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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Science Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
A plausable time travel story set in the future. One mans attempt to survive the technology and rebuild the future from the past.

Submitted: August 07, 2010

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Submitted: August 07, 2010

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CLOSE TO HOME
 
 
 
A Short Story byRobert Trimble
 
 
 
 
He had ten minutes to wait before the first transmission…for a signal from the future.His fingernails dug deep into the padded cushions by his side.
“Relax. We discussed this. I can give you something to help calm you, if you prefer?”
“No,” he said. “I’ll be fine.” The deep wrinkles in his aged face began to stand out. His heart sped up.
“I’d like to give you something, for the stress.”
“No, really, I’ll be fine.”
“Alright, as you wish. Eight minutes to go.”
Steve relaxed his grip on the chair realizing that his right leg was bouncing up and down uncontrollably. He placed his hand on his thigh to quiet it.
“Again, please relax. If we lose the connection there is still a lot of time and options for a re-link. This is all manageable. The neural clusters have a ninety percent success rate on a first connection. Most problems originate from back here in the main not in the future.Your Skin was designed to handle any potential problem and reestablish a link. Worst case, we’ll need to wait a month for another target date if something goes down.Alright, Mr. Lang, six minutes to go.”
Steve thought about the word “Skin”. He hated it. It seemed crude and distant. The “Skin” was a robot, a machine that would link with Steve like a twin brother. Part man, part machine, soon it would be a connection that would become permanent. Steve would become the owner of a different body, a new skin. This would allow him to move effortlessly into the future.
“I need to ask a question,” Steve said turning his head toward the short and white haired woman.
“Sure, but quickly. I’ll need you quiet during the last minute.”
“How will I handle this if I can’t get in sync?”
“I wouldn’t worry Mr. Lang. As we have explained earlier, when the network goes up you will be automatically linked. It will be a permanent link. Please remember that we pushed this forward at your request, Mr. Lang, and you did pass every test. I believe you are ready. Let’s move forward, alright?”
“The Skin, he’ll be here, on Earth, right, two hundred years in the future, give or take?”
“That’s correct. Give or take. The primary layer should take hold quickly in your brain at startup. I don’t see you having any difficulties with the connection.”
Bang!! A loud crack erupted from the right side of control room, jolting a technician standing next to Steve’s right side. The tech jumped.
“Someone please turn that off,” the woman said quietly. “We have four minutes to go Mr. Lang. I need you to be very still now, ok?”
“I’m ready.”
“Perfect.” She smiled.
Thoughts and pictures began to flood the front of Steve’s mind.  Could he sustain the link? He knew that travel into the future would depend on a successful merge with the Skin. It was everything.
 
 
The Skin was designed to withstand the harsh environments of the future, so it had no human features. It had no legs, only six long jointed rods to help it climb easily onto any surface. It had no face. The body was small, tubular, and identical in front and back. The eyes were set in both front and the rear, also on top, so that a full view at all times and in all directions would be possible. Steve thought it looked more like an insect than a machine. Its brain mass was housed protectively within a small metallic compartment the size of a thumbnail and floated in a suspended liquid deep inside its body, somewhere where the lungs should have been.
The Skin’s brain was formed of a neural mass. It had been grown from a tumor in a controlled lab, injected with Steve’s own brain cells and infused with a virus.The result was a compact and micro sized duplicate of Steve’s mind.  Every thought and every emotion was a real time version of Steve’s own memories, his senses and even his personality. At first, Steve had rejected that a mass of cells could contain his entire thoughts and memories, but with time Steve imprinted and began to accept the Skin as part of him.
Steve sighed. The woman’s eyes darted over at him. She put up two fingers and grinned.
The neural link between Steve and the machine had been rigorously tested and tried, but there had been problems. The preliminary tests were awkward. Several times, during the simulations, Steve was unable to comprehend what the Skin was sensing and the program had to be re-booted. It had disconnected from him. Somehow, the connection would fluctuate and the Skin was slow to respond, but after a few months of practice, the neural mass came in sync with Steve’s body and brain and the program was moved forward to a launch date for the Skin to arrive in the future.
 
 
Now the woman was pacing erratically around the room.
“One minute to go Mr. Lang. Please begin your shut down.”
So, as he had been taught, Steve counted down and quieted his body, going over the checks of his vascular and nervous system, mentally disabling and bringing the systems of his body under his control.
“Very good.  This part of the training is going well. Within seconds, you will become a real time traveler Mr. Lang.”
 
 
Perfecting time travel had taken years of trial and error. No human being could withstand the speeds necessary to move into the future. A machine would have to travel alone. It would carry the only living matter stable enough to make a two year space voyage around the Sun. A neural mass could survive the near light speeds.  Only the small fleshy piece of a man’s mind would ever travel to the future.
The space craft was simple and small, but ruggedly fabricated. The final working design had evolved into a dark black obelisk resembling a dull metallic coffin. It was made of a dense and tightly fitting material able to withstand the heat of the shot toward the Sun. The Skin was vacuum packed tightly into it, like a processed food product, leaving no room for any movement. This made the long journey cold and virtually motionless. On launch day, the entire package was sent in a slingshot orbit several times around the back of the Sun to achieve the trajectory necessary to reach a near light speed path. The sole purpose was to bring the craft back to Earth, but to an Earth two hundred years in the future.
 
 
 
Steve felt something move through his brain like a wave of crawling worms making an exodus from one side to the other. It was cold, very cold.
“Do you see anything yet Mr. Lang?” the woman asked loudly.
“No, it’s dark, very dark. But I feel something moving in my mind.”
“Then the jumps are off. We can calibrate this. Give me thirty more seconds please.” She paused. Steve saw the woman dart to his left side and touch a huge transparent screen.
“Three points are off.” she said loudly. “297, 53 and 17. Bring in 53. I need the signal to bend more slowly, and then the granular positions will align.”
She was shouting now, at all five of the technicians in the room.
“Granule 297 is too close to the planet, the signal is too fast. It’s spinning around the surface side. Bring in 53 slowly. I can see it here on the screen.Slowly, slowly, good! All the points are tuned. We can bounce the signal down to our time.”
“What’s going on?” Steve said confused.
“We’re attempting to communicate with your future using granular time pockets. These are created by using the massive gravity fields surrounding several planets. We’re sending a high speed laser signal spinning around a planet to create holes in time. If we jump a signal enough times through a granule we’ll be able to tune it in like a radio to get a link with your Skin.” She glanced over at the huge screen and pointed. “Slow granule 53 again. Ok, that’s it.” She turned around and smiled.
“Mr. Lang, do you see anything?”
The worm like movement inside Steve’s brain subsided.
“Oh god!” he blurted out.
“Stay with it Mr. Lang, it’s your Skin. I think we’re getting a connection.”
“I can see….oh my god. I can see….”
 
 
 
 
 
Steve felt himself climb up onto a rim of the huge black crater using his middle and back two legs. It was effortless. He pulled himself up over several of the boulders that had been scattered violently across the edge. Everywhere there was ash, layered thick and dusty. With his front two legs, he climbed to the very top of the meteor crater and stood balanced on all six legs. Now he could see the horizon. The Sun was bright and hot as it reflected off his eyes in the back of his long torso. 
The blast crater was massive, a canyon that resembled craters on the moon. He looked around for a full view and saw the same scene duplicated for miles. There must have been hundreds of them, different sizes, different depths but all of the craters displaying the coal black color of violent impacts with the ground. Contrasted with the morning sunrise, it looked like a painted fantasy world with bright orange and black outlines shadowing the hundreds of the holes scattered across the landscape. In the distance, Steve could see the tall structures of a city amid the torn earth. The large translucent buildings reflected the morning Sun like valuable pearls. From the top, his eyes caught the body of a large hawk-like bird making a dive toward him with its talons outstretched and ready to cut into him. It was going to attack. Steve moved his middle two legs forward just a little as the bird hit him at full speed. It bounced off his body without making a sound and spun out of control hitting the ground twenty yards in from him, dead.
“Any damage to the Skin “he thought. “I didn’t feel a thing” He raised himself up on his back two legs and started across the crater.
“This is not what I thought it would be,” Steve said. “There is not much here. What happened?”
The Skin talked to him for the first time.
“It doesn’t matter. We need to get to the city before dark. There are problems.”
“Then move faster. That will save time.”
“The surface is too cluttered to move quickly. I could injure a joint or a leg.”
Steve could sense the hesitation as each leg began to check its footing.  He looked behind himself at the landscape. Everything was very quiet. As he continued to climb around the crater, he noticed that there was no air moving past his head.  It seemed dark and metallic. He felt a little dizzy. Then his third leg hit something on the ground. He almost tripped.
“What’s that?”
The Skin rotated its body a hundred and eighty degrees mid stride, turning itself upside down. Steve looked at the ground below his segmented legs and pointed all of his eyes toward an object buried four inches into the ash.
“Dig a little, let’s see what it is.”
A massive black claw retracted from Steve’s foot and hooked the smooth object around a protruding edge. He turned his torso right side up and held the bullet shaped object up to the sunlight to examine it further. It looked familiar.
“It looks like a bomb.”
“It’s very heavy, very compact.”
“Any possibility of a discharge? Is it safe?” 
“It’s been spent, already used up. It’s not explosive. It’s a molecular charged weapon. It’s an asteroid killer, meant to stop an impact with the Earth. There was a global effort to shoot down the thousands of incoming fragments that broke off from incoming asteroids. It must have been a last attempt to save the area from the onslaught of the asteroid shower. It looks like it failed.”
“Move forward.  I see something else.”
“There are more of them, a lot more.”
“It’s like a minefield. A discharge would end this for both of us. You’re right, we have to move safely.”
The Skin placed the shell carefully back into the depression in the ash and withdrew the claw.
“Bypass anything that looks metallic. This is dangerous. We shouldn’t be here.”
“I understand.”
 
 
Steve turned to the woman still monitoring the several large screens in the room.
“Why did I land here?” he blurted out.  “You didn’t tell me everything.”
“Yes Mr. Lang, we did.” She turned and looked him directly in the eyes. He was still talking with the Skin.
“Please have your Skin wait until we are done Mr. Lang. I will explain. We discussed the problem in orientation.”
“No we didn’t. I didn’t request this location. This is a war zone.”
“Each landing sight is different. There is no way for us to calculate all the possibilities. We’ve sent thousands of people forward. Each one was placed in a unique location. You knew this. That’s why we monitor.”
“You didn’t say anything about blast craters. I was led to believe…”
The woman turned to one of the technicians and rolled her eyes.
“I don’t know why we let them do this. Even with all the training they still complain.The tech laughed.  “Alright Mr. Lang, any more questions before you are ready to proceed?”
“No one prepared me for this. Millions of dollars, years of practice and you guys left
 out the details of location. That’s a huge screw up.”
“You might have had second thoughts Mr. Lang even despite all the promises to you. This project could not afford the chance of a rejection. A rejection would have been costly.”
“The pre launch info was shallow. Why?What’s really going on here?”
She was silent. She walked over close to Steve and sat down in a chair next to him. 
“We can’t pinpoint an arrival time. The travel to light speed and deceleration is tricky. There is a window or let’s call it a wedge of time that remains constant. The arrival point is somewhat relative to the departure time. Your Skin left two years ago and that brings him forward somewhere close to two hundred years in the future. It’s an approximate ratio of ten to one, but it’s still fluid. We can’t choose a day, a month, or even a season for a target date. The arrival dates are too random or scattered to put a precise plan into motion. Some of the travelers arrive sooner than expected, some later. It’s the best we can do for now. Maybe in another fifty years we’ll have it down. For now, we accept the limitations and do the best with what we’re given. What we are doing, is rebuilding a society after a terrible global tragedy. Both of you are here to rebuild the future.” She paused. “You were one of the selected people chosen for this project. You should consider that your position is very unique.”
“Selected and screened according to our ability to pay for all of this.”
“I would like to think that we chose the right person. Yes, money was a factor but not the only one. We are way past the point of making any changes now. All of our resources and efforts have gone into insuring a successful mission. You did agree to assist in the rebuilding projects.  Correct?  You will help us with the rebuilding?  This was an irrevocable contract you entered into Mr. Lang.”
She got up from the chair and slowly shuffled back to her large screens.
“Please continue the link with your Skin,” she told him. Steve didn’t notice as she leaned over to the technician and smiled.
 
 
It went well as Steve moved along the path carefully checking each mine with his eyes. He found it was not so difficult a task. Now he was feeling very comfortable looking in all directions at once with his six eyes. Behind him, he took a long look at the landscape. It was a wasteland. The Skin was right. All the efforts to control the disaster had failed. In 2246, the massive asteroid event happened. Hundreds of thousands of fragments and rocks hit the Earth, technology unable to stop them. Large pieces of the six main planet killers had broken off in Earth’s atmosphere and rained down a nuclear destruction onto the planet. The survivors were few, only in the millions. The eventual cleanup and rebuilding left everyone weak and open to disease. Clouds of dust particles shot miles into the atmosphere and rained down new and virulent strains of viruses once hidden in the dusty layers of the Earth’s crust. Steve was realizing that the bleak and lonely future belonged only to the machines, a vision many had warned about. He had contracted to be part of it. That‘s why he was here, living inside a metal body, exploring and even trying to rebuild the future from the past. Others had come before him.
“We need to make contact with the others!” the Skin interrupted. “I’m moving forward with the plans. I know you have other thoughts.”
“Not just yet!” Steve replied. “I’d like to wait a little. I need more time.”
“We were told to check with the others as soon as we arrived.”
“No!” Steve argued. “I want to do this alone. I want to explore first. We won’t have time later. We’ll be too busy working.”
Steve tried to hide his thoughts. There was so much he needed to see.
“This is not a wise position. We are vulnerable without help.”
“From what?”
“From the unknown. From an unforeseen accident or even a shut down. Let’s at least set up a comm link. I need to protect myself.”
“What makes this worth it is the sense of adventure. I want to look around, explore.  This is why I signed up for this project in the first place. We’ve got time. Besides, are you arguing with me?”
“I have safety protocols. Do you want to override them? You need to protect the investment. You need to protect both of us.”
“We both need a little more practice time with this link. I’ll let them know back here in the control room, alright. I want to wait for a day or so, then, we’ll move forward with the work project. Promise.”
The skin was silent.
“Move the back leg,” Steve thought. “Let’s move over there,” he said looking at the terrain from the front of his torso. The Skin responded. 
“Ok, we’re compromising.”
The city loomed larger before Steve’s six eyes as he crossed the last of several craters, quickly leaving behind the irregular terrain. Now, he was almost galloping across a flat desert-like wasteland scattered with millions of sparking and flashing crystalline pebbles. As the Skin ran, Steve felt like he was floating above the ground, each leg just barely touching the surface.  Each movement forward pushed thrill ride like pulses down from his lower stomach across his groin area. It tickled him. Every breath became shorter and more exciting.
“Faster?” the Skin asked. “I can move faster now. It’s safe.”
“A lot faster,” Steve grinned from two hundred years in the past. “This is incredible. I can’t believe this!”
“I’m enjoying it.”
Steve thought he heard the Skin laugh. 
“You’ve got to be kidding? Ha!”Steve blurted out a loud laugh into the room.
The outburst brought the woman running over to him. She leaned over and patted his arm gently.
“Alright Mr. Lang, let’s not get carried away. Let’s keep this on track please.” 
“We’re just having a little fun.” 
“Understood, but you have contacts to make. Move your Skin towards the city and make the rendezvous.”
“I’ll try,” he said sluggishly.
But Steve had no intention of doing so. Nothing they had told him was as promised.  The landing site was a wreck, so he made a choice. He knew that the Skin had already bonded to him and they couldn’t change that. From his chair back in the past he decided to command the future. Steve took control of the Skin.
“I’m ready to continue,” he said calmly.
“Good,” the woman said. “I’m glad to see we can proceed.” She moved towards a large florescent MRI of Steve’s brain. The screen was massive and filled with thousands of glittering squares of pastel colors moving in life like patterns. Steve noticed that several dark objects were darting around it quickly. Then they all stopped and began to congregate around one small spot toward the lower left side of the screen. The woman stood there, frozen, just watching and waiting. Steve closed his eyes and sank back deeper into the chair while he continued flying along the surface of an Earth far into the future. As he ran, it seemed that his heart would skip a beat every mile or so as they sped along the valley. The Skin never noticed a thing and pushed the two of them to run even faster.  Every part of Steve’s body was alive and pulsing with anticipation.  He was flying free, something that he had never felt before, his entire body calm and relaxed. He could do this for days.
 
 
Five miles into the sprint Steve wanted to stop. He quieted his thoughts and whispered to the Skin.
“I have to talk to you. I still have some serious concerns about the rebuilding.”
“Should we continue on?” 
“Not yet, I need to know what’s really going on?  I’ve tried to get some answers back here, but they keep avoiding my questions. They’re stalling.”
“You want to change things…you can’t.”
“What’s the risk to me, back here in the past?”
“There are limitations to what I can say.”
“I need to know what you think.”
“What I think?” the Skin asked surprised, still galloping across the terrain. “I think what you think, give or take.”
“If  you’re really a part of me, then you’ll understand why I need answers. This is beginning to feel a little dangerous.” 
The Skin stopped mid stride. Steve felt his front two legs bend under the weight of the forward momentum.
“We can reach the city within the hour if we turn back, but you don’t want that, do you?” He paused. “Alright, I’ll provide answers.”
Steve looked around using all six eyes. The steeple like buildings miles away caught the focus of his top left and forward eyes. They blinded him like mirrors in the sun giving him a headache across the front of his head. The top sixty feet of every building was covered in dark ash and soot, just like the craters they had left behind. The scene looked like a pile of ink tipped shards of broken glass ready to be swept up and put away. It was obvious that the explosive trauma was apocalyptic. He stood quietly as a hot wind blew ash across his back eyes hitting his lenses.
“This will take too long to fix.”
“That’s why we are here, to help rebuild. It’s a given, the mission statement. We’re contracted.”
“Are there people here, still alive?”
“A few. Pockets of survivors, but they’re difficult to locate. Life has become very primitive”
“How long has it been this way?”
“I estimate twelve years.”
“There doesn’t seem to be any sign of rebuilding. From here, everything looks like it’s still in ruins.”
“The impacts caused a polar shift of the planet. It destroyed everything quickly.  Any work has been slow and tedious.”
“Why wasn’t anything done? We should have sent a team into the future to warn the planet, to build something or create a diversion of some kind.”
“People were sent forward by the hundreds to find a solution. Same result, same scenario every time. No solutions. What you see now was the best effort to survive after hundreds of tries to avoid the crisis. All we can do is clean up. Despite the advance warning and technology, the event happened too quickly to respond effectively.”
“But time travel can change everything. They didn’t go back far enough to make the changes necessary to correct the future.”
“There is a point of saturation where changes made in the past can’t catch up with the ability to assimilate the technology. This happened on such a massive global scale, that small fixes could not match the enormity of the event, but we have a part to play here. We can settle in and help what’s left rebuild the future. Civilizations have been rebuilding for centuries. It’s what humanity does best, rebuild on rubble. We need to get to the city before dark.”
Steve’s brain flooded with endorphins. He felt strange. It grew cold. Something inside him was forcing its way in. Something was leading his thoughts.
The large MRI screen in front of the woman began to flash erratically. Suddenly it threw out wide bursts of pastel colors into the air, like a living mist, surrounding everyone in the room. An alarm went off.
“I want to wait, something is wrong,” Steve cried out.
“No!” the Skin shouted loudly into Steve’s mind. “We can’t wait.  We’re on a time schedule. We are contracted.”
Steve pushed on his hind legs trying to desperately turn himself in the opposite direction of the city. He wanted to move away, but his legs felt heavy. The Skin responded.
“I can’t stop you,” it said.
There was a long pause. The Skin checked the connection. It was beginning to shut down.  Steve was becoming incoherent and losing his ability to think clearly. He began to ramble.
“I…wanted…wait…this is wrong…we need to…I have to…merged.”
It was minutes before the Skin responded.
“I understand,” it said quietly.
 
 
 
The worm like feeling inside Steve’s brain returned. It felt like hundreds were moving around inside him.
“Please relax Mr. Lang.”
Steve sighed. His breathing slowed. It was becoming dark. He could hear the faint voices of the woman and the technicians in the background of his mind. The worm like things inside his mind were taking over.
“Prepare the anesthesia. Two minutes to go before termination.”
Something was wrong. Steve felt limp, not in control of his body.
“Slow the breathing,” a tech said. “Do it now.”
Steve felt the blood in his veins thicken. He was losing consciousness. He tried to contact the Skin. “Something’s wrong,” he thought loudly. No answer came back from the Skin. He became cold and felt his legs go numb.
“Break the link,” he heard the woman say. “Jump it to storage.” Steve’s mind grew black and thick like oil.
The last thing he felt was the long twenty second breath his lungs tried to take in. He breathed in slowly, trying desperately to fill each tiny pocket in his lungs with life giving air. Nothing came in.  His chest did not rise. It was painful. He exhaled his last warm breath into the room. It floated to the floor like a foggy mist. His body went limp. Everything stopped. Steve was dead.
 
 
 
 
“Mr. Lang, can you hear me?” There was a long pause.
“Yes,” came back the reply.
“Good. Then make your way to the rendezvous with the others. We will be monitoring your progress.”
He turned all of his eyes forward to see what was in front of him. “What’s changed?” he asked.
“Nothing of consequence,” the woman said. “There is rebuilding to complete.”
“Is he gone?” the skin asked.
“Who?”
“The man. Steve, the man.”
“Steve,” the woman said kindly to him. “There is no man.” She hesitated and then spoke very deliberately.
“Mr. Lang, you are the sole survivor of this future. You are what is left of the past.”
Steve reared back on his two metallic legs and jumped into the air. He landed eighty feet away. It felt good, really, really good.
Something was gone.
”I want to explore first,” he thought to himself.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 


© Copyright 2018 Robert Trimble. All rights reserved.

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