“A Little Something for Us Tempunauts” was originally published in the anthology Final Stage in 1974. It can now be found in The Eye of the Sibyl and Other Classic Stories by Philip K. Dick on pp. 257–274.
Addison Doug returns from a time travel voyage to a surprised girlfriend. She tells him how they news reported that all of them died on the voyage. Addison tells her that the other two tempunauts—Benz and Crayne—will be coming to visit soon, along with a Russian chrononaut, to help figure out what happened.
Benz and Crayne are struggling to find Doug’s home. Crayne thinks it strange to be officially dead, but Benz reassures him, pointing out that everyone has a death date. Their death date, officially, just happens to be in the past.
They are discussing the situation with Doug’s girlfriend, Mary Lou Hawkins. They figure that something happened in reentry. In private thoughts, Addison knows that they are in a closed time loop, repeating this series of events thousands, maybe a million times. They have yet figured out how to escape the loop. Their dilemma is near Biblical in consequence.
General Toad talks with the tempunauts, interested in cultivating their public image following their deaths and now return. The Soviet chrononaut theorizes that such an implosion in reentry could cause an infinite timeloop.
At a bar with Mary Lou, Addison Doug is getting drunk and is met by a man who seems to recognize him. Later he is warned by some police that he should not even be out and about before the Day of Mourning is complete. He reminds him that although they died, they will make an appearance at their own memorial service (being time travelers, of course). This will help build up public support for maintaining the time-space program.
The Day of Mourning takes place and the return of the three tempunauts is proclaimed before the crowd. To a reported, Benz also explains that they are hoping that by stopping one week after their flight, they will be able to figure out what caused the accident at reentry and resolve it. Addison Doug breaks in with a more brutal truth. Only death is the solution for the three time travelers.
Later, the Soviet chrononaut confirms Doug’s hypothesis, but since the only evidence that they are in an eternal time loop is Doug’s feelings of fatigue (no one can remember doing this endlessly) they cannot act on his plan to sabotage reentry to cause their deaths. Eventually General Toad allows them to make their own decision. Benz and Crayne do not think there is an infinite loop, but know that they will die anyway.
On the way back to the launch pad Doug receives notice from Dr. Fein that they can confirm that the crew is in an infinite time loop, but on a more positive note, they will be getting a special posthumous award from the government.
As Dick himself explained, the major theme in “A Little Something for Us Tempunauts” is boredom, specifically with the space program and the broader social ennui about the future. He wrote: “I felt a vast weariness over the space program, which had thrilled us so at the start—especially the first lunar landing—and then had been forgotten and virtually shut down, a relic of history.” (392) Forty years later, the space program remains incapable of inspiring Americans to do great things, at least not in the same way as in the past. Certainly the space program exists as extensions of military power and the demands of capital, but the spirit of exploration has been lost. But Dick clearly felt boredom at writing science fiction by this time. “I felt a futility about futility—there is nothing more defeating than a strong awareness of defeat, and as I wrote I realized that what for us remains merely a psychological problem—over-awareness of the likelihood of failing and the lethal feedback from this—would for a time-traveler be instantly converted into an existential, physical horror chamber.” (392) With the threat of the end of history hovering over our heads, we feel like the protagonist of the story, the tempunaut, Addison Doug. Doug, along with the other time-travelers is caught in an eternal return, cycling between their departure and their death a few days later. They have long lost count of how many times they repeated the same event. In Dick’s notes, he wonders what the proper response to such an eternal return is. Should we despair like the characters and attempt suicide. Escaping the eternal return means their death, of course. Striving on, in the face of perpetual boredom and banal repetitiveness does not seem a much better choice. While the story does not give the time travelers the option of changing the playing field so as not to be caught in the eternal return, we are not so easily trapped by the “end of history.” The so-called end of history is not our only fate.