Finding Myself


Finding myself was my next step.  I had contacted Colonization and Natural Terraforming, inc. and they had sent a team to take over my ship.  Well, technically it is their ship, but I had lived in it for a good, long time.  Now, my supply run was finished and her cargo bay was empty.  I still thought of her as home.  A team member had dropped me off on the moon and I had taken a shuttle to Spaceport 167.  I was back on Earth, but the first thing I had done was wait in line at NASA to pick up a pilot license application.  It was twenty-five pages.  I had it in my briefcase with my pilot’s log, cheat sheet, paycard and a bag of hydroponic weed.  I had left the rest of my stuff on the ship.  Than again, it was not really my stuff, since CANT had paid for it.

            I was walking down a sidewalk near home.  Home is an apartment in a community of identical apartments, in a cluster of identical communities, which was part of a sprawling blob of suburb between Baltimore and Washington.  People did not bother to name towns any more.  They just referred to them by the names that builders picked for developments, like Pleasant Valley or Shady Ridge.  I remembered that, as I approached, my former self was sitting in front of the computer in my apartment in Shady Ridge, watching a movie and playing a game at the same time.

            It was nice out and Earth felt like home.  Before I left I had never realized that all of us are in tune with the Earth’s cycle of days, nights and seasons, even a couch spud like me, who had only seen a natural setting on video.  Walking on Earth still felt different after being away for so long.  I was rather enjoying the familiar differentness of walking down a sidewalk on Earth.

            I was trying to remember what I said to me to convince myself, my former self, that we are the same person.  See, after my supply run, I had come back in time to return to Earth before I left.  I had to find myself and deliver the cheat sheet, so that my former self would have a safe trip, which was what made it possible for me to be here in the first place.  In other words, I was trying to remember the conversation I was about to have.  That had been a long time ago for me.  I don’t know how much I had aged in space.  There had been no point in keeping track, since I knew I would be back before I left.  Also, I had spent those years traveling almost at lightspeed, so I did not really know how long a year was.  A year on the ship could be a thousand on Earth for all I know.  At the same time, it could be any number of years at any of my destinations, all planets moving at different speeds.  Without a point of reference, there are no years.  That is one of the reasons it was nice to be back.  I was done and one year would be one year from now on.  CANT had paid me well and if I was careful I would be able to retire and spend the rest of my days continuing to be a couch spud.

            I reached Shady Ridge and stood in the parking lot, looking around.  The parking lot was the centerpiece around which the apartments were arranged.  They were four stories high and each one consisted of a single large room, with its own kitchen and a small deck.  I could see my window from where I stood.  My former self could have seen me if he were looking, but I did not remember watching myself.  I was a little nervous.  The back of my mind was haunted by some of the alternative theories about what would happen if a time traveler went into the past and had contact with himself.  Some of them involved winking out of existence, or even a large explosion, and as far as I know, this was the first time anyone had ever tried it.

            I stood there a few moments.  Mercifully, none of the neighbors were there.  I did not feel like trying to explain time travel or how I was dressed to anyone else.  I did not know any of them particularly well, either.  Well enough to say hello or talk about the weather, but that was about it.  Time to go with the flow, I thought.  I started moving, strolling automatically up the stairs to the door of my top floor apartment.  I knocked.

            I could remember what I was doing when I heard that knock.  I was watching one of the many movies I had saved on my computer, which was sending it in a signal to my large, flat monitor hanging on the wall.  I was using my computer monitor, the one in front of me on the desk, to play a game.  It was a medieval conquest game in which I was king and I had to recruit knights and equip them, so I could conquer and plunder my neighbors to get more money and equip more knights and so on until I had united the entire virtual world.  I swore softly when someone knocked on the door.  I was not expecting anyone and I had gotten enough visits from salesmen and missionaries to make me pretend I was not home.

            “I know you’re home,” I said.  That is, my future self said to my former self.  In hindsight, pretending not to be home was a bit ridiculous, as anyone standing in the hall could have heard the movie playing.  I waited as my former self finished his move on the computer and got up to answer the door.  The door opened and I faced myself.

            “Yeah?”  He questioned.  It is easier to tell my story if I refer to my former self in the third person.

            “I’m you,” I said, grinning.  As I remember, he recognized me, but was having trouble believing it, because it did not make sense.  He just stared at me with suspicion and I remembered not wanting to deal with the person at my door and being ready to give him, me, a hard time.  It is a strange feeling, having a conversation you can remember.

            “Sir Wolfred is about to die in a sneak attack,” I informed him.

            “You’ve been monitoring my computer?”  He was still suspicious.

            “No, I’m you and I remember the game I was playing today,” I explained, watching his eyes harden with incredulity.  “Anyway, look what I got.”  I opened my briefcase.  It was black with silver lettering which proclaimed, “CANT: Sure We Can!”  He saw the plastic bag of rich, green bud and a smile played at the corners of his mouth.

            “Fuck it, get in here.”  He sat down at the computer and made a few moves.  Sir Wolfred was toast.  He turned to stare at me.

            “You still don’t believe me,” I stated.  “Hold up your finger.”  I presented my right index finger, tip up, and he held out his own.  The fingerprints were exactly the same, of course.  “What the fuck?”  He stared in amazement and I could remember the spooky feeling he was having and the conspiracy theories that danced in his head as he groped for an explanation.

            “Relax,” I soothed.  “You know nobody would pick you for the victim of a conspiracy.”  He looked away, guiltily.  “I’m not reading your mind,” I continued.  “It’s just that I remember what you are thinking.  You and I are the same person, it’s just that you are here, in this time and place, twice.”

            He stood up suddenly.  “It’s just that you’re a nut!”

            “Think it over,” I said with confidence.  “Besides, you have to take a leak.”  He looked stunned.  While he was in the bathroom, staring in the mirror and arguing with himself in his head, I went to the kitchen.  I found my locked container, which was disguised as a can of soup, and worked the numbered wheel beneath its false bottom.  Inside was my little blue bong, an empty container where I usually kept my stash, a cardboard tube of the sort that was left over when toilet paper was used up, which was stuffed with fabric softener, and a disposable lighter.  I put water in the bong and stuffed the bowl with a nice, thick bud from my briefcase.  I opened the bathroom door and handed it to him.  I could remember staring at both of me in the bathroom mirror and comparing.  He took a deep hit as he looked.  I handed him the tube and he exhaled through it, changing the telltale odor of the drug into a perfumed scent.  We passed the bong wordlessly, puffing and blowing through the tube, until the bud was reduced to ash particles in the bong water.

            “So you really are me?” he said, feeling that special feeling.

            “That’s right,” I said, with an intoxicated chuckle.  “Don’t worry.  If we were going to get busted, I would remember it.”  On Earth, it is still illegal to sell Marijuana or smoke it without a prescription, although you are allowed to grow it. 

            “How... uh...”

            “Day after tomorrow we will go to CANT and tell Doctor Chang that I’m a successful time traveler and the company will train you as a pilot and send you on a supply run.” 

            “I’m going into space,” he breathed with wonder.

            “You’re gonna get laid, too,” I grinned.  I watched his glazed eyes light up.  On Earth, lovers had been few and far between.  “Let’s watch the movie.”  He followed as I began a slow and meticulous trip to the couch.

            “Where did you get the sack?” he asked.

            “You’re going to take the seeds with you and grow it on the ship’s hydroponic bay,” I explained. 

            His head spun.  “So, this stuff created itself, because you’re going to grow it from its own seeds?  Wohoho.”

            “Yup,” I said.  I was getting into the movie.  There was lots of movement.


            “CANT will teach you all of the theories,” I said, dismissively.  “I have a cheat sheet with some bits of advice in my briefcase for you.”

            He looked at the case sitting across the room, but decided against getting up.  We sat and watched the movie, hazily, then went back into the bathroom for more smoke.  “Let’s go out on the deck,” I suggested as we finished.  Soon we were sitting on the fourth floor deck staring at the late afternoon sky, which seemed to have infinite blue depth.  “I’ve seen dozens of alien words, but this world is so cool,” I blurted, having trouble making sense.

            “What’s it like up there?” he asked. 

            “You’ll find out,” I said.


            “OK, it’s, like, years of endless travel to get somewhere,” I began, trying to organize my thoughts.  “You’re on the ship and every day is the same.  In fact there are no days, you’re just there, doing stuff.  You’re alone, except for the maintenance robots and the video.  There is enough shit to do that you don’t get bored and nobody around to kill your buzz.  Any time you want, you can swing near a solar system or nebula or something and just look at it.  You have a space suit and a thruster sled and you can go out there and look around.  Hey, you haven’t learned to pilot yet.  I can’t even explain that.  Wetware, the latest.  And each colony is different.  You don’t know what you’re gonna find at each stop.”  I settled back down, slumping in the plastic chair.

            “And I’m gonna get laid!” he added, showing more enthusiasm.

            “Uh-huh!  At most of your stops, but mostly at the first one.”

            “Um, did you bring anyone back with you?” he asked, with a greedy look in his eyes.  I shook my head and he sat back down.  After a few minutes, he spoke again.

            “I’m getting hungry, what are we going to eat?” he asked.

            “Let me think for a minute, ah, you finish your game with my help and we attack that bag of salty potato chips in your pantry.  Then we order Chinese, I don’t remember what.”  We sat out there a few more minutes and then went inside and finished the game, sitting behind the computer and passing the bag of greasy, salty Earth chips between us.  They were a refreshing change after all the natural foods I had been eating.  We went in the bathroom and smoked some more, too.  I ordered the food while he ran another movie on the wall monitor.  As we waited, he had more questions.

            “I’m wondering, why me?”

            I knew what he meant.  “Nobody knows.  For some reason, we’re the only person who ever used temporal navigation successfully.”

            “Tempura navigation?  hehehehehe.”  We both had an intoxicated laugh.

            “That’s when you go back in time and give yourself your course and a few tips,” I explained. 

            “Huh, tell yourself which stops to skip?”

            “No, can’t do that,” I said, ominously.  “If you skip a stop, you would never be there to find out that the stop should be skipped.  You can eliminate your whole trip that way, because before you know it, you’ll never leave.  That’s why temporal navigation is so difficult.  Hell, I can’t even give you the complete log, just a cheat sheet.”

            “Won’t I fuck up without enough information?”  He was being paranoid.

            I laughed.  “Don’t you get it?  Everything’s going to work out just fine.  If it weren’t going to, I would not be here.  Sure, some dangerous stuff happens, and I can’t get you around that, but I will get you through it all OK.”  I sat back, thinking.

            “Shit!” I said after a few moments of movie watching.

            “What?”  He looked over with concern.

            “I’m just realizing that after you leave, I won’t have that kind of safety anymore,” I complained.  Now I was being paranoid.  “I’ve known everything was going to work out for I don’t know how long and I’m not gonna have that anymore.  I’ll be like anyone else, I could get run over or a building could fall on me or something.”  A wave of bud enhanced anxiety flooded into my mind.

            “Or a giant pigeon could step on you!” he laughed. 

            “Or I could see Janet naked and die of fright!” I said.  Janet was one of my neighbors, an unpleasant old woman who looked like she had spent a few hundred years shriveling up in a tanning booth.  “I guess it’ll be OK.  I got paid, so I won’t have any money trouble.”

            “Cool!” he exclaimed.  The delivery guy knocked on the door.  We paid him and stuffed ourselves.  We stayed up a while, smoking and watching movies, and spent the next day the same way, but with some messing around on the computer and a walk to the bank and grocery store mixed in.  I had some fun explaining who we were to the cashier.  She thought we were nuts.  The next day, it was time to go to CANT.

            We took the bus downtown and walked into the secure lobby of the towering CANT building.  There were long lines of perspective colonists there, overflowing from the colony application section to clog the lobby.  They were the source of CANT’s money.  Colonists, once accepted, typically gave everything they owned to the company.  I know it sounds extreme, but money and a house and all that does you no good when you’re not coming back.

            I led my former self through a door marked “employees only”, still wearing my pilot’s uniform, and acting like I owned the place.  The security guard did not even look up.  Through the door was a receptionist’s desk and Dr. Chang was chatting with Tomika.  Dr. Chang was a small, middle-aged scientist in an expensive gray suit.  He always wore a white lab coat with his picture ID clipped to it, even though he never handled anything more dangerous than a cup of coffee. 

            I strode up to him with my double in tow.  “Hi, Doctor Chang,” I said.  He and Tomika looked up to regard me with that unfriendly look that office workers give people who wander into a places where they are not allowed. 

            “Do I know you?” he asked.

            “Not yet.  See, I’m one of your pilots.  I have my log.”  I produced the disk from my pocket and handed it to him.  “My ship’s been returned, even though it has not been launched yet.  He’s also me, but I am here twice.”  He and Tomika looked at each other.  Dr. Chang handed the disk to Tomika and she used it to look up the ship’s ID number. 

            She looked up.  “We do have two listings for that ID,” she informed.  “One is scheduled to be launched next month and the other one was taken to the moon for salvage yesterday.”

            Dr. Chang produced a phone from one of his pockets.  “I will have to check this out,” he told me.

            “Be happy.  You’re going to launch a ship that will succeed in temporal navigation,” I told him. 

            He shook his head.  “It’s impossible,” he said dismissively. 

Both of me had a good laugh.  “I did not believe it either at first,” said my former self.

            “The pilot has been paid,” said Tomika.  She believed me.

            Dr. Chang spoke into the phone.  “Hello, Sam.  I have a guy here who says he’s a time traveler...  Well, he says he’s one of our pilots.  Temporal Navigation.  Mm-hm.  Yes.  Agreed, it’s not possible, but there is a listing on our computer that says that a package for next month was salvaged on the moon a few days ago and the pilot has been paid.”  He paused and listened.  “Yeah, just a minute.”  He read the ID number off of Tomika’s screen.

            “Those fancy engines are still under construction.  Sam wants another month,” I informed him.  Dr. Chang ignored me, waiting for a response.  When he got it, he gave me a surprised look, still talking on the phone.  “Yes, Sam, of course we can delay.  Supply runs are crucial and we can’t risk a ship breaking down.  Who’s listed as pilot?  Uh-huh.  No.  I know Plainer.  I don’t recognize this guy.  Besides, there are two of them here.  They look like brothers or something.  Ok, see you in a few.”  Dr. Chang pushed a button and folded his phone in one motion.  “Sam Marriotta is in charge of Mission Control.  He’ll clear this up.”     

            “Yup”, I told him  “If I remember correctly, he will have me wait in his office while he checks my log, then he’ll reschedule Planer and start me,” I gestured toward my former self, “on a crash course in piloting.  I’m also going to take your class on practical physics.”

            “So, you expect me to believe that he is you?” asked Dr. Chang, still incredulous.

            “Yes,” I answered, “We are the same person, here twice.”

            “Do you know me?” asked Tomika.

            “Sure, you’re Tomika Miles and you will visit me after I get my plug installed.  You have a daughter named Lyn who plays baseball and a black lab named Malcolm.”  Tomika favored Dr Chang with a smug smile.

            “If this is true,” began Dr. Chang, “how were you able to prevent probability contradiction?  We have never been able to use temporal navigation because the probability of failure contradicts the probability of return.”

            “I don’t know, it just happened,” I stated.

            “I was just sitting around one day and he knocked on my door,” said my former self.  Dr. Chang looked incredulous.

            Sam arrived.  He was a tall, bearded man who preferred the baggy, one-piece CANT uniform, much like the one I wore, to a suit.  He was also middle-aged, with a bit of gray in his black beard.  He stopped and took in the scene with that calculating look he always had when he had been asked a difficult question. 

            “Hi, Doc,” said Sam.  Dr. Chang nodded.  “Are you the time travelers?”

            I grinned and nodded, waiting.  “They do look similar,” he said to Dr. Chang.

            “But it’s absurd” said Chang, quietly.  “Temporal navigation is impossible, these guys must have gotten tired of waiting in line and thought they could pull the wool over our eyes.”  He punctuated the comment with a look.

            “Look, all I know is that we have two ships with the same ID and one of them is on the moon.  Someone authorized payment for the pilot based on the ship’s records.  It’s a 4620.”

            “There must be some mistake,” said Chang.  “The model 4620 is not ready yet.”

            “I e-mailed Betty in salvage, she’ll check it out.”  He turned to me.  “You don’t have any proof, do you?”

            “My log,” I answered.  Tomika handed him the disk and he examined it.  He looked up.  “This is compatible with the 4620’s computers.  It’s compressed, we’ll have to go to my office and read it.”

            We ended up in Sam’s office, a white room with a shelf on one wall, covered with a variety of computer equipment, which Sam used like a desk.  The wall to the right of the shelf was a clear plastic window, which overlooked the pilot training area.  That brought back memories.  Both of me watched the military-looking men and women take turns plugging themselves into the wetware and attempting to pilot small, remote controlled models as we sat waiting.  Sam was watching my log, with Dr. Chang looking over his shoulder.  The two of them whispered to each other in technical language.  I began to nod off.

            I woke up when Sam grabbed my shoulder.  He was grinning like a kid in a candy store.  “It seems we owe you an apology, Mr. McCrellan.”  His voice crackled with enthusiasm.

            “Perfectly understandable,” I said, with a satisfied grin.  I glanced at Dr. Chang.  His composure failed to cover his wonder.  He spoke up.  “You said you wanted to take my class?” he asked.

            “I said I will take your class,” I corrected him.  “I remember taking it.”

            His face exploded with laughter.  “Yes, I suppose you do.  This will take some getting used to.”

            “Tell me about it,” I said.  “I remember this conversation.”

            “So, what’s next?” Sam asked.

            “Early lunch to celebrate,” I said.  “Then I’ll head for home.  I don’t have a wetware plug yet, so you need to schedule surgery for him sometime next week, then it’s classes and training until takeoff.”

            “Turn around,” Sam asked.  I turned and lifted my hair so that he could see the plug.  I could feel him touching it curiously.  “Uh-huh, that is the latest model, but it looks like it's not a fresh installation.  Any trouble with it.”

            “Of course not,” said Dr. Chang  “If there were any troubles, he would have told us so we could correct them, eliminating the probability of problems.  That’s the nature of information from the future.”  His enthusiasm was making him babble.

            “Works beautifully,” I said.

            “It’s almost lunch time,” said Dr. Chang.  “I think we should celebrate.”  The four of us, counting myself twice, went across the street to a delicatessen and had a nice lunch, which Dr. Chang put on his expense account.  He and Sam mainly talked next steps, both for me and for the program.  They had completed the first step in natural colonization, which was to send a ship equipped for terraforming.  It carried an Earth-like atmosphere and as many seeds and embryos as possible to the selected alien worlds.  Flora and fauna would be left to their own devices for several years before colonists were due to arrive.

It usually worked, since many species typically adapted to their new home and the colonists would arrive on a world with a functioning ecosystem.  That was the second step, to send the colonists, as many as possible, to begin a new life.  My job was the third step, a supply run.  I would take needed stuff that would not fit on a colony ship full of people.  That was the natural colonization method.  The artificial method, enclosed domes and a contained atmosphere, had only worked on the moon, where spare parts and technical support were not far away.  It had been tried on Mars with disastrous results.

            Dr. Chang was trying to work out a way to use temporal navigation to avoid the risk of failed colonies, but without success.  Temporal navigation was only possible when the probabilities happened to line up just right, rather then canceling each other out.  Sam was more optimistic.  He figured that attempting to control the process was a mistake.  He pointed out that, when it did work, pilots would return before they left and CANT should focus more on being ready to take advantage of such situations when they occurred, rather then wasting time trying to predict a random process.

            Both men seemed to enjoy the debate, but they had to go back to work, so both of me headed for home.  I gave Sam the address, since I knew he would be dropping by later.

            At home, we did some celebrating of our own.  It involved more smoking, as well as some loud music.  Sam did drop by after work.  He knocked on the door and I told him I had been expecting him. 

            He sniffed loudly.  “You know, drug use could disqualify you as a pilot,” he scolded.

            My former self looked to me for an answer.  “Not me, you will help me skip the test, since I have to be the pilot for the temporal navigation to work.  Have a hit.”

            “It has been a long time,” he said, grabbing the bong and enjoying a long, bubbly drag.  We ended up passing it around until we ran out.  Sam asked me all kinds of personal questions, saying that he wanted to know more about the sort of person who could become a time traveler.  The more he found out, the more amazed he became.  He was getting further away from putting his finger on anything special about me that might make me a time traveler.  It only strengthened his belief that attempting to control the process was a waste of time. 

            As the evening progressed, we began to discuss the colonization program.  He explained all about the process of choosing a habitable world.  They had to guess, based on the observations they could make from Earth.  For the time being, they had limited it to two hundred lightyears in any direction, since they did not want to arrive and find that the planet was no longer habitable because it had been observed more than two hundred years before, over four hundred years by the time the colonists arrived.  There were still hundreds of potential new worlds, even with that limitation.

            He also talked about the gas mining that produced enough oxygen and water to create a planet’s atmosphere.  For a planet to be selected, it had to have what Sam called a friendly atmosphere, or one with oxygen and lacking substantial amounts of harmful, or unfriendly, chemicals.  The terraformers still took water and oxygen with them, so that the planet’s surface conditions could be adjusted to make them even friendlier.  By the time CANT had finished the process of supplying colony ships, there was not enough water and air left in the solar system for their only competition, The Martian Group, to implement natural colonization of Mars.  I had heard the news story.  The “Martians” had attempted to create a colony similar to Lunar City, with an atmosphere contained in an artificial environment, but it was too expensive and the Martians began to cut corners, including maintenance.  The system broke down and all personnel had suffocated before they could be rescued.

            There had been some talk of an attempt to use the natural method, but the Martians could not use natural terraforming because CANT had beaten them to the resources.  That was the nature of off-planet businesses.  Nobody needed permission to do anything, since no human being owned anything out there.  There were no environmental restrictions or legal consequences if people died, either.  All a person needed for success was the equipment and technical know-how to do business.  Anyway, that’s how Sam saw it.  It all sounded a bit out of control to me.

            Out of control or not, the second step had been wildly successful.  Potential colonists had lined up to give up everything they owned for a chance at a new life on a colony.  My former self began to chime in at that point in the conversation.  He was questioning what on Earth was wrong with society, so wrong that people were desperate to leave and would disregard the risk.  I remembered my own former life.  More than anything it was boring and I suppose that people would be willing to make sacrifices to see some action and be part of history.  That’s what CANT’s commercials said they offered.  Of course, they did not mention the risks.  Sam was not listening, since he was too enthused, now knowing from my log that there would be successful colonies.  Before I had arrived, he had accepted the idea that he would never find out whether the program was successful or not.

            Eventually the conversation sputtered out and Sam went home.  The two of me sat around smoking and playing computer games until it was time for my former self to report for pilot training.  I deposited my paycard and picked up my life, such as it was, where I had left off before I had arrived.

            My former self arrived at the CANT building with a suitcase.  I had told him that he would be moving in for the duration of his training and I would keep in touch.  From now on, I will refer to him in the first person.  I went through the same door that my future self had led me through the first time we had been there and checked in with Tomika.  I was in for intense pilot training and would live in the dormitory next to the CANT building, which they owned.  The training would begin with Dr. Chang’s lectures. 

            Tomika directed me to the classroom and I found a seat.  I felt a little uncomfortable sitting with the other students.  They all wore those one piece, black CANT uniforms and had military haircuts and I had long hair and a beard and wore faded blue jeans and a tee shirt with the logo of a brand of beer.  They also looked like they had been working out for years, whereas I had an air of pudgy mediocrity.

            Dr. Chang arrived and started his lecture.  That was how I would spend my mornings for the next two weeks, trying to follow his lectures and failing to take notes.  Where physics gets tricky is when an object is moving in space, without being on or in anything in particular.  Then, the only way to tell how fast it is moving is to compare it to the speed of light, but the speed of light never changes.  So, if you measure your speed in kilometers per hour, the kilometers part stays the same but the hours vary.  As you approach the speed of light, your year gets longer, relative to years on Earth.  That explained why my future self had been out in space for hundreds of Earth years without dying of old age.  Anyway, Dr Chang explained it in more mathematical detail, complete with equations which would probably have been useful, but I was having trouble wrapping my head around the concepts, much less assigning meaning to the letters in his equations.

            One thing I did get out of the lecture was that, because of relativity, time passed at different rates on different worlds.  For example, when an hour passes on Earth, three hours might pass on a slower planet, or 30 minutes on a faster one.  Of course, that is determined by its speed relative to the speed of light. 

            The next basic principal that Dr. Chang taught was the lightspeed barrier.  Natural law had determined that no object is able to reach a speed faster than that of light.  According to my future self, I would eventually break that law.  Light travels constantly at what was also referred to as absolute speed.  At that speed, it took no time to get anywhere, from the traveler’s perspective.  From our perspective, here on Earth, it took a year for light to travel one lightyear.  But if you were traveling at the speed of light, time would freeze for you and you would continue to travel at the same speed.  This made traveling at precisely lightspeed a very bad idea for a pilot, because, since time was standing still, you would have no time to decelerate.  The only way to slow down would be if something else decelerates you, most likely by collision, because you would have no time to steer either.  Oops!

            Of course, I would not have been in that class if there were not a way around the lightspeed barrier.  As an object speeds up, it gets heavier.  If you’re in a vehicle that is accelerating, you can feel its increasing mass pulling you back against your seat.  If you accelerate too fast, it could smoosh you, so be careful.  The heavier it gets, the more energy it takes to add additional speed and the lightspeed barrier exists because anything going that fast becomes too heavy to go any faster.

            This is where Dr. Chang began to speak excitedly to the class.  “Until recently, it was thought that no object, at least no object consisting of matter rather than energy, could exceed the speed of light.  But it turns out that the gravity control on our new model of spacecraft can use gravity to decrease the spacecraft’s mass.  Its original purpose was to allow faster acceleration without crushing the pilot, but it can also be used to eliminate some of the increase in mass, allowing acceleration past the speed of light.  The object would then go back in time, instead of being stuck at the constant speed.  The result was proof of temporal probability theory.”  That would be the next part of the lecture.

            I paid more attention to the temporal probability lecture.  Dr. Chang began the lecture with the statement that “the future does not exist, as we understand existence.  It exists as a swirling chaos of probabilities.  As events unfold and causes occur, these probabilities become effects.”  If I understood his lecture correctly, probabilities were events waiting to happen, effects waiting for a cause.  Let us take a straightforward cause and effect like turning on a light, to use what Dr. Chang called an oversimplified example.  In what is the future, from our perspective, both the probabilities of a light being on and being off exist, but only one will become an effect at any given time, depending on the position of the light switch.  The other probability is contradicted.  So if the light switch is in the on position, the probability of the light being off is contradicted until someone turns it off.  Of course, other probabilities, such as the light bulb exploding, do exist but would be contradicted under most circumstances.

            However, the probability that someone will throw the switch, and the probability that energy will be produced as the light bulb functions, also involves probabilities.  As the probabilities become effects, they form a chain of events.  In normal existence, human beings experience a chain of events as simple causes and effects, because we only experience the present.  Even if you travel forward in time, whatever time you arrived in would be your present.  We are all traveling forward in time, so such a journey would simply be a change in speed.  Temporal probability comes into play when a person goes back in time.

            Going back in time can contradict probabilities.  For example, say Agent X goes back in time to prevent a terrorist attack.  The terrorist attack is the cause and Agent X going back in time is the effect.  If Agent X were to succeed, he would contradict the probability of that attack.  Since the attack provides the reason why he went back in time in the first place, the probability that he would travel back in time would also be contradicted.  There would be no terrorist attack for Agent X to prevent, but he would not be there to prevent it.  This would cause a time loop and Agent X would have to keep repeating his mission until he either fails or does not go, or some other chain of events in which the contradiction is absent occurs.  Furthermore, Agent X would not remember being in a time loop, because the creation of his memories is an effect in the chain of events.  He would only remember the final one, without the contradiction.  Many scientists have theorized that time loops occur, and may be an everyday happening as probabilities become causes and effects, but we simply are not aware of them.  At that point, I began to wonder how many time loops my future self had experienced before meeting me.  According to Dr. Chang, for a person to travel back in time at all, the probabilities would have to line up just right.  That person would have to win a cosmic lottery, so to speak.  However, he was convinced that there must be a way.  That there was some series of steps to take that would deliberately cause a chain of events that would produce a time traveler.  To cause one to appear in the present as my future self had.

            CANT had already attempted temporal navigation as soon as a pilot had figured out that gravity control could reduce a spacecraft’s mass.  The theory they used was that, if you arrived before you left, you could give yourself your course, along with instructions on how to avoid any problems along the way.  So the pilots waited for their future selves to appear.  None did.  The conclusion was that, if you refuse to leave before your future self returns, the refusal would contradict the probability that you would leave in the first place, which would contradict the probability that your future self would arrive.  Also, you could not use it to avoid a problem that would prevent your return.  The fact that you warn yourself would contradict the probability that you would encounter the problem and the absence of the problem would contradict the probability that you would warn yourself.  Dr. Chang asked if he was going too fast. 

            I listened, even though I knew my future self had already tipped me off.  I had a cheat sheet and had read it.  The advice was sketchy and made little sense.  I guess there were limits to how much he could tell me about the future without going into a time loop and writing it again, or simply contradicting the probability that he would write it at all.

            Anyway, those are the parts of Dr. Chang’s lectures that I caught.  He spent two weeks lecturing.  The lectures were grueling.  Six hours a day, every day, with a lunch break after three hours.  At lunch, we went to the CANT building’s cafeteria and ate what we were given.  We sat apart from the regular employees and Dr. Chang never did join us.  My classmates asked me who I was.  They laughed when I told them I was a pilot trainee, as they had assumed I was a collage student who was taking the class for credit.  First of all, they had never seen me before.  Second, I had obviously not been through the training camp.  My head had not been shaved and my short, plump body had not been physically conditioned.  I did not have a wetware plug, yet.  I was not ready to be shot into space!  I would laugh about their conclusion.  That is to say my future self was laughing about it.  There is no real need on board ship for a shaved head or physical fitness.  In fact, to endure a long space flight, you have to be a person who can sit around for months waiting to get where you are going.

            I did try to explain how I became a pilot to my classmates, but that only made them laugh harder.  One of them, a short, cute woman, came right out and asked me.  “It’s a test, isn’t it?  A psychological test to see how we will react to you?”

            “Ask Doctor Chang if you don’t believe me,” I told her.

            The big, redneck-looking guy who sat next to me was staring at me as if I were a total nut.  “OK, how did you become a pilot without training?”

            “The future me knocked on my door and told me.”


            “No thanks, I already have dessert.”  He just looked disgusted and ate.  The rest of them were being a bit stuck up as well, but I could not care less.  I had something none of them did.  I knew I would make it through the program.

            On the last day of class, we were tested.  When we were done, Dr. Chang graded the finished test papers while we sat and waited until he returned them.  I flunked.  As I was examining the corrected test, my future self walked in the door.  It was a bit satisfying to see the class stare when the older me appeared. 

            “Hello,” Dr. Chang greeted him.  “We do have a problem.”

            “Yes, I remember,” he responded.  “Just pretend I passed and everything will be OK.”


            “I’m here, aren’t I?”

            The doctor laughed.  “You certainly are.  Why are you here, anyway.”

            “Donno.  I just remember meeting myself.  I have surgery today.”

            “Oh yes, you need a plug for the wetware.  Mr. McCrellan, you are dismissed.”

            I stood and went to Dr. Chang’s desk to shake hands with him, thanked him politely and left, talking to myself about the surgery.  My future self simply told me to relax.  Sam was waiting in the hall.

            I could hear the rest of the class complaining about the special treatment I was getting.  “He succeeded at temporal navigation, I’ve seen his log,” Dr. Chang scolded.  “Any of you who have done that and can produce proof will receive the same preferential treatment as Mr. McCrellan.”

            Sam led me to the elevator and to the basement, where CANT had an operating room set up.  I was quiet, as my future self talked and joked with him.  The surgeon, covered in a mask, gloves and a baggy lab coat, so that I could not see his or her face, had me inhale something that smelled nasty and I woke up in a hospital type bed with an ache in the back of my neck.

            My future self was the only person in the room when I came too.  I felt really stoned.  He was reading my electric book, a small, portable device designed to hold text taken from Internet magazines and the like.  I had a few science fiction stories loaded onto it.  I was still getting used to the idea that he is me and my book, apartment and so on were also his.  He also had my, our, chessboard with him.

            “Ready for a story?” my future self asked and started reading without waiting for an answer.  He read a couple while I drifted in and out of consciousness, listening to the sound of his voice.  After he finished the second, I sat up and then stood.  My head was a lot clearer, but I still felt a bit fatigued. 

            “Damn, I’m tired,” I said.

            “Yes, I remember.”  I gave him a hazy look.  “You were out for six hours or so,” he said, anticipating my question.  “Go splash some water on your face so that we can play chess.”  I did not feel like playing chess, but I went to the small bathroom slowly, leaked and splashed, and felt a bit better.  We did end up playing chess, with me laying in bed with the traveling chessboard, which had pegs on the pieces and holes in the squares, resting on my belly.  I won three games in a row.

            “Why do I keep winning,” I asked him.  “Don’t you remember these games?”

            “Yes, vaguely,” my future self answered, “Not well enough to beat you.”

            “Your not letting me win, are you?”

            He looked thoughtful.  “Not on purpose, but I do remember that I lost, so I suppose I just plain can’t win.”

            “Forget it, lets just both play our best.”

            “It is a little disconcerting, knowing that I used to be a better chess player.”  With that, we played a few more quiet games.  Eventually, my future self went home, leaving my book, and a doctor came in to check on me.  He told me that I should rest in my room for a day and then I would learn to use the plug.

            I spent the next day reading lazily.  Sam and Dr. Chang came to check on me often and Tomika brought me my meals and stayed to talk to me.  She had questions, wondering what it was like up there, and I had to explain that I did not know yet.  She also helped me fill out the excruciatingly long pilot’s license application that my future self had given to her and offered to submit it for me.

            I reported to the training area the next morning, bright and early.  Sam had a batch of trainees lined up, a different group than those who had been my classmates at Dr. Chang’s lecture. 

            “Fall in,” Sam said formally, continuing his explanation of the equipment we were about to use.  I stood between two towering men, both of whom looked at me curiously. 

            “You’re the time traveler, aren’t you?” the one to my left asked.

            “Yeah, I will be,” I responded.

            “How did you pull it off?” he prodded.


            “Your attention, please,” Sam interrupted, urgently.

            He stood in front of a device that consisted of a seat and helmet and explained what it was.  The helmet had a piece that fit our plugs and the software would take over our nervous system.  While our bodies lay still, the wetware would translate our nerve signals for certain movements into commands for flying the model aircraft that stood nearby.  It was the same process that we would use to fly our spacecrafts when we turned off the autopilot.  We should only need it for takeoff, landing and navigating tricky obstacles, but it is the fastest system there is.  The plug also allows input from the model.  The model is able to receive four commands from you.  It will go up and down or turn, when you try to raise and lower your arms, and speed up or slow down depending on the position of your legs.

            “Mr. McCrellan, you get to be first,” said Sam, motioning invitingly to the machine.  He had me sit in the chair and put on the helmet, which moved itself into position and clicked mechanically as it connected to my plug.  Suddenly, I was not sitting in the chair anymore.  I was lying on the floor, propped up by my wheels.  I could not move my head at all, which forced me to stare straight ahead in what should have been an uncomfortable position, and when I tried to move my legs, I found that I could not move them separately.  When I moved them together, I rolled forward, watching the wall in front of me get closer.  My arms felt like I was holding them straight out in front of me, but if they really had been in that position, they would have gone through the floor.  I felt the urge to look down at myself, but I could not.

            I heard Sam’s voice from far away.  “Practice moving your legs and rolling forward and backward, then I will have you take off.”  I did as he said.  I found that if I raised my knees, I moved forward and if I stretched my legs out, I slowed to a stop and backed up.  If I raised my left hand higher than my right, I turned right and the reverse turned me left.  I practiced turning in forward and reverse and started to enjoy myself. 

            I heard Sam’s voice again.  “Move forward, fast, and raise your arms.  You should take off.”  I turned away from the wall and did as instructed.  Before I knew it, I was in the air.  I could feel the inertia of my acceleration as though I had become the remote controlled plane and it was so new and fascinating that I forgot to lower my arms and saw the ceiling rushing toward me.  I raised one arm and stretched out my legs and the model turned so that I could see the training room, upside down.  I raised my left hand and lowered my right and the room spun, righting itself.  I could see my own body in the chair.  It looked like a recliner with the footrest out.  I looked asleep or dead, with my head covered by the black plastic helmet. 

            I circled, banking, and then negotiated a figure eight in the air.  I practiced accelerating around the curves, by raising my knees, feeling the speed as I banked and turned.  Eventually, I heard Sam again.  “Slow down and land, so someone else can have a turn.”  I landed, turning myself to face Sam and the class.  Sam looked pleased and the pilot trainees all looked expectant.  When the model stopped, Sam disconnected the helmet with the push of a button and I was back in my own body.  Feeling excited, I stood and promptly fell, to be caught by the first trainee in line. 

            “Go easy,” Sam instructed.  “You’ll get used to switching from virtual to real, but, until you get your space legs, you will be a little wobbly after you unplug.”  I stood and walked away, slowly.  The next trainee got in the chair and Sam instructed him, pushing a button on the back of the chair and speaking to the helmet.  The trainee could not hear if Sam was not holding the button and he spoke to us as the trainee practiced.

            “The more practiced you become, the longer the sessions will be.  The body needs to get used to being inert for long periods of time.”

            A trainee raised his hand.  “How long can you use wetware without taking a break.”

            “After four days, the difference in sensory input will cause hallucinations.  If you don’t mind tripping, you can go longer, but I would not suggest it unless you are in mortal danger.  Remember that you are going without food, water, sleep and exercise when you are connected.  All of that can cause permanent damage.”

            “What happens if you crash?” another trainee asked.

            “That depends on the system.” Sam replied.  “The training system is designed to let you crash without side effects.  More complex systems give more detailed input.  Sensors are often tied to the sense of touch and a critical problem can be painful.  It can also be scary and disorienting, just like crashing would be without wetware piloting.”  He paused to hold the button and instruct the pilot. 

            Each of us got a turn.  One of the trainees hit a wall, causing the model to shatter.  Sam disconnected and lifted the helmet.  The trainee inside, a chunky blond man with a crew cut, was wide-eyed and breathless.  Sam held up his index finger.  “Focus,” he said.  The trainee turned his head to stare.  The man calmed down and began breathing normally.  Sam helped him up and told him to go down the hall and get another model and the man staggered away. 

            “That was our first crash.  Before you rag on him, remember that all of you will crash before we finish training!  We don’t bother making tough models, because it’s less expensive to make cheap ones and replace them.  Also, the experience tends to be educational.  You don’t want your first crash to be for real.”

            “I don’t want to crash at all,” I teased.

            “Tell someone who cares,” Sam said with mock toughness, causing the trainees to laugh.  “You will crash, sooner or later.”

            During the next two weeks, we piloted the models.  The sessions got longer and Sam gave us challenges.  First to follow his laser pointer, then he threw a switch by the door and the room filled with mist.  Several automatic lasers shot and swung beams and each of us in turn had to avoid them while piloting the model, or hear a loud, annoying buzz.  I did crash a few times, just like everyone else. 

            After using the model for a couple of weeks, Sam led us to the roof.  A sleek, black helicopter stood waiting, proudly displaying “CANT” in white letters on its sides.  Sam opened the door and we could see that the pilot’s seat had a wetware helmet, as well as the usual seat belts, along with a set of manual controls in front of the copilot’s seat.

            Sam seated the highest scoring trainee, a small, intense-looking woman with a shaved head, in the pilot seat and strapped himself into the copilot’s seat.  The rest of us piled in the back, where there was enough room for all of us if we squeezed in tight.  Sam had each of us take off, circle and land.  He never used the manual controls.  He just let us fly.  When it was my turn, I noticed that it was similar to flying a model, but with more options.  In addition to moving my arms, I could rotate the chopper by twisting my torso.  Also, I could move my head.  In fact, I could move my head all the way around, but if I relaxed, my view moved automatically to straight ahead.  I could also talk on the radio, but I only did so once.

            After we each circled the building, Sam dismissed us early.  As our training continued the next day, he had us do more complicated maneuvers, such as circling the building while facing it and moving sideways, or moving in a square, rotating at the corners.  Nobody crashed the helicopter, fortunately.

            After using the helicopter, it was back to the training chair.  This time it was a pure simulator and instead of running a model, it simulated flying a large spacecraft in weightlessness.  We took turns piloting through a virtual vacuum.  Soon, it was my turn.  Steering the ship was almost like the model I had used earlier, except that I felt weightless.  It was moved by adjustments of my hands and knees but turning was much less tight.  The simulated ship’s sensors allowed a complete point of view, like the helicopter.  However, the sensors were much more complex.  Sam talked me through using them and helped me get used to the way they function.  When I closed my eyes, the names of different sensor modes appeared and I could pick one by moving my eyes.  As soon as I opened my eyes, I would have chosen one of the nine modes, which were Visual Light, EM, Ultra-Violet, Infrared, Radio Wave, X-Ray, Gamma, Long-Range and Enhanced Image.  I saw like a normal human in Visual Light mode, which was the mode the sensors were set to when I had plugged in.  I cycled through all of the other modes, looking at a simulated image of an Earth-like planet with a thriving, technologically advanced colony, a little wishful thinking on CANT’s part.  In EM, luminous spheres surrounded the planet, my ship and anything else I looked at.  All of the technological equipment on the surface had glowing domes over them.  I could see the power lines as if they were neon signs.  I switched to Ultra-Violet and the spheres disappeared.  Ultra-Violet looked a lot like Visual Light, but the colors were completely different.  The same was true of the Infrared, except that anything warm glowed red or yellow, and the rest was a muted background.  I switched to Radio Wave and the planet below became a multi-colored, pulsating lump.  I looked around and noticed that this mode was more useful to see stars.  The stars glowed like fireflies on a summer night, but were constant, instead of winking out.  In Gamma and X-Ray, everything became clear.  Objects ceased to appear solid, looking more like jellyfish or something.  The planet below looked like a giant frog’s egg, a black core surrounded by a clear, round mass.  I tried the Long-Range and then went back and switched from Gamma to Visual Light.  The Long-Range and Enhanced Image modes could be used in combination with any of the others and I could also use Long-Range to zoom in and then Enhanced Image mode to sharpen the blurry images.  I could see the faces of people on the ground from space.  I hope it works this well when I use the real thing!

            After playing with the sensors, I did some maneuvering.  First off, I skimmed the atmosphere and found out about a new kind of sensor.  The temperature of the ship’s outer surface felt like my body temperature.  When I kissed ozone, I felt the burn.  I thought I would jump out of my seat the first time it happened, but any movement my brain commanded was going to the simulated ship.  When I was close to the planet, I could also feel the steady pull of its gravity and the easy tug of inertia when I turned.  Sam said that if I hit anything, I would feel that too.  To be honest, I would rather feel an occasional sting than what I felt using the internal sensors.  I could feel the cabin pressure inside me, as if I were bloated or something.  That would take some getting used to.  Sam had me turn on the communication system by opening my mouth and I could suddenly hear the planet’s chatter.  I shut my mouth and that distraction suddenly went silent.

            I spent my remaining days on Earth in training.  Sam had us take turns orbiting the simulated planet in different ways, showing us the subtleties of plotting a course so that the ship would stay in orbit on its own.  When we showed up at a colony, I would have to leave the ship in orbit above, while I went down to the surface, unless they had somehow managed to build a massive landing pad and were able to provide compatible boosters.  The rest of the day was spent learning how to navigate and trying to memorize the equations I would need to plot a course in open space.  Sam suggested that I put all of the equations I needed on disk and load it onto the ship’s computer.  However, I did pick up the basic ideas and I figured I could do the job.

            Launch day came and I got a helicopter ride to the launch pad in Delaware somewhere.  The urban terrain below became greener until there was more green than urban and the helicopter put down on a pad next to a model 4620 DSCC, or Deep Space Cargo Craft, called a “disk ‘620” by its friends, even though it was shaped like a giant male organ, rather than a disk.  It was a straight shaft topped by a bulbous cockpit and was pointed toward the sky with four bulky rocket boosters and a skeletal metal frame attached to it like a giant, robotic hand holding it up.  Going by what Sam told me about the launch procedure, the boosters would allow me to achieve escape velocity and then the ship’s thrusters would take over.  Don’t ask me how the thrusters work, because about all I can tell you is that they require lots of electrical power and glow greenish blue.  The engines feeding the thrusters were known as fussfiz engines, fusion and fission nuclear reactors to us non-technical types.  The fusion reactor created heavy elements and sent them to the fission reactor to be broken down again.  They still used up fuel, but did so much more slowly than single reactors.  Over the engines sat the hydroponic section, where plants grew in a soup of water, soil and nutritional supplements.  There was a multi-layer filter window to the fusion reactor, which turned the radiation it produced into simulated sunlight.  That section grew mostly algae for oxygen, but I could grow anything from pine trees to cannabis plants in there.  Above it was the cargo bay, the largest part of the ship.  Animal embryos were stored there, barely alive.  All domestic animals had been included and a host of wildlife that had been deemed of possible use to a colonial ecosystem.  There were also seeds, spare robots and computers, and all kinds of tools and machine parts.  I had been given an inventory on disk, but I had not read it.  Above the cargo bay sat the pilot’s quarters.  There was a bedroom-kitchen with a cot, microwave oven and shower all arranged for maximum efficiency.  There was also an exercise area large enough that I could run inside it, stocked with a variety of fitness-related equipment.  There was a spherical cockpit beyond that, which was large enough not to feel cramped, with two seats, one with a wetware helmet just like Sam’s simulator and one in front of the ship’s rather impressive computer system, most of which sat in an enclosed space between the exercise room and the cockpit.  It housed navigation and monitoring software, a library of books including a technological encyclopedia, movies and video series and a few hundred of the latest video and wetware games.

            Of course, when I arrived I had only seen drawings.  I knew also that the gravity could be adjusted from 3G, which I did not intend to use, to -1G.  Negative gravity was only useful to fight inertia.  I would be able change the direction and strength of the gravity in each room from the cockpit at will, as each room came equipped with synchronized gravity control. 

            As I stepped out of the chopper, I took a long first look at what was going to be home for a long time.  Most people would have been nervous, but I was feeling grinning excitement, thanks to the sense of security my future self had imparted to me.  A group of people came to meet me.  Sam was there, with Dr. Chang, my future self and a slew of other people.  One of them introduced himself the designer of the ship's wetware and I promptly forgot his name.  What’s-his-name gave me the lowdown of which controls took signals meant for which parts of my body.  It seemed to be just like the simulator.  I was led into a squat building next to the launch pad and through a tin tunnel to the ship’s cargo airlock.  It lay open, invitingly, and was large enough to drive a bus through.  Sam and several other people took turns giving me urgent advice, while my future self reassured them that nothing was going to go wrong.  I got several goodbye handshakes from strangers and a hug from Sam.  My future self slapped me on the shoulder and told me to enjoy myself and everybody filed out so that the tunnel could retract.  I boarded the ship and had my first experience with controlled gravity.  Nobody had told me that it was set so that the wall that held the airlock was being used as a floor and I promptly fell on my face.

            I looked up and found that I was face to face with a large mechanical spider.  The thing’s single camera-lens eye whirred and clicked as it focused its robotic attention on me.  I stood up.  The spider was one of the maintenance robots that cleaned and repaired the ship, helped grow plants and so on.  I knew how to give them instructions through the ships computer.  This one looked at me with its camera and went back to its cleaning duty.  It had determined that I was not a mess or broken part.  The cargo bay was a large cylinder with round access doors, which stood inside its section of the ship, centered by its supports.  Walking on the wall, I could stand in the space between the wall and the cylinder.  I would also find out later that it is honeycombed with narrow tunnels, so that people and maintenance robots could get to any cargo item at any time.  It was easy to get lost in there.

            I walked to the cockpit, where my down became the world’s down once again.  I turned on the computer monitor in front of the pilot’s seat, which was sideways from my perspective, and it asked me “prepare to launch? (Y/N).”  I pushed Y and it began doing stuff.  I waited a few minutes to see if it had any other questions, which it did.  “Activate wetware piloting?  Push any key to continue.”  I poked the space bar and climbed into the other seat, the one with the wetware helmet.  It took me some time to strap in, because down was currently behind me.  I almost fell out of the seat, but soon I was plugged in and ready.  The plug took over my senses and I stood on the launch pad, staring up at the deep blue sky.  I looked around.  I could see the pad and the launch building, with its giant, skeletal robot hand holding me in place.  I could also see the untended fields around the launch area and the houses and woods beyond the fence.  I used the Long-Range and Enhanced Image features to look at a bird in a tree and found that I could see every feather.  I put it back in Visual Light Mode and then zoomed in on the launch building’s big observation window.  The people who had led me to my ship were all there, parked in front of computers and other equipment or watching me out the window.  My future self waved.

            “Hi, there” I responded.  The communication system turned itself on as soon as I opened my mouth.

            “That’s not proper protocol,” Sam teased over the radio.

            “You never taught me protocol,” I shot back with a mocking whine in my voice.  Sam Chuckled.

            “Are you plugged in or using the computer?” Sam asked, getting down to business.

            “Plugged in,” I told him, spying on him through the window.

            “OK, I need you to unplug so you can start the launch software.”

            “I started it before I plugged in.”  Someone in the background confirmed that they were getting feedback.  I zoomed in on his computer screen and saw that it was telling him that all of the ship’s systems were starting.  I felt a humming vibration as though it were running through my body as the reactors and engine turned on.  Translucent white letters appeared in what seemed to be the corner of my eye, telling me that systems were coming on and maintenance robots were moving into position.  When I tried to look right at the letters, they move with my gaze so that they were always in the corner.  That would take some getting used to.

            “Ok, we can go through the checklist now,” said Sam.  I zoomed back in on the window and saw him sitting, holding a clipboard.

            “Don’t bother,” my future self commented in the background.  Sam looked up as if about to comment.

            “Do we need to know about any problems,” Dr. Chang interrupted.

            “Someone’s going to spill his coffee here, so everyone back up your hard copy.”

            “Give us a minute,” said Sam.

            He switched off the communication and I saw him have a conference with Dr. Chang and the others, occasionally checking the computers.  My future self was making faces out the window whenever they were not looking.  Someone spilled his coffee all over a stack of papers.

            The software designer sat down in front of the communication station, with Sam looking over his shoulder like a protective mother.  “Mr. McCrellan,” What’s-His-Name began.

            “Call me Josh,” I said, still spying on him through the window.

            “Josh, we are going to skip most of the normal procedures, since this is a special case and have a countdown, so you can be on your way.”


            “You need to tell him how to work the boosters,” my future self reminded him in the background.

            “Josh, are your engines ready?” asked What’s-His-Name.

            “My ass is warm,” I told him.  I assumed he would know that I could feel the temperature of the ship’s components as if they were my body parts.

            “OK, um, we will count down, then fart.”

            “What?” I asked, chuckling.

            “There was only one compatible set of nerves to link the rocket boosters to”, explained What’s-His-Name.  “We will count down, then you fart really hard and pull up your legs, so the engines and boosters will work together.  Once you leave the atmosphere, the boosters will be automatically ejected and we’ll salvage them later.”

            “These engines can’t reach escape velocity on their own?” I asked.

            “They can, but you’ll save a lot of fuel this way," he explained.

            Sam spoke up “T-minus ten seconds and counting?” he asked, with an excited tone mixing with his businesslike voice.

            “Ready when you are!” I told him.  Now I was getting nervous, the realization that I really was going into space hit me.

            Sam and What’s-His-Name counted in unison.  “Ten, nine,”

            My future self motioned out the window that I should look up.  I let the sensors slip my point of view back into place automatically, so that I was staring straight up into clear blue depth.  I heard the countdown continue.  “Five, four, three, two, one, go!”  I pushed and the boosters roared to life.  I could feel the acceleration as I gave a constipated heave.  I looked straight up as the heavy acceleration continued.

            Sam spoke up.  “Goodbye, Josh, ‘been nice knowin’ ya!”  It was the only time he used my first name.  I could hear murmuring in the background, especially Dr. Chang babbling about what a huge leap forward this launch was.  Then I hit the ozone layer.  My boosters were still making a noise like a tornado and the sky turned orange.  The burning sensation washed over me and I let out a long “Yaaaaaah!”

            Sam’s voice responded urgently.  “What’s wrong?”  I didn’t respond.  Sam kept talking, “Mr. McCrellan, are you there!  Sound off!”

            “I’m here,” I said, hurting.

            “What’s wrong?”

            “I’m traveling through the ozone, it feels like I’m on fire.”

            “You’re not, are you?” Sam asked.  I assumed he meant to ask if the ship was burning.

            “No, just hot.”

            What’s-His-Name spoke up.  “The outer skin of the ship has a little extra coating on it, which is designed to be burned off by the friction and absorb the heat before anything important gets damaged.  It’ll be gone by the time you leave the atmosphere.”

            “Did you have to make it so painful?”

            “You are going a bit fast,” said Sam.

            In spite of what Sam had told me, I kept going at the same speed and soon the pain was gone as though it had never been there.  The blue faded to starry black and I felt the boosters turn off.  They fell away, making me feel a little lighter.

            “The boosters are off,” I told Sam.

            “OK, slow down and unplug, so you can chart your course on computer.”

            “Fuck that!  I’m gonna have a look around the solar system.”

            “Inadvisable.  There is a risk of collision.”  Sam sounded let down.

            “No there isn’t,” my future self corrected.

            “The probability of a crash has been contradicted,” Dr. Chang reminded him with enthusiasm.

            I spoke once more.  “Goodbye everyone and thank you very much for everything!”

            Everyone spoke at once.  I picked out Dr. Chang’s voice through it all.  “We owe you our thanks, your job needs doing.”  I shut my mouth and stopped hearing the transmission.

            I did not know it at the time, but I was celebrating on the ground with the crew.  That is, my future self was enjoying champagne and delicacies with the rest of the launch personnel.  He, I, stayed there for several hours, talking about the mission.  I could tell them everything, since my former self was not there to hear it.  I answered all sorts of questions about colonization, space travel and temporal navigation.  Of course, the more champagne I had, the less coherent my answers became.  Then I headed for home to enjoy my retirement.  I would be back occasionally to discuss my log, but my work was done.  That’s the end of my story, sort of.  Of course I, my former self, was still plugged in and moving, still at the beginning of the mission.  I could remember doing the supply run and then returning to Earth and finding myself.



back to main page