A Taste of the Future
by Bertil Falk
It may be argued whether a safety pin is a part of a dress, but when it comes to Billie Occasion, there is no doubt that this pin was intended to be a part of her outfit. At least it matched it. She was all dressed in orange except for the big black safety pin that penetrated her cheek.
Why she had chosen the orange color to grace her look this particular day, when The Department of Advanced Research (DAR) paid her a visit, was not easy to know. Maybe it was not at all by design. She had a tendency to change colors from day to day, sometimes even as much as three times a day, depending on her appointments and duties and mood.
Herman Borgstrom had looked forward to this meeting. To him the sudden assignment was less an encounter than an audience. His file on her was small, but in many respects it was the most impressive file of all files. He knew it by heart.
As he sat opposite her, where she sat on a big cushion, he had a strange feeling of awe similar to what he sometimes felt when meeting older people of an important kind. He knew that Billie Occasion was between twenty-five and thirty years of age or so, but even though she looked that way her presence was much more than that of someone so young.
“Sir, I’m not particularly happy with your organisation,” she said.
“You’ve used methods I disapprove of. Experimenting on animals the way you did was a very bad idea. Now, what do you think I can do for you?”
He pondered her abruptness for a second. “We know you’re able to perform geographical bilocations, maybe even trilocations.”
“So what? I’m not the only one with that capacity.”
He ignored her comment. “We also know that besides bilocating between New York and Boston you also went back in time to the days when the Boston subway was being constructed. And on top of that you went into a fiction created by Jacques Futrelle. In other words: you simultaneously bilocated in space, time and fiction.”
“That’s true, but it was, as it often is, of no avail. It didn’t explain anything. It didn’t solve anything. It did not even affect anything. It just turned out to be a meaningless loop in space, time and fiction.”
Herman Borgstrom could not help smiling. It was however a very confused smile. “We are also aware that you’ve been bilocating into the minds of people as well as of animals.”
“Not of people and animals. Of one human being and of one octopus. In both cases the results were not satisfactory. Not in the least. I especially regret penetrating the mind of the octopus. It was an idea as bad as the experiments you did.”
“Those experiments have been cancelled for years,” he protested.
“I still don’t know what you want.”
He fell silent. He looked through the window and saw the Empire State Building surrounded by a light fog. Could she help him? Would she?
“But I think,” she added slowly, “you want me to bilocate in time, but this time into the future. Is that so?”
“I don’t know how you know that, but yes, you’re right.”
“Pure intuition, a mental ability related to the ability of bilocation. I’ve never tried to bilocate into the future. Bilocating in that direction is... well, I don’t even know if it’s possible. Or...”
She paused. “Once I went, as you mentioned, back into the past. In that sense I had to go into the future when returning, but that was nevertheless something else. The route was already in place, cleared when I went there. Still, I don’t know if it is possible to clear the way from here to eternity.”
Herman Borgstrom sensed a degree of rejection in her voice. His fear was justified.
“It would probably be another meaningless loop. Or worse! I’m not sure I want to try it!”
He felt awkward, cleared his throat and changed the subject. “How do you bilocate? I guess you need proper points of reference?”
“If you mean coordinates, no, I don’t need more than a word, a place, an idea. Then, when I concentrate by closing my eyes, covering my tear glands by putting my thumb and forefinger of my left hand over the root of my nose, it just happens, it all runs by itself, as if the proper pieces fall into their proper places — the points of reference you’re talking about — and I’m there as well as still being here. I could of course even withdraw from here and stay over there, wherever that would be. I think the fabric of the universe is like that. And I’m adjusted to that pattern for some unknown reason.”
The silence that followed this explanation — if an explanation it was — was like the slow dripping of a leaking faucet. Suddenly her melodious voice turned off the tap. “Exactly what do you want?”
Her question came like a whiplash, killing the silence and injuring his mind. When he came to his senses, he responded to the astounding inquiry without omitting anything. He told her that NASA was planning to go to Mars, and he told her about the disturbing signs from the future received by the BST.
“What the heck is the BST?” asked Billie Occasion.
“The Bubble Space Telescope is what the heck it is,” Herman Borgstrom explained.
“Since when can that Bubble thing look into the future?”
“It can’t. I mean, it was not designed to do that. Actually, it mostly looks back into the past. But in this case the future itself, or something in the future, seems to have looked back in time, taking advantage of the fact that the BST was there...” — he hesitated —“was here.
“What we received was a recording of a Mars lander and a Mars colony. The Mars lander was of a kind that still is on the drawing board. As yet not even a model has been built. And when it comes to a colony on Mars...”
“Hasn’t it struck your small DAR-minds that some people NASA will send to Mars in the future were able to send you a message?”
“Of course it has, but we have no means of getting in touch with them,” he replied, hurt by her attitude. “You’re our only way into the future.”
She regarded her visitor with a curious smile. “Oh come on, there are others like me. Why the DAR? Why could NASA not send one of their own people? Why you?”
“I don’t know.”
“The decision was not yours. I see, You’re just an ordinary agent of some kind.”
He felt offended. “I guess so.”
“Okay, You don’t have to say any more. My answer is NO! A very strong NO! Had you come from NASA, my answer might have been different.”
That good-looking witch is a stuck-up bitch, Herman Borgstrom thought when leaving 503 Fifth Avenue, which actually was on 42nd Street, just a few steps away from Grand Central Station and the New York Library. Had he known what happened in the room he just had left, he would have been surprised.
Billie Occasion was in the mood to give the future a try after all. Tempted, she closed her eyes, covered her tear glands by putting her thumb and the forefinger of her left hand over the root... but at that moment she broke off the procedure, opened her eyes and sighed. She had to admit to herself that she was of two minds.
The next day, she was all dressed in traditional royal blue except for the big black safety pin that penetrated her cheek. She had not slept well, and she was in a bad mood, pulled between a profound aversion against the future itself and an urge to travel into the future to Mars as it would be when mankind had incorporated it into its real-estate holdings.
Her aversion was strange in a way. For if there is something everyone does, it is travelling with time into the future. That is the direction of the arrow of time. We do it every day and night and day.
Going backwards in time was a much more awkward behavior, like rowing against the stream, but at the same time it was a travel into mapped territory. What had happened had happened. What was to happen had not happened, at least it was not to be seen from her point of departure in the present, which regarded from a future, was a past. The future was unknown territory and that frightened the darkness of night as well as the daylight out of her. Her aversion had to do with jumping across future centuries.
* * *
Three days and fifty-eight thoughts later she roused herself and instantaneously bridged the gap. She found herself looking at a little girl, who pointed at her, saying, “Look mom, Billie Occasion is here.”
Standing on a square she was inside an enormous dome facing a woman and her daughter.
“You’re right, darling,” the woman replied. “This must be Billie Occasion. She is dressed as expected. Welcome to Sinharat and the future, Bille Occasion. I’m Sally Sills.”
“You expected me?”
“Your visit is part of Martian history. It has come down to us through the centuries and been adapted for all kind of screenplays. Billie Occasion, the queen of locations, be they bi-, tri- or whatever.”
“You call this place Sinharat. I recognize that name.”
“The city of Sinharat is a fictitious place in the ancient stories by Leigh Brackett. The dome cities of Mars are named after her cities and places: Barrakesh, Valkis, Jekarra, Shun, Shandakor, Kesh, Karappa, Kahora. There are many dome cities like this one spread all over Mars. They’re all connected by an excellent underground system.”
She paused and smiled. “It’s up to you to return to the past and tell them to continue and intensify their good work. They will succeed and man will spread throughout space. And that includes not only the worlds in the Solar System that it has been possible to terraform, I mean the universe itself.
“Right now, tens of thousands of starships are travelling at speeds like twelve, twenty and even fifty percent of the speed of light in all directions towards all likely inhabitable exoplanets. Each of these starships carries between thirty and fifty thousand people.
“Some of them will travel forever. The generation ships are the spearheads of mankind, penetrating the intergalactic darkness, firmly resolved to colonize all celestial bodies fit to live on within the Milky Way and to go far beyond its limits, reaching Andromeda and billions of galaxies.”
“Sounds like a most arduous task to me,” said Billie Occasion.
“You will be — you did become — the messenger, a true harbinger, for speeding up the efforts to colonize whatever is to be colonized. And now we have a room waiting for you at the Sinharat Hilton. We knew of course that you would arrive today...”
“Okay. I know where I am, but I don’t know when I am. What year is it?”
“Obviously I’ve jumped a few centuries into the future. If I am that well known, how come no reception committee is here to say hello?”
“For the simple reason that we don’t want to upset the sensitive fabric of time and space. It is of great importance that as little as possible be affected in the space-time continuum. According to the records, I and my daughter were the two who met you here at this very spot. We don’t want to do any harm to space-time, only scratch a little bit on its surface. That’s why we are here and no one else.”
“Is that so?”
“The tendency of time travel, you see. Its anomalies and anachronisms are almost as strange as quantum mechanics. You should know that, Billie Occasion.”
After a dinner with garlic pudding and cheese cake washed down with local beer, Billie had a long conversation with Sally Sills. She was told how they had used the BST to send a message back in time to NASA and that they had expected to get a response.
What they found important was a message to the past to do everything possible to launch not only interplanetary spaceships but, above all, to create the interstellar starships that were essential for the spread and survival of mankind.
“Are you sure that we as a species deserve to survive in the long run?” Billie Occasion asked.
“I am not sure,” Sally Sills replied, “but the struggle for life is embedded in our genes.” And she told how Billie had become the very messenger that propelled the evolutionary progress of mankind.
As Billie listened, she was amazed, scared, inspired and upset. She asked if she could travel outside the dome city of Sinharat and look upon the red sands of Mars before letting herself be sucked back to 503 Fifth Avenue in the past, but Sally Sills said that it was too risky. The best thing Billie could do was to return without affecting space-time too much.
“The problem of not distorting the veil of time and the fabric of space has not been solved,” said Sally. “That’s why we have to be careful.”
Billie Occasion bowed to the inevitable and returned back in time without roaming the sands of Mars.
* * *
After his unsuccessful visit to 503 Fifth Avenue, Herman Borgstrom had not expected to be invited by Billie Occasion, but now that he sat opposite her, it dawned on him that his first visit had not been without success. He listened carefully as she went into great detail about what he had to do in order to accomplish what she knew he would put into effect.
At the end of her lengthy lecture he knew that he was the catalyst for exploring the universe and he felt a kind of intellectual vertigo. He left Billie’s apartment, determined to do his duty.
Thoughtfully, Billie Occasion looked through the window. The voice of another Billie singing the blues graced the room. Had she done the right thing to withhold vital information? What Sally Sills had told her was awesome in the original meaning of the word as well as in the sense of awe-inspiring. Would the spread of the truth create panic? The truth that made it essential for the global community to act.
Herman Borgstrom would fill that role of creating action. With him as the catalyst, mankind would emigrate. But she and Sally Sills knew that it would be too early to spread the news as to why.
It was too early to disclose that Stephen Hawking was right when in connection with his 70th birthday in 2012 he would predict that mankind would destroy the earth within the next thousand years. From Sally Sills’ perspective, that event was already taking place. Pollution and nuclear war had almost destroyed the planet and all living things.
Billie was dressed in carrot orange except for the big black safety pin that penetrated her cheek. She felt good. This time her venture had paid off. Instead of a meaningless loop, her passage had made it possible to orchestrate something important. A smile caressed her face. It is a little sad that nobody ever saw it, but at least the cosmic blueprint for survival was in place.
Copyright © 2012 by Bertil Falk