Return Engagements: Book Three (Part Six)

It was right around the 17th that the probes from Renn’s world met at the Kupier belt, sent a signal back to their base, and headed toward the first nuclear event site on Earth. That was the last signal Renn’s people ever received.

They didn’t get that signal for some years, of course; it had to travel an incredible distance, and even with all the tricks Renn’s people had, it still took a long time. I wanted to discuss quantum entanglement with him (something that might make Star Trek’s subspace communication work), but I never got around to it.

* * * * *

Los Angeles has never been my idea of a working man’s town, but the 1947 version of LA satisfied my needs. I found an un-fancy diner, had the waitress bring me a newspaper (merely to draw ideas from), and ate a late breakfast. I had a legal pad with me and started planning for Roswell. Afterward I worked in my room, looking out the window as much as working.

Then I took a nap, went out to dinner, and found a second-tier theater where I saw a movie called The Best Years of Our Lives. It involved soldiers returning from World War II, their families, and their problems readjusting. It was directly related to the America I had dropped into, and I found it useful in that way. But even more useful was the theater experience, interacting with dozens of people. It was comforting to see that humans of all periods have an innate tendency to get along.

Against what I would have expected, I remained in LA for a solid week. And after my second and third days there (during which the Oscars came and went), I began to understand the role of the big city through this era.

In the mid-1970s, Orson Wells gave a TV interview (with Dick Cavett, as I recall), where he was asked about the golden era of Hollywood and when it might return. “Oh, we’ll never have that again,” he said. When asked why, he responded with something I found fascinating: “It’s no longer the greatest thing in the world.” The interviewer paused, not knowing what to respond, and so Wells went on: “These days, the best thing in the world is to be a rock and roll singer, so that’s what young people want to be. In my youth it was the greatest thing to be a movie actor, and that’s why we had the age of Hollywood.”

In 1947, the greatest thing to do was to go downtown. The restaurants, the clubs, the lights… all of it was the highest practical point for a world not far removed from farms and the rustic life. The Petula Clark song, Downtown, captured the feel of this in 1964, and it remained a widespread model into the 1970s.

So, it was nice for me to spend some days right in the middle of that model. I even got a reservation at Chasen’s, a restaurant frequented by the Hollywood stars, for an early dinner. (Great Chili.)

But by the end of the week I was ready to go back to Vegas, and to prepare our recovery mission. I called the Flamingo and had my trusty concierge get me a flight back.

* * * * *

The next three months were calm, save for two preparatory trips to New Mexico. I didn’t set foot in Roswell either time, rather driving in an out of the ranches where the crashes would occur. I knew two names, which were Foster and Brazell, and that proved enough. I was able to pose as a manufacturer’s rep from “back East,” and got to know about the local ranches at the area’s supply stores. I bought a used car in Vegas and risked driving without a license, though I did take the precaution of putting a lawyer on retainer beforehand.

Ultimately, my plan came down to a delivery truck, a motorcycle, a winch, several thick boards, various tools and assorted hardware. And, just in case, I bought a rifle and some ammo, a process that was no different in those days than buying the winch.

I rented a small warehouse building with a large garage door, and just like I did in 1963, I put a sign in front that said 20th Century Photography. I even took another trip to LA for some equipment; I wanted to take good photos in a low-light environment.

But aside from those things, I spent my time in a very normal way: I woke up early, went to work at 20th Century Photo, came back to the Flamingo for a swim, lunch and a nap, then went back to work.

Being away from home for two years – impossibly far away – is hard. And so I went back to my anti-homesick routine. That is, when I woke up in the morning, before opening my eyes, I would think about my wife and children. I would envision them in their beds, sleeping peacefully. Then I might imagine them getting up from bed and starting their days, or imagine that I was back, surprising them that I missed them so badly overnight.

Honestly, I’m not sure how I would have fared without the anti-homesick routine. While the 1947 I was in was absolutely real, I also knew that I was beyond our presently-known universe. It was a very strange mix. Even with the routine, I’m not sure I was operating efficiently till mid-June, just a couple of weeks before Renn would return.

* * * * *

Right at this time, and completely by accident, I ran into a man I knew a little about, and who would soon enough be a major concern to me. His name was Vannevar Bush and he was one of the most capable men of the era.

On both of my trips to the area north of Roswell, I stayed overnight at a nice hotel in Albuquerque. And as I was checking out after the second trip, I saw that the man in line in front of me had a unique tag on his luggage, emblazoned with the twelve formulas for electrical power.

You’re an engineer?” I asked.

He turned around, smiling, and said, “Yes! You are too?”

I told him that I had been an electrical power engineer (close enough to the truth), but that I had retired. We talked for a while, and when it was time for us to go, he said his name was Vannevar Bush.

That surprised me. I knew something about this man. “Wait! Did you write that Memex article?”

He smiled and nodded, then I thanked him for it and said how important I thought it was. And it really was. The article was called As We May Think and it had been published in 1945. The article outlined the basic structure of hypertext and the Internet. Bush had tied the scheme to the technologies of his own time, of course, but the structural idea was way ahead of that time.

We chatted a bit more, shook hands and went our separate ways. I liked the guy.

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Paul Rosenberg