What Might Have Been
The future was already lost. Their only hope was to retrieve the past, reposition it, and hope for the best. They would eventually be known as “Timecrypters”. They knew this, but preferred to simply call themselves “Travelers”.
The scenario in which they found themselves enmeshed was occurring in what the carbon-based alpha species of this rather pretty blue-green planet referred to as the year 2015 CE. Travelers tried to make note of these temporal signposts, as otherwise they were inclined to forget where or when they had been coming from as well as where or when they were going. It was easy to get caught up in scenarios, these convoluted meanderings of present circumstances laden with residues of past occurrences and hints at future possibilities. As noted, though, these hints had recently faded away into absence.
It should perhaps be confessed at the outset that the narrator of this story is also a Traveler, but since Travelers have no native linguistic equivalent of first person pronouns, it is easier for them to relate this story as a third-person tale. Verb tenses are also problematic, but they will have done their best.
The expertise of Travelers – Timecrypters, if you will – lies in their ability to navigate the currents of the time-space continuum by accessing small breaches between eras and universes. And when they say “small” they mean really minutely tiny. So tiny, that they can’t actually move through the breaches themselves, sending instead nano-robots equipped with photonic projectors and holistic transmitters, by means of which they can manifest whatever forms seem spatio-temporally appropriate and then projecting their consciousness into that form. Because they are not just communicating with these forms but rather BECOMING the form, they sometimes forget, as it were, which when they’re in and become more involved than perhaps they should have been in specific scenarios. It is always being a risk of their particular mode of travel.
The prime movers in the scenario they are relating here appeared to be energy and moisture and the changing distribution of these resources across the blue-green planet’s surface. Ah yes, mundane, mundane. Exactly. The most fundamental facts so often appear mundane to those who exist by means of them. Have you ever tried to explain water to a fish? Don’t bother. They don’t get it. Likewise the alpha species of this blue-green planet, a terrestrial species, didn’t get their own reliance on the time-currents that distributed energy and moisture for their sustenance.
There were more proximate factors in the scenario, namely Mario Verguenza – the richest specimen on the planet in terms of the things the alpha species valued most – and Gandida Raksha, who exemplified the highest ideals of personal beauty and sexual desirability. It should have been mentioned that this alpha species reproduced by means of sexual encounter, although perhaps it should not have been mentioned at all, since this is not material to the course of events related here. When there is no future, reproduction – regardless of means – is of no consequence.
The lifeways of the planet at this juncture in the scenario were facilitated by means of energy that was being mined from below the surface, where it had been stored over many eons. Of course it all came first from their star – a rather unremarkable mid-sized star – and was having been being transformed into physical form by an exceptionally efficient and truly admirable process they called photosynthesis. The photosynthesizers carried much of this fixed energy to their graves, where it was stored and was now being extracted for use.
Rather than ingesting this stored energy for direct benefit, however, the creatures of this planet had taken to burning it in various inefficient and wasteful contraptions to produce a wide range of goods that, as far as Travelers could see, had no discernible benefit. They also consumed a lot of it in simply scurrying as rapidly as possible from one place to another across the face of the planet. As a byproduct of these activities, the efficacious balance of energy and moisture transfer essential to their life processes was being severely – no, terminally – disrupted.
They didn’t really care about this, even in the fleeting moments when they almost understood. Among those most notable for not caring were Mario Verguenza and Gandida Raksha. They reveled in the reckless accumulation of useless goods and scurried from place to place more than most. Whole bevies of other alpha creatures followed them wherever they went, reporting on everything they acquired and everything they did. According to the Travelers’ data, this resulted in furious efforts on the part of other alpha creatures to emulate Mario and Gandida’s lavish lifeway, the desire to own the things they owned and go to the places they went, or at least similar places constructed in imitation of the places Mario and Gandida went.
To better examine these circumstances, the Travelers produce a particularly endearing photonic small canine, which Gandida had quickly adopted and carried with her everywhere. They had also produced a specimen of an unobtrusive variety of small brown bird, which was able to manifest into many of the scenes in which Mario and Gandida found themselves, while also being free to fly about and observe more broadly.
It became obvious to the Travelers that Mario was bent on extracting and incinerating every last ounce of stored energy from the planet. They felt the quivering disruptions in the continuum. They sensed the disappearance of the future.
During the late nights when Mario and Gandida were engaged in non-reproductive sexual activity and early mornings when they slept, the lapdog and the little brown bird convened in the garden or courtyard or patio of wherever they found themselves and discussed what was happening.
“It is palpable,” the little bird said. “These people have consumed their future.”
“Shouldn’t there have been something done to help?” asked the dog.
“It’s so hard not to get involved,” the bird replied, with a sad, down-drifting twitter.
“If Travelers could have gone back to where this scenario began to see if it might be tweaked? Just a little bit, you understand…” The dog rested its head languidly on a paw and twitched an ear.
And suddenly, there they were, in a factory where objects they knew were automobiles were assembled. The term “Model T” comes to mind. The Travelers had taken the form of cockroaches skittering about in the corners of the factory, and as they looked at the heavy boots of the workmen, they felt the vulnerability of this particular form choice.
“Are you sure this is where it started?” one of the cockroaches said.
“Somehow, that feels unlikely,” said the other.
The scene shifted again, and they were in a beautifully appointed sitting room. There were chairs of carved mahogany, upholstered in intricate tapestries. Heavy brocade curtains hung at the windows and brass ornaments gleamed in the light of a blazing fireplace. A corpulent gentleman sat on one of the chairs, smoking a cigar, while a gentlewoman in rustling silk sipped tea or coffee from a delicate porcelain cup held in a hand sparkling with jeweled golden rings. The Travelers occupy the forms of a couple of mice hiding behind the wainscoting near the fireplace.
“Can you feel it?” said one of them, its whiskers quivering with excitement.
“Yes, it manifested strongly here,” the other replied. “This is where the future begins to disappear. But why? What is it that was happening?”
They both sat very still for a couple of minutes, training their ears and whiskers this way and that, trying to get a better read on the time currents flowing through this scenario.
“It’s the desire, isn’t it?” said one.
The other twitched its nose in agreement. “Even so,” it said at last. “The desire for objects, things, experiences that come from faraway places. Maybe the desire to feel exalted? It’s hard to discern exactly. But outside this space there is readable a similar desire among others to have what is here in this room. And of course, there can never be enough for that.”
“Is there anything that can have been done about it? You know, to prevent what transpires from here and consumed the future?”
“Maybe it’s just the way they are,” the second mouse suggested. “Maybe they were simply destined to be a species with no future.”
“You know that’s not the way things work,” the first mouse scolded. “There’s no such thing as destiny. You’re absorbing too much of their way of thinking. Get hold of yourself.”
The second mouse scratched its head with its back foot. “Sorry,” it said.
The first mouse closed its eyes thoughtfully. Opening them again, it said, “What if these ones had never acquired all of these things? What if they had to rely more on things from their own place? You know, their own resources?”
The second mouse perked up its ears. “Maybe if their temporality had been shifted somehow. Grabbing a piece of the past and repositioning it in such a way as to give them a chance to have emerged in a different way.”
The scene changes once more and they are on a ship at sea, and they are no longer mice, but instead rather large and nasty rats. They are gnawing vigorously at some thick ropes. The ship lurches side to side, backward and forward in a dreadful tempest. The wind howls and waves smack loudly against the timber hull. The ropes the rats have gnawed through give way. A mast cracks and then crashes onto the deck, smashing a hole where water enters. The two rats climb onto a piece of floating debris as the ship disintegrates. And because they are really Travelers and not rats at all, they can read the names inscribed on the disintegrating hull of this ship and two others equally doomed – Nina, Pinta, Santa Maria. There are sailors flailing about in the storm-tossed waters, desperately clinging to anything still afloat.
As dawn breaks, broken bits of wood, a few empty barrels, and a couple of corpses bob aimlessly in the calm waters.
On the time horizon, the future glimmers.
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