Know It All
My name is not important next to his. The details are not important, not even for posterity’s sake. Lord knows the new world will have no need for historians. Only this is important: I was his friend. I drank and ate and lived with him, and I was there the day the portal opened.
This was in the latter time, shortly before the fall of government and the slow, dark cancer-death of the West. The place was the Technical University of Minsk, deep in the low, labyrinthine halls of the old Physics building. I was nobody and nothing, happily living the student life, cheerfully drinking my way towards oblivion.
He was Alexi Kharkhov, and he was the last great physicist of the age.
I can’t say I remember the circumstances of our first meeting, nor can I recall exactly how we became friends. These things are no longer important, if they ever were. But I remember our friendship, the way we’d discourse upon a vast range of topics – from history, to the great philosophers, to the nature of God – our conversations growing wilder and more obtuse as we carried on long into the early morning. You only had to be around Kharkhov for a short time in order to recognize that he was a genius.
It was in the third month of our friendship that he decided to show me his time machine.
That’s not how he explained it, of course. He took me into that tin-metal room in the Physics building, with its pulsing walls and nests of wire in every corner, and he talked to me very patiently, the way one talks to a child. But despite all his efforts those careful mechanical explanations made no dent in my understanding. His words washed over me like a tidal wave, leaving only echoes: ‘Bayesian probability’, ‘deep space-time curvature’, ‘the secret angles of the 5th dimension’.
I listened very politely.
“So, you won’t actually go anywhere?”
“No, John,” he said. “I won’t be observing the Civil War or running from saber-toothed tigers on the African plain. I’ll be right here. I’ll be here in this room, but at the same time, I’ll be everywhere. Let me ask you something… what would you do if you had all the time in the universe?”
I thought for a moment.
“I’d read every book I’ve ever wanted to read. I’d watch every film I’ve ever wanted to see.”
“Exactly. And more than that – you’d read and watch every book and film ever made. And more… you’d view every painting, listen to every album, read every article of news. Further still – you’d watch every episode of every television show, listen to every recorded conversation. You’d view every page on the internet, and you’d download every piece of data. You’d taste and see and hear every experience in the history of humanity.”
He was deadly serious – I realize that now. But I had just laughed.
“Hah! Of course, you’d need eternity for that.”
“Yes,” he’d said, softly. “Yes, you would.”
One week later, Alexi Kharkhov disappeared.
First came the local police, and the story was that a fire had broken out in the Physics building. Later that day, after the military arrived, the story changed to that of a radioactive spill.
After the NATO troops were brought in and the Technical University shut down indefinitely, well, then they stopped updating the official story altogether. The newspapers were free to speculate wildly, and of course they did. But none of them ever came close to the truth of what happened that day.
The years passed, and the University stayed closed. In certain corners of the internet, wild theories began to spring up concerning lost Kharkhov, the brilliant young physicist; the one person whose whereabouts on that day could not be accounted for. These rumors were carefully placed, carefully calculated to appeal to a certain kind of fringe theorist. And these rumors were not without their veracity.
I know, because I planted them myself.
There is a great community of us, now. We span the globe, and we speak in different languages, but we are all of us waiting patiently for the same thing.
What would you do if you had all the time in the universe?
Years ago, I sat with Alexi Kharkhov, the last great physicist of the age. We sat up long into the morning, smoking cigarettes and discussing the nature of God.
Upon his return, I plan to continue our discussion.