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  • Writer's pictureAshley Christine

Book Excerpt

There is a way to watch the ancient Egyptians as they were 4,500 years ago.

It sounds like science fiction, even to me. Watching a historical event in real time must mean time travel. It has to be, right? The ancient Egyptians are long gone. They were ancient even to the ancient Romans. How could it be possible to watch them now?

But the math checks.

The speed of light is 186,000 miles per second. The fact that light has a speed means that it has to travel to get anywhere, and so it cannot be instantaneous. That’s how a mathematician thinks about it, anyway. People don’t want to think like a mathematician. They think math is stiff and cruel, but the truth is quite the opposite: math is flexible.

You just need to know how to bend it.

On average, the Sun is about 93,000,000 miles from Earth. That means it takes a little over eight minutes for the sun’s light to reach us. When we look toward the sunset, that brilliant ball of nuclear energy beneath a procession of orange clouds is not happening in real time.

The scene is eight minutes old.

We’re seeing into the past.

Anyone looking at Earth right now isn’t seeing us as we are either. They’re seeing how Earth was however many years ago, depending on how far away they are.

If we were able to press a button and instantly transport 4,500 light years away, we wouldn’t be that far from home. Galactically speaking. In the grand scheme of things, trillions of miles is a puddle jump. Do we have the technology, the knowledge, or the ships to do it?

No, not at all.

We’re not even close.

But maybe someone else is.

If we were able to travel that far that fast, and we had a powerful enough telescope to point at Earth, we’d be seeing into the past. An image of our little blue planet as it was 4,500 years ago. And who was on Earth at that time?

The ancient Egyptians.

It’s not gods in the sky, or aliens watching them from above. It’s just us. And I love that turn of events.

Ah, man. If only they had known.

The light from Earth travels in all directions, all of the time, carrying with it the ancient Egyptians, a child playing on their iPhone, and a dog chasing a ball. All of these events can be found in multiple locations across the cosmos, so long as we know where to go. There is always somewhere we can be found.

And in that, we are immortal.

At least until the red shift distorts the image, black holes disintegrate the space around it, and the universe dies in a quiet heat death.

Nothing lasts forever.

Obviously.

I hear the crying before I see it.

I lean over the rail and spot a tiny figure in the snow. I sigh, zipping up my coat, hoping that someone finds him before I have to.





The boy had been crying for a while.

He was trying to untangle himself, but he was confused and scared which only made things worse. Where are his parents?

The snow is blinding. There isn’t a cloud in the sky, or a rustle of the wind. Anything other than white sticks out. The puffy red onesie stumbling in the snow is hard to miss, and yet in the 20 minutes it took for me to sprint here from the chair lift, dozens of people had missed him. Well, they hadn’t missed him.

They just didn’t care.

“Hey.” I slide down to him, out of breath. “Are you okay?”

He doesn’t look up.

“Yeah,” he mumbles, staring at his boots. He’s about five years old.

Only a child could be twisted in such a way and still standing. His right ski is facing forward. His left ski is facing back. It’s a ballet stance, but it’s unnatural here. If he was ten years older, he’d have pulled every muscle in his leg by now.

I come up onto my knees. My goggles are tinted so he can’t see my eyes, but I can see his. “Do you want some help?”

He sniffles. “No.”

I’ve been trained to ask. People like it when you ask for their permission. Kids don’t know when they’re in trouble so his response doesn’t matter. He needs to move. Skiers and snowboarders come flying down these trails, eyes fixed on the base lodge and the alcohol and toilets that it provides, oblivious to a tiny onesie in the snow. It doesn’t take much to break a bone.

I’ve broken enough to know.

I grew up in place just like this. My parents were outdoorsman who favored autonomy over comfort. I’ve been trained to survive in environments like the Sierra Nevada’s, thrown into situations most people in the civilized world might call abuse. Aggression. Neglect.

But I wouldn’t have been abandoned like this.

“Where are you parents?” I ask.

The boy points toward the lodge. The large wooden fortress is roughly 200 feet downhill. It’s an hour after lunch, so it isn’t too busy that I can’t identify a small group of adults observing us by the chairs. One has the audacity to wave.

Get fucked.

“Those are your parents?” I ask.

The boy nods.

“Mm.” I plant my snowboard in the ground for leverage, and place my hands under the boy’s armpits. “Let’s get you untangled, okay?”

He doesn’t object.

I lift him into the air so that his feet can swing into the correct anatomical positions. I grab his left boot and assist in the alignment. When I plant him back in the snow, he smiles.

“You good?” I ask.

“Yeah.” His voice sounds different when it’s not in distress. “Thanks.”

I give him a gentle push, and he skis toward his parents.

I don’t like interacting with kids. I don’t know how to relate to them. It’s not until they turn eight or nine years old that their sense of adventure has focus, and they have the capability of holding conversation, no matter how elementary. At five years old they’re just babbling sacs of snot and stupidity.

Still, I wouldn’t leave one out here.

I clasp my hands together over my knees. When the boy reaches the lodge, his parents pat him on the back. Congratulating him on not dying, I suppose. He doesn’t respond, or sulk. Why would he? Clearly, he knows nothing else. He slides toward the rest of the group as if a tear was never shed, solidifying a set of default personality traits that he’ll carry with him for the rest of his life.

Though it was only a two-minute interaction, there is plenty of data to extract.

First, instead of taking off their skies and hiking up the trail, the family decided to watch the boy struggle. Either they didn’t know that people can fly as fast as 50mph on these trails, and that the metal edges on skis can slice a throat, or they didn’t care.

Or worse.

They did know, and they are incapable of assessing the danger of it.

Second, his parents let him struggle for 20 minutes. That’s a long time. If you have the physical capacity to ski, you have the physical capacity to walk uphill.

Are they bored, ruthless, or incompetent?

Third, the parents skied first, leaving the boy to follow. Had he been one of my students, I would have let him go first. That way if he fell, I could easily reach him. Children ski first. It’s boring and slow, but it’s common sense.

Nature is the great equalizer, an unstoppable and yet indifferent force. Living within the protective walls of society robs people of the lessons they need to understand. They don’t know what to listen for or what to smell. They can’t read the clouds or ration food. They’ve been sheltered by the vast array of services controlling their climate. A misleading, fabricated illusion.

That’s why people die from stupid shit.

They think the simulation reaches out here.

Final assessment.

The boy is going to talk about his parents in therapy someday.




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