I have been watching and waiting a long time. I am also the latest generation to do so. All my forefathers having been doing the same. We are of the family B’Shaway. It is a watching and waiting post. We aren’t expected to do much else. Literally. Inside the chamber is the experiment. Well, it’s a little difficult to know what else to call the man in there. He is alive and although he looked like he was in stasis is in fact moving very slowly, keeping young as he moves slowly towards some distant future. He would arrive at a later date with all of his youthful facilities intact and a living memorial to the past but he would be the first and last time traveller. Seems a bit crazy to us over the generations but they had some crazy ideas back then. Whatever, we were here to monitor and watch. It is a boring and often tedious job but with no idea when he’s coming out of the chamber, we have a watching brief.
His name is J’Lawrie. Several centuries ago, he volunteered for this time travel experiment. To get into the future, everything inside the chamber would be living in a different speed to us. Something that was learnt from the proposed plans for faster than light space travel. Of course, early scientist A’Einstein ruled that was impossible to exceed but no one thought that they could do it without leaving the planet. Looking out, he would see us racing around like some over-cranked old movie that I once watched in the archive if he saw anything at all. From our perspective, he was barely moving. It took a year to measure a single heartbeat. Keeping track of his telemetrics would take a lifetime.
Most of the time, I spend studying the records of his time period to have some inkling of the man who would volunteer for such an experiment. Other times, I would watch a speeded up version of J’Lawrie’s activities. As the recording medium improved it was possible to make sense of things at his speed. To say a single heartbeat a year wasn’t quite right was the first thing one of my ancestors noticed. Our improved telemetrics noted several respiration and heartbeats a year. Even so, he was hardly likely to jump out and hit the porthole.
It also gave me an opportunity to look at how the world have changed since J’Lawrie was put in the chamber to what it is now and watch my forebears logs of their own times. The edited highlights would be used to get J’Lawrie up to speed when he finally leaves the chamber. Getting to learn the latest version of English would take longer which is why I could speak 21th century English. Watching the old footage ensured I was kept up to my own speed. I became something of a film bluff. My great-great-great-grandfather once told me that it helped to fill the time for him as well and relieve the mostly boring time of just watching the chamber. I was hardly likely to be good company for J’Lawrie.
It was in my great-great-great-grandfather’s time that the mystery word was revealed. For over a century J’Lawrie was saying something. The time differential took even longer to collect every last syllable to eventually crank it up and what was we thought to be an extended grunt into a word. We all sighed with relief at that although there was a large percentage of bets that J’Lawrie was just having a slow belch.
The word has become a subject of many books. ‘Press’! That was an eighty-five per cent certainty. People have been analysing the meaning ever since. Was it to ensure media exposure was waiting when he got out? Being a celebrity was popular back then. Some form of exercise? Was there something missing? After all, a century later, he started on another word. Having a conversation or send a message was going to take some time.
I didn’t have any expectations on the meaning myself. There simply was not enough there to make sense of. I was only grateful that he hadn’t tried to write it down. Think of the time it would have taken to pick up the notepad, write and point in our direction. Even a digital pad would have taken forever. Speaking was the only way to get a message out. I wonder how long his thoughts were choosing the words? In his time frame, it was still only a few seconds since things had slowed down.
Why was I so concerned about these two words? It was estimated that the second word wouldn’t be completed in my lifetime. I had no expectation for that. For all I knew, it would be the second word of a longer sentence. No doubt my great-great-grandchild would one day have more than me. I played the word as much as we had.
As much as mystery as ever until the word was completed. There were already books on what the word might be. Heaven, there was even someone counting the letters this noise represented as if that meant anything. How could it be a secret code when J’Lawrie was living at a much slower rate than we were? From his perspective, I would only be here less than a moment and then replaced. The fact that it was kept within the family was to maintain some form of continuity and enthusiasm. Having the supervisor, me in that case, routinely change sex and colour would have been too disorientating and J’Lawrie couldn’t ask questions. Or could he? Maybe this was a question? Press what though?
I looked at all the myriad controls in front of the chamber as if that was what he was referring to. Although dusted and cleaned, no one had touched them in a millennia. It could be any button and experimenting let alone running a test programme wouldn’t help me to find out which. The circuitry could even fail if we did. I had read the report of why there were no controls in the chamber. They would need an independent power source but the way the machine worked, no battery could sustain power that long and it played funny tricks with radioactive half-lifes. The light he had was something we supplied through glass vents from us at the top. At the speed he was living, there was enough air to last half a day out here but in there it could last forever at the slow rate he was breathing. Whatever he was trying to say was hardly life threatening to him or us. If he was suffocating then there would be several more centuries to make a decision to get him out.
Idling, I looked over the original project manifest again. It was known even back then that time travel could only move forward not back in time. Causality would be affected if the reverse was possible. Going forward in time was a different matter.
What was needed was an experiment that could be carried out on Earth. Beneath the chamber was a nuclear collider. Not a horizontal like that fanciful CERN they had back then but a vertical version drawing energy downward from the chamber. Even now, no one wasn’t quite sure how it worked. The base of it was deep enough to source natural planetary heat so no drain on our own meagre resources. This one took the energy of a planet. Anything in the chamber would slow down. The first experiment kept some insect alive for far longer than its twenty-four hour life span. It was deemed too time wasting, I had to laugh at that, to experiment on other things than to go on to the main event, to use the technique to send a man into the future.
J’Lawrie was willing. Apparently he had no close family to speak of and wanted to see what would happen to the human race. Rumour has it that he was also one of the founders who provided the money for the collider and had a big say in being its volunteer. Others say he also had a fatal medical condition that by going into the future he would find a cure. There was no way to tell really. A lot of the records fell apart in here before we changed recording mediums. One of my ancestors thinks it’s some sort of fallout from the collider. We couldn’t get into the chamber nor he out. If me or any of my ancestors had walked over the threshold we would be moving as slowly as him and wait for an eternity for it to stop. A slow instance in time waiting for heaven knows when.
The computer bleeped. There was a change in the tone of the grunt. Did that mean another syllable?
What the heaven was ‘PU!’? How was it pronounced? ‘Puh!’ That didn’t make any sense. J’Lawrie spends a couple centuries or so sending one word and now ‘Puh!’ Still it would give me something to analyse over my lifetime of work. Maybe he was belching after all.
I dug out the manual, kicked up the analogue computer designed by one of my ancestors based off their old computers who thought J’Lawrie should have something analysing something appropriate to his time and transferred the latest syllable grunt and the latest double syllable into it.
Did it mean a lengthening of the word? Could it even be the end of the word? The ana-comp would have to find out. I did set up a separate routine to multiple out ‘Puh!’ in case it was going to expand and round off into something else. I then left it to it. End of my shift and the excitement was so incredibly boring. It would probably be at my retirement before the grunt completed another cycle.
Actually, it took nearly eighty years for a confirmation of that syllable. My young son, C’Shaway was looking over my shoulder at the results on the ana-comp, seeing if he could get any more meaning out of the proposed answer than I could. The original two solutions made little enough sense. ‘Press stupid’ seemed rude. ‘Press stop’ just odd. The overall conclusion was to wait and see if there was any more of the grunt to reveal a different interpretation or even the start of another word.
‘Neekah pressa uno fair?’
‘Speak the English. It’ll keep you in practice in understanding the ancients.’
My son cleared his throat. ‘Sosarra. There is no button called ‘supid’.’
‘I is not. Sorrys, I am not. All those funny words but no button called ‘stupid’. It has to be ‘stop’. There are plenty of buttons that say ‘stop’.’
‘So how would you choose the right stop button? Do you turn off the collider? Do you turn off a slow flashing light out here that is irritating him because it flickers too much as his reduced speed? There are several choices.’
‘Why not the collider?’
‘It might damage him if it was suddenly stopped…’
‘Yeah! Yeah! I read that paper. Old atoms meet new atoms and he prunes up and dies in front of us. But he must know what he’s saying?’
‘It might not even be a complete sentence yet. One day your own grandson will know for sure.’
‘Why not me?’
‘It will probably take that long to be sure that there isn’t another gap before the next word.’
My son looked up and stared at J’Lawrie in the chamber, waved his hands and made faces. I smiled. I did a similar thing when I was his age. He wouldn’t even spot it.
‘He’s living so slowly that will never register. Even if he would put a sign up and told him to point to words or even a sentence, it would still take a century before he moved a finger. He’ll take even longer to read it. Maybe your great-great grandson would know.’
‘You seem resigned to this?’
‘Your great-great-grandfather told me the same thing. As did my own father or grandfather. It’s a generation thing. You learn to be patient with this job.’
‘It must be an important message if he’s taking so long to say it. Have you had any thought as to what the next word would be?’
‘There are a million words and variation in the ancient dictionary. Which one do you want to start with?’
‘And I’ve got all the time in the world.’
‘Only a lifetime. J’Lawrie has all the time in the world.’
‘Only until time runs out.’
‘How far into the future is he planning to go? I mean, we could leave him to it until then.’
‘That part of the records were never saved.’
‘Well, he can’t go on to the end of time. What would happen if we reversed the energy flow of the collider? Wouldn’t he go back to where he started from?’
You seem very anxious to do this.’
The son played with the controls.
‘What are you doing?’
‘What I just said.’
‘But your job…’
‘Trust me, pop. I just want a change from tradition.’
The chamber vanished.
‘That never happened before.’
I stopped to think for a minute, still shocked by my son’s audacity. ‘If he’s gone back in time, why didn’t I see him do it?’
‘You did, pop, that’s why I could make the decision and you couldn’t stop me. I divided the grunts up and realised there were far too many for the time given. He had to go back over them. We were also watching him go back in time as well as forward.’
‘Where does that leave us no…’
The chamber door opened and John Lawrie stepped out.
‘How long was I in there, Barry?’
‘A few seconds,’ his partner Barry Shaway said, smiling looking up.
‘So what was the future like?
‘Went by far too fast. I tried calling out to tell them to press the stop button. Didn’t want to go too far into the future but I don’t think they understood me. I think I got sent back.’
‘The English language can change.’
‘Shall we try again, only this time I think I’ll have to speak a lot faster if I want to say something to them.’
© GF Willmetts 2013
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