Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Edge of Time

At the speed of light, as everyone knows, time slows down.  Most people think that gives you more of it.  But they are wrong about this.  No matter how fast you travel, in whatever direction, you only have the time you have. 
            No more, no less. 
            What most people also do not realize is that as you near the speed of light, fate slows down as well.  Destiny, which always races one step ahead, now eases up ever so slightly, and seems to hesitate and pause.  In the blur of this kind of motion, you could almost get the impression of catching up with it, grabbing it by the tail, even wrestling it to the ground.
            But you would be wrong there too.  Fate stays one step ahead, no matter what.  
            No more time, no less fate.
            Such are the mysteries of life as you approach the limit of speed in the cosmos.
            Jon Drammond thought about all this as he stood in that white room, dressed in white, before the vast expanse of the window.  Outside the transparent chromium pane all was black, with only the faintest hint of light.  Out there where a billion dim wiggles looked like the tails of countless microbes spawning.  That was the way stars appeared at this speed, alive and darting.  Seeing this illusion of life, you could almost come to believe that the universe itself, down to the very atom, was alive.
            You could almost believe that it was not all, in fact, coming to an end.
            This was a nice fairy tale but Jon did not get the chance to dwell on it.  He thought he was alone in the room, staring out into space, having his thoughts.  But his wife Dayn had been standing behind him the whole while, watching, silent.
            “How much time?” she asked softly.
            “I didn’t see you there,” he said without turning around.
            “How much?” she repeated.
            “We don’t know really.  It’s all just a theory.”
            “Yes you do,” she said.   “What are they saying?  How much time left?”
            “It’s a pointless calculation,” he said, turning his back to the sky.  “We have as much time as we have.”
            He was lying to her and she knew it.  She knew all about the clock they had down in one of the labs.  Most everyone did.  The EndTime clock they called it.  It had been set according to the mathematics of their theory and told them, very specifically, how much time they had left, how much time the universe had left.  When she last heard the rumors, the clock was indicating 312 years.  But that had been months ago and the magnitude was changing with each and every second.  What could it be now?  Two centuries?  100 years?  A single generation?
            She did not press the issue.  Her husband was a Chief Cosmologist and that meant that he was a very stubborn man.  If he refused to tell her, that would be that.  At least until something changed his mind.
            “Is Tara home yet?” he asked by way of changing the subject.
            “I just picked her up.  She’ll be here in a second.  Do you have to go back to work tonight?”
            “No.  I’m done for the day,” he said and pulled her close and held her a bit too tight before the prancing starlights.
            “There’s bad news, Jon, I can feel it in you.  You don’t have to protect me from it.  We’re in this together.”
            He thought for a moment and knew that she was right.
            “We were off in our guess about the acceleration.  By quite a lot.”
            “I thought so.”
            “We may only have as few as 90 years.  Maybe we’re wrong about that too.”
            Tears welled up in Dayn’s eyes but she fought them back.  One thing she had learned during the Running was that being strong was more important than being sensitive.  It was the only way to go on.
            “90 years,” she said.  “Tara’s generation.  Then the end of all life for all eternity.  It is still so hard to grasp.”
            Jon Drammond did not answer her.  There was nothing really to say.  It had all been said before.  Many many times.  Everyone had made peace with it in his or her own way.  To Jon, who was not of any faith, it was simply the rule of the cosmos.  A rule that trumped all others and that overwhelmed  the fears of any frail little personality.  Still, it was one thing for a person to know that death was inevitable and to come to terms with it.  Quite another to know that the universe itself was coming to an end. 
            It all, of course, began with the Big Bang.  Everything did.  The universe had exploded from a pinpoint blast and been expanding outwards for the last 15 billion years.  It was what everyone knew and it was romantic and dramatic and wholly unfathomable to anyone without superstring hypermath.  Even so, it was undeniable since its first discovery in the mid 20th century. 
            But it was only half the story. 
            It would take another five hundred years for the rest of the tale to be told…that there had been a second Big Bang, erupting from the exact same point in spacetime.  This was known as the Second Wave.  It was an explosion too, just like the first, but of antimatter.  A widening black hole expanding with increasing velocity that would eventually engulf all matter and energy.  It meant that while the universe was created in an instant and was expanding outward at almost the speed of light, the seeds of its destruction were there right from the start.  And it meant that this very universe would be destroyed by a second, obverse explosion slowly overtaking the first. 
            The scientists called this Alternating Pulsing Cosmogeny or simply APC.  Two adjacent branes in n-dimensional space colliding over and over.  Universes created and destroyed and created again, just like the ancient religions said.  Yet despite the fancy names and equations, it meant a plain thing.  That the world was coming to an end.  Very very soon.
            When the full impact of the theory became clear, another understanding emerged.  They could calculate the stretch from the blast center to earthpoint and knew that life on earth was doomed.  So one hundred starships carrying peoples of the earth were launched in an effort called the Running.  These were hopeless flights, they all knew.  There was no way to outrun the end.  But heading at lightspeed away from the center of everything would at least add some time.  And they had gotten much better at predicting the end in the 20 years since the Running began; now the EndTime clock was thought to be quite accurate.  
            But then again, this was the precise thing no one really wanted to know at all.
            “Daddy!” shouted a small, prim girl standing at the doorway.  She came racing in and slammed into him, making everyone laugh.
            “My little genius!” Jon said. 
            “Look what I found!” she said, slapping a small rectangular object into her mother’s stomach.
            “A school project?”
            “No silly, I discovered it.  On a spedition.”
            “Expedition,” Dayn said.  “They were doing archeo research on Level Five.”
            “No, it was on Level Seven,” the girl corrected.  “What is it Mommy?”
            Dayn took the object in her hands like a treasure and stared at it.  At first, it seemed remote and strange, like a creature from a lost world.  Relic of the dim past.  Then that past slowly seeped in through a crack in her memory.
            “I think this thing was called…a…bok.”
            “Like a box?”
            “No, a bok,” Dayn said and opened it up.  Sure enough between the thick covers were thin white leaves filled with strange symbols.”
            “Book,” Jon corrected.  “I saw them when I was a boy.  My grandfather had a collection of them.”
            “What’s it for?” Tara asked.  “It doesn’t react at all.”
            “No.  It’s not for reacting.  A book was a kind of…”
            “Archive,” Dayn suggested.  “A place to store…”
            “Language,” Jon added.  He had taken the book from his wife’s hands and was flipping slowly through the pages.  The texture was smooth like fine waferskin, and the color slightly yellow like Auricine.  It even had a familiar smell but he could not quite place it.
            “You see, darling, that is an ancient language,” Dayn said, pointing to the symbols on the pages.
            “I can’t hear it,” the girl said sadly.
            “No sweetie, it doesn’t talk.  These are written words.  Written?”
            “That’s right,” Jon said.  “Written.  It means that they were…put on the surface…with a machine…um…”
            “It was a way of…putting language down so that…people could…”
            “What good is that if you can’t hear it?” Tara interrupted.
            “You have to…what’s the word, Dayn?”
            “Read!” Dayn shouted, as though she had just stumbled onto a gem inside her own cortex. 
            “That’s right, you have to read them.  You have to look at them and say what they mean.”
            “Read,” the girl muttered, with great mystery, almost like an incantation.  “Well, can you read it Mommy?”
            “No I can’t.  I haven’t even seen one of these since I was a little girl.”
            “Like me?”
            “Yes, just like you.  But not as smart.  Can you read it, Jon?”
            He studied the words on the cover, then turned some of the pages and moved his lips silently.
            “Is it in the Talk?” Dayn asked.
            “Yes, it is,” he said.  “But it’s an ancient form that was known as English.  A lot of similarities though.  You know, I bet I probably
can read this.”
            “Can you read it to me, Daddy?  Can you please?  Please?”
            “I’d need to go down and uplink a lingualog.  Then I guess I could.  But it’s just an old book.  Why would you want me to read it to you?”
            “Because,” the girl concluded.
            “You might as well,” Dayn said.  “It might be fun.  We can sit together and you could read it to us.”
            “What’s the point?” he said with a tired sigh.  “Some old book.”
            “It will help us pass the time,” Dayn said.
            “Pass the time,” he echoed. 
            An ironic phrase, he thought, considering that there was nothing else left for humanity to do.  Nothing left to achieve, nothing left to hope for.  All that remained of our great passage was to pass the time waiting for it to come to a stone cold dead deletion.
            Dayn, studying his face that she knew so well, could see the mood that would soon immerse him if she did not step in and insist.  She pretended to kiss him on the neck but instead whispered into his ear:  “She wants to spend time with you, Jon.  With us, as a family.  It doesn’t matter why.”
            Jon was a scientist, like almost everyone on the ship.  They were the smart ones, the ones with fancy logic, people of the grid and grit, analytical, with math but not myth, questions but no mysteries.  They were beyond lies and fables and were living in the slipstream of reason in its final surge.
            But the one thing he had learned in the years since they left earth was that although he was a brilliant physicist, he could easily be wrong about simple things.  People things.  But about these, his wife Dayn was always always right.
            “All right,” he said.  “I’ll be back in a few minutes.  I’ll need to access the Core.”
            While he was gone, Dayn and Tara slid the couch over to the window.   It was a big fat soft couch, perfect for telecommuning or just gazing into space.  Dayn held the book in her hands and looked through it with a great sorrow.  Whatever was inside this mystery box, and everything else and all there was, and all of life, all made things, would vanish in almost no time at all.  Like a dream in the head of a waking child.  Everything.  Only to start all over again with a clean slate.  The physics said so.  It was the way of the cosmos.  But that did not make it any easier to swallow right here and now.
            “Let’s see,” Jon said, returning after an hour and squeezing between them.  “I haven’t practiced this in a while, so I may get some of the words wrong.”
            He took the book from his wife and held it like a sacred object.
            “Is it really really old?” Tara asked.
            “Let’s see,” he said and turned to the first page.  “There it is.  You see, it says 1961.”
            Tara followed his finger down to some symbols on the page.  She studied them for a few moments and came to a conclusion.
            “Is it about axial symmetry?” she asked.
            The question caught both of her parents off guard.
            “What do you mean?”
            “It’s like a neutrino counter-collision.  It flips over,” she explained.  “See?”
            She took the book from her father’s hands and turned it upside down.  Then pointed to the numbers to prove that they read the same.  Upside down it was still 1961.
            “Wow,” Jon said.  “Smart girl.   I didn’t notice that.”
            “If this is about Plasma Physics,” Dayn said, “I may fall asleep.”
            “No,” her husband said, turning to the first page.   “It just means that this was when the book was made.  In the year 1961.”
            “500 years ago,” Dayn mused.
            “Yes.  And it has a title too.”
            “Title?” Tara asked, confused.
            “Like a name.  Every book had a name.  What you would call it.  And the name of this one is – let’s see – it’s called One Ocean.”
            Tara still had a puzzled look on her face and her mother jumped to the rescue.  Her daughter had been born during the Running and her whole world was the starship.  She had never known the earth with its magnificent oceans…their vastness, wetness, deepness.  The way they cradled life.  She had never been swimming, surfed a wave, or watched the sun set across an edgeless sea.
            “Oceans,” Dayn said, trying to find grand enough words.  “Oceans were…”
            “I know,” Tara said.  “they have them in the simmies.  They were water that covered our home world.”
            “Huge amounts of water.  You can’t imagine, sweetheart.  As far as you could see.  Your father and I used to swim in them.”
            “Yes, but that’s not what it means here,” Jon interrupted.  He had been reading some words on the back cover that explained the contents of the book.  “This book is not about oceans at all.  The title refers to a place where people lived.  A building on a street.”
            “Why was the street called an ocean?” Tara asked.  She was of that age at which words meant what they meant.  Or they meant nothing at all.
            “It was a street called Ocean Avenue in a place called Brooklyn,” her father said.  “This is a book of stories about people who lived there.  They lived in a building that was called One Ocean Avenue.   One Ocean…that was the number of the building.”
            Places and streets with names, and buildings with numbers.  Were these all too hard to understand as you flew away from history so fast that the stars wiggled?  Jon wondered if the book was such a good idea, but his daughter broke in with a question that cut through to something much deeper.
            “Stories?” Tara asked, miming her father’s drawl.
            “Yes, you know.  Stories about people and things that happened to them.  Way back in 1961.  In a building.  On a street called Ocean Avenue.  In a place called Brooklyn.”
            “500 years ago,” Tara repeated.  That was a hard concept for a 9-year old to grasp.  Not logically but emotionally.  “Are they all dead now?”
            “Well…stories doesn’t mean it actually happened.  These are probably made-up stories. The author – I mean the person who created them – made up stories and wrote them down.”
            “I mean he recorded them in this writing system so that other people would read them and find them interesting.”
            “Was he a Runner, daddy?”
            She was trying to piece something together in her mind but it was not clear just what.
            “No sweetie, there were no Runners then.  This was long before we discovered the Second Wave and started the Running.”
            “Okay,” Tara said.  She knew now what she needed to…what a story was and that people once lived in buildings and that there were streets named like oceans.  But none of that was especially important to her because she also knew that the end was coming and that her father and mother were there with her now, and that there was nothing else to be done but be together.  And that felt right.  She pressed in closer to both of them and said, with great authority:  “You can start now.”
            And so Jon began to read.  He stumbled at first.  The words came to him through a great mire of disuse.  There had not been much call for books or reading in the world of the liquid image, and so over the years he had lost the skill.  But as he went on, it became easier.  He had read when he was a boy.  Read a great deal in fact.  That was rare even in his generation which itself was a century beyond the death of paper.  But his grandfather had insisted on it and Jon had found it to be tiring but also exhilarating.  So many ideas, so many sentences, so many stories.  Still, the lingualog helped and so did some residual memory and he pressed on.  He did this for his wife, for his daughter.  To keep their minds off the terrible calamity to come.  He did it for himself too.  For each moment that he read seemed like another moment stolen from the exploding center of negative history.  And so he read the stories in the book to them.  He read all through the unending night and on into the following day, even though day and night were both just concepts now.

            “Something has changed,” Dayn said when she saw him the next evening.  He had spent the entire day in the lab, not even coming back for lunch.  This was unusual and would have been a bad sign but for the slight, almost undetectable, curl of his lips.  No one but Dayn would have noticed this, but she did and could not overlook it.
            “Something’s happening,” she said bluntly.  “Tell me.”
            “I’m not sure,” he said.
            “I am.  I can see it in your face.  Tell me what it is.”
            “I’m not sure.”
            “Have you noticed something?  Has something changed?”
            Sensing that she would not give up, he finally softened and answered: “Yes, I think the clock is slowing down.”
            “What does it mean?  Does it mean that the Second Wave is slowing?”
            “No, the Second Wave is not slowing down.  Nor is the end of the universe.  But somehow, we have enlarged the slip of duration between them.”
            “I’m sorry, Jon, I’m not a chronologist.”
            Jon took a deep breath.  The evidence of the two cosmic expansions – the miraculous one and the horror – only existed as patterns in highly complex fractality.  They were equations, significances, nesting iterations of self-generating emulata.  There weren’t even any normal words to translate them.  But the expression on his wife’s face made it clear to him that, one way or another, he had to come up with some.
            “Put it this way,” he finally said.  “It seems, and this only a vague conjecture at this point, that the wedge of time within which we live is enlarging slightly.  In other words, it may be the case that the EndTime clock has slowed its acceleration.   It’s not definite, just a hint.  I don’t know how or why.  None of us do.”
            “Does it mean that we live?” Dayn asked, jumping on the conclusion like a raft.
            He looked puzzled.
            “I mean we humans, Jon.  Us.  Does it mean that Tara has a chance to live?”
            “I don’t know.”
            Again that night and for many nights thereafter, they continued to read their stories.  They sat again on the couch as the dance of the stars passed before them across the vast window of the ship, like a paper panorama being unfurled at one end, furled at the other.  When One Ocean was done and all the tales in it told, they found another book in the vast library that had been neglected for so long.  And another and another.  And they read the stories from all of them.  They read out loud about all these people who once lived or never lived or might have lived, and understood something of their loves and their hopes and their despairs.  These were tiny stories, little nothings at all, long ones, short ones, funny ones, sad ones.  Great big stories about life itself or little diversions about the merest of matters.
            About the woman who lost her earring but found her lost love.   The great hero of the great war who was inwardly a coward.  The captain of the ship whose misplaced map changed the shape of the world.  About the first men and women, who knew more about the universe than those who evolved solely to survive in it.  Lovers who reached across the eons to know each other through all the ages of their lives.  A man who died of radio.  A woman who lied to her lover and regretted her truths.
            To the outsider these told tales no doubt were nothing more than a way to pass the time, the only time that was left in an existence careening towards its end.
            And yet…something was changing. 
            They all sensed it in themselves but Jon could see it in the calculations as well.  Unseen, odorless, untouchable.  But with a presence as palpable as gravity itself.  They all knew this, sensed the rubbery fabric of the cosmos stretching just a bit, the difference between a split second and a whole one. 
            At first they did not speak of it.  Too fragile, as it was, to tinker with.  They simply continued to read together each night and wait for the daily report that indeed the EndTime clock was slowing.  Finally Dayn said aloud what they had all been thinking.
            “Maybe it’s the stories,” she said.
            Jon laughed at that, but deeply and with a profound tenderness.
            “I mean it,” she insisted.  “You said the change has now been proven.   You said the universe was still expanding and the Second Wave was too.  But that our slice of time was widening and that the end was no longer as near as once predicted.  You said all that.”
            “We can’t explain it.”
            “But it began when we started reading those stories.”
            “Please, Dayn.  Let’s not get all cryptic here.  We don’t even know if this is permanent.  It may just be an anomaly.”
            “But it did begin with the stories.”
            “That can’t matter.”
                “But it did.”
            “Yes it did.  But there can’t be any connection.”
            “Maybe the stories are expanding time.  Driving a wedge between the two waves or something.”
            “That doesn’t make any sense at all and you know it.”
            “It could be.”
            “Could not be.”
            “You don’t know.”
            “Well if you can explain to me how reading some stories from a few old forgotten books to our 9-year old daughter can change the velocity differential between the expanding universe and the expanding anti-universe, I will be happy to bring it to the Council.”
            Dayn, who knew nothing of all the hypermath, knew something much better than equations.  She knew people.  In fact, she knew most of the other families on the ship who were in some ways mere statistics to the theorists and their computers.  And so, quietly and informally, she convinced her friends and neighbors to join the experiment. 
            The library, which had been all but abandoned for years, was now buzzing with activity as people all over the ship took out books and began to read the stories in them.  They read them aloud at night and silently in the morning.  They traded the books and told each other the tales and acted them out and now, so many years after the written word had evaporated, they even began to create their own stories.
            And sure enough, their slice of time continued to expand.
            “Maybe you’re wrong about all this,” Dayn said, but kindly.
            “Yes, that’s always possible,” Jon admitted.
            “Perhaps the universe is not made of tiny atoms or vibrating strings or shiny cubicules.  Maybe it’s made of stories.”
            He could no longer deny it.  Perhaps it was true, he thought.  And to create them was to build matter, to read them was to expand the present, to tell them was to enrich the world, to remember them was to reach inside the very fabric of spacetime and weave new moments.     
            It made no sense, he thought, but neither did Big Bangs and black holes and anti-universes.  They were stories too.  It was all a matter of what one chose to believe. 
            And so, after a while, Jon joined the throng as they all went down to the lower libraries and found what was there and reveled in it.  And they read the stories until the cosmos stopped stopping and the world was still again.  
            And all the while the stars outside sparked and wiggled like living creatures playing at the edge of time.

The Portal

There are no doubt many methods for building spacetime machines of various kinds.
            I am sure you have your own pet approach. 
            But I began mine with a set of Thorne plates.  When originally proposed, such plates had a theoretical diameter of several miles.  But that was before the discovery of Compendium, the superdense metal now used in the solar sails of starships.  This metal allowed me to fashion four circular, conductive Thorne plates that were only ten feet across.  Small enough, in other words, to set up in my workshop.  Positioning these in parallel and quite close together, on the order of a few atom widths apart, created a powerful negative energy field by the well-known Casimir effect.  This in turn created adjacent slices of identical spacetime (for full explanation see Slicing the Loaf of Duration by that Chinese fellow who disappeared).  Next, by separating the two pairs of Thorne plates by a distance established through the Corn-Hepperman equations, I was able to create a connecting wormhole between the pairs of plates.  This wormhole would eventually serve as my tunnel through spacetime, with each pair of plates acting as a gateway into it.
            So far so good and the astute reader will note that I am far from the first person to create a private wormhole.  But as anyone who has studied such matters knows, the next step is a bit tricky.  You would normally have to put one of these pairs of plates in a rocket traveling at near the speed of light, while the other remained stationary (relatively speaking, of course) thus placing each pair in a separate and increasingly disparate spacetime frame.  Once an appropriate duration had passed – decades, years, eons? -- the two pairs of plates would be sufficiently separated in the continuum to warrant using the wormhole between them as a tunnel. 

            So there are the problems: that the gateway was weeny while I am a size 44 regular, that light is fast and I am slow, and that time is long and life is short.  Yet it was all solved quite a bit easier than one would expect from some of the technical papers on the subject.  Like most inventors, I always feel that where there is a will there is a way, and I found that my natural stubbornness, rather than any native genius, was the crucial factor in surmounting this problem.
            The first problem concerned the fact that the portals created between each set of plates were themselves only a few atoms thick, barely big enough to breathe through let alone leap into.  I resolved this in the obvious way…by using a fusion pump polygas laser to insert a huge amount of additional negative energy into this space.  This created a much larger antimatter plasma which widened the field and the eventual portal. 
            The second obstacle involved the need to send one set of plates rocketing at the speed of light to slow down its space/time field relative to the other.  Obviously this was beyond my resources as an individual with a mortgage and so another means was needed.  After many trials and errors, I managed to overcome this problem by rotating one set of plates at a high speed using frictionless Buckyball bearings in a nitrogen soup.  The rotational momentum at these speeds created enough disturbance in the gravity field to mimic near lightspeed as predicting by Vranisi, the son that is, not the father who went crazy.
            The third problem involved having to wait possibly light years for a spacetime gap to be established between the two portals that was long enough to warrant all the effort.  With this method you are not so much sending one portal into a different spacetime as keeping it more slowly in its present place than the other.  When enough time has elapsed – the light years I refer to above – one pair is simply less not here and now than the other one is. 
            The problem plagued me for months until I realized – with the help of the Insight Enhancer, which I am happy to announce will soon be made available from Tesla Retail for an affordable price – that our understanding of spacetime was wrong in the first place.  It is not at all like Einstein’s warping matrix nor like Lu’s undulating and recursing conga line and nothing like those crazy string theories.  Not at all like these. 
            No, spacetime is in fact a lot more like spit.
            Yes.  Spittle, that is, or to put it slightly more elegantly, like foam.  That was the insight that made my whole little gambit possible.  Think of the place moments of existence as the bubbles in a mass of foam, forming, joining, popping, reforming.  So that rather than the river of time and place or the grid of space and time or the right here and the way over there, imagine a dynamic, shifting, dimensional shabazz of instants never lost, never passed, never gone. 
            With this in mind, you simply have to set everything in motion and wait.  Plunge the plates into the spacetime foam, so to speak, and like a bubble-riding speck you end up where you are going.

            If course you need a really good Reimannian-Fultz 3D map of the expanding universe because, of course, nothing is where it is.  Consider, for example, that the earth is rotating at 820 mph while also revolving around the sun at 66,527mph.  And that both are speeding through our stellar neighborhood at 43,200 mph which is whipping around at 490,000 mph while the Milky Way galaxy itself careens through our local supercluster at 180,000 mph, as the supercluster bounds away at 540,000 mph.  Not to mention that all of this is blasting from the center of the Big Bang that started the whole tizzy at the speed of 1,159,000 mph. 
            So you can see that a map is a really good idea or who the hell knows where and when you might end up including nothing, nowhere, notime.  Or worse.

            My own first stab wound up being a bit of a shock.  I entered the first gateway and emerged from the second in the exact same time and place.  As though I had simply turned around where I was standing.  This puzzled me at first and so I checked all the equipment, double checked, and tried again.  Sure enough, I stepped out of the wormhole and was still in my lab with virtually no time passed on the clock on the wall.
            What was wrong?
            All the technicals were working, all the readings right, all the measures correct.  Yet every time I stepped through the portal, I emerged as though nothing had happened and I had either gone nowhere at all or traversed the great cosmos at light speed only to end up back in the exact same place.
            Was this some strange effect of the Einsteinian curvature or of the internal logic of self-recursing foam?  I had no idea.  Then it hit me.  I had not taken into account the multi-dimensions of later string theory, the idea that an infinite number of alternate universes exist co-dimensionally with ours.  What I was doing, in effect, was stepping from one reality of my existence into another one.  A different reality either rather similar to the one I left or quite different, how was I to know?  In each one the world seemed just right although no doubt wholly different from the one I had left.  The past, my past, was what I had experienced in that reality.  But the future would be completely different except that I would not be able to tell since I had not experienced the future in any reality, including my original one.
            So here I sit, here in the here and now, writing all this down, knowing what happened and trying to tell it but having no idea whatsoever what is to come.  All I know is that I will step through the wormhole again today; I will exit into another reality that looks quite like this one but with a very different outcome.  I have no idea what that will be.  So I will have to decide what to do next when the time comes.  Or rather, when I come to it.
             It is all rather exhilarating actually.

Mamu and Red Snow

            Mamu stood motionless at the hole in the ice. 
            It was a way he had of being invisible.  In fact, under a light snow, perfectly still within and without, he could blend into the white behind him and seem to vanish like a passing thought.  This was one of the talents that made him such a good hunter.  Yet it was strange and perhaps even funny, even to Mamu himself, that hours of careful work would culminate in stillness and invisibility.  All that effort to become one with nothing.  But as his people always said, the ice was full of quiet laughter.
            Mamu, neatly and precisely, had already taken a walrus tusk and added ridges to it to turn it into a rough corkscrew.  With this he had drilled a hole in the ice at a spot forty breaths from the edge of the floe.  Then he used his axe to hack out a circular opening about two feet wide.  The chill blue water lapped slowly against the edge of the hole as he worked on it to form a tiny pool. 
            As the water in his pool lightly froze, Mamu walked further on, probing with his pokestick until it made a slushy sound.  He dug through the top layer of snow to get to the soft mush of ice below, ice that had been compacted by yesterday’s drizzle.  He chopped out a saucer-sized section, sat down cross-legged on the floe and placed the slab in his lap.  With his bare hands, he began to smooth and press the blob of ice into the shape of a lens.  Quickly, skillfully, he blew on his hands and smoothed the curved surface.  Then he flipped it over and repeated the process on the other side.  When he was done, he had a perfect disk, about the size of his own head.  And because it was made of heavy slush ice smoothed over, it was translucent. 
            Mamu walked back to the hole, broke up the thin cold film that had formed over the water, then held the translucent saucer of ice between the hole and the sun.  The bright rays danced through his hand-made lens and focused on the water in the hole.  Although he could not see it, he knew that the focused light would penetrate the thick water and that the seals would notice it as they swam below the floe.  So far from the edge, they would be just ready to come up for air; they would see the light and know there was an airhole there. 
            Mamu went back into stillness and waited.
            He waited for three hours like that, unmoving and still as ice and then, in an instant, a seal poked its nose through and took a deep breathe of clear air.  At that moment, instantly alert and ready, Mamu slammed his hook into the seal’s nose and shouted “Ayah!  Ayah!”  His dogs, lounging near the sled, heard the call and were up in a moment and tugging on the line, pulling away from the hole.  The rope attached to the end of the hook pulled taut and slowly, with Mamu shouting and the dogs straining, they hauled the seal up out of the hole.  It lay there on the ice, breathing mightily from the struggle until Mamu, expertly and calmly, hit it once with his mallet on the soft tissue over the eyes.  Just like that the seal was dead.
            “Forgive me, my cousin,” he said as he deftly removed the hook, “forgive me for my clumsiness.  But you will feed my family for many days and we thank you for this.  In the next life, I pray, that I may be a seal like you, so grand, so proud, and you the clumsy hunter.  May you catch me and feed your own family and in this way will the balance of life be restored.  Squatsisitilla!”
            And it was true.  Mamu ate with his wife Bakuba and his two sons on that night and for many nights after.  They roasted the seal meat over an open fire and seasoned it with salt dried from the ocean.  They used the blood for fuel and the skin for clothing.  As they huddled inside the tent close to the fire, Mamu could hear the dogs outside fighting over some scraps.  And the wind.  And always, always the sounds of the ice shelf creaking and groaning. 
            Laughing, according to the old men and their stories.

            Mamu lived in a timeless world where the pace of life was determined by the ice, by the sea, by the seasons, by the migration of seals and bears.  Outside, in the world at large, it was perhaps sometime in the 24th century, no one knew for sure anymore and Mamu and his people did not care.  As it had been so many times before in its history, the earth was once again in the grip of ice.  It was the Third Ice Age in the time of men and women.  The glacial sheet reached from the polar cap all the way down well past the border of Canada. 
            Mamu and his tribe lived at the very edge of that glacier where the freeze met the sea, in an area that was once the shore of a state called Connecticut.  But now the land was buried under the ice, which broke up into slowly drifting floes at a mass of water long ago called Long Island Sound.  Mamu and his people knew nothing of these matters of name and place.  They called the area simply the place, and the body of water our water, and the region beyond their hunting grounds the other place
            They hunted and lived and told stories and wondered about the way of things in the world.  They were the descendents, after all, of people who had left the industrialized world, who knew the ice was coming, and who turned their backs on civilization.  Mamu was the fourth generation after the first ones, the ones who left the cities and the grid behind and returned to a purer life.  It was just in time to learn to live in the natural world again, now that that world had reclaimed itself. 
            And Mamu loved his life and would not have traded it for any of the remnants of the technological world that was still left.  But then that sound came cracking through the wind and the dream went splintering. 
            Mamu heard it one morning and knew instantly that it was not the ice laughing.  It was a familiar sound, one that he had only heard a few times before.  Like when the safaris came.  Rich folks who still lived in cities in the south still came up to the ice to hunt.  These were sloppy men, fidgety men, who knew nothing of the balance of life.  They shot their prey from great distances, took the pelts and left the carcasses, cared nothing for the souls of the dead.  Did not even eat their kill.  Mamu hated these men for their carelessness and the moment he heard that gunshot, he knew in the soft within his heart that one of them had just shattered his stillness forever.
            Mamu gulped for breath as he ran, ran, and ran towards his dogs.  He had left them a good quarter of a mile from the tent, knowing they would be safer there if the floe began to break up.  But as he got closer to them he could see that something was wrong.  They were not huddled as usual but jittery and restless and tugging at their leashes.  In three more paces he could see the burgundy stain spreading slowly like blood in ice. 
But the huskies were all there, all eight of them, and it was not until Mamu came right up to them that he could see what had happened.
            “Oh no!  No!” he shouted, not able to take in the vision in front of him.  For there lying in the snow, lifeless, lustless, was his guard dog, his beloved Red Snow.

            Mamu could not believe his eyes.  He lunged on top of her, bellowing and sobbing, and tried to hug her back into existence.  He kissed her eyes, tugged at her thick fur, screamed to the stars to help him, but it was no use.  Red Snow had been shot.  Her body lay there like so much carrion and it was a very long time, as his wife and sons caught up with him, until he was able to quiet himself and sit and stroke her fur and accept what had happened.
            Red Snow had not been an ordinary sled dog.  Not a huskie like the others; she was a Chow, a kind of dog originally bred in China as a temple guard.  Thick reddish fur covered her strong frame and while the huskies huddled to keep warm, Red Snow would sit off by herself near Mamu but always facing away, protecting him from whatever was out there.  Her face was full and proud and her eyes round as black moons, her tongue was black too and it felt like warm snow.  On short treks she stayed near the sled but on long ones, she rode in it like a princess.  Mamu trusted his huskies but he entrusted his life to Red Snow and when he dreamed that night it was of her, her round brown eyes and her handsome snout, and he wished above all else that he could nuzzle under the thick fur of her throat and hide there from the evil in the world.
            Before dawn, he watched the sparks from the pyre rise into the sky and cried through his tears: “Oh Brother Moon, open your arms that encircle the whole wide world, and accept the spirit of my beloved Red Snow, my friend and guardian.”
            But later that morning, he was alone in his own skin and did not know how he would bear this, or for how long.
            Days later Mamu, over his grief barely enough to wander to the village for supplies, overheard something that nabbed his attention.  A guide, one of the people who led the safaris, was talking about a man who had just killed some bears at the edge of the ice.  Mamu’s people hated these strangers but they paid well for guides who would take them on expeditions.  They were not hunters, these men.  They were idlers, playboys, out on a lark.  They killed for skins, not to keep them warm but as mementos.  Black bears that had migrated to the edge of the ice and learned to survive were their prey and they wore their bearskin coats to show their courage in a world with none.  But it was the kind of courage that Mamu equated with cowardice. 
            Mamu badgered the man with questions, almost to point of insult, but eventually got his answer.  The group had indeed been hunting in the area near Mamu’s encampment and in the morning one of them went off to hunt by himself.  When he returned he boasted of killing a red bear but the ice had forced him back before he could claim it.  There was no red bear in the place and Mamu knew that this man, this brutal man, had killed his beloved Red Snow.
            There was no word for revenge in Mamu’s language, there was no sense of it.  Nor of retribution, of reprisal, of vengeance.  Theirs was a simple language, the words of which were meant to connect not destroy.  But the word squatsisitilla, restoring the natural balance, Mamu knew very well.
            With great effort, and not a little coercion by agreeing to give the guide an extra pelt, Mamu found the name of the man who had killed his dog.  He said the name over and over as he tried to memorize it and the sounds felt odd in his mouth.  Even so, he knew at that moment what he had to do.  He would visit this man and talk to him.  He would set things right again and restore the balance of life.  Mamu knew he could not bring Red Snow back, but in restoring everything to its quiet rhythms, he would ease the passage of her soul into the sky.
            “John Warner,” he said over and over.  “John Warner of Manhattan.”

            The nights were dark in that time of ice, the waters cold, and the land a frozen skin over the warm earth.  But Manhattan, the jeweled city, still sparkled and survived.  Manhattan was now at the very edge of the ice, the far point of civilization.  Only 100 miles north, the freeze covered everything but the inhabitants of the city kept themselves warm before their mistscreens and their mediapods.
            Mamu packed his kayak, kissed and hugged his wife and sons, and coasted down the shore towards New York City.  The trip took three days as he tested the water with his hand to make sure the temperature was not changing, for this would be a sign of going off course.  Kayaking southwest he followed reflections like ghosts leading a wayfarer, the glint of the sun in the day and the sheen of the moon at night.  He barely slept, did not stop to hunt seal, and only ate what he needed to in order to have the energy to paddle.
            Then, watching a bear fishing near the rim, a thought suddenly occurred to him.  What he did next would have been seen as bizarre by his family and friends, but it made perfect sense to him at the time.  It took him a half-mile out of his way and added four hours onto the trip.  But in the end, as he continued the journey, he thought it was a clever decision on his part.
            Soon the stars above were overwhelmed by the universe of lights glowing on the horizon.  He had heard of the bright city, the sparkle city, the city of a billion stars, but he had never been there before.  Mamu had never ventured far from the floe on which he had been born.  And so as the skytappers and sweepways and vertical trams of Manhattan rose up in the distance, he felt a mix of awe and fear and, in his tininess, doubt about whether he would be able to do what he knew he had to do.
            Following an inner sense of energy that came from years of tracking packs of seal, Mamu paddled the waterways lacing through the landmass and eventually came to the shore of the brightest part of the city.  He passed under an immense bridge, far larger than the ice bridges of the north, and stowed his kayak at the foot of it next to a tall tower.  Then taking his pack and his spear and axe, he wandered through the streets of the city.  What he was looking for he could not have explained.  How was he to find a single man – this John Warner – in the midst of all that chaos, all those people?  Yet Mamu was a hunter who followed his intuitions and he felt certain that his goal would reveal itself in time.  Patience, he told himself, was the lens, and stubbornness the hook.
            And what did they make of him, these sturdy New Yorkers who had survived the attack and the blast and the storm and the ice?  Nothing much.  He was just another bundled trekker making his way through the challenges of the streets.  Yes he was holding a spear but stranger things were seen in New York and no one thought twice about it.

            The city in the winter, dusted with snow, has always been magic to behold.  Lovers love there and songwriters weave their melodies and even those trudging in the street do so with a secret delight.  Out-of-towners have thought that New Yorkers live exasperated lives but they mistake vigor for distress.  Everyone Mamu passed was on the way from there and there and in this way the city, even in the grip of the chill, was a lesson in grit and verve.
            But this was all quite new to Mamu and utterly overwhelming.  So many structures and people and vehicles and motion and action and interaction.  He had heard of buildings and cars and trams and all sorts of things; news of the industrial world reached his village but was greeted with bemusement, never envy.  Still, to be there in the middle of it was quite a different thing.  It struck him as a world spinning out of control.
And the sounds!  Not a moment of silence but instead a storm of language and noise.  Mamu spoke no English at all.  His tongue was a mix of Inuit and pigeon and French and noram, run through the mixer of time and slang and the need to be understood.  There were remnants of words in common with the language of the city, but he might just as well have been born on one of the lonely moons of Jupiter to understand it.
            Eventually, after a half-day trek and deep in the middle of the night, Mamu came to the place he had been searching for without knowing it.  It was perfect.  A long wide valley, utterly flat with ice, right in the middle of a vast ring of buildings like cliffs all around.  This was the ideal place for him to camp. 
            Mamu did not know this but what he had found was Central Park, encased in a permanent layer of snow, and there at the south end he erected his tent and set up his fire.  He might not be able to locate John Warner, but surely someone in one of those cliff dwellings would see his fire there in the midst and notice him.  That was the first step.  But how to attract his prey?  The answer to this had occurred to Mamu during the journey along the shore when he noticed the fishing bear.  Just like the seals that had to come up for air, so this man would have to reveal himself for something he wanted.  Not air perhaps but skins.  Bearskins.  Mamu took the pelt of the bear he had killed and carefully laid it out on the ice beside the fire.

            You would think that a native iceman camped out in Central Park with a tent, a fire, and a bearskin rug might attract the attention of the police, the media, or at least the local news.  But it did not really, or at least not with any sense of emergency.  Ice or no ice, this was still New York after all, where models wore bikinis in the winter and camels posed for ads before the holidays.  Mamu was simply assumed to be some kind of promotional event or movie shoot and the biggest issue, the open fire, was resolved when day came and he put it out.
            As he stood there before the tent though, doubt filled Mamu’s thoughts.  Was he a fool?  Was he mad?  What was he hoping would happen?  Had his pride clouded his plans?   He closed his eyes and felt a dead wind within the wind, which was nothing less than the storm of grief still inside him.  But then, floating in his imagination, was that face, her face with the round black eyes and the red fur all around.  As though she were looking right at him, the mask stripped bare, knowing him and all that he felt.  He inadvertently reached out to touch her muzzle, the soft bag of skin below her chin, the cool nose, but touched nothing instead. 
            Yet all the while, one person was taking notice.  One man among all those cliff dwellers.  Because Mamu’s intuition had been right from the start.  John Warner lived in one of the largest mansions in the city, the top five floors of a building once known as the Dakota.  It towered over Central Park and gave him an unobstructed view of life in the park, the city, and perhaps even all the way to Europe on clear days.  Something as small as Mamu would not normally have made a dent in Warner’s consciousness; he was a man of big appetites, big adventures, big money.  Warner was not a thinker but even so he was a great fan of Schopenhauer, at least in his own reading.  The world is my idea…and so everyone else can go to hell.
            But it just so happened that he was testing out a new hydroscope to see if the advertising was true, that you really could count the pores on the face of a woman a full dream away.  Amazed by its power, Warner moved the scope around until a strange sight came into view.  It was a thickly built man in a skincoat standing perfectly still before tent.  Right there down below in Central Park.  How weird!  And there on the ice before him was a bear skin, a big one.  This must be one of the traders from the north, he thought, a man with enough gumption to come all the way into Manhattan to trade.  A man, in other words, that Warner respected.  Someone with ambition.
            Knowing he would be able to get the skin from this trader, because getting what he wanted was all that Warner knew, he sent one of his assistants down to the park to lead the fellow, and his skin, back up to the apartment.

            Mamu had no idea what the man standing in front of him was saying, why he was pointing, or how he could possibly stay warm in that thin cover he was wearing.  Even when he heard the name John Warner he did not understand it at first.  It was not until he himself said it, and the other man nodded, that he knew his plan had worked.
            The walk to the building at the edge of the valley, the trip up the elevator, and the apartment itself were all a blur to Mamu.  Glossy surfaces seemed to bounce and reflect every dint of light until you were blinded by it all.  But he tried to keep his steadiness for he knew he was finally at the end of his long journey.
            Warner was standing in front of the window when the assistant ushered Mamu in.  He was an amazingly tall, gruff looking man, with huge hands.  And his manner was anything but quiet.  A flood of words came out of Warner’s mouth which were like icicles to Mamu but he understood instantly that Warner wanted the skin.
            Mamu put it down onto the floor and stared at Warner, as still as ice and stone silent.  Warner, fed up at this mute iceman in his high-tech lair, finally bellowed: “ Well what the hell do you want for it?”  Mamu did not understand that either but from the tone he guessed the meaning.  He gathered himself up to his full small height, straightened his back, and tried to force all his rage into his steady glare.  Then he pounded the floor with his spear once.
            “I am Mamu the hunter,” he said, trying not to waver.  When there was no reaction, he banged the spear on the floor again.  “I am Mamu, son of Nuk, great-great-grandson of the first of the returned men.  And you…you are nothing.  You are less than nothing.  You are below the even the krill that feed the whales.”
            Another pound on the floor with the spear, but Warner did not budge, did not say a word.   In his view there was merely a ridiculously small fellow with a round, expressionless face standing in his office holding a pole.  And the words, of course, were complete jibberish.  It was like some kind of wacko joke being played for his birthday.  Except that it was not his birthday.  Warner might have laughed but the man before him was so intense in his demeanor that he thought for a moment that this might actually not be someone’s gag.
             “It is you that I have come for,” Mamu said.  “You, who took the life of my Red Snow, beloved of my family.  Red Snow, do you understand?  My guardian, my friend.  Whose name even now is echoed in the sky.”
            Warner almost laughed but the tension in the air would not support it.  What on earth was this iceman babbling about?
            “You, you did this.  My Red Snow!  The noblest creature that ever walked the ice and you killed her.  How dare you,” Mamu said and this time he stomped the spear with such force that it actually cracked one of the Italianate tiles.
            It was then that Warner suddenly realized that this absurd fellow in his Eskimo costume might actually cause him harm.  He was thinking about whether to go for the gun he kept in his desk or the ceremonial sword on the wall when Mamu slowly and steadily lifted up this spear and pointed it directly at Warner’s heart.  The point on the tip hung perfectly in the air and Warner only then saw that there really was a sharp blade on the end and he knew that any move could be his last.
            “Now you shall pay,” Mamu said bluntly.  ”You will pay for this crime.  Pay with your life just as you took that of my Red Snow.” 
            He moved the spear forward in the air a few inches until it almost touched Warner’s chest.  It was remarkably steady there, not even a hint of motion.  During that pause, Warner though he might be spared.  But Mamu was only gathering his courage for what he knew must be done.
            “I kill you now,” he said, not moving the spear.  “I do this now for my Red Snow!  From now on you are dead.  I take your life in exchange for hers.  As the sun moves, and the sea shines, and the otters bark…you are dead for your misdeed.  From this day forward, you are dead.  Do you hear me?  Do you understand me?  I declare it!  I Mamu, son of Nuk, now take your life.”
            Warner blinked once in utter confusion but Mamu took that to be a sign of understanding and at that he lowered the spear, shook his head once as if to signal the end, pounded the floor for the last time, and turned and walked out of the room, the apartment, the building.  Warner, stunned and confused, watched him leave without relief or fear or much of anything.  In fact he had absolutely no sense of what to feel or think.  What had just happened, he wondered, but no answer came.
            Outside, it was snowing again and Mamu opened his mouth to catch some flakes on his tongue.  They tasted like the middle of the winter with a robust Spring to come.  A large flake fell onto his cheek and melted there and he knew that Red Snow in the sky was thanking him with her tears for avenging her.  The man who killed her was himself dead.  Perhaps not now, not tomorrow, not even for many years.  But some time – in the timeless time that is all that matters  – this man would die.  There was no question about it.  And whenever that was and for whatever cause, he would do so knowing the reason for his death.  Though it be in the next few moments or at the end of a long and tiring existence…he would know that he was losing his life for the one he took.
            Mamu felt a quiet inside that he knew was the touch of his beloved.  And he trudged north, knowing he would dream of Red Snow each night along the dark shore until he returned to his home and heard the ice laughing once again.