|Submitted by G.S. Williams on Mon, 08/06/2012 - 06:18|
I slept in my clothes and woke up mid-morning, having slept for about eighteen hours. I ate breakfast and had my driver take me to the university. I didn’t bother to change, I just wanted to get right back to work.
I put the program settings to the same points that they had been when I went to September 17th. That would give me a base to start from. I nudged them back just a bit, to see if I landed on the 18th. It was only an estimate, but I would work from wherever I landed.
Transition was uncomfortable, but not as bad as my first few tries the day before. The WAS settings were finally in a good spot. I shook off my disorientation and checked the piece of paper. I went to a classroom for the time and found that it was 7:20. It looked like morning outside. I checked my pockets and went in search of the date.
“The nineteenth?” I said to myself at the newspaper box. “How did I get that far?”
I chewed my lip in thought. I had nudged it about thirty-six hours, give or take. I hadn’t meant to go that far. Well, it was morning. I still had a chance to find Frank and tell him not to take me to the party tonight. If he was still on schedule, he would be going to the coffee shop soon. I could meet him there.
I ran down the block and around the corner, and made it to the coffee house in only a few minutes. The clock behind the counter said it was 7:25. I ducked into the bathroom, since I didn’t see Frank yet. He might not come until eight or so, in which case I would be close to the end of my range. I looked in the mirror to see if I was presentable after my run. I smoothed out my hair and went back out.
My husband was sitting at a table facing the door, I would recognize the back of his head anywhere. Perhaps he was expecting me to come through any minute. I really didn’t want to run into my counterpart from the past.
“Who are you waiting for?” I asked him.
He turned around and his smile melted my heart. He stood up and came towards me. I froze in place as he put his arms around me.
“You,” he said. I sighed and sank against him, feeling his warmth. I squeezed my arms around him, glad to have him so close again. Sweet torture.
Frank led me to the table and had me sit. I fought the tears burning in my eyes.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“Frank, you will never understand how hard this is sometimes.” I shook my head, trying not to sniffle.
“So explain it to me. Yesterday you said you would.”
“You saw me yesterday? I hate how confusing transition is! What was the date?”
“Yesterday was September 18th. You wrote it on your hand. Which was weird, because you already had today’s date on your other hand. What was that about?” He pointed at my hands, which of course were bare.
I cocked my head in thought. “I haven’t done that yet. What did the one with today’s date say?”
“Just ‘September 19th, 8 A.M.’ Why did you do that?”
“I didn’t. I’m going to, in ten minutes, apparently. The question is, why?”
“You said for calibrating. What do you need to calibrate?”
“Oh! My time machine.” I had to smile. His comments gave me an idea.
Frank laughed and snorted some of his coffee. “Ow. Sorry. I’m really not sure how I’m supposed to react to that. Am I supposed to make a crack about Marty and the Doc? Ask if you parked the DeLorean out front? It’s a joke, right?” He grinned.
I just stared at him. How could he joke around like this when I’d been working so hard to save his life? I’d been to the Franklin building, called him, ran through the streets... and now he was making jokes?
“You’re not kidding, are you?” Frank said, and he seemed a little embarrassed.
“Have you listened to anything I’ve told you over the past week? Your life is in danger! What’s funny about that?” I demanded.
He opened his mouth, thought better of whatever he was going to say, and then shrugged. “I honestly don’t know how to react to this. My first impulse was to assume you were being funny. Anything else, I’m simply not going to understand. You say ‘time machine’ as casually as someone talking about their new DVD player.”
“I realize it’s not a conventional topic of conversation. But you had to know something weird was going on.”
“Truthfully, I’ve been thinking you might be a little crazy. Your behaviour is entirely erratic…” He blushed, as if worried I might feel insulted.
I realized how much he must have worried about my state of mind all week. To him, my past counterpart and present self had probably seemed like one person. A person with big mood swings.
“I’m really sorry, Frank.” I reached for his hand. “Not all of this is going to make sense right away. It’s going to be hard on you. But what I’m telling you is the truth: I built a time machine in order to save your life. Because you are going to be dead in a year.”
“You say you’re not crazy. So, you’re from what, the future? How am I supposed to believe that?”
“I don’t really know how to prove it to you,” I said.
“Can I see the machine?” Frank asked.
“Not really. It doesn’t work like in the movies. I don’t travel here in a magic car. I showed you the device after I built it, but that hasn’t happened in your personal timeframe yet.”
“Maybe you had better start at the beginning. I’m already confused enough as it is.”
“That’s the other fun thing about time travel. It’s incredibly disorienting. I was able to find you here because the coffee house is one of our favourite spots, and I know that you came here even before we met. But I never know what day it is when I arrive, and have to check with newspapers or ask someone the date. I often mix up my own personal time-frame; it appears that transition jumbles neural pathways. I imagine it has something to do with the acceleration affecting the electrical charge in the brain…” I began to tell him.
Frank held his hands up. “Whoa! I said I was already confused.”
I had to laugh. I had spent so much time trying to understand my own device, I had forgotten he knew nothing about it. “I’m sorry. I’ll try to keep it simpler. The machine, it’s not something you travel in. It’s more that it gives my body the right energy frequency to travel against the entropy wave…”
My husband-to-be looked more confused than ever. I sighed. “Okay, I’ll think of a way to explain that later. Basically, I get thrown into the past by energy. When the charge wears off, I go back.”
“Back to the Future,” he intoned seriously, but the underlying joke was there.
“Yes,” I smiled as he persisted in trying to be cute. “But the machine is difficult to aim, and I often end up on the wrong day. I’ve been trying to land on the day we met, to convince you not to talk to me.”
“You did! I met you, we kissed, and then we met again and you had no idea who I was!” Frank said excitedly. As if it was only now beginning to make sense. I was glad to hear that I finally met up with him on the 11th.
“Well, I guess that means I get this thing calibrated. But the biggest problem with that is the disorientation effect. By the time I get back to my present, your future, I hardly remember what I’ve done, so I can’t really configure the machine to send me to a different day.”
“Well, if your memory sucks so much, maybe that’s why you wrote it on your hand. It will tell you the day and time you visited in the past when you get back.”
“It might work.” I smiled. I felt foolish. I had written it on paper once, and then forgotten to take it along with me a second time. Writing on my own hand certainly would be more convenient, and impossible to drop. I got my pen from my pocket.
“September 19th, 8 A.M.” Frank said as I wrote. “Maybe that works.”
“So does this mean you believe me?” I asked him.
“I don’t know how to believe something I hardly understand,” Frank shook his head. “But how about this: I’m willing to suspend disbelief. I’ll keep an open mind, until you figure out how to prove it to me.”
“I’m a little more concerned with saving your life, but I’ll think about it.”
“So fill me in. Why is my life in danger?” He asked seriously.
“I don’t really want to talk about you dying. It’s still pretty fresh for me.” I blinked back tears, fighting the memory of the blood.
“Whereas, for me, it’s not really on my itinerary. All I know is that you seem pretty adamant that I’m going to die and that being around you causes it.”
“So the solution is pretty simple, stop spending time with me. Then, you don’t have to worry about when or how you die.” I tried to smile, and make this serious topic a little less uncomfortable.
“If I did stop spending time with you, and didn’t die, doesn’t that mean you wouldn’t travel back in time to save me? Ergo, you wouldn’t even be here right now. So, that’s like a paradox, right?” Frank said, sounding like the lawyer he was.
I looked down at the tabletop and played on it with my fingernail. This was not a pleasant thing to think about. “I don’t like thinking about that, either. I’m hoping it doesn’t apply.”
“What? I’m not a scientist, but I understand logic and causal relationships. You’re hoping that normal cause-and-effect physics doesn’t apply? You don’t know?”
“How can I know? It’s not like there’s a Time Traveller’s Guide to the Galaxy. I’m making this up as I go,” I told him. It was frustrating not to know the answers. All I had was hope.
Frank combed his fingers along his head, obviously trying to make sense of it all. “So, hypothetically, I die, and you travel back in time to prevent it, and you’re not even sure it will work? What did you base that idea on?”
“Because I wanted it to work. Stupid, emotional, sentimental, and not at all scientific.”
“Do you even have a working theory?” he asked.
“Sort of. Newton believed matter could neither be created nor destroyed, it just took on different forms. To some this meant time travel could never be possible, as it would be introducing new energy into a closed system, thereby overloading and destroying it. My presence in the past demonstrates that all forms of matter exist irregardless of their location in temporal space. The fourth dimension of time might work in the same way as length, width or height, it’s just another location. I can be near the beginning or the middle, without displacing anything.”
“I think my brain is being displaced, there’s so much I just don’t quite grasp,” Frank said. “I think you mean that people assumed someone couldn’t travel to the past because the matter in their body was already there, in another form, right? And what you’re saying is, that the matter of the past and the future, they exist independently? I don’t really understand it, but I think that’s what you’re saying.”
“That’s it. There is a school of thought in physics that speculates that the universe is a multiverse: alternate dimensions where the different configurations of matter all have a place. A person turns left instead of right. A car crash happens, or is averted. All of them exist in the universe, somewhere. So the only thing that moves is consciousness, according to one choice or another. Have you ever seen someone line up dominoes and then knock them down? Picture time like a line of dominoes, each one a little different than the last. All that transfers between them is the force of the first one being knocked over, that same little spurt of energy goes from one to the next until they all fall down.”
“Huh?” Frank said.
“Well, I’m saying each moment in time is a different domino. But consciousness can be moved between the dominoes like the force of the first one falling. You can’t see it. But it has an impact. So, I’m just moving the domino of ‘me’ from my time frame to the domino representing your time frame, which exists independently. The past, present and future are all occurring at the same time, the only thing that registers them as linear is our perception, our consciousness. From outside the time frame, the different time periods would be a still picture.”
“My head hurts.”
I had to smile. “I’ll try and think of another way to explain it. But, the important thing is, what I believe will save your life is that, if I can come here to this ‘domino,’ I can cause the chain of events after it to go in another direction, and save your life.”
“Isn’t that kind of playing God? Messing with history like that? If your machine allows you do something so world-changing, that’s a dangerous little toy,” Frank pointed out.
“Well, it’s not like I intend to use it for anything else. And no one else knows how it works.”
“I think that’s what they said about the nuclear bomb after World War Two.”
I felt sick to my stomach as he said that. Oppenheimer was reputed to have immediately regretted creating the atom bomb after he saw it in action, saying “I am become Death, the Shatterer of worlds,” from Hindu scripture. It had shaken him to his core. Had I created something just as dangerous?
I covered my mouth and felt my fingers tremble. Frank reached out for my other hand and squeezed to give me comfort. It didn’t help much.
“I couldn’t have been short-sighted, could I? I mean, the possible ramifications… I need to bury the research, maybe even disassemble the machine… Oh, Frank, how will I save you if I do that?” I looked at him, despairing.
“Shhhh, Calla, it’s okay. I didn’t mean to get you more worked up. I really have no idea if your machine is real, or if anything you’ve said today is even possible. I’m completely out of my element. But one thing I believe in for sure, is cause and effect. Evidence. I’m here, you’re here, the world isn’t going anywhere. I don’t think you can cause a paradox and destroy what’s already happened. I don’t think your device can hurt anyone.”
I wiped my nose on my sleeve, fighting more tears. “But then I can’t save you, either. I don’t want to believe that.”
“Look, maybe I do die in a year, or whatever. But everybody dies. I can see from our weird little visits that I become really important to you. Just the idea of that makes me really happy. Why would I want you to stop that from happening? Even if it’s only for a short while, it’s more than I’ve ever had before. I say it’s worth the risk.”
My tears won the fight and started spilling down my cheeks. “You stupid jerk. That’s probably the most romantic thing I’ve ever heard.”
I reached for him, putting my hand behind his head and tugging him close. I kissed my beloved husband as hard as I could, feeling my heart ache. I might never get to do this again. I was almost out of time for this trip, and I didn’t know if I could dare make another.
“I have to go to the bathroom,” I whispered against his mouth.
“Mmm, okay,” Frank said back, savouring our kiss. I snuck away to the bathroom and waited for transition in the stall.
I walked out of the WHEN and collapsed into a chair, crying again. My machine was potentially dangerous. I couldn’t let anyone else ever find out about it. It needed to be taken apart. Frank was going to die and I would never see him again.