David Lee Beowülf
The problems facing the human race, the most important species being Americans, are pretty much solved, aren’t they? As far as I can tell, humans have reached the apex of life’s fullness. Those who don’t die of accidents related to their own stupidity live long lives, dying only when their aged, tired bodies finally give out.
Our homes are heated in the winter and cooled in summer. We have fast cars and planes that take us anywhere we wish to go in minutes. We have radios, television and computers; microwave ovens, superglue and fireproof building materials. We have drugs and hospitals which provide treatment allowing the stupid/arrogant folks to thumb their noses at natural law and remain alive to bungee jump (for example) another day. So what more do we need technology to provide us? More gadgets more people can barely use? I know: we’ll implant cellular telephones in our brains so we can catch up on gossip and leave both hands free to drive. Maybe we’ll have an even faster Web connection allowing us to download 700 MB mpeg porn films in the bat of an eye! Gosh! I can’t wait for the future! Even more reasons never to leave my terminal! Ahhh, what great prospects the next few years will bring for room temperature-IQ consumers! Joy!
Don’t think that I’m against market-driven technological advances. Not at all, I think some of the new toys are great. Some are actually useful, but most just add an annoyance factor to my life. For example, before liberating myself from America Online, I’d only be able to make a reliable connection from which to download my e-mail in the morning and possibly Wednesday night. After about 6 pm EST, forget it. Why? Easy: a million, million people, who have no business whatsoever even owning a computer, clogged up the AOL connections because they’re all “chatting” with each other. What are they talking about? Are they discussing new breakthroughs in science? Medical miracles? How about serious political discussions? No, they’re communicating in poorly-spelled, sentence fragments about who’s sleeping with whom and what they thought of Howard Stern’s latest flatulence joke.
The only serious advances in technology I can see as being advantageous to the human race will be or are related to waste removal and disposal. Either that or electronic power generation and storage. In terms of waste disposal technology, we really could clean up the environment even more than we’ve been doing since establishment of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) in the early 1970s. Technologies could be developed which will not only neutralize pollutants of all kinds, but will either convert them into useful products like food or render them totally inert. The result, for example, would be sewage treatment plants producing clean fuel to generate power. Discharge of smoke, heat or whatever would also be converted to usable energy. Likewise, there could be developments in self-contained homes and businesses where each structure would be equipped with machinery that would generate its own power, thus releasing us from the need for oil or coal burning power plants. The world would be clean and we’d all be happy.
However, since advances in cleaning up and cheap, abundant power negatively effect both the owners of the “means of production” (from the oil companies to the electricians) and those whose careers revolve around telling people they know what’s best for them (i.e., Greenpeace, et al.) such technologies are doomed from the start, unless you’re superduper rich and can do whatever you like. Like Dennis Weaver, who built himself a really nice “earth ship” for a home out in the desert that costs zero to heat and cool.
Any activity that threatens the power industries with losing their customer base is a “bad” thing because these industries need hundreds and hundreds of consumers, running hundreds and hundreds of little appliances, to make them and their stockholders wealthy. You, the consumer, might not need that monster sport utility vehicle, but the Gnomes of Detroit sure need you to have it.
Likewise, if electric power becomes unlimited and waste disposal and clean-up technologies advance. Satanic, communist groups like Greenpeace will be out of a job because the economic and environmental stability of the “common” person is realized. Companies could produce all sorts of nasty chemicals, but disposal of the waste generated would be irrelevant, since there is no waste. The only thing left to protest against would be the lack of things to protest against.
But anyway, that’s never going to happen because too many stupid people are out there who follow either the “maintain the status quo” of big business or the “workers unite” of the Greens. Meanwhile, twenty years in the future, at an English university…
The TimeLords of Metal!
…Basil Watkins and Geoff Duberville were on break from their nightly physics lab course. Both Basil and Geoff were graduate students and part of their subsistence stipend required that they teach the laboratory element of first-year physics for non-physics majors. It was mildly amusing work, but not necessarily fulfilling. They’d be allowed their own space and time in the research laboratories the following year, if they put up with teaching labs at night.
“I say, Geoff,” said Basil, “this laboratory teaching is positively beastly. I feel as though I should like to drop out.”
“Right said,” replied Geoff. “Were it the good old days, I’d not be working at all. That was damned unsporting, those bastards in Labor confiscating my father’s lands.”
“What, you don’t like physics?”
“I didn’t mean it to sound like that, it’s just that this is so vexatious. I do so wish we’d be given a real assignment, rather than these laboratory exercises. They’re so blasted dull.”
“Perhaps we could manage a spot of our own research, eh?”
“What do you mean, Bas?”
“Well, I’ve been `round at Professor Kilmister’s office, right, and he’s nearly got it working, right?”
“Nearly got what working? I’m specializing in visco-elastic solids, not astrophysics.”
“See, Professor Kilmister’s been working on string theory and lay sets, right? He’s been on it for years, right? Well, word has it that he’s got his time machine working, so he says, and I figure on trying it out, right?”
“You’re a right lunatic, you are. What, is Professor Kilmister taking the piss?”
“Is not. Just last week, I saw him give it a try. I heard he sent a copy of the Sun a week into the past. How do you explain him winning the lottery yesterday?”
“I suppose Luck had nothing to do with it?”
“Not a thing. I sneaked a look at his notes, right, and he put to paper that he’d quit if it worked. Well, he quit today, didn’t he?”
“I should hope that having a working time machine would be put to more use than that, wouldn’t you?”
“That’s what I’m on about! He’s got this working time machine, right? And all his notes are just sitting there, right? I’m thinking of playing with it.”
“The thought of the professor’s insanity never crossed your mind, did it?”
“All I’m saying is let’s have a look.”
Both agreed, albeit grudgingly. They finished their labs for the evening and off they went towards the professor’s office.
The Professor’s Notebook
Light cones, manifolds and strings. You can’t get somewhere twice in time…
They pored over a notebook on Professor Kilmister’s desk.
“Blimey,” said Geoff, “it’s nothing but his lecture notes! Isn’t there a user’s manual?”
Is it all relative? When I leave my home at night, it’s there when I get back. The road under my feet isn’t constantly created over and over again just to satisfy my perceptions…I (we) exist as players on the stage…The stage is earth/time. The stage gets older, but to what level? Do atoms age? Do electrons get older? Are there limited numbers of particles, with limited lifespans? Is it all energy?
“Cor, I love this metaphysical physics!” exclaimed Basil. “What’s this? Aha! There it is!”
“What? How are you sure?”
“Read!” Basil held up a small laser disc he found taped to the backside of the notebook. The disc had “User’s Manual Final Draft” written in black marker across its label.
“Right!” started Basil, as he inserted the disc into his aMac (“a” for “amazing”) palmtop multicomputer. “Shall we make a short hike of it over to the faculty research labs?”
“Certainly, old man!” replied Geoff. “What shall we do first? Nab a copy of next week’s Sun and play the lottery? The stocks? Cor! I’ve already spent the money!”
“Hold on, Bas. I’ve got some ideas I’ve been thinking of for a while.”
Did They Save Carl’s Brain?
“Piss off, man!” said Basil. “We could do some real good to this world with this machine.”
“I know,” replied Geoff. “We could prevent ourselves a lifetime of being on the academic dole, we could.”
“What I’m thinking… Geoff, Professor Kilmister was the laughing stock of the college for his ideas about time machines. He showed them: he sodded off with a cool billion. No one knows who we are, or cares. We have plenty of `time’ to be billionaires, with this we could make a better world.”
“Pull the other one! Since when do you care about your fellow man?”
“Since I realized I don’t want to be a billionaire in a polluted wasteland, that’s when. Do you realize we could solve all the problems of the world before they happened?”
“Yeah, like what?”
“Well, I caught this old show on the telly, right, when I was a little kid. And this yank, Carl Sagan…”
“I know who Carl Sagan was, mate, everyone knows that…”
“Whatever… Right, so this show is on and Sagan starts talking about how the evolution of the warship was pivotal in the development of the modern world.”
“Yeah? How so?”
“See, the Romans were using galleys, right? Like they made it to triple-decker rowing ships, right? But somewhere in history, navies started using wind power, right? So they abandoned the galleys and thus the need to develop any kind of power system other than bigger sails and sleeker hulls, right?”
“Right, I see, but what’s the point? Are you going to send back a motorboat?”
“No, not at all. But if you think about it, right, if the Romans had developed the internal combustion engine in like 100 B.C.E., we’d have space travel less than two thousand years ago! Like, we had the steam engine, when? 1830’s? And we had space ships in the 1950’s. So that’s, what, like a hundred and twenty years from steam locomotive to rocket ship, right?”
“I see. Yeah, yeah. And that means we might have light speed travel now, instead of a thousand years from now, like in Star Trek, Generation XXX.”
“So what do you propose, then?”
“Well, first thing we need to plan. But we don’t have much time. I mean, we’re liable to get so interested that we’ll neglect our studies.”
“Oh, yeah, right… Here now, this shouldn’t be too hard. It’s Friday, isn’t it? We’ve got all weekend. This should be easy. Once we do it, just sit back and wait for `it’ to happen!”
There’s No Such Thing As A Stupid Question
On the way over to the faculty research facilities, Basil and Geoff stopped off at one of the campus pubs for a few pints and to see if they could prod the philosophy and/or history majors for some information. Especially since this pub in particular was the traditional Fine Arts student’s pubs. The two ordered pints of a special bitter brewed by the Art Chemistry department and sat down near two philosophy students who were in the middle of a heated discussion.
“I say,” said Basil. “You two seem to be tucking into your studies quite a bit!”
“What’s it to you?” said one of the philosophy students. This one had a long, red beard, the other was clean shaven and wore stylish glasses.
“Oh, I didn’t mean to interfere,” replied Basil. “I just thought it interesting that you’d be lecturing each other on a Friday night after classes.”
“And why not?” said the bearded student. “You don’t get a Ph.D. In classical Greek for nothing! My name’s Terry, and my opponent, who’s arguing the side of the Trojans, or, is Will.”
“William , er, the Conqueror, thank you” said Will with a chuckle. He took a ship from his pint and said, “You obviously want something. He’s the gay one, if that’s what you’re looking for.”
“Um,” started Basil. “No, no thanks. Well, see, I’m Basil and my colleague Geoff, here, um…” he stopped while they all shook hands and said their salutations.
“We’re in physics,” said Geoff. “And we were just over at the first year labs talking about the history of space travel and why it’s taken so long. I mean, why didn’t the Greeks or Romans or Chinese, for that matter, invent space travel or nuclear power or science?”
“I say,” said Terry. “This could be fun. What do you think, Will?”
“It’s pretty easy, actually,” said Will. “Those disgusting Greeks spent all their time arguing the smallest point all the while the Romans were building empires. But in truth, science and mathematics were pastimes of educated slaves. The citizens’ children’s babysitters, if you will. They passed on such knowledge simply to make shrewd bookkeepers for the Senate. The Romans built, but they knew no mathematics. Their engineering was based on practical matters and symmetry, which explains why things stayed around so long, they’re all over-engineered, over-designed. They had no need for machinery, either. Except maybe to count everyone and tax them — or kill them.”
“That’s a right big nutshell you’re filling, Will,” said Geoff.
“But that is about it,” replied Terry. “The Romans had their empire and they didn’t need science to get it. Their medicine was more than enough to spawn a few Caesars, let alone a religion that took over the world. Real science didn’t come about until Galileo invented it, twelve hundred years past the Fall of Rome.”
Will broke in, “and don’t forget that it took Newton’s mathematics, written, I might add in Latin, the language of Rome, thank you very much, to bring about the explosion in scientific thought that we, perhaps blessed, perhaps cursed, happen to enjoy, living in the twenty-first century.”
“Newton was an excellent Greek scholar,” said Terry. “And it might be remembered that Pythagoras had some of the calculus right on a couple of thousand years before Newton!” Will’s face turned red.
“Right! Your damn Greeks and their bleeding bringing buggery into the Western world!”
“Well, excuse me, Mister, but I seem to remember quite a lot of your precious Caesars preferring…”
“Fellows! Fellows!” shouted Basil. “Gentlemen, please, we didn’t mean to set you off at each other like that! Please! Geoff and I have some serious questions and we think you might be able to shed some light on things. What if, say, the Greeks or the Romans had at their disposal an Einstein or a Tesla or a Maxwell or a Faraday or a…”
“Michaelson or a von Braun,” continued Geoff. “Or a Mohr or Timoshenko or Fulton or Newton or Kepler or Leibnitz or Descartes…”
“Or a Pythagoras? An Archimedes? An Euclid? Perhaps an Aristotle?” broke in Terry. “That’s a fair question. But the learned men were slaves. They only served to educate the wealthy men’s sons. There was very little practical use to science. Still, the classical world built marvelous structures, like the Colossus, the pyramids, the zigguratts, etc. The architects from that age served the times very well with their ropes, levels, whips and chains.”
“Yes,” began Basil, “but what do you think would have happened had they knowledge of the atom, of modern chemistry? High-speed personal computers weren’t needed to build the internal combustion engine. Could the Romans or Greeks have come up with such a machine?”
“Hmmm,” pondered Will. “If you persuaded the right General or Senator that you could build a device of use with your science and mathematics, it’s possible. But the Romans built wonderful aqueducts without the advanced mathematics required to understand open-channel flow.”
“What if, “said Geoff, “you sent a copy of Newton’s Principia, which was published in Latin, back to the Roman Empire? Do you think that, within a couple of hundred years they’d harness the power of the atom?”
“Where the hell did that come from?” asked Terry. “Here, do you two work for the lunatic professor who just won the lottery? He’s said to have been working on a time machine.”
“Um,” started Basil, “yeah.”
“Well,” replied Will. “You must actually be thinking of doing something like that, then, right?”
“Maybe,” replied Basil. “It’s not like we have access to the time machine or anything. We’re just, you know, thinking about physics and history and all.”
Terry said, after finishing his pint, “My opinion is that the Roman’s would put the stuff to good use — hey, can you get a copy of the Principia in the original Latin?”
“Don’t know,” said Basil.
“Never mind,” continued Will. “Let’s say you sent back in time a whole proper English science library. And, since you’d pick the right place, there’s a good chance a responsible Centurion would find it. He’d report it to his superior officer who’d in turn report it upwards until it reached the Senate. The Senate would assign the appropriate knowledgeable slaves the task of figuring out what it was. Them, being pretty sharp, would realize that what they had were books written in some strange tongue. The first task would be to translate the languages into Latin. And then they’d be able to understand just what it is they had. The translation probably wouldn’t be so difficult since we use the same alphabet. In fact, they’d most likely have everything sounded out in a couple of years. What, let’s say fifty, give or take Rome being sacked once or twice and half the books burned.
“So they have this partial library, right, and about two and a half generations of slaves being devoted to translating and making sense of everything. So what they do, ahem! is get some Greeks and architects to start trying things out. I’m sure the references to Pythagoras would amuse them, and references to later figures probably confound them, but nevertheless, they’d have the practical foundations of science down in another fifty years, let’s say.
“Meanwhile, the rest of the world is raging on as usual. There are wars, persecutions, heathen sacrifices and business transactions as before. Now, were I the Senator in charge, I’d establish a schedule for regular progress reports and presentations on what’s been found. Pretty soon one of these reports or presentations before the Senate would rock the boat: there would be serious revelations as to putting this new found and revolutionary knowledge to the business of building the Roman State. However, and this just occurred to me, were this information to get into the wrong hands… Hmmm. Terry, what do you think?”
“Here’s one,” said Terry. “Let’s say some of the knowledgeable Roman Jews get ahold of how to make an atom bomb. I could imagine that, instead of putting each other to the sword or taking poison at Masada, they’d detonate a few megatons of TNT, thus ending the Roman siege in a much more spectacular way, thanks to your maniac professor’s `time machine’!”
“Right,” said Will, “I was thinking along those lines as well. Instead of the technological revolution we’d prefer, the whole world would’ve destroyed itself a long time ago. Would the Pharaoh have chosen to strafe the Exodus with aerial machine gun fire? Probably. Those who argued for peace in the days of antiquity oftentimes were quickly dispatched of as menaces to the State. No, my opinion is that the progress of science and mathematics did just fine. Thank God the Romans didn’t have guns, let’s just end it at that.”
“Hmmm,” said Basil. “Well, you gentlemen have really been quite enlightening. I’d buy you both another round, but… We have to go, right Geoff?”
“Why? This was getting interesting,” Geoff said. And then, after a pregnant pause, “oh, yeah, I see. Right. Nice talking to you chaps.” Geoff and Basil got up and walked out of the pub toward the faculty labs.
“I’m pretty convinced,” said Geoff. “Now, can we get to sending out for the winning lottery numbers?”
“I’m convinced, too,” replied Basil. “It’s best then, that we simply exploit this machine for our own benefit.”
“Smashing,” said Geoff.
I Don’t Want To Live Forever
The faculty laboratories were located in a warehouse-type building large enough to accommodate a four-story building (used for civil engineering experiments), a ten-meter wave tank (used for naval architecture and wave mechanics experiments), a machine shop and a few sealed rooms where the electrical engineering and physics professors kept their experiments locked away for fear of industrial espionage. Professor Kilmister’s room was amongst these and the two students were surprised to find it open and lit-up. They walked in and found Professor Kilmister, a tallish man of more than seventy, with long, white hair and strange marks on his face, sipping at a pint of stout and playing a game of two-handed whist with a wet, shivering gentleman. Clothed only in a plaz-flannel blanket, the man bid two clubs and took a sip from his own pint.
“Hello, boys,” said Professor Kilmister. “What brings you `round? Late night studying?”
“Um,” started Basil, “no, um, well, you see, Professor, we’d thought we would…”
“To come clean,” said Geoff, “we’d heard you’d won the lottery and had it off. We wanted to play with your time machine and win the lottery, too.”
The professor laughed for a full minute. “You can’t be serious! The thing’s never going to work! You can’t make a time machine! I only did it to humor my pal, Robert, here.”
“Right bloody bastard you are, Lemmy!” said the shivering man. He was slim and bald, with a look to him that some would describe as “wicked.”
“It doesn’t work?,” said Basil. “But what about the lottery? What about all your research?”
The professor had another laugh. “OK, lads, here’s the deal. Robert, see, he’s got this fantasy and, oh, well, I’ll let you have it from the beginning.
“Back before you boys were born, when the year 2000 came around, all the electric power went out across the world, damn fools were running the national electric on Windows NT… It took nearly a year for the grids to come back up and during that time, after all the batteries a month into it, I decided to give up rock and roll for good. See, with no electricity, the swing fad took over the world and nobody wanted to hear rock and roll any more. Nobody could, anyway. Here, no one wanted to hear acoustic Mötörhead, right Rob?”
“Nor Priest, Nor Three nor anything,” said Rob.
“Swing, on the other hand,” the professor continued, “didn’t need any electricity, so, well, add two and two… Right, so what am I supposed to do? I’m past fifty, all grown up, with enough money and nothing to do, right? So I go back to school and find physics to my liking. And here I am.”
“Tell them about me, Lemmy,” said Rob, in a very sarcastic tone.
“Oh,” said the professor with a laugh. “See, Robert, here, and I don’t know if you boys had ever heard of Mr. Robert Halford, have you?”
Geoff and Basil shook their heads, no, they didn’t know who Robert Halford was.
“Right, didn’t think so. Well, Robert here, was the singer for a great old rock and roll, er, `heavy metal’ band called Judas Priest, which he quit in the early 1990’s to pursue other ventures, like being a poof in broad daylight.”
“Tell them the rest, you fiend,” said Rob, throwing down his cards in disgust.
“Right. Well, lads, once we got the power back up, well, it was too late for heavy metal to come back, wasn’t it? After the food riots, assassinations and what all. And so I’m working on my Ph.D. And Rob comes up to me, all depressed-like, and says he hears I’m working on a time machine, right? So it happens I am; well, not really, I was researching time theory with Steve Hawking, who had recently gotten a new body — a right nice one, too. And Rob says to me, he says, `Lemmy, I’m not fit for this time.’ And I’m thinking to myself, `he’s going to snuff it, isn’t he?’ I mean, here’s this sixty-year old wash-up leather and studs metal cowboy, stuck in an era of swing and recorder recitals. Nobody listened to recorded music any more… So anyway, he lets me in on a secret, right?
“Seems that Rob’s been infatuated with the Roman Emperor Hadrian all his life, ever since his dad took him to the wall and told him stories about the centurions fighting the blue-skinned Picts. Then he tells me…”
Rob let out a colossal sneeze and wiped his nose on his blanket.
“So I tell him,” said Rob. “I tell him that I’m about to get myself put on ice in the new cryogenics travel bureau.”
“Right,” said the professor. “And then he starts asking me about my `time machine’ and I say, `yeah, maybe we’ll build a time machine.’ And then he tells me that he wants, once we finish it, to be unfrozen and transported back to the Roman days when Hadrian was emperor so he could live out his life in a splendor of, how did you call it, Rob?”
“I said `a splendor of violent, beautiful orgies amongst the sculpture gardens devoted to the fallen Antinoüs,” said Rob, with a sniffle. “I wrote `Before the Dawn’ for him, you know.”
“Yeah, I remember it like it was yesterday,” continued the professor. “Right, so Rob goes and gets himself frozen, after a quick anti-aging treatment, sending him back to forty. And has the storage unit sent here for safe-keeping. That was roughly ten years ago, boys, and the final word is that you can’t make a time machine, only in the movies. The most this apparatus behind me ever did was set the whole building vibrating at its natural frequency, giving the secretaries quite a ride… I’m presenting the monograph next month, right before I retire.”
“But what about the lottery?” asked Basil.
“I’ve been playing every week for as long as I can remember and I just happened to hit!” replied the professor. “So I decided to un-freeze Rob and give him the bad, or good news, depending on which way you look at it. What do you want to do now, Robert, you poor bastard?”
“I expect I’ll follow in your footsteps, Lemmy. I guess being a professor, what with all the darling students all around, might be a possibility. Until then, this fake flannel blanket itches like all get-out!”