“But you said I can’t make it look like this is real,” I said. Okay, maybe I whined it. I was confused, as I almost always am talking to this guy.
“It’s all right,” Rority replied. “Nobody will believe it, anyway. Well, except Noboty.”
“My butler Noboty. He’s a robot made out of nobots.”
“Oh yeah, you mentioned him...”
“Yeah, you’ll write about it. You got it all wrong, but not bad for a protohuman.”
“And you’re really taking me to the future?” I asked, incredulous.
“Well,” he said, giving me a sly look... or what I interpreted as one. “Kind of. It’s nobotic.”
“So it won’t be real?”
Rority took a hit off of his stratodoober, laughed uproariously, and things got weird.
As I write this, it’s February 2000. Five years ago I foresaw some really big problems, because they had designed all the world’s databases with only two characters in the date fields, as if it was going to be the twentieth century forever. Luckily, so did everybody else who knew how computers work, and governments and industry industriously got to work and fixed it.
I got a huge raise a few years ago, and I understand the recession is over for everybody else, too, since Clinton was elected. We’re buying a house this year.
I logged on to the internet to work on my web site, the Springfield Fragfest. The new 56K modem was screeching as Rority appeared, as weird as ever. It looks like smoke or fog assembling into him, and then becomes solid.
Rority says I can’t let anyone see this until at least late 2018, which will be the Illinois bicentennial.
I should mention what nobots are, I guess. Nobots are microscopic robots, each having a computer orders of magnitude more powerful than all the computing power that exists today, and they’re all networked together. They can assemble with other nobots to make solid things. Rority says that in his time, everything but food and drink is made of nobots.
Rority is from ten million years in the future and looks like an Area 51 space alien. Most of what he does looks like magic to me, but I’ve read Clarke. Ten million years is a long time. But time travel, and going faster than light that he says are related, seem like impossibilities to me. But I’m really primitive to him. I think he sees me as a pet.
“We need at least ten cubic meters of space to do this,” he said.
“I know just the place,” I replied. “There’s a cornfield not too far from here, and they won’t be planting for a couple of months.”
We got in my car and drove out there. I hopped the fence and Rority walked right through it like it wasn’t even there. About twenty yards in, Rority said “Okay, we’re far enough. Just a second while I... okay, here we go.”
And I thought how he shows up and walks right through things is weird! Everything turned to fog, kind of the opposite of when Rority shows up.
The fog solidified into a room. There was a desk with a computer on it, and the screen was really strange, only about an inch thick and perfectly flat. There were some strange, cylindrical light “bulbs” in the room’s lamps. Various little lights on the computer were blinking. It took a minute or so to take it all in.
I finally noticed the desk had no phone on it, but didn’t say anything. I didn’t pay much attention to the framed, backlit poster on the wall, until the image started moving, talking, and making music.
“How far into the future is this, anyway?” I asked. “Freakin’ Star Trek.”
“It’s 2018.” Right then I realized that the poster was really a television, tuned to CNN. The announcer said something about the president; Donald Trump was on the screen in front of the White House.
My jaw dropped. “Don’t tell me he’s president!”
Rority grinned and shrugged. “Okay, I won’t. But ignorance won’t change reality.”
“How in the hell...”
Rority seemed to be really enjoying himself. “This fall, back in your time, George Bush will be elected president...”
“Again? He could only serve one more term.”
“No, his son George. Despite what Clinton had warned him about Al Queda, he let his guard down and the country was attacked.”
“Who’s this Al Queda guy, some Mexican drug lord?”
“It’s an Islamic terrorist organization based in Afghanistan. They flew two jet airliners into the Twin Towers in New York, one into the Pentagon, and tried to fly one into the capitol building, but that one crashed. Actually, I made it crash.”
“What’s that got to do with Trump?”
“I’m getting to it. Anyway, Bush started an undeclared war on Afghanistan, then attacked Iraq. Despite, or rather because of his two wars, he was re-elected.
“Then toward the end of his second term, the economy crashed and crashed hard, starting what is called the ‘Great Recession’. Your historians say it was banking that caused it, but the real reason was that fuel prices more than quadrupled. It was either buy gas to get to work or pay the mortgage. The Republican, a war hero named John McCain, lost to Barack Obama, a black man.”
“But how did Trump get to be president?”
“I’m getting to it. Obama was a very good president who your historians say was history’s twelfth best. He managed to find and kill Osama Bin Laden...”
“Is that some federal bill?”
“No, he was the head of Al Queda and ordered the attack on the US. Obama also stopped the country from sliding into a full-blown depression (don’t tell anybody, but I had a hand in that, too) and managed to get a law passed that made sure everyone could get health care.”
“When Obama first ran, Trump cooked up a phony story about Obama being Muslim and not a citizen. The crazy racists bought it. Trump, the fraudster, huckster, and all around terrible protohuman kept it up. Obama ran for re-election against Mitt Romney and beat him handily; Obama was a popular president.
“Then in the 2016 election, Trump bullied all the other Republicans out of the race, and the Democrats chose Clinton’s wife.”
“Yes, she’d served two terms as a New York senator, and Obama had appointed her as Secretary of State. There were a series of scandals right before the election, and she was never very popular anyway. None the less, she won the popular vote but lost in the electoral college. So Trump’s been President for almost two years. Racism was his ticket to the White House.”
“Who’s this ‘Mueller’ guy, anyway?”
“He’s investigating Trump for collusion with the Russians to steal the election, bribery, campaign finance crimes, witness intimidation...”
“Sounds worse than Nixon.”
“He is. Lets go outside so you can look around.”
“Okay, but why?”
“Because it’s necessary to keep you stupid protohumans from completely destroying your environment. If you don’t stop burning fossil fuels I’ll never be born. Not just you, everybody. And Trump seems to hate the environment.”
“What makes you say that?”
“He appointed a man who had sued the EPA many times as head of the EPA, they’re now dismantling everything the EPA has done in the last fifty years, and Trump took us out of the Paris agreement.”
“That was another big Obama success. He got together with all the world’s leaders to find a way to stop the global warming. Only one small, poor nation didn’t sign, and Trump pulled out of the agreement as soon as he took office. Come on, let’s go outside.” He opened the door and exited.
I followed him out into the cold. There were a couple of inches of snow on the ground. “If Trump is such a danger to the future, why did you let him win?”
“The math boys say if Clinton had won, destruction would have come even sooner.” He walked up to a really cool looking car and got in the driver’s seat. I got in the passenger seat.
“Why? She had the experience.”
“How much of your history do you know?”
“What I learned in school, about the same as most people, I guess. Why?”
“Because her government experience was a close parallel to James Buchanan’s. Buchanan was the one who started the civil war; he tried too hard to please everyone, just like Clinton. The math boys say had she won, there would have been a thermonuclear war resulting in a massive extinction event that would have dwarfed even the ‘Great Dying’.”
The car started moving and didn’t make a sound. At least, not enough for me to hear. “So I take it that Trump and Clinton both need to be out of the picture? What happens to them?”
“I can’t tell you, your knowledge would be dangerous. It will work out okay after the next recession.”
“The next recession?”
“There’s always a next recession, at least until we got past laboring for goods.”
“When will it hit?”
“I can’t tell you, you’d really screw things up for us.”
A Harley thundered past us going the opposite way. “This is sure a quiet car. I don’t recognize the brand.”
“It will be another three years before they even get started building a company. This is a Tesla Model S.”
“They must have some breakthrough mufflers.”
“It’s electric. It doesn’t need a muffler. In parts of the world, it would emit no pollution or carbon at all. The trouble is, and this is what I want you to tell people in 2018, is that here in Springfield this Tesla pollutes more than any vehicle on the road.
“Well, maybe school buses are dirtier, those things really stink. But this Tesla runs on coal.”
“Its batteries are charged from the local electric grid when the car’s parked. Springfield’s biggest and most used generator is coal-fired. So here, electric cars pollute more than even diesel.”
We went as far as Ash street, and signs indicated that it was closed. Rority pointed to it. “They’re building a high-speed rail system through here. There won’t be any crossings, just underpasses. Ash will be open next Spring and they’ll close Laurel to construct its underpass.
“I wanted you to see the progress.” He turned left on Ash and left again on 5th. We drove down to the university.
“See that shiny wall?” he asked as we drove through the campus.
“Yeah, what’s it for? It looks strange.”
“It’s a solar panel. It generates electricity from sunlight.”
“Yeah, I’ve heard of solar cells but have read that they’re way too expensive and inefficient to be practical.” By then he was heading south on I-55.
“They were, twenty years ago. In fifty years there won’t be many traditional electric generators, except some old hydroelectric and nuclear plants. Most houses will have solar panels on the roof, and most skyscrapers will have windmills on top.”
“You mean like in the old Dutch paintings?”
“No, these look like... well, they probably will look like a prop from a science fiction movie to you. We’ll come up on one soon... oh, over there, look.”
It kind of looked like a giant futuristic box fan mounted on a huge pole, only without the box. The blades turned slowly.
“Not much wind today,” he said. “Now we’re going three hundred years in your future; your future if you keep burning coal and oil.” It suddenly got very foggy, and Rority pulled off of the road and stopped. We had been going through a wooded area, snow still on the ground.
The fog lifted. I’d never seen it get so foggy so fast, or for it to lift so fast.
The highway was so cracked and disused and full of potholes it was hard to recognize as a road, let alone a highway. The snow was gone, and the sunlight’s angle suggested a summer day rather than winter. The trees were mostly gone, and what was left was dead and broken. Rority did a U-turn and went back north, still in the southbound lanes. It worried me.
“Aren’t you afraid of a head on crash?” I asked nervously.
He shook his head. “There’s no other traffic.” We came up on an overpass, and I understood why he’d said that—the overpass had collapsed, blocking the road. He drove up the entrance and back down the exit.
Farther down he exited on an entrance ramp and turned left on highway 104. “Where’ we goin’?” I asked.
“Back to Springfield.”
“Kind of the long way there, ain’t it?”
“The bridge over Lake Springfield is out.”
We passed through Auburn, or at least the town’s ruins. I wondered what had happened to the town? There were only a few structures still standing. There was evidence of a great many fires. He turned right on highway 4. I didn’t say anything until we reached Chatham, which was likewise in ruins.
“What the hell happened?” I was both aghast and awe-struck.
“I told you, global warming.” We crossed over a stream or something, the creaky old bridge miraculously still standing.
“Just the rising temperatures caused all this?”
“It started it. California and Florida were the worst hit in North America, but the rising seas and frequent, never before seen monster storms, destroyed most of the world’s coasts. Fires destroyed most of California. Crops failed worldwide from droughts.”
He got on highway 72 and crossed the median; highway 4 had collapsed on the interstate. We were going east in the westbound lanes. “The wars did most of the damage.”
“I thought you said it was global warming.”
“It was. Hungry people fight for food.”
When we reached the entrance from 5th street he moved onto 6th street at the entrance to a big Walmart, which wasn’t there in 2000 and now laid in ruins, like everything else. We continued north. The railroad overpass by Stanford Avenue was completely missing, with no debris on the road.
Further north, the next railroad overpass was down, debris blocking three of the four lanes. Most of the houses were completely gone, with nothing left but charred rubble.
I asked “Hungry people did all this?”
“Hungry nations did all this. Wars were fought, more wars were fought, nuclear arms were unleashed, and this is the result. No more people, dogs, cats, birds... in fact, there’s very little still alive. Cockroaches, Tardigrades, very few other species.
“The math boys say that in about another five hundred million years there would be new land species, even evolving to sentience later, but we’ll be gone. By the time the few surviving species become sentient, no trace of humanity will remain at all.”
He turned left on Capitol, and there it was: the Illinois State Capitol building, charred and blackened, but still standing. He headed back to the cornfield.
“So how am I supposed to stop all this?” I asked, frantic. This was about the worst thing I’d ever seen.
“Your little web site?”
“What about it?”
“It’s going to get you started writing. You already wrote the art thing and the thing about the cat. By 2018 you’ll have written and published half a dozen books. When we get back, write this down, put it away, and post it on the internet no earlier than Halloween 2018.”
By then we had reached the cornfield, now only dirt, and got out of the Tesla. There was no fence to hop. The fog rose and fell again, and the fence, snow and stalk stumps were back, the stumps flattened to the ground in a square, ten yards to a side.
“I’ll see you,” he said. “Go on home and write this down. But do not under any circumstances let anyone see it or even hear about it until after Halloween 2018.”
“But how will that stop the destruction?”
“Look, I don’t have the math to explain it to you even if you could understand it. But you’ve heard of the ‘butterfly effect’, where the flapping of a butterfly’s wings affects the weather, haven’t you?”
“Yes, but what does that have to do with this?”
“You’re the butterfly that prevents the hurricane!”
He hit his stratodoober again, laughed uproariously, and vanished in the now familiar cloud of smoke.
I sure hope I’m flapping my wings right.