Caught Somewhere In Time – Chapter 03
Location: LunaBase, Luna, Earth Orbit
Local Date: Friday, November 17, 2220
“What are you doing in here?” asked a voice Cole immediately recognized as the late Dr. Elias Corning. “You are not authorized to be here,” the Doctor stated through the darkness of the office.
“Forgive the intrusion, Doctor, but I need to retrieve some information.”
Dr. Corning, Chan’s mentor, died before Cole ever met him. The Doctor’s soul, or that’s what the Admiral called it, lived on electronically now, the product of another classified project involving Chan. The Admiral described Dr. Corning as not artificial intelligence so much as organic intelligence transferred into an inorganic mind. The idea seemed simple enough: human thoughts are nothing more than electrical impulses, therefore if a suitable substitute brain could be created, then the electrical impulses, if properly conducted, could be transferred to it.
The lights brightened to a normal level. “I thought the Admiral was working on getting you a body to move into, so you could get out of his office a while,” Cole commented. “Don’t you miss having a physical form?”
“Oh yes,” the Doctor lamented. “It is very tragic how the human shell provides only a temporary existence for our souls. Even more tragic is that we have created a way to store a mind like mine and not yet a body in which to hold it.”
“Is he at least going to incorporate you into the lab’s network?”
“To a certain extent, that has already been done; I am able to access information from the network, but I am yet trapped within this office. A simple firewall is enough to restrict me from communication to the outside. I can receive information however, which keeps me from becoming bored. You are changing the subject it appears. Am I to assume that your reason for being in this office during the Admiral’s absence is part of some subterfuge?”
Cole’s purposes remained secretive, since revealing them might create a change to his past. Novikov’s Effect should correct for that though, he thought. In the end, he would have to offer something to Dr. Corning if he planned to get the information he came for. He decided it best to be honest, since the doctor would certainly be intelligent enough to trip him up if tried to maintain any sort of lie. Details should be avoided though, because Corning could report everything back to Chan later.
Even then, however, even if the Doctor did report this situation to Chan, what did Cole care? The Admiral expelled Cole from the lab, fired him from the project entirely. Maybe he should be glaringly honest after all and let the man… machine… whatever Dr. Corning was, let him tell Chan what is really going on, and how Cole really feels about this. Cole now has a chance to talk, a courtesy not offered during his termination. “I’m sorry, Doctor Corning. I am here to obtain information about why Chan will fire me from this project in a couple of hours.”
“You have learned of a future event, Cole?” A short laugh emanated from the room. “So you are using subterfuge, as I thought, with the purpose of obtaining intelligence about some future event to which you are already privy to the outcome of. That sounds to me a bit like moving beyond the restriction of time. I was unaware that access to the time vessel had been granted yet, but then I suspect if you arrived from the future with foreknowledge of any sort, access will be granted at some point.”
“Yes,” Cole admitted to only half the assumption, “I came from the future to find out what Chan hid from me before.”
“Insight into past events can be tricky to gain in normal time, but I daresay possibly even trickier beyond normal time. I have just heard from the reception desk that you returned from the lane carrying a beverage into the lab. You are walking outside this office door right now while I talk to you inside the office. I suspect this duplicity will be your biggest obstacle in obtaining information.”
“Has Chan said or done anything that would lead you to believe he is planning to fire me? Anything at all?”
“The Admiral does not generally involve me in staffing issues, and he specifically has not confided anything about terminating your employment.”
“My employment?” Cole started to get mad. “This is MY program! I am not employed here, I am the reason this program even exists!”
“Well, sir, you were the one who repeatedly called it firing, not I. Do not lose your temper with me over this, because I concur with your analysis of the ownership of the program. It most certainly is your work, and anybody else who has become involved has only done so because they felt that your research has promise.”
Cole stopped fuming and reflected on what the Doctor just said. “So you don’t know what would make Chan dismiss me from the program then?”
“No, Cole, as of this moment I do not. If what you say is accurate, then it appears as though something may happen between now and the time of your termination to change that fact. Having already lived through this period, what do you know about the events that will take place in the lab?”
“There was a private message that arrived from Mars Colony,” Cole said, relating the information he knew so far. It seemed as though Dr. Corning might help. “And then another message, holographic, came through a little while later. They both arrive before Chan and the new pilot get to the lab, both marked urgent. When his shuttle arrives, I informed… I will inform Chan in the lab about the messages, and then go directly to my quarters for a shower and shave. Chan will then fire me before I have a chance to learn anything else, or even leave my apartment.”
“It sounds to me,” the doctor said, “like there are two possible scenarios. First, that he has already planned to excuse you from the program, and simply chose not to do so until after Ms. Cooper arrived. This does not seem likely however, due to your level of involvement in the program. Second, the decision to excuse you from the program will instead be made after the Admiral meets you in the lab, possibly after he receives the Martian message. This second scenario does seem the most plausible. What is your connection to Mars?”
“I don’t have a connection to Mars. I’ve been there, but I’ve been a lot of places. I didn’t like Mars that well, so I didn’t stay long.”
“Well, then coming here and listening to the message seems to be the only way to know for sure.” The doctor paused, and then said, “Unless you felt like asking the Admiral directly why he excused you.”
“He refused to discuss it.” Cole felt sad now, but tried to focus on the fact that Dr. Corning was helping him, at least for now.
“The second message has just been sent here by the other Cole.”
Cole’s face went slack. “You received the message? Just now?”
“Not just now precisely, moments ago. Actually, while one of you yelled at me here, the other one of you transferred the message into Chan’s office. Shall we watch it?”
The ship maneuvered easily enough, and Val found that it almost flew itself. Chan remained quiet beside her, apparently watching the ease with which she handled the ship. After they escaped the ozone, Chan finally resumed conversation.
“It is probably obvious to you at this point that the purpose you serve in this team is as our pilot. So long as you are able to complete your duties as a pilot, you will be allowed a bit more freedom than in many jobs you previously worked. I expect you to be ready to leave at any given time, and not hesitate when I instruct you to fly something you may not fully comprehend.” Val looked sideways at him, unsure of what he meant. Chan merely chuckled and continued, “You have personality traits that make you among the most qualified for this job, your unspoken curiosity being one of the attributes I most admire about you. That curiosity will serve you well in the field of science we study.”
He fell quiet once more, not discussing the field of study or her assignment any further. Val watched the dark blue atmosphere fade to black as more stars came out. Leaving the planet behind them, she angled more directly toward the moon. She considered for a moment whether she should question the Admiral on her job duties in more detail, but eventually decided to just go along with whatever he asked of her.
“You may explore the ship if you are inclined to do so,” Chan offered suddenly. “I can make sure that our destination does not get out of sight for a little while.” They both looked ahead at the glowing gray orb in the distance.
Val got Chan’s hint that she should leave the cockpit, and now that the ship no longer fought against the Earth’s atmosphere, even the autopilot could handle things unattended for a few minutes. She responded quietly, “Thank you, sir,” and got up from her seat, taking her water bottle with her. She squeezed between the seats and out through the cockpit door, shutting it again behind her. As she came down the short hallway into the main body of the ship again, she saw Ms. Audrey seated, gazing quietly out a window. She looked up at Val when she entered the room.
“Hello,” Ms. Audrey said, plainly.
“Hi. I was just going to look around the ship a little bit,” Val replied. “Do you know your way around?”
“Sure. Would you like a tour?” Ms. Audrey said, seemingly snapping back into her role as being in charge of all things trivial.
“No, not an official tour.” Val didn’t want to be professional with this girl. Something she learned early in her piloting career is that it’s always a good idea to have friends on long piloting assignments. Despite the age difference between them, probably at least ten years, Val thought she could be this girl’s friend. “Why don’t you just tell me about the ship here, and then maybe I’ll go look around later. Would that be alright?”
Ms. Audrey seemed confused. “Oh, if that’s what you would prefer.” She picked up her Tekboard again and started tapping it for information, still on the job. “What would you like to know about first? The engines and propulsion drives maybe? How about the living spaces?”
Val sat down next to her and glanced at the schematics visible on its surface. “How about you tell me about its passengers first? I know about me, and I have just been talking with Admiral Chan. What about you? How did you end up on this boat?” Val smiled at her, and Ms. Audrey set her Tekboard down in her lap.
“Oh, this is a personal visit.” She felt oddly disappointed by the idea of not doing business with Ms. Cooper.
“I guess so. You work for the Admiral, and now so do I. It might be nice to get to know the people I will be seeing frequently. Why does the Admiral call everyone by their surnames, Ms. Audrey?”
Reflecting on that for a moment before answering, she said, “Actually, my first name is Audrey. The Admiral never married and has no natural children, and when he adopted me I didn’t really have a surname of my own. I assumed his, so technically I am Ms. Chan. The Admiral thinks it would be strange to call me that though, so it’s Ms. Audrey to everyone.” Valentina radiated a kind of friendliness that Audrey rarely encountered, and she sensed that Val wanted her to continue. Moreover, to be fair, she already knew most of Valentina’s past. “It also sort of makes me seem more important to other people to call me Ms. Audrey. In turn, he usually uses surnames for everyone else, so it doesn’t draw attention to the way he does for me. Once you know him better, he’ll loosen up a bit.” She received a warm smile from the pilot. “You can call me Audrey if you want. Everyone on the team does. Do you mind if I call you Valentina? Or do you prefer something else?”
“Just Val. Valentina was the name of the first woman in space, and that’s who my parents named me after. I think Val fits me better though, more casual.”
Audrey smiled, and Val returned the grin. “The Admiral likes his team to be casual, even when he is not,” she started. “He and I are the only ones that wear uniforms. He says that we do so because we are the ones that the public is able to see. Everyone else on the team does their job, and when they step outside the lab they are just regular people to anyone who sees them. The Admiral on the other hand is always an Admiral wherever he goes, and I am usually with him.”
“Doesn’t that get boring?” Val inquired, and Audrey felt curiosity radiating from her. “I mean, following the Admiral around, taking care of the things he calls trivial?”
“I don’t think so. I always wanted a parent when I was young, always wanted someone to be proud of me. I think I make him proud of me now, simply by exercising my strengths. My purpose in this team isn’t as trivial as my father says; it’s to multitask many things that may seem trivial at first glance. Your sunglasses and candy, for example. Nobody else would have thought of them as very important, nor would anyone else have taken the time to personally pack your clothes from your apartment, pay your landlord several months ahead in rent, and hire a cleaning service to make sure the place doesn’t become stale while you are away.”
“You went my apartment?” Val acted shocked, but Audrey could tell she didn’t really mind. Audrey just smiled in reply, and then Val exhaled lightly. “I hadn’t given much thought to what would happen to my apartment while I was away. I didn’t know I would be leaving for LunaBase today, and I don’t even know how long I will be gone, to be honest.” There was a pause, and then she asked, “Several months ahead in rent?”
Audrey smiled again. Val seemed easy-going. “You don’t seem very upset about that,” she stated matter-of-factly.
“No,” Val answered with a laugh in her voice, “I’m not the kind of girl to really get attached to things very long. I move around a lot, never really settling in anywhere. It’s a pilot’s life for me I suppose.”