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Darwin's Suitcase

Written by Elizabeth Malartre
Illustrated by Lee Kuruganti


"Our English sphinx moths have proboscides as long as their bodies, but in Madagascar, there must be moths with proboscides capable of extension to a length of between 10 and 11 inches."

Charles Darwin, 1862,  "On the Various Contrivances by which British and Foreign Orchids are Fertilised by Insects, and on the Good Effects of Intercrossing."

* * *



Sister Solange checked herself just before she nodded off. She stared bleary-eyed at the balky Temporal ViewScreen.

It was before matins, and she was never bright in the early morning. And if someone should find her here . . . the sister who ran the library would never allow this observation during regular research hours. It wasn't on the Approved List.

Not many of the sisters were even allowed to touch the machine. Solange was still new to the convent, so it was a great privilege for her to TimeView.

Forty minutes before matins.

She reached out again to the control panel. Maybe this time she'd get it set correctly. She was not very gifted with these new electronics, and far too impatient at their eccentricities. She stared at the crumpled sheet, "Charles Darwin during the writing of The Origin of Species, 1858."

She ran her finger back and forth over the keyboard in frustration. Still nothing on the screen, but it triggered a recorded warning,

"Caution. The Temporal Viewer is a delicate instrument. Please use it carefully."

She looked at the ancient clock on the wall. Thirty-eight minutes left.

She rapped her knuckles on the screen. The time-code indicator light flickered and a chime sounded. A toneless voice announced, "The new setting is 1866. Please confirm by pressing the return key."

Sister Solange groaned. "Oh, no, what have I done?"

She reached for the Year Control knob and turned it back. The time-code indicator flickered again. She briefly saw 1859, then it returned to 1866. In frustration she yanked the knob smartly to the left. It came off in her hand.

She stared in horror at the knob. Too late she remembered what Sister Marthe the Librarian had said. There were nodes in the time stream that seemed to attract the Temporal Viewer. Maybe 1866 was one of them.

Sister Solange sighed. Her impatience had gotten her into trouble once again. Penance, surely, maybe even . . . she stopped as the screen cleared suddenly, showing a figure dressed in dark clothes.

"Oh, it's working. Thank you, Lord. I am so unworthy of your beneficence." She resolved to do penance anyway.

She squinted at the screen. A middle-aged man was walking with a stick in the countryside. She looked at the paper again. Darwin walked and thought things through in an open field called the Sandwalk near his home in England, Down House.

He looked ordinary enough for such an evil man.

She wondered what he was thinking. Was he plotting his terrible attack on the Church?

She adjusted the fine focus gingerly. It seemed like magic—but Holy magic, she corrected herself, to see something that had happened over two hundred years ago.

She bent closer to the screen, wishing for the morning coffee of her pre-convent days.

With a crackling sound, the screen erupted in diagonal stripes.

"Oh, no, please not now." As suddenly as it started, the lines stopped. Sister Solange stared anxiously at the screen.

There were two people in the field—one walking, the second one standing a little way off.

"Funny, I didn't see him there before." She shrugged. "But this is so much better. I'll be able to hear them talking. I'll actually hear Darwin's voice! Oh, thank you Lord!" Despite the Church's interdiction on viewing Darwin, this had to be Divine intervention, she thought. But no recording—this one was strictly off the record.

She hunched over the screen, absentmindedly tucking a stray red curl under the edge of her severe black wimpole.  

* * *



Norman Albright hesitated, heart hammering. Through the early morning Kentish fog, he recognized the man wielding the walking stick and approaching at a steady pace.

He cleared his throat and stepped forward. "Ahem, Mr. Darwin, sir . . ."

He hoped he wasn't too startling a figure. His clothes had been carefully researched. The unfamiliar wool overcoat was heavy on his shoulders; in the damp air it exuded a musky smell. The stiff shirt collar was uncomfortable, and through the thick cotton of the shirt he felt the box in his breast pocket.

The middle-aged man in front of him looked as Albright had anticipated: balding on top, heavy eyebrows, and a short beard streaked with grey. The few surviving photos had been morphed to this age to aid recognition. Overall, an unassuming man for so pivotal a figure. But the gaze from his pale eyes blazed forth with an intensity at odds with the rest of the body. This was indeed The Darwin.

"You have the advantage, sir."

Albright proffered his hand awkwardly. "Norman Albright. An honor to meet you, sir. I've traveled far for this." His words sounded stilted, archaic; his tongue was thick with nervousness. But Research assured him this was about right for 1866. He'd gone through a lot of coaching to get the language right.

Darwin's hand shot out, and his grasp was firm. "Pleased, I'm sure. How may I be of assistance?"

"I—I have urgent need to ask you questions . . . about your work. Perhaps I could walk with you for a while?"

"That would be agreeable. It does a man good to compose his thoughts with a walk before breakfast."

Albright fell into step beside Darwin. It was hard to concentrate. He was actually here, on the famous Sandwalk, with the Founder, where, tradition held, Darwin had done much of the thinking on his famous Theory of Natural Selection. The Temporal Voyager worked! He looked around. The land itself was unexceptional—a narrow strip of about one and a half acres, bordered by a gravel walk. On one side large broad-leafed trees shaded the gravel. But what trees! They appeared to be poplars, but much larger, and with many more leaves than the ones at home. On the other side of a low hedge was an adjoining grassy field. He stared at it. The grass was so green and lush! And the smells—so sweet. This was how country air used to smell, he understood. Unfamiliar notes hung in the air. Birdsong!

Darwin walked steadily as Albright got his bearings and took in the scene around him. As he walked he punctuated his steps with blows from the walking stick.

There was a period of silence as they fell into rhythm.

Then Darwin turned to him. "Do tell me how you came to be here so early. Are you stopping nearby?"

"No, I started out this morning from . . . London."

"Indeed. I myself prefer not to travel, but when I must do so, I find it preferable also in the early morning. I trust the journey was not too tiring?"

"No, not at all. It was most pleasant, and of course, I was looking forward to this meeting, so my thoughts were well occupied."

"Very kind of you. How did you find me here? Did you first call at Down House?"

"No, sir," said the younger man. "Your work is well known among my colleagues, and your regular habits have been chronicled. I knew you would be here at this time of day."

Darwin seemed taken aback. He looked at Albright's collar. "Your colleagues, you say." He pursed his lips and frowned. "But you are a man of the cloth?"

"Well naturally. Who is not these days?" A slight hesitation. "The Order of Scientism." To Darwin's puzzled look he added, "Protestant, of course."

"Scientism. Pardon my confusion, I am not aware . . ."

"Nor could you be. The Order was founded after you—your time."

Thwack! As they rounded the last corner, the battered iron tip of the briar wood cane flipped the top flint off the pile. The rough-hewn grey stone landed solidly on the stony ground. Clink.

"After my time? What do you mean?"

Albright sighed. Time was short. He'd better start his pitch. "The Order of Scientism was formed in 1943. I appear in the guise of a Victorian clergyman, but I am from the future. From 2156, to be exact."

* * *

Sister Solange started. Had she heard correctly? This man Albright claimed to be from . . . eighteen years in the future! What was he doing there? Indulging himself, as she was, or trying to change something? She felt suddenly uneasy. Perhaps he was the reason the Temporal Viewer had picked this time.

* * *

Darwin stopped and looked at him sternly. "This conversation has taken a most remarkable turn."

"I assure you, I am most earnest."

"Yet you claim to be—"

"From the future, yes, sir."

"Whose future?"

"Well, everyone's, I guess." He smiled briefly. To Darwin's puzzled look he added, "It's the future you helped to bring about. And that's why I'm here."

"Indeed." Darwin frowned. "This is a prank, is it not?"

"No, sir, not at all. I'm really from the future, and I'm prepared to prove it." He reached into his inside pocket and withdrew a small, carefully wrapped parcel which he handed to Darwin. "Please, sir, unwrap it."

Albright watched anxiously as Darwin took the proffered parcel, fumbled with the paper and opened the small cardboard box. With a soft cry he gently lifted out its contents.

With relief, Albright continued. "In 1862 you published a book on orchid fertilization, including a description of Angraecum sesquipedale, a Madagascar orchid species with an eleven and a half inch nectary. You predicted that there must be a sphinx moth with a proboscis long enough to reach the nectar.

"In 1903, just before the Church clamped down all the way on biological inquiries, a collector named Morgan found the moth in Madagascar. He named it Xanthopan morgani praedicta to honor your prediction." He looked at the small brown object in Darwin's palm. "We thought you might like to see it."

"Most remarkable. I am most gratified to see this." Darwin looked it over carefully before replacing it in the box. "I should like to study this more fully. The proboscis is curled, but it does appear to be fully long enough to extract nectar from the comet orchid." He looked at Albright. "Was this what you wanted to discuss?"

"No, sir, this was for your pleasure only."

Darwin straightened up with a jerk. "Of course, this lovely specimen does not, in itself, prove that you are what you say. The moth does not evince a date of discovery."

"I am aware of that. On the other hand, you have not heard of the discovery, so I could be telling the truth." Albright smiled. "But in either case it indicates sincerity on my part."

"That is indeed a reasonable argument. Do you have any other . . . proofs?"

Albright's smile faded. "We thought long and hard about that. There are few objects which cannot be falsified—books and newspapers with later dates could have been printed at any time, for example. Same with coins. Also, there are certain limitations on objects that may be carried back into the past. We are only beginning to learn about them by experimentation, but it appears as though future technology cannot go backwards in time. In other words, it cannot exist before it was invented."

He looked up with a pleading expression. "That also seems reasonable, does it not? We hoped that the moth would make the journey, because others of its kind exist in 1866. And, I, of course, for the same reason." He smiled nervously. "Humans are an old technology. So I bring only my argument, which I beg to be allowed to present."

Darwin drew out a watch on a chain and squinted at it before tucking it back into his vest pocket. "Very well, I'm willing to continue our discussion, although I withhold judgment on your fantastic claim." They resumed walking. "So, what part of my work did you wish to discuss?"

"A work that you are contemplating, but have not yet written. A work that is unnecessary to the acceptance of your theory, but which will cause a great deal of harm to the future of science. A great deal of harm. I am here to beg you not to pursue this work. And I have but little time to do it."

"Really? You know of a work I have not yet written? I am confounded."

"Our records are not complete, for reasons which I shall attempt to make clear, but they lead us to believe that about now you are working on a book entitled, "An Answer to the Religious Opposition to the Origin of Species and the Descent of Man."

"Your knowledge is not quite precise. I have made a few notes about the subject, solely to keep track of arguments in opposition. I believe I have said so in a letter or two."

"Yes, sir, I know, but trust me, that book will be published, in 1884."

Darwin looked unhappily at Albright. "So far in the future, then, the attacks will continue?"

"I'm afraid so."


Clink. Another circuit of the Sandwalk completed, another flint knocked off the pile.

"I admit to initially being puzzled, then irked, by the blind rejection of my Theory by a rigid Biblical interpretation by . . . by certain minds. And then Captain FitzRoy's suicide has preyed heavily on my mind these last months." He looked up. "You know of Captain FitzRoy?"

FitzRoy! If only Darwin knew how much he despised that name! He had been brought up under the gaze of that ubiquitous face! He had grown to hate the mutton chop sideburns, the disdainful expression, the deep-set eyes with their arrogant stare. Darwin spent five pleasant years with the man, but I have been forced to live by FitzRoy's tyrannical pronouncements all of my life! He stifled the passionate tirade that threatened to burst from his lips. Instead he nodded mutely.

Darwin seemed not to notice his companion's anguish. He continued, "Despite our initial camaraderie on the Beagle, we argued much during the voyage. I disappointed him severely by not finding substantiation for the Book of Genesis in my observations of the natural world. As I found more variation among the species, so he became more and more rigid and resisted all interpretations that conflicted in any way with the most literal reading of the Bible." He shook his head. "We last met as friends in 1857, when he came to stay at Down House for two nights, but the visit was not a success. We parted coolly, and never met again."

1857. A visit with FitzRoy. Albright made a mental note. As a leading Darwin scholar, even he hadn't been aware that the two had continued on social terms after the voyage. A familiar ache gripped him. So much has been lost.

Seemingly gripped by memories, Darwin continued his monologue, an intense expression on his face. "After the publication of the Origin, he became a violent objector to my work. I, on the other hand, could not see why Natural Selection threatened his religion. Finally, he became convinced that he had nurtured a blasphemer on board the Beagle, and he turned it over and over in his mind until I fear it unhinged him. In despair at what he viewed as the triumph of my satanic views, he took his life most cruelly April last."

"It was a tragedy," Albright said with vehemence. "His suicide created one of the most powerful martyrs in history."

Darwin turned to him with a perplexed look, but continued, "I feel compelled to set down the arguments pro and con my theory, in the hope that others of his religious rigidity might be dissuaded from this unfortunate act. The Church must not be used as an impediment to thinking!"

"And yet such an intended act of mercy will have such terrible consequences," murmured Albright.

"Indeed? My book?"

"Absolutely. That book started a chain of events that became a crusade against science throughout Europe and the Americas that continues even today, some three hundred years later."

"Three hundred years—"

Albright waved away his objections, plunged on. "Imagine, sir, that it is 1884, and your book—the book you are going to write—has just been published. As they did for the Origin, your old supporters, Huxley and Hooker, defended you most ably. And by then there were others convinced by your arguments and evidence."

"Most gratifying."

"Yes, but more importantly, the Church hierarchy took the criticism very badly. The bishops accused you of setting man's ingenuity against God's word. Worse, the public supported them, especially in the face of the very unpopular Neanderthal fossils from Germany. People did not want to believe they were descended from apes and barbarous tribes of men."

"Indeed, it is perhaps an unpopular idea, but inescapable. Man is not exempted from the rest of the animal kingdom in this regard."

"I agree, but it fueled the flames of the rebellion. Many men like FitzRoy joined together in a campaign to expunge what they termed the 'heresy of evolution.' They called themselves the Fitzrovians, and demanded a literal interpretation of the events set forth in Genesis."

"And who spoke against them?"

"Nobody, there's the tragedy. Men of science thought it would pass, and that they could safely ignore what they saw to be religious zealots. But those ideas started to snowball, and what ensued was a great resurgence of fundamentalist religion, and a suppression of science. Schools were forbidden to teach about evolution and natural selection; then it spread to the other sciences. For over two centuries, men of science have had to labor secretly, in great peril."

"I can not believe that account, Mr. Albright. Rational thought and scientific endeavor are seen as honorable professions in Europe and have for some three hundred years. Tycho Brahe and Johannes Kepler were great astronomers in the sixteenth century, well respected and rewarded by the Danish crown."



Albright was sure those two sounds would be indelibly burned into his memory no matter what happened. That, and the sounds of the birds.

"Yes, but Kepler's mother was tried as a witch in Germany, Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake in Rome for insisting that the Earth circles the sun, and well into the seventeenth century, Galileo was forced to recant that same doctrine."

Darwin looked at him sharply. "You know your history well, for a man from so far in the future."

"We have learned the whole history of suppression these long years. Oh, we are desperate to be free! Believe this if nothing else." In anguish Albright tore open his shirt to reveal an elaborate, garishly colored tattoo of a cross.

"I am an acolyte of the Holy Order of Scientism, for over two centuries the only way for a few to keep alive the flame of learning untainted by religious dogma. We seek to know the world the way it is, not the way it is ordained to be by the Hierarchy of Fitzrovians. Only now are we beginning to move out from the shadow of the Church. But we have lost so much time, and it may be too late."

Darwin was visibly taken aback, and stammered, "is that . . . adornment real?"

"The tattoo? Yes, and another like it on my back. I'll take them with me to the grave."

"But . . . why? Of what use is such . . . adornment?"

"Fealty, for some. For others such as myself, disguise. Although it is true that the hold of the Church is gradually loosening, we have lost over two centuries of scientific understanding. Two centuries! Our climate is changing and we don't know why, the world's population is soaring, the forests were cut or burned, the deserts advance, the air is brown, the waters are poisoned and the people sicken."

"Surely, the leaders—"

"Either the Hierarchy doesn't care or they are unable to manage the crisis. Whichever it is, there is little expectation that we can cure the world with our present state of knowledge anyway. It was a desperate hope, but perhaps by changing the past we can recapture that lost time."

"You speak of lost time, yet you claim to be from the future, therefore you have the ability to travel through time. Surely that is remarkably advanced science."

"The time travel device was an accidental discovery. We don't know how it works, but it does, at least for short trips. If I am able to change our past, by dissuading you from publishing that book, we don't know what will happen. We hope it will change the future for the better. But maybe it cannot be changed. Our philosophers have debated long and deeply about this: maybe I exist only because the events in my past unfurled they have. Perhaps in another—" He stopped short as a wave of dizziness hit him.

Wha—? Oh no, not yet. He peeled back his sleeve to look at his watch. It's not time yet!

 Darwin was looking at him sharply. "Are you ill, sir?"

"No, just . . . dizzy. Perhaps the temporal travel device has affected me."

"Young man, your tale is most persuasive, although I can scarcely believe one book of mine could be so pivotal in history."

Albright recovered himself. "All our historical research indicates just that, sir. What we know of causality tells us that the form the future takes has a sensitive dependence on initial conditions. Even a seemingly minor event can have great consequences. And, for a man of your renown, that new book was not a minor event."

Darwin stared at him intently. "Just how did you plan to dissuade me?"

"By doing what I just did, telling you what is going to happen if you do publish it."

"What if I refuse, or am not convinced? I admit that it irks me greatly that certain bishops are so opposed to my ideas." He looked at Albright sharply. "Are you prepared to accept failure?"

Albright hesitated, suddenly aware of the heavy lump in his overcoat pocket. "Mr. Darwin, sir, I—we wish you no harm, but we are determined not to fail our world."

"I see. You will stop me by force if necessary." Darwin looked at him as if appraising what means Albright would use.

Albright nodded slightly. I'm losing him, he thought unhappily. "If I can persuade you that there is independent proof of your theory, would you be satisfied?"

Darwin drew himself up. "Proof? Young man, I have labored for decades on my theory of Natural Selection. I truly believe that I have amassed an overwhelming body of evidence—"

"Someone has found the mechanism for inheritance."

Darwin stopped short. "The mechanism? What do you mean?"

"Well, not the actual . . . ah . . ." He fought back another wave of dizziness. "Well, you understand, not the actual, uh, bodies in the cell, but the mathematics of inheritance."

Darwin stared uncomprehendingly.

Albright rushed on. "There's a book, just published, by Gregor Mendel, about experiments he did with garden pea plants. He has established that there is a unit of heredity, some . . . factor passed from parent to offspring, in a regular and repeatable way. Some of these factors are transmitted visibly, and are called dominant. Others become, ah, latent in the process and are called recessive. With the correct crosses, Mendel could make them reappear in later generations, so he knew they were still there, albeit hidden."

A look of awe slowly washed over the older man's face and his mouth worked as he silently wrestled with the implications.


"So you see," continued Albright, "if an organism exhibits an unfavorable factor and dies because of it, and this happens to all the other individuals with the same factor, it will be eliminated from the population." Bright sparks flashed across his eyes. He reached into his coat and clutched the weapon. "It's the mechanism for nashural s'lection!"

"The mechanism for natural selection. Yes. It could very well be. I will need to see that book! Tell me again who is the author?"

"M . . . M . . . Mendel," he slurred. "G . . . G . . . Gregor Mendel, a m . . . m . . . monk, an Augush . . . tini . . . tian."

"What did you say? I couldn't understand. Speak up, please!"

Albright stared fuzzily. The scene around him was becoming grainy. Still time. In desperation he yanked his arm out of his pocket, aimed the antique pistol at Darwin. God help me. He squeezed the trigger as greyness descended.

* * *

The crackling noise awakened her. Solange started up, feeling woozy and a bit unclear. She absentmindedly put her hand up to her hair to tuck a stray red curl into . . . nothing.

"Rats, must've dozed off."

The screen in front of her was full of diagonal lines.

"That does it, I can't do any assignment if the freaking Viewer conks out on me."

Electronics never worked for her. This morning already her chronometer had failed to network with her wakeup implant. She'd almost missed her session with the TVS. She'd rushed to the library in the nick of time, shouldered her way past the waiting students and jammed her ID thumbprint down just as the robo-librarian was about to give her slot away. As it was she'd lost fifteen minutes.

Someone pounded on the door. "Two minutes!"

She checked the big chronometer.

"Hell, my session's over! What'd I see anyway?"

The vidrecorder was still running. She shut it off and removed the spool.

The door opened suddenly. The librarian rolled in. "Time's up," it rumbled. "Please relinquish the Temporal ViewScreen."

"Okay, Okay, keep your treads on," she muttered. "I'm leaving."

Her eye fell on the assignment sheet. "Observation of Charles Darwin during writing of The Origin of Species, 1858."

It was clearly marked "Easy." Hell, she hadn't even been able to tune the freaking gizmo to that date. It'd stuck on 1866. Well, she'd done something different. But what? She felt for the spool in her pocket.

Whatever I see, I'll just be creative with my interpretation, she thought. After all, what difference could it make what some old guy was thinking, three hundred years ago?

She hurried out into the bright new morning in search of coffee.

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