by Peter C. Conrad
Beyond Time, my alternate history novel published by Netherworld Books, United Kingdom.
In the novel Beyond Time, the Planetary Coalition, of which Earth is a member, has trained Alex Swithen; to police time travellers, but in a naive attempt to change and purify history he changes it forever. The new world the he has created is the one we know, with our history. In it, he must live as an “out-of-timer” in an era that was ours, but he is now alien. He seeks, in a small way, to help the people of the past who suffer in this new cruel history. He travels back in time to the University of Monpellier in 1522 to be trained in medieval medicine to help the masses that suffer in the plagues of the time. He brings with him the medicines of the twenty-fifth century. He begins living his life as a physician and a prophet.
But, the Time Bureau is aware of Alex’s leap in time and brings him back. In the twenty-fifth century, a new group has formed to carry out a mission in the deep past to change the history of Earth. The Coalition of Planets acts to stop such activities because of the instability it creates in the Coalition. Alex carries out the mission and successfully stops the “time terrorists”. He seeks and receives permission to return to sixteenth century France.
The scholar read the ancient Latin script he had just found in an archive discovered buried in the desert of Egypt. It was now known that these were some of the works retrieved from the oldest library known to man; the library that had been lost long ago to fire in Alexandria, Egypt. He had been well trained and had a long distinguished career in translating ancient scripts. He has learned to look at the larger picture and to ignore things he found in libraries and archives that just did not fit with the known world. He paid no attention in his younger days when he found pamphlets produced in Rome and apparently produced on a printing press. It had been established that the printing press was invented in 1455 and there was no need to examine these parchments to understand why they looked like they were printed on a machine.
It may have been his age, or maybe a lapse in concentration, but he stopped and stared at the script. It was produced in 31 BC and it clearly described a procession in celebration of the god Isis. The description stated, “Among the great procession was a machine that moved without man or beast. It hissed: the wheels moved by the mystery of steam…”
The historian leaned back in his wooden bench and allowed himself to imagine what could have been if the script was describing a true event? If this technology did exist, how was it lost to man.
Alex Swaithin stood under the station dome on the dark side of the moon in his Confederation of Planets uniform. He was aware that the uniform made him look even taller than his narrow six foot two inch frame. The Lunar dome was entered from what was a small building off to one side, which was in fact an entry to a large subterranean complex. The clear dome made Alex feel as if he was standing on the surface, like a barren field on Earth looking up at a sky that was a spectacular landscape of stars and planets. The distinct colours of the celestial bodies in the sky stood out. Alex had been in a place like this before during the dream-like encounters he had with his mother in those months after she left. They said she had died in an aero-car accident, but there was no ceremony, or anyone arrive to talk to him about it. It was just his father who took him to one of the rooms of Flowing Water in the Green Wall where there the fountains were always flowing. He was told that if anyone asked, his mother had died in an accident, but he would find out that she was somehow around. She had given him a Rook, his own castle, from a chess game, but it was a secret totem that he would find was very useful, especially when he was in trouble.
The Green Wall was at what was years ago, the outskirts of the city, the walls were glass and gardens filled it. The Green Wall was where most of the food was produced for the city. His father was a botanist that kept the gardens with many others. This is where he came with his mother from what he knew as a child as the Meadow. They lived in a city beneath the Meadow. It was a city that was as bright and warm as the surface that was itself a garden, orchards, and forests as far Alex ever knew.
Alex felt tired and empty today, the day he was to begin his Doctor of Temporal Engineering. It was always this way, he thought. This was his seventh degree; Alex could have taken many positions before now, but kept returning to university classes. It was easy, with the constant feeling that he already knew every lesson, before he started it. When he was asked if he ever intended to take a position, he would say, “I really haven’t found what I’m looking for yet.” What was he looking for? Alex could not answer the question, as he was still searching.
Although Alex knew he could not ask anyone what the totem was his mother had given him, he knew what it could do. If he pressed it once, like his mother told him to, he would tele-transport to a different place, which was always safe. He used only a few days after he was told his mother had died and people wearing gray uniforms arrived asking questions about his mother. His father said she had died in an accident, but the men did not seem to believe what they were told. Alex heard it all as he hid in the plants that created a canopy. They asked if she had anyone with her when she arrived, but his father said no, as if Alex did not exist. His father acted and spoke as if he was related to Alex’s mother. A woman in a gray uniform was holding a small machine, turned, and looked in Alex’s direction. Without thinking, Alex pressed the top of the Rook and vanished, travelling to one of the room of flowing water. He went to the kitchens that were always found in the same locations, no matter what sector one was in, for the workers. Alex helped himself to a hamburger and fries. He realized that what his mother said to him many time, nothing is what it first appears was true. Alex knew he did not want to know too much about what was true. He would search for the truth later.
Alex was eating on one of the small table beside the kitchen by the flowing water when he saw the same woman in a gray uniform step out of the elevator from the level below. She was clearly looking for something or for him. Alex placed his hamburger on the plate in front of him and felt warm; his heart was pounding, as he slipped to his left where she would not see him. His hand was slippery with perspiration as he handled his little castle, but it slipped to the floor and bounced. Alex leapt at the place it fell as he could now hear the steps of the woman approaching. He found the rook and pressed the button three times, and vanished. Alex was aware of a flash and then he stood in a place where there was an absolute silence, the universe appearing to be closed in around him with bright stares, colourful nebula, comets, and planets. He was aware of a presence behind him and he turned in a fear: the woman in the gray uniform had captured him. His mother stood before him, tall, athletic as she had always been. She looked at her son and smiled.
“It didn’t take you long to discover the power of your totem,” she said.
“Yes, I am never far away.”
“Where are we?”
“These are one of the things you can’t know yet,” she said as she looked out toward the Orion Nebula.
“Why does everything look like this?”
She looked at the constellations and celestial bodies that filled the space around them with an innocent happiness Alex had seen her have years earlier.
“Time and space are different than many think. They are at the core of the universe we live in.” She looked at Alex and tuned to the objects around them. “You know much of this already. Distances are measure by the time it takes to travel at the speed of light, but this is more than a convention—as we change time, we change distances.”
“But, where are we?” asked Alex.
“Maybe it isn’t where we are, but when.”
“Then when are we?”
“You’ll know at the right time, but what is important is how you get both of us here,” she said.
“I just grabbed my totem and pressed it …”
“Three times,” said his mother. “What was happening when you pressed the rook three times?”
“There was a woman coming for me … she was wearing a gray uniform.”
“Was there more than one in the gray uniforms?”
“About five, but the one that followed me was the woman,” said Alex.
“You used the totem like I told you to when she came for you,” asked his mother.
“Yes,” said Alex.
“Good, that was what supposed to happen. You tele-transported to another sector of the Green Wall.”
“Yes, I ended up at one of the Flowing Water centres.”
“Your totem is a powerful tool and weapon, so used it only when you must.”
“A weapon?” asked Alex.
“It manipulates time and space through fields that are at the foundation of what this universe is founded. You have already learned all of this, but it is waiting to be fully activated in your mind. You will become well versed in the technology of transport and time.”
“I didn’t learn any of this in the institution,” said Alex.
“When we were in the Meadows you learned what was needed—learning is not what it appears to be.”
Alex had heard the phrase that what is not what it appears applied to everything. He had a sense that there was a whole construct of learning within him that could not be explained by the processes at the institute he attended and the certificates he already had at thirteen years old. He was a very successful student, attending his on-screen learning sessions, small groups, lab work, research, and writing papers; what else would there be to the learning process. Yet, Alex had sense that he had already learned many of those lessons that he was taught every day.
“Who were the people in the gray uniforms?” asked Alex.
“They will not bother you again. They work for the thieves.”
“What?” asked Alex, as he felt uneasy and unsure by the strange reference. His mother looked at him with intensity and concern.
“You must never tell anyone that we met here, that I exist, that you can come here using your totem. Do not suggest to anyone any aspect of what I tell you here,” she said. Alex shook his head. “There are those who are the best takers that ever existed; they understand the perfection of theft. They take from those that believe that they are friendly, perhaps even saviors, but they are taking the most valuable and precious from their victims, without the loss ever known. This is what the gray people do.”
“What could be lost, without the victims knowing?” asked Alex.
“Their future, their essence, their ideas …”
Alex remembered appearing in the refuge of a small group of lemon trees in the Green Wall as his father waked by. He never forgot the encounter with his mother, but felt uncertain about whether it was a vivid dream or was it another part of reality.
Alex had been selected to train as a time traveller because of his mix of science, history, and linguistics degrees. It was disorienting to be plunged so fast into something new: a field of study that he hadn’t even known existed a few months before, everything he had learned was the same as all of his education before; he felt like he already knew much of what he was presented. Alex had started to believe that there was some form of fatalism: he had studied exactly the right disciplines for years to be recruited into the graduate program of Temporal Engineering. He had followed a direct path of success to be Earth’s first time traveller.
His studies as a time traveller, or more accurately, a time police officer, was intriguing to Alex who after he considered how things could have been different if one event in history had been or could be changed. Alex was excited by the idea of actually travelling to an era to study it, but this was against the law. The Confederation had outlawed the use of time travel for study or artefact collection a long time ago. Yet, he felt that the technology was being wasted. If contemporary scholars had the ability to retrieve artefacts that would be lost in time and would not necessarily be lost to the culture it came from, why not travel back in time to attain them for future generations to study? Based on the experiences of other planets in the Confederation of Planets who had attained time travel technology and who had carried out these missions, it was concluded that the dangers of such missions had never been expected or realized until after they had been carried out. There was often a change of history that was concluded to be far too significant and dangerous to other planets in the Confederation.
The area under the dome filled with instructors, most of who were Askarians natives from the planet Askar.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” said the short fine boned Askarian with his larger than human eyes scanning the large group in the assembly area under the dome. The Askarians were the natural leaders in the study of time travel because they were the first in the Confederation to discover the technology to travel in time. They had a long history dealing with the difficulties in the use of the technology. They had studies the problems of technology arriving on other planets of the Confederation before they concluded the only solution was to bring time travel to the rest of the planets in the Confederation just before that planet would evolve the ability to build their own time machines. By doing this they were able to control the introduction of the technology and begin the policing of it before it could harm the planet’s history and the stability of the Confederation.
“I am sure you have acquainted yourselves with the rest of the candidates. You have been selected and invited to this training program, which we believe should take three years. Based on other planets there will be a ninety-two percent failure rate.
“You are aware that all of you have at least one Doctoral degree. This training program is unlike anything that you have been exposed to before. That should be clear to you in light of the fact that all of you hold degrees in both historical disciplines and the sciences and technologies. You will have to demonstrate ability in time machine mechanics, space craft piloting, as well as linguistics and history.” The Askarian paused for a moment.
“This is only a small part of what will be expected. An important criterion is fitness. There are several reasons for bringing you here to the moon for the first phase of your training. It is the best location to carry out your fourth class spacecraft pilot training. Everyone will participate in this training, even if you already have your space vehicle license. The second and most important reason for your training on the moon is that we have full time travel facilities established here. By establishing the time travel facilities here we will not run the risk of violating Earth sovereignty and the possibility of loss of technology to terrorists who may find it easy to travel to bases on the Earth’s surface.
“We begin this afternoon with time travel leaps to establish who are affected greatly by time leaps and those who are not. By doing this we will eliminate those who may have neurological make ups that cannot function sufficiently during leaping.
“We will not tell you how far back you are leaping. We have established in the distant past a station that is identical to this one. You will not know if you have had a flight across the moon’s surface or whether you have experienced a leap. We will use a series of flights as a control in your tests. Data will be compiled and given to you tomorrow. That will be all. Report to your stations in fifteen minutes for your test,” said the Askarian.
Alex stood up and waited a moment, and then he entered the isle. He didn’t like the speed with which they were going into rigorous training. He was tired from his trip to the moon the day before. He had just graduated his Master degree of Control Engineering three days before the trip to the moon. The party seemed to still have some affect on him.
He accepted training in the Temporal Engineering program because he knew the opportunity was coming in some way. He continued to have a foresight that was always with him. Alex did not have to accept a mundane assignment in some technological lab or another dull translating and archiving job like he had before he transferred back to University for engineering training. His life was paced out on some universal calendar that was playing itself out.
“It sounds like a lot of self important platitudes,” said someone behind Alex.
Alex turned and looked at the man behind him. “I wasn’t really listening too closely,” replied Alex. “I just graduated three days ago and must admit I’m a bit hung over still.”
The man grinned. “I know the feeling.” He was shorter than Alex, but like Alex the uniform made him look taller and thinner. He had black hair and clear sharp features, like a cop, thought Alex.
“I think I’m supposed to report to Station Six,” said Alex as he looked at his flight tag, which was on his computer note pad.
“That’s where I’m going too,” said the man. “I’m Ken Waiser.”
“Hello, I’m Alex Swaithin.”
“I know where it is, I’ve been here two days.”
“Good, you can show me the way,” said Alex. “I arrived late last night.”
“It looks like they are already giving you a hard time.”
“Maybe. Are we flying together?”
“I don’t think so. Two candidates flying together could cause difficulties in the control data.”
“We’re flying alone? I’m not sure if that’s a good idea, I’m not a space pilot yet.”
“It’s all automatic, Alex.”
“More automatic than manual, I hope”
“They are not all that different from flying aero cars on Earth. You do have one?”
“Yes, of course,” replied Alex.
“Here we are,” said Ken as he pointed down a hall with the number six painted on the wall. There was already a small group of candidates waiting for their spacecraft.
“Alex take that flight tag off your note pad and pin it on your chest,” said Ken.
“Right,” said Alex as he pulled the tag off the small computer note pad and pinned it on. The line was moving quickly, in a few minutes he was at the front of the line.
“Alex Swaithin,” said the Askarian.
“Yes,” said Alex. What does this do? I’m flying to a nearby station?” The Askarian smiled.
“You’ll see. Here is your helmet. You must wear this at all times. It is important for data collection.”
“Right,” said Alex. He pulled the tight helmet on.
“You’re a little tired, Alex,” said the Askarian.
“I came in on the last flight,” replied Alex.
“And maybe a little too much of a good time before that?”
“This little helmet tells you that?” asked Alex. The Askarian smiled. “What did I have for lunch?” The Askarian smiled again. “I guess this thing does have some limitations.”
“Would you please get in now?” asked the Askarian.
Alex did as he was told. The cockpit looked like any small private spacecraft with two seats. He nodded at the Askarian and the glass canopy slid closed.
The craft slid forward into the vacuum chamber before launch. In a second Alex felt the craft rush forward, hovering just above the surface of the moon. He watched as the craft picked up speed and height like any flying car at home. He blacked out. In a second he woke up to see he had arrived at a station on the gray surface of the moon. Well, that was a nice short ride and I blacked out, he thought. Well a long boring trip to the moon, one short introductory lecture, a two minute ride and he was washed out, he thought. What a fast record of failure. The canopy slid open and the Askarian smiled.
“You haven’t failed at all,” he said.
“These helmets are really something,” replied Alex.
“You have arrived very well.
“What does that mean? I took a little auto-piloted flight to the out-post, had a nap on the way, and you think that’s just fine?”
“Yes,” said the Askarian. “Especially after your flight from Earth last night and that hangover you have.”
“So I get another flight? Maybe right back to home base so that you can send me on the next shuttle flight to Earth,” said Alex.
“Well, we do like to give everyone a fair test.”
“How nice, I get the fly to another out-post first.”
“Away you go,” said the Askarian. “We have all the data we need from you at the moment.”
The canopy slid closed again. Alex found himself in the vacuum tube again. Well he did come here for the ride and perhaps the calendar of pre-set events in life has come to an end, so he may as well sit back and enjoy it. In a moment he was hovering over the moon again. In another moment he felt like he had blacked out again. When he came back to consciousness, he felt much better. He thought it was strange that he passed out so early, even if he was hung over. He thought it could be a program in the helmet that blacked out the candidates in the flight to protect the nature of the facilities the Confederation had established on the moon. Or, it could be a removal of the memory for the same reason. He watched as the spacecraft approached the vacuum tube and slid in easily. The canopy slid open and the Askarian looked carefully at Alex.
“No we don’t induce unconsciousness in the candidates to protect us from those who may like to know what our facilities look like here on the moon,” said the Askarian. “Don’t worry about the unconsciousness, it’s quite natural.”
“I don’t know why it should be,” said Alex. “My head is much clearer now.”
The Askarian stepped to the display panel and studied it for a moment. “Yes, that affect is confirmed in your case.”
“What? Have I travelled in time or is this still a training flight?”
“That information would play havoc with the data,” said the Askarian. “As you thought, just enjoy the ride.”
“Fine,” said Alex.
“Your increasing curiosity is a good thing. You were far too apathetic when you arrived.”
“Hmm,” said Alex.
“You realize that what you say doesn’t mask the truth about what your really thinking. You are intrigued more than you expected you would be.”
“I like that,” said the Askarian.
“That last idea you had. You thought we should get on with it. Maybe a leap back five thousand years would completely clear your mind. A time travel cure for your hangover.”
“I’m probably right about that,” said Alex.
“Good confidence level,” replied the Askarian.
“We have the data,” said the Askarian. The canopy closed and Alex found himself in the vacuum tube. The process repeated itself. He felt a little tired as he woke up and watched the craft maneuver itself into the landing dock. He thought it was simply a return of his hangover. The canopy opened in another station that was identical to all the others.
“It’s not a return to your hangover,” said the Askarian.
“I’m getting used to these conversation where we are half through them before I say a thing,” said Alex.
“No you’re not. You are getting more annoyed now than you were when you first started. Yes this is the last stop in this direction,” said the Askarian.
“I guess I’ll start leaps through time,” said Alex.
“You already know better. We have all the data collected,” said the Askarian. The canopy closed and Alex was on his way again.
Alex woke up in the vacuum tube of his destination moon station. He felt tired and dizzy. His hangover had returned. He looked up and saw the same Askarian that had buckled him into the craft; I’ve had it in this program, thought Alex.
“That will be all,” said the Askarian. “You can get out and stretch. There will be a debriefing for you in the room at the end of the hall. Alex pulled the helmet off and stepped out of the machine. The dizziness was fading fast. He felt fine as he walked to the room. He was surprised to see the Askarian who had given the introduction earlier waiting for him.
“Yes Mr. Swaithin please come in and sit down.”
“Sure,” said Alex. He crossed the room and sat in the only chair waiting for him. The sooner they get this over the sooner he could get on the shuttle craft and get home to whatever assignment they had for him.
“How do you feel?”
“Fine. I was a little dizzy when I got out of the spacecraft, but it is gone now.”
The Askarian smiled. “So what did you think you were doing out there?”
“For the most part, I was flying from station to station on moon.”
“Of course you already know that.”
“Yes,” said the short Askarian. “What would you say if I told you that we send no candidate out in simple space craft, but we send them out exclusively in time machines.”
“I’d say that I have a hard time believing that.”
“Why would you say that?”
“I’ve read about time travelling in the briefing materials I was given in preparation for this training. Every account of time travel I have read told about described how hard it was to time travel. I would have expected everything from sever exhaustion to cramps. I had none of that. My head was clearer with the first two trips, and the second last one I was a little tired. When I arrived back I was a little dizzy that is all.”
“That is confirmed from the data I’m looking at.”
“So why are we here? Aren’t you the director of the program? Couldn’t you just give me my return ticket to Earth?”
“Well, Mr. Swaithin we do stagger the times that the candidates arrive back here so I can talk to each of them.”
“I guess you could do that, but why would you?”
“You’re all volunteers and I feel it is the right thing to do. But, you’re not going back to Earth. I can share your data with you.”
“You’re first leap was 500 years into the past.”
“Are you sure you have the right data for me?”
“This is the first standard leap. There is no space travel.”
“I find that hard to believe.”
“Yes, I guess you would. Your second leap was another 1000 years back.”
“So on the second leap I was 1500 years in the past?”
“Your next leap was an additional 5000 years into the past. Your final leap home was 6500 years.”
“That doesn’t make sense. I hardly felt a thing.”
“You’re a rare person. I have a fairly good idea of how lightly you took this program, but you’re here now, and you’re better than our computer projections thought a human could cope with time travel. Your record is the best to date. You’re here to stay for one year.”
“Oh you’ll get used to it. Your profile makes it clear that you’ll have no difficulty adapting. It will not be long before you will want to know more and see nothing but this training program. That is your nature.”
“Where are the rest of the candidates?” asked Alex. He wanted to know how large the class would be.
“The majority are in a hospital established 500 years in the past. Once they recovered enough all of them will return. They will have time to recover again once they return here. They will find more suitable work assignments elsewhere. We calculate there will be twelve candidates that will be continuing in the program.”
Alex would need a little time to get used to the idea that he was going back into another training program. He understood the value of training in spacecraft piloting as the first stage. It would give him a chance to do something different before sitting in front of a computer terminal for hours again.
Alex felt bored as he looked at the cockpit of the flight simulator again. He had been simulating space flight for two months. It felt like the same virtual reality game over and over again.
“Dr. Swaithin are you ready for the day’s work?” asked the instructor. Alex wasn’t used to being called Doctor. But, the pause before he responded was nearly gone.
“What’s the mission today?”
“You will be plunged into the middle of New York Skyscrapers by the auto pilot pursuing a time machine. You know that the destination is bearing sector five-three. You must engage the chase and reach the sector first and neutralize the terrorist.”
“Right,” said Alex. Why had he bothered asking? He wished he could just take the machine and survey the surface of Mars. He adjusted his helmet and prepared to launch on the latest of the training missions.
“Check list sequence,” came the command from the spacecraft.
“Right,” said Alex.
“Manual check on stick.”
Alex placed his hand on the stick and moved it all the way to the right and watching the tilt of the machine for a perfect right turn, full stop, straight up and down.
“Full automatic pilot,” commanded the computer. Alex complied by turning on the appropriate switch that flashed purple.
“Second level automatic.” Alex complied.
“Third level automatic system check.”
“Check,” said Alex. “All systems go.” Alex felt the familiar sensation of travelling out of the vacuum tube. The head up screen covered his cockpit front window. There was suddenly a fully detailed city below him. It was an exact reproduction of New York in the year 1963. There were aircraft from that era off to the left, while a hot air balloon drifted surprisingly close to the right.
He watched the machine travelling in front of him. The silver sphere was unlike anything from the reality around him. It accelerated as it rushed to the narrow gap between two skyscrapers. The time terrorist’s machine had a narrow wingspan that rolled to the right until it was vertical. Alex switched to second level automatic.
“Confirmed bearing of sector five-three,” stated the navigation computer. Alex no longer cared whether the instructor had told him he should not leave the presence to the time machine’s flight. He pushed the stick upward with his finger. The machine curved upward into the sky. He saw nothing but the rush of lighted windows flash by. Then he saw the tops of the skyscrapers flash into the distance below him.
“Direct route to sector five-three,” said Alex into the computer.
“Locked and confirmed,” stated the navigation computer.
“In location drop to level of enemy machine, and wait.”
“Locked in and confirmed,” stated the spacecraft. Alex checked to see if the autopilot was at level one: it was. The flying machine responded well. It flew directly to the distant side of the city and flew straight up, turned and dived into the tight crevice of buildings.
“Veil,” commanded Alex.
“Veiled,” stated the communicator of the computer.
“Lock in process fourteen,” said Alex.
“Seek and hold in tractor procedure. Locked and ready,” replied the communicator. Alex sat in the seat of the simulator waiting. He fully expected to be shut down and be pulled for further training. He had disregarded all the basic rules he had been given. What if the terrorists decided to leap time the minute they thought they had lost you? They would be gone and your mission would be a failure. To hell with that procedure, thought Alex. A cat and mouse chase was ineffective and just as likely to lead to a loss of the travellers as reacting to a confirmed destination calculation by the computer. You have to use every advantage you have, thought Alex. It may be just enough to get the son-of-a-bitch. If he had to just carry out every rule set down there was no reason to send men on these missions. Machines are much better for following perfect rules and procedures than men.
“Craft approaching,” stating the computer.
“Procedure seventeen,” said Alex.
“Procedure seventeen: unveil and hold automatically, said the computer. The time traveler’s machine approached at maximum speed. Three green lights flashed at the same time. Alex felt the jolt at the time machine was held in his spider’s web.
“Temporal circuit disabled,” reported the computer communicator.
“Check,” said Alex. “Carry this machine to the roof top.”
“Confirmed,” said the communicator.
The two machines rose to the top of the nearest skyscraper and landed.
“MISSION COMPLETE,” flashed on the screen.
“Remain in your seat commanded Alex’s instructor over the speaker. Here it comes, thought Alex.
“No, Dr. Swaithin, you’re wrong,” said his instructor. “You have passed the final test.”
“The final test in the simulator?” asked Alex. “When am I going out on the planet’s surface for a chance to do the real thing?”
“Look around, Doctor, you have been doing the real thing all along. I can’t tell you if you were actually on earth just now, but have been piloting your craft in flight.” Alex looked out of the canopy; the display pictures had been programmed to play out on the inside of his visor were gone. He could see that he was landed on the top of a rocky cliff. A deep cavern stretched out to the north-west and to the south-east behind him. Alex flipped up his visor to make sure that this wasn’t a projected picture. The building that had been projected on his visor was in the place of the cliff walls, but they had been real. Alex turned his head and saw that another craft was sitting beside his. It was a full sized machine, but there was no pilot in it: a drone.
“Are you satisfied?” asked the instructor.
“I guess I am.”
“What’s left after this?”
“Nothing, Doctor. Oh, of course you will be reported as fully qualified in two minutes, but you can explore the planet. Have a good trip.”
“I shall,” said Alex. He heart pounded as he thought about the trip. He had been flying on Mars from the beginning. Or so they said. He knew well that once you removed time as a factor, he could have been sent anywhere. Distance was always described as the amount of time it took to get there. That star was so many light years away, but when years don’t exist, than neither does distance. He could have been on one of the moons of Jupiter. But, for now he was going to enjoy the moment. They stated that the time travel exercises were a mixture of space travel and time travel. It was all different forms of time travel. It all made sense. Even the simulator he sat in every day had to have been a tele-transport centre. He was transported everyday into a real spacecraft, thought Alex.
“That’s correct,” said Alex’s instructor.
“What?” asked Alex.
“Yes you were transported everyday into time craft and performed daily flying runs.”
I’ll never get used to those guys listening in to my thoughts. Every time I put this helmet on they are tuned in, thought Alex.
“That’s correct,” said his instructor again. “Your profile indicates some resistance to this form of communication.”
“That’s really good to know,” said Alex.
“Doctor Swaithin, could you please release the drone? We need it back here for another training run.”
“Sure,” said Alex. “Release the drone,” said Alex.
“Procedure confirmed.” Alex watched as the drone lifted silently from where it had been sitting. He thought it was strange how he attributed the silence of the action during his training flights as evidence that it was all simulated. But, of course in a vacuum, or near vacuum, there would be no air to carry the sound. Space, no this red planet, was a silent cold place.
“Lift to a thousand feet,” said Alex. “I want to just take a long look around.”
Alex was ahead of the rest of his classmates in flight training, like he had always been in all of his training programs. He had come to believe that the experiences he had earlier in his life when he would be in that place of stars, constellations, and the bright colours of the nebula standing with his mother was a form of psychological stress of her death and strange changes he had experiences from the Meadows to the Green Wall that had brought a dreamed reality. He had come to believe this when he graduated his second degree, when he found himself in that place again. His mother was there, but she had not aged. Alex had not pressed the Rook three times for all of those years, because a part of him wanted to leave the possibility of the realism of the dreams with his mother alive. What if he pressed the totem three times to test it when he was fully conscious and it did not work? But, this time he had not pressed the Rook three times, and he was standing with his mother. This is something as bad as having pressed the totem, because if he was now there wouldn’t confirm it was an illusion?
“We’re proud of the progress you’ve made,” Alex’s mother said to him.
“Is this real?” asked Alex.
“Yes, it is. This time I initiated the field so that we would be together.”
“You didn’t tell me that you could do that.”
“It may not have made much sense to you.”
“What wouldn’t make sense?” asked Alex.
“Why we have to meet here. Why we don’t meet more often …”
“Yes, that’s true,” said Alex.
“I’m pleased that you have the discipline to avoid using the totem too often.”
“I just know it’s not a good idea.”
“The use of this particular field can be tracked when everything is lined up just right.”
“Something like tracked by the Takers,” said Alex, feeling bewildered.
Alex’s mother looked at him with uncertainty. “You have come a long way and everything is on track.”
“It is?” said Alex. “There are times when I feel like I am drifting, that I don’t really know what’s going on.”
“Why do you feel like that?”
“Because everything is too easy. It’s like I know everything before I have been taught.”
“But, you do know everything,” said his mother. “You come from another place, where you have received all your training, even as a child. As you grow older, you are simply coming to realize what it is that you have learned.”
“The Meadows …” said Alex
“Where are the Meadows?”
“Not where are the Meadows, but when.”
Alex watched, as there was a flash to his right and he was again where he had been in the Green Wall in one of the Flowing Water rooms.
Alex sat alone in the lounge of the station relaxing and having a drink. This is a badge of honour, thought Alex. None of the twelve candidates in flight training were allowed to drink alcohol until they had been granted level three pilot status. He looked out of the window of the lounge as a drone then another spacecraft launched into the Martian sky. He smiled as he thought that he or she had no idea that they were out there, it made so much sense to Alex now. The students would carry out there exercises with a scenario played out on the inside of their visors. Then, once they have the confidence and the ability they don’t have to go through all the extra trouble of realizing how good they are. On the completion of their training they get a full dose of confidence. It would have been unthinkable on Earth in his past training programs.
“Hello,” said someone behind Alex. “I thought I would be the first one here.”
“Oh, hello,” said Alex. He felt awkward as he realized that he couldn’t remember the man’s name.
“Ken Waiser,” said the man. We met briefly on the first day.
“Sorry, Alex Swaithin.”
“Right,” said Ken with a smile.
“You figured out you had to break the rules to pass the test?”
“Strange. You could call this training nonconformist, just about anti-discipline.”
“Now that I know that, it sure makes me feel better about the program. They did say that you should believe that everything was real, but who would have believed it.”
“They certainly got me,” said Alex. “I was actually getting bored to death with the exact rises. The instructors must be amused to hear that the candidates are bored.”
“I hate them listening to my thoughts with a passion,” said Ken.
“That makes two of us, but than that is a great way of eliminating exams. The instructors know right away whether you know your stuff or not.”
“That’s true,” said Ken. “Did you hear the latest figures?”
“Figures for what?”
“How many are left?”
“Ten. Two washed out with the flying. They apparently went down the wrong caverns several times. In one case they ended up nearly crashing into the drone coming the other way. They crashed the drone and flew the student back on autopilot. Of course he knew that everything was real and refused to step into the simulator again.”
“What about the other guy?”
“I have no idea.”
“How did you find out? We are kept so isolated in this place.”
“My instructor told me today.”
“My instructor told me nothing at all. It was all business.”
“Like I said before,” said Alex.
“Take it easy on the drink,” said Ken. “You don’t want to be hung over like you were the day we met.”
“It doesn’t matter that much, I have a few days off.”
“Guess again; you’ll be on your way to Station Ten tomorrow for technical training on the time machines.”
“Well, you’re done. They want to keep us separate and train us separately so that we don’t know who else is in the Bureau. That way, if any one of us goes over to time terrorist work, and they are intervened on the ground by one of us, they will have no idea who we are until it is too late. It was just a chance meeting that has brought us to know each other and a bit of an organizational problem. They had to get a group through the system as fast as possible. They didn’t expect any more than one or two of us to be suitable. They’re alarmed at how well this group is doing.”
“Why?” asked Alex.
“It tells them that a much higher percentage of our species can time travel. That means we could have a much bigger problem than most species.”
“It’s almost like we were the one to invent time travel first. We will have our work cut out for us.”
“The problem is that too many of us know each other.”
“But we are on the same station,” said Alex.
“Not quite; there are Temporal Engineers in all these bases. There are usually two or three of us. The rest are here for pilot training for either space transport, or preliminary training for first rate pilots and the Star ship staff.”
“They haven’t forgotten a detail,” said Alex. He drank the last of his whiskey.
“Yes they have,” you should consider that everything in this training program has got to continue to move along this fast. Things are only going to slow down in your second and third years, when we all travel back to Earth to finished our training with academic course work.”
“Thanks for the advice Ken, it is probably the most helpful thing I had heard so far.”
“Don’t mention it. It gives us an advantage over the rest. I think they set it up this way to see how adaptable we are. No other work would need a highly developed ability to adapted than time travel.”
“I guess,” said Alex.
“Don’t forget to stay loose and expect anything.”
“All right. Thank you again,” said Alex as he stood up. “Have a good sleep.”
“You too,” said Ken.
Ken was correct; Alex woke up early the next morning to move to Station Ten. He tele-transported there only a few minutes after his breakfast. He stepped off the transport pad and was met by three Askarians.
“Hello Doctor Swaithin,” said the first, “I’m Anta, and this is Kara, and this is Aland.”
“Hello,” said Alex.
“We can get started with an orientation of our training facilities. We repair and operate time machines here,” said Anta.
“We have reviewed, in great detail, your past studies and we are quite satisfied that you should proceed quickly with this part of your training. You have all the necessary training in electrical design, computational systems and some understanding of the temporal circuits even though you don’t know it,” said Katu.
“Sounds fine,” said Alex.
Your technology has progressed to the point that the Confederation felt it was imperative to offer Earth time travel training. You see it will not be long before that small leap of understanding will be made by engineers like you on Earth to know how temporal systems function,” said Anta.
“I understand your concerns,” said Alex.
“We have already programmed the computer for your lessons,” said Anta.
“The remainder of your course work should go well. You have a unique—nearly perfect background for the Temporal Engineering. A strong back ground in history and linguistics, which eliminates entire sections of required courses. You have demonstrated the ability to time travel with virtually no physical effects,” said Anta.
“You have a creative sense and unparalleled ability to adapt to all situations,” added Katu.
“Your profile suggests that you have a keen curiosity and desire to seek the good. But, most importantly for someone with your profile, you arrived with no agenda or desires to use your abilities for self gain,” said Anta.
“I would go so far as to say you really did not care about the potential of time travel at all when you arrived. You were just trying to avoid the mundane nature of life. All these elements are impressive Doctor Swaithin,” said Katu.
“Good to hear,” said Alex enjoying the irony of the comment.
“I will show you your room,” said Katu as he turned and began walking down the hall. This station is the same as the station that you were at. All the recreational facilities are available and a spacecraft will be made available to you if you wish to use one. You will find that your room is larger than the one you occupied. The processing unit, which you will continue your studies, is located in your room. This phase of your degree studies will be familiar to you. Like on Earth you will be monitored and it is entirely up to you now fast you will proceed.”
“That’s good,” said Alex. He thought that he would take a day off before he proceeded.
“Here we are,” said Katu as he stood in front of an opened door. Alex stepped in and noticed that the room was four times as large as the one he had been in earlier. There was a small kitchen with a menu.
“Thank you,” said Alex as he stepped into the room. “This will do.”
“Good day, sir,” said Katu.
The door closed. Alex stepped to the kitchen and put his bag down. He opened the menu. It was very good; there was everything he could want.
“Do you wish something?” asked the terminal.
“A Scotch,” said Alex.
The small door in the counter opened and there was his drink. He settled back and looked out of the large panes of glass. The red Martian landscape was boring and depressing; he longed for the green of Earth. He wished he could go back and visit his father amongst the cool green vines on the ninetieth floor of the Green Wall. He loved it there and thought about how satisfying it would be to go there and sit in the shade. He would work hard at his studies, as it was the only thing that could release him from this place. Why had he bothered to sign up for this course? If nothing else, Alex had learned where he belonged and wouldn’t change that now.
Alex sat back in the lounge of Station Ten and gazed at the stars above. They were so bright compared to Earth; there was no atmosphere to block the light here. There was just a thick glass-like pane between him and that near vacuum out there. He would be flying to Earth tomorrow. He swirled the drink in his hand. The Askarians were right, thought Alex. The time machines appeared to be a few small technological steps beyond Earth’s spacecraft technology. It took Alex only three weeks to familiarize himself with the technology. He was surprised when he saw the first circuits of the time machines. He looked closely, but the specific circuits had to be identified for him.
After he thought about the work that he had been doing at the University he had just graduated from, it occurred to Alex that the improvements of the spacecraft and tale-transporter, was taking them dangerously close to stumbling onto time travel. Maybe, the Askarians had just about waited too long. He thought it was strange, how the circuits and microchips appeared to be human technology: that must be why the learning was so easy, thought Alex. But like all of his training, he had a sense that he already knew everything that was supposed to be new to him.
The Askarians continuously spoke of the dangers of time travel and all the lectures Alex attended so far. Example after example was given of time travel tragedies. But, who was to know how much of what they were saying was true. The Askarians used description and hypothetical beliefs so regularly in their training, that Alex didn’t know if the lectures of the dangers of time travel were correct or not.
During his technical training on the building of the time machines, the Askarians told him to relax; he had much to learn yet. When he finished his last lesson, he was convinced he was completing lesson five of twenty-five lessons in the first unit of training. It was a strange idea, to have students unaware of how much they had progressed in their training until they were informed that they had completed the course. It was effective in reducing stress and in giving the candidate instant confidence. Alex thought how effective this form of training would be for Askarians who must be exposed to it from the primary grades. The students would always expect the end of training to be announced.
Tomorrow Alex would travel to Earth and continue at the Academy to learn in the traditional way, the theory behind time travel. He would have to take five classes on theory and the Confederation Code of Time Travel that was accepted by Earth upon the planet’s admission to the Confederation.
Alex already had chosen a topic for his thesis. He wanted to study the possible effects of artefact retrieval from history. What harm could there be in picking up a thing or two. He may go back to the Early Roman Empire and record the music. The historical record could expand to unknown levels. Since Alex had his Doctor of Philosophy in History that idea was irresistible. Large amounts of historical work would have to be re-written and enriched if this was possible.
Of course Alex had been told about the follies of such missions. Other individuals introduced modern harmonies and counter point techniques long before they should have been on other planets. The effects were the total destruction of rich parts of history. Alex wasn’t sure if this would be the case on Earth. He would research the past record from other planets in the Confederation. He would also have to develop computer models and statistical possibilities to determine the value and dangers of such missions in Earth history.
Alex swallowed the last of his drink and made his way to his room. He would have to be up earlier the next day.