Friday, September 17, 2010

The Bunnies of Time

Category: Issue 20

Harris Tobias
814 Swan Ridge Road
Charlottesville, Va 22903
.(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)


Pablo was happy to have his job at the Lab. When you’re dreaming about a better life in the North, this was just the kind of job you dreamed about. As night janitor at the National Temporal Research Institute in Colorado Springs, Pablo was given a small room in the basement with a cot, a TV and his own hot plate. His duties were simple—mop the floors, straighten up the offices, feed the rabbits and alert the staff if and when the arrival light came on. For this Pablo was paid $175.00 a week. A veritable fortune in his dusty native village where living standards remained trapped a couple of centuries in the past. Compared to the poverty back home, Pablo’s salary at the Institute was more than enough to improve the lives of his extended family in El Salvador.
The arrival light on the wall next to the “chamber” flashed red. The chamber, a shielded box hooked up to some highly sophisticated electronics, formed the physical link between the present and the future. It was through that small portal the future spoke. Though what language the future was speaking was the subject of much controversy. The arrival light indicated that something from the future had arrived. Pablo dutifully alerted the staff. An arrival was always a source of excitement. Maybe this time it would be different; maybe this was the breakthrough everyone was hoping for.
  Whenever the arrival light came on, the institute responded with frenzied activity. A team of scientists grabbed their instruments and ran to see what had arrived. Whatever it was, it had to be photographed, cataloged, analyzed and quarantined. After that initial burst of activity, the best minds in physics would pour over this latest “communication”, desperately looking for something meaningful. So far it had all been in vain. All those millions spent on building the projector, all that brain power exhausted on interpretation; all of it was beginning to look like a giant waste of time. The future was not making any sense. But the light was blinking and Pablo climbed the steps to alert the staff that the future had again reached out to the present. Pablo followed the eager scientists down to the chamber and felt their disappointment when all it yielded was a pile of melting slush.
The scientists working at the lab were a young, generally friendly bunch. They formed a close knit community of, linguists scholars and academics numbering several hundred strong. Ever since contact with the future was firmly established, the lab buzzed with activity at all hours. The night time was somewhat quieter but still, many young engineers and researchers worked crazy hours. Pablo got to know many of them by name and though his job was menial, he was well liked and respected. Even Dr. Anthony, the father of chrono-physics and titular head of the Institute, knew Pablo’s name. Dr. Anthony had an office on the third floor and, although his presence was increasingly rare, he was considered a father figure to all.
Dr. Anthony was still sharp enough to be worried about the prospects of the field he pioneered. If the future didn’t start communicating effectively soon, chrono physics would lose its funding and become a dead end— a curious by water in the history of science.  As a Nobel Laureate, Dr. Anthony’s reputation rested on his great breakthrough — the chronon projector—a complex device that could send and receive material objects across space and time; work that promised mankind solutions to all its most vexing problems—pollution, over population, war.
“Just think of what we could do with a single newspaper from a world a decade hence,” Dr. Anthony would ask. It was arguments like these that won research grants and financed the institute; but with the future’s persistent incoherence, that funding was in danger of drying up. So far that future newspaper never arrived. Nor did the future physics text nor the blueprint for the next big idea. Lots of stuff did arrive and that stuff was analyzed down to the molecular level, but if it contained any useful information, it escaped detection by the Institute’s anxious staff.
The future was trying to respond. It wasn’t a one way conversation. After many false starts, it looked like the future might actually be trying to tell us something. Unfortunately that something was not what the world was expecting. Plans and blueprints for undreamed of technologies that would push humanity centuries ahead. No that is not what the future was giving us. Instead, what the future was sending was pure, unadulterated gibberish—rocks, cabbages, ice cubes and rabbits.
“Not another bloody rabbit, dear god,” a bleary eyed scientist was heard to mutter. “Is this what we have to look forward to, a world filled with bunnies.” It was this sort of expensive gibberish that kept linguists and philosophers wracking their brains trying to decipher just what the future was trying to say.
As Dr. Anthony suspected deep in his heart, it wasn’t the future’s fault at all, it was the universe’s doing. Some immutable law was preventing the future from sending any real information. Call it the conservation of information but it was becoming increasingly clear that there was not going to be any breakthrough technology that the past and present didn’t earn by its own hard work. No solutions to those insoluble social problems like crime, war, the Middle East and AIDS were going to arrive in the next delivery. Whatever progress humanity was going to make, it was going to have to make it on its own.
On some level it actually made sense. If nature permitted a clear, open channel between present and future like the world hoped, time would get hopelessly tangled up in paradoxes. The future would lose all meaning. Future discoveries would already have been made. Where would the original ideas have come from? Such a violation of the arrow of time could simply not be allowed to occur. Information from the future was something the quantum universe couldn’t allow.

To Pablo, problems of future linguistics were neither here nor there. His limited education didn’t allow for much theorizing on trans- temporal communication. His interests were far more mundane. He had floors to mop and rabbits to feed. The dozens of rabbits the future inexplicably sent. “Time bunnies” is what people called them and say what you like about gibberish but to Pablo they were a miracle, a gift from people not yet born.
In nearly four years of contact, the future had sent back in time a total of 41 rabbits as well as a hundreds of other random objects. What may have started out in some future laboratory as a perfectly useful item somehow got scrambled by unknown forces and arrived in our present reconfigured into something else entirely. Often that reconfiguration seemed to take the form of a rabbit. No one could really explain why.
Aside from the rabbits, Pablo worried about his family back home in El Salvador scratching out a meager existence in utter poverty. It was his regular remittances that allowed his wife Carmelita, his daughter Rosa and his two sons Jesus and Juan to attend school.
Rabbit care had become Pablo’s favorite duty. At first he helped the lab techs clean the cages and feed them. Before long, he was their primary keeper. The rabbits were all of a similar variety; all were white and floppy eared, docile and hungry for fresh greens exactly like rabbits from any era.
What to do with all the rabbits? It became a running joke in the physics community. Temporal physics was becoming a laughing stock. Word came down from the third floor, from the big man himself, “get rid of them.”
Pablo had no more idea than Dr. Anthony why the future was sending back rabbits but he was happy to be around them. He named them, handled them and began to putting them together for conjugal visits. Rabbits being what they are, it wasn’t very long before there were more rabbits than anyone knew what to do with. The hutches were filled to capacity. The word filtered down the chain of command until finally reaching Pablo—“dispose of them all.”   
  “They are slashing the budget, Pablo, there is no money for bunnies. You understand, Pablo? They all have to go.”
“Poor innocents,” Pablo whispered to them, “what a waste.” Pablo remembered hunting rabbits with his uncle when he was a boy. That was different; those rabbits died for a reason, to feed his family but to just kill them because they were an embarrassment to someone seemed wrong.
Pablo’s mother made rabbit stew. He could remember what a treat it was— a taste of home and youth. Soon his basement room was giving off an irresistible smell. It didn’t take long before most of the institute staff was stopping by for bowls of time bunny stew. Pablo was in business. He bought bigger pots to cook with. He charged a couple of dollars a bowl and couldn’t keep up with demand. In the evenings he would make rabbit’s foot key chains and cure pelts to make little stuffed time bunnies. They became sought after souvenirs. In the months before the Institute closed its doors for good, Pablo’s stew may have been the best thing to come out of the entire costly fiasco.
Of those who ate of Pablo’s stew, many would go on to achieve success in their fields. Former employees included the the brilliant and the plodding the healthy and the sick, the satisfied and the frustrated were essentially like any other random group.  Many who wore the rabbit-foot charms swore that their luck improved, but go and try and prove a claim like that.
There were engineers, researches, and lab techs who ate Pablo’s stew and would swear that they were transformed by it. They would say they did better work, lived happier, more productive lives, Many went on to make names for themselves in their various fields. But how do you connect a few bowls of stew with all the intangibles of a complex life? Such evidence is always anecdotal and will have to remain so since the Institute closed and its brilliant staff scattered far and wide.
One piece of hard evidence remains as testimony to the transforming effect of the future’s gift to mankind. Thanks to his stew, Pablo was able to earn enough money to start his own small restaurant. His business prospered which enabled him to rescue his wife and children from their hopeless situation and bring them to the relative splendor of Colorado Springs.
Carmelita had a tiny house and yard; Rosa and the boys went to a proper school. Rosa’s brilliance was recognized early. She was mentored and allowed to grow to her full potential becoming the youngest graduate in the history of the University of Colorado. She went on to head the Nobel Prize winning team that cured cancer once and for all in 2045. The boys too found successful careers in music and art. Juan as a painter and young Jesus as a composer. 
  A strong argument can be made that humanity’s effort to contact the future was a dismal failure. What, the critics would say, did we get out of all those billions of dollars, a few dozen rabbits? Ask Pablo and you’ll probably get a much different answer. Funny how things work out.


Posted by tobiash on 09/17 at 01:14 PM | Permalink
(1) Discuss • (1) Comments

« The Bully      The Burst Pen and the Bad Man »