From high overhead you couldn’t tell the people from the animatronics, and all was well in Redwoodland.
Then as you got lower you saw. Keith Ensing did. The people weren’t as lively as the replicas. Image trumped reality.
In passing as he descended, milling throngs dutifully chorused his name. His dangling feet exceeded reach. The trees were green and the air was clean. Keith in his jetpack continued on to Central Command.
Touching down on entering the opened section of the gleaming Central Command dome, Keith received word from efficient assistants aiding his passage that the object of his visit was in readiness.
“How much have they got?”
“Hours, sir. Many at least. Possibly hundreds.”
“Has anyone seen any part of it yet?”
“Have anyone still in Sonigraph clear out in five minutes.”
There would come a time, Keith was certain, when viewing the events of the past exactly as they occurred, three-dimensionally in holograph rooms, would be as common as watching a commercial, but this time was the first. A moment itself one day to be viewed. This moment Keith Ensing saved for himself, and he wanted it to be special. Already on the process he had spent godless amounts of the never ending Redwoodland fortune. If it turned out on this try not to work, the initial failure would be his alone to witness.
Ultimately, there was no way it could fail.
Keith himself could not explain exactly how Sonigraph technology worked. He just knew that it did. Selecting a section of sound found drifting past the farthest star was an idea he gave the staff he paid to create into reality.
“All sound,” increasingly he had to explain, “travels into space. In a process similar to sonar, identified sonic emanations can be plotted into the dimensions of volume which the sound originally displaced when it occurred. At Redwoodland, these dimensions can then be displayed through a special medium we call Sonigraphics.”
Anything recognizable to the program would allow the program to adjust the display properly for life-size accuracy. Color would be the one element necessarily artificially supplied. It was Keith’s intention that in this manner he be the first in human history to literally experience the past exactly as it happened.
When he took the chair in the auditorium-size Sonigraph display room and beheld the gradual accretion of outlines flooding, Keith’s lips mouthed the words, “Now I own history,” as lines of light appearing took on increased clarity. It was as though a vision had materialized.
The shock Keith felt on seeing the great boles of redwoods which now appeared before him was nearly more than he could handle. That somehow something must have gone horribly wrong formed his initial impression. But when he looked closer he saw that the images of redwoods and fern before him bore characteristics distinguishing them from the redwood forest surrounding Central Command, and then Keith realized he was indeed witnessing the past. Millions of years earlier, everything Keith now saw was exactly this. Branches waved in an unfelt breeze. Slowly, Keith left the chair and walked into the display.
Insects incessantly buzzing in number and size greater than Keith had ever seen or heard proved significant contributors to the Sonigraph process, providing contour to larger, isolated sonic material and filling in, as it were, the nooks and crannies.
Color added by the system took on a subtlety in tone and shading virtually indistinguishable from reality in every possible respect, except in the case of human eyes. The smoothness of an eye’s surface appeared when processed through the system as a bright uncolored blankness, and while the image of a person’s eyes moving could be falsified easily enough, Keith specifically stipulated the eyes of those in the past stay blank.
The system’s ability to adjust the display in relation to the viewer standing in the Sonigraph was one of its most important features. The program tried to keep the viewer toward the center of the display room by shifting the perspective so that the three-dimensional display moved fluidly in time with the moving viewer. This effect had been perfected well before the final stages of the Sonigraphic process were completed, and Keith understood that by moving carefully and not trying to sit down on logs that weren’t there was the best way to enjoy the experience. He watched as his hand passed through a clump of fern. He pressed his face into bright and vivid plant-life. A neon-green lichen resembling a cross between coral and moss growing on the side of a redwood presented texture and detail of intricacy minute beyond articulation. The machinery’s ability to replicate life left Keith in awe as he moved through the Sonigraphic image of the past like a lonely ghost.
A dragonfly lit nearby in huge and magnificent splendor.
Keith looked up. Somewhere high above, the forest terminated in a ceiling masked to blend indistinguishably from the display. Just as somewhere behind him, lost from view, was the chair in which he had been sitting, and in every direction, as with the ceiling, the camouflaged walls blended indistinguishably from the display.
When he heard the voice, he snapped angrily that he had given strict instructions not to be disturbed.
The voice returned. “Are you there?”
“I’m right here!” Keith yelled. “Now get out!”
Again, “Are you there?”
Keith followed the sound until he came around a bend. There he saw a man sitting cross-legged on the ground. His back was to Keith.
“I have to assume that you are here now,” said the man.
Slowly circling around, Keith saw that in front of the man was a strange device. He saw something else, too. The speaker’s eyes were blank.
“I have to assume that you are here now, and that this worked.” Here he tapped the strange device. “I am from the future,” the man went on, blank eyes shining, “and I have traveled to the past. We perfected time travel. What I tell you now I say knowing the technology you have at your disposal. It is a simple matter to construct one of these”—he again indicated the device—“in order to draw your signal. So it is only a matter of time before you find this message.”
Keith sat opposite the speaker.
“You won’t be able to touch anything,” Blank Eyes said, “will you? Or taste, or smell. But all of this you will be able to see. All of this you will be able to hear. That is how you will experience this—with sight and sound, and with your mind.
“You are a witness right now to the Carboniferous period of three hundred million years ago. There is something here I want to show you.”
Blank Eyes rose from his seated position, lifting the metallic-appearing device before him by a handle and holding it out like a lantern. This movement on his part seemed to attract the attention of the dragonfly, a harrowing thing of primordial proportions. All of Keith’s instincts screamed for him to run as the hovering insect harried the now-still speaker. The thing’s wings beat so quickly, it looked to Keith as though if he put his hand into the whirring blur, he’d lose it. Yet when the dragonfly drew too close, Blank Eyes raised the device in a calm, fluid motion like a hypnotist with a watch on a chain. Evidently losing interest, the dragonfly buzzed away.
“Come along,” Blank Eyes bade, upraised face alight with a secret smile. “Come see what I have to show you.”
Blank Eyes had stopped.
Off to one side, half-hidden by the foliage, a pit appeared next to a pile of recently upturned soil, the rust duff accumulation across the rolling forest floor absent from the dank nutrients exposed.
A few feet down there lay in contours incongruous with the natural surroundings an unearthed material appearing like an opened pod. Amid a din akin to a giant cicada thrum, Keith beheld the being lying supine as if in death or sleep.
Even in repose, the stately grace and elegance of form betokened advancement. The wide sweep of the majestic head tapered to a noble visage. The eyes were closed, but when they opened they filled the mind with a shining light which dissipated like white wisps of cloud giving way to the blackness of blackest night.
Then Keith felt as though he were lifted up by the proffered hand of the being, which led him from the starless void with a gentle glowing presence, wise, benign and warm. And when seeing the being with his own eyes became too much to bear, and the hot wet tears fell down his face, Keith was conscious of the cosmetic surgeries he’d paid for over the years that left his stiff skin shining like a mannequin’s. Then it was as though they had passed through the void sufficiently to see the stars, and the stars grew into the streaming light of trees towering above.
Keith sat up.
He had fallen asleep lying down in the display of the being in the pod. From this he rose like a ghost in a dream. Still weeping. The tears were uncontrollable. He must have been crying in his sleep. Crying, because now he knew. The being had shown him. In one cubic inch of redwood soil there was power enough to supply the world’s energy for years.
Like a lump of coal becoming a diamond. Like a dinosaur condensed into a gallon of gasoline. It was the human ape that learned how to split an atom and destroy the planet, but plants provided the solution for humanity to save it.
Now he understood. Plastic and concrete were not the future. The future was the earth.
Blank Eyes wasn’t moving. Keith looked over and saw, standing in the trail, a wasp the size of a rottweiler.
Keith marveled at the big bug before him, big as a large dog. His thoughts, however, quickly returned to the power of the redwoods to save the world, so that Keith remained unconcerned, if he even noticed at all, as the giant insect waddled closer. Even when it was right next to him, and he was just finishing drying his eyes from the emotional high of his revelation, Keith had no reason to fear passing his hand through the beast’s bristling head. It was an almost absent-minded motion, an automatic reflex gesture of wonder, passing his hands through the Sonigraphic images in which he strode. Except that his hand did not pass through. It met sickening resistance on one of the thing’s eyes. The leathery antenna his hand brushed past bobbed.
The wasp was on him in an instant.
Pincer jaws at the thing’s mouth, strong as steel, shot out on either side of Keith’s neck. He felt the nauseating struggle of its six flailing legs with hard spike-like hair thrashing about and gripping. He felt the greatest pressure at his neck he ever thought imaginable, and then saw everything suddenly spinning, and it took him an eternity of turning to come to a stop, and then to see.
Sufficient oxygen left in the brain allowed him to watch the wasp atop his decapitated, spasmodically-twitching body, blood audibly fountaining, thrust with bent abdomen—and the last sight of Keith Ensing’s life was, inexplicably, of a monster insect incessantly pumping its dripping stinger in the furious act of ejaculating poison...