Jesse Jarnow

woodstock 250

Woodstock 250
by Jesse Jarnow

“You could feel the presence of invisible time travelers from the future who had come back to see it.” – Jerry Garcia

“The fascist pigs are seeding the clouds, man.” – festival attendee in Michael Wadleigh’s “Woodstock” documentary

1.

On the bridge of the ship, the Technical Commander smiled down at the cars rolling easily up the New York State Thruway. The traffic jam hadn’t started yet. After the misalignment of the destination-location drive, they’d landed smoothly in the right year, materializing over the Finger Lakes 12 days in advance to watch the assemblage of the concert site and enjoy a leisurely cruise over the green treetops. It was all part of the package. The ship was fully stocked for up to two months of travel.

Below, in the glass-lined geosphere, he could see the ship’s dining and observation area, where most of the ship’s passengers would watch the music from a giant green hillside manicured to look like the original site, its bottommost wall a giant refraction screen focused on the stage rotating in geosynchronous orbit many miles below them. Using a combination of probes, mirrors, archival footage, pristinely restored audio, and algorithms, they could work around the impending storms and offer high-resolution real-time stage footage and sound.

Despite being mostly a fan of contemporary xxc’xxh-pop, even the Technical Commander knew that Woodstock wasn’t about the music, and he wondered idly if any of the people who’d bought the incredibly expensive tickets had smuggled drugs on board. What happened once the concert started really wasn’t his concern, though. That was when he had to do his real work. He’d enjoyed the cruise immensely, and the weather had been superb, with crystal blue summer skies unlike anything he’d ever seen in his own time. Even with the all-inclusive ticket prices being as they were, though, the new festival’s backers still required a greater return on their investment.

It was almost too bad the ship was going to have to stick around for the storms. He’d seen more than enough planetary weather disturbances in his day, many of which easily dwarfed the comparably tiny rains that were soon to arrive over White Lake. Below the ship, in the far distance, he could just make out the helicopters rising off and settling onto the landing pad behind the stage.

On the whole, he thought, the whole cruise was a somewhat frivolous use of the decidedly non-frivolous new time travel technology, even if it did have an obvious application in commercial tourism. The investors had bigger plans, and–until now–it had been the Technical Commander’s main job to run interference with the cruise’s promoter, who thought he’d thought up the whole thing himself.

They’d sent the silent probes out the previous morning, and the Technical Commander had another day to enjoy the cruise before he had to spend any real time with the observation gear. He floated into his sleep canopy and called up the holo-scan of the accompanying notes that came with a now 200-year-old release of the original festival’s recordings.

 

2.


The Technical Commander was jolted awake in the middle of his third sleep cycle by a clonk on the side of the ship. On edge anyway, he abandoned the last three hours of rest, put on his uniform quickly, gave a cursory check of his holo-ranks and encryption schema, and hurried towards the bridge via the walkway that circumnavigated the upper part of the geosphere. Even just going from his cabin to the bridge, he observed how much the party had grown. It seemed like there were two times as many revelers as when he’d retired a few hours earlier.

Before he could get to the bridge, he ran into the promoter of the cruise, long-haired and bright-eyed and wearing a spangled leather vest with no shirt beneath it. The cruise promoter didn’t say anything, but looked at the Technical Commander meaningfully and gave him an enigmatic wordless smile, grasping the Commander by the upper part of his arms and squeezing once before moving on in the direction he’d been walking.

All seemed normal on the bridge, though, with three officers monitoring the variety of atmospheric probes. They’d be invisible to anybody below, both the probes and the ship itself, their own physicality being fairly tenuous anyway.

After he confirmed on the sensors that there was nothing amiss on the hull, the Technical Commander took chance to again peer down into the geosphere. The large flat area nearest to him was filled with large tents for the cruise-goers to sleep under, if they didn’t want return to their cabins. Instead of giant striped tents, he saw clouds inside the geosphere. And, inside one of the clouds, he swore he saw a small bolt of lightning.

 

3.


As he stepped into the tall grass at the edge of the geosphere, the Technical Commander was shocked by what he saw, and he’d been present after the massacre at M’zzzzzzhhjjjj’kkh’h. At first, in fact, he thought the large fleshy shape on the ground in front of him was a flattened body-mass lump, an unfortunate but not infrequent side-effect of light-time jumps. But it turned out it was actually several bodies, not dead at all. He gasped as an arm reached out towards him and slithered tantalizingly up his leg, grasping firmly.

The Technical Commander pulled just out of the arm’s reach, realizing what he’d seen, and hurried on as several simultaneous orgasmic cries of various octaves emerged from within the lump, shrieking in delighted overtones. He turned for another look as he walked away, and an arm emerged–female, he thought–and flashed a fist of solidarity.

It was raining in the geosphere, as he’d suspected, but there were also atmospheric conditions of other sorts, including flowered marijuana smoke, prohibited on a time jump because it qualified as plant matter. But he knew it wasn’t the marijuana that was causing the precipitation. The rain was down to a drizzle, which felt warm and nice as the virtual summer day bloomed. But what shocked him more than the orgy-patch was that the field was now almost full, bodies filling the artificial hillside as far as his eye could see.

More than the smoking, the overpopulation was an impossibility, he knew, because they’d deliberately undersold the cruise in an attempt to offer the idyllic pastural experience the original promoters had failed to deliver. The Technical Commander walked down the hillside in the direction of the central viewing area. Not that festival goers on the surface could see it with the cloud cover, but–in the geosphere–the sun was coming into view around the planetary horizon, an inspiring view by itself. Another rainy day was breaking on the second day of the festival below them, some 250 years into the past.

A naked man covered in mud walked past the Technical Commander going the opposite direction, raising his eyebrows at the uniformed officer. He knew that geospheres could generate unintended rain systems, but he’d never experienced it. It was even more rare than that body flattening. And impressive. Nobody seemed to be getting hurt, he saw. They could always dry off in their cabins, if they all had cabins, and he set back up the hillside.

He made a zagging path through the festival site, which was ablaze with color and life, aiming vaguely for the hatch on the opposite site. Following the perimeter of the woods, he spied a group of people emerging from the grove of trees that stretched to the geosphere’s rear wall. The Technical Commander changed his course, and headed for wherever they were coming from. “No, there’s still a whole day before Jimi,” he heard someone explain, as he passed them. They eyed him suspiciously.

The Technical Commander followed the trail into the woods, and stepped over the battered-down fence they’d put there for verisimilitude. He heard the unmistakable whisper of electricity, a rustling in the trees, and the dropping of something heavy, which landed with a cushioned and nearly silent, mossy thump. A bearded man in t-shirt and jeans stood up groggily and looked around before walking–barefoot–past the uniformed Technical Commander, glancing as he walked by and emerged into view of the time cruise’s festival site. “Far fucking out,” the bearded man said.

 

4.


The junior officer called up another file and they scrolled furiously down the readings. The Technical Commander stood over his shoulder and glanced nervously at his communicator. It couldn’t be, but it was. The rain they collected at Woodstock–the rain they collected with their probes in the pure Catskills air, the rain they were tasked to bring home, the rain on which they depended–had chemical residues that weren’t supposed to be there.

They hadn’t been invented yet, not on Earth, anyway, byproducts of yet undiscovered alien technologies. They were–the Technical Commander couldn’t help but note–the same alien technologies being used to probe the old Earth’s atmosphere during a two-week span surrounding a rock festival in the summer of 1969. The decision to go to Woodstock had hardly been his idea, but it was the earliest date on which the Comptroller could get a firm time-handle that matched with the desires of the investors to harvest clean air from the past. It was the furthest point in the past at which they possessed enough documentation to make a fully realized jump. He cursed the producers for their thoroughness.

Once the investors had read about the festival’s history, the process had spun out of control, with all sorts of grand plans for the unveiling of the new technology back in the present day, many of which the Technical Commander couldn’t get his head around. As Woodstock became a bigger part of the picture, he’d been kept mostly out of the loop. Not that he minded. He was here to serve the original purpose of the probes that had been floating over White Lake for the past three days and nights, collecting a part of the past that could save the future’s future. The party in the geosphere was beyond both his understanding and his interest, except that it, too, had spiraled mysteriously out of control.

He continued to wonder where all those new people had come from. He’d been trying to conceptualize the correct measurements to assess for the reverse time-jump, but the readings had taken precedent. The Technical Commander tried to reassure himself that he had done what he’d come to do. The samples were safely stored and could be brought home to be extrapolated. Maybe there was some way to account for the readings.

The festival on the planet would be over soon enough, and the crowd would spread out from the Catskills around the New York area. He wished he could go back to the observation area and watch the cars disperse. He hoped the party in the geosphere was also winding down, and remembered that there was a way to monitor the action from the bridge monitor. The Technical Commander toggled over and immediately regretted it. Noise blasted from the small internal speaker on the console, a solid mass of overloaded sound, though once his ear adjusted he could make out a beat.

Switching cameras to the geosphere’s central viewing area, he discovered the source of the sound. He couldn’t get the camera to zoom in close enough, but there seemed to be a band.

 

5.


When the Technical Commander figured out where the extra festival attendees had come from and upped the security at their entrance point, it was too late. The new festival in the geosphere was in full swing, and three more bands had just arrived, each from the future, but only slightly. They’d heard about the Woodstock geosphere party upon the ship’s arrival home and, within a few weeks, jerry-rigged a hop-on scheme for the same time-space technology the ship was running, happily ignoring the feedback loop they created.

The Technical Commander had no way of knowing, but it had been a free festival almost all along. The schemers’ plan was to simply hide out for another week or two after the cruise’s reentry point, then resume their lives after their other selves had left for the party. But the Technical Commander had no time to wonder where they might go in the meantime, because the bigger problems were at hand. There was no question they’d added mass, and accelerating into the spin required for the jump home was out of the question with so many people loose in the geosphere. They would all need to find cabins, at the very least, or risk mass pulverization.

It was then that the beatific curly-haired cruise promoter reentered the bridge, still shirtless in a spangled leather vest, and wearing the same inscrutable smile as the last time the Technical Commander had seen him a few days previous. The promoter sat down on the seat behind the main bridge station and stretched out peacefully, though continued not to talk. He was in charge of unveiling the new technology once they got home, with a time-ship’s full of Catskills air, ready to be sampled, cloned, and pumped back into the Earth’s damaged ecosystem.

As they’d gone into departure mode, there was still a lot to be done at the site before the opening ceremony, but the Technical Commander hadn’t concerned himself with it. The site itself had been moved several times. Last he’d heard, there’d been objections to the newest location–a disused hujgdd racing course–and the impact it might have on what was left of the local surface-mining community. It was a particularly ravaged region, the desiccated fields and plains almost fully uninhabitable, though carbon-farmers had colonized large patches.

If the new technology worked, there stood to be a particularly dramatic recovery, whole hills that might be bloom into lush green within a day or two. Rains of actual water would come. It was what the Technical Commander had been dreaming of since the academy, the true liberation of planet. If it worked. The Technical Commander looked over at the cruise promoter, who now seemed to be staring at the technology around him in newfound wonder. His eyes seemed to be dilated, the Technical Commander noted.

Largely speaking, the Technical Commander was a patient man, he liked to think. He would not be standing on the bridge in 1969, otherwise, one of the first humans to observe a great vista of the past. But now the Technical Commander was ready to go home. When they did, they would arrive at the same moment they’d decided on, a month after their departure, no matter when they left 1969. He peered again at the geosphere, or what he could see of it. It was a free festival, and he knew that they did actually have time to lose.

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