They say that time moves slower for the people down there upon the Earth. But only when compared with those that inhabit the space stations that orbit our planet. For the purpose of this research, I’ll be referring to them as ‘People of the Skies’, and ‘People of the Earth’.
They were the opening lines of the abstract I had written. It was a draft of my first paper.
We had only just moved in together when I had written and rewritten those words, and you were sitting there watching me agonise over them as our mugs of cheap noodles sat cooling on the coffee table. After several attempts I threw it down on my dingy desk and we drank beer until we were rolling and laughing together on the floor.
The initial experiment for this theory was a rudimentary one, as my supervisor pointed out with disappointment.
He had expected more from me. I had so much potential, but rather than applying it to something useful, something which attracts investors and grants, I had chosen a different path.
‘I want to study time,’ I said by way of explanation.
‘You foolish woman,’ he replied. ‘Time is money. And like money, time is running out.’
Ignoring his advice, I went out and bought two identical clocks. I left one with the next lot of astronauts to take into space with them, and one with a professional caver who would deposit it deep inside the Earth. They were to remain in their respective locations for seven years. When I returned to collect them, older now and blissfully married to you, I retrieved one from the caver. And then the other from a returning astronaut.
According to my calculations, the difference should have a been a few seconds, but the one from the cave was hours behind.
The ‘People of the Skies’ have lived more, aged more, and learned more. The ‘People of the Earth’ follow the same pattern, but they’re far behind in time.
These were the notes I had made in my notebook after studying those clocks through many sleepless nights, trying to craft the right formula to account for the difference.
And then it occurred to me that it might not be showing the difference in hours, but days, even weeks.
There was no way to tell. You helped me figure out the math and equations. They never added up but I knew it wasn’t anyone’s fault. The clocks must have been faulty, because they simply didn’t fit the math.
After all those years, I had reinvented the wheel.
The note in my notebook sits on its own, an entire page dedicated to the one little line:
t = time
But time is never the same in all places, because every single point in space has a different time. There isn’t a river of time, flowing ever onward from past to present to future; there’s an infinite number of rivers, flowing everywhere, all at once.
Time doesn’t exist as we always thought it did. We don’t inhabit time, but it exists within us, which makes it something we should be able to form and bend to our will.
This was the note I made in a different notebook years later, long after my supervisor had retired and my colleagues had made their fortunes.
I continued jotting down all the finer points of my research as it progressed. You still had the same patient smile, although your hair had started turning grey as you waited for me. We had no children still, and that ever-present body clock was ticking louder each year.
‘Soon,’ I assured you, ‘and then we’ll start trying.’
But the time never came, and we never did.
I spent years studying time, extracting it, playing with it, and experiencing it in as many ways as I could until I could no longer see the natural progression our minds want us to follow.
I could see myself as a mature woman and a young girl at the same time.
I could see myself in the oversized robes I had worn when I was awarded my Physics degree. In the same moment I could see myself running as a child, chasing after the birds that used to nest near the pond, and wondering why they looked like they were moving so much faster the further they rose into the sky.
I could see myself in hospital, receiving the news that would break your heart.
Time had crept so slowly in that sterile little room.
I could see you taking me to hospital for treatments we both knew were useless. Ones that made me sick for months to follow, but passed so quickly as I approached the final moments. And that tender first kiss when we were both still so young that only lasted a few seconds, but lingered across a lifetime.
Strange how a second and a lifetime are so interchangeable. That a single human life barely registers as a blip on the radar of existence, yet a moment can encompass all and nothing.
That was the final note I ever made in yet another notebook, my research far from abandoned, even at the end.
I watched you find it months later, after I was gone.
At the moment of death, the very idea of time starts to evaporate into the universe like morning fog into a blazing blue sky.
I live my entire life one more time, but all at once because now there are no restrictions. We create those walls ourselves. They’re in our minds. And when I reach through all the ripples in all the rivers of all time, I touch your hand for just a moment. A gentle brush of the fingers. A whisper on the breeze in the moment that you need me most.
I reach down and find that clock sitting in a cave deep within the earth.
It seems funny all of a sudden that I had spent my whole life studying time, trying to define it, when it’s really nothing at all. So I play a final joke upon myself and wind that clock backwards a random amount of times.
Then I let go of that tenuous thread, and release my energy beyond time and space.