Non-linear Time

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Dear Lelia,

I just realized I almost forgot to tell you this, it is strange how you start putting things out or your mind after a while, I guess we were not meant to span millennia, so the brain writes over old memories in an attempt to keep up. Hey, there’s a research idea for Roberta, a human memory expander, I guess we could project our memories into the Purple fields, if we could only work out the details. Sarah would be the best person to start evolving this concept, she already has a very rudimentary system in place, forgive me, I got sidetracked. So, the story!

We were preparing for a first contact mission with a distant civilization, way out into deep space, in a relatively obscure portion of the Perseus constellation, in proximity of Eta Persei. We only had limited contact with their culture, and from what we gathered from our short interactions from a distance, they didn’t seem too eager to connect.

This made the diplomatic work preceding the trip laborious and tense, pushing all of us to the end of our wits. Three days before our scheduled departure we received a lengthy communication from our counterpart, strangely expansive and familiar in tone, detailing an ongoing project in which we supposedly had been playing a significant role for a long time now. Sister Roberta analyzed the message from all angles, to make sure it was indeed addressed to us, and that it came from our friends to be, and was more puzzled than anything to recognize the structure of one of her latest ideas, one she hadn’t had time to develop because of the feverish preparations for the trip and the tedious observance of protocol. To our subsequent dismay, she delved immediately into the details that had apparently been all worked out in the communique, and didn’t bother to look for an explanation regarding this alleged shared history or the many details that shed light on our new allies’ priorities, language and customs, details that could have been a treasure trove of wisdom in retrospect.

Instead, she attached the message to our trip details the night before leaving, as an oddity if nothing else. Nobody could make sense of it, of course, we were all tense and exhausted and looked forward to a good night’s sleep before a day we expected to be difficult. Nobody except Purple, who started babbling incomprehensibly, accessing every bracelet and waking everybody up, speaking in a language nobody understood and which I could vaguely recognize as belonging to our soon to be visited alien culture.

Purple babbled all night, or at least we think it was all night, given the fact that the invention of the time slicing solenoid had made time a very relative concept indeed. When the suns came up, the immortals reverted their incomprehensible babble to single word sentences.

“Bring. Live. Tissue. Samples. Bio-lab. Equipment. Specs. Generate. Matter. Composition. Of. Living. Beings. Subsistence. Requirements. Temperature. Atmosphere. Bio-energy. Generation. Physical. Form. Matter. State. Space. Time. Resonance. Signature. Mandatory. Requirement. Please. Provide. Before. Arrival.”

This announcement was made before the morning coffee, and half of the sisters mumbled under their breath against the irritating last minute request. Sarah sweated over the message, because this is just the way she is, she never encountered a “must” she didn’t comply with, I followed up with a request for information, just out of curiosity, and sister Roberta really pored over the imperatives, trying to figure out if she input the wrong information into the solenoid. She asked for details about our target location, and before sending the message she attached Sarah’s polite inquiry, which was a model of good manners, but made it obvious that she didn’t have a clue what was required of her.

We left, dressed up in our ceremonial attire, keen to put our best foot forward. A second later we were there. I looked around: when we left the delegation was composed of myself, Roberta, Sarah, Novis, Mary-Francis and Felix; when we arrived it was me, Roberta and Sarah. I was going to start panicking, but we were instantly submerged in this sea of thought, this modern Babylon where nobody ever kept quiet, a never ending push and pull of information that could drive a saint mad.

There didn’t seem to be any way for us to interject a question or a greeting into this maelstrom of communication that went both over and through our heads, leaving behind pieces and parts of essential information, the way tide drops off seaweed and shells on the beach in the aftermath of a storm. Just like the sea, the torrent of information that generated these bits of data was murky and indistinguishable, bringing in a mix of specifications, cultural references and completely random current events, all so muddled together that none of us could rationally make heads and tails of them, especially while aching with anxiety over the fate of our sisters. After a few painful minutes we figured out that the same murky tide that deposited information in our brains swept up mundane details from our lives, holidays and celebrations, research projects in progress, children giggles, Purple babble, images of Vlor and its eternal mists. In less than half an hour we were completely drained, more emptied of thoughts and emotions than a squeezed bottle of jam. As if notified, the tower of Babel went quiet; we were dispatched to the solenoid and shipped back unceremoniously to Terra Two.

I managed to catch my breath, and of course the first words that came out of my mouth were meant to express concern over the fate of our missing sisters, if only they were missing, but they weren’t, they were standing with us right there on the platform, looking a lot less tired and confused than us.

Sister Felix started the verbal barrage:

“Where were you, we were worried sick, you don’t even know what you’ve been missing! The planet is spectacular, but completely uninhabited, after a little poking around we’re pretty sure there were no signs of intelligent life, lower life forms, yes, but definitely no trace of our hosts. We’re covered from head to toe in this gelatinous goo in the atmosphere, it goes into any cavity, pardon my French, I’m sure we breathed it, ingested it and absorbed it through our skin, we really need Sarah to run a diagnostic to make sure is not harmful.” I lifted my hand to stop the verbal deluge, too drained to speak and trying to regain my bearings.

“The solenoid must have misfired,” I gawked morosely at sister Roberta, who looked outraged by such a concept and refused to dignify it with an answer. “Whoever has any energy left, please record our meeting, everybody else rest, we’ll go back tomorrow.”

Sister Felix, Novis and Mary-Francis were little bundles of energy and followed our painfully tired selves around until we had to forcibly turn them away.

The next morning we repeated the experiment, which went exactly like the one the day before, only upon arrival we were instantly made aware that we could understand the waves and currents of communications flowing around us from all directions, as well as some already started common projects that we were able to coordinate, even though we didn’t know they even existed the day before. Before leaving I spent a few minutes to catch up with one of the entities (we could never figure out if they were individuals or groups) with whom I seemed to have forged a long standing friendship, and asked details about a way of life I couldn’t possibly understand. Just like before, when our minds started spinning out of control under the surge of information, we got packed up and sent back home.

Again, it had been just the three of us and Felix, Novis and Mary-Francis split to a different timeline; they looked very energetic and much slimier than the day before, and they argued with us for over an hour whether it was them or us who really made it to the planet. They had been met by an entire delegation, all pomp and circumstance, and established lines of communication with the strange species, amoeba like in appearance, through a frequency translator the hosts already had for some reason. They brought back all these plans that we supposedly worked on before and apparently had made great progress; the sisters thought it would be rude to contradict our new friends, first impressions and all.

This spliced reality show went on for a few weeks, during which we always visited the same large hall where flows of information filled our heads, while our more adventurous sisters, who were not time locked, experienced every developmental stage of the planet and its inhabitants, running randomly through the planet’s history forwards, backwards and sideways. The most interesting part of this experiment was that they weren’t confused by the moving through time and managed to put the puzzle back together in the proper order, while we, the static ones, couldn’t make any sense of it, other than the obvious fact of that our time and “real” time didn’t overlap.

After a few days we had figured out why they asked for the space-time resonance signature, but our hosts seemed to be able to patch the data together from the many different timelines our alternate delegation managed to land in, and blend it seamlessly with ours. I’m not even sure they have a concept of linear time, I guess they exist and travel in time coordinates just like we do in space.

Over the length of our interaction we exchanged countless messages, and just for my personal enjoyment, I kept them scrambled in time, in the order they were received. Some have references to events in my life that will not happen for centuries, it is a little disorienting to look at your life from outside of time, we’re not built for it, you know, one of the many things I never expected could happen to me. We looped forward some of the scientific breakthroughs, we thought might as well, since we’ve already seen them, I don’t know whether we violated whatever time travel laws there are, but so far no paradoxes.

I made permanent friendships among the beings of this culture and I miss them dearly. As far as this present moment is concerned they may never have existed, their species mightn’t have evolved to sentience yet, or their civilization may be long gone. I could probably send random messages, hoping that one of them hits the correct time stream. If the message reaches them, they could stabilize a time channel for me, but I hesitate to do it, I don’t know why.

My friend, her name is Llwell, she belongs to the Southern Protectorate, she’s witty and brave, loves Lapa rinds and I know her almost as well as I know Sarah, and it is impossible for me to understand how she even exists in the time streams, or what physical form she has evolved to right now, all I can do is think of her living endlessly in the present. Llwell gave me a gift for you: they call them resonators, it’s some sort of musical instrument, only it reverberates outside the audible range.

I just thought I should let you know before the ceremony, she will be attending. I didn’t want you to be surprised that she already knows you. If only I could anticipate what she’s going to look like…

Love,

Sister Benedict

(Letters to Lelia)