Everything had been explained to me in that big honking core dump that had spattered like coconut cream pie in Bill Gates’ face as I came rollercoastering back to consciousness. Like sitting through a hundred movies, images, words, and datelines being snapped, poked, braided, and branded into my sentience with various degrees of salience and priority. But just because the info was seared into my head didn’t make it any easier to accept. World wars, environmental crashes, cyborgs, robots, space travel. That part of it wasn’t anything I hadn’t thought of or seen in movies dozens of times. That part was kind of cool: checking out the fruit we’d helped seed in the twenty first century. But damn damn damn it this was no way at all to time travel. With a one way ticket to hell.
Without even asking permission, this freakish group had stolen me away from my life. They called themselves Ectoneocyberaquarians, messed-up gene-slicing hippies. The human race had perfected information technology, biological technologies, and nanotechnologies in the 25th and 26th centuries. The major powers in the solar system I had once called home were now ever-changing and most of the time warring little megagroups of human-intelligent machine coalitions, little more than fractious technology-based tribes. After perfecting those other technologies, many of those groups had now surpassed themselves. They were beginning to blow the music of the Cosmic Tuba itself: morphogenetic technologies. Morphogenetic technologies allowed them to tap into the substrate of spacetime, siphon into the ever-frequencies of the All-Being. They could now, with limited success, use DNA samples to somehow single out individual consciousnesses and ground them to particular times and places, something like tuning in a radio. Lizard-chick, feather boy and their retro hippie friends had filed some stupid public DNA filing with the local Lunauthority, gotten some special permission from the central techno government office (the thought impression I received was of some vast solid state machine intelligence mysteriously making all the decisions from a distant star), and had tapped into the Multiversic Morphogenetic Fieldstream. And plop, out had come a quivering mass of Robthoughts.
But that wasn’t the worst part.
Their tampering meant that at 11:34 on the morning of December 11th, 2001, while I was working in my office at Kellogg, this wunderbar übermachine of theirs had slipped into the mainstream flow of the All-Being, or what we might misconstrue most easily as the GodGrid/Construct of All Animistic Awareness and Material Manifestations, drilled a little hole, peeped around, and slurped out Kozinets at some random point in his life. On the ground, what happened to me was that my awareness had been sucked instantly out of my brain, leaving behind a comatose braindead Rob Kozinets shell body for Jim Ward, Margie Osadnick, or one of the other lucky Kellogg secretaries to find. My reflexive awareness, my I that is jabbering to you right now, the as-it-was-explained-to-me morphogenetically attuned spark of unique being that is me, is now captured and bottled up in this freakish tuning machine these freakish future hippies had built out of parts they’d scavenged from abandoned lunar bases, space stations, and garbage satellites.
My head was some kind of sophisticated camera mounted on a long flexible wire neck, it twisted any way I wanted it too, which was anywhere but down to look at my own pathetic body. My arms were pieces of construction machinery. I was still immobile but I could talk perfectly well. It sounded just like my own voice in what seemed to be my own ears. They had promised me a few times to build me a better body as they customized some new parts for me. Despite this, I sensed I wasn’t really a high priority project for them, really. Just one of a lot of little projects they had on the go.
So, why? Good question. The reason they’d gone to the trouble of highjacking my awareness and shlepping it over six hundred years into the future, to reside in a scavenged mechanical body was that their group—the Ectoneocyberaquarians—was a utopian community. They were feverish, cultish, fannish grokkers of primitivist utopian models of the past. They were, near as I could make it, a marginal, weirded-out collective of retro techno utopian geeks who had gotten a hold of some low-rent orbital real estate around Luna and were using it to experiment with defunct and forbidden subcultures. You know: kids and their toys, that sort of thing.
Their current fascination was Burning Man, an annual gathering of about twenty-five thousand wildly self-expressive celebrants held in the middle of the Nevada Desert that began in San Francisco in 1985 with a few creative bohemians. Neo-pagan, neo-tribal, modern primitive: Burning Man centered on the burning of a gigantic effigy made of wood and neon, with dancing and partying galore. I studied Burning Man, had written about it, posted some articles, pictures, and poems to the Internet. They wanted to learn about Burning Man. Everything about Burning Man.
A lot of written and textual records from the past had vanished. There were major wars on earth that had vaporized most of the paper, and the old datastreams were either censored, forbidden, or under the control of machine intelligences that didn’t think humans could handle the truth. Most of what remained was pop cultures remnants, pieces of a very complex jigsaw puzzle with no real guidelines for fitting them together except for the few hundred people different organizations and corporations brought back from the past and then terminated in fairly short order, once they’d answered their major questions. That didn’t sound very good to me. There was little sharing between the different factions, so information didn’t spread around. The past was largely a mystery to these people, and what little information they could gather about the past was preciously hoarded, almost never traded.
But the Ectoneocyberaquarians are a persistently idealistic bunch. They weren’t going to give up on their dream. They’d conned a few machines into giving them some datascraps from the old Internet and had stumbled across my name and some info on Burning Man. They want desperately to learn more. Some things never change, I guess, including the charm of that event. In addition, as I eventually pried out of them, my DNA samples had been found or reconstructed—I wasn’t quite sure which—at some kind of an intergalactic garage sale, going for a very low price. I was apparently the cheapest way they could pursue their hobby.
They are looking to transform their station into some kind of simulacrum of Burning Man, for a time, for some kind of combined experimental-ritual purpose. They are convinced I am the man-machine for the job. In particular, they want my help at teasing out the mythic potency of Burning Man’s primitive rituals.
It’s ironic at best. These futuristic freaks are consulting with me, a primitive freak from the distant past, a being who barely scored above caveman levels on their evolutionary SAT tests, about one of the oddest and richest postmodern primitive affairs that my contemporary society has to offer. By having me recollect Burning Man, they seem to believe I could somehow summon its true essence, draw the spirit of the event down from the All-Being to preside over their faux event. By guiding them in their little playtime, they think I can spin spacetime into texttime, make the future realize the past by actually emanating a field that can knit both together. Somehow they think that I can generate enough field energy to reach an acceptable level on their authenticity meter.
But all I really want is to get home. I am so far away from Marianne, my sweetheart, my honey. How must she be feeling with a brain dead husband. Well, an officially, in the hospital, brain dead husband. And , and Cameron, my little stars, my boys. The big highlight this month had been Cameron’s pottie training just a couple of weeks after his third birthday. The little blond curly-haired guy had gone through three bags of Harry Potter jellybeans to get trained, but now he marched himself proudly down to the bathroom in his Monsters Inc peejays. His lifelong fascination with Halloween has turned him into a Scooby Doo junkie. And of course we were still trying to get him to go cold turkey on the beans.
And Aaron, my five year old baseball fanatic. Would he ever make the major leagues, like he now dreamed? Would he become the chess champ of his school? Would he grow to love comic books and art as much as I had? I was reading the third Harry Potter book to Aaron every night. We were approaching the part about the evil Medieval Dementors smooching Harry and sucking his soul out of his mouth. I could relate to poor Harry. My soul had just been sucked out, too. What I wouldn’t give to be with my wife and kids again.
There are my parents, my sister Jenny, my cousins and family, my friends and neighbors, and my friends at Kellogg. Seeing the moon up close is awesome, flying through space a childhood dream, hearing seeing how the future turns out is an honor. But I do not want to be here. Like Dorothy on her great adventure, all I really want is to get back home, get back to the blessed past, the perfect past, my world, which, despite September 11th and all, looked a helluva lot better than this one. There’s no place like home, hombre.
“We know you want to revert,” Anna-Marie-Delmonte-Louisa-Exxon says. “You tuneins always do. I’m not going to skin you though. It’s not easy to slip pop a tuner back into their timestream. It’s much easier to just keep them as simheads. But’cha know, we can always try. But first you have to try for us.”
I listen to her, to them. They are my new customers, after all.
It isn’t that I don’t believe in their cause. They actually seem like a rather fine young group of interstellar hippie utopian animal freaks. I also have to admit that the idea of them running a resurrected Burning Man festival in a renegade satellite spinning around the moon six hundred years in my future has a lot of appeal. But this is not the way I want my world to end. I wanted to go out all old and wrinkly and incontinent, with my old and wrinkly and hopefully somewhat less incontinent wife by my side, with great-grandchildren bouncing on our fat-saddled laps, playing and laughing and waving my legs until, like Python’s Brian, I draw my terminal breath. I want at least, at very least, and I don’t think this is asking too much, to be in my own body when I die. Not rolling around, some bizarre ectoplasmically hacked deus ex machina in a bricklike bricolaged robobody, getting turned off with the flick of some genegineered critter’s feathery finger.
So what else can I do? I ask more questions. I get them to cough up some digitized book and text sections for me to work with. And I begin to write.