We’re in space. There is no up.
Family-Friendly Short Stories, Cartoons, and Illustrations
We’re in space. There is no up.
Archie had finally done it. He’d made a time machine. The grants committee said that he couldn’t do it and laughed him out the door, but they were wrong. Even Eugene, the mad scientist living in the haunted house three streets away had tried to discourage him.
“Even if you build a time machine, you can’t go back and change time,” Eugene said. “Everybody knows that.”
“Everybody is wrong, and I’m going to prove it.” Archie glared at Eugene.
Eugene sighed. “Why is this so important to you? What do you want to change?”
“My dog Rex was hit by a car when I was five. I’m going to save Rex.”
It took years of work, but it was worth it. He patted his framed photo of Rex with a smile. “I’ll see you soon, buddy.”
In the middle of the night, he moved the machine to the park by his childhood home and set the date and time. There was a burst of light and the time machine buzzed. It stopped.
It was morning, a half hour before Rex would come racing out the front door. Archie locked up the time machine and covered it with a tarp. He looked around. Something wasn’t quite right.
The world looked hazy. It was like there was a bad connection between him and the world around him. Archie reached out to touch a nearby tree. His hand went straight through. He looked down. His feet were floating a few inches above the ground.
This was not good. If he couldn’t touch anything, how would he save Rex? Maybe he could still be heard or seen. He had time to figure this out.
He walked through the park. The old lady who came to sit on the park bench and knit was already there, sitting in the shade. She didn’t look as old as he’d remembered.
He almost tried to sit down next to her, but caught himself just in time. He reached out and his hand went through the bench. That could have been comical.
“Mrs. Simon, can you hear me?” he asked politely. She didn’t look up. “Can you hear me?” he asked a little louder. She didn’t stop knitting.
A man walked by with a dog. Archie followed him, trying to get the dog’s attention. Nothing he did worked. No one could see or hear him.
He couldn’t bear to watch Rex die again. He decided to go back and fix what was wrong. Even better, he’d go to the future and get the answer from his future self. If he couldn’t see or hear himself, he’d at least be able to look at the time machine and see what was different.
Archie returned to the time machine and set the date for five years into the future from when he’d left. That should be enough time to fine-tune the machine. Getting it to travel in time was the hard part.
There was a burst of light, and the machine buzzed. When he stopped, there was nothing. The time machine was floating in a formless void. There were no stars or bits of rocks or anything at all. Even if the earth had been destroyed somehow, surely there would be something left?
Obviously, his time machine had more problems than he’d thought. Time to return and fix it. He set the date and time to five minutes before he left.
The world was hazy again. He watched his ghostly double set up the machine, climb in and set the date and time. There was a burst of light, and the world was back in focus.
He drove the machine back home. Eugene was waiting on his front porch. “Now you know,” he said.
Archie frowned. “What do you mean?”
“Do you think you were the first to build a time machine? To try to go back and fix something?”
“Well, yes. Everyone else thought it wouldn’t work.”
Eugene shook his head. “I told you that you couldn’t fix anything, not that it wouldn’t work. The past can’t be changed. The future hasn’t happened yet, so it doesn’t exist.”
“Some people spend so much time trying to change what can’t be changed, that they don’t live the life they have now. It’s such a waste.”
Archie sat on the porch steps with a thump. “But Rex…”
“Was a very happy dog, and is probably in a good place. But there are other dogs that need help now. And there are other projects that could use your attention.” Eugene patted his shoulder. “It’s a lesson we all have to learn. Welcome to the mad scientist club.”
Archie sat up straighter. “Wait, there’s a club? And you have to build a time machine to join? Wow.”
Eugene smiled and started to walk away. “We meet every third Thursday at the convention center,” he called over his shoulder. “Bring cookies.”
The world seemed just a little bit brighter.
Captain, we have a problem. The object is a shoe and not a newly identified asteroid.
The siren wasn’t particularly hungry, but there was a human wandering alone on the beach nearby. Surely she’d be hungry later. Perhaps she could keep him in a cage until she was ready to eat him? That could be amusing.
The man kept pausing as he walked up the beach. He would pull a clear glass bottle out of his pocket, scoop up a little sand, and stopper the bottle. Then he’d write on a paper label with a pen and put the bottle into a different pocket. What a strange human.
The siren was a little curious at first, but it was all so boring that she quickly gave up trying to understand the meaning behind the human’s actions. She pulled herself up onto a nearby rock and arranged herself so that she looked alluring. Then she started to sing.
The man looked up. He smiled and walked towards her. It was always so easy. But he stopped just out of reach and pulled out a paper and pen. It was so unexpected that she almost stopped singing. She instead tried to sing a little louder and sweeter.
“I assume that you must be a siren,” the man said.
She stopped singing.
The man nodded and wrote something in his little book. “How interesting. I can see the singing has some subsonic components. Could you sing again for a few minutes?” He pulled a little metal device out of his pocket and held it up.
The siren frowned and looked away.
“I see. Very well. I notice that you are wearing clothing that is unaffected by the salt water you were swimming in. Are there mer-sheep? Are there plant-based fibers you use for clothing manufacture?”
The siren smiled and tossed her hair back over her shoulder. “We use our hair. It grows very fast. Come a little closer and I’ll give you a sample.”
“Hmmmm,” the man said. He wrote down some notes. “Is the texture rough or smooth? Do you use your own hair, or are there lower classes that you harvest hair from?”
The siren twirled a lock of hair around her finger. “Oh, my hair is very soft. Come and see.”
The man nodded and wrote something down. “I see. So, are there mer-chickens? Or do you use fish eggs to make cakes?”
The siren frowned and folded her arms. “We’re sirens. We don’t eat cakes.” Then she raised an eyebrow and smiled. “If you come a little closer, I’ll whisper in your ear what we do like to eat. It will be our secret.”
“No cakes,” the man said as he wrote. “All right. How do you celebrate birthdays, then?”
The siren laughed. “We are timeless. We don’t have birthdays. I’d be happy to help you celebrate your birthday. Come sit next to me, and we can plan a lovely party.”
The man narrowed his eyes. “If you don’t age, have you always had those wrinkles?”
The siren clapped her hands to her face and began to feel around her eyes. “I don’t have wrinkles. Sirens don’t get wrinkles.” She dropped her hands and laughed. “Silly man, you’re standing too far away to see any details. If you took a few steps closer, you’d see that my face is flawless.”
The scientist nodded and wrote some notes.
“What is that supposed to mean? What are you writing?” The siren asked.
“Hmmm?” the man asked. “Oh, nothing.” He wrote something down.
“Look,” the siren said. “I’m tying a few of my hairs around this pebble. I’ll toss it to you if you tell me what you wrote.”
The man raised an eyebrow. The siren sighed and tossed the pebble. The man picked it up and put it in his pocket. “Oh, very well,” the man said. “I wrote that you are near-sighted and delusional.”
“I am not,” the siren said.
“Hmmmmm,” the man said, and wrote something down.
The siren lunged at him. The man stepped back quickly. The siren screeched and jumped into the water and swam away.
The man wrote something down and then closed his book with a snap. “If you could see a little better, you would have realized you were talking to a robot,” he called out over the water. A screech echoed back. The man nodded and walked back across the beach, collecting samples of sand.
Admiral Bradbury sat back in his chair. He smiled at the viewscreen. “Thank you for your report Captain,” he said. “Now tell me how your new second-in-command is settling in. I know that the transfer was unexpected.”
Captain Dodgett’s mouth turned up in a half-smile. “He’s organized, hard-working and competent. He can also speak all the major languages used in our galaxy. He’s an excellent first officer.”
“So no complaints?” Admiral Bradbury smiled. “His last captain gave him a glowing review, but said that there were personality conflicts that made it necessary for him to be transferred immediately.”
“Well…” Captain Dodgett paused. “No, never mind. He’s an excellent officer. He’s very knowledgeable. I have no complaints.”
“Off the record?” The admiral asked. “I’d really like to know why Captain Tasker couldn’t handle Commander Ghoti on his ship for even one more day. On paper it doesn’t make sense. I’d like to eventually offer him command of his own starship, but I need to know if there are going to be problems with his crew.”
Captain Dodgett sighed and leaned back in his seat. “It’s so silly. And yet, some of the crew have complained to me about it. It’s just…”
“Yes?” The admiral lifted an eyebrow and waited.
“Fine, fine.” The captain ran a hand through his short gray hair. “He likes to make sound effects during battles.”
“He does what?” The admiral looked confused.
“He makes sound effects during battles. Sounds for crashes and explosions and weapons firing and people dying. It’s a bit distracting.” The captain laughed a small, huffy sort of laugh. “He stopped when people asked him to, but he started up again a few minutes later. When asked to stop, he apologized, but it happened again and again. By the end of the battle, my weapons officer looked ready to hit him.”
“That is a little strange,” the admiral said. “Did you talk to him later?”
“Yes, he said it’s a nervous habit. I recommended chewing gum. The next battle, he’d left it in his room. He said he wasn’t expecting a battle. He’s now required to carry it at all times. It does cut down on some of the noise.”
The admiral smiled. “Well done. Is that all?”
“Well, there are the theme songs,” the captain said.
“He insists on giving everyone a theme song and humming it whenever they come into the room or when they start giving a report. Some of the crew find it unsettling. And some don’t really like the song he chose for them.”
The admiral frowned. “Are the songs inappropriate?”
“No.” Captain Dodgett smiled. “It’s just that some of them are a little gloomy. Or angry. And one of them sounds a bit like sarcastic laughter. He insists it’s just how he keeps people straight and he doesn’t mean to be rude.”
“Did he change the tunes when asked?”
The captain sighed. “He did, but then he started getting their names wrong. He says it will just take a while for him to fix his mental filing system.”
The admiral nodded. “But he will be able to fix it?”
“Yes, I think so,” the captain said. “And it’s been weeks since he last drew a mustache on any one or carried around that spray bottle.”
“What did he need a spray bottle for?”
“Oh he was spraying water on people on people that were arguing. He said it was his duty as a superior officer. We went over proper conflict resolution skills and there haven’t been any more problems.” Captain Dodgett smiled.
“All right,” the admiral said. “And the mustaches?”
“He said it was meant as light-hearted humor and that they’d wash off. However, too many people didn’t find it very funny.” The captain laughed. “I gave him a joke book. He memorized all the jokes and tells them constantly.”
“Is there anything else?” Admiral Bradbury asked.
“Not really. Honestly, he’s an excellent first officer and I have no complaints. I think he’s settling in just fine,” the captain said.
“Right. Thank you for your report,” the admiral said.