Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Episode 12: Late for the Ball

That evening the Spring Symposium of Ontological Overseers gathered together for a dinner held at the Hotel MacDonald. After recovering from his fainting episode, Andrew had gone home to change into formal wear. Upon opening his closet and throwing a pair of pants, a sport coat and a dress shirt onto the bed, he was about to undress when Saphyr abruptly told him to stop.

"You're not actually considering going to the dinner tonight in that, are you?" the Macbook asked him.

"It's a suit coat..." Andrew protested.

"Bought at Le Chateau for your graduation I'm sure," Saphyr replied.

"Stitches," Andrew replied sheepishly. "I don't have a lot of occasions to be wearing a suit you know."

"It is not the frequency with which one wears a suit which ought to determine the quality of the garment," Saphyr advised. "I've been watching your interactions with that charming young lady all day, and it is clear to me that if you wish to accelerate the nature of your relationship you need to consider dressing in the way you want her to see you."

"We don't have a lot of time here Saphyr. The dinner's in another hour. I don't think this is the best time to be off suit shopping."

"All that talk about time earlier today," Saphyr said, "And you think you don't have any? Might I suggest a trip along the Tree? Perhaps backwards along our current branch to say...the Victorian period?"

"Victorian? How are we going to pay for that? I don't think they'll take debit."

"I'll draft a bank note that ought to do the trick, and run it off your printer," Saphyr said.

"I guess there's no point in me arguing then," Andrew said.

"None whatsoever," the Macbook replied.

Ten minutes later, Andrew hurried through the entrance of Magik Beans, rushing into the shop with Saphyr tucked under his arm, and the couterfeit bank note folded in his pocket.

"Andrew!" Lara shouted from behind the till. "I didn't think we'd see you today!"

"No time to talk!" Andrew called back. "I'm late for the ball!" He flashed her an enigmatic smile, waggled his eyebrows, and quickly climbed the ladder up into the Tree. "Which branch?" he asked Saphyr.

"First one on your left," Saphyr replied.

Andrew ducked his head, and walked along the thick limb, into what should have been the wall of the shop, but pulling back the thick foliage revealed that the branch ran on, like a pathway through a darkened forest. Once Andrew was far enough along the path that he could no longer see the light from the shop through the leaves, the sounds of customers and staff silenced, Saphyr told him to stop.

"Traveling 'up' or 'down' a branch of the Tree in terms of time is different from traveling it to other spaces," Saphyr said. "You don't travel along the branch, you travel through it. Inside it."

"How?" Andrew asked.

"Well, current physics has posited that wormholes have something to do with the possibility of time travel," Saphyr replied. "They're right about the holes, but they're considering the wrong ones."

Andrew smiled and shook his head. "You've got to be kidding me. Knotholes?"

Andrew could have sworn the Macbook found a way to grin at that moment. "Look at your feet," Saphyr said.

At Andrew's feet, there was an imperfection in the wooden path. The grain of the Tree flowed around the imperfection, acknowledging it without allowing it to impede their own path.

"Do you know how knotholes are formed?" Saphyr asked.

"Aren't they dead branches, or branches that never really grew?" Andrew asked.

"They are. They are the evidence of a possible world that never was. They are like a space within the branch which never formed into a reality. And as such, they can be traveled to other points in time along the Tree. This one," Saphyr said, "will take us to the Victorian era, and with a quick jog along the branch, we should find ourselves in London on Jermyn Street where we will attire you in the best clothing money could buy at the time."

"How do we get into the travel through it?"

"Bend down. Good. Now run your hand counterclockwise around the knothole take your fist and press it into the will feel soft, like clay...keep pressing..."

The knothole began to expand, the grain of the wood around it shifting and weaving to accomodate the growth, retracting away from Andrew's fist, until it was a hole in the pathway nearly five feet across. Inside the hole, it looked like a wooden tunnel, with a faint golden glow illuminating it.

"Now drop inside before the knot closes again," Saphyr said.

And they did.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Episode 11: Time Sensitive Issues

Andrew awoke to see Silke bent over him, smiling.

"Sleeping Beauty wakes," she said.

Andrew blinked, then propped himself on his elbows with a groan. "I passed out, didn't I?" he said.

Silke nodded. "And missed Borges' orientation speech," she added. "But I took notes, and Saphyr recorded it all in digital audio for you to hear later."

"I meet one of my greatest heroes and I miss his speech because I passed out," Andrew said, shaking his head.

"It's all right," Silke said. "You can just attend the talk he's giving on possible worlds. That should more than make up for it." Silke handed him a sheet labeled "Plenary Sessions, Roundtables and Workshops."

Andrew brightened. "That more than makes up for it. Workshops? I had no idea this would involve hands-on work."

"Some of the workshops involve trips along the Tree to certain places of import," Silke. "Borges' involves a trip to a place called the Library of Babel."

Andrew looked up at Silke with a very serious expression on his face. "Just when I think I've begun to understand what it means to have the Tree as a reality in my world, something new and...I can't think of any better word than 'terrible' opens up before me. Not terrible in the sense of awful...although that word works awe-full...full of awe. Or Terrible in the sense of reverence. The mysterium tremendum."

"I have no idea what you're talking about with that last bit, but I think I know what you mean. It turns out that all the stories you read as a child weren't stories, and if that isn't enough, it's entirely possible that all the stories aren't just stories. That somewhere on the Tree, they're real."

"But more than that," Andrew said, grinning in agreement with everything Silke had said. "If Borges is here, that means there's some element of resurrection involved..."

"I can explain that," Silke said. "Grandmother told me about it in regards to John, Jack and Charles visiting with you when we went to the Pole."

"You mean Tolkien, Lewis and Williams," Andrew said. The way she used the word visiting to refer to their adventure at the North Pole, one would have thought she was talking about everyday events. Although given her work with the Rotkäppchen, it effectively was everyday work for her. He nodded for her to continue.

"They aren't the dead come back to life," she told him. "They're still alive. They've simply traveled along the branch of the Tree their history takes place in to another point along the Tree."

"Time travel?" Andrew said, more a statement than a question.

"Yes, but there is one very strict rule governing that sort of travel," Silke said. "You cannot travel to a point in which you are still alive."

"But you can travel anywhere else in time?"

Silke nodded.

"But isn't it dangerous to travel into the past?" Andrew asked. "I mean, in all the science fiction books, it always ends up changing history."

"You can't change the past of a particular history," Silke said. "The past is the portion of the Tree already formed...the thick limb which other branches...other possibilities sprout from. If you were able change the past, the result would be that branch of the Tree splitting off and making a new branch with the new history you'd created. But the original branch wouldn't cease to exist. It would simply be a point of...I'm not sure the word to use here...departure?"

"Divergence maybe," Andrew suggested.

"Perhaps," Silke said.

"And what about the future? If the points of departure are new histories, then wouldn't that mean that the future isn't formed as a...branch, until we make a decision? I mean, how can you walk along a branch that isn't yet formed?"

"You're assuming it's unformed before you step into it," Silke said. "I asked the same question, and Grandmother laughed at me and said, 'You think your single decision can affect the direction of an entire branch of the Tree? There are few events that can make that happen, and they always involve many persons. The branch itself isn't formed by your decision regarding what to wear is shaped by those decisions, but the new branch is the result of larger historical moments. Which is why it doesn't really matter if you travel into the past. The chances of you achieving a change cataclysmic enough to alter a particular historical timeline are very slim."

"But not impossible," Andrew said.

"And that's why the Tree has guardians," Silke replied. "To make sure the travelers moving in and out of its avatar points aren't brining a nuclear missile into the past, or a pre-industrial world, or someone else isn't bringing Dragon Flights into worlds where they never existed."
"I think my assistant manager might be doing something very much like that at this very moment," Andrew said worriedly, explaining a text he'd received from Lara earlier that day about two new hires she'd made at the shop.

"Not exactly a move for World Domination," Silke said with a wry grin. "And you aren't altering the past of your history either. You're shaping its current branch."

"But that still doesn't explain how the Inklings or Borges could travel into the future along the branch their history exists on. I mean, isn't tomorrow essentially unformed on the Tree?"
"Well, that's why I'm excited about Borges' workshop on possible worlds," Silke answered. "All I know is that the branches of tomorrow are already formed...but there are a number of possible branches for tomorrow. And our choices will take us down one of them. All John and the others have done by traveling to where we are is to choose a branch and follow it down its path."
"You mean they could choose another branch and get into another history...a parallel one that's almost identical to this one, but just slightly different?"

"The differences for history's branches are never slight," Silke said. "But I don't know how it all works. Except that I asked Grandmother what happened to branches that weren't chosen, and she wouldn't say anymore. That I wasn't ready to hear the answer."

"What do you think happens?" Andrew asked hesitantly.

"I think that any branch that isn't one that withers and dies," Silke replied.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Episode 10: Disorientation

The orientation was to be held in Convocation Hall in the Old Arts building, a large, open room with rows of red theater style seats. The noise of the gathering was noisier in the room than it had been in the foyer, voices echoing off the hardwood and reverberating throughout, amplified by the room's excellent acoustics.

Andrew glanced over and noted that Silke too, was speaking in low tones to a dark red notebook with gold scroll work running in curves and whorls across the cover.

"How come you got such a fancy notebook, and I just got this plain old binder?" Andrew asked.

"We match your personality," Saphyr said, a hint of hurt sarcasm in his voice.

"They can look like any type of book," Silke told Andrew. "Mine came as plain as yours, but once I discovered she could change her shape, we worked out this journal. I was worried about losing her, given that we would have all been carrying the same binder otherwise."

"How come you didn't tell me that?" Andrew asked Saphyr.

"I did," Saphyr replied. "I told you I'd been a scroll for Plato."

"But you didn't say you could change just because I'd prefer to be carrying an MacBook ," Andrew retorted, nearly dropping Sephyr when the binder's shape rapidly shifted and changed until the simple binder had become the sleek, smooth, piece of technology. "Very nice. So what are you then, exactly?"

"The easiest way for me to answer that question is to say, I'm a book."

"No, now you're a computer. A computer called a "book," but a computer nonetheless."

"You're mistaking what a book is for pages and ink," said a voice from behind Andrew.

Andrew turned to see a very aged man, with gray hair swept back across his head, and eyes unfocused, looking at nothing in particular, his hand resting on the shoulder of a slender dark-haired woman who appeared to be in her sixties. It was obvious that the man was blind, and that the woman was some sort of assistant.

"A book is much more than the shape you use to read it," the blind man said. "I should know. I never learned Braile, and I rely upon María's good graces for any of my present reading. A book is not an isolated being: it is a relationship, an axis of innumerable relationships. In truth, your computer is more a book than the books in a library, insofar as I am concerned."

"That sounds very..." Andrew stopped. He was about to use the term Borghesian, a word that had been bandied about in a course he had taken on the element of the fantastic in modern literature, to describe anything that seemed to borrow from the works of Jorge Luis Borges. But he stopped short of saying it, realizing that he wasn't hearing someone refer to Borges.

He was listening to Borges himself.

Andrew was speechless. He wanted to respond, to say something, anything at all, but he couldn't get his vocal cords, tongue, or mouth to work on his behalf. Thankfully, he was still breathing, but not in a way that would produce speech. Instead, he made a slow, somewhat vocalized high pitched exhalation of air that approximated the sound a slowly deflating balloon makes.

"That sounds very ... much like a slowly deflating balloon?" Saphyr offered sarcastically, breaking the uncomfortable-not-so-silence.

Borges had cocked his head to one side, seemingly waiting for whatever Andrew was going to say next. His assistant had furrowed her brow, her face begging an answer for a list of questions rapidly running through her mind, the top of which was whether or not this particular attendee of the symposium was using drugs. Quite suddenly, she gently tapped Borges on the arm and said, "It's time."

"You'll have excuse me," Borges apologized. "We're about to begin, and I am tasked with the honor of the opening address." His assistant turned in the direction of the stage, and Borges followed.

"That was..." Andrew started.

"Really pathetic?" Saphyr said.

"Borges. Jorge Luis Borges. But how?" Andrew had recovered the power of speech, but now the paralysis seemed to have moved to the rest of his face, which was a rictus of puzzlement.

"You've met Father Christmas, and you're shocked at meeting an historical figure?" Saphyr asked.

"But Borges is dead..." Andrew said.

"So are Tolkien, Williams and Lewis," Sephyr said. "At least, at this point on the branch your world exists on."

"What do Tolkien, Williams, and Lewis have to do with...?"

The rictus disappeared, Andrew's eyes went wide in the shock of sudden realization, and he passed out cold on the floor.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Episode 9: The First Day of School

As Andrew walked up the steps to the Old Arts building, he heard a familiar female voice call his name. He turned, a smile already forming on his face to see Silke walking across the campus. Her long blonde hair hung free around her shoulders, and she was wearing capri pants, sandals, and a dark red cami. All Andrew had ever seen her wearing before was either her Rotkäppchen garb, a long cloak, high boots, leggings, and a sleeved surcoat, or clothing more suited to a medieval peasant than a university student. The contrast was striking, and it took his breath away. He'd always thought of her as beautiful, but the fact that she belonged to another world made for a convenient distance, which in Andrew's mind excused him from pursuing any sort of relationship with her.

Seeing her in modern clothing in the middle of the campus with the sun shining on that golden hair though...

"You look poleaxed!" she laughed, running up to him and catching him in a short but firm embrace.

Andrew recovered, and smiled back. "I'm sorry Silke, it just took me a moment...I hardly recognized you looking like this!"

"I thought I'd try to blend in with the locals," she said, her smile radiant. She shook her head. "It's really good to see you Andrew."

"You too," he replied quickly. "I thought you were out on patrol - more Big Bad Wolves and such."

"I was," Silke said. "But I'm going to be the guardian of the Tree when Grandmother passes away...and while that isn't likely to be any time soon, the courses at the Symposium are just as useful to the Rotkäppchen. I asked to be the one to represent us here."

"You asked?"

"Seemed a good way to get to see you," she replied, smiling again, and tucking her hair behind her left ear, exposing a huge white scar that ran from her temple to her ear. Andrew noticed the lobe was missing and averted his gaze.

"No need to be embarassed for me," she told him. "I know it's there."

"You didn't mention it in any of your letters," he said, shrugging. "It looks like it was really bad."

"That's because it happened just last week," she said. "It just looks old because Granny already healed it."

Andrew goggled. He'd seen the results of Granny's healing, as well as Lara's. It never left a scar.

"I know," Silke said, frowning slightly. "You should have seen it before the healing. Half my scalp was caved in and most of the skin..." She demonstrated the area of damage by drawing a finger across her face to her chin, "was hanging off in a huge flap." She made a face, her eyes wide with mock horror. "Not a pretty sight. But you can hardly see the scar when my hair is down." She shook her head, letting the hair fall forward again. "See?"

"I like it," Andrew said. "The hairdo I mean...not that I don't like the scar..." He stopped talking and sighed. "So...I assume you're heading inside for the orientation?" Andrew extended his arm, crooked formally, elbow out.

"Yes," Silke said, taking his arm.

They walked up the steps, just behind a giant praying mantis who held the door open for them. Andrew raised an eyebrow and glanced around the campus to see if anyone was noticing the massive insect.

"I have a spell of illusion on me," the mantis said congenially. "To those not attending the symposium I appear an overweight latino man with greying hair, dressed all in tweed."

"Be careful," Andrew said. "Someone will ask you what you're teaching."

The mantis laughed and waved them through the door.