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In search of the Chelyabinsk Collective Tractor Factory

Crossover fiction from the LabLit short story series

Ed Rybicki 27 December 2009

I have discovered that it is possible to Websurf to places you can’t get back to – yet which are so mundane that they can’t possibly be hoaxes

Oh, damn, what did I just click on? And why is it taking... what is this??

You know, I still feel some shame when I admit – as a practising scientist – to being sceptical of the value of “hypothesis-driven science”. Yes, I know all the journals and many of my colleagues rigidly enforce what I call “The Tyranny of the Hypothesis”, and I will confess to regularly indulging in post-hoc hypothesising when writing a paper, just to give our findings a cloak of respectability. What I really believe, though, is writ large and bold on the wall of my office: “F*** the hypotheses, let’s just discover something!”

And I feel really vindicated right now, because I think I have genuinely discovered something by purest serendipity, not remotely accessible by the kind of reductionist science we are taught is The Only Way. It’s also not within my field of expertise, not by a country light year, so conventional wisdom would have you believe I shouldn’t be messing with it – but I am, so live with it!

It all started, would you believe, with a little late-night, conference–widower displacement activity: surfing the Web with a whisky in hand, children abed and wife doing science a continent away. Somewhere in a long chain of clicked-on links, initiated in a SF discussion forum on the Nature News site, I chanced upon the phrase “Chelyabinsk Tractor Factory Collective” – or something very similar – in a discussion of just what sort of disabilities one should be sensitive of in science fiction. In my muzzy state I clicked on past it, thinking (inasmuch as I was able) that I could pick it up again the next day.

And do you know, despite the best efforts of MicroHoo, I couldn’t find a trace?

“Krasnoyarsk,” I thought, “Maybe it was Krasnoyarsk?”. But it wasn’t. Nor “Novosibirsk”. And nor was there any joy to be found in retracing my ramblings via the History tab in my browser. I thought on this a while. “Odd!” I thought. And not the first time it had happened, either, when I came to remembering. The question was, had I imagined it – and the other times – or was something more interesting happening? I decided to test my sanity by emailing someone I was sure had been involved in the discussion forum – and so it was that I sent the following to Dick Grant, the sometime Editor of Nature’s experiment with weekly short-short SF, now sadly defunct, entitled “Hard Future”:

To: Grant, Dick

Subject: Tractor collective or similar

Dear Dick;

I am suffering one of several moments I have had recently, when I am absolutely convinced I have read something somewhere, only to be completely unable to find it again despite much searching. My explanations for this tend towards the "you-imagined-it,-idiot!" rather than the more appealing but less likely "accessing-parallel-universe's-Web" scenario - but I am stumped. Please help prove I am sane (to me) by showing that you too recall some mention of something along the lines of the "Chelyabinsk (or was that Krasnoyarsk?) Ladies Tractor Factory Collective" in one or other Nature forum?

Otherwise I shall have to write a story about it. And then be carried away to a quiet place.



The slightly puzzled and guarded reply didn’t help much:

To: Rybicki, Ed

Subject: Re: Tractor collective or similar

Dear Ed;

I am not sure how to answer this: you know I’m not the Editor of Hard Future any more? So if you’re trawling for some material for a story, I’m afraid I can’t help – because I have no idea what you’re talking about! If it’s a genuine question, then I would go with option (B). Sorry!


A lesser – or more sensible - mortal might have thrown up his hands at this, and gone off to seek therapy. But I’m too poor for that, and in any case, I was convinced that remembered all too clearly for it to have been imagination or whisky dreams. I’m afraid I became a little obsessive, and did a LOT of late-night surfing after that – and threw up enough recurrences to convince myself that (a) I wasn’t crazy, and (b) there was something VERY strange going on. I also damn near estranged my wife and family, but they’re talking to me again, so it wasn’t permanent damage!

Quite simply, I have discovered that it is possible to Websurf to places you can’t get back to – yet which are so mundane that they can’t possibly be hoaxes. Oh, sites like “An Account of The 547th Chelyabinsk Collective Tractor Factory’s Fight Against The Regressive Forces of Fascist Imperialism” [see it was real!], and “President [Hillary] Clinton’s Favorite Box Lunches”, to name but two. So what? You say, and quite rightly: but the Chelyabinsk story refers to the Soviets running off the Chinese – in 1998. Impossible twice, right? Oh, and President Hillary likes chicken liver paté sandwiches – or at least, she did until she was impeached. Hillary??

I’m not clued up enough on the various flavours of Many Worlds to have any real idea of how this could be – but I’m willing to speculate.

Let’s have it as a given that we as a planet are recently equipped with a world-spanning, highly intricate, physical antenna that is almost fractal in its complexity – which we know as the internet. Let us further state that while it may not be self-aware, Web 3.0 is VERY bright in terms of using bots to link in even transient sites for our access. And given that “sites” are just data, how easy might it be for things to slip across adjacent multiverses, given the enormous complexity of the web on our side?

I don’t know about you, but it excites the hell out of me. Imagine: you could cybertravel to a reality where West Australia (with all its mining-savvy new South African refugee immigrants – me included) didn’t secede in 2000; where President Gore didn’t invade Iran; where global warming actually happened, instead of being cancelled by the “oil smoke winters” of 2004-2006. Where you could read this, and wonder why you

Moroni blast it!! What happened there??


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