27 April 2012

"Temporal Mechanics"

By Curtis C. Chen

The briefing was going about as well as Roger had expected, which was not well.

"I got it," Nick said. "Nine days forward, I stay for one day, and then I return with the information."

"I need you to fully understand what happens when you travel forward," Roger said. "Do you get why Doc flips that coin every time?"

Nick shrugged. "Yeah. It's like his good luck charm or something."

"No. It's not—we don't believe in luck around here." Roger leaned forward and spread his palms, hoping the motion might focus Nick's attention. The kid looked barely old enough to drink. "It's probability. Random chance. We, the observers, will end up in one of two timelines. We can't predict which one. We can't control it."

"But it doesn't affect my mission," Nick said.

Roger frowned. "What?"

"That's not my concern," Nick said. "I mean, all due respect, sir, I'm not here to study the science. I'm just here to do a job."

"I'm not asking you to understand the science," Roger said. "Hell, we don't understand how the damn thing works. But you need to understand, every time you travel, you create an alternate reality in which you are dead. Do you understand that? When you travel forward, you reappear for one day, and then you disappear forever."

"Right," Nick said. "Because I come back here."

"You come back to a different timeline," Roger said, doing his best to emphasize the words. "One in which you didn't travel forward nine days. You disappear, then you reappear just a few seconds later."

"I get it, sir," Nick said.

"Stop calling me 'sir,'" Roger said. "This isn't the military."

"My understanding was that I was selected because I don't have any close family," Nick said. "So it won't matter if I am, as you say, dead in that other timeline."

"You will no longer exist in that timeline," Roger said.

"But I'll be back in this one," Nick said. "Why does it matter?"

Roger noticed his hands had curled into fists. He hated resorting to this, but he took a deep breath and asked, "Have you seen Back to the Future, Part 2?"

Nick blinked. "Was that the one in the Old West?"

"No, that was the third one." Roger opened a cabinet behind him, took out a DVD, and passed it across the table to Nick. "That's your homework. There's a scene in which Doc Brown draws a diagram on a blackboard—" Roger shook his head. "Just go home and watch that tonight. Be back here at nine o'clock sharp. You'll get the rest of your briefing then."

Nick took the DVD and left the conference room. Roger rubbed his temples, feeling a headache coming on.

A minute later, Project Director Alex Yarrow walked by, holding a coffee mug.

"Where's the new guy?" Alex asked.

"I sent him home with the damn movie," Roger said. "Tell me again why we're using jarheads as travelers?"

Alex grumbled. "Because my brother's a genius with technology and an idiot when it comes to politics."


Image: Back to the Future 25th Anniversary by Graham Coreil-Allen, October, 2010