This is where we really start getting to the nitty-gritty of it all: domesticated time travel.
Hope you enjoy.
CHAPTER THREE: The Light Station
“Welcome to the Light Station. All passengers are reminded to submit themselves for screening before transfer.” A smooth and metallic voice droned out an endless string of slogans to the uninterested masses below. “Thank you for choosing FutureForward – ‘Where the Future is Waiting for You’. Welcome to the Light Station…”
Caesar wasn’t listening. He was too busy trying to take it all in. He had known, of course, that the practicalities of time-travel could not possibly live up to the sci-fi fantasies of his boyhood, but even so, he had not been prepared for what lay before him. Everything looked so… clinical. As a man of comfort, of denim and corduroy, he couldn’t help but feel out of place surrounded by all these clean lines. The forced poses of the über-modern architecture and carefully controlled portions of synthetic light here portrayed about as much hope as a prison meal. He surveyed one of the sculptures with distaste. A towering mass of integrated wires, writhing like boiling spaghetti, had been frozen mid-convulsion for his viewing pleasure. Art like that infuriated him on the best of days – today more than usual. It spoke of nothing. In fact, everything in the room screamed of irregularity and lack of purpose.
“Perhaps everything in the future is silver and white, and they’re just trying to break it to us gently,” he muttered to himself nervously, snorting into his polystyrene DissolvaCup. It was already beginning to recycle itself before he’d had chance to finish his coffee, and now proceeded to dribble all over his moleskin loafers.
All around him, the station was heaving with an array of distasteful, moving meat. Dough-flesh hens in matching cowboy hats and photographic hologram T-shirts were clumped together close by, delightedly comparing crude DIY snapshots of their lopsided, fisheye breasts. Neon teenagers with dead eyes and nasty mouths spattered themselves through the crowd like acid. In one white shadowless corner, a boy of no more than thirteen threw up violent shades of cocktail whilst egged on by his dribbling father.
He was surrounded with good reasons to escape the twenty-third century, and yet he was afraid. He twisted his neck and looked up at the light board. A dizzying series of blinking symbols scaled across the gigantic hologram projected in the air above them, stretching the entire length of the station. He saw his departure was scheduled soon, and felt the chill on the back of his neck. Shaking coffee-drips from his shoes, he rose and flowed into the run-off of the crowd, hoping to collect naturally in a puddle of unoccupied space. A cyberpunk dressed in velvet and chainmail shoved past him without apology, casting a disparaging look back at his head-to-toe textiles. Unlike Caesar, he obviously belonged here – even his asymmetric hair gleamed silver. The metallic sculpture in the corner would have looked at home poised by his side, a twisted aluminium guard-dog. His presence had left a scar on the air behind him. Caesar stepped rather feebly into it.
A stricter, more authoritative voice cut across the others. “Attention: Passengers six-oh-one to seven-five-oh, please prepare for transmission. Thank you.”
The masses began to respond. Caesar took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. His ticket confirmed that he was Passenger 616. It was time to go. After all, the future was waiting for him, and FutureForward had promised it would be oh so bright.
After queuing for twenty minutes or so due to transmission delays (demonstrating that, despite technological advances, some things never change), Caesar was escorted out of the departure lounge by a Synthetic Hostess. These glitchy, soulless holograms manifested whenever customers in the vicinity of a Public Help Point required assistance (and very often when they didn’t). The latest version, hanging in the air beside Caesar, possessed ideal features for replication. Her magnified eyes and exaggerated rose-blush lips threw her face out of proportion, but she was still the most attractive woman Caesar had been close to for quite a while. Even though she was not real, her gender made him nervous by default. A mane of powdery cinnamon curls fell over her petite shoulders in startling detail. Forgetting his manners for a moment, Caesar reached out his hand and ran his fingertips through the illusion. A detached voice issued a warning without disturbing the Hostess’ lips.
“FutureForward would like to remind passengers that it is impolite to interfere with the Hostess.”
Caesar removed his hand from the space occupied by the projection of her elbow. “Is that your way of telling me to ‘fuck off’?” Suppressed laughter turned his final words into a soft, playful rumble, like baby thunder practising for its big debut.
If she had been human, the Hostess would have glared at him, but her eyes were as dead as her voice. Instead, she led him to the seventh of thousands of doors within Transportation with vacant serenity before her programme abruptly disengaged, causing the pixels forming her to wink out of existence. All the doors were lined up side-by-side, each one granting access to a different room within the vast, white hive.
Feeling intimidated, Caesar ducked through his designated doorway. The room was most easily comparable to the interior of a monolith glass pencil. Skin-thin mirrors of imposing height encased the room, positioned with geometric perfection. These extended beyond the point where his view was obscured. Descending upon him was a prism of equal grandeur, as precise and terrifying as a military weapon. Its point aligned with the room’s exact centre, poised and ready.
Being in the presence of technology powerful enough to manipulate the rules of space-time was intimidating. Caesar could smell the burnt particles still in the air from the previous transfer.
Two gentlemen in white coats, presumably scientists, entered the room and busied themselves with preparations without acknowledging him. When they finally approached to review him they did so objectively. He was just another variable to be determined, calculated, processed and shipped.
His anxiety was building. He couldn’t help but wonder in his half-panic which century the scientists were from. The clinical setting made his skin and canvas feel so out of place, he began to fidget in it. This journey to the future was feeling less adventurous and more absurd by the minute.
Those are not mere men, he thought in panic, they are Gods. There is no real separation anymore. This is a house of progress. Even God is a relic here. I don’t belong here. No man belongs here…
The shorter of the two scientists circled him, estimating his mass with keen, bristled eyes. After about a minute, Caesar realised she was female. Stout, hard-faced, with a near crew-cut the colour of fox fur, he could be forgiven the confusion. “Is the passenger ready?” She aimed her face and her question away from Caesar.
He wasn’t. His inner eight-year-old was squirming with the combination of accelerated anticipation and fear usually reserved for leaping from high cliffs and removing the legs from insects; the elation of both acts near-sexual.
She took his silence for assent, and returned to her operating dock without another word.
The harsh, clipped tones of the second scientist pierced the space for the first time, causing Caesar to jump slightly. “Passenger 616, prepare for transmission.”
The technician had a cruel, crow-like face which filled Caesar with unexplainable dread. For one distinct moment he felt compelled to halt the whole insane process and flee the building without ever looking back.
It was already too late for that.
“Destination fixed. Light-beam activated. Dematerialisation in 3… 2… 1…”
Turbo-charged light poured over him like electric milk, and Caesar felt himself begin to evaporate.