Browse Tag

Time

Yesterearth’s Morrow

by Ádám Gerencsér

Singapore Straits Times – 1st July 1947

Readers with any interest in current affairs will scarcely need reminding that today is the first anniversary of the appearance of those strange phenomena that marked the gradual unravelling of time as a constant and steadfast quantity, the steady progression of which all previous generations could rely on so safely as to take it for granted. This view is now considered obsolete, and rightly so, but it bears repeating how nigh impossible that would have seemed just over a year ago. Over the course of the past twelve months, thanks to the rapid advances of modern science and skilful observations made by vessels of the Royal Navy, we have gained a better understanding of the new role that the International Date Line has come to play.

I have taken the liberty to compose this recollection and offer it to our esteemed editor on account of my rather immediate proximity to the longitude in question. Not only as correspondent of the Straits Times in the Crown Colony of Fiji, documenting both momentous and provincial events as they unfold, but also as a simple resident who experiences daily the disturbing effects that still have the ability to startle as much as they did at their initial onset.

It started on the 1st of July 1946 (or the 30th of June, depending on one’s whereabouts) east of the Marshall Islands and gradually spread north and south thereof, fanning out like elongated ripples along the date meridian. Within a brief period that could not have taken more than a week, or two at the most, we found ourselves confronted with a novel and hitherto unimaginable reality: anyone crossing the international date line roughly along the 180° longitude eastwards no longer cuts across a mere imaginary division, but finds himself an additional day further in the past, or rather, on a past incarnation of the Earth that is now independent of the present. The traveller may than engage in any form of interaction with the inhabitants of that past world, a Yesterearth so to speak, without perturbing in any way the future time he had left behind. After interfering with the events on the other side of the date line, one may return to the present by simply retracing his journey and realise that nothing has changed on account of their actions, other than the fact that time has moved on during their absence. On their subsequent visit to the world of two days past, however, they will notice that their interlocutors remember them well enough and any seeds of future consequence they had planted there have come to fruition.

A world map based on Mercator’s projection distorts the proportions of the surface areas of the continents, by making landmasses at extreme southerly and northerly latitudes, such as Antarctica or Greenland, appear much larger than their actual size would merit compared, for instance, with Africa. So, when we wish to achieve a more proportional representation, we divide the map into equidistant segments that are thicker towards the Equator and thinner at the poles, as if peeling the skin off an orange, and lay it out flat. Our hypothetical map now stretches from Alaska in the West to Siberia in the East, and we know that, just as the gaps between segments of the Earth’s ‘skin’ are imaginary, the edge of the map is no true boundary, but in fact loops around and connects to the opposite end. Thus, in the world as we had known it until 1946, it was not possible to stray off the map of the globe, since a resolute straight line would take one around in circles, returning to the self-same point with each circumnavigation.

That, alas, is no longer the case. Beyond the eastern margin of our map lies the western edge of someone else’s. Of course, in a manner of speaking, our world is still round, and we may be so bold as to argue with some conviction that our present time is unique and one of a kind. For it has become evidently clear that while ships and aeroplanes making their way over the surface of all preceding Earths may travel both backwards by crossing the dateline eastwards and also forward in our direction by traversing the same line due west, the same is not true for vessels in our time. We can regress by two days on the passage from Suva to Samoa, but we may not proceed into our future, as it were, giving us the impression that we stand at the pinnacle of time’s arrow. That is to say, the future is not yet existent, or certainly not accessible, until we unlock it day by day as we stride forward in tune with our calendars.

Being first among equals (and some in the colonial administration would indeed dispute even that proposition), our position brings great opportunities, but also imposes significant responsibility upon our statesmen. The lives of nations and empires now unfold in an entirely separate manner on all contiguous Earths, and the next general election back in the British Isles, to be held in 1950, might yield wildly different results in our continuity compared to the Earth of the day before yesterday. It is therefore eminently possible that the cabinet of our Empire might find itself at loggerheads with the British government elected in our immediate temporal neighbourhood. In fact, His Majesty of today might disagree with policies that are received approvingly by His Majesty of two days ago. The fact is that the political realities of life in the Dominion will inevitably develop very differently across every successive Earth each two further days down the line.

Your correspondent here admits to having made an involuntary, yet naïve attempt at bridging the date meridian and exploring some of the strangeness of the most immediate past just east of his stationment. In the spring I had received a telegraph dispatched by my former self from the world of two days ago. It had been transmitted to Samoa, which by itself was no mean feat, as communications across the Pacific have become impossible lest one was interested in sending messages across time. Telegraphs and mail to one’s contemporaries from an island west of the date line to another speck of dry land just east thereof have to ferry westwards around the entire globe, rendering a journey that formerly took less than a day into a voyage of Magellanic proportions. It is therefore incomparably easier to reach the French Polynesia of the day before than that of today. Laborious as it may be, the telegraph drafted by the man who is my equivalent in the neighbouring past was delivered by the post boat that makes the weekly crossing from Samoa. Without indulging in the tedious details of our exchange, which was hampered by delays caused by both dimensions of time and space, suffice it to say that our correspondence was short-lived and we finally agreed never to meet in person, but to live out our respective lives to the best of our conscience and abilities.

Not all contact is, however, this consensual. One hears all kinds of anecdote around the archipelago and beyond: of people trying to find their near-contemporary selves and bring them back voluntarily or otherwise to share their work or exchange places with them, of investors travelling back and forth with the intention of effecting parallel financial transactions and reaping the same profits several times, or of bereaved families striving to find their loved ones killed in accidents on a previous Earth where the same accident has not yet occurred and might never happen. The world market in commodities and resources has become confusing and at times almost untenable, and prices across near-past worlds may fluctuate in an unsustainable manner due to a potentially inexhaustible supply of material from across the datelines, while for the same reason scarcity may beset another globe. It is not unthinkable that in the future, some catastrophe or another great war could send millions of refugees fleeing to the next available future or past Earth.

On an encouraging note, one must not forget that there are those enterprising spirits who see Yesterearth’s developments as the opening of a new, endless horizon, the gateway to the exploration of the past – and not just one, but countless possible pasts. As far as we can ascertain, endeavours to traverse a long succession of datelines near the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, where distances are smaller but travel is unhindered by excessively cold climate, are limited only by the durability of the mode of transportation, the ability to procure fuel and, ultimately, by the life span of the traveller. We can only hope that our relative advantage of chronological primacy shields us from the worst excesses of the chaotic insecurity that must eventually arise on Earths further in the past, which are flanked on both sides by another world each two days ahead or behind them. Although news of full scale inter-temporal war have yet to be reported from anywhere, it is not inconceivable that one day the menacing powers of barbaric despotism and fascist banditry, which the valiant Allies so gallantly fought to defeat in this our last Great War, rear their ugly heads from the depths of the past and gather enough tenacity to conquer hundreds of planets up the chain to the present day, growing in strength and ferocity with each new acquisition. Should that day come, we do hope that our past compatriots would send warnings across the dateline well in advance, fully trusting in the brotherhood of free nations holding together steadfast even across several zones of time. And rest assured that the Royal Navy would be first to do its duty in the defence of Singapore, Malaya and the Crown Colonies dispersed throughout the East – whether in our time or that of Yesterearth. For we will surely not hesitate to deliver a pre-emptive strike across the meridian, for King and country, should a menace arise from the Pacific of a bygone day!

~

Burrowing Through the Body of God

by Rich Larson

When the slaveship arrived, we thought we were saved. We had been adrift for days in the Big Black, absorbing radiation from a catastrophic reactor failure, slipping further and further away from the trade route. The chances of another ship coming across us were infinitesimally small, so the arrival was like seeing an angel appear.

Some of us thought it was a hallucination, in no small part because the ship defied all geometry. It seemed to bloom and shimmer like a slick of oil, concentric globes of translucent material swelling and dwindling in counterpoint, flanges unfurling and disappearing. Only the most basic features of a starship were recognizable — an engine, a heat radiator, a solar sail — but these were distorted, cartoonish impressions meant not to function but to communicate familiarity.

The slaveship enveloped our craft and in a sense digested it: I watched the alloy hull dissolve like a painting around us even as our ambient temperature and atmosphere in the hold, where we were huddled by the life support system, changed not an iota. It was clear that our rescuers were no known race. In our desperation, bodies sick from the radiation and minds bending under the crushing void, we did not question our salvation.

The hold fell away and we found ourselves in a softer darkness. The walls seemed to creep away from our touch, expanding as we slowly explored our new environs. Light appeared in the form of glowing silver ribbons that slipped in and out of the walls like eels through black water. I recall the wonder on our illuminated faces. The hierarchy of our crew seemed to crumble there; we were remade as equals by the novelty of our situation.

Eventually we became aware of another presence there in the dark, an eighth shadow added to our seven, who shuffled about with us but did not speak. Normally this would engender fear or alarm, but I remember neither. This figure never approached the silver lights, or perhaps the silver lights never approached them, and so they remained unseen. My impression from their movements was that they were slowly remembering how to walk.

“You are welcome here,” they said. “I recall my humanity.”

“Who are you?” I asked, though I was not the captain — this much of the hierarchy I remember.

“I am your host,” they said, “because I recall my humanity. The damage to your cells has been repaired. Follow me now.”

They walked in a particular direction and we followed, still absorbing their words, guessing at their truth. I know now that the radiation had indeed been scrubbed swiftly and effortlessly from our DNA, but in the moment it was difficult to believe — as was the claim of our host to humanity.

Suddenly what I had thought to be a corridor unfolded in all directions into a vast hall, and overhead we were struck by a vision that remains near indescribable, even after untold eons spent beneath it. The rush of forms and colors defied the eye. Geometric patterns, red, blue, red-blue-green, branched and evolved and were subsumed by others in an instant; wheels of raw-flesh pink and gunmetal gray interlocked like cogs; beads of pure white light split and collided and finally exploded.

But any visualizer can simulate chaos. The most unnerving element of this display was its oscillation between chaos and order. I could feel intent and then abandon, concentration and then madness. I knew that my senses were ill-equipped to experience anything but the tiniest fraction of this vista, and even with that knowledge deep and heavy in my bones, I was overwhelmed.

“You are seeing what you may think of as time,” our host said. “Do not be afraid. We are sheltered from it.”

I looked at our host then, and I was afraid, if briefly. They had recalled their humanity, but not well. In the illumination of the maelstrom above us, I saw that they were composed of disparate parts: a slice of leg, a jagged bit of torso, a piece of skull with teeth below it, a drifting arm. These parts were wired together by a dark filament and moved in concert as if they were a body entire.

“Where are we?” one of us asked.

“We are burrowing,” our host said, teeth orbiting beneath their skull. “Our ship was created to navigate these cracks in time. We expose ourselves to the arbiter only when necessary.”

A bell sounded, though later we likened the noise to a baying animal, and the hall was filled with a multiplicity of beings. I saw a scattering of the known races, but far more unknown, some recognizably biological, others composed of metals or gases or silicates. I tried to guess at the ship’s original creators, but it was fruitless. I have since decided that they are not represented when the bell bays, or perhaps never existed.

The beings formed a pair of lines, and it was in watching this assuming of order that I first tasted our captivity. I could sense that they were cowed, that they dreaded what was to come. At the end of the hall, where the floor narrowed to a knifepoint, there was a high plynth.

“Choose one among you,” the host said.

I do not know why I was chosen, or if I chose it for myself, but somehow I was distanced from my companions and began walking toward the plynth. The host walked with me, though only one gnarled foot touched the floor.

“We are sheltered from time and entropy,” the host said. “But we are also fuelled by them. For this reason we must always seek new passengers.”

I did not understand anything except that I was going to be sacrificed in the stead of my companions, and in that moment it seemed a noble thing. The host produced a shred of shifting color, kin to the maelstrom over our heads, and handed it to me. It moved like an amorphous animal in my arms. At first it seemed to be a bird, pecking at the skin of my wrists, and then a hissing cat I could barely hold. My mind was making it so, for it was neither.

I cradled time and entropy in my arms as I walked the blossoming steps of the plynth. At the top I was surprised to encounter dirt — true soil, not the accumulation of dead skin found even in space. I had not seen true soil since childhood, and it seemed most out of place here. With invisible palms pressing against my spine, I lay down in the dirt.

Above me, the maelstrom parted and I saw the Big Black, a shard of space dotted with distant stars. Then the animal in my arms began to consume me. I was paralyzed, watching the hand nearest my face wrinkle with age. My veins bulged; brown spots welled up on my skin as it creased and sagged. The bones jutted up like bridges. I began to decay.

Across from me, beyond my mummified hand, I saw a skeleton rising out of the dirt beside me, uncovered as if by a desert wind. I stared into the cracked and empty sockets of its eyes and knew that it was my skeleton being reconstituted. I clutched at its clawed hand even as my own hand lost its last shred of papery yellow skin. The pain was beyond pain, screaming its rage in every scrubbed cell of my body.

On the altar before the stars, I realized my companions and I would live forever. As of this moment, the anguish has not abated.

~

Bio:

Rich Larson was born in Galmi, Niger, has lived in Canada, USA, and Spain, and is now based in Prague, Czech Republic. He is the author of the novel Annex and the collection Tomorrow Factory, which contains some of the best of his 150+ published stories. His work has been translated into Polish, Czech, Bulgarian, Portuguese, French, Italian, Vietnamese, Chinese and Japanese. Find free fiction and support his work at patreon.com/richlarson.