morgan?”
“No. I mean, what was my mistake? I’d researched it meticulously. No one should have been conscious to operate those cameras, let alone sound the alarm. I’d disabled it myself.
“Then you made two mistakes.”
“The plans you got to the building –
"I got them from the Museum of –"
"I know where you got them. They weren't accurate. Historians' reconstructions. Historians who didn't understand CCTV"
"And the second mistake?"
"Christopher Jones."
"Who's he?"
"The reason there was someone conscious to operate the cameras and alarm that caught you."
"Is he an agent?"
"Not at the time."
"But he is now?"
"It's complicated."
"Isn't everything in our line of business?"
Morgan took a sip of water. He despised the use of the first person plural. He wanted no association with Peppler's criminal activities. The clock above them chimed the hour. Peppler snorted.
"Something amuses you?"
"Time, Mr Morgan. Five years in prison and I'd almost forgotten what it was like to notice the time."
"I didn't think of it like that."
Robert Peppler sucked his teeth. Morgan sensed something was beginning to nag at him. He waited. Eventually Peppler broke the silence.
“I must say, executing a man for breaking and entering is a little extreme, don’t you think?”
“It wasn’t just breaking and entering though, was it?”

“I don’t know what you mean! I didn’t steal anything –”
“Because you were caught. Just what exactly was your interest in the Golden Staff?”
“The Golden Rule”, corrected Peppler, quietly?
“I beg your pardon?”
“It’s called the Golden Rule.”
“What did you imagine you’d get for it? Fame? Power? Money?”
“Officer, if I wanted to be rich I would have won the lottery or bought shares in Hardy and Noel back in the early 22nd Century. But you know that already. Why
do you insist on asking questions to which you already know the answer?”
“It’s my job.”
“I hope it pays well.”
“It has a good ensurance policy.”

Anyone who worked with time travel knew the importance of a good ensurance policy. Without its protection, someone might very well travel back in time and kill your great-grandfather as an infant, irradiating you from the timeline. To ensure that couldn’t happen, companies developed their own temporal shielding. Everyone knew the Historical Improvement Society’s was the most efficient but the Inter-Company Department of Temporal Crime, who Morgan worked for, boasted the second most reliable ensurance. Ensurance that was contingent upon its software developer, Scott Larson’s, work in the late 24th Century. The same Scott Larson whose paternal grandparents met bidding for the Golden Rule at New Sotherbys Auction House.

“That’s what this is about, isn’t it, Officer?”
Morgan said nothing. He preferred to let them hang themselves. They usually did.
“You want me to confess to time travelling with intent to contravene the London Treaty? Except, I don’t think you know as much as you’re pretending to know.”

For a moment, Morgan was worried that Peppler had something on him. He had personally frisked him upon his arrest. He was carrying nothing that could help him effect an escape.
“I know, Mr Peppler, that if you had succeeded in stealing the Golden Staff”
“The Golden Rule – it would not have found its way into the New Southerby Auction of 2278, Penny Chen would not have met Gregory Larson and their great-grandson, Scott Larson would not have developed the software that ensures half the time agencies in the Present. What I don’t understand, is why? You’d have to be insane to pull a stunt like that. Surely you realise the domino effect it would have would be catastrophic – even to you, in all likelihood.”
Morgan paused for breath, angry with himself for revealing too much.
“Let’s talk about Christopher Jones.”
“He has his own story. I want to know about you, Peppler. When did you first kill somebody?”

“Oh, what the hell? It’s not like I have anywhere else to go is it?” He clasped his hands, tapping his two thumbs together in recollection. “The first man I killed was in 2476 – two years before I was born. It was my thirtieth birthday.”
“Someone who owed money to people I owed money to.”
“No name?”
“I don’t want you to go back and arrest my younger self now, do I?”
Morgan sighed. This was typical of the criminal element – they could be so seemingly clever when it came to hatching or dispatching diabolical plans but they failed to fully comprehend four dimensions.
“Mr Peppler, the reason we left you languishing in that 21st century prison for five years – ”
“Eight. I got early out on good behaviour, remember?”
“The reason that we arrested you after your parole and not at the scene of crime was because our researchers only found you from your mug shots and could risk neither an unexplained disappearance of a master thief in 2014, nor creating a paradox.
“Well, I suppose at any rate I ought to thank you?”
“Thank us?”
“For prison. You know, when I was in prison, I made a friend. He told me a truth which I’d forgotten or perhaps had chosen not to remember but which I desperately longed for.”
“What was that?”
“That I could be free. Here.” He tapped his temple and then his heart. “And here.”
“I don’t understand.”
“No, I shouldn’t think you would, Officer. You see, the reason that I did all those terrible things – murders and thefts; oh I’ve violated most of your temporal codes. Did you know I once stole a manuscript from William Shakespeare? I’d meant to pedal it on the black market but then I lost it? Some think that was my greatest crime. Others think it was the Lincoln assassination, others, the Coleman incident – ”
“That was you?”
“How could you commit such heinous acts?”
“Because the people I worked for had persuaded me that they were necessary. The world we live in is practically amoral, Officer Morgan. You’re going to execute me, not because you believe what I’ve done is immoral but because I’m dangerous. Well? Tell me that is not the case?”
“Protecting society, protecting time is certainly a priority.”
“If you were truly reviled by my actions you would undo them and blow the consequences. But you can’t know the consequences of all your actions can you? Even the Historical Improvement Society, with all its endless calculations – that great department of Alternative Futures – none of them truly knows what the ultimate outcome of any change will be. They have created their morality on what might
be. Good, to them, is simply what they think will benefit present society the most. And you – the Inter-Company Department of Temporal Crime, well, you’re so self-righteous, the only things you see as wrong are those which contravene your precious codes. Crime is not the same as evil.”
“You’re trying to tell me you’ve found your moral compass and that its points a truer north than mine?”
Morgan laughed incredulously and took a sip of water.
“If that’s the case,” he said, standing to leave, “I don’t think there’s much more we have to learn.”
He turned his back on Peppler and walked over to the security window and reached out his hand for verification.
“You were wrong,” said Peppler, quietly. The words sent a shiver down Morgan’s spine.
“Oh?” he said, still facing the security window.
“About the Golden Rule. We were all wrong, in fact.”
Morgan’s hand trembled.
“It’s what I learned in prison. The friend I mentioned – a chaplain. He taught me the Golden Rule. Something Jesus said and other men have been saying for thousands of years before and since: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Turns out that’s the key to morality, not utility. That’s when I saw I had done wrong. And, for what it’s worth; I’m sorry. If I had a Chronosphere now I would go back and teach myself this rule as a child so I wouldn’t do those terrible things. But I can’t go back. We can never truly erase our actions. Neither can we atone for them. We, after all, aren’t God.”
Morgan nodded slightly, activated the security window and stepped outside. In just two hours, Robert Peppler would be vapourised in accordance with the Law. For the first time in twenty years, Morgan began to wonder something. Would he want to be executed himself? Would he not want to be forgiven?
“Pull yourself together, Morgan,” he said aloud to himself as he walked down the steel grey corridor of the justice centre. “Such ideas are dangerous. His death could not come sooner.”

Inside the cell, Robert Peppler finished his prayer and smiled, as he waited for redemption.