MOST CITIZENS TAKE TIME TRAVEL FOR GRANTED, THE way people a hundred years ago were blasé about splitting the atom, breaking the sound barrier and sending men to the Moon. For me those trips through time aren’t simply a novel form of entertainment, though—they’re a way of escaping from a world that has lost its heart and soul. When I stand on the threshold of a timesphere I know life is about to come alive in a way it doesn’t in the soulless apartment blocks and windswept concrete canyons of the community. I feel like Marco Polo, Christopher Columbus or Neil Armstrong, except that my excitement is an order of magnitude higher than theirs because I can travel through time as well as space.
Of course, there’s a trade-off. You can go wherever you want, but when you get there all you can do is look. The spherical capsule that’s my Santa Maria, my Rocinante and Apollo, that gives me the freedom to go where and when I want, becomes my prison cell once I’m there. That’s because the sphere doesn’t really hurtle through time and space. Rather, it simulates a destination so vividly you think you’re there. Images are projected in every direction and sounds fill the air. As you take your first steps the sphere spins in synchronicity with your movements,and the scenery changes as if you were walking wherever it is you want to be. It’s easy to believe you’re actually there—until you reach out and try to touch something, because your hand keeps on going. But that doesn’t stop me reaching out, or being disappointed when there’s nothing to feel with my fingertips. Hollowed out by a sleepless night remembering a woman I’m trying to forget, I was standing on the threshold of a timesphere raking in the hip pocket of my dark blue coveralls for the ID card that’s payment, passport and ticket for the trip. It’s only a little piece of plastic but you can’t even get into your apartment, let alone a timesphere, without one. It contains every piece of information about a person that can be expressed in words and numbers: from height to fingerprint pattern, academic qualifications to criminal record. And it tells how you earn your pleasure points, where you spend them and how many you have left. I held my breath as I fed my card into the slot at the side of the timesphere chamber, hoping I had enough credit. The spheres use a lot of computing power, which has to be paid for with hard-earned points. My weakness for such virtual trips means I go through points almost as fast as I earn them, so I was half expecting the infuriatingly neutral Voice of Reason to tell me: “You have insufficient credit for this amenity. Have a nice day.” However it said, “Welcome, Citizen Travis. State your desired time and place. Alternatively, select Random and the Ecosystem will choose for you. Or select Favorite to program your most frequently visited destination.” I suppose I should try the Random option, but there’s a place I love so much I keep wanting to go back there. So I said what I usually say: “Favorite.” “You have sufficient credit for 15 minutes at your requested time and place,” The Voice of Reason told me. Each timesphere is housed in a chamber. The doors to those chambers are the same neutral gray as everything else in the community. Like every other door, they slide open if your ID has sufficient credit and security clearance. The door that opened in front of me now revealed a blackness so complete I hesitated before entering. I always do, because it feels like you’re stepping into space. I suppose in a way you are; to all intents and purposes you’re entering another universe, or at least a little world. Then, heart pounding and pulse racing, I stepped over the threshold.