Monday, February 1, 2016

Alternate History, an Underfable

          Alternate History

          Once upon a time a Time Traveler rode his space-time machine back to 1890, armed with historical data and impressive techno-tricks. His aim was to split off an alternate time-line without the “Great War”, a.k.a. World War One. Upon arrival he quickly made his presence and nature known; but preventing the suicide of a civilization was not that easy, even for a Time Traveler with two decade’s head-start.
          At one point, exasperated by a visitor’s absurd imperialism, he burst 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 toast. 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 couldn’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 did he mean by rest energy? That’s absurd!
          He took a female admirer, with dowager chaperone, on a ride on his space-time machine ‘to go see his girlfriend’. That ‘girlfriend’ turned out to be Mother Earth, as seen from orbit. He raved 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?”
          The Time Traveler quietly paid Madame Curie a visit. He spoke of pitchblende, radium, radiation and cancer, and of her husband’s early death from radiation poisoning in the time-traveler’s world-line. He recommended that  instead she devote her talents to proving the double-helical structure of deoxyribonucleic acid, the molecule of heredity. To help out, he gave her a copy of the bacterial transformation paper by Avery, and Crick’s book.
          His aristocratic Host found the Time Traveler’s lack of faith disturbing. The Aristocrat reported, “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 Time Traveler admitted to his Host, “I am indeed a mad scientist; as mad as hell, and I won’t take it any more.”
After struggling for decades to prevent the catastrophe that he knew was coming but the powers-that-be were blind or indifferent to, the time-traveler took drastic measures. First he quietly recruited a large number of people, for he had 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 did something.) He taught them some of his machine’s tricks, and with their help the following occurred:
          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 went poof into thin air.
          So did the top tycoons. Weaponeers and bankers were hard hit. On the other end of the social scale, certain then-obscure revolutionaries also went poof.
          All of this happened simultaneously; a time-traveler’s trick. It was a big job,  that’s why he recruited help. In all, tens of thousands vanished; orders of magnitude less than WW1 killed.
          The Traveler’s aristocratic Host was one of the few of the old order left standing. The Aristocrat met the Traveler, who noted the above statistic, and said, “Don’t worry, they aren’t hurt, they’re just pushed 40 years into your future.” The Time Traveler told his Host when and where they’ll all show up, and he said, “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.”
          Then the Time Traveler vanished, never to be seen on that world-line again.

          Moral: Time is a tree.

         Comment: Due to chrono-informational limits, the Time Traveler knew, and could know, only two things about that alternate time-line. One was that it exists. The other was that, on that sunny day 40 years later, on Elba, when the old rulers rematerialized, there were music bands to greet them, and jugglers, and confetti, and cheering crowds... but as far as the Time Traveler could see on his view-screen, not one single government official.

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