Catalyst: Index

This is the index to 'Catalyst', first published on G+ a couple of years ago. A new piece of the story will be published here every couple of days.

Copyright Dark Aelf, 2021







Invocation & In the Beginning

Part One: Labrinth

Part Two: Chas

Interlude

Part Three: Catalyst

Part Four: Of the Nightfall
  • Life Vows
  • Travelers in Time
  • Girlfriend lost
  • Store Room
  • Ruins

Part Five: Multiple Incoming
  • Backup
  • Tremors
  • Merger
  • Sabotage

Part Six: A New Earth
  • Nine ways to sorrow
  • Observations
  • Wind
  • Völuspá
  • Begin the Beguine
  • Dust to Dust


Afterword

Personae

  • Catalyst: A young boy projected into the future in 1975.
  • Labrinth: (Stephanie Fenner Childs, b.16 February 1947) A weapons expert and former diplomat at the Australian South Vietnam embassy, presently seconded to Deep Space Station 41 on the shores of Island Lagoon in South Australia. In 1975 she is projected into the future (2015) to recover Catalyst.
  • David: Son of Chas and Dawn. Lives in a converted boat shed on his parent's beach front property near Nowra on the East coast of Australia. Found and employed by Labrinth.
  • Patroclus: David's cat.
  • Mission Controller Benson:  In charge of  Deep Space Station 41 during disastrous time travel tests at the Australian Temporal Research Facility.
  • Cannonball (Chas): Second in charge of  Deep Space Station 41. 
  • Dawn: Chas's wife. 
  • Mary: David's wife. In some time lines they are divorced or separated. She has brothers in all the time lines.
  • Shalaye: Guardian
  • Adria: the Guardian's daughter
  • Bavole: the Guardian's companion, sometimes described as a cat.

Background essays and Acknowledgements

This story is based on true events. Deep Space Station 41 was abandoned by the US three years before events in the story starts in 1975. At that time, Australian scientists were researching scram jet technology, remote drones and time travel in the remote reaches of South Australia, near Australia's space port, Woomera. 
Everything became a bit vague at the end of 1975, and since then the past keeps changing.

App1: Heartlines

This story is about a couple of things, including heart-lines - but not the heartlines of popular culture icon.

In popular culture, a heart-line is one of the creases on your upturned palm. Lines vary from person to person. Although fixed at birth they only change through misadventure or the ravages of time. The lines are studied like tea leaves, stars and the entrails of small animals. Some think that they can be a guide to past and present love. Such readings go hand in hand with concepts of immutable fate and time.

Love in popular culture is often reduced to the romantic love of one person for another, generally a woman for a man. But the concept has a far broader scope, including the love of a mother for her child, or for the faithful for their god. When we stretch the idea, some who get to this point conclude that love is just an illusion. Or perhaps it is just a pale jewel, some bauble for the young to chase. Some ask “Does it make any sense?” And then it starts again, lightly brushing against another’s mind.

There can be little question that the subject of love is often quietly put into a basket. Perhaps the same bucket we put all complicated things or those that with no scientific explanation. Maybe the same basket we placed the love of a mother for her child, or for the faithful for their god a moment ago. But in times of personal crisis, when we reach in and take it out and hold it to the light to seek real understanding, how then can we tally it with a reading of a heart line at odds with our circumstances. Our heartline might be trouble free, while all around are awry finances, crying dependents, and broken washing machines.

Akin to all manner of pre-scientific lore, the subject of heart-lines is full of chaff and hardly warrants serious consideration. If it adds a layer of anxiety and distress, it is worse than useless.

Still, some practitioners have skills that defy explanation. Sensitive to the person they sit with, they sometimes adapt folk wisdom hidden within the dross to challenge the present. Here the reading can mobilize those stuck in the morass of indecision or by the collapse of trust.

It is then that a heart-line becomes real and starts to burn: a catalyst for future action.

App2: Time Travel

We are all time travelers.

We are all equipped with basic navigational facilities: the ability to experience the passage of time and to anticipate coming events. We are not good at predicting coming events, and we do not learn particularly well from past events, even though we could with a bit more practice, perhaps be better at both.

Given our practical experience in time travel, it comes as a bit of a surprise that the discussion of time travel itself is relegated to the stuff of pure fantasy. At one level this is entirely understandable, those lost in imaginings about what might have been or what might be can become lost and unproductive. Still, there is a proper side to imagining alternative futures, and we value those who can set out strategies to accomplish or avoid certain future events. Less appreciated is that advice that traces alternative past events.

Bertram Chandler’s novel Kelly Country (1981) was such an attempt, tracing an imagined timeline from a successful Kelly outcome at Glenrowan into a modern day history that, while mere fiction, illuminates realities and possibilities that we sometimes find inconvenient.

Here, I have approached the subject from a different perspective. I have assumed that time has some of the normal characteristics we find in n-space, such as velocity and acceleration. I imagine two things flow from this concept: temporal velocity and time quakes. Time travel into a realm of future possibilities becomes a straightforward matter of giving a person temporal velocity. I imagine that the velocity is relativistic between observers and observed, both continue to experience time as an ordinary rate although the observed move away from the observers at a different temporal velocity.

In such a world time paradoxes do not occur. Instead, events happening in real time (with the observer) are merely promulgated through time into the possible future. Changes are manifested by time quakes. Time quakes can occur as a result of the actions of the observed in real-time or the cloud.

It works like this. A person sends an observer into the future. The observer in the possible future transmits the results of a lottery draw back into the past. The receipt of the information changes lots of things that send a shock into the temporal probability cloud, the time quake impacting on the observer.

A general theory of events

Intuitively we know that there are pivot events - where the actions of a few can have a dramatic down-stream effect. Some of these were waiting to happen and would have occurred sooner or later (the gradual increase in wealth outside wartime, the development of new technology under the influence of competition). Others are unique, in the hands of a few and could not capable of replication (examples here might be the 1975 Australian Dismissal or, less apparent, the successful development of scramjet technology, or the Indonesian military reaction to Australian entry into East Timor).

In the short term, maybe individual events are unlikely to impact on individuals, the same people would meet, fall in love and have/have not kids. But over time, enough variability would be added to lead to different outcomes: nice Mrs. Brown down the street won the lottery and moved out, and new noisy neighbors moved in, bringing forward your plans to move interstate.

We are often told of the dire consequences of not doing stuff. Some of these are real problems, but we seldom go back and test these, instead, sensibly, concentrating on the future.

So, in this story, I have tested changing two pivot events, both real, and imagined the down-stream consequences of the change.

Time Line One

In the first timeline, I have imagined what would have happened if the Whitlam Government had not been dismissed in December 1975. This is an old event, tortured to death by partisan Australian commentators in histories and telemovies. Time has shaped the downstream consequences in interesting ways. The recent death of Malcolm Fraser, often portrayed (perhaps correctly) as the villain in this drama, was lauded recently (again, maybe rightly) by his political opponents as a man of insight and compassion.

The dismissal was well in hand at the time this novel starts; only a catastrophe could have precluded the events unfolding as they did. The calamity is supplied in the story with the further chaos created by the cat Patroclus distracting the power crew from dealing with a power surge. In turn, the surge initiated the accidental launch of a weapon carrying missile on Northern Perth. The novel hints at the abandonment of Perth and the re-establishment of the western capital in NW West Australia near Derby or Kununurra.

If the dismissal had not occurred, it is most unlikely that world economic imperatives would have been impacted. International events would have continued to unfold as there have, the Global Financial Crisis would have followed the Asian financial crisis. However, the political cycle in Australia would have been disrupted leaving the Labor party in power for many more years, changing the balance of social and private outcomes in ways that are exciting subjects of speculation. I have assumed the emergence of centralized health and education, a movement into the non-aligned group of nations, the development of regional and disappearance of state governments, a partial union with New Zealand, the establishment of a republic encompassing Australasia and Pacific island nations. I have imagined that this has come at the cost of burgeoning debt. I have imagined this led to a return to conservative parties (Howard) in 1995 and a precipitous intervention in south Indonesia by the new conservatives leading to a short war with that country. The need for escalating defense spending coupled with disruption to mining export channels leads to the retention of industry protection policies and the protection of failing industries (the Australian airline Ansett, which collapsed with the withdrawal of Government support in real time in 2001). A return to Labor government in the wash-up of war (Beasley) sees Australia exposed to significant GFC impacts and the need to engage in fiscal austerity policies by 2010 (otherwise avoided by strong trade links with China in real time). So the Australia of 2015 in this alternative timeline is a sizeable centrist state, bedeviled by defense considerations, massive government debt but whose people enjoy significant social support.

None of the events I have imagined here were beyond contemplation at any time and, except for war with Indonesia, all remain on the table.

Time Line Two

In the second timeline, I have imagined what would have happened had early testing with scramjet technology in Australia been pursued, at the time.

In timeline 2, initiated by the return of Benson’s crew, I imagined specific world-wide ramifications, involving rapid technological innovation. The novel identifies a series of outcomes, including the reforestation of the central Australian deserts and the development of new agricultural areas, the creation of a vibrant space industry and the development of militarized digital industrial base. Important in the plot is the creation of a Base AI, which actively utilizes time technology to develop and protect itself.

Unlike the first timeline, these developments all have international ramifications. I imagine that the cooling of the Australian deserts would tip the world climate into a minor glacial period and that the intensive farming of the desert area releases a toxic mix of viral agents. Both possibilities have, in the past, been suggested in the scientific literature as vulnerabilities. They have known risks that cannot be ruled out, but for which it is impossible to give a meaningful assessment.

The militarization of digital technology and the subsequent failure to develop a civil base for this technology is a common and known problem.

In the novel it is reflected in two ways: the failure to develop civil digital technology (sorry no Apple computers and Windows 10 is not going to happen) and the inability to advance the development of technology within the confines of a culture of secrecy (even the military will not have iPhones). The civil choice remains between vinyl and cassette tapes. Defense is still using micro-dots and Chinese restaurants.

App3: Currendelella - the Elven path

I once retold the first people story of how some dry seeds, blown before a tempest, provides a way to the stars, Currendelella. When your time comes to leave for the stars, do not waste time arguing among yourself about who should lead the journey (which might end in peril in the Magellan Clouds or the Unseen River). Instead, trust in the path made by the seeds when the wind blows.

‘Elven path’ conjures an image of a shimmering, almost unreal, path. Those who come upon an elven path may be or become lost. But not all that wander them do so accidentally.

Overthinking some descriptions can strip them of magic. ‘Elven path’ is one of those. So my intention here is not to define the term nor seek to explain it. Instead, I wanted to bring together my thinking about paths and remember how I tripped over the notion, one cold day, in Massachusetts.

I was writing a letter to my parents.

“At the bottom of the hill, a little distance from the old farmhouse runs the road. Washington and the continental army marched past the farm along the road before Cook ‘discovered’ Australia and named the great south land “New South Wales.”

From the farmhouse, I can sit and watch the community roll past along the road - an amazing variety of American vehicles (jeeps, Toyotas, Chevy’s, Pontiacs, hummers) at a bewildering array of speeds. As a bonus, because the town police station is not far distant, the faster passers-by often travel in the company of a black and white town police car, its lights flashing and sirens blaring.

In the best of Tolkienian style, the road is called Main Street. Unlike the main streets that dot Europe, all the main streets in Massachusetts lead to Boston rather than Rome. The habit of calling the main street of a town ‘Main Street’ is an ancient practice observed throughout Europe and New England. Initially, only significant roads leaving a capital city were gifted with a different name. The ancient Appian Way (Via Appia) led from Rome to the heel of the Italian peninsula in 312BC while the Via Aurelia from Rome to France in 241BC. Even so, the Via Appia was known merely as Main Street in Brundisium. The modern practice of gifting the more complex pattern of roads within a town or city with fictive names probably dates to the method in the Republic of naming streets after the Censor who constructed the way, or repaired it.

In Boston, the Main Street that passes the farmhouse is known as Massachusetts Avenue. At one stage, this was the road that led through the state and beyond, to New York and the other New England cities. But today, it has become a bit of a backwater, overshadowed by the massive Massachusetts Turn Pike, the haunt of the state police.

The Pike cuts through the forest to the south, far distant from this sleepy town. Today, those who travel on the Main Street seldom go far from home. A historian started his history of Spencer (written in the 1890’s) with the warning that nothing of any importance had ever happened here - even going so far as to apologize for the lack of witches and slaves. But this was false praise based on the humor of the time and the dream of splendid isolation. For in the earliest days of the district, during English rule, witch prickers included Spencer in the spring hunt and slavery was not uncommon. Far from being devoid of history, the town was replete with small factories (shoemakers and wire drawers), was the home of the Howe family (the inventors of the sewing machine and spring beds) and any number of people slain through love or lack of it. But even so, long-distance travel was as uncommon then as now.”

Starting from the modern, the tangible, I was struck by the contemporary need to construct and then name our roads. Almost as an afterthought, I stumbled over Tolkien’s descriptions of trails and paths in Middle Earth, reminding me that paths were initially established by usage and geography rather than a bulldozer. While the shadow of the modern world may drown some of the ways in darkness, traces may still be seen everywhere.

I was particularly taken by Tolkien’s descriptions of the elven path through the dark forest of the Mirkwood (The Hobbit, Queer Lodgings). I remember getting on a bike one day, and leaving the safety of the Main Street and starting to explore the underlying paths and passages all around me. Near the old farmhouse in Massachusetts are the forests which have now reclaimed the flat farmland once attached to it. Through the swampy northern forests are the old paths. Back in Australia, near my farmhouse in Palerang, is part of an ancient trace, one the young blacksmith Alexander Ross followed to his tragic death a century ago. Having, started to write about the modern road, I found myself enjoying the passages of the old ways, a fascination that led to the Natchez Trace and one of the Australian equivalents, the Yuin Trace.

There is magic in those paths. In fall or autumn, as the season turns and the forests lose life hue, the places can become surreal, beyond beautiful. It is then that the old paths start to shimmer. Walking or running along them can lift you out of yourself, briefly settling into the footprints of those who went before. But, because the paths are organic, representing sensible passages, traveling along the tracks can tell you things that might not otherwise be obvious.

I had learned about and followed the paths of the first people when scouting for firefighting. Two images still reoccur to me. The first, in turning through the high bush and coming upon a mountain-side vista untouched by the modern world. I stood, suddenly realizing that here I could see exactly what those who had come before had seen: a hundred years ago, or twenty thousand. The second, a day or so before the Canberra firestorm, when in following one of the shimmering paths, with the bushfire to my back, I came to a cliff edge and saw the city of Canberra below me, close in arrant disregard of the danger.

More recently, in briefly touching on the life of a settler who once lived nearby, I was able to revisit some of the old paths, sometimes on a borrowed stock horse or, just as often, on foot.

“The First People created permanent walk-ways, the Yuin Trace, through the forests bordering on the high plains from the mountains to the West, the Brindabellas and Tidbinbillas, through to the Eastern coastal areas. For tens of thousands of years, the paths making up the Trace were protected by Law, remembered in Dreamings, described in maps drawn on rock and sand, and kept clear through regular burning and use.

The paths were later recorded on the silks used by early European surveyors to draw their little maps, along with the names of waterways and other features, including vegetation and mountains. Much of the Trace was early designated as a road reserve, and with some exceptions, remain out of private ownership.

Early European settlers used the Trace for travel. Through the mountains, it was often the only viable path. The Trace bisects rivers and streams at fords, reasonably safe for crossing save when flooding rains fed the waterway flooding rains fed the waterways.

Eventually, gravel and tarred roadways were constructed on the ancient path. Today, we travel these paths, seeing many of the same vistas as all those who came before us, for tens of thousands of years.

Some of the more wealthy graziers attempted to restrict public use of these new public roads across their holdings. Some corruptly exerted political pressure to install many public gates along the way (requiring users to dismount to open and close the gates) and then providing alternative roadways with no gates over land with little farming value (land frequently flooded or across hilltops). Others persuaded authorities to build new roads that benefitted private interests rather than those championed by more practical men, like Mick O’Connell.

In the late 1880’s, public anger was spurred on when the wealthy owners of Foxlow Station installed five gates across the public road through the property. When the gates were declared public gates, a petition with 200 names on it protested the change. A local correspondent to the Queanbeyan Age complained: “A daily mail will run shortly, and the mailman has to get down every time, which should not be; besides, it is extremely awkward for those who have spirited horses, as there is now, and likely to be, great traffic from Bungendore to the Flat.” Public indignation did not secure a better outcome - the public road was so inconvenient to use, it was eventually shut, and an alternative (but more difficult and longer) track provided up into the hills to the East.

Large landholders, who provided most taxation revenue for public works, also resisted funding improvements to roads, and especially bridges, which were very expensive and were prone to being washed away.”

In writing about the remarkable collaboration between Sub-Inspector Wright and the aboriginal policeman and tracker Sir Watkin Wynne I traveled one of the more difficult stretches of the path.

“He paused, remembering the sheer rocky cliffs, the silven cascades of the mountain streams, the cool mountain air. He remembered being there with Sir Watkin Wynne, retracing that venture a couple of years later, the old man teaching him the names of the birds, the plants, and the cascades. He could still point to traces of the passage of the bushrangers, made years before.”

Finally, in reviewing the old Eddas, I have looked at the notion of the two great constructed paths - the Bifrost and the Gjallarbru. The Bifrost is a work of high technology, shimmering and beautiful, like a rainbow, burning in the sky. But it can fail, and does, under the weight of the horde from lower of the nine worlds in the final days. The Gjallarbru is less known, a covered or woven bridge glittering with gold, to travel on it you must survive a challenge of the maiden Modgud.

So, my conception of a shimmering path started to firm as something that was hidden and yet could be stumbled upon or accessed by those who knew - fey, dangerous and fragile, a shortcut to great benefit.

This meaning fits my idea of a pathway nicely into the future or the past.

App4: Your very own time machine in ten minutes Theory crafting

We all watched with wonder, the pictures of Pluto from the NASA New Horizons probe.

The probe was unique for lots of reasons, but perhaps one of its less well-known characteristics is that it has been propelled at such velocity as a result of the slingshot from Jupiter, that (as predicted by the theory of relativity) it is now in the future. We are in its past. So, those photos of Pluto have come to us from the future.

It is not far into the future (the probe would need to get close to light speed to achieve that), but New Horizons is enough in the future so that telemetry and communications depend on observers taking the slight time shift into account.

All well and done, but what practical application does this have?

The probe is heading away from us, but let us consider two different cases:

1.    Assume that the probe, at some time in the future, is retrieved and returned. While now motionless on the floor in front of us, it remains in the future. What we have in front of us is it, as it was, in the past.

2.    Assume that the probe slows dramatically and makes a loop back to Earth. As it flies close to the Earth, for reasons of safety, NASA destroys it at time T in location XYZ. Note that just before destruction the probe has survived time T and left location XYZ without a problem.

Now, the probe is a pretty unique case because it has a lot of velocity packed into it, but it has also pushed it outside the parameters of the wave that determine ‘the present’ within our time frame.

When we look a little broader than ordinary physical objects, iron steel and wood, we find some subatomic particles that can be given velocity far more than the New Horizons probe. Some theorists suggest that here lies the possibility of time travel. Others suggest that instead of velocity, we might deploy the force of gravity. By such theory, some have started to design elaborate machines with injectors, linear accelerators, and black holes. Which are all a bit outside our budget and time today?

Uncertain of the Certainty?

Before going any further, let us do a quick environment scan.

Why do we want to go into the future, anyway?

There are heaps of excellent reasons. It is fun knowing what new music is going to come out next week, who will win the tennis or what numbers are going to drop for the lottery. It sounds more than fun; it could be profitable.

 But what if the future is uncertain?

What if the future we might experience never happens? Let us go back to case 2 above. There is no certainty that the future that might be observed will eventuate. The only certainty is what happens as the current time wave fixes the present into the historical, unalterable past.

So, while it might look and feel real, the future is merely a temporal probability cloud, always being capable of being collapsed or altered in the present. More than that, and one might be forgiven for thinking this a subtle point, but there is only one temporal probability cloud. One reality and one temporal probability cloud: although the probability cloud might be being stretched in all sorts of directions.

Still, there may be lots of good reasons to peak into the future, although fun and profit might no longer be primary motivations. We try to create the future and spend a lot of time designing increasingly sophisticated models of the future. Some of the models are very accurate; others are junk. Weather forecasts fall into the latter category.

So you want to play with Magic?

Not fazed by uncertainty? You still want to go into the future, and you are tapping your feet and reminding me that the ten minutes is almost up and we have yet to put a single nail into the first piece of wood.

Consider the first case above. Each of us has been made from the stuff of stars: some bits incredibly old, already pre-stressed with incredible forces at the center of gravity wells or accelerated by the death throes of our old home. Through velocity or gravity, bits of us are already embedded far into the future. Bits of the temporal probability cloud are all around us.

You are already your time machine.

Ok, they did not give me a manual either, and I have never been sure what purpose the red button serves. We all have to work it out as we go along.

No promises were broken. I merely said I would have you in your very own time machine in ten minutes.

I did not say I knew how to make it fly.


Acknowledgements

I initially created parts of this novel on-line, and it benefited from the encouragement and challenges of friends and critics. Attempting to recreate the mind-set of people from the 1970s has all sorts of hidden problems. This issue arose particularly with Labrinth who vacillates between violent and deceptive responses. I am keenly aware that the creation of fictive characters can often say more about an writer than the character. Critics and friends helped guide me through this minefield, and helped patch me up when it became necessary.

In bringing this story to its final form, i specifically acknowledge the suggestions, corrections and  many many hours of proof reading of CR Bravo, a superb New York artist and writer, with whom i have had the privilege of writing a number of books.



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