The messenger swung off his heavily lathered horse, tethered him quickly to a nearby bush and rushed into the courtyard, shoving servants out of his way in his haste to get to the young prince.
Alexander and a small group of friends were dining on a meal of lamb, fish and barley cakes. The wine had been flowing freely, and with the early summer sun warming them as well, the Macedonians were content and a bit raucous.
"Listen to this," said Alexander.
His friends roared as the heir apparent to the throne cut a long, rattling fart.
At that inopportune moment, in what we know as the year 336 BC, the messenger brushed aside the last servant in his path, stood before Alexander and said, "Sire, your father has been assassinated at the celebration."
History doesn't record the prince's exact words, but roughly translated he said, "Shit! That certainly screws up this party." Then he paused. "I guess now it's my responsibility to go out and conquer the world."
* * * *
Habbel Bok stared thoughtfully at his monitor. The complexity of the problem intrigued him. For some years, Bok had been convinced that time was not only warped, but actually bent back upon itself in a constantly repeating pattern much like flights of stairs, doubling back time and again in a maximally effective use of space.
While there was nothing startling new in this theory, Bok's contention was that instead of walking the stairs to travel from one time frame to another, you could shoot the gaps between flights of time, thereby reducing the real time between frames. Depending on the length of any give time-flight of stairs, and its linear proximity to the next nearest time-flight, you might be able to travel from say 2000 to 1776 by passing through only two or three years of the space-time continuum.
He started to alter one of his equations, paused, lifted one cheek gently off his cushioned chair, and farted silently. Down the avenue from Bok's office, a skye terrier heard the silent fart and began howling.
Once again, Bok started typing but stopped, suddenly alert. It wasn't that he was unaware of the odor in the room. That was quite familiar and, frankly, not unpleasant, at least to Bok. An idea had seemed to flit across his mind; it was there, it was not. He expelled a little bit more gas, sighed and resumed typing.
But the thought persisted, elusive but insistent. He stared into space, trying to remember something he had once read. His eyes widened and fixed on the monitor. If time was a constant, existing then, now and always, every moment, then nothing was ever lost. The idea traced back to Guglielmo Marconi. No sound was ever truly lost; the wavelength flattened, but never altogether; there was always a slight ripple, extending forever.
Certainly sounds were never lost. Were odors?
If sounds could be traced to their origins, why not smells? After all, were gases not of unique molecular composition -- each gas, therefore, unique? Pursuing his logic one step further, Bok reasoned that each composite odor might have a unique marker, a code not unlike an individual's DNA.
If one could identify an odor with a particular individual -- and capture those gases expelled centuries and even millennia past -- the scientific data would be enormous, the historical base broadened and the smells of the past could be reproduced. With proper equipment, theorized Bok, it should be possible to capture and identify all the odors of history.
With a renewed sense of purpose, he turned his attention back to the monitor on which his equations for the space-time continuum theory were entered. Bok stood and leaned over the console, let out a series of tiny boomlets, and sat down again.
The odors of history. If he could devise a way to sample the smells of history, who knew where his research would lead. A smile crossed his face as the possibilities raced through his mind. He let out a long whistler, sighed contentedly and went to work.
Bok the theoretician gathered all of his prodigious mental powers and focused them on the problem he had posed. And it had all started because of one single solitary silent fart. The next logical step would be to test his theory on a highly limited basis.
In his excitement, Bok could hardly contain himself. He jumped up, knocking his chair over in the process, and farted loudly -- loud, but short, nothing sensational. He paced up and down in his office, stopping every moment or two to stare out the window deep in thought. Occasionally, he would scribble notes as he planned the initial stages of his project. Slowly, his plan came into focus.
First, he had to test the practicality of the theory. This seemed simple enough. He would set up air sampling stations in his office and home.
The one at home posed no problem. His wife and children would think he was off on another aberrational quest for useless information. Their gases would be invaluable in the pilot phase of the project since he would be able to trace any markers that he hoped would be present, at least among the members of his own family. If his children's farts had similar markers to his or those of his wife he could proceed on to more involved experiments.
Placing stations in the office complex would prove somewhat trickier. If anyone got wind of what he was doing, the integrity of the samples might be jeopardized. Bok, who was himself not above playing a practical joke or two, knew what could happen if his colleagues suspected what he was doing. The thought caused him to let a small bubble escape.
* * * *
He was right about his family. Grendel and the children paid only cursory attention to his activities. They had long ago become used to his peculiarities. And, besides, they had their own crazies.
Bok placed air sampling stations in each of the bathrooms, directly behind the toilet. A minicam was rigged to photograph the bathroom entrance whenever the light switch was flicked on. With the minicam and sampling station timers coordinated, Bok would know exactly who farted and when. He thought about nighttime emissions when he and the kids tended to leave the light off, but decided that the few farts lost would be insignificant in the first stages.
He had to find out if his theory was valid.
* * * *
Grendel Kitzelshnuffer was blessed with a gorgeous figure, a radiant personality and the name Grendel Kitzelshnuffer. "It was good enough for my father and his father before him and his father's father -- back to the first Kitzelshnuffer -- your great-great-16 times more great grandfather -- Obadiah Kitzelshnuffer. OK?"
"Don't, 'But daddy,' me. The name stays. You don't like the name, get married."
"No, 'But daddy.'"
"I'm only ten. I can't get married. And the kids tease me all the time."
"Turn the other cheek."
And it was that last pronouncement from her father that changed her life. Grendel discovered that she couldn't trade taunts with children named Smith and Jones. And she certainly couldn't threaten them with physical mayhem, so she learned to fart under controlled situations.
Sometime before her eleventh birthday, Grendel Kitzelshnuffer -- beautiful, bright Grendel Kitzelshnuffer-- farted every time her last name was mentioned. The doctor said it was a physical reaction to an emotional problem -- a release, as it were.
The doctor knew better than to suggest that her father change his name, and since anti-flatulents didn't work for Grendel [nor did she want them to], she continued to puff away whenever she was called Kitzelshnuffer.
Her mother was afraid she would frighten prospective suitors away, but Grendel was both beautiful and bright. And she was forthright enough to warn people not to use her last name. "I'm not embarrassed by my condition; it is an extremely effective deterrent."
Her teachers quickly began referring to her as "Grendel K." Her classmates, however, thought her reaction was hilarious, and repeatedly used her full last name until teachers started handing out punishments as a defensive measure. Everyone quickly adopted the name "Grendel K" when mothers discovered their children's clothing was retaining a decidedly unsavory aroma.
* * * *
While he was setting up the two air sampling stations at home, it occurred to Bok that it was society's loss that intellectual curiosity was largely a lost passion.
had spent his life wanting to know -- know about almost anything.
If his curiosity was piqued, he went to the computer and searched the
for information on the subject at hand. He was, admittedly,
It was not uncommon for him to stay at the computer until three or four
in the morning. If information existed, Bok would seek it out,
if it provided nothing but a sense of satisfaction; the glow was in
out on a quest and
This quest to decipher the essence of history needed a name. Bok thought about it for about a minute before settling on the quite appropriate Project Cyrano.
It's obvious to me, he thought, because I know what I'm doing. And until I have to involve others, let them wonder.
* * * *
“Habbie, what are those things you put in our bathrooms?” They were having a quiet breakfast together. The kids were still asleep, and these moments were rare.
Habbel tightened. Caught, he thought. How do I explain this?
“And don’t you think those cameras are just a bit much?
Bok barked out a sphincteral response.
“Forget it. Just tell me what you’re doing.”
So he told her.
“The cameras only catch the doorway on the way in?”
“It’s a digital photo. One picture as soon as the light is turned on and someone enters. That’s it, an ID. No sound. They’re just air samplers.”
“To catch our gas. A scientific project. I understand. You, my beloved, ought to attach one to your backside, along with a recording device. Maybe there’s a correlation between sound and gas molecule.”
He stared at his wife. “I never though of that.”
“Scientist. Study thyself. Another cup of coffee?”
“You’re lucky to have me.”
No response was necessary.
* * * *
One night, a few days after he had installed the air sampling stations at home, he waited until the office complex was relatively deserted. Except for security, there was no one working on his floor of the complex.
He carried a portable air sampling unit and a minicam in a cardboard carton to the men's bathroom. Bok unlocked the door, unscrewed a grille covering one of the exhaust fan outlets and placed the unit inside. He refastened the grille and returned to his office.
One more trip was necessary. He took another setup to the women's bathroom, looked around carefully to be certain no security guard was in the vicinity, then entered.
As he placed the unit he wondered, It'll be interesting to find out if there are any real differences between male and female gas. Just for the hell of it he farted, a real fart, and thought, Score one for me. That's the first time I ever farted in a ladies' room. Actually, it's the first time I've ever been in a ladies' room. Maybe I should... Nah. He reached for the doorknob.Just then, he heard the elevator stop. The security guard, he thought -- and froze.
* * * *
Sidney Zook was a night security guard at the complex in which Bok worked. It was his routine to walk the corridors of each floor in a constantly repeating pattern. Zook never tired of the routine. He was a loner and enjoyed working nights. It gave him plenty of time to think. Zook was an aspiring novelist. He walked the corridors, planned his next day's writing and was relatively content.
This didn't mean Zook wasn't observant. Quite the contrary, his writer's instinct for detail alerted him to the subtlest changes as he made his rounds. He would know if a picture had been changed, a couch moved, a door left open. In short, Zook did his job and did it well.
He had just exited the elevator on Bok's floor as the scientist entered the ladies' bathroom with his air sampling station. Since the elevator bank was around the corner from the bathrooms, Zook hadn't seen Bok. He did, however, check to make sure both bathrooms were locked. While this, in itself, didn't mean someone wasn't inside, it did mean that whomever might be inside had a key, and likely had proper business to conduct within.
The probability of a trespasser being inside a locked bathroom was so remote that guards were instructed only to check the doors to make sure they were locked. In the unlikely event a door was open, or unlocked, and the occupant wasn't in plain sight, the guards were instructed to call the local police. Zook was a security guard; he wasn't paid to take chances.
An unusually observant guard, Zook's nose did tingle as he grasped the ladies room doorknob. He gasped. Dr. Bok, he thought immediately. Must be working late -- and farting. What else is new? Probably in his office. Or maybe he caught the elevator a few moments ago, and this is just lingering.
Zook started down the corridor, checking doors on each side. Some were locked, some wide open, others simply closed. He made sure the locked doors were secure, and continued on his way. At the open doors, he glanced inside, said Security! waited a few seconds, then moved on.
At Bok's office, Zook tried the doorknob and found the office open, lights on. Security! he said, a bit louder than necessary. Then he thought, That was Bok. No question. No one farts like Bok. Zook thought for a moment. If he's not here, then where? He was around the elevator area. That's for sure. And I've never known him to leave his office lights on after he's left.
Bok, meanwhile, had heard Zook try the doorknob of the ladies bathroom, waited some moments, then peeked out. Seeing no one, he casually closed the door behind him and started back to his office. Zook spotted him as he was leaving Bok's office, a puzzled look on his face.
"Zook," isn't it? said Bok brightly, taking the initiative. "Good evening."
"Good evening, Dr. Bok. I was wondering why the lights were on in your office. I was pretty sure you were around."
"Just went to the men's room before I left. Don't want to have to stop by the side of the road." He winked at the security officer. "A patrolman might get the wrong idea."
Zook smiled at Bok's attempt at humor. "Have a good evening," Dr. Bok.
"You too, Zook. You too."
Bok went into his office, packed his attaché case and went home.
* * * *
They had met at the beach. High wispy clouds moved in the gentle breeze, and the odors of barbecue, ocean and lotion served to cloak Bok’s signature.
As a rule, he passed his time in the sun well blocked, reading and listening to whatever ‘Golden Oldies’ station he could catch. Every half hour or so, he would get up, stretch and take a dip in the ocean, swimming out just beyond the bobbers and stroking parallel to the beach, back and forth, for fifteen to twenty minutes, popping bubbles along the way.
A sharp observer, had he known that Bok was flatulating in a carefully nuanced variety of sound and non-sounds, could have cataloged the unique bubble patterns surfacing from Bok’s backside. The strands of small, tight, closely spaced tear asses. The expanding hemispheres of the poohs, and the double hemispheres of the anti-poohs. The snapping action of the fizzes and the fizz-fuzzes. And the majestic blossoming of the pure fart.
Bok, while aware of his talents as an emitter of sphincteral sound and fury, was unaware of the possible correlation between fart and fart bubble. That realization was years in the future, but the first strokes toward Project Cyrano were just about...
“Hey! That hurt.”
Bok had been free styling steadily, lost in the rhythm of the stroke and the metronome-like posterior accompaniment. He paced himself in time to a variety of flatulent programs he had developed. These reflexive emissions signaled Bok when to switch from free style to breast stroke to back stroke.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t see you. Are you all right.”
“I’m okay.” She was rubbing the top of her head and treading water. “You know, it’s a big ocean.”
“Out here it is.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
It’s tough to tell what’s underneath the water, but Bok had to smile at the face challenging him a few feet away, and at the hint of slope as Grendel’s body bobbed up and down.
“I’m sorry.” He started bobbing against her bob, in order to assimilate more slope data. “But I hurt my hand too you know.”
Was there just a trace of sarcasm there?
Grendel didn’t seem to notice the slow but steady steam of anti-pooh bubbles blossoming around Bok.
“I said I’m sorry. Three times. Would you like to get something to eat, drink? On me.”
“Yes, but swim on my right, so I can keep an eye on you.”
I’d much rather be able to keep an eye on you, he thought, but said, “Okay.”
* * * *
The meeting had just been called to order. It was like any other addictive group of individuals. They met because it was easier to talk to people with the same problem. It was a catharsis, a cleansing process.
This was Common Scents, a group of men and women who met regularly to talk about their addiction. Each and every one of them flatulated without parameters. No occasion was sacrosanct. That explained why, although the meeting proceeded much along the lines of any other addictive group, most of these men and women wore lightweight gas masks.
Given the nature of the group, the masks were necessary, although they did make conversation a bit difficult. And with the erratic but constant sound of boomers, boomlets, rattlers, tear-asses, pooh and anti-poohs, listening took on the aspects of an art.
A young lady stood. “Ma nam is Jenfr Zgblatz nd ahm a fartr.” Everyone applauded.
“Wlcom t our grp,” greeted the chairperson through his mask. “Tl s a liddl aboww yoursf.”
“Ma boyfrn tole me ah nd hep.” While the group struggled to make out her words, there was no disguising the anguish in her voice, and the tears streaming down her face and over the mask.
“Las wk ma boyfrn tuk m to meet hs parnts. As soon as I walked in the dohr I banged one out. Ah couldn hep masef.” She was wailing now. “It ws a real boomr.” She sat down, and everyone applauded politely.
Habbel Bok sat quietly, toward the back of the room. He was a charter member of the local chapter, one of its founders. What distinguished Bok from most of the others was that he didn't see that he had a problem. He farted. It was as simple as that. It was part and parcel of the complex personality that was Habbel Bok.
He attended meetings as a way of socializing. Although his wife and children -- who were, by Bok’s standards, amateur flatulators -- had come to grips with his habit, nay his passion -- deodorizers hanging all over the house, pocket sprays at the ready -- Bok found he had few friends. Although essentially a loner, as much from choice as circumstance, he did have an occasional need to interact with other people.
His profession, that of a distinguished scholar in the exotic field of time-space quantum physics, was basically done via hi-tech computer technology. Common Scents was his club, his recreation. These were people with whom he could identify -- farters all.
Bok had toyed with the idea of sounding the group out on his project, in the most general of terms, of course. He was curious to learn what these "specialists" thought of the possibility of tagging farts back through time.
He raised his hand, was recognized by the chair, removed his mask to speak -- he was one of the few who did-- and started. "I have been wondering if it might be possible to trace the evolution of man back through time by tracking flatulence patterns."
A distinguished gentleman -- late 60s, white hair, ramrod straight, gas mask on -- offered, "Oo mn fahrts are oonik?"
"I believe each of us distributes distinctive marked ions each time we expel gas. And I believe these markers retain their uniqueness, and are passed down through the generations. It might be possible to trace them."
"Oo mn ma fahrt iz de sem az ma fahthr an mothrs?"
"And grandmother's and grandfather's."
The young lady who had been wailing moments before shrieked, "Oo sayng I inhertd my fahts?"
"Inherited the markers, not necessarily the ability to expel at any particular rate on in any special situation. I don't think it's likely that you come from a family of addictive flatulators."
"Fank Gd," she murmured. "Den ma chilrun wunt ketch it?" She hesitated. "Uf ah kin evr kip uh bohyfren."
"I doubt if you'll pass your problem on to your children," said Bok. "Most of us here actually enjoy the experience so much that we're loathe to give it up at all. You're probably caught between a habit you truly enjoy and the in-scentisitivity of the rest of the world, if you'll forgive the pun."
The young lady sniffled, so Bok continued.
“Since what we say here has the same aspect of confidentiality as a patient-doctor or client-lawyer relationship, I would like to take a few moments to outline a project of mine. I think this group is uniquely qualified to provide raw data necessary to create the initial database, and to refine testing guidelines.”
Every gasmask in the room was riveted on Bok. There were a few pops of excitement, but those aside, the room had become unusually quiet.
“I think it might be possible to trace odors back in time to their origins.”
“Oo mean mah frt could tll oo f I ws relatd to sommun famus?” said the young lady who had been wailing just moments earlier.
“Exactly,” said Bok, excitedly. “By analyzing each of our scents, it may be possible to find unique markers, markers that can be traced back much like a family tree. By using each scent’s unique pattern as a guide, we should be able to segregate out the scents of history, building the database as we edge further back in time.”
“But how do oo go bck n time?” asked an elderly man.
“That’s really a problem involving the time continuum and quantum physics. I have a theory, just a theory, that could make it possible for us leap backward through time.”
Bok surveyed the audience, a group of people with a problem in common, although some of them, like Bok, did not see it as a problem. “Will you help me?”
“Wll oo tll us if we’re famus?”
“Certainly,” said Bok. “I will certainly share with each of you your scents of history.”
“Sonds gd t me!” said the elderly gentleman. “Ahn n.”
It was unanimous. The group had a common quest, and they were anxious to get started.
Habbel Bok was smiling broadly. He was so happy, he sent a whistler through the room. A cacophony of flatulent noises echoed off the walls in anticipation of the project.
“Within the next few weeks, I’ll give each of you an air sampling monitor. It’s easy to use. All you have to do is place it where it is most likely to capture your gas.”
Everyone applauded. Nearly everyone flatulated. Human nature being what it is, a few people restrained themselves for fear a wild celebration would have embarrassing consequences.
* * * *
It was a gentle April morning, and the man was munching an apple while riding his white stallion over the rolling hills of his Virginia plantation. In the near distance, the Potomac River sparkled in the morning sun.
Whether the man or his horse was more regal was open to question. The stallion was magnificent; that was without argument. But there was something indefinable about the man, an aura that had gained respect throughout the colonies.
Now, in early 1775, George Washington lifted himself slightly in the saddle and silently expelled a considerable amount of foul air. The stallion, not to be outdone by his master, cut a horse fart that startled birds out of the nearby trees.
“Well done, Alexander. Well done.”
“Master Washington! Master Washington!” A teenage slave was riding quickly toward his master, his mount heavily lathered from the effort of racing across the plantation.
Pulling up before Washington, the slave said, “I was sent to fetch you. They’re waiting back at the house. There’s been a battle in Massachusetts.”
“Fuck!” said Washington, tossing the apple core in an arc toward a small grove of trees. “What a revolting development this is!”
* * * *
Habbel Bok was staring at the TV screen. It was well past midnight, and the family had again deserted him. Bok often felt that he was abandoned by Grendel and his children for no other reason than they wanted to get some sleep.
He himself seldom slept more than five hours, although he was an acknowledged master of the power nap. Bok could fall asleep standing up in an elevator for a quick 30-second nap, feeling refreshed although a bit bewildered when he wound up well above his floor, or on the way down again.
The change in direction usually startled him awake, although once he had stood in the back corner of an elevator for fifteen minutes before opening his eyes. His mouth had that tinny taste and his eyes kind of stared straight ahead as he left the elevator trailing a silent “whuff” as the doors closed behind him.
Aside aside, Bok was watching a Star Trek Something rerun, his mind wandering to the problem at hand -- not really at hand, but well...
It was one of those episodes where the writers played with time. You know. Suddenly, things on Enterprise or Voyager don’t seem quite right. Maybe a couple of the leads have beards, or don’t, or the uniforms are just a tad different. You’re off on a different time line, and the only way to set things straight is to go back in time to change what was originally changed in the original time line -- if, indeed, it was the original time line. Or just maybe the time line in the future is the real one, but that can’t be so because so-and-so has a beard.
Bok used to wonder a lot about time lines. It just gave him gas, or more gas. He actually used to get dizzy trying to figure out the combinations and permutations that would allow someone to die in this time frame, yet still have children after they died in another.
Now however, as he watched Star Trek Something, the germ of an idea was born. Everyone alive today, he postulated, is somehow related to everyone who was alive millennia ago. If I can segregate the markers, I can at least eliminate people unrelated to my target. Eventually, I’ll be left with markers that may or not belong to the target. By analyzing the remaining data, I may be able to narrow the search geographically in time. His head was beginning to throb.
cleared his head by engaging in a series of exercise farts. Bok
developed a system to relieve his tension. First, he cut a long
A couple of puffs were then followed by a tear-ass, a pooh, anti-poof
a long slow SBD. A couple of pops finished the exercise.
trembled with excitement as adrenalin flooded his system. He
toward his bedroom, thought of waking Grendel, but past experience
proof-positive, decided there was no point.
What I need to do is make some broad determinations.
* * * *
Habbel and Grendel had come out of the water together, and it took Bok about a nanosecond to realize that Grendel’s one-piece bright orange bathing suit, while modest, succeeded spectacularly in hiding nothing from his imagination. Bok, looking at that lovely face, discreetly noting the wow figure, said, “Let me buy you a burger by way of apology.”
Standing there, appraising Bok as he puffed out a long, slow silent, Grendel saw an attractive, charming, seemingly bright young man. On such appraisals are disasters founded, as she well knew.
“It’ll cost you a dinner.” She smiled at Bok, and he almost lost it completely. He wanted to sound his joy to everyone within hearing distance. He repressed the impulse.
Inhaling at both ends, he replied, “How about tonight?”
“What if we live at opposite ends of the universe?”
Bok looked at her thoughtfully. There was a lot to see. “It doesn’t matter. I’m sure it’s close, whatever the distance.”
Grendel laughed. “Nine give you enough time?”
“If I leave yesterday,” he quipped, “but I do need your address and phone number.”
As she walked away, Bok let out a piercing whistler. Grendel turned, looked back, smiled. Bok shrugged, as if he too was wondering from where the sound had originated. Neither seemed to notice that the people just behind Bok were gagging.
Grendel noticed. So he farts a bit, she thought, the smile broadening into a knowing grin.
* * * *
Over the next few weeks, while his air sampling units were gathering data, Bok did some basic research. He went to half a dozen supermarkets and bought a variety of fruits and vegetables in each – apples, onions, potatoes, figs. Back in his laboratory, he sliced and diced, segregated and tagged odors, then analyzed each using nuclear microscopes, spectrophotometers and other state-of-the-art equipment.
As he had suspected, familial plants bore many of the same markers. But there were also distinctive markers. Among the onions, for example, those purchased in one store were slightly different from those purchased in another. He decoded the markers using basic scientific software programs, and was able to correlate fruits or vegetables to what he hope was a particular supplier.
A few phone calls later Bok had proven a basis hypothesis. Fruits or vegetables from different areas did indeed have distinctive markers. Bananas from El Salvador, for example, would always show the same marker, and it would be unique. With that specific marker, a banana couldn’t possibly have come from Honduras; even transplanting would change the coding since the air and the soil were elemental to the plant’s familial individuality.
By this time, Project Cyrano was on a roll. Bok had gathered sufficient gas samples, to establish a preliminary database. While there were only a few hundred individual samples, including several family bases gathered from members of Common Scents, he was hopeful there would be some clear patterns.
Bok was not disappointed with the results. In fact, as he hovered over the computer scanning the initial data, he became so excited he stood and let out a boomer. Up and down the corridor, scientists and secretaries smiled and held their collective breaths. “Bok is having a good day,” said one secretary, inhaling shallowly.
A few days later, Bok addressed the institute’s board of directors. All of the windows in the room had been opened by the building’s maintenance personnel in preparation for Bok’s appearance and presentation. A slight breeze rustled the papers on the long table around which sat the institute’s board. Room deodorizers had been placed discretely near each chair.
It was a measure of Bok’s prestige and career accomplishments as a scientist that the board had gathered to hear about his secretive project. The preliminary report had so piqued their interest that they risked meeting with him in person, an olfactory experience each of them dreaded.
Bok, in complete control of himself, puffed out a couple of silent ones. It would never have occurred to him to make a sound. Still the effect was potent. Several of the scientists widened their eyes and strained back in their seats, as if trying to escape the onslaught. The open windows, air conditioning and deodorizers cleared the air quickly, and everyone kind of relaxed, just a bit edgy.
"You have before you The Essence of Project Cyrano, a preliminary report on my most recent work. It is essentially a feasibility study, the result of several weeks of gathering data to determine whether odors are unique and can be traced back in time.”
“I understand the premise Dr. Bok, but how do you intend to traverse time?” The question came from a highly regarded physicist who had devoted his career to unraveling the secrets of antiquity.
“First, let me emphasize the data indicates there are quite definitely distinctive markers on gas ions released by fruits and vegetables on the one hand, and individuals on the other. These markers can be traced and associated within families, whether they are plant or human.”
“You can identify if people are related by their gas ions?” questioned a stunning understated blonde, a specialist in mutating plants to create new herbal remedies for disease.
“The markers are so distinctive and conclusive that we’ve already sent some of the results to the Mormon Church for inclusion in its genealogical database. Eventually, the data will be correlated, thereby extending or integrating family trees. By contributing ion odor markers, not only immediate family trees be traced, but so can extended trees that could even include what may loosely be termed the indiscretions of history.”
“You’re that certain of these results?” asked the institute’s director, tapping the report in front of her.
Bok farted quietly and started to respond. He glanced around the long table and realized it had only taken a second or two before the scientists were once again sitting back in their seats, eyes wide open in amazement, mouths agape as a futile defense. Potent stuff today, he thought.
"While the sampling is admittedly small -- I’ve kind of kept this project low key -- the compilation of the data, and its analysis, is flawless. Not only can plants be traced to their country and specific areas of origin, we can identify individuals who have eaten specific fruits and vegetables.”Bok paused. “We can even tell, with an expectedly greater margin for error, the markets in which the produce was purchased.”
“Tracing the ions back in time,” persisted the physicist.
“How do you intend to do that?”
Bok actually tightened up. This was the tough one. “We can obviously use DNA sampling to go back as far as the available samples. Napoleon, George Washington, a variety of historical figures whose remains can be clearly identified, offer the tantalizing prospect of extending historical relationships. We might, if you will allow me an uncharacteristic flight of fantasy...” Bok stopped suddenly. Everyone around the table had shoved their chairs back, some mouths agape. Bok smiled and continued.
“As I was saying, we might be able to prove that Napoleon is related to Attila the Hun or Ghenghis Khan. The real problem rests with going back to antiquity, to gathering samples from millennia past. There seems to be some suggestion, just a hint as I have noted in the report, that the markers may degrade over time. The time frame is too narrow from the current sampling to be positive, but if this can be confirmed, and if we can gather selective samples, we may be able to date odors back in time, perhaps with pinpoint accuracy.”
“Given that we accept the results of this preliminary study,” said the director, “what do you want from the institute?”
“What I would like is the board’s approval to extend the sampling through available generations of families, to contact other scientists who may be developing parallel or related studies and...” Here he paused and looked directly at every board member around the table. “I would like your permission to work with NASA on Project Dali.”
The director looked at Bok thoughtfully. “You think your work on the space-time continuum theory can be tied into NASA’s attempt to project light at negative velocities can yield practical results.” It was not so much a question as a statement.
“And if that proves practical,” responded Bok, “we may be able to piggyback my space-time continuum research and Cyrano onto Dali.”
“I feel the initial results are quite interesting,” said the director. This amounted to high praise from an extremely cautious scientist. “We’ll get back to you after we’ve had time to discuss the potential, and the budgetary considerations.”
“Thank you.” Bok nodded to each of the board members and turned to leave the room. There was a sudden shuffling of chairs. Bok smiled as he passed through the door, cutting a long silent happy fart in anticipatory celebration. He closed the door, but still heard a few groans behind him.
* * * *
Working in the coal mines of Silesia provided the staples of life -- food, shelter, clothing -- but it was a tough way to make a living, with little future. It was a dead end, so shortly after the end of World War II, Stanislaus Opskielowicz and his bride, Irina, left the little town of Zobkowice, home to their families for generations, and emigrated to America, the Golden Land.
After a couple of years of odd jobs and just scraping by in New York, Stanislaus -- solid, hard-working, dependable, undeniably handsome though not the sharpest kielbasa in the deli -- found the language barrier too much for him. Without thinking much about leaving the huge New York melting pot, with its substantial Polish population, he packed up Irina and baby Casimir and moved to West Virginia where he quickly found work in a coal mine.
The pay was better than in Silesia, the family had more creature comforts and the schools were better and less prone to violent incidents. The children -- Casimir now had a baby sister, Mariska -- spoke fluent English and fractured Polish. Stanislaus and Irina became part of a Polish-speaking minority that had its own comfortable place in the Mountaineer social strata.
Irina, having mastered conversational English, moved easily in both societies, although the Mountaineers still occasionally commented on her accent. “Mah dotta went on up ta Noo Yawk, came back speakin zackly lack you.”
“Dziekuje,” was Irina’s usual response. “Thanks.”
Stanislaus had a small group of friends, mostly fellow miners, a number of who were Polish or of Polish descent. He quaffed a few beers with them several times a week at The Shaft, a local pub whose clientele were hardened men working in a hard industry.
Irina’s world was broader, extending through school society because she was active in PTA affairs, and into the community at large through her volunteer work for the local hospital. But it was at a PTA meeting, not long after they had moved to West Virginia, that the problem first arose.
Irina had raised her hand to ask a question.
“Yes, Mrs. Opskanowitz.”
“Przepraszam. Excuse me, I’m sorry, but that’s Opskielowicz.”
“Pardon me.No offense, Mrs. Opsowitz,” now completely flustered.
It was obvious no disrespect was intended. Her Polish name was simply too difficult for the native West Virginians.
“Call me Irina, prosze.”
A tentative smile, “Mrs. Prosheh then.”
“Przeprazam. Excuse me. I’m sorry. My name is Irina. Prosze means please. I should have said, ‘Call me Irina, please.’”
Over the next few months, Irina became increasingly upset with the difficulty her neighbors were having pronouncing her simple Polish name. Casimir and Mariska had problems too, even though their friends took to calling them Kaz and Risky.
“They can’t get it right,” said Kaz. “Then they become embarrassed, and we become embarrassed.” He hesitated.
Irina knew it wasn’t a case of making fun of their Polish surname. Kaz was far too big, and well liked, for any of the locals to make him a target. And he was bright, probably from his mother’s side, and tow-headed handsome. Risky, a blonde and beautiful younger version of her mother, was less reluctant to express herself than Kaz.
“Why can’t we change our last name?”
Irina looked at her children, but didn’t respond for several seconds. She was acutely aware that her experiences were far different from those of her children. A Pole by birth, she cherished her heritage and her name. The United States was her children’s home, Poland a smaller part of the heritage they would pass on to their children. She felt an immense outpouring of love for Casimir and Mariska -- no, for Kaz and Risky.
“I’ll talk to Daddy.”
Stanislaus, a big man with a bigger heart, was an easy mark for a lovely wife in a fetching peignoir, long blonde hair brushed and falling loose over bare ivory shoulders. It really wasn’t fair.
In English, she said, “We have to discuss something -- later.”
In Polish, he responded, “Later, you can have whatever you want. Now you can have my heart.”He smiled at her.“Perhaps a bit more than my heart.”
Later, her hair falling over her husband’s face, she said in English, “I think we should change our last name, make it more American.” Irina’s body brushed softly against her husband’s chest. “It’s important to the children.”
Stanislaus opened his eyes, wrapped his arms around his wife, pulling her closer, smiled and said, “Kocham ciebie.”
“I love you too.”
Later, she asked in English, “What should we change it to?”
He may not have been the sharpest kielbasa in the deli, but Stanislaus knew a good thing when he saw it.“Kochamciebie, Irina.”
“Stanislaus, you are taking advantage of me.”
“I think we are taking advantage of one another.”
She smiled at her large beautiful man, and let him surround her. Much later, she asked again, “What should we change Opskielowicz to?”
Suddenly she jumped in surprise.
“Oops,” smiled Stanislaus.
Much, much later, she said, “I like ‘Oops.’ I really like ‘Oops.’”
A few weeks later, the Opskielowicz family appeared before a West Virginia judge, explained their reasons for wanting to change their name and were granted a new surname.They left the courthouse as the Oops family.
* * * *
Habbel Bok called the director of NASA’s top secret Project Dali. It was a project with which he was closely involved because of his work on the space-time continuum theory. Bok’s research has gained considerable attention from both the theorists and number crunchers at Project Dali.
NASA was able to keep the project out of the limelight because it had decentralized its theoretical research to a handful of scientists like Bok, who were scattered at prestigious universities, think tanks and laboratories throughout the nation.
While all of the scientists shared information, often met in twos or threes, and certainly spoke to one another frequently, they never appeared as a group. Their work was so classified it was buried in a series of innocuous budget request items that funded Project Dali. To this point, money was the least of their problems. What they needed was a breakthrough.
In early 1999, a research team in Cambridge, Massachusetts, announced that it had slowed the speed of light from its norm of 186,282 miles per second to a relative crawl of 38 miles an hour.
An entirely new state of matter, the "Bose-Einstein condensate," theorized in the 1920s by Satyendra Nath Bose and Albert Einstein, and first observed in 1995, made this possible. Atoms packed super-closely together at super-low temperatures and super-high vacuum, tend to lose their identity as individual particles and act like a single super-atom with characteristics similar to a laser.
Bok, one of Project Dali’s preeminent theoreticians, was in the loop, because the implications of slowing light were of enormous potential consequence to his work. Theoretically, and the thought made Bok expel gas in silent extended relief, if the speed of light could be slowed to a dead stop, and then reversed, time travel should be possible. What he needed to know was just how close NASA was to reversing what had once been considered irreversible.
* * * *
It was scrub time at the Dome. West Virginia was being mauled by Syracuse in a meaningless game just days before the Big East tournament was scheduled to begin at Madison Square garden. Both coaches decided discretion was the better part of valor, and rather than risk injury to their starters, they cleared their respective benches.
In came Kaz Oops for the Mountaineers, a walk-on who rarely played. In four varsity years, Kaz had seventeen points -- but he loved the game. That’s why he was there, for those rare minutes when he could glory in playing on a big time basketball floor.
The Orange forward grabbed the rebound, and threw an outlet to a teammate who led a streaking guard. Kaz had anticipated the outlet and had gained a step on the guard.As the Orange player caught the ball and turned toward the basket he slammed into a stationary six-foot three-inch, 240-pound wall.
The sound of the impact stunned the crowd into silence. Kaz lay flat on his back stunned, blood streaming from his broken nose. The Orange guard managed to limp off the court, as the referee called a charge and an injury time-out. Another player took the foul shots for Kaz, who had regained consciousness, but was decidedly groggy.
Kaz recovered, and even got a couple of minutes of time in the first round of the Big East, the only game WVA won in the tournament. Kaz’s nose wasn’t as fortunate. The break never set properly, giving the big man a somewhat thuggish appearance. Of more significance, he lost three-quarters of his sense of smell, a portent of things to come.
* * * *
Kaz Oops greeted Habbel Bok warmly as his old friend entered the office of Project Dali’s director. While Oops’ secretary was gasping in the outer office, Kaz scarcely noticed the pungent aromas Bok was dispersing in his excitement.
“Kaz. It’s been quite a while.”
“Too long. How’re Grendel and the children.”
“Fine. Fine. They’re helping me with a project. Everyone’s fine. And your family?”
“Growing. Healthy. Spending money. We’re all great.”
Kaz Oops had come to his position of prominence the same way he had played basketball. Receiving his B.S. in physics from the University of West Virginia, he was immediately recruited by a hi-tech firm along Route 128, Boston’s electronics highway.
His aggressive nature and incisive mind led his employer to encourage and sponsor his advanced education. Within seven years, Oops had earned his Ph.D. in quantum physics from M.I.T., his doctoral thesis focusing on the relationship between the speed of light and the passage of time.
He also found time to meet, court and marry a mathematician who herself found time to have three children while completing her own Ph.D. in advanced computer algorithms. Alyson Oops complemented her husband’s aggressive nature with a quiet determination that helped stabilize her husband’s tendency to attack every problem as if he were still crashing through opposing linemen.
As he gained stature in the scientific community, he met and befriended Habbel Bok whose “staircase” theory of time seemed to offer an unusual opportunity to further develop his own “speed of light” studies.
Oops’ extremely poor sense of smell, a fortunate by-product of his basketball injury, spelled social success for them. Over the years, their families had taken several vacations together, all focused on outdoor activities, in deference to Allie Oops and the Oops offspring, all of who had normal olfactory senses. Grendel and Allie made certain they took along plenty of room and car deodorizers.
Bok sat opposite his friend, ignoring the panoramic expanse of campus visible outside the wall of windows behind Oops’ desk. “Just how close are you to a major breakthrough?” He looked intently at Oops. “I know you’ve slowed light down to a near stop. We’ve discussed that, but...” He left the rest of his thought unsaid.
* * * *
Habbel Bok had been spectacularly unsuccessful in maintaining long-term relationships with women. The reasons were as obvious as they were odorous. Oh he could control himself on a date, maybe even two or three, but sooner or later -- usually sooner -- he exploded with joy. And poof went the relationship.
Grendel was magic. He vowed not to shock her. For this woman, he would battle the seemingly independently raucous sphincter.
He started out smartly, taking her to an expensive “in” seafood restaurant that literally reeked of authenticity. There were nets festooned with shells on the walls, interspersed with seascapes and, of course, the permeating aroma of fish.
They settled down comfortably with their drinks, his a Wild Turkey on the rocks, hers an apricot sour. She looked up from her drink, tossed her long blond hair away from her face and froze him with her sky blue eyes. He tightened.
“You’re beautiful. And you have a beautiful name -- Grendel. It fits.” There were actually tears in his eyes. She mistook them for tears of joy, and glowed, while he fought the pain necessary to suppress the celebratory anti-pooh.
“Habbel Bok is a pretty unusual name,” she said. Is it middle European?”
“Actually, the name is mostly American, with a touch of peculiar thrown in. My mother wanted to name me Bela, or Bella, boy or girl, after the actor. You know, Lugosi. She said I was conceived one night while she and my dad were watching Dracula on TV. They fought about it during mom’s entire pregnancy. My dad thought my mom was nuts. Mom felt the name would be lucky. She’d say, ‘Bela.’ He’d say, ‘Ha!’”
“You’re making this up,” laughed Grendel, spraying apricot sour in his direction. She took her napkin to wipe the spritz from his chin. He took her hand.
“They compromised. The were going to call me Habella, but agreed that sounded too diminutive, so Habbel it became.”
Grendel was laughing so hard people were turning to stare at them. “You made all that up. It couldn’t possibly be true. Habella. Habella. Really.” Tears were running down her cheeks.
“You could ask my parents.”
* * * *
Kaz Oops swiveled in his chair, and pondered the day beyond his office. The late afternoon sun was casting gentle shadows from buildings and trees. Some students were hurrying across campus, others were sitting on the grass, books open. Couples sat chatting, or walked hand-in-hand, oblivious to time and space, content to focus one on the other.
One on the other, thought Oops. That’s where Habbel’s going. That’s exactly where he’s going. What a great idea. He swiveled swiftly back to his friend, and caught him with the full intensity of his gaze. “You were about to say...”
Bok knew his friend well. He waited, confident that Oops wouldn’t be able to restrain his enthusiasm. Oops, thoroughly briefed on Bok’s work, and aware of the potential research breakthroughs, smiled and slid a thin file folder across his desk. Bok opened the folder, scanned the material.
Suddenly, he cut a boomer, then another. Oops laughed. “I thought you’d be excited.”
* * * *
Habbel Bok was so excited he thought he would have an accident despite near legendary sphincter control that was largely and fortunately unknown to all but his closest friends and family. Under normal circumstances, Bok could eat or drink, or eat and drink, any combination of victuals and flatulate merrily along without fear of physical disaster.
He could pinch his sphincter so tight that he could actually achieve tonal harmony with an octave and a half range. Once, in fact, when Bok and Kaz Oops were having dinner together, and drinking a bit to excess, Bok demonstrated a talent he had developed quite secretly.
For his friend’s benefit, Bok rendered a sphincteral version of Zippity Doo Dah that brought tears of laughter to Oops’ eyes, and tears of anguish to the eyes of everyone else within twenty yards of them.
“Wait! Wait,” shouted a half-blitzed Oops. “No soap, radio!” And both men looked at each other. Their eyes locked then rolled up in their heads. They tried mightily to control themselves, but finally Bok screamed, “No soap, radio.” And he started laughing, laughing until the tears started streaming down his face. By this time, Oops was banging his hand on the table repeating, “No soap, radio! No soap, radio.”
Around them, patrons were staring in amazement. What had been merely a suspicious aroma for many was now forgotten as they watched two well-dressed obviously affluent men roaring with laughter and repeating, “No soap, radio.” For his part, Bok in the midst of tears and laughter was puffing away a steady, albeit silent, stream of “ha-has,” puffers with bite.
A young man stared at his girlfriend. “No soap, radio? I don’t get it,” and he started grinning. The young lady said, “I don’t either,” and she started laughing. One older man kept repeating, “I don’t get it. I don’t get it.” Then he too started banging on the table. “I don’t get it,” but he was turning red from uncontrolled laughing. It was nearly twenty minutes before the restaurant calmed down.
Oops, painfully aware of what he had started, signaled their waiter. “Please offer everyone a drink. And put it on our tab.” Then he turned to Bok. “Okay?”
“Of course,” wiping tears from his eyes.
Oops, still smiling, said, “Let’s record it for posterity –- or posteriorty,” and he nearly fell off his chair again, roaring at his own sophomoric humor and the remembrance of “no soap, radios” past. Then he took a small recorder he used for memos out of his pocket.
start,” warned Bok, but feeling no pain or shame himself, responded
a second, almost soulful, version of the song, which Oops duly taped
they both played for comic relief on particularly stressful
The way Bok stretched out the “won-der-ful d-a-a-a-a-y” ending was
remarkable, and never failed to lay both men in the aisles.
and Alyson weren’t as easily amused.
* * * *
“You’ve stopped the speed of light,” said Habbel Bok.
“Actually, we’ve been able to push it back a few feet per second,” admitted Kaz Oops. “Just a few feet, mind you, but we have gone back in time, split seconds. It can be measured.”
“Now if my theory about time doubling back and forth like a flight of stairs...”
“Exactly. If your theory is correct, even those few seconds may be enough to send us back years, perhaps decades, centuries.”
“And Project Cyrano is at a point where, if an olfactory sensor could be piggybacked onto a viable Dali light reversal, results might prove equally spectacular,” said Bok.
“If you want to track smells back in time, your sensor will have to be digitized,” emphasized Oops. “It can’t have any real substance.”
“Kaz, it only has to be able to gather a few molecules. Using advanced spectrum technology, we’re already at that stage. And here’s the advantage...”
Oops interrupted excitedly. “You can date molecules by the degradation of certain markers.”
“Right. If we gather a marker my team can identify, we can date it within a decade, maybe closer by comparing its state of degradation, or lack thereof, to that of the same molecule in our database.”
“And,” picked up Oops, “if we can date a molecule back, we’ll be able to prove that time travel is possible, if only on a digitized basis.” He looked across his desk at his friend. Oops had a nagging suspicion that Habbel still wasn’t telling him quite everything.
* * * *
The first president of the United States was getting ready for bed. Both he and Martha had performed their nightly ablutions.
George had replaced his set of wooden business dentures with a set more suitable for romancing his wife. It was little known that the President had more than twenty sets of dentures, all designed to make Martha smile with anticipation of the revelry to follow. The public Washingtons were a dour couple. The private Washingtons were hell on wheels.
George turned to face Martha. His chubby bride was almost wearing a filmy peignoir which did little to hide the pulchritude beneath. Her hair, usually tied up in a severe bun, flowed loose about her milk white shoulders. Martha Washington, mother of her country, was in fact, a dish.George, wearing a too short nightshirt, stared at his wife.
It never failed to amaze him how much he loved his plump bride. Slowly he started to grin, lips parting just slightly to reveal a streak of red. Martha’s eyes widened, and she too started to smile as she coquettishly shrugged one thin strap off her shoulder.
At the sight of his wife’s full bosom scarcely covered by the near transparent fabric, Washington’s face broke into a broad grin, revealing a mouthful of little devils with tinier pitchforks dancing on a sea of red fire.
“Oh George,” said Martha shrugging off the other strap -- and flatulating modestly but potently.
“Martha. My god!”
* * * *
“I know you’ve thought this out thoroughly,” said Kaz Oops, trying to ease into what was nagging him, “but just what do you prove by finding gas molecules that can be traced forward to -- say you?”
Habbel Bok smiled at his friend. “Obviously, I would know that I’m related to someone in that time and place.”
“But that place could be ephemeral, really. I mean we’re talking about gas. It travels on the wind...” Oops grinned broadly. “...as I’m sure you know.”
Bok’s face lost all expression. It literally became a mask. And then Oops heard the telltale “pop-pop,” a clear indication that Bok was enjoying himself immensely. “Pop-pop.” There it was again.
“You haven’t told me something. Right?”
The mask collapsed. “I made an incredible discovery, in my own home as a matter of fact.”
“I’m all ears,” said Oops. “Fortunately.”
Bok cut a short rattler in appreciation.
“You’re welcome,” said Oops.
“The samples we collected from the monitors contained the densest concentration of molecules. My home stations produced four distinct yet related molecules. Each could be traced to Grendel, one of the kids or me. Each sample was unique, yet the similarities, as I had expected, established a familial relationship.”
“You’re related to Grendel by blood?”
“Six generations back actually,” said Bok mildly.
“You kid me.” But there was no “pop-pop.”
“Analysis showed a direct correlation between the kids’ molecules and ours.”
“DNA testing would show the same thing.”
“But the length between the common marker and its neighbors was greater in the kids’ samples than in ours.”
“There was a generational gap?” said Oops. “Are you certain?”
“To make sure, I placed monitors in my and Grendel’s parents’ homes. The results confirmed a generational constant. The markers are identical although they do degrade in time, at a measurable rate. It is the interval between the identifying marker and its neighbors that reveals how many generations back we’ve traveled.”
“Habbel, old friend. You’re wandering in circles through time. If we can go back in time, molecules can be gathered and analyzed. I grant you that. And then what do you have? At best, you know somebody related to you existed ‘x’ generations ago. And perhaps you can determine, to a fair degree of accuracy, in what years those people lived. But where did they live, and how were they related to you to a reasonable certainty?”
“I don’t think that’s really the point,” said Bok. “You’re suggesting the entire project is an ego exercise.”
“Much as you know that I have always admired your scientific objectivity, I do have that lingering suspicion.”
Oops didn’t know it -- his nose merely tingled -- but a foul cloud offlatulence had filled the room during his last short speech. It seeped under the doors, and made Oops secretary gag in amazement. Glancing out the window moments later, Oops saw her hurryingacross the quad, hand over her mouth and bent slightly at the waist. He would have to apologize to her in the morning. She knew Bok, but not when he was this angry.
“Did I say something?”
“You implied that my motives were selfish, that I was only interested in seeing if I was related to, say, Alexander the Great.
“Without a specific DNA sample from Alexander or a known direct relative, you know we could never determine to whom I was related.
“The markers indicate that Grendel and I are fifth cousins. We were able to trace our family trees back to a common relative – a great-great-great-great-grandfather.
“I won’t bore you with the details, but he died in Albania well over 150 years ago, His two sons left Albania; one went to Austria, the other to England and from there to here. Ethnic intermarriages, immigration and five generations later our kids are their own sixth cousins.”
“Many, many years ago when I was twenty-three,” mumbled Oops.
“Just remembering something,” said Oops. “I’m sorry. You were saying.”
“The point is that tracing the molecule intervals provides a time reference. We know what types of flora and fauna existed at most geographical sites from historical records, archeological excavations and fossil remains.”
Oops sat up, leaned forward. “These ‘intervals’ can be traced back in fruits and vegetables?”
“So we can determine what people were eating and where centuries, perhaps millennia, ago.”
“Exactly,” said Bok. “By measuring the interval in an apple, for example, we can trace its ‘cousins’ back in time.And since plants and vegetables have unique soil markers as well, we can place them geographically to a fair degree of certainty. Its almost pinpoint precise because a plant imported from one place to another will retain its original soil markers while exhibiting enhanced markers indicating a new environment.”
“You can actually determine if an apple from New York had a distant relative in Macedonia?” asked Oops.
“And when it was eaten.”
“Which could give us a comprehensive dietary record of mankind,” said Oops.
“And whatever else our relatives were ingesting,” added Bok. “Hallucinogens, narcotics, poisons.”
“Should keep the revisionists rewriting history for some time,” said Oops.
Bok whistled one, obviously happier now that he had built his case carefully for his friend. Oops smiled in appreciation, and cut a small one in the spirit of bonhomie.
“If Dali is successful, Cyrano is successful,” noted Oops. “A twofer. I think this calls for a drink. He stood and walked over to the small bar across his office. “Wild Turkey, Habbel?”
* * * *
The set was in a state of upheaval, a normal condition whenever the Marx Brothers were shooting a movie. This was the late 1930’s, and the boys were in their heyday; everyone loved a winner.
Still, they were unpredictable. Take this early morning in late March of 1938. They were on a closed set, waiting for the next scene to be readied. Off to one side, Chico was noodling on a piano, with a few of the extras gathered around as his fingers literally tickled the keys. His genius was that it looked like a game, that he was just fooling around, particularly when he lifted the pinkie.
Lighting and sound technicians were checking their equipment. Script people were conferring with the director. The director was nodding at whatever they said, knowing full well that the brothers would follow only the broadest outline of the story, improvising at will, and taking the rest of the cast along for the ride.
Groucho was lying on a couch, tossing grapes into the air and catching most of them in his mouth. Margaret Dumont, their much beleaguered co-star, walked by imperiously.
“Wanna grape?” asked Groucho.
“Wanna grope?” said Groucho, arching his eyebrows and leering at the actress.
“Well, I never!”
“There’s always a first time,” he said, smiling lecherously.
Just then Harpo, blond wig, long baggy coat, hat askew, wandered by eating a banana. He held out the half-eaten banana to the actress and honked his horn, choosing to remain in character rather than speak.
She simply glared at him and walked away, never losing her dignity. Harpo finished the banana, tossed the peel over his shoulder and farted noisily.
“Hear, hear,” said Groucho.
Harpo rolled his eyes crazily at his older brother.
* * * *
There was, of course, the small matter of exactly how to digitize a Cyrano probe onto a Dali reversal of light.
Habbel Bok, one of the world’s foremost quantum physicists, could sketch out a general approach. The specifics, however, required the expertise of a archeological refractologist, a highly unique field of study.
Bok paid a visit to one of the handful of people in the world he believed could solve the problem. Again the setting was sylvan. Scientists, who usually spent their working days in front of a computer screen, seemed to gravitate back to nature when probing the fundamental building blocks of the universe. Or maybe it was just less expensive to locate think tanks in areas where rents were lower and tuition higher.
“Josh, how are you? It’s been awhile.”
“Cut the crap, Habbel. Whaddya need?”
* * * *
Josh Adams had been interested in archeology since the weekend he and a couple of his friends had attended a Godzilla film festival.
“Where did they go?” he asked his friends, tears streaming down his face.
“Who?” chorused his buddies, also three sheets to the wind.
“A comet blitzed them.”
“Too big,” said the other. “Too little food.”
“The Ice Age.”
Adams blinked a couple of times, then started blubbering. “Maybe they’re still out there somewhere.” He sat down on the curb. “Poor dinosaurs.”
His friends continued their meandering journey through the snow banks and back to their dorm, leaving Adams alone on the curb where he was loudly wailing, “Poor dinosaurs, where are you? Must be somewhere, somewhere.”
He was still bemoaning the fate of the prehistoric giants when he heard a gentle voice. “Are you okay?”
Adams looked up into the face of an angel. He could tell she was an angel because her face was surrounded by a halo, a halo induced by his tears, but a halo nonetheless.“The dinosaurs are gone,” he moaned, thinking that this wasn’t a great line to lay on an angel.
“Come on, get up.” She smiled down at him. “I’ll help you find them.”
It took nearly ten years, but Adams chose his path carefully -- anthropology, archeology, paleontology, radiophysics, computer science and a special concentration in evolutionary astronomy. The combined doctorates, interdisciplinary on-site studies around the world and a naturally inquisitive disposition rocketed him to prominence in the inner circles of a highly esoteric scientific community.
And everywhere he went, the angel in the haze was always at his side, smiling at him, proud of him, encouraging him.
* * * *
Habbel Bok laughed. “I leave you sitting on a curb one evening, you making a scene over the fate of Godzilla, and every single time we meet, you bring it up all over again. It was the best thing we ever did for you, maybe the best thing anyone ever did. If we hadn’t left you there, you may never have met Beth.”
“And you bite. Every single time,” said Adams, a smiling broadly. “And you know something else?”
“For some reason, no matter how many times we start this way, you never, never, never fart –- not once. And you know something else?”
“You won’t fart for another thirty-three minutes.”
“I made the discovery the night after you left me on the curb, and Beth took me back to the dorm. Thirty-five minutes, precisely. You now have thirty-two to tell me what you need before I have to throw open the windows and toss you and your ass out of here.”
“That explains why we have so many short meetings.”
“Thirty-one and counting,” glancing at his watch.
Bok quickly outlined the problem, and was out of the door in sixteen minutes flat, Adams’ parting words still echoing in his ears.
“Shouldn’t be too difficult. Just a matter of digitizing the carrier molecules on this end, and creating both a receiver and transmitter at the other end.” He paused, reflecting. “Or maybe a series of transmitters and receivers along the route.”
“Sounds straightforward enough,” said Bok. “Is there any possibility of using holo technology?”
“You’ve been watching too much sci-fi on TV. Holo technology is so near its infancy, it’s still in the conception stage. We can project images, but they’re never where projected; they’re always at the projector. Fancy recordings, nothing more, yet.”
Bok sighed and stood. “It was a thought. I’ll leave you to work out the details.” He looked at his watch. “I still have eight minutes.”
“Get out. And give my best to Grendel and the kids.”
* * * *
Jenfr Zgblatz was staring at Habbel Bok with undisguised adoration, secure in the knowledge that her feelings were hidden behind the lenses of her gasmask.
It was the regular meeting of Common Scents. Habbel Bok has asked the chairman, a man, if he could say a few words.
“Ladz n gnlmn, Dktr Bok has somthn to say,” he said into his mask.
Bok, oblivious to the stench permeating the meeting room, smiled, took a deep breath. “My friends in flatulence, I think I bring you glad tidings.” He had everyone’s attention. Bok could tell because a sudden cacophony of exploding rattlers, whistlers, poohs and anti-poohs greeted his words.
“You will recall that several months ago you agreed to participate in an exciting project, an attempt to trace smells back through time. While there is nothing secretive about Project Cyrano, it has been kept rather low key. It’s not the kind of thing that’s likely to excite the media -- not yet....” He paused. “...although we have had a few breakthroughs, one of which concerns one of our members, Jennifer Zigblatz.”
Bok smiled. “Your monitor provided a unique sample which was added to our database. It would seem that you are related to Millard Fillmore, our thirteenth president.”
“Ah din know Comn Senz had so many presidens.” Bok smiled indulgently. I am such an elitist. Will I never learn. Aloud, “The thirteenth president of the United States.”
Jennifer seemed to think about that. Then, “How could ah beh relatd to Millrd Flmore. All mah granpairnz come frm Yerp.”
“Somewhere, after 1850, one of your relatives married a direct descendant of President Fillmore. It would show up on a careful study of the two family trees. In this case, a hair sample from a Fillmore descendant provided the link. It contained a unique marker that matched one from your gas molecules.”
“Ahm rilly relatd to a presiden?”
“Wha els hav you discovrd?” asked the chairman.
“By analyzing the samples you provided, we were able to determine that the molecules can be traced back in time. It shouldn’t be too long before we can actually send a probe to accumulate samples from time passed.”
“Oo can travl bk in tahm?” said Jennifer.
“We believe light can be sent backward. With a bit of luck, we’ll be able to send one of our probes -- we call them ‘sniffers’ -- along for the ride.”
Bok looked out over the room of gas masked visages, all pointing in his direction. “Using this group’s molecules, we undertook another experiment, Jennifer, you were in New Mexico about three weeks ago.” It was a statement.
“How did oo kno?”
“We released some of your unique molecules at a local monitoring station. Having established a network of stations around the world, we were able to recapture enough of them at other points. This let us establish a time-degradation interval versus distance traveled, given that the planet’s prevailing winds sweep from west to east.”
“Mah frt travld frm here to New Mexco?”
“That too,” said Bok, “but in this case you released the molecules when you went to New Mexico, Taos, wasn’t it?” He didn’t wait for a response. Sometimes it seemed the gasmasks made hearing a bit difficult too. “Your molecules were first picked up at a station just east of Taos. It took three weeks before they were captured here.”
“How marvlus,” she said.
Bok smiled and returned to his seat, discreetly lifted his left cheek and sifted out a silent.
* * * *
Even as he was talking to Habbel Bok, Josh Adams had realized that it would strain credulity to build transmitters and receivers back in time.
As he told Beth that same night, “Habbel thinks it’s relatively simple. He explained it in under twenty minutes actually.”
“That story about how they left you on the curb still works?”
“Makes you wonder. No open windows. He just tightens up whenever he hears that story. Takes him thirty-five minutes to get back to what for him is normal, and for the rest of us is some sort of perverse penance. Thank God.”
“Have you ever considered the possibility that the two of them may have done you a favor?”
Adams grinned. “The biggest. But it works, and who am I to argue with a prefect room deodorizer. Should I continue?”
“Could I possible stop you? But not too many tangerines. Habbel may expel a bit of gas, but once you start on the tangerines you don’t know when to stop. If you’re not careful, they’ll kill our night.”
“Okay. No tangerines. Not yet. Where was I? Oh yeah. The concept is certainly easy to express. We send light back in time, with specific digitized gas molecules, in effect sequencing the light reversal. That same reversal carries sufficient digitized data to function as receivers and transmitters, capturing and relaying the data home.”
“That’s all?” asked Beth. “Do you have the faintest idea what you’re saying?”
He got up and went to the refrigerator, took out a tangerine and started peeling it. Beth looked at him. “That’s one.”
“I figure if I talk long enough, I’ll come up with something workable. After all, if Habbel says it shouldn’t be too difficult, how difficult can it be?” Adams smiled at his wife.
“You think I’m playing a few cards short.”
She returned the smile. “I know you’re playing a few cards short. It’s part of your charm.”
“That and my genes, right?”
“Depends how you spell jeans.”
Popping tangerine slices into his mouth, one at a time, and spilling juice all over himself in the process of separating them, Adams resumed his musings. “Habbel’shang-up is that he’s thinking too small, one light reversal -- one shot, one probe. What happens if Kaz can reverse a series of light waves, aimed at the same target, at different rates of speed?...”
“That way,” interrupted Beth, “the first wave will be on its way back before the others reach their destination, and start their own return trips.”
“Yeah. The first wave gets where its going with its digitized gas molecules.” He almost choked on a tangerine slice. “Wait! Wait! Try this for a twist.” It was a smirk. Beth knew her husband. Standing there in the middle of the kitchen, a half-chewed tangerine slice dripping juice onto his chin, he thought he had the problem solved. If past chin drippings were any guide, he probably did.
“You just logicked out,” said Beth. Right?”
“Yeah. Nice choice of scientific terminology. Have to remember that -- ‘logicked out.’”
“We have to digitize any information in the present, which immediately becomes the future because the light wave in still traveling in a positive direction. And as we keep adding data, it keeps speeding into the future since we’re always operating in the present.”
“But Kaz and his team can slow a wave, so you have time to add more data in less time.”
“You make about as much sense as I think I do.”
“Right,” shaking her head, opening the refrigerator to get Josh another tangerine. Hey, whatever works. She handed the piece of fruit to him. “That’s two.”
Adams never heard her. He started peeling, juice spraying all over the place. “Now, if we charge all of the data positively, when we stop the light wave and reverse it, the signals also reverse, becoming negative charges.”
Beth watched her husband as he vanished into his quest to find the dinosaurs. Pride in her slightly insane mate was matched only by her love for their three quirky children. But, what the hell, they were healthy, bright and had sufficient Beth to offset enough of Josh’s lunacy to make them appear nearly normal, nearly. They did have their father’s knack for operating just inside out-of-bounds. But having inherited Beth’s charm, Josh’s natural abrasiveness was softened in the youngsters.
In the land of the dinosaurs, another tangerine had appeared in Josh’s hands. “That’s three,” warned his wife. He was peeling it frantically, pacing around the house, room to room, apparently talking to Beth, who knew better. She was the breaks in Josh’s monolog.
“And when we send the light waves back with their positive sequences now negative, if there are any positive counterparts out there, they will be attracted to the negatives, like magnets.
“And when we re-reverse the light...” Adams began gesticulating wildly. “...And when we reverse the light, we have data, measurable data, with a zero charge. Using a digitized version of Habbel’s method of measuring degradation, we can time-date a molecule and see if it’s related to another in the Age of Dinosaurs.”
He suddenly grabbed his wife. “Nice toochis.”
“You do have a way with words.”
“What do you have in mind?”
Adams arched his eyebrows. “Honk, honk.”
* * * *
“What we’re going to do,” said Josh Adams, biting into a hero, “is reverse each wave in ‘tagged’ sections, each tag representing one specific negatively charged gas molecule. Each tag will be separated by uncharged buffers. Because they are neutral, the buffers cannot attract any charged signals. We reverse as many sections of a wave as Kaz says is do-able.” He nodded at his friend. “Kaz also tells us how many individual waves the control center can handle.”
Adams, Habbel Bok and Kaz Oops were sitting at a table in the Space Center’s outdoor dining area. Adams had insisted they lunch outside. “This is gonna take more than thirty-five minutes,” he explained.
“And then we analyze the returned data to see what we’ve got,” said Bok.
“If anything,” said Adams. “The sections should attract opposites, and if you’re right about the degradation factor we should be able to time-date the returning molecules. And if Habbel’s theory that time folds back upon itself proves out...” He shrugged.
“We go back further faster,” said Bok, “and by measuring the rate of degradation in combination with the time it actually takes a particular signal to return we should be able to determine the shape of time.
“We’ve been able to measure the degradation of gas molecules from real people in real time. It’s measurable and the rate of degradation is constant. By coding one wave with one molecule broken down in a sequence of what its degradation signature should be at various points in time, we should be able to trace it back accurately, century by century.”
Oops surprised a belch, smiled at Bok, and said, “Assuming that light is related to time, or that time is actually a dimension rather than an artificial means of sequencing events that exist, then cease to exist.
“And further assuming we get any bites at all,” said Oops.
“Given the number of gas molecules generated over Earth’s existence...”
“The mere thought boggles the senses,” interjected Adams.
Oops laughed. Bok smiled thinly and cut a short boomer just to remind his friends that he did have a sensitive side. Oops continued, “... and the fact that we’re tracking a precious few, it’s like finding the proverbial needle, only in a galactic size haystack.”
“Nice analogy,” said Adams.
“Fact is,” said Bok, “the further back we go, the fewer the molecules, unless of course we find out we’re directly related to the primordial slime.”
“How droll,” smiled Adams. “How appropriate.”
“But we’re shooting a light dart into a target universe that’s yet to be accurately measured, and growing by the parsec,” said Oops. “If we target similarly coded waves incrementally, synchronously spaced in time and direction, we significantly multiply the chances for success.”
“The strategy makes sense,” in the abstract, said Adams. He crumbled up the foil his hero had come wrapped in, flipped it to Kaz who with a brief backward glance hooked into cleanly into a nearby wastebasket. “We’ve got several knowns and a shitload of unknowns.” He sipped his drink, belched discretely and continued.
“We’ve got Habbel measuring the degradation of a fart molecule. Right? Right! We’ve got Kaz stopping light waves and reversing them to where -- somewhere. Right? Right! And we’ve got me trying to bring back those same waves by coding them, so the negatives will be replaced with positives and the leading light wave will send its positive back to the trailing waves until they’re actually back here before they left. Right?”
“Right!” chorused his friends. Bok popped out a couple in appreciation. Oops laughed, and even Adams smiled because he had made certain he was sitting downwind from his friend.
* * * *
The monitors in NASA’s Deep Light control center were furiously blinking streams of data as the combined teams prepared to launch the first concerted effort to return to the past. Some of the scientists in the room would settle for a simple reversal of light into an undefined time, whether it was the past or a variation of the present or some unimagined parallel future. Others had more ambitious expectations, Habbel Bok and Josh Adams included.
The possibilities they had conjured up in their minds, and even committed to computer memory and paper, involved formulas so complex the scientists themselves sometimes shrugged in puzzlement over their own conclusions. In short, it was an experiment whose possibilities and consequences were the stuff of science fiction.
It was an almost pastoral scene compared to the frantic activity normally associated with the lunar and deep space launches monitored and controlled from the Johnson Space Center.
Publicity had been extremely low key, and couched in arcane terminology deliberately calculated to bore the press. Where was the excitement in covering light waves –- here, there, gone, wherever? It was a bloody bore to most of the writers covering the NASA beat. Most couldn’t even understand why the project was even under NASA’s wing, but the complexity of the undertaking dictated the choice of Houston and its facilities.
Strangely, the only article that explored the project’s potential in depth had appeared in Science Tomorrow, a scarcely noticed e-zine. The author, one Sidney Zook, had done his homework well. He had sniffed out the air sampling monitors. And he had traced Habbel Bok’s career through the internet.
It was on the net that Zook discovered Bok had close ties to Kaz Oops and Josh Adams. Projecting what he knew, and what he had learned, Zook smelled a story -- literally. He hypothesized that Bok was studying odors to see if they were individual in nature. So what? he thought. Everyone farts. Bok just happens to be exceptional at it. So what? he asked himself again.
Then there’s Oops and his study of light waves, and that wild man Adams who once suggested we all had a bit of Godzilla in us. What a whack. But how does he fit into the equation?
Zook had put together a pretty convincing article, but he had no access to the actual sources with the exception of Bok, and that scientist’s only comment was a steady stream of silent flatulence that drove Zook from his office.
* * * *
As a matter of historical record, it was 8 a.m. Central Daylight Time on August 8 when Kaz Oops’ team brought the first light wave to a dead stop and started it back through time. For the scientific record, it was 8 a.m. Central Daylight Time on August 8 and every moment that preceded it in time.
They stopped several tens of thousands waves within 2.6 seconds, and coded each with digitized data representing unique gaseous molecules. The waves were then sent hurtling back in time in a staggered sequence with a spread about the width of a hydrogen atom.
Hundreds of controllers monitored their consoles, staring incredulously as streams of data started pouring into the Johnson Space Center’s super computers. It took precisely forty-three seconds from the reversal of the first wave until the data streaming in threatened to overwhelm the computers’ capacity.
“I hope we figured this right,” said Oops, anxiously.
Fortunately, the computers held and in less than three minutes all of the data was retrieved -- waves out, data returned and safely stored. And somewhere in the earliest moments of time, the waves sped on unimpeded.
It would be some days before the Deep Light team -- which included astro, quantum and nuclear physicists; astronomers; computer scientists; mathematicians; chemists; geologists; anthropologists; biologists; archeologists; historians, and other exotic specialists -- would be able to analyze and interpret the data, even on a preliminary basis.
Bok and his two friends, relieved that Deep Light was generating results, were seated at an outside table of a small Greek café, dining on lamb, fish and barley cakes. Bok, as usual, was seated downwind where he could puff away contentedly. They were speculating on where the light waves would ultimately travel.
“They don’t have to terminate at all,” explained Oops.
“Once they get back before the origin of the universe, they’ll continue into the void.”
“If there is a void,” said Adams, “and if a light wave is traversing it, is it still a void?”
“Without a molecular structure, what is there?” asked Bok.
“The answer, my friends,” said Oops, “is that if there was nothing, and a light wave passes through nothing, that’s something.”
“Yeah, but what?” pressed Adams.
“What happens,” asked Bok, “if we send waves back in a pattern designed to force them to collide, or at least repel each other with sufficient force to create the possibility of an event?”
Oops and Adams stared at their friend and colleague. Adams phrased the question.
“What the fuck are you suggesting? That we try and precipitate a ‘big bang’ just to see if we can?”
Bok shrugged. “Just a thought.”
“I like it,” said Adams. “Let’s see if we can do that next.”
Oops was apoplectic. “Josh, are you some sort of idiot?” he screamed.
“Did it ever occur to you that if Habbel’s right, and we precipitate a ‘big bang,’ it could speed right back to now -- and there goes the ballgame, not to mention the Milky Way and the rest of the universe.”
A bit sheepishly, Adams said, “Maybe one of my idiot ancestors had the same discussion, and one of your relatives wasn’t there to say, ‘Whoa, schmuck.’”
“Thank you,” said Oops, slowly regaining his composure.
Bok nodded in agreement, suppressing a rattler in favor of a soundless pooh.
* * * *
It was one week later when the three scientists sat down for lunch, again outside, to review the results of Deep Light.
“Pretty exciting stuff,” said Josh Adams.
“The waves did prove time travel is no longer theoretical,” said Kaz Oops. “They are still traveling back to God knows when.”
“Doubt it,” quipped Adams.
“Doubt that the waves are still traveling?” asked Habbel Bok, slicing out half an anti-pooh.
“No, I doubt ‘God’ knows.”
Bok and Oops stared at each other. They knew their friend often thought in the oblique.
“Any particular applications beyond an expansion of our program will have to wait for ‘Star Trek’ technology to become reality,” said Oops.
“You mean transporter technology,” said Bok.
“It solves a lot of sci-fi problems. But let’s face it, our reality doesn’t even hint at the potential for transporting solid objects,” said Oops, tapping his fingers thoughtfully on the table.
Bok looked across the table, suppressed a whistler and said, “Including people.”
“Now there’s an idea,” jumped in Adams. “What if we could bring back the dinosaurs...”
“Or put Hitler on trial,” noted Bok, quietly.
Oops slapped his hand down on the table. “Enough. We could project all sorts of ‘Star Trek’ scenarios with altered timelines and the potential to wreak havoc -- but it’s all word play. We’ve taken the tiniest of baby steps.
“We’ve managed, mostly through interpolation, to analyze gas molecules back in time. We didn’t even retrieve the actual molecules. We transferred first cousins, if you will, to trailing waves, then interpreted the data consistent with Habbel’s analysis of the degradation of distinctive molecule markers. That’s a long way from going back in time and bringing back a dinosaur.”
“Or a Hitler,” said Bok, “molecule by molecule.”
“It does hint at the possibilities,” insisted Adams. “We coded molecules. It’s not much of a stretch to code and retrieve ‘first cousins’ of more complex structures.”
“No,” said Bok. “We created a code that identified each molecule, then reversed the polarity of each coded sequence to attract its oppositely charged molecular cousin. We never reconstructed the actual molecule. We can’t.”
“Yet,” said Adams, studying his fingertips. “Forget it. Another lifetime, I’ll get it right.” He looked at Bok and Oops. “Tell me about the dinosaurs.”
Bok smiled at Adams, nodded to Oops, sighed a long, silent pooh. Both men stood. “Come on.”
“Take a short walk with us.”
They led Adams out to a nearby curb. “Sit,” they said in unison. Adams sat.
“For you, it really started on a curb,” said Bok. “It’s the right place to tell you.”
“Tell me what?” looking up.
“You’re part dinosaur,” said Oops.
Adams stood, sat, stood again. “How? What? I mean...”
“All of the molecules, without exception, trace back far enough for us to determine they are definitely related to molecules generated by sentient beings in the Jurassic Age, perhaps earlier. There is a distinct correlation from the earliest emergence of life to every living animal on our planet.”
“And maybe from off Earth,” added Oops.
“I’m a dinosaur,” screamed Adams, throwing his hands up to the sky. “I’m a dinosaur.”
“You are definitely a dinosaur,” agreed Bok, “probably an Oddosaurus.”
“And I have the satisfaction of knowing that my gas molecules trace back at least as far as the primordial soup from whence life first emerged.”
“We think,” amended Oops.
“But poetically phrased,” noted Bok, arching his eyebrows and popping one sharply that his friends heard and acknowledged with polite applause.
“Suffice to say,” said Bok, with a triumphant smile, “we can be sure that my relatives were flatulating with George Washington and Alexander the Great. We have proven to a reasonable certainty that wherever men and women walked, men and women flatulated.”
“Farted,” insisted Adams.
“What’s the difference?” asked Bok. It was the first time he had ever heard Adams make a distinction.
“Human beings flatulate as a means of relieving some sort of pressure, usually physical.” He paused and took an extremely deep breath. “You, my friend, have refined flatulence into a form of recreation –- a ‘fart form,’ if you’ll pardon the pun. You, Habbel, do not flatulate. You fart. You fart. You fart. And you love it.”
“What Josh is saying,” said Oops, “is that people do not ambulate, they walk. They do not discourse, they talk. And you do not flatulate, you fart.”
Bok nodded in appreciation of this paean to his talent. And then the happily sounded out the first eight bars of Zippity Doo Dah.
“Sweet,” said Adams.
* * * *
Habbel Bok was in his office staring at the computer monitor, once again concentrating on his theory of time. While Deep Light had been unable to prove the nature of time itself, neither had it disproved Bok’s concept. He still had major problems to resolve before he could send light waves back to specific points in time.
Kaz Oops had expressed it simply. “We can stop them in the ‘now,’ but we haven’t the technology to stop them at a specific point in the ‘then.’”
“You work out the stations we have to visit,” Josh Adams told his friend, and I’ll find a way to stop the waves. If you can identify a specific time-date, just maybe we can build transceivers, molecule by molecule if we have to, that can stop the waves in the ‘then’ and bring them back to ‘now.’”
And using the same transfer technology, maybe I can trace myself back to someone famous, thought Bok, almost wistfully. He stared at his screen, lifted one cheek slightly and sighed out an extended puffer.
* * * *
Alexander and his entire army had paused in their march of conquest through Persia to celebrate the Feast of Zeus. No one was sure exactly when the feast occurred, but Alexander didn’t need much of an excuse to throw a party.
It was 324 BC, and his army, as did every army, lived off the land. This particular region of Persia, near Susa, was cultivated with thousands of acres of beans of several varieties, and potency.
Alexander, not really enjoying his role as conqueror of all he and his steed Bucephalus strode upon, convened a meeting of his generals. Sitting in a sling-type chair, drinking a strong red wine from Thasos, he burped and unconcernedly cut a worthy rattler. After all, he was Alexander the Great.
“Stravos, Phillipus, send some of your troops into the fields with enough slaves to gather beans for everyone in the encampment -- all sorts of beans. Have your field kitchens whip up bean stews, bean puddings, bean cakes. Let’s make this feast a real blast.” He chuckled at his own joke.
“And announce a drinking competition -- a royal steed to the winner.”
Red beans, yellow beans, green beans -- if it was a bean it was fodder for Alexander’s field kitchens. And his chefs made military culinary history. This was a bean feast for the ages –- a veritable beanocopia. And Alexander’s brew masters were not to be outdone. Given a scant couple of weeks, they still managed to concoct a bean brew not to be believed.
The known world had never known a Feast of Zeus to match that celebrated by Alexander, his army and its camp followers. Bean stew, bean curry, goat and bean fricassee, shank of lamb marinated in hot bean sauce, dishes featuring a variety of indigenous animals -- hedgehog, donkey, dog, Persian cat -- are all blended with bean salads, pâtés and olios.
The feast spreads over the entire encampment, and Alexander personally judges the wine drinking competition.
“You may choose any wine -- our finest from Thasos, Lesbos and Chios. Drink any one or all varieties. The winner chooses any of the royal steeds...” Here he stops, looks out over the massed assemblage of well over 50,000, snaps out three sharp boomers, and continues. “...except, of course, Bucephalus.
“Preliminary drinking bouts will be held in your phalanx headquarters. Anyone finishing six quarts of wine will be carried to the royal enclosure for me to observe, and the competition.”
And so it went, all day and into the night. They celebrated from first light until the fires were burning low as dawn once again approached. The Macedonians and their allies devoured bean-based dishes until they couldn’t hear themselves talking from all the noise of their combined boomers, rattlers, tear asses and several inventive new varieties of flatulence.
They drank countless thousands of amphorae of wine. Bean and wine farts cast a stifling haze over the entire encampment. The air was so foul that the stoutest hearts sought relief from the scent in wine. The drunk drank more. The near drunk drank more and became drunk. Then to drink some more, they ate more bean dishes, and farted and cycled again until they passed out.
The camp was filled with some 50,000 farting, burping, reeling drunks. Even the guards were smashed. If the Persians had been organized, they could easily have destroyed Alexander’s entire military machine. But, of course, his troops were not only expert in getting smashed, they led their world in smashing.
As dawn broke, the army of Alexander the Great was almost totally wiped out, blitzed out of its collective mind, an accomplishment none of Alexander’s enemies had ever accomplished.
Some three dozen hearty hoplites had quaffed the requisite six quarts of wine, and were carried in triumph tothe royal enclosure. Alexander, no stranger to drinking bouts, was on his seventh quart and feeling no pain. Although a stalwart competitor, he royally removed himself from the competition, proclaiming he would only be a recreational drinker this time.
“Besides, how the fuck can I win my own horse?” And as he roared with laughter he whipped out a tear ass and a series of pungent boomers. “Hey guys,” said a tottering Alexander. “Let’s party.”
Over the next couple of hours, one after another of the finalists finally passed out. One by one, they slipped to the ground, some belching, others cutting a wild variety of noxious farts, and a blessed few demonstrating the finest examples of projectile vomiting.
And then there was one. Alexander staggered up to the victor holding a victory wreath. “Promachus, you were magnificent. Twelve quarts of wine, and you’re still standing. He looked down at the ground where Promachus was sitting throwing up into his helmet, so as not to stain the royal carpet, which was beyond salvage anyway.
“Up, Promachus. If I have to bend down, I’ll vomit all over you.” Alexander roared with laughter, sliced a whistler and extended his hand to the soldier. Promachusstruggled to his feet, allowed his liege to place the wreath on his head, and once more slid to the ground.
Three days later, a messenger arrived at the royal encampment. Taken to Alexander, he reported, “Promachus has died.”
Alexander, who was two quarts to the wind, glanced up at the messenger, recognized him and said, “Thanks, Habbelus Bokkus. The fucker drank too much anyway.”
* * * *