Livid purple clouds convulsed in lightning-shot whorls as days, sometimes whole weeks, were destroyed. The wars had exacted their toll and the universe was still paying.
Inside the Enclave, however, it was quiet. The Archivist and his young friend the Acolyte were walking through the polished stone hallways. The Archivist wore soft shoes over his four feet, to reduce the noise made in this sacred place. The Acolyte went barefoot in respect. The Acolyte had his four arms folded under the drape of his robe, the iridescent blue of the robe a tasteful compliment to his iridescent purple carapace.
“It was good of you to come, dear son,” The Archivist said as they walked towards the museum wing of the Enclave. Age and worry had dulled the Archivist’s carapace to a mottled, matte purple, but the Acolyte revered rather than judged him for that. He wore the marks of his service like a badge, and deserved respect.
“Of course, revered one,” the Acolyte said. “I would obey your summons without question at any time, but your missive seems to imply that you have something of import to show me.”
The Archivist fluttered his wings in amusement. “You were ever the quick student. Indeed, I have been given permission, or rather I was asked, to bring you into a rather select circle of researchers. Your efforts in repairing the damages of the time storms have gained you quite a reputation.”
“I serve, as do we all, Magister.” the Acolyte said simply. His former master nodded and they walked in companionable silence until they reached the massive mechanized door of the museum. The Archivist led the way through the grand gallery, past the domed and arched public displays and through a smaller but more ornately formed door near the rear of the massive central chamber. The Acolyte’s trained eyes observed the minute play of light across the surface of the door; a subtle but sure sign that the door was phased, existing in many times at once, its reality a fabric rather than a thread. Whatever it was protecting was important indeed.
Beyond the phased door was a smaller but no less ornate room. On the walls hung rich tapestries, woven patterns displaying the flow of time through the weft and woof of reality, a symbol of the work they all did in the Enclave. But impressive as they were, the tapestries were not what drew the Acolyte’s eyes.
In the center of the room was a large dais, roughly five feet high. On this stood a wide shallow basin, made of a bronze-colored metal, and with a plethora of jewels set in the rim in patterns that would defy human imagination. All these were there to contain a Time Bubble; a captured and protected span of what the universe had been. It appeared as an oblong of dark space with two minute stars gleaming inside it. The Acolyte walked around it, observing. “It is quite small, perhaps fifteen thousand years?”
“Only nine thousand, but it is roughly thirty-six cubic light years.”
“So much space and so little time?” The Acolyte wondered.
“The species this Bubble contains is somewhat special, my friend. Come, observe.” The Archivist rested his four hands on four groups of jewels, his fingers caressing and sliding across the controls in intricate patterns. A large lens slid into place in front of them and focused on one of the two stars in the bubble.
“This is the home star of the species. They speak many languages, and even in their predominant languages there are many words for this star, but the ones we have chosen are Sol, or the Sun. The other star has a number of names near the beginning of the span we were able to capture, but near the end the species has settled on Alpha Proxima.”
“Such musical names,” the Acolyte commented. “And what does this species call itself?”
“Again, they are multilingual so there are many names: humanidad, ihmiskunta, katauhan, dynoliaeth…and a host of others.” the Archivist clicked the strange-sounding syllables. “But the one we have settled on is ‘humanity’. It has an odd double meaning in its host language. It refers both to the species as a whole and to treating others with respect.”
The Acolyte nodded. “And what is it that makes them worthy of such a grandiose environment?”
“There is a quality to humanity; not a physical quality, but one that seems built-in to the personality of each human. They believe that they are able to make the universe around them better through action.”
The Acolyte considered this ridiculous statement. The universe is just the universe, it is indifferent to the actions of an individual or a species. But he did not want to contradict the revered and august Archivist. Fortunately the Archivist continued.
“I know what you are thinking, indeed it’s what we have all thought when brought in contact with humanity and it’s odd ideas.”
“And what do you call this…odd quality of theirs?”
“Again my young friend we need to use one of their words here. They call it “aspiration”, another word with two meanings; for it means both ‘working to improve your lot in life’ and ‘breathing’. Apparently they consider one as essential to life as the other.”
“Revered Archivist, while this quality is interesting, it hardly seems to merit such an enclosure.”
The Archivist again fluttered his wings in amusement and said. “No? Observe with me.” The Archivist began manipulating the controls, setting the lens to a particular set of four-dimensional coordinates, speaking as he worked. “When we first contained this species, we had set it in a more traditional container. We captured just their world, and built a orrory around it to give them the appearance of a working solar system. They observed, and were able to tell that they were in a geocentric environment.”
“They discovered it? How?”
“They were, even then, before they had discovered electricity, planning to go to the stars. Through their observations they correctly deduced that the stars at the time were only a few miles beyond the atmosphere, and decided that such a trip was not outside of their abilities. Even though, at the time, it most certainly was.
“So we expanded their enclosure. We went back to the moment of capture and brought in the rest of their solar system. It wasn’t a perfect operation; we accidentally cracked the ninth planet in two, but in our naiveté we assumed they would never notice. What happened was interesting. Some of them maintained the idea that the universe was geocentric, while others did new experiments and discovered the heliocentric nature of space, and that the stars were much farther off than previously thought.”
“But…how did they retain that? From their point of view the universe never was geocentric…”
The Archivist shrugged, an odd, alien gesture he had picked up from humanity, and one that looked extremely odd when performed by a being with four arms. “We thought it was just an anomaly, but we’ve been running up against their racial memory over and over again. When we captured their world we removed some of the more fearsome predators so we could study the sentient beings. Their world had flying serpents that breathed fire, and we eradicated them. This was done before humanity had any written language or even a very strong oral tradition. We figured that the stories would die out eventually. But they held on to those stories throughout their history.
“At any rate, they kept surprising us.” The Archivist brushed the controls again and centered in on a small, unlikely looking craft moving very slowly along a beach until it suddenly left the ground, carrying a lone passenger. “Observe the time when this happens. This is humanity’s first powered flight. They were born without wings or any method of flying but decided not to let that stop them.”
“How novel,” the Acolyte admitted. The Archivist brushed the controls again and the picture jumped forward but a few decades and moved back, showing the planet as if in low orbit.
“Within the lifetimes of most members of the species, they went from that first crude flying machine to this:” As he spoke a bright light shone out and something came climbing up a column of smoke twinkling and winking bright as it climbed. The Acolyte leaned in for a better view.
“Are they…did they just…Are they leaving their atmosphere?”
The Archivist nodded. “In the most insane way possible. They are using barely controlled chemical reactions to propel themselves upward and out of their atmosphere. In just a few years they will land on their satellite. And here is where their history gets troublesome again.”
“In a few years they will do far more sophisticated measurements of the universe and discover that it’s curved around them. Again, a product of the time bubble. After that they will make plans to go to their nearest neighboring star. Well, we got worried; they clearly have every intention of doing just that. So we, that is, I, expanded the time bubble again…and they noticed, Again.”
“For quite a while inflationary cosmology was in vogue, and we were thankfully subtle enough that they never quite proved or disproved it. But by then we had a number of other problems. We’ve had to take a more active hand with this enclosure than any other. For example, two of them discovered the Cold Star technique.”
“But that would destabilize the enclosure entirely if it got out of control!”
“Indeed. We hastily modified the enclosure again, and after the first few experiments it stopped working. Then they discovered how to tap into the theta-wave network, which from their internal perspective appeared to be particles moving faster than the speed of light. They were able to send a few test signals from one part of their planet to another before we shielded the enclosure in this room.”
The Archivist had been tuning his controls so the lens showed each of these events in turn. The Acolyte grew still as he saw the evidence of his former master’s words.
“Sir, to what end do we keep this enclosure? They seem almost too dangerous.”
“Perhaps, but what is danger here at the end of time? Observe one more thing, and then I would ask a favor of you, my son.”
The Archivist tuned the lens to another point, near the end of the time span, far out from the home planet of the remarkable little race. “Do you see that craft?”
“There are three hundred humans on board, traveling toward Alpha Proxima. At sub-warp speeds. The craft, if it is lucky will get there in four hundred years. The problem is that they don’t have four hundred years, this enclosure runs out only seven years later. So we need to help them a little.”
“How do we do that?”
The Archivist tuned the lens back a bit. “At this point, when they are contemplating a trip to Alpha Proxima, they are considering another problem, and one that is, again, an artifact of the time bubble. They call it ‘dark matter’. You see, they have once again discovered that the apparent size of the universe and the amount of observable mass in the universe are widely disparate.”
This time the Acolyte didn’t comment. There was no way they should have made such a discovery, but he was beyond being surprised. The Archivist continued.
“They waste quite a bit of time and research on what is, of course, an insolvable problem, instead of working on propulsion or even hyperwarp travel. So we’re going to rectify the difference, far before they start studying it, and hope that they can refocus their efforts.
The Acolyte nodded. but had to ask, “Sir, to what end?”
“Think of what they have already accomplished. Perhaps, if we give them enough time, they can find a way to stop the storms and war outside, and through them we might find a path beyond our limits as well.”
The Acolyte nodded and the two silently began to work, minutely adjusting the equations that made up reality inside the fragile little bubble. It was intricate work, but familiar, and the Acolyte’s mind wandered a little.
“You are quite good to humanity, Master. If only…if only our own captors were as generous.”