Futures: the death and life of Don Quick
A science-fiction murder mystery
The year 2355 on earth. The Day of Judgment Studios are in continuous session. A man addresses three figures whose presence is virtual.
First judge: What is the next case?
Michael Servant: Number 107326, Your Honour. Donald Bradman Quick (1942-2012).
First judge: Alright, let’s get on with it.
MS: Your Honours, imagine this scene. The early morning rush-hour traffic roars across the Mont-Blanc bridge. Two swans maintain their vigil where the Rhone rushes out of the lake. Jean-Jacques Rousseau is contemplative, as always, in a sort of toga, pen held between his fingers, ready to sign the social contract. The small island park that bears his name is empty. Almost empty. A figure lies at the bottom of the statue, half-sitting, half-sprawling. It is a clean-shaven old man, wearing an unbuttoned jacket, a tweedy hat and yellow luminous trouser clips. Next to him a bike with small wheels and elongated frame rests against the plinth. The drivers crossing the bridge do not notice them.
An office worker found him. It looked at first as if he was a drunk who had died of exposure. The late November night had been cold enough. But the post-mortem revealed a heavy dose of barbiturates. Suicide? The police did not rule this out, but evidence that they did not wish to make public suggested he could have been murdered.
The corpse was identified as Donald Quick, an English billionaire aged seventy, who had lived for the last decade in a Geneva sanatorium. For a day or two his demise made news in the Tribune de Genève and other local papers.
The obituary in the Wall Street Journal called Quick the man who brought down the Swedish krona in the currency turmoil of 1992; he was a hedge-fund pioneer, whose La Mancha Trust (a partnership involving Los Angeles and his home town, Manchester) was once the biggest in its field. The Guardian dwelt on his unsuccessful Crusades for a Better World around the millennium and mentioned his educational foundation, QUIFFS (Quick Institute For Future Studies). Le Monde said he was a magician of money, a latter-day alchemist who had pointed the way to global social democracy. Some tributes posted on the Web suggested that he was the next Jesus, a shape-shifter, a great philosopher and so on.
The police kept the case open for a few months and then quietly dropped it. Various theories circulated on the internet, where he had maintained an active presence under the pseudonym ami (believed to stand for Ancient Mariner of the Internet). In the last few years, he had been sighted all over the world, even though he apparently never left Geneva. Now a murder conspiracy was favoured over suicide or accidental death. But no new evidence emerged. People reported seeing him in Berlin, Delhi, Johannesburg, Sao Paulo. He appeared to others in their dreams with tales of foul murder.
The number of reported sightings increased. Some said he was dead but living on a different plane of existence; others that he never died in the first place, that this was a gigantic con-trick. Almost a year later, the story took an unexpected turn. A small audio recorder was discovered, apparently containing a record of Don Quick’s voice from the afterlife. This soon came into our possession, but bootleg CDs or forgeries helped this recording to become an underground classic. I propose to play the opening sequence…
Second judge: Do you mean audio only?
MS: Yes, Your Honour. Machines like this one were still in use then, especially for recording conversation surreptitiously. We also have the CDs for ten years of therapy sessions up to the time of Quick’s death. It is not known if they were made with his collusion. The ‘afterlife’ message seems to be a continuation of this practice. Let me give you the flavour of it.
A disembodied voice: It is black. I can’t see or move, everything is still. But I can hear myself speak. And there are other voices far away. I am not alone. My mind’s eye produces vivid pictures. I can generate worlds in my imagination. This, I now realize, is the reason to live as full a life as possible, building up a fund of memories to animate this eternal darkness.
MS: There is more along these lines. Various tests identify the voice as Quick’s; the machine was not tampered with; and the date the recording was made is after his death. At one point he refers to his own death. You could call this the Hamlet’s father bit.
Disembodied voice: I was drugged. I don’t know who they were. Two men, I think. They put me and Rosy (MS: his bike) in a van and left me in the cold to die. I accuse those who benefit from this unequal world and beg my Friends to seek justice on my behalf. I am always with you in spirit.
MS: The upshot of all this is that many people took Quick to be the best proof yet of life after death. Some argued that he was beyond life or death. There is now a cult made up of his followers. In his lifetime they called themselves The Friends, a clandestine network. Now they are a church, The Virtual Saints, known to their detractors as The Living Dead..
Third judge: So what is the question, Michael?
MS: These hearings are concerned with the deceased’s relationship to history, both now in the mid-24th century and in the early 21st century when he was apparently murdered. Donald Quick has become something of a cause célèbre. The security council of the World Federation — which means India and China — have declared Quick’s followers a threat to established order, in a word, terrorists. It looks as if this could boil up into a revolution whose outcome we might want to influence. In addition, there is a book, Who Killed Don Quick?, written last century, which may have involved a serious breach of the rules of time-travel research. This court must therefore decide whether to intervene both then and now. I do not need to remind Your Honours of the complications entailed. Quick’s future is central to all this. There are the rumours concerning his status. Is he alive or dead? Beyond life and death? A God? An alien? I have in mind to collect the relevant documents into a single volume as a guide for your deliberations.
Second judge: A book?
MS: Yes, Your Honour. It is a tradition of religious movements on earth to derive sacred authority from a printed text. The Virtual Saints have numerous incoherent publications, mostly home movies, but they have not yet consolidated their canonical knowledge into a book. I wish to make public several texts that are no longer in circulation and combine these with a transcription of the Geneva Tapes, the record of Quick’s therapy in the last decade of his life, including the alleged tape from beyond the grave. I have in mind some other sources, such as a screenplay.
First judge: What’s the point? Do you want this man’s followers to overthrow the Federation or is this to be ammunition for their repression? Is he to be exposed as a fake or built up as a spiritual leader?
MS: The aim is to clarify who he really is or was. The final form of the book, provisionally entitled The Death and Life of Don Quick, that this court agrees to publish would settle a number of questions. What did he achieve in his life? How and why did he die? Does he provide evidence of life after death? Is his vision of a better world relevant today? Who or what is he? In the process, we may have to rewrite the last few centuries of human history.
I propose to include in the volume the following texts. First Don Quick’s Travels, a memoir of his Crusades made by Sandra Payne, then a student film-maker, shortly after he failed ignominiously. Second, a screenplay, or rather a novella based on the screenplay, of her famous film, The Last Tycoon, based loosely on Quick and building him up as a hero soon after his death. Third, a historical monograph exploring the murder mystery written last century by Muni Subrahmanya, an art history professor at Mumbai Cosmopolitan University. And finally an unpublished memoir by Dame Dulcie Tombs, retired head of a Cambridge college and an intimate of Quick’s, written not long after his death. The Geneva tapes will be interspersed between these accounts, offering the victim’s perspective, as it were.
Second judge: You mentioned a breach of the time travel rules.
MS: Muni and Sandra fell in love. There is evidence that he went beyond the restrictions placed on licensed researchers in altering the circumstances he was studying. In Who Killed Don Quick? he makes a case for the murderer being a shadowy hit man hired by the western corporations to eliminate a troublesome adversary. This story may be contrived to obscure his own role in these events. In any case, the outcome of the world revolution of 2017 is at stake.
First judge: You were involved with this Quick person, weren’t you, Michael?
MS: Yes I was. Am. I made an agreement with him when he was a student at Cambridge. We have a… relationship. This will come out in the book, to some extent.
Second judge: What do you want from us? What verdict will you recommend?
MS: I once thought this man could help move on the world-spirit, might take humanity somewhere better than before. He disappointed me. He reneged on our contract after I helped him to make his fortune. He imagined he was a messiah, but to the world he was just a buffoon and a madman. Then he became a recluse, maintaining a ghostly presence on the internet. But the way his reputation developed in his sanatorium years, his apparent ability to manifest himself elsewhere and especially events after his death have raised the possibility that something may be rescued from this situation. I want you to determine his place in history . Depending on how the book turns out, he could become a spiritual icon or he could return to the obscurity of his own disembodied dreams.
Third judge: When and how do you propose to publish this book?
MS: I have found an obscure writer from the period as a possible author. He lived in Paris in the first decade of the 21st century. The chances are he won’t even get it published. His name is Keith Hart.