Sunday, April 6, 2008

Damned If You Do (pt. 2)

Jack turned into the entrance to the parking garage for PERSPECTIVES, his brother Bill's corporate headquarters. The overnight security guard shuffled momentarily, more out of surprise of seeing anyone come in at this hour as opposed to any particular interest in Jack's old ride. Jack mentally scrolled through a couple of responses, finally only half-seriously intoning "BILL wants me." The guard made a quick call up to the boss's office, and then wordlessly reached over to hit a button, the effects of which included letting him in and only temporarily distorting the signal beaming Two and a Half Men to his portable rabbit-eared television.

Jack knew his way around the office building. Though he'd only been there a couple of times, it was the kind of office laid out in such a way that you knew when you were headed in the general direction of the confines of the distinguished CEO and proprietor. It was only because their relationship had continued to be reasonably civil that Jack didn't completely bristle at the glossy displays on the wall heralding the journalistic documentation of his brother's success.

"Jackie, I want to show you something... come on back here to our development area. You want a drink or something? You look like you've been run over."

"Well it is after midnight, I was getting my beauty sleep, don't you know, Mr. Chairman", Jack responded.

Bill walked along quickly, quarter-turned towards Jack, who followed a few paces behind. "So, has Marissa gotten around to dumping you yet?" There wasn't much that could cause Jack to miss a beat but that had done it. He blinked a bit and stared at his brother. "Ahhh. Oops, sorry 'bout that. Fish in the sea, so forth. Anyway this will get your mind off figuring out who to blow your dinner money on."

With that he pushed open the door to a moderate-sized work area. Pristine white computer equipment filled the back third of the room, it looked rather like a medical device hotwired into an auto garage's diagnostics display, with a few random sets of wires thrown in for good measure. One section hadn't even had its cover replaced, and various green and black circuit boards were stacked vertically inside.

"Nice equipment," said Jack, "but I bet it still can't pick the winner of the third race at Pimlico."

Bill smiled. "No, probably not. That's not exactly what we had in mind for her, though. Actually to be frank, even I don't really know all the applications for what we've managed to put together here. You see..." Bill was about ready to launch into his speech when Jack's phone chimed indicating he'd received a text message. He pulled it out and took a quick glance.

"What's it say?" his brother asked.

"It just says 'PROOF'. It's from your office. Did you send this note to me?"

Bill half-grinned. "Not yet."

"What we've... what we've stumbled across here," Bill said, as if confessing a certain degree of success through sheer chance, "is a system that can send a text message to any capable receiver, not only anywhere in the world but at any TIME... present, future, or even past."

"Here... take a look at that message on your phone. What time was it sent?"

Jack said, "Supposedly about two minutes from now. Though I can't figure that out. Must be set wrong or something."

"Nothing's wrong with your phone," said Bill with a smile as he walked over to the operator's chair in front of the system's screen. "It's working just fine. And here... is... your.... PROOF." With that he typed the word in, put in some information, and sent the note to Jack's phone in the past.

Bill went onto explain to Jack that they originally set out to design a new system by which you could write a text message and send it at a later date instead of immediately. So when someone tells you their birthday is July 18th, you can program in to send them a text message of HAPPY BDAY at any time, and set it to send on that day rather than having to remember. He acknowledged it was an admittedly small idea, but then it was a string of those small ideas that had made him a small fortune in patents and product offerings.

Earlier that day, one of his newer engineers was "re-jiggering" the system when she noticed something odd... She mis-entered the date and mistakenly instructed the computer to send a note to the day before rather than 5 minutes later on the test phone by her side. He said she was even more confused when she looked at the test phone and saw it seemed to have received the message successfully the day before.

"I don't understand it entirely myself," said Bill, "but the best as I can figure... the entire computer network, all transmission of data is binary...."

"Ones and zeroes, ones and zeroes..." Jack interrupted.

"Yeah. Well, coordinates in time in the future are all ones and zeroes too, tomorrow's just another date to a machine. Somehow, it seems... in the entire continuum of things, yesterday was too."

"You tried to build a way to save messages to send them to the future, and accidentally stumbled across a way to send them to the past too." Jack summarized. Bill nodded once and smiled.

Jack took a moment to ponder the admittedly weighty idea. He was understandably skeptical. "I have to voice the obvious questions, of course..."

"You mean why don't we send a message back and prevent 9/11, or Pearl Harbor. Yeah. Well, first you need to have the target number you're going to send it to. You don't have the President's cell number on you, do you?" Jack turned up his palms in mock apology to acknowledge the joke. "There's also the pesky little notion of what you would say. 'Hi I'm from the future and I'm contacting you to tell you what evil's about to befall you.' Hmmph. Oh, and you have to do all that, believably, in 8 letters or less. It seems that's about all we can get through. I guess after that you're technically on to the next instant."

"If you're on the precipice of... a new era of unlocking access to the fourth dimension..." Jack began, choosing his words carefully.

"...then where is all the information from the future back in our history..." finished Bill. "I don't know. But then, who would? Edison had more than a thousand patents and no formal education to speak of. Shakespeare used thousands of words no one had ever seen or heard before. They told Edwin Drake he was crazy for drilling in the ground to find oil."

Jack smiled. "You've been rehearsing that last little bit, haven't you?"

"Well," his brother smirked, "I have to have my Nobel Prize speech ready. Anyway, I know whenever I'm standing on the precipice of et cetera et cetera blah blah, I could use a good stiff slug in me. Scotch?"

"Oh hell yes. Yes, yes, yes. Capital idea old chum." Jack responded.

"I'll get some, hang tight here." Bill said, and left the room.

Jack sat by himself in the room in the quiet office, alone with the hum of the machine and the glow from its display screen. Then it occurred to him what he had to do.

He walked over to the terminal, sat down, and promptly sent a message to himself a day before. It said, simply, "BET CFST".


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