Flash Fiction Story 071: The Last Time Travel Story

She told herself to relax, but it only worked a little bit. It wasn’t like this was anything really dangerous, like spelunking or telling the person who cuts your hair to “just be creative.”

It was just time travel.

Four years in undergrad. That was the easy part. Two years for a Masters in Philosophy. Before you ask, a firm grasp of logical consistency is surprisingly helpful when one is trying to ward off paradoxes. Four more years to get a PhD in Theoretical Physics, the result of which was to negate any traditional forms of logic she had previously learned. Finally, after three years at the Temporal Academy, here she was, ready to make her first venture into the fourth dimension.

The gruff custodian of the time pod assessed her and the other graduates. His neatly trimmed hair and pendulous gait told her he probably had some time in the military long ago. His calm, smooth movements this close to a tachyon emitter, made him seem like he had been giving grave warnings to fresh academy graduates for years.

“All right, rookies, I have the feeling you know all of this, but the National Transportation Safety Board requires I go through these procedures before every flight, so get used to them. Also, on the off chance you are currently in the throes of a grandfather paradox, you probably aren’t remembering much of anything, so I’ll tell you again.

“Time travel has been around for hundreds of years. We’ve perfected it. It is safe. As you begin your journey into what once was and what may yet be, you will enjoy our stellar safety record as long as you keep several safety rules in mind. First: never, ever take off your tungsten-carbide bracelet.”

She self-consciously touched her left wrist, even though she knew the band was right where she had left it.

“Tungsten naturally repels tachyons, and believe you me, no one wants to be an open buffet for free-roaming tachyons.”

She had seen the video of what happened to people after tungsten-less travel. Parts of those people had become much younger; other parts had become much, much older. None of those bodies were ready for such a change. They didn’t live long, but they survived long enough to feel what was happening to them.

The custodian continued through his obligatory set of rules:

When out in the field, one is not to fraternize with extra-temporal figures. Along the same lines, if during a journey one runs into a blood relative, the traveller must not make contact of any kind. Despite what the custodian said, grandfather paradoxes were no joke.

No one from either the past or the future can return to the present with an expeditionary team. People from the past tend to feel a great deal of anxiety in the shadow of their previously unknown fate, and those from the future tend to have a difficult time obtaining credit at affordable interest rates.

And there was one final rule of prime importance: If you did not grab a tight hold of the grounding bar with your right hand before the temporal transit process begins and hold it throughout the process, then all of the tungsten in the world wouldn’t be able to help you. Tachyons would be the least of your worries. No videos existed of what might happen if someone screwed up in that regard.

“Do we all understand?” the custodian asked.

“I understand,” she said. Several other voices echoed the same words around her. It made her feel better, those words. Everyone else shared her nervousness.

A large metal door opened in front of her. She and the other recruits passed through it and into a large, onyx, sphere-like room.

Everyone took position at their grounding station and grabbed the bar in front of them. She followed suit as the door sealed shut behind them. The fastening clasp on her tungsten bracelet pinched her skin for an instant, and she reached to readjust it.

“Temporal Process has begun,” the PA system echoed. “Shift will be complete in ten seconds.”

Oh, hell, she thought. She had removed her hand from the grounding bar. She reached out to grab it again, only to realize she was doing so with her right hand. Panic settled within her while she tried to correct the error.

The black room turned bright. Her gut clenched as her innards tried to escape her body. The other graduates disappeared in an instant, and all was fire.

The past became the future, the future the past. The present evaporated. That fourth type of time the cosmos kept secret from mortal beings filled her mind. Her body was a foreign concept to her, and she became the cosmos. She could feel and hear everything, but in a truly surprising turn of events could only taste the leftover fried rice she had in her fridge.

The universe could not abide this intrusion. It rebelled. Pulled back to the big bang, she became the bang. She became the stuff that then became the star stuff that formed every atom of the universe.

And then it all started over again. She did not grab the right grounding bar at the right instant, and cause and effect once again unraveled like a sleeping bag, except the bag is infinity and you feel all pain everywhere. Somewhen in all of this, she wondered how the Agency of Temporal Affairs knew the grounding bar was so important. The question actually formed as a supernova in the left part of the Andromeda galaxy and disappeared before she could come up with an answer.

The universe corrected again and made a new rule. It deemed time travel impossible, and the universe was made right. In this instance, the graduate instead got a political science degree with a minor in marketing, and turned out to be just as harmful to the fabric of reality as she was before.

Art by Eris O’Reilly

Art by Eris O’Reilly

Flash Fiction Story 053: Tachyons, Commas, and Fortune Cookies

I had spent the morning in futile battle with a couplet that would never see the light of day. I had spent the afternoon telling myself I should go as far away from my writing as I possibly could, and never come back.

I might have listened to myself, too, if only I could be sure I was right. I mean, of course, naturally, I could find out if I was right to give it all up. There were ways. They were silly, and expensive. So pricey, in fact, that I felt like a spendthrift just thinking about it.

Then again, if the process managed to finally free me from the shackle of my pen, then it might be worth it. If it somehow renewed my commitment to my work, then at least I could write it off on my taxes.

I entered the waiting room and made way for the receptionist.

“Hello, ma’am,” the receptionist said. “And how can I help you with your temporal needs today?”

“Yeah…” I said cautiously. I wanted to be able to tell on sight if this was some sort of practical joke, but came up short. “I was wondering if you see people on a walk-in basis. I want to see my future.”

“Yes, of course, ma’am. If you’ll fill these out.” She handed me a stack of paper latched to a clipboard and one of those Bic stick pens whose ink always gums up. “And have a seat over there, someone will be right with you.”

I quickly filled out the pile of liability waivers thicker than my thumb. A man then emerged and beckoned me toward him. He took my paperwork and escorted me to a back office. There, a woman sat behind a simple oak desk. A small metallic dome—like a strainer without holes—sat on the desk.

“Hello,” she said. “And what can we do for you today?”

“I’m… Uh…” Suddenly, words were starting to fail me. Story of my life, I suppose. “I’m a writer, and it… uh… hasn’t been going well, lately.”

“I see,” she said. She touched the metal dome and it glowed and hummed in response. “So you’re wanting to figure out your next big idea before you come up with it.”

“No,” I said. “Ideas were never the problem. I need to know if what I’m doing is going to be worth it, whether or not I’m wasting my time.”

She stopped. “Oh. We normally don’t get requests like that… aside from romantic questions, that is.”

“Is it a problem?”

She started poking at the dome along its hemisphere. “No, just requires a slightly different approach is all.”

“So, what do I do?” I asked.

She removed her hands from the dome. “Easy does it. We have to go over a few things. First, it’s not like you see in our commercial, not exactly, anyway. We’ll shoot a current of free-range tachyons through your body. Do you know what tachyons are?”

I shook my head.

“Well, they’re particles that are always traveling faster than the speed of light. When you deal with them, causality gets a little… scrambled. Things happen to you before you have the opportunity to observe them. Effect becomes cause. Chickens become eggs. And Schrödinger’s Cat is most certainly dead.

“Now, as causality is one of those fundamental rules of physics, you cannot under any circumstances retain any memory of your peek into the future.”

She must have seen my dubious face. “Don’t worry. The experience is still well worth the investment. You are able to write a description of what you see, so that you have at least a sense of the answer to your question. Now, if you’d put your hands on the faraday cage.”

I assumed she meant the dome and reached out to the object. It felt ice cold to the touch.

“When do we start?” I asked.

“Actually, we’re already done,” she replied.

“We are?” I pulled my hand away from the dome.

“Yes, ma’am,” she said. She opened up a drawer and took out a small sealed envelope. She placed it in front of me. “May I say, you’ve had quite a trip.”

“What’s this?” I asked.

“Your message.”

“It doesn’t seem like much…” I eyed it suspiciously.

“Oh, it can’t be of any considerable length… It would mess with causality, and that is one of our bugaboos, after all.”

I started to open it up. 

She put a hand up to stop me. “It’s not a good idea to read it so close to the device…”

“Causality?” I asked.

“Yes! Why, maybe you should come work for us!”

The man who escorted me to the back office returned and shuffled me out the back door. Back in the world, I opened the note to myself.

It read:

DON’T

STOP

What an unbelievable crock! Did that woman have a stack of fortune cookie-esque notes ready to hand to customers on their way out the door?

And yet, I couldn’t help but wonder how they mimicked my handwriting so precisely… Maybe there was some kind of fantastic science at work here.

But even then, what did that message even mean? Should I keep going with my writing? Did I miss a comma? It wouldn’t have been the first time. Did “DON’T, STOP” mean to tell me I should quit while I am well, well behind?

Either way, this was easily the dumbest 300 bucks I ever spent.

Art by Eris O’Reilly

Art by Eris O’Reilly