Monday, August 10, 2009

50 The accidental fire of Agnes Ford

Agnes Ford, former stripper, graduate of medicine at Sanford, sharpshooter and the American voice of a popular brand of GPS navigation software, woke up in sweat soaked sheets and cursed. The A/C had gone off, but when she checked the control knobs, she discovered to her concern that the unit in her hotel room wasn’t broken, it had been turned off by housecleaning. The room had still been cool when she returned after dinner and she had ignored the card she now held in her hands and gone straight to the shower and then to bed. The card read ‘please consider the environment and turn off your air conditioning when you leave the room.’ She felt a rising fury but didn’t want a repeat of last year’s soap incident. She now kept her own soap in a ziplock and brought her own cooler. She could have just put up a do not disturb sign but that would mean no ready made beds at the end of the day.

She made a decision, she left a note saying ‘please do not touch the countrols’ on the A/C unit, then, using a paperclip and a stripped electrical cable from her bag, she proceeded to wire the unit to the power socket in such a way that touching the unit would not generate a shock. Turning it off, however, would.

As an added warning she added the always-mysterious-to-the-uninitiated universal clue: Danger 110 Volts. There, let’s see them turn it off now. Agnes went back to sleep under the cool hiss of conditioned air.

Later the following day on her way back to the hotel, she heard the trucks well before she saw the fire. Agnes had a tendency to paranoia and it was largely directed at herself. To wit: She had the overwhelming feeling that she was following herself around with malicious intent. It was how she half-jokingly described the feeling to her nervous friends. On the practical end, it meant she took precautions to protect herself against her own tendencies.

Having anticipated a fire risk to her lilttle electrical jiggling, she had packed her bags in her car in the morning. The Police would likely be looking for the occupant of her room but without much luck, surmised Agnes.

Whose other names included Lucille, Michele and once upon a time in New Orleans, Antoine.

After so many years of independent wealth and a private practice, For Agnes, (Maybelline Barnsworth) random terror was the new black. She drove on.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

51 The time-slipped lemon peel

It's a little known fact that fruit and certain root vegetables travel backwards in time. This is not a recent discovery but the information is known only to a few. Once, it was known to a multitude but like the lost art of acoustics and the library of Alexandria, there is a wealth of facts in the world which are not only undiscovered, like the mysteries of the quantum, but once lost only forgotten almost as quickly. they are miracles but for the fact that they have no visible impact.

Lemons, once picked, shipped and stacked in supermarkets and green grocer's across the planet occasionally have there number increased by a lemon or two from antiquity, rarely, they arrive from 1946, but these latter lemons are especially sour. Cabbages are known to have travelled to the present from as long ago as Carthage and as far away as China. None has made an effort to communicate, so far as the few who've stumbled on this natural phenomenon, have surmised.

To get right down to it, they may be trying to tell humanity something but if so, they are employing strange and cunning means. A strawberry had only just arrived the other week from 2238, it was a highly evolved specimen, it remained in the present for less than a day before vanishing.

It's a good question how anyone ever noticed it happening in the first place, who's to recognize the difference between a contemporary domesticated eggplant and it's ancient cousin? It turns out there are visible differences but they are apparent only to the trained eyes of chronobotanists, the current term for a clutch of researchers, grad students and professors in a scant handful of academic institutions and universities scattered across the globe like droplets of mist in a desert hurricane. The future fruit is more readily identified by the engineered barcode which can be found growing on their skins. Within the discipline there are subdivisions based on variety and chronology.

While a secret science, the tempests within its community are tremendous, likely because the teapot stakes are so incredibly small. After all, what can be learnt from a time travelling pumpkin?

A surprising amount, it would appear, and patents for new technologies and resurrected varieties are quietly filling copyrights, naturally it is a big legal flossing to patent organisms but it happens more often than people realize. What keeps the community from achieving it's full potential is, quite understandably, the apparent ridiculousness of the claim, and the corresponding incredulity with which it is often greeted: that time travelling fruit and vegetables not only exist and that someone you know is researching them at this precise moment.

Recently there has been a breakthrough, a man-sized time travelling lemon is being grown in an underground lab in Uppsala Sweden, The research facility is so secret it doesn't even have a number. The community euphemistically refers to it, regardless of locale and without any claim of ownership as 'my place.'

"Where's your next stop, Jackson?"
"Francine is coming to my place to check out the garden, she's got a few ideas on how to break the yield threshold on my lemon." said Jackson, chronobotanist, polyglot (ancient and modern, able to derive vocabulary from context and syntax from vocabulary reflexively), historian, avid fly fisher and collector of collectible soda cans.

Conversations within the community often sound coincidentally dirty, its a consequence of acquired vagueness. Everyone involved has had experiences early on in their research where, unheedful of the kind warnings of colleagues with time in, they had made an effort to explain to friends and family what it was they were going on about. Invariably, negative social attention and subsequent 'clamming up' had been the result. Even to each other, vagueness and doublespeak were the norm.

The recent development, alluded to by researcher Jack Jackson was a man-sized time travelling lemon that within which they hoped to insert someone, likely Jackson, once it reached maturity. This was a difficult procedure because the tree itself had been designed to deliver one, enormous fruit and it was a fragile balance that had been struck between science and nature, the tree was inordinately large, was fed directly with nutrients. These nutrients were integrated with it's natural day light cycle. In a sense it was some kind of hybrid between machine, mammal and fruit. A Fruitiborg? It wasn't a catchy name, everyone defaulted to giant lemon. The environment constructed for acted as a womb and Jack was to be the tree's strange grandchild. (note: Jack Jackson was named after his maternal grandmother, because it was his grandmother's dying wish to his mom that she name her first son Jack, she hadn't met his dad when she made the promise, she secretly hoped for a daughter, never revealed the hope to her husband, Jack's dad. Maynard Jackson, who, like his son, was an easy-going type, relented without much struggle and Jack had used his last name since childhood. The one exception was his wife who called him J.J. but only she got to call him that, no exceptions.

In short and without any further allusions to the technical challenges. Jackson was indeed selected to be the first non-fruit, non-vegetable, chrononaut.

The prospect filled him with equal parts exhilaration and terror.

The lemon left with Jackson in it an hour ago.

Jackson watched it go, he had returned 58 minutes before his own departure, in the back-up lemon. Protocols had been established for every conceivable eventuality and this was one of them. His fellow researchers did not speak to him, they came with a heavily armed escort, There were tears in his eyes from the lemon juice and his skin itched but he understood the reason for the precautions. One scenario had included disaster plans for the thermonuclear nightmare which had been theorized if somehow, the lemon re-entry displacement genetically programmed into the outward bound lemon had failed and he had materialized superimposed on himself. In te past he had arrived sans lemon in tow, upon his return the backup lemon had contained him, where was the original lemon? It remains a mystery.

The protocols did allow him to watch his own outward progress behind heavily shielded two-way mirrors. This was a negotiated sop to the chrononaut, left in on the argument that the probability of it happening was balanced against the risk of paradox.

Jackson watched himself get inserted into the lemon like so much hypodermically injected humanity. Despite the eye rinse solution and a kindly offered towel, there were still tears.

He had reason for them. Jackson had gone to the last place he'd ever expected to go, of course no one would believe him, he hoped he would have time to check before his debriefing.

The lemon vanished. The guards stood down; another day, another narrowly avoided paradox, thought his colleagues. Jackson requested permission to return to quarters, military discipline had been adopted universally by everyone during these critical months. The watch scientist nodded his assent.

"2 hours, don't bother asking for more." said the watch scientist without looking up from his work. Jackson didn't need to voice his assent, the watch scientist on duty was God, King and Country. Besides, he thought to himself, it would be long enough to check.

Once alone in his quarters, he launched his bible reader, selected the King James Version and began reading, he found what he was looking for soon enough in Matthew 3:18, ...Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw three brethren, Simon called Peter, Andrew his brother, and Jacob called Jackson, their cousin, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. And Jackson being warned of God in a dream of this day, warned Jesus that he must not go to Jerusalem during the Passover, Jackson begged him to heed Gods warning. And Jesus said I am where I am, I go where I go, for I am already there. And they straightway left nets, and followed him.

Jackson blinked back his tears. It would be a long time coming but he had to hang on, his friend had promised him only yesterday, they would meet again.

He switched off the lights, popped a sleeping aid and tried to get unconscious. True sleep was too much to ask for.

"I had to try, I had to try." he whispered hoarsely to no one in the darkness. His mind went blank when the hypnotics reached his nervous system, he abandoned himself to their synthetic oblivion with gratitude, there would be a lifetime to put the pieces of Jack Jackson back together, but in a few hours, there would be work to do.

He would find the strength, Jackson, if nothing else, kept the faith.

He had left a string of broken promises throughout his life, like any normal person only now the word had changed its definition in light of recent examples. The sentence 'Promises are made to be kept' did not sound foreign to his ears anymore. English tasted bland, Aramaic and Greek and Ancient Hebrew were more familiar now after so many months away.

With relief, he felt the paradoxes in his mind easing, two versions of the bible in his mind, neither at once but both together, like the picture of a vase which also looked like two faces in profile. Perhaps when he debriefed the variation would have settled.

He fell asleep with that hope in his heart, that, and a new hope, one best left unspoken.