Caught Somewhere In Time – Chapter 07
Location: LunaBase, Luna, Earth Orbit
Local Date: Friday, November 17, 2220
Val took a moment to orient herself a little during Chan’s absence. The corner seemed to be halfway down the hall, with the lab behind her, and the lobby ahead of her, according to Chan’s directions. Another side hall up ahead looked like it went back toward the lab, except it was only halfway to the lobby, so maybe it just connected between the spokes. Chan emerged from the darkened room after a few moments and collected his Tekboard from her.
“Val, I have some immediate matters to attend to. Cole has graciously offered to continue your tour from here.” With that Chan walked ahead toward the side hall, and turned down it, heading out of sight.
Val found herself dumbfounded. Cole should be at the opposite corner of the compound by now, since they walked in different directions, and yet he emerged from the dark room right behind Chan. “Where did you come from?” she asked, now too confused to be flustered by his presence.
“Val!” Cole exclaimed. He checked his wristwatch for the time and said, “What are you doing back so soon? You aren’t supposed to be back for another hour.”
“What do you mean ‘back’? I just got here! Don’t you remember? We met not two minutes ago in the lab.” Val didn’t understand what was going on. He already shaved and changed his clothes in those few minutes of time, and his hair looked dry already. Really, he should just be reaching his quarters to get started on all of the above, if that had been his plan!
“Just got here?” Now Cole looked embarrassed. “Oh, um… yeah. Right.” Cole straightened up and became businesslike suddenly, his face turning a little pink. “Well this is your apartment here, then. If you go straight down that hall, you’ll be in the lobby, and beyond the lobby is the public area of LunaBase; we call it The Avenue.”
Val noticed that Cole didn’t seem to want to give her the tour that he had apparently offered Chan. “So that’s the tour, is it?” Her confusion frustrated her, and she might have told him so, if he weren’t so flustered already.
“Uh… I’ll tell you what. Meet me at the café across from the lobby in a half hour, and I’ll finish the tour. I… yeah. I need to go now.” Cole put his hand to his smooth cheek, as if wiping away a bead of sweat from his temple, which struck Val as adorable for some reason that she didn’t fully understand, and then shuffled quickly down the hall. Val was left in awe of what just happened.
Cole felt trapped. Chan was right, and nothing Cole could say would change that fact. He had just seen the other Cole in the lab. Never mind that Chan would hear the truth from Doctor Corning or possibly from Audrey before long. Neither of them would be able to withstand scrutiny for very long, Cole guessed.
“I need to talk to you about that. You see, I traveled…” but Chan cut him off.
“On second thought, I do not want any details. The less I know the better, I presume. I want you to answer two questions only, and then this conversation will be over. A simple yes or no will suffice. First, did I spot the time ship outside while I was on final approach to land?”
Cole reluctantly said, “Yes, at least I think so. I thought I saw it there too.”
“Second, is Ms. Cooper involved in this?”
“She only followed my orders, like she’s supposed to. None of this is her fault. I…”
Chan cut him off in a harsh whisper. “A simple ‘No’ would have sufficed, even if it was a lie.” Chan put one hand over his eyes for a moment. Cole assumed that Chan’s day had been very long. The Admiral rubbed his eyes and temples briefly, and then put his hand back down to his side. “I have not authorized the use of that vessel yet, and I certainly would not authorize it to be set down outside Valentina’s apartment window where anyone flying by could spot it. I am not sure whether my new pilot saw it out there or not. I fear that she might have simply not told me she if she had, given that she spotted it so quickly in the hangar bay.”
Cole stood silently. He dared not say another word. Obviously he wouldn’t need to, since Chan recognized that the ship sat parked in two different places at once.
“Well, I suppose we cannot have two of you around here at the same time, even if it would get more done.” Chan relaxed a little, like he usually did after he’s been in Cole’s company for very long: always rigid at first, and more comfortable as a discussion continued.
Cole still didn’t say anything. He thought that saying nothing would be better than digging himself into a deeper hole. The way Chan acted confused him. He seemed not to be upset at all about the obvious use of the ship without his approval, only problem-solving a solution.
“Due to the nature of the situation and your involvement, I am simply going to have to sort this mess out for myself. When there are no longer any duplicate people in this lab, I want to see you in my office.”
“Yes, sir.” Cole nodded at the Admiral’s dim silhouette, the light from the doorway behind Chan making him only a little visible in the dark room. Chan turned and walked out of the room leaving Cole thoroughly perplexed. It appeared that Cole would not be fired from the project if he is expected in the Admiral’s office later. Except that Chan hadn’t fired Cole yet, that wouldn’t happen for…
The answer washed over him in a strange sort of tingle. Cole had just gotten himself fired after all, as Audrey guessed earlier, and the Doctor alluded to as well. Chan would be on his way to fire the other Cole now. There seemed to be a causality loop, the old chicken and the egg loop, that had his head spinning. He went into the past to discover the reason for his firing, and his firing was due to his going into the past.
There would be a lot to talk about when he met with Chan later, because this just didn’t make sense when held up to the logic involved in Novikov’s self-consistency theory. There is no way he could have affected his own past that way. Ramifications from this would propel his work in a completely new direction now.
Cole shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts and headed out the door, confident that Chan already turned the corner in the hall by now, but when he emerged from the room, Val stood there looking at him, with an odd look on her face.
“Where did you come from?” she asked.
“Val!” Cole said. Caught off-guard by her presence, he forgot which Val he stood in front of for a moment. “What are you doing back so soon? You aren’t supposed to be back for another hour, or something.” The reality of the situation flooded him suddenly. He felt his temperature rise with the realization of the critical mistake he just made.
“What do you mean ‘back’?” Val replied. “I just got here! Don’t you remember? We met not two minutes ago in the lab.”
“Just got here? Oh, um… yeah. Right.” Cole couldn’t stop from turning a little red. He had been so lost in his own thoughts that he forgot that he lost all track of which timeline he existed in currently. He figured he’d better make the best of it though, so he tried his best to be professional and get away from her at the same time. “Well this is your apartment here, then. If you go straight down that hall, you’ll be in the lobby, and beyond the lobby is the public area of LunaBase.”
“So that’s the tour, is it?” she asked, obviously unhappy with that. He needed to get out of here fast, but didn’t want to mess up the past any worse than he already did. There’s no telling how Novikov’s Effect would apply now that he had lived through an impossible paradox. Then a thought occurred to him.
“Uh… I’ll tell you what. Meet me at the café across from the lobby in a half hour, and I’ll finish the tour.” He knew he was horrible at thinking on his feet like this, or at least communicating when he’s on unsure ground, but what choice did he have at this point? “I… yeah. I need to go now.” Cole wiped a bead of sweat he felt forming on his temple. He turned and walked away toward the lab.
Val just shook her head and cleared her thoughts. Thinking too hard about what just happened would probably only result in a bad mood, and she felt determined not to let that happen today. Opening the door to her new apartment, Val turned on the light. Sparsely furnished, the unit appeared to be set up like a studio apartment. Straight in from the door at the near end of the apartment she saw a small kitchenette. It looked like maybe a small bathroom hid behind a door near that. A large fabric tapestry that hung from the ceiling all the way to the floor covered the far end of the unit. The tapestry depicted an evening lake scene on Earth with the moon glowing low over the water. She shut the door behind her and said to herself, “Here I am on the moon, and my accommodations include a picture of the moon. Real original.”
She laughed to herself and moved deeper into the space. A couch and table sat in the center of the room, and a home-workstation across from that. She approached the bed and saw her luggage piled at the foot of it with a note. She read aloud, “Welcome home Val! Your friend and neighbor, Audrey.” She smiled “P.S. Open the blinds,” she read. At the sound of her voice making the command, the tapestry began to roll up toward the ceiling, uncovering the window behind it. Beyond the window, she saw the barren landscape of the moon stretch out in front of her, and slightly above the horizon, where the moon had been in the tapestry, hung the Earth half-full and shining in her window.
A lunar day lasted about twenty-eight Earth days, with the sun gliding very slowly overhead for two weeks, and then leaving you in darkness for two weeks of night. From Earth, these appear as the phases of the moon in the sky. Of course, from here, the Earth was always in the opposite phase. The only time you could see a full Earth happened when Luna fell into darkness. This was common knowledge for anyone who visited here, but the exciting part for her was the moon’s synchronous orbit.
Since Luna always keeps the same face pointed toward the Earth in its orbit, the Earth is always in the same general direction in the lunar sky. It wobbles around a little over time, but is always in the same region of the sky. That meant Val could always look out her window, anytime she wanted, and the Earth would be right there looking back at her. It might be shrouded in darkness occasionally, but it would always be right there. That thought made her smile wide.
Val looked at herself from outside, astonished that her other self hadn’t seen the ship sitting right outside her window now when she so easily spotted in the hangar earlier. Cole and Audrey were gone now, as they would be of course. The blinds hadn’t been closed for very long before she saw herself open them, which seemed odd. She’d have to ask Cole about it after she lands. The hardest part would be coming soon… Getting back into the lab with the ship.
She took a few minutes to finish unpacking her bathroom essentials, noting that Audrey apparently already found everything she might need. Once done with that she decided to try out a quick shower before meeting Cole at the café. As the water ran through her hair, she realized that she lived off-planet now, at least for a little while. She moved around on Earth quite a bit over the years, and flew all through the Solar system during her life. Through it all, she always called Earth home. Val smiled to herself once more, thinking that she finally moved beyond the planet that always drew her back before. Not far beyond maybe, but she had moved on. “Maybe I’ll stay a while,” she said to the showerhead.
She dried and decided to dress in something more casual than the suit she’d worn all day due to Chan’s speaking engagement. Chan and Audrey had been in uniform, but Cole didn’t seem worried about his appearance at all, and in fact someone mentioned something to her about remaining casual. She pulled a few things out of her luggage and started to put them into the closet, when she noticed there were already a handful of clothes in there. At first she thought they belonged to the apartment’s previous tenant, but on closer inspection the clothes were all in her size. She chose a simple red tunic and some pants, noting that both included hidden elastic that would keep them from floating away in areas without gravity. Once dressed, she ran her fingers through her still wet hair, checked to make sure no makeup would be needed, and then headed out the door.