Garrick needed a purpose in his life, although he would never tell you that himself. He had just finished schooling, and was at the stage in life where adults kept nagging him to think about university and his future, and all he wanted to do was hang out with his buddies and do the exact opposite. The immediate present, filled with video games and popcorn combos, was far more appealing than trying to decide which degree was the least yawn-inducing.
His hair was perfectly spruced up with gel and hairspray - during the day, it could shine more than his glasses did. He and his friends had just started workout routines at the gym - leg days followed chest days, protein shakes followed swills of energy drinks. He was so firmly entrenched in the philosophy of living for the moment that even an industrial crane would have trouble yanking him out of it in one piece.
And so it was that one day, after an intense session of gaming (with many obscenities screamed into his headset along the way), Garrick found himself waiting at the lights of a crossing, the train station that led home on the other side of the road. He had earphones on, and angst-ridden tones of a teenage punk band rumbled in his head.
He didn't notice the man tapping his shoulder until a particularly loud song just ended. He cautiously removed one of his earphones.
"Are you interested in watching this movie? I have an extra ticket because my friend can't make it."
The man was holding out a very authentic looking movie ticket for a showing at a nearby cinema. Garrick had been to it several times before, but hadn't seen the movie being offered. He cautiously grabbed at the ticket, as though it would suddenly spray acid on his face.
"The movie's starting soon. Hope you enjoy it."
And just like that, the man with the familiar face was gone.
Garrick looked around, but he couldn't find the man. The crossing light was about to turn green, and the ticket in his hand still felt extremely legitimate.
The movie on it was about to start in ten minutes.
The light turned green. He turned around. The cinema wasn't far, and he didn't have anything else planned that day.
The movie was about black holes, and space-time, and worm holes, and relativity, and the final frontier, and it all just simply blew Garrick's mind. A desire deep inside him had been dislodged, set free to prowl about inside his soul. He wanted, more than anything, to explore the vastness of the universe. To feel gravity loosen its clutches on him, to see cloud patterns swirl across Earth's blue surface from afar, to hear the absolute nothingness of space.
When he woke up the next day though, the excitement had faded away, as it would have for most impressionable teenagers. But the desire still survived, lurking within his subconscious.
The first lecture of the semester was about as interesting as watching a snail cross the road. Garrick managed to listen to the lecturer drone his way through Physics 101 for about ten minutes before immersing himself in a game with a far more interesting demonstration of physics on his phone. The girl to his right glanced at him with a clearly affronted look - not that Garrick cared. She wasn't much of a looker, so Garrick didn't bother looking for long.
Garrick had managed to breeze through most of school, so he expected university to be more of the same. He had been smart enough to get by without studying all those years, so why start now?
So he thought before he got the results from his first test. There was so much red on the paper it wouldn't have looked out of place at a murder scene.
It took a while to sink in that university was going to a very different beast from everything he'd known before. One of the hardest things a smart person has to accept is the possibility that he really isn't that smart after all.
He'd been lumped into a group project with the annoying girl, and didn't enjoy her company one bit. She was too academic, too focused on getting all the details right. All he wanted to do was scratch the online gaming itch he'd been feeling all week. His friends were going to get together and play a match any moment now.
"Garrick, did you research the articles on the applications of the quantum tunnelling effect? We need the write-up for the third part of the report!"
"Hmm? Oh, yeah, let me email it to you."
A moment later...
"This write-up is horrible! This is all fluff! Why didn't you add more technical details from the articles?"
Garrick bemusedly let the girl finish her rant, then suggested that if she could do better, then by all means go ahead. While she fumed, he got a text from his friends - they were going to start a match soon. He packed up his things and scurried off from the table before the rest of the group could finish objecting to his sudden departure.
The end of the semester felt like it would never come, but it finally did. Garrick had managed an average grade of B- after picking up some slack. But he knew he could do so much better. Getting into the aeronautical stream of engineering was going to be tough, and a grade of B- would get him nowhere near it. The dream to go into space hadn't died yet, and he didn't want it to die by his hand.
He absently ran a hand through his gelled hair, and then stared at it for a while. Maybe it was time for a change of priorities...
Annabel was positively beaming when he finished his section of the presentation. She held her hand up for a subtle high five. Garrick awkwardly returned it. He was trying his hardest not to emote, but he couldn't help it - working together with the rest of the group had felt good. He tried to remove the slight smile on his face, but it refused to budge.
Annabel wasn't as annoying as she used to be all those months ago either - then again, he wasn't as much of a selfish bum as he used to be either, and maybe that had helped.
He'd started being more helpful in group projects because it would get his grades up. Now, he thought maybe grades weren't the only good thing about his change in attitude.
Garrick managed to finish his degree in five years with a 2nd Upper Class and Honours. When the time came to throw up his graduation cap in the air, there were no traces of hair product on it.
The interview to get into the Space Station Apprentice Program had been nerve-wracking. The panel had been impressed with his academic turnaround during university, but his grades were still a bit lower than what they were looking for. Garrick had kept himself in shape though, and there was no question that he was healthy enough to be an astronaut. The doubt only lay in his qualifications.
The next few days had all begun with the same routine - clamber out of bed, switch on the laptop and open up his email. It mostly ended in one of two ways - a deflated sigh when there were no new emails, or some skipped beats of his heart followed by an exasperated huff as the new emails turned out to be junk, or near enough.
And then the email he'd been waiting for arrived. The first line said "It is our pleasure to inform you that you have been accepted..."
He was too busy whooping and jumping about in his underwear to read the rest just yet.
Ten years of hard work and perseverance later, the dream had finally come to fruition. He was seated in the pilot's seat of the spacecraft, his suit checked and securely fastened, his pulse pounding in his ears. He looked at all the indicators, making sure they were the right colour, or in the right place. The sheer number of knobs and dials had blown his mind the first time he'd seen them. Now, with many experiences in the simulator behind him, he knew exactly how to read them.
"Ground Control, all systems go, ready for launch."
"Adventurer, all systems check, launch in T minus 5 minutes."
The flight was going to be simple, a round trip to Mars and back. Garrick remembered a time when the journey needed a few years to be completed - with recent advances in technology, it could now be done in just one.
The countdown had begun. "T minus 15 seconds to launch. T minus 10...9...8..."
His heart was racing so fast it was in danger of bursting out of his chest. He could feel his fingers trembling with excitement.
"5...4...3...2...1...we have lift off!"
He was shoved back into his seat hard by the sudden burst of speed of the spacecraft. The rocket engines were firing away with the force of what felt like a thousand bombs. His body had been trained to withstand the tremendous G-forces, but the training had only ever been a simulation. The real thing was an experience to behold.
After what felt like hours, gravity let loose its grip on him, and he could feel the familiar tingle of weightlessness settling in. He unclasped his seatbelts and floated out of his chair, joining the rest of the crew as they drifted about the cockpit. He had floated in swimming pools. He had floated in a free-falling airplane. But they were all pale imitations of what he felt now. This was simply breathtaking. It was ethereal. It was amazing.
It was a dream come true.
2 months into the voyage, Garrick's crewmate had detected an anomaly on the path ahead. Confirmation with Ground Control established that it was a wormhole that had begun opening up just after they finished slingshotting around the moon a few weeks back. Within a few days though, it had expanded in size alarmingly quickly, so much so that at the speed they were cruising at, the Adventurer would be unable to avoid it - they couldn't use the fuel they had to deflect from the path either, because it was needed to turn them around when they got to Mars. Garrick suddenly thought back to the movie he had watched all those years ago - the astronauts in the movie had gone through the wormhole and discovered some spectacular worlds on the other side. Although Ground Control was apprehensive as to their fate, maybe a little optimism was in order.
The rest of the crew seemed to have come to the same conclusion. They all drifted to their seats and buckled in as the wormhole's gravitational pull tugged them closer. A few rattles of the ship later, they were sucked in with what Garrick imagined would have been a sharp plop, if space had allowed for one.
They flew through what could best be described as a tunnel with dark, eerily wriggling walls. Garrick thought he could see the milky haze that had helped give a name to the Milky Way galaxy, but it too was writhing about like faint, other-worldly tendrils.
And then, just like that, they were on the other side of the wormhole, and the familiar vastness of space greeted them.
A few quick calculations later, Garrick's crewmate discovered that they were, surprisingly, still in the Solar system. As a matter of fact, on their current trajectory, they would reach Earth in two to three months.
Garrick sat back feeling a bit disgruntled. The wormhole had been a big letdown.
Or so he thought.
"Ground control, this is Adventurer, we are approaching Earth's exosphere."
A few minutes interspersed with static later:
"Adventurer, we have no records of your ship leaving Earth. Please clarify your launch details."
Garrick looked at his crew. The air was thick with confusion. His crewmate transmitted their launch details.
The response, when it came, took a while to comprehend.
"According to your data, Adventurer, your launch took place 16 years - from now. Please confirm your launch details."
The crew were stunned. Even the repeated questions from Ground Control did little to break the silence.
They landed safely in the middle of the ocean, but during the final descent, the heat from the atmosphere's friction had weakened some parts of the ship's hull, which had then cracked open on contact with the water. The crew made it out alive, but had to despondently watch their ship sink into a watery grave from their inflatable raft. It felt anticlimactic, and Garrick didn't like it one bit.
When they finally reached Ground Control, the place was buzzing with a suppressed awe. Even though there were a few in doubt, most of them had accepted the strangeness of what had just occurred - the crew of Adventurer had travelled back in time.
They decided to keep the incident under wraps, since time travel would have been a little too incredulous for the public to take in. Also, the wormhole through which they had come out had collapsed weeks ago; this along with the fact that their ship was sleeping with the fishes somewhere meant that there wasn't enough evidence for a convincing story.
The crew, Garrick included, stayed on as advisors at the Space Station. Their information about future developments in technology, though lacking in some detail, was extremely valuable nonetheless.
One day, while browsing the internet, Garrick happened upon a trailer for an upcoming movie. It was about travelling into space, and wormholes and black holes were some of the main attractions. The trailer looked very, very familiar - and then he remembered where he'd seen it before.
Another realization, one with far more intensity, struck him almost immediately after. There was something he needed to do.
The newly bought ticket was held firmly in his hand. He stood quietly near the wall, giving him a good view of the crossing ahead. Any moment now...
There! He found the person he was looking for. A teenage boy with ridiculously spruced up hair, walking nonchalantly towards the crossing, earphones blasting punk music into his head.
Garrick took a moment to realize just how much things had changed. How much HE had changed. He couldn't believe that the boy he was looking at right now, so pompous and carefree, would grow up to become a meticulous, hard-working aerospace engineer. But that was the thing about change, wasn't it? Even the smallest incidents could set in motion a turn of events with unimaginable outcomes. A butterfly flapping its wings in Brazil could set off a hurricane in Texas.
It was time for this butterfly to get to work. He briskly strode over to the boy and tapped on his shoulder.
"Are you interested in watching this movie? I have an extra ticket because my friend can't make it."