Author : Bob Newbell

“T-minus two minutes.”

That's the mission control computer. That's how long I have to back out. One second after that is one second too late. But I'm not going to back out. I don't have any real ties to this era. My whole life I've felt I was born centuries later than I should have been. Temperamentally, I'm well-suited to time travel.

I've read some of the old time travel science fiction. Quaint ideas about time machines being compact little vehicles that magically drop you off to whatever calendar date you like. That's a much nicer narrative device than having to find the right kind of black hole orbiting the right kind of star and then build a machine around both of them.

“T-minus one minute, forty-five seconds.”

And in the old stories, you could travel into the future, too. In reality, you can only travel to the past. The closer to the present you want to travel to, the more power it takes. In terms of energy, it's far easier to travel 100 years into the past than it would be to travel ten seconds into the past. To travel even one nanosecond into the future would require infinite energy.

“T-minus one minute, thirty seconds.”

And once you're in the past, forget about preventing your grandparents from ever meeting each other or killing Hitler or any other causality violation-type tampering. Laws of physics won't allow it. Novikov self-consistency principle. Go back in time to kill your mom before she gives birth to you and on your way to commit matricide, you'll trip and break a leg. Or get killed yourself in a car accident. Something will prevent you from violating causality. Nature abhors a paradox.

“T-minus one minute.”

Did I mention it's a one-way trip? Like I said, you can't travel to the future. And when you arrive in the “past,” that becomes the “present.” The time you traveled back from is forever inaccessible. Once you're in the past, your job is to observe and document. And after you've recorded the history you were assigned to investigate, you take everything you've documented to the designated recovery location and let your recording machine dig itself into the ground. It'll burrow deep enough into the Earth's crust to remain undisturbed for centuries. They'll locate it and dig it up the same day you were sent back in time, centuries after you're dead.

“T-minus forty-five seconds.”

Speaking of death, you may not live very long after you've time traveled to the past. All matter that gets sent into the past including living tissue gets hit with ionizing radiation. You'll have at least two or three forms of cancer shortly after you arrive. That may not sound like a serious problem, but cancer used to be a debilitating and even deadly disease. Depending how far back in time you go, the medical science may not be advanced enough to treat it. Your cell repair machines may be able to fix the damage but all that nanotech in your cells gets hit with radiation, too. It may not function properly. Statistically, you've got a less than fifty percent chance of making it five years after your arrival.

“T-minus thirty seconds.”

Still, for all the problems, time travel is worth it. Data mining history is a calling, almost like a religion. We can't know who we are or what we can become if we don't know how we arrived here. Dying 700 years before you were born is a small price to pay.

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