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Ripples (version 2)

Mar. 7th, 2011 | 02:21 pm

To: bill.smythe@williams.edu
From: scott.jacobson@time-institute.edu
Date: November 3, 2050
Dear Bill,
How's the semester going? Yvonne and I were really happy to see you at the reunion in August. It's hard to believe that it's been fifteen years since we were hanging out together in the Science Quad, with no bigger worries beyond our next quantum mechanics exam. I hope you're giving your physics students there as much of a hard time as we got.
I wanted to let you know that your former student Rachel Gibbons is settling in well here at the Institute. She's a bit older than my other grad students, which was awkward at first, but she's eager to learn from anyone who'll talk to her, and that makes it easier for the others to accept her. As expected, her understanding of your Temporal Conservation model is top-rate, and her theoretical contributions to our work will be invaluable: but she has shown a great deal of interest in the practical side as well, learning all she can about the operation of the machine. In short, you should be proud: she's a great addition to our group.
The work has been going very well indeed. I told you about our first trip into the past, which we made in July. We went back about eight months to an abandoned lot near the institute, and your model notwithstanding, I was terrified! I was sure we'd come back to find we were at war with Sweden, or something. Well, we’ve made four excursions now (Rachel went on the last one, actually), as far back as a decade, and so far you seem to be right: as long as we are careful, time travel doesn’t seem to alter the timeline at all. I wouldn't be surprised to see you on the short list for the Nobel in the next few years.
Yvonne's getting close to her due date, and it's still hard for me to believe that I'm going to be a father. I know you think we're crazy to want kids, and I know it'll be tough, but I'm almost giddy with excitement sometimes-- between bouts of panic, that is. We don't want to know the sex of the baby yet-- old-fashioned, I know-- but we've decided on Madeleine for a girl and Eric for a boy.
Anyway, gotta go. I hope you are still planning to take your sabbatical here at the Institute; the rest of the staff are looking forward to meeting you. Yvonne sends her love.
All the best,

To: bill.smythe@williams.edu
From: scott.jacobson@time-institute.edu
Date: November 10, 2050
Dear Bill,
My, but it's been ages since I’ve emailed you; a year or two, maybe? I was hoping to see you at the 15th reunion last summer, but things have been so busy here at the Institute. We've made thirty excursions into the past just in the last six months, going as far back as 2020. It requires a tremendous amount of energy, but fusion generators are getting better all the time, and we hope to dive even farther into the historical era (i.e. before we were born).
After months of negotiations, we finally stole Dr. Rachel Gibbons away from Stanford last month. It was her theory of Temporal Conservation that made all of this possible, of course; we were all too terrified to meddle with the timeline, afraid of what we might change just by our being there. But experience has proven her theory to be correct. In fact, we keep a complete copy of the Times archive in a time-shielded computer, along with our logs, and we make an exhaustive comparison after every trip between the shielded archive and the one online. We have yet to discover any major discrepancies. The occasional anomaly does show up, but they don’t concern us very much. For example, the shielded logs list several excursions by Dr. Gibbons in September and October, though she only just arrived a few weeks ago; I suppose our negotation skills were slightly better in the original timeline? Anyway, that was one of the largest anomalies we’ve ever seen; most of them involve slight changes in the wording of news articles or speeches, tiny alterations that have no effect on the rest of the world.
It has been a great pleasure to spend time with Dr. Gibbons since her arrival. Her drive is amazing; she is the kind of person who sees what she wants and will do anything to get it, and her ambition has spread through the lab. I must admit that I find conversations with her to be intoxicating. (And just between you and me, I was worried for a little while that she had her eyes set on me, romantically. In another life, maybe.... I can’t deny that she’s very attractive to me, but I would never cheat on Yvonne. Fortunately, she hasn’t made any moves in my direction, and so I probably imagined the whole thing. But don’t breathe a word of this to Yvonne.)
Speaking of Yvonne, have you heard that we’re expecting our first child next month? Yvonne took the semester off from teaching physics at the community college, in preparation for the birth, and she is climbing the walls for something to do. It's been a real sacrifice for her, being stuck here in rural Ohio with me, and though she puts on a brave face, I know she still dreams of teaching in a liberal-arts college like you do. Well, I’m trying not to take her generosity for granted, and maybe in a couple years my assistant Dr. Svensson can take over here at the Institute, and we can let her career take the lead for a change. Maybe we'll end up in your neck of the woods, eh? Yvonne has always loved the Berkshires.

All the best.

To: bill.smythe@williams.edu
From: scott.jacobson@time-institute.edu
Date November 17, 2050
Dear Bill,
Congratulations on the new baby! How is Yvonne? Wow, three kids! I gotta say I admire your patience; I don't think I could stand to put my career on hold the way you have, to take care of the kids and let Yvonne keep working towards tenure there. Rachel and I have been much too absorbed in our work at the Institute to think of children, so I guess I'll have to settle on being your kids’ favorite "uncle".
The Institute turns five this month, and we've coincidentally reached a major milestone in honor of the event, finally breaking through to the twentieth century. Rachel and I made the trip together, and when we came back through the portal, we found the lab decorated for a surprise anniversary party. I'm afraid I nearly fell over when they jumped out and shouted "Surprise!"; I still get a little jumpy after excursions, afraid of what might have changed. But it was a lovely party, and they even had a cake with a little drawing of Rachel and I making that first trip, where we put her theory and my engineering to the test. How did we have the nerve?
I know you love hearing about the little discrepancies that pop up in the timeline after excursions. Nothing in the news this time, but I was looking through the logs, and I noticed the name "Rachel Gibbons" appearing a number of times over the past two months; Rachel's used the name Jacobson since we've been married. She laughed when I showed her; said she hadn't seen her maiden name written out in years. She suggested that, in the old timeline, she had decided to keep her name for professional reasons. Perhaps, but it was only later that I realized something more disturbing: several of Rachel’s trips were *solo* excursions, which is completely against Institute policy. Or at least it is *now*. Had the rules of the Institute changed? Rachel's Theory of Temporal Conservation says we would have to do something drastic to change the timeline appreciably--- divulging information about the future, leaving something behind--- and we're always very careful not to do that. But if an excursion can change Institute rules, even with all our caution, what else could we be changing unintentionally? Marriages? Careers? Lives? It keeps me up at night sometimes, I gotta admit.
Well, enough of all that. Oh hey, I saw your paper in *PRL* the other day! Glad to see the kids haven't kept you completely out of the game. Good luck with the baby, and give my love to Yvonne.
All the best.

To: bill.smythe@williams.edu
From: scott.jacobson@time-institute.com
Date: November 24, 2010
Dear Bill,
I just saw it on the news, and‚... oh my God, Bill. I immediately thought of her when they said Boston had been hit; I knew Yvonne was giving a seminar at Northeastern this weekend. Even with the war and all, that they would have the nerve. Swedish bastards! My God...
I'm trembling too much to type; will write more later. I'm so, so sorry.

To: bill.smythe::edu!williams
From: scott.jacobson::com!time-institute
Date: 2010Nov26
Dear Bill,
I just got on the bullet train in Toledo and should be in Albany in a few hours, and then by taxi to Williamstown. How are you holding up? How are the kids? Let us know any way we can help. Yvonne was like a sister to me; I can't believe that she's gone.
Rachel's been taking the news really hard. I try to comfort her, but she spends most of the time locked up in the lab, shouting at anyone who tries to enter; and when she does emerge she keeps muttering "My fault, my fault". Grief takes all forms, I guess, and I've been doing my share of shouting and muttering (and crying) too. It's all I can do to look Dr. Svensson in the face with composure, never mind he was born here. I thought I was better than this, but when I think of Yvonne I get so angry....
I'm sorry, you don't need to hear this from me. Rachel says she has something to fix here before she can come, but promises to catch the first bullet tomorrow morning. She sends her love, and says “Don’t worry; we’ll take care of everything.”
All the best.

To: bill.smythe@williams.edu
From: scott.jacobson@gibbons-institute.edu
Date December 1, 2050
Dear Bill,
Rachel has finished up her maternity leave, and so I have officially joined the ranks of stay-at-home fathers. I'm nervous about putting my career on hold like this, but Rachel is so busy as director of the Institute that it was the logical thing to do.
It was kind of Yvonne to visit last week; Rachel looked so relieved to see her walk off the train with your little one! We took her advice and put Eric in a bassinet next to our bed, so that Rachel (bless her) can feed him in the night, while I sleep. Even so, I'm still only partially coherent most of the time. But he’s the best thing that’s every happened to me, and as you predicted, I wouldn’t trade him for anything.
It's been an excellent year at the Institute. It was the tenth anniversary of Rachel's first excursion into the past, and just last month I got to lead the very first expedition into the 19th century. It was my design which increased the machine's efficiency by 15%, and I must admit that I was pretty pleased with myself: Rachel has always been one step ahead of me, and it felt good to be the one to figure it all out for once. Sometimes, to tease her, I tell her that I should take a trip back and give my younger self a copy of her textbook, so that I could be the one to discover time travel. She just smiles and says nothing.
Rachel is leaving for Stockholm next week to accept her Nobel Prize; I wish I could go with her, but Eric is too young to fly so far, and I don't want to leave him with a sitter. I'll send my avatar, of course, and tap into the video feed. Since I'm going to be at loose ends with Eric, maybe we can take the bullet up to Williamstown to visit you and the family next week? It would be great to see you again, and you can give me some pointers on what to do with this little fellow.
All the best,

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Underground Airship

Oct. 7th, 2010 | 03:55 pm

The start of a story I'm working on; how does it sound?

My name is Sam; least, that's what most everyone calls me, that or Sammy. My mama called me Samantha til she left, and that's all right, but ain't nobody allowed to call me that now she's gone, not if I can lick 'em for it. I ain't a boy; a lot of folks think I am when they see me, but that don't matter none.

My pa died when I was a baby, and Mama and I lived in Uncle Paul's big old house until I was eight and she left, don't know where. He takes care of me now, but mostly I take care of myself. Other folk say he should make me behave proper, make me put on a dress and go to school and church and stop runnin' 'round in the woods, but he don't pay them no mind, and I reckon I'm the luckiest kid in the county to have him. I hunt and fish, I swim in the river, I play robbers with the boys-- they wouldn't let me until I showed I could beat 'em, but then we got along okay. Some nights, if it's warm and dry, I don't even go home, but sleep under the stars next to my campfire, lookin' for the blinking lights of the airships that pass overhead. Tain't no better life for a girl, 'less it was up there in the sky.

Mama took me to see one of the airships once, couple years ago, right before she left. Airships don't usually stop closer than Pittsburgh, but the University brung one in for some class or somethin', and Uncle Paul's a professor up there so they let us come see it. I reckon I never saw anything in life as big as that balloon; it was bigger than a house. "Mama", I said, "it's so big! How can something that big fly in the air?"
"It is big, sweetie, but it's not very heavy, and it's filled with hot air." Then she told me about how they heated the air and that made it lighter than normal air, and that made the balloon float like a boat in the river. My mama was real smart and was always tellin' me thinks like that, and I tried hard to remember what she told me. Mama was better than that dumb schoolteacher they had in the village: she taught me my letters when I was real little, and found me the best books to read in Uncle Paul's library.
Usually when she talked to me she'd kneel down and look me in the eye, so she knew I was payin' attention. But this time she never took her eyes off that balloon, like she was as dumbfounded as I was. We didn't notice that someone had come up to us, until she introduced herself. "Jess Taylor, Connor Steam-Balloon Company," she said, reaching out to shake Mama's hand. "Whaddya think of my ship?"
She was dressed like a man: brown coat, white shirt, brown britches, with a set of funny round glasses perched on her too-short hair. I'd never seen a lady dressed that way before, and I stared at her almost as much as the balloon. My mama took her hand. "Catherine Florian. This is yours?"
"Yup, I've been a pilot for three years now, and been running mail from Pittsburgh to Cincinnati for two."
"I'd heard that airship pilots were all women, but I wasn't sure I should believe it."
"Oh yes, ever since Liz Connor invented her steerable balloon back in 1834. You need a lot of lift to stay in the air, and men are too heavy, so the Company hires young women for the job."
"Is it difficult to fly?"
"Not really, once you learn. A senior pilot takes you up as an apprentice for a few trips, and then they let you fly solo. Not much harder than a team of horses."
Getting over my shyness, I turned to Mama and said, "Mama, can I be a pilot when I grow up?"
Mama laughed, and patted me on the head; but Miss Taylor knelt down beside me and looked me in the eye, all serious. "Pilots need to be strong and smart, Miss Florian. They have to be able to read maps and charts, write reports, and have a good sense of direction. Do you think you could be all that?" I nodded dumbly, surprised by her talking to me like a grownup. "Then we will be happy to accept your application when you are of age. We will hire pilots as young as 13, with their parents' permission." She then hands me a card, on which is printed the words "Connor Steam-Balloon Company" and an address. "When you think you're ready, send a letter to this address and we will send you further instructions."

I sat quiet the whole way home, thinking about what Miss Taylor had said to me, and imaginin' myself up in the clouds, free as a bird, underneath a ballon bigger'n a house. I stared at the card she gave me, and remembered her words: "strong and smart" she said. I was gonna to be the strongest, smartest kid in the whole county, you bet! I was too caught up in my own dreams to realize it. Mama didn't say one word the whole trip neither.

The next day, I had a plan all in place. I was gonna be the strongest, smartest kid in the whole county, so that they'd hafta take me when I was old enough. I knew that boys were stronger'n girls, mostly, and figuring there was some trick to it, I started hangin' out with 'em. They laughed at me and called me names at first, and I didn't get on with them for a long while, but just sat to one side watchin' them play ball or robbers or swordfightin'. I remembered Miss Taylor's clothes, and figured that since I was goin' to be a pilot anyway, I might as well start dressin' like one, and anyway the boys might accept me better if I dressed like them. So I started wearin' britches instead of skirts. This made the boys mad, and the biggest boy, name Jim, wanted to clobber me, till the other boys said, "You can't hit a girl, Jim! What're you thinkin'?"
"Go ahead! Hit me!" I yelled at him, and then punched him in the chin. My hand hurt like the dickens, and I didn't do more than turn his head, but he was too stunned to react. I started hittin' 'em again and again, in his face and his chest and his stomach, till he'd had enough and knocked me in the dirt with a sock in the face. My nose was bleedin' and my eye hurt somethin' fierce, and moreover I was scared about what they was gonna do. But Jim just came over and pulled me up, lent me his handkerchief for my nose, and told me to go home and put a steak on my eye.
After that, the boys let me play with them without any more name-callin', but treated me like a younger brother. Jim had been impressed by my attacking him, and taught me how to fight proper, and whenever I finished my chores I'd be out in the woods with them.. The girls in town made fun of my clothes and my bruises, but I didn't see no good in what they did all day, and paid them no mind. And after a year of that, I could carry whole buckets of water that I could barely budge before, so I guessed my plans for gettin' stronger worked. Miss Taylor said I had to be "strong and smart", so for six months I was the teacher's pet, learning everything they taught us, till I got disgusted by how slow the other kids were at gettin' things. I started readin' as many of the books in Uncle Paul's library as I could, and decided that they were as a good a school as in town.

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Fragment of an untitled story

Aug. 29th, 2010 | 01:54 pm

From time to time, I've toyed with the idea of a Sci-Fi Gospel retelling, on an alien world, from the point of view of a human observer. After hearing today's Gospel about Jesus at the banquet, I wrote the following. First draft, no editing; I'm supposed to be working on my talk! :) Oops.

At the end of that month, the Chief Eesphar threw a huge dinner party in honor of his son's birthday. Naturally, as Earth's envoy I was invited, but I was surprised to hear, as we gathered for dinner that evening, that Siah had been invited as well.
"This is great!" said once of his followers. "You're finally getting the recognition you deserve!"
"I will certainly be recognized," Siah replied. "Indeed every Eesphar in attendance will have their eyes on me, waiting for me to slip up, or just wanting to see the Swamp Prophet. Not exactly something I would desire. Better that our message be recognized, and not me." He smiled. "But it's sure to be a great party, all the same. The invitation is for three. Who will come?"
Rocky had plans with his wife, so they settled on Meas and Mone. Siah turned to me. "And you'll be there too, of course. Will you sit with us?"
"If I can. I may have obligations."
"As you will."

The evening of the party arrived, and I drove to the Chief's extensive estate alone. Giving over my coat to a valet, I entered the enormous dining room, lined with dozens of tables in an intricate sunburst pattern, radiating from the central dais where the Chief's son sat at an empty table with a bored expression. There were no placecards on the tables, but I knew that the more important guests were expected to sit closer to the dais. I had been very careful to boserve protocol at the smaller gatherings I had attended, carefully studying the pedigrees of each invitee so that I would sit low enough not to offend anyone, but not so low as to bring discredit to Earth. This, however, was a room of hundreds, and I had no idea where to begin. Indeed, there seemed to be occasional squabbles as guests fought over the seats they would take. How should I begin?

"Delightful, isn't it?" said a voice behind me, and I turned to see that Siah had arrived, the Storm brothers in tow. "Let me show you the way I do it." Taking my arm, Siah steered me towards the very end of one of the long tables, where the servants would usually sit when not busy with their duties. Siah sat down in the very last chair, and reluctantly, the Storm brothers joined him. I stared at the large gap of empty chairs between them and the places where people still fought for seats, and thought about what the ambassador would say if I sat so far down. Siah saw my worried stare, and smiled. "Trust me," he said. And, as usual, I couldn't help myself. I sat down in the seat closest to the hub and prayed that no one would notice me.

Soon trumpets sounded, and guests scrambled to stand near empty seats, their squabbles forgotten. At the end of the hall, a curtain rose, and in walked the Chief EEsphar with his wife and entourage. Reaching the dais, the couple sat next to their son, whose expression never changed. The Chief stood beside his chair, and addressed the crowd. "Ladies and gentlemen, kith and kin, friends and honored guests, greetings! We are pleased that you are here to celebrate the 17th anniversary of our son's birth with us, the day he takes on his full adult responsibilities in temple." He continued on for a while in that vein, and I was grateful that we were not required to stand; in fact, standing while the Chief spoke would have been a grave insult. I leaned back in my chair with my diplomatic smile plastered on my lips. Meas and Mone, less experienced in such matters, suppressed yawns behind their hands, but Siah smiled with a twinkle in his eye. He seemed to be expecting something.

The Chief finished his oratory, and began to announce the commencement of dinner, when his eye turned upon the four of us. "But my dear Siah! And Paul! Why do you sit so far down? Come, join me on the dais, you and your companions, for I would very much like to speak with you." The room erupted in shocked murmurs as the four of us rose and made our way to the center of the room, while four horrified lower-level EEsphars, who had rather impertinently seated themselves on the dais, were shooed down.

"Did you know this would happen?" I whispered to Siah as we walked.
"I suspected it. I wouldn't have been invited if they didn't want to gawk at me; I hardly belong here otherwise. And of course they will want to see you as well, representative of our mighty trading partner. Besides," he turned to smile at me while pulling back his new seat, "it's common sense. Never sit too high at a banquet, or you'll be forced to a lower spot, like those poor fellows were, and be embarrassed. We, on the other hand, sat too low, and now we gain the respect and attention of everyone."
"I thought you didn't want the attention." I asked, rather cynically.
His face dropped. "I don't. It's going to get me killed in the end; it's only a matter of time before they decide I'm too dangerous. Still, if people are paying attention to me, then at least some of them will hear the Message, and that is for the best. Can't hide a candle in a bog."

Dinner commenced, and it was fascinating(*). Siah was in fine form: the Chief slyly pushed him on his doctrine, trying to catch him up in a remark that was actionable, but Siah parried every one, and was clearly enjoying himself. He rendered the Chief speechless several times with his outrageous proclamations, but I got the impression that the Chief secretly enjoyed verbally sparring with such a formidable opponent as well.

"You know, Your eminence," said Siah, gesturing to the seats closest to the dais with the glass of wine he held in his hand. "You really shouldn't invite these rich folks to your banquets. They're only going to invite you back, and what credit is that to you?"
"Really?" smiled the Chief. "Whom should I invite then?"
"The poor, the sick, the lame,"
"The boozers?" responded the Chief, looking at Siah's glass; it was his third.
"You've already invited us," Siah smiled. "But no, you should invite those who can't return the favor. That would really be a Good Deed, eh?" The Chief blinked; "good deed" was the literal translation of EEsphar, and Siah's implication was clear.

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Klell, Part 1

Feb. 26th, 2010 | 10:17 pm

This is part 1 of a longer story I'm writing, working title "Klell". The premise would take too long to explain, so I'll just let you read and find out. This is a rough first draft, so comments are very welcome. One comment: I haven't put a lot of thought into characterization, as I'm more motivated by the concept, so all the characters might sound alike. :) Also, it might be a little (a lot?) exposition-heavy.

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Jan. 30th, 2010 | 01:49 pm

This story was originally posted on my other Livejournal account a few months ago, but I'm moving it here for completeness.

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Jan. 30th, 2010 | 01:47 pm

This site is intended to be a repository for my creative efforts: stories, poems, compositions, what have you. I hope they will be enjoyable. Please feel free to comment and critique (though gently, please!) :)

:@-) Scott

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