Categories
Science Fiction Stories

To Engage With Time

Edward Hopper, Nighthawks, Oil painting, Americana,

What makes Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks” painting one of his most celebrated works? Created in 1942, Nighthawks is considered the incarnation of existential art, capturing the alienation and loneliness symptomatic of modern urban life. The following story is inspired by the painting.

I mount the time machine and dial the year nineteen-forty-two. I have a keen interest in the war years. Activities like storming the beaches of Normandy are not high on my priorities list. I stay far behind the front lines. I find the study of American culture during the war years fascinating. I stay away from heavily populated cities to remain inconspicuous. You might say I’m not truly adventurous, excluding, of course, time travel and my voracious appetite for knowledge. I’m a scientist, first and foremost. As soon as I’ve perfected my time-traveling technology, I intend to unveil it in a white paper report and work with a team to use my discoveries for the betterment of mankind.

I finish entering all of the pertinent data into the onboard computer and push the launch button.  Seconds later, the machine deposits me in the small town of Independence, Ohio. On this trip, I find myself on a corner across the street from an all-night diner. My trans-spacial watch tells me it’s two-thirty in the morning. Materializing in small towns on deserted streets in the middle of the night is a proven method for avoiding stampeding crowds.

Illustration of a time machine from the story "A Lesson In Time" by David Gittlin

I’m a bit freaked out by the feeling of emptiness the town exudes. I console myself with the thought that I’ve arrived in the middle of the night and everything is closed except, it seems, the diner across the street.

Through the panoramic window, I see four people sitting at the counter inside. My curiosity peaks as I begin, once again, to study life in the past, this time eighty years ago. This morning will be different than the others in one important respect. It marks the first time I will interact with people and environments of the past. I feel that I’ve learned enough from my previous trips to take this momentous step. And, I can no longer resist the urge to relate to people instead of simply observing them.

As I cross the street, I check my reflection in the large window. I’m dressed appropriately for the era in a blue business suit and matching tie with black wingtip shoes and neatly barbered hair. I’ll blend right in. Swinging open the glass and chrome door, I enter the cafe and take a seat at the counter a measured two seats away from a man sitting by himself. 

The small diner smells of stale cigarette smoke, fresh coffee, and the faint scent of body odor from the man two seats away. To my right, half the wall is fitted with small bins containing tempting muffins, cakes, and breads.  Across the counter, a nice-looking middle-aged couple sit demurely drinking coffee. The man is wearing a gray suit with a matching hat, blue tie, and he’s smoking a chesterfield unfiltered cigarette. The pack lying by his hand on the counter tells me the cigarette brand. The man looks like a lawyer or a doctor. The woman is wearing a green silken cocktail dress. It sets off her blazing red hair nicely. By the looks of the two-carat diamond ring on her hand, I figure the couple is well-off and married.  I suppose the couple is drinking coffee to sober up for the drive home after a festive dinner party.

“My name’s Kendall,” he says in a friendly tone.” I wonder if it’s his first or last name. I happen to hate my first name. Who names their kid Saul forty years after the war? It would be a good name for my grandfather. Not for me.

“And I’m Allison,” the woman next to him says.

I’m surprised by the couple’s friendliness. Maybe it’s the late hour and the intimate setting. Maybe people here are friendlier to strangers than they usually are in the other the small towns I’ve visited. Maybe–just maybe–this will be easier than I thought it would be.

Illustration of time travel from the story "A Lesson In Time" by David Gittlin

“My name’s Saul,” I say to the couple. “Nice to meet you.” I turn to the man next to me, half-expecting him to introduce himself. It suddenly occurs to me that the guy hasn’t moved a muscle since I came through the door.

“Ignore him,” Kendall says. “He’s just part of the scenery.”

“I’m sorry for that unkind remark,” I say to the motionless man. He’s heavy-set, dressed in a brownish green striped suit, and looks every bit like a non-descript traveling salesman.

I turn back to the man named Kendall. “If that was a joke, I don’t think it’s funny. People have feelings. Didn’t your mother teach you that?”

The last thing I want to do is get into an argument with these people, but I can’t help saying something.

“You don’t have to worry about his feelings,” Kendall says.

“And what do you think?” I ask Allison. On closer examination, she looks uncannily like Julianne Moore in her role as Clarice Starling in the sequel to “The Silence of the Lambs.”

“Allison is new,” Kendall replies. “She’s still in training. She’s not supposed to talk much.”

“Wait a minute,” I say. “Who are you people?”

Kendall leans down and pulls a strapped leather briefcase from below the counter. He extracts a file, opens it, and begins reading.

“Let’s see. Saul Grossman, age thirty-two, engineer/designer employed by Raytheon Technologies, assigned to jet engine development, invented and now operates a time machine in his spare time. Does that about cover it, Saul?”

I am beyond shocked. Fear and anger compete to control me. Somehow, I manage not to panic. I don’t want to hear the answer to my next question, but I have to ask.

“How do you know so much about me?”

“You’ve been on our radar,” Kendall says. “Now that you’ve decided to interact with the past, it’s time for us to step in.”

I’m still in shock, but a ray of hope may be peaking through the gathering storm clouds. “Are you time lords, or some sort of benevolent time control agency from the future?”

“Sorry to disappoint, Saul. We’re your local branch office of the NSA. We made some adjustments to your time machine after reading your time journal in which you wrote, ‘I’m now confident that I can interact with the past to make the present better.'”

“So, you broke into my house without my knowledge or consent.”

“That’s about the size of it,” Kendal confirms.

I feel my intestines start to melt. “What sort of ‘adjustments’ are we talking about?”

“For starters, we’re not in the past. We’re in a computer simulation where the only thing that’s real is you.”

I try to imagine how this can be happening. Am I talking to naked human bodies floating in an electrochemical solution inside giant Pyrex glass tubs? Are they fitted with electrodes attached to their heads to facilitate thought-transference-voice-activation to their virtual avatars? Or is it a cutting-edge holographic computer program capable of interacting with a real-live me?

I reach into my pocket to push the button on my remote control extractor. I’m not going to stand still for this. Literally. I’ll be out of here and back in good old 2021 in no time–or a few seconds.

Nothing happens.

I try again. Still nothing.

“I forgot to mention we disabled your extractor,” Kendall says with a cheeky wink of an eye.

“So now what?”

“Now you stay here for the rest of your natural born existence, my friend.”

“You’re kidding. Right?

“Afraid not, Saul.”

“You can’t do this.”

“Would you rather be thrown in jail?”

“On what grounds?”

Kendall takes the last sip of his coffee. “We’ll think of something. It won’t be pretty.”

“I can’t believe this.”

“It’s an unfortunate situation, Saul. You’ve become a danger to yourself and the rest of us. You played with fire, and now you’re burned. The good news is we know how to use your technology better than you would have used it.”

Kendall grabs the briefcase and guides Allison to the front door. Before they leave, Kendall and Allison wave goodbye. “Have some fun,” Kendall says. “You’re an inventive guy.”

“Don’t leave. Please.”

“We’ll check back with you in another thirty years, if you’re still around,” Allison says with a cheerful smile.

Outside the door, I watch Kendall and Allison dissolve into ghostly vapors, then disperse into thin air.

The Time Travel Spiral

Categories
dreams fiction Science Fiction Stories

The Silver Sphere Part 4

If you haven’t been following “The Silver Sphere” or need a refresher, click here for part one and here for part two and here for part three.

A Pulsar From A Distant Star Destroys The Earth

I carried an expensive mahogany bar chair from Jeffrey’s den into the garage. My friend, Jeffrey, has a trust fund that allows him to pursue a career as a freelance photojournalist and writer. I have to admit the man has talent and good taste. And, despite all of our trash talk, Jeffrey has proven he’s a loyal friend with a generous heart. He shares his good fortune with close friends. That’s how this whole thing got started. Jeffrey lent me his posh beach house while he was away in Paris on assignment. One night, while walking on the beach among fingers of salt water waves, and lost in thoughts about endings for my latest mystery novel, I literally stumbled over Arcon.

As I walked back to the house to retrieve Arcon, I came to the conclusion that fate had placed me in this situation. Jeffrey might be writing this story as easily as me. It actually makes more sense for Jeffrey to be writing the story since he writes non-fiction articles instead of fiction novels like me. And, he lives year-round in his stunning, ultra-modern house fronting a lone stretch of Daytona Beach. (Except when he’s not off somewhere on an adventurous assignment).

Luxurious Beach House Den Overlooking The Ocean

I planned to take advantage of my good fortune, if I can call it that. I’d write a screenplay and a novel along with a factual account of my experiences with Arcon. With any luck, I’d be able to crawl back into the good graces of my agent and my publisher. Assuming, of course, Arcon and me and the rest of the world survived the next sixty hours.

I noticed Arcon had remained unusually quiet since the conclusion of our latest mind-boggling discussion in the kitchen. I sensed that my friend from the other side of the Milky Way was gathering his energy to restore my old car for our impending trip to One World Trade Center in New York City. I had read it was the tallest building in the United States, and we were headed to the very top of it. I figured if my interstellar friend had it in him to pull of this off, it would be nothing short of a miracle, even for a super-intelligent fellow like Arcon.

One World Trade Center Building Standing In The Manhattan Skyline

After carefully carrying Arcon from the house to the garage, I placed him comfortably on the bar chair. A few feet away, my decrepit red Mazda Miata waited for whatever might happen next.

From what I casually refer to as an eye in the center of his sleek silver body, Arcon began scanning the car with a beam of pale blue light. Suddenly, the blue light bloomed into a cloud. It engulfed the entire car. Then, frenetic energy forms emerged from the cloud. For a few seconds, I was looking at an abstract light sculpture suspended above the car, until the forms shot off to do their jobs. Each glob of energy serviced a different part inside and outside of the car. Then, the blue energy globs congealed to create a throbbing blue blob surrounding the car.

Three Dimensional Abstract Moving Light Sculpture.

I expected to see my ancient sports car begin to morph into a new version of itself like a movie I had once seen. That’s not what happened. Arcon’s only predictable feature is that he’s always unpredictable. I kept my mouth shut. I knew instinctively that I’d be excoriated if I interrupted.

I heard grinding noises coming from underneath the sheath of blue energy. Then came the screeching sounds of metal moving against metal, almost like the car was screaming in agony because Arcon had forgotten to administer an anesthetic before the operation. After several minutes of nerve-jangling scaping and crunching, the sounds became more subtle and less excruciating. I heard faint crackling noises. It sounded like Arcon was whipping up a huge batch of popcorn in an oven. Finally, I began to detect the pungent odor of paint thinner.

“I think you should leave now,” Arcon said to me telepathically in my native language of Serbian. “The fumes might make you sick.”

I wasn’t used to this kind of concern from Arcon. Maybe he’s starting to warm up to me, I thought.

Silver Sphere with Streamlined Sides and a Hole in the Middle.

“Don’t flatter yourself,” Arcon shot back. “We don’t have time for you to recover from a poisoning episode.”

“Right. I almost forgot. I’m just a means to an end.”

“Not quite. Now, what color would you like the car to be? Keep it conservative. We don’t want to attract attention.”

I settled on something called atomic silver, a glossy dark gray.

“Done. Now, be a good boy and wait in the kitchen. I’ll call you when it’s safe to come back.”

Following Arcon’s instructions, I returned to the kitchen and cracked open another beer. I closed my eyes and thought about the ending of my novel again. The elusive ending finally dawned on me. The detective and the beautiful FBI agent realize they are both too strong-willed to commit to a long-term romantic relationship. To make matters worse, their next cases required them to work undercover in distant locations. Ultimately, they come to a decision: to stay friends and perhaps occasional lovers if their paths cross again.

The thought of unhappy endings generated images of something much worse. I saw the deadly pulsar emerge from a wormhole and slam into Mother Earth. A few hours after the Earth exploded into a blinding fireball, there was nothing left but stardust. All the hopes, all the dreams, all the achievements, all the moments of joy and sorrow, all the beauty and all the ugliness—all gone in a heart-beat. It was not science fiction. It was a reality hurtling towards us–getting closer every second.

A Pulsar From A Distant Star Destroys The Earth

“Come, Joseph,” I heard Arcon say inside my head.

A few minutes later, I stood before a glossy new 2012 MX-5 Mazda Miata. I noticed Arcon had made it a convertible.

“Looks even sportier with the hood added.”

“I thought you might like it,” Arcon replied proudly.

“Is there any chance we can take turns driving to New York?”

“Get real, Joseph. Hurry and pack your things. We’ll only have time for a few cat naps and bathroom breaks on the way. Our window of opportunity is shrinking as we speak.”

Apparently, Arcon was picking up our vernacular with every conversation we had. I did not relish the thought of the journey. I’m sure Arcon didn’t have to read my mind to know this. My expression had to be a dead give-away.

I thought I heard Arcon heave a sigh.

“Don’t just stand there, my boy. It’s time to rock and roll !!!”

To Be Continued…

Categories
fiction Stories

The Silver Sphere Part 3

Illustration From The Sphere Part 3 on www.davidgittlin.net
19th Century Art Deco Silver Vase

If you haven’t been following “The Silver Sphere” or need a refresher, click here for part one and here for part two.

“How do you expect to get us to New York quickly?” I asked Arcon, and then immediately regretted it. I expected another irritated rebuke for wasting his time. There is no way a super-intelligent AI being from the other side of the galaxy would not have a solid plan for the journey. I braced myself for Arcon’s withering response.

Arcon made humming and clicking noises, as if my question amused him. “Well, since I can’t fly or beam, I suppose we’ll have go the old fashioned way. We’ll take your car.

“Let me get this straight. You want me to drive you over a thousand miles to New York City in my ancient Mazda Miata with 120,000 miles already under its belt?

Arcon made crackling sounds. I imagined the noise was his latest way of communicating his impatience to me. “It beats taking the bus, don’t you think?”

“The odds are less than fifty-fifty my car can make the trip without having a coronary thrombosis.”

“Give me an hour alone with it in the garage, and I’ll have her as good as new.”

Shades of the movie “Christine” flickered inside my head. I saw my car reconstituting itself like the 1958 Plymouth Fury did after it was destroyed by a gang of bullies. I remembered the movie’s tagline: “Body by Plymouth–Soul by Satan.” I strongly suspected I was in some kind of elaborate nightmare. Perhaps this was my subconscious proving it.

We were sitting at a chrome and glass table in an alcove of my friend Jeffrey’s ultra modern kitchen. Being a silver sphere about the size of a bizzarely sculpted basketball, Arcon fit right right in with the decor.

Silver Sphere with Streamlined Sides and a Hole in the Middle.

I rose abruptly from the table. “Excuse me, I need a beer,” I said to Arcon. I was beginning to crack under the pressure of the situation. If what Arcon had said a few minutes earlier were true, the Earth had less than seventy-two hours before a giant pulsar from a distant supernova fried the planet into a crispy ember. Unless, of course, Arcon and me managed to do something about it.

Neutron Star Explosion

After removing an Amstel Light from Jeffrey’s built-in stainless steel refrigerator, I rejoined Arcon at the kitchen table. I was grateful that Arcon had sagely decided to reveal his plan and my role in it one step at a time. I was having enough trouble wrapping my head around step one.

“So, we drive to New York in my resurrected Miata, and then I somehow smuggle you to the top of the One World Trade Center building. Does that about sum it up?”

“You won’t have to smuggle me. I know how we can get past security.”

“Somehow I don’t feel relieved.”

“You should feel relieved” Arcon said with his typical lack of diplomacy. “I’ll disguise myself as a gorgeous 19th century Art-Deco vase. You’ll carry me into the building in a case. When you open the case, the guards will be astonished by my beauty and originality and ask silly questions. I assume they’ll ask you why you came. You’ll tell them you’re a tourist heading for the top floor observatory to meet your girlfriend and give her the lovely heirloom I’m posing as.”

“You make it sound simple.”

“It will be. Even for someone like you.”

Another question presented itself. Risking another reprisal I asked: “If you made it from the other side of the galaxy to a beach in Florida, why can’t you project yourself from here to the top of the World Trade Center?”

Man Walking On A Moonlit Beach

Arcon answered telepathically, as he always did, in my native language: Serbian. All of our conversations were held in my native dialect to reduce the odds of any eavesdroppers comprehending my end of our top secret discussions.

Arcon must have concluded that I needed to hear the answer to my query to gain my trust and commitment because he replied to my question calmly.

“The mother-ship dropped me five thousand feet above the ocean. I’m able to navigate and land safely in free-fall, but I can’t propel myself, as I’ve mentioned. It’s a trade off, Joseph. I don’t have room onboard for brains and propulsion.”

“So how will you get back to your ship?”

“I won’t. I’ll remain here on Earth, if there is an Earth left.”

The Mother Ship Dropped The Alien 5,000 Feet above the East Coast of Florida

I wondered briefly if that meant Arcon had more adventures in store for me, if we survived. Then, I remembered my latest novel and its sad status as distressingly past due. And then, I imagined my editor calling me to announce that she had finally lost patience with me and the book was cancelled.

Arcon seemed to sense my utter despair. “Why don’t you join me in the garage and watch me bring your old car back to life. Does she have a name?”

“Mathilde. She reminds me of a French woman I once knew with sunrise golden hair and intense blue eyes. I still have one of her paintings.”

The Artist With Spun Golden Hair and Intense Blue Eyes

“Then come along, Joseph. Let’s breathe new life into your lost love. I’m confident it will make you feel much better.

To Be Continued…

Categories
fiction Stories

The Silver Sphere

Man Walking On A Moonlit Beach

It wasn’t a sphere, technically.

I found it on the beach. Right at the water’s edge.

Actually, I didn’t find it. We’ll get to that later.

First things first.

My name is Joseph Aleksov.

Two days ago, I left my comfortable beach house to go out for a stroll in the middle of the night. The full moon and stars were my sole companions. I needed to think about the plot of my latest novel, and I found the salt air always helped.

The night was clear. I splashed my feet in the tips of the tides. I felt the crisp ocean breeze ruffling my longish hair as if it was saying, “Tell me your story.”

Before I could answer, I almost tripped and fell.

A thing about the size of a basketball rocked gently in the water at my feet.

I had the distinct feeling it was looking up at me, even though it had no discernable eyes.

It was a shiny silver sphere punctuated by streamlined indentations on its sides. It had a hole in the center which, in the moonlight, revealed nothing but bottomless darkness. Hardly an eye, at least a human one. I couldn’t look at it for too long. It pulsed every few minutes, as if it were breathing at impossible intervals.

Silver Sphere with Streamlined Sides and a Hole in the Middle.

Light exploded into my eyes when it breathed. After two or three breaths, I had to look away.

I thought; What if the thing is radioactive?

Then it spoke to me. A voice inside my head. In my native tongue: Serbian.

“I am not a thing, or some genus of clap trap concoction humans refer to as a computer. I am a highly evolved organism. You may think of me as Artificial Intelligence. I am much more than an AI, but your mind is incapable of conceiving what I truly am.”

I drew back a few steps thinking, “I must be dreaming.”

“For a man who writes novels, you display little imagination” the thing said.

I felt strangely comfortable speaking to the machine, as if speaking to a telepathic silver sphere was as everyday as munching on macaroni and cheese.

“Do you have a name?” I said out loud.

“Call me Arcon. A-R-C-O-N.”

“Got it. Are you from some far distant solar system?”

“Next you will ask me: Do I come in peace?”

“The thought did cross my mind.”

“The answer is yes and no. I’m not here to hurt anyone, but I’m certain to upset a sizeable subset of the population if news of my mission leaks out.”

“That sounds a bit ominous.”

“It’s more than a bit.”

“Should I be alarmed?”

“It won’t help.”

“I see. And how, may I ask, do you know I’m a writer?”

“Not important.” A terse reply. “We have work to do. Urgently.”

“Since you appear to know everything about me, you must realize I’m way past my deadline. My editor calls to scream at me daily.”

“Not important. Look, Joseph. I’m getting cold and I’m tired of soaking in this sea water.”

“It sounds like you are inviting yourself to go somewhere.”

“I am. I need your assistance. Why don’t you take me home to the fabulous beach house your wealthy friend has so generously lent you. We have much to discuss. Among other tasks, there is a story I want you to write.”

“But I just told you–“

“Never mind that. Pick me up and take me to the beach house. If I miss my deadline, you won’t have to worry about yours.”

To Be Continued…