The Time Traveler
Monday, May 19, 2008
Thucydides the ancient Greek historian, fresco in the Church of Monastery of Filanthropinon, 16th c., Ioannina.
The Time Traveler's Tale by Dan Simmons
The Time Traveler appeared suddenly in my study on New Year's Eve, 2004. He was a stolid, grizzled man in a gray tunic and looked to be in his late-sixties or older. He also appeared to be the veteran of wars or of some terrible accident since he had livid scars on his face and neck and hands, some even visible in his scalp beneath a fuzz of gray hair cropped short in a military cut. One eye was covered by a black eyepatch. Before I could finish dialing 911 he announced in a husky voice that he was a Time Traveler come back to talk to me about the future.
Being a sometimes science-fiction writer but not a fool, I said, "Prove it."
"Do you remember Replay?" he said.
My finger hovered over the final "1" in my dialing. "The 1987 novel?" I said. "By Ken Grimwood?"
The stranger Time Traveler, psychotic, home invader, whatever he was nodded.
I hesitated. The novel by Grimwood had won the World Fantasy Award a year or two after my first-novel, Song of Kali, had. Grimwood's book was about a guy who woke up one morning to find himself snapped back decades in his life, from the late 1980's to himself as a college student in 1963, and thus getting the chance to relive â€“ to replay â€“ that life again, only this time acting upon what he'd already learned the hard way. In the book, the character, who was to experience â€“ suffer â€“ several Replays, learned that there were other people from his time who were also Replaying their lives in the past, their bodies younger but their memories intact. I'd greatly enjoyed the book, thought it deserved the award, and had been sad to hear that Grimwood had died . . . when? . . . in 2003.
So, I thought, I might have a grizzled nut case in my study this New Year's Eve, but if he was a reader and a fan of Replay, he was probably just a sci-fi fan grizzled nut case, and therefore probably harmless. Possibly. Maybe.
I kept my finger poised over the final "1" in "911."
"What does that book have to do with you illegally entering my home and study?" I asked.
The stranger smiled â€¦ almost sadly I thought. "You asked me to prove that I'm a Time Traveler," he said softly. "Do you remember how Grimwood's character in Replay went hunting for others in the 1960's who had traveled back in time from the late 1980's?"
I did remember now. I'd thought it clever at the time. The guy in Replay, once he suspected others were also replaying into the past, had taken out personal ads in major city newspapers around the country. The ads were concise. "Do you remember Three Mile Island, Challenger, Watergate, Reaganomics? If so, contact me at . . ."
Before I could say anything else on this New Year's Eve of 2004, a few hours before 2005 began, the stranger said, "Terri Schiavo, Katrina, New Orleans under water, Ninth Ward, Ray Nagin, Superdome, Judge John Roberts, White Sox sweep the Astros in four to win the World Series, Pope Benedict XVI, Scooter Libby."
"Wait, wait!" I said, scrambling for a pen and then scrambling even faster to write. "Ray who? Pope who? Scooter who?"
"You'll recognize it all when you hear it all again," said the stranger. "I'll see you in a year and we'll have our conversation."
"Wait!" I repeated. "What was that middle apart . . . Ray Nugin? Judge who? John Roberts? Who is . . ." But when I looked up he was gone.
"White Sox win the Series?" I muttered into the silence. "Fat chance."
I was waiting for him on New Year's Eve 2005. I didn't see him enter. I looked up from the book I was fitfully reading and he was standing in the shadows again. I didn't dial 911 this time, nor demand any more proof. I waved him to the leather wingchair and said, "Would you like something to drink?"
"Scotch," he said. "Single malt if you have it."
Our conversation ran over two hours, but the following is the gist of it. I'm a novelist by trade. I remember conversations pretty well. (Not as perfectly as Truman Capote was said to be able to recall long conversations word for word, but pretty well.)
The Time Traveler wouldn't tell me what year in the future he was from. Not even the decade or century. But the gray cord trousers and blue-gray wool tunic top he was wearing didn't look very far-future science-fictiony or military, no Star Trekky boots or insignia, just wellworn clothes that looked like something a guy who worked with his hands a lot would wear. Construction maybe.
"I know you can't tell me details about the future because of time travel paradoxes," I began. I hadn't spent a lifetime reading and then writing SF for nothing.
"Oh, bugger time travel paradoxes," said the Time Traveler. "They don't exist. I could tell you anything I want to and it won't change anything. I just choose not to tell you some things."
I frowned at this. "Time travel paradoxes don't exist? But surely if I go back in time and kill my grandfather before he meets my grandmother . . ."
The Time Traveler laughed and sipped his Scotch. "Would you want to kill your grandfather?" he said. "Or anyone else?"
"Well . . .Hitler maybe," I said weakly.
The Traveler smiled, but more ironically this time. "Good luck," he said. "But don't count on succeeding."
I shook my head. "But surely anything you tell me now about the future will change the future," I said.
"I gave you a raft of facts about your future a year ago as my bona fides," said the Time Traveler. "Did it change anything? Did you save New Orleans from drowning?"
"I won $50 betting on the White Sox in October," I admitted.
The Time Traveler only shook his head. "Quod erat demonstrandum," he said softly. "I could tell you that the Mississippi River flows generally south. Would your knowing about it change its course or flow or flooding?"
I thought about this. Finally I said, "Why did you come back? Why do you want to talk to me? What do you want me to do?"
"I came back for my own purposes," said the Time Traveler, looking around my booklined study. "I chose you to talk to because it was . . . convenient. And I don't want you to do a goddamned thing. There's nothing you can do. But relax . . . we're not going to be talking about personal things. Such as, say, the year, day, and hour of your death. I don't even know that sort of trivial information, although I could look it up quickly enough. You can release that white-knuckled grip you have on the edge of your desk."
I tried to relax. "What do you want to talk about?" I said.
"The Century War," said the Time Traveler.
I blinked and tried to remember some history. "You mean the Hundred Year War? Fifteenth Century? Fourteenth? Sometime around there. Between . . . France and England? Henry V? Kenneth Branagh? Or was it . . ."
"I mean the Century War with Islam," interrupted the Time Traveler. "Your future. Everyone's." He was no longer smiling. Without asking, or offering to pour me any, he stood, refilled his Scotch glass, and sat again. He said, "It was important to me to come back to this time early on in the struggle. Even if only to remind myself of how unspeakably blind you all were."
"You mean the War on Terrorism," I said.
"I mean the Long War with Islam," he said. "The Century War. And it's not over yet where I come from. Not close to being over."
"You can't have a war with Islam," I said. "You can't go to war against a religion. Radical Islam, maybe. Jihadism. Some extremists. But not a . . . the . . . religion itself. The vast majority of Muslims in the world are peaceloving people who wish us no harm. I mean . . . I mean . . . the very word 'Islam' means 'Peace.'"
"So you kept telling yourselves," said the Time Traveler. His voice was very low but there was a strange and almost frightening edge to it. "But the 'peace' in 'Islam' means 'Submission.' You'll find that out soon enough."
Great, I was thinking. Of all the time travelers in all the gin joints in all the world, I get this racist, xenophobic, right-wing asshole.
"After Nine-eleven, we're fighting terrorism," I began, "not . . ."
He waved me into silence.
"You were a philosophy major or minor at that podunk little college you went to long ago," said the Time Traveler. "Do you remember what Category Error is?"
It rang a bell. But I was too irritated at hearing my alma mater being called a "podunk little college" to be able to concentrate fully.
"I'll tell you what it is," said the Time Traveler. "In philosophy and formal logic, and it has its equivalents in science and business management, Category Error is the term for having stated or defined a problem so poorly that it becomes impossible to solve that problem, through dialectic or any other means."
I waited. Finally I said firmly, "You can't go to war with a religion. Or, I mean . . . sure, you could . . . the Crusades and all that . . . but it would be wrong."
The Time Traveler sipped his Scotch and looked at me. He said, "Let me give you an analogy . . ."
God, I hated and distrusted analogies. I said nothing.
"Let's imagine," said the Time Traveler, "that on December eighth, Nineteen forty-one, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt spoke before a joint session of Congress and asked them to declare war on aviation."
"That's absurd," I said.
"Is it?" asked the Time Traveler. "The American battleships, cruisers, harbor installations, Army barracks, and airfields at Pearl Harbor and elsewhere in Hawaii were all struck by Japanese aircraft. Imagine if the next day Roosevelt had declared war on aviation . . . threatening to wipe it out wherever we found it. Committing all the resources of the United States of America to defeating aviation, so help us God."
"That's just stupid," I said. If I'd ever been afraid of this Time Traveler, I wasn't now. He was obviously a mental defective."The planes, the Japanese planes," I said, "were just a method of attack . . . a means . . . it wasn't aviation that attacked us at Pearl Harbor, but the Empire of Japan. We declared war on Japan and a few days later its ally, Germany, lived up to its treaty with the Japanese and declared war on us. If we'd declared war on aviation, on goddamned airplanes rather than the empire and ideology that launched them, we'd never have . . ."
I stopped. What had he called it? Category Error. Making the problem unsolvable through your inability â€“ or fear â€“ of defining it correctly.
The Time Traveler was smiling at me from the shadows. It was a small, thin, cold smile â€“ holding no humor in it, I was sure -- but still a smile of sorts. It seemed more sad than gloating as my sudden silence stretched on.
"What do you know about Syracuse?" he asked suddenly.
I blinked again. "Syracuse, New York?" I said at last.
He shook his head slowly. "Thucydides' Syracuse," he said softly. "Syracuse circa 415 B.C. The Syracuse Athens invaded."
"It was . . . part of the Peloponnesian War," I ventured.
He waited for more but I had no more to give. I loved history, but let's admit it . . . that was ancient history. Still, I felt that I should have been able to tell him, or at least remember, why Syracuse was important in the Peloponnesian War or why they fought there or who fought exactly or who had won or . . . something. I hated feeling like a dull student around this scarred old man.
"The war between Athens and its allies and Sparta and its allies â€“ a war for nothing less than hegemony over the entire known world at that time â€“ began in 431 B.C.," said the Time Traveler. "After seventeen years of almost constant fighting, with no clear or permanent advantage for either side, Athens â€“ under the leadership of Alcibiades at the time â€“ decided to widen the war by conquering Sicily, the 'Great Greece' they called it, an area full of colonies and the key to maritime commerce at the time the way the Strait of Hormuz in the Persian Gulf is today."
I hate being lectured to at the best of times, but something about the tone and timber of the Time Traveler's voice â€“ soft, deep, rasping, perhaps thickened a bit by the whiskey â€“ made this sound more like a story being told around a campfire. Or perhaps a bit like one of Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon stories on "Prairie Home Companion." I settled deeper into my chair and listened.
"Syracuse wasn't a direct enemy of the Athenians," continued the Time Traveler, "but it was quarreling with a local Athenian colony and the democracy of Athens used that as an excuse to launch a major expedition against it. It was a big deal â€“ Athens sent 136 triremes, the best fighting ships in the world then â€“ and landed 5,000 soldiers right under the city's walls.
"The Athenians had enjoyed so much military success in recent years, including their invasion of Melos, that Thucydides wrote â€“ So thoroughly had the present prosperity persuaded the Athenians that nothing could withstand them, and that they could achieve what was possible and what was impracticable alike, with means ample or inadequate it mattered not. The reason for this was their general extraordinary success, which made them confuse their strengths with their hopes."
"Oh, hell," I said, "this is going to be a lecture about Iraq, isn't it? Look . . . I voted for John Kerry last year and . . ."
"Listen to me," the Time Traveler said softly. It was not a request. There was steel in that soft, rasping voice. "Nicias, the Athenian general who ended up leading the invasion, warned against it in 415 B.C. He said â€“ 'We must not disguise from ourselves that we go to found a city among strangers and enemies, and that he who undertakes such an enterprise should be prepared to become master of the country the first day he lands, or failing in this to find everything hostile to him'. Nicias, along with the Athenian poet and general Demosthenes, would see their armies destroyed at Syracuse and then they would both be captured and put to death by the Syracusans. Sparta won big in that two-year debacle for Athens. The war went on for seven more years, but Athens never recovered from that overreaching at Syracuse, and in the end . . . Sparta destroyed it. Conquered the Athenian empire and its allies, destroyed Athens' democracy, ruined the entire balance of power and Greek hegemony over the known world at the time . . . ruined everything. All because of a miscalculation about Syracuse."
I sighed. I was sick of Iraq. Everyone was sick of Iraq on New Years Eve, 2005, both Bush supporters and Bush haters. It was just an ugly mess. "They just had an election," I said. "The Iraqi people. They dipped their fingers in purple ink and . . ."
"Yes yes," interrupted the Time Traveler as if recalling something further back in time, and much less important, than Athens versus Syracuse. "The free elections. Purple fingers. Democracy in the Mid-East. The Palestinians are voting as well. You will see in the coming year what will become of all that."
The Time Traveler drank some Scotch, closed his eyes for a second, and said, "Sun Tzu writes â€“ The side that knows when to fight and when not to will take the victory. There are roadways not to be traveled, armies not to be attacked, walled cities not to be assaulted."
"All right, goddammit," I said irritably. "Your point's made. So we shouldn't have invaded Iraq in this . . . what did you call it? This Long War with Islam, this Century War. We're all beginning to realize that here by the end of 2005."
The Time Traveler shook his head. "You've understood nothing I've said. Nothing. Athens failed in Syracuse â€“ and doomed their democracy â€“ not because they fought in the wrong place and at the wrong time, but because they weren't ruthless enough. They had grown soft since their slaughter of every combat-age man and boy on the island of Melos, the enslavement of every woman and girl there. The democratic Athenians, in regards to Syracuse, thought that once engaged they could win without absolute commitment to winning, claim victory without being as ruthless and merciless as their Spartan and Syracusan enemies. The Athenians, once defeat loomed, turned against their own generals and political leaders â€“ and their official soothsayers. If General Nicias or Demosthenes had survived their captivity and returned home, the people who sent them off with parades and strewn flower petals in their path would have ripped them limb from limb. They blamed their own leaders like a sun-maddened dog ripping and chewing at its own belly."
I thought about this. I had no idea what the hell he was saying or how it related to the future.
"You came back in time to lecture me about Thucydides?" I said. "Athens? Syracuse? Sun-Tzu? No offense, Mr. Time Traveler, but who gives a damn?"
The Time Traveler rose so quickly that I flinched back in my chair, but he only refilled his Scotch. This time he refilled my glass as well. "You probably should give a damn" he said softly. "In 2006, you'll be ripping and tearing at yourselves so fiercely that your nation â€“ the only one on Earth actually fighting against resurgent caliphate Islam in this long struggle over the very future of civilization â€“ will become so preoccupied with criticizing yourselves and trying to gain short-term political advantage, that you'll all forget that there's actually a war for your survival going on. Twenty-five years from now, every man or woman in America who wishes to vote will be required to read Thucydides on this matter. And others as well. And there are tests. If you don't know some history, you don't vote . . . much less run for office. America's vacation from knowing history ends very soon now . . . for you, I mean. And for those few others left alive in the world who are allowed to vote."
"You're shitting me," I said.
"I am shitting you not," said the Time Traveler.
"Those few others left alive who are allowed to vote?" I said, the words just now striking me like hardthrown stones. "What the hell are you talking about? Has our government taken away all our civil liberties in this awful future of yours?"
He laughed then and this time it was a deep, hearty, truly amused laugh. "Oh, yes," he said when the laughter abated a bit. He actually wiped away tears from his one good eye. "I had almost forgotten about your fears of your, our . . . civil liberties . . . being abridged by our own government back in these last stupidity-allowed years of 2005 and 2006 and 2007. Where exactly do you see this repression coming from?"
"Well . . ." I said. I hate it when I start a sentence with 'well,' especially in an argument. "Well, the Patriot Act. Bush authorizing spying on Americans . . . international phonecalls and such. Uh . . . I think mosques in the States are under FBI surveillance. I mean, they want to look up what library books we're reading, for God's sake. Big Brother. 1984. You know."
The Time Traveler laughed again, but with more edge this time. "Yes, I know," he said. "We all know . . . up there in the future which some of you will survive to see as free people. Civil liberties. In 2006 you still fear yourselves and your own institutions first, out of old habit. A not unworthy â€“ if fatally misguided and terminally masochistic â€“ paranoia. I will tell you right now, and this is not a prediction but a history lesson, some of your grandchildren will live in dhimmitude."
"Zimmi . . . what?" I said.
He spelled it out. What had sounded like a 'z' was the 'dh.' I'd never heard the word and I told him so.
"Then get off your ass and Google it," said the Time Traveler, his one working eye glinting with something like fury. "Dhimmitude. You can also look up the word dhimmi, because that's what two of your three grandchildren will be called. Dhimmis. Dhimmitude is the system of separate and subordinate laws and rules they will live under. Look up the word sharia while you're Googling dhimmi, because that is the only law they will answer to as dhimmis, the only justice they can hope for . . . they and tens and hundreds of millions more now who are worried in your time about invisible abridgements of their 'civil liberties' by their 'oppressive' American and European democratically elected governments."
He audibly sneered this last part. I wondered now if the fury I sensed in him was a result of his madness, or if the reverse were true.
"Where will my grandchildren suffer this dhimmitude?" I asked. My mouth was suddenly so dry I could barely speak.
"Eurabia," said the Time Traveler.
"There's no such place," I said.
He gave me his one-eyed stare. My stomach suddenly lurched and I wished I'd drunk no Scotch. "Words," I said.
The Time Traveler raised one scar-slashed eyebrow.
"Last year you gave me words about 2005," I said. "The kind of words Ken Grimwood's replayers in time would have put in the newspaper to find each other. Give me more now. Or, better yet, just fucking tell me what you're talking about. You said it wouldn't matter. You said that my knowing won't change anything, any more than I can change the direction the Mississippi is flowing. So tell me, God damn it!"
He began by giving me words. Even while I was scribbling them down, I was thinking of reading I'd been doing recently about the joy with which the Victorian Englishmen and 19th Century Europeans and Americans greeted the arrival of the 20th Century. The toasts, especially among the intellectual elite, on New Year's Eve 1899 had been about the coming glories of technology liberating them, of the imminent Second Enlightenment in human understanding, of the certainty of a just one-world government, of the end of war for all time.
Instead, what words would a time traveler or poor Replay victim put in his London Times or Berliner Zeitung or New York Times on January 1, 1900, to find his fellow travelers displaced in time? Auschwitz, I was sure, and Hiroshima and Trinity Site and Holocaust and Hitler and Stalin and . . .
The clock in my study chimed midnight.
Jesus God. Did I want to hear such words about 2006 and the rest of the 21st Century from the Time Traveler?
"Ahmadenijad," he said softly. "Natanz. Arak. Bushehr. Ishafan. Bonab. Ramsar."
"Those words don't mean a damned thing to me," I said as I scribbled them down phonetically. "Where are they? What are they?"
"You'll know soon enough," said the Time Traveler.
"Are you talking about . . . what? . . . the next fifteen or twenty years?" I said.
"I'm talking about the next fifteen or twenty months from your now," he said softly. "Do you want more words?"
I didn't. But I couldn't speak just then.
"General Seyed Reza Pardis," intoned the Time Traveler. "Shehab-one, Shehab-two, Shehab-three. Tel Aviv. Baghdad International Airport, Al Salem U.S. airbase in Kuwait, Camp Dawhah U.S. Army base in Kuwait, al Seeb U.S. airbase in Oman, al Udeid U.S. Army and Air Force base in Qatar. Haifa. Beir-Shiva. Dimona."
"Oh, fuck," I said. "Oh, Jesus." I had no clue as to who or what Shehab One, Two, or Three might be, but the context and litany alone made me want to throw up.
"This is just the beginning," said the Time Traveler.
"Wasn't the beginning on September 11, 2001?" I managed through numb lips.
The one-eyed scarred man shook his head. "Historians in my time know that it began on June 5, 1968," he said. "But it hasn't really begun for you yet. For any of you."
I thought â€“ What on earth happened on the fifth of June, 1968? I'm old enough to remember. I was in college then. Working that summer and . . . Kennedy. Robert F. Kennedy's assassination. "Now on to Chicago and the nomination!" Sirhan Sirhan. Was the Time Traveler trying to give me some kind of half-assed Oliver-Stone-JFK-movie garbled up conspiracy theory?
"What . . ." I began.
"Galveston," interrupted the Time Traveler. "The Space Needle. Bank of America Plaza in Dallas. Renaissance Tower in Dallas. Bank One Center in Dallas. The Indianapolis 500 â€“ one hour and twenty-three minutes into the race. The Bell South Building in Atlanta. The TransAmerica Pyramid in San Francisco . . ."
"Stop," I said. "Just stop."
"The Golden Gate Bridge," persisted the Time Traveler. "The Guggenheim in Bilbao. The New Reichstag in Berlin. Albert Hall. Saint Paul's Cathedral . . ."
"Shut the fuck up!" I shouted. "All these places can't disappear in the rest of this century, your goddamned Century War or not! I don't believe it."
"I didn't say in the rest of your century," said the Time Traveler, his torn voice almost a whisper now. "I'm talking about your next fifteen years. And I've barely begun."
"You're nuts," I said. "You're not from the future. You escaped from some asylum."
The Time Traveler nodded. "That's more true than you know," he said. "I come from a place and time where your grandchildren and hundreds of millions of other dhimmi are compelled to write 'pbuh' after the Prophet's name. They wear gold crosses and gold Stars of David sewn onto their clothing. The Nazis didn't invent the wearing of the Star of David . . . the marking and setting apart of the Jews in society. Muslims did that centuries ago in they lands they conquered, European and otherwise. They will refine it and update it, not toward the more merciful, in the lands they occupy through the decades ahead of you."
"You're crazy," I cried, standing. My hands were balled into fists. "Islam is a religion . . . a religion of peace . . . not our enemy. We can't be at war with a religion. That's obscene."
"Have you read the Qur'an and learned your Sunnah?" asked the Time Traveler. "It would behoove you to do so. Dhimmi means 'protection.' And your children and grandchildren will be protected . . . like cattle."
"To hell with you," I said.
"Your dhimmi poll tax will be called jizya," said the Time Traveler. His voice suddenly sounded very weary. "Your land tax for being an infidel, even for fellow People of the Book â€“ Christians and Jews â€“ will be called kharaz. Both of these taxes will be in addition to your mandatory alms â€“ the zakat. The punishment for failure to pay, or for paying late, a punishment meted out by your local qadi, religious judge, is death by stoning or beheading."
I folded my arms and looked away from the Time Traveler.
"Under sharia â€“ which will be the universal law of Eurabia," persisted the Time Traveler, "the value of a dhimmi's life, the value of your grandchildren, is one half the value of a Muslim's life. Jews and Christians are worth one-third of a Muslim. Indian Parsees are worth one-fifteenth. In a court of the Eurabian Caliphate or the Global Khalifate, if a Muslim murders a dhimmi, any infidel, he must pay a blood money fine not to exceed one thousand euros. No Muslim will ever be jailed or sentenced to death for the murder of any dhimmi or any number of dhimmis. If the murders were done under the auspices of Universal Compulsive Jihad, which will be sanctioned by sharia as of 2019 Common Era, all blood money fines are waived."
"Go away," I said. "Go back to wherever you came from."
"I come from here," said the Time Traveler. "From not so far from here."
"Bullshit," I said.
"Your enemies have gathered and struck and continue to strike and you, the innocents of 2006 and beyond, fight among yourselves, chew and rip at your own bellies, blame your brothers and yourselves and your institutions of the Enlightenment â€“ law, tolerance, science, democracy â€“ even while your enemies grow stronger."
"How are we supposed to know who our enemies are?" I turned and growled at him. "The world is a complex place. Morality is a complex thing."
"Your enemy is he who will give his life to kill you," said the Time Traveler. "Your enemies are they that wish you and your children and your grandchildren dead and who are willing to sacrifice themselves, or support those fanatics who will sacrifice themselves, to see you and your institutions destroyed. You haven't figured that out yet â€“ the majority of you fat, sleeping, smug, infinitely stupid Americans and Europeans."
He stood and set the Scotch glass back in its place on my sideboard. "How, we wonder in my time," he said softly, "can you ignore the better part of a billion people who say aloud that they are willing to kill your children . . . or condone and celebrate the killing of them? And ignore them as they act on what they say? We do not understand you."
I still had not turned to face him, but was looking over my shoulder at him.
"The world, as it turns out," continued the Time Traveler, "is not nearly so complex a place as your liberal and gentle minds sought to make it."
I did not respond.
"Thucydides taught us more than twenty-four hundred years ago â€“ counting back from your time â€“ that all men's behavior is guided by phobos, kerdos, and doxa," said the Time Traveler. "Fear, self-interest, and honor."
I pretended I did not hear.
"Plato saw human behavior as a chariot pulled by precisely those three powerful and headstrong horses, first tugged this way, then pulled that way," continued the Time Traveler. "Phobos, kerdos, doxa. Fear, self-interest, honor. Which of these guides the chariot of your nation and your allies in Europe and your surprisingly fragile civilization now, O Man of 2006?"
I stared at the bookcase instead of the man and willed him gone, wishing him away like a sleepy boy willing away the boogeyman under his bed.
"Which combination of those three traits -- phobos, kerdos, doxa -- will save or doom your world?" asked the Time Traveler. "Which might bring you back from this vacation from history â€“ from history's responsibilities and history's burdens â€“ that you have all so generously gifted yourselves with? You peaceloving Europeans. You civil-liberties loving Americans? You Athenian invertebrates with your love of your own exalted sensibilities and your willingness to enter into a global war for civilizational survival even while you are too timid, too fearful . . . too decent . . . to match the ruthlessness of your enemies."
I closed my eyes but that did not stop his voice.
"At least understand that such decency goes away quickly when you are burying your children and your grandchildren," rasped the Time Traveler. "Or watching them suffer in slavery. Ruthlessness deferred against totalitarian aggression only makes the later need for ruthlessness more terrible. Thousands of years of history and war should have taught you that. Did you fools learn nothing from living through the charnel house that was the 20th Century?"
I'd had enough. I opened my eyes, turned, reached into the top left drawer of my desk, and pulled out the .38 revolver that I had owned for twenty-three years and fired only twice, at firing ranges, shortly after it was given to me as a gift.
I aimed it at the Time Traveler. "Get out," I said.
He showed no reaction. "Do you want more than words?" he asked softly. "I will give you more than words. I give you eight million Jews dead in Israel â€“ incinerated â€“ and many more dead Jews in Eurabia and around the world. I give you the continent of Europe cast back more than five hundred years into sad pools of warring civilizations."
"Get out," I repeated, aiming the revolver higher.
"I give you an Asian world in chaos, a Pacific rim ruled by China after the vacuum of America's withdrawal â€“ this nation's full resources devoted to fighting, and possibly losing, the Century War â€“ a South America and Mexico lost to corruption and appeasement, a resurgent Russian Empire that has reclaimed its old dominated republics and more, and a Canada split into three hateful nations."
I cocked the pistol. The click sounded very loud in the small room.
"We were speaking about ruthlessness," said the Time Traveler. "If you fail to understand it at first, you learn it quickly enough in a war like the one you are allowing to come. Would you like to hear the litany of Islamic shrines and cities that will blossom in nuclear retaliatory fire in the decades to come?"
"Get out," I said for a final time. "I'm ruthless enough to shoot you, and by God I will if you don't get out of here."
The Time Traveler nodded. "As you wish. But you should hear two last words, two last names . . .religious judge Ubar ibn al-Khattab and rector-imam Ismail Nawahda of New Al-Azhar University in London, part of the 200,000-man Golden Mosque of the New Islamic Khalifate in Eurabia."
"What are those names to me or me to them?" I asked. My finger was on the trigger of the cocked .38.
"These religious officials were on the Islamic Tribunal that sentenced two dhimmis to death by stoning and beheading," said the Time Traveler. "The dhimmis were your two grandsons, Thomas and Daniel."
"What was . . . will be . . . their crime?" I was able to ask after a long minute. My tongue felt like a strip of rough cotton.
"They dated two Muslim women â€“ Thomas while he was in London on business, Daniel while visiting his aging mother, your daughter, in Canada â€“ without first converting to Islam. That part of sharia, Islamic law, is called hudud, and we know quite a bit about it in my time. Your grandsons didn't know the young women were Muslim since they both were dressed in modern garb - -thus violating their own society's ironclad rule of Hijab â€” modesty. The girls, I hear, also died, but those were not sharia sentences. Not hudud. Their brothers and fathers murdered them. Honor killings . . . I think you've already heard the phrase by 2006."
If I were to shoot him, I had to do it now. My hand was shaking more fiercely every second.
"Of course, the odds against one sharia court in London sentencing both your grandsons to death for crimes committed as far apart as London and Quebec City is too much of a coincidence to believe in," continued the Time Traveler. "As is the fact that they would both be introduced to Muslim girls, without knowing they were Muslim, and go on a single dinner date with them at the same time, in cities so far apart. And Thomas was married. I know he thought he was having a business dinner with a client."
"What . . ." I began, my arm holding the pistol shaking as if palsied.
The Time Traveler laughed a final time. "All of your grandsons' names were on lists. You wrote something . . . will soon write something . . . that will put your name, and all your descendents' names, on their list. Including your only surviving grandson."
I opened my mouth but did not speak.
"According to their own writings, which we all know well in my day," continued the Time Traveler, " 'Hadith Malik 511:1588 The last statement that Muhammad made was: "O Lord, perish the Jews and Christians. They made churches of the graves of their prophets. There shall be no two faiths in Arabia.' And there are not. All infidels â€“ Christians, Jews, secularists -- have been executed, converted, or driven out. Israel is cinders. Eurabia and the New Khalifate is growing, absorbing what was left of the old, weak cultures there that once dreamt of a European Union. The Century War is not near over. Two of your three grandsons are now dead. Your remaining grandson still fights, as does one of your surviving granddaughters. Two of your three living granddaughters now live under sharia within the aegis of New Khalifate. They are women of the veil."
I lowered the pistol.
"Enjoy these last days and months and years of your slumber, Grandfather," said the scarred old man. "Your wake-up call is coming soon."
The Time Traveler said three last words and was gone.
I put the pistol away â€“ realizing too late that it had never been loaded â€“ and sat down to write this. I could not. I waited these three months to try again.
Oh, Lord, I wish that some person on business from Porlock would wake me from this dream.
It was not the horrors of his revelations about my grandchildren that had shaken me the most deeply, shaken me to the core of my core, but rather the Time Traveler's last three words. Three words that any Replayer or time traveler visiting here from a century or more from now would react to first and most emotionally â€“ three words I will not share here in this piece nor ever plan to share, at least until everyone on Earth knows them â€“ three words that will keep me awake nights for months and years to come.
~ ~ ~
(Note: Books commented on in this essay include â€“ The Peloponnesian War by Donald Kagan, The Book of War: 25 Centuries of Great War Writing edited by John Keegan, While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam Is Destroying the West from Within by Bruce Bawer, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of the World Order by Samuel P. Huntington, Civilization and Its Enemies: The Next Stage of History by Lee Harris, The Shield of Achilles: War, Peace, and the Course of History by Philip Bobbit, and Replay by Ken Grimwood.)
Follow-up commentary from the author, Dan Simmons
The Time Traveler's Taleâ€”a C- for Reading Comprehension:
No one likes being misquoted, but especially on so short a piece as the Time Traveler's story in the April Message that certainly could have been thoroughly attacked and/or disagreed with without it being read poorly or actively misquoted.
People wrote dismissive postings on this forum and elsewhere explaining how absurd it was that the story said that the Islamic world, armed with nothing more than terrorist tactics and C-4, could conquer and occupy the United States as per the Time Traveler's storyâ€¦but the Time Traveler never said that the U.S. had been conquered or occupied. Indeed, several times through the tale, the Time Traveler referred to the U.S. as fighting the Long War against Islam all on its own. But this is no prediction; this is precisely the fact of the global struggle now in 2006.
People sneered at the idea of Europe being "overrun" and of a "Eurabia" coming into existence there, but there was no report from the Time Traveler of a Europe that had been overrun by military forces, merely his statementâ€”"I give you the continent of Europe cast back more than five hundred years into sad pools of warring civilizations." In other words, a Europe of divided cities and divided nations in which the one common thread is an expanding Muslim presence which refuses to abide by local and national laws. Some would say that this is almost the case in 2006.
As Bruce Bawer writesâ€”
"In many places in Europe, agitation for the transfer of sovereignty has already begun. In France, a public official met with an imam at the edge of Roubaix's Muslim district out of respect for his declaration of the neighborhood as Islamic territory to which she had no right of access. In Britain, imams have pressed the government to officially designate certain areas of Bradford as being under Muslim, not British, law. In Denmark, Muslim leaders have sought the same kind of control over parts of Copenhagen. And in Belgium, Muslims living in the Brussels neighborhood of Sint-Jans-Molenbeek already view it not as part of Belgium but as an area under Islamic jurisdiction in which Belgians are not welcome."
Whether this trend is a fact or a wild distortion can be debated, but even during the month the April Message was online, some Canadian visitors to the forum told of laws being introduced to both provincial and Canadian parliaments in which Muslim communities were demanding sovereignty and rule of sharia Islamic law in their neighborhoods.
Other people responding to the April Message sneered at the idea of a nuclear war with radical Islam. Islam has no atomic weapons! despite the existence of a Pakistani nuclear arsenal and this month's dramatic developments of an Iran rejecting all IAEA inspections and international pressure to cease its uranium enrichment as well as its public and clandestine nuclear programs. During the weeks the April Message was online, few who read or view the news could have missed the elaborate televised ceremony complete with costumes, dances, and rampant religious symbolism that Iran's President Ahmadenijad led in which a few grams of "enriched uranium" were held up to the nation as if Prometheus had just brought them Holy Fire.
A very few astute readers -at least one did notice that the list of names in the Time Traveler's first litany are current enrichment or nuclear development sites in Iran and that the "Shehab-one, Shehab-two, Shehab-three" in the litany are the three generations of ballistic missiles a gift from North Korea developed to carry Iranian nuclear warheads to the list of in-range targets in the Mid East, beginning with Tel Aviv, that are mentioned next in the Time Traveler's tale.
The Time Traveler did not specify the "Samson Option" Israel's very real plan to lash out with nuclear weapons against all surrounding Arab and Islamic nations should any Islamic country explode a nuclear weapon in or above its territory ”but at least one knowledgeable person responding to the subtext of the Time Traveler's tale did so.
Does anyone now doubt the seriousness of this topic?
Whatever our opinions, we all need to read better. And to repeat Dr. Samuel Johnson's injunction on learning how to be a good reader "First, clear your mind of cant."