By Dr. Henry Darrell - Temporal Anthropologist since 2605
Last month in “Orgy” magazine, they had this spread called “The Understanding of the Temporal Anthropologists”. It had a bunch of ne’er-do-wells in costumes from different periods carrying on like Jackrabbits during mating season. I know a lot of you yahoos seem to think that Temporal Anthropologists have kinky sex lives or something. Nothing could be further away from the truth.
I have spent most of my life in the “field” (that’s a T.A. term for the past.) My persona is that of a cowboy from the Old West. Not that much of a stretch, since I was born on a ranch in Wyoming, and descended from countless generations of cowboys. I have spent most of my life studying the life of the working man in 1800’s America. If I had to do all over again, I’m afraid I would, because I’m not the sort to learn from past mistakes.
Let me tell you, son, life can get pretty lonely for us Temporal Anthropologists. We ain’t allowed to get involved with the natives in the field. We got to leave them be and let them live the lives they was meant to live. We can visit brothels, but empty rendezvous get old mighty fast. Might not be too bad if we could at least make some friends to talk to, but we aren’t even allowed that. You have to be a lone wolf out in the field.
We can have normal relations in the 27th century. You get yourself a girlfriend and you think everything will be fine. Problem is you’re only in the 27th Century for a couple of days and the past starts calling you back. You got a pile of projects you have to finish in the field, so you’re off again for weeks on end, only to show up on her doorstep for a few days. Don’t take long for the most devoted woman to high-tail it and find herself a new beau.
Then there’s the T.A. Groupies. I know, it’s hard to believe that a bunch of boring old history scholars would have female followers, but we do. Not nearly as numerous as famous actors or musicians would have, but we have a few. I think every male Temporal Anthropologist has had his heart broken by one. You got yourself this woman, thinking everything is hunky-dory, then you find out you are just “the cowboy” to her. T.A. Groupies collect Temporal Anthropologists like stamps, trying to out do each other in an attempt to see who can collect the most. We aren’t really people to them at all, we’re nothing but baseball cards.
The only woman that can really understand you and put up with you, is another Temporal Anthropologist. Sounds good except she’s usually in the field when you’re home and home when you’re in the field. Not the best arrangement. If you just happen to be luckier than most you might find a T.A. willing to go in the field with you, but female T.A.s are rarer than hen’s teeth and always seem to be specializing in an era that you ain’t. So you get to see each other a few times a year. You form an “understanding”. If one of you decides to throw in the towel and quit the business, you can’t expect the other one to do the same. And if you retire and find someone permanent that’s gonna stick around, your former partner can’t get all riled about it. Anywho I got me a T.A. I got an understanding with.
Don’t ask, I ain’t giving out names. You don’t make public who you got an understanding with. I will say though that she is a mighty fine lady. Sweet as wild huckleberries and pretty as a sunrise. First met her at one of the Annual Association of Temporal Anthropologists Balls. She was just out of training and looked as nervous as a mouse in a room full of cats. I’m a sucker for a lady in distress. I went over and started talking to her, showing her the ropes. I became her mentor, then I became her friend, and eventually I became more. On lonely nights out in the field I think about her. Only thing that keeps me going sometimes. I think if I ever retired I would gladly wait for her.
Things was going just fine for several years, then it got to be too much for her. One day, after we met after months of separation, she lit into me, telling me off. After awhile she cooled off and started crying, saying she didn’t know why she had done that. I shrugged it off, figured it was one of them woman things. However our next meeting, she done the same thing. It was then I realized, it was getting to her. She couldn’t handle it anymore.
It’s more than just the loneliness you have to contend with in this business. The debriefings take it out of you. The Enforcers call them “debriefings.” Temporal Anthropologists call them “interrogations.” The Institute of Time Travel Enforcement Agency has the job to make sure nobody messes up history. So they have to know everything we did--everything. To make sure we tell them everything and don’t try to pull a fast one, they slap a Compliance Disk on the back of our neck. You probably have no idea what that is like unless you’re a dangerous criminal or a Time Traveler. Those dang prongs stick into your spine like angry scorpions. It burns and sets your head on fire for a few seconds. Then it stops, so that ain’t too bad. The bad part is that when they tell you to jump, you jump. You are a puppet. Trying to fight it just gives you a headache. You then answer any questions and tell them everything, even stuff that ain’t any of their dang business. It’s humiliating and frightening. Not sure why it’s so scary. The Enforcers are pledged not to harm you or make it any worse than it has to be. I’ve heard rumors that they brainwash into being afraid of them so you’ll cooperate even more. Not sure if that’s true, but you wonder sometimes.
After that you feel physically and emotionally drained. You just want to be with someone who’ll understand. Preferable a lady T.A., if not you make due by grabbing another male T.A. and you go out and get drunk together. Is it any wonder more than one Temporal Anthropologists has gotten washed out as an alcoholic? It’s gotta be even harder on the ladies. After that ordeal all my lady friend wanted was for me to be there for her, and I wasn’t. Is it any wonder she was mad? Poor thing.
There’s another part of the “Understanding”. Neither party can expect the other to be faithful. She needed someone to fill in for me when I couldn’t be there. I suggested that to her, and she was appalled. She’s pretty old-fashioned. Then I suggested someone she knew and liked, this fella I’ve worked with in the field a few times, since we both work the 19th Century. He’s a gentleman in both senses of the word. He’s old-fashioned himself so he would understand her dilemma. I knew he would never do anything to hurt her. Okay, I’m old-fashioned myself, so I wasn’t crazy with the idea. But if I had to leave her in someone else’s hands, he would be the one I would choose.
I don’t know if she took my advise, but I think she did. She seemed much calmer when we hooked up again. Shoot, next time I saw my friend, he looked a whole lot happier. You never ask, and never tell in an “understanding”. It’s funny, but out there in the field late at night when I would think of my lady, the thought of her in someone else’s arms should have made me jealous, but it didn’t. It brought me a little peace of mind that she wasn’t alone, and that he was there for her when I couldn’t be. I knew he’d take care of her and treat her like the lady she was.
So there you go. That is what an “understanding” is. Now, if you find that funny or shocking or titillating, well, I really don’t care. I’m just trying to take care of the lady I love in the best way that I know how.
Dr. Henry R. Darrel is a Temporal Anthropologist with the University of Wyoming. He is the author of Life on the Trail: Diary of a Modern Day Cowboy in the Old West and Working Stiff: The Everyday Life of the 19th Century Working Man.