Lux Perpetua: Home
- by astranavigo
- Posted on 10 March, 2010
“No time like the present,” he thought. He took the handheld from his satchel, and pressed the first button.Pressing the last one, he stepped through.
He materialized, not in his lab, but in a rather strange-looking building. It was more like a – warehouse? – than a laboratory; his machine, a little the worse for what appeared to be age, was sitting in a corner. He marveled that the power was still on; the floor was dusty, and the control-panel had a cover over it.
Within a few seconds, two men walked into the room. Their clothing was somewhat-different than what he’d considered ‘modern’, but not terribly so.
The first one spoke. “Where did you come from?”
Jamieson looked at their hands and belts. No weapons – at least, none that he could identify.
“From the past,” he said. It was only then that he realized that the conversation had begun and was continuing in Latin.
The elder of the two grew wide-eyed. “You are – the Viator?”
Jamieson smiled. “I could be considered thus. I built this machine. Tell me – what is the date?”
“It is now the year 2,798, from the founding of the Republic. My name is Titus. My associate’s name is Lucas. We are from the Collegium Boreooccidentalis. We – and those for two generations before us – have kept your machine running constantly in anticipation of your return.”
Rome ruled the world.
“Come with us,” said the older man.
Jamieson walked with the two out into the sunlight. His first suspicions were correct. This was a warehouse; actually an archeological repository. They were in a large courtyard, with expansive walking-paths and large white buildings, devoid of the ornamentation from the earlier eras of his travels.
Overhead, what appeared to be a train moved silently – there was no motive power present, and no support mechanism. Jamieson’s mouth must have been open, because the younger man said, “It’s our main means of transportation. It’s called a GravTrain.”
Jamieson snickered. He thought it sounded far too much like a dog-food that was popular when he was young.
“Is something funny?” The older man looked puzzled.
“No, not at all. It’s just that there are many things which don’t translate well from my prior language.”
“There are many who will want to study your memories; your knowledge of What Was, and especially your language.”
Jamieson smiled. True research.
“There is much I’d like to know in return. For example, you must have kept my machine running from the time you discovered it. When was that?”
“This part of NovaRoma was explored in the Year 1873AUC. The learned men who accompanied the journey down the NovaTiber journeyed north, and discovered your machine quite by accident.
It was fortunate that the building remained intact – the fact that it was in a basement certainly helped. They realized immediately that it had some value to a former civilization, and it was preserved first by the decree of the Governor, and then by the Emperor himself.”
The elder man continued, “We could not adequately translate the language – and although we believed it to be a hybridized form of the languages spoken by the Allemeni, the Britons, and the Saxons, those languages died out some 1,800 years ago, and there were no records.”
Jamieson sucked wind. He was here by blind luck.
“So, when did you figure out what it was?”, said Jamieson.
“As time went on, our technology improved. We were capable of understanding the physics of the thing only recently – within the past two hundred years. It took another hundred to develop a power-source which would operate it. Did you really run everything on hydrocarbon-based electricity?”
“Well, yes – we did.” Jamieson looked more and more incredulous. “What is your main power source here?”
“We operate most things from methane and hydrogen. We discovered back about 1,000 years ago that hydrocarbons were destroying our breathable air, so hydrocarbons as fuel were banned, along with fireplaces, as we were beginning to denude our forests. It just made sense to look for something else.”
They arrived at a building where there were long tables and staff scurrying about, carrying trays of food. A communal dining-room, much like the one at the Institute.
Over a lunch which was decidedly Mediterranean, Jamieson learned that the Imperium had developed over the years into a benevolent-dictatorship of sorts; that electrically-generated hydrogen or biomass-methane powered nearly everything – but that the native peoples of North America had been exterminated by the legions and smallpox. There were remnants of artifacts in some of the museums, but that was it. Rome and resistant cultures never got along; cultures which could be assimilated, were.
“Some things never change,” Jamieson thought.
After registering as a citizen of NovaRoma (anyone living within their borders were citizens; it was true in his world courtesy of Caracalla, and it was true here, also), he was shown to temporary quarters. He’d be assigned a home later.
“Yes. The Imperium determines where everyone will live.”
Jamieson’s face froze. He asked the question that had been on his mind since arrival: “What about personal freedom?”
His two hosts looked confused. “What?”, said the older man.
The younger one, who’d done a bit more study in philosophy, said “Freedom, as you call it, is allowed only to the extent that it does not interfere with the common good. So said Aurelius; so we live today.” That last statement sounded like rote.
“I see.”, said Jamieson. He turned to walk with the two men, signaling that this conversation was over.
“Here we are.”, said the older man. “We will see you on the morrow.”
Jamieson walked through an expansive doorway. He was greeted immediately by another man; almost a carbon-copy of Old Titus, as Jamieson was starting to call him mentally. “We’ve been expecting you! Come this way.”
Jamieson walked with the man. “You’ll get your registration-cell tomorrow,” said the Caretaker, tapping a slight bump on his wrist. “I’ll check you in and out here myself tonight. Breakfast is at the third hour. Don’t be late.” He showed Jamieson to the lift; a noiseless apparatus which appeared not unlike the elevators he’d used in his old life.
“Old life,” thought Jamieson.
He had much to learn.
Breakfast was a rather bland porridge-concoction; he’d inquired about meat, and was told that it was not available during breakfast for medical reasons. Somehow, the building’s Caretaker’s tone was much like that of a principal scolding a schoolboy.
Jamieson learned more that morning and into the afternoon.
Population was strictly controlled. Permits – exhaustive amounts of paper – had to be generated before a couple could have a child. Asia had overpopulated itself, and was suffering from the inevitable after effects – in fact, the Imperium was considering invading China to bring Asia into its orbit, and put an end to their resource-consumption.
Food was rationed – no one was hungry; no one was fat. There was no such thing as food prepared in the home, save for that for very young children – literally, homes and apartments didn’t have extensive kitchens – save for a very handful of people who were wealthy. “Wealth” was a relative term, also – there weren’t the new-reality versions of Gates or Buffet running around.
On balance, Jamieson felt better than he had in a long time – everyone walked everywhere, and when the weather turned bad, there was the Underground – a subterranean version of the GravTrain (that term still made him laugh) he’d seen earlier.
The train-in-the-sky was a marvel, really – each car was brought down to the platform, loaded, then reelevated and connected to the powered-engine. The procedure was reversed when it got where it was going – and it went everywhere in this “New Seattle” (as Jamieson called it to himself). It was certainly better than the old Monorail.
Later that afternoon, he walked with Lucas, the younger man, in an expansive park which was roughly where downtown Seattle would have been.
The first thing he noticed were the songbirds.
They were everywhere; in the trees; on the expansive lawns; congregating near the ponds. Having not logged the forests, and having not introduced pollution into the environment, the park was alive with birds. Hummingbirds darted everywhere, looking for flowers; Grosbeaks and Orioles took wing from tree to tree; species which were extinct in Jamieson’s other reality.
They continued walking, and discussing the way things were. There was, for instance, no slavery in the Imperium – they’d abolished it centuries ago as their technology improved. Assimilating the slaves as productive wage-earners was the impetus for the hybrid socialist/monetarist system they now ‘enjoyed’.
Every city had its own amphitheatre (most had several, actually), and while gladiatorial games were an embarrassment of the past, they now hosted everything from music and theatre to a form of football.
There was much to like about this new, clean place. But a few things were missing.
“Know what I miss?”, said Jamieson. “A burger.”
“A what?”, said Lucas.
“A burger. Meat. Onions. Tomatoes.”
“I can’t imagine that would be good for you, sir.” Lucas was a bit appalled.
“I also miss potato chips. More than I thought I would.”
“I have never heard of such things, Sir. How are they made?”
Jamieson began by telling Lucas about the concept of a burger-stand, when they reached the western end of the park. What got Jamieson’s attention was the screaming.
He looked to his left, and saw a man in a set of stocks; his head and hands protruding through the holes in the thick wood.
He was being flogged.
Jamieson froze. “What is all this?”
Lucas began to explain. “You must understand. From what you’ve told us about your own reality, and from what we experienced as an Imperium in the Early Days, the Law was a convoluted mess. Appeals, endless arguments, other such. Now, we have three punishments for any crime save murder, rape, or treason. There aren’t many real crimes – we leave interpersonal relationships alone unless they involve money. This man likely either stole something or defrauded someone. He’s getting ten lashes.”
Almost on cue, the man in the stocks gargled his next scream, then vomited copiously. This explained why there was a fence in front of the stocks to keep the crowd at a distance.
Parents had their children with them – as an object-lesson and behavioral influence, no doubt. Other people either gasped or cheered at the man’s loss of both control and personal dignity.
“We find that allowing the public to witness corporal punishment has a deterrent effect,” said Lucas.
Jamieson continued to walk; the sunset beckoned, and what would have been called Puget Sound in his time was beautiful on a late summer day, as this was.
Lucas continued, “A second offence of any sort is met by a sentence of twenty-five lashes.”
“What do they do for a third? Kill him?” Jamieson was incredulous.
“Oh, no, sir! We abolished the death penalty back in 2200AUC. That we found had no deterrent effect. The final sentence is Transportation.”
“Transportation?” Jamieson was envisioning prison ships to Australia – or whatever they called it now.
“Yes. There are several colonies, in the center of NovaRoma, where the land is nice and flat. They’re guarded by the trackless wastes; we don’t even really need legions to guard them, although there’s a garrison near each one.”
“And what do these ‘colonies’ do?”
“They house troublemakers,” said Lucas. “The inmates run the colonies. The average newcomer lives about a month, unless they have a special skill that can be used to support the colony – metalworking, gardening, farming, and the like. Most city-dwellers don’t last long there.”
“How long do these sentences last?”, asked Jamieson, fearing the worst.
“For as long as they live.”, said Lucas. “We’ve determined that changing people’s behavior is usually not possible. The best way to deal with such is to isolate people from society who have exhibited a lack of either ability or desire to live within it.”
“I wonder what they do with the physically or mentally challenged,” thought Jamieson.
Later, in his room, Jamieson reflected on what he’d learned.
He’d been right – and wrong. Just how that could be was beyond him, but he was living in a reality which flogged people in public for stealing grapes, and sent them to a – penal colony? – for a third offense, no matter how small.
There was, on balance, very little crime – in fact, NovaRoma (what in his world had been the United States, Canada, and the northern part of Mexico) hadn’t seen a murder in over a year, and lesser crimes were not all that common – not with the stocks or a trip to the center of the continent awaiting anyone who fell out of line. There was no graffiti, no littering, no broken windows, no theft.
You ate what was available in the communal dining rooms – and, Jamieson had to admit – it was good – but while everyone was clean, healthy, and well-fed, there was no freedom of choice. No drug-abuse; cholesterol; tobacco – no alcohol save wine and beer.
No one smoked. There were no butts on the sidewalks; no ‘smoking or non smoking’ – and virtually no lung disease. Cancer was 1/10th of what it had been in his world.
Everyone had a piece of the pie; the Imperium had discovered long ago that this – and not repression – was the best way to guarantee order. Give everyone what they need, and trouble vanishes.
In truth, if this wasn’t the best way to live in harmony with nature and the environment – and to care for large groups of people the best way possible – it was close. Creativity was encouraged – indeed; it thrived here and in all of the other corners of the Empire (the inevitable result of not having to worry about your next meal); Roman commerce brought goods from all over the known world to this little corner of what had been North America- and life was good, indeed.
There was something missing, though.
The freedom to be a fool.
There were no street-performers. No mad preachers with ‘the end is near’ on a sandwich-board. No fool-kids on skateboards with Moms telling them that they’d ‘break their necks, someday’. Even entertainment was prescribed (or proscribed) by the Imperium.
“Not everyone is an intellectual,” thought Jamieson. “Not everyone wants order.”
That, as he analyzed it, was the other thing he missed.
The delightful chaos of life.
“What have I done?”, he thought. “What have I done?”
The next time Jamieson awoke, he wasn’t in NovaRoma. He was fighting the effects of anaesthetic. The nurse fetched a police-detective, who was just down the hall.
“Yeah,” said Jamieson, still sodden with sleep.
“I’m Detective Knudson of the Seattle P.D.” Knudson showed Jamieson a badge, which he didn’t bother to read – it wouldn’t have been any use, anyway, and this Knudson-fellow couldn’t have gotten past the door unless he’d been secured at the front-desk, anyhow.
“I suppose you want to know why Kelso shot me.”
“That’d be a good first step. Next, I’d like you to tell me where we can find him.”
Jamieson laughed – and winced; his shoulder reminding him that a 9MM had shattered his shoulderblade a few hours before. He was still trying to recover from the dream, also.
“Kelso’s likely in plain sight. Not one to do this sort of thing – he’s probably home, waiting for you, if he’s anywhere. Maybe down by the water, watching the tugs come through the locks, or up at Seattle Center, wishing for the Future We Never Had. Have you tried his office?” Jamieson was starting to feel something else – irritation and anger.
“Dr. Jamieson, that’s the odd thing. We’ve looked everywhere – and I mean everywhere. Dr. Kelso is gone. Not just missing – gone. We were sort of wondering if you knew if he had any enemies – because his wallet, keys – everything, in fact – are right where he left them.”
“That son-of-a-bitch,” muttered Jamieson.
“Come again?’, said Knudson.
“That son-of-a-BITCH!” This time, Jamieson was forceful; shouting almost. “He went and DID it!”
The nurse was there by this time; gently restraining Jamieson, who could go nowhere in any event.
“Now, Doctor,” she said, the last word coming hard for her – she viewed Jamieson and his ilk as not-really-doctors; not the kind she respected, anyway – “You’ll pull your stitches; that collarbone is held together with wire and pins – you’ll be lucky to use your arm in six months, let alone any time soon.”
Jamieson sank back to the pillow, realizing his position was hopeless.
Knudson continued, “We spoke to one of your colleagues, a fellow named Andrew–”
“Carlson Andrew, yes”, said Jamieson, impatient now.
“Well, Dr. Andrew told me some pretty interesting things about your work over at the University,” said Knudson.
“Go on.” Jamieson’s voice was flat. Either the detective knew, in which case he’d have to explain everything (to the chagrin of his backers, who wanted the technology for themselves), or he didn’t, in which case he had a pretty good idea what his next move would be — in a day; six months; ten years – it didn’t matter….
“Yes. Andrew told me you were working on a – time machine.” Detective Knudsen could barely hold his snicker-smile from his face.
Jamieson paused. “What the hell”, he thought. “Might as well see what his face does next.”
“That’s correct, Detective.”
Knudson’s smirk froze, then turned to stone. “You are kidding, right?”
“No, Detective. I’m not.” Jamieson was equally stoic.
“Christ!”, said Knudson. “You mean that Dr. Kelso—“ he flipped through his notes, “—could have used this thing and disappeared like–” He let his words freeze in midair; colder than the turn of the conversation.
“Yes”, said Jamieson, locking eyes with Detective Knudson. “He could.”
Knudson got up and quickly walked out the door. Jamieson could hear muffled conversation between he and the nurse; voices getting louder as both sides stood their ground.
Knudson walked back in with Dr. Noyes.
“We have to find a way to get you on your feet, and quickly”, said Knudson.
“What could be funny now?”, said Knudson.
“You don’t understand. At all.” Jamieson allowed the smile to ease from his face, then said, “Detective, tear a piece of paper out of your notebook there.”
Knudson did so. “What do you want me to do with it?”
“Sit.” Jamieson nodded to the seats at the side of his bed. Dr. Noyes sat beside Detective Knudson.
“What you’re holding is a graphic representation of the universal-timeline, Detective. What my ‘machine’ does is very simple – it creates two points, both in space and time. One is here-and-now; the other is then-and-there.”
He waited for Knudson and Noyes to grasp this, then continued. “Now, take your pen. Make a mark at any point on the paper. Then, make another mark at any other point.”
Knudson did so; then looked intently at Jamieson.
“Now, hold the paper together until the two points meet.”
Knudson did so, his eyes widening. “We ‘jump’ at that point, Detective. And, before you ask the question – yes – it really is that simple.”
“That explains the use of electricity by your facility,” said Knudson.
“I can see you’ve done some of your homework well, Detective. Now, I’m going to give you some very clear instructions. I want you to write these down; read them back to me, then go find Dr. Andrew to help you.” He spent the next half-hour instructing Detective Knudson in the operation of the machine.
“Now, I’m going to tell you something else. Listen carefully, because I will only say this once.” He paused to allow the words to sink in.
“There are some people who have funded this operation who would be very, very disappointed in what I’ve just done and said. For that reason, the information I’ve just given you must never leave this room in your case, Doctor, and must never go any farther than Andrew, in your case, Detective. If you do, both of you will be dead in a week, and likely your families as well. Do you understand?”
Detective Knudson froze, then nodded, slowly.
“Good. Now, go find Andrew, and come back when you have finished.”
Knudson didn’t like being told what to do by a civilian. He started to object; Jamieson cut him off.
“Detective – I can appreciate your situation – you’re usually in charge of such things. Let me quite assure you that this is far beyond your pay-grade and far beyond your scope of authority. Please just do as I’ve requested, and then come right back here. I’ll assure you’ll see then that I’m cooperating fully, and then some, with your investigation.”
Suddenly tired, Jamieson relaxed fully on his pillow. In a moment he was asleep.
About an hour later, he was nudged awake by the detective.
“Dr. Andrew and I obtained what you wanted. It’s here.” Knudson placed a piece of paper in front of Jamieson’s face to read.
“Pull that back about four inches, will you?”, said Jamieson. Focusing, he read the numbers on the page, along with some other data. He smiled.
“What is this, Doctor Jamieson?”
“It’s the proof I needed, Detective.”
“Suppose you tell me what I need to know, Doctor?”
“Detective, that information is proof that the machine was used, as I had intended to use it, although to a different location and different point in time. It’s proof that Dr. Kelso was the one who used it, and it’s proof that you will never find Dr. Kelso unless you are fully willing to wait for me to heal.”
“We don’t have that kind of time, Doctor. He could be anywhere.”
Jamieson laughed. His face told Jamieson that Knudson couldn’t see what was funny at all.
“Detective, remember my little paper-analogy about time travel?”
“Dear Dr. Kelso forgot one thing. That’s what this information also proves. He forgot to erase his coordinates. That means he intends to come back. That also means he’s left the relative equivalent of a paper-trail – because it works both ways; what he can find, we can use.”
Jamieson continued, as if in a classroom. “You see, it’s all relative. He could be gone half a lifetime – but the absolutes are still in the machine. We can go find him, right where he materialized, a moment after he does so. We can even show up five minutes beforehand and have the handcuffs ready, or whatever you folks do nowadays.”
He finished, half-laughing, “No, Detective – we don’t have to rush. If this shoulder takes six months to heal properly, we have six months.”
“We have all the time in the world.”
“I’m confused, Doctor Jamieson.” Detective Knudson was standing at Jamieson’s bedside a week later, still with his notepad; still puzzled.
Jamieson awoke from a half-sleep. His shoulderblade was knitting up well, but he’d never go through a metal-detector again without sounding all kinds of alarms – and since the PDA (patient-delivered anaesthetic) hadn’t yet taken full effect that morning, he had this dull ache in his shoulder and back.
“Look”, he began. “I have a hole in my back, and my shoulderblade looks like a cowpattie after a heatwave. I’ve got a golf-ball sized hole in my chest. They both hurt like hell. So sit down and tell me what’s on your mind, or shut up and get out – but do one or the other, before the morphine kicks in.”
Knudson didn’t argue. He saw the pain in the other man’s eyes.
“Doctor, my confusion stems from the fact that Doctor Kelso could also, it seems, come back any time he chose – am I right?”
“Yes – and no. Remember those coordinates in the machine?”
“Well, yes.” Knudson waited, patiently.
“They’re the only ‘absolute’ in the equation, so to speak. We know exactly when he’s coming back.”
“And that’s my other question, Doctor – I waited until now to ask you, because I thought your mind would be clearer. Why would he choose a date fifty years in the future?”
“Because he was taking the same gamble that I would have, Detective. The gamble that the machine would still be here – and that the heat would have died down. You see, he meant for me to die – not wind up here.”
“But there’s no statute of limitations on murder, Doctor Jamieson.”
“Yes – but how many cases have you seen in the news – someone escapes from prison fifty years earlier for a heinous murder – and they’re found living in a suburban neighborhood after having gone straight; married, raised a family–”
Knudson cut him off. “But they didn’t use time machines to do it!” He realized how surreal that comment sounded – but there were many things which he was struggling to absorb about this case.
“No, they didn’t. But still – how many of those cases have resulted in a commutation-of-sentence?”
“Most”, admitted Knudson, albeit reluctantly.
“Q.E.D.”, said Jamieson, his voice a bit slurred. Morphine –
“So, you’re saying that we have to wait fifty years to catch this guy?”
“No, Detective. You don’t.”
“Why is that, Doctor?”
“Because you and I are going back – to catch – that sumbitch–”
Jamieson drifted to sleep. Knudson’s eyes were wide.
“I see”, he thought. “I see.”
Astra Navigo-The first thing he noticed were the songbirds – but at what cost?
Good lively dialog this time around, intriguing concept. I’ve always been fascinated at the idea of time travel. I don’t think I’ve ever read your official view on it. You seem rational enough…do you really think such a thing is possible?
Mitch, it depends on who you read.
I’m not a physicist – I’m an historian; so I can’t speak with any certainty. The ‘science’ here in this sci-fi piece is pure plot-device, which (if you’ve read any other time-travel pieces) is the same with every other.
I’ve a hunch – and it’s nothing more than an educated hunch – that it is.
The question I really wanted to raise with this was “What would you do with it? If you could change the past – would you?”
This actually goes to the same plot of one of my favorite movies, “Primer”. Shot down your way (Richardson, Texas) on a $40,000 budget, Shawn Carruth, a local engineer, created a masterpiece along the same lines — the guys who discovered the elements of time-travel were brilliant technically, but moral morons – (if you get a chance to see it, the film’s worth watching, by the way – it won Best Drama at the Sundance Festival against big-budget productions some years ago).
Keep reading — I think you’ll enjoy the conclusion of Jamieson’s odyssey.
Oh yeah Primer is on my to-watch list. In general, I like time travel stories. This was pretty good, look forward to the last one. We usually read stories with noble time travelers…in actuality, the minute human beings learn how to time travel they’ll probably just start raping and pillaging everything they see.
I don’t have an official theory on time travel, but I’ve read about it….part of my mind admits that it is possible, and it would go right along with the perspective that everything happens is still happening somewhere in the expanding universe. That and the multiple earth theories. So it’s possible, even if not probable to be discovered.
Primer is definately one of my top 10 sci-fi favorites and I did notice the nod to it here.
Love the story Will.