Book: The Time Traveler's Almanac

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Genevieve Valentine

It’s a mistake to go. Let’s start there.

If you insist, there are some things you’re better off knowing.

*   *   *

Jumpsuits. Jumpsuits for Forward motion.

Now you’re thinking about some movies you’ve seen or some ads you’ve read on the rail about a future where everyone’s in skin-tight white. You snickered at how silly it looked, or admired how immaculate, this world where no one is ever carrying coffee and no one sweats and if they have subways instead of personal transport pods then the train cars get wiped down every ten minutes, and nothing ever touches you.

If that’s why you’re traveling Forward, you should rethink.

Cleanliness is for the people who can afford it. Whatever future you jump to (and the ads are incorrect, there’s never just the one), on whatever orbiting body you end up, there is going to be a ruling class, and you are not going to be in it.

The numbers are against you, and the future’s a treacherous place even if this isn’t your very first jump. Even if you chanced it with a bespoke bioluminescent evening ensemble and lucked out in the right climate to sustain it and enchanted the right social echelon so that they’d take a stranger in to dinner, running with the rich and the beautiful is more than you’re ready for.

(If you run with them now, congratulations, and it’s no wonder that you’re aiming high, but the practicals will undermine you in ways no one has trained you to think of. Depending where you land, the bios that make up your jacket have a labor union, and you’re screwed for keeping them out past sunset without paying overtime. Be safe. Stay low.)

You need work boots that don’t jog anybody’s memory; you need a jumpsuit, unmarked and dark and baggy, with some pockets outside and some pockets inside where no one can reach. The future isn’t safe. Have a backup plan strapped to your thigh.

If you think that means a weapon, rethink.

*   *   *

Backward isn’t any better, to be honest.

You have to be able to aim before you can plan for the journey, and your first time will be a wash, no matter what they tell you. Nervous people end up on the outskirts of remote Viking camps or out too far in the Dead Sea and have to use their callback in a hurry.

Don’t worry. Sensors get sharper every day, and any couture house worth its salt has a satisfaction guarantee. (Give no money to an establishment that won’t accommodate.) House of Lewis, the now-vanished icon of the trade, distilled theirs into only six words: “Come back. Look forward. Start again.”

Remember that moving through time is a skill; no matter who’s holding your hand when that bright machine powers up, there are no chauffeurs for what this is.

*   *   *

When you’re headed Backward, wear natural fibers only. Rayon gets you burned as a witch if you’re not careful.

A long linen tunic will pass about sixty-five percent of the time. If caught out, claim you were set upon and divested of the rest. It’s a prime opportunity to appreciate the immersive experience of being in another place and time as you do labor to earn other garments.

(There are no guarantees that even that cover story will work; the world’s a funny thing. You’ll be all right in Cleopatra’s Egypt, but if you land in feudal Japan and they slice you open for disrespecting the presence of the Emperor, you’re on your own.)

Your second-best bet is wool. Wool isn’t fancy, but you shouldn’t be – sumptuary laws shoot to kill, in some places. Make your sleeves wider than you think you’ll need, hems longer than you think is safe. You’ll be surprised how cold nights can get in the Andes. You’re traveling light; every half-yard of wool you can use is your insurance.

Silk is softer, sometimes finer, but a risk. Make sure your Arabic or Hindi or Chinese dialects are up to snuff, and even then, be prepared to claim the garment is a gift from someone who’s dead, and to peel it off to give whoever’s asking.

Adornments of any kind should stay out of sight until you have the lay of the land. No exceptions. It doesn’t matter when you are or who you’re trying to impress. There are no definitive census numbers regarding those Travelers who go missing, killed every year on the roadside, or in alleys, or in dark rooms by someone who knows you’re a stranger and will never be missed. No Travel agency is willing to release them.

Think about why that is; leave anything that glitters out of sight.

*   *   *

It’s impossible to disappear into your dress.

Everything you wear betrays you – its make, its cost, its cut, its age. Why you have it, or why you don’t. Think what a thin gold band on a single finger means; where you’re going, wherever that is, every stitch will give you away.

You might – if you’re confident enough to jump, if you aim as you hoped, if you land where you’re powerful – be in a place where you can almost disappear. A man in a well-cut dark grey suit can go fifty years from now in either direction, across thousands of miles, and avoid the sort of notice that gets you pointed out to constables.

(It’s easy when you’re powerful. Anything is. If that’s the reason you’re traveling local, rethink.)

In eighteenth-century France, a heel less than two inches high is for a man with aspirations past his abilities. An Ethiopian habesha kemis in white signals a guest at a formal occasion. A man in Tokyo in 1872 is a toady or a traitor, whether he wears a kimono or a waistcoat. An unmarried Russian wears her kokoshnik open in the back, and to close it claims a thing you might not mean.

Clothes speak for you; go carefully.

*   *   *

The Persians invented cotton underwear several centuries BC. Maybe start there.

*   *   *

Two hundred years from now, they say, our clothes will be loose and woven through with UVB, cocoons of safety from an ever-warmer sun.

Everyone who goes Forward has said it; whatever future they come from, we’re more doomed then.

*   *   *

It’s a mistake to go.

*   *   *

Don’t wear or carry anything on the cutting edge. You can always explain something a little out of fashion, but rarely can you pass off the new.

If you mention a technology (a fabric, a color, a concept) that doesn’t exist, and someone questions you, say, “I saw it on a card.” Carry a handful of cigarette cards or postcards or cartes des visites with you in a silver case, and sift through them a moment as if it was just there and you’re hoping to find it. Everyone will think you’re eccentric, but that’s better than the alternative.

If you’re somewhen without cards, say, “I heard it from a traveler.” If you’re in small or far-away places, be prepared to describe someone specific. Make them old; soldiers rarely go after those who sound as if they’re about to die on their own.

If all else fails, say, “I saw it in a dream.”

People will believe that. They’ll expect you to have strange dreams. Anywhere you go will be neck-deep in superstition, but taken one at a time, people aren’t fools. Wherever you end up, they know already that you’re odd; they can tell you’re not theirs.

*   *   *

Black is a color of sophistication, except when it’s the color of death. Forward travelers in black might be given responsibilities beyond what they can guess; black is the color of a judge’s robes. Black is the color of plague doctors, of people to be taken very seriously.

Red is the color of blood, the color of a hundred feuding houses you’ll never be able to keep straight; it’s the color of fishing boats you can’t steer, the banner of allies who won’t reach you in time.

Where purple exists, it’s the color of kings. Don’t even think about it.

Green is the color of forest outlaws and spring kimono; it’s a color of starting over. It’s the color of messengers and the Holy Roman Empire. Optimists and armies wear green.

Blue is the color of mystics, the color of weddings, the color of dresses meant to call rain down on the grass. Blue you can make without worry for a throne; blue is safe, as colors go.

White is the color of purity, except when it’s the color of mourning. It indicates an absence; it’s the color of unfinished things. It’s the color of all those sleek, cold spaces we haven’t built yet, made for people to stand in and never touch.

Grey is the safest color. It’s the color of being undecided; it’s the color of never quite belonging, but having no loyalties that might be of concern. It’s the color of strangers who have come alone.

*   *   *

Never pick up a watch. Their usefulness is deceptive. Watches are sentimental things, given from people who care about time passing to people who get sensitive about every wasted second. Every watch is a reminder of death. Whoever you steal it from will know it’s missing; there will be complications.

Whoever has a watch like that is the sort of person you fall in love with. It’s hard not to love a person who can sense what matters.

Whoever has a watch like that will find a way to get it back. Keep time some other way.

*   *   *

There are things, amid the shoes without lefts and rights and the folding of a sari and the way to wrap a fur to outlast the Mongolian cold, that you will have to accept.

Any time someone jumps, a past or a future bursts open. That person comes back from a world that didn’t exist before, might never again. The How-To posters you see on the street with their clean lines and destinations stamped in circles like subway stops are Art Deco propaganda, and mean nothing.

Those who jump pull everything apart, if they manage to hold on to it at all. No matter how quiet and careful you try to be, the cut has been made, and when you callback, whatever you’ve done either ruins us in ways we can’t know, or vanishes. If you’re going to jump, accept this.

(Don’t love anyone, whatever you do. When you leave them behind, it’s either to a nightmare or oblivion.

It’s a mistake to go.)

There are no lines; there might be circles, or loops, or just holes. Don’t think about it. It’s important not to think about it. You can get trapped on your way back, if you have doubts while you’re traveling.

From there to home is a delicate process; if you doubt it at all, you’ll disappear.

Come back. Look forward. Start again.

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