Sunday, 10 August 2014

The Time Patrol In Amsterdam

In the closing decades of the twentieth century:

the Amsterdam Time Patrol office is fronted by a minor export-import business with its warehouse and office in the Indische Buurt;

timecycles arrive in a secret room whose door looks like a wall to ordinary employees;

the manager, Willem Ten Brink, is Patrol chief for this part of Europe, where operations are routine;

the sector has seemed unimportant "...till now."
-Poul Anderson, Time Patrol (New York, 2006), p. 478.

What does "till now" mean? Sociologists studying Rome in the early second century AD found a mysteriously altered text of Tacitus' Histories. Janne Floris, ostensibly an administrator in Ten Brink's company, is a Patrol field agent, Specialist second class. Since her field is the Low Countries in the first century AD, the place and period covered by Tacitus, a special agent of the Patrol consults her at length in 1986. The Middle Command asks Unattached Agent Manson Everard to work with Floris because he and she are near contemporaries. Therefore, having called first Ten Brink, then Floris, Everard arrives immediately afterwards by timecycle at the Amsterdam office, speaks to Ten Brink and visits Floris in her apartment, three days after the special agent had consulted her.

But obviously "till now" does not mean "till 1986." I was puzzled by the phrase "Middle Command" until I realized that it must mean that the members of this level of command are human. They are high ranking Patrol officers who must be based in different times and places, communicating either by message shuttles or by time traveling to meet each other. Milieu headquarters is in London, 1890-1910, but obviously the Middle Command have not all crowded into that twenty year period, especially since Patrol medical treatment prevents aging.

The sociologists working in the second century sent a copy of "Tacitus Two" directly or indirectly to someone in the Middle Command. Members of that Command asked a special agent to consult Floris and also asked Everard to work with Floris. This had to happen some time during Floris' and Everard's careers and did happen in 1986 but it could have happened decades earlier or later. The problem that they have to deal with is in the first century so they could have set off to deal with it from any time in the twentieth or twenty first centuries. The phrase "till now" has lost its usual meaning.

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