It’s a law of our Universe that cannot be broken, time’s irreversible, relentless arrow piercing the future. I’m hurtling through time at the speed of light. As are you.
I cannot skip ahead into the future. It’s not there yet. Neither can I undo what I’ve done. However vividly I remember it, the past is unreachable.
I stare out of the window of the craft into vast emptiness.
The chances that I’ll be found are so remote as to be virtually zero.
The idea of an escape pod is a wonderful one. But my ship was designed as a shuttle between larger craft, its life pod only to keep someone alive, hanging in space, until another ship detected its beacon. At close range. A shuttle craft was perfect for my trip to Ganymede. It can’t be picked up until it’s so close it will be assumed to have come from the moon.
No idiot would fly a shuttle across the solar system.
Out here, in the middle of nowhere, my escape pod is a bloody pointless thing. Not enough fuel to keep pace with my ship, or do anything but drift away from the major shipping lanes. It’s stranded. I’m stranded. And it was all a mistake.
My ship will be found at some point and salvaged, given the course it was on. Someone will find my cup of tea and half-eaten sandwich on the table. They’ll find my log, but of course I hadn’t kept up with that like I should have done. And it’s not the kind of ship that records the release of a lifepod in time and space so a course might be plotted. Nothing to indicate where I left my ship.
I. Can’t. Undo. That.
I should look around and see what will run out first. Water? Oxygen? Food? But I don’t bother. I can’t bring myself to discover my fate.
My imagined salvagers will no doubt, eventually, find my small, hidden cargo. The cargo that led to this. The cargo I didn’t need to take.
I could be snug in my sleep sack. I could be drinking my tea. Finishing my favourite relish and gruyere sandwich. Safe. Instead my mind feels as though it will at any moment shatter along fault lines into a million fragments. Maybe more. Each moment that I could change if time didn’t have an arrow.
Small, irreversible decisions.
Sometimes I glance out of the window and imagine I see movement. The impossible glint of a craft. But no one’s coming.
The cargo was stable. I knew that. But you hear of accidents, smugglers ships found in deep space, wrecks, carcasses. There was a rumbling in my ship. No doubt just the shuttle protesting at a journey far longer than it was designed for, but in my mind’s eye I saw the cargo on the verge of reacting.
I didn’t even check the instruments. I got into that life pod, didn’t think about how it worked, slammed the hatch and released it. Propelling me away. Drifting.
I’ve never taken risks. I panic at the thought, can intricately map out every pit fall, every wrong turn. Except I lack imagination. When something goes wrong in my calm staid life, it always takes me by surprise.
I’m going to die.
It’s making me philosophical. For the first time ever. I visualise the granular nature of time, building forwards one way.
Smugglers are romantic. Heroes. Brave. We sing songs about them, make films about them. Just once in my life I wanted to be that.
I can look back in time. If I look out of the window I’m physically seeing the past in every star’s light. But I can only look to the past in points far away in space. Never the space I occupy.
I may never run into anything. Not even when Andromeda crashes into the Milky Way.
I could drift in the cold void, until the end of the Universe. Or maybe this little piece of matter will echo into the future, be imprinted on a new Universe. Maybe I’ll be responsible for a new star, with a planet, with life.
I’d be a God.
Or maybe I will be found. That we can’t go faster than light is as hard and cruel and cold a rule as the arrow of time. But maybe I could be the first contact between humans and another civilisation. True, I’d be long dead, but the speed you travel at doesn’t matter then. And once I’m dead there’s no life signs. The pod shuts down. I’ll be preserved perfectly in the cold.
Shit. Warning light.
* * *
He stroked the face of the alien. Most found him unnerving to look at, cold and unfeeling, with features that jarred. Naked, vulnerable flesh.
But Aven found his spaceman beautiful. He’d taken only twenty years to translate his writings. And from the pod he knew that for earth that would have been eighty years. A lifetime for this creature. Of course, this particular spaceman had not even reached half of that time span.
They had found him drifting at the edge of the solar system. His trajectory would have sent him crashing into one of the outermost planets. Destroyed. But they saved him. Preserved him.
Earth. He dreamed of it. His knowledge of it was fixed. Only what the spaceman had brought. And it was unreachable in space and time. None could travel over those vast distances alive. Not to another galaxy. And it was inconceivable the spaceman’s civilization still existed. There might not even be decaying ruins.
He could see the spaceman’s galaxy. The spaceman had even known one day the two galaxies would collide. Perhaps earth might come close. In his mind he could reach out and touch it.
But that was in the unreachable future.
A writer with a lifelong passion for science and science fiction, J. Chant lives in Cambridgeshire in England with her husband and daughter, and is studying for a degree in history. Her first science fiction story appeared in Daily Science Fiction in 2010.