Monday, December 1, 2014

Transfiguratus Temporum - A Story

            Life was once so virtual that it became possible as part of the natural order of things.  I was just the one who happened to do it.  Cogito, ergo sum, ergo ire in tempus.  Now, just keeping the device functional, just keeping it secret and staying alive is, shall we say, more than a challenge to the imagination.
            I should describe the device.  It could look like anything really, of course.  I freely admit that my expression of it bears a great debt to the science fiction of the 1930s that once were but are no more, currently.  There’s a word:  “currently.”  It signifies a pointer.  There can be many pointers.  But I was describing the machine.  It looks like a rounded aluminum rocket ship with wings resting on its side on tricycle pads.  It has a “Flash Gordon” serial style hatch.  Yes, I know you have no idea what that means as Flash Gordon has never existed fictionally or historically.  The wings aren’t wings as of course it certainly doesn’t fly.  They’re solar arrays and devilishly difficult to maintain.
            There is also a second device, rectangular, also aluminum, about the size of a suitcase, designed to hold inanimate objects.  It goes nowhere.  It merely holds its contents in a state of perpetual temporal elevation and then returns the contents to a preset time, recursively if so programmed.  Ironic really that the only way to keep something from changing is to keep it perpetually moving.  Moving through the multiple dimensions of time that is.  Disastrously, I learned that lesson the hard way.
            My first experience was with Shakespeare.  I’m told that when I was an infant, my father used to come into my nursery as I was going to sleep and read to me from the plays.  Imagine someone reading Titus Andronicus to an infant.  The only thing I recall is the image of a tall black shape framed by the light coming through the door.  Yet I loved Shakespeare, even as a child.  It was a natural if foolish and ambitious choice.
            For the sequel it’s important you understand what London was like when I began.  Though it was a reckless, dangerous age it was a clean white city with whimsical skyscrapers just beginning to complicate its skyline.  They weren’t yet destroying it.  Wren’s St. Paul’s was a white platonic vision promising balance and reason.  I rented a large loft in Southwark where I spent months preparing, more months than it had taken to build the device in the first place.  I obtained inoculations from the National Health Service for a fictitious holiday in the Caucasus.  I had authentic clothes made by a theatre artist.  I learned to move naturally in them, no small accomplishment.  I took two classes in original pronunciation.  I read history at a level of detail I’d never read it before.  As far as possible I knew what happened every day in October of 1611.  My curious pursuits aroused not the least suspicion.  I told everyone I was an aspiring actor, which in a way I was, and in that city at that time, pursuit of that profession was no more than common place.
            On October 14 I rented an automobile with a large trailer into which I loaded the device cleverly disassembled, with the more curious components boxed.  Then I drove north to an abandoned Rover automobile factory east of Oxford.  I recall that traffic was surprisingly smooth and light that morning.  In a magnificent, ruined hall filled with the massive rusting artifacts of an obsolete assembly line, beneath a matrix of clouded and broken windows, I re-assembled the device, changed clothes, packed everything neatly into the car and trailer, locked both even though I would be back within moments, and stepped into the device.  Within, I seated myself, buckled the probably superfluous seat belt and shoulder harness, turned on the power supplies, allowed them to come to full efficiency for a few minutes, booted the camera and video systems that would capture everything going on inside and outside the device, booted the probably superfluous environmental system and waited while it completed its self-diagnostics.  I was ready to go.
            And I was terrified, in spite of the numerous  experiments I’d conducted.  Did I mention that the second traveler was my cat Byrd and the first a Monarch butterfly?  I was merely the third, but frightened still.  I had scrutinized Byrd after his voyage and detected no change what-so-ever in his behavior, but who knows what phantoms reside in the feline brain.
            I have no idea how I found the courage.  But I started the computer controlled sequence that delicately elevated the device into the super-temporasphere, as I think of Time’s second dimension.  (Yes, it has two, and technically the device performs a rotation in 5-dimensional Space-Time to use Minkowski’s construction.)  On the screens, the rusting, dusty, moldy factory was first imbued in a gentle and creamy light then faded away completely to a perfect gray.  The patter of the rain on the high roof fell silent.  There was only the slight hum of the temporal elevation system and in a few moments it began to settle as the shutdown procedures were executed one by one.
            Now there was the sound of birds.  The screens showed me that I was in the shadow of a copse at the edge of a fallow field.  I was rather closer to the trees than my review of the survey records had suggested I would be.  I switched the environmental control system and took my first breaths of the air outside.  It was merely fresher than what I had been breathing.  I stood without any dizziness, and went outside.
            There was no one to be seen, not even a small farm house.  I concealed the device by setting the automated temporal elevation function to return 24 hours in the future.  Then I picked up my leather bag containing 2 additional shirts, a pair of hose and a bar of Castile soap and walked through the copse, crossed two fields and approached the coachman’s inn at the side of the London-Coventry road.
            I was an exceptional event, but I’d expected it to be.  My clothes, rapier and dagger indicated that I was a gentleman of some means.  The insignia on my leather pouch revealed that I was in the service of the Swedish court.  You’re not so strange if you announce yourself as strange to begin with.  I had my explanation prepared.
            I was greeted by an affable ostler in a leather vest who put his index and middle fingers to his brow in a modest act of obeisance. He was obviously confused (but not suspicious) that I had no horse or carriage.  Though he didn’t ask I explained that our carriage had stopped to allow those of us who had need to relieve ourselves at the roadside.  In my modesty I’d decided to walk the short distance to a stand of trees and, to my surprise, had been abandoned.  Fortunately, I’d thought to take my traveling pouch with me.  Remarkably, this explanation was received not with skepticism but approbation.  “They’ve done it before sir!  They’ve done it before!”
            And so began five rather pleasant days in a coach’s way station in early Jacobean England.  The things that I expected to be most difficult to deal with, the hygiene, the smells, most importantly the danger of being discovered turned out to be more than minor.  Everyone seemed quite comfortable with my decision to wait for a colleague who would be coming north in a few days’ time and with whom I would be traveling on.  Each afternoon I slipped out for a walk and reset the device to return again 24 hours later.
            I enjoyed evenings by far the most.  The inn was lit only by candles but there were a number of them and the soft gentility of their illumination was a luxurious thing. What did we do?  We conversed, we sang songs, we told stories.  I told rather less than the rest but had prepared myself with some curious tales from extant German and yes, Swedish texts that were contemporary.  We even did a few extemporized, silly plays in which I was almost always the gull.  Surprisingly, it was all very Shakespearean and I soon felt that if I never saw the man those few days alone would have more than merited the effort.
            Then, on the sixth day, which was warm and sunny in spite of the season, as I was returning from my “walk,” I noticed a new, fine black palfrey, expensively furnished, tied to the post by the stable.  Inside, was a single new traveler, dressed in elegant black hose and breeches and a black velvet doublet.  I saw him first from behind so that there was no way I could have recognized him.  Yet I knew it was him.  Did I know it was him?  I knew it was him.
            “Pray, let me introduce you to our other traveler,” Robin Highsmith, the innkeeper said.
            William Shakespeare turned around.
            “Master Alexsej Johansen, allow me to present that most famous of writers for the stage, Master William Shakespeare.”
            He was shorter than I expected and slighter.  He was, after all, at the peak of his professional career, newly inscribed as a gentleman in the rolls of the heraldic college and had achieved considerable financial success as well.  Naively, I had expected that to be reflected in his frame.
            He was pleased to meet me and expressed an interest in conversing later about my homeland to which I know I responded with too much enthusiasm.  Then he left to see his room.  As he was climbing the stairs behind the innkeeper, he was seized with a fit of coughing which he covered with a worn lace handkerchief.  Before he stowed it away again in his cuff I noted the pink stains.  I knew that Tuberculosis was endemic in late medieval and Renaissance Europe and I knew he had but 3 years longer to live yet I was surprised.
            He was popular at dinner.  My place as most curious guest had been supplanted by a celebrity and I found myself shunted to one of the few small tables against a far wall.  The center table at which Shakespeare sat, at the head of course, was a constant roar.  Everyone had a story to tell him it seemed, and he listened with affable and perspicacious intent.  He, himself, spoke little.  I conceived of the possibility I should never gain the chance to speak to him privately to put forth my proposition.  I imagined returning to the device, bringing an unobtrusive camera back and photographing him, my only token of the visit.  Then I imagined terrible things, the camera discovered, my subsequent torture and trial as a necromancer.
The complaining of raised voices brought me back.  He should not leave so soon.  Several wanted to bestow a breakfast on him.  Shakespeare graciously refused.  He must leave early, and retire to sleep.  Those at the table were like children told they must go to bed without supper.  Yet, they toasted him, he toasted them back saying “they were a faire company yet he would still to bed, though he must have a few words with the Swedish traveler first.”
            And so I found myself sitting across a small table facing William Shakespeare.  My thoughts were wild.  In spite of the irony of the evening’s incidents it suddenly felt fore-ordained.  I wondered if destiny was in fact real.  Had I been destined to time travel?  Was there some kind of quantum super time in which both destiny and Space-Time itself resided?  Were there more than five dimensions?
            “You are then in service to Arne Erikson the Swedish ambassador?  In what capacity?” he asked.
            “My state is gentle.  But I serve only as a translator and minor advisor to his small council.”
            I detected the slightest tightening of lips.  Had he already surmised that I was lying?  If so, there was little time to lose.
            “Master Shakespeare, I have a proposition to put to you.”
            “Do you?”  He looked suddenly sad.  It was the expression of a man who has accomplished his heart’s desire and found it wanting.  I recalled Oscar Wilde’s aphorism.  “So many do.”  Shakespeare finished.
            “It is not financial or poetical.”
            This revived his interest somewhat but I could still see his wariness.  “And what would that be?”
            “I swear by my hope to see God in the face, that I mean you only great good.  I would ask you to walk across a field and then take a journey of but a moment.” I could see the beginning of alarm in his eyes.  “And then return perfectly safe in goods and person.”
            He watched me steadily.
            “I swear I am not mad.”  Then I had the presence of mind, God knows where it came from, to quote Hamlet, “My pulse, as yours, doth temperately keep time, and makes as healthful music: it is not madness that I have utter'd: bring me to the test.”
            This elicited a slow, musing chuckle.  “You are a surprising gentleman, Master Johansen.  And to where would this  journey of a moment take us?”
            “Another world, of course.”
            He shook his head.  “I think not.”  He pushed back his chair and stood.  He was leaving.  I had failed.  My mind, racing once more, grasped for anything that might alter the direction of our encounter.
            “We are such stuff as dreams are made on and our little lives are rounded with a sleep.”  As I spoke the words I sensed I had done something, strained the fabric of the continuum of creation.  For me, everything in the room had the slightest creamy shimmer and I was nauseous with déjà vu.  I had created a time cycle.  The first utterance of those words no longer had a beginning and an end.  They now were first conceived in the future but came from a past that I had as suddenly destroyed, replacing it with one which was flawed and broken.
            “You then are a poet?”  Shakespeare said.  I could see that he was shaken as well and knew not why.
            “No.  Those words are not mine.  They are yours.”
            “I have never said them.  Never written them.”  His right hand began a gesture, almost as a reflex.  He was going to make the sign of the cross, but stopped himself.
            “I am no demon, I assure you,” I said hurriedly, realizing the great gulf of the Enlightenment that separated us, yet which he himself had prefigured in his portrayal of human nature.
            “You are not from Sweden, are you?”
            “No, verily.”
            Those at the long table roared at some joke and clanked their pewter cups.
            “Then, I will come with you,” Shakespeare said. “ Though hell itself should gape.”
            That night I slept little, if at all.  I expected the door to my little room to be thrust open at any second by a crowd of sheriffs who would then drag me off to an inquisitor.  Yet it did not happen and so the next afternoon I found myself walking back across the field, side by side, with William Shakespeare to the place in the shadow of the trees whence the device would return.
            There was a sporadic, teasing wind that reminded me of something.  It took some time but I realized that it was a scene in Meryon Park from Antonioni’s film “Blow-Up,” in which plain and ordinary situations were not at all what they seemed, but actually prefigured violence, a murder which the hero would subsequently discover in his photographic darkroom with the wind blowing quietly on the soundtrack once more.
            We passed into the shadow of the copse, the wind still teasing.  I noted that Shakespeare’s right arm now rested across his chest and his hand gripped the hilt of his rapier.  He walked slowly, warily, looking no doubt for accomplices.  I carried a rapier myself but hadn’t the faintest idea of how to use one, my only fencing experience being with a plastic sword when I was six.  I had no doubt that he could spit me in a moment.  So the weapon at his hip frightened me and I was careful to walk somewhat off thus to show no sign of threat.  Fortunately, there was no one else amidst the elm and oak trees who could be mistaken for an accomplice who meant harm.
            We emerged back into the sunlight near the place where the device would appear.  And now we weren’t alone.
            A young, pretty, freckled girl, maybe twelve or thirteen and wearing a kirtle and apron and hat, was herding a gaggle of geese across the field.
            To my amazement Shakespeare spoke my thought,  “What is she doing here?”
            Why would a young girl be herding a gaggle of geese in a fallow field?  The situation was just slightly strange.  Someone passing in the distance might make nothing of it.
            Every few steps of so, the girl threw the geese a handful of seeds or grain for which they would then hunt the stubbled grass whilst honking and clamoring.  In another situation it would be merely silly and strange.
             I found it sinister.  What had brought her here?  She continued to perambulate, leading her rapt and noisy charges.  She appeared to be perfectly innocent.  Shakespeare looked at me, puzzled.  Was this some part of what I wanted to show him.
            I shrugged and shook my head.  All the while my mind was racing.  Why was she here?  How could I get her to go away?  Would she eventually go away on her own?  She noticed us, gave us the slightest curtsy and what seemed to me then like an ambiguous Mona Lisa smile.
            Why was she here, today at this time?  The field, the trees even Shakespeare and the girl had the creamy shimmer that I’d noticed the night before when I had quoted “The Tempest” out of time.
            So the girl was there because Time wanted her there or as some sort of natural compensation.  Time indeed flowed like a river, constantly searching for a lower point, searching for a path of stable equilibria and, when that path was disrupted, it compensated to come back on course.  In that instant I imagined Time as a mother, dressed perhaps as the girl was, but older, stern, cruel and inscrutable.  Wanting to go her own way.
            She was nudging me back from my plan.  I didn’t know exactly when the device would arrive.  I hadn’t dared carry an accurate clock in case I was searched.  So we were well early.
            I made a decision and decided to speak my thought to Shakespeare.  “It seems we may have additional, unplanned company upon our journey.”
            I saw his hand tighten on the hilt of his sword.  “Perhaps, Master Johansen, it is time you tell me more about this journey you intend?”
            Events were beginning to spin out of control.  And at the same moment, as if on a whim, the girl waved at us, turned and walked away.  It felt like one of those signal moments you sometimes have when doing science or mathematics, when the universe allows you to glimpse a secret.  It was just a young girl waving and walking away.
            Yet, I knew then it was something that would haunt me even though there was absolutely nothing really puzzling about it.  It was just a young girl waving and walking away.
            Shakespeare arched an eyebrow, obviously meaning what now?
            But I’d already heard the steady, mechanical hum within the sound of the wind.  A few yards from us, the device faded into view.  The streamlined silver shape was resplendent in the October sunshine.
            This time Shakespeare did finish crossing himself as he stared at it.  “Oh angels protect us!”  Then he whipped his head to look at me, eyes wide.  He drew the rapier.  “Is this what you meant me to see?”
            “It is merely our conveyance and no danger, I swear.”  I held my right hand up, as if taking an oath.  Then I turned away and walked over to the device.  He was either coming or he wasn’t.  I touched the touch screen next to the hatch, entered the security code and the hatch slid open.  I went inside, and looked back around, crouching a little because the device is too low for one of my height to stand upright.
            Shakespeare still stood, the rapier still drawn and pointed absentmindedly at me.  But it was evident that he’d probably forgotten he was even holding it.
            “Well, are you coming?”  I asked.
            I was certain he wouldn’t.  What had ever made me think he would?
            And at that moment, his face changed.  It wasn’t that he suddenly gained a look of stoic determination, but rather one of unquenchable curiosity.  He sheathed the weapon and taking my hand for the first time, stepped up into the device.  I had learned at that moment one of the great secrets of his creativity.
            “You are just a man,” he said, glancing at my hand.  Perhaps it was a question.  Perhaps it was a discovery.
            “Ego homo sum.  I am just a man.”

            The factory was just as I’d left it moments before.  The rain still pitted against the roof and the high glass windows.  Shakespeare wanted to know where we were, what the massive rusting machines about us were.  I explained that we had changed time and that we were in the same physical place.
            “And to what time hast thou brought me?”
            “My own.  Four hundred years in the future.”
            “And how long will we remain?”
            “Only as long as you like.  I will take you back now, if you so desire.”
            “I would see some little of this world, first.”
            “I thought you would.”
            “But why have you brought me here?”
            “A little patience.”
            He nearly changed his mind once we were on the M40.  Traffic was heavy but we still moved very fast.  He found passing lories particularly unnerving.  But then I do, too, sometimes.  Music  helped.  BBC Radio 4 was playing Vaughn-Williams “Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis.”
            He didn’t believe London was London, which made perfect sense.  I should say Westminster as I made a point of crossing the Thames at Vauxhall Bridge so that he could see the Abbey, one of the few buildings that remain of his London.  Traffic was horrific now and you’ll remember I was pulling a trailer.
            “Who are all these people?  Why do they dress so foolishly?  Of what station in life are they?”
            “They come from all over the world.  All stations.  And yes, we do dress foolishly.”
            “Is there a king still?”
            “Yes, though we are ruled by the House of Commons.”
            “That explains much.”
            To people on the street and the few in the car park we were modestly curious at most.  I was certain most took us for actors, who for some, curious reason, had remained in costume after a performance.  We took the grinding, industrial elevator, another device which impressed my guest and which he thought might be another kind of time machine at first, to the loft without incident.  Inside, I told him we were alone and he should make himself comfortable.
            He composed himself on the one sofa with which I had furnished the spacious room and he leaned back.  This brought on another bout of coughing so that he had to sit up again.  Indeed, he coughed quite often and had become quite expert at hiding and suppressing it.  I wondered how long he’d lived with it.  I retrieved a can of sparkling water from the small refrigerator and opened it for him.  “It’s only water.”
            “Only water?”  He drank.  “It’s very cold,” he said surprised.  I realized that almost everything was surprising.  Maybe he would be able to make nothing of his time here.  Maybe no one could.
            “Truly.  You are ill,” I observed.
            “What of that?  I am no longer a young man.  I have the face ache, too, often enough.  Per chance do you have something stronger?”
            I did:  Guiness.
            “So this I like.  There is some sense in this.  Maybe I am not amongst the damned.”
            “I would like to tell you what I propose.  Your sickness is serious.”
            “I know that well enough.”  He stood up and began wandering about, exploring his environment, not so differently from the way a cat would.
            “But it can be treated, cured in fact.  This evening we will take a small supper then tomorrow we will visit a physician.  In the evening we will attend a play and then I shall return you to the field at the very time we left.  But first, I must provide you with some clothes.  I would have done so before but I had no sense of your size of course.”
            All the time we were speaking, he continued his perambulations.  “You have so many devices,” he observed.  They were all turned off.  In spite of first appearances I was trying to introduce him to this age in a careful and sensible fashion.
            “Does everyone have so many devices?” he asked whilst I was measuring his chest and arms with a tape measure.
            “Assuredly.  Most people in Europe, Asia and the Americas.  That is to say, the New World.”
            “The Americas?”
            “Perhaps we should leave history to breakfast.”
            When I had his size, I retrieved my mobile phone and turned it on.  It made the usual assortment of sounds indicating missed calls, new text messages and emails.
            Shakespeare only stared.  From my contacts I selected the shop I had prepared for the event and placed the call with the usual touch.  "Hi Sally.  I have my cousin’s measurements…”
            When I finished I could see that look of alarm that I was beginning to recognize.  I think he was considering again the real possibility that his curiosity had brought him into the company of a devil who had carried him off to hell and was now toying with him.  “That spirit is not in this room,” he said in an accusing voice.
            I had decided that being casual and matter-of-fact was the best way to deal with these predicaments, the occurrence of which was unpredictable.
            “Most assuredly not.  She is a tailor’s assistant.  The shop is on the other side of the river.  In Mayfair.  This device, it’s called a “Smart Phone,” allows me to talk to be people in remote locations.”
            “Mayfair?”  The name was foreign.
            “Do you know Brook Field on the Banks of the Tyburn River?”
            “That is now called Mayfair.  There have been clothing shops there for centuries now.  Actually, we passed close by whilst we were driving.”
            He considered me, the room, the object I was holding to my ear.  I carefully took it down.
“How remote?”
“Anywhere in the world, really.”
            He nodded slowly.  It didn’t feel like a successful conversation.  I had planned to introduce him to television but decided not to.
            He finish his beer in silence and declined when I offered him another.  He spent some time looking out one of the windows at the street below.  It wasn’t much of view:  just a street and the banal back of one of the minor buildings of the King’s College School of Medicine.  From time to time his hand still came to rest on the hilt of his rapier and it occurred to me that I would have to convince him to leave it behind if and when we went out later.
            After some time he said, “Of what faith are you?”
            Of all the conversations I hoped or expected to have, this was not one of them.  I doubted it would go well.
            I took time to answer.  “I guess I would say I am a skeptic.  There are many people who are of the Church of England, or Catholic, or other protestant faiths.  There are very many who follow Islam, Buddhism.  Though they disagree, most people of faith, and there are billions, get along well together, especially in England.  There are some, though, who do not, and religion is still a source of much sorrow in our time.”
            “You have all these devices.  You travel through time like the angels or the devils, yet you are a skeptic?”
            “I simply don’t know.  I sometimes think those who profess certainty are dishonest with themselves.  Other times I think it is a failure of my understanding.”
            The clothes arrived.  To my surprise they helped immeasurably.  I had been careful to select a good wool suit in black, a cotton shirt and shoes that fortunately fit well.  He felt the hand of the wool and that seemed surprisingly comforting to him.  “They are just clothes.”
            “Yes.  Good ones, too.”
            The bathroom both surprised and frightened him, like so much else.  But he soldiered on and soon enough was dressed.  I complimented him on his appearance which pleased him greatly.
            “It has been an eventful day, perhaps, you would prefer to stay in this evening?  I can arrange for a dinner to be brought in.”
            He was perfectly still for a moment.  “Sometimes, Master Johansen, I think you are completely mad.”
            “So do I.”
            He laughed heartily then, for the first time.
            So we went to dinner,  I chose a small restaurant specializing in new versions of traditional English food that was within walking distance.  When we first stepped out onto the street, he took a deep breath and said,  “The smells of London are quite different.  Mostly better.”
            Dinner was a success, which is to say that it was uneventful and he thought the food and wine excellent.  At one point, as he was finishing a large lamb pasty served with grain mustard and rocket salad, he grew quiet and stared out the window by which we’d been seated.  A couple of black cabs passed.
            “I am considering how I should think of this experience,” he said at last.  “How we think of things is all.”
            “You know the principle of “Lex Parsimoniae” of William of Occam?”
            “Most assuredly.”
            “That is how I think you should think of this.”
            “That a stranger has ferried me forward in time 420 years, will show me the future for two days then ferry me back once more.”
            “Assuredly.” I held up my glass in a toast.
            The less said about the next morning the better as it was spent navigating the National Health Service.  To my great surprise and relief it turned out that he was suffering from a kind of pernicious chronic bacterial bronchitis which could be successfully treated with an injection of antibiotics followed up by a few days of oral meds, (versus the months of treatment which Tuberculosis would have required.)  The dental visit proved even more challenging but as I was willing to pay for service above that provided for free under the NHS, we were able to have three painful cavities treated and filled with unobtrusive, natural fillings.
            “You are in surprisingly good health,” I exclaimed as we were riding in a cab on our way back to the flat.
            “I am frightfully tired,” he answered rubbing his jaw.  “And I feel no better.”
            But later that afternoon, he did.  And so we went out.  This time, we walked north, to the river.  Amongst the things for which I had to provide succinct explanations were:  commercial jets (one flew over just as we were reaching the south bank), trains, (one was crossing Waterloo Bridge), the new St. Paul’s, power launches, cameras, bicycles and jogging.  We had already discussed automobiles on our trip to the NHS.  To my surprise after our delicate conversation regarding religion he seemed to have adopted an attitude of hyper-observation.  He didn’t know what to make of what he was seeing but he was fiercely determined to see it as clearly and perfectly as possible.
            We passed the massive, brooding Tate Modern and then he saw it.
            “Wherefore?”  He stopped and stared at the hale white recreation of the Globe Theatre on the south bank of the Thames.
            “To perform your plays, and those of others, of course.”
            Three pretty girls in black and brightly patterned spandex with white headphones jogged past giggling.
            “Thus did you bring me here?  To see this?”
            “Yes.  And a play.  But dinner first.”
            “To that I will agree.  Lead on.  But one question.  With all this,” he gestured the great, utterly strange city, “Is this the best you can do?”
            “Yours isn’t the only playhouse,” I answered.  “But it is a very good one.  And there are other entertainments.  Not bear-baiting.”
            We ate at the Swan, the restaurant adjacent to the theatre.  We were early enough that we were able to gain a table by a window which was open  due to the unseasonably warm evening.
            At one point during dinner, he put down his wine glass and rubbed the surface of the rough-hewn table.  “Verily, this is just the world, is it not?”  He watched me with that same perspicacious stare, searching to see if I would speak truly.
            “Verily,” I answered.
            “Because you’ve made us what we are,” I answered.  “I wanted you to see…”
            He looked at me, expecting a better explanation, needing a better explanation.
            I shrugged; I wished I had one.  “Remember Occam’s Razor?”  I said.
            “Which play?” he asked.
            “King Henry the Fourth, the first part.”
            “Not “Hamlet?”
            “Time’s winged chariot,” I answered.  I wanted to be first.  I had to be first.  Someone else might be building a machine even as we watched a barge slowly navigating up the river, which of course made me thing about time again.  I thought being first mattered.
            I think he understood.  He said, “I do not care much for your metaphor.”
            “It isn’t mine.”
            “Yet, I still think little of it.”
            We went to the play.
            We settled into our seats on the second row in the center of the lower gallery.  We were among the first.  Soon we were surrounded:  a young professional couple on our left who studied their mobile phones with intent, two pensioners on our right in heavy fisherman’s sweaters and, in front of, us, two women with three children.
            “It’s quite different,” he remarked.
            “It’s as accurate as it could possibly be.  They even used original tools to construct it.”
            “I meant no offense.  And it is not just one thing,  It’s many, many small, insignificant things that continually remind me that it is not the place I knew.”
            The floor section filled, mostly with rowdy young people.
            “That is the same,” he smiled and I wondered if he made the observation for my benefit.  Then as the play began, he leaned close and said, “it isn’t necessary to study me for the entire performance.”
            I made every effort not to do so.  I can say that for most of the first half he wore a look almost of consternation.  That changed during the court scene betwixt Hal and his father, the king, which was extremely well-performed to my mind.  Shakespeare seemed satisfied. And he was delighted with their interpretation of the Battle of Shrewsbury and Falstaff’s famous deprecatory speech about honour.
            Fog came in during the play and as we walked back along the river in the clammy, drear, I was reminded of Victorian London and had the odd sense that I was living in all times at once, which made me laugh.  Perhaps it should have made me weep.
            “You think it is one of my best plays?” Shakespeare asked in a clinical tone.
            “Structure.  And the characters.”
            “We haven’t done it in some time, you know.  It used to be very popular when the old queen was alive.  Do you know, tis’ better than I had remembered?  And I remember every word.”
            He was struck with a small fit of coughing brought on no doubt partly by the clammy wet.  He coughed into his handkerchief as usual.
            He recovered and studied the handkerchief.  Then he showed it to me.
            It was clean.
            The next morning we returned to Oxford.  “I am not looking forward to this,” he said as I helped him with his seat harness buckle in the automobile.
            “Returning to your own time?”
            “No.  This strangely-achieved coach ride to Oxford.”
            Nevertheless, the drive passed without incident.  As we were reassembling the device, he stopped for a moment and looked around the abandoned factory and said,  “You know, I am fond of this place.”
            The fallow field in the shelter of the trees was empty, as it had been that first day.  We shook hands and said farewell.  I watched him walk away into the trees.
            Meanwhile, my heart was pounding.  The experiment was finished.  What would I find when I returned?  At that point, anything was possible.
            But the factory was unchanged.  The array of windows still obscured a sunny, autumnal day.  I took a different and faster route to Southwark but saw nothing unusual.  Indeed the loft appeared to be exactly as I’d left it.
            That alone was perhaps the most important thing.  It meant that I still existed.  I hadn’t changed time to the extent that I didn’t.  Next, I sat down at my desk and my computers and began surfing.  There were the same newspapers.  England was still England:  we hadn’t lost the second world war or anything like that.  The first change I detected was that there was a different Prime Minister and a different President of the United States, though both were from the same parties.
            Finally, I felt the adrenalin decreasing.  It was apparent that the consequences of my interaction with the past were complex.  It would take some time to understand them.  I made a fresh pot of coffee and put a couple of digestives on a plate.  By late that afternoon, as sunset was beginning to color my few windows, I was ready to examine Shakespeare and his works themselves.
            Here is what I learned, bginning with Shakespeare.  He now lived another 11 years.  In April of 1616, his greatest work, the Ariel trilogy of plays, were performed.  The plays represented a synthesis of the highly subjective and immediate sensibility that had begun with “Hamlet” and the affectionate, yet classical and objective perspective of “The Tempest,” which was now a lost play, the existence of which was inferred by letters from members of the company.  The plots of all three plays bore a strong debt to “Henry IV part 1” but were also startlingly original.  These were the plays that everyone read in school now.  The plays were rightly categorized as part mystery, part history and even part science fiction as they speculated on technology that wouldn’t appear for another 400 years.
            I leaned back from the screen, took a small bite of a cookie and sipped my coffee.  It was more than I’d dared hope.  Yet, I had a sense of melancholy, of unease that I recognized.  It was the almost physical discomfort that came from having a mathematical problem that I hadn’t yet solved.  And now, for the first time, I could express it.
            Minkowski’s great contribution to Special Relativity was devising the metric to measure distance in four dimensional Space-Time.  I had realized that Space-Time was actually five dimensional, that there were two time dimensions and that there were time quanta.  Yet, I hadn’t found a way of measuring distance in that larger dimensional space.  In the greater sense, even though I could change time, I didn’t know how close two versions or events were.  Had I changed Time a little, or a lot?
            More research.  There was no Civil War in England:  Cromwell and the King were reconciled and though Parliament emerged as a much more formal and powerful institution, it wasn’t as strong as it had been under the Protectorate.  Still James II was the last Stuart and under the Hanovers there was the American War for Independence.  For a few moments it seemed Time had found its way back to the same course it had flowed before.  The image of a mighty river winding through tall rock canyons came to mind.  Also of a goose girl in a field.
            Then there was the 20th Century:  Though James Joyce was published, his ideas were considered highly derivative of those that had first emerged in Shakespeare’s Ariel plays.  Freud was nearly forgotten:  Carl Jung’s psychology and methods dominated scientific thinking about the mind.
I found myself scanning through screens and pages of history, science, popular culture trying to conceptualize what had changed.
The wars and their outcomes seemed the same at first as I raced through them.  Then, something caught my eye, the number of Polish dead in World War II.  Had it always been that large?  I turned my study to the casualty figures.  Those of World War I were the same.  But total of those of World War II were almost double.  In all, 160 million people had died.  The United States had dropped nuclear weapons in Europe as well as Asia.  In the world before one of my grandparents had been a Spitfire pilot.  It was amazing I was still here at all.
I knew it was time to do science.  I should never have embarked without solving the 5 dimensional metric problem in the first place.
It took three months to solve and verify empirically.  Once again Byrd was pressed into service; there was no need for I, myself, to travel, and, to be honest, fear was an important aspect. All the time I was working, the Goose Girl’s enigmatic smile in the field that day haunted me.  What if I had left Shakespeare behind that day.  How much would have changed?  Would there still have been an Ariel Trilogy?
With the solution in hand I went to work to see if I could find a correction for the dreadful consequences of my voyage.  Yet, even as I started, I sensed what the solution would be.  Once again, it felt fore-ordained.  So that when I determined what it was I must do, the answer conveyed only despair.  I would have to engineer the death of Hitler in 1943.
Preparing for 20th century Germany was infinitely more difficult than Jacobean England had been.  Even the complexities of the language weren’t the half of it.  The device itself required interesting modifications so that it could be transported securely to Berlin to one of the few places that would exist in both Space-Time frames and also provide the necessary discrete concealment.
However, before I left London, I took one of the few public tours of the disused Aldwych tube station.  In one of the darker tunnels, I managed to hang back from the group long enough to remove a small aluminum case from my backpack:  the other device.  Within it was a physical book:  Shakespeare’s complete works, including the Ariel Trilogy of course.  In moments I had set it perennially traveling in time, set to return once each year for a period of minutes to this location.
            Later in the afternoon, our tour emerged into a rare sunny London day.  Two days later I departed for Berlin.  I will spare you the melodramatics of what happened that September day in the Reichstag, when an unknown Swedish diplomat shot and killed Adolf Hitler.
            Nor will I reveal the clue I saw that same day that revealed that I wasn’t alone in my efforts to rearrange history.
            In spite of my calculations, I was not prepared for the desperate world to which I’ve returned.  Ironically, my calculations were correct.  Once again the number of dead in World War II was 80 million.  But then there was what came after.
            That terrible fifth dimension.  I have learned that Space-Time itself is unstable.  There is no such thing as a local change.  Quantum effects involving that fifth dimension have universal consequences.  Even so, in a ruined factory, outside what was once Oxford, I work in secret to find a way to recover the terrible, yet better, history that was.  My only and insufficient comfort is a non-existent book traveling perennially through time except for a few minutes each November.

November 14, 2014
Thomas Jensen
Copyright 2014 – All Rights Reserved.

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