Published

In Time

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image : videoblocks.com

What events would occur in the preliminary phases before time travel was perfected? To me, the electronic transmission of messages through time would be developed before a living creature or an object crossed that threshold. At least that’s the premise for this short story. Published in September 2018 by Theme of Absence Magazine, they were also quite kind to do an author interview.

In Time

by DL Shirey

Dear Ersei,
+
This will sound strange coming from me, but after tomorrow you will never see me again. The funny thing is you may be reading this while I sleep in bed beside you.
+
The rumors of Time Capsule are true. Messaging can now be sent backwards in time. Not forward yet, as I understand it.
+
That’s the thing about all this time technology frap, it’s impossible to verify. I may be pounding out words that go no place except to the guys in TT.
+
They may be reading this now and having a good laugh. Joke’s on me. Enjoy yourselves, belkholes.
+
Even if these words reach you, TT suggests the messages be sent in short bursts. Some bartwhal about the constraints of time sync on principles of regressive digitization. They can’t predict how many characters can pass through before the z2:mfn]98zxs

z2:mfn]98zxs

z2:mfn]98zxs a portion of this gets through to you. It’s important you know how much our time together meant. Being alone never bothered me. It’s why I volunteered for the position in the first place. It wasn’t until we were apart that I truly felt lonely.
+
I never thought it would affect me this way. Suddenly there was someone to come back to. Maybe if we hadn’t gone to bed, I’d feel different. But I told myself back then that it was going to be a long time between lovers. It wasn’t until I was out here that z2:mfn]98zxs

z2:mfn]98zxs

z2:mfn]98zxs another alternative. What if I found a way not to leave in the first place? What if you could wake me up right now and we talk about getting out of here? Given the future, we could just take off. Run away.
+
If you only had the benefit of hindsight like I do.
+
First posts, like the Director said, are absolute frap. We’re alone and apart, just dots on the opposite ends of nowhere. Sure we can trade messages in real-time but it’s not enough. Not nearly enough, when being together is all I want.
+
Let me give you a glimpse of what the next few years hold.
+
First off, it is boring as hell. And all that sanctimonious “you’re saving countless creatures years of pain and suffering” is pure bartwhal. It’s hard to choose which of these to tell you about first. Boredom probably, because there’s so much of it.
+
There is only one thing less interesting than packing up dead specimens and that’s waiting for them to die. You will say it yourself, I’ve half a mind to kill them off and be done with it. Wait. Before I go off on that diatribe again I should start at the beginning.
+
You and me and the rest of the class finished training, restricted to base until our number was called. What did you call it, Bentrex Roulette? Another species on the brink and it was time for one of us to go. You went first. I had to wait three more weeks.
+
Spoiler alert. When I showed up as your flight was boarding you seemed genuinely pleased. Maybe a little surprised. Like I said, the night we spent together meant a lot to me. Even then I knew it was something special.
+
Anyway, off you went, seemingly as far from civilization as possible. In your first real-time message to me you said “I thought the flight was long until the walk in. And I thought the hike was bad until I found the hut.” Well, yours is a palace compared to mine.
+
Then you have to find the critters, track their movement, document all other survivors and verify that reproduction is no longer viable. The data required to chronicle all this is mind-numbing, but nothing compared to when one of them dies.
+
I’ll be honest, when extinction becomes inevitable, waiting for last specimens to die seems like a waste of time. Oh, I know the specific cause of death for those last few creatures may play an important role in determining species extinction.
+
Perhaps a disease that killed the remaining individuals was the determining factor for the group as a whole. But isn’t it a little bit cruel to let them suffer a pointless death? We’re going to pack them up and freeze them and dissect the remains anyway.
+
It seems kinder not to let them linger needlessly. We capture every relevant data point imaginable, day after boring day. Why not euthanize the poor things and call it good?
+
And what is with predicting the demise of an entire ecosystem based on the death of one measly species? I understand Bentrex’s Theory as well as the next recruit, but doesn’t it strike you as being a bit convenient? It seems quite handy to z2:mfn]98zxs

z2:mfn]98zxs

z2:mfn]98zxs that usually takes millennia. All we do is punch in a bunch of numbers and a nifty little chart spits out. All the species remaining on the planet, lined up like so many dominoes, showing what order they fall. Predictive extinction my ass. If only z2:mfn]98zxs

z2:mfn]98zxs

z2:mfn]98zxs anything from training except follow procedure.
+
Wow. Apologies for the rant. You know how I can get when I go off on these subjects. No, as you read this, you don’t know how I can get. Not yet. Trust me when I say that we debate this in countless messages over the years to come.
+
Having all this time to think made me start dissecting memories. Beyond people, places and things, I’d examine every gesture, snippet and nuance. Lately, I’ve been fixated on the Director and the words she’d use during training.
+
Remember how she dismissed the creatures we’d be studying? Always called them bugs.
+
I mean I get it, you have to be dispassionate in order to collect data on a dying species. And it’s true that most assignments deal with lower forms of life. But it seems demeaning to take an organism, one that’s just trying to survive, and call it a bug.
+
Maybe because the Director has made this her career and become callous in her definition of life. My specimens are Reptilia class, all female. They’re plant-eaters, foraging by night, returning to a communal nest by day.
+
The more I observed them, the more I could recognize them as individuals. Their markings were different to be sure, but they showed signs of having separate characters, even temperaments. Personalities, if you will.
+
So not like a bug. And that’s where Bentrex fails me. These aren’t theoretical dominoes at all, but living creatures. Who says evolution will unfold the way they predict? Especially when the company uses the data for its own convenience.
+
I know I’m picking things apart because of all this time to kill. Maybe the Director’s callousness is more than trying to remain unemotional as species after species wink out. How many times did she re-enlist? Eight? So much tedium. So much extinction.
+
One deathwatch is more than enough for me.
+
I’ll admit the job has its moments. Being far away from everything you desire, you feel so small. The boredom both ensnares your mind and frees the imagination. You need those moments where you rise above the work, if only to keep from going crazy.
+
I remember one of your messages. There were only three left in the colony you found, all female— why do females usually outlast the males? Anyhow, I’ll never forget it. You said the one who remained actually attended to the others while they were dying.
+
It’s hard not to ascribe our own values to something like that. Was it an act of kindness or duty or reverence? We’ll never know. But the thing you said that really stuck with me was “it was quite human for a bug.”
+
And that brings me to the real reason I’m writing this. Knowing you like I do, after a million messages sent between us, you would want me to be honest about this. The truth is that you do not live to see your last specimen die.
+
You got sick. Something in the air, maybe, or skin contact with a toxin. You analyzed everything you could and the company did its best to suggest possible cures. But you were just too far away. Messaging in real-time could only do so much.
+
Know that you didn’t suffer. Not for very long. Yet it was agony for me, reading those messages of you trying to be brave. Time stretched out even longer here. Worrying and waiting. But there was nothing anyone could do.
+
That’s what Time Capsule was invented for, wasn’t it? To pre-warn in case of emergency. To send a message back so a rescue team can be sent in before the tragedy occurs. It was just bad timing you died just two weeks before TT rolled it out. Two weeks. There z2:mfn]98zxs

z2:mfn]98zxs

z2:mfn]98zxs even though they rushed an emergency evac, there wasn’t time. Ironic isn’t it? Some of us died documenting the demise of a species. Then they use Bentrex as an excuse to set up a mining colony, which will strip a planet of all remaining life anyway.
+
I guess that gives the company a clear conscience. Well, my conscience is clear about this. I care too much about you not to tell you your future. Damn the repercussions of using this message to warn you.
+
Never mind that I’ve already lived through four years of isolation and all I’ll get in the end is a lousy pension and a home on the colony of my choice. Doesn’t seem worth it. What good is that life if it means living without you?
+
I mean it. They warned us of the risk. And I was willing to take it on—and the boredom and all the rest—knowing I had you to come back to. That isn’t going to happen, the way things are now. But Ersei, none of this HAS TO happen.
+
So please, before it’s too late, wake up that lunk next to you and show me this message. You and I have so much to talk about. So much to live for.
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Like I said, there’s been nothing but time to think about this and I’ve gotten to know you intimately over these long, lonely years. You can tell a lot about a person by the messages they write.
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And the things you feel when you read them.
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Yours in time,
Edward

#

“I can’t believe it. He sent another one.”

“We definitely need to contact the Director. Think we should shut down his Time Capsule?”

“Nah, let’s keep intercepting and see how many others he tries to contact.”

“Can’t really blame a guy for trying. That duty is boring as frap. There were times when I would’ve done anything to cut my tour short.

“How many women did he sleep with at training? Jesus.”

“I’m still betting he’ll figure out how much easier it would be to send a message to himself.”

“Maybe. Maybe not. The man’s got a lot of time to burn.”

END

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