Authors: MK Alexander
“As you say, yes.” He turned to me. “How is your quantum theory?”
“Quantum theory? A little shaky, I guess.”
“Do you understand how a packet of energy must have a threshold in order to change its state?”
“I think so…”
“Well then, you might look at history in the same way. Quantum History, if you will permit the term. History can change only in discrete amounts.”
“It is at that. Perhaps there is some kind of structure underlying space and time that is unknown to us… and this hypothetical structure is a lattice for all events.”
“A structure, like a shape?”
“A shape… yes, why not? Envision a vast crystal growing organically. Not unlike a snowflake, I should say; not without a natural order… Every future, every possibility, every choice… always branching from one another. The future unfolds in this way, I believe.” Fynn had a gleam in his eye. “Though some
are quite far from others. You might think of them as existing on a different branch entirely. Yet, some are very close, on the same arm of the snowflake, so to speak.”
“Which timeline is real?”
“But who can say which reality is correct? I cannot. I can only say some timelines are slightly different, or drastically different. I have observed such. Is one more valid than another? No. I believe the differences can be pictured as this growing crystal. They all have equal weight.”
“What changes these timelines?”
“Simply put: choice, the choices everyone makes in their lives.”
“So each tiny choice changes the future? Are there an infinite amount of futures?”
“I will say yes and no. Each choice may set us on a course— a different choice, a different course. But the future is not infinitely variable, not amorphous, it has a structure as well, as inscrutable as that might be.”
“There are critical junctures, let us say… places where you have made big decisions, important choices that have altered your future. That should be quite apparent to anyone.” Fynn paused. “There are two perspectives however, the personal versus the historic, or the micro and the macro… Your own personal choices might add very little to historical trends, shall we call them. And what you might see as huge historical changes do not alter your personal future as much as you might believe.”
“Whoa, micro and macro?”
“This is all not so simple, eh?”
We walked through the swamp in silence for a time.
“Does it make a whit of difference what you ate for breakfast?” Fynn asked.
“I don’t know.”
“Does it make a difference if you have a bagel, or croissant? I don’t think so. All these tiny fluctuations amount to very little, your daily decisions for example, hardly alter your present, or if they do, they are of no importance... I cannot even say it constitutes a different timeline... despite what chaos theorists may say. I believe the complexity hypothesis is overrated. The flapping of butterfly wings has little to do with anything.”
I wasn’t quite following him, but he continued: “Yet certainly, there is a cumulative effect to all the seemingly unimportant choices we make in our daily lives.”
“It’s easy to see and obvious.” He turned to me. “If you eat a pound of bacon every morning for twenty years, you’ll probably blow up like a blimp and burst one day.”
“Okay, I see what you’re saying…”
“So, it follows that routine, and the habitual choices we make, add up to a routine and predictable life, yes?”
“There is a quantum for change, a threshold, a point at which the changes you make do alter the timeline quite dramatically. This is the quantum of choice.”
“So, some choices are more important than others?”
“Of course. You must ask: Does this particular choice cross a threshold? Will it change your future?”
“Like eating bagels?” I asked.
“There are so many variables, so many vagaries… In the end no one can be the perfect traveler.” Fynn smiled broadly. We walked on across my imagined xylophone. “This is my second rule of travel:
Tread lightly. Change as little as possible.
“Why is that?”
“Every journey fractures the timeline... I liken it to a piece of glass. First, a small splinter appears and then suddenly there are cracks everywhere, spreading, until the glass is shattered into pieces.”
“Not the word I would use… certainly unpredictable though.”
“Sometimes I wake up and look at the signs and I know something is very wrong.”
“What signs?” I asked, thinking he was onto something quite mysterious.
“Signs. There are signs everywhere you look.”
“Do you mean subtle differences in each reality?”
“No, I mean signs... by the side of the road, billboards, advertisements, that kind of thing.”
“What do these signs tell you?” I asked, feeling slightly annoyed.
“Ah, that is the problem. They tell me nothing because they are in a language I do not understand. Then, I know I have strayed very far from my usual present.”
I wasn’t exactly sure if he was kidding or not.
The spring rains had flooded out a bit of the wooden boardwalk; there was a small gap about two feet across. I leapt over without much thought, but stumbled slightly, landing further than I expected. Fynn was a bit more circumspect. He took his time, stepping over some roots and moss. He rejoined me on my imagined xylophone.
“It is in the end a matter of awareness. Your present is in constant flux. It goes on no set course, and you are unaware of when and how it changes. So, in a very real sense, you cannot travel between two different presents. For example, the day you gave up playing guitar seriously... That set your life down a very different path. You did not become a fleeting rock star. You did not get addicted to heroin and live on the streets of Los Angeles, eating rubbish from a bin. You cannot access that person you may have become, because he is too far away. Too much has changed between that reality and the one you are living now.”
“Wait a second— what?” I was completely surprised by his comment.
“I’m sorry. This is too personal an example?”
“Have you met this other guy?”
“The other you? Yes, in a manner of speaking.”
We walked on slowly. I was too stunned or too afraid to ask any more questions. The swamp petered out, the boardwalk ended abruptly and the ground began to rise. We started a very slow ascent up a sandy path that led us back to the dunes. “You said that you’ve met me before… Is that what you mean?”
“Let me think… in California as a musician… in Seattle… I think you were an artist of some kind, something to do with computers… and in Colorado of course… maybe there were other times as well.”
“Perhaps I am mistaken.” Fynn paused for a few steps. “Let me ask you a question. It will help me understand which timeline I am in at present.” Fynn smiled. “Who invented the telephone?”
“Alexander Graham Bell.”
“Are you sure?”
“Not a man called Elisha Gray?”
“No, it was Bell... come here Watson, I need you.”
“This makes sense, the telephone, it rings like a bell.” Fynn smiled again, obviously bemused. “The light bulb?”
“Not Nikola Tesla?”
“And World War Two? How did it end?”
“Did it not end in nineteen forty-four with the assassination of Hitler?”
“No, there was an invasion called D-Day.”
“Hmm. And in the east, in Japan. How did that end?”
“That was less complicated: Hiroshima and Nagasaki.”
“I know of these places, but why did it end there?”
“The atomic bomb.”
“Not the Russian invasion of China and the north islands? Not Curtis LeMay’s low altitude napalm bombing, and a firestorm that engulfed Tokyo and killed the emperor?”
“That’s all you can say?”
“Well, the result is more or less the same. We have telephones that ring, lights that glow, the big war is over, the world moves on.”
“How can you say this? What you describe seems very different than what history records.”
“I suppose so, from your perspective. But to me, these are minor details.”
“I understand this is probably very upsetting to you.” The inspector patted me gently on the shoulder. “It is a temporary state of affairs. I doubt any of your events compared to mine will drastically alter the future.”
“What about the present?”
“What about it?”
“Isn’t it different? Shouldn’t I be in another timeline or something?”
“Ah, I see your point. But I have no answer for you. I am here and you are here. We share this very moment. That’s all I can say.”
“Uh-oh, I think I just had a major deja vu.” I stopped in my tracks. My head was spinning. I felt a strong desire to sit, just to plop down on the side of the path and rest. Fynn kept walking and I followed a couple of steps behind. I barely made it back to the car.
Every meeting with Fynn seemed more and more distressing, more taxing on my emotional reserves. Kind of like trying to have a conversation with paste-up Amy, only much, much worse. Honestly, my life was in complete turmoil. I was always on edge. My time with Fynn had changed my life, and not in a good way. I was a wreck, paranoid, sleepless, anxious, and always on edge. The slightest thing might set me off… some small detail that might be out of place would send me into a spiral of twisted thinking and paradoxical conclusions. I was firmly convinced that my timeline was constantly shifting. Nothing was sure. I’d wake each morning in a start, almost a panic. How did I get like this? I couldn’t exactly blame Fynn. All he did was talk. And all I did was listen.
Frank was sporting an Oakland A’s cap as of late. I guess there was nothing weird about that, really. But why do I keep thinking that our sales rep is named Jo-Anne and not Lucinda? I had the lingering memory of a dark girl, super cute, not Lucinda. We went from Jo to Lu in a single day. Lucinda almost seemed like a foreigner to me, though a foreigner I knew. She had short brown hair, and to call her plain would be a kindness; she was this side of bitchy and not at all likable. Yet, she seemed to know me intimately, or acted that way. And, honestly, I don't know how she did it, how she even worked at the
. Lucinda was not pretty, she was not charming, not even personable, but somehow, one way or another, she got the advertisers to advertise. I guess it helped that she got along with Eleanor famously. They were always laughing together about something. And I will admit there was something sad about her, like she was perpetually lost and somewhat confused.
Perfect Melissa seemed pretty much the same as usual, Eleanor too. Amy behaved a little less prickly and a lot more touchy-feely. Walking into the studio now was almost like walking into her boudoir. Jason and Joey were also hanging around in there lately. Rumor had it she was giving free tours of her tattoos.
And Evan James, our stringer? I could never find him when I needed him. He never picked up when I called, yet somehow he would always turn up at exactly the right time. It was weird. And then he’d just stare at me with that one eye...
I went to the break room for a cup of coffee. Of course it was up to me to make some. No filters, no sugar, no half-and-half. It was almost the perfect storm. I wondered how black coffee might taste and then realized we were even out of that.
“There’s decaf, oh… but it’s hazelnut,” Lucinda said and breezed by with a tupperware container of unidentifiable salad.
What’s the point? I thought, and gave up entirely. I headed out to Christie’s Deli for a real cup and a sandwich.
“Joey, how does a half-Italian, half-Korean guy from Indiana end up in Sand City?”
“Ohio, you mean.”
“My mom retired here and bought a house… I moved in after college. How about you?”
“Me? Well, um…” I couldn’t actually remember. “It’s a long story…” I said and paused. “You live with your mom?”
“Yup, we got a place in the Village.”
“He died about ten years ago.”
“Oh, sorry… a tough thing to go through.” I paused again. “How did your parents meet?”
“Traveling in Australia.”
“So, you’re Australian?”
“No, I was born in Cleveland. They both went to Case… engineering majors.”
I still didn’t know what to imagine, a little Asian lady or a little Italian one. But working with Joey on the Treasure Hunt actually became a fun project. It was wonderfully normal and predictable, and I craved normalcy as of late. We worked feverishly, spent many nights around my kitchen table researching shipwrecks and legendary pirates. Lots to work from. Apparently rounding North Point took quite a bit of seamanship, avoiding the shoals especially at night, was harder than it seemed. The ocean beaches were littered with old wrecks, well, just off shore at least.
Joey was a regular visitor now. We kept sullen Jason out of the loop, Amy too. I’d get a text and not long after, I’d hear the musical bounce on my staircase, then see his head pop up out of nowhere. And Joey took a special liking to my cat… it seemed mutual; they’d often enter through the sliders in tandem. The time flew by. We only had a month left to complete the whole project and get it to the printers. Our deadline: May 15.
In the end we came up with our own mythical pirate: Captain Barnaby Beaumont, one badass buccaneer known for plundering and looting every colony from here to the Caribbean… and completely fictional. It better suited our purposes and gave us a lot more flexibility when it came to making clues. The real pirates, the local legends would make great red herrings though. Everybody would be chasing them down first and futilely… they’d all be dead ends. Joey saw to that.