Tate didn’t like how the kid was acting. The teenaged male in the second-hand cruiser’s back seat—who could produce no ID, but had given the moderately improbable name of “Jamal Kartazian”—was far too compliant. As a rule, kids like this—scrawny white boys with lumpy dreadlocks and grimy hoodies—were a spewing font of the Three Bs: bravado, back-peddling, and begging.
But not this kid. Jamal Kartazian was cool and collected; he almost seemed satisfied to find himself locked in the back of a cop car. And, in contrast to every other kid Tate had ever busted in his short two-act career as first a cop and then a rent-a-cop, this kid was actually asking to be “hauled back to the station.”
In “The Traveling Salesman Solution” a wheelchair-bound veteran of the “War on Terror”—now working in the IT department of a Big Ten university—starts investigating suspicious marathon results, and ends up face-to-face with an absolutely chilling mathematical conundrum.
Chico and the portal guy were waiting for me outside FDA Annex D. Chico was smoking a cigarette. If this was a screenplay, his entire character description would read “sinister Mexican.” The portal guy was just standing there, hands in pockets, staring up at the stars and whistling that “Yakkety Sax” song from Benny Hill. He abruptly cut off as I climbed out of my car.
“This is your New Guy?” he asked Chico. The portal guy was one of those cheap-blue-oxford-&-khaki-pants cubicle drones, but younger and skinnier than the stock character. He looked pretty damn rumpled—not just “it’s three a.m.” tired, although it was three a.m. It was more the “I’m tired of my whole stupid life” kind of tired. Chico blew twin streams of smoke out his nose, flicking away his cigarette butt without acknowledging the portal guy’s question.
“New guy?” I mugged like a vaudevillian, joining them at the glass door, “What happened to the old guy?”
“Gal,” the portal guy answered as he waved us in through the glass doors of FDA Annex D. “She got burned as a witch.” . . .
For those with a taste for “inside baseball”: The original working title of this novella was “Colonial Meth.” That is an awful title—but still an improvement over “Time-Portal Crystal Meth Missionaries,” which is what I scrawled at the top of the first index card. If you squint, you can see that the first legal-pad draft is already titled “Where There is Nothing, There is God”—a title I cribbed from William Butler Yeats by way of my old pal Fritz Swanson.
I’m not sure when I started the index cards for this story (these tend to get carried around in my pocket and taped to the bathroom mirror for a few months while I mull a story over) or the long-hand legal-pad draft, but I’ve got typed draft pages with creation dates as old as November 2013. My submissions log indicates I first sent this out in November 2014—so I guess it took a year to write/revise—and then basically another year-and-a-half to sell (the story was actually accepted in March of 2016), and several more months to revise to everyone’s satisfaction, proof, etc.
My latest Time Portal novella— “Where There Is Nothing, There Is God” —is in the current issue of Asimov’s Science Fiction, on news stands now! (Most Barnes & Noble locations stock it, as do many indie bookshops).
Our blockbuster December 2016 novella, “Where There Is Nothing, There Is God” by David Erik Nelson, is a rollicking Time Portal tale. It’s filled with a cast of unsavory characters who operate as though Cotton Mather’s favorite TV show was Breaking Bad. In this vastly entertaining story, it’s hard to know whom to root for so just make sure your inertia dampening system is on and enjoy the ride!