Small Bug, Big Problem

Who does not want to go back to the past to uncover mysteries, try to change History’s terrible facts, fix some personal problems and, why not, buy that lottery ticket we just learned drawn yesterday?

I also would like to swindle the Time, but I recognize there are two problems, one huge and another very small.

To begin with, there is the considerable challenge of building a machine capable of conquering the folds of Time and traveling faster than the speed of light. In simple words, there is no such technology available yet. However, assuming I would have such device ready for me to step in, there are other prosaic difficulties, often disregarded, like the language barrier, the proper attire and money, all to let me fit in the place and epoch. Can you imagine visiting China from 500 years ago without talking a single word in Mandarin? (There are around 200 distinct dialects there, most of them not related to each other). As per clothing and money, you could, well, “find” something right there, at the side of the road (no, I am not suggesting to resort to stealing: first, because it is illegal; second, because you are interfering with the past). In movies, it is so easy as every single person incredibly speaks English, in any place of the world, in any time of the presence of people in the world!

If these issues were not enough, there is something rarely discussed: time travel does not mean space travel all at once. In other words, if I walk in a time machine at home to go back 100 years in time, I am still circumscribed to the physical space of my house as stated by H. G. Wells[1] in the classic The Time Machine.

A couple of scenarios to illustrate my point.

Assuming there was a river there, I would probably be drawn myself upon my arrival, sink my machine and be trapped forever in the past, if I somehow survive.

It is not difficult to imagine thick forests covering America 2,000 years ago, being my place no exception. How could I go through thousands of kilometers of jungle, cross the Atlantic, travel through Europe or Africa to finally arrive at the Holy Land on time to witness a moment in Christ’s life? Unless, of course, I would backpack my discrete time machine everywhere before jumping to the past.

Again, still assuming I could get over these problems, who would believe I honestly went through such an odyssey? To prove it, I would have to bring something back. Pictures, who believes in pictures these days with all the manipulation tricks?

Comes in the little problem I mentioned in the beginning: in fact, a butterfly. I am talking about The Butterfly Effect or The Chaos Theory by Edward Lorenz[2], a meteorologist saying, in 1961, “Does the flap of a butterfly’s wings in Brazil set off a tornado in Texas?”. Ray Bradbury[3] built a clever situation in his science fiction short story named A Sound of Thunder, in which he explained why you should not change the past, once known the future, because the consequences could be disastrous.

Undoubtedly, this rosary of roadblocks made me leave the idea of time traveling aside but left me an interesting thought though: to take pictures of the past, just like finding an old picture in a forgotten box. As far as I know, photos do not “wear out” the subjects being photographed, which means I would not be altering anything back there. Being a photographer and a writer, I would always have rich and fresh material for all occasions. I would easily guarantee success, fame and money, as long as I would keep my mouth shut and would be discrete in not publishing anything notoriously known.

However, how to take a picture of the past without going there?

This question bothered me a lot until I remembered I had a Chronovisor[4], the strange machine invented by Father Pellegrino Ernetti, that I bought in a small antique shop in Venice. The clerk told me the thing was idiotic, didn’t work and almost gave it away for me. It was forgotten in my basement for better days and the day had arrived. After some hard work researching about the father and his work, it took me a while modernizing it with the current electronics, Internet, high-resolution monitors and computer. Finally, the first image showed up, then one more and one more…

If you do not know what a Chronovisor is, the explanation is quite simple although, for obvious reasons, I cannot reveal its details. Similar to the Akashic Records'[5] concept, the chronovisor captures the light emanated from happenings to create an image on a sensor with the same principle of digital cameras. I just need to introduce the coordinates of the Time and Space I want to investigate, press a button and I get a picture of that place at that time. My pictures are not as good as I wanted because my Chronovisor is a lightweight one, powered by an outlet at home; but if I build one fed by half of a power station, I would get perfect images in high resolution. However, then, the bill would be probably a lot higher than my neighbors, which would call some unwanted attention.

About these pictures: This is what happens with the Future when time travelers mess up with the Past.

I started my work. A picture from Japan at the beginning of the last century became a photography article with moderate repercussion. Another, taken in one of the Columbus’ ships, got a writing make-up impressing a few critics. Slowly, my success built up and my official explanation to all was “my imagination and many skills in Photoshop.” Some critics even doubted my overpowered creativity, but nobody was able to prove anything as I meticulously took the precaution of not publishing anything relevant to any living beings.

One day, I decided to find out who was the mysterious woman called Babushka Lady shown in some pictures during Kennedy’s[6] assassination in Dallas. I set my chronovisor to face her and shot some pictures. What I saw rendered me frightened. She was not known to me, but, contrary to the general belief, she was not taking any pictures; instead, she was talking on a modern walkie-talkie with markings from a current vendor, which meant she was… a passenger of time! I took several pictures in sequence, like a movie, and noticed she was saying “Now!” in two distinct moments, precisely before each shot hitting Kennedy. Therefore, she was guiding whoever was or were the shooters from a distance.

I was shocked! Was someone traveling in time to kill Kennedy? Why? Was Kennedy going to do something terrible and someone decided to stop him? Impossible to know it now and I conclude that History, as we know it, is no longer the History we should have experienced. I am wondering what else has been modified without us knowing the real facts?

So, Time Travel was not only possible, but it was happening, with the future being changed and right in front of my nose! I thought I was cautiously peering through the folds of the past without leaving any tracks, but some people were manipulating it! Moreover, I had the proof of it!

I published a long and convoluted invention about it, hitting a big success, so much that the conspiracy theories about Kennedy’s assassination raised substantially in volume. I enjoyed people theorizing and talking this and that about it until I got a visit from a couple in their middle ages, whose woman I recognized being the one on the pictures. I was frozen to death! They were very brief in their words, not giving me much time to think.

“Like everybody, we were also enjoying your articles. We knew they were too good to be true and decided to investigate your tricks. We stayed silent and let you work as your publications were opening some doors for us too. However, with Kennedy, you went too far, and we do not want you eventually changing History. You are about to kill the Butterfly, Writer; you have no idea how serious this thing is, and you will not be able to handle this wave in the future. To avoid unpleasant annoyances to everybody, we offer you the chance to go back to Paris, in 1847, get acquainted with a young writer called Jules Gabriel Verne[7] and enrich his ideas about the future as distant dreams. Our team there will help you to settle down without changing anything there”.

They paused for a moment looking at me. I did not move a muscle.

“One more piece of information before you take the decision: we know the past in all its details; therefore, we can anticipate, with a very high degree of precision, how future is going to be; by changing the present, without affecting the past, we can shape the future. The Kennedy episode was a perfect example: our people at the time foresaw he was unconsciously concocting something of terrible consequences and decided to talk to him, the same way we are talking to you now. Unfortunately, to himself, he thought he was the future and did not want to listen to us. Long story short, we had to take action to avoid the worst and, given the complexity of the operation, we had to go back in time and help the guys there to perform a clean operation. The rest is just History.”

“Are you coming with us?”

Facing such convincing arguments, what would have you done?


[1] Herbert George Wells, English writer, mainly Science Fiction;

[2] Edward Lorenz, American meterologist;

[3] Ray Bradbury, American writer;

[4] Chronovisor;

[5] Akashic Records;

[6] President Kennedy assassination;

[7] Jules Gabriel Verne. French writer.