The room was silent, but for the ticking of the clock and the dull rumble of rain on the roof. I sat there, absolutely certain that Bueber had gone completely around the bend this time. "You mean the dinosaurs are still alive?" I asked, as gently as I could.
"I mean there never were any dinosaurs to begin with! All a fake, a dodge."
"Hold it. Wait a second," I protested, but Bueber was on a roll.
"All a fake," he repeated. "All of it, from start to finish. Bogus fossil records salted into the rocks. Fake footprints. Planted evidence, everywhere."
"But who-how-what was-"
"God," Bueber said, with obvious satisfaction. "God did it all, in league with the Cubans. And I have the documents to prove it."
"But-" I started to protest, and got in the last word edgewise that I would manage for some time.
"Bishop Ussher was right," Bueber went on, the words pouring out of him. "Or at least he stole the credit from the monk who did the real work and got it right. The world was created in 4,004 B.C. Everything was created at that one time, the present-day world, and all the forged fossils and rock strata and so on, all at once." I tried to speak, but he lifted a warning finger to me and rushed on. "And before you can protest the forgery job was too complex and complete, remember this is God we're talking about. God can do whatever he wants or else what's the point in being God? Except, of course, God can't do whatever he wants."
Bueber laughed and shook his head. "Oh, God's good. Don't get me wrong. He's very, very good. But he is not perfect, not infallible. There's proof of that straight through everything I've uncovered. For starters, the fossil record is not all it could be. A very impressive job, yes, I grant you. But it failed. It did not do its job-or rather, did it too well."
I had almost given up trying to pretend I was following this. "What was its job, then?"
"To test our faith, of course. Religion is a matter of faith, and faith is meaningless, mindless, unless it is challenged and questioned. You should know that. You're a theologian. God wanted us to find the forged fossils, examine them, interpret them, derive from them the evidence of an extremely old Earth and the theory of evolution-and then reject all that because it didn't agree with scripture."
"Except we didn't reject it," I said, starting to understand at least some of what he was saying.
"Exactly. We bought in, hook, line, and sinker. God thought he was setting Wallace up as a patsy, but something went wrong. Darwin moved in."
"Who's Wallace? And who was he a patsy for?"
Bueber looked at me oddly, then sighed and explained, speaking slowly, as if to a not-very-bright child. "For God, of course. Alfred Russel Wallace came up with a less inclusive theory of evolution, and was nearly ready to publish when Darwin found out about it and rushed his version into print. If Wallace had been first, then evolution would have been presented in a less compelling manner and would have had far less impact. That was God's original scenario. The bogus fossil record would have been explained away, and faith would have been challenged, but not overturned. All the resultant social and technological innovations would never have happened, and God wouldn't be in trouble now."
"How is it He is in trouble?"
"I told you the fossil record wasn't perfect. It didn't need to be, because the scenario called for us to discover it, have it test our faith, and then have us dismiss it. We weren't supposed to examine it too closely. Darwin was a disciple of gradualism, don't forget, and that was the theory we were supposed to examine and reject. Species were supposed to change, but they were supposed to take endless amounts of time to do it, and move through endless intermediate forms as they did. Except God never got around to forging the intermediate species. There are all sorts of theories to explain why they aren't there, but their absence is a major stumbling block."
"How is it we weren't supposed to examine it too closely, but we did?"
"Because Darwin did a better job than Wallace was supposed to do. Someone or something set Darwin up as their useful idiot."
"I beg your pardon?"
"The whole damn thing was dropped in Darwin's lap, but he still had to be bashed over the head before he would produce. What are the odds on it all happening by chance? Darwin just happened to go aboard the Beagle. That ship just happened to put in on the coast of South America, where he could observe just the right geologic formations to start thinking about change over long time periods. Then, once he was in that state of mind, the Beagle just happened to deliver him to the Galapagos Islands, the one place in the world where it just happens to be easy to observe groups of closely related species that seem to have just recently emerged from root species.
But he still went home and did nothing about what he found until Wallace wrote him. Then he rushed into print and turned the world upside-down. Caused much more tumult than Wallace's weaker theory would have. It set all sorts of things in motion that gave us much more wealth and advanced technology too soon. We had the money and the hardware to examine the fossil record too closely."
"What does advanced technology have to do with Darwin?"
"Isn't it obvious?" Bueber looked at me, and realized that it was not. He sighed and leaned back in his chair, and started again, more slowly. "Look, let me walk you through it backwards, and you'll answer your own question. What is the single mass human behavior that drives technological advance the hardest in the modern era?"
"War. War and military competition."
"Right. And the biggest war in history was?"
"World War II, of course."
"And what individual, the leader of what movement, was most responsible for starting that war?"
"Adolph Hitler, of course. The leader of the Nazi party."
"And Nazism was based in large part on paranoid theories concerning the struggle of superior races against supposed pollution of bloodlines. And what rather gloomy German philosopher was an inspiration to the Nazis?"
"I take it you are referring to Friedrich Nietzsche and his uebermensch- superman-ideas?" I asked.
"Very good. Last question: what then-recent theory inspired Nietzsche-and also inspired Hitler himself?"
"Social Darwinism," I answered reluctantly. "A spurious extension of the concept of natural selection into the realm of culture and human behavior." That was the trouble with Bueber. Every once in a while he could tie it all together.
"There are plenty of other links I could demonstrate, but that one will do for now. I think you see my point."
"You keep hitting on technology," I objected. "But fossil hunting doesn't take much more than an eyeball and a shovel."
"That's what they'd have you think," Bueber said. "It's true as far as it goes. But it doesn't go very far at all. Yes, you can dig up all the fossils you want if you dig long enough-but you need computer technology to develop the data bases you need for comparative work, and for simulations and reconstruction, and all sorts of other things. You need CAT scanners and magnetic resonance imaging systems to examine the interior of a fossil and see what makes it tick. You need nuclear science to develop radioactive dating systems, and petroleum-industry-driven research to get a good base of geostratigraphic data. War and the threat of war drove all of the root technologies that made all those things possible."
"But sooner or later we'd have developed the technology and the research facilities that would demonstrate the flaws in the fossil record," I objected. "It was just a matter of time."
"Ahh, yes. Time. Don't forget there is not much of it left."
"Left until what?"
"Judgement Day, of course. June 6, 2036. The two thousandth anniversary of the day Christ was really crucified."
"June?" I asked. Bueber gathered breath, and I could see he was ready to explain that point in detail. "Never mind," I said hurriedly. "A side issue. But let me see if I understand your theory. God set up a fossil record good enough that it would not reveal itself as incomplete, and therefore spurious, before 2036, given the speed of technological development and degree of research effort he assumed would take place if Wallace put forward the theory of evolution. However, Darwin did a better job in presenting the theory, with the direct result of more intense research into the fossil record, and the indirect result of setting in motion events that spurred technical development. As a result, we know more than we are supposed to about the develpment of life on Earth-including the flaws in the theory."
"Excellent," Bueber said. "A superb summing up."
"But hang on just a moment," I said. "You're implying that someone deliberately manipulated events to put Darwin in the right place at the right time to come up with his theories. Who? And how?"
"Who is easy. The KGB and its predecessors, going right back to the Czarist secret police."
"You're saying that the theory of evolution was a communist plot?"
"On the contrary. Communism was an evolutionist plot. Yes, I know, Marx published before Darwin-but both of them were being manipulated by the same people. Doesn't it strike you as odd that the communists were so eager to seize on evolution as a model for their ideals. Historical development of the urban proletariat? Capitalism giving way to socialism, as fuedalism gave way to capitalism? The predestined withering-away of the state? Homo Sovieticus, the new Soviet man? Lysenkoism? All ideas clearly related to-and perversions of-the theory of evolution."
"I have no doubt that the Communist movement was subverted for no other reason than to drive the arms race-and thus technology-so that we'd find the proof that the fossil record is false."
"So you're saying the whole Cold War was just a front operation to encourage fossil hunting?"
"Not exactly. To manipulate it. You'll recall that the famous fossil hominid Lucy was found in the Afar region of Ethiopia. Once the Marxists consolidated their power in that country, they kept all foreign researchers out of the country for years on end. And don't forget the Peking Man fossils vanished from China. I assume those lost fossils would have supported some theory that certain parties did not wish to see advanced."
My head was starting to throb just a trifle. I decided to try and steer things back to where we came in. "Let's back up a bit," I said. "You said something about the dinosaurs dying out long before the asteroid that was supposed to kill them hit. But how could that be? I can see God not establishing every detail of the fossil record, but how could he miss something that big? Especially when the dinosaurs never existed in the first place."
Bueber nodded, something more than a bit manic about his gestures. "Ah, but they did exist."
"But you just said-"
"I know, I know. They did not exist in the historical past of the world as that past existed in 4004 B.C. They have existed in the past that has been in place since 4004."
"Gibberish," I said.
"Not if you accept the concept of a mutable past," Bueber said. "Think for a minute. I've walked you through enough scenarios. What's the best way to make it seem like someone slept in a bed, stayed the whole night there?"
This conversation was veering wildly from side to side, but I tried to hang on. "Well, you have someone do just that. Sleep in the bed, wear the pajamas, use the toothbrush."
"Exactly. If you just muss the bedclothes, pretend someone's been there, you're bound to miss a detail or two. The same thing if you want it to look like someone was shot-or that a planet evolved."
"Except your scenario calls for the planet to have been created in 4004 B.C."
"And so it was. But God is the master of space and time. If the Russians can invent time travel, so can He."
"I'll come to that," Bueber said hurriedly. "In any event, in 4004 B.C., God created the Heavens and the Earth-and the past. A real, reachable past, full of animals that lived and died and ate each other and keeled over in streambeds. That's another thing. Haven't you ever wondered why so many creatures just happened to die in places like streambeds where their bones would be preserved? When was the last time you saw a deer or a squirrel drop dead by a streambed?
In 4004 B.C., God created the appearance of a past by creating a past. But even if he slept in the bed and wore the pajamas, he didn't use the toothbrush. He cut corners, got sloppy here and there. And certain parties took advantage of that."
"As for example, with the dinosaurs," I suggested.
"With the dinosaurs," he agreed. "You see, the opposition knew that the past was a fake, no realer than Disneyland. Because it was created at the same time as the present-day world, the existence of the present-day world was not dependent on it. You could do what you liked to the prehistoric past with no fear of damaging the present. You'd move the rocks around under the ground, maybe, but you weren't going to erase history."
"You've lost me again," I said.
Bueber leaned closer and lowered his voice. "Do you recall the files I showed you a year ago? The ones on Soviet time travel experiments?"
"Oh, now we come to it," I protested. "You honestly believe in time travel?"
"Oh, absolutely. I have the proof of that, let me tell you." Bueber's eyes shifted nervously toward the floor, as if even the thought of that proof unnerved him. "However," he went on, recovering himself, "the tests I came across last year had nothing to do with the evolution conspiracy. Just low-level scientists performing lab trials. The experiments didn't come to anything-at least directly-but they did demonstrate that time travel was possible. Well, even if the Soviets never got it to work, somebody did. Someone with a score to settle, and a need for outside support. And they got it to work and put it to use in a big way."
"Who?" I asked, half-knowing the answer already. After spending a bit of time with Bueber, I knew how his mind worked.
He leaned in closer and whispered so quietly I could barely hear him. "The Cubans," he said.
By this point my head was whirling. I had no idea what to say. The man was insane, no doubt about it. Neither of us spoke for at least half a minute.
"It all fits," Bueber said, after a sufficiently dramatic pause. He paused a moment longer, and then he spoke again, starting with one of his favorite rhetorical openers. "Haven't you ever wondered how the Cubans have hung on so long without outside support? The answer, of course, is they haven't. It's just that their support has come from a lot farther outside than we thought."
"Cuban communist time travelers," I said, making no further effort to mask my incredulity.
"Yes. Right. It all stands to reason. Their people did have access to the Soviet time travel labs. They had a chance to copy the technology. When the KGB staged the Soviet collapse, the Russians had the perfect excuse to grab back the blank checkbook they had given Castro, but it also gave Castro a great big motive for having his revenge on whoever was really behind the KGB.
Once he established who that was, and found out that the one thing they cared about was promoting the theory of evolution as a means of eroding faith in God-well, all of a sudden he knew how to hit them where it hurt. He cut a deal. He would send his people back in time with the mission of disrupting the fossil record, in exchange for a series of miracles that would keep the Cuban economy running, at least for a while.
He was constrained some by the historical fact of which fossils had already been discovered, but he still had a lot of room to work with inside that constraint. Remember, it was the asteroid that was supposed to have killed the dinosaurs. All Castro had to do was send some of his top people-team members from Angola, from his original revolution, from the Dallas operation- back into the period before the asteroid impact with orders to kill as many dinosaurs as possible, by the most mysterious means possible. Poison gas, germ warfare, radiation poisoning, anything that would leave no trace. I'll bet that a large number of them simply got the Argentinean treatment."
"The Argies used to disappear people, just like in Catch-22. The unmarked cars would roll up, the victim would be bundled in, and no one would ever see him again."
"My God," I said, not even sure what I was reacting to anymore.
"They're still at it, determined to wipe out every species they can before the asteroid impact, so that no one will ever find an example of that species surviving long enough to die when the big rock hits."
It was too much to keep straight. I seemed to have a slight buzzing in my skull, as if bees had gotten loose in my head. "Let me go back a bit. For the last hundred and seventy years or so, these certain parties of yours have been working to establish evolution, thus weakening the power of religion. Those certain powers would be-"
Bueber did not say a word. He just pointed his finger straight down, right toward the center of the Earth and all points below.
"I see," I went on. "And Castro is so determined to embarrass ah-them, that this good atheistic communist is willing to work hand in glove with God against the Devil?"
"Once again, my friend, you understand me completely. Quite a story, is it not?"
"It's quite mad," I said. "It's all insane. You have no proof, no evidence."
"Oh, but, yes, I do," he said, his voice cold and hard. "I have been working on this one for years. I've kept it quiet, but now I have the proof I need. And tomorrow, I will set it all out before the world. I'm going to blow the roof off everything from the Vatican to the American Museum of Natural History."
He stood and moved toward the window. He drew the shade just far enough to get a look at the weather. "The rain is slowing down," he said. "I have to get going before it clears." He turned back to me and pulled his watch cap back on. "I came to you first, because you are a friend and because you would want to know. It is a fantastic story. I did not expect you to believe me without proof." He smiled without humor. "God demands faith. I do not. Tomorrow I hold a news conference, and the world will have all the proof it needs." He moved toward the door, turned, saluted me in the odd two-and-half-fingers-to-the-forehead manner of the unnamed military service in which he had allegedly served at some unspecified time in the past, and then was gone.
So ended the last of Bueber's visits. Most unsettling. I rose, opened the curtains, turned the overhead lights back on, and tried to get back to my book-not an easy task under the circumstances. There was something deeply depressing about a man that determined to live in a world no one else could see. I opened my book, but I did not see the type before my eyes. The imagery, the ideas, were too weird, too compelling. Vengeful Cuban communists, in league with God against Satan, stalking and disappearing the wild dinosaur to preserve the Lord's reputation. I stared at the door he had gone through, and the lateness of the hour, and the thunder of the rain, and the strangeness of the tale, filled my head with visions of tyrannosaurs being bundled into the back of unmarked Argentinean police cars driven by Joseph Heller. Mad nonsense-but no madder than what I had just been told.
I was in such a state of reverie, when the flash of light outside the window lit up the sky, and the deafening crack of thunder made me jump in my seat.
And, somehow, I knew what that lightning strike was for. In that moment, I suddenly did believe, believed everything, much as I did not want to.
They found him the next morning. A freak accident, the police told me. Struck by lightning, dead in an instant, the papers he was carrying incinerated. By strange coincidence, his house was struck by lightning at almost exactly the same time, and burned to the ground, destroying Bueber's archives in the process.
And that should have been that. The end of the story.
Except for two tiny details. First, Bueber's whole thesis was based on the premise that God was not infallible. He was capable of missing a detail, making a mistake. If that were so, then logic indeed would dictate that Satan was likewise susceptible to error. If I could see that, then so could Bueber. And Bueber always allowed for contingencies, preferably with a deception plan to confuse and misdirect his enemies.
The second detail was that Bueber had "accidentally" left his Sam Browne belt full of hardware behind. It was not until a day or two after the funeral that I thought to examine it carefully. It was then that I found- it-carefully wrapped and padded, hidden in a flashlight with the batteries removed.
No, Bueber was not a man to take chances, and he was not above a spot of misdirection in order to fool his enemies. He was willing to risk-and lose- his life, if it meant that the Adversary could be fooled into thinking all the bases had been covered. Even with his house destroyed, and with the documents he was carrying ruined, he left something behind. Perhaps somewhere there is more, cached away somewhere. A file folder that explains what, exactly the object in question means. Or perhaps another bit of equally compelling physical evidence.
For the moment, the object I found is here. It exists. It is completely fossilized, and yet retains every detail of its original form, down to the veins on the wrapper leaf, and the form of the ash. I have arranged for every conceivable test to be run on it. I have dated it every way I know how. It is absolutely incontrovertible proof-but of what, precisely, I don't know.
But a sixty-five-million-year-old fossilized Havana cigar certainly must prove something.