“Time and again”
D. K. Leidy
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The problem with time travel into the past, a problem which became obvious almost immediately after the first half dozen people to attempt it vanished without a trace, is that it’s not even worth attempting if you already know that your result will be a failure. There’s no point going back in time to stick a paperchief in front of the Almighty’s nose before the Big Bang, because you already know that you didn’t succeed. Not won’t succeed, but didn’t succeed. We, His snot, are still here. So nobody sails off into the past anymore to try to right wrongs. Why do they sail off into the past? Good question. Without exception, those cases that we know about seem to involve zealots setting out to settle some bar bet, or egomaniacs who wish to be the ones who changed the course of events which already have been changed. These latter will spend years of their free time combing ancient tomes looking for events that they believe could only have occurred because of interference from the future. They then triple-mortgage their home, family, and possessions to rent a zippy astrocruiser for a slingshot orbit around the nearest relativistic FRR (filamental rotating remnant of the Big Bang) to carry them back in time. A creepy lot, to be sure.
Take Dryden Donne, for example. He spent the bulk of his life immersed in the works of this mythic Shakespeare, alleged author of a variety of works for what was once called “the stage”. Donne found fragments of electronic documents which seemed to prove that Shakespeare was in fact an illiterate, blind Greek poet who had never set foot in London, let alone written all those plays and sonnets. This seemed to Donne to be a classic case of ‘the authorless manuscript paradox’. This paradox asks what would happen if you bought an optispool written by a long dead spoolwright, jumped into your time machine, and laid the manuscript on the doorstep of the original author, who then copied it word for word and passed it off as her own. Is it her own? Who wrote the blinking thing? Is this what the ancients used to call a Muse?
Like all good paradoxes, this one remained a completely theoretical exercise until someone was willing to put his home and family where his mouth was. Welcome again to Professor Dryden Donne, Department of the Classics of the University of St. Vitus on planet Ivie. He saw it as his mission to write Shakespeare’s works for him, and “return” them to the poet so as to save world literature from the hell of paradox. Now, he knew what to write for Shakespeare, although, lacking the original language of the works of “the Beard of Avon” (Some scholars believe that the Greek sold personal beauty products door to door to finance his theatrical efforts.), Donne was at a slight disadvantage. It would not work for him to arrive on Old Terra with Folios written in a language incomprehensible to his would-be beneficiary. Nevertheless, he had an ample supply of works by contemporary playwrights and sonneteers. So he wrote an algorithm to translate the modern versions into the vernacular sampled from those works. Cobbling this project together from scraps of leftover federational humanities grant money, he couldn’t afford enough graduate students to oversee the transcription, so he trained a few dozen circus chimpanzees to sit in front of an array of ancient surplus descomputers and press the appropriate buttons to move the translation along. While a good programmer could have cut the primates out of the loop, Donne claimed that this stage was crucial for emulating the randomness of the human poetic process.
Donne couldn’t resist naming his assistants. And, being a pedant, he couldn’t resist naming them after various of Shakespeare’s contemporaries. Therefore, we can now say with certainty that de Vere wrote four of Shakespeare’s plays, Kyd five, Sir Walter Raleigh and the Earl of Oxford seven apiece. The bulk of the rest came from the hand of Bacon, and all the sonnets from good Queen Bess. In all, 34 plays and 176 sonnets, which he carefully bound and took with him to the past.
Nothing was ever heard again from Donne. How could there have been? But he will be forever remembered for determining, once and for all, the authorship of “Shakespeare’s” plays and sonnets, except for the handful that his monkeys were unable to reproduce. Possibly the blind Greek beauty products salesman actually did write “Coriolanus”.
The Yeshua case, on the other hand, was a whole other kettle of fish.
The Yeshua cult was one of the most widely practiced religions before the passage of the Intergalactic Tolerance Act (ITA) banned all such exclusivist religions. Anything having to do with this cult is still a sore point with the federation bureaucracy, even several thousand years after the ban, so we can only barely piece together what happened, but clearly it was a big fat hairy deal.
Professor Mag-Della had made her life’s work the study of the teachings of Yeshua. What she couldn’t understand was how his teachings, which in and of themselves seemed to square perfectly with the ITA, had gotten twisted into the ultimate millennialist, exclusivist, i.e. intolerantist sect that Yeshuanism eventually became, and which precipitated the ITA. It appears that she couldn’t resist going straight to the horse’s mouth for the answers.
Probably no one in modern history would have been more prepared for the task than was Miry Mag-Della. She was already fluent in most of the ancient languages she was likely to encounter on the trip, though one can quibble about the definition of fluency when no living person knows what the language even sounded like. The price of the trip was no problem either: Mag-Della was an expert grantssmith, and this was back in the days when money was still being thrown at the humanities. Finally, as a woman, she felt she could slip unnoticed into the preacher’s inner circle. The big problem, as it was for Donne, was actually locating the planet Earth, once she had reached the proper time zone, since the actual position of Old Terra had been lost in the intervening millenia. There are a lot of anthropologists today who would kill to discover its coordinates. As far as we know, Mag-Della was immediately silenced upon her return, and her secret buried forever in the federationist bureaucracy.
In the end, she cooked her goose by not vetting her travel proposal through the proper authorities. It is likely that one or more of the overseers would have recognized that her trip was going to grossly interfere (had already interfered) with the history she was seeking to observe. The evidence was already there, with her name sticking out conspicuously in the cult’s holy writings, had the authorities only had the chance to read them. But on the other hand, would they have been able to prevent her?
What we’ve been able to reconstruct, given the sphincterish secrecy that surrounds this case even to the present day, is that Mag-Della arrived, yielded up her ... um ... objectivity to the charismatic preacher and, completely distraught by his execution so soon after their rendezvous, used her ‘cruiser to take his body away for a proper burial.
While the federation was shocked by the affair, that was small potatoes. The locals were still talking about the empty tomb thousands of years later.
By the way, the popular consensus today is that the ITA was a cruel but necessary episode in the early history of the federation. In a tolerant galaxy such as ours, it simply will not do to have competing cults fighting over which has the monopoly on the truth -- cults that preach intolerance of other religions. People once refused to belong to more than one religion. Myself, I sometimes feel a little guilty about belong to only three religions, but one of them is the Jedi religion, one of the oldest, most venerable cults still allowed by the federation, and one totally compatible with all other officially sanctioned cults. The goals of Jediism are simple, the demands are light, and, given its antiquity, the odds are practically nil that anyone would ever uncover any dark secrets of its origin that would make me feel silly for wishing the reader a hearty “Force be with you”.
© Copyright 2004 by the author
All rights reserved