The space launch wasn’t from Earth but from lunar orbit, briefly using the Earth itself for the slingshot to pass Mars and the Asteroid Belt before initiating the star-drive, which could only work at maximum thrust, and Fellowship Two was away. We could only watch from Earth but Newton would have been proud of the use of gravity. The less time in transit, the quicker they could complete their mission and return. Five times the speed of light there and back, including deceleration, they would be back in a decade or so. The ‘or so’ being the length of time spent on the new planet. No one would know how long that would be. All depended on whether they found life or not. No one expected sentient life.
The problem was always the families aging at home. Either we send bachelors and spinsters or we had to do something with the families so they would be the same relative age when the astronauts returned. Who wanted to return to find nothing familiar or knowing everyone they knew had died? What would be the point? Shame it couldn’t be extended beyond immediate family and friends but hibernating so many was still expensive. Even a ten year gap would be disorientating with how much our civilisation would have changed when they got back. Having something familiar like family the same relative age and they could all adjust together than feel like strangers in a strange land. Less disorientation that way. It even extended to some of the ground crew and their families for those who wanted to see the results and would still be the expert on the Friendship’s systems and not look at it as if it was an antique on return. This is why the entire personal isolated so early. That meant putting all of them into deep hibernation, reviving them when Fellowship was decelerating as it entered the Solar system to get them all back up to speed. The length of time that took would match the time the crew spent on the planet. All things being equal, it was a good solution.
I, as ground team leader, shook hands with all four hundred and fifty-four of them as they went into hibernation. Thank God they all had small families. The kids were happy knowing they’d see their daddies or mummies in an instant after they got back. No other ceremony, as we had to get in and out ourselves, just in case any nuclear war happened and we’d walk out into a wilderness, so we had to be independent from the start. Not that it was likely to happen, but who knows what could happen in the ten or twenty years we would be sleeping.
Now, I was the last one to enter the cryostasis chamber but I turned and hesitated. There was a man at the door beckoning to me. I shrugged as I had time on my hands and he must have had clearance to get this far. The chamber wouldn’t fully close until I entered. He also looked a little familiar. Someone unnamed I hadn’t seen in years but was at my job interview.
‘What’s the problem?’
‘Is there somewhere private here we can talk? Less outside surveillance the better.’
I looked around. I’d taken the camera eyes watching as something taken for granted. Things had to be recorded for public record and to stop theft.
‘We only keep an eye on our own here.’
‘Things leak out.’
‘The john then. No one wants to watch someone taking a crap.’
Once there, the other man turned on several faucets. Although he wasn’t particularly beefy, I felt he had intel service written all over him. Maybe I should have spotted that at the interview.
‘That’s just in case,’ he assured me, as he passed me his security clearance tag which glowed confirmation next to mine. No name but higher than my clearance.
‘So what’s the big secret?’
‘Fellowship Two. It came back three years ago. We’ve had it in a geostationary orbit on the dark side of the Moon since then.’
‘That’s fine. We can just wake everyone up and get on with our lives.’ I hadn’t missed a beat, just to put him on the spot.
The man shook his head. ‘They’ve only just left on what is essentially a ten to fifteen year mission. Do we reveal to the world that the star-drive is capable of time travel or that we had future technology back in our hands early and hadn’t taken advantage of the knowledge to make it possible? How do we explain them arriving three years early or why we haven’t woken them up?’
‘That would really mess up cause and effect,’ I admitted. ‘I take it the astronauts are fine?’
‘Oh yeah. Still in hibernation. Less people know, even at the heart of the project, the better. Including them. We’ll have to slingshot them out again in a decade’s time as it is. When our outer planet satellite spotted it, we realised what happened and turned off their wake-up call. We didn’t want to complicate things any further than we wanted to by having two versions of themselves walking around. There might have been a problem of them meeting themselves, let alone deciding not to go. We accessed their logs and checked, just to be on the safe side.’
‘That’s sensible. If they had met each other on Earth or I would have heard of it?’
‘You know your astro-physics. With this kind of time dilation, what are the odds of them passing each other in space on the way there and back. They might have slept through it but the computer…computers would have had an interesting proximity alarm…enough to wake someone up in either time zone en route.’
‘No. Fortunately, lucky there as well. We’re going to be having kittens every time we send a starship out in the future as it is but you’ll be seeing they come back on different trajectories.’
‘Their log will have to be fixed. Was it or is that something else you’re asking me to do?’
‘No, we sorted it out this time. Straight line. Even the back-up in case anything is deleted confirmed that. You’re one of the few who know how to do that, hence me briefing you. No sense alarming people about any alien life-forms ahead of time. You’ll still have to do a reset when you go on-board.’
‘So let everything go on as before. Let me join the hibernators and bring the F-2 out in, say, five years and tell everyone it got back early. Less of a culture shock to modern technology for us than two decades down the line. In fact, I’m wondering why you’re telling me this in the first place. I could have gone on in ignorance about the whole problem.’
‘I just said ship log times will show that they came back early. We can’t change all the data without entering the ship. Someone would spot it. You would spot it and we need that particular hole covered for the time you’re hibernating. ’
‘Hence this conversation. Even if someone hacked their computer before revival, we can always do what we normally do and say it was a malfunction. I take it the mission was a success?’
‘That’s why we decided not to open the logs any further. If it was a failure, which would explain the early return, the top brass would have aborted the flight and…’
‘How would the F-2 be here in the first place. Can I see some verification of all of this and not just your say so?’
The man handed me his V-Pad, which immediately showed a high security notice and a glow that verified with my own V-Pad, so I found myself a comfortable spot on a table to read and studied the visuals. Verifications came up all the way of the security clearances involved. This was the real thing. I read the details a couple times, letting it all sink in. There was no doubt as I studied the F-2. A lot dirtier and aged than the F-2 I had watched leave a few months back. No one could fake that. I took a closer look at his V-Pad and checked the help screen. This wasn’t only a later model but based on its number version, made mine look like an antique. Who was I dealing with here?
‘Based off of this, it’s going to make star-travel a bit impractical if someone has to go through this each time,’ I said, finally.
‘We did come up with several ways around this. The easiest is we decelerate a lot earlier so they arrive later. That way we would have a bona fide reason to do so that could be passed off to the media as the problems of time dilation.
I nodded. ‘That would be easy enough, assuming every ship returned in a similar time frame but there’s no real way to know how much time they would be spending on each planet or when we start going even faster than 5ftl. It would also mean there might be something out there increasing they’re acceleration times. I mean, this first time could be a fluke. The next one could arrive back at the right time and the hibernating families be sleeping a lot longer.’
‘The starship could arrive even earlier?’
I shook my head. ‘Have we any evidence of that?’
‘Well, unless UFO sightings were actually true.’
‘The CIA cover story has kept that quiet for a long time but if they were here, they wouldn’t have hung around.’
The man smiled. ‘Er…we did actually. We just hid our presence. I noticed you didn’t point out the age of my V-Pad. This is the big bombshell. Me and my crew came back from a longer flight and no one to stop our waking a few decades back. We realised the implication and been sorting things out ever since. We didn’t actually have enough fuel to do a second trip out to try to get home but we were here to stop the problems happening. We fulfilled history ourselves.’
‘You’re from the future? I would need some verification of that beyond this V-Pad, especially with your security clearance being correct. How could you keep that secret?’
‘In my time, all crews had to be given top security clearance and let in on the secret. It was backdated in case we arrived early. It had to happen at some point or how else would people know how to keep quiet about it when it first happened. As whatever crew did it, we had no way of knowing. It was never recorded. We just didn’t expect it to be us. The most we could do is make sure things happened as we remembered them and hibernated to keep going. We’re getting old now, even if I don’t look that way. I can tell you that successive hibernations isn’t kind to the body and we’re dying off one by one.’
‘So you telling me is to ensure that I keep our present rolling towards your future. What makes you think I won’t change anything? It’s going to mess up sooner or later.’
The man shrugged and coughed. ‘I’m here. Isn’t that enough? You’re making our history. It has to have happened. The more you try to change things, the more it will stay the same as far as I can see. We did try a few things just to ensure we were right on that. We remedied a malfunction on the standard drive and another problem cropped up instead.’
‘I’m not likely to last forever neither. I’ll need to keep this V-Pad and any other evidence to prove to my successors what’s happening or they’d never believe me, especially if I keep altering data so it can’t be found.’
‘You’ll have plenty more evidence that you’ll have to hide in the years to come, including my starship. History says it would be too dangerous to let leak out but you’ll at least have a look at it. That’s why we had to wait for you to come along. Some of it is time-locked for obvious reasons so you won’t know too much but it’ll also point out who you should confide in.’
He coughed again. ‘We were never sure in the future how you made the right decisions until we got here and realised we’d actually helped. These are things that is history to us but not to you. Just don’t try to hack it out. My V-Pad is a lot more advanced than the current model which should prove to any of your successors that you’re not yanking their chains and give a little useful information so they fulfil their jobs.’
‘Isn’t that giving the future away?’
‘Only as much as it fulfils the future. I saw this very V-Pad in a museum once and never realised it was one that I actually owned. You and those who follow its information took very good care of it. If I wasn’t doing this now, all the actions you and those who follow wouldn’t happen and this wouldn’t happen. Cause and effect will be fulfilled whether either or us wants to or not.’
‘Or if I deviated, someone else would fill in the gap. Is the future worth living for?’
The man nodded, ‘Time dilation problems aside, yeah, it’s worth it. Man has to get out into the universe. Your grasp of time travel in your thesis made you the right person for this job and we effectively got you your post in the first place. We needed someone like you in place who would immediately grasp the problem.’
‘Will there ever be a time when the general population will know?’
‘Someone on the list will but even I don’t know for sure. It’ll just happen one day. It’s just a matter of time.’
‘And you? Surely you can access the fuel you need now.’
‘Maybe you shouldn’t know. There is a logged message for someone further along to find out one day.’
‘Let’s hope I don’t mess anything up.’
‘You won’t. Enjoy your hibernation.’
I shook his hand. ‘I hope I live up to your expectations.’
‘Time will tell,’ he said as he turned off the faucets. ‘Yes, indeed.’
(c) GF Willmetts 2015
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