Cross Paths: Chapter 14

An Army of the Cross story

(c) 2015 Thomas F. Brown, All Rights Reserved.

This material may not be reproduced in any form without the expressed written consent of the author.

Up-state New York
August 27, 2217

Chases Comets’ mind was in turmoil as he trudged through the forest at Mrs. Smith’s side. He considered his own position on Grounders as both enlightened and tolerant. That was why he’d objected so strongly to the War and its aftermath. It didn’t matter how backward Grounders were, it didn’t justify what was being done to them.
But Smith’s assertion that the two races shared a common ancestry was simply too much. More than an absurdity, it was an out and out insult to suggest he had the blood of a Grounder inside him.
And yet …
Smith’s explanation fit with everyone’s preconceptions of Grounder behavior. It was but one more example of their abuse of time travel, and why they needed to be stopped before it was too late.
But how do you stop someone who repeatedly demonstrates such extreme lack of good judgement? Even Smith admitted that it was sometimes necessary to use violence in the protection of innocent lives.
Maybe I was wrong to object? Maybe the Judicators were right after all!
But he had a hard time accepting that. Morality was clearly black-and-white. An act was either right or it was wrong. Always, without exception. To pretend otherwise was to deny the need for making difficult choices. And choices, difficult or otherwise, was the essence of what it meant to be civilized.
Therefore, Smith was wrong. It simply wasn’t possible for her to know the truth. She had to be mistaken, or simply lying.
Typical Grounder deception!
But as hard as he tried to believe that, the idea continued to bother him.
And then there was the other matter: the one at the heart of the woman’s explanation.
“Time travel,” he said, adding a confused icon on the radio side-channel. Mrs. Smith’s first reaction was anger, then impatience, and finally frustration. For a moment it looked like she was about to snap at him. But then she took a deep breath and calmed down.
“What about it?” she replied at last.
“Why do it?” he asked. “Your people, I mean. You know it’s dangerous. You know it puts others at risk. Why do it? I can’t tell you how long my people wondered about that. No rational person would take such a risk.”
There was no immediate answer from the woman.
“Chase,” she said at last, “I don’t have a simple answer for you. For one thing, it’s the only way we know of to travel faster than light. Without it, we’re stuck in our own solar system.”
“I’m not following you. How does traveling into the past help you move faster than the speed of light?”
“Yeah, well, it doesn’t. Not really. Here’s the thing: using time dilation to reach another star system gets you there in a reasonable time, according to the clocks on board your starship. But you end up wasting many years according to the clocks on Earth. Time travel fixes that. Half-way through the trip you stop the ship and make it go back in time to recover those wasted years. You arrive at your destination at the same moment you left.”
The two walked in silence after that, while Chases Comets thought the matter through.
“There are easier and safer ways to travel to another star.”
“Oh, I’m sure there are,” the woman replied, a bit testily. “But we don’t know any of them. We could also build a Dyson Sphere around the sun and not need interstellar travel at all, but we don’t know how to do that, either. You can dream all you want, Chase. In the end, you have to use the tools at hand.”
“I’m certain my people would give you the technology we use in return for your giving up time travel.”
“Oh? Really? You honestly think they’d trust us to give up our one advantage? Because, I have to tell you, during the War there were a number of high-ranking government officials who wanted to erase you from history completely.”
“Why didn’t they?”
“I stopped them. Had to ruin a few careers and end a couple of lives in the process, but I did it.”
“And you did this because …”
Rather than answer him, Mrs. Smith simply glanced over at him and shook her head.
“Besides,” she said, “there’s simply no way we could trust you not to reneg on the deal. Even if we could destroy all data and equipment related to time travel — and there’d always be the possibility of a bunker or secret laboratory somewhere — your people might simply get rid of us all, thinking it was better to be safe than sorry. In our minds, time travel is a tool, nothing more. In yours, it’s a weapon.”
“It can be used as a weapon.”
“Yeah, and so can your fancy FTL tech,” she pointed out. “Oh, the War taught us what happens when one of your starships flies directly at an inhabited planet. So don’t talk to me about how time travel is such a dangerous weapon. You can kill a man with a damned spoon if you’ve a mind to!”
“I’m sorry. I wasn’t trying to start an argument. I was simply curious.”
“But do you see how hard it would be for our two peoples to come to an agreement? There’s too much distrust; too many differences. Go ahead, tell me I’m wrong.”
More silence as the two continued walking.
“I don’t think you’re being completely honest with me, though,” he said at last.
“How’s that?” she snapped back, clearly sensitive to the criticism.
“You’ve already used the technology to change history. That has nothing to do with space travel.”
“I know,” the woman replied in a suddenly quiet voice. “Long story short, a crazy woman wanted to remake the world into her own personal paradise. Some friends and I set out to stop her. It … it didn’t end well.”
“Pardon me for saying this, because I know how it sounds, but why not eliminate time travel completely? If you went back and prevented it from being invented, wouldn’t everything fall back into place? Wouldn’t that prevent people like this woman from abusing it for their own purposes?”
Chases Comets expected the woman to be angry, but when she turned to look at him again, there were tears in her eyes.
“You don’t strike me as suicidal,” she said. It wasn’t what he expected her to say.
“What do you mean?”
“Without time travel, your whole civilization would cease to exist. No time travel, therefore no colony ship to found your Habitat Space.” she paused for a moment, collecting her thoughts. “Besides,” she continued, her voice unsteady. Here was the real reason for the tears, an admission she unsuccessfully tried to put off. “A good friend of mine thought the same way you do. I was forced to stop him.”
“Why?”
“The problem with time travel is unforseen consequences. If Joe had succeeded in preventing it from being developed, the consequences of that would have been a real doozy.”
Back home in Habitat Space, the politicians always made the anti-Grounder, anti-time travel problems seem so cut-and-dry. Their solution to these problems were equally simple. Perhaps, Chases Comets realized suddenly, too simple.
“Chase,” the woman said, interrupting his rumination, “I agree with you whole heartedly: time travel is not the answer to anything. Life shouldn’t have any do-overs, and dangling the possibility of one in front of people is far too dangerous. I know that better than most, but only because I’ve been there. I’ve lived through it. Everyone else sees it as an opportunity rather than a threat. Unless and until we get it through their heads that the risk isn’t worth the gain, they’ll never give it up.”
“Then there will never be peace between our two peoples,” the alien admitted.
“Perhaps,” Mrs Smith said with the hint of a smile. “But I’m not about to give up on us. Not just yet.”
“You have a plan?”
“One step at a time, Chase. One step at a time. First, let’s get you to that hunting lodge. I’ve got a few presents waiting there you’re going to love.”

To be continued …

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