The Reluctant Time Traveller

Imagine that you could stand outside of time and space. What would you see? Looking from Limbo you might see the myriad dimensions of the multiverse, twisted together like pieces of spaghetti in a giant pasta bowl. Each strand would be an individual dimension with its own timeline. Some stands would be short. Some timelines would be long. One would be the longest – FirstWorld. But all would be of finite length. Even though the strands touched in many places, the beings living within them would be unaware of any but their own timeline. Only a few, special beings have the ability to travel between dimensions. Even fewer have the potential to travel through time. This is the story of one such man.

“Einstein was very nearly right,” the man with bright orange toenails said.

Jamie Surak was more taken aback by the man being formally dressed but having bare feet than by what he had said.

“I used to believe that time was just another dimension. I used to think that unencumbered time travel would be possible. I know better now.”

Jamie had an idea where this conversation was going and he didn’t much like it. He looked around and out of the room. He was on the top floor of the tallest building in the world. The man with the orange toenails owned the most expensive penthouse on Earth. The view from the glass wall was spectacular, looking out over the towers of the city, the shanty town slums, and the ocean. The distinctions between land and water, and water and sky were difficult to determine. There had been a time when the slums had been land-based. Since the massive rise in sea level, land came at a premium. The poor now crowded onto whatever would float and died on the edge.

Jamie tore his eyes away from the view and looked around the room. So much space for one individual or even an extended family was obscene. There was enough space in this one room alone to sub-divide into seven normal apartments. The furniture and decoration were not particularly opulent; this apartment celebrated the ownership of empty space and fresh air.

Jamie focussed on the speaker. He knew who he was, of course. Everyone in the world knew the name of Julius Auxelles. Very few had met him. Jamie supposed that even fewer had observed his toenail fetish. He was old, grey, and frail looking. Nevertheless, he still looked good for a man going on 250. Jamie cut straight to the chase. “How did you find me?”

“So, you are up with the game; that makes things easier. It was more straightforward than you might think. As Chairman of The Corporation, I have the entire resources of the Company at my disposal. My father began the work and I inherited his knowledge and research, along with all this.” He spread his arms in an expansive gesture. “Forgive my bad manners, I haven’t offered you refreshments. I entertain so infrequently these days. Perhaps some tea?”

“That would be nice,” Jamie said, “You were saying?”

“What? Oh, yes, it took the top geneticists two generations to crack it.” He spoke into his wrist, “Bring some tea and nibbles would you.” He returned his gaze to Jamie. “The genes explain everything, you know. Humanity is a slave to its genes. We are all just advanced cavemen. For the last 700 years every child has been DNA registered at birth. It was a simple matter to search the database for your unique genetic combination. You will be pleased to know that you are genuinely unique.”

Jamie said nothing and tried to maintain a poker face. Inside, his heart was racing as he digested the information that he’d suspected since childhood but had never known for sure.

Auxelles was about to speak again but was interrupted by the arrival of refreshments. By the time they had completed the pleasantries, Jamie had composed himself again.

“You look well,” Auxelles said. “You are a tad short and a bit rotund, but your curly hair is lustrous and your nose, which some might describe as beaky, gives you an air of superiority which I like. You look like you are in your late twenties or early thirties.”

Jamie didn’t know whether to be offended or flattered. He felt himself blushing.

“Don’t be embarrassed,” Auxelles said, “I know your secret. You do look well for a man who is 623 years old.”

The words hung in the air. Auxelles observed him, holding his gaze in steely, blue eyes that barely managed to contain the excitement hiding behind them. Neither man spoke for what seemed like an age. Jamie eventually broke away from his gaze.

“You have me at a disadvantage, sir,” Jamie said. “If you wish to harvest my genes to extend your already extensive lifespan I fear you will be sadly disappointed.”

Auxelles laughed so much that he descended into a coughing fit. For a moment, Jamie was concerned for his well-being. “Forgive me,” he wheezed after getting his breath back,” You misunderstand me. What I am seeking is exactly the opposite. Please let me explain.”

Jamie was intrigued, so he sat back and let the most powerful man in the world, with bright orange toenails, expound his theory of space-time.

“I once thought it might be possible to build a paradox machine,” Auxelles said. “It is theoretically possible; a machine that will prevent time travel paradoxes unravelling the time line. Unfortunately the power needed is incredible. We would need to harvest a quantum anomaly to be able to run it. But imagine the fun if you could go back in time, kill your grandfather, and still exist.”

Jamie had no designs to harm his grandfather, but he understood Auxelles’ drift.

“Time isn’t like the other dimensions, you know,” Auxelles said.

Jamie did know but he didn’t respond.

“The other dimensions allow freedom of movement in all directions. Time is like a one way street. The time line has a one-way valve that is always just at the present. I can’t even take back the last word I said. But, given enough energy, I can travel forwards in time, keeping ahead of that one-way valve, but never being able to return. I will tell you one of my secrets, shall I?”

Auxelles paused, presumably for effect. Jamie suppressed a yawn and nodded his head instead. He slouched in his seat.

“I’m not really 250. I’m just approaching my hundredth birthday. My gene-death prediction is 99. They are rarely more than one percent in error. We invented a time machine. I travelled 150 years into the future. Fortunately, my business empire was well looked after during my absence.”

Jamie sat up straight.

“Ah, I see I have your attention now; that’s good.” Auxelles grinned.

“Why haven’t you gone further into the future?” Jamie asked. “Perhaps they will be able to extend life in the future.”

“Everyone has a use-by-date written into their genes; even you, Jamie. The future doesn’t interest me; the planet is doomed anyway. I’m interested in the past.”

Jamie felt a shiver run down his spine and goose-bumps well up on his arms.

“I have hypothesised the following. I firmly believe it to be true but I cannot prove it. You, perhaps, know more about these matters than even I do. Ages ago, physicists postulated a thing called string theory. It was supposed to provide a unified theory of gravity and quantum mechanics and answer Einstein’s unanswered questions. It posited the existence of many other dimensions, even a multiverse of different realities. It was eventually shown to be a load of twaddle, of course, but the multiverse concept had a certain attractiveness to it. I firmly believe in the existence of the multiverse. Perhaps there is an infinity of dimensions. Have I said that correctly? Can infinity indeed be singular? No matter, I digress. I believe that in an infinite numbers of rooms, almost identical to this one, at this very moment an infinite number of Julius Auxelles are having this same meeting.”

“Perhaps,” Jamie said, although he knew it to be incorrect.

“Never mind, regardless, it doesn’t matter,” Auxelles seemed momentarily flustered. “I know the key to bypassing time’s one-way valve.” The uncertainty had vanished to be replaced by a smugness that Jamie didn’t find appealing. If Auxelles had been a young man, Jamie could have imagined him ripping off his shirt and beating his chest like the fabled gorilla that was rumoured to once have existed. Instead he sat back, with his arms firmly folded and stared at Jamie with an inane grin on his face.

“Do you have any children?” Jamie tried to change the subject.

“No, I’m the last of my line. When I die, the Corporation, and the Earth must die with me.”

Jamie thought that was taking arrogance to the extreme but managed not to say anything.

“That will be today.”

Jamie gulped, involuntarily.

“Not in a violent way. Don’t misunderstand me. You will be my agent of destruction, so to speak.” He was on a roll now and Jamie was powerless to interrupt him. “You are the key. Or at least your genes are. I’m going to send you back in time. If I had a paradox machine, I would live to see the consequences. But, I don’t. My theory is this: the reason for the one-way valve is simple – any travel into the past is bound to create a paradox, no matter how minor. Auxelles’ first law states that time travel into the past is not possible without changing history. The simple act of travelling into the past is bound to have an impact. Time must protect itself.”

Auxelles sat back, smug again. Jamie imagined he was congratulating himself, before imparting more golden nuggets. Perhaps there would be a second law, or maybe a corollary. “Do go on,” he forced himself to say.

“I need a better metaphor for the one-way valve that protects the past from the present. It’s a shut-off valve as well. If it is ever breached, the timeline is immediately terminated. That’s Auxelles’ second law: there can only ever be one journey into the past in a single dimension.”

“I can see that the argument for your first law is strong,” Jamie said, “But you could never prove the second law.”

Auxelles laughed deeply and set himself off coughing again. Jamie waited patiently for him to regain his breath.

“Let me explain the proof. A time machine exists; I am living proof of that. If a time machine exists now then it must exist into the future, if there is a future. While mine is the first such machine, we must conclude that technology will spread and advance and such machines would become commonplace in the future. Don’t you agree?”

“Assuming you have told me the truth, I accept your hypothesis,” Jamie said.

“It is inconceivable that if time machines exist, no one would use them, don’t you think?”

Again Jamie was forced to agree. “I suppose so, unless they believed in Auxelles’ second law.”

Auxelles ignored the barb. “There has never been a time traveller to the past, in this dimension,” Auxelles stated with certainty.

“How can you be sure of that?” Jamie asked.

“Let me ask you,” Auxelles said, “Where would you go and what would you do if you could travel in time?”

“I don’t know. I haven’t given it any thought.” Jamie lied.

“I have,” Auxelles said, “A great deal of thought, actually. The proof lies in our savage history. Just think about Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot, and Huan Te Chi to name but four. Each committed acts of terrible genocide. Any civilisation that acquired time travel would go back and prevent such atrocities. The fact that they still exist in our history proves my point.”

“Where is this taking us?” Jamie asked, growing tired of the intrigue.

“I’m sending you back. This timeline will end and will be rebooted from the point that I send you to. I’m going to send you back about 100 years, the calibration is not precise. That will be after the time I travelled forward in time but before I got here. A new version of me will find out the truth and my theories will be proven.”

“There really isn’t any need,” Jamie began to argue as Auxelles barked a command into his wrist. Four burly men rushed in and surrounded Jamie. It took only one to lift him and carry him to the machine room. Jamie didn’t struggle; what was the point? He made one final attempt to engage Auxelles in conversation but the man was preoccupied with his own death and would not listen.

They strapped him into the machine.

“You know that you are the only being who could make this trip, don’t you?” Auxelles said. “You should be very honoured.”

A faint hum began to grow into a loud roar.

“Have you considered that is why there have been no other time travellers?” Jamie shouted, but it may have been lost in the growing crescendo.

The noise became almost unbearable before a welcoming silent blackness replaced it. I didn’t handle that very well, Jamie thought. Last time it was purple. I wonder what colour nail polish he’ll be wearing next time.

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