Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Night Work

Night work has some very serious liabilities associated with it, and rightfully so. Trying to reset an internal clock is difficult at best, and the first night out is pure hell. I’m accustomed to going to bed around ten or so, maybe doing some writing before then, but by and large the closer to midnight it gets the more geared towards sleep I get. Perversely, I’m pretty much set at getting up between five and five thirty, and now that is what time I get off work.
The array of chemical weapons at my disposal is legion. My coffee is famous for both its high caffeine content and its ability to wipe out fire any colonies after one application. There are no-doz pills. There are energy drinks. There are Goody’s powders and if you live in a part of the country where they do not sell Goody’s powders, you may as well just start packing now. Get the red ones.
Yet I do realize this is a mistake. If I’m amped up when I get off work them I won’t be able to sleep and that will suck. I have to ride out this first night without any help at all. If I am to survive night work then I have to shift my clock as quickly as possible, and that means being half-dead by the time five rolls around.
Yet there are some benefits also. Night work means there will be no one else around. It means less traffic. It means I can be in a world all by own for hours on end. We’re milling up the old asphalt from a road and the machine makes a terrible racket. I put on hearing protection and the possibility of interrupted thought drops to near zero. The crew has been working together so long they communicate mostly through hand signals. They forget I’m around, and I can drop into a sort of zombie state as long as everything is going well, and it does.
The milling machine has a huge rotating drum with teeth on the outside of it that tears the road up, and throws the millings onto a conveyor belt that moves it to the bed of a semi truck. A truck backs up with no lights and I’m reminded there is peril here. The problem is a loose connection and the driver gets a warning not to come back without getting it checked. I write down the driver’s name and the truck number, and his foreman takes note that I’m taking notes. The machine roars and moves forward, times doesn’t roar, and creeps.
The milling crew is a sub contractor, but I like the way they work. They all carry small blinking lights on their hardhats. The man who guides the trucks back carries a large flashlight with a red cone on it. Watching them is fun because they’re good, and no matter what the profession, anyone doing a good job cannot be very boring. I check the depth of the milling and they check behind me, and I check behind them when they check it. We’re putting down new asphalt tomorrow, well someone else will, and how deep we mill is how deep the new asphalt will be. At a hundred bucks a ton, this is important.
At midnight I feel like death warmed over. Five hours to go and I’ve got a bad case of stumbles. My boots feel heavy. My face feels heavy. I fight off the urge to sit in the truck. The milling machine lumbers on slowly and eats asphalt. The crew tends to it and they forget I’m there. A short stories brews in my head, and I cannot flesh it out. That sounds odd, I know, but think of an idea for a story like finding an egg on the ground. You know something is inside but you do not know what. This one I work on, think about, and try to figure out what it is. Yes, it’s science fiction, I can tell that now, time travel, okay, but what? The story forms around a man who discovers aliens in the jungle of South America. They’ve been living there for quite some time, hidden from all humans, and one of them, curious about who and what he is, takes him in and heals his wounds. The man is a Nazi hunter, looking for evidence the Nazis came to South America to set up a colony. The alien offers to send the man back into time so he can kill Hitler, and the man gladly accepts. The alien warns the man that time travel is inexact, and he will only be able to go back within a range of years, not a certain date. The man winds up in Germany in 1936, kills Hitler, and to his horror, his followers set him up as a martyr and things go even worse than had he lived.
The alien brings him back and he’s shaken by the experience. Graciously, the alien offers to send him back again, when Hitler was a child, and he think this is the way to go. But this time Stalin runs amok because there isn’t a Hitler to slow him down. With a weakened Germany, the Soviets sack Europe easily, and America turns to isolationism.
The alien brings the man back again, and once more offers him a chance to change history. Yet the man is at a loss to understand how now, and realizes the alien hasn’t really sent him back in time, but merely given him the illusion of it. The alien then shows him how different events in time might have changed the future, but now always as we might have thought it would have.

The story is okay, but it is just scaffolding at this point. How many people would go back and kill a ten-year-old Hitler if they had the chance? Would something worse than Hitler rise up? Would people think perhaps Stalin as the ultimate evil? What if a changed past because unstable were it altered, and nothing that had been would be again?
A car with a flat tire brings me back to the present. We help the man change the tire, and it’s only three in the morning. Two more hours and my brain doesn’t work anymore.
Take Care,
Mike

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