I’ve not jumped in to NaNoWriMo this year – have some other writing-related opportunities on the radar, and trying to clean up some older material. below is the most recent exercise for my writing group. A friend posted the opening sentence to his blog feed with a link to a music article. The music article linked to a Wikipedia entry. I just loved the sentence so much I suggested it to the group. We all hated it as a fiction prompt because none of us write/have yet written science fiction to speak of. That said, I feel that what I came up with may lend itself to a future longer piece…

TTD“It’s time for you to re-familiarize yourself with the suppressed decade known as 19A0 and the Phantom Time Hypothesis.”

Keren didn’t precisely hate her Fundamentals of Time Travel course. The whole first week had felt like a rehash of what they already knew. The entrance exams assumed knowledge of the hypotheses already. It was more that the entire degree program required her to learn a lot of theory that had nothing to do with building time machines. All she’d ever wanted to do was design and build Time Travel Devices since she could distinguish past from future. All her aspirations hung on the degree and all its theory. Legally, however, practice had to wait.

“When Wozniak patented the crashless engine in 1985…” The professor whose name Keren couldn’t manage to remember sensed confusion and stopped a moment. “1985 Original,” he continued, “what we’re now calling 19A5 to specify the fifth year of the first of the sealed decades. When Wozniak patented the crashless engine, he threw several industries into a panic. It wasn’t long before the people were baying for a crashless economy.”

“But sir,” a classmate piped up, “that was 234 years (objective) ago. We’ve only had crashless engines for sixty years.”

“Sixty-three, son. And this is why we talk of various time hypotheses. Who can name the seven time hypotheses?”

Keren already understood the basics of the seven theories on which most time travel scientists depended, and started talking before the professor pointed at her raised her hand. “Pseudo-Real, Real, Imaginary, Actual, Phantom, Uncertain, and Stratified, sir.”

“And under which hypothesis do we discuss a 234 year old crashless engine, young lady?”

“Keren Moss, sir. Under both Stratified and Actual. The sealed periods fall under Real, Pseudo-real and Phantom.”

“Good. But impertinent. Surely they’ve taught you to wait until called upon to speak.”

 * * *

 As the lecture hall emptied, Keren started chatting with a young man who was walking alone from building. “We already know the names of the hypotheses and the underpinnings of each one. In mnemonic order and in orders of importance. But at a certain point…”

“I know,” the boy replied, “All the hypotheses run together – the equations all look the same. I’m Shan. What’s your name?”

“I’m Keren. It’s not that bad. Show me one equation and I can usually tell you what hypo it goes with. But, come on, Strat and Actual are the only ones that really matter in practical TTD construction. Why do we have to get into it with all the others?”

“That may be so, but all the big firms want you to show you can analyse the lot within an inch of their propositions.”

That was Keren’s problem: All the program’s studies pointed to the dreaded Seven-Level Exam. They’d heard horror stories. The admissions packet even contained an FAQ to address these.

Do we really have to take the exam naked?”

No. Should you be invited to take the Seven-Level Exam at the end of your studies, you will arrive at the testing centre on the appointed day, at which point you will change from your street clothes into an examining jump-suit. All supplies you need to take the exam (pencils, pencil sharpener, and paper) are provided in the testing room.”

The student then had to prove each of the hypotheses to the extent known with no recourse to any calculating equipment. Full credit on at least five and nothing less than partial credit on the other two, or you could kiss goodbye any dreams you might have entertained of TTD design. Any time travel you wanted to do at that point, you had to pay for.

The mechanicals firms would look at your CV if you earned full credit on the right three. Less than that and you might as well resign yourself to being a retail time machine grease monkey. Passing the program’s entrance exam got you that far, though.

“Shan, I’ve been building limited TTDs since I was six years old. I outgrew the 12/100 law when I was 8. All I’ve wanted for thirteen years is to program and build the reals ones. For the love of Ford, I have more practical knowledge wasting out of my fingertips than 80% of the kids in that lecture hall combined.”

“You’re way ahead of me, Keren, and my mom’s a programmer for Muscis Temporis. If I’d been able to transport a hundred grams of anything twelve seconds into the future, much less twelve minutes, my family would have jumped for joy. The machines I was able to build, back when they let me, had to have fire-proofing. If I don’t make it through the exams, they might as well pack me off to Middle Ages. And mom probably will.

“Wait a minute, Shan. Your mom’s a Time Fly? She must have been top of her class. Which school did she go to? What year?”

The founders of Muscis Temporis thought they were very clever naming their firm with the Latin for Flies of Time. The puns got worse from there, though. Entry-level programmers were even called Maggots. At least it made sense once the promotions came around to be able to say you’d earned your wings. The hiring agents at Muscis Temporis, however, required a full Seven. No partial credit. This is one of the ways they became the premier manufacturer of Time Travel Devices – most students aspired to being Time Flies, no matter what their actual proficiency.

“Oh great,” Shan groaned. “Another fan-girl.”

“I’m sorry, Shan. It must be hard on you.” She wanted to be sympathetic, but couldn’t help continuing, “That said, I’d donate major organs to be a Time Fly.”

“Keren, my parents would donate my organs for me to be a Time Fly. I’ll be happy to get out of the program alive. Heck, I’d be happy flipping burgers for Genghis Khan. TTD design is my mom’s dream, not mine”

“Wow, I’m really sorry to hear that. If you don’t mind my asking, did they pull strings to get you into the program? Don’t answer if you don’t want to.”

“No, that’s okay, Keren. I figure we’ll be in this together for a while. You may as well know where I’m coming from. They did not pull strings, but I took an extra year off after finishing my undergrad. My parents got me private tutors and all I did was TTD maths and TTD history for the year leading up to the entrance exams. I lived and breathed TTD for that entire time.” He stopped as though stung by the memory.

“I walked out of it knowing I’d passed. Well enough to get in here? That I don’t know.”

Keren understood that too. She didn’t receive a test result, per se, but a list of schools that would accept her based on the exam results. Westmore was listed in green at the top of her list, meaning the school she was now attending would take her with an application. Blue, black, yellow, and red followed based on likelihood of acceptance. “What colour was Westmore on your results card?”

“Black. They weren’t going to offer me a scholarship, but they were happy to take me on as a full paying customer. And mom didn’t’ blink when it was time to write the first check.”

The two students had walked the length of the small campus from the lecture buildings to the residences. Outside the dining hall they stopped in front of the menu board. The sun was setting and Shan offered, “Given that the folks are covering tuition and expenses, can I buy you a tray of, um.” He waved at the list, “Um, some of that stuff?”