Future Tense

The ship had traveled at 0.8 C as it crossed the cosmos in a large and lazy circle. Traveling at nearly the speed of light had slowed time for the pilot, a man selected for his lack of family and willingness to leave all he knew behind. When the ship at last returned to mother Earth, over a century had passed. But for the pilot, it was just a couple of long and tedious years. When he left he’d expected to see wonders outside the ship as he traveled. But space is just that, a lot of space, and the majority of time outside was merely a blackness punctuated by far distant pinpricks of light that were the stars.

He landed his ship at the coordinates where, at one time, the metropolis of New York had sprawled. A place that used to be called Central Park was chosen because it was thought that this would be a place where many could witness the arrival of the first real time traveler in human history. But as he took orbit and looked down at his home planet, he was not greeted with views of plains and mountains, rivers and towns. Instead it was all city. Perilously tall skyscrapers covered the entire north and south American continents, from pole to pole. In point of fact, he had to make six successive orbits to locate a spot large enough to land his vessel. He made a gently sloping approach, slowed and landed himself. He skipped his disembarking checklist and excitedly exited his craft, only to be immediately taken into custody on a charge of suspected malfeasance.

He was neither handcuffed or shackled though. In fact, he was treated so well that for a short while he wondered if some sort of prank was being played. But no, the comments and cracks made by the police as they escorted him made it clear that he was not being looked upon with any sort of honor at all. Yet they took him to a magnificent high-rise that jutted two thousand feet into the air and gave him an apartment of exquisite luxury. He had every possible convenience, there was an abundance of labor saving devices, many he’d never seen before. But they were each marked with little pictograms that were instructions and easy to understand. His kitchen was stocked with foods of all sorts, but he recognized no brands and for that matter wasn’t sure he recognized the package contents as food. But the items he tried were delicious, as was the stock of wines and spirits he’d been provided with. It was confusing to him, to be arrested and in trouble, yet treated with the celebrity he had expected his triumphant return should have brought. He went to the front door and opened it. A guard stepped in front of him and indicated he needed to go back inside. He did, knowing he was a prisoner.  At least, of sorts.

After making himself a meal and enjoying it immensely, he moved to the apartment’s balcony. Gusty winds whipped at his hair and clothing as he stood and peered at the city surrounding him. Closer inspection showed the city to be dark and sooty, with grime on every surface. Resting his hand on the railing, it came away gray. There were odors in the air, also foul and off-putting. It was the reek of population and industry wrongfully combined and it gave the very air an almost greasy texture he could feel and taste in his mouth. Peering down to the street, he realized that the streets seemed to undulate and move, but without pattern. Staring hard, he realied that he was looking down at masses of people that crowded the streets from building to building, covering nearly every square inch of unbuilt on space. His thoughts and wonderment were interrupted by the sound of a doorbell, which he realized was his. He opened the door to a medium sized woman with short cropped brown hair. She wore a pull over blouse, pull up skirt and pull on shoes. She was an entirely different sight than the hugely broad shouldered police in their black uniforms and riot gear, chrome helmets on their heads.

She said hello, her voice a bit tentative, and explained shortly that she was his state provided counsel. After staring a second he caught himself and invited her in. She moved with a kind of shuffling walk and took a place on a luxurious couch that threatened to swallow her whole. The pilot took a seat in an easy chair and the two sat there and looked at one another for a full minute of silence. She spoke first.

“You have been charged with IDref.”

“What?” he asked.

“IDref, that’s refusing to provide proper identification to the authorities. You’re also being charged with unlawful entry to the city, possession of an unlicensed vehicle and possession of materials which might be construed as able to be made a weapon. Much of that is nothing, it can be negotiated away, but I’m afraid that failure to give the Freedom Force your identification, an administrative crime, could bring you a terribly long sentence –that is, if they don’t decide to repatriate you back where you came from.”

“I came from here.” said the pilot. He looked as confused as he sounded. His lawyer regarded him with skepticism.

“Okay,” she sighed, “let’s hear your story.” It took him about thirty minutes to explain. She listened patiently until he finished and then told him he’d spun a pretty good tale, but temporary insanity only applied to corporations now. The courts had come to find that because corporations were made up of different people with different ideas, and that because corporations were people, all those different committee voices amounted to psychopathy so corporations couldn’t be held accountable for anything. No person could justly claim insanity because they had but one voice they listened to, their own. Even if the voices resulted from different personalities within, the voices always were those of the person. Ergo, an individual couldn’t be a psychopath. It took five hoursa of discussion before the lawyer began to wonder if maybe her client might be relating the truth.

After all, time travel was known not to exist. It was right in the history pages on the information terminal sitting atop a handsome desk in the corner. Time travel had been attempted in the previous century, with the former America sending out a ship to test the theories advanced by early scientists. The ship had departed and never been heard from again, so obviously the theory was invalid. The date of departure was May 12, 2012, which coincidentally happened to be the very day the pilot had blasted off amidst hopeful fanfare. A high school graduate, one of the fortunate few of the times, his lawyer finally figured out that she was sitting with a real live and breathing bit of history. Excited at the possibility of an entirely new defense to use in court, she took her leave and went off to work on his case. She left him seated at the terminal, reading up on what he’d missed during his long, dark voyage. According to the terminal, it was summertime: July 19, 2123. The pilot settled in and began asking the terminal question after question.

A lot had changed since he’d made his journey. He ranged his questions in a way that allowed him to hit the historical highlights starting from his departure date to the present. When he’d left, the world was in economic trouble, all nations suffering depressions that led to severe austerity. So tied to money was everything, that it took monetary experts to try to sort it out and conservatives the world over took power. They were unable to cure the economic woes with any rapidity, but they did manage to create Amendments to the Constitution that outlawed contraception, abortion, and divorce. An overburdening population had grown until food had become almost a scarcity. In response, the conservatives, who failed to fix the monetary problems were chucked out on their ears, leading to a liberal government that banned weapons of all types, abolished the death penalty and fostered thousands of programs to assist the impoverished, paying particular attention to health and welfare. This only managed to increase the population more. The result was that nations began to fall and starvation became even more widespread. The leaders of the world’s nations got together and devised a plan. People were relocated to make even greater sized cities while the most arable lands were dedicated to making foodstuffs. His head reeling from all of the information, the pilot slept in a comfortable bed and so hard he didn’t dream.

His lawyer returned at midday, looking just as she did the previous evening. “I spent an hour with the Prosecutor General for the city-state this morning. She was in a good mood and agreed to drop all of the charges against you …except one. As I feared, violating administrative laws is a very serious matter. The law isn’t so concerned about petty crimes, you know, theft, assault, terrorism. But they’re terribly intolerant of anything that violates the Census Act of 2101. I’m afraid that they plan to prosecute you for IDref and want to give you the maximum prison sentence.”

“Oh, God.” The pilot was crestfallen. “What kind of time am I looking at?”

His attorney looked at him soberly. “You could spend as much as a week in jail.” she said.

“A week?” he began to giggle and then stopped short. “What happens in jail? I mean, is it hard labor? Do they try medical experiments?”

The lawyer looked at him in horror. “We’re not uncivilized!” she sniffed. “The courts heard so many suits of emotional abuse and other offfenses against the poor people incarcerated, violating their rights and diminishing their spirits that the courts banned ALL punative behavior. So no, there won’t be any medical experiments. As to where, I’m surprised you ask. Where do you think you are? At home?”

“THIS is jail?” he asked. His voice had a whining quality of incredulity.

“Of course it is.”  she replied. “What did you think?”  The pilot jumped up from his chair and ran to the door. Flinging it open, his way was barred by the guard. The pilot punched him in the nose. “Are you out of your mind?” she screamed. “You’ll never get out of here.”

The pilot smiled, dusted the lapel of the guard he punched and smiled. “Yep.” he said.