The T-Shirt from the Future: A Short Short Story

Time travel cube

Someone nudged my shoulder, stirring me from deep sleep. “Wake up, grandpa,” said an unfamiliar voice. Grandpa? Who’s that? I opened my eyes to see a young woman, dressed in black, looking back at me. Her face was brown, and her eyes looked like deep pools of water.

She smiled. Nothing in twenty-plus years of teaching could have prepared me for this, I thought. I looked around, trying to find my cell phone, without success. Nothing here was like anything I’d seen before. Small lights, like fireflies, circled us in the darkness.

“I know it’s confusing to be called ‘grandpa,'” she said, answering a question I had not yet had the chance to ask. “This is, well, complicated.” Her voice sounded excited, even though she was speaking softly. She reminded me of teachers new to the profession, positively bursting with new ideas, and looking forward, enthusiastically, to the new school year ahead. 

“It would have to be complicated,” I mumbled. Sleep was fading as I rubbed my eyes, trying to see where I was. A light came on, but it was unclear where the lightbulbs were. We were alone, inside a blue and white cube. The cube slowly moved, but its direction kept changing. “What am I doing here? Where’s my wife? Where am I, and who are you?”

“So many questions! I expected that, though. I will explain what I can.”

“That’s good, because . . . .”

“Please don’t interrupt,” she said. I stopped talking, but did not stop thinking. It appeared to be time to listen, not talk. “Thank you,” my alleged granddaughter continued. “In order, here are the answers to your questions. First, you are here for an important conversation. Second, your wife is peacefully sleeping. Third and fourth, you’re in my time-travel cube, and my name is Xiahong Al-Nasr. Technically, you’re my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, but . . . .” I raised my hand to ask a question, as if I were in class myself. She shook her head, and continued, “. . . I’ve always thought of you as, simply, ‘grandpa.’ It’s a time-saver. May I continue explaining why we are here, or can your question wait?”

I thought fast. What should I say next? There was only one logical response. “I’ll listen,” I replied, and put my hand back down.

“You’re about to go back to school,” she said, “and you’re the teacher. It’s important that you understand why you are doing what you do, this year, above all others.” This reminded me of advice I’d heard before, but this time I was listening as if I were hearing for the first time.

This woman’s name, Xiaohong Al-Nasr, combined a Chinese given name with an Arabic surname. I hoped she would explain how that had happened.

“You’re wondering about my name,” she said. I swallowed, and nodded. My mouth was too dry to speak. “I’m from the 23rd Century,” she continued. “Nearly everyone where I work and learn, including me, has DNA from every continent on Earth. I’ve also got a little from off-world colonies, but I’m 100% human, just as you are. I was given my name by all of my parents.” She paused. Her gaze was locked to my own. “I’ve been authorized to tell you that much, but I have to be careful about revealing more, to prevent altering the timestream. Do you believe me?”

“If you know anything about me, you know that I teach science, as well as other subjects.” It was a relief to finally have my turn to speak. My alleged descendant, Xiaohong, was listening to me now. Finally! “You’ve either studied me, somehow, or you’re reading my mind, or it’s something else even more complicated, but you seem to know what I know. You must know, then, that scientists are trained to be skeptical. Everything has to have evidence to support it. In science, there is no higher authority than experiment.”

“I understand that, grandpa. We knew you would need evidence, so I do have a gift for you. It’s a t-shirt. You like t-shirts, after all.” Xiaohong smiled, and removed a small capsule from her pocket, no larger than a quarter. She opened it, and — somehow — pulled a full-size t-shirt from that impossibly small place.

t-shirt

I took the t-shirt from my descendant. Touching it was, well, real! I turned it over. It said “Go Bears!” on the back. Even if I believed her, though, I knew I would need more than just a t-shirt to convince anyone else. After all, time travel to the past was considered impossible by every scientist I had studied. Quickly, I did the arithmetic, using the year on the shirt. “That’s the year I would turn 300 years old, if I could live that long!” I was now catching Xiaohong’s excitement. “Clearly, Arthur C. Clarke’s Three Laws apply here, as does the Sagan Standard, Feynman’s First Principle, the grandfather paradox, and — and — and — the entire scientific method!”

“You’re absolutely correct, and it will be important for your students to understand all those things as well.” She was right; these are all things I talked about in science class, every year. This year, though, I can try to explain them differently, or perhaps have my students research them, and then have the students explain them to my class. Correction: my classes. My students. All of them.

Something fell into place in my mind at that moment, and I finally understood what was going on. It wasn’t my own accomplishments that had brought my descendant back in time to visit me, but the unknown creations of a student of mine — from the school year about to begin. Xiaohong smiled.

“You’ve figured it out, haven’t you?” She was asking a question, and, this time, I had the answer.

“Yes. You came back through time to refocus my attention to my own true purpose in the classroom. My job is to help my students learn to do great things. It’s not about me. It’s about them!” Xiaohong’s smile grew larger. I continued. “This school year is critical. This is true of all school years, in fact. Each year is both important, and urgent. In every school, and for every student, we must always do our best to learn — together.”

Xiaohong extended her hand, and received a firm handshake from me. “Now that you know the truth, grandpa, our work here is finished. You’ll wake up in the morning, in bed with your sleeping wife, and after that, you’ll find your t-shirt, in the dryer, at home. I have to go, though; I’m needed back in the 23rd Century. After all, I have my own classes to teach, quite soon, at our Time Travel Academy, where I got your t-shirt. Goodbye, and have a great school year! I know I will, as I continue my training to become a teacher myself.”

“I will do that,” I replied. “Thank you so much! As for this evidence you’ve given me, I know how I’ll handle that. I will let the students evaluate it, with help from me, on an ‘as needed’ basis.”

“Exactly,” Xiaohong said, and then she spoke to the ceiling of her time travel cube. “Send us both back to where we were — now.” A humming sound started, then became louder. The lights began to dim. After a few minutes, everything faded to darkness, and silence, once more.

When I awoke, home again, I checked the dryer, and found it — my t-shirt from the future — waiting for me. This school year will be amazing!

An Absurd “Explanation” for Creativity in Humans (a short short story)

orbiting-dual-planet

[Note: I’m currently taking a class focusing on creativity, and this was first written as an assignment for that class.]

The reason some people are creative, while others are not, is simple: we’re hybrids of pure human DNA, plus that of extraterrestrials of two types, who visited earth and interbred with the natives between 60,000 and 50,000 years ago. The first type of alien came from a planet called Itaumiped, and their hybrid descendants inherited the creative abilities of the Itaumipedeans. The other type, for similar reasons, carries DNA from the inhabitants of the nearby world Almausoped — and those from Almausoped tend be be rather bright, but also very imitatitve. For example, the creation of the comic book character Spider-Man was clearly the work of an Itaumipedean/human hybrid, but the work of grinding out numerous Spider-Man derivatives in comic books (The Scarlet Spider, Spider-Girl, That Spider-Man from an alternate universe with six arms, Spider-Gwen, Spider-Woman, Spider-Ham, etc.) was performed by imitative Almausopedean/human hybrids.

Evidence for the creativity of the residents of Itaumiped comes from the name of the planet itself: a rather clever anagram of the letters in the sentence “I made it up.” Evidence that those from Almausoped are imitative, rather than creative, may be found in the fact that their planet’s name is an anagram for “Also made up,” something clearly borrowed, then slightly altered, from Itaumiped and its creative residents. This raises another question, though: how could the names of planets given to them by ancient civilizations come from anagrams of modern English sentences?

The search for evidence is now ongoing for the obvious explanation: what really happened clearly involved not just space travel, but time travel as well.

 

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[Note: This double planet/polyhedra image of Itaumiped and Almausoped first appeared here, and was created using Stella 4d, software you can try for free at this website.]

Bicycles Don’t Need Telepathy: A Short Short Story

bicycle

Since I hate being told what to do, and people kept telling me I had to learn to drive, and get a driver’s license, and so on, I refused, getting around by foot or bicycle, instead . . . or even hitchhiking . . . until age 20. It wasn’t unusual, therefore, as a teenager, for me to bounce out of the house, ready to jump on my blue ten-speed, and take off for my high-school weekend-job. What was unusual was to find, in mid-bounce, a different ten-speed, this one red, just where I had left my blue ten-speed the night before.

“What the #@&%? Did someone sneak into the carport and PAINT my bicycle?”

No, fool. I’m your bike now. Your old bike’s gone, man.

Clearly, it seemed, some all-too-human prankster was at work. I circled the house. I looked on the roof. I checked the storage building, and under the house. I found no one. Apparently, what seemed to be a bicycle talking to me was, well, exactly that.

You’re gonna be late for work, dummy. I told you, your bike got stolen — by my old, ungrateful human. He left me here. Let’s go!

“Why?”

Because you’re going to be late, dumb&%#! Are you trying to get fired?

Annoyed that this replacement-bicycle had a point, I jumped on the seat and took off, dodging the numerous potholes which have been considered as unofficial Arkansas State Monuments, and which I got to see more clearly than all those (ugh) car drivers out there.

Hey, jerk, my best friend is a car!

“A telepathic bicycle? You’re actually reading my mind? Someone had access to a telepathic bicycle, and abandoned that kind of power for my crappy old ten-speed? You’ve gotta be kidding!”

We were passing a female jogger at that moment. My mind was on keeping control of the bicycle, in order to stay out of traffic, while carefully not hitting her. My new “telebike,” however, had a different agenda, and “mind-shouted” at the jogger — with me able to hear it.

Hey! WOO! Great #@#! When I come back, ya wanna get together and $#@%#& the old %$#%@ &*%$#@$?

The understandably-irate jogger thought that was me, not the bike, threw an ink pen at me, and hit me in the head. “Drop dead, &%$#$#@!”

Clearly, having a telepathic bicycle just wasn’t worth the trouble involved.

After a turn (to get out of direct view of the offended jogger), I knew this street would go over a short bridge over a very deep drainage ditch, not far from here — one lined with large boulders, placed there by the city. By the time I got there, I was heading for the drainage ditch at top speed, and jumped off into some soft grass just before this crazy red ten-speed went airborne, screaming in my mind until crunching into the boulders at the bottom of the ditch, at which point “psycho-bike” fell silent. I, however, had a bit more to say, so I dusted myself off, and walked to the short bridge.

Looking over, into the drainage ditch, I surveyed the bicycle-wreckage, and said, “I’m gonna be out $100 or so to replace my old bike with another bike that doesn’t talk, and I’ll be late for work today, too . . . but at least I’ve gotten rid of my primary problem today, and that’s YOU!”

With that said, I walked to work. I was late, but did not get fired, and I never saw either the red, nor the blue, bicycle again.

###

[Note: the central event here — a bike being stolen, and replaced by the thief with another one — actually happened to me. So is the fact, and the reasons given, that I did not start driving until age twenty. Most of the rest of this is pure fiction. This was written as an assignment for a class I am taking which focuses on creativity, with the writing prompt being to “carry on a conversation with [my] childhood bicycle,” and I decided to post it here, as well.]

Initial Transmission After Arrival, from the First Automated Spacecraft from the Pluto/Charon System, “Wizonn Shore,” to Visit the Mysterious Planet Earth, Surrounded by Its Atmosphere of High-Pressure Nitrogen (and Toxic Oxygen) High-Temperature Vapors

[Source: This is the lead story in the most recent issue of The Charon Space Central Daily, published electronically every 6th or 7th Earth day, since Pluto’s day lasts almost as long as our week. I simply translated it into English, after I intercepted the transmission, so that at least some other humans can read it.]

Earth is the most massive of the inner rocky planets, with the mass of 459 plutos, according to the most accurate measurements relayed so far by Wizonn Shore, in recent days, on the robotic spacecraft’s approach to the giant rocky world. Earth’s radius, 5.5 times that of Pluto, gives it a volume of about 160 plutos, so it is almost three times as dense as either of our homeworlds. Its surface area, as the largest rocky body in the solar system, is almost 23 times greater than that of Pluto and Charon combined. However, as this chart shows, much of Earth’s surface is covered with deadly oceans, utterly useless for any form of life as it evolved in the Pluto / Charon system. These enormous accumulations of liquid dihydrogen monoxide are the largest yet discovered anywhere, so incredibly hot (averaging ~300 kelvins) that, at Earth’s high atmospheric pressure, that compound exists as a freely-flowing, highly-reactive liquid covering over 70% of earth’s surface, except for rare areas where it is frozen, mostly near the poles and/or at the top of Earth’s taller mountains. Unfortunately, 300 kelvins is about seven times what natives of Pluto, Charon, or our colonies are used to, in terms of temperatures above absolute zero, so Earth is believed by most scientists to hold no potential for colonization.

It was this high temperature that prevented exploration of the inner solar system’s rocky planets — until recent developments in high-temperature adaptive technology made it possible for us to begin our exploration of the inner solar system, breaking the previously-inviolable heat-barrier at the asteroid belt, and sending our now more heat-resistant spacecraft into the previously “forbidden” region — first, Mars, which has been studied already with two separate mission; and now, finally, Earth. The exploration of Venus and Mercury by robot craft, however, at least for now, awaits further improvements in heat-resistant materials science.

 

The first surface-reconnaissance rover, similar to those used on Mars, was sent to a place with relatively low large-alien population density, as estimated by artificial light-output from different parts of the land surface, during Earth’s night. However, of course, its landing position had to be somewhere in the 29.2% of Earth’s surface not covered with oceans — for a rover landing in liquid dihydrogen monoxide would instantly be destroyed, as it sank to ever-more-crushing pressures in a hot liquid often called, on decoded Earth voice-transmissions, “water.” On both Pluto and Charon, in all laboratory experiments, this dangerous “water” has quickly rendered inert any electronic components — of anything — to which it is exposed. (Indeed, this, as well as the numerous deaths which resulted, was the reason that such “water” experiments have largely been abandoned, except by Earth-colonization advocates who have, a few admit, no good answers to the questions about Earth already being inhabited, nor how to deal with the toxic oxygen gas making up nearly one-fifth of Earth’s atmosphere.)

Despite the care given to choosing a landing-spot, this was still the first and only image sent before our spacecraft’s first rover was unexpectedly deactivated, for unknown reasons. These reasons are suspected to be related to the strange, pink alien creature dominating the image, although that is, at this point, speculation.

With data transmissions from the first landing probe ceased, Pluto/Charon’s automated spacecraft Wizonn Shore, launched from Charon eight years ago, continues to take pictures, from Earth-orbit, as fast as it can, while waiting on instructions from Charon Space Central regarding when to risk launching a second landing rover. Transmission of the images taken from orbit is a secondary priority to actually taking the pictures, as is happening now, so our news services do not yet have images of Earth of any higher resolutions than those already sent as Wizonn Shore approached Earth over the last few weeks.

While there has been some speculation in the press that the alien pictured in the one image sent from Earth might be the dominant species on Earth, that is not supported by visual transmissions decoded in the radio part of the electromagnetic spectrum, most of which depict the activity of a relatively hairless biped which compensates for its nudity, for reasons unknown, by covering itself with “clothes,” the buying and selling of which is, judging from the transmissions we have decoded so far, a major activity for Earth’s bipedal inhabitants.

It is these mysterious bipeds, and their activity as observed by our own devices, which all of Pluto, Charon, and our colonies on the outer moons are waiting to see images of, as taken by Wizonn Shore. Will it match what they beam out in all directions, using radio waves, with what seems to be careless abandon — or will the “as seen on TV” version of Earth prove to be an elaborate deception, on the part of Earth’s inhabitants?

Of course, the computers processing these images do not care about our collective frustration, and so we continue to wait. Might “clothes” be adopted only at a certain age by Earth’s dominant bipeds? Might that single, naked, pink-skinned alien, photographed by our short-lived landing-rover, simply be an immature form of the same species? At this time, those questions, and more, remain open.

A Short Short Story, Set In an Alternate Universe

QE2 and Patrick Stewart

Having run out of appeals, the famous actor bravely stood ready, as Queen Elizabeth II readied her ceremonial sword. Suddenly, a high-pitched voice from the gallery cried out, “Please, Your Majesty! Your Highness, please — anyone but Patrick Stewart! Spare him, and I will die in his place!”

Her heart moved by this young fan’s simple plea, the Queen slowly put down her sword. She carried out no executions that day, to the relief of millions of fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation, from all around the world. However, for the rest of his life, anyone who wanted to see Patrick Stewart had to visit the Tower of London to do so, during the limited hours of visitation permitted for guests of the prisoners there.

[Image credit:  see this website.]

Drug Cravings for Breakfast

I woke up and checked the time:  just after 3 am. Strangely, I didn’t remember falling asleep at all.

Breakfast being “the most important meal of the day,” I headed for the can where I keep my stash, intending to prepare a fix. An unpleasant surprise awaited me — I thought I had a lot, but had to face facts: for whatever reason, only trace amounts remained. Not enough, by any means. Just a tiny bit — hopefully at least enough to trigger the placebo effect.

Some being better than none, I got out all the necessary equipment, did what needed to be done, and, soon, a little became none at all. Also, I felt better. It had worked.

I felt so good, in fact, that I fell back asleep for a couple of hours.

In my dreams, I was working — pretty much the last thing anyone wants to dream about on a weekend. Worse things awaited, though.

Upon waking again, the withdrawal effects hit me full-force. The nausea. The light-sensitivity. The stabbing headache. The room spinning, so that I could hardly walk. The November chill, amplified by my cravings, making even slight movements painful. Worst of all, I realized right away that, unlike before, there was nothing in the whole damn house that could help me.

How in the hell could I have let myself RUN OUT?

After several hours of agony, I finally summoned the courage — no, that’s not the right word — the foolishness — to do something about this problem, by making a short drive down the street.

It being Sunday morning, traffic was light, which was a good thing. The sun’s glare, the noise, the smells, and the headache, combined, all made the simple act of driving a few blocks to the local dealer anything but simple.

Once there, I didn’t have to wait long, which is most unusual in such situations. I bought a lot, having just been paid, and not wanting this to happen again for a very long time.

Just having my favorite drug with me made me feel better on the way home, even though I hadn’t had any yet. Once home, of course, I went straight for a full dose.

That first full cup of coffee is now gone, as are all my caffeine withdrawal symptoms. I think I’ll have another cup now, and post this, along with a couple of questions:  why do most people not consider caffeine a drug? Is it simply because they don’t want to think of themselves as drug addicts?