This idea was prompted by a wonderful moment years ago in London, at the corner of a playground in Peckham, where I stumbled across a bunch of the most delicious, succulant and flavoursome blackberries in the universe. It made me think of transient moments of amazing coincidence or beauty, brief cloud configurations, moments of extreme passion or sorrow, basketball hoops scored from amazingly improbable positions and so on. Imagine an individual, or even a group of them, with access to advanced space/time travelling technology (or magic – whatever) that spend their time visiting and cataloguing these incidents, recording them for posterity or maybe some curious ‘Museum of Moments’. Dressed innocuously, possibly with flasks of weak lemon drink, hard-core anoraks waiting for hours in all weather conditions and all terrain for that second or two when the thousand-year bloom finally comes to flower, or the last butterfly of an endangered species lays down to die upon a rock.
Silent observers, we take a peek behind the scenes at their lives, and the ethical dilemmas they might face.
Henry waited. He was good at it. Well practiced, he sat, patiently, on the train platform. He had just Travelled from India where he had Witnessed a street performer juggling swords in the sunlight outside an ancient temple. The blade reflections cast upon the statue of Kali behind him had glinted off pieces of coloured glass embedded in the surface to breathtaking effect. The memory still made him tingle, and he touched his hand involuntarily to the location of the OC-chip implanted at the base of his skull, storing all his experiences. Before that he had tasted the most delicious strawberry of all time, growing in an apartment building window box. The job had its perks! Licking his lips, he focused on the matter in hand: Soon, the first nuclear strike would land, starting the devastating 3rd World War over resources. He was to record the ground zero impact in person.
As he sat, idly watching a passing gull snatch a rogue crisp from the concrete, he noticed another person watching the trains. Similarly dressed, ticking off the latest arrival, the man’s telltale thermos poked out of his voluminous pockets. Shortly after, he came and sat next to Henry. ‘Good day for it’ said Thermos man. He opened up a packet of sandwiches, home-made and wrapped in greasproof paper, produced from another or the many pockets. Slightly squashed, the smell of cheese and pickle was still identifiable. Henry’s stomach moved uneasily. He was hungry, true, and would come off shift soon, but something was putting him on edge. This was a routine shift, hardly difficult or unusually hazardous, and yet… something wasn’t quite adding up. ‘Yes, it is’ replied Henry. He shifted on the bench, uncrossing and crossing his legs again. Maybe it was just the chill wind. It wasn’t an issue with the people about to die. They had already died before, and it wasn’t as if there was anything he could do to save them. Not really. After all, people died all the time and nobody batted an eyelid. He noticed a mother with a pram across the other side of the tracks. She was trying to stop the baby from crying, but all the toys and cajoling were achieving nothing. She was getting increasingly stressed out, and Henry could see the fidgeting distress this was causing to the other passengers waiting nearby. One elderly lady pursed her lips and looked the other way. A businessman tapped his foot impatiently, glanced at his watch, then the station watch, then continued tapping his foot for a moment before reaching for the solace of his mePhone – sorry – iPhone. Leaves scurried in little eddies, dancing at Henry’s feet. For a moment he found them captivating, swirling round and round, a desperate little dance of life and death. The flurry abated, and Henry’s attention was drawn back to his neighbour, slurping what smelled like coffee from his flask, and scribbling away on his notepad. According to Henry’s retinal display, there were only 5 seconds to go now. He idly glanced at his neighbour’s notepad, and his blood froze.
His display had flashed up level 7 priority alert, large red crosshair dancing around the doodles, silent alarm chiming in his head. A moment later the data stream was flooding through his mind. The patterns on the paper were registering with 94% certainty a match with advanced super-luminal theory. 3 seconds to go. In moments, this man and his work would be vapourised. The alert would have triggered an immediate link with the Museum computers, and the reply would be almost instantaneous, allowing for spin-time of the link drive. Henry switched to Hyper-Awareness, standard procedure when Witnessing, and awaited instructions. An entire second passed, and no response came. In that time, Henry had catalogued every person on the platform again, birds in the sky, weather conditions, smells, feeling of the old wooden bench at his back, the smell of coffee, the lingering pickle odour in the air and the missile winking into view. Something had gone wrong. Even worse, the possibility of a return trip was never an option due to timeline disruptions from the first. 2 seconds left. Henry swore subvocally. As the missile came streaking down, he made his decision.