Caught Somewhere In Time – Chapter 06
Location: LunaBase, Luna, Earth Orbit
Local Date: Friday, November 17, 2220
Admiral Chan led Val through a secured doorway and into a long hallway. They walked several yards down the hall before Val realized that there appeared not to be any doors in the hall. She looked past Chan to get an idea of the hall’s length, but she found it difficult to tell. From here, it seemed endless.
“It is a very gradual downhill slope,” Chan offered, as he glanced back over his shoulder at her. “You will not notice the incline very much as you descend, but you feel it in your legs coming back up the other way. It is a private corridor leading directly to our lab at the other end of the base. There are moving walkways on the upper level to get us there, but I prefer to walk after spending time in flight.”
Val just nodded behind him, although Chan didn’t see, then she asked a question. “Sir, I wonder if we could talk about my mission. Isn’t there supposed to be a briefing of some sort?”
Chan stopped and turned. “If you want to know something, you need only ask. I will not guide you any more than you require me to. The briefing will be at your pace and at your request. I daresay, you have spoken up quite sooner than most do.”
Val felt somewhat unsure about what he meant, but it seemed that she would be in charge of her own briefing. “What do you mean sooner than most?”
Chan smiled, turned and began walking again. “Arthur holds the record for being the slowest to receive his briefing. He was in the program for almost two weeks before he asked about his primary objective. I began to wonder if he planned to stall indefinitely.” He chuckled quietly to himself.
“You have already told me that my purpose here is to be a pilot,” Val said. “I am not questioning that at all. I want to know if I will be travelling through time.” Val started getting impatient. She expected a briefing before they left Seattle, and instead she found herself walking down a seemingly endless empty hallway, hours later, under the lunar base with no idea what she was actually expected to do. “Sir, I want to know what my mission will be.”
“Patience is a virtue, but curiosity even more so.” Chan fell silent a few seconds, seeming rather mysterious, and then he continued. “You have been selected to pilot a time machine into the past. There will be some work before you go however, that should prepare you for what awaits you there. You will be visiting to Earth in the late nineteen-forties. I want you witness whether or not the famous crash in Roswell, New Mexico ever actually happened.”
“I don’t understand. You want me to go witness a crash that may not have happened?”
“I hold a great deal of interest in extraterrestrial intelligent life. It seems that during the nineteen-forties, and later as well, many flying saucers were sighted. There is even a legend about one crashing into a field in New Mexico. History tells us many things Ms. Cooper, but truth is not always one of them. A mission to the source seems like the perfect opportunity to see how Novikov’s Effect works at great distances.”
Val stopped for a moment, but Chan continued to walk. She shook her head trying to clear her thoughts, and then jogged to catch up to the Admiral. She noticed that the far end of the hall loomed in the distance in the form of a brown door, the only thing of color besides the two of them in this long white corridor. “I don’t even know what that is.”
“That will be corrected during your training for the mission. Something to keep in mind however, your mission will be only bear witness to unfolding events. You are forbidden to interact. You are there merely as an observer. If your feelings tell you to do something, then I am ordering you to trust those feelings, and to follow their lead. This is the most important part of your mission. Any information you obtain would help us in the future, but you cannot leave anything behind while you are in the past, especially information. My orders notwithstanding, it would be physically impossible to change anything of consequence, or we would have already heard about it in our history books.”
Val tried to wrap her mind around this. “You want me to bring information into the future, but wouldn’t that be changing things in the future?” she didn’t understand how this could possibly make any sense. “What if this mission changes our future? You seem to be saying that our past is already set in stone and cannot be changed; wouldn’t that apply to our future as well then? What would happen to my future grandchildren, theoretically, if there is a problem and I don’t return?”
Chan slowed his pace and chose his words carefully. “Igor Dmitriyevich Novikov postulated in the nineteen-eighties that the mathematical likelihood of someone creating a time paradox is zero. What that means is you will be physically incapable of changing the past during your mission. Nothing you are able to accomplish while you are there will change anything in history, or so the theory says. If you are successful in bringing new information back to the present, then it likewise will not be able to change the course of our future.”
“Then why go at all? If anything I bring back will not change the future, then what’s the point?”
“Cole will help you understand Novikov’s Effect better as you prepare for the mission. In the meantime, just think about it like this: the underlying result of your mission will be a test in free will. If the choices you make in the past cannot ripple through time into the future due to the Effect, then the choices we make now will similarly not be able to ripple through time into the future. It’s easy to see that history affects the present, but we are trying to ascertain the extent to which the present continues to affect the future, or will be able to affect the past.”
Val’s head spun for just a moment, not fully grasping the concept, so she changed the subject slightly. “Sir, does that message you received from Mars have anything to do with this mission?”
“I sincerely hope not,” he replied as they reached the door at last.
As Chan stepped through the door, he appeared suddenly light on his feet. Val stepped out behind him and felt her weight escape her as well. She shut the door and realized that they were inside another smaller hangar. It appeared only big enough for only one or two vessels, but it seemed to be empty, but for the two of them.
Artificial gravity rarely found use in hangars, leaving them with no more or less gravity than the surface outside. This aided the craft in entering and leaving. A sudden change in gravity, like she experienced walking into the hangar, is much more difficult to maneuver in a ship, so it is generally not permitted. Val grew accustomed to this situation long ago, being a pilot, and normally knew how and where to expect it.
Something caught her eye as being out of place in the empty bay however, like a small silver plate floating in mid-air across the bay from her. She thought most people might not even notice it there in the big room, but as a trained pilot, she always looked around quickly and noticed everything. As she moved toward the plate, it seemed to grow larger right in front of her, and appeared to be closer to the size of a small car as she got halfway to it. She backed away a bit and it shrank again slightly. With every bouncing step forward, it continued to grow until it occurred to her that it was actually very large, a ship unlike anything she’d ever seen before. A silver disk with no windows or lights on it at all, the edges of the ship seemed to blend into the surrounding area.
“Be careful,” the Admiral warned from across the bay, “It is much closer than it looks.”
Val bounded to a stop at what appeared to be several feet away from the strange ship, when she suddenly saw her reflection floating only inches from her face, like a holographic mirror projecting her image in front of the ship. She reached out and touched the hologram, but it felt solid. “How is this possible?”
“That is something Arthur will have to tell you about. He discovered a way to make the ship mostly invisible by tricking the eye. The body of the craft actually bends light through it, so that what you see is only a reflection of whatever is behind it. From 20 yards, the ship is nearly invisible. You noticed it much sooner than I did when I saw it complete for the first time.” Chan let her feel around the exterior of the ship for a moment. “You will have plenty of time to get acquainted with your ship later. Let us go upstairs now.”
Val turned to him to speak, but saw that he hopped up to a landing about five feet up, and then up again to another. She saw that the landings rose in a circle around the cylindrical bay leading to a door about three stories up. He turned and motioned for her to follow.
It took her very little time to catch up to him, since she was in better physical shape than the Admiral, and then he went through the door ahead of her. She glanced back down and couldn’t see the ship at all anymore. She smiled and remembered what the Admiral called it: her ship. As she stepped through the door, her weight returned with the increase in gravity, and she slumped for a moment before regaining her composure.
“Admiral…” she started to ask what he meant by it being her ship, but never finished her thought.
“Mr. Sydney… Cole, this is the newest member of our team, Valentina Cooper. She will be our mission pilot. Valentina, this is Cole Sydney.” Admiral Chan just made an introduction that she thought she had been prepared for. Cole needed a shave, badly, and probably a change of clothes. He looked like he only just woke up, and in fact appeared to be just finishing a cup of coffee. Nevertheless, he seemed like he could be very handsome underneath. His facial hair was tinted a little gray, while the rest of his hair matched his eyes in a deep shade of brown. He seemed tall to her, nearly a head taller than Val, and when he smiled, deep dimples pulled at his cheeks. Cole’s face appeared kind, something she didn’t expect from an inventor who likely spent all his time buried in his work. She thought he’d be older, grumpier or sullen, more cynical.
She found herself at a loss for words, completely caught off guard by him. She stuttered for a moment like a nervous schoolgirl before Cole said simply, “Hi, so you’re the new kid?”
Val didn’t know what to say. So she just blurted out, “Yeah. Hi.” What was the matter with her? She never got like this, especially around men. Generally speaking, she got along with men better than women. Val started to blush and turned toward the door as Cole began talking to Chan.
“Mars Colony is being very impatient. They sent two messages, and the second requires a reply. I don’t know what’s going on over there, but they really want your attention for something. Dr. Corning has them both in your office. I’m going to go to my quarters to get cleaned up. Let me know when she’s ready to start.” Cole handed Chan a Tekboard and turned to Val again. “So I guess I’ll be seeing you around.”
“Um, yeah,” she muttered, trying not to look at him, and hoping he didn’t see her blushing. She pretended to look around the room to save herself the embarrassment of meeting his gaze.
“Well, come along Valentina. I will show you to your quarters. I expect Ms. Audrey will have delivered your belongings in the time we took to get here.” Admiral Chan started walking through the lab. The entire compound appeared to be laid out in a semicircle around the small hangar bay. The large lab area they stood in seemed to extend halfway around the bay, with various electronics and data centers that Val didn’t fully understand. It appeared that three halls led away from the lab. Cole wandered over to the furthest left of these. To the right, the corridor went at a right angle from the left one. A wider central corridor went straight ahead of them, running diagonal between them like spokes on a wheel. Chan headed toward the right corridor and Val followed, glad to be away from Cole until she could get a grip on herself.
“What’s down the other halls?” Val asked, trying not to think about her surprising infatuation.
“Cole appeared to be heading toward his quarters down the far hall. The Lobby is accessible down the central corridor, or if you follow the other two corridors around their corners, all the way to their ends. There are sixteen living quarters in all, eight down each side hall. There are only six of us on the team currently, so there is a lot of space to move around. During earlier phases, more people worked on building the ship. Arthur and Daniel share one unit next door to Cole. Arthur is our mechanical engineer, and Daniel is our resident physicist. Lovely couple really, but they are very boring at dinner parties. They met here on the project.
“This corridor leads to the other half of the living quarters. This first unit on the right is empty currently, as it the unit across from it. The next door is Ms. Audrey’s apartment. Your unit is the first one around the corner.” Chan stopped as they rounded the corner and looked concerned suddenly. “Please wait here a moment, and hold this.” He handed her the Tekboard and jogged past the door that now apparently belonged to her. He opened another door a few feet past it. The Admiral stepped inside and left the door slightly ajar behind him as he entered the dark room.
Cole left the door open a little and moved back into the dark room, afraid that a closing door would be less noticeable than one still slightly ajar. As the two approached the door, they stopped, and then fell silent. Cole held his breath, nervous and still trying to reassure himself that logic does not allow for Audrey’s assertion. His predicament became more mind boggling considering he was in danger of being caught and fired right now. What if Chan just saw him somewhere else in the lab, and then found him lurking in this room? Novikov’s Effect wouldn’t allow that to happen. He couldn’t be in two places at once, because it would cause a paradox, and paradoxes were, by definition, impossible. He didn’t have long to consider it however, because the door swayed open and the Admiral stepped inside.
“Who is in here?” Chan asked quietly to the dark room. Cole continued to hold his breath. “I can see your shape in the light cast by the door. Is that you, Cole?”
“Why are you hiding in this room, and how did you get here so quickly? We just left you in the lab.”