Let Them Eat Cake
By Robert Lynch
“Finally, Guillermo, it’s finished,” Jules said. “A time machine that will allow us to view history through the eyes of those who lived it, and maybe even change the past for the better!”
“I’m still dubious as to the ability to change the past,” Guillermo said. “We don’t know which theory of time is correct; it’s possible that we will be unable change the past at all, or if we do we might never know because we spin off a different timeline we are not a part of, or we create a paradox, or none of those things.”
Jules waved his hand dismissively. “The time for theory is passed. Now is the time for trying out the time machine!”
Jules sat down in the chair and pulled the VR apparatus around him. He felt gentle pressure as the headset clamped a nerve reader at the base of his skull so that he could communicate movements into the past and blinked as the display flooded his eyes with bright light. The Head’s Up Display made the time machine feel like a video game, a thought which Jules pushed away; it wouldn’t do to forget that his actions would affect the past.
“We shouldn’t try to change anything in this first trip, just try out the hardware as a historical tool,” Guillermo said. “Where should we go first?”
“Hmm,” Jules thought, “I have always wanted to see 18th century France; the decadence of the aristocracy vs the poverty common people. A living hypocrisy which was always destined to burst.”
“Alright, we probably want to go just before May 1789 when the conflict began,” Guillermo said. “Let’s try for January. The food shortage from the previous poor harvest was reaching its peak, and the price of bread had just raised, making the cost of bread around 90% of the income of the common Frenchman.”
The bright HUD flickered Jules felt a jolt throughout his whole body. His eyes opened and looked around. “Wow!” he said, forgetting to mute the microphone and probably being the first person to say wow out of Scotland. Muting the microphone, he said, “This is incredible. I’m in a palace. It’s gorgeous; the walls are covered in painted flowers with gold highlights. The colour of this place is amazing.” He moved his head around and lifted his hands. They were dainty and well-manicured. “I think I’m a woman. There’s a mirror passed that ridiculous harp, I’ll have a look.”
The face that looked back at Jules was not his own. The rounded face had big blue eyes and a small red-lipped mouth. A tall grey wig framed a face pale to the point of ghoulish, with rosy cheeks and dimpled chin. Beneath the face was a low cut blue dress covered in white lace. Jules struggled to breathe in as a corset constricted his ribs. Courtly ladies of the period looked very similar, but the room was a one of a kind. As he looked around, he recognised it. The Palace of Versailles. “Are we sure about the year? 1789?” He asked Guillermo.
“According to all the instruments,” Guillermo responded, “But try and confirm if you can.”
“There’s only one woman who would look like this in this part of the palace,” Jules said. “I think I can see through Marie Antoinette’s eyes!”
“Incredible,” Guillermo said.
“I’m going to try and walk out to the terrace and look around,” Jules said as he headed out of the room and down the stairs to the main floor. On the terrace, he looked out over the massive grounds. He glimpsed the full regal spender of the court of Louis XVI in a single sight from the terrace.
From inside a gaggle of young ladies in waiting joined Jules on the terrace, gossiping about palace intrigue. Jules muted the microphone, “Guillermo the translation matrix is working brilliantly; I can understand these women!”
“Just be careful what you say to them, and try to make it seem like your listening,” Guillermo said.
Jules refocussed on the past, the Duchess of Polignac was speaking to him. “This bread shortage is dreadful, with the recent price rise, many of the low class are unable even to afford bread.”
“Bread?” Jules said to Guillermo, thinking that he had muted the mic, “Let them eat cake!”
“Your mic isn’t muted!” Guillermo said. The energy consumption of the time machine suddenly spiked. “Oh, shit! I think we did something.” Sparks showered the room and the entire block’s power grid overloaded and blacked out.
“Ok,” Jules said as Guillermo pried him out of the powerless VR apparatus. “That could have gone better. Do you think we just changed history?”
“I’m not sure,” Guillermo said. “It seems that we at least created a ripple in time. That could be why people think the phrase was not in keeping with Antoinette’s character: because you said it. Or maybe it really was something that was attributed to her after her death. Either way, the Heisenberg Capacitors are fried, we’ll have to make new ones from scratch.”