A short story by Jon Christopher.
This story was originally titled “Press The Record Button” and submitted to several magazines earlier this year. After having it rejected I decided to re-edit it, gave it a new title, a slightly different ending, and to post it here to celebrate the 36th anniversary of the release of the first Star Wars movie on May 25, 1977.
The future was just a radio signal away…
Jonathan rapidly spun the tuning knob of the bulky shortwave radio sitting on the desk in front of him. He was scanning the AM band, moving from one top forty radio station to another trying to find his song. At the moment that song was the Meco #1 hit – Star Wars Theme / Cantina Band.
It was the fall of 1977, and Jonathan had just entered 8th grade, but Star Wars was what was really on his mind. The movie had come out in May and had changed everything for him. Jonathan had been a childhood Trekkie, but that was nothing compared to the impact Star Wars had on him. Since he had seen it for the first time – and he had seen it over twenty times by the time summer ended – it was just about all he thought about, all the time.
And now there was a song out on the radio (yeah it was disco and disco sucked, but this was Star Wars) with the theme song from Star Wars that included really cool laser sounds and R2D2 beeping, light saber sound and other sounds from the movie.
Jonathan was hunting for the song to capture it with a tape recorder. He had been doing it all Saturday afternoon – tuning from station to station trying to catch the song from the beginning so he could get a really good recording. He was sitting at his desk in his room. Most of the desk surface was taken over by the large, post-World War II era shortwave radio. His dad had bought it at a garage sale, but Jonathan had convinced his dad to let him keep it on his desk in his room.
Jonathan had constructed a spider-web like antenna array tacked up on the wall behind his desk. He was sure this helped him get better reception. He also kept his parent’s tape recorder sitting next to the speaker on the side of the shortwave radio to record things he heard. Often times he recorded the various foreign voices that came through the static just because they sounded so strange. Today he was using the tape recorder for a more basic need – capturing a pop music song.
So far he had recorded the song twice, but not completely. One time he had captured the end of the song, and once he got it about halfway through. He had been at it for several hours and his mind was starting to play games with him, offering suggestions like, “If you take a break for exactly 5 minutes then all the radio stations will reset and you’ll get your song” and “first tune to 10-Q and then over the KHJ, then quickly to the Spanish language station on the right end of the dial, then back to 10-Q” and so on.
After awhile of this Jonathan decided to take a short, five minute break and cruise the shortwave bands. The radio had three different shortwave bands which Jonathan would slowly scan from one end to the other, using the fine tuning knob when he found something interesting to bring the signal in even better. The eclectic mix of sounds and static as he moved across the dial was both interesting and soothing at the same time.
Near the end of his five minute break a voice came through the static, “Jonathan, press the record button on your tape recorder.”
Jonathan stopping turning the tuning dial.
After a couple of seconds the same adult, male voice repeated itself, “Jonathan, press the record button on your tape recorder.”
Jonathan pushed the record button on the tape recorder.
“Jonathan, I am going to tell you some very important information. This information will affect your whole life from this moment forward. Before we go on I must point out that what I am going to share with you must never – NEVER – be shared with anyone. No one but you can know these things. If anyone finds out you will be a dead man (or worse). Tell no one. Trust no one. Again. Tell no one. Trust no one.”
Jonathan’s adrenalin was kicking into high gear. He quickly got up and made sure the door to his room was closed as the voice continued.
“Jonathan. I am you, but I am 52 years old now. The year I’m living in is 2016. Many things have gone wrong in the world since I was your age, things I wish I could have done something about but couldn’t. I never had enough leverage, enough money, enough power to be one of the people that helped shape the world. When I was your age Jonathan I thought I would be one of those people…”
Jonathan knew exactly what he meant. He saw himself as someone who could be a politician or a judge or something when he grew up.
“Jonathan, what I have in mind to do is to give you the keys to the future, and the ability to change my current reality at the same time. If you make the changes I have in mind while you grow to be my age, together we could change the structure of the world.”
Jonathan didn’t quite comprehend what “himself” was saying, but the voice did sound vaguely like his own voice when he heard it recorded. He sat listening as the voice from the future continued.
“I am going to tell you somethings that will happen in your future, my own past, so you can use this knowledge for financial gain. I’m going to give you stock picks, market trends, lottery numbers, World Series winners, Presidential winners – everything you need to be one step ahead of everyone else.
We have several problems to take care of to make this work for us. The first problem is every bit of information I give you will start to change my own world. Our existences are entangled, and just your knowledge of these future events will change my present, your future. I have run extensive computer models to make sure we do this right. I have concluded that only by introducing certain ideas in a certain order, spread out over a certain period of time can we make these changes without completely messing the whole thing up. This is a delicate operation, but I know you Jonathan, and I know we can do it.”
Jonathan was overwhelmed at this point. His mind whirled on the impossibly of his situation. The voice continued.
“I’m going to give you a set of dates and events in a series of three broadcasts. We have to let a short period of time pass between the broadcasts so we don’t make errors we can’t fix in the next broadcast.
Remember – never, ever share these broadcasts with anyone. If even one other person knows, everything will change in ways we do not know nor can we predict.”
Jonathan from the future then read off a list of events, dates, and subjects for Jonathan to pay attention to at certain points in his life. He gave him companies to invest in, ways to get the money he’d need to invest, people he would need to know and ways to know them – for 20 minutes he gave him the basic insider’s guide to the next 39 years of American culture, politics, business and finance.
At the end of reading the list the voice from the future told Jonathan the next broadcast would be the following Saturday afternoon, at the same time and on the same frequency. And then the voice faded into static. Jonathan hit the stop button on the tape recorder.
Jonathan went over and laid down on his bed. He felt like he had the biggest knot of secrets in the world had just been buried in his chest. He pulled his blanket over himself and tried to digest this massive new perspective on life.
As the next few days passed, Jonathan kept going over the recording on the tape. He made lists of all the information he had been told in a spiral notebook. He wrote “Science Notes” on the cover so no one would want to look in it. He spent long hours wondering what all of this would mean for him, what kind of person would he become? His family had never had much money, so most of Jonathan’s thoughts about the future hovered around daydreams of having lots of money.
None of the information about companies, stocks, financial insider news he received would be relevant until after he turned eighteen in 1982, which gave him a few years to get himself ready. But already he knew that next year the New York Yankees would defeat the Los Angeles Dodgers in the 1978 World Series and the year after that the Pittsburgh Pirates would win the series.
He knew Ronald Reagan would be the next president and after him would be his vice president George Bush, followed by someone named Bill Clinton and then George Bush’s son, George W. Bush, Jr. He knew that in 2008 we elected – would elect – our first black president, someone named Barack Obama.
He knew punk rock music (something he had been hearing about on the news) would be important, and so would bands named U2, Nirvana, and Radiohead – along with a whole list of some other bands.
The mass of the information, most of it was social and cultural news, sports scores, and lottery results, with some stuff about companies like Apple and Mircosoft thrown in (two companies he should invest in later on) gave Jonathan more than enough to think about during the week while he looked forward to the next broadcast.
He also kept in mind what the voice from the future had told him, “Be very careful. Don’t let anyone know you have inside information. They will kill you before you have time to even get scared. You will be dealing with ruthless people – people who deal in large sums of money and move the levers of power. This is not a game. You could mess up and get killed… I mean it. Serious. Be very careful.”
The voice had repeated phrases like that throughout the message and it deeply troubled Jonathan. He took the warnings to heart and locked all the knowledge he had into his brain. He memorized the lists of future events.
Thirty nine years in the future things were starting to change around Jonathan. His computer models had predicted this change, this reality flux. For the first twenty four hours after the broadcast new realities overlaid the present reality until a new storyline had unfolded in waves around the globe and shot off into the Universe.
If you didn’t know it was happening you wouldn’t even have noticed. Peoples minds were suddenly full of different thoughts as their life morphed along with the rest of reality. Everyone’s mind held just the information they needed to fit the new reality, the new storyline. It was seamless unless you were watching for it. Jonathan was watching for it and he saw the moments of transformation come in waves, changing the physical surroundings, filling the people’s awareness with the current paradigm and where they fit in the new storyline.
Jonathan knew where he fit in the current paradigm. His small corporation, TriUnion – just 7 employees yesterday – was now the 7th largest corporate conglomerate in the world. A sprawling multinational with interests in projects around the world, and somewhere around 3 million employees worldwide, all overnight. And no one seemed to notice.
Jonathan had planned it this way, or at least his computer models had shown him this was the most likely outcome for the kind of meddling he was doing with the past. He planned on letting the earth spin around a couple more times to make sure this new reality was solid before he made his next broadcast. Everything was based on how much the thirteen year old Jonathan in 1977 really believed what he was told. His simple belief that he knew the future was the source of the waves changing the current reality.
For the last 8 years Jonathan had been running his models on large arrays of computers, networked together to form a vast, focused, silicon entity whose single purpose was to help Jonathan figure out how to send a message to himself in the past. For twenty years every single thing he had done had been with building this project in mind. For this one application. And then he was going to destroy all his machines, his notes, every bit of evidence this project ever existed. By the time he completed his third broadcast every bit of the old world would have been swept away and no one would even notice it happening – and along with it would go the memory of this project.
This first step was going very good. The changes were in line with some of his most optimistic models. He knew how his mind worked, and he knew just what he needed to say to his younger self to push and pull the world into the direction he wanted. He was his own best partner, and the only one he could really trust. He felt like a puppet master, and he really liked that feeling. He felt confident he could push the size of the information lists in the next broadcast to the model’s limits. In the next broadcast he would tell his younger self in the past the dangerous truths about the future.
On Saturday Jonathan was set up with the tape recorder by the shortwave radio. He hadn’t moved the dial all week and it was still set to the same frequency. It always played the same sound – static – until around 4:00 in the afternoon, when the static cleared and a voice came through, “Jonathan, press the record button on your tape recorder.”
Jonathan pushed the record button on the tape recorder and the new tape in the machine started recording the shortwave broadcast.
The voice repeated itself, “Jonathan, press the record button on your tape recorder.”
“First off, I have to congratulate you Jonathan on doing a great job since the last broadcast. The changes here have been almost beyond my best wishes, but I knew you wouldn’t fail me. You have given me every confidence to move on to the hardest part of this process. I believe you are now able to know some of the disasters which lay ahead and how we can avoid them.”
The voice from the future proceeded to tell the story of the next four decades of American history from the point of view of someone who had been on the inside of the secret shadow government. He knew the ones behind the scenes who controlled the ones who controlled the world. Jonathan’s life had led him very deep down the rabbit hole of conspiracies, secret societies, mystery cults, esoteric knowledge and an insider’s view on just about every major international incident since 1990.
Jonathan was shocked. He could hardly believe what he was hearing. None of it made sense to him. It seemed too large for him, yet here he was with his 39 year older self telling him what he is going to live thru… and it sounded like a nightmare.
Towards the end of the 45 minute broadcast the voice from the future started to give some hopeful information about how to navigate this strange future. The broadcast then ended with about a minute of modulated high-frequency warbles and squawks. The voice from the future had said to record all the way to the end, until the static starts. This information was vital and needed to be preserved.
Jonathan’s brain was spinning once again from the onslaught of information. All of the hopeful advice at the end was buried under an avalanche of phrases like “War on Drugs”, “War on Terror”, “9/11”, “Homeland Security”, “Drug testing”, “Just Say No”, “Just Do It”, ”Greed is good”, “Iran-Contra” – none of it made sense to Jonathan.
He played the tape over and over. He made his lists of the future events and dates. He memorized. His imagination spun. Still, none of it made sense – like he didn’t have all the pieces to this jigsaw puzzle. No matter how hard he tried, it still wouldn’t form into a complete picture, but he still had a pretty good guesstimation about how things might work out.
From Jonathan’s lists he had all the information he needed, and he assumed he’d know what to do with it when the time came. He definitely knew he was going to do some betting on World Series games. And he had a whole list of lottery numbers – billions in winnings over the 4 decades. But he knew he had to be smart. The voice had told him that over and over. He couldn’t let anyone ever catch on to the fact he knows the future.
As an answer to the confusion of all this new information, Jonathan started thinking about how he was going to live in the future. There were many subjects he was going to have to learn, specializations to develop, people to meet, contacts to be made, jobs to do, machines to build. He had thirty nine years to become himself.
After the second broadcast was made the waves of change came fast and intense. The broadcast had definitely reached it’s target once again, and the acceptance level was extremely high. Jonathan watched as the next few days played-out in a quick series of shifting realities. From one hour to the next whole companies rose and fell, countries went to war, peace was declared and then bombs exploded again. A strange “lurching about” of realities was going on, which started to make some of the more sensitive people in the general population feel like today was one of those really weird days – lots of synchronicities.
One reality replaced another in waves as the world spun around until some 72 hours later when a new consensual reality was finally achieved.
Jonathan found himself right where his models had shown him. His young accomplice had worked out even better than he could have imagined. He was just one broadcast away from completing his project and remaking the world in his own ideas, like some self-appointed god.
Of course, Jonathan didn’t quite see it like that. He was one of the good guys, out to save humanity from itself. He had sacrificed his whole life to get to this point. Already 9/11 had been prevented by his latest broadcast. The financial crisis of 2008 was averted along with many other road blocks to a better society. What could be wrong with that? Not only that, but no one was harmed. No one even knew it was happening, except Jonathan.
With all his self-justification in mind, Jonathan prepared for the last broadcast. This one would change everything – finally and permanently. His models had shown him that the next broadcast he was going to send was going to collapse the collective human consciousness and rebuild it in a little under a nano-second, faster than the blink of an eye. One moment there would be all this, and in the next, there would be, literally, “a new heaven and a new earth.”
The computer models had shown it would work, and the models had been right during the previous two broadcasts. The models showed what would happen next, and Jonathan was prepared to take the step, the responsibility, the duty of being the one person who changed everything.
But then, 89 hours after the second broadcast, Jonathan’s network of computers unexpectedly shut down and re-booted themselves. A blue screen with a single line of text showed on every computer on the network:
“Jonathan, do not send the third broadcast.”
Jonathan got an uneasy feeling he might now be on the receiving end of same thing young Jonathan had just gone through. The message changed after a few minutes:
“Jonathan, we were wrong. We made a big mistake. Don’t send the last broadcast!”
The warning message stayed on the computer screens for the next hour before suddenly disappearing with the system returning to it’s normal status. Jonathan wondered why they had just sent a message instead of disabling his machines – they seemed to have that kind of control over his network.
Who was doing this? Was it himself in the future sending this message, or someone else? He knew that in the future he would remember all his old network passwords – his whole system was wide open to the future versions of himself – if he went back in time and got inside his computer network. But what if it was someone else – someone from a future version of this current reality trying to stop him from destroying their world?
It took Jonathan weeks to decided what to do about the third broadcast. The blue screen message never returned. Whoever had contacted him from the future (he was assuming it was from the future) hadn’t tried to contact him again. Many times he had looked over his notes for his third broadcast and the final phrase that would both destroy this world, but remake it again, in a new and glorious way.
But if the blue screens were from his future, maybe they had been right, and he should do as he had done before – obey the message without questioning. But then again, what if someone else, not himself, had sent that message to deceive him and prevent him from doing what he planned on doing – what he knew he should do?
Up until now, his whole life plan had hinged on completing the series of messages to himself – to bring about a new age for all mankind – but now, he wasn’t so sure. After weeks of going back and forth he finally decided.
The body of the third message had already been sent – it had been encoded as a subliminal, hypnotic data-burst message at the end of the second message. All that needed to be done now was to send a third message with the key phrase to unlock the data already stored in young Jonathan’s mind, fill in the gaps in his imagination and bring about the sudden shift which was needed to complete his plan.
On a Saturday afternoon in October of 1977, Jonathan sat in front of the shortwave radio. The tape recorder sitting next to the radio had a fresh tape in it. He waited patiently for 4:00 as he listened to the static on the radio. Right on schedule the voice from the future started speaking:
“Jonathan, press the record button on your tape recorder.”
Jonathan pushed the record button on the tape recorder.
After a couple of seconds the same familiar voice repeated itself, “Jonathan, press the record button on your tape recorder.”
There was a short pause.
“Jonathan, you already have the answers.” That’s all the voice said. Nothing more. It didn’t repeat itself, it just said it very plainly. In Jonathan’s mind visions of a new world began to unfold and expand.
And then the music started. It was the Star Wars Theme / Cantina Band song he had been waiting for several weeks earlier. He had forgotten all about Star Wars…
About a minute into the song it started to break-up into modulating waves of frequency shifts as if the sound was consuming itself, and then very quickly the song disappeared and was replaced by static.
Jonathan just sat there for a long while in front of the shortwave radio. The sound of static filled his room as he imagined the future.
Here’s the song Jonathan was waiting to record – Star Wars Theme / Cantina Band by Meco…
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