How many of you had wished to rewind time, to step back from your current life into the shadowed past,
To return to peace and calm of youth, to meet your curiosity again and make it at least a year longer last?
I had gone to sleep, once again, though I had felt no wish to sleep at all;
I had long ago stopped dreaming, only into the vast murky blackness fall,
Or else I was forgetting meaning, as boredom of present had taken its toll.
I was excited, however, during the last days. While the first gift I had from afar received had felt like burning smile of Sun at its peak, radiantly reflected in droplets of water at the salty wave's break, as dolphins leaped around, playing hide-and-seek, the second one was a long shadow - a beautiful one, softly dark grey, reflected in deep waters of black serene lake - a long velvety shade preceding the darkness of starless night, of winter when the lifeless desert is covered by coat white of deep cold snow untouched by wind, where no traveller would dare to sing for fear of freezing such an attempt would bring. It was undoubtedly welcomed by me with open arms, but still, of stars I would prefer to see the light, however cold its rays are, and however much they sting my skin, and with wind I would like to meet face to face, even as snowflakes risen by its dance cut my cheeks by sharp ice crystals. The silence of dead calm is unnerving, as if a deadly storm or a severe earthquake is approaching, with its early shock waves strong enough to fell residential buildings as if they were merely hastily raised shacks, cellular towers as if they were mobile and thin radio masts, disrupt electricity lines and start local small fires in the dead and dry yellow withered grass, lay the trees across the automobile roads as if they were broken branches, and break - like a straw - bridge across the convoluted lake as serpentine train, with glistening in the sun silvery metal scales, falls into a cruising yacht's wake as people struggle to survive, and have to choose what to forsake - themselves, their aspirations and longings, their friends, or their dear irreparable belongings.
I would prefer to fight the storm,
In its either sandy or snowy form,
With my bare hands and squinted eyes,
Even as my heart is turned into stony ice
And under pressure of the quake falls aparts,
Into sharp and self-destructive rock crystals,
- as a salty lonely tear - fragile quartz shards.
Nevertheless, I could not help them. I came onto the playing field late, and I had not the resources to revolutionize the game by introducing my own rules. It's not like I could design a gift entirely from scratch, or solder a prototype of it together by my own hands. Who would support me, who would protect my back against the hooks of lawyers as I clumsily glued the pieces together? Who would show me the safe path through the shark-infested lagoon of putting a dream into reality, of advertising my vision of this facet of life to masses? Would would drug me forward, and attract my attention when I would be distracted in invention classes? Who would not mock me should I voice my wish to torment my eyes with backwards, vision-correcting glasses? The ocular specialists had offered only two options: surgery, with implant to force my eyeball into a different, not-as-elongated shape; or laser surgery, which would have required regular, patient investment of time which I could not give.
Still, I wished I could have come with my knowledge into the past, more prepared to face the torrent of time, to avert at least some rivulets from their direction to the cliff, to the deadly dangerous waterfall. I could not force the major streams to change their course; they would, nevertheless, find their own way, too large to be dispersed into mist by the obstacles which could collide with them. I wished I could save the smaller ones from obscurity, by offering them those of my ideas which would capitalize on their existing advantages over opponents. I wished I could find unused niches, and avoid the turfs where bitter fighting for fame and trust of others was breaking out, every now and then. But it would not be possible now, when the world is plunging into crisis, akin to underground train falling into a bottomless crack opened by an earthquake. My past streak of luck would likely continue: in no game I played, I had not ever been sure in victory, or held the cards.
I went to sleep on 10th of January, 2013. Demurely, I remembered that tomorrow would be the day which, not so long ago, was associated with the end of current time, and a start of new one. But it was recalculated, wasn't it? The excitement of 21 of December has come and gone, and despite expectations of a disaster, there was not one. And tomorrow will likely be yet one more completely mundane day of becoming entangled in the shades. Boring... But it's not like I wish to end up doing something troublesome, is it? Because it will likely be pointless, given current helplessness of this world. Or is it my depression speaking?.. As I was going through these thoughts, my ruminations were slowly distorted by black mist of sleepiness enveloping it into soft blanket - of timeless, spaceless abyss where I could have probably gone into any dream I wished, had I not been so apathetic, had I not exhausted myself by daydreaming during prior hours.
I wake up. I have not yet opened my eyes, yet I already know something is different... Something was definitely, strikingly different. The sounds, the smells, even the lighting felt on my skin are different - familiar, like a haunting dream, feeling like home, yet different, unexpected, as if I am still in a dream. And... I am standing, instead of being in my bed - or in my armchair where I am prone to dose when I am too restless to go to bed on time. Yet, my legs are fortunately not tired - it could have been painful had I truly spent whole night leaning against a wall. Yet, it doesn't answer my question - what is going on? I open my eyes, or try to. The eyelids don't move - there is no pain associated with a glue holding them together, only stretching skin as if the eyelids were never meant to open. I try to walk - I can walk only around one point, and not even a whole circle but about a half of it. I slightly panic, but attempt to reason. My steps coincide with creaks of unlubricated door hinges. Stop...
If my actions are intimately connected with door's movements, then can I get the door to do something else, besides rotating? Theoretically, each door has a handle, to open and close it, or even a lock connected to the handle... I experimentally rotate my wrist - yes, the clicks of a lock are heard. But since the door doesn't have an eyelet, I cannot see anything - and sight is the most important sense for a human. Unless the door itself is a special one, there must be an option to move from one door to another; but how can it be done, if I cannot separate myself from the door hinges?.. Maybe, pushing myself into the door hinges would work, and walls would work as roads from one door to another? No. It was worth a try, but evidently, walls are too immobile to work this way. Maybe, if there was an endless string of connected doors, I could walk-jump from one door to another?.. But it's not like there would be anything like that built anywhere - and I need something here and now.
What can touch a door and be moving?.. A human, of course. Now I have to wait for one to touch the door. But what would the ramifications be if I could actially attach myself to a human? I would look out of his eyes, I may be able to control his movements but the reaction to such an experiment would be unpredictable and potentially dangerous. I would probably be able to attach myself to a door, again - hopefully, this time with an eyelet, so that I would be able to observe the place I am in. Unless there are rules that I would become permanently attached to the first human I touch - which would be a cruel and unusual punishment. Or that door-human transfer is one-way only, and then I will be looking for an amiable, quiet host to spend most of my time with - troublesome. Unless I can keep myself attached to doors, most of the time, there will be ethical complications of possession and stalking to consider.
Also, would I have right to force a person's movements if I see him about to be hurt, or, even worse, about to hurt another? Yes, I think I would have that right - as long as I do not invade his privacy any more than a passer-by or a room-mate would have done.
I hear words. Voices. Strikingly, they are familiar: voices of my family... only younger voices, more carefree, less stressed. And one of them is - was - mine. So, since I have no wish to shock them, and such ...inexplicable... event could predictably lead them to insanity, I am content to remain a silent observer, relaxed, absorbing the joyful sights once more. And I speak not merely of my own family, but of the place where we have lived for several years - their words, geometry of the rooms, their dynamics, everything so far confirms my guess. If only my sight was not taken... Finally! As my younger double opens the door, I latch onto her. As my eyes are finally open, I hungrily absorb the small details of half-forgotten rooms. I pay no attention to where I go, I do not mind my step at all; fortunately, she does, and my frantic eye movements to not impede her ability to notice obstacles in her way. She moves around, gathering breakfast onto her plate.
Within my mind, I hold my breath, as she goes through daily ritual of brewing adlay tea in a paper cup. I haven't tasted it for a long time. It's not your usual kind of tea, such as black tea, green tea, Ceylon tea, Jasmine tea; it's a thick sweet drink, with nuts - walnuts, maybe almond - and green pumpkin seeds; part of the mixture is powdered and mixed with sugar, and the other part, such as pine nuts, is floating whole or cut into small pieces. On occasions, warm - almost hot - milk can be used as the base liquid, instead of water. It's not to be drunk cold; sweet thick drinks rarely are. But be careful to not scald your tongue; it's not a quickly-wake-up-or-else drink, like black burnt coffee - it's a delicious warming-up sweet each swallow of which should be appreciated... especially since the paper cup is so small. [Sad glance] But I shall not allow myself to become addicted to it to the extent of allowing daily dosages grow - even if this addiction does not directly affect my health.
I allow myself to relax in the familiarity of the situation, to ignore the jarring edges of reality which remind me of the coming future. At the same time, I realise that I could attempt to change it, however I wished to; as long as nobody noticed me, I could try to change the future. Still, I should be wary of making too noticable changes; even though I have never heard of anything similar to myself, not even in fairy tales, a sharp mind would be able to deduce my existence from the effects it has upon others. I should test my abilities by small, innocuous actions, and never choose the most obvious way of achieving a goal, or the most direct path. At the same time, I should take care to leave not too many traces behind myself; attempts to cover them up would only serve as red herrings, with my clumsiness, akin to large blot of new paint over a small discolouration of the ceiling. The smaller the traces are, the easier they are to disregard as something else, to be lost in the crowd.
Spending time in my double's body is tiresome. Not physically, but mentally - in order to avoid taking over control of her body, I have to relax my muscles and allow her take over control of my phantom body. That's why having an inanimate object, such as door, hosting me was easier - most of my movements didn't change outward appearance of the object, allowing me freedom of movement and outlet for my restlessness. On that note, what it would feel like to be inside a computer, if it is at all possible? I can try to find out; as I was absorbed in my own thoughts, I haven't noticed that she has moved and is now going to touch the keyboard. Theoretically, the keyboard should be a limb of the computer, should it not?.. Wrong! The keyboard has its own chip-brain inside it, and though it doesn't seem to do much, still so many keys itching to be pressed feel confusing - as if I possessed a centipede. Yes, there is about a hundred of keys on the keyboard. Dull. Where can I push-pull myself to escape this existence?
Yes, I can return to the human touching the keyboard. It's a relief, since I wouldn't wish to experience the petrification which would be liable to happen when the electricity supply is cut off. At the same time, surprisingly, I feel myself 'recharged' and not irritated by my stay within the electronic equipment - akin to the feeling of having eaten which I had experienced during the breakfast with my double. And in the hindsight, my movements as one with the door were exhausting - as if the door was sitting in the water instead of air, or made of lead in place of wood. It raises the question why my initial appearance was within a door and not another object. The simplest theory is that the door was the closest movable, at least somewhat animate, object to my double - the desktop within the room was turned off, and the floor, the walls, the ceiling and the dust are not at all suitable dwelling for a sentient ghost. I shudder to think of the consequences had I woken up within one of them: unable to see, unable to move, not option of interaction with the outside world - at most, one-sided listening to the people walking and speaking. Now, let's return to the original topic, and check whether I can enter the computer itself, which was my intention when the human touched the keyboard.
Success! And confusion. It's as if I have become hypersensitive - aware of every cell within my skin, and every hair growing from it, and wind touching it and flexing it, like a kitten's silvery whisker; information inundates my mind, and I have to filter it, to choose the purling rivulet within which I want to swim and read the chilly data. It's refreshing, exhilarating and overwhelming; it doesn't physically exhaust me - quite the opposite, actually - but it does tire my mind out, because I cannot close my eyes and ignore the information whirling around me. Though it is possible, with time, to be lulled into sleep by drip of rain drops, despite knowing of the possibility, the option to zoom in onto any of them, and observe within it many a life, a cell, a molecule, an atom, a universe. Nevertheless, the initial curiosity has to be satisfied, because it cannot be quenched, or, at least, it shouldn't; curiosity is the difference between life and death, between living being and stone, between art and drudgery.
I woke up in the morning of 11th of January, 2003. It wasn't that difficult to find out this date from the computer - nearly each and every program and routine within it needs to know the time, to follow it, to compare it with its own set goals and deadlines. It's not wristwatch on human's hand which can be forgotten or lost; for computer, time-keeping is akin to heart beating, as necessary part of it as blood running in a human's veins; once you are aware of it, you sense it everywhere, closely intertwined with every action, conscious or not, with every thought, about past, future, and what-not. So... Speaking of the timing... I arrived exactly ten years into the past, for an unknown reason. As far as I can tell right now, it is exactly the same universe, the only difference being time. There are no significant events taking place this day, or this year, for that matter - neither in my family nor in the outside world. Though, of course, the world ten years in the future was much more bleak.
I could seek out missions on my own. I have approximate memories of the future, and my abilities give an unprecedented opportunity for spying, infiltration, observation, and occasionally, action. But I should learn the extent and limits of my abilities through travelling and listening, before changing the possible outcome - I cannot risk misunderstanding something and replacing a depressing future with a disastrous one. But I cannot allow myself to let people die, either, when I can help them. But my memory of events from so far ago isn't ideal; I will have to jog it with the news; they cannot tell me the future, but they can remind me of impeding disaster. Let me see... I am opening a tab in background, with New York Times. It's going quite slow, not because of the Internet connection, but because I am used to much faster computers. Since I shoulder its burdens, I am able to stop images in this one tab from loading, and concentrate on reading text itself, and following the links.
Let me see... North Korea withdrawing from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty... Not, that's not it; North Korea hasn't harmed anybody, despite clanking with all the weapons developed within it. It may have ruffled Japan's feathers when a section of Korean rocket fell down into Japanese waters, it may have had random skirmishes with its self-righteous neighbour, but there is no easy way to resolve problems in this area of the world. I will have to check the news later, then. Right now, I need to rest my mind... Yawn... Relaxing in a door, preferably, with an eyelet, sounds excellent right now... I will test my ability to go from one computer to another through a computer network later. This ability will be invaluable when I will feel the need to intervene - and I know something will happen, there are too many people and computers in this world for it to have no disasters. I remember the destruction of Challenger all too well; but it has already happened, so I will not be able to prevent it.
Amusingly, the eyelet within the door has given me double vision, in more senses than one. First, by turning my head, I can make it so that my left eye observes the inside of the apartment, while my right eye looks out for travellers on the stair landing. However, to make it easier on my eyes, I prefer to keep both my eyes on the familiar apartment. Second, while the center of the image is what would be seen by a human through the eyelet, the ring around it overlays image of myself, standing as one with the door, onto the surroundings. I hadn't noticed it earlier, because my hosts had either no eyes, or perfectly human eyes - and I don't mean perfect human eyes, because my sight had never been perfect, even though it suits my lifestyle just fine. Being able to see myself is refreshing; otherwise, I would have lost memory of my own appearance, after not an eternity of such living, but merely two or three years of changing hosts and adapting to their senses.
The curious detail is that my ghostly attire includes nearly every object dear to me: from the knitted snake bracelet on my left hand, and wristwatch on my right hand, to my laptop, with its camera, and the many files I have amassed during my life. And no, before you ask, it has no Internet connection to my past - their possible future; it would suggest the possibility of me returning to ten years in the future, and so far there is no sign of this. But I suppose that it could be possible to connect my laptop to the network in the present... except, somebody may notice this, and I don't want to be noticed, not yet.
The next day was spent familiarizing myself with out local network, and learning how to follow a ping signal to its destination and back; otherwise, I would have had to choose the correct path on each router and hub I encounter on my way, and it would have made travelling much more difficult. As it is, I enjoyed the opportunity to visit Google servers, and have a look at the Silicone Valley through a human's eyes. Though I would imagine that this place is as changeful as the technologies developed by the boisterous minds gathered here, I cannot compare it with its future appearance, since I have not done much sight-seeing in the past, especially in this part of the world - I haven't had the reason to travel here before. Not that I have much reason to travel here now, mind you; but Google's IP address is '', and digit eight is shaped like infinity, the number of possibilities open to those wishing to explore them. I still remember this motto of Fujitsu... Maybe, this time they will not give it up.
I had woken up, again, within the vision-enabled door of my family's home. I don't know even whether I can call the apartment my home; it is home of my double, surely, but I have lived in at least half-a-dozen of different locations since then, during my 'future' life. Either way, it is currently the most comfortable dwelling for me, and not merely because of my family residing here - I hadn't made a habit out of possessing my double, preferring to observe from sidelines instead. It's mostly because of familiar, tightly knit community, which feels like a village, despite height of the buildings and abundance of automobiles. There is even a regularly visiting market, with foldable tents replacing the grey asphalt of parking spaces with variegated magic carpet - it is as if a dragon is landing here for the day, travelling to another place at night. Nevertheless, I feel uneasy, hoping to find a place where I would not feel so out of time, where I will not have to be reminded of the fact that their future is, or was, my past. However, I am not going to jump around, looking for a perfect spot to settle down; instead of such a pointless activity, I shall follow the path of stations where I can help people, in one way or another, until I gravitate to the node I will not be able to turn away from. Until I find the place, the people who feel like home, not its past, not shadow of home. But for now, I shall find the path, and follow it, through the serpentine curves, resembling the empty road which leads to the tundra-covered peak of a sea-surrounded mountain. I shall follow it, and for now, I open the newspaper site again.
What is this? One of the headlines reads "Security Tight for Space Shuttle and First Israeli Astronaut"... I have always been interested in spaceships, even though the most noticeable result of it was my watching of science fiction movies. Hmm... The name "Columbia" is familiar; but not from recently heard news. In the future, the space shuttle program was closed, and the last flight was that of of "Discovery", if I remember correctly. "Columbia"... Wasn't it the space shuttle which burst into flames just before the landing, because of the way its foam was ripped apart during the launch? They had to pause space shuttle program for several years to make sure it doesn't happen again. Then it's possible it happened exactly during this flight; I cannot risk their lives just because I am not sure whether it was this flight or the next one. I have to take any and all possible precautions to save them... even if it means risking my own life.
It's not like there is any way for me to escape a burning piece of metal amidst the space. Maybe, radiowaves, if the transmitter still works... But I would prefer to make sure they don't die, either, than be a witness to their death. And no, I am not going to stay on Earth during their flight; if there was any way to help them from the land surface, NASA would have done it, in my past. They weren't sure if the damage was life-threatening or not; but if there was a way to repair the damage, they wouldn't have taken the risk of leading people to their deaths.
However, despite my incompetence, I have one advantage over them: I anticipate the damage, therefore, I can stock up supplies before it happens. Besides, my unique condition gives me an advantage: I don't need spacesuit, air, food, or anything similar to function. I am the closest object to a repair robot which they can find, especially on such short notice.
So... I have to have several back-up plans. First, to attempt to prevent damage to foam in the first place... Almost undoable, given the violent nature of the launch, but still worth an attempt. Second, get tools onboard which would allow repairing the foam in flight. Not that difficult, but using them would require a lot of learning on my part. Third, get supplies to extinguish flames if-when they start to appear. Fourth, find a way to get humans back to Earth if shuttle fails, in one way or another. Surely, there must be some kind of capsule, designed specifically for this?
But to do all of this, I have to act fast. I have to get into their facility, identify and bring into the space shuttle all the supplies I may need. I have to find them, and go through all these preparations during these few days. Few? How few, exactly? The launch is scheduled on Thursday, that's... three days from now. Not nearly enough. I have to hurry. I have to find this place, but what connection do I have with them? The article was written by Warren E. Leary. Right. I don't know his contact information, but I can jump to the newspaper's servers, find out how he, or his colleague, sends articles to the mainframe, jump to his personal computer, find out how the contact with the place of launch was made, and jump to their computers, in turn. After several hours, I will infiltrate the facility through their own channels of communication; despite the encryption, the computers are aware of the information transmitted, because they need to present it in human-readable form.
My last thought before concentrating on the tracking fully was: I am fortunate I can travel with the speed of light, because for an ordinary human crossing the ocean would already have been time-consuming... and there is no time to lose in this race.