Acadian Chronicles: When Ancestors Look Down

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The Beginning or the End?

Little did Vicky know this sunny morning would be the last day of her childhood. Like the turning point in any crisis, it’s the end of what used to be and the beginning of something totally unexpected. Brighter than any flash of lightning, the glare flooded the interior of the castle, accompanied by a deafening roar, followed by a sustained blast, knocking anything standing down. The shaking lasted 10-15 minutes, heat sweeping through the hallways, purifying souls. Shards of window panes and shattered crystal chandeliers flew every which way, embedding their jagged edges into the arms, legs, torsos, hands, faces and feet of fallen, benevolent souls.

Vicky was holding onto a fallen beam of oak, but no one was clutching her pinky any more, while screams resounded all around. The burning air rushed over her body with such velocity that it chafed till her clothes ignited into flame, fires starting everywhere – a scene of torment, torn from the pages of Dante’s Inferno.

A child could never imagine her home – her universe – in ruin – all her toys, keepsakes, and bedding gone forever. How could nine-year-old Vicky imagine before this blast her life changed in a flash, with the Forest People all around bleeding, suffering beyond belief? For the Intruder, it’s simply collateral damage, what’s necessary to clean house, to start afresh, to disinfect wretched humanity. This exterminating angel never has to think twice about the consequences of her acts, so like Major Lawrence who had to deport the Acadians, Louise has to do this clean sweep. C’est la guerre. It can’t be helped.

All around Vicky, innocent souls with outstretched arms are begging, but there are too many. There’s nothing Vicky can do. She herself fell. Where’s her bodyguard? Vicky’s clothes are bloodstained, tattered, exposing charred wounds – Vicky’s life hanging by a thread, red blisters all over her body, blood dripping from her nose and ears. Such is the horror of mankind’s inhumanity. As long as someone does not live through war, it does not matter much. Whatever the war, protests against the bloodshed reach too many deaf ears. Of course, it’s too bad it happens, but as long as it rages in a distant land, who cares? These indifferent observers ignore the peacemakers, and according to an ideologue like Louise – righteous people like her must defend the exceptional ones, but instead of saving the world, as Louise likes to see herself doing, isn’t she really another Grim Reaper? By destroying all those weeds in her garden with her incendiary Roundup, none of her victims ever had the chance to build a better world. How can death and destruction be a better solution?

Hiroshima and Nagasaki were destroyed by the first atomic bombs on August 6 and 9, 1945. Two weeks later, Jacques Errera (1896-1977), the Belgian physicist discussed nuclear fission and shared his optimistic vision of the new atomic era. At first, Errera saw a sign of hope in the explosions of Little Boy and Fat Man — the two nicknames given to the bombs dropped on Japan. The Jewish physicist had fled Belgium at the start of World War II and directed a New York laboratory in collaboration with the U.S. military.

Errera’s reaction to the bombardments of Hiroshima and Nagasaki lacked perspective. He was thrilled about the potential for progress by harnessing atomic power, which he compared to the leaps made with “electricity, steam power, and even fire itself,” but Errera underestimated the dangers of using atomic power. He never mentioned the Japanese survivors contaminated by radiation or the problems of radioactive waste. Thrilled about only the potential benefits, Errera couldn’t imagine a “Grim Reaper” effect with atomic power.

This scientist promoted nuclear power as a cheap, compact source of energy capable of replacing coal, providing cities around the world with electricity, and even capable of powering airplanes to circumvent the globe. If the chain reaction of atomic energy could be controlled, Errera argued, it would lead to a “profound shift in how people live.” Though nuclear planes never made it past the prototype phase, Errera’s other predictions came to fruition, except his predictions about the peaceful uses of atomic energy. Driven by his scientific optimism, he predicted that atomic energy would “offer the human race infinitely greater possibilities for peace than its application in warfare.” He believed harnessing atomic energy was the triumph of “100,000 scholars, engineers, and workers” – the promise of these scientists united to serve humanity.

After the creation of the United Nations, October 24, 1945 in San Francisco, he was appointed Belgian counselor to the U.N. Atomic Energy Commission and the permanent Belgian representative at the International Atomic Energy Agency. Errera had been one of the most renowned and respected scientists in Europe during the 1930s. After completing his doctorate in chemistry, he worked at the Free University of Brussels where he shared a laboratory with Albert Einstein, and they both took part in the prestigious Solvay Conferences. During these events, he met Marie Curie, Auguste Piccard, Erwin Schrödinger, and Werner Heisenberg, the German physicist who inspired the pseudonym of the main character in the Breaking Bad television series.

As the Cold War (1945-1989) festered and threatened the extinction of mankind, Errera saw the danger inherent in the spread of nuclear power – that is, our so-called security had become dependent on weapons of mass destruction. “If this was not the last world war, then it will have been the penultimate one,” he wrote. “Today, war waged with a combination of atomic bombs and [ballistic missiles] will bring about the destruction of the earth.” In stark opposition to his earlier optimism about atomic energy, Errera changed his tune. At the same time, the existentialist writer, Albert Camus, author of The Plague, lamented in the newspaper Combat that “mechanical civilization” had reached its “final degree of savagery.” And so too was born the Doomsday Clock, created in 1947 by the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, a group of University of Chicago scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project to develop the first atomic weapons.

As Violette emerges from the vortex onto the hillside behind Payen Hall, she can’t find herself in time. Is it the same day she left, or has it been months. Has it been five years? Has she fallen ill? She doesn’t feel right. Why are there so many ambulances? What caused so much destruction? The smoke chokes her. Is she dreaming again? Is this only a dream?

All Violette’s dreams merge at this moment. In one dream, she was falling into a dark hole, lost in time and space, without Annie, without the Saqamaw. Then she saw a blast and heard Vicky’s voice – seeing a broken body in a bloody pool, under débris. Violette rushes to Vicky’s side, and Vicky’s surprised to see Violette, telling her in Algonquian, a language they now both understand:

“Violette, I thought you were going to run for vice-president.”

Violette realizes, the way you do in dreams, that she couldn’t run for vice-president till the dolly exchange was over. Violette starts to shake, seeing Vicky’s scorched body. Then Violette wakes up and dreams again, traveling now at the speed of light – no, faster than that, at warp speed through the same tunnel. In another dream, Violette’s watching first responders hose down the castle. With all the smoke and sirens blaring, she couldn’t see clearly, but she felt her heart pounding with hope. At the mouth of the vortex lay both Annie and the Saqamaw, lifeless. Then with one accord, somehow, all three travelers rose, all facing one of the arched fragments hurled during the explosion from the castle onto the field.

The three time travelers are not quite the same after many attempts to get home, having succeeded this time. Sizing up the destruction, then looking at each other, the trio noticed their bodies seemed blurred; colors ran together as would a wet watercolor painting, their flesh and clothes were faded textures and outlines. But there they stood, finally, at home. They were recognizable to each other. Violette jumped away as the vortex disappeared, rushing to Annie, but Annie held up a warning hand. Violette realized that she was not yet materialized, that she was more light than substance, so her embracing Annie would have been like trying to hug a sunbeam.

There was a long silence. No one spoke. Violette could stand it no longer, so she cried out:

“What are we going to do?”

Since Annie was now materialized, Violette presses against her.

“I can’t go!” cried Violette, “I can’t! You know I can’t face what happened to Vicky!”

Both Annie and Violette burst into tears.

“All right, I’ll go!” Violette sobbed. Violette’s tears ceased as abruptly as they had begun. She felt strangely peaceful. Her confused mix of anger and deep sorrow had passed, and she felt only love and pride, asking forgiveness from Vicky, insisting:

“I have to be me. I can’t be anyone else. I have to do something for you, anything to reach Vicky.”

Annie pushed her disheveled hair from her face, whispering to Violette:

“You’re only a child.”

“I resent that,” Violette said hotly, her voice and hands trembling. The Saqamaw took hold of Violette’s agitated hand:

“Can’t you see what’s going to happen if you go there?”

“If we knew ahead of time what was going to happen in the vortex, we’d all be safer never to have left for the dolly exchange. I wanted everything to be easy and simple. I want to blame you to pretend it was someone’s fault…because I’m scared that I’ve lost Vicky.”

“I’ll go over there for you, Violette,” the Saqamaw said, looking into her hazel, frightened eyes. “Don’t go there, Violette. I’m going now.”

“No!” Annie’s voice was sterner than Violette had ever heard it. “Edgar, you must let Violette know the truth for herself, and since you’re a caring and wise brother, you’ll let her face the truth. Let’s all go together.”

The Saqamaw sighed, drawing Violette closer than ever before:

“Sweetie, don’t be afraid. We’re all afraid right now, but we must have the courage to face the truth. That’s all we can do.”

Violette pushed away scrambling toward the ruins, yelling:

“Vicky, I love you. You always take care of me. Come back to me, Vicky, come back, come to me. I love you, I love you…”

Tears were streaming down, blinding her, choking her. Violette stumbled and fell hard onto the grass. Violette lifted her head to look again at the ruins:

“I love you, Vicky, you’re the best sister ever. I love you. I love you. I love you. Come back!”

According to Einstein, time and space can be squeezed and stretched. Any huge mass can push and pull space and time, putting into motion objects that would otherwise be motionless. These space-time warps were predicted by Albert Einstein’s theories of special relativity and general relativity. With Einstein’s special relativity, time and space can be distorted. Also for Einstein, gravity is exactly the same as acceleration, causing space-time distortions, as any traveler might detect a difference of space-time on board an airplane compared to the space-time experience while watching it fly overhead. They’re not the same space and time for passenger and observer. Acceleration warps space-time. However, Einstein claims, nothing can travel as fast as light, and unlike space-time distortions, the speed of light is never relative but always fixed throughout the cosmos.

That means nothing in the universe can travel faster than the speed of light. However, in general relativity, the trick is to use curved, distorted space-time to take a shortcut between two points to go faster than light. If we’re clever, we can use this distortion to travel back in time. The curvatures caused by gravity allows this distortion, as does acceleration. Einstein argued that gravity causes curvatures in space-time, like the up and down topography of a crumpled sheet of paper, with an ant crawling over it. In theory, from sea level to the mountain top, time does actually speed up at the higher elevation, the more distanced the object is from the gravitational pull. However, this distortion of space-time is only detectable for objects with very large masses—such as planets, stars or black holes—which can create significant distortions in space-time. Space tells matter to move, and matter tells space-time to distort.

Aside from the massive objects that warp space-time, there are other theoretical phenomena that could produce similar effects. One of these is wormholes, like the vortex used for time travel at Payen Hall – tunnels that link two points in space-time, potentially creating shortcuts. Like black holes, they were first predicted by Einstein’s theory of general relativity, known since 1916. Black holes are not really mass at all, something else, quite the opposite, created by warped space and time. Black holes have sharp, spherical boundaries from which nothing can leave. Scientists agree today there’s evidence of millions of black holes in our galaxy alone. Doesn’t the Saqamaw harness already these black holes for time travel? Can he save Vicky from the explosion?

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