STORY – from a dream 11/088
ON THE WAY TO THE GAME
One, two, three. One, two, three. Okay, let’s check it. All right, it’s recording.
Okay, I, uh… I hope this little recorder holds up for a while because I’ve got some things to say before … Wait, is that a … No. Whew. Good. I don’t have to run like hell right now. I forgot my cattle prod. I can’t run anymore anyway.
I’m, ah, out on the street as you can hear, whoever you are. I’m trying to get to the stadium. It’s ten in the morning, maybe twelve blocks to the stadium. Decent day for a game, at least. No rain, just those high clouds you never used to see, pink on the top with lightning or something sparkling around in them. I don’t know if they ever figured out what that is.
The thing is, future people… Why do I say that? What future people? Who am I talking to? Well, the recorder will be here, maybe, so maybe somebody will be around to listen to it. Maybe even I’ll listen sometimes, to remember, with what time I have left.
Anyway I appear to have more memory left than most people these days, so I want to get this down. Maybe talking can make this, this mess… Christ, mess isn’t the word for it, nowhere close to the word for it. Ah, so I, I want to talk about it. Try to make some sense… That’s not the word either. There’s no sense in it at all.
I just left the house. See, I can remember that. This is good. Not many people on the street right now. Probably a lot at the game, but a lot of people just don’t leave the house anymore. Too scared. Bones picked clean on the streets to remind you about the risks of going out. The screams in the distance. It’s better during the day, though. As long as you remember your cattle prod.
At home it’s garbage day. Ha! So I got rid of the garbage the usual way. Even though, sure, it’s supposed to be against the law. But I still do it the usual way, like most people law or no law. I turn on the stochastic translator on the sink, it starts to whiz and click, the little ramps turn into a blur and the clicks turn into a hum, the garbage on the receiving tray gets kind of wavy and transparent, then it’s gone like a puff of smoke. Amazing gadget. No home should be without one. We love ’em. Snapped ’em up when the price came down.
The thing is, nobody knows whether it was the home translators, millions of them, that made the difference. We don’t know. We don’t really know. So now a lot of people including me just keep using them on the theory that things could hardly get more screwed up. The situation hasn’t changed much in a year or so, as far as anybody can tell. Sure, maybe one day suddenly everybody will get wavy and transparent and disappear like smoke. And there you go, end of problem. Unless we find ourselves in the Paleozoic Era or up in Betelgeuse or something. Which would not be fun. And which isn’t impossible, they say. Nothing, no thing whatever anymore is too impossible to happen. Just– Ow, dammit!…
Agh! I stumbled. No, Miss, I’m okay. Yeah, I’m fine. Nice day, huh? You going to the game? Good. Enjoy it. What? Yes, I’m Athletic Director. That’s me. Good… Thanks. Thanks. Enjoy the game. Go, Raptors!
What the heck did I stumble over? That’s… Oh, great. A femur, and it looks human. Just great. I’ll turn this off a…
Glrp. I want to … Eh, ah, as is well known, used to be well known, the stochastic translator was developed at our university. Huge accomplishment, no question about it. Earth-shaking, they said. Epochal. Jesus God in heaven that sounds funny now.
I’m at the corner of State and Executive. Here’s a bench, I’ll sit down a minute. I’m not in real good shape these days. Going to meet my maker before long, and it won’t be too soon. I can hear the cheers and the band at the game. Somebody made a touchdown. All the same who it was, there’s only our own team here.
A device that could send things forward and backward in time. I guess epochal is the word for it. Except for the little problem. It’s a one-way trip, and you couldn’t tell where or when things were going to or coming from. In time. At least not at first. Then where some of the things were coming from got very clear. Oh, very clear indeed.
They were trying to get rid of garbage, for godssake. That’s where it started. The garbage had gotten overwhelming everywhere, stacking up and stinking all over the place. Before then there’d been a little success dematerializing matter, in small ways. Some were worried that could be dangerous, could start some kind of chain reaction that would dematerialize everything. But that turned out to be easy to control. I’m not a scientist, but that’s what they said. Easy to control.
Wow, here’s a bus going by. Hear it? Not many busses anymore. Who wants to fool with them when there’s no money for fares, and only so much gas left in the storage tanks. The bus is full, though. From the yells I can tell they’re headed for the game. I’ll get up in a minute. God almighty, I am so tired.
What happened was, a guy in the physics department named Leonid-something was fooling around with this peculiar gadget with two side by side ramps facing in opposite directions, with an oddlooking chain that races around the outside of the ramps, and somehow that and the computer inside it created a beam or something that affects matter. He said he stumbled on it. Holy Mother of God, stumbled on it. So it looked like it could get rid of garbage at least, and everybody said hooray.
They started experimenting with disappearing larger and larger piles of garbage. Before long, though, the scientists noticed what they called “artifacts.” These were bits of rock or even strange smells that would show up when the garbage disappeared.
Like I say I’m no scientist, but somehow they figured out what was happening was that things were coming and going in time. Bits of things, like smells or pebbles. Naturally they started focussing on that issue. I guess they figured if the dematerialization of garbage didn’t get out of hand, didn’t start a chain reaction, neither would fooling with time. They were wrong, but it was all quite logical. That’s what they said. Logical!
I’m getting excited. Let me catch my Glrp. There’s Ben and his wife, they don’t see me. I don’t feel like talking to anybody right – Oh – Hi Ben! Hi Betty! Going to the game? See you there. No, I, I’m all right. Just resting a minute. Yes, it’s a voice recorder. I… You don’t want to know. Private…haha! Yeah. See you there.
Where… Ah. At first they called the thing a TrashMaster. When the artifacts started turning up and they realized what was happening, they renamed it a stochastic translator. That was when they developed the software to enhance the effect of moving around in time. I don’t know the math of course, but they said what the thing did was to analyze random patterns in, I don’t know what, the vibrations of the universe or something, and figure out probabilities. I’m no physicist, but I gather what happens is, in a flash the gadget takes random patterns and sorts them into possible ones then amplifies them into probable ones, and then in the room things get wavy and disappear, and sometimes near the translator there was a rock or a funny smell, all kinds of odd little things.
Before long they invented the receiving tray that would attract the artifacts, and that kept everything nice and manageable. Right. I’d forgotten. That’s the word they used for the tray: manageable. It was the same tray that later, in the home model, you used to dispose of garbage, sending it who knows where in the past or the future. People were crazy about it, the streets were cleaner, the city smelled good again. All so harmless, so convenient and manageable. I guess they assumed the garbage would end up in the middle of space or in some other dimension or something. But it didn’t. It stayed right here on Earth. Only not in the present time.
I was there when they unveiled the first translator, right in the middle of the football field. Reporters from everywhere in the world, news cameras all over. First they dematerialized some garbage, then they materialized an artifact. The device didn’t produce anything big that day, but what did materialize on the tray might have told them something. It was a tooth. A large, unidentifiable tooth broken off at the root. With blood on it. People got a good laugh out of that. It was the first artifact the public had ever seen, and it was plenty amazing I guess.
As amazing things do, after a few years it got familiar. People couldn’t wait for the home model to arrive. It was programmed not to produce artifacts but only once a week to dispose of garbage, or anything else soft and mushy you put on the tray, like a dead dog or whatever. It was programmed not to affect anything living, but before long people discovered a way to make it zap bugs and the like. At that point folks started some informal experiments that got pretty nasty. Things were changing. But of course it happened so slow, people hardly noticed.
I ought to get up in a minute. They expect the Athletic Director to put in an appearance at the games. Start me talking on this stuff, I don’t know where to stop. But how many people remember all this history now? All this epochal history. What a word. I’ll say it’s epochal!
First the home garbage translators started accepting living animals, which they weren’t supposed to do. Some really sick home experiments then. Then artifacts started showing up when and where they weren’t supposed to. Artifacts. That’s the word. Pretty fancy word for a twelve-foot sabre-toothed tiger in your back yard eating your pets, eating your kids too, if you turn your back for a minute. It didn’t happen all at once. It took years, long enough for us to get used to using translators in our daily lives, long enough for them to become indispensible. The world garbage crisis solved by a miracle of science and ingenuity and, some said, even divine intervention.
Only that artifacts started turning up on their own, nowhere hear a translator. Happened here and there, all kinds of weird stuff including at one point, this was in the papers, an old dirty tennis ball materialized in the swimming pool of the Indiana governor’s mansion, while the governor was swimming. Seemed funny at the time. Then after a few more years larger things started appearing. Some of them alive and hungry.
Like I say, it didn’t happen all at once. It was slow. Years. But one fine day in Minsk, Russia, there was a wooly mammoth tearing through a town garbage dump. By God, that got people’s attention. At that time they were building a Very Large Stochastic Translator inside a mountain in Switzerland, intending to study the history of the universe and all. Of course just as the VLST was getting finished after billions of bucks, they put the kibosh on it. Switch that thing on, you don’t know what’s going to go up like smoke or appear in the receiving area, but you know it’ll be very large and very bad.
Then the weather changed, those strange high clouds started forming. This damned miserable drizzle we have most of the time now. In other words all hell broke loose, bit by bit. I remember the day I looked out the window of the Student Union and on the street there were a polar bear and some kind of velociraptor watching something that looked like a giant wolf gnaw at a basketball. When the ball blew up they all ran away. One of the students who’d been playing basketball in the neighborhood was never seen again.
The government said, be careful, stay off the streets at night when the artifacts–they actually called them that–were most active, and during the day be sure to carry your handy six-foot cattle prod at all times. The cattle prod business became the world’s leading industry. A lot of my fellow citizens don’t remember when they weren’t carrying them. For some time the animals, one heck of a zoo of dinosaurs, mammoths, big cats, all kinds of creatures we had no idea ever existed, were out and about. At first they mostly prowled dumps, which is what told us where the garbage had gone. These things had developed a taste for our table scraps. They were probably eating them when they got translated. But there was not much edible in dumps anymore, most people used translators, so the animals got more interested in fresh meat. There’s been massive efforts to catch and kill them, of course, so the numbers never get large, but they turn up faster than they can be managed. So it’s not such a good idea to play basketball outside. Peculiar artifacts turn up not only from the past but apparently from the future as well, but–and this is ominous you have to admit–there never seems to be anything from the future that’s alive.
Everybody said, nothing to do about it, what’s done is done, we’ll learn to live with it/ Science will solve the problems soon, we love our garbage translators and we’re going to keep them. For a while scientists were working on a reception device that would show the past or future like a TV screen. The athletic department already had one of those on order, when they were ready, so we could study the games of the past. (They’d program them to blank out the future of course, but there are ways around that.) Then the weather changed. Then a lot of other things. That’s why we can’t get out of the city now, the roads north and south end in giant smoking sinkholes and the ones east and west are breaking apart. We don’t know why buildings inside the city aren’t crumbling, but there’s no guarantee they never will.
I remember the day, the TV broadcast when one of the inventors of the translator told the world what had happened. I remember his words exactly. “It turns out, unfortunately, that time is a mechanism. Like a machine. And it looks like somehow with the translators we’ve broken the mechanism. God knows how, but that’s what happened. We’ve broken time. We don’t know whether it’s only on Earth or everywhere, but here on this planet, time is unraveling. But I mean, my God, there’s going to be, I can’t…” And then ladies and gentlemen of the television audience, he broke down and cried like a little baby.
A month or so after that all the television screens went blank, the radios went mute, the internet expired. Around here, anyway. Maybe all over the world, but there’s no way to tell. The electricity from the dam is still on, though. The stadium still stands and night games look swell under the lights. And our stochastic translators still work.
Really I’ve got to get to the game. And jeez, now that I look at it, the power meter is running low on this recorder. I’ll sign off right now in a minute.
Ah.. What can I say? How to end? They, they used to say all politics is local. I guess the end of the world is local too. If it is the end. Sure, I hope it’s not, but I probably won’t be around to see it anyway. Some people say we’re going to a higher state. Translated to a higher state. Ha. Wish I… Well.
I remember the day I stopped at the box office to get my ticket for a game, and the smiling folks inside said you don’t need one anymore. Fine, I said. Do you know where I can get some food? I’m hungry. They smiled. Well, they said, most of us don’t get hungry now, so we can’t help you. Strange, isn’t it? But it’s not so bad. Enjoy the game.
Everybody’s memory has started to get kind of wavy and transparent. It’s starting to happen to me. When memory started to fade one of the first things to disappear, and this is a blessing I guess, was fear. Well, that’s not the word. Fear isn’t entirely gone and thank God for that, we need it. But terror, despair, you don’t see those so much anymore. You’d think the crime rate would be bad but it isn’t. I guess when you don’t have to eat and you aren’t scared, you don’t have to steal or bother anybody. People seem more, I don’t know, benevolent.
I used to go to church and pray a lot, go to confession and all that kind of thing, but not anymore. My sins are harder to remember. I can’t remember my late wife’s face. I can’t get in touch with the kids. Churches are mostly empty, what few priests are left don’t have much to say. They smile benevolently and give you a blessing from the maker of us all.
Did the maker of us all make the stochastic translator? If He did, maybe it shows He was getting tired of His creation. Wanted to wipe the slate clean and start over. Or maybe He needed to be alone again for an eternity or two. Or maybe it was just the human race He was tired of.
I’m losing my train of thought here. Most people aren’t hungry all the time anymore, like I am. Friends bring me old stuff from their pantries, because they don’t need it now. These days people mainly want to just enjoy themselves any way they can, like they used to. In this grand and great university town where everybody’s a big sports fan, we just keep going to the game, the football game that never ends.
Wow, here’s a bus. I’ll