The following are extracts from the book The Psychology of Time Travel by Antonios Cremades.
Before I begin my long and perhaps inconclusive account of traveling in time, and all of its paradoxes, let us take a moment to understand how it is that time may be traveled at all.
We start with a large space bridge, which is to say that the area of both halves of the bridge are large enough for a man to walk through. And let us suppose that this space bridge is long-lasting, or is cared for so that it does not expire before our account of it is over, and is enclosed, for its own protection, in two stone circles. If a man steps through one half of this bridge, he appears out of the other half. And he can return to where he started simply by stepping back through again. At first, the two halves of the bridge are next to one another, so there is no great service provided by the bridge. A man can travel two yards without walking by stepping through one half and out the other.
We give one half of the bridge to a daemon. I do not want to digress on the matter of daemons, but suffice to say that they are relatives of the gods, sometimes their servants, sometimes their enemies. Most daemons fly through the void between the stars, searching for new worlds, or who knows what, in the depths of space. I will write more on daemons, and frequently, in this book, because they are so commonly encountered by the time traveler, simply because they are essential to the creation of space bridges that transport one through time.
The daemon takes one half of our space bridge with her upon a journey through space, a journey that begins upon our own world, where our space bridge began its life. She takes the bridge far away, at great speed, and subjects it to unimaginably forceful accelerations as she navigates among the stars. When an opportunity arises, we speak to her as she travels. She tells us where she is, or where she is going, and we can look through the space bridge and see what she sees. We may see a star, growing brighter by the minute as she approaches.
The daemon turns around and comes back to our own world. Several months after she left, we see our own sun approaching, and then our own planet, and the daemon descends through the air that clings to the surface of our world, and lands in the very same field (let us assume it is a field) from which she departed. All this we know from talking to her, but when we look up in the sky, expecting her to descend upon us, we do not see her. Nor will we for many months to come. Where is she? She does not appear.
That, I promise you, is what would happen. And how can it be explained? I do not know. It is well known, and predictable, but so far as I can tell, nobody has an explanation for it. But the fact remains, that when the daemon comes back to our world, she lands in the future. What we see, looking through the space bridge she carried with her, is the field as it will be in the future. The farther and faster the daemon traveled with the bridge, the farther into the future will she return to us.
We step into our half of the bridge and appear out of the daemon's half. We stand in our future. We see the half of the bridge out of which we have just stepped, set in the stone circle that was carried by the daemon. We also see the other half, our own half, the one that never moved from the field, in its own stone circle. They stand next to one another. We step back into the daemon's half and out of our own half. We have returned to our own time. Now we see only one stone circle: the one that stayed behind.
Now we step through the bridge again and appear in the future. We determine, by questioning a passer-by, that we have traveled forward by one year. What happens if we step into our own half of the bridge again? We do so, and we find that, when we step out of the daemon's half, we are another year in the future, a total of two years from when we started. Both halves of the space bridge are still protected by stone arches, and stand serenely in the center of the field.
We walk through our half yet again, and appear out of the daemons half. We do it over and over again, each time moving one year farther into the future. Eventually, however, we step into our own half, and out of the daemon's half, and we see that someone is destroying our own half of the bridge. He strikes it with a hammer, and it collapses. The demon's half is still there, standing alone in the field. A year from now, it will collapse.
We can still return to our own time by passing through the daemon's half over and over again, retracing in reverse our forward path through time. And now we are faced with our first potential paradox. What if we are shocked by what we have seen, and we decide to destroy this space bridge, and its ability to transport us, and others, through time. Can we do so? All it takes to destroy a bridge is to approach it and stick a knife into its sheath. What is stopping us from doing that right now? We saw the bridge in the future, but could we not change the future by acting in the past?
The amount of time through which a space bridge transports you is called its time shift. The space bridge in our first example had a time shift of one year. The bridge half that remained with us in the field while the daemon traveled through space is the forward half. When we step into the forward half, we move forward in time. The other half is the backward half.
The forward and backward halves were created at the same time, in the same place, which is, to my knowledge, the only way to make space bridges. The backward half traveled through space, and as it did so, traveled forward in time more rapidly than did the backward half. The backward half returned to its starting point and rejoined the forward half. The forward half was exactly one year older. If a man had stood next to the forward half from the beginning, he would be one year older than if he had traveled with the backward half.
If, at any point in time, the forward half is destroyed, then the backward half is also destroyed, but at a time one year later. So, for a year after the forward half is destroyed, the backward half continues to exist.
To repeat myself: both halves are created at the same point in time. One half goes on a journey and returns. The bridge now has a time shift. The forward half is destroyed at some point in time. The backward half vanishes exactly one time shift later.
Such details as these become more complicated if both bridges go on a journey, or is they continue to travel while they are being used. But the essential principles of creation, time-shifting, and destruction remain the same.
A time-shifting bridge, therefore, allows you to travel to any point in time between the time of its creation and the time of its destruction, regardless of how long or short is its time-shift. Reaching the time you desire is simply a matter of stepping through the bridge enough times and then waiting. The shorter the time-shift, the more times you have to step through the bridge, but the less time you will, on average, have to spend waiting. With a one-year time shift, you never have to wait more than a year.
To travel conveniently in time, you would have several time-shifting bridges with different time shifts standing next to one another. One takes you to the right decade, another takes you to the right month, and another to takes you to the right day. The time-traveler must be warned, however: he might bump into himself as he is going from one time to another. Meeting yourself is a challenging experience.
Here is the first law of time travel: the future and the past are fixed. You cannot change them in the slightest. If something has happened, there is no way you can go back in time and stop it from happening. If something is going to happen, you cannot stop it from happening.
Does this leave any room for what we call "free will"? Of course it does, because we can think and act as human beings no matter how much we travel in time. The question demands a clearer definition of the phrase "free will", rather than a re-examination of the nature of man. But the facts of our existence, as they arise in the course of time traveling, are challenging to the mind. If we reach adulthood never knowing the future, or never having the opportunity to involve ourselves with the past, we are ill-prepared for a knowledge of our destiny and for the temptation to interfere with the past.
In an earlier example, I talked about a time-shifting space bridge in a field. We walked through that bridge into the future, and saw its two halves sitting in the field. We saw the two halves with our own eyes. We questioned a passer-by and he told us that we were a year in the future. If our eyes were not deceiving us, and the passer-by told us the truth, then both halves of the bridge exist one year in the future. We went farther into the future, and still both halves of the bridge stood in the field. We returned to our own time. Can we, in our own time, destroy the bridge, and prevent it from existing in our future, despite the fact that we have seen it there? Absolutely not. Nothing can stop the bridge from existing in our future. We could try to destroy the space bridge, but something would prevent us from doing so. We stand there with a knife in our hand, poised to cut the edge of the bridge, and so destroy it, and we know that if we try to do so, we will fail. What could possibly stop us? Who knows, but the more impossible it seems that we could be stopped, the more outrageous and dramatic the event that stops us will be. That is one of the most important things to learn about time travel. The more you try to change what cannot be changed, the more your life will be filled with monstrous surprises, and such surprises can drive time travelers insane. One aim of this book is to help you avoid that insanity, and instead to profit from your travels in time.
We climb a mountain with a friend, and our friend falls off a ridge to his death. We go down and inspect his body. We are sure he is dead. But we have our time-shifting bridge in a field nearby. We use it to go back in time, and once there we attempt to persuade ourselves not to go on the climb in the first place. But, of course, we did go on the climb, and we have no recollection of ourselves trying to persuade us not to make the climb, so we are bound to fail in this attempt. We might, for example, be killed by a falling meteorite. Cause and effect would then be preserved in their proper relationships. Coincidence is the predominant means by which the universe protects its laws.
Perhaps we could be more devious in our attempt to save our friend's life. What if we went back in time and slipped a drug in our own breakfast tea. The drugged version of ourselves goes on the climb, imagining that our friend is with him, and imagines that our friend falls to his death, but none of it really happens. We recover from the drug, and go back in time trying to change the course of events. When we are back in time, we realize that drugging ourselves is the best way, and we do it. We wait from our drugged self to go on his climb and then go back in time, then we emerge and say hello to our friend, knowing that we are the only version of ourselves in the present.
If such a scheme were carried out successfully, the net result would be that the climbing accident never occurred. It was simply imagined under the influence of a delusional drug. It was never real, not even when we decided to go back in time to prevent our friend's death. He was alive, not dead, even then. Who is to say that the climbing accident would have occurred had we not gone back in time? If we are willing to travel back in time to change the past, we might find ourselves doing so simply because we are willing to do so.
Time travel calls into question our instinctive concept of free will. If we know our future, we cannot change it, so what is there left of free will? But we will never know every detail of our future, only some of it. What we know, or what others know, of our future, we shall call our destiny. We can either accept our destiny, or fight against it. To fight against it is futile. That is not to say that we should accept our destiny. It might be our nature to fight against it, and that is how we end up meeting it. Or we could be of an accepting disposition, what we call a fatalistic disposition, and make no effort to avoid our destiny.
From the perspective of the present, it does not affect our destiny at all whether we are fatalistic or not. But from the perspective of one who stands outside of time and looks in upon us, it makes a great deal of difference. Our character shapes our destiny. Therefore, when we know our destiny, we are coming face to face with what our free will has, does, and will bring upon us.
In a natural human life, free from the interference of time travel, our fate is governed not only by the actions we take, but by the actions of others, and by the laws that govern the universe in which we live. When time travel, and a knowledge of our destiny, comes into play in our lives, we should regard them not as intruders, but as extensions of what lies beyond our control.
I have put forward a perspective in which we accept time travel and a knowledge of our destiny as extensions of what lies beyond our control. Once we have taken this perspective, it is natural for us to seek to understand the manner in which the universe around us behaves towards us when it is acting under the influence of time travel and destiny. We embark upon this quest of understanding with the same spirit of enquiry that we would apply to the study of any natural phenomenon, such as the motions of the planets, or the extraction of metal from ore.
First let us consider a simple time-traveling scenario, one that spans a very short period of time. Later, we will consider more complicated scenarios, but we will do so armed with our understanding of a simple one.
Imagine a man standing with a bow strung and ready to fire. In front of him are the two halves of a space bridge with a time shift of half a second. The two halves are arranged so that he can fire into the backward half and hit himself when the arrow emerges from the forward half. The man tries to fire and arrow into the past and kill himself before he can fire the arrow. He takes aim at an image of himself as he was half a second earlier, holding the bow and taking aim. He is a good shot. He cannot miss at such this range. He fires.
Imagine that the arrow appears in his past and flies straight toward him. It strikes him in the heart. The bow and arrow fall from his hands before he can release the arrow that killed him.
Clearly, the events I have just described are impossible. They defy the laws of cause and effect. An arrow must be fired for it to fly through the air. The man cannot kill himself before he fires. Or can he? Perhaps, in death, he will release the arrow anyway, and still strike himself.
This, then, is one way that the scenario could play itself out. The man stands before the space bridge. He is nearing his moment of action. Suddenly, an arrow flies out of the forward half of the bridge and strikes him in the heart. For a moment he is stunned. He thinks, I regret this, I will not fire. But it is too late, he dies, and as he falls, he releases the arrow. Although it appears to be a stroke of incredible bad luck, the arrow flies through the backward half of the bridge and kills him, thus completing the circle of cause and effect.
Another possibility is that he is struck by the arrow in the shoulder. It spoils his aim as he is firing, and instead of hitting himself in the heart, he hits himself in the shoulder, which spoils his aim, and so on around through the bridge in a self-consistent circle of consequence.
What we see here is that time travel causes circles of cause and effect. As you go around the circle, each cause gives rise to an effect, which in turn gives rise to another effect, until you come back to the beginning, and the original cause is now the effect, and therefore an effect of itself.
It is possible for human beings to endure the onslaught of coincidence thrust upon them by time travel. It appears to be the attitude of each human being towards these coincidences that dictates whether he will remain sane or laps into one of the many depraved states of mind that we associate with the time-traveling cults and their daemon rulers.
Prescience is a time-traveling phenomenon. Space tunnels experience such great accelerations at the time of their formation, that they have associated with them a small time shift, perhaps a few millionths of a second. We do not understand how these small time shifts are multiplied in the spine of the human nervous system, but it is certain that the maeon wind will touch our nerves moments before those same nerves fire to give us warning of pain. It is easy to verify this yourself. Breath deeply and relax. Sit on the floor of a quiet room. Have a pin in your hand. When you feel you are undistracted and calm, resolve to stab yourself with the pin. You must not fear the pain. It is only a pin. If you strike swiftly and without fear, you will notice a slight, sharp, sensation from the spot that you stab, just a moment before you do so. It is the touch of the maeon wind.
You can make use of the touch of the wind, which is to acquire prescience. If you can remain calm enough, even in the face of death, to notice prescient sensations, you can anticipate where you are going to be hurt. You might feel a touch on your cheek.
Suppose a man swings a sword at you in the dark. You feel a sharp twinge in your cheek and you duck. The sword passes over you head. Your prescience has saved you. But now you must ask yourself, "Why did I feel that twinge in my cheek?"
Try the pin experiment again with a companion. Let the companion stab you. You will feel the sensation. Now try to avoid being stabbed by pulling your hand away when you feel the prescient warning. Be sure to do it with your eyes closed. I have performed this experiment many times, and each time I have had a different experience. Once, my mind wandered and I remembered falling off a chair when I was a boy. I flinched, and the pin flashed down upon thin air. Another time, I grew uncomfortable waiting, and shifted my position to ease the flow of blood to my legs. Again, the pin flashed down upon thin air. At other times, I find it hard not to keep pulling my hand away upon every pretext, and I end up being pricked by the pin just as I bring my hand back into position.
I have performed the experiment with someone who was a master. I could never make her move her hand unless I meant to strike, and if I struck, she would always avoid me. She was the most unhurried and composed woman I have ever met. And yet she survived her every mortal encounter by welcoming what the average human being could only describe as fantastic improbability.
It is one thing to survive from one moment to the next by prescience, or to know that you will be king and never abandon your ambition. But it is another thing to know that you will die impoverished and despised, and to accept that as your fate. I do not believe that the gods created sapiens. I believe that we are the product of an eternity of evolution from the basest forms of life. I believe that in our hearts we are as animals, happiest when our minds are upon the moment, ailing when we cannot ignore the future or the past. I do not think that we can prosper with a knowledge of our destiny unless we accept it utterly or ignore it utterly, or, by some means between these two extremes, put it out of our minds. To me, therefore, a clear knowledge of our destiny is a threat to our well-being. It is a threat that can be met and overcome, but not by many of us.
When we seek to know of the future, by consulting an oracle, we long to know our destiny, but our longing is born of ignorance. What can the oracle tell us? What they tell us will shape our future. It is not merely a matter of being informed of what will be. The mere act of asking, and receiving an answer, can dictate the course of our lives.
Suppose there is a man who, if and only if he exerts himself, will be king. He begins to exert himself, and proceeds along the path that will lead him to his crown. He seeks out an oracle along the way. The oracle tells him that he will be king. The man says to himself, "It is inevitable that I will be king, so I will not exert myself." He is a rational man and makes a rational decision. By hypothesis, however, he cannot be king unless he exerts himself.
What if the oracle tells him that he will not be king. Then he says to himself, "I will not be king, no matter how hard I try, so I will not try." And he does not become king. The prophesy is fulfilled. This then, is the resolution of the man's desire to know his destiny. He deprives himself of his crown.
The oracle might also have said, "If you exert yourself, you will be king." But a conditional statement is not a true prophesy. A true prophesy is a statement about what will be, not a statement about what might be.
Suppose the oracle had said, "A blue-eyed man will sit upon the throne." Our man has blue eyes. He says, "That could be me, but then again it might not. I'll keep trying."
Our discussion has lead us to an explanation for why even a true oracle is almost always vague. This makes way for charlatans, of course, whose ignorance of the future is hidden behind the ambiguity of their prophesies.
We have assumed, so far, that when we wrestle with the implications of knowing our destiny, it is our true destiny that we know. Our conclusions were based upon this assumption. But in all likelihood, we will receive a dozen false prophesies for every true statement about our future, and we will not do well to act upon a lie as if it were the truth.
Suppose we are told that we will suffer from influenza a year from now. Unknown to us, this is a false prophesy. We are sad to hear that we shall suffer influenza, but we are also relieved: we are about to climb a dangerous mountain. Clearly we must survive the climb or else we will be unable to suffer from influenza a year from now. We become careless. Half way up the mountain, we fall off and are killed. We were killed by our faith in a false prophesy.
In the end, it is the climate of false prophesy that makes time travel so trying. False prophesies are dangerous, so time-travelers use them as weapons. The prophesies are repeated from one time-traveler to the next, until one finds oneself hearing a dozen lies for every truth, and one never knows what to believe. Far from knowing his destiny, the time-traveler knows less about it than does the common man. At least the common man can plan for his future. The time-traveler cannot. His life is a chaotic succession of unwholesome coincidences and sudden changes of fortune. There is only one way for him to survive and remain sane. He thinks only of the present.
I have heard it said that dragons are daemons, but I know this to be untrue. I knew a dragon well, and he told me that he had fought as a foot-soldier on Terra in the Siege of Troy. No daemon can put on a human body. They are too large. So dragons must once have been either demons or gods, and I think they were gods.
Dragons carry space bridges in their skulls, and through these they converse with their fellows. They travel the worlds by passing through conjunctions. Conjunctions have no time shifts, so the bridges in a dragon's skull acquire no time shifts when they travel the worlds by conjunctions. But dragons are also capable of traveling in the space between the stars, and there was a period in the distant past when they went in search of the great machines that created the worlds, viewed for themselves the glowing clouds of dust that make new stars, and visited uninhabitable worlds orbiting around twin stars. Those that stayed behind on the habitable worlds viewed these interstellar wonders through the eyes of their traveling comrades. During that period, by means of the process we have already described, the bridges in the skull of dragons acquired time shifts. Eventually, each dragon found itself talking through the head of a second dragon to a past or future version of itself.
There was a time when dragons were willing to lie to one another, if it suited them. Each lie they told, traveling across time and space from one dragon to the next, would come back at last to the dragon who told it. And it might arrive at a time before the lie was first told, so that when it was first told, it was merely being repeated, and could not be their lie, because they did not invent it. But where did these lies come from, if not from a willingness to lie?
As we have learned, time travel creates circles of cause and effect. To people unfamiliar with such circles, a lie is something that somebody must have created. It can be passed on, but it must have been created by someone at some point in the past. But when a lie moves in a circle through time, there is no one creator, it is merely an idea that exists in the circle. It has no moment of creation and no creator.
I think that was a glorious time for the dragons, those days when they argued and fought over their lies, and argued and fought with mankind and the rest of the gods. It may be that the dragons, being once gods, began their struggle with destiny before they took on the shape of dragons, and that they took on that shape so that they could continue their struggle without concern for their safety. But the dragons themselves refer to that confusing period of their history as The Conflict.
Dragons are no longer willing to lie. It is my impression that they cannot lie. Those who could lie are dead. Dragons do not suffer from false prophesy. They claim to accept their destiny. I can only assume that they do. Here is a passage from the autobiography of Koorosh Abbas, a wizard, in which he speaks with Kapul Steelscale, a dragon.
"What have you come here for?" the dragon said, "To prove yourself, or to test my conscience?"
"Neither, vast one," I said, "I came to marvel at you."
"It is not your destiny to marvel at me."
"I did not come here to learn my destiny."
"I know your destiny," the dragon said.
"And do you know your own?"
"And it cannot be changed?"
"If it could be changed, it would not be my destiny."
"But might you try to change it?"
"Might you try to change your past?"
"The past is done with, it has happened, it cannot be made to un-happen. The future, on the other hand, is yet to come. I can say one word or the other. It is my choice."
"As it was with every word you have ever spoken," the dragon said, "But you cannot change a single one of them."
"That is just the point. It was my choice, now it is my choice. A choice in the past is not the same as a choice in the present."
The dragon did not reply.
"Do you really believe that you cannot affect your own future?" I said.
"I cannot. And even if I could, why would I wish to? I am made up solely of my past and my future. To change either would be to create another being and slay myself."
I wiped the sweat from my brow. The dragon's body radiated heat. "It is different for you. You can see the future. I can't. For me, the past is different. I can study it at leisure. It is impossible for me to dismiss my free will as you do."
"By application of patience, you will learn your entire future. The same applies to your study of the past. I can see the future, but it is logic, not circumstance, that leads to fatalism."
I am not sure what lessons are to be learned from dragons. Our problems with time travel spring from our human longings and fears. Dragons are not human. Nevertheless, dragons have a way of living with time travel that is worth understanding.
Before I proceed, I will make one thing clear. The dragon I spoke with did not speak to me with his own mouth, but rather through a small, child-like creature. This creature appeared to have a life of its own, and yet it spoke for the dragon. Some people to whome I have told my story claim that I never spoke to the dragon at all, but with his master, and that the dragon was nothing more than a primitive and unsophisticated beast of war, controlled and fought over by the Gods. If you are of this esteemed opinion, I will not argue with you. I believe I spoke to the dragon at times, and to the creature at others. That is to say: the creature spoke for the dragon but could also speak for itself.
I had come to the dragon to ask for a prophesy. I was young and naive at the time. I gave him gold for his hoard and I asked a foolish question. The creature said, "My master accepts your gold, but be aware that he does not convey to you the prophesy. He will not hear it. I must deliver the prophesy to you myself." He pointed outside the cavern in which the dragon lived. "We shall go out where my master cannot hear."
I was puzzled. The fact that the dragon did not want to hear the prophesy struck me as of profound importance to my future. It seemed to me that if the dragon did not want to hear the prophesy, then nor should I.
"Is the prophesy dangerous to the dragon?" I said.
The creature paused. "My master says that all prophesies are dangerous. Only a fool would pay gold for something so dangerous, but if your wish is to be a fool, then go outside his cavern and be a fool there."
I had given over already, on trust, half of the fortune I inherited from my father. I had paid for this prophesy, and I did not think it possible to change my mind now and take the money back. I stared at the chest of gold I had placed upon the cavern floor. I stared at the dragon and the little creature. They stared at me. I was now struck by the fact that nobody was in a hurry. The little creature had a smile on its face, but this was its expression always, like a mask.
"Does your master look into the future through time-shifted space bridges?"
I am the first to admit that I was a fool to give a hundred kilograms of gold for a prophesy, but I will say now that to this day I am proud of this question. I believe that with this question I chose my path in life and I chose well, given my character and disposition, so that my life has been full of wonder and joy, as well as torment and grief. For this question was one that no ordinary person could understand, and whatever answer the dragon gave would reveal a great deal to me about himself.
The creature answered after some time, and slowly. "To some extent," it said. "My master talks to his fellows through space bridges that have time shifts of a few days, but this is inevitable given my master's travels through the space between the planets, and the travels also of his friends, always carrying these space bridges, and each such journy introducing a time shift of hours or days."
"But does he look into the future deliberately, using a bridge with a time-shift of years or hundreds of years?"
"But the prophesies that he issues, they have bearing upon the future many years from now, do they not?"
"How then, can he deliver them?"
"He does not deliver them."
I looked at the dragon and at the creature. I was confused at the time. I admit that for a moment I thought the dragon to be a dumb beast acting as guardian to the child-like creature.
"You deliver the prophesies," I said to the creature.
"Do you look into the distant future."
"In a way, I do. I receive the prophesy through such an opening in time and space as you describe. But I hear only what I am told, and no more. I see nothing, for I have no eyes upon the opening, only an ear."
It still strikes me as remarkable that such intelligence could be housed in the child-sized mind of the dragon's creature. And perhaps the intelligence was not within that small head, but elsewhere, beyond a space bridge.
"Who speaks these messages to you?"
"Some other much as myself."
"And who speaks them to this other like yourself?"
I spent some time thinking. I was confused. But at length I said, "The dragons of the future do not need to look into the past because the past the remember. And so they speak to you and you utter a prophesy that is consistent with what the dragons of the future know has come to pass. Is that correct?"
The creature stared at the floor for a while. "My master says that you are correct."
"Can your master ask for a prophesy himself?"
"No," the creature said without delay. "He is forbidden to ask for a prophesy."
"Forbidden by whome?"
The creature took several minutes to answer my question. It was hot in the cavern. The heat did not come from the dragon, as in Koorosh's story, but from the pool of molten metal in which it bathed. The dragon's head was raised out of the pool. We were high in the mountains. There was snow outside even though it was already summer. I unbuttoned my coat.
"A dragon who breaks the Laws of the Commune is not part of the Commune."
"There are such dragons?"
"They are few, but they still survive. Most perished long ago in your years."
"So your master is forbidden to hear the prophesies you deliver."
"No. He may hear them. Today he chooses not to hear the prophesy."
The dragon shifted in its pool of molten metal. A snort of flame shot from its nostrils.
"My master is amused that you would ask such a question."
"He will not answer?"
"He does not know the answer."
I report accurately what the creature said because I wrote it down that night, when I returned to my camp.
"Does your master think it wise for me to hear your prophesy?"
"Do not ask my master for advice. It is insulting to him. Accept this. It is the way of his kind. Hear your prophesy if you want advice."
I nodded. I had no intention of leaving the cave to hear my prophesy until I had asked as many questions as the creature was prepared to answer. I asked many more questions. Most of them were fruitless, and I will not report them here, for I am not proud of them. But several more were important in understanding the dragons. I asked the creature what use the dragons made of the prophesies they did choose to hear.
"They keep these prophesies in mind. The prophesy is the only means by which the dragons of the future communicate with their brothers in the past, and it is through this communication that they hope to preserve themselves as the ages pass."
Later, I asked if the dragon could ask a person to come and pay for a prophesy on a particular subject that the dragon was curious about.
"That is forbidden. The request must be made by someone who is not a dragon, and cannot be motivated by a dragon."
"Might you request a prophesy?"
"No. Only sapiens may request prophesies. No other species is permitted. But there are sapiens who deliver prophesies, much as I do. These are the oracles of the Commune, and they may request prophesies themselves, and many do so. But they must pay in gold like any other."
It is not true that only sapiens may ask for prophesies. I knew an elf who asked for a prophesy, and I watched his life unravel because of it. Perhaps the oracle was unaware of the rules, she who delivered the prophesy might have lied to her masters. I do not know what became of her.
I spent an hour in the dragon's cave. One of my last questions was more of a statement, seeking confirmation. "The dragons of the future assisst the dragons of the past through the prophesies that the dragons of the past overhear. By attending to these prophesies, the dragons of the past find that they make decisions that benefit them, even though they do not understand the entirety of the prophesy. Is that correct?"
"Indeed. Most prophesies are of no value. But some are unusual. They draw attention to certain events and to certain people. These events and people are usually significant in ways that the dragons of today cannot possibly deduce for themselves. Only the prophesies encourage them to take an interest. And by this means they cannot be surprised."
"What do the dragons fear?" I asked, and I like to think this was my final question, because the answer was one that sounds good as the last word from the dragon. Of course, it ws not my last question, and the conversation ended in a less impressive way, but here is the dragon's answer.
"My master assures me that the dragons fear nothing but themselves." I nodded. The creature moved closer to me, holding out its hand. "Will you hear your prophesy now?"
I looked at the dragon. "No," I said. "I will not hear it. Goodbye and thank you for your answers. I hope to talk to you again one day."
The little creature stood at my feet. It touched my trousers and gazed up at me with its little smile on its face. "You already have," it said. "But this will be the last time for my master, and he grieves to say goodbye."
My heart turned to ice. I stepped backwards, away from the little creature. I stumbled over a rock. I rose and ran from the cavern, out in the cold air of the mountains. I gasped for air. I cried out. But I did not return to the cavern, and that is something that I regret to this day, because that parting was the end of a great friendship, even though it was the beginning of that same friendship for me. My friend acted better when I when I said said my last farewell to him. I was a young fool and thought of noone but myself.
If time travel is so much trouble, why would anyone want to involve themselves with it in the first place? The main reason is not to discover one's destiny, but to make money. If you can know in advance that there will be a shortage of corn in your city the following year, you can stockpile it and make a huge profit. The temptation to use time travel to make money is great. Most surviving time travelers are wealthy, myself included.
The trouble with trying to look into the future is that most of the information you receive second-hand through a time-shifted bridge will be false, and therefore bankrupt you. But if you gather your information personally, by traveling to the future yourself, you are likely to find out more than you wanted to know about the future. You may, for example, learn your own destiny. If you are not the sort of person who goes gracefully with his destiny, there may be no way for the universe to preserve its consistency of cause and effect other than to destroy you.
Of the dozens of people I have known who tried to use time travel to make money, I would say that only one in two is still alive, and of those only one in two actually became rich, and of those only one in two is still sane, and of those only one in two is happy. In short, your chances of using time-travel to your own advantage are despite the temptation, one in sixteen.
Of the survivors, however, as I said, half are rich. A lot of this money comes from exploiting with knowledge of the future, but on the free worlds, most of it comes from importing gold, silver, and gems through unregistered gates from the open worlds, where these precious materials are less valuable than they are on the free worlds (up to 50% less valuable, so you can sometimes double your money). Time-traveling bridges on the free worlds are almost always unregistered. Only a daemon or a god can tune a bridge to molecular class so that we can pass through it, and it is forbidden by the laws of Olympia for anyone to gate into the free worlds. Therefore a time-traveling bridge in the free worlds is one operated by a god or a daemon without the knowledge of the Olympian authority.
Beware of daemons. They may be sane in their own way, but by our thinking they are not. I have rarely fathomed their motives, but the best rule I have come up with for anticipating their decisions is that they will try to cause as much madness among their human followers, and as much fear among their human enemies, as possible.
Suffice to say that if you want to stay sane, you should steer well clear of daemons and their worshippers. Time travel, unfortunately, requires that you deal with both parties frequently, because it is the daemons who hold most of the time-traveling bridges. They are less intimidated by the authority of Olympia than are the gods.
I am not sure, here at the end of this volume, what picture I have painted of time travel. I said at the beginning that I felt the entire account might be inconclusive, and I think I have borne that prediction out. I have written down almost everything I know without resorting to specific examples from my life, which might involve you, the academically interested reader, in the time travel that you probably will so ardently avoid now that you have learned of its dangers. But I have to say, to be honest with my reader, that I have enjoyed my life, and I do not fear my death. I am, strictly speaking, already dead. I died in a climbing accident two centuries ago. I was borne three centuries in the future of the time in which I now write. My life spans a thousand years, I think, and it is towards the beginning of that thousand years that I died.
It is possible to enjoy a life of time travel. But you are more likely to live happily and prosperously by risking your neck as an adventurer. Your chances are about one in four as an adventurer, your chances as a time traveler are about one in sixteen. Better still, work hard and raise children.