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Rated: E · Short Story · Contest Entry · #2229410
What a Character! Contest Entry August 2020
Robert stared at his reflection in the small porthole. His father’s visage stared back at him; from the untamed mop of red hair, to the freckles, and the startling blue eyes. The only thing that set them apart were the glasses, too many hours staring at data marching across computer screens has taken its toll.

A childhood memory of a walk with his father, a journey to the Garden of History, invaded his thoughts. Statues of historical figures strategically placed along the path with a plaque extolling their contributions to history. It was up to the individual to decide if that particular persons’ accomplishment was a feat of great honor or a folly of embarrassment that still managed to change history.

Men and women stared into the endless future. After awhile he stopped reading the plaques, it no longer mattered what they had accomplished, they were immortal. Carved from the loveliest marble, they stood watch until the end of time. He could see his grown up self among them; confident, dashing, forever young. That was the future he wanted.

For several years after that trip to the Garden the thought of having his own statue standing there for all to admire consumed him. Every night he prayed that he would be given the opportunity to change history, to accomplish a great feat so that his likeness would be forever glorified.

Even though he had eventually set aside that one desire it would appear it had somehow affected his subconscious. Because, now, so many years in the future, he stood on the precipice of making history. He would finally fulfill a child’s dream.

In a few short hours the ship he now stood on would be far enough from the home world to make the attempt, to fly through a portal of light. Using this portal would enable ships to make same day journeys to anywhere in the galaxy. Just open a portal, fly through, do your exploring or whatever, open another portal, and fly back. Simple. Expedient. Safe.

The light portal was Robert’s life’s work. He has spent his entire adult life in making it viable; working out the kinks, testing, fixing, testing some more. And now, finally, it was ready for a real trial. A ship, a crew, a portal, a destination – a real test.

“We interrupt this program to bring you an update on the science ship, Archimedes, and its crew. As you know Dr. Robert Williamson set out thirty years ago to prove a ship and her crew could travel safely through light, thus creating more efficient space travel. This station broadcast live the opening of the light portal and we all watched as the Archimedes disappeared into it. We then switched to live feed from the Jupiter space station where the Archimedes was supposed to reappear. It never materialized. Anywhere.

Until now. A few minutes ago a light portal opened near the Jupiter space station and the Archimedes came out of it and docked with the space station! And this, folks, is where it gets weird.

The crew thinks they have just left! They look exactly as they had thirty years ago! For the Archimedes and her crew time has stood still for thirty years to the day. Yes folks, that’s right, today is the anniversary of the disappearance of the Archimedes.

Thirty years ago, when no evidence to the contrary was found, all aboard the Archimedes were declared dead. Funerals were held, spouses remarried, children grew up, the world moved on.

Now, thirty years later, all of those families, the ones that are still alive anyway, will finally get some answers.”

Robert stared at his visage in the hotel window, his father stared back at him, admonishing. How could he not have known?

He would need his notes to be sure (they had assured him that all of them had been saved), but, if his memory served him correctly, it was the probes that he had been sending through the light portals that caused the confusion. He never changed the design of the probes, why bother, the probes were not important. However, and his notes would prove it one way or the other, it was thirty years before he managed to get one back. He thought he had finally succeeded, so many years of hard work paid off. When in reality it was the first probe he sent that returned thirty years later.

The irony – he had succeeded on his first attempt and didn’t even know it.

When the authorities returned in the morning he would ask them if they had been receiving a steady stream of old data probes over these past thirty years. Not that it mattered now.

He felt sorry for the crew of the Archimedes and his assistants, all their families and friends have moved on without them. Some have died. It was times like these he was relieved he had never found time to form meaningful relationships. His parents had both died prior to his fateful departure. At that time he had been sad that they would never see his success, now he was glad they had not lived to see his failure.

He had been told his image graced the Garden of History. It would seem his work had indeed changed history. Though no one ever attempted to use light for travel again, they did use it for other things; lasers, protective barriers, and light cannons. His work had been weaponized. The plaque would now have to be updated of course, to show that he had actually succeeded.

Of this future world he only had the one question – feat or folly?

Word Count = 942
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