Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Timequake by Kurt Vonnegut

And Kilgore Trout said at the clambake, with Laurel and Hardy in a rowboat only fifty yards offshore, that young people liked movies with a lot of shooting because they showed that dying didn't hurt at all, that people with guns could be thought of as "free-lance anesthetists."

He was so happy! He was so popular! He was all dolled up in the tuxedo and boiled shirt and crimson cummerbund and bow tie that had belonged to Zoltan Pepper. I stood behind him in his suite in order to tie the tie for him, just as my big brother had done for me before I myself could tie a bow tie.

There on the beach, whatever Trout said produced laughter and applause. He couldn't believe it! He said the pyramids and Stonehenge were built in a time of very feeble gravity, when boulders could be tossed around like sofa pillows, and people loved it. They begged for more. He gave them the line from "Kiss Me Again": "There is no way a beautiful woman can live up to what she looks like for any appreciable length of time. Ting-a-ling?" People told him he was as witty as Oscar Wilde!

Understand, the biggest audience this man had had before the clambake was an artillery battery, when he was a forward spotter in Europe during World War Two.

"Ting-a-ling! If this isn't nice, what is?" he exclaimed to us all.

I called back to him from the rear of the crowd: "You've been sick, Mr. Trout, but now you're well again, and there's work to do."

pgs. 240-241
Putnam Publishing Group (1997)



At ten o'clock, the old, long out-of-print science writer announced it was his bedtime. There was one last thing he wanted to say to us, to his family . Like a magician seeking a volunteer from the audience, he asked someone to stand beside him and do what he said. I held up my hand. "Me, please, me," I said.

The crowd fell quiet as I took my place to his right.

"The Universe has expanded so enormously," he said, "with the exception of the minor glitch it put us through, that light is no longer fast enough to make any trips worth taking in even the most unreasonable lengths of time. Once the fastest thing possible, they say, light now belongs in the graveyard of history, like the Pony Express.

"I now ask this human being brave enough to stand next to me to pick two twinkling points of obsolete light in the sky above us. It doesn't matter what they are, except that they must twinkle. If they don't twinkle, they are either planets or satellites. Tonight we are not interested in planets or satellites."

I picked two points of light maybe ten feet apart. One was Polaris. I have no idea what the other one was. For all I knew, it was Puke, Trout's star the size of a BB.

"Do they twinkle?" he said.

"Yes the do," I said.

"Promise?" he said.

"Cross my heart," I said.

"Excellent! Ting-a-ling!" he said. "Now then: Whatever heavenly bodies those two glints represent, it is certain that the Universe has become so rarefied that for light to go from one to the other would take thousands or millions of years. Ting-a-ling? But I now ask you to look precisely at one, and then precisely at the other."

"OK," I said, "I did it."

"It took a second, do you think?" he said.

"No more," I said.

"Even if you'd taken an hour," he said, "something would have passed between where those two heavenly bodies used to be, at, conservatively speaking, a million times the speed of light."

"What was it?" I said.

"Your awareness," he said. "That is a new quality in the Universe, which exists only because there are human beings. Physicists must from now on, when pondering the secrets of the Cosmos, factor in not only energy and matter and time, but something very new and beautiful, which is human awareness."

Trout paused, ensuring with ball of his left thumb that his upper dental plate would not slip when he said his last words to us that enchanted evening.

All was well with his teeth. This was his finale: "I have thought of a better word than awareness," he said. "Let us call it soul." He paused.

"Ting-a-ling?" he said.

Timequake by Kurt Vonnegut
pgs. 241-143