In a workaholic family, steeped in science fiction tropes, a common wish was a quiet place where we could stop and rest while the world outside froze in place until we were ready to step back onto the treadmill. When I wanted to write a story that attempted to resolve the issue of changeable time with a little physics, I also wanted to show how time travel could be useful in more than the obvious ways.
“Kent! Wake up. Mr. Shaw!” Tara Lassiter’s voice was just patronizing enough that he snapped alert angry.
“Then why didn’t you answer my question?”
“Because I’m busy!”
She slapped the papers down on his desk. “You asked for the energy figures. Now you’re too busy for them?”
Kent Shaw stood up from his computer. He was tired, his clothes were rumpled from two days constant activity, and his brain was too fuzzy to think straight.
“I’ll be right back.”
Tara put her hands on her hips and began, “I don’t work for you, Mister! If you think....”
But he was already out the door.
He had promised himself he wouldn’t do it anymore, but he desperately needed sleep.
Another Kent Shaw passed him in the hall. He strolled confidently, with a smile on his face, dressed in a crisp clean version of his grubby lab whites.
The chamber room was just around the corner. He noted the time.
The controls had already been set up for him by his other version. Rested, he was a nice guy. All he had to do was sit in the reclined chair in the transparent glass bubble and press a button.
Without even an audible pop, he was five weeks ago.
He crawled off to one of the many unused sleeping rooms in the largely deserted complex and crashed, fully dressed, onto the bed.
Tara was enraged. How dare he walk out on her?
“I don’t work for you, Mister! If you think I’m here just to run your busywork errands, you are sadly mistaken.”
Dr. Kent Shaw, project lead, walked right back in and smiled. “Of course I don’t think that, Ms. Lassiter.”
He picked up the energy analysis and ran his finger down the column. “This is interesting, don’t you think?”
She mentally shifted gears. He’s doing it again. This was the third time he had abruptly changed from a slovenly grouch to being back on top of his game, practically instantaneously.
“The correlation between the types of experiments and the energy consumption.”
Tara leaned closer. He turned the sheet around for her.
“Here. The passive send-and-retrievals, where we just sent a camera back in time to photograph the clock, or the television—those took hardly any energy at all.
“But the interactive ones, like the time Jerry sent the camera back to take his own picture five minutes earlier—that one almost drained the capacitors. And when you tried the same thing, the transfer never happened.
“In fact, none of your interactives have worked, have they?”
Tara snarled, “If you’re implying that my methodology has been in any way at fault for those results, I’d like for you to spell it out! You wrote the guidelines. You programmed the transfers.”
He held up his hand in peace. “I see nothing different in any of the experiments. That’s my point. Why would some succeed and some fail when the only difference was the experimenter? Yet it’s clear that a correlation exists.”
Tara reluctantly looked over the numbers. Others in the project had commented on erratic failures. Bill Welch even grumbled about Shaw’s golden touch. She had chalked it up to experience. Time transfer was his idea. He had been on the project long before it had vanished under the military umbrella.
“Okay,” she asked, “why do some people have better luck than others?”
He shrugged. “It’s too early to tell. You’ve heard my theory before, but I have no proof.”
She had. “You don’t think time-travel paradoxes are possible.”
“Right. Since I don’t believe in them, my experiments tend to be ‘safe’. Other people,” he nodded her way, “have personalities that tend to push the boundaries. Your self-portrait experiment, for example. If you’d seen the camera appear on schedule and take your picture, could you’ve resisted the impulse to send it back pointed in a different direction?”
Tara handed the papers back. “That’s ridiculous. We need a technical reason for these erratic failures, and soon. General Hershey won’t take kindly to extending our budget if you tell him he can’t go back in time and change the outcome of a battle.”
Kent woke up again in the past. He rubbed his eyes and sniffed at his rumpled clothes.
The clock read near midnight. That was good. The Kent Shaw native to this moment was hard at work in the lab, according to his records. It was a good time to raid his official sleeping quarters for fresh clothes and put the duplicates into the laundry. He inked a tally mark on his collar. Theoretically, a set of clothes could be caught in a time loop. He didn’t want that to happen. It could shut down his ability to get past-time rest.
Chores done, bathed and freshly dressed, he returned to the moment he had left. His clipboard was still there on the table beside the computer. He scanned the pages, refreshing his memory. It was time for a meeting.
His co-workers, Tara, Jerry and Bill, stared at him as he entered the room. They looked tired, as they should, having worked a dozen or so hours straight. But Tara’s eyes especially, glared at him.
“Hello, people. Are we ready for today’s review?”
She crossed her arms. “Why should we bother? I’m not in the mood to play silly games.”
He frowned and set down his papers. “What do you mean?”
Bill cleared his throat. “Kent, we were supposed to discuss the protocols necessary to start sending people back in time. It’s clear that you’ve already worked that out.
“You’ve gone back—several times. Why don’t you just tell us what needs to be done?”
Kent considered his response, and then asked, “Where did I mess up?”
Jerry Nemecheck laughed. “We all suspected something. According to the computers, you’ve been hard at work for nearly a hundred hours straight. Yesterday, Bill mentioned that he’d just seen you in the chamber room, when I knew you were putting together that last simulation run.
“Then, five minutes ago, when Tara came in to remind us of the meeting, you stumbled out of the room like a zombie and she...”
“I said, ‘I’ll bet fifty bucks you walk right back into the room fully rested and wearing clean clothes.’ And you did just that. What happened to the ink stain on your shirt pocket, Kent?”
He looked down. The lab coat was clean, of course.
“I put the stained one into the laundry, five weeks ago, and stole a fresh one from myself.”
Bill let out a gasp. “So it’s true! I didn’t quite believe it.”
Kent sat down and spelled it out to them.
Tara asked, “So you’ve been pulling back-to-back shifts by sleeping in the past?”
He nodded. “You’re the one who said I had to work hard to meet the deadline.”
Jerry nodded. “I’d have done the same, if I’d thought about it. Send me back. I could really use some shut-eye!”
Tara added, “All of us. It’s the only way we’re going to be ready by the presentation date.”
Kent wavered under her challenging stare. “Okay, but there are precautions. I’ll need to work out a schedule...”
Another Jerry Nemechek walked into the room, a rested one. “I went first. Kent, get out your private log book. We’ll have that schedule in no time.”
Three tired scientists, the original Jerry especially, stared speechless as Jerry-2 and Kent scheduled available empty sleeping quarters in the past. They were quickly done.
Jerry-2 said, “Come on to the chamber room.” He pointed at his other self. With a big grin, he said, “You go first.”
Kent coached them. “I was at the facility at this point, and so was Bill, but if we keep to the schedule, no one will know anything. Remember, the slightest chance of a paradox could cancel the whole rest trip. Stay quiet and watch the corridors carefully.”
Jerry sat down in the chair, and with the press of a button, vanished.
“I’m back.” Jerry-2 was now just Jerry, rested.
Bill raised a finger. “I’ll go next. Only, don’t expect me back before I leave.”
He vanished from the chair, and then re-appeared ten seconds later. He hopped up and smiled. “That was the best night’s sleep I’ve had in six months.”
Kent nodded. “Tara?”
She sat down in the chair. Kent adjusted the settings and said, “Go.”
She pressed the button. Nothing happened.
Bill asked, “Did you go back and return at the same instant?” Maybe the universe wouldn’t let two copies of a person overlap in the same place and time, but he had no proof. Two Jerry’s had been un-nerving enough.
“No. I didn’t go back. Nothing happened.”
Kent was scanning the instruments. “It was an energy drain again.”
Jerry walked over and tapped the keys. “I don’t understand it. Other than the destination time, everything is identical to the settings we used for Bill and me.”
Tara sat stubbornly in the chair. “Try it again.”
“In a minute. The system has to recharge.” Kent checked his log. “Let’s send you a day later. Maybe someone was in the corridor at the wrong time.”
Once the capacitor bank that took up the whole next room had recharged, Kent double-checked the settings and nodded. Tara pushed the button, and then after a pause, she moved aside the glass and jumped out of the chair.
“Let me see those settings. Nothing is working.”
Jerry and Kent stood back while she worked over the instruments, comparing and recalculating. Finally, after several minutes, she leaned back and growled, “Jerk!”
Kent timidly asked, “Who’s a jerk?”
She waved at the computer screen. “Him, it, the universe! Look at all of you, bright and chipper—all rested and eager to put in another dozen hours.
“We can try again. Set it forward another day.”
She nodded and made the correction.
Kent could see her sag when, once again, nothing happened.
“Come on, Tara.” He went to help her out of the chair. “You need sleep. You have a bed here and now.”
She hesitantly accepted his help and let him walk her to her corridor. “We’re ahead of schedule. Get a good rest.”
Tara nodded. She put her hand on the knob. “Go back to work. I’ll be okay.”
He smiled and went back towards the labs.