I had dropped by at Harry’s second-hand bookstore, because I tend to find interesting stuff there. Harry mostly carries rare editions and collector’s items, and on occasion he has special offers. He knows what his customers like and draws their attention to it.
“Take a look at this,” he said, holding up a copy of a DVD titled The Sinking of the Titanic.
“What is it?” I asked.
“It’s something brand new,” he replied. “It’s part of a new series of historical documentaries. Authentic footage, not yet officially available. I managed to lay hands on a number of copies. So far they’ve been doing well. If I were you, I wouldn’t hesitate too long if you’re into this sort of thing. Take a look at the rest of them. You’ll be amazed.”
I picked up another volume in the same series, titled The Trojan War.
“Authentic footage of the Trojan War?” I asked. “You’re joking, right?”
“Not at all,” Harry said. “They developed this technique to capture light in space. You must have heard about it.”
“Wait a minute. I remember an article in the Saturday supplement of my paper a while ago. It said that when we see the moon, it’s actually light reflected off the moon’s surface that we’re capturing. If we were standing on the moon and looked at the earth, we would basically see the light reflected off the earth a few light-seconds ago. If we were one light-year away, we’d see the light reflected a year ago, and so on.”
“Exactly. They developed this technique to capture the light that was reflected off the earth’s surface and is still travelling outward into space. State of the art recording and enhancement techniques allow them to come up with decent authentic footage of events that happened on earth in the past. Now, this technique is still in its experimental stages, and these discs contain material that is not supposed to be on the market yet, if you see what I mean.”
“You mean you’re charging quite a bit of money for what’s basically unauthorised material.”
“This stuff is indeed pretty expensive, but you’ll get value for your money. Take a look. There’s something for every taste here.”
I glanced at the titles of a few other volumes: The Crusades, The Crucifixion, The Construction of the Pyramids, The Big Bang, and others.
“I have my doubts about some of these,” I said. “Authentic footage of the Big Bang? Come on! I don’t think this is a series of Historical Documentaries, even if some authentic footage may have been used for these recordings. This is a commercial venture, not a scientific one, right?”
“Yes, but as I said, none of these are official releases. They don’t come with an authenticity certificate. In some cases you should allow for artistic license.”
“Especially in this case, I presume?” I held up a copy of The Big Farewell Party at the End of Time. “Not quite one hundred percent authentic, I gather? Not quite historical either?”
“This is one of the fastest selling titles in the series,” Harry replied. “As you apparently understand, it features a more light-hearted approach than the rest. Some people claim they spotted Elvis in certain scenes.”
“I’m not surprised, Elvis has been spotted about everywhere since he died.”
While I looked at the material, I thought: had Harry been serious about these so-called historical documentaries? I had indeed read an article about experiments involving the light reflected off the earth that was still travelling outward in space. In theory it could be captured and recordings might be made of past events on earth. If a working technology could be developed, one day we might indeed see footage of the dinosaurs walking the earth. Or of anything else people would have an interest in. I was thinking of recordings that might fetch high prices, such as private moments in the lives of celebrities. Criminals would never be sure anymore that their activities would go unnoticed. No one, for that matter, would enjoy a moment of privacy anymore. This thing might radically change all aspects of society.
If this technique were ever perfected, it would be a great time for historians. But it would be the end of privacy.
I picked up The Big Farewell Party at the End of Time and noticed it was volume # 17 in the series. All the titles had a number, and to my surprise The Big Bang was # 18.
“Shouldn’t this one be # 1 in the series?” I asked. “Isn’t the Big Bang supposed to be the beginning of the universe? Unless the Big Bang follows the end of the universe, starting a new cosmological cycle. Does this mean that time runs in never-ending cycles? Or is this just a marketing ploy?”
Harry simply shrugged. He clearly hadn’t paid much attention to this idea.
My mind was reeling. Did these discs have the answers to the big questions of life? Did they offer the key to unlock the mystery of the universe? Were they scientifically accurate? Or was all this just an elaborate hoax? There was only one way to find out.
“I’ll buy these two,” I said. I still had serious doubts about the scientific accuracy of the series, but at least its marketing ploys seemed to work.
Frank Roger was born in 1957 in Ghent, Belgium. His first story appeared in 1975. Since then his stories have appeared in an increasing number of languages in all sorts of magazines, anthologies and other venues, and since 2000, story collections have been published, also in various languages. Apart from fiction, he also produces collages and graphic work in a surrealist and satirical tradition. By now he has more than 700 short story publications (including a few short novels) to his credit in 30 languages. Critics describe his work as a blend of genres and styles: fantasy, satire, surrealism, science fiction and black humour.