Remember, Remember


'Remember, remember
The 5th of November
Gunpowder, treason, and plot
I see no reason
why gunpowder treason
should ever be forgot!'

This was written as a response to a Seasonal Challenge for autumn 2005. †We in the United Kingdom have Bonfire Night, 5th November, big municipal bonfires, fireworks, that sort of thing. According to Google and Wikipedia, some parts of the USA also mark this, but an unscientific survey among my American friends failed to find one who knows anything about it. (Yes, all right, I had feedback from the Antipodes saying: well, we know!) 2005 is the 400th anniversary of the events in question too, and something ought to be done to mark that, don’t you think? Regicide, meddling with the fabric of reality, oh yes, and some knowledge of world history is assumed. More information here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gunpowder_plot for anyone who wants to know what on earth I’m talking about.


From: FranÁois Robillard
Department of Historical Physics
L'Universitť Notre Dame, Baton Rouge

To: Andries van den Berg
Department of Temporal Anthropology
Leyden College
Universiteit New Amsterdam, N.A.

9 Octobre 2005

Mon cher Andries

I know, I know, I promised that I would tell you what was going on with us, and here we are at the start of the autumn term and I havenít done it. Actually, Andries, I think this may turn into something that we can use to our advantage. I think there is at least one doctoral thesis in this and maybe more; better still, I think I can see where the funding is going to come from! But I must have your promise that you will say nothing until we have made a definite decision about how to go about it. You know that my position here in the department is insecure and I canít afford to let them think that Iíve been using the temporal history headsets for unauthorised work; equally I canít afford to use commercial history providers, so. . . And that means that you DONíT tell Bastiaan about it until weíve made our plans, because we both know that what you tell Bastiaan today he tells Pierre tomorrow and much as I love Pierre, he has some very unreasonable ideas about me abusing my position at the university.

As a matter of fact, I think Ė I think! Ė that the whole thing may have been Pierreís fault in the first place. Well, in a manner of speaking. I had been a bit behind with writing up my research, you know how it goes. Between you and me, I spent too much time over the summer in the clubs and not enough finishing last yearís write-up. NOT, you understand, that Iím telling Pierre that. No, as far as Pierre is concerned, I came across something new in the tapes, to do with my section on the Cuban Missile Crisis, which is turning out to be the heart of my entire report. Itís not absolutely a lie, because Iíve had to rethink my whole approach to that, based on what weíve got recently about President Vespucci. I know you donít necessarily agree, but I do think the Vespucci administration was one of the better periods of recent Amerikan history. And as for the President! That any of us should have the balls of that woman!

Iím getting off the point. The point is that Iíve discovered something which the theoretical historical physicists seem to have missed about the TempHist machines. Iíve discovered that the application doesnít just go one way. It isnít true what the HistFizzers have been telling us, about there being no influence from the reader on the machine. Iím pretty sure itís not.

O.K., to backtrack a bit. You know what the score is here. Basically, the whole department is engaged in looking at the historical nodes, the points at which major historical deviations occur between alternate universes. We got a whole lot of new machines installed over the summer when the funding came through. Somebody here was very much on the ball, and when President Cohen announced the increase in funding to education, we had our proposals up to Senator Flies-With-Eagles before any of the other universities got their act together. New machines and a chance for the lower ranking riff-raff, i.e. yours truly, to do some proper hands-on research. Only of course, itís Professor Letourneau and his PhD group, Gautier, Bergeron and Pascal who get the big nodes, the exciting things, and Saint-Cyr, Marťchal and me who pick up the crumbs. I think, though, that one of my crumbs is a loaf.

Right. What actually happened? What happened was that I didnít clean the bathroom when it was my turn, and Pierre was not pleased about it. I confess that it wasnít the first time, and Iíd had ample warning and all the rest of it, but you can just imagine how it went. Iím telling you, Andries, NEVER take up with a pelota player. The pride of being involved in the national sport, even at one remove, doesnít make up for the side effects. Pierre has been playing bare-hand pelota all summer and his palms are like. . . well, it felt more like a paddling than a spanking, and the effects lasted like one too. By the next morning when I went in to the department, I could still feel it and I think that was what caused the system to produce what it did.

I was actually the first one to get to the headsets that morning, which isnít usual, and I had it in mind that I would check some of the minor nodes from the 1600s. Professor Letourneau thinks there may be something significant in the question of the Sun King; he wants to know what would have happened if Louis had gone through with his plan to move the royal court to Versailles in 1682. Like anyone cares. But when I got the headset on and sat down, I felt a distinct twinge in my cul, and I spared a thought to curse bathrooms and the cleaning of bathrooms, and I reckon that was when the machine reset. Input from the user, like HistFizz tells us doesnít happen.

Because the node that it gave me wasnít the one I had dialled up. It was something in Angleterre, England as it was called. Yes, Andries, I know, you arenít sound on historical geography, and I confess I had to look it up myself. Angleterre belongs to the Celtic Empire. Itís part of Lí…cosse nowadays, but in 1605 it was a separate country. As far as I know, it has no historical significance worth mentioning. One of Emperor Kester Aillard MacAndraís cousins is the nominal Head of State, the Celtic House Imperial having always held to its own. However, the events around the node were before the rise of the Celtic Empire, and indeed, if Iím reading them right, the entire Celtic House might have been subsumed into a House Anglais if these events had been completed.

This node is something called the Gunpowder Plot. The history is invariant up to that date: Angleterreís new king, James, had promised that anti-Catholic laws would be relaxed. There seems to have been some dispute going on for the best part of a century, regarding royal succession and also whether the established church should be Protestant or Catholic: at this point it appears that the Protestants were in the ascendancy with some suppression of Catholicism and the confiscation of property held by religious houses.

Anyway, this James was not keeping whatever promises Catholics thought had been made to them, and there was a plot to blow up the King, some of his family and part of the Parliament at some state occasion. I believe the point was to put up one of the younger members of the royal family as a puppet monarch, and restore Catholicism in full.

Now I have looked into this, and inasmuch as one can get any sense from the history books (I donít want to ask questions about this of the specialists in case they ask why I want to know, and generalised European history doesnít cover much of Angleterre simply because itís a rural economy with very little international influence), this Plot was carried through, the king was killed, as were several high ranking officials and the heir to the throne. The succession was thrown into confusion. The two younger children, Charles and Elizabeth, fell under the control of different groups, one Protestant and one Catholic, and both were claimed to be the rightful sovereign. There was total chaos, with another two hundred years before a single sovereign was admitted and accepted, the major religious houses all making application for the return of their lands, and the ensuing lawsuits keeping the country in turmoil. Neither Protestant nor Catholic parties could gain overall control and the country was eventually absorbed by the growing Celtic Empire. When in the twentieth century, the discovery of oil in the North Sea rendered the Celtic Empire the major power of Northern Europe, Angleterre really ceased to have any economic or political power.

Maybe you already know this? I donít know how much world history is required of you people in Temporal Anthropology.

Right. This node. The node revolves around someone called Guy Fawkes. Or possibly Guido Faukes. Or some combination of the two. He was part of the conspiracy: in the other timeline, the plot was a failure and this man Fawkes was captured and tortured and the conspirators were arrested and executed.

Well, and what of it? A minor conspiracy in a minor country during a period of minor historical interest. So what came of it?

Everything. We did. Guido Faukes died, and the king of Angleterre did not. In the other timeline, which I have begun to call the Gunpowder Line for reasons which will become clear, the entire history of the Amerikas is different to the one we know. And the results Ė Andries, the only word I can find to describe them is Bizarre.

Guido was a mercenary and not, as far as I can tell, a very laudable character. And he was a Bottom. That, Andries, is not in the history books, not the books in either branch following the node. He was Bottom to a man named Thomas Lewis. And it is Thomas Lewis who is responsible for our history. In Guidoís Gunpowder Line, Thomas Lewis did not discover what Guido did.

This is an approximate transcript of the TempHist tape. Itís approximate because I canít follow all of the language; the shift in vocabulary between eras and countries makes it difficult to follow conversations. Itís an interpretation rather than a true transcript; I havenít attempted to put down the precise wording but rather to express them as they would be here and now. Weíll need a temporal linguist to get anything better.

(Transcript of TH tape 133988/47763/Angleterre 1605 Londres)

Thomas Lewis: So explain to me again where youíre going.

Guido Faukes: I promised to meet Robert in town.

TL: Robert Catesby?

GF: Yes.

TL: Why?

GF: Because weíre going to [some location not existing in our reality, not yet traced].

TL: No, Guido. I told you last time that you were not going there again.

GF: Oh, donít be such a [some term of seventeenth century abuse, not translatable].

TL: And if youíre going to be like that about it, young man, this will be a short and painful interview.

GF: Look, Iím going to meet Robert, thatís all, itís no big deal.

TL: And have you finished what I asked you to do?

GF: Yes! I have! You said to clean the trenchers and I did, and the knives and spoons, and the ale jacks. Iíve changed the rushes on the floor and everything! What more do you want?

TL: I told you to do something about the privy too.

GF: I have done something about it [very sulky Ė pure brat].

TL: Since that scene this morning? I donít think so, Guido. You havenít had time to deal with the privy as well as everything else, so youíre lying to me.

GF: I am not lying! The privy is perfectly clean!

TL: Letís go and look at it, shall we?

[Break in tape Ė presumably both men going out of range of analyser. Break approximately 5 minutes.]

TL: Corner, Guido. Now.

GF: [Whined] Why?

TL: Because I said so, young man, and because I know perfectly well that something is going on, and I intend to find out what it is. I know your attitude to housework, and I want to know why that privy looks as if nobody else has ever, ever used it.

GF: [still whining] You said to clean it so I cleaned it. And Iíd cleaned it before. [This sentence came slowly; this is a Bottom wondering if he is saying too much.]

TL: When?

GF: Last week, when you were away. [Andries, I know precisely this tone. I can hear my own voice on occasion using it to Pierre, Iíve heard you use it to Bastiaan, itís the one where you just know that the story is getting away from you. It happens at the point about ten minutes before the spanking which you already know to be inevitable.]

TL: You cleaned the privy last week? You cleaned the privy without having to be told? Not even told, but told and told again and shouted at and threatened with punishment?

GF: [Ultra sulky voice, knowing that heís nearly there] Yes.

TL [Suspiciously] Why?

[Thereís the traditional ducking and weaving here, and it does Guido about as much good as it did me. Do you see, Andries? I think that the machine picked up my feelings on not having cleaned the bathroom and linked them to Guidoís wish that he hadn't. Yes, hadnít. I know how improbable it sounds. I havenít typed up all the whining and attempts at self-justification; you can imagine how it went. In four hundred years, it has changed, as far as I can tell, not at all.]

TL: Guido Faukes, I intend to have this story and I intend to have it now. Why have you been digging out the privy?

GF: [mutters something inaudible]

TL: I beg your pardon?

GF: For the saltpetre.

TL: The saltpetre. Youíve been cleaning out the privy and selling the contents to the saltpetre man?

GF: [hesitation] Yes. [Iím beginning to get what it is that Tops do, Andries. I knew he was lying too.]

TL: And the money is where?

GF: [longer hesitation, no answer]

TL: Right. Thatís enough. Youíre lying to me, Guido, youíve been lying to me for half an hour. Iíve had enough of it. You can go straight through to the bedroom, get those breeches off, take the strap out of the chest and take yourself into the corner to wait for me. And while youíre there, start thinking about telling me the truth.

[Thereís a gap here, Andries Ė we can guess, canít we?]

TL: Now, letís have it. What is going on?

GF: [tone of total capitulation] Didnít sell the saltpetre. Used it. Robert knows a man.

TL: Used it for what?

GF: [in a very subdued voice] Gunpowder.

TL: GUNPOWDER?

GF: Yes.

TL: And you wanted gunpowder for what, precisely?

GF: Robert wanted it for. . . to put in the Houses of Parliament.

[Thereís a rather confused noise here; I think TL knocks something over. Several exchanges are inaudible.]

TL: Let me be quite sure about this. You and Robert and Robertís friends were intending to blow up Parliament, kill the king, restore a Catholic monarchy and. . . Come here, young man. And give me that strap.

[Thereís a lengthy and obviously painful interlude plainly audible on the tape, followed by the sound of a very subdued and sorry Bottom taking his own painful bottom to bed, having been grounded for, as far as I can tell, the rest of his natural life.]

(End of transcript.)

Well, Andries, you can see, this is our node. In our line, Guido didnít go to meet Robert Catesby (I canít trace him anywhere in the system, so he canít have had any significance in historical terms).

But in the other line, the one where he did? You wouldnít believe whatís different.

For a start, where he said he was going was a lie. He went to the Parliament with his barrels of gunpowder (I looked it up. Sulphur, charcoal and saltpetre and the saltpetre came from cleaning privies). And he got caught, imprisoned, tortured and executed for trying to blow up the king and the political base (these days they would probably give him the freedom of the city). The religious establishment in Angleterre stayed nominally Protestant, although rather High Church; thatís the bit that results in the really peculiar changes. It wasnít Protestant enough for some minds, and religious adherence has always brought about some of the major nodes. In this case, there was a bunch of individuals who went to Leyden on the strength of religious preference and then a further collection who came here, here to Amerika, on a ship called the Mayflower. They seem to be the ones who have caused the significant differences. Andries, in that time line, even the place names are different! There does seem to be a conurbation at New Amsterdam, but for some reason itís called New York! And itís not just here that things are different. The First War of Indian Independence appears to have been against the Anglais rather than the Dutch; Australia is not an Italian speaking country, heaven knows why, and the Spanish control of South Africa hasnít happened.

I know that thereís a lot of research to be done here, but my technique for grasping an overview is to get hold of the media reports on either side of the node for the modern period, and then to compare them. In a lot of cases, no matter how large the node, the eventual differences are minimal, history being elastic. It tends to spring back to what appears to be a pre-ordained position. In this case, though, a tiny node seems to have derailed our history altogether.

Iíve compared newspaper reports for about the past month, and my first difficulty is that there is some significant event in the Gunpowder Line which I havenít managed to track. There are frequent references to something called The Fall, which must, I think, be a major political or economic change of power Ė but Fall of what precisely I canít establish. Itís obviously important, but I canít get a grip on what it is. I suspect itís something to do with the fact that the centre of political power appears to be somewhere called Washington, rather than here in Baton Rouge. I canít place Washington at all, itís somewhere near the Potomac. The newspapers are all in Anglais, for some reason.

Andries, everything is different! Even the sports pages! Thereís no pelota at all (that wouldnít please Pierre!), for some reason theyíre only starting their football now, two months late, and from the pictures, there must have been some dreadful injuries in the past, because the football players are dressed like a cross between fencers in helmets, and toddlers in ski suits. Thereís a whole new sport called baseball, which appears to have developed from one of those school playground bat and ball games (mind you, the Anglais in that line have a different one called cricket, and I can make nothing of the rules of that at all. They have, would you believe, a ball game which lasts for five days and has meal breaks).

The autumnal festivals are different too. I can find no trace either of la Toussaint as is celebrated here, nor of your Sint Maartenís Dag, but there is a festival of (I think) All Hallowís Eve, for children. Instead, Harvest Home appears to have mutated into something called Thanksgiving (a minor difference, I suppose) at which the major celebratory dish seems to be turkey (I didnít even know the thing was edible!). I donít believe any node before has shown that an animal extinct in one time line has failed to become extinct in all others too Ė now do you see why Iím so excited? The number of things arising from this node which the HistFizzers have been telling us simply canít happen! Turkey! Better yet, the Gunpowder line appears to have almost no buffalo Ė I can find no trace of buffalo being eaten later than the mid 19th century, the point at which the turkey was finally eradicated as a pest here.

But what did the Anglais do? These people are seriously weird, Andries. Seriously weird. Remember, they have a plot in which the intention is to blow up the ruling monarch and the legislature Ė so they have a party to celebrate it. Ostensibly, they are celebrating the failure of the plot Ė in point of fact, one may see quite clearly that a sizeable proportion of the populace has forgotten this. They have bonfires, and on the bonfires they put effigies of poor Guido Faukes. And yet, within the popular culture there is a widespread feeling that he was the hero, not the villain, of the piece: that the destruction of the ruling class is something more laudable than not. The gunpowder is still in general use in the form of fireworks, also part of the celebration, occasionally funded by public donation and the display of Ďthe Guyí.

So do you want to come in on this with me? Weíll need to get a linguist, a couple of broad minded historians and a physicist on board at least. And I suppose I shall have to confess to Pierre what Iíve been doing, and I have no doubt at all that I will be very thoroughly spanked for doing it in the first place, and for not telling him about it in the second.

But I do, at least Ė and at last! Ė have an incontrovertible argument that too much time spent cleaning the bathroom can be a Bad Thing.

Idris the Dragon

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