Some of you have been following this blog and even signed up to the reader list to know I’m writing a short story. I know reading this can be confusing as the blog posts are broken up so I thought I would just post together the past five chapters for older readers to refresh and new ones to easily catch up. I’ve also crossposted at medium which is a slightly easier reading experiences.
Prologue – Date a Girl Who Works
She’s the one with the warm smile, the smart suit, and the “right amount” of makeup. Still, she’ll be pale skinned because she’s indoors during the day and fears melanoma (but in reality, wrinkles).
On days when there is a big meeting or presentation, she will dress up, do her hair, and look stunning. But before she leaves for the car, she will tell you she is nervous , she feels the stress of high stakes. And you will not understand why because you know how much she prepared, and how the others should feel nervous when she enters the room.
Date a girl who works. She is hard to please. She’ll want discuss her latest project, what to wordsmith on a slide, adjust on a model. She won’t be free some nights because there will be that call with Tokyo or London which can’t be put off. She’ll fall asleep on the couch, and you’ll bring out an extra blanket because she gets cold so easily.
Date a girl who works. You will email her everyday in the morning, usually a generic statement of optimism like “Have a great day!” to tell her you are thinking of her during the long expanse of work. She will reply sometimes with an equally terse message like “Thanks honey!” but often she will send a list of all the household tasks you will have to do that afternoon and evening. She is organized, this working woman, and no nonsense.
But you will love her for it because you know, in her own way, this is how she loves you. Also, your memory is terrible and so this is actually very helpful, otherwise you would be delinquent on bills and the dry cleaning would never, ever get picked up.
She might seem all business but has a list of hobbies and interests which range from the mundane to the arcane. You will learn the secrets of dating strategy on the Bachelor (and become oddly addicted to the show’s dramatic format). She will then abruptly change subjects and explain the rise of the Yen and its impact of consumer software pricing. She’ll summarize Fortune articles about company turnarounds and intuitive marketing strategies, and suddenly you’ll remember business school, where you first met her.
Chances are, her mother will not like you, at least at first. She won’t know if you’re serious enough for her daughter. But over time she’ll learn you’ll take care of her daughter, but not in a condescending, paternalistic way. Rather, you’ll understand her ambitions and her hopes, because they become your ambitions and your hopes.
So date a girl who works. You might just fall in love with her. And if you do, never let her go.
Happy Valentine’s Day to wonderful and beautiful (and let’s not forget patient) wife.
Chapter 1 – The Weekend Coincidence
My wife and I just went to the city (San Francisco) for a post Valentine’s Day weekend of nice meals, hiking, indie films, fancy drinks, etc. Basically, our attempt to get away from everything but not driving TOO far.
And of course, our night began by checking into a Starwood hotel, because that’s where I have my points. I haven’t paid for a vacation hotel in years, thanks to stubborn loyalty and Korean frugality borne of a Tiger momma.
I didn’t say this would be an expensive weekend, just a nice one.
The hotel is sleek and modern, and as we walk through the lobby bar, we see young men and women in an array of tight, showy club attire balanced with suits and cocktail dresses. I remember that there is a church nearby where many weddings are hosted adjacent to the hotel.
We go to the check-in desk, my left hand already holding my ID and credit card. Why wait for social norms when I know how this conversation will go? I hand over the two cards to the young woman at the reception desk. I am already rehearsing the conversation in my head, one where she asks how long I’ll be staying, I then reply x nights, she checks her computer, I tell her I LOVE being a GOLD member and ask for a higher floor, she checks her computer…until we reach agreement, I get an upgrade, and everyone leaves happy and somewhere a corporate marketing manager gets his wings.
Only, it didn’t happen that way.
I give her my ID and credit card, she checks her computer, and her eyebrows furrow. She types quickly again, her eyebrows still clenched.
“Your name is Yujin Chung, correct?” And she spells it out. Surprisingly, she spells it correctly, without the usual error of adding a “g” where there is a “j” or even messing up completely and spelling my name E-U-G-E-N-E.
“Yes, that’s correct, exact actually,” I reply.
“You didn’t check in earlier with your wife, did you?” she asks. Now my eyebrows are furrowing.
“No, I did not.” I look at Verna. Her lips scrunch in bafflement and she shrugs her shoulders.
“A man just checked in with your exact name about an hour ago” says the manager. She explains the check-in caused the hotel system to give my reserved room to him, leaving us without a room.
But the room situation is the least interesting part. Never in my thirty three years have I ever had my name match someone else’s. It’s too unique, too foreign, too strange. My name in English is a complete oddity. In Korean (and I’d hate to admit this) it’s more a girl’s name than a boy’s, like Stacy or Pat. Most Yujin’s you meet in Korea are of the female gender. Verna always laughs when I explain this and all I can do to reply is smile, turn red, and change the subject.
Luckily they have another room, a nicer one, and so we check in and go up the elevator to settle in. But the whole coincidence bothers me, because I can’t figure it out.
We return to the lobby ready to pick up our car and drive to a dinner ten minutes from the hotel. I’m about to leave the hotel when the same hotel manager who checked us in calls my name, in the formal “Mr. Chung.”
She hands me an envelope and says, “The other Mr. Chung wanted you to have this.”
Before opening the parcel I ask her what he looked like. She describes him as an older gentleman, Asian of course, black and white hair, some wrinkles, maybe in his fifties, it’s so hard to tell with Asians, he could be eighty for all she knows, they age so well. His wife is older as well (with the same indiscriminate age), and they were leaving the hotel when they handed her the envelope.
“The plot thickens,” I say, and laugh uneasily, mostly to soothe myself as this situation is becoming exceedingly weird.
I open the envelope and inside is another hotel keycard, a post it with the numbers 2026 written on dark blue ink, and a short letter.
“That’s the room he was staying in,” the manager says.
The letter reads:
Don’t be alarmed. I’m an old friend of your father’s. I left you a small gift. Please enjoy,
At first I can only think of bad things – identity theft, murder plot, fraud, hostage situation, and a whole list of crimes that might be committed against me. The “friend of your father” line is completely out of place – nearly all of my father’s friends are in Southern California or back in Korea.
(For a moment the phrase makes me wistful – many years ago, my father once admitted to me that after my grandfather past away, many men of my grandfather’s generation would give my father small gifts of food and money. These men wanted to pay back old favors my grandfather had once granted when he was a lawyer and business owner in Seoul.)
I think of any recent transgressions, mistakes, or errors in judgment but nothing fits. The only explanation seems to be mistaken identity, that this whole incident is meant for someone else. This especially makes sense given the suits and dresses walking around me. The gift and card must be for a member of a groomsman or even a groom, a misspelled name being only one of a numerous set of errors which can happen on a wedding day.
The only way to resolve this situation is to go to the room, find the correct recipient’s name, and solve the error directly. Still, I do not want to go to the room alone, should my hypothesis be incorrect. I confidently ask Verna and the hotel manager to come with me, to fulfill our curiosity and answer the mystery of this misunderstanding.
We take the elevator to the twentieth floor, walk to the room which lies at a corner, the luxury suite. I try knocking first but no one answers.
I slide the keycard into the room, open the door slowly, pray nothing happens, and then…nothing happens. We walk in and sitting on the floor is a small yellow bag with a white plastic handle, and a tag with my first name spelled in cursive.
I open the bag, and inside is a book with a white hardcover, almost like a library book, with thick pages and embossed lettering. The book, however, smells new, like a recent print. The title text is in a classical font, something like Times New Roman or something equally serious.
But my heart starts pounding, Verna starts sobbing, and the hotel manager starts shrieking. The title of the book reads:
of Yujin Chung
1980 – 2041
Chapter 2 – The Autobiography of Yujin Chung
My first impulse is fear. Why the hell do I pass away so early? Sixty-one?
It feels like a Pandora’s box, whose secrets might seal my doom.
But my rational mind takes over and I smell a hoax. This could just be a prop, a practical joke orchestrated by some overzealous entrepreneur or corporate executive. The weird set of events, my recent posts on Story of S, my love of mysteries and thrillers…I’m playing this hand with my cards showing. With my imagination, everyone knows I’d be gullible enough to fall for it.
Only one way to find out.
I pick up the book and right then, the hotel manager exclaims,
“That’s it. I’ve had enough of this shit. You two are your own.” She jogs to the elevator.
Starwood Hotels: great service until you get embroiled in a metaphysical plot potentially involving time travel.
Verna calms down and takes deep, slow breaths. She stands behind me and takes my arm.
“You don’t have to open it,” she says.
“We have to find out one way or another,” I reply.
“What if it’s a fraud, or even a bomb?”
“C’mon honey it can’t be that crazy. I think it’s just a stupid practical joke. This is probably a fake. Let’s find out.”
I lift the book and nothing happens – it is indeed a real book and not a box, a device, nor a bomb.
There is no text on the back, unlike a book you’d see in the bookstore. I open the first page and the table of contents go up to sixty one, one for each year of my life, followed by an epilogue. It is published by a company called “Byzantine Generals & Co.”
The copyright says (c) 2046. I can’t even publish my own autobiography on time.
The first chapter is simply called 1980, the year of my birth. It’s a short chapter, describing my parents, my birthplace, my childhood home. It’s written in the first person with a voice and tone like mine but just…older, using language and slang I’m not familiar with (the word “holo-clean” comes up a few times).
I’m impressed but not convinced. Nothing in the early chapters is particularly secretive or special – nothing you couldn’t find about me through publicly available sources. Any scan of my social media profiles or past blogs has this information hiding in plain sight. Privacy is dead when anyone can write my autobiography without me.
And who cares? It’s flattering someone would take the trouble to write about me. This hoax, IF it’s a hoax, is extremely detailed and crafted. Why go through the trouble for me, some business guy in a literal Valley of business guys? Why go through the trouble of creating a hoax of an invisible man who’s nothing special, nothing important?
Maybe that’s the real mystery. Not whether the book is real but why anyone would write it in the first place.
But then I open a page of photos which stabs my gut. There are two photos of me as a newborn baby. The first I remember fondly, tucked away in my family scrapbook, a small infant staring at the camera with tiny fingers and a wild mess of black hair.
The other photo is one I’ve never seen before, but I know is real because the two people holding me are my parents. Their expressions are stern, because that was the convention at the time. My father is wearing a short sleeved button shirt and blue tie, my mother a pink dress and a blue hat. They look so young, so hopeful.
I read ahead to the other chapters, to see if this book is truly real. Chapters nine to seventeen are filled with real, hidden details of my childhood and adolescence, from my proud moments of winning grade school elections to the embarrassing memories of youthful rejection at young love (there were several).
I know this author well, and this author is me.
But enough of this sentimental crap. There’s only one way to test the validity of this book. I race to chapter thirty three, and it describes a completely accurate history of everything which has happened the last five months.
I even get to the page where I check in to the hotel and find the Autobiography, the very book I’m holding!
Then I read a line:
“At that moment my good friend Andrew Chen texted me.”
And at that moment, my good friend Andrew Chen texts me.
Chapter 3 – The Package from the Future
I put down the book immediately. I look down on my smartphone.
“did u send me a package?” he texts.
“no” I text back.
“someone sent a box to the office but under your name”
“did you open it?”
“no dude, i thought it was to you. still unopened. But you know what’s weird?”
“your name is on the return address. it’s like you sent it to yourself.”
At any other instance this would be completely surprising. Right now, I just shrug and accept it.
At this point, I call Andrew and ask him if he set this whole thing up as a gigantic crazy scavenger hunt. He doesn’t know what I’m talking about and assures me he has nothing to do with the events of the past hour. I ask him three more times and he says he doesn’t know what is going on.
I believe him – this is way out of bounds even for a hipster genius like Andrew.
I explain what happened – the check-in, the man with my name, the Autobiography, and him texting me at the exact moment I read it in the book.
“It worked,” he says.
“What are you talking about?” I ask.
“Nothing. I mean…look why don’t come over to the office so we can check out this package. There’s also something else but I’d rather tell you in person.”
Right now the last place I want to go is an office on a Friday night, especially when we had a hard-to-get dinner reservations. But Verna and I agree we need to solve this. We grab sandwiches from a half-closed deli near the hotel and eat them in the Lyft on the way to Andrew’s office in SOMA. When we arrive he’s waiting outside the office with his black dog, Rupert. We take the elevator up.
It’s good to see him. You might know Andrew as a “growth hacker,” “entrepreneur blogger extraordinaire,” but he’s really a soft-spoken, thoughtful dude. His interests aren’t just tech and startups, nor is he obsessed with the latest buzzword or fad. He reads everything from political novels on the 2012 elections to engineering texts on Roman aqueducts. You can have a conversation with him and you might never use the word valuation.
You can talk to him about anything. We’ve discussed topics ranging from Dave Chappelle to landing page optimization, and one time we had a two hour conversation about improving the landing page optimization of Dave Chappelle’s website. I’m pretty sure we were bourbon drunk for that one.
We go into the office and I see a cardboard box the size of a college textbook. The package has two labels, with my name on both the return and receiving side.
I really hope this is not another book from the future. I could use a break from this metaphysical time travel crap. I’m about to open it when Andrew interrupts me.
“I need to tell you something,” he says.
“This better not be a fucking practical joke dude, because I am really-” I reply.
“No, I promise I’m just as lost as you are. But if that book is from the future, and if this package has something to do with time travel, I can tell you that I may have to do with it.”
“Ok, what the hell are you talking about?”
“What I’m about to tell you, you can’t tell ANYONE. You have to promise me, because it’s crazy, irrational, embarrassing, but related to what has happened today. To you.”
“I promise. Now what the hell are you talking about?”
“I think I figured out a theory for communication of data through time. Basically, a practical theory for time travel.” He brings out his tablet, opens up the Paper drawing app, and begins sketching a variety of diagrams, equations, and numbers.
In the irony of ironies, it turns out growth hacking provides a mathematical basis to solve for data transport across the temporal dimension. In English that means he figured out time travel of data.
It started out as a hobby. Being a man of wide interests, Andrew randomly picked up a Brief History of Time by Stephen Hawking about a year ago and in a spark of creative inspiration, realized that the frameworks and analytics behind growth hacking could be applied to wormholes, quantum foam, and time travel. He just had to tweak our assumptions of what could travel through time.
Movies and novels have painted a picture of time travel as people in a blinking machine of incredible energy, flashing lights, and high speeds. They assume that we, as people, would travel through time.
But this is a nearly impossible proposal. The energy required to expand the size of an infinitesimal wormhole (where time travel theoretically takes place) is beyond modern resources or understanding. Furthermore, people would make a terrible transport medium, simply because we are living, breathing organisms. The radiation involved in actualizing this endeavor would kill any passenger or animal.
So the constraints of the problem are around sending something small, non-living, yet robust enough to prove there was some connection to the other time period.
Andrew simply reasoned: why not open a wormhole large enough to just send beams of light? You would then just need to maintain a stable connection and then could transmit bits through that connection. At its most primitive level it would start out as a telegraph, sending light signals in slow patterns, but over time this channel could become high bandwidth enough to transmit text, photos, even video. Like subscribing to Comcast, instead your cable channels, websites and even mobile apps would display a live connection to another time, past or future.
Amazingly, Andrew’s expertise in user acquisition and growth models were perfect for solving the initial mathematical equations to expand the data connection and feasibly produce a stable, high bandwidth connection (up to ten megabit per second).
But theory wasn’t enough for Andrew, he wanted to create, not study. So he crowdfunded a private project on Crowdtilt (described it as a needing funds for a book proposing a “universal theory of growth”), and started talked to engineers at the major semiconductor and device manufacturing companies.
Actually, this last part I was part of – I helped make intro’s to some of these guys, thinking he was interested in learning about mobile app distribution. Instead, he took these meetings, hired some contractors, and designed a prototype.
After spending ten minutes revealing his secret hobby, he unlocks a drawer from his work desk, and brings out the prototype. It’s a circuit board the size of a paperback novel, and just as thin. There’s a port and cable out which can be connected to a smartphone. Even for time machines, mobile first.
“I call it the flux capacitor,” he grins proudly. That was a great movie.
“Does it work?” I ask him.
“Well, here’s the rub-” he begins.
“No wait, this thing is useless by itself,” I reply. “It’s like building a single phone, fax machine, or having one user on a social network. There’s zero value unless there’s another device or connection on the other side. Also, you can’t transmit to the past because no device previously has the flux capacitor – you just showed me the first node in the network. You need at least two devices to validate this even works. Why didn’t you build another module to test?”
“I did, but it’s not ready yet – I’m waiting for more chips from the fab. Hardware is much, much harder than software.”
I’m impressed with my friend. For me, the idea of a hobby is shooting baskets at the local YMCA or wokfrying Kung Pao chicken on Sunday night. For Andrew, it’s building a goddamn time machine chip.
“Whatever’s in that package must be related to this,” said Andrew, as holds his circuitboard.
I go back to the package and break the cardboard. Inside, thankfully, is not a book.
Instead, it’s a microsd card and a piece of paper with a set of instructions. It reads:
Sideload the app on this memory card to smartphone.
Once installed, open app, go to settings, and change the following configuration:
Click on users and add user: noodredne
Plug in the alpha module.
Return to the home screen and press “connect.”
I look at the memory card. I look at the time machine module. This can’t be a coincidence.
Whatever TNS is, it sounds like a date/time stamp for February 15, 2041 at 10:30am.
And user noodredne is no mystery either – it’s my handle, Enderdoon, spelled backwards.
We follow all the instructions with the assumption that the alpha module is the flux capacitor. We stop at the last one.
I tell Verna and Andrew to go to the other room, away from me. Whatever lies on the other side of this transmission is for me, and me alone. There is still a faint hope that this is all just a hoax, perhaps the most elaborate hoax ever created.
But there’s only one way to test the punchline. I click connect.
There is a brief pause and the screen turns into a videochat-like window with the words “waiting for signal” blinking. The word “connected” then briefly blinks and dissolves, and a face appears.
What happens next is entirely expected and completely impossible.
He has my thick hair but blanketed in white, no longer black. He has my cheeks, chin, and nose, but with age spots, moles, and wrinkles. He has my unnaturally large brown eyes but is also wearing a pair of glasses with tiny, blinking text in the lens. He is wearing a polo shirt but it changes color like a slow screensaver every few seconds.
It’s me, thirty years later.
He grins and says, “I still look good, don’t I? Or am I using the wrong pronoun?”
I smile back. ”So this isn’t a hoax,” I reply.
“Far from it. This is more real than you could possibly imagine.”
“So…why?” It’s the only question I have.
“You don’t have much time. If you don’t change what happens in the next twenty four hours, you lose Verna forever.”
Chapter 4 – The Breakdown
“You don’t have much time. If you don’t change what happens in the next twenty four hours, you lose Verna forever,” Yujin+28 says. ”Now listen, here’s what we have to do n-”
“Why the hell should I listen to you? You play these goddamn games, send these silly packages, and now it’s a warning? How the hell-”
“Packages? There’s another package? I only sent you the memory stick and instructions? What’s the other fucking package?” he asks. Yujin+28 voice becomes a mixture of fury and desperation.
“The book, the white book, my-, OUR book,” I exclaim. His eyes widen and I can hear his breathing deepen through the app.
“You got sent an Autobiography?” he asks.
“Yes, I thought you…didn’t you send-” I reply. His mouth widens and fear engulfs his face.
“No no no…the year, the end year…was it…is it…”
“It’s 2041. What year are y-”
“Read it again. Tell me you read it wrong. Please tell me you read it wrong,” he pleads. He is almost begging me to show him the book.
I know the year but but I bring out the book and hold it in front of the smartphone camera.
His cheeks and neck turn read, his eyes sink, his breath quickens, and even though he can’t tell or show me, I know his throat feels dry, his stomach tightens, and he can feel the thumping of his heartbeat. I know how he feels because that is how my body felt when my maternal grandmother passed away when I was eight, when my parents told me we were about to lose the family business, when I almost quit engineering upon seeing my grades after nearly failing my first year of courses, when I was praying for interviews after leaving my first job, and when I fractured my finger and dislocated my shoulder playing basketball in New York. I know how he feels because when I fail, when I’m afraid, when I’ve given up, when there’s nothing left, this is how my face reacts, my glands, my body, my everything.
And right now, even though I don’t understand what is happening, I’m beginning to feel those same symptoms rise within me. If my future self, Yujin+28, can’t keep it together, we’re absolutely fucked.
He pinches the bridge of his nose, clenches his eyes, sighs.
“Maybe it’s too late,” he says. “Maybe this was all for-”
I can’t take it anymore.
“Shut the hell up,” I whisper. ”Calm down, take a break, drink a water but pull yourself together!”
“Don’t you understand? They’ve figured out-”
“Of course I don’t understand! I don’t have a fucking clue what’s going on! I don’t even know who ‘they’ are! I’m tired, I’m hungry, I’m scared out of my mind. And now you tell me I’m supposed to die in 2041 and you, the one guy who can help us is wringing his hands, giving up. You can’t be me. This isn’t me. We’ve been through bad shit before, maybe nothing this fucked up, I’ll give you that, but we. Pull. Ourselves. Together. And We Fight!
“I don’t give a shit about you or me. You die, I die, look – we all have to die sometime. It’s coming, whether it’s 2041 or 2441 or hell even 2014. I don’t care when. I accept it.
“But don’t you give up on Verna. Don’t you dare give up on her. We can be irresponsible with our lives, our decisions, our ultimate fate but we never hurt her.
“Now what the fuck do I do?”
He stares back at me and his lips slowly crease into a smile. ”I’m sorry, I just freaked out,” he says.
I smile back. ”Of course I know how you feel. It’s never easy. But we’ll figure this out, just like we always do. There’s an answer, a solution, we just have to find it. You’re lucky, not talented, remember?”
We share a laugh, and then he says, “This is what you need to know.”
Chapter 5 – The Library of Babel
“This is what you need to know,” I say to my younger self. I used to be such a young, tough bastard.
His hair is long, pitch black, just like I used to keep until this very night. His cheeks are shiny, his chin and nose without age spots, moles or wrinkles. He wears that old combination of sweater on buttoned shirt. He’s still lean though I know he hides his lovehandles well.
Are there not laws of temporal paradox I am breaking which could lead to the irrevocable collapse of the universe?
Well, so far so good.
I look around my holo-sphere, the glass room where I live, eat, breathe, and shit. I miss our old home, small and overpriced but enough, enough for two people and maybe a few more. I miss our weekend trips to Napa, Saratoga, Santa Cruz, even San Francisco, a city I never enjoyed but made endurable, made beautiful with the holding of a hand, a touch of a shoulder, tender lips on chilled cheeks.
Memories which once warmed the heart but now stab the gut.
“First, look in the book and see what the next few pages are after chapter thirty three,” I instruct him. He brings out the book and starts flipping through the pages. It chills me to see the book. It looks like all the others.
“It has everything up to us meeting and then the next few pages are blacked out, like some CIA redacted file. But the text reappears on Chapter 34-” he says.
“Don’t read any further!” I shout back. He shuts the book immediately. ”Do you really want to know your future?”
“Won’t understanding the future-?”
“No, it won’t. It will just depress you.” His eyes stare at me. Now he’s scared.
He doesn’t have to know. He doesn’t have to know the frantic emails asking for help, the empty bottles of crown royal, the hiring of investigators, the bribing of ex-agency hacks, the empty bottles of melatonin, the nights staying up reading and emailing and calling and sobbing, the notices from the bank, the foreclosure, the “developmental plan” at work, the last one on one with the boss, the gorging for a week on dutch chocolate cake and french fries and burritos, the later hospitalization and nutrient transfusion for not eating for five days, the interviews ending with I’m sorry and Good Luck, the savings and checking and 401K accounts dripping to zero, the anniversaries spent on the side of the Golden Gate bridge, the purchase of the pistol, the aiming of the pistol, the disposal of the pistol, the rediscovery of Andrew’s time module, the realization it might change, it could change, if he could send the note, if he could send the instructions, if he could remember the time, the date, the year.
He doesn’t have to know. Because this doesn’t have to happen again. We can alter my past, his future.
“What if this book is just a fake? So it got a few details right…who cares? The future text could be entirely made up-” he says.
“This book is real, and true. It was selected from the Library of Babel,” I reply
“Library of Babel? Wait…isn’t that a fiction novel? A reference in an old economics book I once read. It’s just an idea.”
“No, it’s quite real. In 2035, the Mittal Corporation created one. It was just a matter of time.” The Library of Babel was originally an idea dreamed up by the novelist Jorges Luis Borges. This library contains every book (at 410 page books and no duplicates) ever written, along with every book ever to be written. It is the universal collection of all written text ever created, with books containing every known combination of text and punctuation. Therefore this library is over 99.999999999999% gibberish, filled with books of typos and meaningless texts. But hidden in the mess are also one perfect version of the Bible, one version of Hamlet, the screenplay to the Usual Suspects, any complete novels, anything written of meaning and poignant to the human psyche.
And, of course, the Library includes every autobiography of every person who ever lived and who will ever live.
Such a library is impressively large, multiples larger than the number of atoms in the universe. But the key point is that the library is not infinite in scale – because there are no duplicates, the size of this library has a boundary. It was impractical to create given the storage and computation needs necessary just to host. But by 2035, with the advent of quantum CPU’s and atomic storage lattices, a retired Indian billionaire, Mr. Mittal, decided to fund such an effort.
“But even if you built such a library,” Yujin-28 reasoned,” it would be useless as an entity. Search and discovery would be effectively infinite to filter through all the junk and find a book of coherence.”
“That would be true,” I replied, “if the Tuchman algorithm wasn’t discovered and enabled targeted search and retrieval of books within the library. The mathematics involve some sort of quantum simplification process which makes the library accessible via a name and semantic search process.”
“So someone created a Library of Babel. So what. It doesn’t mean the book is true. It could just be a flawed version which looks exactly like my life. It’s just a digital facsimile, nothing more.”
“Conceptually that’s correct but you don’t understand Tuchman postlife determinant theory. For reasons beyond my comprehension, autobiographies cannot be discovered nor published till after the death of the subject. Once the subject has passed on, search and query of the Library will commence with the correct retrieval of the subject’s autobiography.”
“That’s why you were so upset.”
“Yes. Whoever sent you that autobiography could only search and publish it after my death. That person then sent it back to you. Which means my death is imminent.” I stared at my younger self, wondering if he truly believed what was happening.
“But why go through all this trouble in the first place? Why send me a book after my death all the way back in time?”
“The answer to that question, like to most of humanity’s problems, is simple. Money.”
“Money? Someone wants to buy or sell my autobiography?”
“You don’t know the future and how things have changed. We live more or less in a near utopia, as least compared to your standards. Food is plentiful due to synthetic manufacturing, products are instantly ideated and produced through advanced 3D printing, nanomachines keep us safe and healthy, robots perform the boring labor of old…things are fantastic. And life couldn’t be more boring.”
“Boring? You’ve achieve the pinnacle of human progress!”
“Yeah well one version of it. The byproduct is that there’s little drama left in real life. Stories, e-texts, music, movies, holo-screens, VRaptures, they’re all quite awful. The media industry has declined not from lack of technology but simply lack of compelling stories. There are no stakes and therefore no drama.
“But autobiographies are all the rage. The mysticism of discovering a book of a man or woman’s real life after they’ve passed, written in his or her own words. Someone discovered these first books and they were blockbusters, literally billions sold. The new publishing houses tried to replicate the model but they soon discovered most autobiographies, as poignant and important as they are to the author, are mundane and stupid. Most lives are lived in not quiet desperation but meaningless monotony.”
“I would describe our life, until this moment, as largely that – somewhat boring and predictable,” he replied, a puzzled look on his face.
“And that’s the point. Some hackers – I believe that’s your term – discovered a black market alternative.
“They would disrupt the timeline of a real person, force that person to endure some terrible trauma, all in the hopes of creating an interesting autobiography.”
“Life imitating art,” he said.
“No,” I replied. ”This isn’t fucking art. This is real life. You lose Verna, I get killed, and you regret tonight every day for the rest of your life.”