If you've read much of this blog, you'll know that one of my sci-fi fascinations has always been with time travel.
In many an adventure in time travel, the time travellers go back in time, flirting with the possibility of forever altering the future, by an action -- or an inaction -- that changes not only the past, but the future outcome as well.
Though -- Hollywood being what it is -- sometimes the future, the present, and the past, can all be jacked with at once, and things turn out okay despite the time tampering.
Even if a Delorean, or a transparent aluminum formula, get respectively screwed up and revealed in the process.
At least we think we know that there'll be humpback whales in the 23rd Century. At least in the hopes of someone in Hollywood.
I -- and most of you -- are familiar with The Twilight Zone (TOS). There were approximately 163 episodes of it, from 1959-1964. As with another sci-fi series that would come along later -- The Outer Limits -- the show packed a great deal of science fiction, theory, and current science, into a wealth of possibilities for humankind, from the absolutely worst case, to the absolutely amusing.
In many of the episodes, with an underlying 'human life lesson' theme woven in, and remarked about in the show's closing narration.
I haven't seen all of The Twilight Zone episodes, but I saw one for the first time this weekend. A classic on the conundrums of time travel and humans wrestling with inner fears, from Season 1, Episode 18: The Last Flight.
It begins with Flight Lt. William Decker, Royal Flying Corps (UK), flying his Nieuport biplane fighter over France, totally lost in a mysterious white cloud. Suddenly, Lt. Decker sees beneath him an airfield, and he goes in at once to land.
But it is like no airfield he as ever seen before, with aircraft parked upon it, completely alien to him, save for the national markings of the aircraft: US.
Lt. Decker has arrived at a US airbase in Reims, France. With a casual remark to a US Air Force major about "I didn't realize how advanced you chaps are", Flight Lt. Decker is slow to realize that he is more lost than he knew.
For Flight Lt. Decker, and his missing wingman, Flight Lt. Alexander "Leadbottom" Mackaye, took off on a mission on March 5, 1917. And Lt. Decker has arrived at the airbase in Reims on March 5...1959.
For a while, it's not clear who is more confused: Flight Lt. Decker, or the USAF brigadier general and major, who aren't convinced that Decker is some kind of prank...or worse.
Perhaps, they think, Decker's arrival is some kind of salute or stunt regarding the pending arrival of an Royal Air Force Air Vice Marshal at Reims: Air Vice Marshal Alexander Mackaye.
Impossible, insists a disbelieving Lt. Decker: when Decker had last seen Mackaye, his Nieuport was surrounded and under attack by at least seven German Fokker fighters. No, the Americans insist: Air Vice Marshal Mackaye had survived not only World War I, but had been a hero during the aerial Battle of Britain, during World War II, and in so being, having saved hundreds of lives with his heroics.
Decker is at once both stunned and confused. Confused enough to reveal a little known story to the American major about how Flight Lt. Mackaye had obtained the nickname of "Leadbottom".
Shortly it becomes a concern to the Americans that Mackaye's arrival at Reims is unaccountably delayed. And Decker -- under minimum security 'confinement' because the Americans remain skeptical of his story -- confesses to the American major, not only had he become separated from Flight Lt. Mackaye because Decker "was scared and running away"...but now, learning what he had of Mackaye, Decker has come to realize that if he doesn't overcome his own personal cowardice, and take off back into that mysterious white cloud to assist Flight Lt. Mackaye, hundreds of lives saved by Mackaye will be lost, and there will BE no Air Vice Marshal Mackaye. Suddenly, Decker's own fear of dying is overcome by a greater fear of what Decker's desire for self-preservation will mean to not only Flight Lt. -- and future Air Vice Marshal -- Mackaye, but to those hundreds of lives Mackaye saved in a future Decker would, himself, never see.
When Lt. Decker's efforts to convince the Americans to let him go come to naught, Lt. Decker breaks himself out, gets to his plane, and takes off again, finding and disappearing into the mysterious white cloud, never to be seen again.
A short time later, Air Vice Marshal Mackaye arrives at the airbase, and once with the American officers, is asked if he ever heard of a Flight Lt. Decker. Mackaye relates how Decker had been his wingman back in 1917, and had "run off" during a tangle with a group of German fighters...and just when Mackaye thought he was a goner, Decker suddenly returned, and shot down three of the German planes before being shot down himself, saving Mackaye's life while losing his own.
When Air Vice Marshal Mackaye becomes irritated and demands to know exactly what this is all about, the Americans hand him the personal ID and other items Decker had left behind, and suggest to "Leadbottom" that he be sitting down, to hear the rest of the story.
Imaginative, romanticized science fiction? Perhaps.
But, as we've seen many a time in real life, some of the most unselfish acts by Man on behalf of his fellow Man, come at a knowing cost to the former.
The overcoming of one's own fear, of self-sacrificial heroism in behalf of others, time and again, is not merely a lesson of -- or in -- The Twilight Zone.
Labels: science fiction, The Last Flight, The Twilight Zone, time travel