All posts by Aditya Bidikar

Engineer (Part 1)

The essential thing to understand about time travel is its dependent relationship with perception. That’s the trick. Once you understand how that works, the actual travel* is a doddle.

* This, by the way, is a placeholder word, and always has been. What actually happens** is to travel what a Picasso piece is to a Raphael – that is, both use paint.

** Another placeholder word.

The way time travel works for an individual is precisely the way she/he/it expects it to. If you believe in the immutability of history, history remains static. If this doesn’t matter to you all that much, and you mess around a bit***, history reflows around the mud island you created, and basically goes back to normal, incorporating whatever event you caused. Other time travellers may or may not remember what you did, depending on your opinion on this particular conundrum.

*** Not too much. History has ways of fixing that, which might or might not be intentional on its part. They are generally quite cruel ways, however, and you’d be well-advised to keep out of dark alleys for a while.

So no one quite knew what would happen when a young male alien, barely post-puberty (or what passes for it in his species), created an unexpected device, quite by accident. We know it was a time machine. He did not. His culture didn’t have a concept of time.

From what we understand, this culture literally lived in the moment. What one could hear, see, feel now was the only true thing. One carried around pheromones that communicated to the next person your perception of yourself. That was the extent of familiarity. No one remembered anyone else. They took you at your word.

This lack of a memory led to them not being a particularly advanced culture. They had language, of a sort, and they built things. But the word ‘technology’ can’t quite be used for any of these things. To even call them a culture is pushing it, but etiquette demands we do. It would likely be more helpful if you thought of them as sentient goldfish.

The nameless teenager (for lack of a better word) had found a crashed timeship on his farm, with a dead pilot at its helm. This teenager was an anomaly. Psychosomatically, he was not that different from his brethren. But the crash changed him very slightly.

The timeship was designed to send out a lament when it crashed. This lament was designed to be translated into the language of whoever was listening. In this case, the ship sent out an odourless smell of ideas, data coded into an imperceptible perfume.**** This data, coming from within him, as far as Nameless was concerned, told him about new things, things like engineering and soldering and buttons. However, time, the machine presumably felt, was too well-known a concept to need to explain.

**** If we remember right, Steve Jobs, noted inventor of the 21st century, famed for creating the bubblegum machine, once experimented with perfume sprays to be used as computer storage devices. Problems arose when the hermetic seal of one of the prototypes broke, letting in outside air, and at the next boot-up, the computer demanded to be given a programmer who knew how to code caffeine in a way a computer understood it.

The Nameless (As Yet), soon to become the most celebrated and also the most reviled member of his species, built a laboratory around the timeship.

He called the laboratory Millicent.

Mildew

Back in the town where I lived before I moved here, there used to be a field near my house, down the street. It was a tiny field, and although as a small child I carried the impression that someone farmed there (fields = crops, simple enough), I later found out that it was simply what it was – a field.

I grew a bit older – around nine – and a couple of friends and I began to sneak into the field to play and to sit around. The field was guarded by an old watchman and his wife, who lived in a shack made of metal sheets in one corner of the field. At times he would see us and call out to us. We’d run away.

Later, my father, who knew him, was chatting with him one day and introduced me to him. Since, after that point, he came preapproved and was therefore not a Stranger, we felt much less hesitation playing in the field, and so we lost interest in it.

Some months after that, the old man died. The shack was left up, boarded shut, but no one lived there anymore. I would pass by, learning to ride my bike on the dirt road near it, returning home with grimy clothes and an even grimier, bruised face, but I never really looked at it again. I knew it was there. It was part of my mental landscape of home.

In the meantime, someone – either my mother or my sister – mentioned that someone who lived in a building near us would take women to this field in the middle of the night and beat them up. I wondered why. It was explained to me that this man and his wife were largely known (by whom, I have no idea) to be pimps, and their sons married women from villages who were brought to the city and sold off. I had a nightmare vision of these men thrashing and raping young, sad-faced women into submission while their parents watched in approval. I never found out the truth of these rumours, and later, I would tell myself that the family didn’t look like bad people.

Nonetheless, I lost my affection for the field, and would walk by without looking, as if noticing the field would mean a mute acknowledgement of horror and my inefficacy in doing anything about it.

The field became overgrown, the ownership board in front of it changed, then got replaced by a hoarding, and then there were more metal sheets, this time put up as a fence to hide the construction going on there. I noticed but didn’t look. By then, the dirt track had already become tarmac, turning our little street into a major road. And one day, now grown and walking home from college, I actually looked up while passing by the field, and saw that there was a finished building there, already occupied.

I didn’t like the fact that it was there. It had been my field once, after all. I cursed modernity’s efforts to build up and polish every open, imperfect thing I’d loved. First my dirt track, now my field. I walked away shaking my head.

Skin and Bones

It was early morning when I met the cannibal. I hadn’t slept for three days, and I was swaying as I walked. People moved away from me once in a while. Perhaps they thought I was returning from a bar somewhere shady. But in fact, I had simply stopped sleeping because of the dreams.

The cannibal was sitting on the pavement, munching on a bone of man. There was a puppy by his side, wagging its tail frantically whenever the cannibal looked at it, and jumping onto any morsels he threw it. He was a homeless cannibal, I could see.

The cannibal bid me sit down, and I did, beside a puddle of old vomit. He offered me the bone of man. It had precious little meat on it, and he looked like he needed it more than me. But I took a dainty bite anyway. I didn’t want to be rude.

For a while, I sat next to the cannibal and I played with the puppy. It kept fading in and out, and I tried to concentrate by blinking life into dry eyes. What moisture there had been was already squeezed out. The puppy licked my nose. It helped, a little.

When the cannibal was done, he threw the bone onto the pavement and got up. The puppy forgot all about me and about him and picked up the bone and left with its tail in the air.

The cannibal wiped his hand on his musty, smelly coat, and then he offered me the other hand. I took it. We walked in the rising sunlight, its tender caress interrupted by cloudless jabbing, and the cannibal led me under the skin of the world to prepare for his dinner.

You and Witch-Country’s Army

Fighting words, indeed. That’s what they use. Words swung like hammers – cutting little bits out of words that form us, leaving a house of letters that crumbles on movement.

That’s how they fight us. Nairobi, elbow, concatenation, even biscuit. The sound is what matters. Sound above meaning. You think they cackle, wear black, wear warts.

Chilling. It’s creepy to see a huge ground troop of them, silent but for their fighting words. They never even twitch. Gliding over the minefields.

Sinusitis. Compunction. Porcupine. Turning matter into other matter. Light into sound. I am dispersed over the battlefield, observing, only existing in one witch’s mind anymore. The word used was think.

The Way-Back Machine

For the Aymara tribe, who lived somewhere in the Andes back in the 21st century, time was linear – the past was forwards, because you could see it, couldn’t you? And the future was obviously behind you. On your back, falling through time, more and more became visible.

When nostalgia for that area of time resurged in the 23rd century, a group of what would have once been called cultists formed the Aymara commune and bought a planet for the purpose.

By the 25th century, the planetary culture had been looking deeper and deeper (or higher and higher, depending on how you see it) into this way of experiencing time. Inevitably, when it came to building their first time machine, they built it to go back into the future, so for anyone who knew more, the vista in front grew bigger; they had more power. The past was always there, and if you wanted to look into it, there were already too many ways of doing it. It wasn’t interesting.

The contraption itself (the first of its kind, I mean – later ones were comparatively sophisticated) was made chiefly out of several belt-and-pulley systems. The traveller – or the rememberer, to use the term the Aymara preferred, to indicate the main purpose of remembering more than anyone else – would be tied up in a girdle, which would be violently pulled into the sky to the height of around 1000 feet at a great speed, and through a large hoop which formed the main travel mechanism, to literally be flung back in time. The first few travellers, it turned out later, died on arrival, mainly because when you arrive in the future, 1000 feet above the ground, with only the clothes on your back for company, it’s difficult to know what to do. Modifications were made later to allow for parachutes.

Diamonds & Gold

At 10 p.m., I started to miss my cellphone. I knew where it was. It lay in the second drawer of the cabinet beside my part of the bed. It was under a sweater and a book. It had been turned off. I was now starting to get drunk.

At 11 p.m., a fight broke out. I had stopped counting how many drinks I’d had. This one guy (with half an eyebrow missing) clocked this other guy (wearing a winter cap), quite hard on his nose. The cap one then kneed the eyebrow-missing one in his crotch. The fight ended.

At midnight, I was properly drunk, and my hand was itching, kept going to my pocket, where the void left by my phone made me feel slightly more naked. I wanted to check if you’d called. I have voicemail. I could sift through messages empty except for your breathing, listening to them over and over. But what would be the point of that?

At 1 a.m., the barman chucked me out. I was out of money, and still not as drunk as I’d like. I sat in the doorway of a school. I watched it rain, and I watched dogs with their fur made spiky by the water bounding about and falling over each other. I went out into the rain, and left my boots in a puddle.

At 2 a.m., I was at home. I was naked, and still my hand kept touching my hip. I lay in the dark room, staring up at the ceiling. I traced your body in the cracks. I fell asleep with the ghost of your breath on my neck, and my heart aching as if your hand was on my chest. The phone was still off. I didn’t want to know.

Nirvana Is a Tool

Nirvana1 is2 a3 tool4. Love5 keeps6 us7 alive8.

1 – I have a replica of Kurt Cobain’s head on my desk, realistic down to the through-and-through gunshot wound. Limited edition, signed by Courtney Love. I saw her on tv yesterday, and she still looks so sad about his death.

2 – I created a 3D model of myself. Then I took apart every bit of this facsimile body and, removing the duplicates (eyes, arms etc.), I overlaid the rest onto each other and simplified this structure to its simplest form and stylised it into a 2D symbol. This symbol I got tattooed on my arm, and I scratched it onto places that have a personal significance to me. This is my sigil. My heart is not in my body. It is on my arm, and on a hundred other things. And when I die, I’ll spring forth from all of them and live a hundred and one more lives.

3 – In 1976, Dr. Steinarsch wrote a treatise about the word ‘a’. It was called ‘a’. Now, Dr. Steinarsch is in the hospital. Apparently the curve of the upper arc of his own personal ‘a’ is all that’s keeping him alive. His nephew wants to steal it for himself and sell it for drugs, but the black market would never touch the Steinarsch ‘a’. That’d be blasphemy. All the ‘a’s used in this piece have been used by permission of their respective owners and have been recreated from photographs of the originals.

4 – My friend Raj is a rat bastard. He liked to tie us down, prop our eyes open with specula and make us watch while he dissected and ate his pets. His parents couldn’t stop him. One of them was used a bucket to drain the blood into, and the other was used as a toilet.

5 – Once I jerked off onto a woman’s head and it exploded. She’s lying on my bed now, calling me back to fuck the wreckage of her neck.

6 – I have a rich friend who has bunkers under his mansion in case the Nuclear Holocaust happens soon. I once went to brown-nose him on the off chance I needed shelter. He lives in his private bunker. He worships his pet rabbit, which sits on a throne made of car doors. There are servants pouring fragrant oils onto the rabbit. The rabbit has been dead for quite a while. My friend stripped naked and knelt in front of his god and began to carve furrows into his chest and legs. The servants chanted erotic rhymes while they massaged his body. I really hope the holocaust doesn’t happen, or I’m fucked.

7 – It’s just you and me against the world, mate. You and me and this can of extra strong beer. But if you’re asking me to choose between you two …

8 – Before he was elected, the President of the World said a change was required. That was the operative word – Change. Now I sit here, scratching my testicles (from a bull), looking at my screen (one eye from a goat, the other from a fish), typing this (with my plastic fingers), while my tail (from a horse) keeps the flies (I swear I saw one with a human nose) away.

Warning: Contains Nuts

E was a smooth-talker, obviously. It takes a lot to convince the government that the best way to handle politicians is to put them in a zoo.

E transformed them all into chimpanzees and had them put in nice airy cages named after the parties they belonged to. The commissioner and E would inspect the cages once in a [irrelevant] to check that the politicians were cared for. Feeding of bananas was prohibited.

Some times (because time is relative), E would take the politicians on a world tour on the back of his big flying hummingbird. Some of them would fall off because of the wind, but by the time E got the rest of them back, there would be a few more occupants in the cages. Good turnover.

The politicians usually didn’t fornicate. E had kept a banana dangling from a string in the middle of each cage, and a few crates to help the apes reach it. The banana would cower on its string, frightened of all the screeching, while the politicians would pass bits of paper around to see who got the job of getting the banana. The banana lived in intense fright, but at least it lived ever after.

Travel Time

From outside, it looks like suspended animation, but what it is is frozen time. The spaceship works by feeding off the time inside it, so when, a few hundred years from now, the spaceship reaches its destination, not only will the crew be just as young, they won’t have lived at all.

The technology was developed by a couple of scientists from this club which got its subsidy from an eccentric billionaire. They started out to modify basic time travel algorithms to introduce movement, but for the contents to move, the entire machine needed to move. Whether it’s a bug or a feature depends on the spin you put on it.

For example, the first time machine resulted from a failed experiment to use friction in the fifth cardinal direction to heat coffee.

Command Zero

In the year 2150, it is a crime to be odd. Command Zero, a facility on a remote (artificial) island in the Indian Ocean, has been built to house the oddest of the lot.

There is a chicken who is a stand-up comedian and needs a psychotherapist. There is the woman with the head of a turnip who shits solid gold furniture every morning. There is the potato with a family. In the room beside him, there’s a piano who plays a pianist.

And there’s the man designated prisoners 7-14. He is kept in a cell made entirely of bulletproof glass. Every morning, a gun appears in his hand. He smiles at the warden, and he points the gun at the warden and shoots. Invariably, the bullet bounces off the glass and hits the man. The man dies. The body is thrown outside the facility, on a garbage heap designated Exhibits 7-14. Half an hour later, there is another man in the cell, who wakes up and walks around and is happy for a day. He talks, but never about his condition. He is eight different men with the same memories. And then the next morning, the gun returns.

Outside, on the garbage heap, every morning, eight crows fly down from thin air and feast on the new body’s flesh. If you look closely enough, you can see prisoners 7-14 in them. In 2150, choice is not an option.