Traveler One: A short story by Jeremy David Stevens
Sometime in the Twenty-Second Century…
“So basically you’re telling us that it’s not really time travel,” the snarky reporter from the Times said from the front row, holding his mic out for a response.
NASA spokesperson Melinda Rawlings was irritated, but she didn’t show it. That’s why she gets paid the big bucks. She was introduced by the Secretary of Defense for crying out loud. She told herself that she was the best person for the job and that this is where all of that media training finally pays off.
There had been a press release stating that NASA was working on a time travel experiment, and it became an immediate media sensation. But her explanation of the experiment wasn’t exactly the sexy, Back to the Future-like scoop the press had been hoping for. Here they were for what they thought was the biggest story in human history, and they were clearly feeling cheated.
“When I was a kid,” started Melinda, “I read a magnificent book by Stephen Hawking called A Brief History of Time. Have any you read it by any chance?”
Not one of them raised a hand.
“In his book,” she continued, “Mr. Hawking explained how time travel worked. He wrote that, if a person could travel at the speed of light to Mars, get out of his vessel and wave at the Earth, get back in the vessel and travel back to Earth at the speed of light, get back out of the vessel and view Mars from a telescope, that person could see himself or herself waving from Mars.”
There, she thought, showing a satisfied grin. That ought to make believers out of them.
“Wouldn’t it be possible to travel to the future?” asked one reporter.
“Yeah yeah, maybe way into the future and see if there’s any Morloks there!” said another.
Astonished, Mrs. Rawlings just said “It isn’t enough for you guys that, for the first time, we are deliberately going to try to propel a person through time?”
“We’ve already been to Mars! And we’ve known for years now that light-speed travel was possible, at least in a lab,” said the snarky one. “Give us something we can use, will you?”
Six Weeks Later
Even though the press likes the flashier, sexy story, they still covered the launch.
“Ms. Tyson,” someone with a recording device said, “do you have any words to mark this historic occasion before you prepare for takeoff?”
She thought for a second and said, “When I was little, my grandfather, Neil deGrasse Tyson, once told me that ‘the good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it.’ I never forgot that,” she said as she wiped away a tear. “And a lot of people said humans could never travel through time. So, I just hope we make him proud today.”
The press actually seemed intrigued at the unveiling. The one-seater space vessel was unlike anything ever seen before in design. The structure looked like something out of a science fiction magazine. It was sleek and aerodynamic, made out of metal that looked like it was forged in the Earth’s core. The words Traveler-One could be read across the side. Captain Michelle Tyson had been training for this moment for her whole life, starting in the military academy, then the Air Force and finally the Space Program. Her excitement was almost palpable.
Finally, it was time to take off.
“3, 2, 1… Take Off.” And she did.
The vessel operated more or less like the simulations.
“Thank God for that,” she said.
“What was that you said, Traveler-One?” said a man’s voice via her communicator.
“It was nothing. I’m preparing to make the jump to light-speed!” she reported.
“We’ve got our eyes on you, Traveler-One. God-speed!”
Captain Tyson had been through all of the training simulations that are meant to prepare the human body for faster-than-light travel. But nothing could have prepared her for the exhilaration she felt when the vessel reached maximum speed. Here she was, the first person in history to travel at the speed of light. But it was a fleeting feeling. Mars is incredibly close at that speed.
Once she landed in the designated location, chosen specifically for visibility on Earth, she got out and waved toward the Earth, just like Stephen Hawking had written about less than two centuries before. She had quite a remarkable view of Earth through her goggle-scope, a nice little product marketed for homesick Mars colonists who want to get a good look at Earth, and vice-versa. She waved at Florida, where she would ceremoniously be watching herself in a few minutes, if all worked out as planned.
“It’s done, base.” she told the team back on the ground. “It’s indescribable…” she trailed off.
“Copy that, Captain,” the man on the other end said. “Now bring‘er on home and let’s finish this.”
She took one last look at the planet, and just as she was turning back for the return trip, the inconceivable happened. She watched her home destroyed in a fiery inferno. Through her goggles, she witnessed the whole thing. A series of explosions destroyed North America, and then the Earth. She was looking at an orange fireball where the Earth was supposed to be.
She was screaming in terror when she heard a voice.
“Captain, what’s the problem?” said the man.
Her brain needed a second to readjust.
“Oh my God that’s right, it hasn’t happened yet!” she said, almost in shock.
“Captain, you’re going to have to be more specific.” he said.
“Base, listen to me very carefully. Get the President, NOW!” she screamed. “You have a couple of minutes to figure this out before twenty-three billion people die. I think the Russians or the Chinese must have been unhappy with our time-travel program, because I just watched them nuke North America! The Earth is crumbling!”
“Hail Mary full of Grace,” she could hear him saying, muffled.
“Did you hear me base? This is no time for prayer,” she said. “You need to call the President.
“Captain, they’re working on it. But if you’ve seen it, it’s already happened. That’s how this time-travel thing works. You’ve seen the future,” he said.
“No damnit! I must have seen it for a reason. What are they doing about it?” she asked.
“They’re dealing with it. How they’re going about it is above our paygrade.”
She couldn’t believe the matter-of-fact tone he was taking given the circumstances.
“I’m heading back,” she said.
“No Captain. Stay there and save yourself. After you’ve lost communication with us, go to the colonies and let them know what happened. They’ll be on their own from now on,” he said.
He was right, of course. They depended on the Earth for supplies and trade. But terraforming efforts had made a great deal of progress there. So with proper rationing, the billion or so humans on Mars could survive on their own. But Captain Tyson didn’t listen. She was already a minute or two behind schedule from the shock, she estimated, so she worried that she may be too late to see what happened. She got back in the Traveler-One, took off and headed straight back for Earth. She slowed right before she reached the Earth’s atmosphere.
She used her goggle-scope to get a zoomed-in view of the Earth. She was focusing on the West Coast, because if the President was going to pre-emptively fire on the Russians, that’s where it would be from.
Then she heard what she thought was feedback through her communicator.
“They’re dealing with it. How they’re going about it is above our pay grade.”
“I’m heading back,” she said
It only took her a few seconds to realize that she was hearing the conversation she was having with base a couple of minutes ago.
She watched as the Americans destroyed half of the world in a pre-emptive strike, and for a few seconds, she thought the other half of the world may have been saved in the process. But Russia didn’t go quietly into the night. The first retaliatory missiles landed on the West Coast. And just like that, half of her home country went up in a mushroom cloud. She watched as many of them were shot down by our interceptors. But with California’s defense systems gone, it was only a matter of seconds before the rest of the country was nuked into oblivion as well.
As she watched every nuclear-capable country on Earth follow through with a mass suicide and the Earth turn a fiery-orange, it became clear to her that this is the picture she had seen on Mars.
This is the vision that caused her to send word to the President.
In fact, seeing North America destroyed caused her to believe that the Russians had started it, when the fact is that it was she who started it.
This is one of the paradoxes of time travel. This is what happens to those who dare to attempt to manipulate time.