The Catalogers of Time Series started with the incident at Fort Phantom Hill and then continued with the fiery demise of Polonus Vorstius. Today we find the Smithsonian’s Historical Discovery Unit in a state of flux. Inter-personal strife and technical set backs have put the future of this costly operation in jeopardy. They need to prove that the exorbitant cost of their division will bear valuable fruit for the Smithsonian Institute.
The Library of Alexandria
“More coffee!” Mr. Simon hollered across the lab to an intern as he used a microfiber cloth to clean his narrowly framed glasses. The Project Manager for the Smithsonian’s Historical Discovery Unit was in the middle of processing a migraine headache as well as physical exhaustion. He and his team had been working around the clock to put a win up on the board, as rumors had started to crop up that indicated that the Smithsonian Board of Regents were mulling over a vote to close the time travel venture down. As of late, the HDU had been fraught with technical glitches, not only with the highly sophisticated but with the cohesive nature of the team. The pressure to succeed was taking its toll on everyone. To add insult to injury, his star time traveler, Holly Nightingale, had been hesitant to go back into the field after her incident with Polonus Vorstius, and the back up was not yet fully trained for the delicate nature of time travel field work.
The intern placed a fully prepared coffee cup on Mr. Simon’s desk and quietly scampered away. The PM took a sip of his coffee and stared intently at a new set of data that had been brought to his attention earlier that morning. He ran his fingers through his thin beard and cocked his head side way in contemplation. “Ms. Batholomew,” Mr. Simon projected his voice across the lab. “Please come see me for a brief moment.”
Ms. Bartholomew quickly stood up from her work station and proudly marched up to the Project Manager’s desk. She was a wafer thin human being, that made it seem like her lab coat weighed more than she did. She was an average in looks, and maintained a year round nerdy image with her black rimmed glasses and her hair tightly pulled back into a bun with a pen stuck through it. At barely 5 foot tall, she was appeared meek but was actually rather enthusiastic and animated. “Yes sir,” she chimed in as she reported her presence to the PM.
“Am I looking at, what I think I’m looking at?” He inquired.
“Oh, I can’t be sure sir,” she replied. “What are you looking at?”
“This report, which you wrote, seems to indicate that you have found the exact point in time…”
“…that the legendary Library of Alexandria burns down. Yes I did. I’m kinda awesome like that,” she gloated.
“How sure are you?” Mr. Simon asked.
“Like a billion-dy percent sure, sir. This is ironclad,” she answered.
“OK. Thank you for the good work. You’re dismissed.”
Ms. Bartholomew did an awkward bow in appreciation of her supervisor and then went back to work at her cubicle. Mr. Simon continued to look at the reports, and consulted a few classified files on his PC to try and corroborate the data. He drank the remainder of his coffee and contemplated the information one more time. He had an idea, but he wanted to run it past his 2 mission leads before he put an operation in motion. “Holly! Jarrod! Meet me in the conference room in 5 minutes,” he boldly shouted across the lab. “Bring the coffee pot!”
Holly Nightingale entered the conference room first. She wasn’t even sure why she was bothering to attend this impromptu meeting, as she had more or less resolved never to step through a time portal again. Her experiences setting a man on fire and then watching him die, helpless to save him, had soured her zest for time travel. She wasn’t even certain why she continued to come in to the lab at all, except that it was a steady paycheck. Jarrod McMichaels walked into the room with a fresh pot of coffee in hand. Being one of the best UAV pilots on the planet, he normally flew the primary drone that accompanied Holly on her missions.
“Morning Holly,” Jarrod started as he placed the coffee pot on top of a cork coaster on the table.
“Morning Jarrod,” she casually replied.
“Don’t see you around much anymore,” he stated.
“There haven’t been any missions that required my unique skill set,” she countered.
“If we needed you to, would you even jump through the portal?”
Holly didn’t answer immediately, but the expression on her face told the true story to the retired Navy pilot. “I’m not sure,” she eventually answered.
Jarrod shrugged her answer off and continued, “that’s what I like about you Holly: honest to a fault. Coffee?”
“Yes please,” she responded with her coffee mug extended out.
Jarrod poured Ms. Nightingale a cup of fresh coffee. As she went to a counter top off to the side to fix her drink up with the appropriate amount of sugar and cream, he kept the conversation going, “you know he’s going to ask you to go back out in the field, don’t you?”
“Why else would he call us both in here?”
“Exactly,” Jarrod agreed. “I just want to make sure that you are prepared to answer the question when he asks it.”
“I know,” she replied, “and I truly appreciate your concern. I truthfully don’t know what I’m going to tell him. I can’t keep jumping through portals and causing all of this calamity throughout time. I feel like time was doing fine until Holly ‘Clusterfuck’ Nightingale showed up on the scene. Need your ancient family member eviscerated? Call Holly, she’ll cook ’em up real good.”
“Stop that. That was equipment error. You did not kill that man, he had already been dead for hundreds of years. He was destined to die that night regardless of whether you went through the portal, or not. Are journeys through time have proven without a shadow of a doubt that time cannot be altered. Novikov’s self-consistency principle is fact. We can travel through time, but we cannot significantly alter any event.”
“So, without my arrival I’m supposed to believe that he would have just caught fire on his own that night?”
“No, what I’m saying, is that he will always catch fire on that exact moment for the rest of time because you were always there,” Jarrod.
Holly scoffed, “how in the hell do you figure that?”
“Time isn’t linear, we just perceive it as such because that is how we experience it. However, for Novikov to be right, for us to not be able to impact the past while time traveling, it must mean that all of time has already played out from beginning to end already.”
“And so, if that is true, then we have already done everything that we will ever do already and at this point we are just going through the motions?”
“We could fight or fornicate right now, and regardless of us talking it through, it is going to play out the same way no matter what,” Holly posited.
“Well, if you’re going to fornicate, allow me to get my camera out so I can record it,” Mr. Simon added to the conversation. He placed 2 copies of Ms. Bartholomew’s report on the table, one for each team lead. “But to his point, I believe that Jarrod is right. In the grand scheme of things we are nothing more than actors playing our scripted parts, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t tweak the script. You just can’t alter the plot. Novikov stated that you could go back in time and meat yourself, go out for a beer and have a grand old time, but that you couldn’t kill yourself thus creating a paradox and/or significantly altering time. We can do things ever so differently, but the overall outcome will be the same. Ooh! Coffee!” Mr. Simon fixed himself yet another cup of coffee as the 2 team leads sat down to have the meeting.
“What’s this all about?” Jarrod asked.
“It’s about our next mission, possibly our last mission,” Mr. Simon answered.
“Why our last mission?” Holly inquired.
“Well, a little birdy from up high let me know that if we don’t knock it out of the park soon, then the Board may shut us down. they are done with our eccentric little missions, they want us to do something that justifies the significant cost of opearations. Bottom line, they want us to bring them something that will financially benefit the Smithsonian in a big way,” Mr. Simon explained.
“I see,” Holly remarked. “So what’s our last hoorah?”
“It turns out, that one of historians has been utilizing the portals to glimpse at different segments of time, capturing a snapshot of what is going on and magically landed on a very significant find.”
“The exact day the Library of Alexandria burned down,” Jarrod filled in.
“Ah, so you can read. Very good,” Mr. Simon deadpanned. “But seriously, yes, we know the exact time – down to the minute that the library burns down. Which puts us in a unique position.”
“To do what?” Jarrod asked.
“To steal a bunch of scrolls,” Holly responded.
“Exactly!” Mr. Simon exclaimed. “According to history they were lost forever, burned in the fire. But, if we get there as the fire starts, before it reaches the aforementioned scrolls, we could give the scholars a better understanding of the contents of the famed Library of Alexandria, but also give the Smithsonian one hell of a new exhibit. What do you say gang, feel like pulling a time heist?”
“Are we sure that us going there doesn’t start the fire in the first place?” Holly inquired.
“Absolutely certain,” Mr. Simon answered. “Whether we go, or not, it is certain that Theophilus, the Bishop of Alexandria will order his men to burn down the library, as well as a list of other sites that he deemed as places of pagan worship, and they will in fact do it.”
“I’m in, if Holly’s in,” Jarrod announced.
“I’m in, but only if this is a simple snatch and grab,” Holly stated as she dictated terms,”I don’t want to meet anybody and I don’t want to observe anybody. We grab as much as we can and then we get the hell out of there. Understood?”
“Sold,” Mr. Simon agreed.
“Ditto,” Jarrod replied.
“Now that we all in agreement, I’ll leave you two to fight or fornicate,” Mr. Simon joked. “Just finish whatever is going on between you two quickly, I want everyone ready to go within the hour.”
They shared a sensible chuckle over the innuendo and left the meeting room together. Holly went to stretch, get suited up, perform a systems diagnostic and get her mind right. Jarrod briefed his 2 junior pilots on the mission and performed his pre-flight checklist. Mr. Simon ran around the lab like a mad man firing up the troops and making sure that the famed Kerr Device was ready to purr for him one more time. Everybody had perked back up, as they prepared for what could be the end of the HDU.
To be continued next week.