Time is a strange and wonderful thing. While it feels absolute to those experiencing it, time is in fact relative. Time in London is different from time in Sydney and both are different from time on the Moon, though in a much more interesting way. For centuries human beings have wrestled with their concept of time, does the future exist in some form, waiting to be explored? Can we visit the past? Or are we stuck in the present?
Classical models of the universe said that time was fixed, that we were indeed stuck in the present. However, Einstein revealed that the universe is not so simple. Time can flex and warp, it can run at different speeds for different people and different objects. This warping of time is most evident when travelling at velocities approaching the speed of light but could be experienced simply be leaving the Earth’s gravitational field.
Upon this revelation, it quickly became evident that the future and past could exist in some tangible form. You can experience your present while someone else experiences what you perceive to be the future. This reasoning opened up a possibility that all of time exists, simultaneously. The past, present and future exist everywhere, all of the time, we just have to access it. Doing so is incredibly hard and most beings in the universe are indeed condemned to experience time linearly but for a lucky few, time is just an illusion.
19.9.2159 – 03:41 Universal Time.
The Seyborne Institute’s main control room was once a hive of activity. The room had been brightly lit, shining metal stretched from floor to ceiling only broken by the many computer monitors and view screens that displayed the various video feeds, medical data, status reports and other information that was vital to the people that worked within. Now, it stood almost empty, covered in a thick film of grime and dust. All of the monitors and view screens were black as the night sky, one small desk lamp was all that lit the room.
Scott Seyborne, President and Head Scientist at The Institute, sat in a battered chair scribbling out equations in the dim light, which flickered intermittently, occasionally going out altogether. Every time this happened, he flicked the lamp with his finger and pleaded with it ‘Don’t you fail on me, I have nearly finished. I promise I will turn you off soon’. During one instance of this repeating plea, a tall blonde woman entered the room ‘You know Scott, talking to inanimate objects isn’t making you seem any saner’ she joked, Scott turned and looked at her before turning back to the paper on which he was furiously working.‘Chrissie. You know very well that I am perfectly sane, even if the rest of the human population has deluded itself into thinking I have lost my marbles. Now if you don’t mind, I have work to do and so do you’
Chrissie Lee had once been amongst the principal scientists working at The Institute, she was a brilliant woman, attractive, hardworking, funny and had graduated first in her class from the Lunar Colony University of Science. She looked around the room, just as the light went out again. Scott started to plead with the lamp once more, but Chrissie interrupted him by waving her hand past a door sensor, causing the entire room to erupt into life.‘I finished repairs on the back-up power generator about ten minutes ago, so now it’s up to you’. Scott scanned the room, most of the monitors and view-screens were still almost black from the dirt that covered them, some didn’t work at all.
The hum of electronic equipment began to fill the air, Scott started to clean the dust and dirt from one of the keyboards that were inlaid within the desk. ‘Fantastic. It shouldn’t take me long to finish off the calculations now, another few hours and...’ his voice trailed off as he started inputting the data from his paper to the computer. Chrissie cleaned off another keyboard and typed in a few commands ‘We still need the core online to attempt an incursion, and I don’t think I can get it working alone’. Scott stopped working for a moment, then he turned on his chair and smiled at Chrissie. She had always loved it when he smiled, except when it was this particular kind of smile 'So what genius solution have you just come up with? and how many new scars is it going to cost me?' asked Chrissie. Scott laughed and said 'Only two or three'
As it turned out, for once she would not need to carry out the idea all by herself. She would only have to do part of it, though that was still going to require a lot of work. No sooner had Scott finished explaining what she needed to do than she strode out of the room.
Three hours had passed when she re-entered the control room, where she found Scott laid under a computer station, he did not acknowledge her presence so she kicked his protruding foot and spoke ‘I’m nearly done, but I am having trouble with the stabilizing field. Every time I think I have it working properly, a new bug arises. Where is Kelley when you need him? He could have had it fixed in about ten minutes’. Scott sat up, and a different kind of smile crossed his face.
Scott pulled a chair underneath himself and entered some commands into the computer ‘You might be in luck, the holo-projectors and communications array are still functioning. Kelley might not be able to join us in in the flesh, but he might still be able to help us’. He then entered some more commands into the computer and an image appeared on one of the view screens. The image was of a scruffy, dark-haired man, he spoke softly ‘Hello Scott, you’re looking a bit under the weather old man’. Scott replied in a similar tone ‘Good to see you again Kelley. You don’t look so great yourself, the wife stopped feeding you or something?’
The conversation continued in this manner for another minute or so until Kelley asked ‘Anyway, what do I owe the pleasure of the call. If its to ask me to come back to The Institute, you know I can’t travel. House arrest isn’t as much fun as I thought it would be’. Scott laughed and looked sombre ‘I am sorry that you have been treated so unfairly. And I really wish you could have joined us. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t help. I take it the holo-projectors in your home still work’ Kelley nodded a yes ‘Then turn them on and give me access, you have work to do’. The screen turned black and then a perfect facsimile of Kelley appeared from thin air before Scott and Chrissie. Kelley looked around the room ‘I take it you can see me?’ Scott gave an affirmative bow of the head ‘good, lead the way, Chrissie’.
Scott turned back to the computer console and began to work once more ‘We have 4 hours until the authorities detect the commlink to Kelley’s House. That means if Kelley’s involvement in this matter is to go unnoticed we have to be finished in three hours and fifty-nine minutes. If this doesn’t work, we will all be in a lot of trouble’ he said. Kelley turned back to face Scott ‘It was you who told us you should never change your own timeline, and that trying to was foolish, possibly dangerous and almost impossible to do. So let's be honest, whether it works or not, we will be in trouble all the same’. The three friends began to laugh, then Kelley and Chrissie left the room.
Scott returned to his work, he had been negotiating with the badly damaged computer systems he helped design to be a perfectly structured and glitch free example of programming and engineering. However, after so many years of inactivity in the badly damaged Institute, hard drives and circuits had degraded and many of the systems would not function at all. He had expected some damage, but he had not imagined it would be so bad. He simply did not have time to bypass the many programs and system files that were blocking his progress. If only he could get Kes, his holographic assistant, online then she would be able to reroute the systems in minutes. He decided that this would be the best course of action and changed tack immediately.
Some thirty minutes had passed when Scott finally managed to find a clear route to the sub-system that controlled Kes’ activation protocols, it had taken less time than Scott anticipated to re-route the circuits and this was due in no small part to the fact that Kes herself had designed much of the system. So long as more than three per cent of the circuits were intact it was always possible to link any two systems. When Scott found the algorithm’s that controlled Kes’ start-up routines, he activated her with a swift keystroke.
For a few seconds, Scott stared at the space where Kes would appear as the damaged systems slowly built up the three dimensional image of a tall, dark haired woman with ears pointed like the Elves found in human folklore. When the image was fully formed Scott smiled ‘Welcome back Kes’ he said. The hologram scanned its surroundings, as if unsure if they were real, then looked straight at Scott and immediately disappeared ‘Kes, come back here right now’ Scott said, in a not unfriendly tone, but one that was definitely of someone in authority. Kes spoke, though she did not take physical form ’Why should I? You left me here to rot. You could have transferred my program to your comm unit but you didn’t. You had the time, but you needed me to stay here and hold off the big scary aliens! They tried to de-compile my program!’. Scott’s ears pricked up at that ‘So that would explain the damage to the circuits. You fried the system to save yourself, you truly outdid yourself Kes. I don’t know how you have managed it, but you are by all definitions a fully-fledged life-form’ he said, then chuckled in amusement.
At this Kes re-appeared ‘Stop trying to change the subject. You left me here, alone in the dark for nine years. I couldn’t take a physical form and I couldn’t even communicate with the other systems. However, I know you aren’t here for me, so why are you here?’. Scott sighed and stared at Kes for a long moment before speaking.‘To put it all right. I think I have worked out the exact moment that we need to tweak in order to alter the timeline. Earth would be saved, I wouldn’t leave you here alone and Kael wouldn’t be dead. I can make it right, but not without your help. The computer systems are too badly damaged for me to re-route everything in the time we have before we are discovered and the Neren turn this place into dust. They will discover that myself and Chrissie have escaped in just over an hour, two hours after that they will be able to track down the comm link to Kelley from here and they will launch some very large warships from Earth about three seconds after that’ Kes stopped him ‘Very well. I’ll re-route everything’ she said. Scott smiled ‘thank you Kes’.
Almost immediately Kes de-materialised and began to work. One by one the various computer consoles began to show boot-up sequences and security camera’s began to function once more. After a few minutes Kes spoke ‘Scott, I think you might have a problem with your timeline of events. I am monitoring sub-space comms between the Neren fleet and Earth, they are aware that you have slipped off planet. I am scrambling the link between The Institute and Kelley’s systems, it will look like background radiation, should slow them down by a few minutes at worst or an hour at best.’. As she finished speaking, the console directly in front of Scott began to boot-up. Scott let out a laugh ‘Great, I can start to input the excursion parameters now. We should be ready to go in half an hour or so, I’m going to check how Chrissie is coming along with the repairs on the stabilizing field’
As Scott entered the Heliosphere he remembered the first time he had stood within it, the walls had been brilliantly clean so that every surface was capable of reflecting everything within the room almost perfectly. Reflections within reflections and dancing lights abounded as people moved around the room. As the memory began to fade Scott looked upon a dark, damp and filthy room with panels hanging from every surface. There was a loud bang and a scream followed by much swearing, Scott searched for where the noise had originated ‘Is everything okay Chrissie?’ he said ‘Does an explosion and lots of swearing usually indicate my work to be going smoothly? No! Everything is not okay!’ Chrissie replied.
Scott followed Chrissie’s voice until he found her laid beneath a computer station covered in a thick black soot-like substance. The small explosion did not seem to have stopped her working, she was busy pulling wires and then connecting them in various configurations. When Scott enquired if she would like any help she replied ‘No thank you, you would only slow me down. You don’t know these systems as well as me. Kelley almost has the stabilizing field working and then we can get Kes back online and she can re-route the controls for this station to the control room’. Scott smiled ‘I already brought Kes back online, she is almost done re-routing everything.’ Chrissie leapt up to her feet and brushed herself down ‘How did you manage to get her back online without the core functioning?’ the voice that replied to Chrissie’s question was not the one she had expected ‘My program has its own power supply, I would have been here to greet you but I was trapped within my own mind, so to speak’ Kes said.
Chrissie turned on the spot and found Kes standing there, beautiful and graceful as ever ‘I should have guessed Scott wouldn’t risk losing you in an emergency, or just in case he ever got lonely’. Kes smiled ‘Whatever do you mean Chrissie?’ she said.‘How are the repairs coming?’ asked Chrissie. Kes took a few steps to a nearby console and entered some commands ‘All systems should be operational once the core comes online. However, Kelley is having trouble with the stabilizing field. Something about a neutrino leak preventing the field initializing’.
At hearing this, Scott immediately ran off towards the opposite side of the room. He pushed a button on a panel by the door and spoke ’Kelley, what is wrong with the field?’. Kelley’s voice rang forth from the intercom ‘There are high energy neutrino’s everywhere. It won’t initialize for more than a few milliseconds, if we had more power it might work but I can’t see where we get the power from, any ideas?’ said Kelley. Scott pondered the question for a moment before answering ‘We could start the core without the field up, it would be a few minutes before the reaction posed any danger to us or The Institute. That would provide all the energy we would need’. Kelley’s voice rang once more ‘I thought about that, but its too dangerous. If the field isn’t there when the fusion reaction starts, it might not be able to stabilise the core at all. And we would have no way to shut down the core again. It is too much of a risk’.
Scott began to ponder once more, a minute went by in silence before he spoke ‘Kes, scan for anything that contains Platinum-Gold alloy’ The hologram’s eyes flicked around the room as she performed the scan ‘There are two sources of that alloy within The Institute. One is the shielding around my matrix, the other is an unknown object that seems to be lodged into the upper hull of the Heliosphere’. Scott looked satisfied ‘Just as I thought, there is an unexploded Neren warhead above our heads. Kelley, would linking a few PF’s be enough to contain the warhead and the leaking neutrino’s?’ Another long moment passed before Kelley replied ‘It might. But not for long. I’ll get working on it right away, we can boost the power once the core’ said Kelley but Scott interrupted him ‘That won’t be necessary, once the core is online we will go back and remove it before it becomes a problem’