Issue 6, 2020

Talking to Tomorrow

story by John O'Brien , illustrated by Sylvia Morris

Ethan Fisher received a wonderful new phone on his eleventh birthday. It possessed a crystal-sim, so he was delighted. He thought he would start getting phone calls from his future-self. But he was wrong. In the weeks that followed, his grown-up-self didn’t phone to chat with him even once.

This was surprising and disappointing for Ethan. His older sister, Jenny, often received calls from her future-self. His friends Yashiro and Ivan did too. They enjoyed those phone calls very much. “Talking to tomorrow” they called it.

Jenny’s future-self told her she would become a website designer in the years to come and live in an amazing house overlooking the sea. Yashiro learned from his future-self how to cope with the nasty Justin Miller. Yashiro also learned that he would become a big wave surfer who would ride ten metre waves at a break known as Cow Bombie. Ivan discovered that he would one day go to America, attend university there and earn a rare degree in quantum computing.

Sadly, Ethan couldn’t contribute to their excited conversations about the future. He should have been able to do so, for he now possessed the all-important crystal-sim. In a decade or so, that very same crystal-sim, transferred to a yet-to-be-invented time-phone, should have been able to lock onto its earlier self. But the eagerly awaited calls from the future weren’t coming, and Ethan didn’t know why.

Mum and Dad told him not to worry. They told him his grown-up-self was probably too busy to phone and would likely do so when things quietened down. In truth, though, they didn’t like talking to Ethan about his lack of calls from the future. It unsettled them.

Then at school one day, Justin Miller said something that truly terrified Ethan. ‘Only old people don’t get calls from their future selves,’ he announced during a game of handball. ‘That’s because they’re gonna die before time-phones get invented.’ He grinned at Ethan. ‘Maybe you’re gonna die before time-phones get invented. Maybe that’s why you never Talk to tomorrow.’

‘Stop it!’ cried Yashiro, who was Ethan’s best friend. ‘You're an idiot! How can you say things like that?’

‘I can say them because they’re true,’ said Justin, and he turned and marched away, hurrying across the playground, perhaps hunting for someone else to harass and torment.

‘Don’t worry about him.’ Yashiro smiled at Ethan. ‘He just likes being mean. Let’s get back to the game.’

Ethan nodded. He did get back to the game. But inside he was twisting with tension, for he realised that Justin could be right.

After school, he went to see his parents about his grim day. They were in the kitchen, discussing how to spice up the stew that was bubbling in the oven. ‘Can you worry about the dinner later?’ he asked them. ‘We need to talk about my lack of phone calls from the future.’

‘Again?’ Mum looked up from the cookbook she’d been studying. ‘Ethan, there are many reasons why your future-self mightn’t have phoned.’

‘Do you think it’s because I’m going to die before time-phones get invented?’

‘Of course not!’ cried Dad. He smiled, though Ethan could detect a haunted look in his eyes. ‘Your future-self may have lost that expensive crystal-sim of yours. He may be working in a remote part of the country without any reception. He may be trying to finish an important project before calling you—so he can tell you all about it.’

Ethan nodded. But he didn’t feel any better. He knew his parents were worried about his lack of calls. Just a week earlier, he had heard Mum say that time-phones were an example of technology out of control. In any case, they hadn’t wanted to buy him a phone with a crystal-sim. They had told him before his birthday that he should wait until he was older. But he had nagged and nagged until they had finally given in. Now he realised he should have listened.

I can’t keep complaining to Mum and Dad, he thought, as he wandered away. But who else can I talk to about the missing calls? Ethan considered this. Then he had an idea.

The following afternoon he biked around to Grandad’s place. He helped Grandad with the gardening for a while, and he played with Grandad’s fat dog, Gribbles. Later, as they sat by the fire in the lounge room, drinking coffee and hot chocolate, Ethan decided the time had come to ask for advice. ‘Grandad,’ he said, ‘there’s this kid at school who thinks I’m going to die.’

‘Die?’ said Grandad. ‘Why would some kid think you’re going to die?’

Ethan gathered his thoughts. Then he told Grandad everything. He told him how he hadn’t received a single phone call from his future-self. He told him how other kids talked to their grown-up-selves all the time. He told him that only kids destined to die before time-phones were invented were missing out. And by the time he’d finished, enormous tears were rolling down his cheeks. ‘It means I’m going to die,’ he sobbed.

‘Nonsense,’ said Grandad. He reached over and wiped Ethan’s tears away with a thumb. ‘Now, let me see the phone that’s causing all this grief.’

With trembling fingers, Ethan reached into his pocket. He lifted out his phone. ‘Here it is.’

Grandad took the shimmering device. He stared down at it. Then, without warning, he tossed it into the fire.

‘Grandad!’ Ethan reached out, horrified. But the heat from the flames was too much, and he sat back, watching eyes-wide as the fire consumed his phone. ‘What have
you done? Now I’ll have to get a new phone!’

‘Don’t get another phone,’ said Grandad.

‘I have to!’ cried Ethan.

‘Why? I get by without one. And if you never own another phone, Ethan, your future-self will never own one,’ Grandad nodded as he spoke. ‘That means he’ll never be able to contact you. Those missing phone calls don’t mean you’re going to die. They just mean you’ve got no way of talking to yourself across time.’

Ethan gazed at the smouldering remains of his phone. He considered Grandad’s words. And slowly, he calmed down. Slowly, the tension filling him began to drain away. Slowly, the brilliance of his grandfather’s solution became clear in his mind.

‘You’re right, Grandad,’ he said at last. ‘My future-self can’t talk to me if neither of us have a phone. It explains the lack of calls perfectly.’

Ethan felt a whole lot better. He sat with Grandad for ages, thinking about the days to come. He realised they would remain a mystery to him if he had no phone. But would that be so bad? Maybe not, he thought. After all, his future would now be kind of like an approaching birthday. It would be a wonderful time, full of surprises, that would be well worth the wait.





Elements of science fiction

Learning Resource for Teachers