talonkarrde: (color)
In 1687, Isaac Newton published his law of universal gravitation: everything, he posited, is affected by gravity in the same way, regardless of how heavy it is. A bowling ball and a feather, if you remove air resistance, should fall to the ground at the same rate.

They don't, of course, because of air resistance.

-

"Surely," I say, "there's been some mistake. I was told— well, my colleagues were given Marathon, and Hastings, and Orléans, and—" Even to me, my words sound small, hollow, empty. I hear the phantom whispers of my parents telling me that I should accept what I'm given, feel the casually dismissive clap of my older brother on my back, and wince involuntarily. At least they placed you somewhere, little brother, and that's better than the nothing that everyone expected, wasn't it?

"No," the provost said, still looking down at his paper. "There has been no mistake. Is there a problem, Master Keenan?"

Stiff upper lip, I think, and simply shake my head, briefly, and wheel around like the wooden soldier that I've been trained to be, as the provost dismisses me without ever having met my eyes.

"Kent! You're next." I walk out, glumly, without making eye contact with the next observer to be placed. "Saratoga!" I hear, as the door slides shut behind me, and I scowl at the trash can.

And then I realize that the valedictorian, Taylor, has looked up from her readings and is smiling at me. "Keen! Where'd you get placed?"

I lift my shoulders and then let them fall in what I hope is a convincing imitation of a casual shrug, and contort my face into what should pass for a smile. She looks alarmed, and I quickly adjust. I'm probably showing too much teeth.

"I— I got Amsterdam."

She blinks. "The Battle of Amsterdam? I haven't heard of it. What year? Who fought? What was the effect?" Suddenly, I don't want to be on this conversation anymore.

"I, uh. I'm not sure. I'll let you know when I come back, I guess. I hope you have fun." I mumble, and then I've ducked away, blinking furiously as the tears start to come.

-

In 1911, Einstein realized something extraordinary: objects that were falling weren't, necessarily, falling at all. If you put a box around two objects that you dropped from the tower of Pisa and replaced one of them with a very small person, that person wouldn't be able to tell that they were falling. It's not about how observant they were — it would actually be impossible for them to know that they were falling.

It all depended on what your frame of reference was — from one position, they were moving together; from another, they weren't moving at all.

-

Amsterdam, May, 1990.

I looked it up before stepping through, just in case I had missed something and it was one of the Highlights — as far as I could tell, everyone else had gotten a Highlight, and so there was no reason that I shouldn't have.

But I didn't.

There's nothing — it's a historically quiet time, in a place that was also historically quiet. Boring, possibly, if I'm not being charitable. Or even 'unnecessary', as some of my classmates said, quietly, pointedly, within earshot. The placement isn't even the city proper, with its canals and its colorful buildings and everything else that Amsterdam was famous for at the turn of the 21st century: it's a suburb — Uithoorn — one that hasn't been important for as far back as I could find in our history books.

It's never been important.

Still, I did my duties diligently; I recorded events, I made observations, I behaved as a properly trained Archivist should. I took detailed notes on the news: a cat escaped two weeks ago, on Tuesday. It had tuxedo-coloring. Its name was Cheshire. And it was found, this last Friday, without any harm having come to it, and in fact looked quite pleased as she sauntered back into her owners house. Her owner's name is Jana, and she runs a flower shop, and always has a kind word and a smile, though she's trying to support her family in Rotterdam.

That's the news that's fit to record. There's more, of course: the usual comings and goings of semi-notable people (there are no notable ones that visit this suburb), some births and deaths, some petty troubles and jealousies, but it's all so mundane. Whereas the other trainees are out observing great men and women making history through their words and actions, writing about the trials of Locke and the travails of Demosthenes, I'm here, watching grass grow, trees blow in the wind, and lovers squabble.

What is there to report on, when I return to the Council, and to my class? Is this it? How would they not laugh me out of the Archives?

-

'How fast are you moving?' is a question that's sometimes posed to young physics students, in their first college class.

'I'm not' is the most common, immediate, and, of course, incorrect answer. But it's a place to start, a reference point that says: we're moving at zero miles an hour.

"But the Earth's rotating, isn't it?" the professor responds. And the students say, yes, yes it is, and then we go through a few equations and we come to a conclusion: the earth's surface, at the equator, moves at about a thousand miles per hour, or about 460 meters per second. Suddenly, much faster than zero miles an hour.

"Okay, that's a start. But isn't the Earth orbiting around the sun? What does that mean?" And a few equations later, we have an answer: the Earth is rotating around the sun at about 67,000 miles per hour, or about 18.6 miles a second. In fifteen or so minutes that it's taken the class to figure out the information, we've all travelled more than 10,000 miles — enough to go from pole to pole.

"But what about the speed that the Sun moves around the Milky Way?" — and so on.

Some of them get it faster than others, but at the end of the lecture, the point is made to everyone: it's useless to ask 'how fast are you moving?' because it's missing an important second part of the question: 'Compared to what?'

And as we change what we compare it to — or, in other words, our frame of reference — the answer changes as well, going from what looks to be a standstill to over 500,000 miles per hour, a speed that's inconceivable.

The corollary is this: a sports car going a hundred miles an hour feels like it's incredibly past when it's rushing by us, but that hundred miles per hour doesn't matter at all when you're looking at the speed that everyone on the Earth is moving through the galaxy.

-

Jana died today.

She was hit by a car, someone who had a seizure at the wheel, despite having no previous history. He's not at fault, and neither was Jana, and yet, there is one fewer member of the community here in Uithoorn, one fewer smiling face, one fewer person to talk to.

I went to her funeral. I wasn't supposed to, I don't think — we're here as observers, and are supposed to minimalize our interactions with the community, though we're to blend in — but I couldn't not pay my respects. She was someone that I had bought a few flowers from, someone who hadn't wondered at my strange accent, someone who had answered my curious questions without making fun of them. She had accepted me.

So I attended, standing quietly in the back as Adriaan and Jakob and Marijke and Sanne spoke about her, about shared childhoods and innocent mistakes and missed chances, and when the priest asked if anyone else wanted to speak, I found myself making eye contact, and nodding. I went up to the front, and said a few words as well, impulsively — I just wanted to express that even as a stranger, a foreigner in more than one sense of the world, she had an impact on my life. And the others — the community — they didn't know me, but they accepted me, there, nodding at my words, offering me kind words and gentle hugs after I stepped down.

In their time of grief, they chose to take a stranger in instead of turning him away.

I think I see what I've been sent here for, now; I know what I will report to the Council. The others may have been sent to follow the great leaders, and they may have great stories to tell, great observations to make, but I have my own stories that will rival theirs. I have a story of a woman who smiled at everyone, even days when she was suffering from kidney stones, because she knew that it would brighten their lives, not because it would help sell flowers. I have a story of a cat who always brushes up against the flower stand that her mistress owned, and waiting to see if this is the time that Jana will pop out from under the counter. I have the story of a community that accepted a stranger and allowed his grief to mingle with theirs and in sharing, lessen it.

It is not a shame, not a penalty, to have been sent here, to watch this little suburb grow, live, mourn, and rebuild. History — and the Archive — isn't just about the movers and shakers in the world. It's also about parents and children, bricklayers and flowergirls, the quiet moments and quiet suburbs that are what great leaders fight for. We are all the heroes of our own stories, and the story of Jana is no less than any other. 
talonkarrde: (Default)
Good day to you, Misters C______ and  A_________.

My name's Hob, and I'll be leading you on this tour today. If you have any questions, please go ahead and interrupt me, and I hope you find this visit worthwhile in your deliberations as to whether or not to buy the facility. If you'll follow me, we'll get started right now, as I'm sure you don't have time to waste.

"It is a truth universally acknowledged, that any events which come to pass will be in want of someone to correct them." No doubt you saw the plaque on the lawn on your trip in. It's an impressive piece of architecture but all it really tells you, if you don't mind my honesty, is that the 'eccentric' founder of our company had a real hard-on for Jane Austen. Don't get me wrong — I like her as much as anyone else, but our founder, well, he enjoyed taking regular visits back to Bath around 1800, if you know what I mean. I'm afraid the investigation is still pending, so I can't comment on it officially, but I wouldn't be surprised if there's a Darcy in Austen's life right now, and not just on paper.

But I digress. Keep coming this way and we'll come up to the travel chamber soon. If you look past the poor reference, though, the plaque is a decent summary of what we do. I mean, everyone wants to fix something in the past, from the small things like having the South win the Civil War to bigger things like making sure Tesla gets all the credit for electricity... or making it so that Caligula ruled Rome for twenty more years. Hell, if you want a party, you should see what Rome is like under the man around 45 AD. Straight up party of the millennia, honest — just try not to get grossed out by the, uh, incest and stuff. He was a weird guy, for sure.

Anyway, as you pass through this doorway you'll notice the travel cubes — the one on the left is called Elizabeth and the one on the right is called Mr. Darcy — yes, he specified that the 'Mister' would always be included. Like I said... but interestingly, one of them is more temperamental than the other, and it seems they were named right.

Oh, yeah, 'big' and 'small' are really relative terms. We don't handle personal things like killing off grandfathers or anything like that, it's not really worthwhile. But for the more global things, the scientists have figured out approximately how much it would affect history and the accountants have it all priced out. Hell, they've quoted me just under eight figures for stopping civilization from arising in the future place, but—

No, no, of course I'm kidding, Mister C______. No one's ever done any analysis — or pricing — on something like that. And we'd have to go back earlier than we ever have. Anyway — you have a question, Mister A_________?

Ah, yes, we get this question a lot. Now, I'm not an expert on the science behind causality and whatnot, but there are branching universes and such, and apparently this facility exists in all the timelines that exist that you return to. So you can make any changes and see the repercussions in a timeline where you went. It's all a bit circular, as these things go, with the snake eating itself across a few thousand universes or so.

Anyway, if you'll come this way, I'll take you to our command center and tell you a bit about our past history — I'm sure you're interested in that. Do you have any other questions at this time?

Ah — well, our success rate is, and I'll be frank, the reason that we're trying to find a new investor right now. The problem is that, although there's never any difficulty in coming back and viewing the repercussions...well, as I'm sure you know, it's kind of hard to actually effect what you want to. Ripples in time, quantum disturbances, blahblahblah. But there's more, one that the pulps don't usually cover.

See, it's really effin' hard to actually... talk to these people. Sure, if you go back less than a hundred years, not a big deal, you can almost do it without training, even. As long as you don't reference current music, you can probably pass by without them looking at you like you're a three headed alien, or worse, someone with no taste.

But then you start going back further, and even with training, with culture integration, with the best tech we got to make translation easier, you still hit a stone wall. The problem is that, well, we don't share too much in common with the people that came two centuries before us, and we share even less with people as we go back further. The scientists say that our genes are the same, that we could go back and knock up any ol' broad on the streets, but we don't share any real culture in common, you see?

If you never talk, then it's not as big of a problem. But open your mouth, and it doesn't take more than a few minutes for the locals to know there's something mighty strange about you. We think about intergalatic travel, about the approaching Singularity, about trying out various new gene therapies and whatnot. People in the 1900s? They're trying to figure out how to feed themselves, how to make more money than the next guy — hell, they still have war with each other, and don't know that there's a whole universe out here that everyone can have their own special corner of.

Beginning to see what I mean?

I made a joke about Caligula earlier — I was there, in 43 AD, with Caligula still alive. And I...I wanted to see if I could change things a bit, teach them about what we have here. Not like, a huge leap, not something that would bump them in levels of civilization, but just a bit of political theory, a bit of engineering.

You know what I got? Absolutely nothing. Blank stares, like the ones that I would see in my university maths class. Just a complete lack of understanding. Now I did the whole deal, I laid the groundwork, gathered up materials, gave them everything they would discover in the next hundred years.

Nada. So I said, well, maybe Rome isn't the best era, let's jump forward to the 1600s, England. Talked to Shakespeare about writing, about the future of literature and plays and expression and—

Yes, Mister C______, another stone wall. Just a complete failure in explaining these concepts that they themselves will discover in ten, twenty, at most fifty years. No one's been able to figure it out; all the scientists say is that they need  more information. They always need more information.

For now though, all that political stuff is out. It's hard enough to talk to people without getting locked up for being a spy or a freak or a witch, and we may never be able to get over that hump. We're like the Old Ones of Mars to them, or perhaps varelse — communication on a meaningful level may never be possible.

...

Ah, yes, we do have the ability to knock 'em. I mean, there have been some clients that requested that we do such things, and, well. It's hard to talk to them, but we can shoot 'em up fine. Again, though, I would caution you on the dangers, because if you...

Well, yes, we could prolly go back that far in time, but it's never been tested, and so we don't have the data on that. No, we've never done anything substantial that far back, because it starts to affect humanity on such a major level that we don't know if we'd even be here.

...of course it's safe, Mister C______. if you insist on a demonstration we could do that.

4800 BC, you said? Tommy! Dial us in!
talonkarrde: (Default)
I am homeless.

If you saw me on the streets, you’d call me a bum, a hobo. You’ve probably kicked people like me aside many times, coming out of your theatre shows and classy dinners. If you were one of the politically-correct academics, you might refer to me as one of the wandering poor, as if we goddamn wanted to be wandering.

But the next time someone like me asks you for some money…spare a bit, please? It isn’t because I think society’s fucked me over, or because I’m lazy and can’t get my own job, or whatever else the sociologists blame ‘the homeless problem’ on – it’s because…well, it's a long story.

Two weeks ago, I went to sleep in my apartment around eleven p.m.. I had a nice loft in Soho, decorated with the post-modernist stuff that’s all the rage.  I remember the TV broadcasting the nanotechnology trial they were doing with Martin whoever, and Malia Obama was talking about the Islamic Caliphate. The day was…Tuesday, July 31st, 2048.

I woke up in what historians would call the Edo period of Japan…in the middle of a goddamn forest, naked. It wasn’t our Japan though, unless they had guns in the 1700s, before contact with the West. I’m sure the other-dimension string-theory-people will have some fun with that; but my problems were more immediate – I was white in a land where there shouldn’t be any, and the limit of my Japanese was two years in high school. I almost got killed on sight, a couple times over, but with some luck, passed myself off as a ronin that had experience with the new weapons, called myself Kisaru. Started to establish myself in that life…and then skipped again, after a month, on April 7th, 1705.

Next jump was farther back, somewhere around 1000, and ended up taking part in a siege of Balansiya, as they called it – it was that, or be hung for being a heathen savage. I wanted to die by then; I charged the city lines like a berserker…but fate wouldn’t have it. We swept the city, and I even got honors for fighting so well. Can you believe that? They said they were going to give me ‘tierra’ …and I just laughed.

The next jump was only a week later, and sent me to the beginning of the third millennium. Being naked on the streets of Manhattan when everyone’s celebrating or fearing the end of the world isn’t so bad…what with the alcohol and the girls being in a celebratory mood…and that kind of a celebration only happens once a millennium. If anything at all good has happened, it was that.

The last five jumps have been every day, when I sleep. I’ve tried not sleeping…but sooner or later I have to, and frankly, I’m getting to the end of my rope.  I want to jump to the future and talk to a scientist, see if they can help me – it has to happen sooner or later, right? I just hope it's not  like skipping a stone across the water - I don't want to know what happens when the stone sinks.

So now that you’ve heard my story, won’t you please spare some change?

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