“Never cry over spilt milk, because it may have been poisoned.” ~ W.C. Fields
This week on Fish and TARDIS Sauce we look at the relationship among three things that were never meant to be related: Time Tombs, Merlin’s Sickness, and spoiled milk.
The first two are easy. The third, not so much.
You see, in Dan Simmons’ science fiction masterpiece, The Hyperion Cantos, the enigmatic Time Tombs move backward through time, coming from that planet’s future, essentially getter “newer” as the story moves along, making life a royal bitch for the characters. Meanwhile, in Doctor Who‘s two-episode arc “A Time of Angels” and “Flesh and Stone”, the character River Song appears from The Doctor’s future, apparently moving backward through time herself.
So here are two examples from SF that describe things going the WRONG WAY. I suppose we could wax philosophic, evoking notions of entropy and dimensions and all that happy crappy, but it’s really easier if you think about all this in terms of spoiled milk.
- FADE IN
A forty-something man falls out of bed on a stormy Monday morning and shuffles to the kitchen, bleary eyed, his face an old-growth beard, his tongue the texture of cardboard. With half-lidded eyes he gazes with mouth hanging open at the coffee maker that has overflowed onto countertop … and onto the cabinets … and onto the floor. He sighs heavily. Glancing at his watch he sees it’s already 7:00 AM, on May 23rd, and he simply doesn’t have time to clean all this up and get to the office on time. But there is perhaps one meager cup of coffee left in the Mr. Coffee decanter, and knowing — just knowing — that his morning can’t get any worse, he pulls a mug from the cabinet and pours. He turns to the refrigerator, and when he opens the door the ketchup (Heinz, glass bottle) falls out and shatters, blending with the black coffee into a nauseating mix of fluids straight of an H.P. Lovecraft story. Wading through this unholy pool the man pours the milk into his coffee mug. It glugs into the mug. It doesn’t so much pour as it falls in there, in lumps. He takes a sip of coffee and spews the whole mess into the sink. He then takes a whiff of the milk carton itself and yells, “Wooooo-Weeeee!”. He waves his hand in front of his nose. The use-by date on the milk carton is May 13th, stamped at a cockeyed angle in red ink.
The reason he says “Wooooo-Weeeee” is a psychological holdover from his youth. You see, one similarly rainy day at school his bowels had erupted in the Boys’ Restroom, which prompted his classmates — who were lighting up a couple of coffin nails before algebra — to hoot and holler: “Wooooo-Weeeee! Smells like something crawled up inside a’you and died, boy!”
- FADE OUT
So right now you might be wondering what exactly that little vignette has to do with Hyperion or Doctor Who. (So am I.)
- FADE IN
Same man, ten hours later, returns home. His day has gone something like this: His car is pummeled by hail. He is flipped off at a traffic light because he couldn’t get his car into gear. He hikes three blocks to the office. He gets yelled at by his boss for not meeting “expectations” (whatever those are). He eats his soup cold because the office microwave broke over the weekend. He gets told by his secretary, “You see this? This is my ‘trying-to-look-like-I give-a-shit’ face.” He runs out of gas on the way home. When he finally does get back home he notices something as he’s rummaging around in the fridge for a beer to take the edge off the day. That’s when he sees the milk. The carton is unopened. It looks …. new. He stares at it. Did he buy milk on the way home? No. It’s the same carton. How does he know? Because the date printed on the side is May 13th, stamped at a cockeyed angle in red ink. He closes the door, looks at his wristwatch. The date — his date — is still May 23rd. The man opens the milks and sniffs. It’s as fresh as the day it came from the cow’s udder.
- FADE OUT
And so it is with time travel. If objects in our lives come from our future — Time Tombs, Dr. River Song, The Doctor — then why not milk? Or, whither milk, if you want to sound pseudo-intellectual. The milk changes. And for you writers you’ll note the character I created did not; he is, in a sense, not really a character at all. But right now we’re focused something more important: the future. The future is the milk’s past. It makes me wonder: Will the future get fresher, or will it spoil? I vote for fresher. Let’s change the direction time flows. After all, does it really matter whether your past spoils? I think not.
Until next time: Peace.
Copyright © 2013 Keith Parker