I always compare time travel to arriving late at a comedy bar: most of the time you have no idea what’s going on, so you just improvise.
The commotion of the crowd outside the time chamber was intense. The guards had their hands full keeping back all the paparazzi from Manila trying to get their last glimpse of me before I walked off the face of the Earth for the next forty-one years.
“Iniisip nyo po ba magkaroon ng jowa sa future?” one earnest tabloid reporter managed to shout my way.
Not really knowing how to answer, I just smiled and gave a thumbs-up. A sea of cameras clicked, transmitting my image across the world and preserving the moment for posterity. Maybe I should’ve given a speech or something instead, but it was too late.
I felt a tap on my shoulder.
“Looking good!” Marco said, as he adjusted my harness. I had put the strap on twisted, causing the instrument panel to ride up on my shoulder. With a quick tug, he smoothed it down, allowing the sensor array to sit snugly in place. The sudden silence in my ear surprised me. I hadn’t noticed the warning buzzer in my ear until it had stopped sounding off.
Marco and I had been through this departure sequence probably hundreds of times during training, but every now and then I’d inadvertently forget something. I’m glad Marco always had my back.
“Thanks,” I told him sheepishly. “You know I keep forgetting these things.”
“What would you ever do without me?” he laughed, patting me on the back.
I stepped across the threshold and the doors sealed shut behind me. The noise from outside died down to a faint mumble. Marco ushered me forward before taking his place at the control panel.
At the far end of the chamber was the jumpoint, its shimmering blue-green surface beckoning like a calm lagoon. Around it, the chronocoils hummed steadily with a reassuring faint blue glow.
I stepped up to the crystalline meniscus and looked at my reflection. I hesitated. Hundreds of practice jumps just don’t prepare you for the real thing.
“See you on the other side!” Marco shouted from behind the plexishield.
PLEASE KEEP THIS CARD WITH YOU AT ALL TIMES, TO ENSURE A SAFE AND HASSLE-FREE JOURNEY. BE SURE TO REVIEW THE FOLLOWING SUMMARY OF PROCEDURES BEFORE EVERY DEPARTURE. FOR A FULL LIST OF DETAILED INSTRUCTIONS, PLEASE REFER TO PHILSA FIELD MANUAL 068734-A.
Confirm with the operator that the time machine is fully online before approaching the meniscus.
Think intently about the specific time you wish to travel to. This will be your anchor point.
Enter the jumpoint carefully, ensuring firm physical contact with the meniscus.
While in transit, remain focused on your desired time, reinforcing the anchor point.
Upon arrival, adhere to PhilSA engagement protocols; violate at your own risk!
To return, retrace return procedures at jumpoint to safely travel back to your own time.
Remember, strict adherence to PhilSA safety protocols ensures safe and reversible time travel.
It took me a while to realize that the swirls of black and white in my face were from the chamber’s marble floor tiles. They were covered in a layer of fine gray dust.
“Aren’t you going to get up and greet an old friend?”
There was Marco, none the worse for wear despite the years. His voice, though raspy, was familiar and reassuring. He had crow lines around his now bespectacled eyes and a shock of white hair. He was in a military uniform of some sort that I didn’t recognize, except for the general’s stars on his shoulders.
“Told you I’d be here!” he said. “It certainly took you long enough.”
I dusted myself off and looked around. The chamber I left just moments ago was now empty and derelict. Even the tarps covering the equipment had long since fallen apart. The air was stale and stuffy.
“Budget cuts forced us to mothball the project about a decade after you left,” Marco explained, sensing my confusion. “But I have something that will cheer you up.”
He led me to the door, which he had apparently left open since he came in to welcome me. I stepped outside into the harsh sunlight. Some things, at least, never change.
And yet, there was something different about it all. The air felt hotter somehow, the light that much brighter. When my eyes adjusted to the glare, I realized we were surrounded by glass-skinned skyscrapers that were reflecting the light from the midmorning sun. Silent cars, which I later found out were electric and fully automated, moved silently past us on roads that looked like asphalt ribbons traversing the landscape.
In the far distance was a tall steel tower, to which was moored a massive rocket. Its pristine exterior reflected bright white in the sunlight.
Marco, General Marco, let me soak up the view for a moment before placing a hand on my shoulder.
“Welcome to the year 2064.”
When I left Mati in 2023, it was a fifth-class city in the southern Philippines with just under a hundred and fifty thousand people. In the future, it’s a bustling spaceport with close to half a million residents, all of whom depend on the monthly moon ferries for livelihood.
After a few days exploring the place, I liked how... rural it all still felt. Marco tells me that, ever since the guys at PhilSA committed to setting up the spaceport in the late 2020’s, the local government decided that they’d keep a close eye on urban development.
“The last thing they wanted was another Manila... or another Subic, for that matter,” he said, waving his hands in the air as we zipped along the highway in his Tamarao Dagitab. The volumetric windshield took some getting used to, with its tactile displays popping out at you at every turn. I couldn’t help missing the good old days of steering wheels.
“There’s a handful of heritage sites, old family houses and what-not, of course,” Marco explained. “But more than that, they wanted to keep the local culture alive as best as they could.”
As the car rounded the bend, the rocket pad swung into view. It was one of the regular lunar ferries about to take off.
Mabuhay! Embark on an extraordinary journey from Mati Spaceport where regular weekly flights will transport you to lunar paradise. Our state-of-the-art rockets ensure your safety and comfort throughout your entire trip, offering an exclusive experience that will leave you awe-inspired. What sets our Moon Vacations apart is the exceptional service provided by our all-Filipino crew. From the dedicated launch personnel to the attentive hospitality officers and skilled pilots, every member of our team is a Mati local. Our warm and genuine hospitality is unmatched, ensuring that you feel right at home as we go above and beyond to please our valued Expat tourists. Relax and enjoy the breathtaking views of the Earth and the Moon! Our rockets are equipped with the latest inertial dampers for a smooth and seamless ride. Indulge in the luxuries of our well-appointed spacecraft, complete with comfortable seating, spacious cabins, and exquisite dining options. Our crew will be on hand to cater to your every need, ensuring your lunar adventure is as comfortable and memorable as possible. Escape the ordinary and embrace the extraordinary with our Moon Vacations. Book your ticket now and prepare for an out-of-this-world experience that combines Filipino warmth and hospitality with the wonders of space travel. Discover the lunar landscapes, take part in lunar excursions, and create memories that will last a lifetime. Trust our all-Filipino crew to guide you on this incredible cosmic journey like no other. Maglayag tayo sa mga tala!!
As we sat across from each other over dinner, it felt strange to me that Marco was now old enough to be my dad. Jumping was like walking through a door for me, whereas it was a decades-long journey for him and everyone else who took the long way to get here. "So, Marco — I’m sorry, I mean, General Marco! — What have you been up to all these years? I never took you for an officer, but here you are! The uniform looks good on you," I said, excited to hear about all his adventures. "Ah, yes, my dear friend. So much has happened! But, you see, there is something I must confess." "What is it, Marco? You know you can always confide in me." "I’m afraid I can’t.” Marco took a deep breath and continued. "I can't let you go back to the past, you see. The consequences... they're too great. I've come to realize that altering the course of history is a burden we can't bear." We were warned that there might be turncoats and saboteurs, but I never expected Marco to be one of them. He really played the long game. I should’ve seen that punchline coming. Quickly, I reached into my chest pocket and drew my Immobilizer. Marco raised his hands in surprise, eyeing me warily from across the table. “That’s not supposed to be there. You were supposed to follow protocols and keep it in your hip pocket!” “Yeah, well, you know me. Always forgetful!” I said through my teeth. He lunged for me but I was faster. The stasis beam engulfed Marco, freezing him in place. I rested my hand on his now immobile shoulder. "I can’t let you erase the past, Marco," I told him, not really sure whether or not he could hear me. I could never remember what the training manuals said about that. "But I won't leave you here. We'll return to the past together, and there, you’ll face court martial." At least that part I remembered.
Timothy James M. Dimacali
Timothy James M. Dimacali, SM APF is head of science communications at the University of the Philippines - Diliman College of Science. TJ received his MS in Science Writing from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on a Fulbright scholarship and his BA English degree in Creative Writing from the University of the Philippines. He is also an alumnus of the Clarion Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers’ Workshop under the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination, and the founding editor of GMA News Online's Science and Technology Section.