Friday, October 3, 2008

Mysterious Messages from Another Time

Life at the lab is generally pretty low key, same old-same old, but I had a little bit of excitement in the office yesterday. First, a little (not particularly essential) back story: I worked at the lab at which I currently work two summers ago as a (paid) REU (Research Experiences for Undergraduates) intern. Now I'm back, but there was significant time in between when I worked as an intern and when I got my current job here.

Thursday around noon I'm sitting at my desk minding my own business when one of my office-mates comes over from the printer (he's just printed out a few things himself) and hands me a sheet of paper, saying, "This just printed out--you don't want to lose it." It's a boarding pass with my name on it for a Southwest Airlines flight. The thing is, I'm not planning on any trips at this point--plane, train, or otherwise. I look at the time stamp at the bottom of the page: 8/12/2006 2:45 PM. *Cue Twilight Zone song.* It's the boarding pass for my flight home at the end of my REU. I remember the flight quite well. It was mere days after the London airport terrorism scare, before they decided on what new liquid regulations they would use for carry-ons, so for that flight we couldn't bring anything remotely liquidy. I remember discovering, while already on the plane, that I had a chocolate caramel (Hershey's Nugget) in my purse and fretting that if someone saw it, it could possibly get me thrown off the plane. I'm serious: they weren't allowing chapstick or deodorant, so a bit of caramel in the middle of a chocolate could have been fair game for an arrest.

But why did the printer decide to print this boarding pass just now? This printer has completed hundreds of jobs, printed out thousands of sheets in between when I told it to print the boarding pass and now. The website from which I printed the boarding pass is gone and the email account from which I would have accessed the boarding pass is even gone, so it must have been caught in the printer. For two years. It makes me wonder what else the printer is hiding in its little printer brain. And what was the meaning of this strange blast from the past?

The answer didn't come to me until this morning. It's so obvious! How could I be so dumb? The printer was caught in a time anomaly. While my 8/12/2006 self could send something to print out on 10/2/2008, maybe my 10/2/2008 self could send something to print out for my 8/12/2006 self! When I got to work, I quickly typed up a letter to my(2006)self:

Dear [Eleni],
I just got the boarding pass for your flight home from your REU summer internship (which you printed on 8/12/06). I remember that flight quite well. Some info and advice for you:

I then rattled off a list of advice for myself (-Don't wait to take the GRE; -Be very careful to observe all driving laws on October 30, 2006; -A close friend will ask you out this fall, so think of a tactful way to turn him down; etc.). I also tried to think of important events that it would be helpful to know about (bad things that I could possibly prevent, like Kyle Chandler on Early Edition). All that came to me at the time was: 1) The stock market crashing, 2) the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, and 3) Heath Ledger's death. So, I wasn't going to spend that much time on the note because one, the time anomaly wouldn't last long--it could have already closed!--and two, I had a meeting with my PI* that morning and needed to get a bunch done before then. Still, it's kind of a sad, sparse little list I came up with.

What should have I included? What would you say if you could write a letter to yourself two years ago? Keep in mind that world-changing information is dangerous in time-bending circumstances (Peter Petrelli has beaten that message to death by now). Even little changes can make a big difference--perhaps by telling my(2006)self how to avoid a small driving infraction, I(2008) am leading my(2006)self to a huge deadly car crash down the road that my(original 2006) infraction helped me avoid. And that's not the only danger of sending this message back in time. How do I know I'd be the person to receive the letter? Assuming that the anomaly, as long as it is in existence, moves through time at the same rate that we move through time, I(2006) wouldn't have even been there a day later on the morning of 8/13/2006 to receive the letter that I(2008)'m sending to the printer on Friday morning, the day after receiving the boarding pass, since I(2006) would already be on my way to the airport. Even not assuming this anomaly-moving-through-time rule, I would still have no way to know who would receive my letter. It could fall into the wrong hands--I could have given an evil villain everything he needed to... well... not prevent a few bad things from happening? I guess he could pull out of the stock market before things get really bad and thus retain the funds he needs to pull off some nefarious plan. And all because of me.

In any case, when I hit print, the letter promptly printed out of the printer, in the 10/3/2008 present. Disappointingly, it seems I missed the time anomaly. Obviously I should have thought of this yesterday, immediately after I had received the boarding pass, when there was a better chance of the anomaly still being open. Though... that boarding pass did successfully print in 2006 (seeing as I was able to board my flight) as well as in 2008. While it is most likely that I tried to print it once and when it didn't work (until two years later) I tried to print it again and it printed immediately, it is possible that I only told it to print once and it printed the boarding pass in both 2006 and 2008, in which case it is also possible my(2008) letter printed in both 2008 and 2006. As far as I can tell, the outcome of the future (that is, the present) hasn't changed yet, but maybe any changes will be in an alternate dimension--an alternate version of 2008. One can always dream.

Really though, I'm quite sure that the time anomaly in the printer was open for only a brief period yesterday and was thus closed before I thought to print the letter to my 2006 self. Now the printer is back to printing only in the present. Anomaly closed. Chance missed. But I will save the boarding pass, and the letter, as mementos of this amusing technological, if not mystical temporal, anomaly.

*Principle Investigator (as in PhD-holding scientist leading a research group, the sort of friendlier term people use here for "boss"), not Private Investigator.


Anonymous said...

Damn, you lost me at Peter Petrelli....sorry!

Eleni said...

Haha, yeah, I got a little kooky with that one.