06 January 2012

"A Place in Time"

By Curtis C. Chen

Transit always made Judy a little dizzy. As soon as she emerged from the vortex, she found an empty bench and sat down, surveying the park while catching her breath. The people of this century looked so different from her contemporaries—like short, stocky, hairy statues.

To her surprise, she saw movement off one edge of the grass field.

"Not possible," Judy muttered. Then she remembered what the operator had told her before one of her previous transits:

"Well, it's not actually a technical limitation, ma'am. Sure, we gotta comply with commerce regulations and not send too many people each transit, but the technology lets us slice down to the nanosecond level, so we can avoid traveler collisions. And that's only because one nanosecond is the half-life of the positronium stream. Resolution's getting finer all the time, and pretty soon our transit capacity's gonna be pretty much infinite, or close enough that it won't matter..."

Dark hair, cut short, exposed ears, noticeable discoloration over exposed skin areas—this other traveler must have come from an era before her own, and was clearly a man. Judy let out the breath she'd been holding. At least she wouldn't have to confront the thorny issue of what to say if she ever met herself in the past. Not yet, anyway.

She watched the man approach and considered the entertainment value of remaining still a little longer, pretending to be one of the people frozen in this preserved slice of the past. But then she decided her own appearance would give herself away.

Judy stood up just as the man stepped onto the grass. He jumped when he saw her move.

"What the—!" Definitely from the past; that twang was unmistakable. "Who are you?"

"A traveler, like yourself," Judy said. "I'm from the year 3014."

"Three thousand? Wow. I didn't think humanity would last that long—" The man shook his head. "You know what? We shouldn't even be talking. You might accidentally tell me something I shouldn't know."

"Oh, don't worry about that," Judy said. "The Novikov principle dictates that we can't change anything. Determinism and all that."

"Yeah, and exactly how much time traveling did Novikov actually do?"

"I'm told the mathematics are quite airtight."

"You're from the future. Anybody figured out quantum mechanics yet?"

"Not as such."

"Right." The man pointed behind him. "So I'm just going to leave now before we cause some kind of paradox that destroys the universe."

"Wait!" Judy raised a hand. "Perhaps I shouldn't tell you anything, but you can give me information. Time's arrow only flies in one direction, right?"

The man frowned. "What could I possibly tell you?"

"Why are you here?" Judy asked. "That is, why travel to this event, this moment in history? It's not terribly significant, in the grand scheme of things. Most people in my time don't even remember Professor Muntrona."

"Yeah, well, that's my name," the man said. "I'm Frederick Muntrona."

Judy raised an eyebrow. "I had a great-grandfather named Frederick."

Frederick's eyes widened. "Okay, now I really should leave."


Image: squirrel without honor, Washington, DC, July, 2008