Enjoy an excerpt from Daniel M. Kimmel’s “There’s No Time Like Home” featured in our new anthology ON TIME.
With his fringe of white hair around his bald head and his equally white beard, Cort might have seemed an old man in many eras. However, with the youth treatments available in the twenty-second century, his smooth facial features made him ageless. Even the other members of his marital collective—the other seven partners with whom he had formed a familial bond—couldn’t say for certain just how old he was.
He had recently had his annual medical scan, and the doctor interpreting the data said he was in fine health, although he could stand to lose some weight. Cort might not have realized it, but it was a recommendation that had stood the test of time, having been invoked by centuries of medical professionals. In any event, while he could expect to thrive for several decades to come, he had hit the mandatory retirement age and would soon have to give up his job. It wasn’t so much that he was too old as that so much labor was automated that limiting tenure for most professions ensured there would be openings for younger applicants. Cort understood the reasons for the policy but had only started thinking about what he would do with the rest of his life.
Having showered after a robust morning of physical, mental, spiritual, and sexual exercise, Cort headed to his dressing room to get dressed for his final day of work. As a time-portal officer, his uniform was designed in such a way as to give no indication whatsoever about life in the twenty-second century. In his coarse brown robe, cinched by a cord around his waist, he had been told he looked like a medieval monk. A visit to the seventh century while he was a university student allowed him to see the model for his garb, and he understood why it had been selected: humble and non-descript, revealing little of his actual life and times, while also appearing non-threatening to the time travelers with whom he came into contact. His job was important because he gave them the disappointing news that they had travelled too far into the future and would not be able to get beyond the waiting room where he met them.
According to the Price Principles, derived by Wilford Price, the “Father of Time Travel,” the device used for temporal jaunts could be used to explore the past within certain limits, such as not going back to the same time more than once, which helped avert paradoxes. However, when it came to travel into the future, there were hard limits that Cort couldn’t fully understand but was bound to enforce. Any attempt to go beyond a century ahead from one’s own time led you into a non-descript limbo where a temporal officer, such as Cort, would genially explain why one could not do so and how such actions might void the warranty on the device. What he learned in his training was that this was an iron law of time travel. A person simply could not go too far into the future, the theory being that this was a check on acquiring knowledge that might inalterably change the past. He knew that there were some things that could be changed, but this blocking served the purpose of keeping time flowing in the proper direction.
Cort went to the locker room at the Temporal Port Authority and removed all the devices that might have revealed too much to a clever visitor from the past. He then headed to the guardian lounge and awaited his first call. It wouldn’t take long. They usually got several visitors from the late twenty-first century on a given day, usually people who couldn’t be bothered to read the User’s Manual before turning on the device. The limitations on future travel were spelled out in detail, but Price’s design was so easy and intuitive to use that many people just charged up the batteries and took it out for a spin.
Cort had barely had time to settle in when the dispatcher pinged him.
“Cort to Waiting Room B. Woman from 2077 attempting to skip ahead several centuries.”
“All in a day’s work,” Cort said to himself, knowing this might be the last time he’d be called into action. He tapped his device, which was preset with the necessary coordinates, and popped over. As always, it was serene and non-descript, vaguely smelling of the sea, although there was no water to be seen.
A young, dark-skinned woman looked around somewhat confused.
“Hello there,” Cort said.
She noticed him with a start. “Who are you?”
“I’m Cort. I’m here to help people who have gone off on the wrong time path.”
“What wrong path?”
“You’re from 2077.” Her device had been set for several hundred years into her future. “I take it you didn’t read the instructions?”
“This is my brother’s. He said I could use it while he was away.”
“Ah, I see.” It did not really matter. He’d explain to her what the problem was and send her back on her way. “Well, you should ask him to let you take a look at the Manual, assuming he kept it.”
“Now look, Mr. Cort…”
“No, it’s just Cort. And you are…?”
“Monique. What a lovely name. I haven’t heard that one before.” He smiled benevolently, trying to indicate that this was not a serious problem. More of a clerical error. “Well, the situation is this. People are not allowed to travel more than a century into the future on their time line. It’s nothing personal. It just is.”
Monique seemed to be considering this information. Looking at Cort she said, “And you’re telling me this because…?”
“Because it’s my job. I work for the Time Portal Authority.”
“Sort of like a bus station?”
“I suppose, although I’m not quite sure what a bus is.”
“So there are no buses in your time? How do people get around?”
Cort tried to look authoritative. “Now look, Monique, if you can’t go into the far future, why do you think you can get information about it through other means? That’s the whole point. You can see a bit of the future, but no more. That’s just the way it works. Now, you really should be on your way. I’m sure there are plenty of times you can visit that you’ll find just as fascinating.”
“What about you? Do you get to go to the far future? Do you get a special pass?”
The question startled Cort. What sort of time did she come from where the rules didn’t apply to everyone? “Of course not. Read the Manual. You’ll get the whole story.”
“And you spend all your time blocking people’s way into the future and never thought of checking it out yourself?”
Cort sighed. He could try to explain that it didn’t work that way, but he didn’t think he would be able to convince her, at least not with her present state of knowledge. So, he was left with the one thing that got most people moving. Putting on his stern face he looked right at her and said, “Monique, you’ve got to get moving now. The very structure of the space-time continuum is in danger of collapsing in on itself.”
He pressed a button hidden in his uniform, and a siren went off.
“Warning! Warning! Sixty seconds to space-time implosion. Evacuate the area immediately.”
Monique froze, unclear what to do. Cort pointed to the return button on her device, which she pressed, vanishing. He hit the hidden button in his uniform, and the siren and the announcements ceased.
“I hate when I have to do that.”
Daniel M. Kimmel is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award, given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He was a finalist for a Hugo Award for Jar Jar Binks Must Die… and other observations about science fiction movies and for the Compton Crook Award for best first novel for Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood, and the Bartender’s Guide. In addition to short stories, he is the author of Time on My Hands: My Misadventures in Time Travel and Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. His film reviews appear at NorthShoreMovies.net and his column on classic SF film runs in Space and Time magazine.