Enjoy an excerpt from Carlton Herzog’s “And Yet It Moves” featured in our new anthology ON TIME.
To Whom It May Concern,
I have practiced psychiatry for the past thirty years, specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of schizophrenia. In late 2054, I attended a patient—a CERN engineer—who seemed sane in every respect.
Yet, he insisted that he had been contacted by a visitor from the future. He also claimed that this traveler was his doppelganger, possibly from an alternate timeline. I remained skeptical and attributed his wild claims to a florid imagination and the stress of his work.
However, the further I delved into his story, the more I became convinced that he sincerely believes the truth of his claim.
Currently, he is on extended medical leave and remains under my care at the Institute. I convinced him to provide me with a written statement along with a copy of the Z-Phone video he made of his visitor’s monologue. I have included both with this letter.
Professor Allen Treadwell
Department of Abnormal Psychology
Saint Mary’s Hospital, Zurich
THE FAMILIAR STRANGER
He didn’t belong here. Or anywhere else on this earth. I took him to be the stuff of dreams, an airy nothing that had found a habitation outside my head. But there was too much sensory detail to be a mere figment of my imagination.
Steaming as the brown ice on him melted, the vapor reeked of feces and corpses and the deep earth.
He wore a parka with matching leggings but had wrapped the entire suit—including the boots—in thick black plastic then mummified it with duct tape. Bandages and rags covered his ears and nose, while a scarf or three wrapped python-like around his neck and mouth. Reflective ski-goggles covered his eyes.
But for all those layers, he seemed oddly familiar—a badly dressed me.
We are dying. My wife passed last week. My daughter the week before. The sickness. There are no doctors left, no medicine. There is little hygiene in our crowded burrow. We live on top of each other, feeding on odious things—dung beetles, maggots, mushrooms, tilapia, worms—that live on feces and the dead. Raw dirty things that make you gag before you swallow. Thanks to that retinue of coprophages, my wife and daughter will be part of me again and again and again.
Now, we are but a thin film of life waiting to die. Common sense tells us to end it and be done with the nightmare. But we can’t because of that baked-in survival instinct we can’t override.
How the mighty have fallen: the once proud lords of the earth reduced to scurrying moles. It is a small consolation that this dramatic change came not from man’s hubris but from circumstances wholly beyond his ability to predict or control.
The scientists saw It coming hundreds of years before It arrived. The mother of extinction events. At first, the cosmologists called it a supermassive debris field. Later, the poets, renamed it the Tartarus Field. But whatever the label, words could not contain its proportions or scope, though they could at least describe its components: stars, comets, asteroids, brown dwarfs, cracked planets, whole planets, gas, and dust—moving like a horde of locusts over a wheat field. It was as if an entire arm of another galaxy had somehow detached itself and begun a pilgrimage through our piece of space gravitationally absorbing all forms of matter within its field of influence. Over billions of years, it grew as it passed through system after system in galaxy after galaxy. Maybe through another universe or two. And the bigger it got, the more stuff it attracted.
One might expect that when all that matter passed through the Milky Way, the earth was in greatest danger from a collision. Or simply being dragged along with the other debris. But that was not the case. It just nipped the edge of the Sagittarius Arm and did so only with its dusty halo.
Yet, that was more than enough. Sweet beautiful dust, the diamonds of space, reflecting light like the Star of India. Trillions upon trillions of tumbling, dancing, whirling, spinning, gyring, jittering particles. A great diamond necklace that wrapped itself around the neck of the earth and told us that we were married to the fate of the cosmos around us whether we liked it or not. And what a marriage it was: the sun disappeared from the sky, and with it the moon, and not long thereafter did the earth and her waters began to die, and when they did, so did we.
Then, he was gone. I reached for a drink to steady my nerves. I went outside and scanned the night sky. Was my visitor were some time-slipping version of myself projecting a warning into the past or a potent sign of incipient psychosis?
THE CIRCUMFERENCE OF NOTHING
My Dear Professor Treadwell,
I do not deal in fringe science. But will, as a professional courtesy, offer you my thoughts on the questions you have raised.
First, anyone with a phone can make a movie. Second, any second-rate actor can deliver a dramatic monologue and brand it a prophetic warning from the future. Third, the speaker indicates that he does not come from an advanced time-traveling society, but rather a primitive one on the verge of extinction. Finally, time travel to the past is impossible.
Granted, time travel to the future exists as a biological curiosity under the label of time dilation. For example, if an astronaut could travel close to the speed of light—an unlikely scenario to be sure—he would find on his return that he had aged less than his earthbound counterparts. That time dilation effect has been conclusively proved with elementary particles called muons. But beyond that bit of chronometric parlor magic, there is no known mechanism for moving freely between the past and present. If there were, we would have met a time tourist or two by now. Additionally, there are prohibitive paradox and causality issues that make such travel unlikely.
I also find the idea that our universe crossed paths with another equally implausible. Multi-verse theory puts any other universe that may exist far beyond the boundaries of our own, such that travel between any two universes is physically impossible.
I am no psychiatrist. But your patient’s claims suggest that he, at minimum, has an extraordinary need for attention indicative of emotional immaturity. Of course, I may be too kind. After further examination, you may find him to be an outright mental defective in full flight from reality.
Professor Diane Scully
Max Planck Institute for Advanced Gravitational Study
THE DIAMETER OF THE POSSIBLE
I am always glad to see Professor Scully’s hard-boiled skepticism. If nothing else, it keeps me honest. I start from the premise that we dwell in Plato’s cave: we see the shadows of reality, not the forms that make them. For example, what we call dark energy and dark matter are known by their effects, not by either their source or composition, even though they comprise the bulk of the universe. We can describe gravity with incredible precision, thanks to Newton and Einstein, but we really don’t know how it works. Is it a particle, a field, curvature in this spacetime, or some exotic energy bleeding in from another?
We use the word emergent to describe processes about which we remain ignorant. For example, we don’t understand how water can have the property of wetness when wetness is not inherent in the electrons and protons that comprise it. Likewise, we don’t know how consciousness can exist when its properties are not inherent in the neurons that comprise it. Thus, the word emergent, when applied to any given phenomenon, is code for clueless.
We’ve only been around for the blink of a cosmic eye. We’ve never seen an electron, the surface of an exo-planet, or the moment of creation. We are blind to the past, the future, and to chance. But we cannot let that skew our vision of what may lie beyond the horizon of our knowledge and preconceptions.
I find it helpful when an unfamiliar idea holds my attention to welcome that idea as the way to learn something new. How can I do otherwise when I am nothing more than a transitive aspect of the whole, human one moment, dust the next, my particles cycling on into eternity taking whatever form they may, ad infinitum?
Professor Fritz Mulder
Department of Physics and Astronomy, Iowa State University, Ames
Flight Dispatcher, USAF; B.A. Rutgers, magna cum laude; J.D Rutgers Law School; Articles Editor, Rutgers Law Review. Currently with USPS. His non-fiction publications and relevant citations are available on Google Scholar. His fiction is available at amazon.com/author/carltonherzog
Self-proclaimed misanthrope: when told by an invading alien army that it intended to exterminate all human life, his response was “How can I help?”