Living In The Past: a really short story by: GF Willmetts.

July 31, 2022 | By | Reply More

The discovery shook the world and added a new set of scientific rules to the ones we already had when we figured out how to go faster than the speed of light. Not just faster but nearly instantaneously anywhere we could give co-ordinates to. It meant we could open up the universe, travel anywhere for an exploration and then pop back home in our people’s lifetimes. We couldn’t time travel. That is we couldn’t get back before we left but other limitations were gone. It meant we could begin to explore our local star groups, providing our calculations for stellar drift.

This didn’t mean the end of astronomy, just developed a new science of working out where everything should be now. What was the good of pin-point accuracy when we could be light years from a landing site. No doubt another set of scientific rules could one day even beat this. Of course, we didn’t need to send people. That was the original plan but financial difficulties and inflation meant being selective at first. It was cheaper to send auto-drones to look, snap photos and come home. We were still interested in finding other life in the universe and we knew which planets to look at. Maybe go back a second time with more exact instruments when there was anything of interest.

You must understand the deal here. Even somewhere like Proxima Centauri, our nearest star at 4.5 light years away meant we could pass several civilisations and hope that they survived all the similar kinds of climate changes and wastages that affected our own planet. Civilisations might only barely last a couple thousand years itself. We couldn’t expect anything better than ourselves out there although there was much expectation as to if other species out there had made a similar discovery, why hadn’t we received visitors ourselves. Some of the wilder heads said perhaps we had. Our entire history of UAPs was of craft that were seen speeding in our atmosphere and then vanishing. Sounds familiar?

The similarity to our own auto-drones was irresistible but why had they avoided contact or were they waiting for us to make a similar breakthrough? Well, we had. We sent, looked and no sign. Were they all extinct so soon? Maybe they found the next set of scientific rules breakthrough and we would always be behind them. The experts said no. There were all kinds of things that could be left from carbon imprints to disastrous ecologies that would take centuries to recover. Other experts said that would quickly be covered up. No one had any real answers. All we could do was look. Even so, there was bound to be other species catching up like us. We couldn’t be the only species playing catch-up. Could we? Would they really let us experiment on our own? Wouldn’t we warn or show other species this new rule set. Then again, would we want to risk an invasion by the people we would want to help.

All we could do was look and keep looking. Of course, it wasn’t all bad. We found a few planets laden with metals. It sorted out our economy and we were now prepping manned flights. Not many but we could go places and think where drones could only photograph. There was less of a need for pilot status, just good old-fashioned adventurers who could press a couple buttons. Only this time, I opted for something more exotic. Take a few photographs on the edge of the galaxy and please the astronomers. Unlike a drone, I could also look around and magnify anything I thought of interest. It might not be a money trip in the normal sense but knowledge was power.

Of course, it wasn’t my first trip out but I was also one of the lucky ones not to run foul of various local weather conditions. They certainly weren’t going to let anyone out an expensive telescope without some experience. I just won the draw.

It didn’t feel that way when I got back. The capsule was well-protected and I hadn’t had to worry about getting out. The photographs confirmed my visuals. More so as they also captured parts of the capsule confirming there was nothing wrong with the telescope. There was nothing there. No light. No stars. No black holes according to the mass detector. It looked like ours and the Andromeda galaxy were the only ones left. The rest was empty. Nothing. Nadir.

If we waited long enough, the starlight received in the night sky might show what actually happened. When I got back and showed and confirmed the results, they confided in me that drone flights needed a more organic touch. I also had to keep quiet about it as well. That was odd in itself. Sure, the universe was going to end but it couldn’t be for centuries yet. One day the sun was going to become a red giant and destroy all the inner planets but civilisation would be long gone by then. With the capsules, mankind could quickly go and colonise another planet or planets.

I was kept on the project with enhanced pay and asked to take out more elaborate mass detectors, being told that not much point taking a telescope when there was nothing to be seen. There was nothing there. No big monsters. No giant stars. Why should I be afraid? If this was going to be the future, by the time it reached the Earth I would be dead and buried a long time ago.

After several trips, with my capsule getting ever bigger, I was asked to take a telescope again, this time to look at our own Milky Way and Andromeda galaxies. There was some thought as to why they were now both colliding but they wanted confirmation. Occasionally, I went out with different guests for them to see for themselves and although they were intrigued, the continual blackness out there scared them more than me. Stars were a comfort. Their absence scared them.

Planet Stories Pulp.

I became more than a pilot as I began to want answers as well and listened in on the lectures and debates on the subject. All cleverly done to appear hypothetical than really about the truth and evidence just in case it leaked to the press. No one else had gone out as far as me to get the complete picture. Why should they? There was enough empty planets in our local space than to go out further. They didn’t go out far enough to see what was really there.

I was also welcomed by the science community. After all, I appeared to have nerves of steel, staring our into the abyss absent universe and not worrying that there was nothing there. Theories were abundant but no one had any idea what was really happening. No black holes y’see. All they could do was send me out periodically and see if I could spot it happen. Me or their selection of instruments.

Away from the lectures, they did take one of my suggestions seriously. Why should our two galaxies have been avoided whatever had taken the rest had been spared? I mean, we were all going in the same direction. Hadn’t we reached the point where the others disappeared?

The next had the bigger capsule laden with mass detectors and a computer to count the stars in the Milky Way. They said it would be my longest trip as I would have to go to a second destination and do a repeat count for comparison. At least I was spared going to the centre of the Milky Way where there was big black hole. I’m not that stupid. I could also read and compare figures. The Milky Way was smaller. I re-orientated the hardware and did a similar thing to Andromeda with similar results. If the two galaxies were ever to collide, there might not be enough stars left for it to matter. I took a third set of readings before returning home, just to be on the safe side.

The theorists went away in a huddle. There was still some confusion but they could dismiss some things. Nothing to do with singularities, big or otherwise. Nothing to do with the expanding universe and it couldn’t be imploding. So what was happening? It was a lot more serious than they thought. Our final two galaxies were also vanishing faster than expected and probably faster as I was making my observations at a distance. People in the other capsules were bound to notice something odd was going on if they stayed out long enough.

They wanted me to go out again and make more observations so they could make graphs and work out how soon it would get to us. I did raise one question before I went: Could our use of our instant space travel be causing this effect? I mean, we still didn’t know where the energy was coming from.

I heard the call back sent for all outward capsules to return as I was leaving as they didn’t want to leave anyone stranded or questioning.

When I arrived, I was staring out into black space. There was nothing there. No Milky Way. No Andromeda Galaxy. How did I miss the event. I set my co-ordinates closer to home but still nothing there. I reset the co-ordinates for home. There was nothing there neither. Getting everyone home had completed the effect. Nothing for something.

Of course, we couldn’t have wiped out the universe but I doubt if we were the first to have applied this formula. Alas, we were also the last. All I had was the emptiness of black space. That didn’t frighten me. My limited air supply did. It would give me time to choose my own demise. Suffocate in ever building carbon dioxide or quickly by opening the capsule door. I could also take the capsule anywhere in the darkness but it would still be dark wherever I went. That plan went out the window. No stars. No energy to call upon. Was my return trip the final straw or any of the other capsules going home?

Should I have a philosophical last thought? Last person standing can, should or be a god? I don’t feel like a god, just someone not afraid of the dark. Last person standing, proving you don’t get something for nothing and no one spotted this particular payment as the pay-off for instantaneous space travel. The energy had to come from somewhere. What could be more energy intensive than the rest of the universe?

I wonder what humans would have thought of this situation?

© GF Willmetts 2022

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Category: Scifi, Short fiction

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About UncleGeoff

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’
If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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