The old man slumped in his chair that was more a mechanized throne on wheels than anything recognizably designed for comfort. There were wires and tubes connecting his frail, twisted shell to the world around him, and the stroller-sized wheels didn’t look strong enough to support the whole thing, let alone move. But move they did.
NRD watched the twisted man in the chair smile at the camera crew that crowded one corner of the reception room decorated with birthday banners and balloons. Like the man, the smile was uneven. Like the man, the smile was so full of life that it shined.
“Seriously, how much longer is he just going to stare at the old geezer?” SPARK of course wasn’t going to let attention drift form him long. And AURA was of course going to..
“SPARK, shut it. You didn’t have to come tonight, you know.”
“Right, because I was missing a free time hop, even if it’s just to watch the virgin cloud fail again.”
NRD let their voices fade out in the background, focusing on the old man again. Shifting senses, it phased out most of the visible light spectrum, and highlighted neural currents instead. The scene changed. The bright, pretty camera people and TV anchors faded into a light gray soup of average conversation and mundane concerns. The scientist in the wheelchair instead, burst into a nova so bright that it was hard to focus on it.
The mind housed into that broken shell of a man burned with a sharp, ever shifting corona of neural energy. His thoughts reached out into the stars, complex, intricate, a filigree of interconnected concepts woven together in an awe-inspiring light show. NRD was, as ever, left speechless. SPARK, of course, was not.
“I don’t get it. It’s the third time. We could be checking out the pyramids, but we just keep using our energy to come visit this dude?”
SPARK was a collective of young, impatient souls who sought thrills above all else. NRD wasn’t annoyed by the young one’s chatter, but did wish that it would take itself anywhere but here. It had a whole chunk if early 20th century to explore, and it just didn’t necessarily have to stick around here.
It did have a point, though. This was the third time that EVERYONE had given NRD a chance to travel back in time to make contact with the legendary scientist. The energy required to punch a hole in the continuum twenty centuries long could have been used to unravel a black hole, or create a whole new dimension. The greatest collective of human consciousness in the 44th century had believed in NRD’s dream so far, but the tide of its gestalt was changing, and this felt very much like a last chance.
“… I am not even here to watch NRD. I’m here to witness how you can be a distributed transhuman colony of pure thought from the year 4430, and still act like a body-bound ape..”
They were at it again. SPARK and AURA weren’t friends, but the three of them had been companions for so long that they felt like family, and their absence from this moment would have been felt.
The scene played out as it had twice before. The scientist spoke his invitation, welcoming time travellers to his birthday. Two of his crew sniggered, the others just smiled in politely. No one manifested, naturally. Time travel broke so many laws of physics that no corporeal creature could pull it off without twisting reality until it snapped. It wasn’t until humans had transcended to pure energy-based thought patterns that time travel had become a possibility, and even then the costs would make most societies pale.
The first time, NRD had broadcast a general band greeting that had fried most of the cameras and delayed the shooting by two hours. The second time, it had tried broadcasting neural patterns directly into the humans’ wetware, but that had just made two of the crew vomit violently.
So NRD had gone back and done so much more ancient history research, digging into obscure trivia about humans of this century. It had taken its collective minds nearly two centuries to gather the information it might have required to successfully put this last attempt in motion. And it was pretty sure that EVERYONE wouldn’t provide the energy required for a fourth trip just to visit this man.
The crew left, as it always had. The man in the chair asked for a moment of silence, as he always had. His glasses were nerd glasses. His clothes, nerd clothes. NRD had formed around a shared appreciation for the vision and dreams for this man.
NRD’s core burned bright with the desire to let the man in the wheelchair know how humanity had embraced the stars, and left their bodies and limitations behind in the dust of Earth to roam the universe as pure thought. It wanted to share with him the sights of the bright radiation named after him, and let him know that it would all be right.
But a non-corporeal, energy based entity could simply not communicate directly with wetware-limited beings. NRD had learned that the hard way twice. So now, it did the next best thing. It ran a simple message through a translation filter for one of humanity’s most venerable languages. A greeting was turned into a series of dots and dashes. And a soft, simple stream of energy printed it on the man’s screen.
Just before the vortex opened to swallow them to the future again, NRD got to see the professor’s smile widen, and his body tense to look around, but he couldn’t.
On the screen, in green neon letters, a simple sequence of words: “Happy birthday, professor”.