A Visit to Time Expeditionary Unit One

Warning. Deadly-Force Authorized

If you’re a writer, you might be surprised at some of the doors you can stroll through. While my non-disclosure agreement prevents saying where you might find Time Expeditionary Unit (TEU) One, once there one of the first things you’ll notice is that the Marine detachment carries loaded weapons and 50,000-volt Tasers. 

Our guide had to be twice my size. Broad shoulders. Shaggy hair. Trimmed beard. Eyes, even without the usual Special-Ops shades, reminiscent of thick, tinted glass. Though Commander Belfrage would not discuss his previous time missions, I found it all too easy to speculate as to how someone might rack up so many noticeable scars. 

Dinosaurs? Saber-toothed cats? 

With six months to deployment, the “resident” Time Wing is in what the Navy terms the “crawl, walk, run” phase of their training cycle. Last week’s urban sniper training had become orbital squadron, non-combatant evac procedures which had then rolled into their first, supposedly “cringe-worthy,” attempt at Tactical Recovery of Spacecraft and Personnel (TRoSP). 

“How,” I asked, “do you keep your people motivated?”

“If you want to build a spacecraft, don’t drum people together to refine titanium or design flight avionics. In fact, don’t assign them any tasks whatsoever, but rather teach them to yearn for the endless immensity of the universe.”

I asked Belfrage if he enjoyed his work.

“The work? I guess I like the…the sense of immersion. The Time Shear…is mercurial and requires constant attention. By its very nature, it’s unpredictable. On a good day, it’s like watching the weather shift and take on some new pattern. It’s quite elemental, and I suppose I’m very attracted to that. Fixing, I don’t know, even some small glitch conveys a rush of purity. It scrubs the cobwebs from your brain. It shines up your soul.”

Because President Trump considers each Time Wing a “quick reaction force element” which has to be ready for any crisis, there was no need to slow down to clear the inner security vestibule. As with freeway scanners that collect tolls from passing traffic, designers had lined the service corridor with a profusion of biometric devices. With each stride, facial recognition gave way to retinal scans, heart rate comparators, and electroencephalogram sweeps capable of registering key mind states along with each person’s cataloged neural oscillations and evoked-potential “running stimulus-onset signature resonance.”

Sampling at rates above 20,000 Hz, one false spike or aberrant wave discharge and the system would drop you in your tracks. As we hustled past gas nozzles and tracking dart bores meant to deliver fast-acting incapacitants or nerve agents, someone said:

“Happy thoughts, everyone. Happy thoughts.”

Walking across the entry lobby’s floor felt like walking inside a movie theater. However, this sticky texture didn’t come from gum or spilled cola. With every pace, the adhesive floor mats snatched away loose dirt from everyone’s shoe treads. As the forced-air shower erupted, dozens of pulsed air jets blew loose debris from our hair, skin, and clothing.

Entering the clean room’s gowning area, we donned sterile bodysuits, gloves, goggles, shoe covers and a shower cap. Just as an operating room must be kept free of germs and particulates, so must the Time Shear. Despite the clean room’s robust ventilation, the air smells metallic like a steelworker’s clean, fresh weld.

According to Belfrage, TEU-1’s primary Shear was built around a synthetic “Time Abyss.” Here, and servicing up to five Time Wings, the future and the past existed simultaneously in carefully matched slabs of ancient stone.

During Apollo 16, astronauts Young, Duke, and Mattingly had returned with Lunar sample 67215 which had dated on the plus side of 4.46 billion years. Previous to that, a tiny speck of terrestrial, blue zircon, barely eye-visible, had held the record of “oldest piece of rock on Earth” at 4.40 billion-years-old. 

In 2017, when the Japanese “Hayabusa 16” spacecraft (はやぶさ, “Peregrine Falcon”) caught up and rendezvoused with the extrasolar asteroid “Oumuamua” (Hawaiian for “scout”) it had returned to Earth orbit laden with more than thirty kilograms of highly-irradiated, red-black stone. Composed of neosilicates in a nickel-iron matrix, all samples returned bracketing dates consistent with forming an extraordinary 7.76 billion years ago. 

As TEU-1’s “low-end benchmark slabs” predate the formation of our solar system by more than three billion years, Belfrage was quick to quip that “qualified personnel” now routinely “travel in its memories.” And yet, as impressive as that sounds, the heart of the Time Shear looks a lot like an ordinary slab of meteoritegreen crystals in silver-gray metal—sandwiched in glass. 

Isolated from the floor by enormous blue columns and hydraulic actuators, the upstream and downstream portions of the Shear embraced a diagnostic bay at a right angle. Steel vacuum chambers and in-vacuum reference cavities stacked one atop the next like pressure cookers on steroids. Metal-framed standing wave cavities and beam tubes glistened. A tall orange ladder allowed ascent to a shelf of horizontal access modules. Isolated by a yellow-and-black striped warning boundary, the “Vacuum Equipment Area’s” line of cryogenically cooled spherical antennas and superconducting Fibonacci oscillators glowed through a haze of layered nitrogen vapors. 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, etc. 

Careful to avoid tripping over an armored cable run, Belfrage scanned an instrument cluster before slotting his iPad in a waiting interface. He cleared an “entanglement swapping circuit,” and allowed us to look in on the stacked crystalline blades of the “primary drop vortex’s first-stage, parallel-processing flux-tap generator.” Nearby, ring lasers were generating a circulating light beam so that spacetime inside each column was twisting in a vortex as might a stirred cup of coffee. 

Belfrage was just saying, “Assuming the warping space is also warping time in a tight enough loop, the timeline’s index should—” when the station’s general alarm cut through the air. 

“General Quarters!” called the duty bosun. “General Quarters! All hands man your battle stations! Set Condition Zebra! Secure all access points!” Reverberating with a pulse-pounding gong-gong-gong—twelve loud gongs in all—the urgent announcement repeated with a continued call to “General Quarters! General Quarters!”

When Belfrage’s iPad shifted to draw green, yellow, and red arcs against the backdrop of stars and our Moon, I knew our tour had come to an end.

Yet, my curiosity would NOT let me set my feet in motion!

A Taser’s transmission darts struck my hip. I stiffened as with a full-body charlie horse. Tumbling, paralyzed by the jolt but completely aware of what was happening, I collapsed against the Time Shear and slid to the deck, gasping, arms unable to check my fall. My bones were on fire while at the exact same time someone was ripping apart every shred of muscle fiber with the tines of a meat carving fork!

Every thought I ever had in my life reoccurred all at once! 

Five seconds felt…like…an…eternity!

The instant the current flow ceased, so did the pain. Rolling on my spine, the last thing I recall is focussing all of my concentration on (please!) not screaming like a little girl!

Great tour! 

My thanks to President Trump for arranging our visit, to Commander Belfrage, and to all of the extraordinary men and women of Time Expeditionary Unit One!

About Scott

Scott Azmus has been a naval officer, field geologist, bookseller and advanced-placement physics teacher. His short fiction first appeared in Aboriginal Science Fiction Magazine and Writer’s of the Future, where author Dave Wolverton found his writing “... reminiscent of the fine tales of Ray Bradbury or Zenna Henderson.” When not writing high-stakes, action-packed science fiction, with an emphasis on appealing characters and imagination, Scott has a passion for beekeeping, public-outreach astronomy and cultural experience via world travel. He and his wife have three grown children and make their home in S.E. Wisconsin with two extraordinary Alaskan Malamutes (who actually suggest most of his writing topics). His young-adult characters are clever and fearless and actually live in alternate universes all their own. You can visit with him at scottazmus.com.
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