Caught Somewhere In Time – Chapter 04
Location: En route to Luna, Earth Orbit
Local Date: Friday, November 17, 2220
They chatted for a while longer, and then Audrey showed Val around the ship a little bit. The tour lasted much longer than a ship this size required due to their constant chatting, but it included both the engine room and the sleeping areas. Having lost track of time, the two women eventually made their way back to the main cabin, and Val looked out the window, noticing they appeared to be much closer to Luna than she expected. She thanked Audrey graciously for the tour and the company, and she rushed back to the cockpit. As she squeezed past Chan again and slid into the pilot’s chair, she apologized for taking so long.
“I trust Ms. Audrey answered all of your questions.” The Admiral seemed to let his statement hang in the air for a moment before looking to Val for a response. Val simply nodded and continued strapping herself in for the descent to the lunar surface. “Good,” he finished.
She began rolling the ship to put the surface below them in order to make the approach to LunaBase. The rocky Aristarchus plateau slid beneath them as she slowed the ship and reduced altitude. The base’s dock came into view ahead of them and docking instructions lit up the display on one of the consoles. She landed the ship as directed, into the administration hangar, and Chan smiled at her, apparently glad she flew his ship so easily.
As they gathered their things, about to leave the cockpit, a chime sounded on Chan’s wrist. Chan answered the call, “This is Admiral Chan.”
“Welcome back. Listen, you received a private communication sent to you from Mars a few minutes ago,” said the man’s voice issuing from the communicator.
Chan’s brow furrowed, as if confused. “I have just landed with Ms. Cooper. I will receive it once I arrive in the lab.”
“It’s marked as urgent, sir, from the Militia at Mars Colony.”
“Send it to my office then,” Chan told him. “Doctor Corning will hold it until I get there.”
“I did that when it arrived. I’ll see you in the lab.”
“First,” Cole interrupted, “won’t we get into trouble for intercepting the messages?”
“There is a distinct possibility, Mr. Sydney, that this might actually be the reason for which you will be dismissed. With that in mind, and also the fact that you have already been terminated, I see no reason not to play it.” Cole couldn’t help but laugh. Dr. Corning seemed so much more logical, to whatever end he required, than Cole would have considered. The intelligence continued, “The textual message reads, ‘A flying saucer was captured from Mars orbit. One human on board.’ I understand why this information would be relevant to the Admiral, but it does not seem related to you in the least. That is, assuming that you are not the human they found on that saucer.”
Laughter filled the room as Dr. Corning laughed at his own wit. Cole felt only dread at the idea of it though. The time ship might be confused for a saucer, due to its shape, but the finish on it made it mostly invisible. If what the Doctor suggested held any accuracy, then Cole would be in much deeper trouble in the future than any trouble he might currently have. A holographic display appeared on a console at Chan’s desk. Cole sat in the chair with a lump in his throat as it began to play.
“Admiral Chan, sir. We have captured an alien vessel. We have the vessel locked down in our secured bay, and I have to tell you that it is completely unlike anything I have ever seen,” the Commander said, shifting as if uncomfortable. “To be perfectly frank, sir, it appears to be a flying saucer, in the classic sense I mean. It is a basic wing design, only circular. There do not appear to be any lines where metal is joined together, and the landing gear appeared to pour down to the ground rather than just being extended and landed upon. Words cannot explain the strangeness of it.”
The Militia Commander’s hologram paused briefly and looked around, as if to make sure there was no one else in the vicinity while he recorded. In a more hushed tone, he continued. “This appears to be another one of the ships we studied, only fully operational. I saw it in the air, and it was amazing! There were no aliens aboard though, just a kid. A human kid. He says they raised him, but he couldn’t explain it any more than that, because he started having seizures. They seem to have stopped now, but he has been unconscious since then. Please contact me as soon as you get this message, because I need you to come out here and take control of this operation. I won’t be able to keep my people quiet about it for very long.” The Commander saluted, and the hologram vanished.
Cole sat at the Admiral’s desk, confused. He leaned forward, putting his head in his hands, trying to collect his thoughts. Dr. Corning spoke first, “Not what you were expecting I presume?”
“No. No, it wasn’t anything to do with me at all.”
“Well, if it had nothing to do with you, then I would suggest that you not mention it to anyone. You do not seem the type to gossip, but there it is.” The situation suddenly seemed much more complicated, since his only lead has just turned out to be nothing to do with him at all. Dr. Corning asked, “What are you thinking now, since this did nothing more than waste some of the limited time you have? Is there a Plan B, as they call it?”
“I could go back in time again, to before Chan left for Earth, but then it would be even more difficult to stay hidden. There’s no way to know that anything would be turned up if I did that anyway, and for the probability of detection, it’s just not worth the risk. No, I have to find out in this time.” Cole’s heart sank, and he felt utterly lost.
“Is there anyone you could question that might know something about it, in this time?” asked Dr. Corning.
Cole thought about it. “He might have said something to Audrey about it. She’s not around though, not until he gets back.”
“When do you suppose… let me rephrase that, Future-man. When will that be?”
Cole checked his watch. “They will be here in about forty-five minutes.” The wheels started turning in his head. He might be able to corner Audrey outside Chan’s ship after they land. She always brings his baggage through the front entrance of the lab, while Chan always comes down the private corridor. “I could meet Audrey at the ship. I didn’t ever see her after she arrived back from Earth, so I won’t need to stay hidden at all as long as I am with her!” Cole jumped out of the chair and ran for the door, completely neglecting any stealth he might have used before. “Thank you Doctor! You may have just saved my sanity!”
Cole rushed out the door. Before the door closed, he thought he heard the doctor say, “Chalk another to the win column,” but Cole didn’t spend very long trying to figure out what that meant. He started feeling very ill suddenly, and his hands trembled. He grabbed on to the wall to steady himself and looked around at the hall in which he found himself. At one end was the exit into the lobby, and the other end opened into the main lab area. As he watched, he saw himself walk by, carrying something past the lab’s end of the hall without stopping to look up from it. Cole ran the opposite way, not stopping until he arrived in the reception area and closed the door.
It occurred to him suddenly that he didn’t actually need to be as frightened as he felt. There could be no real danger here. He just experienced Novikov’s Effect for the second time, only Cole’s excitement caused him not to recognize it. The Effect would have gotten worse he thought, if he attempted or even considered moving toward the lab. Earlier today, when he had been the Cole in the lab reading from the Tekboard, he never looked up to see himself in the hall. That meant just now he felt only a false danger, but it had been strong enough to remove him from the situation just to be sure. The chance of creating a time paradox is zero, according to Novikov’s work in the nineteen-eighties, and the Effect named for him is the consequence of trying to do so, even by mistake.
Novikov’s Effect did exactly what it should have: made every fiber of his being feel the urgent need to get as far from that situation as possible. It was an undeniable insistence of his very existence that he not meet himself at a time when he hadn’t remembered meeting himself. Even considering the possibility of going back toward the lab made him uneasy now, but he understood the uneasiness is merely a cosmic necessity, the universe’s way of always keeping the upper hand on reality. He would have to log this information down when he sorted out this mess.
This mess. Even after he solved it, Cole didn’t have a plan. His life’s work had been stolen from him. Even if, by some miracle, he found out why, he still would no longer have the ability to continue his work, at least not with the prior funding. Suddenly, another option for the future occurred to him. He walked up to the kiosk and said, “Reception, I need an empty Tekboard. Are there any extras in here?”
“To your left, Cole,” the machine replied, and opened a cabinet with a few extra office supplies and equipment. He pulled out a Tekboard, connected it to the hard-plug port on the kiosk and downloaded the majority of his most recent work onto it, as well as the basic blueprints and diagrams for the inner workings of the time-ship. It took about 15 minutes to fill the Tekboard near to capacity with information from the project. He disconnected the board from the kiosk and left reception, heading into the Avenue beyond with his own stolen work under his arm. Now he could continue his work, even if he never gained access to this lab again.
Cole followed the same path he took earlier, or would take later, from the lab to the administration dock. Trying to keep it all straight in his mind got very confusing. He walked to the large door at the back of the elevator bank and pressed the lit call button for the Administrator dock. In a moment, the door opened, and the familiar release of gravity allowed Cole to rise slightly from the floor. He landed again and the back door opened to the dock. He arrived just in time to see Chan’s ship emerge from the airlock at the far end of the large room.
Cole took it slow this time, instead of rushing as he had earlier, or would later depending on perspective, allowing the ship to land and the computer to link the ship up for fuel and oxygen exchange, a normal procedure for this part of LunaBase. It never ceased to amaze him how big this base appeared on the inside, despite how small it appeared on approach from space. He supposed everything looked small from space though. He held the Tekboard full of his own research under his arm as he advanced toward the ship, following the familiar handrail that went around the entire bay. Glimpsing the stairway descending from the shuttle, Cole ducked behind a nearby ship to watch the party leave. Audrey stayed at the top of the steps, seeing Chan and Val out. As they reached the entrance to the hall, Cole thought that Chan looked his way. It seemed impossible, but he felt sure that Chan spotted him hiding just out of sight.
As soon as the hall door shut with Chan and Val safely gone, Cole jumped up as high as he could in the low gravity. With gravity on the Moon, especially in places like the docking areas, being about one-sixth what it is on Earth, Cole jumped effectively six times farther upward than he ever would be able to in normal gravity. Springing again off the nearest ship, he flew high and far through the hangar, the air inside the room being the only thing able to slow him down.