“Afternoon Joe. I was wondering if you were going to show up.”
“Sorry, is the time viewer still available?”
“Sure thing, let’s go.”
This wrinkled old man followed me as he always did, week in week out to the time viewer room. He spends a couple of hours watching these videos of famous people and events. I think he might be the biggest history buff I have ever met during my time here in the library. Politicians, war heroes, authors, revolutionaries; you name it he wants to see them in action.
The time viewer is one of the most important, yet controversial pieces of technology ever let loose on the general public in recent history. Even though the name suggests some sort of pulling back the veil of time, it really is just a networked video system that references a collection of videos that a small group of time travelers made that have been approved by a panel of know-it-alls for public consumption. They created a series of specific collections that could be used to pinpoint historically relevant, yet safe for family viewing events.
“So what magic numbers are you pulling out of that notebook today? Moon landing? Mars landing? Plymouth Rock landing?”
He barely looked up from his notebook. “mm.. Oh, no something a little more closer to home”
This is a little odd, as Joe usually plays along with my little game. Not today though. He also never asks for current events stuff like the other patrons, but always has specific time codes to look at. He carries a little red notebook that he always rattle off codes from. It isn’t like the codes are any secret, but most of my patrons came up and ask for stuff instead of looking it up on their own. In fact, a quarter of the requests last week were “Could you help me figure out what happened after I blacked out at the bar last time?”
I open up the door to the viewing room with my usual flourish that usually brings a little grin to my patrons, Joe included. “Here you go – best seat in the house, as always. What’s the adventure today?”
“56.alpha. 098” he recites from his red notebook.
“That’s not a timecode, Joe”.
“I know, just type that in please”.
“OK, you dig out some sort of Easter egg or something?”
“Yeah, something like that.”
After typing in the code, the console springs up a message block reading “Override code accepted”
“Uh Joe, Where’d you get that”
“Please, just bear with me. This is very important and we don’t have much time. Here’s the time code I would like to see today”
“I don’t know, this seems a little weird.”
“Please just this one thing.”
“I’m not …”
“Forgive me, but if you won’t please step aside so I can. I need to get this code inputted within the next minute.”
“I’m having no part of this”, I say as I walked away from the control panel.
Joe quickly steps in and types in the code from his red notebook. The viewer turns on and starts showing a scene in a hospital. It is a maternity ward, and the camera is focused on one baby in general. Instead of following one scene for a while, now it jumped forward. It seems to be a video montage of this girl growing up, catching five minutes of an event here and an event there. This girl’s completely ordinary life running in front of me.
“Joe, what is this? Or who is this?”
Joe sat at the control panel with tears running down his face and didn’t answer me.
The girl in the viewer now returned to the hospital, but is now a young woman. She is hooked up to instruments and tubes, looking like some sort of medical drama. She looks up and sees the camera.
“Daddy?” the woman asks in a weak voice.
“That’s right kiddo.”
That’s Joe’s voice in the video!
“What’s going on? Why do you look so old?”
“Never mind that, I just had to see you.”
At this, the camera moved rapidly off to the side. He must have set the camera on a table or something as a younger Joe comes on camera walking toward the hospital bed.
“I just needed to come back and say I love you. I’m sorry I wasn’t there before.”
“I don’t understand… but I’m so glad to see you. I wish I wasn’t so tired and we could talk.”
“Just rest.” Joe places his hand on her cheek and she holds it there. “I love you.”
“love .. you ….”
His daughter goes limp, peacefully in contrast to the sudden alarms coming from the various monitors in the room. Joe turns around and the pain in face is apparent as he walks to the camera. The Joe in the room shares that expression of pain and loss.
“Joe – what did … how?”
“I was one of the first chrononauts. I spent so much of time in other people’s pasts that I missed much of my own family’s present. Then my daughter got into an accident and…” He waved helplessly at the screen in lieu of speaking about it.
“I finally worked past all the safeguards and went back to see my daughter, to see her alive. I bounced through her life getting pieces of her life, so I wouldn’t forget.”
“I got caught, I spent some time in prison. You may think that’s nothing, but when I was used to being anywhere at anytime and then have that taken away – that was a lifetime. And all I could do was sit there and look forward to seeing my daughter again.”
“Now. I’m not sure if it was worth it. I gave up present to live in the past, and then I gave up my future to try to compensate.”
As he walks past me, Joe hands me his red notebook. “Here. I won’t be using this anymore.”
Scott Michael Childers is a librarian, author and presenter. You can get links to his publishing, presentations, and more information at http://www.scottmichaelchilders.com.