Author: Bill Cox
Standing on the deck of the ship, he watched the dead planet hanging in the void in front of him. It’s lustre had gone, its greens and blues replaced by a uniform dull brown. The automated systems confirmed it. There was no life on the world in front of him, not even microbes. The Earth was completely dead.
He felt sad that his home had gone. Not surprised though. He even felt a little bit of hope, which didn’t quite make sense…
The two imposing security personnel led Peter to a small room, plonked him unceremoniously down on a chair and left him there, blinking across a table at the stranger seated opposite.
He still felt groggy, which was no surprise. He’d been in hyper-sleep for a week whilst the vessel underwent its trans-light journey to Argus, the fourth planet in the Ross 128 system. Here he’d planned to start his new job, a twenty-year contract that would set him up nicely for retirement back on Earth. Yet, no sooner had his sleep pod wakened him, than security had grabbed him and taken him here, to this quiet annex of the ship.
“Hello Peter, I’m Rob. I know that you’re still recovering from hyper-sleep, but it’s important that you listen to what I have to say.”
Peter mumbled an acknowledgement.
“So, Peter, your pod monitors your brain during hyper-sleep. Pods are designed for the period of unconsciousness during trans-lightspeed travel to be dreamless. However, your pod indicates that you entered REM sleep. I want you to tell me about your dreams.”
The dream was still strong in Peter’s mind. He recounted all that he could remember, describing arriving at a dead planet Earth.
Rob nodded, made a few notes on his pad and continued.
“There’s a lot about trans-lightspeed travel we don’t understand. Humans cannot sustain such travel while conscious, hence the sleep pods and automated flight systems. Don’t ask me to explain, I’m no physicist, but travelling faster than the speed of light has implications for our ideas of time. It’s a well-kept secret that interstellar travel allows the possibility of information leakage from the future. If a person crosses their own timeline, through a mechanism currently unclear to us, they get glimpses of their future. You’re not the first person to have such dreams. There’s a whole division dedicated to collating these premonitions, this information leakage. We’ve only a partial picture, of course, but it’s clear your return to Earth will be at a time when all life on the planet has been extinguished.”
“So I was dreaming about the future. About my future!” Peter exclaimed, trying to grasp the implications.
“Yes,” Rob responded, “You have to understand, that, in a very real way we cannot prevent, you’ve already returned to a dead Earth. We cannot stop this from occurring, but perhaps we can delay it.”
“How?” Peter asked, with a sense of foreboding.
“We’re going to send you on another trip,” Rob replied. “A longer one. Your final destination will be Earth, but you’ll be going via the Andromeda Galaxy. For you, asleep, the trip will last a hundred years at trans-light speeds. For us, outside your accelerated space-time bubble, a million years will pass. Time enough for us to move humanity away from Earth, perhaps even to scour all signs of life from its surface. Causality is happy, humanity survives. It’s win-win.”
“What about me? How do I win?”
“We’d like to thank you for your sacrifice.”
And with that, Peter began his journey back home. The long way round.