It was Tyler Collins’ fourteenth birthday and his dad had saved for several months to buy him his dream gift. And Tyler was all smiles with his nifty new gadget.
"Thanks a million, Dad!" he said.
"You’re quite welcome, son," his father responded with a grin. "Remember, you’ll have to pay half the monthly fee—just as we agreed—but the satellite service has already been activated."
"Awesome," Tyler said. "I’m going to call Cousin Tim right now and tell him the news." Tyler’s cousin was the one who had inspired the quest for a Wrist Communicator. He also had owned a Wrist Communicator for nearly a year now—but an older model without the TV unit.
Tyler’s mother looked on with a bright smile. Clearly Mr. and Mrs. Collins felt Tyler was ready for such a privilege. He had been responsible with the family cell phone when he’d taken it to out-of-town soccer games and other events. And he’d started his own window cleaning business in the neighborhood to pay for his half of the Communicator’s service. Tyler would take good care of his new device—and he’d no doubt make great use of it, too.
He headed out the front door with his headset on, speaking his cousin’s number into the voice-activated microphone. When Tim answered, Tyler said, "Hi Tim! Guess what? I got it!" Tyler described his treasure in minute detail. "It’s got the TV/Video unit and a bunch of other stuff, too! A video camera phone, a personal digital assistant that’s web- and email-enabled, an MP7 Player, and a Library of Congress Knowledge Bank. And did I tell you about the synchronized atomic clock? Oh yeah, and voice recognition, too." His cousin listened with a trace of envy. "And of course the cell phone. It even has a built-in speaker phone and an audio jack for a headset—I’m talking into it right now."
All this was enfolded into a tidy little wrist unit weighing only three ounces and looking just slightly larger than a typical sports wristwatch. It was an eighth-grader’s dream.
Tyler continued to chat with his cousin Tim on the West Coast while he himself walked down his street in Northern Virginia, just outside of Washington, D.C. Tim was all ears, even while he was a bit jealous about the TV/Video unit. "How much memory does it have?" he asked.
"A full terabyte," Tyler explained.
Now in school you learn that a byte is a computer memory unit that records a single letter, number or symbol. And a terabyte is a thousand gigabytes or a million megabytes or a trillion bytes—enough to easily hold more than a thousand full-length movies in MP7 format, or most all the text from all the books ever written in history—compressed, that is.
"Have you downloaded any movies yet?" Tim asked.
"No, I called you right when I got it," Tyler said. "But it came with Back to the Future already loaded." As he was chatting, Tyler started fiddling with the menu on the mini-screen, which also served as the touch pad. Just so he could see the wrist-mounted DVD in action, he navigated his way to the video driver and launched the movie. Even while he was talking across the country to his cousin he could watch the movie on the screen. He then tapped the off button and told his cousin he had to go because it was time for dinner. Tyler headed home to get a bite before a long fun evening of experimenting with his Communicator.
His mom had fixed him his favorite birthday dinner—smoked salmon, Caesar salad, and angel food cake. But he hardly ate because his mind was spinning with all the possibilities of his Wrist Communicator.
"Tyler, what are you thinking about?" his mother asked.
"Nothing, really," he said as his mind raced from function to function on his device. What he didn’t know—but would soon discover—was that due to a manufacturing flaw in its atomic clock his Communicator had a basic ability that even its designers hadn’t imagined.
It’s true that Tyler’s watch was one of the most accurate timepieces ever made. Built within it was an atomic clock with a single plutonium atom encased in a microscopic platinum shell. But when his father bought the Communicator no one realized that there was, only in Tyler’s unit, a microscopic hole in the platinum pouch that was supposed to encase the radioactive plutonium. And that hole would leak radiation into the rest of the central processor and do something that had never been done before in history—except in the movies. The plutonium leak altered the Communicator so that it, and its wearer, could slide through time to the date and exact time in history set on the central processor’s clock. Somehow the radiation, emanating from the clock at the speed of light, interlocked with the time-space continuum; it broke free from the grip of three-dimensional space, and enabled its "passenger" first to detach from one point in time and to reattach to another point in time set on the clock.
Here’s how Tyler discovered this most amazing capability of his Communicator. When packed in the box, the device had been set on Greenwich Mean Time, which was four hours ahead of Virginia’s Eastern time zone. Although Tyler had been wearing his watch continually and the plutonium leak through the platinum encasing was starting to have a bonding effect between him and his unit, he hadn’t noticed that the clock was set wrong.
By then Tyler had been in bed fiddling with the various functions for about four hours. He had especially enjoyed watching the late night comedy shows on his device. It was now 2:00 a.m. Virginia time. Yet, his Communicator said the time was 6:00 a.m. because it was still set on Greenwich Mean Time. When he went to set his clock back four hours he made a mistake. Instead of changing it from 6:00 a.m. to 2:00 a.m., he subtracted four hours from Eastern Time, setting his atomic clock to 10:00 p.m. the night before. When he reset it he had a very strange sensation and felt his spine tingle ever so slightly.
Now, that mistaken setting wouldn’t have normally been a big deal, except that Tyler and his watch were now connected in a very profound way, owing to the plutonium leak. Tyler still wasn’t sleepy so he decided to see what else was on TV. He clicked his wrist unit on and turned to Channel 17. What Tyler experienced next was very confusing to him. The 10:00 news was on Channel 17. How could that be? It had just been 2:00 a.m. Eastern Time and 6:00 a.m. Greenwich Time. He had already watched the 10:00 news four hours ago.
Confused, Tyler looked at his room clock, which had shown 2:00 a.m. just a moment ago. It now showed 10:02 p.m. What was going on?
He didn’t realize it at the time but a reaction between the wrist clock change and the plutonium leak had caused Tyler to instantaneously glide across the time-space continuum to a point four hours earlier. But Tyler couldn’t quite figure it all out so he simply turned off the news and went to sleep. He was tired!
At 6:00 the next morning Tyler’s alarm on his room clock went off. It was time to get ready for school. He slipped on a comfortable pair of pants and his favorite soccer shirt. Tyler had fallen asleep wearing his Wrist Communicator. He glanced down and saw that his room clock and his wrist clock were now in sync: 6:06 a.m.
Of course, the atomic wrist clock was accurate to the nanosecond.
Tyler blew down the stairs, grabbed an apple, and kissed his mom on the cheek as he headed out the door toward school, his heart beating rapidly with excitement. Having a Wrist Communicator was more fun than going to Disney World! (Actually, before long his Wrist Communicator would get him a trip to Disney World, too. But that’s a story for another day.)
The students were streaming into their classrooms and Tyler slipped into his chair for eighth grade math just as the bell rang. He sat in the back because he didn’t want to get caught during class fiddling with his unit.
As the teacher started reviewing material he was already quite familiar with, Tyler proceeded to experiment with the clock function on his wrist. It was Monday morning, September 8, exactly one week after the Labor Day holiday. Tyler suddenly had a desire to be on holiday—and for the fun of it pretended it was the week before. He proceeded to set his clock to one week earlier, September 1. When he tapped on the "OK" button to change the time, it triggered the strangest experience of Tyler’s life. As soon as he changed his clock, he had that same vibration in his spine. But the incredible thing is that he found himself instantly alone in the classroom, sitting in the very same chair, but with no one else in sight. The school was silent. He looked out the window and across the street. His classmate Ethan, who lived across the street, was playing with his dog in his front yard. Why wasn’t Ethan in school? What had happened?
Thoughts raced through his mind. Was he dreaming? Was he going crazy? Were there aliens playing with his brain? He looked up toward the front of the classroom and noticed something that helped him to understand. The teacher had left a note on the white board: