a tale in weekly parts
“There’s another one,” Jarvis said.
“Another what?” Xander asked.
“Another Traffic Warbot. There’s one each side of us and they’re raising their weapons. Hold on, we’re off.”
Jarvis, and all aboard him, phased out. At that moment, the two warbots raised their weapons and fired with a level of unplanned coordination that would have guaranteed them a place in the Olympic synchronised shooting team – if the Olympic Games had been held on Inevitabilia, if synchronised shooting had been an Olympic sport, and if robots had been permitted to take part.
They vaporised each other, disintegrating with a level of unplanned coordination that would have guaranteed them a place in… well, you know what I mean, don’t you? Impressive, it was. Very impressive.
“That was close, lovely,” Albert said, “I thought we were goners for a minute there.”
“Me too, sweet cheeks; me, too.”
“Sorry to interrupt your love-in,” Kr’veth’neq’is said, “but; right now; we are, like, where? When?”
“Kr’veth’neq’is, you are so impatient and impetuous,” Jarvis said, “I’ve a good mind to make a few adjustments to you in your next sleep cycle.”
“Yeah; good luck with trying that,” she replied, “you don’t want to see me when I get mad. You have no idea what I’m likely to do, or even what I’m capable of doing.”
“Do I have to remind you that we made you what you are? We know exactly what you are capable of.”
“Calm down, Sis,” Xander counselled. “And you,” he said, turning to Albert, “stop winding her up.”
“You and Jarvis are one. Didn’t you say that? What he does, you do, and vice versa. Stop winding her up.”
Jarvis responded by opening the door, allowing Xander and Kr’veth’neq’is to see their surroundings.
“Where is this?” Xander asked. “It looks like Beijing or Paris at the time of bad pollution; like London in the early 1950s; like Los Angeles during an inversion.”
“This,” Albert replied, “is the capital of Inevitabilia before what they call the fourth industrial revolution, which started with the first bio-hardware fusion. The alternative to that was a retreat into the agrarian life that preceded the first industrial revolution; and that just wasn’t possible. There is not enough land on the planet to produce the food needed to sustain the population, using pre-mechanised farming methods. Pioneers from this time-line crossed to the one we just left, saw what could be done; what needed to be done; and set about replicating the technologies.”
“Did they have to reinvent everything? Couldn’t they just bring stuff across time-lines?”
“That’s not how it works, Lad. Haven’t you noticed that the clothes you are wearing now aren’t the same as what you had on before?”
“No, but now you mention it…”
“When you cross time-lines on Inevitabilia,” Albert explained, “all you can carry is what is inside you. That allows your bitek enhancements to work in this earlier time. Travellers from the future can bring their knowledge with them, but only what’s in their heads. Whatever they need, they have to build in this time-line. To do that, they need to develop, from scratch, the means to make it all. Were it otherwise, all the time-lines would merge, bringing an end to Inevitabilia as it is.”
“Would that be such a bad thing?”
“Petra Thoroughgood obviously thought so, and we agree with her. Each time-line holds a distinct civilisation, one that must be allowed to develop naturally.”
“Even if it ends up destroying itself?”
“Even if it ends up destroying itself.”
Kr’veth’neq’is’s brow was furrowed like a badly ploughed field. “That sounds a bit arbitrary,” she said, “wouldn’t you step in and stop a civilisation wiping itself out?”
“Probably, we would,” Jarvis said, “but Albert’s point, and I agree completely, is that we shouldn’t.”
“I have a question,” Xander said. “Why don’t all the Inevitabilians in the earlier, less advanced time-lines, like this one, simply cross into a better time?”
“What sort of stupid—” Jarvis stared to say.
“I’ll deal with this,” Albert interrupted. “Xander. Have you heard of the Bootstrap Paradox in relation to time travel?”
“I don’t think so,” Xander replied.
“That’s bunkum,” Jarvis ejaculated.
“Is it?” Albert asked, “When were we created?”
“We were… We… That information is not available at this time.”
“It’s not available because of the Bootstrap Paradox,” Albert said, “We went way back in time and started growing us from parts we took from the distant future. That,” he said, turning to face Xander, “is classic Bootstrap Paradox. The risk of the same person existing many times in a single time-line is a variation on that. There’s the population issue, as well; both of too many people in an advanced time-line, and of too few in an earlier one. To prevent those risks, Inevitabilians can only spend short periods in a time-line other than their own. After a couple of days, they start to experience severe anxiety symptoms that are only relieved by returning to their own time-line.”
“That’s a neat solution,” Xander said.
“Checks and balances, dear Boy,” Jarvis said, haughtily, “checks and balances. Even on a complex world like Inevitabilia.”
“Will we be affected by this anxiety?” Kr’veth’neq’is asked.
“We aren’t Inevitabilian, so we don’t have that gene,” Albert replied.
“So we can stay here as long as we want?”
“How long do you want to stay here?” Jarvis asked.
“What time is it now?” Kr’veth’neq’is asked, symbolically looking at her wrist.