I was exhausted, but my excitement gave me an energy I had never known before. My eyes were glued to the silver shape that hung in the blackness like a diamond on black velvet beyond the round porthole I was looking through. It seemed like the humming thrusters that were propelling my shuttle into the docking position were taking forever. I had already flipped the switches and pushed the buttons that my coaches back on earth had spent months training me to push when I got here, and now the rest was up to the crew on the station. After what seemed like hours but had not been more than twenty minutes, I finally heard the hydraulic pressure on the hatch to my cabin release, and an unseen force opened it from the outside. Bright white light flooded my cabin, soon followed by the cool scent of recycled oxygen. Seconds later I floated through the round opening and was greeted by several men and women in blue uniforms who had anchored their feet under poles fastened to the floor. I awkwardly wiggled my body to do likewise and shook hands with each of them. It was a very strange yet exhilarating experience to shake hands with other humans while experiencing weightlessness. I could see smiles of amusement creep onto the faces of several of the crew members as they watched my reaction to my first time in outer space.
A short man with the Japanese flag sewn onto the shoulder of his uniform introduced himself with a name I could hardly pronounce. He was broad-shouldered, with streaks of iron gray in his black hair, complemented by a neatly trimmed moustache. Myriads of light reflected off his black rimmed glasses like will-o’-the-wisps in a swamp. Seeing my perplexity at the unintelligible sound he had given as his name, he laughed good naturedly.
“You can just call me Dr. Fuj,” he said. “Everybody does. Welcome aboard the Kitty Hawk.”
The commander, as Dr. Fuj turned out to be, introduced the other crew members to me, who were mostly computer scientists, technicians, and engineers. After the introductions were made, the crew returned to their work and one of the engineers, an American named Andrews, offered me something to eat. I accepted and followed her to a section of the station where a small plastic surface resembling a table was floating in midair. Soon she handed me an aluminum package filled with lemonade, a small plastic package with two vitamin D tablets, an apple in a plastic bag, two cookies firmly encased in plastic, and a warm, transparent plastic package of reheated and rehydrated spaghetti, along with a spoon. I ate greedily, and after I had finished my meal, I realized just how tired I was. Dr. Andrews showed me a blue sleeping bag that was tethered to the wall. After applying ear plugs and an eye mask, I soon drifted to sleep.
When I awoke my body was expecting to feel some sensation of morning, but I was greatly disappointed. The white lights hummed overhead just as they had before my slumber, and the vast darkness of the universe still swirled beyond the portholes. After a crew member showed me to the restroom and supplied me with another meal in the “dining room,” Dr. Fuj somersaulted himself into the tight quarters with a large smile on his face.
“Ready for your big day?” he asked cheerfully, grabbing hold of some handholds overhead.
“Just about,” I replied, waving the breakfast bar in front of my face. The mention of my special mission set me to shaking again. I feebly returned the commander’s smile.
“Good,” he said. “Once you’ve digested your breakfast, we’ll meet in the projection chamber.”
After he left, Dr. Andrews vaulted in and invited me to watch a movie with her and some of the crew who were off duty. I accepted and followed her to a section of the station were several of the floating crew had tethered themselves in front of one of the computer screens. I hardly paid attention to what we watched. For the entire two hours my mind was completely fixated on what I had come to do. I was on a mission no human being had ever gone on before, and that many thought was impossible to accomplish. And yet here I was, watching movies in outer space, just before I would make history in a few hours!
Finally, my food digested, and I visited the tiny restroom again. Then Dr. Andrews and I pulled ourselves into the projection chamber. The projection chamber was a large hexagonally shaped section of the station, the walls of which were filled with lights, gauges, switches, buttons, levers, monitors, and all the technological gadgets imaginable. Three crew members equipped with headsets were strapped into seats and working the equipment. Dr. Fuj was also fitted with a headset and conversing with someone. Lying along one of the sides of the chamber, a large, cylindrical capsule beckoned me to its side. Half of it was made of metal, but the other half was glass, and I curiously peered through it to see if my suspicions were true. Sure enough, the outline of a human form was shaped into a surface inside the capsule. Straps intended to hold a human body in place were located at the wrists, ankles, and torso. A helmet-like device was situated above the place where I would lay my head. Finally, Dr. Fuj stopped talking to the person on his headset and floated over to me.
“Where’s the projector?” I asked.
“Out there,” the commander replied, tapping the ceiling above his head.
I shook my head incredulously. “Even after all my training and preparation, I still can’t believe this place it real.”
Dr. Fuj proudly nodded in agreement. “For over a century mankind has dreamed about the technology we are going to use today. The entire world has worked together to build this baby. Ever since H.G. Wells’ novel The Time Machine was published in 1895, we have wondered if there could be any science behind time travel. But, just like human flight, it was considered an impossibility by the scientific community.” The scientist grinned. “Hopefully today will change that. Just like the Wright brothers proved the world wrong about flight, so we will prove the world wrong about time travel.” Then he turned to me. “You have been informed on how our technology functions?”
“Yes,” I replied, giddy with enthusiasm. But when I saw disappointment flash in Dr. Fuj’s face, I quickly added: “But that was a while ago. I wouldn’t mind if you refreshed my memory.”
“Excellent,” Dr. Fuj beamed. He wasted no time in launching into his narrative. “Before we commence the time voyage,” He began, “you will be securely strapped into the body capsule, and have the consciousness transferring helmet fitted over your skull. We will then seal the capsule air-tight. When this is completed, we will turn on the time travelling engines, carefully monitoring their activity and running diagnostics the whole time. Then, when my engineers give me the thumbs up, I will press the button that will transport us to the past.”
“How far back will we be traveling?” I interrupted.
“We didn’t want to go too far back in time in case we ran into complications,” Dr. Fuj replied, “but we also wanted to travel far back enough to see some visible differences in the civilization on the earth’s surface through our telescope. So, we are traveling about 6000 years back in time at about a thousand years per minute. It’s a pitiful start, honestly, but it’s a start, and no one has ever done any better.” Dr. Fuj cleared his throat and resumed his technological explanation. “If we survive the time voyage – “
“Wait,” I interrupted yet again, alarm bells going off in my head, “why wouldn’t we survive the voyage? Is there danger?”
Dr. Fuj laughed. “Traveling into previously unexplored territory always brings with it the danger of the unknown. We have no reason to not believe in our survival, yet we also have no reason to believe the contrary. No one has ever done this before, so we must take all into consideration. If we are killed, I think it will most likely be the result of violating the Pauli exclusion principle. Does that ring a bell?”
I shook my head.
“The Pauli exclusion principle,” Dr. Fuj explained, “states that no two objects can occupy the same space at the same time. However, if the Kitty Hawk were to stop her time voyage in the same space as, say, an asteroid happened to be in at that point in time, we are almost certain that an atomic explosion, or maybe something worse, would result, since two things would be trying to occupy the same space at the same time.”
For a moment my enthusiasm abated. I didn’t remember hearing that in my training. I felt like I had been tricked, and I probably had been.
“But that’s the whole reason why we’ve spent billions to do the voyage in space,” Dr. Fuj added quickly, seeing my change of demeanor. “On earth, there is no way to know what matter occupied what space when in the past. But in outer space, there is a lot less matter to account for, and no living organisms to keep in consideration. The risk of an explosion is infinitely less.” Clearing his throat once again, Dr. Fuj changed the subject. “Once the time voyage is over, our technicians will try to get a visual of the projection area through the telescope. After they give the affirmative, we will turn on the projector. It will take a few minutes for it to warm up. Then we’ll release the beam, which will produce a hologram-like projection of yourself on earth and transfer your consciousness to it. Your selected projection area is ancient Mesopotamia, somewhere between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. Although we highly recommend that you stay out of sight, it is most desirable that you at least catch a glimpse of another human being.”
I nodded. “I will certainly do my best.”
A moment of silence ensued. I looked through one of the portholes at the blue planet I had been born on. It was a strange feeling to look at earth and know that I would be back soon, but not know my mother planet, and it not know me.
“Whenever you’re ready.” The words came slowly, solemnly out of Dr. Fuj’s mouth. The light of enthusiasm had gone from his eyes. It was time to make history now.
I was trembling as the straps closed over my body and tightened. Then the glass encasement slid shut over my face, sealing off my last connection with familiarity. The consciousness transferring helmet slowly slid over my skull. Then I raised the thumb of my right hand to signal Dr. Fuj, who had been staring at me intently through the glass, that I was ready. He nodded and floated away so that only his head remained visible from my supine position. His lips moved, but his words were only an unintelligible mumble to me. It seemed like hours, although it was probably only minutes, went by before a voice blared over the station’s intercom system. “Crew, take positions for time voyage.”
A few minutes later, the voice spoke the words I had dreaded and anticipated for years.
“Time voyage commencing in five.”
My stomach churned, and I realized for the first time that I had been sweating profusely.
Maybe I could still stop them. Out of the billions of people on earth, there must be someone more qualified for this mission than me.
I opened my mouth to protest, filled my lungs with air, but no words came out.
Would this be the end of me? Was I ready for death? Was there a God somewhere out in that infinite depth of space, just waiting for us to break the laws of time so that he could snatch us out of this life and tumble us into hell?
I did something I had never done before. It was instinctive, even though I had never done so before in my life. “God, please don’t be angry. Save me!”
For a few seconds nothing happened, but then I suddenly felt like going crazy. My whole body started feeling sicker than it ever had before, but at the same time there was this feeling of pleasure and comfort that made it bearable. I realized my body was actually shaking violently.
The six minutes felt like six years. But finally, the horribly good feeling left, and I collapsed in myself, exhausted. I think I even fainted.
The next words; or the last words, I should say; I heard before it happened came from Dr. Fuj. He sounded exhausted and sick, just like I felt.
And then I went to a place that was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep.