“The question goes, if time travel is ever invented, why are we not constantly visited by them?”
Zachary Driscoll sat opposite me on the cafe’s open air patio. He nursed a beverage which had once been coffee before he’d added flavored cream, sugar, sea salt and a splash of whatever blinding concoction was in that flask he produced from within his coat.
“That’s hardly a show stopper”, I muttered. “They could well be all around us as we speak, wearing period appropriate clothing. How would we know? It’s not as if they stamp “time traveler” on their foreheads before setting off.”
Zach’s eyes lit up. Every conversation with him was a trip, but I went as willingly as I always did because while they rarely went anywhere coherent, the scenery along the way never failed to fascinate.
“Exactly! But the same holds true for the pataphysical. Or supernatural, to use the common parlance.” I groaned. Some months ago he’d talked me into a late night trip to an abandoned industrial building.
I later determined he must have slipped me some potent hallucinogen from his impressive collection on the way, because I’d seen and heard things in the caves under that structure that took me weeks of voluntary therapy to put behind me.
He leaned in and began to gesture. None of it helped me understand, he does it for his own sake. Helps him order his thoughts. “The argument goes, if there were really some non-local element to our reality, more people would know. It would be understood to science. But what happens when someone announces such a discovery to the world?”
“Straight to the loony bin”, I chuckled. “Where you should be now.” I received the furrowed brow of impatience for that one.“That right there is why knowledge of the pataphysical remains obscure. The modern scientific establishment is the equivalent of a single party state. Potential competitors are strangled in the crib. And because the psychological and neurological sciences are a subset of it, they define what sanity is.”
I felt a migraine coming on. This rhetoric was painfully familiar to me. As an editor for a research journal we’d get submissions all the time from self styled crazies who took any criticism as persecution and imagined themselves the next Galileo or Columbus. “It’s true that they laughed at Columbus”, a favorite professor of mine once told me, “but they also laughed at Bozo the Clown”.
I bit my tongue. Why stop the parade halfway through? I no longer owned a television and not much on Netflix could compete with this. Zach’s eyes widened. “Do you see the potential for abuse? Imprisonment without a trial by jury, if they consider you dangerous. It’s not you that decides.”
He had his keys out. I considered bolting. But it was a four day weekend, I had nothing on my plate and I’d kept a close eye on my coffee this time. If he’d slipped me anything, David Blaine would be impressed. “Is it far?” He assured me it wasn’t. Despite the coffee, I slept on the way. Following Zachary’s convoluted train of thought often exhausts me, plus his new car had heated seats. I pouted and wondered when I’d be able to replace my beat up Geo on my meager salary.
Zach woke me at the destination with an air horn. I rubbed my eyes and griped that normal people keep things like their registration and maybe a tire iron in the glovebox. “Fine” he quipped, “Next time I’ll wake you with a tire iron.”
The building sat tucked away on the outskirts of the university, surrounded by maple trees which prevented one from noticing how old fashioned the architecture was until nearly inside.
The whole of it was wooden and polished, with carvings throughout bringing to mind antique furniture. I waited next to Zach for a while and was about to ask where the doorbell was when the door opened.
“Who is that with you?” a raspy voice barked from within. Zach introduced me and added that I was his “negator”. I didn’t remember agreeing to any such thing, but silence is golden.
The door swung open and when my eyes adjusted I saw a rickety old man with an alarmingly severe Dowagers hump. He raised a small eyeglass with an ornate brass rim, peered through it at me and frowned. “Tsk tsk. Well come in then, all the colic is escaping.”
He directed us to take off our jackets and shoes in the sitting room. “Colic?” I mouthed to Zach. He whispered back that it is an invisible non-local fluid which we experience as heat. I reflexively made the “bitch please” face but quietly continued removing and stowing unnecessary layers.
The building was jaw dropping. All wood as with the exterior but the corridors were lined with meticulously carved columns, the doorknobs and fixtures were polished brass, and everywhere there was room to do so he’d placed some curious contraption for visitors to admire.
One resembled some cross between an astronomer’s telescope and a pipe organ. A cluster of polished metal tubes which widened at the business end like muskets was mounted by swiveling armature to a varnished oak chest. The open door in the side revealed a baffling mechanism within, all kinds of thin tangled tubing depositing a faintly glowing blue gas into a set of six sealed jars.
The etching in the brass plate beneath it read “Cloudbuster with Orgone storage array”. The little old man joined us and upon seeing the look my by face, beamed with pride. “That’s the only one built by Wilhelm Reich himself that the feds didn’t get their hands on when they shut him down. Do you recall when General Motors crushed all of those electric cars in the nineties, but left a few to universities? You’re looking at a real rarity.”
He clearly assumed I knew more about it than I did, but that was much less irritating than the inverse. “I see. And what’s this over here?” I asked. The device sat at the focal point of a curved bay window. The plate read “Lawsonomic flow equalizer”. He hobbled over and fiddled with dials on it. For the most part it appeared pneumatic. A mass of air compressors fed transparent silicone tubing which terminated in a sort of helmet and mask with little flexible silicone spigots.
“Those go in your nose, mouth and ears. The one on the seat, well, you can imagine where that goes.” I hadn’t noticed it until now. I briefly wondered if this was some elaborate fetish device. As if sensing my confusion, he continued. “Technically this one’s on loan, although there’s nobody to give it back to anymore. Alfred Lawson, father of Lawsonomy, discovered the modern principles underlying the ancient Greek medicinal model of humors. The balance or imbalance of said humors being responsible for ones health or illness, respectively. All down to pressure, suction and flows.”
I’d sooner sit in an electric chair. “And this?” Far from annoyed by my relentless curiosity, the old man leapt at the chance to explain each mechanism. I got the impression that sincerely interested visitors did not come by often. “Ah, yes! This is a model of the cosmos.”
I couldn’t see how. It was a cutaway of a hollow sphere. On the inner surface there were texturized mountains, blue plastic rivers and oceans and so on. Then within that, concentric spheres of transparent acrylic. “Ice!” he exclaimed. “The celestial spheres and all they contain. All of it made of ice. We owe Hans Horbiger for that discovery. Of course the partially erudite already knew of the closest sphere, which Biblical scholars call the firmament. The melting of that nearest sphere, when it fell to Earth as water, caused the terrible flood recorded by every ancient culture.”
Just like that, he lost me. Long before I’d walked in the door even, but now doubly so. I thought better of challenging him on the Biblical aspects out of sensitivity to the faith of others, but the larger problem was that all of it appeared inside out. I said so.“Ah yes!” he grinned. “The great misunderstanding of modern cosmology, that we dwell on the outside of a solid sphere and the heavens surround us. A trick of the light, my boy! Optical shenanigans! Those celestial bodies which you doubtless believe to be immense and far away are in fact relatively small and close! With yet smaller bodies closer to the center.”
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