Pacific Northwest Enclave – 2305
Kevin struggled for breath as he entered the environmentally controlled foyer of his building. He didn’t want to believe that the air outside had deteriorated. It implied that Kevin’s years of sacrifice had bought, at best, time and not a solution.
His breathing had returned to normal by the time he had taken the elevator to his fortieth floor apartment. The door scanned his eye and accepted his password.
“Lights, twenty percent.”
The computer raised a dim glow that melted into the grey illumination from the largest window. It felt like dusk.
“None. There is, however, one incoming call. Care to take it live?”
“Sure. Kitchen, please.”
A flat view-screen was installed in the kitchen wall. It came to life to show Carlsonn.
“Give me one good reason not to hang up.”
“This is an invitation, Number 6.”
For some reason, Kevin thought the Operations Controller was looking old.
“You can’t address me with a number. I’ve resigned. We’ve been over this. Often.”
“I’m sorry, Kevin. Old habits. I wanted to invite you down for a discussion about a mission I felt obliged to offer you, regardless of your status. It is of such an important and frankly fascinating nature that I wanted to make sure you had a chance to volunteer.”
Carlsonn amazed Kevin by using words like ‘volunteer’ and ‘invitation.’
“When would you like to meet?”
“Now would be helpful.”
The air outside was definitely worse. Fortunately for his breathing, he was quickly cleared by Agency Security. Typically, Carlsonn was uptight about security, but his staff barely noticed Kevin. This was doubly strange as he had been the first operative to resign from the environmental agency who had not been summarily, if unofficially, executed.
Number 87 escorted him through the corridors to Carlsonn’s office.
“Good to be back Number 6?” she asked. “I no longer have that number … surely.”
Number 87 hated her real name — Shirley. She smiled angrily and did not say, “Don’t call me ‘Shirley’.”
“Still the rebel,” she said. “Let me rephrase. Good to be back without me having to capture, drug, and confine you?”
“That was you?”
“I enjoyed every second.”
“Don’t tell me you ran that glorified prison in Wales?”
“Yes. Pity the budget for it didn’t get re-approved.”
To Kevin she looked like a hungry, if extinct, leopard.
“Kevin, good to see you,” said Carlsonn.
“You look tired, Carlsonn.”
“As well I should be. That’ll be all … Shirley.”
“Very witty, sir.” She left.
“Kevin, sit down please. The situation is simple. In three to five days we are going to lose the atmosphere.”
“The whole thing. There’s not going to be a square millimetre of breathable air on this planet.”
“I knew this was a possibility, but not for a long time.”
“A long time has passed since the first coal fires. A long time is now. The Agency is, of course, preparing to dome cities, but it’s an interim measure. Our off-world colonies cannot take the ten billion people who won’t be covered by domes. Simulations indicate that the disaster on Earth will slow down the development of the colonies to such a point that they will not become self-sufficient before the system of domed cities fails.”
“Apart from the fact you’re being kind, and warning me that I should go home and work on those bottles of Scotch I have, why am I here?”
“I want you to go back in time and fix the problem.”
“Right. I thought if you travelled in time you’d be changing an alternative reality.”
“That was the original theory. It wasn’t entirely correct. With fine-tuning, we discovered you can move back in time in your own reality. Once you arrive, you destroy your own timeline and then anything goes.”
“Cole Porter’s Anything Goes?”
“Cole Porter might never come to be. Even if you forget all the technical challenges, no one wants to obliterate their own history.”
“Quite. This is where you come in.”
“Yes, I am.”
“Have you tested it?”
“Yes, according to the prototype time machine, we sent a machine back in time two minutes.”
“Why ‘according to the prototype’?”
“Well, you see we were two minutes from launching a prototype. Then what looked like a copy of our prototype materialised. Just as we were about to launch our prototype, it disintegrated, leaving us with the one that materialised. Apparently ‘our’ prototype’s molecules were displaced by the arrival of the one that had gone through time. We had a camera on board the prototype. We reviewed the tapes and they showed us sending off the prototype.”
“But you have no personal memory of sending it.”
“No, but that makes sense. We sent something back and destroyed our timeline. The arrival of the other machine made us change history.”
“So you’re convinced that sending a person back will work.”
“It doesn’t matter if I’m convinced. We have nothing to lose.”
Kevin did not commit right away. He did not stay for further technical briefings. He went outside. The sky looked perilous. Swollen with gases never intended to be there, curdled clouds rushed across the sky in a frenzy. His breathing became laboured in two minutes. He went back to The Agency.
“You survived the Agency. Your commitment to the environment is stronger than your commitment to self-preservation as a political or social animal. You work well alone. You want to make a difference. You’re not afraid to kill.”
“OK Carlsonn, what’s your plan? I want all the details, then I’ll decide what to do. If your plan is workable, I’ll go.”
“The plan is simple. Industrialisation was done very badly. We want to send you to 1750 to start influencing governments to control and slow down industrialisation. The British Empire’s laisser-faire policies put everything on the wrong footing for sustainable development. The Chinese attitude toward the natural environment and their uncontrolled population has to be checked. And somehow, warfare has to be reduced. The damage 19th and 20th century wars did truly put the nail in the coffin. We are going to install the time travel system into your body. Your DNA will be bound with a premier Artificial Intelligence (AI) to act as your historical and technical database as well as your companion. Your life span will extended to 130, barring injury or damage, of course.”
“You are going to have to rely on your own initiative to complete the mission. You can do whatever you want. It won’t matter to me — I won’t exist.”
“Now there’s a pleasant thought. Let’s get started.”
They rearranged Kevin’s chest cavity so that it could hold the major system components. The power supply was enormous and represented the most significant challenge for the engineers. Uncontrolled, the power plant in Kevin’s body would obliterate an area the size of Europe. The trick to time travel was shielding the traveller’s molecules from the reality that it had duplicates in the environment.
Kevin woke from surgery. “I feel like shit.”
“That’s not a surprise,” said Carlsonn. “How do you want your AI configured. Male, female or neutral?”
“Female will probably balance my testosterone-driven responses. Make sure she’s got a pleasant, intelligent-sounding voice. Where are you getting the AI?”
“It used to manage all the power grids in North America.”
“Why a power system AI?”
“Because your power system is the crucial component for the control of the time travel system.”
“Oh. Since you’ve installed the power plant inside my body, where is the AI hardware going?”
“You forget. We’re binding her to your DNA. The operating system is electro-chemical.”
“It’ll be the most intimate I’ve ever been with a woman.”
“I won’t miss your remarks after you leave.”
The irony was not lost on either of them.
Weary, weary, weary. A day and a half of surgery left him barely able to stand, despite the improvements.
“OK,” said Carlsonn. “Time to go over the mission parameters.”
“Finally,” said the female voice in Kevin’s head.
“Give me an hour,” said Kevin. “I want to go outside.”
It was very grey. Cloud formations tried to coalesce, but they could not maintain their integrity. Kevin was having trouble breathing — the recent loss of a lung to accommodate his time travel equipment hadn’t helped — but he knew the whole planet’s air supply was stale.
“So, Jennifer, do you think Carlsonn is telling the truth?”
“Are you naming me Jennifer?”
“Can I ask why?”
“Later. I think we’ll have lots of time.” “All right. My analysis of the situation is that the only thing Carlsonn could be lying about is the timing. The behaviour of the sky is consistent with simulations I have seen. Why the question?”
“He does seem to be in a hurry.”
Kevin slowly walked around the facility.
“You are uncertain about this mission,” stated Jennifer.
“I trust Carlsonn about as far as I can throw this building.”
“You don’t have access to my file?”
“No. I am bound by privacy laws.”
“That’s right — you aren’t an Agency-commissioned system. Looks like I’ll have lots to tell you over the next several hundred years.”
“Under one hundred, personal time.”
“Yes. I only get to live to 130 it seems.”
“I just hope there’s a computer system to take me on when we finish the mission.”
Back inside, Kevin, Carlsonn and two advisors sat in a meeting room.
“I feared you’d changed your mind.”
“Needed to be sure I was doing the right thing. The inside of this building never left me with a sense of serenity or personal security.”
“Very well. The plan is to start in 1750. The Industrial Revolution wasn’t much of a revolution as it took generations to complete. At this point there are any number of ways you can manipulate the government and industry. Injecting new technology would not help, we feel that optimising the technology of the day and improving techniques will probably be best. Your AI …”
“… Jennifer … has all the details that we have on history of the current day. You will want to do a survey to see how accurate it all is.”
“I want to start earlier.”
“Let’s just say that I am curious to see how religion might play in this equation.”
England – 1606
It was a week from Christmas and cold. Bishop Rainolds wore a thick, fur-lined cloak and hugged it close to his body as if to indicate that all was well. He wasn’t sure it was. His Royal Highness King James I of England had given Bishop Rainolds a glare as icy as the road home.
“Two years work and nothing?!” echoed in Rainolds’ mind. Petulant Scotsman. Why had Rainolds recommended the commission of a new bible? The Bishop wanted to beat himself. Once home, he went to the hearth in the parlour, hoping the fire hadn’t died. The embers were red. As he stoked the fire and brought it to life, he despaired having let his wife proceed ahead and return to Oxford. He realised he was hungry — any food in the kitchen? He left the parlour, crossed the cavernous dining hall and entered the kitchen.
There was a giant in Rainolds’ kitchen. The Bishop gasped and felt his pulse race as he gawked at the tallest man he had ever seen. The giant was inspecting the various pots, skillets and utensils. Certainly not a threatening posture, thought Rainolds. He decided not to panic. The giant moved to examine the brick oven by the fireplace.
“I’m afraid I don’t know you,” said the Bishop.
The giant turned slowly and smiled. “I’m so sorry; it was cold outside and I took it upon myself to enter while I waited for you.”
“I see. Bit startling finding a stranger — especially a giant — in one’s home.”
“My name is Kevin Wren.” He gave a slight bow. “I have travelled far to meet you. I heard that His Majesty has commissioned a new bible. In English. My curiosity overwhelmed me.”
Despite the cool temperature, beads of sweat trickled down Kevin’s stomach. Jennifer was monitoring his condition, looking for signs that his immune system was overreacting again. “I’m being so rude,” said the Bishop. “Were you some villain, by now you’d have likely overwhelmed me and done me harm. With your size I’d be no match for you. Can I offer you an ale?”
“I certainly wouldn’t refuse,” said Kevin.
Jennifer electro-chemically cringed. Almost nothing had gone down well since they had arrived. Not even the air.
From the pantry off the kitchen, Rainolds drew two pewter mugs of ale from a barrel.
“It is, in fact, the bottom of the barrel. I only use this house when I visit Hampton Court.”
They walked to the parlour. Rainolds’ couldn’t help noticing how loud the giant’s footfalls were on the floor of the dining hall. Kevin sipped the ale. It was the harshest beverage he had ever tasted.
In the parlour, Rainolds wondered what chair would hold Kevin. In the end, Rainolds deemed the recently refurbished Tudor chair suitable.
“This project must have enormous challenges,” said Kevin, “what are you finding the most difficult?”
“The King. I just arrived from a most trying meeting in which he was angry over the lack of progress in the last two years. He just does not realise how complex this is! He wants an English Bible that’s linguistically consistent as well as theologically sound. How in heavens do you make English linguistically sound? It’s a mongrel language.”
“How many people do you have working on the translations?”
“How do you manage them?”
“What do you mean?”
Kevin listened to Jennifer’s translation of Elizabethan English into twenty-fourth century Standard English. The ale was upsetting his stomach. This made listening to Rainolds’ speech and Jennifer’s running commentary more difficult. Rainolds knew nothing of management.
“How have you assigned the work?”
“I parcelled it out to two of the more senior clerics and instructed them to supervise the others.”
“How will you enforce the consistency of language that you need?”
“You mean ensure that all the parts fit together at the end. Well, I don’t know.”
“I would like to volunteer to help. I have some unique experience.”
Kevin barely made it back to the small cottage he was renting.
“You have to rest,” said Jennifer.
“It went well, didn’t it?” He sounded like a sleepy little boy seeking approval.
“Yes. Lie down.”
The bed was constructed from wood. Wool blankets were folded and put on the bed to make it less hard. Kevin lay down and was asleep within seven seconds.
Jennifer monitored his biological functions. It annoyed her that they had sent him on the mission before letting him heal from the surgery.
Kevin had worked with Rainolds for months establishing language standards and setting up self-managing teams. They had divided up The Bible into thirteen parts and assigned four clerics per team. Each of the four had a specific role in the process. An individual owned one of translation, research, language standards or transcription. No section of the work could be passed onto the review committee — run by Rainolds — until all four team members were satisfied.
Kevin and two senior clerics were floaters, who checked in with the teams to resolve disagreements and make sure the team members were paid, fed and not slacking off.
Kevin took particular interest in the team working on Genesis, and dropped by early in the process. One day he sat and read their preliminary work.
“What do you mean by ‘dominion’?”
The cleric-translator looked up at Kevin, mystified.
“Well — sovereignty, I suppose.”
“When it comes to a location, there’s normally one sovereign. King James for example. But when man has dominion over all the animals, it’s a broader notion, is it not?”
“I’m afraid I’m not quite catching your meaning.”
“In this context, does the source material not mean dominion as responsibility and stewardship? I cannot believe God wants us to run roughshod over His plants and animals. The King surely knows he is responsible for his subjects, but will the common man realise that he has a similar responsibility for the subjects of the animal kingdom?”
“I’ll review the source material,” said the researcher.
“Kevin, I’m sad you’re leaving.”
“Pressing commitments abroad, Bishop Rainolds. I’ve had a wonderful experience here.”
“Your assistance in organising the translations and standards has been invaluable. And your counsel on reporting to the King. Brilliant.”
“You would have done perfectly well without me.”
“I’m nervous about the jump, Jennifer.”
“I can tell. But we don’t have much choice. You are fairly well healed and we have to move on. There’s no way to tell what kind of power usage we’re going to need. We cannot fix industrialisation 150 years before it even starts.”
“I wonder if we can fix it at all.”
“True, but we won’t find out here.”
Kevin stood on high ground where he could look at London of 1609. He had become fond of this place despite being ill for most of the last three years. He wondered what kind of allergies — for lack of a better term — he’d face in the eighteenth century.
“Let’s get this over with.”
England – 1756
Kevin materialised on a busy street. The horse was waiting for his driver to return and did not appreciate the sudden appearance of a giant. The horse reared up with such force that there was risk of the carriage tipping.
Kevin reached up and grabbed the reins and brought the horse down. His pulse raced as Jennifer gave Kevin instructions on the most likely actions and commands to prevent a disaster.
“What’s all this then?” The driver sounded gruff, but it was dark and the he did not at first perceive Kevin’s size. Once the driver had fully seen Kevin, he took a kinder tone.
“Are you all right sir?”
“I’m afraid I spooked your animal. Not entirely sure how.” Kevin gave the horse solid pats now that it had recovered from its fright.
“No harm done then. Happy Christmas.”
As the horse, driver and carriage headed down the road Kevin asked Jennifer what it was with Christmas. They left on Christmas. They managed to make Kevin healthy enough to approach Rainolds on Christmas. And now this jump takes them to Christmas sometime in the eighteenth century.
Kevin and Jennifer were not exactly sure when or where in England they had landed.
“Is there no way to be more accurate about timing and location?”
“Time travel is space-time travel, actually. You are lucky that we don’t materialise underwater, inside a mountain or in outer space.”
“Sorry I asked.”
The street was wide and lined with shops that were either closed or closing. He walked along the road listening to conversations about feasts, last minute preparations and going to church.
“Church,” said Kevin. “We’re going.”
Christmas Eve Evensong at Mistley Church, Essex was a popular affair. People from all over the county came to worship. They wore their best clothes for the candlelight service.
The building itself was impressive and recently remodelled. Two clock towers at each end straddled the body of the church. Kevin looked at the Greek-style pillars at the entrance and thought them a strange architectural affectation.
His consideration of the pillars drifted to a concern over his own appearance. He wore late Elizabethan attire with a ruff and tights that were neither in fashion nor effective against the cold. Jennifer was keeping his temperature normal.
“You are being stared at,” said Jennifer. “I think it is as much for the clothes as for your size. Should I try to run the holographic projection system?”
“No. We haven’t tested it. And it won’t help at close quarters.”
“It would fool the inattentive.”
“I’ll just find a dark corner.”
Inside the church he located a pew in the shadows and sat down. The church soon filled to capacity. A man and wife in their fifties sat beside him. They eyed him curiously.
“Merry Christmas,” said Kevin.
“And to you,” said the wife.
They kneeled and prayed before the service began. When done, the husband took out his bible.
“I hope I’m not being rude, but I have left my bible at home and would very much like to review a passage. Could I borrow yours for a moment, at your convenience?”
Kevin reviewed the opening pages. It had been released a year earlier than Jennifer’s history files indicated. At least he had had an impact on the delivery date. He flipped to Genesis, chapter I, verse 26 and compared what he was reading to what Jennifer had in her on-line copy of The Bible.
|And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have stewardship to maintain the fish of the sea, and the fowl of the air, and the cattle, and all the earth, and every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.||And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.|
“Wow,” thought Kevin. “It worked.”
He quickly flipped through the pages to allow Jennifer to read them; she could do this as fast as he could turn each page.
The couple next to him regarded him carefully.
As her reading progressed, Jennifer noticed only minor content changes and a more consistent application of the language. Both these axioms held until Revelations. It was substantially different. She absorbed it all, deciding to review it with Kevin at a more convenient time.
Kevin looked about the dimly lit church. Was anything fundamentally different as a result of his meddling with The Bible? Impossible to tell from here. England was still England and did not seem to be being run by anyone else but the English. He would have to do a survey and compare recent history to Jennifer’s database.
A candle near him went out. With the swirling smoke his sense of success dispersed. Kevin found himself shivering. He was truly lost. In 1606 he had had the luxury of having a historical database he could trust. And now … he didn’t know.
The processional began. Everyone in the church rose and started singing the first hymn. He felt the pipe organ’s sound vibrate in his chest.
Perhaps the meaning of the Christmas coincidences was simple. He might very well need a kind of religious faith to take him through the centuries as he attempted to tend a Garden that his own culture was bent on destroying.