We’re pretending it’s December.
Some poor sod’s stuck out there shoveling off the walk, but from what I can hear it’s still coming down pretty steadily.
The aliens did not approve of our cars. One asked, through appendage-gestures and ocular blinks, why our conveyances were so silent. Except, from the way her optical nerve rolled between blinks, a more accurate translation would be “so damn silent.” We were all rather perplexed–sound pollution was taken as seriously by us as light, air, and water pollution. In an effort to show our guests how advanced we were, we’d taken them to the city which was serving as both guinea pig and prototype for the future, the one where every bit of refuse was recycled, every product manufactured in a sustainable way. The one where the streetlamps have, for the most part, been replaced by near-infrared emitters, allowing citizens to either navigate the streets with the aid of infrared-sensitive contact lenses or to admire the night sky in peace. The one with the first airways dedicated to flying cars. The one where every method of transportation, including cars, may not emit an average noise level above 20db.
Surely a race as advanced as these, who traversed the stars in a method we cannot hope to comprehend for many decades, should find the silence commendable, even preferable?
They had not yet mastered the ability to read Human body language (we were the ones expected to bridge the communication gap; after all, they had gone to all the trouble of transporting themselves here) but one of them could tell that we were obviously discomfited. Without further prompting, he twitched his flashily painted tentacles around in a way that demanded attention and launched into one of his increasingly familiar spiels. The gist of it, we gathered, was this:
Such an absence of noise in our conveyances was a hazard to public health and safety. The suppression of noise demonstrated a marked disregard for the wellbeing of our citizens. On his home planet, all conveyances were required to emit some sort of audible identification sequence which allowed both pedestrian citizens and other vehicle operators to avoid injury and dangerous collisions. The thought and care demonstrated by this governmental mandate was the very essence of an enlightened and civilized society.
The languid way in which his third eyelid traversed the expanse of his ocular nerve clearly expressed the point of his oration:
We Humans still had a long way to go.
Today, Shu wanted to make iced tea. She needed somewhere for it to steep. We don’t have a pitcher, so she had to find a substitute.
Her approach for finding a substitute is different than mine, which is why I’m writing about it. The thing she used would never have occurred to me because, apparently, we use a different search terms. Shu went for the object that looks the most like a pitcher; the blender. She assembled the whole thing, blade and all, and stuck a couple tea bags, hot water, and what looks like one and a half lemon’s worth of slices in there.
When voiced my opinion on how ridiculous I thought her substitute was, she pointed out that we didn’t have anything with as much liquid volume capacity as the blender did. I pointed to a Tupperware storage container that was sitting on the counter and which could probably match the blender’s capacity.
Our blender’s pretty small.
She scoffed, and claimed that my solution was counter-intuitive. She wanted a pitcher, so obviously the best solution was that which is most pitcher-like.
When looking for a substitute, I tend to search for something which has a similar purpose. Blenders, in my mind, are not for storage or steeping tea. They are something you use for a few minutes, clean up, and put away. That’s why I’d go for the Tupperware; its purpose is storage, so if I wanted to make a whole bunch of tea and drink some of it later, that’s what I’d reach for.
I think it’s interesting that our solutions were so different, and neither of us could fathom the logic of the other.
I went to the familymart like she told me to. I grabbed a Snapple and got in line, because I didn’t want to be carrying a lot of stuff in case something happened. The cashier was the same one who’d helped me when I was sick. I wasn’t sure, at first, but he recognized me and asked me how I was doing.
I’m getting ahead of myself.
First he asked the women ahead of me in line whether she was interested in donating anything to a local food drive. She was really rude to him, saying that the reason she came to the familymart in the first place was because they didn’t hustle customers for donations the way supermarket chains have started doing and that she was very disappointed in the way this place was being run. The man apologized, but pointed out that they participated in this drive every year to help stock the local soup kitchen, so this was hardly a new development.
She sniffed and left.
After I told him that I was doing much better, he sheepishly summarized his food drive spiel for me. I asked him what sorts of foods they took, and the instant he said mentioned “canned soup” I realized that I did have a contribution to make.
So after I finish writing this I’ll pack up the excess soup cans and run them over to the familymart. It’ll be nice to not have them cluttering up my cabinets, staring at me accusingly for having no intention whatsoever of eating them.
I flipped through the pages I’ve written on so far, and saw a gold star next to the (2011.10.26 2342) one. That is the sort of thing I’d do to mess with myself.
I feel oddly reassured.
If I am in an unfamiliar place, I can either pay attention to where I am going or to the people in my group, but not both. If I am leading, I know that I am depending on myself to find my way back, and I can remember enough that I can retrace my steps with little difficulty.
If someone else is leading, I will follow them and be utterly unaware of my surroundings. If the leader suddenly dropped dead of a heart attack, I would be completely lost.
I feel like the last couple of weeks have been the latter sort. I do what she tells me to, and I don’t much think about it. Now I am. I still don’t see the point in everything she’s made me do, but today I’ve seen some of it.
Because he went to the conference (the one he was so smug about) in October, he was sent to this other one that’s running this week. The first one was a trade conference; the second one only involves members of the company. He had to give a presentation on stuff he’d learned at the trade conference.
If I’d gone to the trade conference, I would have been the one in Dave’s place. This is obvious.
And if I’d gone to the trade conference, I would have been sent to the company conference that’s being held in San Francisco. The one that was interrupted two days ago by an earthquake they’ve pegged at 8.9 on the Richter scale.
If future-me hadn’t told me to pick up Jen’s kid and if I hadn’t gotten sick I would have been caught in what they’re calling the worst earthquake in US history.
This makes me feel ill. Did future-me know Dave was going to be sent? Did future-me know Dave was going to die? Obviously I wasn’t going to die or else I wouldn’t still be alive enough to come back in time and tell myself not to go. Did my hand get crushed? Did Dave die because future-me doesn’t want to have her hand be crushed anymore? Does time-travel even work like that? If she’d gone back and prevented it, shouldn’t her hand have already been healed?
I feel so confused and guilty, and I can’t even tell anyone.
I’ve thought about it some more and I don’t think this was about the hand. I know nothing about time travel, but if avoiding the earthquake was about the hand, the hand would have already been fixed when she visited me. No, wait. If future-me’s hand was fixed, she would have had no reason to come back and have me avoid the conference in the first place, so I would have gone and….
I give up. I don’t think it’s about the hand, though.
I still don’t understand where the soup and the familymart fit in, unless she was trying to get me to donate some food to karmically offset killing Dave which makes no demonstrable sense. So I still don’t know what’s up with the soup, but I feel really worried about it now.
Future-me just explained the point of these assignments. She said it with a smirk on her face, the kind I might have if I spent a few hundred years more marinating in my own cynicism.
The gold star wasn’t there to mess with me. Not in a playful way. Not in the way I thought. I can’t really explain the difference in intent, only that thinking it means one thing makes me smile and the other thing, the real intent, makes my stomach squirm.
Turns out that I was right about this being an experiment, but I’d guessed the wrong one. Sort of. This one’s two-fold. The second part is a secret only she and her partners know. The first part is like that one experiment they did in the 60’s before they had ethics boards to stop them. The one where the test subject was supposed to electrically shock someone (who was really an actor) every time the other person messed up memorizing a vocabulary list, or something. The actor wasn’t really being shocked. And for every mistake, the voltage was increased until the actor “begged” for the person to stop.
Not many people did. Stop, that is. More than half went right up to the highest voltage. Many of them kept going even after the actor went silent. They did it because a person in a lab coat told them it was ok to keep going.
That’s it. They thought they were inflicting increasing amounts of pain on a person who’d told them he had a dodgy heart, but the lab coat told them it was fine. And they continued. Granted, the lab coat was probably pretty persuasive. He had reasons and assurances and threats. And in the end, the majority did not refuse the lab coat’s authority.
Future-me is a lab coat with a secret agenda. Her and her professors’ ethics board let them do these experiments to their past selves because the future self has given informed consent. And that’s when I finally understand why she started this sadistic lecture by saying that she’s not me. I couldn’t ever imagine this world turning into in a world with ethics as screwed up as hers.
Future-me is not future-me. Future-me is parallel-reality-me. She’d grinned mockingly as she explained why I’d gotten a gold star. It was because I’d given the answer they’d searched numerous realities for. It was because I was perfect; I was gold to them.
I’m an odd one, she says. I feel enough of a kinship to her that I trust her motives to be like mine. However, I also feel disassociated enough from her that when she does something I wouldn’t do, I don’t find it jarring. I think of her as being enough like me, but not exactly like me.
Now I know she’s not me, though. And there’s a good chance that I’ll never be her. I told her desperately that her plan, whatever it was, won’t work anymore, because she can’t use me. She said that’s true; I know the whole plan, so I can’t be unwittingly manipulated.
But that’s the beauty of parallel universes, she’d said, eyes widening with delight as she took in my reaction. Now they knew to hit the ones close to this one, because the other-me’s would be similar enough. That’s why I’m still writing this, while she sits next to me and watches. The experiment isn’t quite done, because there’s the second part.
If the first part worked—if I was malleable enough to do what she told me to with little to no objections—then they’d advance to the information-gathering part. In this diary is all the information they need to bend the similar-me’s to their will. Now they know how I think, the sorts of arguments and persuasions and insinuations that I’ll respond to. They can befriend similar-me and the goldilocks similars of the other project members, convince them of the necessity of whatever bullshit they feed them, and then use the goldilocks ones to drain the parallel-Earths dry.
And it’ll be ok because the lab coats said so.
So I know it’s going to work. Similar-me doesn’t know what she’s up against. This particular parallel-me is ruthless. She’ll do anything to get what she wants. Even lie to me. Especially lie to me.
To similar-me, parallel-me will look omnipotent. She is the giver and the taker of life. She will save similar-me from the horror of the San Francisco earthquake and sacrifice an unloved coworker in her stead.
Parallel-me finds this funny. If the illusions of the past few weeks weren’t eroding sickeningly under my feet as I write, I might also find it funny. I’m enough like her, in that respect. Because, when it comes down to it, her instructions had only really changed one thing in this reality; my thoughts. I wouldn’t have gotten a flu vaccine, because I never bother to get a flu vaccine. I wouldn’t have refused to pick Jen’s brat up from daycare, because I never refuse once she’s got her hooks in me. I would still have gotten sick, but this time I would have gone to the closest supermarket and found that they were out of chicken soup because this strain of the flu’s so virulent that a couple schools closed for a few days due to a lack of healthy teachers. So, annoyed, I would have bought one kind of every soup and then decided that I didn’t feel like eating any of them.
I would still have gone to the familymart, this time because I felt betrayed that the supermarket had run out of chicken soup in my time of need. I would still have overheard the rude customer and then donated the soup cans I didn’t want to eat.
Dave would still have died in the earthquake.
She wanted to see whether I would be gullible enough to give her credit for every co-incidence and lucky break I had in my life. She wanted to see if I was willing to believe that she had a big plan, and that every little thing she told me to do was part of it.
She got her answer.
She must be reading what I’m writing out of the corner of her eye, because she sees that I’m getting near the end and she says she’s got a freebie for me.
“You know that flu?” She says. Of course I know. I nod sullenly. My leg throbs from when she kicked me because she thought I was adding too many irrelevancies to this entry. “It’s really virulent, but not very lethal. Well, next season it’s going to join forces with some sort of avian flu, and that fucker’s gonna be deadly.”
She studied the look on my face, and then shrugged. “What’re you so down about? At least we’re not going to make this-you run for president.”
Pissed at this frivolity, this careless regard for all the similar-me’s out there, I searched for something that would kill her buoyantly manic mood. I wanted to find something about her that was absolutely real; something that would wound. Had she ever shown me any real vulnerability? I needed to needle her like she was needling me.
So I asked her what was up with her hand. Her face slackened for a split second, and then she grinned and leaned close.
“What, this?” She asked, waving the mangled thing in my face, eyes glinting demonically. “I could have this fixed any time I want. But I’ve found, it’s great for getting cooperation from you guys. You fixate on it. You imagine all sorts of tragic events in my past and, even more importantly, in your future. You think that I might be a little bit broken, but that’s ok, because obviously I’m going to make sure whatever it is doesn’t happen to you. God and guardian angel all rolled into one.”
Her flippancy should surprise me, but I think I’m past surprise by this point. She pouts a bit when I don’t say anything.
“You’re not gonna ask me how it happened? You don’t wanna know?”
That’s when I jammed my pen into her throat. She was still close enough that I hadn’t had to worry too much about my aim. Now I’m writing with another pen. I know nothing about the anatomy of the neck, but she’s making pretty convincing gurgling sounds as she writhes there on the floor. I’d better search her and check that she doesn’t have any pens of her own that she’s going to stab me with. I think I’ve just proved that I have no problems with stabbing myself with improvised weapons, after all.
Oh good, it sounds like she’s stopped mov—
I wrote a short story the other day. I tend to get ideas for stories–the beginnings–fairly often, but the usually don’t go anywhere. I found the opening line of this one typed into the notepad function on my phone. The more I thought about it, the more it grew….
Game Theory, Part I
My future self just showed up and demanded I write this. Not just this entry; this whole diary. She said I have to start keeping one to keep track of what’s going on, which makes sense as she’d know just how poor my listening comprehension is. Like, she’d tell me to go somewhere at some time at a certakin date, and I’d nod because it’s all very clear, and then she’d leave and I’d realize I don’t remember any of it.
I pointed out that if she doesn’t want any errors, she should write these notes herself, but then she showed me what had happened to her right hand and said it’s better this way, anyway. If it’s all written by me then we’ve got plausible deniability, because what’s more likely; that I’m making this all up or that I’m really a time traveler? That’s right.
So if you’re reading this, just assume this whole thing is a figment of my fevered imagination. Literally fevered, soon enough. My first assignment is to skip getting a flu shot so that I catch something when I pick Jen’s kid up from daycare despite the fact that I told Jen that I wasn’t going to do that anymore.
My future self is such a pushover.
Looks like my listening comprehension sucks even when I’m writing stuff down. I’m supposed to write in here even when I don’t have any instructions. She says it’s to bury any important information amidst a flood of trivialities and then left, which I took to mean there’s more to it and she doesn’t want to answer questions. Important ones like, “I thought the whole point was that no one would believe that this is true. Who are you expecting to read my diary for clues?”
And less important ones, like, “What’re you doing in the future that makes everything in my life now a mere ‘triviality’?”
Actually, I guess that one’s pretty important, too.
THE YEAR.MONTH.DAY 1000 ISH
THIS IS A NOTE TO MYSELF. IM SUPPOSED TO BUY BEEF INSTEAD OF CHICKEN SOUP AT THAT FOOD PLACE That’s not one of the big ones….
Temps 103 take tylnenoul when
I seriously hope she isn’t steering me toward food poisoning, too. I hate beef soup. What the hell? How do I know that note isn’t a result of my fevered imagination? No way to tell. I’d better go now while the Tylenol’s still working. I guess she means the family-run supermarket on Haverford. Except it’s not that super, so I think it fits.
Why’d she visit while I was half unconscious? To make sure I took something for the fever when I woke up again, maybe. I dunno.
Guess I look almost as bad as I feel, cause the guy at the register looked all concerned. I said “Don’t worry, I drove here,” because I thought he was worried about me collapsing or getting hit by a car or something, but from his face I think it was not the answer he wanted. He insisted I buy chicken soup instead of beef, though I insisted back on the beef and in the end I bought more of both than I’ll need for the rest of my life.
I’m not sure how that happened. He was really nice, though, and helped me carry the bag out to my car which was apparently a good move because I kept tipping over trying to carry it into my apartment.
When I got home I found out that I must have called Jen while I was out of it, too, because I found a text on my phone saying that her brats were also sick and she didn’t have time to take care of me. She hastened to add (my words, not hers) that she was very grateful for all my help and she’d be glad to help me some other time. She always says this, but it’s usually not true because she’s got two kids and a husband who’s always being sent away to run business seminars. They both get paid a lot, which is why I told her to get a nanny or something but she insists having strangers look after her kids is creepy. I’d pointed out that the daycare people are strangers, plus all the people running the kindergarten center Haley goes to are, too, but she said that’s different. Yes, I suppose it is; there are more children for a disturbed caretaker to choose from. Hers are beastly enough that they probably won’t get picked.
Unless the disturbed person is a vigilante, set to rid the world of horrible children. Then they’d be first in line.
I didn’t say any of this to Jen, though, both because she’d tell me I’m being morbid and also because I hadn’t thought of it then. If I were a time traveler I could go back in time and tell myself these arguments. I wonder why I haven’t done that yet.
Oh crap soup burning.
Thanks to being sick I only lost three days of work. Hah, only. I’m hilarious. Future me is sadistic, though. I was certain there was some big plan at stake, and now I’ve realized there is; she wants to ruin my career. There is no other explanation for why she’d make me get sick and miss the chance to go to the conference.
Dave’s all smug because he got Ellen’s place. She got sick, too. Looks like something’s going around.
I would have gotten Ellen’s place, if I’d been available. Whenever he sees me Dave gets this smarmy look on his face and asks me if I’m feeling better. I overheard him talking to Shelly and realized that he thinks I wasn’t actually sick, that I was just using the “seasonal allergies” I had on Monday as an excuse to take sick leave. I think Shelly believes him. Why are my coworkers such jerks?
I’m supposed to go back to the family-run un-supermarket on 2011.10.31, 1500.
She just showed up and told me to write about why I’m doing what she tells me to do, which is, in my opinion, a pretty stupid question to ask. You don’t tell a person whose cooperation you want to write an essay about why they don’t really need to cooperate. Unless this is some sort of reverse psychology, or something like that one experiment where they made people do really tedious tasks and then paid them. Only, some people got five dollars and some got a hundred. And then they were asked to give their opinions on the task, and the ones who were paid more completely trashed it but the ones who were paid less said stuff like “it was interesting!” and actually believed it. It was all about how they justified it to themselves. The ones with a hundred dollars could say they did it for the money. The ones with five dollars couldn’t say, “Oh, it was really annoying and boring and tedious as all freaking hell, but at least I got paid,” because that’s just pathetic. They could have made more money in the time it took to do that stupid experiment if they’d been waitressing. So they had to justify to themselves that it was a worthwhile.
If I know this then she should know this, which is why this entire exercise is meaningless.
Today I found out that she’s been reading my diary, because she popped up and told me that I didn’t do the last assignment correctly. She even called it that, an assignment. As though I am in school and she’s my teacher. She doesn’t actually look much older than me, I think. Then again, they’ve got time travel in the future. Maybe they can reverse the aging process, too.
I didn’t see the point and told her so, and she said there is a point (even if I don’t know it) and that should be enough for me. I think she really must be a lot older than me, because I can’t imagine changing so much in the next few years that I won’t want to explain anything to myself.
So I guess I’m doing what she tells me to do because, well, I figured that there must be a point. I can’t imagine I would do this sort of thing just to mess with myself. I mean, I wouldn’t go back in time and make myself catch the flu for shits and giggles. That’s not the kind of person I am.
Also, I might be wrong but practical jokes seem like a trivial way to use time travel. It’s probably really complicated. If it weren’t, we’d have figured it out by now.
I just had a thought to add. I was falling asleep and it just popped into my head. Sometimes that happens. I hope future-me is glad I bothered to turn on the light to write this down.
She knows how rarely I bother, and how absolutely illegible two lines of text become when one’s superimposed on another thanks to my blind scribbling.
Anyway, I think I’ve realized the real reason I listen to her: because she is me. Someday, whatever happens, whoever I become in the mean time, I’m going to end up as her. I’m going to travel back in time to issue myself mysterious assignments and I’m going to have a really good reason for doing it. And when that happens, I want younger-me to cooperate.
Call it karma, or paying it forward. I think that’s why I cooperate.
I didn’t want to say this because thinking about it makes me feel a bit panicky, but maybe she’s doing this because she wants to avoid whatever accident that did that to her hand. In which case I’m willing to help as long as it’s not going to tear all of space-time asunder, or something. I don’t think I’d do that. Do something that might tear space-time, that is. Especially not for something like a hand. That’d be stupid.
I really hope I haven’t changed that much.
Despite the insane amount of information the internet holds, sometimes I feel like it’s missing something crucial. It may be a piece of information, or it may just need to rephrase the existing information in a way that I can grok, but in either case I can’t help feeling a little disappointed that the internet hasn’t anticipated and met my needs.
Here’s a simple example: the Horseshoe Curve in Altoona, PA. Not much there to get, right? But wait….
I even remember what sparked this knowledge scavenger hunt. Daniel Maidman mentioned on one of his blog posts that the curve was so important that the Nazis wanted to sabotage it. I thought um, really? So I resolved to do my own research.
Wikipedia confirms Maidman’s claims, and also reinforced the special snowflakeness of the curve; it’s an engineering marvel.
Wait. What makes it to marvelous? Ok, it’s a curve. It looks kinda cool from above. But none of this tells me why it’s so awesome that the Nazis took some time out of their busy schedules to plan some railway tomfoolery.
More research; the mountains make it difficult to build train lines. That makes sense. If this line is the only option for shipping stuff, then it would be pretty damn important. But the thing is, this curve has a name. This curve has a Wikipedia article devoted to it. This curve is unique in a way the thousands of other miles of train tracks are not. What’s so damned impressive about this curve in particular?
I found videos on youtube of trains going around the curve. At first I felt really left out because I watched them and couldn’t understand the sense of effusive excitement which permeated the comments. Then I realized that I am missing the part of the brain that lets them appreciate trains like I appreciate a good muffin.
Or maybe sex.
So I kicked around the interwebs some more, reading about how it’s so engineeringly marvelous and all the while missing the answer to my pesky question of why? I forget where the epiphany hit me; it was probably due to some offhand youtube comment about the gradient of the tracks. But I realized that the curve’s so awesome because it gave the trains enough space to gradually ascend some really steep terrain that…erm…they hadn’t been able to, before. And it was built back in the 1850’s, so that’s an amazing achievement in its own right, I guess. Especially ‘cause it’s still in use. Or something.
Ok, I guess I’m still waiting for my epiphany. I suspect that anyone who bothers to write about trains in the internet expects that the only other people who’re going to bother reading it will be able to grasp the obstacles the engineers must have overcome in order to build tracks through the mountains. Not I. I need them spelled out to me, with footnotes.
This is the same problem I ran into when trying to understand the Singularity and the arrow of time and the noosphere and…. I can read all I want, but something’s not clicking.
Maybe I’m missing the part of the brain which allows me to grok SF concepts. Some SF concepts. For example, I am demonstrably better at handling time travel than Shu is.
Grokking time travel’s still not better than muffins, though.
I’ve been watching Warehouse 13, and I’ve noticed a trend; artifacts kill people in exceedingly gruesome ways, and the more gruesome the method the greater chance there is that the body will conveniently shatter or dust or disintegrate. Which sort of bothers me, because I get all grossed out about the way the person is being killed (the idea of how gross it will be) and it almost never measures up.
Hell, the agents’ reactions almost never measure up. In one episode, an artifact caused two guys simultaneously sharing one space to…sort of…explode. All Pete did was grimace in a vaguely sarcastic way. There is a fundamental difference between a show that goes, “Ok, the ‘bad guys’ of the episode just exploded due to their own ill-advised meddling with things of which they know not. Next?” and one that goes, “Holy crap some guys just exploded in the shower of my hotel room! What the fuck do I do now!?”
I think the latter type of show would be much more interesting. But then that might run into problems, because we wouldn’t want to give people ideas of how to clean up their bathrooms after dismembering people. Oh, who’m I kidding? Dexter’s already got that covered.
Edit: I’m reading Carnival by Elizabeth Bear, which is set in a way future where humanity has colonized the stars and Old Earth is combating overpopulation problems with occasional culling of its populace. One of the main characters has nightmares of the time his mother was selected for culling; “–and she falls apart. She makes no sound. She doesn’t show pain or even squeak; the Governors are programmed to be humane. But one moment she is whole and alive and letting out a held breath and taking in another one to speak to him, and the next she pitches forward, boneless, her central nervous system disassembled. Within moments, the thing that was Angel’s Mama is a crumpling dune in the middle of a broad white empty floor…”
And somehow, that seems magnitudes more horrific than if there was a body left lying there.