Hotel Infinity

The Andromedan ship which appears on our scanner a few seconds later - a kilometre long, reddish and wingéd - says it urgently wants to talk to us. It says it has answers.

It's more than we have.

An instant after agreeing to come aboard the Andromedan ship, we are aboard, standing in a plain white space which is presumably somewhere inside it. This comes as something as a shock since we were previously seated on the Ed Rocks.

"Now wait a second," I interject. "I can buy that the Andromedans have figured out how to tunnel objects between two different gravitational potentials. I can buy that the relative velocity of us with respect to this ship was most likely counteracted by a burst from a momentum cannon at the instant we arrived. But we were accelerating around in a fifty-kilometre circle to generate gravity, while the Andromedan ship was just in free-fall orbit around Epsilon Eridani One."

"So?"

"So how come there's gravity in here?"

"Artificial gravity."

"You said it wasn't possible to fake a graviton."

"It's not. Observe." Ed rummages in a pocket and pulls out a screwdriver and a set of keys - neither of which appear to be suitable for what he has in mind. "Ship, can I have a rubber ball please? And can you also switch off gravity for it?"

From nowhere, a small red ball appears in Ed's hand. Ed puts the ball out in mid-air and lets it go. It hangs there, spinning, while we stand normally on the ground.

"Whoo," I remark, impressed.

"Now watch this. Ship, give the ball a small downward impulse."

The ball begins to drop slowly.

"And another."

The ball drops more quickly.

"And another."

The ball falls and hits the ground, where it rebounds.

"So the ball fell," says Ed as the ball rises. "Now let's do it again, only giving it half the impulse, twice as often."

The ball rises, slowing in stages until it's almost not rising at all, then it's falling slightly, then it drops in stages until it rebounds again. It's almost a piece-by-piece approximation of a proper arc.

"Again. Make it finer still."

This time I can hardly tell that the ball isn't following a proper parabola.

"Now give it a standard one gravity."

The ball bounces just like it was on Earth.

"Do you get it? Force is just continuous change in momentum. If you tune your cannon finely enough, nobody can tell the difference between constant gravity and just being knocked downwards very slightly every few nanoseconds. No fake gravitons, no mucking about with neutronium. The best part is, you can have any number of people walking around in the same room, but experiencing whatever gravity is comfortable for them. A guy built for one-sixth of a gee can meet and shake hands with a guy built for twenty-five. You can have people walking on walls or the ceiling with consummate ease. All you need is a sufficiently smart computer to keep an eye on everything."

"May we talk now?" asks the ship. It addresses us from behind, using a deep male voice with no obvious accent. We turn around to see what, for the Andromedans, would probably count as a very crude humanoid robot. "I'm here to serve as a focal point for our conversation," it explains. Three large armchairs materialise around us. "Do be seated."

We take one each. For an instant I feel intensely worried. The Andromedans are powerful, I always knew that, but I obviously never fully registered how powerful. This ship, for example, can pull you across thousands of kilometres of space in an instant and leave behind, say, your watch. And it can manufacture furniture on-the-fly. And robots. Doubtless the one we're talking to could easily have been indistinguishable from a human being; the only reason it isn't is because that would be off-putting.

Thank heaven they're not hostile.

"First, let me introduce myself," says the robot. "I am the Xenosociology Research Vessel Hotel Infinity. I am Andromedan, specifically a citizen of a conglomerate of seven and a half civilisations occupying a small portion of one of Andromeda's lesser spiral arms."

"Seven and a half civilisations?" I ask.

"That would be too complicated to go into now. My civilisation and species is Iisium; I am an Iisius. We might be described as living ships, although only an average of five percent of a given Iisius's body is what one would describe as 'living', the remainder being hard mineral shell built up over hundreds of years of growth. We evolved in the inner asteroid belt of a very young star. Interplanetary travel is as natural to us as walking is to you, though more complicated machines such as tunnel drives, momentum cannons and nanoassemblers are not evolutionary characteristics of ours.

"Iisii typically live for two to four thousand years, and we are relatively patient as species go. Beyond that, it's difficult to be specific as we, like all species, are extremely diverse. I personally am a freelance xenosociologist. I don't usually carry passengers as I find maintaining habitat for them is tiresome and they interfere with my work, but this is perfectly normal behaviour for an Iisius. As I say, we vary.

"You needn't introduce yourselves; I have already been told who you both are. This will become clear.

"Time travel is an extremely well-understood science in Andromeda. The theory is long established and the principles behind its practice likewise. However, attempting to travel backwards in time is illegal and punishable by rider. The reasons for this are twofold.

"Firstly, prescience is very, very powerful and dangerous. Being able to guess what the future holds is one thing. Knowing with certainty because it already happened is quite another. An individual with knowledge of the future could use that knowledge to do literally anything - he is only limited by his imagination. He could rule his world. He could rule his galaxy. He could reshape the universe in his image. Nobody can be allowed to have that much power.

"Secondly, backward travel does not undo the past. Rather, it causes the past to repeat. If you go back in time with the intention of undoing some cataclysmic event - say, a genocide - then you have failed - everything which happens stays happened. What you have done, rather, is give everybody involved in that genocide a chance to die again. If ten million people died, and you go back and make it so only one million people died, you haven't saved nine million lives. You've killed a million people.

"For these reasons, it is as difficult for a typical Andromedan citizen to travel backwards in time as it is for a Human to, say, obtain a kilogram of weapons-grade plutonium. Nobody is allowed to go back, regardless of the circumstances, regardless of the catastrophe they are hoping to undo. However, this is not to say that nobody does go back. It is, after all, a big universe. There are other civilisations out there discovering things all the time.

"There are scientific stations all over the galaxy which can detect and log the shifts which are caused when someone departs our universe and heads backwards in time. Also detectable are the shifts when somebody arrives in our universe after having headed backwards in time. But these are far rarer. Only two of these have ever occurred. That's two more than all probability predicts.

"The first shift happened sixteen years ago. Unfortunately, while the bifurcation is detectable, the location of the incursion is not. We had no way to find out who had come back in time in order to create our universe. This has been one of science's greatest unsolved mysteries ever since.

"The second shift happened yesterday, and was equally inexplicable... for a few hours. Then the Raft Mantissa and its occupants returned to Andromeda. Krah's story was told. And while most people's minds are still focused on the act of galacticide which occurred at Ed's hand in that alternate timeline, and his attempt to make amends for that terrible mistake, those Andromedans such as myself who take an interest in intercivilisational wars, first contact and so on, looked at the deeper details about your world, your history, and you specifically, and discovered that Krah's story may in fact explain both shifts. I'm not saying anything yet, as I have no proof of my hypotheses. But I believe I know where I can find it. Ed, may I have permission to interface with your mind? The rider you are already carrying should make the process swift and painless."

Ed glances nervously at me, then, with hesitation, nods his consent. The robot gestures, more likely for show than anything.

And Ed begins to recite, apparently from memory—

Next: Resolution

Discussion (4)

2014-12-03 12:02:14 by Sorites:

Shouldn't there be a third arrival, that being Ed and Sam arriving at Kerrig?

2015-01-14 02:20:51 by Silhalnor:

Yes. I suppose if we wanted to fix the plothole one could suppose that forwards and backwards time travel produce waves of opposite phase. (Assuming these "shifts" are waves.) In the case of the Kerrig incident we could suppose that the entry and exit waves more or less countered each other and-- Wait a second. The Andromedans know the year it occurred but not the location? Furthermore, Andromeda is considerably more than a few light-hours away [citation needed]. So... these shifts must be occurring instantaneously throughout the ENTIRE universe? What are they, like temporal momentum? Meaning a backwards time traveler pushes the universe slightly "forward"? That would imply that one can infer their destination, temporally, and/or their mass based on how much shift was produced. In the end it doesn’t matter how much shift is produced by the time travel event. One can conceivably exploit this to produce a perpetual motion machine unless energy expenditure for time travel must be above a lower limit that is below the signal strength / volume of universe. Which means there MUST be such a lower bound. Time travel is cheap enough that humans can do it fairly easily so that means that the energy put into your time machine is (or can be) fairly small but would be spread out SO MUCH…. How could that POSSIBLY be detectable to ANYTHING? On the bright side if you DID manage to detect the strength of the signal you would be able to infer the size of the universe. That would be handy. Maybe the energy isn't spread out across the entire universe but ONLY across all detectors. In fact, maybe it gets dumped into a parallel universe that has zero spatial dimensions? Yes… I think that can work. You can definitely infer exactly when an injection of energy or an extraction of energy (??) occurs and the very instant at which it happens without having the faintest idea as to where it came from. So where was I… ah, yes: Why didn’t the Andromedans detect the Kerrig incident? Well…. They must not be capable of and/or willing to measure changes in less than week long increments (for some brilliant reason) and so Sam and Ed’s departure erased the evidence of their arrival because they were of opposite phase. Yep, that’s got to be it. OR… maybe signal strength is somehow connected to the amount of effective change that the time travel event propagated throughout the history of the new universe in relation to the old universe. Or whatever universe you are measuring from which of course will be the one that you left/entered. That works even BETTER. The Andromedans can’t detect the Kerrig incident because it had no real effect. Or rather, it DID have an effect but it was minimally different from the effect of the virtually identical Kerrig incidents in the previous “entry” universe and the new “exit” universe. I have no idea how or why that would work that way but if it DID that would explain it. Except the Kerrig incident had alternating timelines so your nearest virtually identical universe is actually TWO universes/timelines away, not just one. Although your immediate neighbor is just about identical for all intents and purposes (for most universe pairings anyway) it is the next universe over THAT one that would have the least difference. Would the effects of the Kerrig incident in universe A affect the effects of the Kerrig incident in universe B? The jump from Z to A IS very close spatially and temporally to the jump from A to B, and the A-B jump is likewise very close to the B-C jump…. I hope I didn’t confuse anyone with that “affect the effects” line. I think it’s time I stopped.

2015-11-29 08:18:51 by Titandrake:

Ed and Sam jumped to 10 years ago, which should be before Kerrig happens, so Ed and Sam have yet to appear in Kerrig. Alternatively, Ed and Sam jumped to a universe outside of the chain.

2017-06-18 04:05:57 by IMADV8:

They definitely traveled to a timeline before the Kerrig event occurred. The event has already happened, so no matter what, it will always have happened unless they go back to before it did and prevent it from occurring. Also, I just realized that there isn't only one chain, but an infinite number of them, and that they can merge: Each successive iteration of Ed and Sam arrives in the next timeline in the chain one nanosecond before the previous iteration did. But say one decided not to. Say Ed-C goes back to exactly 10AM in timeline D, and then Ed-D also goes back to exactly 10AM. Since an Ed has already appeared at that time and place, we now have two Eds. But we know Ed-C is safe and sound in timeline D, so who is the second Ed? He must be identical to Ed-C in every single way, including not only his memories of the events in timeline C, but his relation to an Ed that is identical to Ed-B, and so on back to the beginning of the chain. So it must be Ed-C2, from timeline C of chain 2. So, we know that any attempt to travel to the same nanosecond would result in the merging of two separate chains, one of which is one timeline shorter than the other. Or to put it differently, we know that the only way two iterations in a chain can have the same arrival time is with the creation and merging of a second chain of length n-1. Since this is the only way a single chain can have two iterations with the same arrival times, what happens to the chain if someone in 2050 travels back to 2049? They've created a new timeline in which the Kerrig event still occurred, but it can't be part of the same chain. So an entirely new chain must have been created, call it chain 2. Now let's say someone in 2055 then travels to 2054. We've got a whole new timeline with its very own Kerrig event creating a chain, chain 3. And its own 2050 event recreating the Kerrig event's chain, giving us chain 4. Then someone on the other side of the universe travels from 2060 to 2059. New Kerrig event, chain 5. New 2050 event, chain 6. New 2055 event, chains 7 and 8. Then someone else travels from 2065 to 2064. New Kerrig event, chain 9. New 2050 event, chain 10. New 2055 event, chains 11 and 12. New 2060 event, chains 13, 14, 15, and 16. In one single timeline, count every single backwards time travel event with an arrival time after the Kerrig event. Multiply that number by itself. That's the total number of chains of timelines that will be produced by that one single timeline. Now count every one of those events in each and every timeline from each and every chain, including every child chain, and multiply that number by itself. That's the total number of chains of timelines ultimately created by the Kerrig event. If even one timeline of the original Kerrig chain contains in the future of its universe a single backwards time travel event, which is likely judging by the Andromedans' statements, the Kerrig event has spawned an infinite number of timelines.

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