Time is a Tree
Outline for a science-fiction story
Our hero takes his space-time machine back to 1890, armed with lots of impressive techno-tricks and historical data. His aim is to split off an alternate time-line in which the “Great War” (i.e. World War One) did not occur. Upon arrival he quickly makes his presence known; but preventing the suicide of a civilization is not that easy, even for a time-traveler with two decade’s head-start.
At one point, exasperated by his host’s absurd imperialism, he bursts out:
“What, are you pumping me for data? Your little empire wants an edge over all the other little empires? You want unstoppable power from the super-science of the far future? All right then, God damn you, listen up! E EQUALS M C SQUARED! There, I said it! And now you’re damned! Oh, you think I’m joking? You think I’m exaggerating for poetic effect? Think what you like, but really, you’re damned. Bask in that toasty hellfire! The rest energy E equals mass M times the square of C, the speed of light. That formula is the price of your soul. Go report it to your masters, you tool.”
The government bureaucrats can’t make head or tail of this. Shouldn’t a kinetic energy be one-half mass times speed squared? And why light speed? And what does he mean, rest energy? That’s absurd!
At another point he takes a female admirer, with dowager chaperone, on a ride on his space-time machine ‘to go see his girlfriend’. This ‘girlfriend’ is Mother Earth, as seen from orbit. He raves to his passengers (the admirer, thrilled; the dowager, terrified) “Isn’t she lovely? Isn’t she beautiful? Isn’t she the prettiest thing you’ve ever seen in all your born days?”
Our hero quietly pays Madame Curie a visit. He speaks of pitchblende, radium, radiation and cancer, and of her husband’s early death from radiation poisoning in the time-traveler’s world-line. He recommends that instead she devote her talents to proving the double-helical structure of deoxyribonucleic acid, the molecule of heredity. To help out, he gives her a copy of the bacterial transformation paper by Avery, and Crick’s book.
His aristocratic host finds his lack of faith disturbing. He reports, “Neither church, state nor market holds his heart, milord; and what’s worse, he seems unaware of his own irreverence. It is as if he imbibed it with his mother’s milk. He speaks casually of marvels and horrors, yet he is amazed by the simplest details of everyday life. His artistic taste is plebian, his politics are outlandish, his speech is vulgar, and his beliefs are bizarre. Can such a man represent Progress? What could possibly have happened, in our future, his past, to create so strange a descendant?”
The traveler admits to his host that he is indeed a mad scientist; as mad as hell, and won’t take it any more. After struggling for decades to prevent the catastrophe that he can see but the powers-that-be are blind or indifferent to, the time-traveler takes drastic measures. First he quietly recruits a large number of people, for he has a big job in mind. (Recruitment was easy; he just had to boot up his history book and show them what was in store for them, unless they do something.) He teaches them some of his machine’s tricks, and with their help the following occurs:
On the day that the Archduke Ferdinand would have been assassinated, he instead…
He softly and suddenly vanished away. And so, at the same instant, did the Austro-Hungarian Emperor. Also the Czar of Russia. And the Kaiser. And the King of England. And the Pope. And all the crowned heads of Europe. And every prime minister without exception, along with all their officers and generals, five layers of bureaucracy deep. All just go poof into thin air.
So do all the top tycoons. The weaponeers and bankers are hard hit. And on the other end of the social scale, certain then-obscure revolutionaries also go poof.
All of this happens simultaneously; a time-traveller’s trick. It was a big job, lots of people vanished, that’s why he recruited help. In all, 90,000 people vanished; two orders of magnitude less than WW1 killed.
In the last scene, our hero meets with his host, one of the few of the old order left standing. He notes the above statistic, and he says don’t worry, they aren’t hurt, they’re just pushed 40 years into your future. They’ll all show up, at such-and-such a time and such-and-such a place; do with them what you will. In the meantime you’ll have to do without them. Sorry about the inconvenience, but I’m telling you, those guys needed a time out. Let’s see if you can do a better job than they did. Here’s a history book for comparison. Good luck, you are now on an alternate world-line, one where European civilization was decapitated before it committed suicide.