Journal: Hermes Grossman: The Invisible Giant

I have discussed the four pillars of Arisa in earlier entries. These are the great ones who could be said to have created the world of the Arisa. There is a fifth name that is unknown to all but a very small handful of people. Indeed, in spite of my efforts to dig deeply into the history of Arisa, I knew nothing of Hermes Grossman, the fifth pillar until quite a bit later. He is the father of the time ships, the third form of time travel. His contribution was buried along with all knowledge of the time ships. And to be fair, all the stuff that I’m presenting to you here in this particular journal entry about Grossman comes from the Archives stored on the time ships themselves. I recognize that there might be just the slightest taint of unreliability in those records.

Hermes Grossman, in a fashion similar to Rulon Akola, stood on the shoulders of Vladimir Rulatz. Whereas Akola amused and mystified the time travel community, Grossman irritated and frightened them.

Hermes Grossman, the only son of Herbert and Lisette Grossman, was born November 3, 3497. Both parents were physicists and engineers working in central Europe outside of the Arisa organization. Herbert had been poking into things that were related to time travel for several years and finally came to the attention of the Arisa. They recruited him and his family into the Arisa organization and physically transferred the family from Europe to the Arisa headquarters south of Lake Michigan in North America. Herbert and Lisette both adjusted quite quickly to the new circumstances; laboratories full of shiny new equipment helped immensely. Hermes Grossman, at age 14, did not adjust so well.

Before the relocation, the position of his parents was that if Hermes kept his grades up, he was pretty much free to do anything he wanted. Hermes was extremely intelligent and keeping his grades up was really no challenge at all. That left him considerable amounts of time to dabble in drugs and other illicit activities.

All that came to an end when he became a member, somewhat unwillingly, of the Arisan community. What was left of his childhood was not a pleasant experience. First, there were very few children of his age around in the area where his parents lived and the ones that were there were quite frankly uncomfortable when Hermes was around; they were docile and Hermes was not. Second, the environment was such that it was almost impossible to get drugs and other questionable materials. Third, it took Hermes a while to realize that he was now living in a society of total surveillance where his every move was recorded and available to anybody want to take a look at what he had been doing. He spent a considerable amount of his intellectual capacity in his first year in the Arisa community trying to figure out ways to get around this. He failed.

In his old school, Grossman had been the top student by a fairly wide margin with very little effort. In Arisa he was still brighter than most of the students, but it took a lot more work to keep up with the studies. In fact, because of the “lax” standards at his previous school he was actually several years behind most of the people his age. Boxed in at virtually every turn, Grossman focused on his academic studies and eventually graduated at the top rung of his cohort.

While Grossman may have prospered academically, he never quite bought into the cultural aspects of Arisa. From the perspective of most Arisans, he had a lot of “rough edges” and seemed to be quite proud of that fact. In spite of or perhaps because of his brilliance and his upbringing, Hermes Grossman was a perpetual outsider. He spent most of his life in Arisa looking for ways by which he could “demand the respect that was due him.” He was a good but not outstanding engineer. He was a better time-travel theoretician but lacked the collaborative spirit that was expected of someone in that role.

His strategy was one that was fairly common for time-travel theorists in Arisa. He looked at the Rulatz equations trying to find something that others had not found that would be significant enough to get him the “respect” that he craved. He looked through the Archives for data that was outside the typical norms. Most of this data was a result of inexact record-keeping, but there was enough data that survived the various reasonability filters he constructed to be of significant interest. He looked for obscure papers that looked at Rulatz equations in unusual ways. He was surprised by the number of papers he found that started off pointing out something that was unusual and of significant interest but were never followed up; from his point of view there was a lot of numbing self-censorship that was pointless. But on the other hand it meant that he had a free play to use this material for his own ends.

Grossman had a regular job analyzing engineering data from the various time travel devices employed by the Arisa. It was not particularly challenging work but it kept Grossman away from other people (for which they were profoundly grateful) and gave him a fair amount of free time to work on his “quest for respect”. Although everything that he did was meticulously recorded, no one gave it much thought. Since almost every engineer and theoretician had side projects, it would have been suspicious if Grossman had not had at least one such project. As long as he got his job done and didn’t irritate people, no one would bother to review what he was doing.

It took Hermes Grossman twelve years to assemble his theory that ultimately led to the time ships. In essence his theory said that it was possible to “step outside” of the time branch at one point along the time branch and enter at another point along the time branch without having to balance energy or material as was the case with the standard time portals. Furthermore, it was possible while one was “outside of the time branch” to observe the time branch in considerable detail. Grossman might have been a royal pain-in-the-ass but he was a meticulous pain-in-the-ass. He had worked out the mathematics by deriving supporting equations from Rulatz’s fundamental work. He had dozens of mathematical simulations that he had done. He had data points drawn from the Archives. Hermes Grossman had something and he was not about to let people ignore him.

The initial reaction of the time-travel theoretical community was to do just that: ignore him. But there were enough people who looked at what he had done with the thought that there must be some defect that they could point out to invalidate his claims and to show Grossman to be a fool. Part of the problem accepting what Hermes Grossman was proposing was cultural and part of it was interpersonal. The interpersonal part was easy to understand; nobody liked Hermes Grossman. That should not have mattered but it did. The cultural part will take a little bit of explanation. The Arisa time travel community was used to dealing with constraints. There were rules about what you could and could not do. Arisans rather liked rules. The Grossman equations, in effect, said a lot of those constraints no longer mattered. For a lot of people, that was just not right.

People in the community spent many hours trying to find the defects in what Grossman had done. They did find out that there were limits that constrained exactly how one could travel outside of the time branches, but no one was able to show that it was not possible to make such a trip. They did find that there were consequences (some of them potentially quite serious) that could arise from using this form of time travel but again it was not possible to show, at least on theoretical grounds, that such travel was impossible. On the surface it was all politeness and cordiality as the “shuttlecock of truth” was batted back and forth in a gentile game of intellectual conversation; under the surface it was mathematical warfare as the time-travel community tried to find a way to dismiss what Grossman was doing.

This is the point where Anthee, a very young but exceedingly brilliant time travel theoretician, came into her own. She was a “preservationist” who thought that time travel, while having substantial value, also had significant risks that very likely outweighed the benefits. She attacked the Grossman equations in every way she could.

She built a mathematical model based upon Grossman’s version of the Rulatz equations that showed that every movement in and out of a time branch “weakened that time branch”; take too many trips using this technique and you run the risk that “something bad” would happen to the time branch. This was one possible explanation for the “dead” time branches. It had been known for a century and a half that some time branches “die” in the sense that time just seemed to stop in those time branches. There, of course, was (and still is) wild speculation about why this happened. Anthee’s model showed one way that it could be explained.

Using this model, she demonstrated that the maximum number of “safe” transitions between a given time branch and “outside of the time branch” must be less than 4137. That was the total number for all time ships. Furthermore, every trip involved two transitions. She warned that the actual limit could be much smaller. Grossman counter attacked by demonstrating that the limiting number must be over 703. Grossman was able to cast some doubt upon the “dead time branch” outcome. Back and forth it went; the best that he could come up with was an intellectual draw.

Anthee also built some mathematical models that showed that was also a finite limit on the number of “time ship engines” that could be active in the timeline at any given time. She showed that the maximum number of time ships must be one of the Fibonacci numbers: one, two, three, five, eight, or thirteen. The values of one, two, three and five were possible but unlikely. The value of thirteen was possible but the equations started producing very strange results that almost certainly meant that 13 was highly unlikely. All the values above 13 were ruled out for much the same set of reasons. The value of eight was not without its problems; one interpretation of the equations said that the presence of seven time ships creates an eighth “ghost” time ship. There was no way to be actually certain about any of this without building a prototype and making extensive measurements.

The irony of the situation was that Anthee in her attempt to destroy the work of Grossman in the end validated it. She and her supporters attacked his work in multiple ways. They modified it and clarified it but they decidedly did not destroy it. All her work was public, laid out in meticulous detail. Her work was absolutely brilliant. The reasoning went, if such a brilliant mind cannot find fault, then perhaps there is no fault to be found.

After four extremely intense years, the time travel community collectively took a breath and stepped back. There was a real question to be answered: shall we build the time ships or not. The consensus seemed to be that it was more dangerous to build the time ships than to not build them, but there was a wind building up from an unanticipated direction that tipped the decision.

Up until the last decade or two before Grossman revealed his equations, there had been no way to resolve the speculations about “dead” time branches. For the last 17 years the Arisa had been making very detailed measurements of these “dead” time branches and performing very sophisticated analysis of the data thus collected. At a point just before the “let’s step back and think about the Grossman problem,” this research group issued a report about its findings. The vast majority of the report was informative and distinctly noncontroversial, but there was one section that made all the difference. The report said that using calculations computed from one of the variations of the “time ship” equations that Anthee had created, the measurements of the “dead” time branches were “not inconsistent with the effects that might be expected from an excessive use of time ship technology just prior to the “death” of each of these time branches.” In other words, maybe the use of time ships caused these time branches to “die” and maybe they did not.

The initial response of the community was something along lines of “well, isn’t that interesting.” But then someone wrote a satirical essay mocking the notion that the time ships could be used as a weapon to kill a time branch. The essay was very well written and widely read. However the satire was subtle enough that a quick read of the essay could lead one to believe that the approach was real and valid. The response of the community could be summed as “Oh shit! We have to do something and do it now!” Grossman fanned the flames every chance he got. In many ways this was personal; it was vitally important to him that he win an argument, and this was the argument in front of him. He and his supporters put together a proposal to build a prototype, to use that prototype to refine the understanding of the equations that he had proposed, and then to come back to make the actual decision about whether to build the time ships.

Anthee and the other preservationists were certain that this was a really bad idea. She and the other preservationists argued against the prototype in the strongest possible terms. The overall community was not so certain. The outcome of the prototype would go a long way toward resolving a lot of the uncertainty that existed. The consensus was to build the prototype. The only decision that needed to be made is how to build safeguards around the prototype to prevent it from destroying everything. Nineteen months after the prototype was authorized, it was activated and testing begun.

The results of the testing of the prototype cleared up quite a number of things. Two key insights that came out of the testing that were of interest for us are that one, the maximum number of time ships in a time branch that can be active in a time branch at a given time is eight, but only seven of those can be physically built. The eighth time ship “emerged” out of the existence of the other seven time ships. No one then or now understands exactly why that it was this way. The second key insight was that the effects of the time ship transitions did not seem to be related to the cause of why a time branch “died”. The data collected from the use of the prototype showed that the effects of the time ship transitions were significantly different from the effects that they had seen in the time branches that “died”.

Grossman argued that the Arisa should proceed immediately to build the time ships, if for no other reason than to serve as a preemptive strike against someone else building a time ship or introducing time ships from outside of the mother time branch. Anthee and her supporters again argued strongly against such an action. For the next 20 years there was an ongoing conversation about what the time ship should look like, what the safeguards should be built in, and how they should be controlled. In the end, the decision was made to build the seven time ships. Grossman and his supporters hoped to control the building of the time ships but his lack of interpersonal skills pretty much guaranteed that this could not ever happen. He was allowed to remain as an observer and as an adviser but the control passed to others who did not make a regular habit of going around kicking people in the shins. Anthee was invited to be on the advisory board in a position essentially equal to that of Grossman but she declined. She had hoped to destroy the possibility of the time ships but had lost. She wanted nothing to do with the time ships. In many ways she withdrew from active participation in the community.

It took nearly 20 years to design and build the first time ship. It took almost 60 more years to complete all seven time ships. It was a very conservative process. Each time ship was extensively tested to ensure that it was in compliance with the various control mechanisms and to provide more information to resolve the numerous ambiguities that still existed within the Grossman equations. As a result each of the individual time ships had unique features.

By this point Grossman had run out of steam. After about fifty years on the advisory board he was “promoted” to senior adviser. He was regularly invited to give presentations and speeches about the time ships to the ruling Council Elders. In his mind he had achieved the respectability that he sought. His actual impact on the time ship project was fairly minimal.

The time ship project routinely made all the data collected for each of the time ships available to Anthee. She performed detailed analysis and used that data to refine her theoretical models. She never found the “and this destroys the entire universe” data point, but her analysis did nothing to make the entire concept of the time ships any less frightening.

By the time the final time ship was completed, there had been well over a century of conversation and contention about the time ships. Are they safe? What should we do with them? How can we be sure they will not turn upon their masters? By this time Grossman had died at age 183 and his exhausted supporters had scattered.

A consensus emerged that the time ships, while necessary in some sense, were really too dangerous to just leave lying around. The Arisa had built them and tested them to understand their capabilities. What they found out scared them. They anticipated some concern, perhaps a touch of discomfort, or perhaps a bit of apprehension, what they actually felt went beyond that. In spite of the fact that the Arisa had built the time ships with extensive safeguards to prevent the destructive power from being used against the Arisa (or anyone else), the general view was that the time ships were bombs waiting to go off. The simplest mistake could be the last one that the Arisa ever made.

There were those who argued that the time ships should be destroyed. There were those who argued that the time ships were the last line of defense for the Arisa and should be kept, at a distance, to be used only when “all hell had broken out”. There were many who wondered if the Arisa possessed the tools needed to destroy their own creations.

Even the most ardent supporters got cold feet. The time ships were banished to the deep past and told to do nothing until two senior elders came a calling. Don’t call us. We’ll call you. The general knowledge of the time ships was suppressed. Only a small number of people knew about the time ships and were in a position to instigate any use of them. Anthee and Terry were among the few people outside of the ruling group who had this knowledge. Research in this area was abandoned by consensus. After centuries, most of the people who were aware of the time ships had died. It was a case of forgotten but not really gone.

Hermes Grossman’s reputation was buried along with the knowledge of the time ships. An objective reading of the history would show that he was also a giant in the field of time travel but that history was suppressed along with the “respect” that he desired.

Previous Journal Entry: The Teleological Aspects of Time Travel The Journals of Eric Stapleton

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