“U-Turn”

I wrote my first book when I was about four or five. It was called The Blue Stallion (there was a black stallion, and a white stallion, so I figured, why not a blue one?), and was about five pages long. The stallion fought a mountain lion, and was victorious. I even illustrated it myself, showing a faith in my artistic ability that I lost not too long after that.

I always loved books, and always knew I wanted to write them. But I remember precisely when I consciously decided that it was going to be my job, not just one of the many varied and wondrous activities I was going to engage in while living my magnificent life (cowboy, spy, zoologist, astrophysicist, movie star…). I was in fourth grade, and I read Ray Bradbury’s short story “The Fog Horn” in an anthology. The story evoked such emotion, such a sense of deep eternal sadness, that it overwhelmed me. I’d always loved to read, and read damn near constantly, but that was the first time I truly grokked the true power of literature. And I knew I wanted to dedicate my life to it.

After that, I did, at least while growing up. I was always reading, but also always writing. I kept a bunch of stories going all at once, the same way I read, and as a result of both activities I actually managed to learn how to write. Then I grew up and started my lifetime of depressed procrastination. That’s another story though, and sad to say, I’m gonna put off writing it.

All this is preamble to a special holiday gift I’m gonna give you, which is a story I wrote in seventh grade, and is, far as I can tell, the earliest work of mine I still have on hand. I wrote it for a writing contest at a local college, and in the weeks leading up to the event, I boasted to everyone I could that I was going to win first place. I annoyed everyone with my arrogance so much I had them rooting for my downfall. Then the day came, and I won first place, which probably did not improve me as a human being, but did boost the ol’ ego (which actually needed the boost a great deal, confident as I was in my writing).

After this success, I had my first experience with an actual editor. I started writing a serialized space opera tale in the school newspaper, in which the heroes travelled the spaceways in a craft driven by a Bussard ramjet, named after Robert W. Bussard, the scientist who envisioned it. In spite of repeated protests from me, the editor changed it, every damn week, into a Buzzard ramjet, because, after all, Bussard wasn’t a word (and still isn’t, according to my spellcheck, which ironically doesn’t even offer up buzzard as a possible correction).

But I digress. Here, for your enjoyment or derision, is  a science fiction story by the thirteen year old me, uncorrected in any way despite many strong impulses. Merry Christmas.

U-TURN

Why me? Anderson thought to himself. Why not that clutz Garret, or even Steinberg?

The reason was, as he knew, that he was the most qualified of all the people who had tried out for the mission. Of course, to them the trip may not have even started yet, and the launch of the Einstein’s Dream might be just a germ of an idea, and just possibly a germ which hadn’t come into existence yet.

Anderson looked out of the port-hole to his side. This universe looked like the one of his origin, but he knew that it wasn’t. He was in a totally different reality, a reality where everything travelled faster than light, and the barrier to interstellar travel was that nothing could go slower than lightspeed. A “Tachyon Universe” they had called it. Anderson was, of course, familiar with the term “Tachyon”. He knew the strange particles to be similar to protons, and that they travelled faster than light. It was known, at least to him (the phrase “Time is relative” burned in his mind, and a grim smile touched his mouth), that for each normal particle of matter, there was a Tachyon particle of matter in a universe composed entirely of Tachyon protons, neutrons, electrons, etc.

The rest was relatively obvious (Anderson grimaced at the pun): in order to travel above the speed of light, one had to enter a Tachyon universe. That way, you could fly at a “normal” speed in said Tachyon universe, and when you reentered the familiar universe you could find yourself light centuries away from your starting point, and according to Einstein, just as many centuries in the past. Of course, Relativity had been bypassed with the creation of the Tachyon “drive”, so why couldn’t the effects of time be somehow changed too?

Well, the time was near now. He would change the entire mass of the Einstein’s Dream, including himself, from Tachyon to normal matter, placing him back in his home universe. He would finally see the results of fifty years of isolation, spent mostly in cryogenic suspension; but it was still a long time to have been without the company of another person. He hoped that that would soon be rectified. He would find the nearest star able to support human life and go to it, he hoped to find a new home.

Anderson’s brooding was abruptly interrupted by a dull voice which originated from a computer named S.I.S. 1, an acronym for Sensory Input System. SIS’s duties went further than that actually, but her builders thought “SIS” was better than some verbal monstrosity, so the name had been kept.

“Gary?” SIS inquired.

“What the hell do you want?” Anderson asked irritably.

“Five minutes to go before we enter the non-Tachyon universe.”

“How many times have I told you to call it the real universe?” the astronaut shouted.

“But–” the computer began.

“But nothing!” Anderson shouted, even louder than before. He was sick of hearing the non-human voice constantly, and the thoughts on the possible end of his isolation made him abnormally irritable to any reminder of it.

The next five minutes he watched the digits tick off on the atomic clock, and then he felt a tingling feeling and saw a sudden flash of tremendously bright light blink for a fraction of a second, momentarily blinding him. A moment later everything was as it had been, aside from an awful afterimage. The undetectable difference was that the ship, and everything aboard it, was now made of normal matter rather than Tachyon matter, and that it was in the universe of its origin.

“Where are we?” Anderson asked SIS.

“We are in an orbit exactly one A.U. in radius, around a G2 type star. According to our sensors a double planetary body is approaching rapidly.”

“Show me on the screen.”

The monitor screen flickered on, showing two glowing discs approaching. As they grew closer, Anderson gasped audibly. He was looking at Tellus and Luna. Andas he watched, he saw a smaller body leave Tellus and wink out in a brilliant flash of light. “That’s Tellus and Luna,” Anderson muttered, “but what was that?”

“I have discovered that the planets are indeed the Tellus-Luna system.”

“I know that, damn it. What was that other thing?”

“It was a Tachyon starship.”

Anderson laughed happily.

“That means that we aren’t in the past!” he yelled in a gleeful tone. “There was no time dilation — we’re in the future! They’re still using Tachyon ships too! Home at last!”

“We are not in the future, Gary.”

“What? What do you mean?”

“The ship you saw departing Tellus was the Einstein’s Dream.”

Understanding came to Gary E. Anderson, and he laughed aloud at the peculiar irony of his situation.

Einstein’s theory was right after all. When you went faster than light, time went backwards. Therefore, since he had travelled beyond lightspeed for fifty years, his “present” had moved fifty years into the past, returning him to almost the exact moment he had left Tellus.

He laughed again as he saw the view on another screen. A Tachyon starship appeared in a falsh of light, in the same spot Anderson had materialized in just seconds before. He laughed again.

On the ship’s side was the name Einstein’s Dream.

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