30 December 2011

"Time is Not on My Side"

By Curtis C. Chen

I'm not going to tell you the story you want to hear.

I know what you're going to ask. You want to know how—and why—we "vaccinated" Hitler. Everyone wants to know how we avoided all the other time patrols, how we're still keeping the secret to prevent other incursions from the future. Right?

Well, one way is by not spilling the beans to every green apple who asks.

Anyway, that's a boring story. I'm going to tell you something that really matters. I'm going to tell you how we discovered the singularity limit.

My wife is dead. She died on a Sunday morning, driving home from the market, while I was still asleep. It was an accident. Nobody to blame, nothing to fix so it wouldn't happen again to anybody else.

But of course I wanted her back. And I had a way to save her.

I'd already used my mulligan, the one every cadet gets after graduation. But I was a supervisor by then, I was coding missions, I could sign out injectors whenever I wanted. And I had nothing but time.

I waited. Six months, seven, eight. Started seeing other women so my bosses wouldn't suspect I was planning a breach. I didn't let myself love any of them. I knew what I wanted, and what I wanted was in the past.

Nine months, twelve days, three hours, sixteen minutes. That's how long it was between the moment she died and the moment I went back to save her.

Except it didn't work. Not the first time, not the second time, not the fifteenth. I kept trying until they caught me, and that's when I finally broke down. I hadn't ever cried for Audra, because I always knew—always thought I'd get her back.

The thing is, the universe doesn't care what happens to us. Humans, I mean. Our lives are insignificant on the cosmic scale. We just don't matter. That's why we couldn't figure out the rules of time travel for so long.

Whether one human lives or dies doesn't affect the life of the universe. But a gravitational singularity that destroys a planet, maybe even a star system? That's against the rules. The restrictive action principle will prevent that.

We thought we were so clever, linking the people we considered important to the universe's physically enforced consistency. We thought we'd figured out a way to once again bend the world to our will. Smart monkeys, that's all we are. Banging our useless tools against the fabric of reality.

Audra was one intervention too many. That's the limit: Eight hundred and eighty-nine artificial singularities at one time. A completely random number. It's just the way things are.

The universe doesn't care. You understand? It's up to us to decide what's important, what's meaningful, what we want. But there are always limits. We have to come to terms with the things we can't change if we're ever going to find any happiness in these brief lives.

I'm not drunk. Oh, you'll know when I'm drunk.


Image: Time machine 3026 Steam Punk Assemblage by Don Pezzano, August, 2008