Author : Duncan Shields, Staff Writer
It was a rookie mistake. It was embarrassing that someone of my history and career would do something so basically stupid.
I liked working with primitives.
I remember living with the Inupiaqs, sharpening arrowheads with them, cutting holes in the ice.
I remember hanging out with the Aztecs, gilding turquoise masks for ceremonies.
Dozens of other societies. Always smiling. Working with one’s hands. If there was a constant so far in history, even as far down the line as where I’m from, it’s that a couple of people plan, a few more oversee, and then many, many pairs of hands get dirty with assembling and following directions.
I’m a historian from hundreds of years in the future. I come back in a body that’s designed for the target timeframe with a handle on the language and basically just hang out with the workers. They’re easy to put at ease and generally not too suspicious. I float around in their brains while they work.
This time I was in Kansas on a farm. I was a handyman who’d just drifted into town a few years previously. So far, I’d made a few friends. I was with one of them now.
Jack Kempler, a widower who was good with machines.
It was raining outside and Jack’s dogs, Strawberry and Chocolate, were asleep on the dirt by the door. It was a peaceful afternoon.
Jack and I were working on the machine, listening to the rain hit the roof, while I feigned inadequate knowledge of the machine’s basic principles.
I was very much at ease. Maybe that’s why I screwed up.
I was deep in Jack’s mind and I was recording. He was reflecting on his life and wishing he could put it back in order as easy as working on this machine. Underneath it all was a curious soul-crushing yearning for what might have happened on a different path.
I was deep in his mind, you have to understand, and he asked the question. I was relaxed and it felt like a conversation.
Without thinking, I answered.
I fluttered a deck of cards to him with my mind, showing him the nearest fifty lifestyles he could have had with the different choices that had been available to him around the main core of his life-thread. I even threw one in where he’d been born a woman. It was meant to be humorous.
Jack stiffened and dropped his wrench.
Too late, I realized what I’d done. I wasn’t having a conversation with a contemporary. I’d just stuffed fifty lives worth of information into a one-life brain with no augmented backup in the slightest. On a quantum level, there was enough room but the very nature of the molecules in his mind shuddered. Without a calibrator and adequate other-drives, he was lost.
Jack lay down on the ground and died with a sigh.
We had to bring in a replacement biomaton to restore this timeline. Luckily, Jack only had a few more years to live and a few more visits with his children to look after. Speaking from a causality standpoint, damage control was almost routine in his case.
So luck was on my side. That did not abate my professional shame or personal grief.
I now have what Jack’s temporal counterparts would call a ‘desk job’ upstream. I monitor timeframes and look for ripples. There’s talk of letting me have my license back once I pass a few more re-instatement tests but I’m not hopeful.