She told herself to relax, but it only worked a little bit. It wasn’t like this was anything really dangerous, like spelunking or telling the person who cuts your hair to “just be creative.”
It was just time travel.
Four years in undergrad. That was the easy part. Two years for a Masters in Philosophy. Before you ask, a firm grasp of logical consistency is surprisingly helpful when one is trying to ward off paradoxes. Four more years to get a PhD in Theoretical Physics, the result of which was to negate any traditional forms of logic she had previously learned. Finally, after three years at the Temporal Academy, here she was, ready to make her first venture into the fourth dimension.
The gruff custodian of the time pod assessed her and the other graduates. His neatly trimmed hair and pendulous gait told her he probably had some time in the military long ago. His calm, smooth movements this close to a tachyon emitter, made him seem like he had been giving grave warnings to fresh academy graduates for years.
“All right, rookies, I have the feeling you know all of this, but the National Transportation Safety Board requires I go through these procedures before every flight, so get used to them. Also, on the off chance you are currently in the throes of a grandfather paradox, you probably aren’t remembering much of anything, so I’ll tell you again.
“Time travel has been around for hundreds of years. We’ve perfected it. It is safe. As you begin your journey into what once was and what may yet be, you will enjoy our stellar safety record as long as you keep several safety rules in mind. First: never, ever take off your tungsten-carbide bracelet.”
She self-consciously touched her left wrist, even though she knew the band was right where she had left it.
“Tungsten naturally repels tachyons, and believe you me, no one wants to be an open buffet for free-roaming tachyons.”
She had seen the video of what happened to people after tungsten-less travel. Parts of those people had become much younger; other parts had become much, much older. None of those bodies were ready for such a change. They didn’t live long, but they survived long enough to feel what was happening to them.
The custodian continued through his obligatory set of rules:
When out in the field, one is not to fraternize with extra-temporal figures. Along the same lines, if during a journey one runs into a blood relative, the traveller must not make contact of any kind. Despite what the custodian said, grandfather paradoxes were no joke.
No one from either the past or the future can return to the present with an expeditionary team. People from the past tend to feel a great deal of anxiety in the shadow of their previously unknown fate, and those from the future tend to have a difficult time obtaining credit at affordable interest rates.
And there was one final rule of prime importance: If you did not grab a tight hold of the grounding bar with your right hand before the temporal transit process begins and hold it throughout the process, then all of the tungsten in the world wouldn’t be able to help you. Tachyons would be the least of your worries. No videos existed of what might happen if someone screwed up in that regard.
“Do we all understand?” the custodian asked.
“I understand,” she said. Several other voices echoed the same words around her. It made her feel better, those words. Everyone else shared her nervousness.
A large metal door opened in front of her. She and the other recruits passed through it and into a large, onyx, sphere-like room.
Everyone took position at their grounding station and grabbed the bar in front of them. She followed suit as the door sealed shut behind them. The fastening clasp on her tungsten bracelet pinched her skin for an instant, and she reached to readjust it.
“Temporal Process has begun,” the PA system echoed. “Shift will be complete in ten seconds.”
Oh, hell, she thought. She had removed her hand from the grounding bar. She reached out to grab it again, only to realize she was doing so with her right hand. Panic settled within her while she tried to correct the error.
The black room turned bright. Her gut clenched as her innards tried to escape her body. The other graduates disappeared in an instant, and all was fire.
The past became the future, the future the past. The present evaporated. That fourth type of time the cosmos kept secret from mortal beings filled her mind. Her body was a foreign concept to her, and she became the cosmos. She could feel and hear everything, but in a truly surprising turn of events could only taste the leftover fried rice she had in her fridge.
The universe could not abide this intrusion. It rebelled. Pulled back to the big bang, she became the bang. She became the stuff that then became the star stuff that formed every atom of the universe.
And then it all started over again. She did not grab the right grounding bar at the right instant, and cause and effect once again unraveled like a sleeping bag, except the bag is infinity and you feel all pain everywhere. Somewhen in all of this, she wondered how the Agency of Temporal Affairs knew the grounding bar was so important. The question actually formed as a supernova in the left part of the Andromeda galaxy and disappeared before she could come up with an answer.
The universe corrected again and made a new rule. It deemed time travel impossible, and the universe was made right. In this instance, the graduate instead got a political science degree with a minor in marketing, and turned out to be just as harmful to the fabric of reality as she was before.