The Chrononaut’s name was Tethis Lithi Arkwright and she wasn’t to be born for another thousand years.
She stood on the neat grass of Kelvingrove Park, beside the river Kelvin, in view of the University of Glasgow. Her figure began at two white boots with an artificial quality, like the fabric of a race driver’s overalls. White leggings, tucked into the boots, also had the same synthetic look. A black and a yellow stripe ran up the outer sides of the leggings, flowing seamlessly into a one-piece suit wrapped around a toned female torso. Slightly padded shoulders pronounced the shape and slender covered arms ended with sleek white gloves. The figure’s face was that of a beautiful woman in her early twenties, with flowing blonde hair and a pearl-white graft on her right temple.
She lifted her hand to tap on the graft with a fingertip. Sapphire blue eyes flickered, pupils darting to read holographic shapes focused millimetres in front of them. Her eyebrows turned to a frown; an expression that grew across her face like a stain spreading into a tablecloth.
‘He’s not here,’ she said, finally.
There was a tiny blip sound followed by a voice only she could hear, resonating in her ear implant.
~‘Obviously. We’ve just translocated several hundred kilometres from-’
‘Yes, yes, I know. I don’t mean here- I mean: I can’t pick up any likely traces,’ Tethis replied.
~‘Ah. Confirmed. Dammit, I told you that starting our search two hundred kilometres from the CZ was overkill.’
Tethis sighed with some resignation, still surveying her surroundings in a mechanical fashion. ‘You always have to be right, don’t you?’
~‘People don’t move that kind of distance so casually in this era, remember.’
She tapped her chin. ‘I know. But I’m positive this is where my readings pointed to. And now everything shows blank?’
‘Huh. How odd,’ Tethis looked around. ‘I think we’ll search the zone on an inward spiral. That would be the logical thing to do.’
~‘Mother, please return to the ship. The nice primitiva are staring at you again.’
Tethis glanced at an old man sitting on the bench a few metres to her right. He was indeed staring at her, quite possibly for some time. While Tethis was perhaps not the strangest thing to have made an appearance in Kelvingrove Park, she was clearly the oddest thing going on in his day just now.
She mentally sifted through her chronolocal knowledge and smiled back as warmly as she could. ‘It’s a Hands-Free!’ She called out, tapping the side of her head.
‘Shut up, you.’ She muttered back, walking away through the trees toward the ship. The old man watched her go.
‘What on earth is this?’ Ms Ulster held the paper in front of Aaron’s face. She was clearly frustrated beyond the point of restraint. It seemed she might even swear if pushed.
‘Um. A science report,’ he replied blankly. There were some giggles. The others seemed to think he was trying to be funny, but he wasn’t. It was a science report.
‘This…’ she clenched the paper with frustration. ‘This is not science, Aaron. This is what we call ‘fantasy’. Whimsical nonsense.’
Ah, thought Aaron. Because investigations are about stuff we already know. He didn’t voice his opinion; he’d learned the hard way about the pitfalls of speaking his mind.
The gaunt old science teacher glared at him for a moment. ‘We are not living in the times of Thales, you know. You have to have evidence. You can’t just say the centre of the Earth is a compressed ball of fairy dust and expect to win a Nobel Prize.’ She frowned suddenly, interrupting her own rant. ‘Did you read the homework sheet properly?’
‘Yes,’ Aaron replied. ‘To write an investigation that aims to find something out about the laws of physics.’ He recited.
‘Right,’ she said. ‘So you knew what you had to do. Now, why did you hand in this half-baked joke? You think you can get marks for taking the mickey out of the curriculum?’
But I was being serious! Aaron gave a frustrated sigh. He’d put a lot more thought into his report than she assumed, and probably more than many of the other students ever did. A quick glance away from the PlayMaster 5 and a moments’ pause from texting their mates before churning out an essay on a Newtonian Law.
His work had been unconventional, but it wasn’t off-topic. ‘Universal Sticktion Effect Theory’ he had called it. An essay on the way an object that is stationary conforms and is harder to move the longer it remains such. Conventionally, the theory ends pretty much with the tread of a boot on a wet surface, but he’d sort of gone on further from there.
‘I’ll grant you, it has a nice beginning, but the rest is just garbage,’ she continued. After introducing the concept, he had admittedly gone into speculating that all objects resist change, if they have remained unchanged for a time, as part of the universe’s natural structure, a kind of oppositional force to entropy. He may even have gone as far to say that history itself is resilient; that events don’t so much fork out but in fact meander, like a river taking the easiest route. It might have digressed somewhat, but it was still in an enquiring nature and he’d researched his speculations where possible. Which was almost never, admittedly. Still, she had specified it was to be on ‘something you find interesting’.
‘Suffice to say… I could grant no more than a low ‘D’, I’m afraid,’ she said; her manner more collected again. ‘Which is disappointing because you’re a bright student, Aaron. You just… well, you need to come back down to Planet Earth. Alright?’
Aaron made a faint nodding gesture of simultaneous gratitude and loathing, taking the paper back from her outstretched hand. He felt like an idiot. Ms Ulster never entertained anything that was even slightly controversial, and he knew that. Yet he’d still gone ahead with his idea and the result, he had to confess, didn’t surprise him at all.
The teacher turned and held the next paper to her eye, her disappointment melting back into a smile. She strode over to an expectant-looking girl on the other side of the room. ‘Ah, Hannah Richardson… yes, a wonderful ‘Second Newtonian Law’ investigation here. I especially like your use of the pink gel pens, it looks very neat…’
As her voice trailed to the other side of the room, Aaron’s friend leaned over. ‘Mate, what the hell did you write? You didn’t go into Nazi Precognitive Research again?’
‘No,’ Aaron hissed. ‘I’ve never written about that.’
‘-whatever it was.’ he added vaguely.
‘It was just stuff that came to me.’ Aaron said with a shrug, watching the teacher handing back the girls’ assignments cheerfully.
‘Why don’t you just do what you’re supposed to for a change, make life a little easier on yourself?’
Aaron looked up at the ceiling. ‘Wish I knew, Moley.’
David Burrows didn’t mind being called Moley; he’d grown to like it and almost no-one called him by his real name anymore. It was originally a pun on his surname, but the fact that there were three Davids in their class alone meant that a nickname was a handy thing to have. Besides, Moley’s social wits were sharper than a military pencil; he knew the best way to combat an insulting nickname was to steal it for himself.
‘I reckon you like the challenge in life or ’summat,’ Moley threw a sideways glance.
‘I don’t think-’ Aaron fell short of finishing his sentence as the teacher turned and moved to the next table. The general murmur in the classroom was acceptable, but he had a habit of being the last one to stop talking when the teacher wanted to carry on the lesson; which was always received with an irritated remark. He continued to keep an eye on her.
‘Anyway,’ Moley continued, ‘you done your History homework?’
Aaron frowned. ‘We had homework?’
Moley leant back a little on his chair. ‘Hey, no problem, mate. I’ll help you with it.’
‘Thanks man. I really didn’t realise there was any.’
‘Sure,’ his friend replied, in a subtle tone somewhere between sincerity and sarcasm.
‘What was it anyway?’
‘Dunno, can’t say I’m that interested.’ Moley said, objectively watching Jason Steeple carve a crude phallus into the table with the end of a mathematical compass.
‘You’re predicted to get an ‘A’ for it. How the hell can you do so well when you don’t even care?’ Aaron groaned.
‘I dunno. It’s just school, in’t it?’ Moley replied. He had an almost clinical way of just getting on with things, no matter how dull or difficult, so long as he could see something good coming out of it. It annoyed the hell out of Aaron; who had repeatedly cited this as evidence that Moley was in fact not human, but a hybrid alien from Sirius.
‘Well I kinda like history,’ Aaron admitted. ‘And I forgot about it.’
‘You forget everything,’ Moley grinned.
‘No- well… yeah but, okay, sometimes.’
‘You refuse to write anything down, so it’s not surprising.’
Aaron looked about distractedly. ‘I don’t like rigid stuff. Schedules… timetables… reminder notes. Makes me feel, uh oppressed I suppose.’
‘Christ, you’re a regular George Orwell, aren’t you?’
‘Well I don’t mean to be. It just doesn’t feel right doing things purely ‘cause that’s the way they’re done-’ Aaron stopped talking as he realised the teacher and most of the class were waiting for him to finish.
‘Thankyou for that comment, Mr. Sellafield.’
Aaron glared at the desk. Damn, always when I’m not looking.