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THE NEW PALS CLUB WEB-LOG

THE NEW PALS CLUB WEB-LOG
improbable-looking limestone karsts in Guilin

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

IT COULDN’T BE DONE

A wasted figure sits at his computer, laboriously entering characters one by one, using his eye movements to guide the cursor. He is used to this time-consuming work. His body doesn’t  move at all, though his lip seems to twitch every now and then. Time passes, and the file he is working on grows to completion.

Jack entered the transport booth with some misgiving. He knew that when he stepped out, in Rio, it would feel a lot like being hit by a bus. This, in spite of the padding and flex support that aimed to minimize the jarring. Damn Niven, thought Jack. This used to be effortless. You step in, you step out, you’re someplace else. Then Mister Smarty Pants has to pop up with his little wheeze about physics. You move that far, he said, and the differential of the Earth’s movement hits you in the ass. And so it did. Thank you all to hell, Mister Niven.

It was like that with a lot of things, thanks to the naysayers. Smarmy little teacher’s pets, with their hands waving in the air to call out the inconvenient facts we would as soon have ignored. It wasn’t fair! We used to have so much. We had faster-than-light travel, until Clarke had to show us all how smart he was. We used to have aliens here, hundreds of races, so different from ours, dropping in and out all the time.

Now, without FTL, all you saw in spaceports was humans, on their way out, sleeping away the centuries before they had any prospect of meeting anyone who didn’t look just like them. He moderated his gloomy monolog for a moment, to give thanks for the enticing prospect of aliens that still dangled before him, some day, maybe. Thanks for that anyway, Carl...

An impatient cough behind him brought Jack back to the present. A small line was waiting for his booth. No more temporizing; he inserted his card, touched his destination, and waited for the jolt. Ugh! He pulled his card from the slot and staggered back into the couch that was placed for the purpose, and waited for his stomach to quiet down.

Rio looked about like Brooklyn had, except for the climate. Jack sat back and looked at the sky, once a giddy riot of anti-grav cars and flitters. Now it held a couple of traffic helicopters, buzzing around for bad news to feed on. He started to curse the genius who had killed anti-grav, but no name came to mind. Well, damn Whoever!

By now his stomach had stopped complaining about the ride, and began to complain about the lack of food. This always made him so damn hungry. Well, there’d be food at the Institute.

At the thought of the Institute, Jack smiled for the first time. At least the bastards hadn’t taken time travel away. And Jack had a plan. He would go back, back to a time when none of these skeptics had ruined things with their miserable, stupid little laws of physics.

Jack hailed a rickshaw cab and gave the address, and spent a few minutes checking his supplies to be sure he’d thought of everything. Remembering the supply of historically correct currency he was bringing along, he thoughtfully gave the surprised cabbie every bill in his wallet, and took a last look around while he walked the dozen steps to the street door of the Institute.

Pausing only to get a couple of things from his desk, Jack swung through the commissary for a sandwich. He ate quickly, impatiently. After about two thirds of it, he scooped up the rest, grabbed his briefcase and headed for his lab, input his security code and entered.

There it was; the gleaming chrome and glass booth. Jack’s ticket out! He seemed to taste freedom through the last bite of corned beef. He keyed in his destination and an amber light glowed next to a button. Jack swallowed and pressed the button. There was an unfamiliar momentary jolt,
lasting
forever...

The painfully thin man aims his eyes at a spot on the screen, sending the file to the printer. He wishes for a second that he was an able bodied typist, so he could zzzzip the paper out. A very satisfying and final gesture, that. But this is reality, and wishful thinking doesn’t work here; so instead he rolls tamely into the kitchen for a snack. Glowing on the screen is the title of his latest paper, “A BRIEF HISTORY OF TIME TRAVEL IN SCIENCE FICTION: Why It Wouldn’t Work.”
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To the memory of Bud Webster, who approved of this story.