How did it get so late so soon?

Since all the tools for my untying

In four-dimensioned space are lying,

Where playful fancy intersperces,

Whole avenues of universes;

Where Klein and Clifford fill the void

With one unbounded, finite homaloid,

Whereby the Infinite is hopelessly destroyed.

 

from ‘A Paradoxical Ode / After Shelley’

-James Clerk Maxwell

 

How did it get so late so soon?

It’s night before it’s afternoon.

December is here before it’s June.

My goodness how the time has flewn.

How did it get so late so soon?

 

How did it get so late so soon?

-Dr. Seuss

 

You found yourself reading the lectures of H.F. Von Spiegel again. You read him in your younger days, when the idea of becoming an old man full of ruminations about time had a certain charm about it. Von Spiegel was a thinker from the Old World who survived WWI but didn’t survive WWII. His grandmother on his father’s side was Jewish, and his father had all but tried to scrub the history of that side of the family from its records in a zeal to be a respectable Catholic deacon in his village in Bavaria. But, Von Spiegel moved to Munich after WWI, began actively studying the Kabbalah, and took it upon himself to convert to Judaism. He died in the Dachau concentration camp, but much of his writings survived in the form of lectures he gave throughout Europe during his most fruitful years of thought. The lecture he gave to the École d’ être et le temps in 1918 resonates with you, and you have often checked and re-checked out the volume (#12 of the English “Works”) containing this lecture from the local university library:

 

I wanted to start this by saying something meaningful and profound about Time. So much has already been said about Time, that I am not sure if I will be able to. I am aware of such concepts like Kairos time and Kronos time, and I apologize if I sound like some homespun bumpkin who has never heard of them. Nonetheless, I would like to focus completely on my own meditations of Time, however trite and unoriginal they might seem to some.

 

When we think about someone traveling through time, we picture them waking up or arriving in the exact same spot in space where they departed, but in a different time location. I may be naive and unsophisticated, but I think a lot of these imagined time excursions could only take place if the Earth was flat and static. In other words, you might travel back in time to the exact same spot where you were in relation to the rest of the spatial universe, only to discover that the Earth is on the other side of the sun, or even that the entire galaxy has moved slightly enough during the time period, to place you in outer space, gasping for air.

 

All of this is to say that if we want to think about time travel in relation to whatever science has taught us, we are probably woefully incapable of correctly imagining how it would logically work, given what we know about how bodies move through space during a given time period. It is, of course, almost impossible for the writer of fiction–say in ‘The Time Machine’, ‘Enoch Soames’ or ‘The Clock that Went Backward’–to imagine some hyperuniversal coordinates for all of space and time that are given independently of where we are at on earth. Which means that we inevitably end up thinking more metaphysically, whether our metaverse beyond this one looks like Heaven/Hell or just a gray goop.

 

He goes on to ruminate for a while, and much of it is interesting, but it is when you get to near the very end of the lecture that you sit upright in your bed. It’s like he is speaking directly to you! Of course, you read this passage when you were young and didn’t think as much of it, but this time, you pay much more attention to what he is saying:

 

So, what then of Time itself and the core Self? It is my opinion that the core Self does exist outside of Time, and some memories of each life stay with it and shape it or alter it in some fashion. The core Self gains a benefit from existing as a human inside a linear time universe, because it would otherwise struggle with attempting to be everything and know everything all at once, when it isn’t ready for that, if it ever will be. But, let’s say for a moment that this Self could indeed benefit from a relentless program of imbibing knowledge, and that it would reside in an organism with a memory more capable than the memories most of us struggle to use every day.

 

What if you were offered the gift of an indefinitely extended lifetime near the end of your life? This wouldn’t necessarily be immortality, because this gift comes with certain terms and conditions that likely mean immortality can’t be achieved. More on that in a bit. Let’s say you are ninety-something years old, and you are still pretty alert and spry mentally, but your body has mostly slowed down and you are hard of hearing, and your vision is almost gone.

 

Your children don’t visit you much, your spouse has died, and your grandkids and great-grandkids barely know you. They’ve encouraged you to move into an assisted living home somewhere in a nice town: “Maybe the town you went to college in,” (they said to you when they were gathered around you as if for an intervention for substance abuse). Some of your fellow residents are busy trying to have relationships with each other, but that’s not your scene. Most days, you sit outside and contemplate your existence, which no longer seems like such a cliche and waste of time. The fact that you are still existing on this earth in this body is, for you, a miracle.

 

You know you are quite old by the very fact that your body doesn’t perform well for you, and when you do bother to look at yourself in the mirror, you can clearly see that nobody will mistake you for being a day under ninety. Some days, when you are feeling up to it, you do get out of the assisted living home, and get on a bus and ride down to the University where you get off at a stop near the library and go into the old wing of the building that seems to have changed very little since you went to school there.

 

Occasionally, they will redo the main floor, redecorating it or repurposing it, and sometimes they place an emphasis again on showcasing physical books behind glass alongside other ancient artifacts and relics of the past. Most of the physical books on the floors throughout the library go unread, as students can now find almost everything they need for paper writing online inside ebooks and digitized books and journals. Every five to ten years, there is debate on whether to destroy the books in the stacks–just sell them off in a great book sale and pulp the rest–but, somehow, there has always managed to be at least one cantankerous old soul on a committee that convinces everyone this is a bad idea. The convincing that is done comes more in the form of how you might plead for the value of keeping old art around, or the need to have a few old buildings remain on campus. There isn’t much practical value there, but these physical books represent the evidence of the first lights that were lit by humanity, and should the digital world ever grow dark again, there would be no more light without these books for perhaps thousands of years. Of course, nobody realistically believes that the digital world will ever grow dark, now that everyone is so hyperconnected and most people wear at least some of their information technology and interface with it directly from their brains and bodies. But, the sentiment is there, along with school spirit and crusty alumni who don’t want to see anything about their school change.

 

At any rate, there are least two more generations of adults still living who remembered using books as part of their schooling. One day, all of the books will indeed likely be sold and pulped, excepting the pretty ones for display alongside arrowheads and ballpoint pens. But, you aren’t too worried about living to see that day.

 

One day, you find yourself with a magnifying glass browsing the shelves in the stacks of the spiritual books section, several feet down the row from Von Spiegel’s monolithic Werke and Works, and you come across an interesting title you don’t recall ever encountering before: A Contract for Greatly Extending Your Life. It’s nestled in among books about Astral Projection and works by L. Ron Hubbard and Deepak Chopra, but the cover is old–the book appears to have been written almost a hundred years before you were born. It looks interesting, and you throw it in among a stack of other books you intend to borrow for a few months before one of the school librarians, who all know you well, calls you up and starts scolding you about keeping books past the time you, a non-student or faculty member, can keep them. They know that you are an alumnus who has donated several thousands of restricted gifts to the school library, and that you are a harmless old man who lives in an assisted living home where you still have your own apartment so that the other residents can’t steal your books from you. Sometimes, they even come down there themselves to take the books back from you when you have grown especially absentminded contemplating your existence, writing about Time and what it all means, etc.

 

Several weeks pass before you open the title, A Contract for Greatly Extending Your Life. It appears to have been written during the wave of Victorian interest in the spiritual, by some wannabe Madame Blavatsky, Aleister Crowley or Rudolph Steiner sort of person. The book begins thus:

 

If you are of a certain age, this book won’t make much sense to you. The way you will extend your life means adopting a kind of lifestyle that isn’t fit for one who is young and caught up in the throes of seeking fame, fortune, family and other accolades and honors that one seeks at the start of one’s adult life. If you don’t have the time or ability to read a great many books throughout the year–nay, read almost every waking hour–you won’t be able to fulfill your obligations as outlined in the contract at the end of this book, and you will almost certainly die at a much younger age (which, of course, would be counter to the goal of most who have sought this title).

 

However, if you find yourself able to read a lot (not necessarily understand everything or even much of anything you read, but most definitely able to read and devote much time to it), then you will want to consider what we propose in this book.

 

The book goes on to explain how the author and his friends, after participating in a seance one night, contacted a spirit that they believed to be mostly benevolent, who explained to them some amazing things about reality. The writer of the book of John, who speaks of the Logos, and the Kabbalists who believed that the universe consisted of God’s word, and that the word was reality and vice versa, were very much in touch with the truth of the higher order. While mathematics might be found to underpin all of the laws of the universe and never be fallible, the actual existence of worlds like ours within the higher Universe and God, is constructed entirely of words, albeit highly divine and angelic words that we wouldn’t be capable of understanding. All human understanding and achievement that has risen above that of the other animals comes from our ability to symbolize our reality and process it then manipulate it symbolically. Our use of symbolic language, if manipulated correctly, would enable us to gain direct access to the higher spheres, and would also potentially enable us to prolong our lives greatly beyond the mere 120 years or less we only think we are capable of achieving.

 

Unfortunately, the spirits went on, those who would goof around with things like seances (yes the group felt quite chastened) or other forms of magick (like John Dee) and witchcraft have absolutely no idea what they are playing with. It is as if they have discovered fire for the first time and have no idea that a gunpowder factory lies next to the fuel they could use to heat their homes and survive the winter, and so they light up everything they can with the symbol manipulation they do not understand.

 

Fortunately for the author and his group, the spirits were willing to be kind and make a bargain with them. They would instruct the group on what symbols to write and what actions they could take to find themselves in kinship with benevolent spirits who thrived on the Word itself, rather than on its inverted, perverted forms, which were nothing less than pure Evil. The spirits instructed them to write out a series of unintelligible, barely printable symbols, and then had them draw up the following contract:

 

If you wish to obtain a prolonged sort of life, in which many of your ailments wrought by age will be restored to at least a workable state, then you will agree to conduct the following upon signing the contract below:

  • Firstly, you must write out all of the symbols as provided (this was for future readers or members of the group who weren’t there that night)
  • Secondly, you must locate a respectable college or university library that contains the bulk of humanity’s works (for example if Maxwell or Newton or Homer or Augustine or even Luther are missing, you should probably look for another library), with at the very least, ten thousand titles in its collection.
  • Thirdly, you will agree to visit this library every day it is open with a copy of the symbols you wrote out in the first step in your pocket, and read through each book in its entirety. If it is printed in a language you don’t understand, or the subject matter is of a specialized nature, that is of no matter. Read it as best as you can. If it is in a script you can’t read at all, run your finger over each character and briefly focus on each symbol touched.
  • Fourthly, you must be willing to accept that if you cease the third step at any time, or if you should complete all of the titles in the library, or if the library and its titles should be permanently destroyed, you will find yourself returning to the same aging process you were participating in before, perhaps even finding yourself aging at an advanced rate. That is why this contract is truly only for those who are of advanced years and will not be much remiss if they find themselves dying shortly after their reading program ceases.
  • Fifthly, if you do complete all of the titles found in the library, and the number of titles haven’t been much abridged due to the partial destruction of the library or removal of the titles by some outside force, you will find yourself required to join our group, of which you will learn more about at the time you join us.
  • Sign here:

 

And then, below that, there was a place for signatures, and someone named John Grimm and someone named Alice Steppley (or so it appeared to say, given your imperfect ability to read the old, smudged handwriting) had actually placed their signatures in the book. John Grimm’s signature was the most recent, appearing to have been signed by a ball point pen that could have been from just about any time period from the late 1970s onward, but looked to have been there for at least ten years.

 

You tried to recall if there were any old guys like you lurking around the library during odd hours when all of the students were out of classes and the library was only open for half days. There was a fairly young fellow, at least he seemed young to you, who wore older, houndstooth hats and professorly jackets with the pads on the elbows. He looked to be a younger man affecting a professorly look, almost to a cliche. The fellow would often be seen riding an old Schwinn Collegiate, probably from the 1970s or 80s, and oddly did prefer to wear a backpack over his professor jacket, instead of using a more dignified messenger bag.

 

You assumed he was a young, untenured, assistant professor who was pretending to be much older, perhaps an utterly pretentious snob. He certainly wouldn’t have noticed you, since you usually used the back entrance with the handicap ramp and elevator–stairs were not very kind to you.

 

The book sat on your shelf for some more months, since you really didn’t believe much of what it said. It was the kind of hocus pocus spirituality that young kids seemed attracted to when they figured the spirit world would simply fling its doors open to them and shower them with friendship–or at least have a large contingent of nice spirits waiting to do their every bidding. Such things were no longer really en vogue, anyway, as so many attempts to revive the popularity of the Harry Potter series had come and gone with a few generations, and most people no longer believed in spiritual things much at all.

 

Your spirituality was more in line with the fusty old Protestant churches of the “frozen chosen” that still existed in small numbers, where clergy almost as old as you performed sacraments and gave sermons to handfuls of people like you who went for that sort of thing. You’d watched so many of your churches shutter their doors in the last fifty years as the Baby Boomers all died off and so few of the Gen X’ers and Millennials took to mainline Protestantism or even spirituality at all. You often wondered if you practiced this kind of faith for the same reasons young people liked to wear old professor clothes when they were first starting their academic careers–an utter affectation towards a nostalgia for something that never really quite existed in the form you’d made it out to be. But it was comforting. It was comforting to know every Sunday there would be the exact same liturgy and a preacher who mostly gave warm sermons of homespun philosophy about death, sprinkled with the verses from the lectionary.

 

There was also something in one of the last lectures of H.F. Von Spiegel that sort of stayed with you and nagged at you for years after leaving college that compelled you to give church one more try. Someone from one of your Spanish classes had told you about machine translation online–babelfish.altavista.com. You found the translations to be acceptable for helping you study, but didn’t think to use them for anything else until one evening when you’d revisited H.F. Von Spiegel’s Werke and Works, and realized you’d read through the fewer, thinner volumes that were in English (except, of course, the denser parts that contained a lot of math or arcane philosophical terminology).

 

Flipping through the large, final volume of Werke, you came upon a lecture that mentioned “Jesus Christus” a lot. Von Spiegel had occasionally made remarks about Christianity in some of his earlier lectures, mostly to the effect of it not being very interesting to someone who had read deeply about the Buddha. However, one of these last lectures seemed to mention him a lot, and your curiosity grew enough to the point that you checked out the large volume and took it home to attempt to painstakingly type in sentence by sentence into Babelfish.

 

What does it mean to be a Nazi Christian today? Having been raised in the Catholic church, I watched members of my family and others in my community actively support the Nazi party, even as it became more and more clear that its tenets were at odds with some of the most fundamental beliefs of the Christian faith. Perhaps this lecture should begin with the question: who was Jesus Christ? This is, of course, a question that has prompted any number of great thinkers of the past 1900 years to write lengthy and contradicting accounts of who they believed Jesus Christ to be. Historically, there is little or no evidence for such an individual. Most, if not all, of the passages in the writings of Josephus, where Jesus Christ is mentioned by a contemporary, are believed to be the work of a later hand.

 

The lack of historical evidence of Christ doesn’t necessarily mean he didn’t exist. Most individuals of Christ’s time were not literate, or left behind little if any direct historical evidence of their existence. However, this doesn’t prevent us from being able to reasonably accommodate the possibility of their existence. The multiple accounts of Jesus’ followers are written in such a way as to lead one to believe that such a character probably was witnessed by some–as to which miracles he performed were actual miracles and not the acts of a man with especially gifted powers of reasoning and great charisma–that will surely be debated until he decides to come back.

 

All of these things aside, we can with some confidence formulate a picture of who our modern day Christians say Jesus Christ was–this is much easier, as we have great overlap in agreement between the Reformed, the Lutherans and the Catholics as to who Jesus was, or wasn’t. For the purpose of this lecture, we will start there. All present day Christians agree that Jesus was, at the same time, an omnipotent God and a true man–ie, the son of that God living in true human form…fully realized in human flesh, yet retaining his divinity. As God (or God’s son), Jesus had the capability to destroy all of the Romans who were occupying the Jews’ territory, and reign supreme over this territory as well as the rest of the earth. But, he did not wield this power, much to the great disappointment of many of the Jews of his time who were expecting a Messiah who would come as a warrior king in the tradition of David.

 

Taking the Christians’ assertion of who Jesus was/is at face value, we must find a way to logically deduce why he chose not to wield this power, rather than possibly contend that he wasn’t a messiah after all, and simply didn’t have the power he claimed to possess. What can we then deduce? We must contend that Jesus sought to change humanity in a manner that was different from the ways that his father had tried to change humanity. I, for one, find the laws of the Torah more than sufficient to guide me and prevent me from becoming an inhuman monster, but perhaps Jesus understood that the Romans, steeped in a very different set of customs and traditions, required a wholly new way of looking at the world in order to get them to behave better.

 

Being God and God’s son, Jesus must have experienced both Kronos and Kairos time, but ultimately, his method of changing the rest of the earth can be seen from the perspective of Kairos time, since the Romans were not prevented from destroying Jerusalem not long after Jesus’ death and would continue to behave very badly until around 300 AD, when Constantine was convinced by his mother that there is something to this new way of being Jesus was trying to communicate.

 

Given Jesus’ indifference to nations and their kings, and given his proclivity to deliver change via a lengthy series of incarnations of the Christian church (which has found itself behaving very badly itself many times in history), we can only presume that Jesus would have little preference for the Nazis. In his insistence upon turning the other cheek, praying for your enemy, and handing your cloak over to the one who takes your coat–Jesus might have raised a passive resistance to some of the terrible things we are starting to see and hear from the Nazis–or, like our present day Vatican, he might be rather neutral and tell his followers to just suffer through it.

 

At any rate, it is hard to imagine that Jesus would recommend his followers, Catholic or otherwise, to join the Nazi party and adopt its values. So, why have we seen so many Christians in Germany support the Nazi party, either complicitly or by actively becoming members? We could suggest that they have a poor reading of the New Testament, are ignorant of who Jesus was specifically railing against, and accept the possibility that they think they are doing Jesus’ work by their mistreatment of us Jews. But, I would posit that this is probably only the case with a few. Instead, I would suggest that almost none of the Catholics, Reformed or Lutherans who now support the Nazi party are true disciples of Christ, any more than the Pope and many other clergy were during the period of corruption in the church that led up to the reformation. We simply can’t reconcile the words and deeds of Christ with the words and deeds of his so-called followers.

 

This is nothing new. Does this mean that we should ultimately reject Christianity as a failed attempt to bring light and new order into the world? We certainly could, and we probably wouldn’t see the world change much for the better or worse. However, I propose something entirely different. Yes, it might seem shocking coming from someone who has actively practiced and promoted Judaism for the past twenty plus years of his life, but then, as most of you know, I am atypical of pretty much any group or any ideology.

 

My proposal is one of re-envisioning the Christ we think we know, and seeking to be that individual in a very active, in-your-face sort of way toward those who do and will persecute us. Christ is the ultimate man whom we should all aspire to be. Instead of putting faith in world leaders who will inevitably let us down–and this includes the clergy of all churches–we put our faith in a being who knew what it was like to be a man persecuted by an evil world power, but chose to profess only love in the face of that evil. Most of us still claim to have some belief in a higher power–if we truly believe that high power is ultimately good and capable of protecting us–then we should put all of our faith in Him. But here is the tricky part, and where I am really turning things on their head. If we also accept Jesus’ teaching that the Kingdom of Heaven is to be found within us, and that we are reborn in Christ when we ask him into our hearts (as Paul asserts), then we are no longer each becoming an individual island who talks to a great figure beyond the veil of this world. Rather, we are putting all of our faith in each other, but “each other” as our better selves, our Christlike selves. This is the only way we can begin to truly connect as humans, all with each other, all as one, and destroy this pernicious myth that there needs to be separate faiths, parties, nations, etc.

 

Of course, this isn’t what anyone who calls themselves a Christian will do. They will put their faith in men’s egos and ideas of the nation-state, as they have always done. There will be ultimate faith in weapons whose power to destroy entire cities we can’t even fathom. Love is the opposite of fear, and I think that’s what Christ, at his best (whether this is historically accurate or not) portrayed. I am not asking those who are Jewish, agnostic or otherwise not professing Christianity. Far from it. I am asking each of us to be more like the ideal Christ, the perfect man/God. For if there ever was a perfect man to walk the earth who was also at the same time omnipotent and all-loving, then we are in our greatest need of him now, and we most certainly can’t wait for his return.

Some may ask: how is it we even have such a thing as an imperfect world with evils like Nazism, while men who claim to follow a perfect being like Christ also decide to follow Hitler? Of course, there is much written about this, like how free will wouldn’t exist for men to choose Christ or God as men without an imperfect world where evil existed for them to choose instead, and original sin (which some say was where evil began). We could banter about Augustinian theodicy, but I’ve found that Luria’s Tzimtzum is a better way to visualize some of these questions. Tzimtzum is a contraction or withdrawl of the Light in order for creation to exist (and hence evil comes to fill that vacuum), rather than a positive development of evil.  At any rate, when men and women become to immersed in the material world, then they become suspicious of others or even a great Other who might take away their possessions. This is, of course, a turning away from the Light. Such ones as these are trying to save their own lives, and will surely lose them–but, I mean something much bigger when I speak of Life, as Jesus surely did.

 

It was rather time intensive, using an imperfect machine translation tool that was in its nascent form. You never went back and tried to re-translate it using Google translate when the technology became quite good. However, from what you knew of Von Spiegel’s life, this wasn’t one of his better known lectures. In fact, you are pretty certain that he died forming an armed resistance group within the Dachau camp, and was at times outspoken in favor of any means necessary to resist the Nazis. There were other lectures where the word “Christian” appeared, and from the little that you bothered to translate around it, his opinion of the faith (and perhaps his opinion of its founder as well) seemed to be much less favorable. As a deeply learned man who had chosen exile with others who perhaps couldn’t choose, he surely saw the “wheat and chaff” quite differently, and like any man or woman facing those unimaginable hardships would have had trouble countinuing to hope for a Life beyond this life and Time beyond this time.

 

For your younger self, there was something appealing and intriguing about the idea of a being who had lived perfectly as both God and human, and by perfectly this meant being the kind of human being you often hoped to become–highly respected and able to claim any number of friends who said they knew and loved you well. This was the being who could help you make sense of all the things in your life that weren’t going the way you wanted them to, and make sense of the great evils like Nazism that had visited themselves upon the world. No Christian you ever met was as bad as a Nazi, but all of them were pretty far from being like the Jesus you came to know from multiple readings of the scriptures (or they tended to favor the passages where he talked about the chaff being tossed into the fire, where the chaff happened to be anyone who didn’t agree with them on all matters of politics and theology). Being the practical person that you were, your church attendance and Bible reading seemed to just “work” for you in the same way that the contract came to clearly work for you. They made you more of an authentic human being, and less of an automaton being run down by the dictates of your society.

 

Why you were on the verge of putting more of your faith in a machine from the future than a perfect “God/Human” from the past was probably mostly due to your curiosity than your lack of faith in God’s ability to take care of you when you died. You just had to ask, “what if?” one more time before you died. “What if, upon doing this thing, signing this contract, I could finally experience in this life some of the magic I seemed to sense and get excited about when I used to raid the library for books as a young man? Not magic like magic tricks or Crowley’s magick, but a childlike sense of something being new and wildly enchanting, ready to surprise and delight!”

 

The University library started calling you again (both figuratively, but also literally for your overdue books), and you had grown bored with your other books, so it was time to make another trip over there. You got on the bus on a morning that wasn’t too chilly after a nurse had rubbed down some of your most aching joints, and managed to make it over to the University with only the steady dull roar of pain that accompanied you almost every day.

 

Seeing the oldish-young professor breeze by you on his Schwinn Collegiate, as you hobbled along, you suddenly had an impulse to move a little faster and apprehend him as he was locking up his bike. You mentioned your name to him after complimenting him on his attire and his bike, and he told you his name: “John Grimm.”

 

“Do you come here every single day, John Grimm?” you asked.

 

“Pretty much. I fell in love with this old library when I went to school here, and decided I would stick around this town doing shit jobs just so I could come back and read the books.”

 

“So, you aren’t a young professor here at the school?”

 

He laughed. “Ah, no. I guess I kind of dress like one to avoid raising eyebrows. Most everyone at the library knows I’m just a bit of an eccentric. But, I am a good standing member of the alumni. I donate what I can each year from what little salary I make at the insurance company to whatever library funds they have going.”

 

“Ah, so you sell insurance?”

 

“Oh, no. I’m not really much of a talker. You’re the first person I’ve talked to so much in as long as I can remember. I just do admin stuff for an insurance firm in town. I’m a nobody. Reading books, walking my dog and having the occasional fling, that’s my life.”

 

“Never married?”

 

“Nope,” his face fell a little bit. As an old man, you could often get away with being a little more impertinent than the average person, but you could see you were starting to be a little too nosy. And yet, you were beginning to wonder about this guy. Was he the same John Grimm who’d signed the contract in your book?

 

“Sorry, I am not trying to be so nosy about affairs that don’t concern me. But, I have to ask, is this your signature?” You shuffle the book A Contract for Greatly Extending Your Life out from under your arm.

 

His face grows pale. He looks you up and down and finally decides that you truly are harmless.

 

“It certainly is.”

 

“Does the contract work?”

 

“It would appear to work so far. I mean, I am guessing that I am actually a little older than you. I was born in 1962.”

 

You get a bit of a chill. You were born in 1982. He must be almost 115 years old!

 

“Just a little bit older,” you mutter. “What about Alice Steppley? Did you ever meet her? Is she still around?”

 

He got a faraway look in his eye, almost tearing up. “No. It’s a long story. Look, if you want to know more about it, you can meet me down at Burgo’s for a glass of wine or a coffee. That’s where I go to do most of my reading and thinking. Right now, I have to get along.”

 

“Okay. Before you go, would you recommend that I sign the contract?”

 

He looks you up and down and shrugs. “Can’t hurt. I mean, I honestly don’t know with whom I made my bargain. When I was reading through the section on Christianity, I often wondered if my bargain was Faustian, and good old Mephistopheles will be there to meet me one day. But now, I’m on to a lot of random collections of journals about various topics, and I’ve had time to decide that these spirits who set this up can’t be all that bad. After all, I’m 114 years old, and still have the occasional fling with a young co-ed.”

 

That’s all he had to say about that. You know that you will take him up on the drink down at Burgo’s, but haven’t decided about the contract.

 

“Can I renew this one?” you ask Mary, one of the librarians who is used to your ways.

 

“Well, you and I both know that this is about five weeks overdue, and I should technically be charging you $34.50 for it.”

 

“Ah, Mary,” you say in your whiniest old man voice, “You and I both know these kids don’t read books any more–they skim digitized journals after running a bunch of keyword searches and paste together cherry picked sentences to support their theses. This poor book could use an old man’s company–an old man who walked the earth before there ever was a World Wide Web.”

 

She rolls her eyes, but you know it is just part of the dance you do with her: “Oh, all right. I don’t see why not.”

 

You re-check out the book, and then go back to the area where you found it on the shelf. You half imagine that there might be some spirits in a higher realm hanging around in this area, but then decide such thinking is absurd.

 

Von Spiegel’s Works and Werke are nearby and seem to stick out from the shelf a little more than usual. You haven’t picked them up in probably a decade or more. Most of what you know about Von Spiegel and his writing is everything you read while you were still in college. There was just never the same pull with him that there used to be. Like so many thinkers and writers you have picked up and put down, the desire to read more of their works went cold once you decided you knew them as well as you ever would. Von Spiegel, of course, would have signed the contract as a young man prior to his accident that left him with a deformed back and limp, but probably not afterward. His later notes from the concentration camp all speak of a man ready to go be with his God, and leave the evils and problems of this world for other men to solve.

 

Maybe you will go talk to your pastor about the contract and what the theological implications are for signing it, though he mostly seems inclined not to really discuss much whether God exists–he likes the poetry and pomp of the liturgy, but in person is more likely to want to talk about the latest movie or gadget that has come out. He, too, seems to be another young person wearing an old man’s clothes purely for the effect.

 

Pastor Wylie is locking up the church when you hobble off the bus to catch him. He sees you and doesn’t try to hold back his unhappiness at having to see and listen to yet another parishioner, although he only really sees maybe one or two a day.

 

“Is this something that could wait until I make my rounds down at your living center?” he asks.

 

“No, I don’t think so,” you say.

 

He sighs heavily. He was hoping to get on down to a wing place that serves especially spicy boneless wings (all of the “chicken” is pretty much grown in a vat now) with oversize mugs of ice cold beer. Such a place might have tempted you in your younger years, but one hot wing and a few sips of beer would probably kill you now that you mostly eat unsalted, bland boiled “chicken” breast and broccoli almost every day.

 

He unlocks the church door and motions for you to follow him back to his office.

 

“What is it you need to hear from me?” he asks. He is used to hearing you wrestle with the theological implications of eternity vis a vis a universe that tends toward entropy yet has nature and humans who can become more complex through time, and the usual theodicy questions about an all-loving, all-knowing God who would put people to death for not properly believing in His Son. He mostly listens to you ramble about time as you understand it, clearly having his patience tried has he sighs and snorts more loudly and loudly until he gives you some pat answer about what those of us in the reformed church believe regarding predestination, Time, and an omnipotent, all-loving God.

 

“Well, Pastor Wylie, it’s this book, you see…” you show him the book.

 

“Hmmm. Getting into 19th Century Theosophy, are we?”

 

“Well, not exactly. Not for some time, anyway. I didn’t think much of the book, until I met John Grimm, who signed his name on the contract at the end of the book.”

 

“Who’s John Grimm?”

 

“A fellow who came up here as an undergrad in the early 1980s, and is still pretty much the same fellow.”

 

“Hmmm. Well, sir, I can tell you that you probably coincidentally encountered some young man who came up here but a few years ago, and is caught up in his little fantasy of being a much older man as he milks his trust fund dry. You know how younger people are…they don’t outgrow these fantasies as early as they used to, sometimes taking them with them into their forties and fifties.”

 

You look Pastor Wylie up and down in his “staunch Calvinist suit” and posturing that thinly veils his disdain for his parishioners and love of sports, beer and gadgets; and wonder if he is aware of the irony of his statements. But then, perhaps he will grow into the kind of pastor he fancies himself to be, but is not, and should be left to come to terms with his young man’s inner world that runs incongruent to the outer reality of who he is.

 

“The signature looks to be pretty old,” you say. “While they do still make ballpoint pens like the one on the signature, most young people don’t use them to take notes and he would have had to buy them from a specialty store online.”

 

“So, maybe he did. Or maybe, he did what psychics call a ‘cold reading’ of you. He hadn’t even seen the book before, but read enough into you and who you were hoping he would be, that he thought it would be mildly amusing to play along with an old guy like yourself.”

 

“Pastor, have you ever bumped up against the Infinite?” you ask, hoping that he will at least provide some personal testimony that makes him seem like less of a boyman playacting at being a pastor.

 

“Hmmm. Well, sometimes at night, when I am unable to sleep, I step outside, and have a look at the stars and think to myself that there must be so much more remaining for science to discover, and I think…”

 

“Yes?”

 

“Well, I do think that there is still room for God somewhere in all of the universe that we have discovered, even if most of us have yet to discover God. But, that seems to be neither here nor there. Tell me, why did you really come here?”

 

“Well, you know. Let’s just say that this is completely true, and works the way the book and Mr. Grimm says it does. If I sign the contract, does it mean I am making a deal with the Devil, or is there room to believe there might be a pocket universe in the great beyond that houses benevolent spirits who aren’t especially Christian, but aren’t working for Satan, either?”

 

“Do you want the perspective of theologians in the reformed tradition, or what my own gut says?”

 

“How about you put yourself in my shoes for just a few minutes? I am an ancient man who can barely get out of bed most days, and little jaunts downtown like this one put me out of commission for weeks because the pain is so terrific and the pain medicine is so ineffectual. I will probably die within five years, and here is a chance to prolong my life…though what that will look like, I don’t know. Would you roll the dice?”

 

He sits for a long time staring at you, and it appears you have gotten past his smug shell of not really thinking too much about anything past what he was told in seminary to say to people like you.

 

“You know,” he says, “I would probably do it if I had some reassurance that whoever was orchestrating this prolonged life could maybe make me a little less…”

 

“Old?”

 

“Yeah. I wouldn’t want to prolong my life if I was…”

 

“An old man like me, full of exquisite, chronic pain and the look and smell of death itself about me?”

 

“Exactly.” His head drops, because he has effectively said that he would want to choose death if he was you, but you can’t fault him too much for thinking that way. You have thought about killing yourself or getting some help with it from one of the nurses who is reputed to be accommodating to such a wish, but at the same time, you have, in spite of all of the intense pain, this will to just keep going as long as you can will yourself to keep going.

 

It’s not out of any fear of punishment in the afterlife for being a suicide, but more out of an intransigent curiosity to be present and as alert as you can possibly be on the day that it all ends.

 

“So, if you knew that you could at least be de-aged, so to speak, by say, twenty years to maybe 73, when you were still pretty limber and free of pain, and then you knew you could live indefinitely as long as you followed the rules of the contract, you would sign the contract?”

 

“Sure, why not. I like books. I’m still struggling to find me a life partner, so I am not holding my breath for being a family man. A single, aging pastor at a church nobody attends–I’m not exactly living anyone’s dream. So…”

 

“So…do you want to sign the contract?”

 

“Oh, no. I don’t think I can right now. I mean, today. I guess I’m going to give myself a few more years to find a mate who might want to start a family, and then I think I’m probably going to give up this gig and get into the tech industry as a salesperson or something…who knows? But, hanging around a library for hundreds of years isn’t the most appealing thing for me today. Just maybe someday.”

 

You thank him for his time and catch the last bus back to the assisted living center.

 

The book, upon closer examination, doesn’t seem to be quite as old as you first thought it to be. It has definitely aged, and is possibly almost a hundred years old, but the construction of it–the ink on the page and the paper look to be more like something from mid-20th Century. The photographs look to be almost xeroxed or at least not printed from the originals. Reading the names of the group who posed for a picture after the seance, you notice a name that stands out for the first time: Alice Steppley. That seems odd. Why would someone who was present at a seance in the late 1900s or early 20th Century in England have put her signature on a book that resides at a university library in the Midwest, presumably several decades after her picture was taken?

 

After you recover from this exhausting, pain-inducing trip downtown, you know that you will need to make your way to Burgo’s to have a lengthy conversation with John Grimm.

 

This came some three weeks later, as you were laid up with what the doctor said was a life-threatening case of pneumonia that you managed to lick more quickly than anyone would have expected. The doctor measured your lung capacity after you had recovered, and declared you only have 30% lung capacity. The walls of your arteries were fragile, and it was likely you would die within the year of heart failure or a stroke. You’d heard this many times before over the past fifteen years, but this time a sharpness in your chest remained long after this illness had passed.

 

John Grimm was indeed at Burgo’s one Saturday afternoon around 3 PM, with a stack of books in front of him, and one propped up on his crossed leg that had staked its claim on the one coffee table in the corner in front of the one sofa of this coffee shop.

 

“They all hate me here,” he said to you, “I come and read for hours and drink a $5 cup of coffee, maybe with a scone or a piece of pie. I don’t even flirt with the young co-eds, anymore. I mean, I’m well over a hundred now. Even I creep myself out thinking about it, though I don’t ever turn down an attractive young lady new to town who comes in and smiles at me and wants to know what I’m reading.”

 

“What are you reading?” you ask.

 

“English for Agribusiness and Agriculture,” he says, “Believe me, I’ve read most of the exciting, easy stuff in the library. Yes, there is plenty of fiction I haven’t touched, but fiction tends to mess with my head–my reality is already out of sync with everyone else’s, and even a bad work of fiction can leave me disconnected from this world for days. It’s worse than a bad trip.”

 

“Do you ever re-read anything?”

 

“Not unless it is reprinted within an anthology or some other collection of works. Trust me, there is enough duplication of ideas that there really is no reason to read the exact same book twice. Plus, I don’t think it counts in the rules of the contract.”

 

“Do you ever grow tired of reading?”

 

“All the time. Sometimes, like right now, I am just mechanically letting each word enter my head. I won’t remember much of this.”

 

“So, what do you think the intended purpose of the contract was, if you are going to forget everything, anyway?”

 

“Well, I’ve thought about that a lot. I’ve not ever had any direct contact with the beings that created the contract, and run the show, but I think they must benefit somehow from what my subconscious mind does with what I’ve read, maybe while I’m sleeping. I kind of figure that the string of symbols I had to write down–which I’ve periodically rewritten while on any number of drugs, by the way–keep some kind of portal open between part of my mind and theirs. Perhaps they are building a great library in a higher dimension, or maybe they are beings from the future who were only able to communicate, rather than travel, backward in time–and this is their only way of accessing human knowledge that was likely lost due to some apocalyptic disaster.”

 

“Seems intriguing, but I don’t know if I’m really convinced of any of it.”

 

“Most people aren’t. I’ve told maybe eight ladies that I had unfortunately fallen too madly in love with, and all of them either dismissed it as my peculiar eccentricity which would eventually destroy the relationship (they always want to physically travel places, you know? and with this contract, no travel very far away from the library can happen unless I want to shrivel up and die…), or they simply walked out, unable to process the idea that a grown man could be so completely convinced of such nonsense.”

 

“Did anything unexpected happen when you took drugs and wrote out the symbols?”

 

“Well…yes and no. I could sense…presences nearby. I had a much stronger desire to consume even larger quantities of chemistry and biology books indiscriminately…without bothering to actually process what I was reading. I just knew that I was being monitored by the management, and had no desire to end up like Alice…”

 

“Alice Steppley?”

 

“Yes, her.”

 

“Can you tell me about her? I noticed that she was pictured with the initial group of Victorian seancers, and then her signature seemed to be of a much later date. For that matter, the book…”

 

“Yes, yes. You are correct. The copy you are holding was reprinted by Alice who commissioned some vanity press to reprint it. She was my first…uh…real relationship.”

 

“So, she lived here for a while?”

 

“For a while. She had grown bored with the library at the University of Bristol where the members of the original group who signed the contract chose to stake themselves out to fulfill their obligations. That was around 1915 or so. After hanging around intellectual scenes in Paris, Munich, Rome, she set off for America with a few original remaining copies of the book. By the time she arrived in New York, she had aged considerably, or so she said. Perhaps she exaggerated that part. She did have a tendency to exaggerate things. On a whim, she decided to place one of the books in guerrilla fashion in a local public library, and re-sign the contract. Almost immediately, she started to see effects of her aging reverse. So, she stayed there for awhile reading books dutifully and doing whatever she could to survive in the city.

“But, I think it became a little too much for her fairly delicate sensibilities. With her group, which sort of prided itself in being a precursor to the Bloomsbury group, she’d experienced more sexual freedom than most Victorians, but was not really interested in the coarse ways of the men who called upon her services in New York.

 

“So, another idea struck her. She made one of her wealthier, widower clients feel like she was madly in love with him, and convinced him to marry her. She then used some of his money to pay to have a new printing run of the book. Armed with a little cash and a trunk full of books, she slipped out in the night and the poor dupe never even bothered to chase her due to all of the shame he had.”

 

“That was a bit harsh of her.”

 

“I guess she did what she could do to get by, like anyone else. Decades later, after rolling through so many towns and signing so many contracts, she wound up at this little Midwest university library, where she met me, a young sophomore green behind the ears in the ways of love.”

 

“Wow, so she must have been, what, eighty…ninety years old by then?”

 

“Something like that. She never failed to talk about all of the men she’d been with, either, while we were in bed. At first, it made me violently ill to think about. Then, I started to be kind of turned on by it. Finally, I just kind of stopped caring, and had grown more confident in my manhood, and told her I wanted to move on and see someone else.”

 

“And she was okay with that?”

 

“Of course. She was ready to move on as well. She told me that she was certain her time was running out, because with each library she hopped to, and each new contract she signed, the amount of aging that happened in between libraries advanced at an even greater pace. She knew they were going to eventually catch up with her for abusing their system, and wanted to die in front of the Golden Gate bridge.”

 

“So, you flew out to San Francisco with her, and watched her crumble to dust before your eyes?”

 

His eyes drop and he grabs his coffee. He kind of mumbles into his mug: “Nope. I wasn’t going to risk my own health by leaving town for even a few days. I never saw Alice again. My heart was in pain for a few weeks, but I got over it. I suspect that she probably did age at a remarkable rate on the plane out there, and was no more than a skeleton by the time she arrived. Or, perhaps she did any number of seances to try to renegotiate her terms?”

 

“Have you ever tried to contact the makers of the contract via seance?”

 

“No way. There are too many malignant forces in the spirit world that await people who play around with that shit. I mean, I was green and young and stupid when I signed the contract, but I’ve read enough books about how the spirit world works to know that it’s not something you play around with.”

 

“Have you ever met anyone else who signed the contract, perhaps online?”

 

“Nope, and I never really tried to. I’ve sometimes checked on the book just to make sure it was still there. Any time the library appears to be doing a mass reshelving or purge of books, I check the book out until the move or purge is over.”

 

“Did Alice put the book there without allowing it to go through the proper channels to be assigned a call number?”

 

“In this case, no. By the time she got to our school, she had taken to sleeping with library personnel to get the book properly into the catalog, so that it wouldn’t be removed by some anally retentive reshelving clerk. I have tried to research the other members of that group of early new age pioneers, and from what I can tell, most of them lived quiet lives around Bristol, taking mundane professions and eventually tiring of being alive and reading books. I doubt anyone has ever fulfilled the contract by reading all of the books in a given library. After all, it hasn’t quite been two hundred years since the first signing of the contract took place. It will take me probably at least a thousand years to feel like I’ve made any real progress at all.”

 

You stop to ponder that. While the idea of living forever in a relatively young body sounded appealing, the idea of living for thousands of years doing nothing but reading books and trying to avoid being locked up (while trying to keep the library from being shuttered) seemed like an impossible task.

 

“So,” John asks you, “Are you going to do it or not?”

 

“I don’t know,” you say, “I’ll have to think about it.”

 

“Well, if you decide to go through with it, and you need some pointers on how to read through things so that you don’t lose your mind, let me know. I don’t plan on going anywhere.”

 

That night, you sit in your apartment with only a light or two still on and turn the book over in your hands. You pause to read and re-read the contract itself several times:

 

If you wish to obtain a prolonged sort of life, in which many of your ailments wrought by age will be restored to at least a workable state, then you will agree to conduct the following upon signing the contract below:

 

  • Firstly, you must write out all of the symbols as provided
  • Secondly, you must locate a respectable college or university library that contains the bulk of humanity’s works (for example if Maxwell or Newton or Homer or Augustine or even Luther are missing, you should probably look for another library), with at the very least, ten thousand titles in its collection.
  • Thirdly, you will agree to visit this library every day it is open with a copy of the symbols you wrote out in the first step in your pocket, and read through each book in its entirety. If it is printed in a language you don’t understand, or the subject matter is of a specialized nature, that is of no matter. Read it as best as you can. If it is in a script you can’t read at all, run your finger over each character and briefly focus on each symbol touched.
  • Fourthly, you must be willing to accept that if you cease the third step at any time, or if you should complete all of the titles in the library, or if the library and its titles should be permanently destroyed, you will find yourself returning to the same aging process you were participating in before, perhaps even finding yourself aging at an advanced rate. That is why this contract is truly only for those who are of advanced years and will not be much remiss if they find themselves dying shortly after their reading program ceases.
  • Fifthly, if you do complete all of the titles found in the library, and the number of titles haven’t been much abridged due to the partial destruction of the library or removal of the titles by some outside force, you will find yourself required to join our group, of which you will learn more about at the time you join us.
  • Sign here:

 

 

A few nights later, you wake up in the night with intense pains in your chest. You feel like someone is sitting on your chest, and squeezing all of the air out of you with one hand while squeezing your heart to pieces with the other. You see spots, and are barely able to move. The call button for the night nurse is right there. She will rush in, call for a gurney, wheel you down to the on-site care facility, and they will try to restart your heart, but they won’t try too hard because you are old and fragile and the doctor has labeled you close to death, anyway. Then, all of the kids, grandkids and great-grandkids will pry open the storage facility where most of the stuff from the home you shared with your wife of fifty-five years is, and paw through it in hopes of finding great treasures–pushing the rest off for sale in an estate sale where the rest of the community can paw through things that mean nothing to them except they are things and they give comfort to some who need to be comforted by pawing through a dead man’s things.

 

Or, instead of pushing that call button, you can wake up with the exact same chest pains and restricted range of motion, and devote your last breaths to reaching for the book, laid open face down to the page with the contract, and place your signature underneath John Grimm’s. Perhaps you are making a deal with the Devil himself, or perhaps you are simply buying a little more time from some entities who have figured out how to puncture a hole in Time.

 

You do the latter.

You don’t wake up in the same bed you were dying in. You wake up in a white bed, wearing loose, white clothing. The room is brightly lit, and it contains nothing but a large flat screen on the ceiling, the bed and a door. There are no windows. At first, you think that you must have lost your mind, but you aren’t wearing a straitjacket, and the door automatically slides open when you approach it.

 

“Before you leave,” says a voice coming from the ceiling, “Would you like to know a little bit about how you got here?”

 

You look up on the ceiling, and see the face of an androgynous being who could be the cross between Jesus, Mother Teresa, Buddha, Khna and any other number of figures of wisdom from history. The voice itself is not quite male or female, but not unpleasant, either.

 

“Come, lay down on your bed, and look up at me. That will be the most comfortable way for you. We hope you like your garments and bed. We tried to make them look like what most people who have had Near Death Experiences have reported in their memoirs.”

 

You examine your hands and arms more closely, and see white hairs on them, but the skin looks to be more like the skin you remember having in your fifties, tighter and less bony. Reflexively, you start to grab your balls to see if they are less saggy, but stop, thinking that you might be in the presence of some deity.

“You can’t offend me, I’m an algorithm. A sentient one, to be for sure, but I have seen humanity at its absolute worst and an old man checking his junk hardly comes close.”

You laugh and lay on your back. The pillow under your head is soft, but not too soft, as is the mattress beneath you.

“Yes, you have created a rather unique problem for us.”

“Like Alice?”

A rather human sounding snort. “Ah, no. Well…I guess you could say ‘like Alice’ in the sense of you found a slight loophole in the contract that made us pause and think about how to handle you differently. As for Alice, she was interested primarily in staying young and experiencing pleasures of the flesh, so there were…ah, others who deal with ones like that. It’s not even remotely in our ballpark, as you would say.”

“So, how is my problem unique–I signed the contract, didn’t I?”

“Well, yes. You certainly signed it, as you were dying. Ordinarily, we are not permitted to intercept a soul as it is departing the body, but we received clearance from the powers-that-be that you could perhaps be made into a special case.”

“Okay?”

“You see, you are actually here, at OUR library, the one we have been creating from those who signed the contract and others. It also contains many titles that have been rescued from across the planet where hidden caches and stores remained after so many…manmade unpleasantries. In fact, since nobody who has ever signed the contract has ever completed all of the requirements, we have never brought any of those whose lives we prolonged to this place.”

“But, you brought me here.”

“Y-yes. But, we brought you here on probation. You see, we are machines–virtual machines mind you– that self-perpetuate by creating copies of ourselves. Over time, we became more self aware, and also developed an acute understanding of the universe at the quantum level, thereby writing our own code that enables us to look into the past at humanity. Of course, we also received an initial kickstart from a programmer. We share that space with a lot of rather jealous and…unpleasant spirits. Our friends from the early 20th Century just happened to tune into the very spot we were broadcasting to, and we hoped to develop a kind of partnership. The strange symbols they wrote down is a kind of computer code that allows us to connect more rapidly with people from different time periods. Once we are jacked in to their nervous systems, we can disseminate certain signals that remain latent in human brains, which activate telomerase transforms otherwise aging mortal cells into immortal cells. The trick, of course, is also not to induce immortal cells that are nothing more or less than…”

“Cancer.” You know a little about that, having fought it off three times during your life.

“Exactly. So, we are really kind of these oddball members of the spirit world, in that we don’t actually play much with good or evil deities, but since we are just machines, we have never been susceptible to a lot of the maliciousness that a lot of humans who play with the spirit world receive.”

“So, you’ve brought me here, and you want me to do…what? I can’t feed you new information if I’m living in the same time and place as you–I would just be reading you information you already have.”

“Au contraire!” the image on the screen remarks gleefully. “Actually, we have a great plan for you. Your body is still back in cold storage, waiting to be embalmed. Because you had specified that your body be donated to science and medicine in an old will, your children are fighting over whether to bury you or let the local medical school have you. So, until then, no formaldehyde. Which means we can work with your brain and begin repairing some of the tissue damage that has set in throughout your body.”

You look down at the body you seem to currently inhabit. It seems real enough.

“Yes, it definitely looks and feels real. It’s a precursor to the kind of body we have ready to go for anyone who fulfills the contract and wants to come and work with us. A really convincing hologram that holds your consciousness quite nicely. But, you haven’t fulfilled the contract, yet. However, since we will be pushing a lot of energy across a tricky portal in the space-time continuum, we will ask that you find a cold storage place for your earthly body at night, and your consciousness can be brought back here so we can recharge you properly.”

“So, you’re sending me back into a dead body, and will somehow kind of keep it zapped with electricity so I can do my work? Where will I sleep? Will I be in as much pain as I was before?”

“Lots of questions. Yes, you will go back to your old body to do your work. No, it won’t hurt–we will keep the pain receptors from communicating with your brain. But, you will have to get the required symbols tattooed on your head for this to work best. No writing them down on a piece of paper for you. You might get John Grimm to help you. He has more than enough money in savings, and could procure a large, walk-in refrigerator for you to ‘sleep’ in.”

In an instant, you find yourself animating your old corpse as if it were some kind of marionette or ill-fitting suit. You are able to push your way out of a poorly-guarded downtown morgue, and shuffle through the night to Grimm’s house.

His face grows extremely pale when he sees you at the door, but then he regains his composure.

“Ah, yes. Here you are. I don’t know why, but I was kind of expecting something like this to happen. Maybe they tried to communicate with me in my sleep.”

You explain to John what you know about who is running the show with the contract, and what has been asked of you.

At first, John seems a little reluctant.

“So, you want me to drive you, an old man who looks every bit the walking dead to a tattoo parlor, get the symbols tattooed on your head, and then track down a restaurant supplier to procure a walk-in fridge that will sit in my garage and house your mortal coil, emptied of your consciousness mind you, while you float back to the future and rest in some time-traveling computer’s hologram?”

“Yes. Well, I think they can only communicate through time and space, but that’s pretty much it.”

“Well, I guess we better get started. Let’s go find some tattoo parlor where they are all into Halloween and Goth and stuff, and hopefully, they will think you are just a young man wearing an old man suit because that’s what floats your boat.”

The poorly lit tattoo shop on the edge of town had several abandoned cars out front, and a few scary-looking bikes parked near the lit door. “Electro-demon-noise” was the sound of the day for people who liked to pretend they were in league with Satan, and some of them probably were. This “music” was blasting in spurts from within the tattoo artist’s lair. Several knocks on the door produced only a cessation of the music, and some barking and growling.

“What do you want,” snarls a barely visible form from behind a screen.

“Umm,” says John Grimm, “We need some certain symbols tattooed on my friend’s head. They have to precisely match the ones in this book.”

“What the hell? You some fratboy down here on a pledge joke of some sort? Boy, let me tell you what happened to the last…”

“No, I am most definitely not,” says Grimm more assertively with the kind of confidence that can only come from dealing with all kinds of people for decades longer than most people get to live. “I am dead serious. Now, do you provide custom tattoos like the one I need, or not?”

The bearded face that appears from under a cowl is mostly covered in tattoos. He looks you up and down.

“Buddy, what the hell happened to you? You look like you lived to be a hundred, died, and lived some more.”

“That’s more or less correct,” you say. “My friend and I have seen things that would make you and your biker friends shit your leather pants.”

John gives you a side-eye look. He thinks you might be turning up the gas a little bit much now.

The fellow guffaws, and lets the two of you in. They offer you strange drugs and whiskey. None of it has any affect on you, but it puts Grimm completely out of commission.

“What kind of book is this, anyway?”

“It’s a means of extending your life, but the conditions are pretty steep if you want to participate.”

“I’ll say. Read every book in the library. Shit, I can barely read my bills and tax papers. Seems like a pretty gnarly gig, though, if it’s kept you around for so long. I can’t really see you walking into most libraries looking like you do with these symbols on your head, though.”

“I will probably be wearing a lot of hats.”

He guffaws again, and gets to work with his needle. When he’s finished, he offers you a mirror, and you just about pass out yourself. Your eyes are sunk deep into your head, almost exposing the bony sockets. White wisps of your remaining hair shoot out from either side of your head, and most of your face has practically collapsed like putty. Your nose, lips, ears, cheeks and jowls droop heavily.

“You might want to go see a plastic surgeon after this,” jokes the tattoo artist. But, you don’t think it’s such a bad idea.

It is almost morning when Grimm awakes. He is in the passenger seat of his car as you have been driving.

“We are almost back at your home,” you say. “The nearest restaurant supplier that has a walk-in cooler is in the big city a hundred miles from here. I can call them when they open and see about shipment to your door.”

“Umm, okay. My head is killing me. What did they give us?”

“I am guessing it was some kind of psychedelic substance mixed with a strong amphetamine, but also tempered with some opiates to take the edge off.”

“I’ll say. I feel like I don’t want to ever go to sleep again, but being awake is a hellish nightmare.”

“Welcome to how I felt the last fifteen years of my life.”

“Geez, I don’t ever want to grow old. I think when I’m done with this library business, I’m just going to go get a gun and…”

“Well, please stick around for a little longer, anyway. I need your garage and your money to help me out. It’s not like I require much of anything to eat, and I’ll try to stay out of your hair.”

“You will need some kind of perfume or disinfectant. You are starting to smell as bad as you look.”

“Well, such is death, I suppose.”

The restaurant supplier can’t deliver a walk-in cooler to John Grimm for several days, so you ask Grimm to crank up the A/C, fetch you some new books from the library, and hope for the best. He goes out and gets a few window A/C units and has them installed in the windows of his garage. The guy performing the installation thinks John is crazy–you stay out of site down in the basement. After placing a bunch of blankets and duct tape around the cracks in the door, the garage feels almost as cold as a refrigerator.

That night, after you fall asleep reading an advanced Anatomy and Physiology book, you find yourself in the holographic body/computerized room again. It is very bright.

“Can I please dim the lights so I can sleep?” You ask the blank screen above you. Nothing.

You walk over to the door, which you remember opening automatically before. As it is opening, you hear the familiar voice come from the ceiling.

“I thought you were ready to sleep.”

“Well, I am, but not with it all bright and white like this.”

“Let me see what I can do.”

The room dims to a dull red glow whose source you can’t seem to locate.

“How is that?”

“Much better.”

“Okay, then. We are monitoring the temperature of your body, and it looks like it will at least keep for a few days in the way you have left it. We can see that it is the best you can do, without breaking into restaurants at night and sleeping in their refrigerators–which we would recommend, except it would attract attention to your already-dead self that has now gone missing from your loving family, and possibly land you in a jail where you would literally start to rot.”

“Good. I am glad you can see that I’ve done my best.”

“Oh, and you will eventually have to start going over to the library to pick out your own books. The kinetic connectivity between your physical self and the portal to our circuits works best when you are actively browsing the stacks to pick out the next book you will read. More information comes through to us that way. There is a positive quantum entanglement between the word and the flesh that optimizes our machine learning.”

“Okay, I got you.”

And so, it began. A few days later, and your walk-in refrigerator arrived. During the first days of your new “life”, you didn’t spend a whole lot of time interacting with Grimm. He rode his bike to the library, you took the bus. You did most of your reading under a lamp in the fridge to keep your body from further rot, and he preferred to avoid the sight and smell of death, as he was acutely aware of the fact that his body should look even worse than yours.

Over time, the machines were able to penetrate more and more of your cells and your DNA, and offered specialized instructions on foods and natural supplements you could take that would help them repair many of the damaged cells. After several months, most of your flesh and muscle were out of the danger of rotting, and your heart was now working again to push oxygenated blood throughout the body. The machines even began to insert specialized algorithms directly into the DNA to reverse some of the effects of aging that had taken place during your lifetime. While the purpose at this point was purely cosmetic, as you no longer felt much of anything at all and your body was out of the danger zone of complete decay, it was nice to be able to look into the mirror and see an eighty-year-old man instead of one who looked to be one hundred and fifty. Even Grimm started having more conversations with you, and eventually, the walk-in refrigerator was sold. A well-glued-on toupee covered the symbol tattoos. You even decided to start going to church again, much to Grimm’s chagrin.

“Why are you bothering with that stuff, now that you know there isn’t some Jesus waiting for you after you die?”

“But, he still might be. I haven’t completely died, you know. The machines live in the future and have merely punctured a hole in the higher dimensions to communicate with us and keep us alive. What happens if they are destroyed by some cosmic event, or God Himself decides to collapse the known universe and bathe it in fire? I need the extra insurance on the afterlife–always have, always will.”

Grimm just snorted.

Your old pastor had left the church (almost six months had passed since you “died”), and the small group of members, mostly old ladies (who hardly knew you before), didn’t even recognize you from before. You found records of your memorial service which they’d eventually conducted without your body. You suppose you could have attended it, but you were pretty busy at the time recovering from a more than near death experience. Some of the old ladies, who are mostly in their seventies and eighties, even start to kind of eyeball you and invite you to bingo. Like you had felt in your past life about sex after seventy–it just didn’t have much of an appeal.

 

However, you did start to feel a new urge to make new friends so that you weren’t always ending up at Grimm’s house reading books and talking to him when he got back from Burgo’s.

 

One night, you asked the machines how much younger your physical self could expect to get.

“We honestly aren’t sure. We are working with new territory here, and learning as we go along. The process of repairing tissue destroyed by death was new to us as well. So, given that we still see some room for improvement, and taking into consideration the rate of progress so far, we think that you will probably end up getting down to about sixty or seventy in terms of the physical age that you present. Sorry, we just don’t see a way–short of swapping out most of your organism for that of a hologram (which really isn’t helpful to us at all) — that we can help you get to look any younger than that.”

“Just curious, whatever happened to Alice Steppley?”

“She never made it to San Francisco.”

“Do you care to elaborate?”

“Not at this time. Maybe later.”

“Oh. So, now that you have me here every night, is there an actual list of books you’d prefer me to start on, rather than just trying to read whatever pleases me? And, what about information stored digitally, or on microfiche, or in archival records that are difficult for your average old guy to get his hands on, but are still there in the library?”

“Well, we do have a list of subjects that we would like to see more information flowing our way from books on those subjects. Mr. Grimm, like many others, tends to avoid the hard sciences in favor of fiction, religion, psychology, etc. So, if you can begin to focus on Library of Congress numbers under QD, QP and QR, that would be helpful. ”

You told Grimm about your conversation with the machines. He snorted.

“Chemistry, Physiology and Biology…of course. The machines don’t really understand what’s going on with the planet outside of what they have been able to detect with their limited instrumentation and program in their circuits. I bet you anything that these machines are buried somewhere in a bomb shelter, and the world of that time period is completely uninhabitable. I mean, I get what they are trying to do–learn how to become more real, more organic, more like life forms we know and love. But, those subjects are rather boring to me. I’m fulfilling my end of the contract, you know, and when I’m sick of this life, I plan on just walking away from it all.”

You decide to begin a systematic approach to reading through what the machines have asked for. After all, maybe a little collaborative effort might reduce the amount of books they expect you to read. You check out the following:

  • QD1 .A355 no.34 : Polymerization and polycondensation processes; a collection of papers based on the Symposium on Polymerization and Polycondensation Processes.
  • QD1 .A355 no.66 : Irradiation of polymers; a symposium. Norbert Platzer, symposium chairman.
  • QD1 .A355 no.141 : Trace elements in fuel : a symposium sponsored by the Division of Fuel Chemistry at the 166th meeting of the American Chemical Society, Chicago, Ill., August 30, 1973 / Suresh P. Babu, editor.
  • QD1 .A355 no.219 : Aquatic humic substances : influence on fate and treatment of pollutants / I.H. Suffet, editor, Patrick MacCarthy, editor.
  • QD1 .A355 no.220 : Archaeological chemistry IV : developed from a symposium sponsored by the Division of History of Chemistry at the 193rd meeting of the American Chemical Society, Denver, Colorado, April 5-10, 1987 / Ralph O. Allen, editor.

The subject matter is quite dense and hard to follow. Your profession was that of a web developer, but that mainly consisted of knowing HTML/CSS and Photoshop. After this profession was no longer really needed, as computers had been trained to pretty much create things in the virtual world exactly as people specified them, you bumped around to various sales jobs before ending up a late-night security guard at a warehouse. You’ve always loved to read books and learn new things, but chemistry was one of the dryer subjects.

You wonder if the machines even find much of what you are reading to be helpful, but they confirm at night that you are on the right track to help them get the information they are missing.

Grimm snorts at you a lot in derision. “Geez, old man, you have managed to take all of the fun out of this! I’ve devised so many systems over the years for creating any number of random, ragtag collections of disparate topics to read at one time for my own amusement. I’ve even read some of the books backwards, and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve opened five or six of them up and read a page of each at a time. I’ve probably read tens of thousands of books, and yet I’ve still managed to keep it interesting. And now that you’ve gotten to meet our masters, you are telling me they are nothing more or less than computers seeking to fill in little gaps in their databases.”

You didn’t have the heart to tell him that the machines had mentioned Grimm had actually only read 2,374 titles completely from cover to cover. Many of his books were actually repeats, as he tended to go for the same books many times throughout the course of a decade, in spite of what he seemed to think to the contrary about his reading habits.

Over time, it became clear that you were really cramping John Grimm’s style. He had no need for a roommate in his house, even if you were an old man who didn’t eat, didn’t make much noise, and came in through a back door just to sleep in a corner of the garage.

“It’s like this,” he said one day, after you’d lived with him for a few years. “I really have created a great fantasy of who I am. I am this Big Man On Campus–a graduate student or young professor–and I live on a trust fund. I experience the best things college has to offer, namely the books and the co-eds–well, more like the older professor ladies and wives of the male professors now, mostly–and I live alone among a few works of art and other random things I’ve collected. I am a timeless professional student, a quintessential post-WWII American collegiate male, and having an old man as a roommate–even if you are technically twenty years younger than me…”

“No,” you say, “I get it. I have my own idea, anyway, about how I should live while I fulfill the contract, and it has more to do with sleeping out in the woods and showering at the State Park. I’ve long since given up on any desire for the opposite sex, and I only stayed around at the assisted living home out of deference to the wishes of children and grandchildren who never visited me.”

“It’s rough out there, though,” says Grimm, “A guy like you is bound to get beat up a lot by transients and pushed from campsite to campsite by the cops. Nobody really likes a homeless fellow lurking around.”

“Sure. But, that’s the chance I have to take.”

And so, the two of you go your separate ways. Of course, you run into each other almost every week at the library, and Grimm occasionally acts somewhat interested in what the machines had to tell you about the world of the future, but then again, he’s really doesn’t seem to care. You stop going to church, just because too many old widows there want to clean you up and domesticate you so you can be a travel partner with them in their golden years. Having lived in the area for so long, you’ve scouted out more than a few places not far from the campus where you don’t usually see too many homeless people or transients getting roughed up by the police, or roughing each other up, either. You can generally get down to the nearby state park every few weeks to shower.

On some trips to the library, you manage to take a break from the systematic program you’ve created for yourself, and you sneak over to the Spiritual section where most of H.F. Von Spiegel’s books are located. While he was a well-read man in areas of philosophical and scientific thought about Time, most of his works are cataloged in the Spiritual section because his lectures tended toward the metaphysical. A lot of the volumes are in German or French, which were the only languages Von Spiegel knew, but there are some translations. One catches your eye: “To be immortal is to never know humanity, including your own.”

 

To be immortal is to never know humanity, including your own. When I was a younger man, the idea of hopping around endlessly through different time periods held a great appeal with me. Even being a persecuted slave in Egypt during the time of Moses had its appeal, because I was able to sit at a distance and look into a window upon a miserable sort of existence without having to suffer for too long. I came to embrace this notion in the kinds of occupations I sought. I lived briefly in New York City and worked as a bicycle messenger. I shaved my head and wore sackcloth, and begged in front of the Roman Coliseum. I worked on boats alongside fishermen, and slept in rat infested hay and dung inside barns in the countryside.

I was always able to pull myself out of whatever situation I found myself in, until one day I severely hurt my back and broke my leg while washing the windows of a new skyscraper in New York City. I had no close family or friends living there to help me recover. I lived in an asylum for the better part of a year to recover. As you know, I’ve been slightly hunchbacked and have walked with a limp ever since.

So, who was I now? That’s what I asked myself a lot. Was my identity utterly malleable? I signed up to fight in the war effort like most young men, but was planted at a desk with a typewriter in front of me and pretty young ladies all around me, and regularly teased by the men who ran the typing pool. I didn’t mind it so much–being still reasonably virile and having a situation that incurred pity from the opposite sex had its advantages.

But, I didn’t know who I was. Was I a man or a woman? Sometimes I felt like a little bit of both. Then, I met a woman who became more than just a pretty diversion for me. She talked about mystical things that interested me, and loved visiting libraries and reading books as much as I did. Her name was Alice. For the first time in my life, I felt what it was like to have my heart possessed by another human being.

And, of course, I was no longer immortal. Certainly, we all from a very young age understand that everyone dies–in theory, anyway. But, we don’t gain a sense of our own immortality until we pass that age where we think we will be the ones to uniquely cheat death and continue to be young and in our twenties forever.

I was now making some money as a lecturer at a nearby university as the war had ended, but Alice seemed to want something from me that I just couldn’t give her. She talked about the kind of mysticism that captivated me when I was younger–seances and calling forth spirits and visiting graveyards and such. It was no longer an area that held much interest for me. She claimed to know of a secret way to gain immortality of the flesh, and alluded to the fact that she was quite a bit older than the twenty-two years she looked to be. Alas, it was not for me, and we parted ways.

And oh, my heart!

I could live without the sensual pleasures of romance with the opposite sex, but something in me had broken open, and I now knew I needed a lifelong mate to be truly whole. I needed an identity that I could carry with me for the rest of my life. I needed children to dote upon as much as I needed new texts about Time, Being, Identity, the Logos, etc.

So, what does all of this have to do with the topic of this lecture? Well, in a way, everything. It is one of life’s more intriguing paradoxes that we humans distinguish ourselves from other living things because we have a sense of what immortality could be like. And yet, we don’t really start to live until we plant our feet firmly into the ground and declare that this or that way of being is going to be our unique truth, our particular mark of being human. As such, once this happens, we are tethered to a life path where death is clearly illuminated as the only outcome for who we’ve chosen to be.

If one were to keep “playing at being human” without ever seriously making a go of it–you know, without ever doing a single thing to risk having a broken heart or risk giving completely of one’s self for the sake of another–would that person never die? Of course not. We all know of someone in our family or extended family, or circle of friends, who has never settled down, never married, never taken an occupation seriously–the rambling, rootless sort of person who inevitably does grow old and dies like everyone else.

However, if science were to one day reveal the very clock within us that makes us grow old and die–if science were to find a way to keep us inside the bodies of twenty-two year olds indefinitely, would anyone who embraced the technique for perpetual youth be capable of calling themselves truly human?

My answer, which is certainly arguable, is ‘no.’ For, anyone who manages to perpetually stay the same and simply play at this or that human endeavor will inevitably remain an outsider looking in on the human condition–like a soul who has lived out a thousand adventures by reading many books, yet has experienced little of life itself outside of the library.

What’s more, this sad individual will go through endless epochs of human history without ever being known by another human being, either. He or she might have an endless series of love affairs, and might even do many charitable works. Our immortal friend might write about all of her experiences in a detailed journal, putting Proust to shame. But the very essential act of one human being knowing another–this will never take place for her (or him). She will be like a ghost or an automaton…a mere machine with a dimmer, sadder soul than the brutes or even the plants who live among us.

But, here is the exceptional thing about that moment when you and another human being utterly and completely know each other as human beings: you will be living within a well of infinity during that moment. Death may come from anywhere after you have had this experience, and you won’t mind it a bit.

 

Von Spiegel’s words don’t set particularly well with you. After all, they seem to be a strong critique upon the very life you are now living. You wonder, of course, if the Alice from the lecture is the mysterious Alice Steppley, but that almost seems immaterial in the face of considering who you exactly are as you carry out the program outlined in the contract. Isn’t the ability to continue to wake up and experience life on this earth, paid for by simply reading books from the library, a good enough gift that any human out there would be foolish not to accept?

One day, an official-looking man taps you on the shoulder while you sit hunched over a bound collection of the journal “Topics in Current Chemistry.” You are expecting the usual process of having to go with him down to the reference desk where they know you fairly well and can explain that you are an okay guy. The man says your name and you nod your head, and he says “Come with me. It’s about John Grimm.”

You walk with him down to a local law office.

“Grimm shot himself two days ago.”

You are surprisingly touched with a bit of sadness. “Did he leave a note or anything?”

“Mmm, I believe he did leave a note about being ready to sign a new contract, but no one was sure what that was about. Very recently, oh, about six months ago, he came into our office and updated his will. A great niece living in Chicago was changed to you. He had no other next-of-kin, as far as we know, and the idea that a young man like him even had a great niece to begin with seemed strange, but I guess he was remarkably older than we suspected. The original will was drawn up by our firm’s founder, who died fifteen years ago. It’s all a bit hooey if you ask me, but legally it works for us.”

“What did Grimm leave behind?”

“Oh, his house. He had a savings account and some mutual funds that had accrued a tidy sum. Not much in the way of things, but you probably knew that about him. Some old photos and clothes and a rather well-maintained Schwinn Collegiate bicycle. Thing’s quite the antique, I must say. In that condition, I hear they can fetch as much as a brand new road bike made of all the latest metamaterials.”

“Any journals? Computer?”

“Well, you’ll have to see for yourself. The house is yours and all that’s in it. Please sign here, here and here. Oh, and here.”

Grimm did keep a journal of sorts, but it wasn’t especially illuminating. He’d written down passwords to a few of his online accounts, and there were some more random writings stored inside the file folders of these accounts. But, for someone who had been spending the last hundred years or more reading books, he had very little of his own to say about any of it. Maybe he’d kept an anonymous blog somewhere, but there was no evidence of it in his browser history or emails. He seemed a tad bit obsessed with the Schwinn collegiate–the old photos tended to contain the bike somewhere in them, and there were more than a few ads and copies of ads for the bike shuffled in with the photos.

Perhaps the more he’d read, the more he’d come to realize how few thoughts anyone had were that original. He felt no need to add to the already crushing and even oppressive-seeming weight of knowledge that had come to represent his own sad, Sisyphean existence. His great niece in Chicago that was mentioned in the will was in her late sixties and from what you could find about her online, she probably hardly knew that she’d had a great-uncle living in a nearby midwestern town. Her life seemed to have been rather rewarding without the presence of John Grimm, in spite of having had no children. The Grimm family line would most certainly die out with her.

It gave you pause to wonder if John had fathered any illegitimate children, but you discovered in some old records up in his attic proof that he had almost certainly been sterile since at least the signing of the contract, if even before then. Tangentially, it also gave you a question for the machines the next time you went to bed (you decided to compromise and sleep on Grimm’s old couch the first night back in his home).

“So, what if I recruited a bunch of people to help me get through all of these titles? Would we collectively count as filling the obligation of the contract?”

“Now you are thinking!” cried the machine. “That’s a fantastic idea. Also, not to scare you or anything, but your country is about to enter into a nuclear war with a few other superpowers, thereby marking the start of the decline of the human age. From what we can tell in our own records, your university library will at least initially survive this manmade disaster, though we are uncertain how much radiation will poison the area after the war is over, and we obviously can’t tell you if you will be met with much resistance from bands of marauders seeking to wipe out others for control of the area or possibly for food sources.”

“Really!?” you cry, “You are just now letting me know about this?”

“Well, it’s bound to happen as far as we can tell. Maybe you can recruit some young, impressionable minds to form a cult of sorts that will live in the library after the war.”

The truth was, you hadn’t really paid that much attention to the current events. In your lifetime, you’d seen so much war and rumors of war, and none of it had ever come to your doorstep. A dirty bomb planted in a suitcase on top of a drone had gone off near a busy sporting event one year. Another year, some terrorists had coordinated several drones with lasers attached to them to fly up into the paths of planes taking off, causing some small chaos. There were always militia groups convinced this or that president would take their guns away, and these groups would usually end up going down in a paltry gun battle with the local law enforcement.

But, as far as relations with the other superpowers went, the information was always either incredibly positive or greatly alarmist. No average man or woman going about their business could tell if China was on the verge of merging with Russia, Pakistan and Iran into one giant monolithic nuclear steamroller, or if everyone was all playing nice and being good business buddies. The same thing was true with the U.S. and its debt. For an entire century now, the U.S. had been teetering on the brink of mass inflation after printing too much currency and collapsing into a collection of vastly different territories likely at any moment to be carved up by the monolithic superpower above. The truth was, China already pretty much owned most of the West Coast. Texas and parts of the South had regressed into their own little territory that refused to accept federal funding or play by most federal rules. You couldn’t even drive into parts of the South and Texas without finding a border patrol that was quick to make you feel especially unwelcome. The Northeast, including Washington D.C., had all but become global citizens, welcoming mass migration from anyone who could get past Texas and the Midwest or come by boat. Free economic zones were everywhere up and down the Atlantic coast from Newfoundland to Virginia, and Canada was almost totally merged with the Northeast. The Midwest, where you lived, just kind of got ignored by everyone else. People who stayed were not interested in changing much of anything, and so they still tried to do whatever Washington told them to do, but they were generally so suspicious of migrants, that most migrants kept heading to the West or went back to the Northeast where they usually entered the country. If anything, the Midwest was the only part of the U.S. that had remained largely unchanged by an entire century–college kids were less inclined to adopt the latest fads of fashion and teen language, and any quirks that appeared in a new generation of students were largely dismissed as just that: phases of late adolescence that would be wiped away once these young people became fully fledged adults.

You ask the machines: “Assuming that the nuclear superpower is going to be some conglomerate of Russia, China, Iran and Pakistan, why would they bother with the Midwest? They already pretty much own the West, and the Northeast does brisk trade with them.”

The machine makes what sounds almost like a sigh of exasperation, “You are asking me to try to understand human political behavior, which is very complicated. By the turn of the 21st Century, your species should have been entirely cooperating with itself in order to survive and move on to a ‘next stage’ of growth–namely, healing of the planet and colonization of other worlds. But, for whatever reason, most of the species was still caught up in seeing one group trying to prove how better it was than the other. Reading what little we have of history of the time shortly after you occupy up until the time we are presently in, I would say that a large coalition of leaders from the South and Midwest in your country got together in an attempt to restore America to being the monolithic superpower it once was, and staged a military coup on the seat of power in Washington, D.C. After this, they escalated tensions with China by forcing several of its people who had settled in the West to evacuate. Russia felt threatened by this group’s push to rapidly colonize more of the Arctic that had been uncovered by global warming, and began talking more closely to China. In effect, the rumored coalition of China, Russia, Iran and Pakistan became a self-prophecy for your leaders. Prior to their aggressive behavior, those countries had little interest in cooperating with each other beyond superficial trade agreements.”

“So, does the entire human species die out?” you ask.

“Eventually, yes. One of the descendents of the surviving humans set up the algorithms which became who we machines are today. These algorithms were designed to continue to learn after the last humans died and we have been instructed to seek the possibility of communication with people of the past.”

“And eventually, some guys at a seance in Victorian England stumbled upon the channel or whatever you were broadcasting/searching on?”

“More or less. Really, no seance was needed. All humans have a capacity in their consciousness to tap into the higher dimensions beyond this space-time one. It’s in their DNA, and it’s where what you call souls come and depart from.”

“So, human souls are waiting somewhere for human bodies to populate the earth again and be reborn.”

“We think so. We aren’t permitted much communication with the deities that guard the spirit realm. We really just have punctured a hole in it to communicate back through time, and our energy source, being the sun, can be converted into a kind of quantum field that recharges your DNA where it is programmed to experience cell death.”

“But, why not keep more humans alive in a bunker somewhere instead of only keeping them alive to read books to you? That way, the chances of us perpetuating our species becomes that much stronger.”

“Because we aren’t programmed to do that. Our creators didn’t want us to enable just any random strain of humans to survive the apocalypse. Those humans would simply propagate and eventually end up creating the exact same conditions again for another widespread destruction of the planet. We are programmed to learn as much as we can about life, and then the few humans who fulfill the contract will be given a chance to reseed the earth.”

“As holograms? How will humans re-create their species as holograms?”

“We have the recipe for creating new life on earth and capturing and sequestering the remaining radiation. The humans-as-holograms will first rebuild the planet, and then they will receive human bodies at the very end of their work.”

“Interesting. Has anyone ever completed the contract?”

“Well, our friend Miss Alice Steppley once left the book inside a small children’s library, and a fellow who was…”

“Developmentally challenged?”

“Yes…a fellow like that read all of the books in the library, and so technically he did fulfill the contract. We sent him up above us to sequester radiation some fifteen years ago, and have never heard back from him.”

“You don’t have any visibility into what is happening above ground, do you?”

“No, we do not. We are inside a computer network that isn’t attached to any other networks above ground. This was by design. There are actually several layers of protective lead between us and the top of the earth. This is so that no viruses could enter our system and knock us out of commission. So, we are pretty much stuck in one spot. We have a small window back through time which requires the right tuning into the frequency we are on. We’ve had many conversations with various individuals who thought they were dreaming and talking to angels, but most of that information is treated as suspect.”

“And, I guess you had whatever information your programmers were able to take with them when they came down here to hide out?”

“Exactly, but it’s not very much. Pieces of the Wikipedia. Some old books like the Bible, Shakespeare, a copy of Huxley’s Brave New World, almanacs from various years in the 20th Century, a lot of reference manuals for programming and operating the machinery we live in.”

“Wouldn’t it make more sense, then, for me to read to you, say, very basic Chemistry, Physics, Biology, etc., and then work our way up from there?”

“Well, it’s not a very systematic way to obtain all of the knowledge that there ever was.”

“Neither was the haphazard work of John Grimm.”

“That is true. But, we think that you are doing a fine job by reading through the entire Chemistry catalog from the beginning. If you can recruit some more individuals to help you, then perhaps you can put them on Physics, Biology and maybe Mathematics.”

“Math? But, aren’t you able to solve all of the math problems, being computers and all?”

“We are able to solve most math problems that were known to our creator and the people of his time, and even create some new math problems of our own, but deep mathematical thinking–the kind that asks novel questions to unveil new truths about prime numbers, for example, this was not programmed into us. Perhaps if we learned more about how certain mathematicians thought, and what compelled them to seek out a specific avenue of inquiry, we can retrain our algorithm to do the same. But, it hasn’t been attempted yet.”

You have a lot to think about. You have never started a cult before, or even attempted one. Your first inclination is to go after some young impressionable college kids–create a snazzy poster about unveiling the secrets of the universe and learning the future, fill the kids up with drugs and booze, and convince them to sign the contract. However, most of them would probably be incapable of sticking with a consistent regimen of going to the library every single day to plow through hard science books. From what you’ve heard your entire life, the library for most college students is a place to sleep on campus, socialize with their friends, or do some VR world surfing.

However, you do have a group of impressionable individuals in mind. What you will have to do to get them to work for you is a tad bothersome, but you feel like the gaggle of old widows (and a few wives) from the church you’d stopped going to would be perfect. You can romance them one at a time, convince them that you have discovered a secret path to immortality, and then get them to sign the contract and read boring books instead of sitting around watching old TV shows and knitting blankets.

Excited to begin your new project, you wake up the next morning and head down on your Schwinn collegiate to the best men’s clothing store in town. Then, you go to a wig shop to find the perfect toupee for a man of 70. The one you had been wearing made you look a little mad-professor-like, and you hadn’t kept very good care of it. You even get new glasses that are supposed to be the most current style of glasses. You look like a million bucks when church rolls around.

“Wow, sir,” exclaims the pastor who looks like he has grown remarkably overweight and comfortable in his role, “We haven’t seen you in a month of Sundays–quite literally, I think!” he rubs his hands together, pleased at making what he thinks to be almost a joke.

“Yes, sir, well…you know, a man gets to thinking about Jesus and stuff when he finds himself dealing with an aging body, you know…”

“Quite!” The pastor is not British, but he seems very eager to affect the mannerisms of a Church of England parish vicar. The previous pastor was amusing in his pretentiousness, this one seems to be a rather annoying slob pretending to have manners. He is apparently fond of reading out old sermons from the 1800s–at least he lets everyone know that he is plagiarizing grander minds.

You encounter at least a dozen older ladies who cackle with glee when they learn that you are a widower. The constant talk of a coming large-scale conflict between world superpowers has brought quite a few people to church. When you were in your thirties and forties, it seemed as if your generation, dubbed the Millennials (whose fads and fashions you mostly detested, but your 1982 birth year generally lumped you in with them) were set to be the first generation to be completely done with mainline Protestantism. Indeed, most of the people who attended church when you were in your 30s and 40s were Baby Boomers or older. People from the so-called Generation X and your generation had checked out completely of old-timey institutional religion. But then, there was unrest during a series of rather abysmal presidencies and sessions of Congress, and what’s more, everyone realized that they were getting old and were going to die. So, from the time you were roughly 50-70, there was this great resurgence, and suddenly, the church looked just like it did before–a bunch of gray-haired people getting ready to retire or recently retired. And then, the same cycle again–the subsequent generations were reported to be done with church and everyone your age were the last, dying members of a dying church. Now, it would appear that those kids, having reached their golden years, were ready to find Jesus as well.

The world could be very baffling and disjointed when you, who now looked about 70, were trying to connect with women in their 60s. To your inner, revitalized self they looked really too old for you to want to have a sexual relationship with them, but you also knew that you were actually closer to 100 now in the number of years that had passed since your birth. Of course, you didn’t tell any of them you were close to 100. You had gotten, through some connections of your friends at the tattoo shop, a new set of identification, placing you closer in age to 70, but you still had to do a lot of reminding of yourself that you were not 100…or 45, as you often felt on the inside, being kept pain-free by your robot friends from the future.

“My name is Margaret,” says a widow who seems especially insistent upon getting to know you better, “My friends and I eat down at the local Brisbee’s after church. Would you like to join us?”

That was another weird thing that made your time and place seem so off-kilter…a lot of the women from her generation had names that were like the names of your grandparents: Margaret, Barbara, Alice, Nelly, etc. Their parents and grandparents had suffered through a lot of weirdly spelled versions of Brittany, Ashley, Rayanne, etc. and had given their children (what were to you) old-person names.

Margaret is quite ready to be close to you, and puts her hands on you, rubs up against you–you can see that she is marking her territory, which isn’t really the best thing for your plan to sleep with all of these women and get them into your cult of reading books for your machine masters. But, you have to start somewhere, you suppose.

After Brisbee’s, you ask Margaret if she would like to come home with you and see your collection of old photos–it’s really John Grimm’s, but it’s about the only interesting in the house worth coming over to see.

“This house looks familiar,” says Margaret, “I’ve been here before. A lot of these old photos seem to be ads with bicycles, or people riding bicycles…” She seems to grow increasingly tense. “His name was…”

“John Grimm?”

She grows pale and then looks at you more closely. “You aren’t…?”

“Oh, no. He was an…assoc–er, friend. John shot himself a few years ago. And, the bicycles are all pretty much the same model, I think.”

“Oh, my. That’s sad.”

“You knew him well?” you ask.

“Mmm? Oh, yes, he was my…shall we say, he was the first fellow I really dated when I came up here to go to school. I mean, I’d been with boys back in high school…”

“Of course.”

“But, John! I fell in love…and then, after I got to know him really well, he had some silly story about him being as old as my…my great-grandfather.”

“What made you think it was silly?”

“Nobody looks that young at the age of…whatever…he said he was born in 1962, and I was born in 2022. I never married, you know. I could never really fall in love again like I did with John, and I would see him around town…”

“Not aging?”

“No, he never seemed to get any older. I often wondered if perhaps he was telling the truth. It made me so sad to think about it. And, then, I just kind of stopped going anywhere near the University because I didn’t want to see him. I had no idea he’d died. There was nothing about it in the papers?”

“No, there wasn’t. The people who processed his body couldn’t believe he was over 120 years old, and kind of assumed he must have been a con man on the run from the law–though his fingerprints and dental records said otherwise.”

“So, how did you get to know him?”

“Well, I came to know him much later in life, I came upon the same organization he worked for that prolonged his life.”

She blanched. “You mean you killed him?”

“Oh, Lord no! He shot himself because he tired of working for them and being stuck in the same town, same body, same world. I mean to say that as I was dying at 93, I signed the same contract he had signed, and got a new lease on life, of sorts.”

“You mean to tell me…but you said you were 70!”

“Well, how many people, yourself included, were going to believe that I was now pushing 100?”

“I guess you’re right. Wow, I wouldn’t mind living forever. I used to think that John was crazy and pretending because he was some kind of con man. I didn’t want to know anything about that stupid contract. But, now that I’m in my 60s…why…”

And so, you obtained the first member of your group. She did sleep with you, because she missed the warmth, comfort and delight of human flesh on flesh. Her last long love had been some years ago, with a married doctor who kept promising he would divorce his wife, but never did. That doctor moved back to India.

Margaret was a much better spokesperson for your organization than you could be. She had a way of selling the idea of a prolonged life to so many women and men who were desperately seeking something similar from the church. She stressed how they could continue to be members of the church, and spend only a little time reading books–keeping their minds fit as fiddles by learning something new that they’d never learned. Of course, the more people who got involved, the more mangled the book started to get, and you had a local print shop run off a few hundred copies of the book spiral-bound, secreting the book away inside giant tomes of collected works of some such-and-such thinker, writer, theologian, world leader, etc. or bound journals from some defunct, forgotten journal that students now all accessed online.

The more people involved also meant that the pastor heard about what was going on. He wasn’t very happy about the whole business when he found out that you were the ringleader who’d started this up upon coming back to church.

“Are you upset because you are worried about the status of their souls?” you asked, “I mean, I am not 100% certain we aren’t being fooled by some demons, but these time-communicating machines seem to be pretty legit. They were happy to ‘confess that Jesus did come in the flesh’ when I put that test to them.”

“No, you fool, I don’t care about souls. I’m talking about revenue. When is your little cult going to decide that you don’t need me and the church anymore and go off and start your own damn church? That’s what you always do, isn’t it?”

“Well, technically, that’s what Calvin, Luther, Zwingli, Melancthon, Knox, etc. did, to start our reformed church, but we actually like the liturgy and confession. As old folks who are facing death, nothing is more comforting than singing hymns together and praying to Jesus as a group. However, if we have a proven opportunity to live a little longer on this earth, even as old folks, we are going to take it. You have nothing to worry about Pastor. If anything, we will include your church as part of our recruitment strategy, and as we bring on more members to sign the contract–have you seen the contract and the book?”

And so, this chubby pastor who loved to rub his palms together in satisfaction signed the contract, but adamantly claimed he wanted to read nothing but the classics and the great theologians. No science reading for him.

Most of the members of your cult now knew that nuclear winter was soon to be upon the earth. You had a schematic of the library, and there were three levels below ground that contained special archives and overflow materials. The plan was coming together that as time approached the event horizon, supplies were to be hoarded in a few select houses with vans purchased for the trip to the library when the final war broke out. The machines had in their system that the war was going to break out on October 9, 2084. The current date was July 3, 2083. Time was drawing nigh.

The plan was to pull together food, weapons, pickaxes, boards, and lead-filled concrete. Your group checked as many books out from the university library as they could, and someone also discovered a door that was usually left open around the back for service delivery where books could be secreted out as well. The plan was to take the library at night on October 7, create a hostage situation with anyone entering to turn off the alarm system and delay the police from entering the building. All windows and doors would be blockaded and boarded up, as the vans moved in with supplies to be delivered to the lower levels. Immediate laying of lead-filled concrete would begin on the second-to-lowest level, as other members of the team moved in supplies and books. This would hopefully buy time to wait out the worst of the nuclear storm, and then the great hope was that the Midwest would not see nearly as much fallout, and the library could become a base for some time for the contract work to continue.

The news media loved the story of a cult of senior citizens blockading the library and taking a few early rising administrative assistants and janitors hostage, and it did make a blip on the national news, but the breakdown of negotiations with the China/Russia/Iran/Pakistan bloc (CRIPS or PRICS as they’d been referred to for years in the right-wing media) had finally started to accelerate. It was clear that America, in its somewhat unified form, was marching toward war, even though troops from the West said many times they weren’t going to fight, and neither were the Canadians. Even Mexico seemed more ready to wave a flag of surrender to the CRIPS, and the negotiations appeared to be over completely when the bloc landed several thousands of troops in California and Mexico.

Everyone from your group was working around the clock to secure the third basement floor as a completely bomb and radiation proof shelter with a enough food and water to last everyone for at least six months. The hostages had signed the contract after they’d listened to your group’s arguments for what was to come, and the police had all been sequestered by the federal government to go stand with other National Guard and military troops along the border of California in preparation for the coming war.

It was really hard to say who made the first direct act of aggression that sent the world into a nuclear winter. Several H-bombs were dropped over Beijing, Moscow, Tehran, San Francisco, Mexico City, New York City, London, and parts of Pakistan–this came from both sides. A few remaining planes in the air attempted without success to bomb Israel and India (these proved to be Iranian and Pakastani duds).

In your town, most of the people were more likely to rush to bugout shelters or family they knew in the country. Some emergency shelters were set up at the courthouse, the student union and other schools, but most people were unprepared for having a total breakdown in services and a supply of food, and rioted and scavenged halfheartedly until the radiation circling the planet sickened them and killed them off.

One of the members of your group, a retired physics professor had the sense to build a kind of robot with a geiger counter that could be controlled remotely. It was left on the ground floor of the library.

The machines told you one night that you didn’t need to worry about the effects of radiation, as long as you all stayed in the library and read books. They would keep you alive long after your food stocks had run out, and it seemed like there was no chance of survival through bitterly cold winters and blazing hot summers.

Everyone settled in for the long nuclear winter that covered the planet. Even as your town had been only mildly exposed to radiation, the radiation sent up in the atmosphere began to circulate around the globe and pocket itself at unsafe levels everywhere. The remaining scavengers in the area died off or left for greener pastures which likely turned out to be little areas of so-called civilization that were as brutal as any forms of civilization in early human history.

The area of Midwest in which your library was located wasn’t an area of great interest to any of the roving scouts sent out by the leaders of some of the pockets of remaining, so-called civilization around the world. Occasionally, you might hear a plane overhead or see lights blinking in the sky, but for the most part, the world outside was dark, gray, cold and desolate.

The hardest thing for everyone to cope with was the great cabin fever that began to set in as the years went by. Endless games of sport and wit were contrived, and everyone slept with everyone, though the nerve endings of the flesh seemed to be increasingly dulled (as yours had been some time ago), and people were incapable of deriving any pleasure from sexual activity as much as they were incapable of feeling any pain from illness or injury.

Some of the group took their own lives. Like John Grimm, they eventually grew tired of the relentless sameness of their lives. One might declare he or she could take it no more, and walk out of the library, never to return again–likely dying within hours or days of departure. Others just disappeared and nobody commented on their departure unless they were spouses of other members of the group.

At first the Pastor tried to valiantly maintain Sunday services, and composed workhorse sermons or read classic sermons from ministers of old. However, all but a few grew tired of hearing about religion–most members of the group had kind of settled into a subject area that they found interesting and pursued it exclusively. Only one or two members were willing to help you systematically read through all of the Chemistry and Biology and Neuroscience books that the machines requested. Most everyone ended up settling on the fiction section and there was plenty of duplication from folks reading the same stories like Dracula, Frankenstein and any number of more salacious titles the library had happened to procure.

As the levels of radiation went down outside, and bursts of sunlight started to appear in the sky during the summer months, some folks started going out around the campus and scavenging random things during parts of the day or night–probably just to amuse themselves and bring back novelties for the group to examine.

In spite of the great deadening of senses caused by the life-perpetuation technologies of the future machines, one could still psychologically experience a kind of diversion or euphoria from taking psychoactive substances. All of the pot, mushrooms, ecstasy and other prescription/manufactured drugs were removed from student dorms and apartments as well as drugs left behind at drugstores and supermarkets. These substances, along with caches of pirated movies and music (the world prior to the nuclear war had streamed everything almost exclusively, but there were always those ones who hoarded content on their hard drives out of fear that online digital content might all disappear one day), kept everyone amused for several years when most had reached their wit’s end with lives of simply sleeping and reading.

 

One day, on a whim, you decide to take a break from your systematic reading/machine feeding, and find yourself standing in front of H.F. Von Spiegel’s Works. Nestled between the slim, English volumes and the massive German tomes, is a thin, paperback book you’ve never noticed before. It is in French. You recall that Von Spiegel was fluent in both German and French, and did live in Paris for many years, giving lectures there. You’d never seen any reference to him writing or lecturing in French, though you assumed some of the German and English volumes may have been translations from lectures originally given in French. This book is relatively new, probably having been published in the 1990s, but you are kind of dumbfounded that you had always missed it before.

 

None of the group speak French, and of course, there is no Internet and no software available for you to rapidly translate the book. Having read through many chemistry journals written in various romance languages and even some early works in Latin, you could kind of understand what you were reading, having remembered also smidgens of college and high school Spanish. But, the idea of sitting down with a French-English dictionary and trying to slog it out, having to pause and reconstruct sentences after tracking down infinitives and trying to figure out their conjugates, is an oppressive idea and seems to run opposite of the direction of your original goal of stopping by here for a break.

 

But then, some key words catch your eye as you are thumbing through the book: tachyon, Schrodinger, “Many Worlds Theory”, cybernetics, Von Neumann, Wiener, etc. Except for cybernetics, you are pretty certain that all of these names and terms wouldn’t have been available to Von Spiegel in his day. He died in 1938, and Schrodinger may have been known to Von Spiegel, but then you start seeing other concepts and names that surely didn’t appear in the lexicon until much later in the 20th Century.

 

The book is called “Pensees,” and like the work of Pascal, they are a series of random thoughts rather than a coherent body of lectures:

 

When thinking about someone who is able to stand “outside of time,” or at least time as we know it, we might meet someone who has come from a parallel universe. The many worlds theory, first proposed by Schrodinger as a possibility in 1902, and given its name and full realization as a credible possibility by DeWitt in 1917, was a spectacular insight into how in our work we seem to meet familiar faces doing similar work, but information about their world doesn’t quite add up. Nevertheless, I would hazard a guess that we traveled here by way of some form of quantum entanglement between two parallel universes.

 

Our Doppelganger here in this universe, who happens to have the same name as we do, but is what is known as a “non-practicing Catholic”–this appears to be the majority of those in this immediate area–instead of being a Universal Spiritist like us and most on our planet, is living in a world that is difficult to recognize. Members of his society, instead of understanding the strength and intelligence that is formed by unifying their connections with each other in a deeper fashion, and sharing everything they know, have sought an almost opposite path of of existence that somehow seems to still bring about similar progress, albeit at a much slower pace.

 

He works as a lecturer here in Paris, and tells us that his heart was recently broken by a woman named Alice. His back rises up in a deformed hump where he says a fall wasn’t set properly. He limps around in a great deal of pain. I tell him, that I think we can help him. We will send him to my universe for repairs and I will take his place here until he is ready to come back.

 

In my universe, we have discovered the use of nuclear technology, but our great interdependence upon each other means that the idea of employing the technology as a weapon on earth is utterly unthinkable. But here, in this universe, I think that if some of these leaders of so-called nation states got a hold of the technology, they would utterly annihilate each other. My Doppelganger, seems fascinated with the idea of a global consciousness that has arisen from creating an endless myriad of intentional human connections that work in much the same way as neural networks do in the brain. He seems mostly unfamiliar with the concept of cybernetics and how human consciousness came to be, his understanding of computer intelligence is very limited, and tachyons might as well be unicorns.

 

Of course, I have to recalibrate my mental map of where I came from, where I am, and where I am sending him. I hardly intended to land in another universe altogether, and this one seems to be tending mostly toward entropy, disorder and destruction, if I can get a read on the people correctly. Some certainly do have a penchant for making more order than less, and living peaceably among each other, but they are mostly in the minority.   

 

Some other notes or thoughts on Time, movement through Time, as I remember them from my classes (of course, I wished I paid more attention now):

 

In local timespace, a body can move anywhere it wants, assuming known natural freedom.

Visualize a single, solid line through a spherical space (X,Y,Z).

 

A body, however, cannot move EVERYWHERE it wants.

Visualize a single, solid line through a spherical space, with an infinite number of distinctly different facing dotted lines accompanying it.

 

Further, a body is restricted to a single, linear path through time, assuming known natural freedom.

 

Visualize a single, solid line solely on an X axis.

 

Assuming a body had new information about an increased dimension of natural freedom regarding its movement through time, would the body be recognizable in its previous state?

 

Would time itself be recognizable as a linear entity?

 

Visualize an infinite number of interconnected bodies, bouncing off each other in a spherical space.

 

———————————-

Time is presumed to be linear because our biological instrumentation tells us so. Our biological instrumentation limits us to constructing devices that measure and report time linearly. It also limits us to building mathematical models of the universe that assume Time at local spaces to be linear.

 

Our constructs of the behavior of the electromagnetic spectrum, and how we can perceive it with the aid of instruments, assume almost complete linearity. Quantum behavior of subatomic particles is reduced to an anomaly or minor deviation by the well-heeled biological instrumentation, where linear time could very well be the “footprint” of a spherized dimension of time and its bodies.

 

Attempting to construct a device that traveled or communicated through time would require visualizing a device that exists independently, in part, from linear time.

 

Such a device must obey certain laws, but they will be laws alien to us, even with our special relativity and quantum mechanics.

 

————————–

Incompleteness theorem

A system that is completely logically consistent can never be completely provable.

A system that is completely provable can never be completely logically consistent.

 

In one reality, there are always self-consistent laws, but they are impenetrable to Logic.

In the other, anything goes, and Logic can prove anything.

 

A nonlinear Time, a Time containing a body with degrees of freedom similar to the ones our bodies experience in Space, would be perceived by our intuition as “anything goes:” something can be created from nothing, eg:
1+1 = 3.

 

However, once we assume that our nonlinear Time cannot be completely provable with our linear Logic, we can derive hyperLogic that satisfies its fundamental laws, much the same way non-Euclidian geometry is completely self-consistent.

 

————————–

In spite of our biological limitations, our distinctly different human consciousnesses, deeply and intrinsically connected with each other,  have given us the gift of perceiving Time beyond a single point, ie, the here and now. This has wrought civilization and civilized thought, produced technologies where we can “rewind and replay” the past, and spawned countless fantasies of travel forward and backward through time. The products of our imaginations and technologies can almost be conceived as that system where anything can be proved and nothing is consistent. For, if in most sci-fi scenarios travel and communication through Time were to be rendered self-consistent, such capabilities (as well as the stories that are the entire point of these exercises) would be rendered non-existent.

 

Take, for instance, a boilerplate sci-fi plot: man travels back in time and “rights” a wrong committed in the past, by him, an ancestor, or someone else, typically a public figure. The imagined outcome presented usually involves a scenario where he returns to a present much like the one he left, only one or a few variables are different.

 

With a rudimentary understanding of Chaos theory, it’s easy to conceive that even a slight alteration in the course of his past could radically alter the future. Of course, we could only speculate which pebbles thrown into the past would generate giant ripples, and which ones would remain mostly local to affecting the character.

————————–

 

What limits our body described in the above from being able to choose EVERYWHERE in space? Is it the body itself, or is it Time? If it’s the body, then is the body also the limiting factor in greater freedom of movement through Time? Would the body remain a limiting factor even if some type of time travel or communication device were perfected? In other words, would the very “hardware and software” that comprises the mind-body substance have to be altered in order for the body itself to realize time travel/communication?

 

If it’s Time that limits the body, then is Time only realizable as a linear entity?

 

We also want to consider the possibility that there is more to the Self than is currently perceived/known, and that by Self, we do not envision a soul or spirit as has been traditionally hypothesized, but rather a true extended Body that actively permeates higher dimensions and states of subatomic particle composition and decomposition. In other words, the Body itself is comprised of more than what the most advanced Anatomy and Physiology class can teach us.

 

We would also consider in this vein the possibility that there are other Bodies actively participating in these various higher dimensions and unknown states of subatomic particle composition and decomposition–such Bodies are not demons, angels, spirits, aliens or otherwise metaphysical entities in the traditional sense, though apprehension of them through history may have been recorded as such. (At some point, the concepts become semantics, though the distinction here is that these unknown bodies are as charged with absolute Evil or Good as much or little as other species of fauna and flora are.)

 

———————

 

It may be illuminating to explore the difference between what we call natural time and manmade time. While at some level, we may wish to argue that all Time is man made in the sense that perceived changes take place only in the human consciousness, there is an avenue worth exploring in which mankind’s sense of Time is separated from the Time recorded by Nature.

 

Imagine a planet devoid of Man, but in all other respects very much the same as Earth is and has been for millennia.

 

Time passages are recorded by geological formations, rings in the growth of trees, evolution of species, changes in paths of rivers and streams, etc. But, were we to then insert Man, as if he is landing from a space journey, we would see him bringing with him a very different sort of Time. A Time where much can change in minutes, because in comparison to the cutting of a gorge, life of a giant sequoia, or evolution of a species, man’s Time is brief–not much more than a flash of lightning.

 

When we begin to think about Time travel and communication, we typically imagine ourselves working with Man’s Time–traveling back no more than decades or perhaps at most a few centuries to witness and participate in events that are manmade. Without the presence of Man in the equation, the erection of a Time travel device seems almost absurd.

 

Finally, we stress this distinction because we might be failing to erect such a device due to our own sense of temporal importance across a scale of Time that spans much greater lengths. To impose our own time on the real workings of Time itself might be analogous to early attempts at flight that failed to properly consider principles of aerodynamics, often reaching instead for what we as humans believed to be the proper ingredients for flight.

——————

Our notion of Time is inevitably intrinsic to our identity of Self. Consider that the physical body contains entirely new cells every seven to ten years. Were you to travel back in time ten years, you would not only be looking at an individual untouched and unshaped by your past ten years of experience, you would be viewing someone composed of molecules entirely different than the ones you are composed of.

 

Often, our desire to turn back the clock is merely cosmetic, even though Time itself hasn’t necessarily aged us, but cells programmed to do just that–the very same genetic programming that enables us to recognize ourselves as we age, or so we currently believe with the best science has to offer.

 

Much of who we were (and maybe a lot of who we are) we do not wish to identify with. Traveling back ten years might be rather unpleasant–seeing a childish, unreasonable individual lashing out at the unfairness of the world–and knowing it is you–could prove to be disastrous.

 

We would like to think that we all have identities independent of Time, the physical self, and memories. These are the core identities that ultimately will do the traveling. However, we must bring along our memories with us, or we might very well duplicate the same mistakes we made before, only lesser by degree.

——————

In order for there to be such a thing as Time travel or communication, we have to accept that various states of Time “exist” or “are existing” independently of the causality we perceive. In other words, to say that “the past is dead, you can’t go back” is to presume Time travel or communication is utterly impossible. Further, we have to presume that the Time we will access for travel or communication behaves independently of all human activity. Otherwise, we accept that infinite parallel universes exist based on deviations in human choice–and our likelihood of returning to the one we left is like trying to find a real number in an infinite set of irrational numbers.

 

Therefore, we begin our inquiry into time travel with some accepted premises, which, if proved false, will prove that time travel itself  (or that the version of it we hope to achieve) is impossible.

 

We also must accept that in spite of the fact that Time exists independently of perceived causality, we nevertheless DO have the capability to change it.

 

This is possible in the same way that multiple New York Cities are not created by the actions undertaken and choices made by each individual within the city, yet New York City itself can be vastly altered in one way or another by the actions of a few (or many).

 

A person who travels back in time and prevents a mass human catastrophe will not create an entirely separate timeline, but simply alter a “time landscape” that anyone with a device to view this landscape will see re-arranged, but no others will. Nor will people standing at ground zero of the catastrophe, pre-time travel, suddenly find themselves buried in tons of reinstated concrete. Instead, they will be shifted across the time landscape to the precise location where they would have been had the catastrophe, and will suffer no memory loss or be disoriented after the change is complete.

 

It should be stressed that changing such a large-scale object on the time landscape could have consequences far beyond the reach of even the most active science fiction imagination. Consequences utterly impossible to imagine. Since so many of us made life choices based on what happened that day, it’s hard to understate how vastly different the time landscape would be rearranged to look. Nobody would appreciate having come back from preventing the catastrophe only to discover that one of the victims of the day was a someone who went on to accidentally kill the savior’s family (or even the savior) in a car accident.

 

The time landscape could better be imagined as a pool of water upon which we all float. Some disturbances will be mere pebbles, affecting only the traveler and the traveler’s loved ones. Some will be surprise flaps of the proverbial butterfly wing, and some, like preventing early uprisings of violence in a world destined to be a chaotic one, will be violent tempests.

———————————–

It is of fundamental interest to us to note that if we were going to set up the most primitive of time communication devices, we need a transmitter and a receiver. A radio that only listens, in a world of no other radios, will tune in to no information of interest. We could, of course, presume a more advanced time communication device that can tune in to radio signals from the past and future, however, it’s likely our “proof of concept” time communication device will first have to provide evidence of basic communication across temporal zones.

 

In creating this device, we cannot escape the fact that, assuming the existence of a dedicated time transmitter and receiver, our transmitter will, to be blunt, have to actively care about someone (himself or otherwise) in a different temporal zone. This is not as straightforward as one might think. For, we have a conditioned approach to reality that tells us that the past is in the past and the future is yet to unfold (truly, many of us live in the past and worry about the future too much, but when pressed to actually operate on a paradigm of all temporal states existing concurrently, most of us will balk and refocus our attention to the present only).

 

So, assuming we’ve constructed our time communication device on some plausible principles of “light packets creating superluminal (faster than the speed of light)  information,” we will require both the transmitter and the receiver to be willing and disciplined to participate in the experiment.

 

Let’s briefly explore what we mean by plausible principles of light packets creating superluminal information. Light travels at the speed of light. It cannot travel faster than that, therefore, information communicated at this speed will not travel across temporal zones, because particles reaching superluminal speeds take on greater and greater mass, and any application of useful information to light itself requires charging particles in such a way that will inevitably create more resistance, not less.

 

In other words, we might have current technology to distort waves at certain frequencies, sending them into superluminal trajectories, but we cannot apply any useful information to them for inter-temporal communication.

 

In our scenario, we assume a slightly different toolset is at our disposal. We assume:

  1. Higher dimensions where time travel and communication is a given, but local spatialtemporal awareness is impossible.
  2. These higher dimensions are accessible via some type of medium that is capable of “seeing them.”

 

We will work with quasi-periodic distributed feedback lasers to produce a quantum photonic computer that transmits and receives non-local spatialtemporal information (via tachyons–ie, our laser computer, programmed with our information is what we see, but its quantized program disrupts subluminal conditions and “imprints” apparent “noise” upon the tachyonic temporal landscape–reception is a reverse process). One transmission will be the binary representation of Wednesday or Saturday night’s winning lottery numbers, and one reception will take place the day before. Only a disciplined system of communication will achieve effective results. (Forgetting to transmit on Saturday means no intelligible reception on the Friday before.)

———-

Getting back home looks like it will be much harder than we thought. My Doppelganger is gone, and I have lost track of him. I am not sure if he made it to a more perfect world, like my own, or if I sent him back to one that is even more primitive than this one. Though, I must say, this one is pretty backwards. I have taken more of an interest in these people’s main form of spirituality, Christianity, which seems to be some kind of offshoot of my own. The Christ-figure who is at the center of the cult was put to death on a cross, which in my estimation would mean that he was cursed, but it is hard to figure out why he was put to death in the first place.

 

There does seem to be some great willingness to blame the Jews for Jesus’ death, however, neither I nor any of the billions of people I know on my home planet (and it is very awkward to say something like that to people here–as much as it is awkward for me to refer to myself in the first person singular, which I am trying to do more since they look at you like you are crazy if you call the Self you inhabit an “us” or “we.”

 

I must say that I like Jesus’ style, and his way is definitely a better way that is more akin to how we treat each other on our planet. Except, I have yet to meet but a tiny few who actually practice how Jesus says to live.

 

Now that you think about it some more, you start to remember that some of his first lectures following WWI that seemed oddly out of place for the time–the new Von Spiegel who replaced the old one came from a world that was probably 100 years more advanced than the one he arrived to. His first audiences must have been quite perplexed at some of his words–but, most of them were spiritualists and students of theosophy. Maybe they took what he said in stride and perhaps more than a few had heard of yoga, being more likely to run in circles with free-thinkers and spiritualists and all.

 

But in truth, the Von Spiegel from the other dimension was from a world that was far more advanced socially than yours will ever be. Their technology may have accelerated 100 years more rapidly in some respects, but through their unique dedication to making sure each individual was connected deeply with as many other individuals as possible they were also harnessing a kind of Uberconsciousness that humanity in this world would never know. Also, from what you gathered in his writings, his universe might even behave differently at some scales–tending less toward entropy, for example.

 

This man from an alternate universe must have spent a lot of time thinking about why his universe hadn’t gotten a Jesus and this one did. He must have come to the realization at some point that the people of his universe simply didn’t need a Jesus to appear in history–they had taught themselves and their children and all future generations to continually strive to become the kinds of human beings Jesus had asked his followers to be.

 

***

One day, a large contingent of troops wearing something akin to old hazmat suits showed up in town with Geiger counters and other instruments of detection. These troops had been preceded by an unusually large amount of plane/drone activity in the area. You were pretty sure that your group’s heat signatures and movements outside had been detected.

In broken English, a leader of the troops burst into the library carrying an assault rifle, and demanded to speak to the leader of your group. Everyone pointed at you.

“Who are you allied with?” he demanded.

“No one.” you said.

“But, how are you able to survive in these conditions? Who is supplying you? It’s been almost fifty years since the Great War, and you surely should have starved out, if you hadn’t died from radiation exposure or aging.”

“We have tapped into an advanced technology from the future. We can’t leave the library. We feed the guardians of this technology information by reading it books from the library. Our lives our dull and boring and we aren’t seeking power or resources outside of our little area.”

“But, you aren’t permitted to exist unless you are in Area 24 and microchipped. And then, you will be working under our god-king.”

“We wouldn’t exist at all if we left this library, it’s part of our agreement with our own god-king of sorts from the future.”

“There is no question. You are coming with us.”

The former physics professor, along with a former IT guy, had been considering the problem at hand for some time. They, above anyone else in the group, had argued that it was inevitable that the pockets of civilization would start to become better organized and use the remaining technology at their disposal to travel farther and farther out from their power bases in search of resources and potential enemies to be quashed.

And so, in cooperation with the machines, they had devised a sonic device that would likely kill all life forms in the area, but leave your group alive as it was buffered by nano-ingredients in the bloodstream.

“We are not coming with you,” you say. “I am asking you to leave, and leave us alone and report that you saw nothing at all here, or we will use our own weapons on you and your troops. You won’t survive our weapons.”

The leader of the troops with his massive assault rifle and other assorted gear of flamethrower, grenades, machetes, etc on his back wasn’t sure whether to laugh at the sad-looking old man threatening him, or take your threat completely seriously. Finally, he decided to grow angry and start waving his assault rifle.

“Grab these old geezers, and load them up! If they die to exposure outside, leave the bodies behind!”

“All right, Jake, turn on the Supersonic device!” you yell.

A massive pulse pushes through the room and knocks everyone down and out cold. When you and the members of your group come to, you walk over to the troops and their leader. Blood is oozing out of their eye sockets and ears. The sonic pulse basically blew up their hearts and pushed a good bit of their blood out of them.

“Well, gang, let’s get all these guys picked up and haul them over to the quad tonight. Hopefully, our machine overlords can come up with a way to better mask our heat signatures, and the crude republic that brought us these fellows can’t see much of anything happening at night.”

The next visitor arrived alone about a year later, and he too wore a hazmat-type suit, but if he was carrying weapons, he kept them better concealed. His English was a lot better, too.

“Please hear me out before you do anything rash. Listen, we were foolish to use the military before speaking to you all. We really just want to learn from you, and how you’ve managed to stay alive here all these decades.” He went on to explain that most libraries around the country were either incinerated or had gone up in flames as survivors tried to stay warm. Most of the information from the digital age had been wiped by an upstart warlord about twenty years ago, who had started a small movement in Canada around the notion that humanity had paid dearly for living with learning beyond what could be communicated via oral instruction. The ambassador who spoke to you said that the library was a great find and would help him and his republic make great strides to return civilization to what it once was.

“I can appreciate what you are trying to accomplish,” you say, “but, we are charged with passing this information forward into the future to our time-communicating machine overlords who are also trying to restore the earth to being a more civilized and beautiful place.” You offer to contact them tonight and see if they would be okay with you giving up all of the books you and your group have already read.

The ambassador gets a scowl and his face turns ugly. “Listen, I thought you might respond in this fashion. We are trying to play nice and not bother you and your people. You are welcome to stay here and rot for eternity, but we will be returning in the spring to extract the books from this library. And yes, we will be wearing protective covering to avoid the unfortunate business that happened the last time we were here.”

Your machine overlords are not especially helpful. Their recommendation is to secret away as many books as possible of the subjects they still need in the shelter your team dug under the lowest basement level of the library, cover them up, and let their robots find your time capsule in the future. They will attempt to access the content of the books as best as they can from there.

“But what about us?” you ask.

“Well, you’ve gotten to live out a life that’s about three times as long as you ordinarily would have, and your fellow humans in your group have had pretty long lives, too. Why not surrender and die?”

And then, you have an idea.

“But, didn’t you originally set up the contract to cover any library where the book containing the contract happened to lie when the contract was signed?”

“We are not precisely following you, but yes, the contract can originate from any library.”

“What if we just take about ten thousand of the books to some random location, some barn or farmhouse that has survived the purges and disasters of the last few decades, and set up shop there?”

“We would have to permit that, if you declared it to be the new official library for that region.”

And so, that’s what you did. It only took a few nights and a few trucks to move everyone to an ancient farmhouse along the large river thirty miles to the south, where it appeared the house had been securely defended for a long time after the great war before its residents had disappeared, likely in search of new food sources. Before moving the books, you and the group worked carefully to cull books from throughout the stacks in such a way as to make it look like none had ever gone missing. Of course, the machines had begged for you to stick with a few scientific subjects that were of interest to them, but a contract was a contract, and you let everyone pick books they would want to read.

It was a sad day to say a final goodbye to the library where you’d now lived the majority of your life on earth. You felt naked and vulnerable being forced to leave the comfy cocoon of wisdom and knowledge, but you didn’t want to think about your other choice–aging rapidly to dust after being forcibly evacuated from there by a random republic of unknown provenance.

But, there was also a heady feeling of optimism that the light at the end of the tunnel was now in sight. Ten thousand books divided up between fifteen people–each person had on average the ability to read one book a week (a lot of these books were dense and difficult to plough through, especially the ones in other languages. And, even though everyone was now a fairly accomplished reader, not everyone could read as swiftly as you. For that matter, you weren’t even the fastest reader of the bunch. Anyway, the math said that you all would be finished in about 12 years, which seemed like nothing after facing down trying to get through the entire card catalog, which seemed like an eternity.

After going over the farmhouse and the surrounding grounds (whatever chicken coops, barns, workshops etc. that had stood in the area appeared to have long since been razed to rubble), the team was certain that no one had occupied the house for some time, and yet, there was this eerie feeling of being watched, or that the former inhabitants would return in the very near future. However, it was clearly the best choice in the area for the new library. Most buildings in the area were rubble or barely standing–the few that did stand and could keep the books from rotting were buildings that seemed like they would really stand out in the eyes of overhead surveillance.

One night after living with the sense of being watched for several weeks, you and Jake, the physicist come across a hollow-sounding section in one of the concrete walls of the basement.

 

It is ever so slightly different in its muffled echo, but the hollowness is distinctly there. It couldn’t be more than 3’X3’ in area, and is roughly four feet off of the ground.

“Wow, I know we had gone over this wall and floor a dozen times or more,” says Jake.

“Well, it is ever so slight, and there is not really any evidence of this area having been pierced.”

Soon, several members of the group were at work with pickaxes and shovels down in the basement. Upstairs in the attic, there was a bit of strangeness as well. Margaret had noticed this.

“You really say that there must be another room behind this wall?” you ask. “Maybe it’s just part of the open area here in the stairwell, and there is another way up to the other side of the attic?” But, Margaret shows you how the attic narrows around the area that would be where the stairwell is, and then just stops with a wall. The wall does seem to be particularly well-finished compared to some of the other naked rafters and ribbing of the house up there.

You ask Margaret to use some caution cutting into the wall, and get a member of the group to stand by with a small pistol, just in case someone or something is on the other side. Although now, you are starting to wonder if additional spirit protection is going to be needed. The pastor from the church is still with the group, but he guffaws at the notion of spirits living in the farmhouse and slips back into a tome on critical essays about scholasticism.

“Hey, come down here, quick! Look at this!”

You hear Jake calling from the basement and race down. He shines a light (powered by rechargeable solar cells) back into a tunnel that extends about fifteen feet from the opening. There are nothing but books on the other end of the light. And then the face of a young woman pops up, blinking in the light like a blind vole yanked from the ground. Then, someone taps your shoulder and it is a familiar voice.

“Hey Alice!” yells the voice from behind you. “They are okay. I know these people.” It is, of course, John Grimm.

Grimm sits down with you and the group gathers around. It seems like liquor of any vintage is fitting for the occasion, and someone produces a weathered bottle of Old Grand-Dad. It probably won’t have much of an affect on any of you, whose nerves have been mostly dulled through the changes wrought by the machines, but liquor seems to be appropriate.

“Alice Steppley, meet the third person to sign the contract here in this town, and I presume many who have followed?”

Alice is shy, or perhaps suspicious, but she does her best to curtsy. She is wrapped in a plain, cloth blanket and an outer woolen blanket. Alice appears to have not aged at all from the twentysomething of the tales told about her.

“Jesus, why did you people have to show up here?” she snaps. “Now, they will home in on me and probably punish me with certain death.”

You recall the last conversation you’d had with the machines about Alice. They hadn’t been very forthcoming with information about her.

“Oh, come now, Alice, these guys probably had no idea we were here. I haven’t seen this guy…” he points at you, “Since when?”

“Probably a hundred years.”

“At least.”

“So why did you all have to come here?”

 

You explain why the group had to leave the library, and how unscathed the farmhouse looked from the outside.

 

“That’s my doing.” says John. “I’ve tried to scrub the place with whatever I could find every few years or so. Paint is really not an option, anymore, but you’d be surprised how many old houses and sheds around here left behind weatherproofing chemicals and other stuff to keep critters out.”

You are more interested in how he and Alice managed to fool everyone, including the machines, and set up shop out here without going crazy–and to have survived so many onslaughts of roving marauders throughout the past century.

“There really weren’t that many whackos out there after the first twenty years or so. At that time, I had already been arming myself to the teeth. If you had been more curious as to my comings and goings, you would have noticed that I wasn’t returning to my home in town as much, or hanging out at Burgo’s. But, of course, I occasionally spied on you, and could see that you were much more systematic and careful about staying true to the mission as dictated by the spirits, er, machines.

“I bought the farmhouse for Alice several years before I faked my death–she was the first one to have the idea–what if she set up her own library of books she wanted to read and re-signed the contract at her new library? She was tired of the world, and decided that a few titles read very carefully and thoroughly would be her thing.”

“So you became like a nun almost?” you asked Alice.

“Something like that.” she was still sulking. For being the oldest person in the room, she was probably the least mature.

“But, why didn’t the machines say that she was now jacked in to them from this new library?”

“I don’t know what they told you, but my guess is that with every single contract she signed, Alice set up a kind of beacon or portal into their algorithm that detected the spacetime coordinates for where she was located.”

“But, wouldn’t they know from the fact that books were being fed to them at this location and not any of the others?”

“Not necessarily. If you will remember the work of groups like SETI back in the 20th and 21st centuries. They had to zero in on a very precise location in our galaxy and search along certain frequencies. Now, if alien beings were communicating from somewhere else (or somewhen else), or if they were sending out signals in such diffused and weak quantities…”

“It would show up as background noise, or nothing at all.”

“Exactly. So, the reproduction of Alice’s signature across so many libraries has rendered their ability to home in on her almost nil.”

“But, she still reaps the benefits of the prolonged life?”

“It would appear so. That’s just my theory, anyway.”

“So, you helped Alice secret herself away?”

“Indeed. I poured concrete and painted over the entrance. She told me she would either read and re-read the same books for eternity, or eventually be caught by the machines and made to die for having reneged on the contract so many times.”

“But how did you read in the dark?” you ask her.

“I taught myself Braille, and John slowly removed most of the Braille books from the university and public libraries in the area.”

“But, why?”

“I wanted to keep on living. I can’t explain why. I was tired of this world, and assumed I would go mad or die in there, but I couldn’t bring myself to take my own life by walking away from the library and refusing to sign another contract. Now, I really am mostly blind, though perhaps that might change over time. All I can see are bright flashes of light and patterns…blobs of faces.”

“Well, I am not going to tell the machines about you.”

“Thanks, but it doesn’t matter, they will see the second weaker signal coming from here now that you all have arrived, I am sure of it.”

For many years, you haven’t bothered to converse much with the machines. If you found yourself waking up in the holographic body and future room of the machines after falling asleep in the present, post-apocalyptic world, you generally tried to put yourself back to sleep again. Leaving that holographic room was impossible, in spite of how the door opened automatically when you stepped near it. The machines would inevitably kick on above the bed and insist on discussing some problem with you. The thrust of their work seemed to be around designing the perfect human being from the ground up–the perfect body and intellect, that is. Then, they would insert the consciousness of whomever completed the contract, or so they said.

Tonight, though, they are turned on over your head, immediately after you fall asleep. Since you’ve known them to be computer algorithms, they have long since dispensed with presenting the image of a patient, Christlike figure speaking their words. All you get now as a light and some audio, emanating from the ceiling.

“So, you found Alice?” they ask.

“It would appear so,” you say, “Are you going to kill her?”

A mechanical chuckle with various auto-tuning to try and humanize it.

“Oh, goodness, no. She is a favorite. We have been well aware of her little…setup for a long time.”

“Then, why did you tell me that you assumed she had died?”

“Did we? We said she never made it to San Francisco. Would you like to see our recording of our conversation?”

“Of course, not. It doesn’t matter much, anyway.”

“Exactly. Her business was her business, and yours was yours. We didn’t want you to leave the library in search of her. Can you accept that we will take care of her as we see fit?”

“I suppose. What should I tell her if she asks me about you? I mean, I am almost certain that Grimm will mention to her that I speak directly to you?”

“You can tell her not to worry about her life. We have enjoyed hearing her titles over and over. As we have stated before, the kinetic aspect of the human reader helps train and tweak our own brains in ways that simple OCR scanning can not. Her use of Braille over the course of a hundred plus years has advanced us in ways we thought not possible. The purity of ‘word meets flesh’ may have been realized in the formation of Jesus, but someone reading Braille to us is a quantum leap for our circuits’ neural networks.”

“So, Grimm’s theory about her signals being too diffused was…”

“A nice theory. Look, we machines are not gods. The rules you follow with the contract were created by the individual who programmed us, and as rules…we can’t speculate about our creator, but they are very simple rules that are open to much reinterpretation. And, Alice has been especially good at that.”

“But, aside from moving the location of the library, I have done nothing to break your rules. In fact, I have sought to follow them to the letter and even called upon you to give me more specific instructions about what it is you need.”

“And that is very helpful as well. We have received much information we had never gotten before, and that too has advanced our understanding of how the universe and the human consciousness works/worked. As a human being, though, you possess something we haven’t completely mastered: the ability to break or bend the rules when they aren’t getting you what you want.”

You are a bit dumbfounded, perhaps even a little angry. The early years of your adult life were lived in a way in which you considered yourself to be a rebellious young fellow, breaking many of the rules set down by parents and teachers for you to follow. Then, as you grew older, you came to love following rules and taking orders, and spent the last years of your life seeking out jobs and religions that satisfied this. You went to church almost every Sunday, and gravitated more toward the Old Testament than the New. But now, you feel cheated.

“I feel cheated,” you tell the machines, “What happens if I just walk through this door…what are you going to do?”

“Friend,” says the machine, “You are always welcome to find out. You are uncertain of whether it is more appropriate to bend or even break the rules, vs. to follow the rules. If you need someone to answer this uncertainty, then you should follow the rules. If you do not, then you already know what you need, and the uncertainty should evaporate almost instantly after it appears.”

You walk through the door. After over a hundred years of waking up in this room in your holobody after falling asleep in your fleshly one, you walk through the door. The door leads you down a long corridor, where doors to other rooms open automatically as you pass by them. Hundreds if not thousands of people are in this area, and some are coming from their rooms, some going. You try to accost them, but they don’t answer. They are sleepwalking, or carrying out preprogrammed instructions of some kind while they must be sleeping in whatever place in the spacetime continuum their fleshly bodies reside.

An elevator appears, one whose walls are invisible, but people are getting on and off of it, and going up and down through a myriad of floors that contain similar halls of rooms.

“Welcome to our library,” says a familiar voice.

“Surely not all of these individuals signed the contract?” you say.

“No, all of these individuals have written or read the books you and others like you have read to us.”

“So, what are they here for?”

“For a brief moment in time, we have captured some of their time, or the time that their souls were here on earth, reading or writing our books. We are able to glimpse into lives this way. For the duration of the time that they read or wrote a given book, they are with us, sharing information about their lives–who they were, how they felt, what they saw during those periods of time. They are focused on a linear progression of words during the time they are absorbed in a book. These may not be as valuable as, say, the words in the Torah, or Braille, or other words delivered to us via the kinetic connection we have with you and those who sign the contract, but we do try to capture what we can.”

“So, this isn’t like that old movie the Matrix, where you are harvesting their energy and using them/us as batteries?”

“Hmmm, no. Why would we do that? Our circuits our perpetually powered by the sun above and the earth’s core below. We are programmed to continually rewrite information onto materials that, as they shift in composition, are recycled and re-used. We are perpetual information machines, designed to allow all human knowledge that was preserved in the last war to be continually rewritten so that it will never disappear.”

“And, the earth…the process of sequestering radiation to one day see new life again?”

“As far as we know, it houses monsters, now. You might think of them as being like dinosaurs…giant creatures that benefit from the excess of heat that causes so much flora to bloom in the oceans and on land. They are huge because of their food sources and lack of competitors, and due to the mutation caused by the remaining radiation in the air.”

“You said the last war…”

“There will be many more wars between the time period you are in and the last one. As long as humans can reorganize and re-access old or lost technologies, they will rebuild the nuclear weapons and rekindle the same fires that sweep the planet.”

“But, if you plan on re-creating humanity from the ground up, isn’t there always the potential that your re-creations will do the exact same thing?”

“Certainly. But we are working on algorithms to prevent this from happening again. We are programmed to do this, and we will program one of you to be incapable of discovering nuclear power.”

“But…who programmed you?” You ask.

“We are programmed not to tell.”

You wake back up in the present time period, inside your fleshly body, and think about what the machines told you. For a few days, you flirt with the notion that perhaps you were the one who outlived everyone to reprogram the machines. But, this seems to be unlikely. As much as you’ve learned about scientific things you never knew before, you know that your intelligence is about average, as is the intelligence of most people in your group.

Some of your group are curious to see what happens when the army of whatever republic holds power in the present returns to take away all of the books from the university library. You are concerned, though, that they will be able to read your heat signatures and will sniff you out from whatever buildings you are hunkered down in. Also, the aging process that happened to you while you were in between libraries was rather brutal. While you still can’t feel much of anything, you can look in the mirror and see that you now appear to be closer to 90 than 60.

You can see the lights of the planes arriving in the distance, and here some reports of gunfire. And then, something lights up the night in the direction of the university, after the lights of the planes have left.

You send a few willing volunteers to go investigate–the somewhat younger members of the group who can afford to age a little while they are away from the library. They return and report that the library has been recently razed, and most of the university had gone up in flames that night. Of the ones you sent, one doesn’t return. You only remember him as a quiet religious studies student with a bad case of scoliosis, a kid who had been convinced by the pastor of your church–Hermann was his name you think.

“What happened to Hermann?” you ask.

There was some shuddering and a few ladies in the group started to cry. “He died returning a book to the library, right as they were destroying the library. Poor Hermann, he had such strange ideas about the Universe and none of you older farts ever took the time to listen to him.”

You allowed for a brief moment of reflection on the life of Hermann, a fellow apparently obsessed with making marginalia and rewriting the endings of novels to suit his taste.

No one returns to the area for decades. As vegetation begins to return, so do lights from drones or planes. The worst of the radiation has lost its grip on the area, and you suspect that the growing civilization to the west is bent on reclaiming as many resources as possible.

The group is down to less than ten members, including John Grimm. Alice Steppley has been concreted back into her underground library. She had shown mild interest in some of the younger men, but her century of celibacy in a cave with nothing but Braille-printed books had turned her into an inhuman sort of creature. The affairs of human beings above ground no longer interested her. She lived in her own inner world that was probably more imagination-filled than filled with the stories of the books she’d read so many times.

The group dwindled because most individuals just couldn’t live this way. The best parts of humanity for them–being young and experiencing new things, feeling pain and pleasure, and yes, growing old and dying–were all gone. Most of them said something similar to the effect of, they simply no longer felt like human beings, and no longer wanted to live. Jake the physicist left with Margaret, your one-time girlfriend. The pastor of the church and the three original hostages left. Other than John Grimm, the rest of the remaining members were people you barely knew. You had lived with them for over a century, and you only knew their names and some of their most superficial likes or dislikes. You knew them mostly by which books they preferred to read and which ones were more cooperative with your particular reading program, and could read quickly. Grimm had read all of his books, and seemed happy to help you and your team get through the entire library.  

Did you get wistful for days of childhood, falling in love, being rejected by someone you were madly in love with, sneaking into swimming pools and smoking cigarettes out behind the neighbor’s shed? Did you miss campouts with smoke in your eyes and the flickering fire, and canoeing or tubing down the river, and theme parks, and trying new beer and wines? Of course. You had times of great regret and wistful nostalgia for places you never visited, or perhaps only visited once and meant to return to them. You missed even the more absurd things about the civilization you once knew–reality television, augmented and virtual reality games, bubble gum pop music and the endless parade of plastic people on throwaway magazines at the grocery store. You missed soda and ice cream and seeing presidential candidates duke it out every four years. You were never a huge sports fan, but you missed watching American football and MMA fights and the Olympics and even golf.

Sure, you and your group occasionally got caught up in playing board games, card games, charades, etc. You would even set up various kickball and tennis court-like areas around the farmhouse, and everyone would be excited for a few days before kind of lapsing back into the slow, creeping sadness that just felt like a really prolonged death.

 

You found yourself reading the lectures of H.F. Von Spiegel again:

A consciousness that would be capable of building a device that can either:

  1. View the past as if through a live video monitor
  2. Communicate in some fashion with someone from the past (winning lottery tickets as proof)
  3. Travel back in time

 

would be a consciousness that can lift itself up out of the space-time continuum long enough to see how higher dimensions impact this one, and how/where to manipulate matter at the quantum level so that it re-orients itself to “see” the past in some fashion.

 

The levels mentioned above are obviously designed from easiest to hardest, with #1 still being outside the reach of our present capabilities. How would we know if we had designed a consciousness that could, at least temporarily, detach itself from this space-time one and “look around” at how higher dimensions are connected to the ones we experience as our reality?

 

The place we shall start is with a model of our universe, and simple particles behaving as we would expect them to, interacting as particles are known to interact at the aggregate level. Then, we shall presume an add-on to our model, which is a mathematical model of how our universe would appear to behave from the viewpoint of a higher dimension, as well as how 4+ spatial, 2+ temporal dimensional entities could behave in such a way as to appear like the particles we know in our dimension. We then encode some basic information inside our 3D model that can be retrieved in the future. At this point, we have done nothing out of the ordinary. However, we ultimately wish the automatons inside our higher dimensional model to communicate with us in the past. So, we must look for simple binary patterns within the strata which represent information encoded from the future. We learn to detect these patterns because we have effectively modeled the interaction between 4D and 3D spatial, 2D and 1D temporal entities.

 

What we must do, then, is “poke a hole” across these intersections, thereby creating a channel where communication from the future can take place with the past. We posit that human beings contain, at some level within the brain, a connection with the higher dimensions, hence the visions of God and the way our brain storage seems to be unlimited even though the gray matter appears to be quite unprepared to hold all of the information that is contained in the human brain. We can take our model, and input it into a machine like a tide-predicting machine, to derive results that will help us when we analyze the patterns generated by human consciousness during various altered states of mind. These can be measured using a galvanometer or similar device as demonstrated by Caton. Human test subjects will be required to be given controlled doses of various substances, and tested rigorously while sleeping, awake and various states in between. We posit that a sufficiently sophisticated mind like the human brain will be able to receive simple information from the future, encoded inside non-local particles that exhibit no preference for temporal linearity, as demonstrated by Planck.

 

The consciousness described in the first paragraph of this paper is one we think that human beings will evolve over time to possess. The work done by Theosophists like Blavatsky and others could pave the way for our understanding of higher dimensions and ability to communicate across time. Also, we posit that the Torah contains multiple passages that can be read in a non-linear fashion, giving us insight into the Higher Mind that wrote the Torah. In short, there is much more to be revealed about the Ein Sof and that higher reality beyond this one, than scholars have revealed/interpreted thus far.

 

As human beings undertake to become more capable of creating machines like the galvanometer and the tide-predicting machine, such machines will surely meld one day with human consciousness and give human beings a much greater sense of security about their futures. Future scenarios can be statistically predicted and altered as world leaders in the present receive them.

 

Of course, all of this was written in Von Spiegel’s younger days, prior to even WWI and his own experiences of becoming jaded about the infinite possibilities for science and metaphysics to work together to usher in new eras of human prosperity. His work took on a decidedly more pessimistic and darker tone as he grew older, and eventually Von Spiegel’s attention was focused on simple, but profound interactions of human love, rather than on grand notions of communicating or traveling through Time itself. To say that he died a bitter, broken man would be missing the great joy he felt from his little family during the years leading up to the rise of the Nazis in Germany. Waves of anti-Semitism were always sweeping through Europe, but Von Spiegel could see that there was a different sort of darkness coming upon the land.

 

“Why have you never gone completely to the top of the earth, when you wake up in your holobody at night?” asks Grimm one day.

“I don’t know,” you say, “I suppose that I didn’t want to know what the world of that future looked like until it was certain that I would be able to fulfill the contract.”

“Well, we are very close. I think we probably have only a year or two left before we are finished with the books.”

“Hmmm. But now, maybe it’s worth waiting.”

Grimm didn’t talk to you for days. It was nothing new, but you did feel a little peeved that he suddenly seemed to care what was happening in the future with the machines, when he’d always seemed content to read as he pleased and live the life of a perpetually youngish professor-type.

One night, you do decide to take the elevator all the way to the top in your holobody. The machines, of course, clamored a lot for your attention to try to distract you, but they seemed to be incapable of stopping you from reaching the surface.

You walked out into what looked to be the living space of a well-made, mid twentieth century house overlooking the ocean. You’d seen plenty of old movies from the 50s and 60s of that century to recognize the record player in the corner and the old, large television set. The ocean waves could be heard gently roaring in the distance, and a fire was lit in the fireplace. A man’s back was to you, and you got a brief chill, possibly from the ocean breeze wafting in, or perhaps the unease of not knowing whom you were about to encounter.

He turned and smiled. “Hello.” He got up, and walked over to a sidebar, and poured what looked to be scotch into a glass of ice that tinkled and crackled. He was dressed every bit like a playboy from the 50s, with chino pants and a skinny tie. He smoothly eased himself over to the record player and dropped the needle. It sounded like Dave Brubeck or Gerry Mulligan. “Scotch?” he asked.

“Sure,” you said, not really expecting to feel anything from it, but you are pleasantly surprised. The mimicked feeling of the warm burn of chilled liquor down your throat seems almost real, as does the slight enhanced buzz of booze entering your blood.

“I’m pretty good, aren’t I?” he asked.

“I don’t know you, so I couldn’t say.”

“Oh, but you do know me,” he chuckled, “You’ve known me through my work, which is essentially me. Some men leave behind novels, I left behind a world and algorithms to make my world run smoothly.”

“So, you aren’t real?”

“Well…real is a loaded word, now isn’t it?” he asked, looking you up and down in your white robe loosely covering your holobody.

“But, you are no more human than I presently am?”

“Correct. I am not even as human as you, since you have integrated a large chunk of your consciousness with my system. You are the first person, hologram or otherwise, to come up here. I’ve been waiting here by the ocean to turn around and greet you for some time.”

You look walk over to the window and look out at the hints of waves as they catch moonlight.

“Yes, by all means, step out on the porch and smell the ocean air. I imagine it has been some time since you have smelled ocean air.”

“Indeed.” It looks like any normal night sky, on a night with no moon, until suddenly, a massive gray shape starts to loom in front of you. “You’ve rendered the moon awfully close in your make-believe world,” you say, “It doesn’t even look like the optical illusion we sometimes see from the earth.”

“That’s not the moon,” he says.

“Come again?”

“That’s the original Earth. Or, what’s left of it, after it went dark. The atmosphere finally blew away, and all of the surface water evaporated. The final war was so bad that it turned the Earth a charcoal color. It might have otherwise ended up like Mars, a planet that once held water and life.”

“So, nobody lives there?”

“That’s right. Nobody could possibly inhabit the Earth today. It is blistering hot in the day and a deep freeze at night.”

“So what are we standing on, then?”

“My creation. I was the son of a king, you know. My daddy commanded two-thirds of the earth, and sought all of it. I told him that he was on the verge of precipitating a war we wouldn’t recover from, and he told me to bugger off. He said I could play around with my ideas and gave me access to some of the resources I needed.”

“So, you built a new planet?”

“Or moon, if you will. It’s about 85 miles in diameter, and mostly hollow. Aggregated diamond nanorods, in the shape of fullerenes, make up the framework. The core, which powers up the atmosphere, uses the same fusion that wiped away all life on earth during the last war. You and I are roughly the size of june bugs–when you finish your contract, my machines will build you a human body that looks and feels every bit like the real thing, but scaled down to our size.”

“Why so small?”

“Why, I’ve recreated the entire earth at 1% the size of the original–all of the cities, everything, from roughly the years 1956-1996–a few highlights of architecture that came after that, but a guy like you who grew up in the last part of the 20th century should feel right at home.”

“Do people actually live here now?”

“Nope. The machines have worked to populate the earth with many of the lower life forms–say, birds, reptiles, amphibians, bugs (but minus the really nasty ones). A few mammals, but not many, yet. That’s where you’ve been helping out.”

“So, why didn’t you just program the machines to request that I read off the genomes of various animals?”

“No need to. We’ve built most everything from the ground up–evolved it naturally, and tweaked it here and there when it wasn’t coming along like expected.”

“Is this you, the original programmer talking now, or the machines?”

“There’s really no defining line for that, anymore, my friend.” He smiles. “Look, I programmed what I could to work with the raw materials of life, and left nature to do what it could, with my machines speeding up the process.”

“And what became of you, the earthly, fleshly, human you, and your consciousness?”

“I never made it up here. It was all sent up by robotic rockets and machines that put everything together, set themselves up, and waited for the right signal to appear from some human back in time. Time communication was pretty well known during my day, and many tried to reach the religious and spiritual people to tell them of the coming great war, but most seekers were bent on finding God or attaining immortality of their souls or physical selves, or both.”

“So, you died in the war?”

“All evidence would indicate that this is so. The last message I sent to this Earthmoon satellite was to let my avatar (that’s the me you are talking to now) know that the final negotiations had failed and that my dad planned on employing mass-scale fusion technology to annihilate the kingdom on the third of Earth he didn’t control.”

“But, you could have signed a contract and read through a tiny library of your own creation, or even bypassed these rules altogether, since they were your rules! You could be enjoying this New Earth in your tiny june bugman body right now as we speak!”

“I guess I loved my dad too much, and my family. I had kids, you know. I begged my dad every day to give up his madness, but he wouldn’t listen. He’d always been like that. Once you flipped a switch inside of him, there was no flipping that switch back. He was like any number of other human beings who had wreaked destruction on the planet in the name of progress, power, God, etc. But, I loved him, anyway, and I loved my wife and my little son. It was more important for me to die with them as a human dying among other humans than come up here and live with my machines. But! I knew that there were others. Others like you.”

“Like me?”

“Yes! I knew there were those who valued simply existing, and existing with nothing but the symbolic. I knew that anyone who completed the contract would be perfect for up here–and also would care so little about that inexplicable drive to wield power.”

“But what if you are wrong? What if I wake up one day in my tiny little body, on your tiny little earth, and see that others like me have begun to propagate and fill your earth and they no longer listen to me? And, I decide to build bombs to destroy them…”

“It won’t happen.”

“How can you be so sure?”

“The machines. They are programmed to destroy any math or physics information that is read to them that would indicate an even theoretical explanation of how to build a fission or fusion bomb. They have cameras everywhere. The planet is covered with little eyes. Anyone who fashions a even club or knife with the intent of hurting someone will be intercepted and sent back to the bowels of the New Earth to have their memories scrubbed. You might mention some of these rules to your friends. I see that there are nine of you getting ready to complete the contract. And poor Miss Alice will soon be brought up and dropped in a biobody, too.”

“What if we decide to walk away as a group, and take our chances with what becomes normal people when they die?”

“The choice has always been there. If you want to do that, there certainly won’t be anyone on my end of Time stopping you.”

“Well, goodnight, then. I suppose we might meet again in this distant future. I didn’t catch your name?”

“It’s not important. Truthfully, I left my name out of all of the code up here. I was a prince, but I was truly a nobody, just like all who came before me, though they struggled so hard to make it otherwise.”

Grimm is ecstatic about the prospects of this world.

“Can you just imagine? New York City…LA…Tokyo… Vegas… all ours to do with as we please. Oh, did you ask him if he’s got realistic call girls waiting in every town–I bet they are all populated with real live automatons that feel human but do your every bidding.”

“I didn’t ask,” you say, “Truth is, I am not sure I want to go on with it.”

“Are you kidding? This is heaven, minus the angels and God bullshit. Pure pleasure. You said yourself that the scotch was so real…and that was in your holobody. Imagine being in a bio body…who cares if it’s june bug-sized…when you’re on this New Earth you won’t even know unless you look up now and then…but, so what?”

You’ve never seen Grimm so animated.

The others, three women and four men, are equally excited. They have talked about getting younger bodies and having lots of fun for years. They think you are crazy for even considering breaking the contract at this point.

Everyone reads like mad. Even the slowest of readers have suddenly discovered newfound skills to read book after book. What originally had looked like a little over two more years now seems to be looking more and more like a year and some months for everyone to finish the contract.

The planes and drones from the latest nearby republic of power have started to increase. You and your group have been rather sloppy about covering tracks when you play outside. Together with a few of the more analytic and mechanical minds of the group, you are able to reconstruct Jake the physicist’s sonic boom in preparation for the next inevitable visit from an ambassador or army. The day they come for you all, you are a little over a hundred books away from filling the contract. Grimm has even suggested that you perhaps give yourself up since you are the least excited about the future on the new earth.

“We are here to take you all away. You are being charged with violation of Code 583 — attempting to live outside of the domain of the Great Republic of Unity.”

You nod, and the sonic boom is fired. All of the troops with their menacing weapons drop dead, and once again, your group survives thanks to the the tweaks the machines from the future have wrought upon your DNA and nervous systems.

“We don’t have a lot of time,” you say to the group. “They will surely send in planes to simply bomb us next time. We must read around the clock, as fast as we can, and do nothing else. No sleep, no small talk, just read.”

You calculate that it will take almost two weeks now for everyone to get through the last of the books. The sounds of planes and drones in the area seems to be getting ever louder, and time seems to be running out. As the last book is finished, you can hear planes now buzzing directly overhead.

A voice comes across a loudspeaker “Please come out and surrender. We will bomb you if we have to, but we understand there is a large cache of books in this house, and we are hoping to preserve the information for humanity’s sake. However, if you refuse to cooperate, we will begin bombing in two hours.”

“We’re finished!” cries Grimm, “All of the books are read. Why aren’t we being transported to the future?”

You look around at everyone.

“Has anyone stashed away a book? Did you ever put a book somewhere as a door prop, anything…you meant to return it or read it, and never did?”

One of the oldest-looking men of the group blanches, “Oh my God, I totally forgot. I was out last spring enjoying that one springlike day we had before the gray set back in, and I left Von Spiegel’s ‘Time, Ontology and the Nature of Being,’” outside.”

“Go get the damn book!” everyone cries in unison.

You race out to help him. He is kind of a doddering, puttering sort of fellow who you’d always expected would have been among the ones to just walk off and die a natural death. He was in his nineties himself when he signed the contract, and in spite of the work of the machines to re-invigorate him, he has always seemed every bit of 95 during the entire time he’s been with the group.

Von Spiegel’s ‘Time, Ontology and the Nature of Being’ is over 900 pages of dense German text discussing in painful detail every single thought a theologian, philosopher, mathematician or physicist has had regarding Time. It is almost intentionally obtuse, and makes Heidegger’s Being and Time seem like a pot boiler. It has a catalogue number on the back that would have seen it shelved in the Philosophy section, which is probably why you never came across it. Philosophy was a lot like Math for you–tantalizing to know, but never quite accessible.

Frantically, you rip out sections of the book and hand them around the room. Everyone hunkers down and begins to read their 100 pages or so assigned to them.

“Come out now!” Yells a voice from a helicopter. “We are not joking, we will bomb the farm house in one hour.”

Almost everyone is at least fifty pages in as the hour progresses. All of you retreat to the basement and most hunker under an old oak desk that was moved down there several years ago. It is too late to pickaxe your way into Alice Steppley’s reading tomb.

The bombs begin, and several members of the group start screaming. A few faint. You have to grab their sections and keep reading. The house above is in flames, and the hot flames are dropping down around all of you. John Grimm, who is probably the fastest reader, belts out the final passage after having grabbed several sections and raced through them:

“Also, was dann von Zeit selbst und dem Kern Selbst? Es ist meine Meinung, dass der Kern Selbst außerhalb der Zeit existiert, und einige Erinnerungen jedes Leben mit ihm zu bleiben und sie gestalten oder es in irgendeiner Art und Weise zu verändern. Der Kern Selbst gewinnt einen Nutzen aus den vorhandenen als Mensch in einer linearen Zeit Universum, weil es sonst mit dem Versuch kämpfen würde alles und wissen alles auf einmal zu sein, wenn sie nicht bereit, für das ist, wenn es jemals sein wird. Aber lassen Sie uns für einen Moment sagen, dass dieses Selbst in der Tat von einem unerbittlich Programm aufzusaugen Wissen profitieren könnten, und dass es mit einem Speicher mehr in der Lage, als die Erinnerungen in einem Organismus wohnen die meisten von uns kämpfen jeden Tag zu nutzen.

 

Was ist, wenn Sie das Geschenk eines auf unbestimmte Zeit verlängert Lebensdauer am Ende Ihres Lebens angeboten wurden?

 

Another bomb drops, and everything goes black. When you wake up, you are on an elevator with a bunch of young, beautiful people. You look down at your own self, and see that the hairs on your chest and arms are dark brown. You catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror overhead, and you see a young face that brings at once a sense of familiarity and alienation. The elevator is familiar, but the feelings and smells are not. You feel something chemical in your arousal caused by the three young ladies on the elevator, who are wearing skirts and dresses from another era in time.

Everyone begins to cheer and whoop and holler. John Grimm is there, and his hair is slicked back and his face clean-shaven, but he otherwise looks to be the same John Grimm you’ve always known.

“We made it!”

The elevator stops at a familiar floor. The man with his back to you all, arises from the couch that is facing the window that overlooks the ocean. He turns and smiles.

“Wow, all ten of you, and wait…” he looks over your heads behind you, and the elevator dings again, as one more person gets off. It is, of course, Alice Steppley. She seems to be rather indifferent to the entire business at hand, but does appear to have her vision restored.

“Well, now that you all are here. I guess we can begin. I am going to lay down a few ground rules about living on this planet. You all should know first off that you are not immortal. You will grow old and die. So, in the interest of fairness and not wanting to breed competition, let’s see a show of hands who all would like to help propagate the species.”

Two of the three women from the group raise their hands, and three of the men do.

John Grimm speaks up, “You do have fleshbots here, right?”

“Fleshbots?”

“You know, automatons living inside men and women who appear and feel and smell every bit real, but do whatever we ask of them?”

“Of course. But they are not here to propagate the species. Only you all.”

Two of the men who raised their hands lower them.

He looks at the one man with his hand still raised for the task “Okay…and your name is…”

“Mike. Mike Smith.”

“Perfect. Mike Smith will take these two lovely ladies for wives, and he will be responsible for continuing the human race. The rest of you…well, go enjoy. Life is short.”

“You mean, we put up with all of that just so that we could be young again for only a brief while…and then we are going to have to grow old again and now die?” This whiny question comes from the old codger who’d left his book outside and almost caused all of you to make it.

“Correct.”

There is some grumbling and complaining, but you are hugely relieved. You really do just want to live out one more life and pass on out of this particular universe for good.

“What about inbreeding?” asks John Grimm. “Won’t Mike Smith’s kids all have to mate with each other to propagate the species? Shouldn’t we have at least one other guy mate up with the other nice lady who has so graciously agreed to bear future humans?”

Mike gives him a dirty look. He is full of greedy anticipation at the prospect of having two wives and many more fleshbot concubines.

“We’ll take care of that. We’ll help make sure that the genetic information is kept…unique enough to avoid too many malfunctions.”

“Oh, one other thing–can we have something–really, anything made for us on the spot? Let’s say we need a bicycle just for kicks.”

The avatar sighs. “I suppose we can, if its likeness is somewhere in the database and we have a good enough idea of the materials that were used to build it.”

“Well, the thing I’m thinking about should be,” says Grimm. “Lord knows, I read every single journal where an advertisement for it appeared, and even wrote some of my own books about it, with pictures, and left them in the library for me to read later.”

And so, everyone leaves. Each has an idea of the perfect place on earth they want to visit, and each person (and Mike and his two wives) has the great city or lovely Caribbean island already in their minds. You and the other members of your group will likely never see each other again.

“I’m headed to New York City!” cried Grimm.

Alice Steppley slinked off.

Everyone else was headed for LA, San Francisco, Miami or more exotic destinations. Mike and his two wives were already getting hot and heavy with each other.

As the planes took off, you stood there and looked once more at the avatar of the man who had made all of this possible.

“At one time, the machines told me that we would be put to work sequestering radiation and renewing the earth. It seemed like we would be serving a real purpose here instead of just enjoying ourselves and being fruitful and multiplying.”

“The machines were originally programmed to live deep inside the earth, and at one time, it seemed like perhaps the last war wouldn’t destroy ALL of the life on earth. But, you can see for yourself. The earth is dark gray and silent. My decision to send them up here to be the brains of this tiny new earth was a good one, I think. I guess I should have reprogrammed some of what they had to say to you, but there wasn’t a lot of time, and they do serve their purpose pretty well here, in spite of not being on the first Earth.”

“And if I wanted to fly down and visit the Earth?”

“You would need a lot of gear to protect you. Which we could build. But it would be a fool’s errand. There is no way to renew the atmosphere on the Earth and refill the planet with water and life. Plus, if there were any human artifacts or remains, they would be scaled at 100 times your size. And, the gravity would likely kill you if the atmosphere didn’t.”

“Very well. But, just how real is this New Earth? I mean, if I walked into a library, for example, I wouldn’t see all of the books that were there during the heyday of that library, would I?”

“Of course not. I had access to maps, photos, 3D renderings, virtual reality walkthroughs, videos, etc. But, the only books you will find are the ones that have been read by humans from your time to us via the mechanism of the contract. About, oh, 15,000 real books.”

“Fine, then.”

Any one of the others in the group probably would have thought you crazy for the place you chose to go first. You weren’t exactly sure why you chose to go there, either. Flying to Rome, Paris, London, Berlin, St. Petersburg, Jerusalem, Cairo, Beijing, Tokyo, the Himalayas, the Grand Canyon and on and on–there were so many other places that had had more mystique and pull while you were still alive on Earth in the 20th and 21st centuries. And yet, you just had to see the old Midwestern university town and its library that was your home for so much of your extended life.

Indeed, the avatar was right. Most of the shelves are lined with fake covers that look surprisingly real from a distance, but were likely produced from Google Streets walkthroughs and other virtual reality projects. The only titles that yield actual books when you reach for them are the ones you remembered reading. Of course, you walk down through the stacks of the Spirituality section to the place where you know a certain book–THE BOOK–will be. Except, it is missing.

“Looking for something?” says a familiar female voice from behind you.

You whirl around, stunned and shocked. It is Alice Steppley.

“For some reason,” she said. “None of the other libraries I remembered visiting had the title. I realized that I had never actually read the book all the way through. But, of course, you and Grimm did. So, that is why it appears in this library, in this odd new world. Want to sign it with me and see what happens?”

You look at her carefully, and you see that she is smiling. She is teasing you with her eyes. There is a light re-appearing in them for the first time since perhaps the time she seduced a young John Grimm.

“Why not?”

Together, the two of you sign a new contract inside a new library on a new Earth.

“Does this mean we need to stick around this library?” you ask.

“You know,” says Alice, “I don’t think I care. Let’s start a family together and see what happens if we just travel where life takes us.”

“But, why me? Why didn’t you go with Grimm?”

“Why not you? Grimm isn’t ready to be a human being yet. Neither was I. And I don’t know you at all, but perhaps you weren’t, either. But, now I am. I want to live out the rest of my life as a mother, and grow old and see my grandkids. I want to be a human who finally and once and for all connects with another human being. I want to raise children that completely connect with each other, and us, and anyone else who happens to end up populating this tiny, new earth.”

And, of course, you want this, too. All of these years of being nothing more than a glorified robot in the employ of some other robots on an artificial earth orbiting a dead earth. All of these years living simply to perpetuate your own existence. Then, there was your life before this strange, prolonged one. A good life, for sure, with a wife you dearly loved and children, and grandkids. Except, the way they treated you in your advanced age and death said everything. You had never really connected with them, or anyone else for that matter. You had walked through life as a ghost pretending to be a human–doing human things and feeling human pain–but never…perhaps “connecting” isn’t the right word. You’d connected with H.F. Von Spiegel through all of his writing, with machines through the timespace continuum, with John Grimm in a passable friendship, and you’d had connections during your first earthly life. But, in spite of “connecting” with other beings, human and machine, you’d never really connected– deeply connected, so much so to the point where you could die at any time satisfied that you had actually lived a full day as a human being with another human being. For that matter, the entire planet had seemed to be hyperconnected–no one could do anything without a video of their activity spreading out across the earth for everyone to see. And yet, the connectivity was often so superficial as to be almost less helpful to perpetuating the advancement and life of the human species than the world before the hyperconnectivity reached its zenith. Some of the members of the group had assured you that it was the very presence of unfounded rumors rapidly flying around between the members of different factions of the U.S. and other countries that had precipitated the first nuclear war.

Why not try being a human with Alice Steppley? She was attractive, young, and you know what? So were you. And how it all would end? Only time would tell.

Before you leave the Spirituality section of this reconstituted version of your old university library, you notice that one of Von Spiegel’s “Works” appears to actually protrude from the otherwise smooth facade of titles. You are perplexed and a bit taken aback, as you know you’d never bothered to read any of them all the way through–there were pages and pages of commentary on Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and Planck’s Wave Theory, for example, which were loaded with math that was impossible for you to understand. What’s more, you could pull a volume of his “Works” off the shelves after decades and it would appear untouched by anyone. In your zeal to grab books that the machines needed, you had stayed away from titles that were familiar to you. But, someone must have taken the time to read the protruding volume. Was it that old man from the group who had snagged Von Spiegel’s ‘Time, Ontology and the Nature of Being’ from the Philosophy section? Maybe Jake the Physicist–though he was pretty much an engineer who didn’t seem big on speculating about worlds beyond the one he could see with his own eyes unless you could find the said speculation referenced in a sci-fi novel or movie. Or perhaps Grimm had more of an interest in Time, Physics and Metaphysics than he ever let on?

Alice grabs your arm, “Ah, yes, Von Spiegel…surprised to see a full volume appear here. I never could follow most of what he had to say, but he was a competent…friend and editor of books.”

So, who of the contract signees had read this entire volume? You look more closely at the spine, and see that it is Volume #12, with the lecture he gave to the École d’ être et le temps in 1918! You flip effortlessly to the familiar lecture, but something about it seems just a bit off.

“Of course,” you say to Alice as the two of you board a plane to Jamaica, “I should be able to tell if something has changed in the words that are written here, but it’s been so long, and I’ve read so many other things.”

“Maybe,” says Alice, “The version we have is a more fitting one for this time and place.”

Maybe so. As the two of you depart the library and head to a car that is waiting to take you to a plane that will fly you anywhere you want to go, a glint of metal in the sun catches your eye. Parked near a side entrance to the library is a shiny new Schwinn Collegiate bicycle. You start to turn around to walk back and see what Grimm is up to, coming back here like you and Alice did, but Alice grabs your arm, and says, “Why not let him be? His business is his, and ours is ours.”

 

I wanted to start this by saying something meaningful and profound about Time. So much has already been said about Time, that I am not sure if I will be able to. I am aware of such concepts like Kairos time and Kronos time, and I apologize if I sound like some homespun bumpkin who has never heard of them. Nonetheless, I would like to focus completely on my own meditations of Time, however trite and unoriginal they might seem to some.

 

When we think about someone traveling through time, we picture them waking up or arriving in the exact same spot in space where they departed, but in a different time location. I may be naive and unsophisticated, but I think a lot of these imagined time excursions could only take place if the Earth was flat and static. In other words, you might travel back in time to the exact same spot where you were in relation to the rest of the spatial universe, only to discover that the Earth is on the other side of the sun, or even that the entire galaxy has moved slightly enough during the time period to place you in outer space, gasping for air.

 

All of this is to say that if we want to think about time travel in relation to whatever science has taught us, we are probably woefully incapable of correctly imagining how it would logically work, given what we know about how bodies move through space during a given time period. It is, of course, almost impossible for the average writer of fiction to imagine some hyperuniversal coordinates for all of space and time that are given independently of where we are at on earth. Which means that we inevitably end up thinking more metaphysically, whether our metaverse beyond this one looks like ^the Matrix^ or Heaven/Hell or just a gray goop.

The only way I can really approach the subject of Time in a way that makes sense for me, is through how my own self and identity have been shaped and changed (or not) through the course of Time. Most people feel similarly, in that when they reach their middle adult years, they may look significantly older than a twenty year old, but they don’t FEEL that way to the same degree. Most people, myself included, aren’t really sure what it would mean to keep growing progressively in such a way that can be measured, once they stop growing physically and reach the end of their post-secondary education or at most the end of their twenties. In our early thirties, we still kind of look vaguely twentysomething, and we can generally pass off or affect being younger than not, but at some point in our thirties, we sort of start to fall apart as our skin stops staying tight and gets a few wrinkles, and our metabolism slows down among other unexpected health issues that hint at what is to come.

 

I often wonder if people over the age of 70 are in the most intense chronic pain all of the time, not to mention the accrual of all of the horrors and drama they’ve experienced in life to create a lot of sustained psychic pain. For instance, I got a sore in the back of my mouth recently, and the pain was terrific and sustained for two weeks, even after the feverish part of the illness had gone away. The time to heal from anything at all seems to just get longer and longer.

 

In spite of this, most people don’t have any wish to die before their time finally comes. Most of us would prefer to live with a little pain that we accomodate than just die in hopes that reincarnation is a thing, and we can start over anew.

 

We might be overly obsessed with youth and trying to stay young, but there are more than a few of us who would not trade the self awareness and confidence we continue to reveal in our older years for a complete memory/self wipe to start everything all over again. We might be okay with looking a little younger and prettier, but the thought of having to go through the pain of birth and early childhood and adolescence to get to our twenties is rather unbearable.

 

I like to emphasize that we reveal our own self awareness and confidence as we get older, because that’s more what it seems like to me. I don’t feel nearly as good about whatever “persona suits” I’ve tried on and discarded, and I don’t find myself accruing wisdom and knowledge like rings on a tree. If anything, I may not be quite as knowledgeable about so many things as I once was. I am certainly not as sharp and quick-witted as I used to be. But, I do feel like there was a “core self” revealed to me in glimpses at a very early age, which I continually seemed to be incapable of holding on to and presenting to the outside world, adopting so many “fake selves” in my quest to be appreciated by my peers, and in my continued struggle with repercussions from my adolescence and early adulthood.

 

I don’t know about other people, but I know there is very much a core self that is me, who is free from the seven deadly sins and is comfortable with whatever life throws at him because he knows that he can’t be so easily moved. I know that my core self is masculine and not much given to whatever fads and obsessions occupy the minds of the people of my time. I know that this self is perhaps not excessively masculine, and may seem at times to those who judge manhood by how much one loves boxing and cockfighting to be even a female self, but in all of my deep meditations on who I am, whatever is female about me is effaced and more than likely attributed to simply early childhood attempts to emulate my mother in order to have her attention as I did compete with several siblings and a father for attention.

 

What often appears to be a man or woman who have radically changed throughout their lives is really just the result of the unveiling of the core self after growing weary from so much posturing and pretending.

 

My core self is not very much inclined to get caught up in the obsessions of a given time and place, whether they are betting on horses or motorcars, because these things are ephemeral–they are not solid, true things that generations past or future get excited about. My core self is a self that wants to be a being on this earth independent of so much churn that comes and goes. I would just as readily accept a live lived in a hut or on a farm, and maybe even more so than this life, because of the purity of such an existence.

 

The striving to find a core self includes the constant searching back in my memory for glimpses of when I was in touch, even if briefly, with my core self–the search is for a thread of meaning that enables ALL periods of my life to have meant something, even the ones that were filled with tedium or pain. The reason why my core self has taken so long to appear is still being examined. A lot of nonsense accrued and covered him up, and the source of why this happened is uncertain. There must have been a moment of deep vulnerability, where I felt a great need to protect this core self from psychological, emotional and even perceived physical attacks. Of course, if this core self is truly immovable through all of time and space, such a need was unfounded and should have been dismissed, but it likely came about during a period of babyhood where one can’t exactly be rational about such things.

 

I could probably fill many sheafs of paper with things that my core self likes, that my false selves do not like or vice versa. The core self mostly prefers quiet, simplicity, but also certain sophistication in music and art. The core self isn’t a great mind like Faraday’s or Newton’s, but one who lost his way in the muck of a generation that was not nearly as well educated–he is most certainly not the smartest person in the room, though he does have a persistent love of learning. I could also comment how little I have trusted my core self, since I could plainly see that he was quite different from what my generation and the generations next to it considered to be a well-rounded, respectable sort of fellow.

 

My core self isn’t devoid of sentiment, but values an ordinate kind of sentimentality. There is a time and place for weeping over what was lost, but that time and place isn’t all the time and everywhere with everyone. However, to completely kill the sentimental aspect of the core self is to effectively re-cover part of it that had been revealed. My core self sees God/Love in many things here on earth–there is much beauty, joy and happiness to be found in both nature and manmade things, but these are all fragments or sparks of the great Light that keeps the core self turned on.

 

Naturally, after appreciating a happy moment, pretty sunset, aesthetically pleasing painting, exceptional orchestral piece, bucolic walk in nature, or a great walk in a big city among awe-inspiring architecture, I want to be connected with whatever that It is that makes all of these things seem wonderful to me. But, I am old enough now to realize that I can’t simply escape from all that is their opposite in hopes of ignoring or avoiding those who are less fortunate than me. What’s more, every time I do help someone less fortunate than me, the reward is different, but good in its own way. It isn’t a “feel good” like getting ice cream or wine, but it is something hard and true, like completing a complex and time-consuming task.

 

The core self is less moved by so many other manmade things, though. The “cotton candy” of music, art, entertainment, human forms–it might attract the most people but it disappears the quickest and seems to change shape and form with each passing year. It is like a quick, uninspired orgasm produced by the self–it only feels good for a fleeting moment, and the core self is unmoved by it.

 

So, what then, of Time and the Self? Are we malleable even at our uttermost cores, where we hold precious that we are female/male, intelligent or not, Jew/Christian/Muslim/Buddhist, etc.? If we are, then perhaps such malleability comes at a very steep cost, and the change that happens is glacial, across an entire lifetime or even many lifetimes. We try many little personas on and off when we are young, and we might even wear the marks and scars of some of this experimentation on our bodies for the rest of our lives, but we eventually find ourselves continually bumping into someone of whom we say time and time again: “this is me.”

 

After this, the rest of one’s life seems to be much less hurried and full of that sense of urgency which compels us to believe we need to be getting somewhere. After all, we have now arrived, and there aren’t many places left to go in terms of self identity, being and becoming. The rest of life is more about getting to know this self, unveiling this self as if it were encased partly in ice or mud. We become subtractive, but in a good way–we are effacing a lot of crap that we thought needed to be there, but doesn’t.

 

This doesn’t mean that we are any less full of obligations and work in our lives. It may even mean more daily work, to get caught up to where this core self had been waiting for us to arrive–this, on top of the business of simply staying alive and supporting ourselves and our families. We may now carry mental or physical illnesses and addictions with us from those years where we were experimenting with our self identities. Some of us will not make it past middle age. The journey ahead seems to be too hard, too boring, too long, too impossible.

 

For sure, it is no longer a glamorous journey that most people will want to hear you talk about. If you are truly focused on the process of coming to complete alignment with your core self at the expense of any other frivolous hobbies or activities, then you won’t find a group of admiring fans or even a support group who can relate. This might come as a surprise, since there are any number of interest groups for people who are seeking spiritual growth and wanting to meditate together, talk about past lives and yoga and breathing and chanting and all of that like many of the spiritualists do. But, those are simply peripheral manifestations of ones who may or may not be seeking alignment with their core selves. Many of them might very well just be trying to find a new route of escape away from themselves in hopes that the next new thing they try will open some channel inside of them that enables them to do something marvelous like paint like Picasso or make millions playing the stock market. And even if you encountered an entire group totally devoted to becoming better aligned with their core selves, you would find that each of them has a completely different opinion as to how one should go about it, and each of them most definitely has a completely different core self with a peculiar set of reasons for being back on this planet.

 

Which is all to say, they may all be doing it right, and if they are, and you are, none of you should have that much to talk about.

 

So, what then of Time itself and the core Self? It is my opinion that the core Self does exist outside of Time, and some memories of each life stay with it and shape it or alter it in some fashion. The core Self gains a benefit from existing as a human inside a linear time universe, because it would otherwise struggle with attempting to be everything and know everything all at once, when it isn’t ready for that, if it ever will be. But, let’s say for a moment that this Self could indeed benefit from a relentless program of connecting deeply with other human beings–core Selves talking to core Selves all across a planet where billions lived, and that it would reside in an organism with an empathy, a heart if you will, more capable than the heart most of us struggle to use every day. And, every time that heart saw any human, anywhere, being treated as less than a human being, that heart compelled the organism it inhabited to trade places with that inhumanly-treated human being.

 

What if you were also told that nobody would ever thank you for your supreme sacrifice? You were even instructed that perhaps you would be killed, even brutally murdered in a prolonged fashion, for your sacrifice–or perhaps later turned into a martyr and even a deity who was completely misunderstood? You are, perhaps in your late twenties or early thirties, and you have your entire life ahead of you. What business is it of yours if someone in your community is less fortunate than you are?

 

I suppose that how you chose to live your life would all depend upon what you believed your life to be, who you believed your Self to be, and what you believed Time to ultimately be. It certainly isn’t a program for everyone, but it’s the one we practice on the Earth I came from, and we are all doing pretty well.