When the clock stopped_Longer version

Background: Writer’s group assignment: This is a Sci-Fi tale and there are other versions of differing lengths and slightly different content.  This one is 1148 words long. A shorter , 700 word version is also available on this site.        

Professor James Hassimo and his small team stared anxiously through the plate glass wall of the locked cubicle in the centre of the laboratory, straining to see the readings on the instruments, and particularly concerned that the clocks were not doing what they were expected to do.  The readout on the ‘PRESENT TIME’ clock was advancing in the normal way as the seconds ticked by but the reading on the ‘FUTURE TIME’ clock had been static at exactly three weeks for several hours now. Even more alarming, the ‘TIME GAP’ clock was stepping steadily backward. This was not the plan.

“Something must be wrong.” Hassimo’s words were spoken softly but the anxiety behind the surface equanimity was unmistakable.

The man and the woman wearing the strange headgear inside the cubicle sat motionless, almost catatonic, in their luxuary recliners. Green light from the flickering screens around them danced macabre images onto their faces and it was obvious that something remarkable was happening.  In the very centre of the enclosure blue sparks played on the surface of the large silver sphere on top of a giant computer and it emitted a steady thrumming sound and eerie pulsing orange luminescence.

“Let’s review the theory again” offered Tracey Logan, second in command of the base team after James Hassimo.  “We have shown that the future is really only a continuance of the present. At any moment in time we can measure everything that can be observed and predict what is to come based on probability theory. Millions of variables come into play though and trying to look even a few weeks ahead with accuracy is virtually impossible. As the present and future times get closer together though, the uncertainties diminish and if we use our modern supercomputers to predict what will happen only a second or two ahead of real time, the variables disappear altogether and we are bound to get it right. At ‘verity point’, the moment where the prediction accuracy becomes 100%, a remarkable thing happens.”

“Yes! That’s when the very fabric of space-time softens and the people attached to the equipment are literally absorbed into that future.” Research assistant Kobus van Veeren wanted to contribute.

“We know we have the mathematics right”, it was Tracey again. At the point of verity the temponaugts connected to the system are not just predicting the future any more. They actually merge into it and become part of it.”

“The concern now is why has the plan changed?” Professor Hassimo clarified. “We have always been aware that humans moving into the future could possibly manipulate and change the way the world will be for those of us still to follow. That’s why it became necessary to automatically lock the travellers into the cube the moment that the PRESENT and FUTURE clocks start to differ. It was not initially a huge concern because we could only go a couple of seconds forward in spacetime and not much harm could come of it. But it’s different now that we have realised that as we pass into the near future we can use the same technology again and move into the future of the future. The purpose of today’s mission was for Gordon and Orillia to do this incrementally until they were at least two months ahead of us in time and if the clocks tell us that that process has stalled, we need to wonder what unforeseen event could be causing the problem. This could go horribly wrong and the whole space-time continuum could become unstable.“

“It’s weird to see them sitting lifeless in their chairs there but knowing that they are also simultaneously in the future and that that’s where their life-forces are.” Said Kobus.

“Yes!” agreed Professor Hassimo, “as we know the laws of science make it impossible for the same individual to function cognitively in two time zones simultaneously. When they return to our time they will reconsolidate and interact normally again.”

In the future, the two temponaughts had suspended their temporal burrowing and stopped to take stock of what was happening in the world around them. In that reality the PRESENT and FUTURE clocks displayed the same time because they were in fact both in the future and for the same reasons, the GAP clock showed perfect synchronisation. This had not been anticipated by the research team and it meant that the doors of the room were automatically unlocked and they could leave whenever they wished. Gordon was quick to realise this when he saw the clocks and decided to maximise the possibilities and deviate from the agreed plan.

“Okay Orillia” he said.  The burning curiosity in the 65 year old professor’s eyes gave the lie to his outwardly calm and easy behaviour. “Let’s go out and take a look-see at what has altered in the past three weeks”

“I’m right with you Gordon”. The brilliant young French woman was already an accomplished scientist and she had no intention of being left behind.

Despite the large age gap between them, Gordon could not help but feel excited at the nearness of this elegant woman. Her subtle perfume distracted him and he made an entry in his mental diary to invite her up to his house for dinner when this adventure was over.

They hoisted themselves from their chairs and made their way out of the cubicle, half expecting to meet their support team at the door and wondering how they would react. But there was nobody outside the cubicle. Clearly their colleagues had not maintained their vigil indefinitely.

Once outside the ‘Hermanus Spacetime Research Centre’ they filled their lungs with the crisp spring air and started to look around for any changes. A building in the shopping centre had been instantly plastered and completed and there were far more new green leaves on the trees to tell them that they had indeed travelled forward through time. The meaning of it all was overwhelming and they picked up their steps as they headed towards the whale watching point on the far side of the coastal road.

But Gordon and Orillia never knew what hit them. The unlicensed driver of the overloaded minibus taxi lost control of his vehicle and swerved off the road. In a moment, the two scientists had become just two more road kills. They never had a chance.

Back in the present the FUTURE clock did not restart and the time gap was counting down. The home team continued to puzzle over what was happening and sat outside the locked glass sided cube for days waiting for any changes. Nothing did happen and eventually fatigue sent them home to sleep.

It would be 21 days before they would read of the tragic accident in the newspapers and come to realize amongst their devastation that it was not going to be easy to explain the duplicate bodies to the authorities.