The phenomenon only lasted long enough to get a short message through, but unpacking the implications of the response will take far longer. The science of radiometry behind the capacity to send information across space—and thus, by definition, through time—isn’t what I want to focus on here; as a scientist, there will be many opportunities to try and replicate the process and publish on the results. As a human being, however, and as a parent with a liberal sensibility that includes concern for the future, I am mostly preoccupied with the reply. My query is as follows, and below is what I received back:
To whomever receives this transmission: I am a scientist living in the year 2017 and have found a way to open a “pinhole” through time by which to send a message. I know this may sound unbelievable, but I’m hoping that anyone capable of receiving it in your time would have sufficient knowledge to understand. I can only offer as proof the internal logic of my message to you, which is one of deep concern. Our world is beset by violence and conflict, and our environment is rapidly destabilizing. Our political systems grow more venal each day, and the culture is plagued by shallow media and poor education. I know this sounds grim, but I am hoping that from your vantage point in the future, things look better. If you receive this, please use the same wavelength to send a reply—promptly, as the portal will soon close…
“My friend, I will type quickly and without concern for precise language in order to offer you this response. I believe you. I remember those times, when I was a child but old enough to understand. Today, in 2072, we are still in some ways struggling with the same issues you mention. I am an engineer working in the central processing core for my region, tasked with monitoring all individual communications to ferret out any potential subversion. Your message came through on an obscure bandwidth, which I am the only who monitors since it is rarely used by only the eldest dissidents.
“I cannot say with assurance that my present will be your future, as many outcomes are possible, but I do recall a time much like the one you describe. There was great consternation about social problems, political machinations, and a degrading environment in terms of resources and the planet’s climate. I wish I could tell you that everything worked out fine, but that would not be quite accurate. I would actually say that things got much worse before they started to get better, and even then they never got back to where they were before the Unraveling. Yes, we named it that, and here’s the basic chronology:
“A small group of incredibly wealthy people (mostly men) took control of not only most of the world’s resources, but the media and education systems as well, and then the political processes in most of the world’s nations. They began to fan cultural prejudices across many divides, to promote nationalism and protectionist policies, to consolidate power by repressing dissent and suspending rights. Their signature technique, however, was a form of blatant dissembling that could not be challenged because they had declared, in essence, that facts didn’t matter or even exist. I remember my parents saying that this is how totalitarianism always operated, only at that moment there were more technologies to convey it.
“Things rapidly decayed. There were crackdowns and roundups in some places, and in other places people were utterly neglected and left in squalor. The level of social unrest was higher than it had ever been, until that fateful day when the attack came. It was so dramatic and jarring in its breadth, invoking a fear so widespread that many people were willing to latch onto any authority figure who promised to keep them safe. The fact that they had not previously been able to do so, or that they were notorious liars, was unimportant; people were scared. Soon after came the purges, the massive restrictions on movement, the ‘black holes’ where people would disappear, and martial law. And then came the wars.
“I know that time is short, so I will simply close by saying that things continued in this bleak manner for many years—decades, in fact. About twenty years ago, from my perspective, things began to stabilize again but only insofar as most of the ‘defective’ and dissenting elements had been purged by then, and those of us who remained were overwhelmingly willing to accept any system that brought even a measure of order and clarity. After so many years of rampant and terrifying change, people gladly opted for the structured sterility of the world in which I find myself today. Yes, a few of us—mostly old-timers—maintain a critical view, but we do not share it widely. I am grateful to have done so with you…”
At that point the message cut off, fortuitously I suppose. It was extremely painful to receive and read this tale of despair and drudgery. I suppose there is at least a silver lining in that it appears humanity found a way to survive, but at what cost? The purging of vulnerable segments of the population, the brutal eradication of dissenting views, the lockstep control of austerity and technology. A future of this sort is chilling, to say the least. But the most unsettling aspect of my experience in opening the portal, however briefly, wasn’t merely about the description of this possible dark future. No, it was even more basic than that, coming in the final line of the cryptic reply. It was signed by a familiar name: my son’s…
Lemar Starland, looking for a better connection