The Time Ship of Theseus

Author: Glenn Leung

I am Amara Theseus, Captain of the Battle Starship Atoma. I have recently taken over command from the previous Captain and my mother, Laura Theseus. Our great ship has led the people of the Kuiper Federation to countless victories against the imperialist forces of the Earth Empire. How did we stand up against a force superior in numbers and firepower? Well, we have a technology that Earth scientists do not even think possible. Atoma has been ‘time-primed’, that is, every atom of every material on board has been charged with tachyons. It is the only ship in the history of humanity to have time travel capabilities. It isn’t much, only a few minutes back to take the place of our past selves, but it was enough to correct mistakes. So successful were we, that the Empire had started recklessly executing their own for suspected treachery.

Today, on the twentieth of September, 4019, the Atoma crew and I learned the hard way that our fortunes were finite. We were finally closing in on the Empire’s lunar base, Area 1220, when a miscalculated strategy cost us the right flank and half the left, along with two of our engines. No matter, this sort of thing has happened before. The nanobots fixed our engines really quickly, and I gave the order to jump back five minutes to avoid the ambush. A crackling came over the intercom.

“The ship can no longer time travel, Captain!” The Chief Engineer’s cries were panicked, yet disbelieving. They were the cries of a man who was the first to know of our fate. Like me, he had also just been transferred, and was still getting used to the ship’s unique abilities.

“Explain!” I commanded.

“Every time we took damage in battle, the nanobots would fix it up with materials from our environment or supplies. Parts were gradually replaced, and after the most recent fix, we have an entirely new ship, one that has not been time-primed!”

There was commotion on the bridge, the crew had heard the conversation. By now, Empire ships were circling around us, beaming the signal for an unconditional surrender.

“Shouldn’t the interior still be made of primed material?” I knew from my briefing that the priming process had made use of holographic network technology, so as long as even a tiny screw onboard had been primed, the whole ship could time travel.

“I’m sorry, Ma’am! The new nanobots that were added… There were a few extra functionalities. Not only do they fix exterior damage, they perform internal maintenance as well…”

I noted the Chief’s use of the passive, and the drifting of his voice at the end. It was pointless chiding him now, and this was only the immediate cause anyway. Overconfidence, nepotism, negligence, a lack of communication, and scrapped projects. We ended up putting all our eggs in one time traveling basket. For a miracle that is the first of its kind, five years of decisive victories were enough for the scourge of incompetence to seep in.

I leave this story as my final report. My officers and I have agreed to destroy Atoma, the technology, and ourselves along with it. I do not know how big a loss this would be, but it would not be as bad as letting the Empire learn of our secrets. I just hope that the Kuiper Federation has the resources and time to prime another ship, and the humility to learn from this very silly tragedy.


  1. SimonJM

    “Familiarity breeds contempt” taken to the extreme; very nicely done.

    • Glenn Leung

      Thanks! I really like your interpretation!

  2. Jae

    Oh, that’s tidy. A great discovery trivialised by the demands of war and let down by the incompetencies of man.

    • Glenn Leung

      Thanks Jae. Indeed when you can have ‘save points’ in war, one might tend to be a little careless.

  3. cmh8133

    for the want of a primed bit the time was lost.

    • Glenn Leung

      That’s a nice twist on the old proverb. Thank you!

  4. Hari Navarro

    Really enjoyed this. I love how you have this ability to make the impossible seem so tangible and possible. Nicely done.

    • Glenn Leung

      Thanks, Hari. Indeed when I finished my first draft, I felt it sounded too much like a video game scenario. I’m glad the editing process paid off.

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