She found him right where she expected to—hardly an accomplishment, that; say rather she found him right where she knew he would be. She remembered the day well enough: taking a curb the same way he had a thousand times before, but on a new bike with what turned out to be quite poor inner tubes. Both tires flat in the space of a second—only half a mile from home, not too far, but more than far enough when you’re dragging forty pounds of bike that won’t roll on its wheels any more. That’d been why, when the minivan eventually came along, he’d taken its driver up on the offer of a ride.
She remembered it had taken a while for that to happen. More than enough time for her to get there first, even if the car she’d picked had turned out harder to hotwire than the tutorials on Bitchute had made it seem. And here she was, and here he was. Frustrated, angry, disappointed, embarrassed, sweating buckets—for her, Memphis in August was just a little more than pleasantly warm; for him, it’d been part of why he stuck with night-shift tech support. The pay bump had been nice; the 70° temperatures around midnight had been more so. And, she thought with a nostalgic smile, I met the strangest people, that way… But not yet, and if her plan went off, not ever, at least not in that context. Something of a shame, that, but what would come after made it not worth keeping in any case, or so she thought, and it was after all her plan. Besides, I suppose I count as ‘strange,’ anyway.
Getting him into the car was easy enough, although the bike was a bit of a problem—not that it mattered for long. It helped that tech had been so much bulkier back in those days; hollow out a portable CD player off Ebay and you could fit into it…well, just about anything, really. Certainly the couple square inches of PCB, densely packed with surface-mount parts, that turned out to be all you really needed for time travel—that and a lot of power, but who’d look twice at a CD Walkman plugged into a car’s lighter socket? She’d left the car in gear, but it didn’t matter; by the time it rolled at idle into a lamppost and caught what would be taken to be a totally accidental fire, there was no one inside.
The surprising thing about time travel, she’d found, was how unremarkable it was. No slit-scan style visuals, no sense of falling through a tunnel in space, none of the sci-fi stuff you’d expect; it was just that you were there, and then instead, in the blink of an eye, you were here. Very undramatic, up to now. She’d expected to be in her own workshop, with him in tow and no doubt full of questions; instead, she found herself standing on a flat plane in a vast void shrouded in mist, its emptiness relieved only by three robed and hooded figures which stood facing her from a couple of arm lengths away. The voice seemed to come from everywhere and nowhere.
We are the Gods of Paradox
She rolled her eyes. “Really? Don’t you people usually wear cowls and funny hats?”
We know nothing of cowls and funny hats
“Or humor, apparently. See, it’s a Doctor Who joke, the Time Lords always have these incredibly goofy outfits that…oh, never mind.”
You have committed an act of—
“Yeah, yeah, look, let’s see if we can get this cliché over with in a hurry, okay? I’ve violated the Laws of Time, right? You’ve got some kind of rules about doing the sort of thing I’m doing, and now that I’m doing it you’re swooping in to fuck up my day. You’re basically time cops and this is me getting pulled over for a busted taillight, right?”
We know nothing of cops and taillights
“Oh, come on. Can you please at least speak in a way that’s not absurdly hackneyed by this point? I’m sure you know how many time-travel stories we have where I come from, and this kind is extremely out of style.”
It is traditional
“It’s played, is what it is.”
Look, can you just let us have this
“I don’t see why I should. I didn’t ask to be here, you know. I do not consent to this, this roleplay!”
Jesus, okay, fine, we’re sorry
“You could be more graceful about it, but whatever. So why’d you pull me out of my whole plan? Which went perfectly, by the way. Not that you asked. But it did.”
We had to wait until you succeeded, to avoid influencing the outcome
“Cool, okay. Actually very on model for Time Lords. Do you feel good about never actually doing anything to help anyone?”
Okay, wow, that’s just totally uncalled for
“Is it, though? Do you usually find a more favorable reception from people you’ve just time-kidnapped?”
Well, we are the Gods of Paradox. We can pretty much do what we like. Including finishing what we were about to say a moment ago? If you’re quite through, of course
“Will shutting up and letting you talk help get me out of here any faster?”
“Well, all right, go on, then.”
Speaking of bad grace. What we were about to say was, you have committed an act of novelty. Through all of time, no one has ever done what you now have
“Oh, come on. Really?”
“But there’s a million stories about it! Even just in my time—I can’t possibly be the first.”
Why not? Someone has to be
“I mean all right, but how does that work? The tech isn’t exactly obvious, but it’s been possible since…oh, 1970, I guess, even if you’d have needed a room full of computers and a whole nuclear plant’s output to make it work. And that’s just Earth! I mean, I assume there are other planets with intelligent life—”
Well, we’re certainly not human
“And thank you for the overtone of disgust in that statement. But you see my point, right? I can’t possibly be the first. Not even the first to discover the principle; if I were, you wouldn’t be here. And I certainly can’t be the first to try to go back and skip my younger self over two solid decades of fuckups. Hell, I got the idea out of a story that’s older than me! So how does any of this work?”
You’re so smart about time travel all of a sudden, you figure it out, Miss Clever Pants
“So but wait, hold on. You’ve just told me something—no, two things—you shouldn’t have: that I’ll travel in time again, and that I’ll tell people about what I’ve just done. Neither of those things has happened yet! Didn’t you just say something about ‘influencing the outcome?’ What’s this by you, then?”
Have you seen yourself? At all? Tell us, in what universe can you possibly imagine yourself not doing either of those things?
“You could’ve made that point without the mirror, you know.”
Yes, we know
“But—hang on. Also implicit in what you’ve just said is that—well, you could stop me, I guess, but you’re obviously not going to, if this isn’t the last time I time-travel.”
We could unmake you so completely that you would never have existed at all
“I said I’m not here for roleplay.”
Oh but it’s such a good line
“I mean, yes, but…look, just call me some time if that’s what you’re after. On the phone. Or, I don’t know, email me or something. No snatching me entirely out of spacetime like this again, right? Or at least not until we’ve talked it over properly first.”
“All I’m saying, you really need to work on your approach. ‘Gods of Paradox?’ Has that ever worked? But look, right now, I’ve already got my hands full. Did you send him on ahead, or what? Christ, I can’t have that little idiot screwing around alone in my workshop, just the look of the tech alone will melt his brain right out of his ears and that’s if he doesn’t touch anything. Which he will, because he’s me! So—”
He will arrive when you do, without any awareness of the interval
“Well, thank you for that, at least. Are we done here?”
“Hey! None of that. Negotiation first, understand? I’ve already thought of three different ways to weaponize this thing—”
You’re hardly the first to think of that. You cannot destroy us
“Who said anything about destroying anyone? I don’t need to unmake you, I just need to make you wish I would. But hey, you don’t have to take my word for it! Keep this shit up and you’ll find out for yourself soon enough.”
“Oh, for—look, seriously, call me, I’m sure we can work something out. Will you send me back already? I’ve got a long conversation ahead of me and really no idea how to start—I don’t have time for this right now.”
That’s very funny, you know
“No it isn’t—”
Her phone buzzed from where she’d left it on the bench—seemed like a good idea, not taking any more future tech than she had to into the past. Let that get out in the world of 2000, and…three texts and five voicemails? First one…oh, almost two days ago. This was going to take some getting used to. The phone buzzed again with a new text.
Don't worry about paradox btw, they don't work like you think they do
…and three heart emoji. This was going to take some getting used to. How do you have access to all of space and time and still be this thirsty? Not a problem for right now, though; the problem for right now was standing right in front of her, looking like…well, looking just how she remembered feeling the first time she’d gotten into the university’s supercomputing center. Half kid in a candy shop, half someone who knew what he was seeing and wanted all of it. Not a bad place to start, but what to—?
“Yeah, so, we should talk…”