A Traveler in Time
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I sit before the Djinni, hearing the sounds of the Jailors coming closer. I ask to live forever, and he replies with the pains and torments of loss; the loss of loved ones, the loss of home, the loss of future. Without a moment I accept. With a quiet blink, I find myself in the past.

Hello world.

I am stranger in a strange land. I have no skill in making anything useful, (not with the tools of this age), and my body is ill-suited for hard labor. I decide to go from farm to farm until someone is willing to give me simple work that can be communicated without words. At least my regeneration will help me recover quickly.

I am kicked off a farm almost immediately. Within an hour or two it is obvious that I'm slower than a ten year child of this time, and the farmer has no desire to share his hard-grown food with this oddly-garbed, weak-limbed creature. I have learned two words which I believe mean "barn" and "piece of shit" (or something of that nature); I cannot pronounce either, but I repeat them as I walk.

I am near a city and the farms are blessedly close. Even so it takes close to a full day before I find another farm that allows me to do some work. My benefactor this time is grizzled and care-worn, yet I think he is touched by my helplessness. I work a few hours and eat for the first time, the flavors strange and bland to my palate. My vocabulary gains a few more words, but most of the communication is through hand gestures, though even that is surprisingly difficult. I sleep in the barn, rain dripping though the slats keeping me awake long into the night

I had the good fortune to arrive during planting season. As I grow accustomed to the work, I feel I am less of a burden than I was at first. Perhaps I am even, barely, earning my keep. But, more to the point, my vocabulary is improving considerably and I am now speaking in short, simple sentences.

The summer is busy for me. I know I cannot stay here; after harvest I will need to find other accommodations. I know that learning to write is of the utmost importance, but there are no books to be found. Instead I slowly, painfully copy characters I see written wherever I find them, practicing them with the burnt ends of sticks on rock until I can form them quickly, even if I do not know their meaning.

My benefactor, who has the habit of occasionally looking on as I practice my "writing", surprises me one day we are in the city. He introduces me to a man whose function I do not really grasp, but who seems to be some sort of clerk. In any case, he is willing to write out some sentences and tell me what they mean. His accent is new to me, the vocabulary strange, and I drink it in. This man has some education. I use my charcoal collection to write the translations in English and he asks what language it is. I have no answer, so I tell him I made it up. He laughs. For many nights after, I copy these passages again and again.

I visit the clerk at every opportunity. The farmer is understanding. He is kind, and seems to care about me, but I also see relief in his eyes that I will not ask to stay the winter. The clerk has become a friend, and he willingly supplies me with new words and corrects my fledgling script. Luckily, the script is simple and rather flexible, (much simpler than English), and my progress is rapid.

My writing has become quite serviceable, and well that it has, because the harvest is done and the preparations for winter have begun. I still work much of each day, but soon I will need to find new accommodations. The clerk, who it turns out takes dictations from the wealthy and illiterate, helps me find a job doing inventory and bookkeeping for a successful shop. It pays so little that I can scarcely afford to house, feed, and clothe myself, but I have ready access to quill pens and now my real work can begin.

On wood, stone, and any other surface I can find, I begin writing down everything I remember. About textiles, manufacturing, mathematics, psychology, history, and medicine. I write in English, and in great detail, developing a shorthand for my relative certainty about these facts.

Over the next several years, my education proves invaluable. The owner of the shop, at first scornful of my work, becomes, if not a friend, then at least an ally. I show him how to reduce inventory carrying costs using lean economic techniques and predictive forecasting of purchasing trends. I introduce a formal loyalty program, employ (relatively) sophisticated product pricing strategies, and he is generous in rewarding me as his wealth burgeons. The clerk is happy for my success at first, and I even try to help him, but the role reversal does not suit him well and we stop spending time together. When the clerk dies a few years later, I don't even know. The farmer, I visit occasionally. It is awkward, but I owe it to him. The shop purchases most of what he produces at a good price, and that is perhaps the only meaningful thing I give to him before he dies, quietly, eight years after I arrived.
It is during this time that I sow the seeds of wealth. I save every coin I can and found an informal bank. I am allowed to operate out of the shop owner's buildings in exchange for a fifth of the profits. He is skeptical at first, but it costs him nothing. By the time the shop owner dies nearly 30 years later, it is more than half his annual earnings, according to the quasi-accounting team I now employ. I purchase the business from his widow for a sizable sum, sufficient to keep her in comfort for her few remaining years.

It takes time to find and train someone to handle the day-to-day management of the bank and the shop (still known as such, though it has expanded a dozen times and offers the finest and most varied wares in the city), but once accomplished, I turn my attention to my new project: a university. I pay to build it, but the ongoing costs are covered by the students, mostly the children of the obscenely wealthy. I need to be careful, (some of my ideas could draw the wrong kind of attention), but I begin rigorously training them in the scientific method, drawing on every elementary school experiment I can remember. I find I enjoy this. Aside from some dalliances, I lead a fairly solitary existence. The children make me feel connected, meaningful.

It is time to deal with the issue of not aging. I establish a bank and university in two cities perhaps a month's journey away from each other and begin passing myself off as my own son or grandson. Every twenty years or so I rotate, managing the affairs of the other location by correspondence. Some of the students have grown up and become teachers. This is both heartwarming and inconvenient; much of my knowledge is no longer mine alone.

I have good paper now, just one of the many fruits of my universities. I publish a "book of prophecy", in which I attempt to capture all my recollections of science and phrase it as if they were clever guesses. This is perhaps all I can do to guide and hasten their progress. I continue to write down my memories, but I have not remembered anything new in a very long time.

I fall in love. She is young, (everybody is young, when you have lived a century and a half), and she is bright, and she worships me, yet speaks to me candidly and without guile. Before I ask her to marry me, I tell her the truth about who I am, something I have never done before. I show her the vast piles of writings, copied and recopied in an ever greater expanse, organized and re-organized, indexed and cross-referenced a hundred ways. She does not believe me. She is not cruel, but she leaves the university soon after and I do not see her again for many years. For the first time, I contemplate death.

Impatient with the rate of progress, I use my wealth and prestige to forge a political career. I have no wish (or facility) to run a nation, but I advise, and my banks give my words weight. I do my best to resolve conflict and establish universities in every allied country. The thing I remember with the sweetest nostalgia, other than air conditioning and hot water, is television. It is a bizarre, ridiculous thing to work toward, but I throw my wealth and centuries and harness the combined intellectual power of every major nation to make me some damned talkies. It takes a long, long time.

It is 750 years before the world is "modern" in my eyes, though history has taken a vastly different shape. We had no dark ages, no long stretches of stagnation. For all the many gaps in my knowledge, there are always brilliant minds to discover, (or even to leapfrog), the reality I recorded, which now seems like another man's writing. I assume different identities now, controlling my enterprise through elaborate mechanisms of separation. My personas are primarily political as I continue to try to guide events. I succeed, though less with every passing century. I wonder, sometimes, if I should let loose the reigns, now that I have nothing to offer other than my accumulated wealth.

It is my 900th birthday, to the best of my reckoning, when I set foot on Mars. It is already lightly colonized, and nearly everyone is there to greet me. Late that night, I step out of the airlock in my suit, and for the first time in centuries I am captivated, utterly transfixed. The night sky is blacker than I ever imagined, the stars fervent pin pricks of light. My suit protests as I remove my helmet, the sounds of my gasps intertwining with the sounds of the alarms. I lived longer than any other man could have, I suppose, my cells eagerly rushing to right themselves, but soon I meet the same end as everyone I have ever known. I try to remember the face of the farmer, the clerk, the shop owner. I try to summon the face of the woman I loved, but cannot. Indeed, I find I can remember nothing at all worth remembering, as if I had slowly consumed their meaning over the endless years.

Goodbye, world.

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