Monday, December 16, 2013

The Moral Dilemmas of Time Travel

The following is an excerpt from a novel-in-progress called An American History.

No one that I know, in the history of history writing, has ever had a time machine.  Having discovered a time machine in the basement of the Cal State Fullerton Library, I felt I had a distinct advantage over most, if not all, historians prior to me.  How would I use this wonderful invention?  I would try to find out the truth of history and share this with the world in the form of a book, this book.  I wanted to tell history as an eyewitness.  I was aware, of course, of the difficulties even in this.  There would be language barriers and cultural contexts that I might not understand. There was the fact that I could not read the minds of those I was observing.  In some ways, I would be like an alien, plopped down in the alien worlds of the past, trying to make sense of what I saw.  I knew what I saw, and wrote, would not be "truth" in the pure sense of the word, but I was confident that it might, at least, be something new, and maybe useful.

Evenings, after class, I pored over the D.E.M.A.N.D. PROGRAM FILES I'd stolen (or borrowed) from the time machine room.  I wanted to understand how this thing worked.  How did this machine, which had magically whisked me into the ice age, perform these miracles?  And why?  Not being a physicist or scientist, I had considerable difficulty with the terminology and technical jargon.  There was much I did not understand.

What I did understand was that this machine was originally intended as a weapon to shrink and dispose of matter.  In the APPENDIX section of the D.E.M.A.N.D. PROGRAM FILES was a section entitled "Alternative Uses" which explained how the machine's time travel qualities had been used.  Mostly it was used as a kind of temporal garbage disposal.  People whom the U.S. government wanted to "disappear" were sometimes put into the machine.  Jimmy Hoffa, the labor leader who mysteriously disappeared, for example, was sent to medieval Japan, where he lived, rather comfortably, as warlord.  Unfortunately, when it became clear that sending anachronistic historical figures into other eras would sometimes disrupt the flow of history, this use was abandoned.  

For a time, the machine was rented out to chemical companies who wanted to dispose of toxic substances.   A large shipment of radioactive barrels was sent to South America of the 1300s, and caused many Aztecs to contract cancer and glaucoma.  This, too, had unforeseen consequences in the present.  For example, one of the scientists, who had Aztec ancestry, simply popped out of existence, as his great-great-great-great etc. grandfather died of liver failure due to exposure to the toxic chemicals.  

Next, the companies started sending their waste to the future.  This seemed to work better, but was abandoned for undisclosed reasons.  Ultimately, the wormhole/anomaly that the atomic scientists had opened could not be unopened, so it was deemed too dangerous.  The PROGRAM FILES read: "Should the communists obtain this technology, it might have disastrous consequences for our way of life.  They might, for example, send assassins to Revolutionary America and attempt to kill American heroes like George Washington or Thomas Jefferson.  This must not happen." 

Like many government secrets, the machine was hidden in relatively plain sight, in a library, which was where I found it.

The time machine would propose many moral dilemmas for me.  First, there was the dilemma of whether I should tell people about what I found.  If a time machine existed, shouldn't the world be made aware of its existence?  Wasn't I being selfish in trying to keep it all to myself.  Perhaps I was.  But I, like the scientists who'd abandoned it, felt that it was dangerous for EVERYONE to know about such a miracle.  I felt that, for the time being, I would simply use it, as a historian, as a writer, and see what I could discover.  Always, in the back of my mind, there was the fear of being discovered.  But another part of my mind assured me that, since no one gave a shit about microfilm anymore, no one would bother me in this library basement.  I was free, as I had always been, to explore in solitude.

I got a "C" in physics in high school.  While I had trouble with the theory and construction of the machine, I slowly began to understand how the machine worked, in a practical sense, which is how most 21st century people understand technology.  Most people, myself included, cannot not explain how even a calculator works, much less a computer or cell phone.  We do know, however, how to use these technologies.  I learned that the "watch" I'd discovered in the empty locker in the time machine room, was a sort of controller, allowing me to roughly choose when and where, in the past, I would visit.  The watch was also my key back to the present.  The watch was very important.  If, for example, the watch broke while I was in the past somewhen, I would most likely be stuck there.  Forever.  This whole endeavor was not without considerable risk.

Thankfully, I was bored and desperate enough to take these risks, and many more which I would later become aware of. 

No comments:

Post a Comment