No one knew how long Catherine Malone had been missing. Her absence was reported to the police after three weeks of unpaid rent, but neighbors admitted they hadn’t known that the apartment was occupied. “She kept to herself,” said the landlord.
The universe does not think in hours, days. There is no measure of universal time. Humans count one moment after the other. Consecutive time. But a vibrating cesium atom doesn’t know how many times it’s shuddered. A sun doesn’t know how long its burned. Time is dependent on the consciousness of the observer, and without someone to draw demarcations between the seconds, time becomes an unlabeled, unmeasured stream.
So what clock must a time machine be set by?
The landlord unlocked the apartment himself, but found no sign of his tenant. Half-read books and half-filled notebooks rested open upon every table, and a mostly-empty pizza box had attracted a halo of flies. The bed was unmade, and the dishes were filthy. The wooden floor was littered with crumpled clothing.
Does time attach itself to an object and move with that object? Specifically, would a time machine set for three days prior return the traveler to the room she departed from, or to the naked void of space left in the wake of the moving Earth? Can there be universal latitude and longitude in an expanding universe, or is that another human construction? In the latter scenario, how could a machine be set to return a traveler to the Earth?
The police could find no next of kin, and although a brief investigation suggested abduction, that theory was ultimately disregarded. “She probably just picked up and left,” said an officer in an off-the-record conversation. “People do that sometimes. Move to a different state to start over.”
Assuming that the problems of the initial leap could be easily solved, the biggest problem becomes the return journey. A person’s presence out of their own time would certainly change their future, so how could they return to the world they’d left? If an oddity like time travel were to spark the creation of an alternate timeline, how could the machine be set to return to the timeline of origin? Could a chronological beacon be constructed, like a lighthouse through time?
The case remained open, long after the apartment had been cleared and rented to another tenant. No next of kin appeared, and the woman’s belongings were donated to a nearby shelter. After a decade, the files on open but unsolved cases were moved to the basement of the precinct, where they rested for almost half a century before a flood turned the papers soggy and rusted the ancient hard drives. “We’re working to restore the old documents,” a representative said during a press conference, shortly before ordering the boxes to be returned to the basement. “These things are sixty years old,” he said to a coworker. “No one remembers them anyways.”
To Martin J. Weaver:
Dear Spiritual Investor,
This letter is a gift in the form of advanced notice concerning the change in management of your Temple in Manchester. Our organization, the American Church of God, has taken notice of the success of your Temple’s missionary programs, and after careful research and investment, we decided that a peaceful merger between our two beliefs would be beneficial to everyone involved. We have already bought out the Temples along the southern tip of Great Britain, and we are ready to invest in your spirituality.
As a believer in God, you may ask what this means for you. Surveys show that members of the ACG Inc. feel far more fulfilled after taking part in our spiritual learning programs, and you will feel the pride of being an early adopter of our faith. Our media approval rating is over 78%, and we are gaining momentum.
– Exclusive Access to Easy-to-Comprehend Translated Texts long-since thought lost
– Better treatment at the work-place and in public
– A secure, electronically coded method of tithing with eligibility for tax write-offs
– Warmth and Happiness amongst your family and friends
– A guaranteed confidence in the belief of an after-life and higher being we call God
– And much more
Our new convert package is full of information regarding your new beliefs and restricted and prohibited acts and practices.
As an early adopter, you will be able to convert for the price of only 100â‚¤. Later conversions will have to pay near double that figure!
We’ve included a copy of our Holy Book as a token of our faith in your faith. The American Church of God wishes you a happy life and the best of days, which is why we happily invite you to join our Church before the mass conversion of your Temples. If you have further questions concerning the merger, feel free to contact our public relations department at the toll-free number provided on the inside cover of your new Holy Book â„¢.
With warm hearts,
The Ministers of the American Church of God, Inc.
When Lieutenant Carol Door stepped off the space ship she was carrying her laser knife, her unloaded rifle and the broken micro-cam that held the pictures of her family. She carried her starched grey uniform, and though it had never seen her home, it reacted to the change in climate as it would on any planet, adjusting its system to provide the optimum temperature for alertness.
The ground was soft, and the smell around her was green and light. Carol could have taken a transport home, back to the glade where her mothers raised her, but she wanted to walk. Her world had been manufactured from a craterous moon. The biggest trade was tourism, rich merchant families would travel there to be served by centaurs or get their hair braided by sprites. Her world had little white bubbles of technical connection but this was just for tourists, the inhabitants shunned the outward use of technology, preferring illusions. When Carol was growing up, a little girl with long red hair, she thought it was all magic.
She carried her personal force-field in her pack, a silver cylinder which had saved her life from gas and falling debris, from the people and machines that had tried to kill her.
Carols mothers were a fairy and a witch, and she was taught how to fight by a vampire who lived in a spiral castle over the hills. Her mothers owned a large cottage, with a wheel on the side where water fell from one level to another falling, ever falling. They had a pool out front, and a giant swing. They would host families for a high fee, give them adventure, a quest, and a purpose.
The grenades had been confiscated when she was debriefed, but she still had the keys sitting in the bottom of her back, 17 keys from thrown grenades. Her ammo was taken from her rifle, but she carried that shell. She had not been able to put it down for six years.
Carol walked across the rolling hills, past a shepherd who looked at her with his mouth open. She was too afraid to wave, too afraid that he would run away. She imagined the way she looked, with her newly patched face and her short hair. She was worse than any monster on this planet, and she wondered if anyone could see.
There was a metal implant in her leg, a metal bone and plastic flesh, to replace the one that had been lost, left on the field. She walked towards the distant waterfall, left at the giant willow tree where the cake making elves lived, past the dragon cave where Ella, the old dam, slept.
Carol looked at her silver gleaming shoes, and she turned from home and walked for a mile to the Cliffside, the great ravine with the stone bridge. Carol threw her pack over the edge. She stripped from her uniform, the medals, the stripes that showed where she had gone, the silver shoes, and tossed them over the edge. She looked at her new leg and decided that she could carry it a little further.
She walked, naked, to the house of her mothers. Inside she heard a fiddle playing. There was a fire burning and meat roasting. Somewhere else, no one dared to sleep without a force-field. Somewhere else.
Carols mother, the witch, threw open the door and ran down the path, crying out and waving her hands. She grabbed Carol in her arms and pulled her down to the grass and rocked her, crying.
â€œThis is my daughter!â€ she cried. â€œThis is my daughter!â€
Carols mother, the warrior, leapt out of the house and bounded across the lawn. She was almost a giant and wore leather and bronze chains. She swept her naked daughter and her wife up in her giant arms and carried them both into the house.
The robot was no bigger than a diner roll, and had a tendency to shift on of its many stiff legs when it was processing. It was on the kitchen table now, and Megan lowered herself so that she was eye-level with it. It’s forward-motion sensor quivered when her face came close. One antenna moved to touch Megan’s curly red hair, but she swatted it aside.
“I could take your battery right out, you know,” she said. “Where would you be then?” Megan let the robot process that before continuing. She glanced at the clock–no time left. “And even if I don’t, I am not getting you that upgrade, not after this, so you might as well forget it. Just show me where you’ve hidden my keys so I can get to work!”
The robot did nothing. Megan stared daggers at its sensory antennae, but it only seemed to react to tick of the clock, and rhythm of her hurried breath.
Lucian’s body had been cleansed to near perfection and his head shaved to remove any thread that might disrupt the process. Everything had to be perfect, or else the project might fail. They placed him in Dorm 12, a white-walled comfortable living space. He sat there looking through the pictures they gave him of happy children playing in playgrounds that, to his knowledge, still existed. They forced him to hang pictures of his girlfriend, his mother, and his father to remind him how important his deeds were.
He picked up his papers, which listed the charges against him. Lucian hadn’t meant to go half a year without a job, but times were tough and an honest buck was hard to make these days. Sitting there looking them over next to the picture books and the trinkets left in his moderately-sized quarters he considered the idea that this might be his time to make amends.
The young man almost believed that this was his big chance. This was going to be his moment of truth. He almost believed it, until he heard the whispers of the facility staff and of the others staggering down the hallway towards the chamber. They were getting progressively more worried, and kept saying things like “We’re narrowing it down” and “I hope we have an answer soon.” That ounce of doubt had him wondering just how many times they told men and women they were going to be the one.
Those who went mad before they were shuffled down towards the chamber used to mutter about seconds, about minutes. They ranted about time. Sixty rooms, all in orde,r and the one in room sixty always went first. They counted down from there. Lucian wondered what happened when the last person left and the rooms were empty. The only logical idea was that the scientists would fill them again.
Standing up from the obligatory mediation on his photos, he retrieved his personal scrapbook from the shelf above his bed. Slumping back down onto the plush surface, he cracked open the book to peruse its contents.
The same photographs begged his attention and brought warmth and hope. He was sure the facility wouldn’t object if they found it. All except one piece, that is. Amongst the littering of pictures and letters was a news article from the National Report. Bold lettering filled throughout the headlines and text. Facilities had been shut down. All clients were refunded and Chronos Enterprises became the newest wing of the UN. It was all here. but no one knew what happened next; no one but those nervous-looking scientists outside his door.
Something must have gone wrong, he figured. Tourist groups stopped returning from trips and at first they prohibited travel past a hundred. Then they didn’t travel at all. Soon the sixty rooms were filled and the public shut up. Scientists got nervous and politicians started plotting. Is that what they meant when they told Lucian he was the answer? Perhaps they meant that this problem had to have a solution. If Lucian was to be the one then he considered himself lucky. Because, if he wasn’t, he was the twelfth second of another minute where no one else existed.