Getting the whole band together for practice had gotten difficult lately. Today it was Theo who had excused himself because of work, but tomorrow it might be Benni or Ethan again. Sometimes Hux got mad and yelled at her bandmates for not taking Offbeat Autonomy seriously, but she had to admit, if she wasn't still living at home, she'd probably have to find a job too.
The tips she earned busking bought her the occasional well-earned drink, but they were certainly not enough to pay for anything more than that.
Luckily, Grace and Adam were more than happy to keep the younger generation close.
After all, they often turned out to be a great help, like when Aidan had miraculously extended the beloved family dog's life.
Seeing Scout romp around like a puppy again warmed everyone's hearts. Aidan was now talking about developing his formula further, with the goal of adapting it for human consumption at some point.
Unfortunately it would come too late for her father, Grace thought sadly.
Aidan had moved out of his childhood home as soon as he was old enough to do so, but not because he wasn't close to his parents. Their house, though cozy and welcoming, was very small, and so Aidan had left to free up some space for his sisters.
He still took every opportunity to visit his family, to catch up with their lives and simply enjoy their company.
The conversation would usually turn to newly published scientific papers or Aidan's own discoveries that could aid his mother with her political campaign. Her preparations for the mayoral elections were in full swing and any help was greatly appreciated.
Not all of their children were as interested in helping out with the campaign.
Aidan made his own hours and could do whatever he felt like during the day. Hazel's schedule was less flexible, but the research was so interesting that she barely noticed how much time she spent in the underground lab.
Anyway, her job at the research facility was not completely devoid of freedom. Angela Wolfson was so happy with her work that she turned a blind eye to Hazel's dress code violations. "If you can work better wearing this instead of a lab coat like the rest of us, then by all means, dress how you like," she'd said, "Besides, a little splash of color might bring some much needed cheer to this place."
Hazel needed no cheering, however. She loved this lab, her assignment and her colleagues. In the past few weeks, they had made great progress in researching the strange object and now had reason to believe it was some kind of portal.
In fact, if things went well today, they were all going to be part of an extraordinary discovery. Even the mayor had come to the lab to witness this momentous occasion.
Hazel, eager to find out more about the portal, had volunteered to be the first human test subject.
She approached the pillar of light in the center of the four curved prongs on shaky knees, simultaneously excited and terrified.
It was bright, almost blindingly so. When Hazel extended a hand towards it, she felt the tingling sensation of energy buzzing all over her skin, raising the fine hairs on her forearm.
She breathed in deeply and took a determined step forward.
There was a yank, a relentless force that pulled her spine upward and then compressed it down again, alternating between the two rapidly, while her feet seemed to remain glued to the ground. It was nauseating, but as suddenly as the feeling had assaulted her, it was gone again.
With the soles of her feet abruptly freed again, Hazel found herself staggering forward onto solid ground.
It took her a moment to get her bearings, but soon she took in her new surroundings with wide eyes. There was open sky above and a breathtaking city of sleek buildings all around.
What was this amazing place? Another planet, perhaps...? If so, how long had the journey taken? Had it been instantaneous, as it had felt to her? Hazel hoped so, because she knew that Aidan would worry if she didn't come home in time for dinner...
“Welcome, brave time traveler, to Oasis Landing, where the future awaits,” a booming voice enunciated theatrically, and Hazel turned to stare at its owner. Before her stood a blue-haired man wearing a flamboyant glowing tuxedo.
The man continued to speak. “I will be your guide - you may call me Emit Relevart.” He paused for effect, but when Hazel still gaped at him wordlessly, he leaned in close and whispered, “Get it? It’s time traveler spelled backwards! It’s supposed to be funny! You do know what a joke is, don’t you?”
Hazel was flabbergasted. Time traveler? FUTURE?! As a scientist, Hazel knew that time travel to the future was, while most likely lethal according to most theories, technically possible. Returning to the past from said future however, was not.
She felt her muscles tense as her mind immediately went to all the things she'd lost forever. Her home, her family, her love. All dead and gone now. The Research Facility's administration had probably fed them some story about an accident in the lab - something that left out the strictly confidential details of their research - and so her family and Aidan would have thought her dead, mourned her and moved on, living the rest of their lives believing a lie.
That was the moment Hazel's legs gave out under her. The man in blue rushed forward to catch her before she fell.
“Another one of those,” he grumbled. Then, more brightly, he said, “Aaand here we go. No reason to panic. Come now, let’s get you a nice drink.”
Hazel noticed a faint tingling sensation as she downed the orange concoction. She'd started drinking it without question, she realized too late, but she was starting to feel better again, her mind clearing up with every sip.
“Better?” Emit Relevart asked kindly. Hazel nodded. “You’re from that 'love and peace' time, huh? It’s the clothes. I can tell.” He smiled proudly and Hazel did not correct him. He continued, “be sure to drink up, it’ll keep your insides from exploding due to time fluctuations.”
At that, Hazel choked and Emit guffawed. “Just kidding! Just kidding! Gosh, people from the past are so gullible. It works every time!” Hazel was still frowning, so with a reassuring smile he added, “Don’t worry, there’s no danger of exploding insides. This is just a welcome cocktail! A simple, nutritious multivitamin smoothie.” Relieved, Hazel took another sip. Emit continued, “Yes, nothing but vitamins… and a mild sedative.”
Despite this less than ideal introduction, Hazel continued to talk to Emit and he patiently answered all her questions. He told her that yes, she would be able to go back. The portals had been installed as a means to promote tourism, not kidnapping. However, he advised her to stay a while and rest up before heading back, as too much time travel within a short period of time could indeed cause unfortunate health hazards for first-timers.
Hazel didn't look forward to making the strenuous journey through the portal again, so she followed Emit and let him usher her into a room.
As she mulled things over, she realized that his answers had only raised more questions. But - and perhaps that was the sedative working, unless that had been another one of Emit's jokes - Hazel found herself intrigued rather than concerned by this.
She marveled at the amazing technology at her fingertips, right there in her room.
But through the panoramic windows the city beckoned, so Hazel grabbed one of the complementary hoverboards and went to explore Oasis Landing.
She was unsteady on the strange device at first, but quickly got the hang of it. She zoomed along the meticulously clean sidewalks to visit all the sights Emit had marked on her map.
Her first stop was city hall, where she was generously allowed to browse the city's historical records. They confirmed that, indeed, Oasis Landing did at least seem to share a past similar to the present Simnation Hazel knew. The records were spotty and incomplete though, which only served to fuel Hazel's curiosity.
After a few more hours of exploration and astounding entertainment - the laser rhythm-a-con show and the plumbot-run cafeteria had been particularly stunning - Hazel returned to the Community Living Center.
There she found Emit near the portal, doubtlessly waiting to deliver his welcome speech to potential newcomers. Hazel immediately bombarded him with a flurry of questions.
He explained patiently about Oasis Landing, and Hazel told him she came from Appaloosa Plains and asked if he knew where it was in relation to this city. Emit said he’d never heard of a place called 'Apple Loser Planes', but the planet was constantly moving, so obviously you couldn't travel from one point in time to another without moving to a new location too.
“If you just moved forward in time," he said, with the air of someone explaining tying shoelaces to a toddler, "and you stayed in exactly the same physical spot as before, it’s more than likely you’d soon find yourself floating in outer space, much too far from any breathable atmosphere. And if you think that holding your breath would be a good idea in this scenario, think again, because doing that would make your lungs explode. Like, immediately.”
So Hazel asked about the portal, about the technology behind it and why and how and who and when. Emit explained that the portals - for there were many, all leading to this one here - were placed strategically at different points throughout the past by the Oasis Landing board of tourism. It was a fairly new project, with Hazel being one of the first ones to arrive, but the hope was that people like her would spread the word back in their own time, which in turn would lead to more tourists visiting.
Advanced technology was nothing new to the people of this time. In fact, there were even some who preferred to avoid it, living ‘like cavemen in wooden houses’, as Emit put it. But people from the past would just gobble this stuff up, happily buying overpriced gadgets, fashion and trinkets and thus boosting the economy.
“But why would Oasis Landing need a boost in economy?” Hazel asked. Replying to explanations with more questions had almost become habitual at this point. "Everyone seems to be doing great."
Emit, who had displayed nothing but saintlike patience up until now, was beginning to get somewhat annoyed. He was used to answering people's inane questions - it was in his job description after all - but this one was particularly persistent.
"Look, lady," he sighed, exasperated, "I just work here. I'm like a receptionist, to put it in your terms, so don't ask me what the head honchos are thinking. That's beyond my paygrade, as they say." Then, seeing Hazel's disappointment, he added more softly, "When has a stable economy ever been good enough for anyone? People always want more, don't they?"
Hazel couldn't disagree.
Sensing that she had learned all she could on her trip to this supposed future, Hazel told Emit that she was ready to return home. He looked surprised.
"So soon, really? Without even trying the dream pod once?"
Hazel nodded slowly, "Yeah, I need to--wait, dream pod? What's that?"
Everything about Oasis Landing truly was a marvel, even down to the most mundane things like sleeping. Hazel spent her night exploring a fantastical dream world and awoke the next morning more refreshed that she'd ever felt.
But when the sun rose over the distant mountains and glinted off the glassy rooftops, Hazel knew it was time to go home.
Emit led her to the portal, recited an obviously practiced farewell and followed up with a few more personal words, "You've been a handful and I can't say it was a pleasure, but I still hope you'll come back soon. Maybe I'm some kind of masochist, but I'll miss your annoying questions."
Hazel grinned, gave Emit a nod and stepped into the pillar of light.
She'd somehow managed to keep worry from her mind for this long, but now, as the unpleasant feeling assaulted her again, it all came crashing down. Why would it be possible to return to the past? It went against all current scientific assumptions about how the universe worked. More likely than not, Hazel would perish within the next few seconds, her body torn apart by the force pulling at her from every angle.
And then she stumbled forward, her leather sandals making dull thudding sounds on the metallic floor beneath. Hazel gazed around as her eyes slowly adjusted to the dimly lit room.
Her relieved exhale turned into a laugh, "I'm back!"
Hazel rushed forward, out of the containment chamber, and stopped short just before hugging Wolfson, who smiled at her quizzically.
"I'm back," Hazel repeated, beaming.
“Back?!” Mayor Wells sounded annoyed. "You only just stepped into that… thing… a second ago!”
“It’s a portal then?” Angela Wolfosn asked Hazel, ignoring the mayor.
“Yes,” Hazel nodded excitedly, “a portal to the future!”
“Time travel…?” The older scientist's brow furrowed. “And you came back? But that’s…”
“Impossible, I know,” Hazel breathed, still excited, “but they’ve figured it out, somehow! They--”
“Preposterous,” the mayor interrupted.
Wolfson scratched her chin. “It does go against everything we know about time. Time does not exist in a physical sense; portals leading back and forth are nothing but science fiction," she recited the commonly accepted theories, but her voice was uncertain. "Unless...“
“Unless it’s inter-universal travel,” Hazel finished her boss’ thought. “I’ve considered that possibility and it seems more plausible, even though the people over there insist that--“
“Hold on,” the mayor interrupted again, utilizing his well-practiced authoritative speaking voice, “How do we know that this… this girl is telling the truth? Where is the proof?” He folded his arms, proud to have said something vaguely scientific.
Wolfson looked to Hazel, who smiled and reached into her pocket.
She pulled out a tiny orb, barely the size of a marble, held it in the palm of her right hand and pressed her left index finger to it. Rapidly, the object opened up, parts unfolding and reassembling into a much larger sphere, about the size of a basketball. Wolfson stared with her mouth agape, while the mayor jumped back, looking scared.
Hazel handed the sphere to her boss, who took it without hesitation.
"What is it?" Wolfson asked.
Hazel grinned. "I'll let you figure it out. The design is remarkably intuitive, actually."
The scientist examined the orb curiously. Mayor Wells still stood a step behind her, looking over her shoulder with an expression that shifted between amazement, confusion and chagrin.
It didn't take Wolfson long to figure out the device. The orb now hovered in mid-air before her, projecting a holographic screen which she was able to operate through touch alone. “It’s a computer!"
Hazel smiled. “Exactly. Its processing power enormous, far beyond anything we are able to create today. But it is, in essence, nothing but a personal computer.”
"Amazing," Wolfson breathed, "Utterly... fascinating..."
While her boss inspected the spherical computer with visible enthusiasm, Hazel explained, “They hand these out for free to first-time visitors. They…” She paused, briefly considering how to phrase what came next. It just sounded too insane. “It’s a sort of welcome gift, an incentive for people to visit. These portals have been placed on purpose, at several points in time, by the Oasis Landing board of tourism.”
At that, Wolfson looked up and Hazel elaborated, “Oasis Landing is the city I arrived at. It’s a beautiful place, but I was unable to figure out where it lies, geographically. The planet’s topography seems to have changed, I think… anyway, they said they installed the portals to promote tourism from the past - well, our time, and others. They're hoping that--"
“Preposterous!” Mayor Wells interrupted again. “Time travel tourism? Not in MY town! If they think they can leech off of our economy, they are gravely mistaken!"
Wolfson and Hazel both turned to stare at the mayor. “Yes. Well.”
“Besides,” he continued, regaining his confidence as he talked, “how do we know this isn’t some elaborate scam? We still don’t know if she even went anywhere! This” - he paused, looking for a more hurtful term that 'girl' - “hippie could have carried that thing with her! She--”
“With all due respect,” Wolfson spoke up, “but we’ve taken inventory of every single item Ms Cardwell took with her into the portal. Science demands thoroughness.” She punctuated this with a stern glare at the mayor. “And this device,” she continued, gazing lovingly at the spherical computer, now tiny again in her palm, “is technology unlike anything we’ve ever seen. It requires further study, of course, but it’s beyond any contemporary science to produce anything remotely like this. Even in facilities with better funding,” she grumbled quietly.
The mayor seethed, his mustache quivering like an agitated caterpillar. “Well, study it then,” he snapped, “while your funding still permits it.” He glowered meaningfully at the scientist, who shrunk back.
Mayor Wells smiled, satisfied, then started to walk toward the exit.
“Don’t let anyone in or out of that portal without my permission," he said, his voice controlled and stern again, "Can't have those future mooches coming over here, taking jobs!”
The door slid open, but before he went through it, the mayor glanced over his shoulder to issue one last command, “And I will have professional attire in this facility.”
Whee! I waited until I rolled a science-related career before I allowed myself to explore ITF and I was not disappointed :D Oasis Landing is pretty fun, at least the first time around.
In an effort to make sense of crazy sims logic for the sake of the story, I did quite a bit of reading about scientific theories regarding time travel and parallel universes, and came across some very fascinating articles and videos. This article was helpful and this short video in particular explains phenomena that hit very close to home, like why in 2018 some people still repeat pranks from over a decade ago.
Really though, despite all this research, my explanations for Hazel's time travel adventures are still going to be mostly mumbo jumbo. Dag dag!