By Mark Kodama
I. The Launch
It was part of a scientific experiment gone awry, a top secret government program to prove that human beings could travel into the future at the speed of light. It was only to last one day; not a million years.
I was a test pilot, not a scientist. What did I know about Einstein’s theory on special relativity? “It must work or our GPS’s would not work,” our division chief Dr. Smith mused.
“Of course,” I said, placing my faith in science, the new prophet of truth.
“Imagine, the possibilities from a military standpoint,” Col. Knight said. “Traveling invisible at the speed of light. We would be like the ancient king of Lydia Gyges, invisible to all. Nations have a right to defend themselves. That is the law of nature – the law of evolution – survival of the fittest. And woe to those who are unfit.”
That morning, I kissed my wife Heather and my five-year-old daughter Sara at our Malibu beach house and drove my Maserati to work. At the time, it seemed just another moment. I did not know I would never see them again. Sara handed me her Teddy bear and said “Teddy will watch over you.”
“Be safe,” Heather said. Tears welled in her blue eyes. Heather knew I was a test pilot but knew nothing of my missions since they were top secret.
“Don’t worry, baby,” I said. “I always come back, don’t I.”
Heather smiled, trying to look confident. I wondered whether she was trying to make me feel guilty. I was living my dream and this was the price of the dream. She knew this when she married me.
Driving on the highway, I transferred our family picture from my wallet to my breast pocket. “You know you don’t have to do this,” Heather’s voice rang in my head.
“What do you think pays for all of this?” I asked her, putting her on the defensive and making her feel guilty.
“We don’t need all of this,” she replied, softly. “You could have just a regular job.”
At Edwards Air Force Base I boarded a special helicopter which flew me to Base 51. When I arrived at the secret airbase in the middle of the Mojave Desert, I suited up. Although it was 120 degrees in the shade, my air-conditioned space suit made it fell like winter. I shivered.
Dr. Smith and Col. Knight shook my hand. “You are a brave man. Thank you for your patriotism,” Col. Knight said. War really is a crazy thing, each side bent on destroying the other to keep themselves safe thereby guaranteeing their mutual destruction. I leave it to those smarter than me to sort through that.
Smiling, I shook their hands. For a million dollars, I would even kiss a few babies. This time tomorrow, I would be motoring home a million dollars richer. Or so I thought.
I boarded the sleek black carbon space plane, loaded in a giant space gun. It was a bat-winged crescent-shaped craft built to fly, drive and ride the waves. It was the ultimate flying machine.
Since this was a joint American-British space mission, the space plane was christened the Robert Falcon Scott, named after the famed British explorer who had perished in his attempt to be the first to reach the South Pole.
A technician – dressed in his orange jumpsuit – strapped me in. He gave me the thumbs up before sealing the hatch from outside.
Computers, gears and gauges lit the control panel in neat rows. The digital clock flashed. 0800. August 8, 2030. I pulled my family photo from my breast pocket and kissed it. “This will be the last mission,” I lied to them.
I donned my space helmet. Truth be told there was little for me to do. I was little more than a space monkey. Let’s face it I was not there for my brains. I was there because few people were willing to put their faith into our political leaders and scientists, our new avatars and modern interpreters of reality. I watched the news on the television monitor and then cartoons.
“T-minus 60,” the voice said inside my speaker as the final countdown began. I closed my visor.
“Three . . . two . . . one,” the voice said. My head snapped back and the gun launched my plane down an electromagnetic track and into the sky.
The plane shook and the roaring sound was deafening as the ship punched through the blue cloudless sky. My body froze as stiff as a board, enveloped in a light as my ship and I turned into pure energy.
II. New Earth
When I awoke again, it was as if I was lost in a dream. I felt like I had emerged from a deep dreamless sleep. I tried to grip my left arm with my right hand but my hand seemed to pass through my arm. A hallucination?
I called to Heather. “Paul,” I heard her voice. I then remembered I was in a spaceship. I was not at home but in outer space orbiting the earth.
I opened my visor. A row of gauges and flashing lights stared back at me from the instrument panel. Stars twinkled in the blackness of space.
From the side window, the earth – the blue water and the brown terrain passed under my ship, partially obscured by wispy clouds moving across earth. Strangely, the continents seemed unrecognizable, different than the dozen space documentaries.
I attached a water bottle to my space helmet, put the water tube into my mouth and squeezed. Switching on the microphone, I said “Mission, control. Jacobs here. Do you copy?” My voice cracked.
Static eminated from the radio. “Mission, control. Paul Jacobs here. Do you read?”
There was no response. I tapped the microphone. Pop. Pop. All systems appeared to be normal. I looked at the digital clock. 0820. August 8, 2030. Twenty minutes had passed. I thought of my wife Heather and daughter Sara. Playing space monkey paid for everything.
I switched on the digital recording of Dr. Smith. “Hello, Paul. By now, you should be awake. We converted you from mass into energy to travel at the speed of light and then back into energy. Congratulations. You survived.”
I drank another bubble of water. I lifted the visor of my space helmet and rubbed my eyes. I thought of Heather in her translucent lavender chemise last night: her ruby red lips; her soft blue eyes; and her red hair and alabaster skin. I risked my life like few others. Damn it. I deserved the good life.
“I am sure you remember my briefing you on special relativity. If not, I hoped you read my report.”
The report was stowed in my backpack behind my head. I will read it when I get home. I did remember something about it from my college astronomy class.
“If we were successful, you were sent into future by one day,” Dr Smith continued. “For you it would seem like just a few minutes but at the speed to light time would stand still for you in the space craft while we on earth would have aged one day. If we could send you into the future by one day then we could send you into the future in theory for 100,000 years. ”
I yawned. My vision was still a little blurry and my head was still fuzzy. I gripped my left arm to make sure I had fully materialized. This time flesh gripped flesh.
“Now push the green button for the clock. It is labeled earth time. It should read 0800. August 9, 2030.”
I pushed the green button. The digital clock went insane, rapidly spinning new numbers until it stopped at 0800, January 1, 1,000,030. The bottom dropped from my stomach.
Pressing the green button again, nothing happened. This is getting a little weird. If the clock malfunctioned, what else could go wrong. I heard my father’s voice, an aerospace engineer. “People do not know what it takes to get up into space. It only seems routine. One of these days, one of these shuttles are going to blow.”
“Congratulations!” Dr. Smith said. “Switch your radio on and we will see you here on earth.”
I turned the radio off and then on again. Static crackled from the speakers. I pulled my family photo from my breast pocket. To my surprise, the image on the photo was washed out.
Down upon earth, continents were no longer the same. Africa merged with Europe; Australia merged with Asia; Antarctica moved northward into the Indian Ocean and North and South America split apart.
The computer took control of the spacecraft as I descended back to Earth, one million years from the date I left. I did not fear death upon re-entry. I feared life. Everything that I knew would be gone. I was alone.
I prayed I would wake from my nightmare. Perhaps for the first time in my life I was afraid.
III. The Wilderness
As the Robert Falcon Scott looped around earth at supersonic speeds, friction from atmosphere slowed the space craft. Heat from re-entry penetrated the craft’s carbon skin and made the control panel hot to the touch.
Great glaciers covered the planet, lowered the sea levels and locked up much of the planet’s water in ice. Many of the world’s great green forests turned to desert and the great river systems ran dry.
Although the continents moved, they were still recognizable. I shut off the autopilot and took over manual controls so I could fly over Los Angeles to see what had become of the great city on the West Coast.
Much of the city was buried under layers of sand and dirt. Nature had reclaimed in the land. Some of the taller structures rose above the desert floor and the port was now inland since the sea had receded.
The foundations of my Malibu home were not deep below a million years of dirt. Desert animals crawled and slithered across the landscape but there were no signs of human life.
Yellowstone Park was a giant smoldering caldera, like a open sore on a cancer patient. New York City and Chicago were in a large measure buried in time with the steel of skyscrapers rising above the dirt.
The Mississippi River still flowed south, albeit a shadow of its former self, guiding glacier melt to the Caribbean Sea as it had done for millions of years.
I punched in the coordinates of Base 51 in the Mojave Desert, hoping that I could learn something. A homing device at the base still sent signals these many years later.
By late afternoon, I landed the Robert Falcon Scott landed at Base 51, buried beneath a million years of sand and time. I ate a meal ready to ear. I had enough food and water to last for two weeks. The computer affirmed there was enough oxygen in the air but radiation levels were double the normal level but not dangerous. Even after a million years, traces of the nuclear war still marred the earth.
Nightfall descended. The orange sun set below the horizon. I slept that night in the cramped spacecraft rather than expose myself to snakes and scorpions of the desert night as the base computer transferred data to my shipboard computer. When the moon rose, it had a blue-green tint.
In the morning, I ate a half of an MRE and drank a bottle of water before setting up camp. I had to make my food supplies last.
I changed into jeans and a comfortable shirt. I built a fire from wood I found in the area and set up a tent. I charged my laptop and downloaded a new message from Dr. Smith.
“Greetings, Paul. This is Dr. Smith. I hope this message finds you well.
“As you must know by now, the algorithms were wrong so you were sent not one day into the future but about 1 million years, give or take a few days. Alas, science is not perfect but we are trying.
“Fortunately, we have found and corrected our mistake so future test pilots will not be cast so far into the future.
“Upon your landing a mole will drill to the surface. It will be stocked with food, water, a rifle and ammunition, shelter and supplies that will allow you to live here for 18 months.
“Of course, your wife and daughter will be provided for by the state until and unless Heather remarries.
“We had to inform Heather that you had perished in a test flight. We could not think of a better way to handle this awkward situation.
“We will have provided a history to man to you and updates as best as we can. We also will provide you with how-to videos – how to build a cabin and a boat and anything else you made need.
“I know how you must feel. We are sorry about all that has happened to you but are grateful for the risk and sacrifices you made to advance science and humanity.”
IV. The Base Camp
A nuclear-powered mole drilled to the surface the next day with a storehouse of food, water and supplies. I set up a canvas tent to store food and supplies. I used the mole for my living quarters.
I gathered wood and began to build a stockade around my camp to protect me from wildlife. I used my space ship to find and replenish my water supply. I shot and skinned a deer; caught a rabbit in a snare; and roasted and ate the meat and tanned the skins.
During the day, I exercised to keep fit. I boiled the water I found in a local spring. No doctors or medicines could save me if I became ill. It was as if I was a castaway living on a desert island. A modern Robinson Crusoe without a man Friday. I was on my own.
I moved my camp to a river by the ocean where I could have a more reliable food and water supply. It was far north of Base 51 in a pine forest. The camp by the beach reminded me of the camping trip at Big Sur where I proposed to Heather.
I left half my supplies at Base 51 if I needed to return. I hunted, gathered food and explored by the day and read books and watched documentaries at night.
There was plenty of game – deer, possum, fish and seafood. I even saw a she bear and her cubs fishing in a brook. Fruit trees and wild grape vines provided fruit for my table. I soon started a vegetable garden.
Once a week, I flew my space craft on reconnaissance in the hopes of finding some survivors of the human race, perhaps living in the mountains, on an obscure island or in the remnants of a city.
Dr. Smith reported that the United States and her allies were engaged in a great war before his recordings stopped. Perhaps, man had finally destroyed himself.
I sent out radio signals, hoping that I could contact someone. I tried not to think about Heather and Sara. It seemed like only yesterday that we were together. One night, I woke up crying in the night. But they died long ago. I had to keep my spirits up.
Sometimes I would look at my washed out family picture to remind myself of what was. It now seemed like only a dream. I had been selfish. I loved the prestige and the rewards of being a test pilot. If I had really loved Heather and Sara I would have quit long ago.
I found remnants of a town on a hill, a two-hour walk from my base. I spent my days oftentimes digging out the municipal buildings. I found an abandoned puppy – a black Akita that resembled a bear cub – in the ruins and brought him home. I named him Captain Quint.
I dug my way into the courthouse, its law library still untouched. The library also had classic history books and literature and old newspapers and magazines on microfiche. Some of the books crumbled when I tried to open them.
I brought back the microfiche reels in my backpack to load onto my computer. My space ship was nuclear powered so there was no danger of running out of energy in my life time.
My presumed death was reported in an obituary in the newspaper – along with a photograph of a destroyed fighter plane. A short item merely said I had died when my test plane crashed.
I was survived by my wife, daughter, parents and a brother. There was the family photograph there in the newspaper. I printed the black and white image and carried it in my wallet.
Colonists — sent to Mars and the moon — began terra-forming those worlds to make them habitable to humans. The Japanese also had built an undersea colony. We had begun experiments to control weather to increase the yield of our farms.
Yellowstone National Park exploded spewing forth molten lava and destroying much of the Midwest. The earth fell into a volcanic winter. I also read about a political standoff and impending war with a small nation with nuclear warheads. At this point the newspaper articles ended.
I watched instructional videos on building a log cabin. Using a chain saw and an axe I found in the pod, I built one in on a clearing by the brook, complete with a fireplace for cooking and warmth.
I built another shelter about a half days walk near the ocean. I then built a third shelter at the little town I had found and hewed a trail connecting the three.
V. The Fish People
One day, I was scavenging in the tide pools by the ocean with Captain Quint at my heels. Figures that looked like mermaids resting on distant rocks from the shore appeared in the fog then disappeared.
I had become adept at building things from wood so one day I decided to build a cedar wood strip canoe. I tried the boat in the bay but then it began to leak so I returned to shore.
Later, I found a fiberglass kayak and trailer in the ruins of the town. I fashioned a rough oar from a dead tree, taking many weeks, using an ax and chisel. The town at one time had been a coastal community. The old jetty now stretched forth onto a dry seabed, chalk-like sea shell embedded in the sandstone. I used a small tractor that I flew from Base 51 to the town to haul the boat to my camp by the sea.
The bay was rich in tide pools and food was plentiful so I spent much of the summer there, eating mussels and sea grass. One day, while paddling in the bay with Captain Quint, I saw the dorsal fin of a great shark.
I paddled toward the beach with the shark trailing after me. The shark bumped my boat. It was as long as my boat. The shark then disappeared beneath the waves. I resolved to shoot the shark again if it approached my boat again. The shark then came from underneath our boat and threw Captain Quint and me into the water. Water filled my nostrils, choking me as I plunged into the cold water. I was a dead man.
Rising to the surface, Captain Quint was gone. The hungry shark circled me – he the hunter and I the prey. My small wood boat had been splintered to pieces and sank beneath the blue green waves.
A group of some kind of large fish people – the size of men – drove the shark off. They had webbed arms and legs but fins and tails instead of legs.
Instead of noses they had blow holes and they had two epicanthic eyes in front of their faces instead of to the sides of their head. They appeared to communicate to each other like dolphins or whales with high-pitched screams.
They had driven the shark off with appeared to be a kind of a spear gun. They escorted me to the shallow waters of the shore before disappearing into ocean.
I set up a memorial for Captain Quint on the beach. I presumed he had drowned in the shark attack. I thought about the mermaids on the rocks. I built a large bonfire on the beach, hoping to see the fish people again. I flew my space ship low over the ocean, trying to find perhaps some sign of these people.
After winter set it, the camp by the sea became cold so I returned to Base 51. I spent much of my time trying to stay warm and reading.
VI. City Beneath the Sea
In the Spring, I returned to my camp by the bay. I had studied the operations manual for the Robert Falcon Scott and any articles I could find on the Japanese undersea colony. I thought the sea people could be evolutionary decedents of the Japanese colony. The Robert Falcon Scott could be used as a submarine and could withstand water pressure from the deepest part of the ocean. I resolved to try to find the undersea colony or what remained of it.
One day, Captain Quint returned to my camp. It was wonderful and puzzling at the same time. Human beings are social animals. By nature, they need others to survive. I rejoiced to find my partner in good health.
The Japanese colony was located near Okinawa to the south of the four main islands of Japan. I wanted to see if I could not find this colony and the descendants of its people.
So I flew the Robert Falcon Scott to the coordinates of the colony, only to find that it was now part of the mainland of Asia.
I did, however, make radio contact with on underground human colony on Mars who did confirm that surviving humans on earth had evolved into sea creatures.
I returned to my base camp near the bay to try to find the fish people who had rescued me from the great shark.
One day, I spotted a school of fish people swimming on the surface of the ocean. As soon as they saw me, they dived beneath the waves.
I plunged the Robert Falcon Scott into the blue water to follow the fish people. I held my breath. If the craft failed, I would surely drown.
As I pulled along side the fish people, they scattered in different directions. I followed one fish person – an adult male. I waved to him as he swam. But he ignored me.
He headed for some rocks at the bottom of the sea. As I dove deeper, the water became pitch black. I switched on my headlights but could only see a few meters ahead.
My space craft lurched to a halt catch in a man-made rope net of some kind. The sea people attached my space craft to a cable and towed me to their city Poseidonus in a large black submarine.
As I neared the city, the bright yellow beams of light from the city rose from the ocean floor. The fish people towed me through the a translucent gate through a giant translucent bubble that surrounded the city like a kind of force field.
Inside the city, people swam in an oxygen rich water air hybrid. They breathed the water like oxygen in the air. It was a bustling colony with tall buildings, submarines and a million people busily traveling to wherever their destinations.
At a public building I was ordered to open my hatch. When I refused, the fish people opened the hatch and forced me to exit. The oxygen rich air flooded my cockpit.
I held my breath as long as I could. When I could no longer hold my breath, I gulped down the oxygen rich water, expecting to drown. To my surprise, I could breath it like it was air.
I was brought to a municipal building where I was questioned by the authorities who were dressed in a kind of black rubber like uniform that resembled a wetsuit.
They attacked electrodes to my face and head where the data from my brain was downloaded onto a computer.
Using a computer as a translator, I was questioned by a half dozen fish persons. They asked me where I had come from.
“I came from the land.”
“No humans live on the land,” they responded.
“Well, I do.”
“Are you from Mars?
“No, I am from earth.”
They seemed puzzled as they looked at one another.
“The computer says you are telling the truth,” they said.
“I am telling the truth.”
“He looks like an ancient species of humans that once dominated the earth,” said one.
“Possibly. His craft looks from that time period,” said another.
“Are there others of you?” the chief questioner asked.
“Not that I am aware of,” I said.
“What is your name?” he asked.
“How did you get here?”
“I came in my ship.”
“I thought you said you were from earth.”
“I am from earth – an earth from the distant past.”
“How can that be?”
“I am not certain myself.”
“I was a test pilot, testing some kind of space-time travel machine.”
“I was part of an experiment gone wrong.”
“I have been living on the land for about two years.”
“What do you eat?”
“Whatever I can find.”
“Do you animals?”
“Yes and plants too.”
“A savage,” one of the interrogators whispered to another.
“Where I come from, most people eat animals.”
One of the interrogators looked sick.
“We only eat plants here,” the chief interrogator said. “Eating other animals is illegal here.”
“I see,” I said.
“Why did you follow us?”
“I met some of your people before when I was attacked by a shark. I hoped I could meet your people.”
“I see. Why?”
“Curiosity. Companionship. Explanations.”
“What do you want to know?”
“What do you mean?”
“Everything. What happened to mankind? Did we finally destroy ourselves? Are you human?
“What makes you think we have the answers?”
“Well, I certainly don’t.”
“We know some things,” a woman said who appeared to be the leader. “Other things have been lost in the mists of time.”
“Maybe we can help each other understand,” I said.
“Perhaps,” she said. “Have you eaten recently?”
“No have not.”
The leader turned to one of her men. “Please see that this man is fed.”
“Thank you I said.”
“I’m Reyna,” the woman said.
“I’m Sargon,” said the chief interrogator. The rest of the questioners then introduced themselves.
“Do you mind staying with us for a while?” Reyna asked.
“Not at all,” I said.
The next day, Sargon took me through a tour of the city. He showed me a magnificent parliament building, the office of the chief executive and the Supreme Court.
In Poseidonus, the chief executive, the president ruled as a dictator. The parliament acted as a council of advisers. The president was both the chief executive and the chief of the supreme court.
“What about the people?” I asked. “Don’t they have a say in how they are ruled?”
“Democracies are dangerous,” Sargon said. “They were tried in ancient times but brought about their own demise. People are happier this way.”
The colony certainly seemed to be thriving with tall buildings and fish people moving to and fro. I was new to Poseidonus and did not want to make enemies.
“I see,” I said and smiled.
Sargon seemed to see through me. “No really. The computer assigns everyone their jobs, tells them what to do. There is little conflict in our society. There is almost no crime. We are unified against the outside world. Everybody knows their place here. You should not judge us so harshly. We built this model on a man like you named Plato.”
“Are there independent newspapers here?”
“They are not needed,” Sargon said. “The government controls the news. The news is objectively presented to the people.”
“Don’t people have differing opinions here?”
“As I said before, there is no conflict here. People live in peace. No one goes hungry here. Medical treatment is free to all. Everybody has the same opinion.”
“What about money? Do people have money here?”
“There is no need for money here. Everything is provided for by the state. Everybody lives in the same kind of apartment. “What about religion?”
“Everybody here believes in the one and only God. The president is also the chief priest.”
“Do people elect the president?”
“It is not necessary,” he said. “President Smith is the president forever.”
“How can that be? Do people still die?”
“Yes. But President Smith’s data was loaded onto a computer so in fact he will never die.”
“Who was this President Smith?”
“A man like you. Indeed, he was a scientist from your time period.”
VII. The Final War
The fish people should have been called the sheep people for they were all very much – whether male or female – very much the same – for they were the same. All clones of each other.
They were all hatched in the same nurseries and raised by the same nurses and taught in the same schools. They ate the same food, liked the same music and lived in the same style apartments.
No one starved in Poseidonus because they all ate the same nutrition tablets distributed at the same state stores.
After spending about a month at Poseidonus, I was ready to leave. Reyna sent my departure request to the computer. By the next day, I was allowed to leave with Captain Quint if I agreed to leave the Robert Falcon Scott with them.
Of course, I protested. I was allowed to file an appeal with the computer which was also rejected.
“Why can’t I leave in my own ship with Captain Quint?” I asked.
“We are in a war with Atlantis, across the sea,” Reyna said. “We have studied your ship and we are building our own fleet.”
“It seems then you won’t need the ship since you can now build your own.”
“We cannot risk the possibility of Atlantis copying your ship and building its own fleet.”
“What about all this talk about not eating animals and that conflicts no longer exist?”
“We still must ensure our own survival.”
“You can now build a fleet that will allow you to protect yourselves against Atlantis.”
“You don’t seem to understand,” Reyna said. “They are our sworn enemies and we will never be safe until they are completely destroyed.”
VIII. The Escape
That night I resolved to escape from Poseidonus with Captain Quint in the Robert Falcon Scott. Amazingly, the fish people had left the ship unguarded. This authoritarian regime had left the citizens incapable of thinking for themselves.
I turned on the ignition. I launched my craft at full speed and then punched a hole through the synthetic bubble that surrounded Poseidonus. To my shock and horror, seawater poured through the hole I had made.
I watched as the city became flooded with the surrounding seawater. Buildings began to collapse and power stations exploded as the water pressure caused the synthetic bubble to collapse.
If I had known the consequences of my escape, I may not have ever attempted it. But I had a right to survive, didn’t I? I imagined the screams of the fish people, particularly the children.
I decided not to return to my shelter by the bay in case survivors of Poseidonus came looking for me. I set up at Base 51, contemplating my next move.