The scene in front of my
visor is dark and murky. Like seeing the world through maple syrup, sort of
brown and thick. Moving is slow and plodding. I feel like a deep sea diver at a
dangerous depth. The pressure of time above me threatens to squeeze me into
jelly. My name is Jay Cramp. Iím a chrono-naut and Iím on a mission.
Time is thick, thick as soup and the deeper you travel into the past, the
heavier and denser it becomes. It has to do with the physics of time. Something
scientists have been getting wrong for generations, until now. Now we finally
understand that time is particulate in nature. A flowing stream of chronons
surround and engulf every instant of reality.
A single monthís worth of chronons can barely be weighed with any instrument. A
yearís worth registers faintly on our most sensitive scales. Five years down,
the pressure accumulates to several atmospheres. Itís a logarithmic scale like
the one they use for earthquakes. At the depth Iím at now, 46.22 years, itís
like being at the bottom of the Pacific. Time is dense, dangerous and the going
is slow. We used to think time was like a river, how naive we were. Time isnít
like that at all.
I wear armor. You wouldnít last a nano-second in the past without a
chrono-suit. The stresses on frail biology are immense, too severe to survive
without protection. The past is as inhospitable as outer space. The weight of
it wants to crush you like an egg. Special equipment is needed and even then
itís difficult. The past is not a friendly place.
With this insertion, I have surpassed the previous record. The Chinese tagged
us September 23rd, 2005 in our embassy in Beijing.
It was an astounding feat and it shook our defense establishment to its core.
It was like a splash of cold water in the face and it had the same effect. The
Chinese record has stood for sixteen years and has made my government very
nervous. It was a Sputnik moment. We went to work and developed the armor I am
wearing now. Itís pretty sophisticated stuff, the best materials science can
produce. Itís made from souped up spider silk, light weight and very strong. At
this very moment, I am eight months deeper than the Chinese. My guage says itís
February 13th, 2005. Take that, you slanty eyed mothers.
Time travel has become a game that rich nations play, a sort of geo-political
tag. The ďMy country can go deeper than yoursĒ game has become the Space Race
of the late 21st century. A game of high tech one-upmanship.
I am two blocks from the insertion point and everything is working well. I have
no communication with my present. If there is an accident, no one will ever
know. My wife and daughter will be well taken care of unless I do something stupid
and cause their non-existence. The thought does nothing to calm my racing
heart. I have to be careful not to cause an incident or I might not have a
present to return to, or a present so different I wouldnít recognize it.
I move slowly as I have been trained. I have no obvious presence in the past.
The inhabitants cannot see me just as I cannot see them. I can barely see solid
objects and even those are difficult to see clearly. Living things are blurry
wraiths without substance. To the people whose present this is, I am invisible.
They flit across my vision as insubstantial as soap bubbles. Itís strange that
what is thick, almost impenetrable, to me is just air to them. Something about
the relativism of time. I donít pretend to understand it. I donít think anyone
I take small swimming steps as though lifting lead weights with each step. I
carry a message for the Chinese Ambassador. He will, Iím sure, be shocked to
receive it. He will report its contents to his superiors and eventually they
will know we have gone deeper and that the past is ours, at least for a little
while. They, in turn, will not rest until they are once again timeís masters.
And so it goes until either some absolute limit is reached or one of us goofs
up and changes the future.
The country that can deliver the earliest message could, in theory, deliver a
bomb. The actual results of sending a bomb into the past is purely theoretical.
No one is foolish enough to actually do it.
Time is the perfect playground for the military. The nation that can travel
deeper into the past wins. Billions are spent and no one gets hurt. Itís all
fun and games until someone screws up. You change the past and you endanger the
future and that future is where we all live. Itís where my wife and 4 year old
daughter live. Itís where I expect to return when this mission is done. You
better believe Iím careful.
The guards donít see me as I walk right past them. They are not watching for
me. They are watching for threats from their own time, not a visitor from their
future. I wait for the door to open. I could open it myself, but I dare not
cause an incident. Causing an incident is a big no no.
Reliable data is scarce, but it appears we are reaching the limit to how deep
in the past we can go. Of course at one time we thought the limit was 11 years
and now look at how deep weíve gone. Science and technology keep whittling away
at the barrier. Who knows how deep we can ultimately go?
Once inside the building, I climb the stairs slowly. Each step takes tremendous
effort. I dare not take the elevator. I have a relative weight of several tons.
It wouldnít do to snap an elevator cable and cause a causal rift. So I take the
stairs and plod slowly up three flights. On the third floor landing I pause for
breath. The clock on the wall says 4 p.m. ó right on schedule.
After a short rest, I continue to the ambassadorís office. I stand in a corner
straining to see the ambassador. There he is. I drop the message on his desk.
To him it would look like it suddenly appeared out of thin air. I imagine him
looking around bewildered.
As far as I know, the letter says something like: This message is from the
future. Be sure to tell your government that you have been tagged by the United States.
It is imperative that you report that this letter was found on your desk.
Something like that anyway. I love that word ĒtaggedĒ, now the Chinese are
ďitĒ. My mission completed, I turn and retrace my steps.
Halfway down the steps I encountered a chrono-suited time traveler making his
way up. This was something unprecedented. The past is, after all, a vast
territory so the odds on meeting another time traveler in the same location and
time, is off the charts. This person must have known Iíd be here.
His suit was a crude, old fashioned, bulky thing from the early days of time
exploration. I feel sorry for the guy. Moving around in this soup is tough
enough in state of the art gear. For him, it must have been ten times more
difficult. He moved with painful slowness, dragging a heavy container behind
him. We froze in our tracks glaring at each other.
The fact that we could see each other so clearly meant we were from the same
present. His out of date suit told me he was not Chinese. He wasnít part of our
little game and therefore not bound by its rules. The fact that he picked this
particular time and place to appear meant he was up to no good. My mind
searched for some explanation. We stood frozen in place for several seconds,
then he reached into a zippered pocket and pulled out a knife.
This was bad, very bad. Even a small puncture in a chrono-suit at this depth
could be a disaster. The sudden decompression would cause an explosion that
would change the pastó the very thing I was trying so hard to avoid. I couldnít
take a chance that he wouldnít try and puncture his own suit like a suicide
I leaped down the steps and knocked him off his feet. We tumbled down the
remaining steps locked in a deadly embrace. He swiped at me with his knife but
luckily my suit didnít tear. I ducked under his thrust, grabbed his wrist in a
twisting move and brought him to his knees, his arm behind him. The knife fell
silently to the floor.
He had no strength left to fight with. He lay there inert. I used the strap to
tie him to the container and pushed it down the steps, out the door and back
the way Iíd come. His booted feet stuck out before us, his eyes staring into
mine. What I saw were the eyes of a fanatic.
I pushed him back to my insertion point and waited for the extraction chamber
to materialize. I looked through the container and saw it was filled with
enough explosives to have brought down the whole embassy. The extraction
chamber wasnít big enough to carry everything. I stuffed my prisoner and as
much of the explosives as I could into the chamber and climbed in on top. It
was a tight fit. I had to leave a lot of the explosives behind. I could only
hope that when the DC police found them it wouldnít cause too much of an
incident. Who was I kidding?
The overloaded chamber rose slowly and carried us forward in time like an
elevator rising from the depths, lifting us back to the present. When we
arrived, I was relieved to find the present pretty much the same as I left it.
I say ďpretty muchĒ because there were a few small changes that caught my
attention. I noticed that my boss, Major Gerrard, had a mustache where before
he had none.
My prisoner was taken away in handcuffs. I found out later that the man was
from a militant ethnic group desperate for independence. He meant to blow up
the past and let the pieces fall where they may. His bomb would have been
blamed on the U.S.
The repercussions for the world would not have been pretty. Major Gerrard put
me in for a medal for capturing the terrorist and saving the world.
After several days of de-briefing, I was allowed to go home. I had to hunt for
my car in the parking lot. The white car I drove to the base was now a dark blue.
I stopped at a store and bought flowers and candy for Gladys and an expensive
doll for Mary. The credit card I used to pay for the purchase was different
than what I was used to. I wasnít alarmed, these changes were so minor I could
easily live with them. I was just so happy to be home safe and sound and in my
familiar present. I pulled into my driveway and a dog Iíd never seen before
came to greet me. Then the front door burst open and a woman I didnít recognize
flew into my arms. She was followed by a six year old boy. Bewildered, I handed
them my gifts and tried to make the best of an embarrassing situation.