Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Yossi, the Time Traveller

After the High Ones left, some of us searched their Palace for humanly usable (or even just comprehensible) technologies. I was looking after my two-year old granddaughter, Yossi, on the lawn outside the Palace while members of our group searched different Chambers inside. Yossi kept running behind bushes, then went up the ramp into the Building.

Knowing that her father, Rick, was checking computers in the first Chamber, I took my time about following her. When I got inside, however, Rick was alone, absorbed in machinery. Yossi must have gone further in. Passing Rick, I found myself in a corridor with openings to several Chambers. Becoming alarmed, I hurried forward and suddenly noticed a young woman who momentarily reminded me of my daughter, Aileen. Smiling, she pointed to a particular opening. Thanking her, I dashed inside and immediately saw Yossi on a dangerously high platform without a railing: typical High Ones architecture, not designed for human use. Someone had erected a humanly usable ladder to the platform but Yossi could not possibly have climbed it, especially not in the time she had been out of my sight.

More startling was another Yossi, sitting on the floor at the foot of the platform. Standing back, I could see two Yossis simultaneously. This was not quite as surprising as you might think. I knew that, theoretically at least, time travel was possible inside the Palace. After all, it was believed that the High Ones had gone away into Time, not into Space, and there was evidence to support this belief. First, there was the “Hall of the Time Gate” which no one knew how to operate and some thought was merely ceremonial. Secondly, there was the peculiar architecture of the Palace: not just unprotected platforms but openings into thin air high in the impossibly curving walls of uninhabitable, floorless Chambers, as if the Builders could fly or as if we perceived only a cross-section of a multi-dimensional structure. Extra dimensions could be used for space warps or time warps. If Yossi had travelled even a minute into the past, then she would obviously coexist with her younger self until the younger self disappeared at the end of that minute. And, if she had stumbled onto time travel, then she had definitely made the breakthrough that we were all looking for. Was the platform a time machine?

My first thought was that the Yossis had better be prevented from seeing each other in case they became alarmed but, before I could move, the Yossi on the platform stood, pointed and addressed me with:

“Oh, look, there’s Yossi!”

She spoke! She spoke in a sentence! She pronounced her name correctly: “Yossi”, not “Sossi”! She was older than the one I had been looking after who, I hoped, was the one on the floor. I didn’t want three of them. I needed to get to the older Yossi. She was in greater danger because she was on the platform and (I reasoned) the younger Yossi could be presumed to be safe because it was known that she would survive to become the older Yossi. I raced up the ladder and, addressing Yossi from the top of it while pointing to the figure on the floor, asked:

“Is she your…”

(Could I say “your younger self”?)

“…your little Yossi?”

“Yes. I played with her.”

When? There had not been time.

I continued: “When there are two of you, you must tell me which is older because that is the one I must look after.”

“I know.”
She knew! She already knew something about the intricacies of time travel. I climbed up and picked her up. Then, as we looked down at the younger Yossi, that one disappeared while the one I was holding said:

“Bye bye, Yossi.”

The disappearance was more like the fading of a memory than the departure of an object. Had I really seen her there a moment ago or had it been ages ago?

I asked:

“Do you remember being her?”


“Where did she…you go?”

“To a lady.”

She was not going to say any more and I was already starting to realise that I should not enquire too closely. The events were already safely past for Yossi. 

My first hypothesis had been that this older Yossi had come back to us from our future. Now it seemed that the younger Yossi had travelled perhaps a month into the past and had grown into the Yossi I was now holding. During that month, she had been looked after by someone, a “lady,” had improved her speech, learned something about time travel and possibly played with her younger self without our knowledge. I was learning to reinterpret chronokinetic events continually. Yossi could have travelled backwards or forwards in time in a more complicated sequence than the one I had just hypothesised but it was at least the simplest explanation for what I had seen so far. 

As I carried her through the Palace to rejoin Aileen and her friends, I wondered if Yossi and I could just cover up what had happened but this was impossible. I began to notice that she was bigger and was dressed differently and, as soon as she saw her mother, she ran towards her, speaking in a way that showed she had changed.

That was how it began. Since then, we have had to become used to Yossi’s time travelling. Sometimes she just disappears. When that happens, we know that she has gone forward for a day or two. Then, we just have to wait for her to reappear, unaged, unchanged, sometimes even in mid-sentence. Sometimes, she is seen in the distance, talking to her older or younger selves. When that happens, we do not interact with them unless one of them invites us to. 

Events which the oldest Yossi present regards as past must be allowed to unfold as she remembers them. If she remembers that she did not tell us something that we wanted to know, then so be it. We can probably be told it later but obviously did not need to know it at the time.

Once, Aileen glimpsed a taller figure that could have been the “lady” who interacts with Yossis. Sometimes, events are chaotic. Once, Sheila answered the door late at night to be confronted with a twelve year old Yossi who handed over her younger, sleeping self and immediately disappeared. We wanted to tell her that this was unacceptable but had to wait until we saw a Yossi who was old enough to say it to. We had a day of looking after a very small baby again and now suspect that she had been taken from her pram at a very early age and returned to it before our younger selves were able to notice that she had gone.

On another occasion, several Yossis walked past my half open door, saying, “Hello, Granda” in descending order of height. The smallest could only manage, “Lo, Wawa.” I was astounded that they had managed to involve one so young but I knew that she was perfectly safe so I resisted the temptation to run down the corridor after them. I expect that we will be seeing younger Yossis as guests at the older ones’ birthday parties for years to come but I will have to live through each twelve month period consecutively in order to find out.

As you know, Anderson and others have significantly advanced time travel theory by studying Yossi’s reported comings and goings: having disappeared, she either reappears (travels into the future) or turns out to have appeared earlier (travelled into the past). In the latter case, an effect (appearance/arrival) precedes its cause (disappearance/departure) and sometimes causes it (which is the paradox of circular causality) but apparently never prevents it (which would be the paradox of causality violation). When Yossi knows that her older self has been seen to appear or to act in a particular way at an earlier time, she simply accepts that, at some point in her personal future, she will have reason to appear or to act as her older self is already known to have done. She usually forgets about her reported actions until she finds herself performing them although, occasionally, she sets out to do what she is known to have done in order to complete a particular series of events. Thus, there is both circular causality and deliberate avoidance of causality violation.

She seems to have learned at an early age that, if she attempts the opposite, deliberate causality violation, even just by appearing at a time and a place at which she did not appear, then events outside her control, possibly including a fatal accident, will prevent her, so she doesn’t try.

We do not know whether she subjectively experiences anything between objectively disappearing and (re)appearing or how she controls her time of arrival. In fact, I think she is still learning how to control it. Certainly her earliest temporal journeys were controlled by her older selves or by hypothetical time travelling colleagues, not by the travelling self. The theoreticians’ first mistake was to think that the Yossi whom I followed into the Palace had accidentally discovered time travel. Rather, one of her older selves had carefully arranged for that Yossi to travel back a month or so in order to get the process started. Even an early trip to the past that seems to us completely pointless is, to her, a remembered part of her learning experience and therefore must be allowed or even caused to have occurred. The platform is not a time machine but she was put on it in order to get me away from the younger Yossi who was scheduled to disappear soon after I entered the Chamber.

Yossi is obviously protecting and instructing her younger selves while preparing her present self for longer journeys and a greater purpose. She has visited periods before and during High Ones rule which is a bit nervous-making but:

she only embarks on such a journey after she has seen herself return from it so she knows it is safe to go;
the periods visited are the safest in human or superhuman history;
she assures us that, while she is in such periods, she automatically disappears at the first sign of potential danger.

(I think that a time traveller can develop a sixth sense for danger and disappear before consciously realising what the threat was, especially if all that she is trying to avoid is detection. This would explain some reported apparitions in and around the Palace.)

A Yossi from several years in our future mentioned that, after she had extended her range, she provisionally decided to visit a particular pre-High Ones period called “the twentieth century” but took the usual precaution of waiting to see herself return before setting off. Since she did not return, she did not go and now avoids that period like the plague. I have subsequently confirmed that it was a lethal period of social conflicts that have since been resolved and transcended. As for our future, Yossi’s knowledge is, of course, limited and she is understandably reluctant to share it except to say that we have some surprises ahead of us.

She could, if she wanted, spend several consecutive years in a chosen historical period and return to us at the moment from which she left but then we would miss those years of her development so she will not let this happen yet. If she does eventually settle down in an earlier period, then she could already be one of her own ancestors (bequeathing a gene for time travel?). Scientists and historians want information on the High Ones, who concealed themselves during the latter years of their “reign” when they did not rule human beings directly but did alter our environment and influence our culture, fundamentally for the better, but Yossi has a different agenda which I have only recently begun to understand.

I had been confident from the start that the younger Yossi was safe because I knew that she would survive to become the older one. I now have reason to believe that the older Yossi was safe for a similar reason. The clue was the identity of the woman who pointed to the Chamber of the Platform. None of the other exploratory groups in the Palace had a young female member who remotely resembled Aileen and, when I thought about it, the woman had literally appeared in front of me. The corridor had been empty when I entered it but I had been too concerned about Yossi, then grateful for the woman’s help, to think about where she had come from. So who was she? Not a disguised High One, I hope. The one man who thought he saw a High One, by ingeniously but only temporarily adopting the Time Gate as a chronoscope, has since been too overawed to talk about it. Besides, I now know that we have an advantage even over the High Ones. I have listened carefully to Yossi’s remarks about her temporal journeys and have even overheard some of her conversations with her teenage selves.

Thus, I have pieced together an understanding of what my mysterious woman, Yossi’s “lady,” will do after she has made her last remembered visit to her younger selves. She, the adult Yossi, will travel into the far past and lead the human beings who became the High Ones and built the Palace. 


This story:

was inspired by a dream about my granddaughter, Yossi Clark;
incorporates her parents and grandparents as supporting characters;
derives its terminology and crucial aspects of its setting from Robert Heinlein’s classic science fiction story, “By His Bootstraps”;
pays tribute to another master of time travel literature, Poul Anderson,
and incorporates part of a phrase from Action Comics, no. 591, cover-dated August 1987, where, in an episode entitled “Past Imperfect,” scripted and drawn by John Byrne, Superman describes the return of a time machine into the time stream as “…more like the fading of a memory than the movement of a vessel!” (This memorable phrase stayed in my mind until February 1996, when I wrote about Yossi.)

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