Out of Time

drafted by Faulx

A man sits in a dark room, his features unintelligible in the dim light of a computer terminal.  He enters a few quick keystrokes into the console and in short order the monitor responds:

*Accessing Holo Recording > Interstellar History: a Lecture on Timekeeping In New Eden > Location: Imperial Academy Campus*

*Playback Initiating...*

As the recording begins a doddery-looking, old professor can be seen sitting at a small desk in a lecture hall wearing a traditional, scholarly robe.  He sits with his back to the room, staring at a pair of clocks on the wall behind the desk as the mourning pours in through the tall, arched windows.  One clock, labeled "Local" shows 0859 hours.  The other, labeled "EST" reads 2217.  As the later clock rolls over to 2218, the other clock remains unchanged for several seconds before rolling over to 0900 exactly.  At that moment, the university chimes sound clearly in the distance, marking the beginning of class.  After allowing the chimes to play their full tune, a few moments of silence pass before the professor stands to address the many students who have gathered to hear him speak.

"Greetings students, and welcome once again to the Imperial Academy's course on Interstellar History."

"Today we will talk about time."

"What is time?"

"How does it move?"

"Does time flow like syrup: slow and thick?  Or like rubbing alcohol, thin and quick?"

"Or perhaps time is more inconsistent, like porridge, with occasional chunky bits?"

In the audience, brows wrinkle and heads tilt as students consider the odd comparisons.  In the background, one student can be heard whispering to a neighbor, "I wish I hadn't skipped breakfast."

Meanwhile the professor continues his lecture, "The physics of General Relativity tells us that time can be like all of these things."

"When objects are under the action of heavy acceleration, like that near the gravitational field of a large star, pulsar, or black hole, time moves more slowly for that object than if it were in the void of deeper space."

"And near a binary pulsar or a newly forming black hole, time can ripple with the oscillations of gravitational waves."

"Moreover, in Special Relativity, ships traveling at speeds higher than about 10% of the speed of light begin to notice the effects of time dilation, where time elsewhere seems to slow for the traveler and vice versa."

"For the most part, those of us living together on a single planet don't notice these differences at all."

"Like two buoys in the same harbor, bobbing with the tide (that is, for those planets like this one, which have measurable tides), the water always seems to be at the same height.

"So it is for those living on the the same planet; the relative difference in the flow of time is insignificant."

"If, however, one of these buoys is in a harbor on another continent, the relative difference in phase of the tide's cycles becomes apparent: with one buoy high while the other is low, one falling while the other is rising."

"So it is with interplanetary and interstellar communications; the difference in the flow of time become as apparent as the differences in the height of the tidewater."

"Even with FTL fluid router communications, the relative differences in the passage of time can create small differences in the signaling frequencies of transmissions."

"This creates non-insignificant issues for those attempting to coordinate events across interstellar empires."

"So, how have the empires tackled the problem of coordinating time ...Yes? You, sir,  in the front."

An overwhelmed-looking student, having raised a hand, asks, "Excuse me Professor, could you give us some examples of these issues?"

"Ah yes, of course.  For example, is a spacefarer's clock reading the same time as my clock?  If I observe a change in the frequency of the spacefarer's signal, has he changed his velocity or has he entered a gravitational field?  If I have been sending him a live stream of navigational data, could these signaling delays affect his course before I can even observe the effect?  In many situations, these small differences can be safely ignored, but in the more time-critical situations, like high speed maneuvering or plotting warp navigation, they can mean the difference between entering into a stable orbit or crashing into a planet."

"Adding to these complexities, the 'simultaneity' of events is measurably different for ships traveling at relativistic speeds."

"Because the speed of light acts as a hard limit for speed in non-warped space, separate events which those living on a planet may see as simultaneous, may, for the those on the fast-moving-ship, occur one after the other."

"The problems are particularly difficult for computing situations, where the sometimes-unpredictable delays incurred by changes in signaling speeds due to time dilation can cause data to arrive a cycle too late within the machine architecture.  This can corrupt entire files and data streams if the problem is not noticed or properly handled by the system."

Looking out at his audience, the professor flatly states, “These few examples should adequately illustrate the complexity of timekeeping problems faced by space-faring nations.”

A bewildered look on his face, the inquiring student simply nods his head.

"So, again,... how have the empires tackled the problem of coordinating time across the many conditions found in vastness of space?"

"The history of this problem is quite varied."

"Originally, before warp drive, time was typically handled on a planet by planet basis, any lag in communications was significantly shorter than the time required to transit from one planet to another.  Thus, the signaling issue was not as important.  Coordination of events on different worlds was practically unnecessary for most purposes since projects on any particular world rarely had an influence beyond near-orbit, and travelers would naturally sync up schedules and communications with their destination slowly, as they approached their target.

"With the advent of warp-engines, jump-drives, and stargates networks, the time required to pass between worlds transitioned from decades to minutes."

"Furthermore, the development of FTL communications allowed signals to pass basically instantaneously."

"Each empire adjusted to this change, coordinating things in much the same way: through centralized control.  Each empire based its individual calendar on the length of the day and year on their respective home planets."[1]

A student interjects, asking, "Are you saying that the empires took control of people's clocks?  How would that even work?"

"Indeed.  Centralized political control of time is a common theme throughout history.  All that is required is an organizational body that people are willing to follow."

"For example, Just after the Dark Ages, various historical records indicate that religious authorities on some planets would maintain calendars (in some cases based on the orbits of moons, planetary nutation cycles, or solar orbit cycles... any cosmic phenomena which occurred with enough regularity and visibility that it could be easily and accurately measured).  This also allowed the authority, in this case the church, to control the frequency of calls to religious services."

"Archaeological digs have shown, that in ancient times, tribal shamans on the Matari home-world of Pator, were charged with tracking the movements of the heavens to ensure the proper times for planting, harvesting, hunting, and fishing were observed.  Indeed, this service could prove critical to survival during unexpectedly long winters or short summers.  In cases where careful centralized tracking of time was not possible or was simply ignored, many planting and harvesting cycles would happen either too early or too late, leading to famine.  Or, if hunting was allowed to continue for too long or during gestation seasons, animal populations could dip too low to sustain the species, resulting in localized, or even mass, extinctions."

(( author’s note, for historical comparison see the years of confusion in 46 BC and slipping of the calendar before 1582 AD before the adoption of the Gregorian Calendar ))

"Caldari history is replete with frequent small changes to corporate tax law, which altered Caldari calendars to manipulate market conditions or modify taxation frequency to favor higher profits."

"One particularly important example is planetary navigation.  Navigation has long relied on a central calendar authority to enable safe and accurate calculations of distance, which require precise knowledge of a journey's speed and duration.  In planetary journeys against or with the direction of rotation of a world, the movement of the celestial sphere is no longer a reliable indicator of the passage of time (since the view of the heavens' movement changes as the viewer moves).  The collection of specialized skills needed for the creation of portable timepieces (which free travelers from having to use the sky for a clock) has, historically, required a centralized authority in order to be brought together.  Even today, planetary navigation relies on a centralized timekeeping authority, as many orbiting navigational satellites require synchronization to compensate for the effects of relativity."

"More recently, the coordination of time has passed from the individual empires to a single central authority."

"As we all know, In AD 23224 (by the old reckoning), CONCORD was founded by the five empires.  Three years later (0 YC) at the Yoiul Conference, after much debate from various lobbying groups, such as the Arithmetics, the Traditionalists, and the 25ers, a universal calendar was decided upon and set into motion."

"Though each of the groups had differing opinions on how to coordinate calendars, it is important to recognize that the Traditionalist agenda won out in the end.  The Traditionalists, mostly archaeologists and historians like myself, were able to sidestep issues of national favoritism by proposing the use of an ancient calendar system: whose workings were reconstructed from the historical and archaeological record.  In this way, a calendar common to the history of all nations could be used as a middle ground."  

The professor gestures up at the clock on the wall labeled "EST", "Today, over a hundred years later, all the empires benefit from this uniformity..."

"Another important aspect to the traditionalist agenda was a centralizing of coordination in a single, neutral, organization: CONCORD."

"Through a few, key atomic clock facilities, a central network of hardened fluid routers, and accompanying supercomputing facilities, CONCORD can account for the differences in the flow of time throughout space through raw computational power.  From these facilities, CONCORD distributes clock cycle updates through a network of secondary broadcast facilities throughout empire space, which allows for the automatic introduction of leap-picoseconds on a localized basis.  In many instances, computing systems are too simple to make these adjustment themselves, particularly for smaller devices.  Thus, for computing systems, FTL data streams are modified centrally to input or subtract signal cycles, in order to ensure data signals arrive at their destination at the correct time and frequency."

Another student asks, "What about outside empire space?"

"Although it is somewhat outside its purview," the professor answers, "CONCORD has attempted, with great success, to provide synchronization services to capsuleers and other organizations operating in Null Security space (such as Ore and Interbus).

"Using this accurate and trusted authority for timing information and its proprietary signaling protocols, CONCORD can ensure the integrity and synchronization of FTL communications, secure market transactions from timing-based fraud, and synchronize military and policing operations."

"It's safe to say that CONCORD's control over the galactic time, is one of its most overlooked and yet most important powers..."

The holovid fades to black and the Imperial Academy logo plays across the video feed as the professor's voice fades with some barely audible words, "Now, if you'll open your texts to the Liturgy of the Hours, we will take some time to explore some specific examples..."

*Playback Terminated...*

The man sits back in his chair, and a dim beam of light from the console reveals a small smile upon a well-aged chin.  “Yes Professor,” he says to himself, “One of its most overlooked powers indeed.”

Reaching forward once again, he taps another command sequence into the console.

*Accessing Implant > Opening Secure Communication Line > Yulai III - Moon 1 - Secure Commerce Commission Investment Bank > Agent 51163 > Audio Only*

*Communications Channel Open...*

After only a brief contemplative pause, the dark figure’s steady voice speaks four words: “The time is now...”


Closing his implant’s comms signal, the Caldari man sits anxiously, staring at the timer counting down in bold neon-red numbers.  Sweat beads from his forehead and his heart races, as the timer enumerates the heartbeats left in his life.


The State had taken his job, his possessions, his life.  When his corporate "superiors" had taken it all from him, they accused him of negligence, of being a burden to the State.  They even had to the nerve to call him, "A worthless little man".  After all, a Caldari citizen is merely an asset of the State.  But it was THEM that were corrupt; it was THEM that deserved to have everything taken away.  Well, no more would the State claim him; his life was finally his to do with as he pleased.  And it pleased him to show the State what the one little man could do.


The State, the Empires, CONCORD... It was all part of the same thing; he could see that now.  The words and the deeds of the Astrologer had shown him as much.


The 25ers.  They had given him the bomb, they had given him the location, they had given him the pass-codes,... they had given him a purpose.  It was all up to him now.  Everyone would see his worth now.  He could see that NOW was HIS time.


Hastily, he covered the timer by fastening his coat tightly about his neck, took as deep a breath as he could muster, and stepped into the meeting area.

A room full of CONCORD's highest level administrators for the keeping of Eden Standard Time (among them, his old boss) had mere seconds to notice the man enter the room and shout, "The time is Now!!," before the meeting room, along with much of the station decks above and below, exploded out into the vacuum of space.


1. Time and the Astrologer: http://wiki.eveonline.com/en/wiki/Time_and_the_Astrologer_(Chronicle)

word count 2304 (2332 with author’s note)