"Why YOU Can't (Or Shoudn't) Travel Through Time," a short story by me, Pete Nicholls!
It's probably not what you think... silly Earthling!
I wrote this originally back in 2006. Possibly even earlier than that. Short stories tend to loom a little small in my mind and I tend not to remember their origins exactly. I do remember, one day, thinking about the physics of time travel and realizing there was a plot hole in almost every time travel story I’ve read or seen that I’ve never seen addressed in any direct way. More on that after you’ve read it! The only other thing I’ll say is that Douglas Adams is one of my favorite storytellers. I was definitely influenced by his work while writing this. Hope you enjoy it!
Why YOU Can’t (or Shouldn’t) Travel Through Time
©2022 Pete Nicholls
Slightly before the end of time itself, the Galactic Time Travelers Local Union 8891650 held it’s twice millennial time travel awards ceremony. It was a big deal for the various time travelers from throughout the Milky Way galaxy and even a few other galaxies and even some other time periods in other galaxies, which would make sense, seeing as it was a Time Travelers’ union awards ceremony.
At the ceremony, the various awards would be given out. Trigus Beboperous from the inner Galactic Quarter was a sure bet to receive the “Best Dressed Time Traveler” award while Gloopy The Nerfud was expected to get the “Time Traveler with the Prettiest Singing Voice” award. Gloopy could really belt. Meanwhile, Idej Ecam was a lock for the “Luckiest Time Traveler” award thanks to a jaunt he took back to the second Felopitous period on planet 643 in the Calatimous sector and accidentally managed to prevent 6 of the planet’s world wars while simultaneously causing them in a paradox that has kept the greatest minds of the Galactic Panel perplexed for nearly three-quarters of a millennia.
But every ceremony, it fell upon poor, old, Gelojemy Feeblebrayn to track down the lone nominee and therefore winner of the “Why YOU Can’t (or Shouldn’t) Time Travel” award. He spent nearly a decade tracking down the one person in the galaxy who is the last person who should have ever endeavored to travel through time. Poor, old Gelojemy may have been old, but he was the kind of fellow people liked because of his spunk. And he very nearly didn’t make the deadline for submitting the winner, but at the last moment, he found a poor soul from a backwater little planet called Earth—or something weird like that. The time traveler’s name was weird as well: Bobsmith.
Dr. Bobsmith had spent nearly his entire lifetime trying to develop a time machine. When Gelojemy gave the award Dr. Bobsmith quite posthumously, Gelojemy mused about how sad it was that no one on Bobsmith’s home planet ever realized a terribly crucial aspect of time travel. The remark received several “awws” from the audience.
“But,” old Gelojemy went on at the podium, “Dr. Bobsmith’s greatest reason for receiving the ‘Why YOU Can’t (or Shouldn’t) Time Travel’ award is this: You see, his species had a peculiar habit of thinking the universe revolved around it.”
The audience laughed softly. Gelojemy waited for them to finish before he continued.
“In fact for many centuries, did they not only think the universe revolved around them, but they were blissfully unaware that their planet was even orb-shaped, can you believe it?!?” Gelojemy let out his trademark cackle as the crowd laughed boisterously.
Gelojemy had never gotten the audience to be boisterous before… it was a shame the end of time was right around the corner. He would have liked to have tried again for boisterous in another two millennia.
“Now, poor, old Dr. Bobsmith,” poor, old Gelojemy continued, “built what we in the industry call a Non-Space-Displacement-Temporal-Replacer.”
The crowd giggled softly as he went on. “Of course, for all the spouses in the audience, I’ll tell you what it was, it was a machine you climb into and travel through time, but not space. So, time moves, but you stay right where you are in the universe.”
Another soft murmur of laughter rippled across the audience like a warm breeze. Gelojemy was doing very well this millennia. He continued: “So, on that fateful day, Dr. Bobsmith, climbed into that time machine and activated it, never once having considered the fact that he was on a planet that was moving!”
The audience roared with laughter. Gelojemy had a hard time not letting loose his own laughter, after all, it was a pretty stupid mistake.
“And, and, you know what happened? He went back in time a day—just a day! And found himself smack dab millions of quaydecks from his planet—in the middle of outer space!”
The audience almost collectively gasped as the few who didn’t laughed aloud.
“What a guy, huh? There he was, thanks to the physics of time travel and being in a rather leaky container in the middle of the void of space, his body inflating to almost twice it’s normal size, his blood blood boiling from lack of pressure, whatever air he had inside him—long gone… but thanks to the biology of his species…” Gelojemy smiled down at one of the union boys who had a weak stomach and was waving his five hands around and shaking his two heads. “Sorry, Rotta, you know how this is going to end! And thanks to the biology of his species, Dr. Bobsmith lived just long enough to look out the rear window of his time machine, see his home planet floating out in space just a day behind him… and realize his mistake.”
The audience just about exploded at that point.
“If only he could have held his breath!” Rotta yelled out.
Gelojemy held the multi-headed and multi-limbed statuette into the air and began his final address at the very last ever Galactic Time Travelers Local Union 8891650 Time Travel awards ceremony. “So, Dr. Bobsmith, where ever you are in the afterlife, or really, in the beforelife, WE SALUTE YOU WITH THE GALACTIC TIME TRAVAELRS LOCAL UNION 8891650 ‘WHY YOU CAN’T (OR SHOULDN’T) TIME TRAVEL AWARD’!”
The crowd leapt to its feet, cheering and clapping. They loved Gelojemy—he had really found a true winner this millennia. And Gelojemy reveled in his final moment in the spotlight. All the while somewhere, very far away in both space and time, the body of scientist and time travel pioneer, Dr. Robert Smith hung in space, lifeless, very cold, and utterly short-sighted…
©2022 Pete Nicholls
Well, now you know why YOU can’t or shouldn’t travel through time! In this one context, anyway. Just build a time machine that is also a space ship and you should be good. A friend of mine once suggested he’d read something that addressed this same issue but couldn’t remember anything else about it. Sure, some time travel stories involve time machines that are vehicles, too. I feel like the continuity of gravity through time could be a way to explain how, say, the Delorean from “Back to the Future” could avoid ending up floating in space in 1955, but, as no one really ever explains how the literal physics of time travel works, it’s all up to interpretation. Yes, I’m a big science nerd and a bit of a control freak, too! Regardless, I’d love to hear what you think of this short story. Pass any thoughts you have along to me via my contact page or just comment on this post. And please be kind. If you think it sucks, I don’t need to know that unless you can do it in a constructively critical way. If you don’t know that I reserve the right to ignore/mute/block anyone I want.
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