Troubled Times

by Richard Murray

Part 1 appears
in this issue.

conclusion


I’m keeping busy as ordered. I’ve taken calibration as far as I can and managed to increase the jump-time to forty-seven minutes. But the Feds relentlessly pester me about jumping back even further.

What I should do is use time to my advantage, kind of like a productivity tool. I go into the past and grab my double, bring him back, and we’d end up getting twice as much done. But the Feds are so puckered up they probably couldn’t cope with that kind of radical thinking.

But Mieko. He’s still got me puzzled. If it wasn’t Mieko I killed in the lab, then who was it? I know the obvious answer, but I’d be shocked if Mieko had been bold enough to pull it off.

* * *

Frustrating morning at the lab. I decided to take a lunch break at the Student Grill just off campus. I sat facing a row of windows overlooking a strip mall off in the distance when I noticed something very strange behind the mall. There was an air distortion that looked like it was made of clear jelly undulating over the ground and rapidly headed my way.

When the jelly stuff passed over shoppers at the mall, something looked out of kilter. The people. All the people had vanished, and the jelly was rolling my way at a fast clip.

Rather than run, I stood there in the restaurant rooted to the floor like a village idiot. As the jelly got to the building, the brick walls didn’t slow it down one damn bit. It rolled right over me.

I felt a tingling sensation much stronger than the Chrono-Loop gave off, and then some serious vertigo dropped me to the floor. I had to close my eyes or I’m sure I would have fainted.

* * *

Finally able to stand up, I stumbled around the restaurant and there wasn’t a single living person within my line of sight. I ran into the kitchen. No one, but the food was still cooking on the grills, steam rising from pots.

I came close to screaming like an infant but managed to tamp down my rising panic. I had to find help. Someone must be in the vicinity.

I walked outside and took a circuit around the building, then the whole block. I didn’t spot one student or faculty in the entire area. Something was seriously wrong here.

What was that air disturbance? And then it hit me. Deutsch was wrong. I had just been force-fed a humongous helping of paradox pie. So that’s what a really big causal correction storm looks like. I can’t imagine the amount of energy it took to make those people disappear. Are they no more, or were they shoved over into another timeline? I have a feeling it’s the former. Those poor bastards don’t exist anymore. And I have no idea how big the correction is. It could include the entire campus or well beyond.

* * *

I went back to the lab and worked like a mad dog trying to get the Chrono-Loop to test out functional, and the thing gave me fits. It spun up, it spun down, but wouldn’t generate a decent displacement bubble.

I heard a voice behind me and jumped out of my seat.

“You really are an ignorant asshole, Jack.”

“Mieko?! But I... You, you can’t—”

“Sit down. I don’t want you standing anywhere near me.”

Still shaken, I complied.

“You’re not seeing a ghost, Jack. Oh, you killed me, or who you thought was me.”

“So who are you? How did you escape from FBI custody?” I managed to squeak out.

“I was never in FBI custody. You’re smart, Jack, figure it out yourself. Just be quiet and listen. The person you killed in the lab was my double from the past.”

“Ah hah, I knew it. You—”

“Quiet! After his shock over meeting me, I convinced my double to switch places with me to test our paradox theory. And, by the way, I have complete memories of what happened to him at your hands. It’s as if his death was my death. Our minds must have become entangled due to our close proximity when I met with him in the past.

“Dying was a completely unexpected phenomenon, the details of which I will never reveal to you. I want you to remain ignorant about what occurred, knowing that I could have given you that knowledge. Call it my revenge for forcing me to have this death experience stuck in my head.

“I don’t owe you a damn thing, Jack, but I will let you in on what happened here. First up, you branched off into a new timeline. Paradoxes do exist, but they don’t manifest in linear order and can occur out of proportion as well.

“Time propagation anomalies can alter causality, of course, but they can also change energy and entropy across time. Occasionally something really big, that might require terajoules of energy, will pop ahead of any small changes, such as an entire planet’s population disappearing.”

“Entire planet? You can’t be serious. If that’s the case, why didn’t I vanish right along with everyone else?” I asked.

“I don’t know. Your disappearance would be logical, since you initiated the paradox. If I had to hazard a guess, I’d say you probably made too many time jumps trying to grab money and overstayed your welcome. That’s probably what triggered the paradox.”

“Oh sure, make me the convenient scapegoat,” I said.

“Well, you’re all alone aren’t you? Stabilization of the time stream might have required elimination of the potential for further causality disruption; in this case, people. But it wasn’t necessary to eliminate you, because you could no longer trigger a causality violation. You have nothing to act against. Problem solved.”

“It still seems more efficient to eliminate me, rather than everyone else,” I said.

“Consider this. If time merely removed you, there remains the potential for a repeat causal violation by someone else, perhaps multitudes of people, now that time travel has been released from Pandora’s Box. And who’s to say how many terajoules of energy are required to branch off a separate timeline. It might be a lot less than we think. This is a new branch of science, and we have much to learn.”

“But what about you, Mieko? How did you manage to escape all of this? You’ve been flouncing about in time and your world is still intact.”

“Not really. I’ve managed to stay just ahead of violation corrections by doing periodic jumps, but I’m sure my luck will eventually run out. Mother nature is a relentless bitch, and sooner or later she will extract her pound of flesh.

“Time to go. It was a pleasure explaining to you why you’ll be alone for the rest of your life, and deservedly so, you demonic toad.” Mieko pulled out his remote.

“No Mieko, don’t go. I promise I will never harm you again. You have my word. Help me get back home.”

I lunged for him, my hands grasping nothing but air. Mieko had already disappeared.

* * *

So there I was, alone again. It wasn’t the AI singularity that put an end to mankind. It was me, or more to the point, my sucky timeline. But I was determined to prove Mieko wrong. I didn’t have his quantum-quant brain, but I thought I possessed enough gray matter to figure out how to blow this shoddy timeline.

I didn’t ask Mieko how he located my alternate timeline because I thought I knew the answer. Newly created timelines run parallel to their progenitor timeline at only a few Planck lengths distance. At Planck lengths, quantum effects dominate, which allows particle crosstalk between timelines. That’s how Mieko was able to track my Chrono-Loop’s built-in particle beacon to find me. That, plus other coordinate data, is what allows us to return to our home line.

* * *

After three weeks of working in the lab, I sat staring at the disemboweled Chrono-Loop on my workbench while I munched on a can of baked beans, trying not to drop any on my newly grown beard. I spotted a movement at my side. I turned and gulped down some beans so fast I had a rather grim coughing jag.

“Mieko?!! What the—”

He raised an eyebrow. “Mother nature. The bitch caught up with me.”

“Man, tough break,” I said, not feeling any sympathy whatsoever.

“Yeah, it happened sooner than I thought. And why she dumped me back here, I haven’t a clue.” Mieko walked over to the workbench to take a look at how far I’d gotten with the Chrono-Loop. “Well, here’s one problem right off the bat. You reversed two of the lead wires, but that’s an easy fix.”

After resoldering the wires, Mieko turned his chair to face me. “You know, we’ve triggered so many causal violations that we’re multiple timelines away from our home line by now. That makes particle crosstalk, our main homing coordinate, almost nil. It’s probably the end of the road for us, but as long as there’s even a slim chance of returning to our home line, I think we should try. What do you say we call a truce, Jack? Are you with me?”

Mieko’s question sparked a thought. The FBI is an opportunistic agency and, while replicant Mieko was in their custody, those duplicitous reprobates probably put him to work on the Chrono-Loop, as they had done with me. Mieko could have made significant progress and scattered versions of himself as far as the time stream is long. So killing him now might be pointless.

I gave him a generous smile and decided to take my hand off the rope in my pocket. At least for now.


Copyright © 2016 by Richard Murray

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