a tale in weekly parts
(formerly Albert and Jarvis)
In episodes 1-88, Albert and Jarvis told the story of a bitek construct that had been in the lives of the Grahamson family for three generations. Appearing in the form of a shepherd's hut (Jarvis) and its elderly occupant (Albert), an earlier experiment had resulted in the birth of Aloysius, a non-manifesting human/bitek hybrid. Alice and Alex, the two children that Aloysius had fathered with his wife, Magdalen, displayed strong bitek capabilities from an early age, though Alice was significantly more precocious than her younger brother. Albert and Jarvis nurtured and enhanced these capabilities through many adventures until the point where, to prevent a global catastrophe, the two needed to act together. The action needed more power than the two possessed. To produce stonger hybrids, Alex's seed was used to produce a young in a distantly related hybrid female in another dimension, while Alice was impregnated using her own bitek components. Albert and Jarvis absented themselves from the lives of the Grahamsons to allow Alice's pregnancy to progress in a safe, normal environment.
You can see the full story so far at this link.
“That place is well weird”, Zak began.
“What place?” Al asked, “Where’ve you been?”
“Terra. You know, Granddad, where Zara lives. It’s a planet a lot like Earth, way out in the eighth dimension. Time there is… how can I describe it, Mum?”
“Weird works for me, Zak,” Alice said.
“I remember Alex telling us about a planet where time is all jumbled up,” Madge said, “Is that the place?”
“Yes, Grandma. They talk funny, too.”
“How do you mean?”
“Well, as time is… different there, they use strange words; things like ‘we’ll haven not being expected you’.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Time is fluid, Mum,” Alex explained, “they have to use verb forms that allow for every possible combination of past, present and future, with the conditional, subjunctive and other moods liberally stirred in.”
“Sounds… what’s the word?”
“Tell Grandma and Grandpa what happened there, Zak,” Alex said.
Okay. Well. As soon as we got into Jarvis, Albert put me, Mum and Alex into a deep sleep. The journey to dimension eight takes almost a month in our terms and we’d all be bored to tears in that time. So we slept through the journey.
I was having one of my stranger dreams, when I kind of heard Jarvis’s voice in the distance announcing, “We’ve arrived.”
I opened my eyes and saw Mum and Alex jump up from their travel couches, which kind of ceased to be as soon as they did. I was a bit drowsy and didn’t really cotton on to what was going on, so I just laid there until my couch dematerialised too. I ended up on my back on the deck. It’s a good thing Jarvis has a softish floor or it might have hurt more than it did. Albert picked me up.
“Are we nearly there yet?” I asked with a grin.
“Better than that, lad. We’ve arrived.”
Straight away I was wide awake and excited. “Does that mean I get to meet Zara?”
“Of course,” Mum said, “but first, we have to find her and her mum.”
“Don’t you know where they live?” I asked.
“We know where they are, Zak,” Alex told me, “but we don’t know when they are.”
“Yeah. Tell me again how time works here.”
“This is going to be hard,” Mum said.
Albert pitched in, “May I?”
“Okay. The first thing you have to do, Zak, is to let go of what you know about the nature of space and time. Forget just about everything Einstein said about relativity and imagine that quantum mechanics is all there is.”
“So… treat time like Schroedinger’s Cat?”
“That’s not a bad analogy. Essentially, now is the only reality.”
“So they have no concept of past or future?”
“They do, but not the way we understand it. You see, every other dimension experiences time as linear: everything has a beginning and an end. The past has happened; it’s done with. The future hasn’t arrived and is uncertain. And the present is defined in terms of what came before and what is to come.”
“So, how does it work here?”
“It’s impossible to explain in terms that will make sense to you. Think of time as being like a fruitcake. The cake is made up of flour, eggs, butter, spices, fruit, nuts and so on, but what you taste is cake.”
“But we can still taste the fruits and the nuts, and sometimes we can make out the presence of some spices, even if we can’t actually taste them.”
“Good. Now think of time as a cake whose ingredients are past, present and future.”
“I think I see it, Albert. Wow. How am I supposed to get my head around that?”
“Don’t even try,” Alex said, “you don’t need to understand it, just experience it. I think he’s ready, Albert.”
“So do I,” Albert said. “Okay, Open the pod bay door, Jarvis.”
“I’m sorry, Albert,” Jarvis replied, “I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
“What’s the problem?”
“I think you know what the problem is just as well as I do.”
“What are you talking about, J?”
“This mission is too important for me to allow you to jeopardise it.”
“Okay, a-ha-ha. So you know the script for 2001: A Space Odyssey,” Mum said, laughing, “are we going out or what?”
Jarvis opened the door and we walked out into a sunny market scene. Standing directly in front of us were three people: a man who wouldn’t be out of place in a Fred Flintstone movie, a girl of about my age dressed like the pictures I’d seen of Queen Victoria in her later life, and a woman wearing a leotard that was such a riot of bright colours that I felt I needed sunglasses.
“Hey, nice threads, Babe,” Mum said to the woman who, incidentally, looked quite a lot like her.
“Greetings, Cousin Alice,” the woman said with a look of surprise, “we’ll haven not being expected you.”
“Sorry to come unannounced, Kris,” Albert said, “but young Zak was keen to meet you all. He had his tenth birthday recently.”
“You haven enhancen him?”
“I, too, had being improving,” Zara said.
“Well, Zak,” Alice said, taking my arm, “meet your second cousin, Zara. What do you have to say for yourself?”
“Phwoar,” I replied.
It seemed everyone was nonplussed by my reaction. “What?” Mum asked, “Where have you heard that word?”
“Read it in a book,” I said, “one of the leading characters, a man called Tarquin, says it every time he sees a pretty girl, so I thought it would be the right thing to say.”
“You think Zara is pretty then?” Aunty Kris asked.
“I should say. Ding Dong!”
“Did I say something bad?”
“No, Zak, not bad,” Alex said, “Although perhaps when she’s finished rolling on the floor laughing, your mum can talk to you about what’s appropriate and what’s not.”
“I’m sorry, everyone. I didn’t mean to offend anyone.”
“I’ll being not offenced,” Zara said, “I wouldern tooken it as a compliment.” She stepped forward and planted the lightest, most delicate of kisses on my cheek. I could have died of embarrassment on the spot, but if I had, I would have died happy.
“You two go off and play,” Albert said. “We grown-ups need to talk.” The five adults phased into Jarvis, leaving Zara and me to our own devices.
“Zara,” I said, as I eased my hand towards hers; an exploratory movement that was rewarded by her opening her hand and taking mine in it, ever so gently. She looked at me and started to speak at the same time I did. “You go first,” I said.
“What meant first?” she asked.
“Sorry. I mean you say what you want to say to me, then I’ll say what I wanted to say to you.”
She giggled. “You linearists useding some very strange words. I wasn’t understood ‘then’. How they worked?”
I explained, in broad-brush terms, the concepts of time as I understand it. I used as an analogy the ideas of single-processor, interrupt-driven sequential processing as representing linear time and multi-core, symmetric, event-driven processing as representing time as she understands it.
“I thunken I understooden,” she said, “but linear time had’ll been inefficient, no?”
“You’re right, it is. That’s why our best computer systems use massively parallel processing…”
The conversation continued for some time until the grown-ups reappeared and found us, hand in hand, our bodies touching from shoulder to knee.
“Looks like you two are getting on well,” Mum said.
“Yes Aunty Alice,” Zara replied, “Zak and I woulden had a baby boy.” Mum and Alex looked shocked. No-one else did.
“Not yet, Mum,” I said, “Zara is a wonderful girl, though, and I want us to be best friends. I’ll tell you all about it when we get home.” Zara blushed, dropped my hand and ran to her mum for a hug.
Later, we said our goodbyes and the grown-ups hugged and air-kissed like there was no tomorrow. Zara and I just looked at each other with an understanding that the others couldn’t discern, and wouldn’t have comprehended if they had.
We returned to Jarvis and settled into the travel couches to sleep during the long journey home. And that’s about it, really.
“Is that it?” Madge asked, “All that distance for such a short visit?”
“Not quite, Mum,” Alex said. He looked at Albert and asked, “Should we tell Mum and Dad what we agreed with Xander and Kris?” Albert tipped his head from side to side indicating consent.
“And while you’re at it, Lad,” Al said, “What’s with the bizarre clothes you’re all wearing?”
“Hold onto your seats,” Alex said, “this might sound…”
“Strange?” Madge suggested.
“That’ll do,” Alex agreed, “strange.”