So after conferring with the judges it appears nobody really followed the prompt this week. Some of you because you didn’t have a character interview anybody. Some of you because you didn’t write anything resembling a piece for a newspaper, blog, et cetera. And one of you because there was only a passing mention to something being changed by time travel. Brooks would be damned proud that’s for sure.
The good thing is that we got five pretty good stories.
San Subterraneo—The chrononauts at Moros Technologies will tell you what it’s like seeing someone come back: A crack louder than the snap of a plate shifting nearby, light brighter than staring into a reactor without protection. They describe the vibration, too, but it doesn’t do it justice.
Oh, the vibration.
It’s like nothing you’ve ever felt before. A quake? That’s violent, disturbing. Caught next to a driller?
Sure, you can feel it in your bones and your eyes go a bit ablur. But this, this is something else. It feels like it’s coming from inside you, ensconcing you from within, a savage buzz tamed to bliss.
This is just what an observer of time tourism feels; Jacob Heathers and his wife Deborah say the real experience is something else entirely.
“Oh, it’s unlike anything—anything I’ve ever seen,” Mrs. Heathers says through her pearly whites, “you really must go.”
“Yes yes,” Jacob agrees with a chuckle, “supposing you can afford it.”
He’s right, after all. What was once only affordable to the World Government—and that was only decades after The Fall—has become the latest fad for the ultrarich.
The Heathers won’t disclose how much they paid for their timecation, but Edwards-Trinity Monthly was able to scratch together a rough estimate based on some of the details of their trip.
“I saw a hang glider!” Deborah giggles, exuding pure joy. “There’s no amount of money you can pay to do that in here. Flight I…I just wonder what it’s like.”
Winds became too dangerous for flight in 2155. Traveling back to 2155 costs nearly 197 million Credits.
“Then this thing—our guide said it was a called a semi-truck—just roared past. So loud and angry. If it’s part of something, I don’t even want to know what a whole truck is.”
The last documented use of a combustion engine can be found in a 2101 Mopti Region auto registry in Mali. 2101? Getting there will cost you a cool 242 million Credits.
“And cow—bovine,” Jacob chortles “truly disgusting creatures.”
Man decided to put cows out to pasture in 2095 in an attempt to curb methane production. Traveling back to 2095 is estimated to cost north of 377 million Credits.
For comparison, last year, the government appropriated 400 million credits for the Indo-Australian tunnel between Colombo and Perth.
Jacob smiles again at the thought of cows, “Can you believe we used to eat those things?” he says, astonished, “and there was a time that beef wasn’t vegetarian?”
Mere hours back from their trip, resting peacefully in their dechron chamber for a few days before they return to their luxury apartment geothermally heated mere miles from the earth’s mantle, the couple reflects in awe at the harsh reality of ages past.
“It’s very—what’s the word?—melancholy, I suppose.” Deborah ponders, sipping a glass of 2397 garbanzo chardonnay, “That world, so bright, so real yet so very, very vulgar. You wish you could grab it, but in the same instant it’s… yelch,” she recoils in disgust, then cackles out loud at the mere thought of such an idea.
It’s the one thing scientists in the private sector or the public sector haven’t been able to crack: safely transiting the bounds of tactile relativity. The World Government banned hard time travel months after chrononaut James Rutgald’s theft of then-Supreme Minister Wachee’s Shepito Papers during his 2222 voyage. His deeds ended with a time rift that saw the acceleration of The Fall by three degrees in a mere six hours. Hundreds of thousands suffocated as winds whipped hundred-ton boulders over the carbon monoxide vents outside Denver, Great Plains and Morgantown, Appalachia.
With the plans, plants and machining bits destroyed for time traveling devices up to the TT-6, the World Government went back to the drawing board to invent a new series of time travel devices, the current FT line. The project took 37 years, with sons and daughters eventually learning under and working for mothers and fathers on the same project. Then, in 2309, finally, the FT-1 debuted, and with it the modern age of facile time travel.
Facile time travel, of course, allows the chrononaut to travel back in time to experience the past without agency. Where hard time travel compounded light waves to shoot chrononauts through the space-time continuum at unimaginable speed, facile time travel merely bends time, allowing those traveling to experience the past, slightly removed. Picture a thin veneer of two-way glass over your whole body, you can experience the past as it occurs on the other side of it, but you cannot affect anything on the other side of the glass.
This aspect of facile time travel is what most impedes scientific research when going back in time—it is entirely observation, testing cannot occur.
“We can gather data,” Lead Research Scientist at Moros Technologies, Bethany Yeardley, notes, “but without being able to test that data in a real environment, concrete solutions are hard to come by.”
But facile time travel also offers another more intimate type of safety: just as one man can no longer affect the lives of millions through his actions, that same chrononaut cannot be affected by events they witness in the past.
“That semi-truck that Deborah mentioned earlier,” Mr. Heathers notes, “barreled right at us, right through us. We couldn’t get out of the way! Those things looked to be tons heavy, I’d probably be turnip cream right now had we gone hard time travel!”
The method of delivery differs, too. Since time bends, as opposed to a chrononaut being shot through it, the dangers of travel are greatly reduced.
“It’s like a blink of an eye,” Deborah notes, “one second, you’re just…there.”
This isn’t to say facile time travel is without its risks, warping in the time bend represents real dangers to those who wish to venture to the past.
“These crow’s feet, Deborah points to her left eye, “I had these removed years ago, and now they’re back! You better believe I’ve already scheduled an appointment with Doctor Mursaw as soon as I’m out of this dechron chamber . I may be 108, but I don’t have to look a day over 66.”
Arguing the Heathers are lucky in only getting small, superficial damage is too strong a claim. In Parlimentary Report 0968 the World Government noted that facile time travel is safe enough that it “represents no real danger greater than core tunneling.” In 2411 core tunneling incurred 16 known fatalities. No one has died from facile time travel since the Janus IX mission wormholed in 2403. Fault was later attributed to human error, as Captain Leslie Gnimer executed the time fold at half power.
Still, skeptics question the World Government’s doctrinal response to fears over facile time travel.
Retired chrononaut and vocal critic of facile time travel Reagan Oppley famously criticized the dangers of the practice in a 2406 commencement speech at Roswell Basin University.
“These minute changes,” Oppley noted to the class, “signal a rending, however tiny, in the fabric of our existence. If the World Government is so foolish as to think these consequences do not parallel [Rutgald’s] reckless tomfoolery, then mankind truly deserves the comeuppance of Lady Fate. They mold time as though it is clay in their hands, but are too shortsighted to realize a simple fact: time has shown her ability to mold mankind right back.”
Oppley declined to be interviewed for this Edwards-Trinity Monthly story.
Yet others question the very point of facile time travel. Known publicly as Schuld Kann, the group argues, simply, that facile time travel is little more than a novelty.
“We began experimenting with time travel to undo the sins of generations past,” Schuld Kann spokesperson Riley Wustof told the Edwards-Trinity Monthly. Wustof continued, “if we continue to dabble in facile time travel we are doing nothing more than creating yet another plaything for the ultrarich.”
Indeed, the World Government promises it is hard at work pursuing a viable middle ground between facile and tactile time travel. This hybrid, known as medial time travel, would allow chrononauts the ability to travel back in time, interacting with their surroundings without the consequences of the future.
CEO of Moros Technologies, Peter Loch, argues his company is taking steps to doing just that by offering commercial time travel.
“This is a Credit game,” Loch told Edwards-Trinity Monthly , “and to fund private sector research towards median time travel, it is necessary, as in any capitalist society, to have Credits. In the past 3 years we’ve experienced major breakthroughs toward median time travel thanks very much to offering facile time travel to those willing to pay. Moros Technologies is certain we will be able to offer some form of median time travel in my lifetime.”
“Yes, I do feel like a pioneer. “Jacob Heathers states over warm toasted onion spread and flaxmilk gel. “Look at any patron of times past, from Ferdinand and Isabella’s funding of Columbus’ voyage up top to, Musk’s noble, albeit failed, attempt at Mars. I hope, one day, society will erect a statue of me next to theirs—all of theirs– in the Cave of Greats.”
With median time travel chrononauts and scientists alike hope to venture to the past to gather information and conduct experiments that could inform a solution to the issues of The Fall. These answers, though decades or centuries away, would allow men and women of the future to traverse the surface of the earth for the first time since 2216.
“Science has always been about building blocks,” Loch argues, “fission led to fusion. Fusion, to cold fusion. None of this was easy, but likewise, one step came after another. Right now, there are no steps, we don’t even know where to begin. We need median time travel, and we need it now. By hook or by crook, we need it.”
Schuld Kann’s Wustof fears that median time will simply become another way for the wealthy to flitter away their Credits.
“Man is complacent,” Wustof argues, “it’s obvious to us that this would just become a new adventure or the select few. If we can crack median time travel, sure, Schuld Kann is all for it, but it should remain a government-only enterprise focused on hard science and finding solutions to what’s going on up there.”
And if median time travel became an option for the ultrarich?
“Oh, yes, no question. Jacob and I discuss this all the time,” Mrs. Heathers beams, “we’d climb a tree.
Climb it to the tip-top and just gaze out there to the—the forever. It’d be magical. We’d pay a crumby Credit, a billion of ‘em, probably, for a chance to do that.”
Though parties in this endeavor see eye-to- eye on few things, all agree that median time travel is man’s best, last hope for re-environmentalization. Succeeding in that would inarguably be history’s greatest feat. And that, truly, would be something no person alive has ever experienced: A breath of fresh air.
B: Quite the news story! Post-apocalyptic future is nothing new, but I appreciate most takes on it, including this one. This really feels like a feature piece in a magazine (with the exception of some typos and several comma splices). This doesn’t have any punch, but it’s not meant to. Just a matter-of-fact story from a possible future. Fun read. GOLD
BD: Yeah, I can see this is going to be a very tough week. This is a challenging piece, and to be honest, it didn’t really inspire me the first time I read it. The second time through, however, I found myself simply stunned by the level of detail. It reminds me of a Neal Stephenson book, in a way; a fully realized world where every detail is lovingly crafted. Also, the imitation of high-brow magazine articles is masterful. The Elon Musk reference is cute, and the ending is basically perfect. GOLD
Gilman: If you’re looking for what might be termed a “hard science” science fiction piece, you can’t do much better than this. Adapting the recognizable style of pop-sci journalism, this author delved into a speculative future, and did so with great assuredness and a real sense of worldbuilding, even as nothing too specific was given away. The perspectives match with what you might find in a modern post-cataclysm culture, from the reposited class system to the concepts of money, science, and government. The author handled everything quite deftly, letting me learn about this world through illustration rather than exposition. That said…it’s really not too much of a story, and as enjoyable as this is, you necessarily lose some of fiction’s potential when you choose this kind of style. Still…very smart, very engaging stuff. SILVER
Pete: This is a ton of world building, and while is does wobble a bit under the weight of the truly crazy amount of exposition it needs to get through, I think that the author does a good job of keeping interest. There’s a lot left unsaid, and I want to know about all about all of it. BRONZE
Rattled, Glen took stock of his body parts. Check; they all seemed to be in order. He unclipped his helmet and removed it. Glen removed the tiny “black box” from under the instrument panel and clipped it to his suit.
“This is Dr. Glen Archer, USDTS Id. #79952. Due to miscalculation, my ship apparated directly in the path of the meteor I was sent to chronicle. The ship’s bounce-back program must also have miscalculated because I just crash landed in a jungle, instead of back in the lab.”
Glen, unstrapped from his seat and opened a cabinet, removing a small pack, which clipped on his shoulder and dangled down his back. Standard rations, water, small medi-kit, flares and the like would see him through the hike to get out of whatever jungle he had been misdirected to.
Tapping the recorder, “I am abandoning the ship but am activating the beacon. Our department should be able to retrieve and repair. It doesn’t appear to have sustained much damage. I was fortunate to have landed in some dense vegetation.” Glen activated the hatch door, which managed to open enough for his to squeeze through before jammed up with leaves and branches. Glen backed through the opening, legs dangling down, and then dropped to the jungle floor, landing in a ball so as to not sprain or break anything. He silently acknowledged that all those hours of emergency training didn’t seem quite as ridiculous now.
Brushing off, Glen tried to get his bearings. The trees were too thick, so he picked a huge tree and quickly scaled it, using the suits built-in spikes to make short work of it. Once he cleared the canopy, he paused to get the lay of the land. The jungle seemed endless. The landscape was lush and green in every direction. To the north, however, there was a huge clearing. Judging by the haze, there was industry. Glen sighed in relief . . . civilization, and not that far off; maybe six miles, at most. Glen consulted the compass on his forearm and noted the direction.An hour later, Glen cleared the forest and climbed a small embankment. The road was the widest he’d ever seen, nearly 100 meters across, and Glen scowled a little. Where the hell had he landed, anyway? Still, a road meant civilization and he just needed to follow it, which would be so much faster than slogging through the jungle. Glen stopped for an energy bar and healthy slug of water. It was so hot and muggy, he was glad of his engineered suit keeping most of him comfortable. It was like a never ending hothouse and his hair was soaked in sweat.
A couple of miles later, Glen was confronted with the 20 foot solid metal gate. Glen picked another large tree and quickly climbed to 40 feet, finding a comfortably large branch to lay on. Beyond the gate lay a large field, with rows and rows of crops. Small, dark and hairless people scurried about, tending to the crops and going in and out of the tiny huts ringing the fields. Glen’s stomach was churning; where the hell was he, anyway?
The ground trembled and Glen shrank back into the foliage of the tree as a gigantic truck passed him. The gate opened and the truck rolled through and stopped. The little people seemed very agitated and some ran to the trucks, while others seemed to be running into the forest. The doors opened and giant reptiles hopped lithely to the ground. Glen’s mind threatened to shut down. Tyrannosaurus Rex, but with longer arms, dexterous hands and an intelligent glint in their eyes.
The two T-Rex opened the back of the truck and hauled out bunches of bananas, which they tossed to the teeming little people. While they scrambled about for the delicious fruit, the T-Rexs scooped up some of them and tossed them into the back of the truck.
Glen began sobbing as he noticed the logo on the side of the truck. “FREE RANGE AND HORMONE & STEROID FREE!. It Just TASTES better!”
B: This is quite the atmospheric set-up for a quick punchline. I want to know more about these dinosaurs, why they became human overlords, and how they learned to read and write.
BD: For the most part I found this very engaging. There are a lot of nice details, and it seemed like this was heading in a gritty time-travel-survival-story direction. And then. . . that ending. Sure, it’s good for a chuckle, but it also makes it feel like the writer thought of the punch-line quickly and then threw in the rest of the details to fill out the word count.
Gilman: This one had me shifting uncomfortably in my seat from the beginning. The way information was doled out, and the speedy presentation of the story made it feel like an author completing a connect-the-dots puzzle for the sake of the readers. That’s usually a harbinger for a Twist Ending, and unfortunately it tends to mean that the author’s relying on the Twist to carry through most of the story’s impact and style. And this story is a case in point. There were several moments during this piece that I almost said to myself “You maniacs! You blew it up! God damn you all to hell!” Credit for building out a somewhat believable, if perfunctory, alternate history jungle for our hapless time traveler to wind up in, but the zinger at the end of this wasn’t enough to distinguish it.
Pete: Planet of the T-Rexes, then? I like the leadup, and I…sort of like the reveal. I think that the idea of a planet of intelligent T-Rexes sounds like heaven to 12 year old me.
A lot of the Young Travelers had done some pretty stupid things, but Kevin was treading new ground with his latest escapade, and he didn’t know the way out.
The Young Travelers were a high school science group from southern Philadelphia, formed decades ago with a nickname that proved prescient once time travel became possible; their group leader, Eric Barnes, was a well-connected professor at nearby Temple college and he had introduced the Travelers to his prototype against the wishes of both the college and the high school, whose deans both said that teenagers couldn’t be trusted with their own rooms, let alone the ability to travel time.
Kevin wished he had stuck up for the decision of the deans when Mr. Barnes had decided to bring along the device, but he’d just been too damned curious.
The Travelers met after school on Friday, as they always did, and Kevin stood outside the circle as the rest of them sat together. Professor Barnes hadn’t arrived yet, and the kids were swapping stories about traveling time.
“Nate’s reason for going back was clearly the dumbest,” Melanie said. “Trying to get Natalie to kiss you under the bleachers at Homecoming. How did you think that would work?”
They all laughed, including Nate. “Well, I thought it was me. Like, if I went to old me and convinced him to be more assertive and cool or something she would do it this time. So I went to old Nate and tried to get his attention without alarming the rest of the school band, and told him what was going to happen later and that he had a chance to kiss Nicole if he didn’t screw it up.”
“Hold on, I never even heard this one,” Pradesh said; he had transferred from another school in the last month.
“Yeah, me being me, all I did was make the other me really nervous and sweaty and the moment was so much worse with all the built-up tension. So I went back again and told the first time-traveling me to not go to the original me. But the first time-traveling me didn’t believe it would turn out bad if he approached it right, so we sort of started fighting until we realized how stupid it would be if one of us got hurt.”
“You really are the dumbest of the geniuses,” Melanie said, prompting a chuckle from all of them (including Nate again, who couldn’t deny it).
Kevin continued to observe in silence.
“I went back to give myself an answer key for a written test in gym. There was one written test all year and I didn’t want to study for it so I got the first D of my life.”
“Wait, why haven’t I done something like that yet? Oh, right, because I never fail anything,” Pradesh said, eliciting a few good natured OOOOOHHHHs from the peanut gallery.
“Well, how could we know now if they were all legit? Anyway, I was in the room giving myself the key and talking to old me about a couple of the questions, and my mom asked who I was talking to from just outside my bedroom door. The other me said something about studying with a friend, and I was going to blink back to the present until I realized that would make it even weirder, so I covered up my face, left the house a few minutes later in a hurry and then blinked.”
“I went back a few times to this spot in a park once where a couple was having sex in a car. I just wanted to see it again,” Gary said, “so I’m not sure Nate’s reason was the dumbest. I got addicted to it and went back like seven times, and one of us coughed and the girl heard through the window, and she looked out at seven of us peering in from ten feet away. We all blinked out right away as she stared at seven identical Garys in horror.”
“So she SAW all of you?!”
“Yeah. It was funny, but I haven’t blinked since.”
“What did you tell Barnes you were doing?”
“Something about keeping my sister from breaking her leg one day. Which I did another time.”
The mood got somber as Melanie offered, “I did something much worse.”
A pause. Then, from Nate: “What?”
Kevin picked up a marker and went to the whiteboard, though to the rest of them, it looked like the marker went on its own. The words “MELANIE AND ME GOT ME KILLED” appeared on the board, and below them, “–KEVIN DONNELLY–”
The kids stared. “Who is Kevin Donnelly?” Pradesh asked.
“He’s a kid who went to school here. He died in some weird accident last summer,” Nate said.
Melanie shook her head. “Not originally.”
Nate and Pradesh stood in position and peered around the corner, where the first time-traveling Kevin was about to accidentally engage one of the guards outside the hotel where the auction was taking place. The first time-traveling Melanie stood watch over the previous Kevin, but was so focused on the guards on the second-storey balcony that she was about to miss the one who had stepped out the front door to circle the parking lot.
It was here that Kevin would die, as the guard would spot him sneaking in the door with a gun, and would act before speaking.
New Melanie and Kevin, meanwhile, had already gone inside, having seen the area before, and knew about the guard that would be killing Kevin. Melanie led the invisible Kevin through the hall, as he hadn’t made it inside before. They looked at the auction from above, waiting to give the signal when the right item was offered. The intention had been to steal the diamond when it was two items away from going up, during a change in hands backstage. New Melianie and Kevin saw the first Melanie sneak in the front and head for the place of exchange.
“I can’t believe how stupidly bold we were,” Melanie whispered to Kevin. “Like we thought there were no consequences as long as we were traveling time.”
“Damn teenagers,” Kevin whispered, though Melanie still couldn’t hear him.
The original manuscript of The Pickwick Papers went up, and new Melanie spoke, “Go,” into the walkie. Gary, on the other end, motioned for Pradesh and Nate to move. The two of them hurried around the corner and aimed their guns at the guard, and Nate fired quickly and missed wide right. The guard, clearly prepared for this kind of situation, ignored old Kevin for the moment, ducked behind a car and easily picked off Pradesh and Nate, who fell dead; Gary screamed in horror and was taken out next.
The guard turned back to where old Kevin was standing, but he had gone.
New Melanie and Kevin, alerted by the gunfire and Gary’s scream from outside, ran to a window. Melanie was grabbed almost instantly and shoved into a side room, and when Kevin jumped on the back of the man who had thrown her in, he was neutralized despite the fact that he couldn’t be seen.
“A dead time-traveler. I never thought I’d see one,” the man said, amused. Though he was fifteen years younger, it was unmistakable: this was Eric Barnes.
“I don’t know who you are, but if anyone ends up with that diamond tonight, it’s going to be me.” Then after a pause, “I assume I told some intrepid time-travelers about this job sometime in the future. I promised myself I wouldn’t do that. Oh well.”
Barnes shot the two of them dead, and Kevin’s invisible body dropped on the ground, creating a pool of blood that quickly congealed under his frame.
“Killing the dead. That’s got to be a dangerous paradox somehow,” Barnes said under his breath with a chuckle. He knelt down to pick up Melanie’s body, and was greeted with a rope thrust around his neck and tightened. His eyes bulged and he looked above him; this time, old Kevin and old Melanie had survived long enough to get to Barnes. Barnes glared up at Kevin until the life drained from his eyes. Old Melanie and Kevin searched the dead new ones for signs of the time device, but there was no need; now that Barnes was dead, he would never show them the device in the first place, and they both blinked back to the present.
“So, Young Travelers, what do you think?”
Pradesh raised his hand, as always. “Time travel is possible and may even be practiced now. But we cannot know what changes have been made because we will believe them to be natural history.”
Professor Dahlen agreed. “We live in interesting times,” he said, with a grin. From his pocket, he produced a device and set it on the table. He took a breath to speak.
“No,” the Young Travelers said forcefully, in unpracticed unison.
“Put it away,” Kevin said. “It’s too much responsibility for a bunch of stupid kids.”
Professor Dahlen regarded the five with a wary grin, said “…you’re probably right,” and put the device away.
B: This was a lot of fun. I think a bit too much like Primer, in that I honestly have not the fucks of a clue what’s happening, but enjoying it all the same. BRONZE
BD: It feels like there are two different stories here. One is about a bunch of silly high school kids using time travel for hilariously trivial reasons. The other is a heist thriller with a plot that would probably fall apart if looked at too closely. Oh, and the kids in this second story are apparently gun-wielding sociopaths. Still, following the various time-lines is tons of fun and reminded me a lot of Primer (a movie which all of you should watch). BRONZE
Gilman: There’s a lot of audacity in this story: some flourishes that only would work in a set-up that hinges on time travel. The ghostly form of a student writing on a whiteboard is probably my favorite moment of this whole piece, but I give the author credit for making the heist scene as detailed and mind-stretching as they probably could in the word limit given. My favorite time travel stories all have an element of “trust me, this works, you’ll catch up later” to the choreography of who appears from which timeline when, and how they all interact. And I’m pretty sure if I played the whole scene out with, say, action figures, the events would check out. But as it was, the characters themselves were not much more than action figures, with no real personalities to latch onto, and nothing to really pull me in. Engaging and spirited as hell, but ultimately a bit underwhelming in what it delivers.
Pete: This is a fascinating bit of loopy, paradoxical fun, a la Primer (with more murder) or Terminator (with less murder). I’ve read this one a couple times, and I keep waiting for the holes to become obvious, but they haven’t yet. GOLD
The shiny steel chamber that had appeared on the roof of the White House had barely been damaged by the rockets and bullets that had smashed into it upon its unexpected arrival a month ago. Which was of course by design, since I personally wouldn’t want to use a time machine that could be broken and leave me stranded wherever- well, whenever.
It had taken weeks for the SS to finally, begrudgingly turn over the machine to NASA. Probably would have taken longer if there had been a person inside, but when a metal cylinder appears on top of the world’s best-guarded residence, it’s going to take a while for scientific curiosity to overcome national security concerns, especially with the history of our country.
“You still fretting over how long it took us to get our greedy little fingers on this thing?” Eva teased me, her brilliant smile lighting up her otherwise plain face. She’d been my research partner and on-again/off-again lover for years. When we were involved in a project and our minds were working together, we couldn’t get enough of each other. When all we had to work on was day to day administrative tasks and filling out grant paperwork, our intensity was lost and so was our passion. We’d figured it out after a couple rounds of fighting and making up, and somehow it was working for us.
“Your greedy little fingers, baby,” I teased back. “I’m the recorder and number-cruncher, you’re the techie. I’m just eager to fire it up.” Eva smirked and blew me a kiss, her nimble, calloused hands not skipping a beat as she terminated wire endings and ran diagnostics. She normally sang in a low, husky voice as she worked, but she’d been quiet since we started working on this project.
“We were really lucky that whoever sent this thing included schematics and a basic operations manual, Peter.” She got suddenly serious, biting her lower lip in concentration. “Doesn’t it seem like there’s something odd about that, though? I mean, as far as I can tell… there has to be an operator inside to activate it. I know I won’t be able to do anything with it unless I’m sitting in the chair, right here.” She slapped the leather back of the seat for emphasis.
“Eva, you don’t know that. Maybe if we had the full schematics, we could run it remotely.” I heaved a sigh, and rubbed my sore eyes. “I trust that you know what you’re doing, though there’s obviously more we can figure out. We’ll just set it for a trial run, go back an hour or so, and then we’ll see what we learned.” The slight grin she gave me in return was a pale shadow of the earlier smile she’d shot me.
“Alright, it’s all set. If you’d grab me that-“she pointed across the lab at a tool pouch, “Then we can see if it will go!”
I was halfway across the lab when I heard the contacts pull in, and the electric load hit the transformers. I spun on my heel in time to see the time machine flicker, once, twice, and a third time, the drain on the power surging and ebbing in sync. Then there was a pop, and the copper leads fell to the floor, shorting out instantly and plunging the lab into darkness.
I stumbled to the window, bouncing my hip painfully off the corner of the countertop and kicking some random tool clattering away across the floor. I pulled the blinds open, flooding the room with sunlight.
Even before my eyes could adjust, there was a pop and a rush of displaced air that pushed past me as the time machine reappeared. Eva stumbled out, coughing and blinking, wearing a strangely old dress and a red armband.
“Eva!” I cried and rushed to her, catching her as she sunk to the floor. She reeked of woodsmoke and something sharper, a burnt plastic smell. I felt something warm on my hands, and looked down to see them covered in blood.
“What have you done, Eva?” She smiled at me, strangely happy. “Where did you go?”
Her eyes went past me to the window, to the American flag hanging outside, and her smile grew more brilliant even as the light in her eyes went out.
B: This reminds me a lot of Contact. The reveal is pretty awesome; nice twist.
BD: Sure, going back to kill Hitler is one of the first things that come to mind when thinking about time travel. Even so, this story takes a fairly clever approach to that idea. The build-up is good, but starting from the point where Eva hijacks the time machine everything feels very rushed. A few more re-writes, and this would really shine. Also, I really want to know more about how and why the time machine arrived.
Gilman: Aw, shiz! I’m glad to say this story took me a couple of reads before I determined what was going on here (assuming I’m still not missing small bits here or there), but the best thing is that the robust story was so enjoyable that I really wanted to go back and see if I could figure out what I’d missed. Though there isn’t too much I can point to which makes this story better at drawing me in than some of the others have, I can say that it was written with a sure-handedness that made me enjoy reading every moment of it. It’s possible that the subtle changes and surprises are just a smidgen too subtle, and maybe not everyone is going to grasp what’s being done here. Plus, there’s the lingering question of why, and who set this up to begin with. But that can dangle, in the end, when the remainder is so well done. GOLD
Pete: Huh. That didn’t go where I had been figuring. Like, at all. You’ve taken the biggest dead-horse trope in time travel stories and made it pretty damned fresh. Nicely done.
MI6 Enclosure 21
SUBJECT: Robert L. SHAW (703-4820623)
- Subject is a 45 year old male born on 17 March 1908 in Acton, London, England.
- Standard background information on subject is lacking because of possible change to timeline. SHAW self-reported agent ID number and provided information regarding his involvement in Project [REDACTED]. Please refer to policy and procedure D-976C regarding return of subjects from Project [REDACTED].
- Traces of subject have been run through RID/Main Index, the Index of the Office of Security, and the Central Cover Staff. Only 1 record on file from FBI dated last week, 1 June 1963, covering the disappearance of a man just north of London who matches the name and description of the subject.
- Documentation from Prinzeregentenplatz, Munich to be included in report once gathered from field researchers. Interview of subject as follows.
SUBJECT: I was recruited into military intelligence because I speak German. That might be in your file somewhere. Maybe it’s not, but my mother was a German immigrant, and when I was a boy, my family took a trip every summer to Germering to visit with my grandparents.
SUBJECT: It’s a town outside of Munich, maybe a half hour away. We’d stay there the entire summer out on the farm, and then we’d return to London and pretend there wasn’t an ounce of German in us. We did that every year until my grandmother grew ill. Can I have another cigarette?
SUBJECT: My grandmother was dying by the time I was old enough to attend college, and my mother wasn’t well herself. She couldn’t travel far from London, so I did it for her. I moved to Munich to attend university at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich. They had a well developed department of quantum mechanics there.
INTERVIEWER: I’m aware of Ludwig Maximilan.
SUBJECT: Are you? Of course you are. They graduated a Nobel Laureate in quantum mechanics, and that work eventually landed us here, didn’t it? That was my field of study. They had a medical school, too, though, and Geli attended the medical school. That’s how I first met her.
SUBJECT: Angela Raubal. She was 20 that first time we ran into each other at a lecture. Now, listen. She was no movie starlet, no spectacular beauty, but she was…radiant. I mean that in every way, from her laughter to her thoughts on medicine to her perfect skin. Her skin always seemed to glow; to have that tinge of sunshine to it even on the darkest German days. Her smile was huge, welcoming, and you knew she was brave down to her soul. You had to be to be a woman in medicine back then. Or even now — in my timeline, at least.
INTERVIEWER: In this timeline, too.
SUBJECT: Huh. Well, she’d just moved into her Uncle’s apartment on Prinzregentenplatz 16 so she could be nearer the university. Her uncle was a monster. He was part of the rising Nazi party then, which helps you understand everything, I suppose. The only good thing about it meant he wasn’t always around. Not at first. I could see her almost daily for weeks on end, then he’d return, and she’d disappear. When he left town again, she always had this hollow look in her eyes, and that golden tinge to her skin…it paled, looked more ashen. She’d cheer up again over time, but it always took longer after each visit. I always felt like, one day, he’d leave her, and there’d be nothing left. All I’d find of her was ashes and a ghost.
INTERVIEWER: Sir, I’m sorry, but what does this have to do with anything? Can you explain the firearm we found on you?
SUBJECT: I took that back with me as part of the mission. It’s my ‘proof’.
INTERVIEWER: But you didn’t simply take an artifact. You changed something. You don’t exist as an intelligence officer in this timeline, Mr. Shaw, but the person who matches your description disappeared from this one. It has the hallmarks of a Project mission, but you weren’t supposed to do anything.
INTERVIEWER: Mr. Shaw, I need an answer. What happened?
SUBJECT: 18 September 1931. That’s what I changed.
INTERVIEWER: What about it?
SUBJECT: Geli killed herself that day. She shot herself with her uncle’s Walther pistol while he was in Nuremberg. I hadn’t seen her for months by then, not since the night her uncle caught us together. He probably would’ve shot me if that pistol of his had been within reach, but I made it out alive. I escaped, and she…she was imprisoned. Her made sure she was never alone, even when he was out of town. She couldn’t see friends, or go shopping, or to the cinema without him or one of his friends around — and, believe me, his friends weren’t the type you’d cross. Nazis, all of them. The were strict, cruel, and deadly even before the war hit. So all I saw of Geli in those final days were her eyes as we passed each other on the grounds of University. We’d catch each other’s gaze, and the sadness in hers..well, she became that ghost I feared, and no one should suffer sadness like that. No one.
That look on her face the last time I saw her…it followed me everywhere I went. And I had nightmares. I wasn’t there when they discovered her body, but I’d heard the stories. I knew her body so well, every curve right down to the most intimate, and I could imagine it in the most vivid of detail. When they told me she’d shot herself in the heart, all I could see in my imagination now was her lying on her uncle’s carpet and her blood pumping out of her. First fast, and then slower, until it wasn’t a fountain but a trickle.
INTERVIEWER: Are you going to be alright, sir?
SUBJECT: I just need a moment.
INTERVIEWER: Another cigarette.
INTERVIEWER: Sir, would —
SUBJECT: I shot him.
INTERVIEWER: I’m sorry?
SUBJECT: Her uncle. September 1931 was never going to happen again. I went back on my mission, and I shot him. Right now, I see a whole different image in my mind. I see Geli alive, and I see him on that floor, bleeding all over his carpet.
I caught him by surprise. I shot him in the chest. I could’ve gone for the head but I wouldn’t give him anything even close to the cowardly death he’d later plan for himself. I wanted him to feel what she must have felt, but even more, I wanted him to live long enough to see me. I leaned over him, a complete stranger really, but you know what? I’m pretty sure I struck a memory in him. I wasn’t the 21 year old he’d met in passing, who he’d now never chase out of his apartment in a murderous rage. No, I was a 45 year old version of that boy instead, and I hope that confused him, scared the shit out of him.
Can you believe that? It wasn’t my mission, but it’s something I had planned from the moment they told me where I was going. I needed Geli back. So I shot her uncle. I shot Adolf Hitler.
INTERVIEWER: I’m sorry. Who?
SUBJECT: Oh. That’s right. I changed the timeline. You wouldn’t know Hitler, I suppose. And…and some of my memories, the new ones, they’re coming to me now. I have a life with Geli here. Oh god. We have memories together The investigation into Hitler’s murders never led to me. Geli misdirected them. We graduated from university. We moved to London and married. We had children, and then…the war? We had a war.
INTERVIEWER: Yes, sir, and that’s my question. You went back in time with a specific mission that involved making no changes to history. You disobeyed direct orders from my counterparts in your version of 1963. You risked your life, your mission, and even worse, you triggered thousands of possible alternative timelines without any thought of what might happen.
SUBJECT: I don’t think you understand how love works.
INTERVIEWER: Mr. Shaw, you shot a Nazi Party leader who may have amounted to nothing, yet you didn’t pause to think that, if you were going to disobey orders and murder someone, you should murder Herman Goring? You didn’t think to stop the man who triggered the Holocaust? Who caused millions of people to die in what turned out to be an atomic war? You felt ‘love’ was worth genocide and decimating whole countries?
SUBJECT: No. No, that’s not how it happened.
INTERVIEWER: You could’ve stopped it, and you didn’t. You had all of the tools, Mr. Shaw, and —
SUBJECT: Turn off the recorder.]
INTERVIEWER: And now you could very well be considered a war criminal yourself.
SUBJECT: Turn it off!
B: Now here’s some awesome revisionist (or is it?) history. There’s a few obnoxious typos, include misspelling Hermann’s name, but this is a very fun interrogation. At first I thought the interviewer was just going to sit there, but then he cranks it up. “I’m sorry. Who?” is a great line. Unfortunately, this author forgot he just had his interrogator say that, as he seems to know just a couple lines later that Hitler was a Nazi Party leader. SILVER
BD: Look at that, two Hitler stories in a row! This one feels a lot more fleshed out, and I think of all the entries it adheres the closest to the prompt. The format had me intrigued from the get go, and I appreciate the fatalistic ending. My only gripe is that some of the segments where the protagonist is explaining what happened feel a little like info-dumps and break the rhythm of the interview. It’s a minor complaint, though, and as a whole I really love this. SILVER
Gilman: More Nazis, more fun! Okay, with the typical disclaimer that you run a risk when you make a decision to write in a style other than classic prose, I have to say that this choice was a pretty necessary one, I think. It allowed for the right amount of exposition (and there definitely was some of that necessary) without pulling the reader out of the moment. The downside of this, though, is it kind of mutes the big reveal when it hits, since the reader identifies with the interviewer, who has already “lived through” the changed timeline, and isn’t disturbed or distraught about things the way the interviewee is. That said, it’s fun to read a story where the age-old conundrum is confronted head on, for reasons entirely removed from the desire to prevent one of history’s monsters from wreaking havoc. And it does make for a somewhat warm, interesting story when it comes to the love bit. So…a little draggy, and there isn’t an ending per se, but a pretty nifty application of the prompt, with a lot of flavor in the details. BRONZE
Pete: I sort of saw the first part of the reveal coming. I didn’t see the second one. Really well done. SILVER
Brendan Bonham: 14
Annette Barron: 0
Kelly Wells: 7
Bret Highum: 5
Melissa David: 10
Brendan steals the show with two gold medals with that insanely detailed story. Melissa punches through in 2nd place despite not getting any gold medals. Meanwhile, Kelly and Bret both pulled down a gold medal but Kelly scored two bronzes to go with it, barely eking through to the next round. Annette was sadly eaten by a T-Rex.
Thank you to Annette and Bret for playing and providing the judges with a lot of good stories to read!
I’ll post the next challenge here in a little bit.