Time travel was not only possible, it had already occurred. Once you accepted that basic premise, everything else fell into place.
Marie stared at the six computer screens displaying the results of her calculations. The forty something woman leaned back in her chair. She drew some strands of her long, dark hair to her mouth, nibbling on them. Maybe that was a bad habit, but it beat nibbling on her fingernails, which she’d long ago decided was worse. Besides, it didn’t matter if this gave her split ends - it’s not like anyone came out to visit her any more.
“I can do this,” Marie concluded.
She pushed herself away from the desk, heading for the stairs. She stopped. She turned. She walked back, grasping the small red cube next to her central keyboard, and after a moment of hesitation, she activated it. Setting the personal device to follow, she released it, and it hovered in the air next to her.
She turned and strode across the room again, the cube keeping pace. “I’ll be leaving shortly, Al,” she stated, as she started up the stairs.
“For how long?” came the not-quite-electronic voice. The red light flickered within his - the voice sounded male, so why not ‘his’ - 5cm by 5cm by 5cm shape, more or less in time with the sounds.
The artificial intelligence - a male ‘AI’, hence her name for it, Al - first reacted with silence. For what had to be an incredible amount of time in electronic terms. Marie briefly wondered to what extent such mannerisms had been preprogrammed in, and to what degree it had simply adapted to her own expectations over the last thirty odd years.
Thirty years. She’d received Al at fourteen, and he had been her only constant companion since that time. What had become of her life?
“Have I displeased you?” Al questioned at last.
“Nope,” Marie asserted.
“Are you gravely ill?”
“I hope not.” She reached the landing and headed down the hall towards her bedroom.
“Are you getting married?”
Marie stumbled, and nearly fell. The unexpected question, combined with the very thought of her hooking up with ANYONE, of either sex, made her laugh out loud. She turned to regard her device, needing to lean up against the wall until her giggles had subsided. “Why Al, I never knew you had such a quirky sense of humour.”
“Marriage is the next most likely reason for you to want to terminate our association,” he countered. “Seeing as your new significant other would want you to spend your time with them, and not with me.”
“Al, when was the last time I had a real date?”
“One year and 232 days ago.”
Marie pursed her lips. Damn. Had it really been that long? Who had that even been? James? Sue? “I think that was a one night stand.”
“You called it a date.”
“Yeah, well, I tend to use a lot of the wrong words when I’m around other people,” Marie grumbled. “Since people are such jerks.”
“You say that a lot lately. I am starting to wonder if it is for my benefit, so that you can sneak off and see people when I am inactive.”
Marie eyed Al. “I wish I could figure out when you’re joking.”
“Me too,” Al agreed. “I am constantly refining my humour subroutines.”
“Keep working at that.”
“It will be difficult to do once you’re not around.”
“Point,” Marie granted. She pushed off the wall and resumed the trek to her bedroom. “Sorry.”
Her device kept pace. “So why are you leaving?”
“Because I have to travel back in time to convince myself that I can invent time travel. Which happens to be a one way trip.”
“Your efforts have been successful then?”
Marie looked over her shoulder. “One moment. Al, why was marriage more likely to you than me succeeding in my research?!”
“Merely because I did not realize that you would leave immediately upon your success. Why is it you need to leave today?”
“Predestination paradox. Look it up.”
Al went silent again. This time he was probably connecting to the Cumulus Cloud or whatever they called the information branch of the web these days.
Marie reached her bedroom. She kicked off her shoes, pulled the curtains closed, and began to remove her clothing. She idly wondered why she’d even bothered to cover the window. She had no neighbours, not this far out in the woods. Her latest food delivery had come two days ago. There was no reason for anyone to be out there. What was she worried about, peeping squirrels?
“This does not compute,” Al concluded.
Marie pulled down her jeans. “How do you figure?”
“I have found no reason you need to leave today.”
She straightened to pull off her shirt, kicking her pants aside. “I solved the equations today.”
“But you did not expect to solve them today.”
“I guess not. How is that relevant?”
“You are changing your clothes.”
“No duh, Al.” Marie threw her shirt overtop of the little device. The cube’s hover position descended by about a half metre. “What of it?”
“A predestination paradox, or causal loop, is a form of paradox that occurs because there is no apparent source for an item or concept,” Al clarified. He was trying to make his voice sound muffled. Marie rolled her eyes.
“I already knew that,” she pointed out. She headed for the closet, deciding not to bother swapping out her underclothes.
“For instance, you are given a ball today, and at SOME future point, you travel back in time and give yourself the ball. The item hence has no origin.”
“Al, you don’t have to explain it back to me!” Marie said. “It’s what I used to complete the equations! Once I realized that I was the one who spoke to me back when I was twelve, everything fell into place.”
She pulled out her red dress. She stared at it. Between it, and the conversation with Al, this was becoming more real.
“I grant that, in your case, you claim to recall a sharing of information with yourself, rather than a concrete object,” Al continued to speak. “But whether it is information or an object, you seem to have missed out on the fact that you retain certain aspects of free will.”
Marie fingered her dress. “Except I don’t,” she asserted. “It’s funny. People have always told me to give up this research, that I was wasting my life, that I should find a nice full time job, be more social, and basically turn my mental capabilities and quirky nature towards something of actual worth.”
She half smiled, pulling the dress against her body. “Except for that time, when I was twelve... the only time in my whole life that anyone, adult or otherwise, EVER believed I had this in me.” Her smile vanished. “So of course, it turns out that, by listening to the old lady in the red dress, I sealed my own destiny. And in all my life, the only person who ever had faith in me... was me.” She swallowed. “People are such jerks.”
“This still does not compute.”
Marie shook her head to clear it. “You’re not making sense,” she objected. She began pulling her dress on. “I solve the equations, I travel back in time to tell myself to never give up, loop closes, end of story. What’s your beef?”
“There is no reason you need to leave today.”
“I just TOLD you--"
“There is no reason you need to leave TODAY,” Al insisted.
Marie adjusted the straps of her dress as it fell into place. She eyed her shirt, hovering at waist level. Then she walked over and snatched the clothing off her device. Al rose back up. “You’re saying that, because when I got dressed this morning, I didn’t choose to wear the clothes I’d be wearing to time travel - that means I don’t need to time travel?”
“Correct. Not today.”
“What in the hell is the point in waiting?”
The red light inside her device flashed silently a few times. “What in the hell is the point in not waiting?” Al finally asked.
Marie found she could only stare.
“Besides, the human memory is fallible,” Al added. “Perhaps that dress is not, in fact, accessorized the same way as it was when you saw it over thirty years ago. Perhaps your hair is not yet the correct length. Perhaps you should take more time to think things through. There is no reason you need to leave today.”
“Y-You can’t be saying you’ll MISS me,” Marie protested, dumbstruck. “You’ll be deactivated, you won’t know! Besides, I’m always either grousing and complaining at you, or whining and moaning about how lonely I am, and how much I need to stop reading those god awful romance books. You should be glad to be rid of me!”
Al rotated in the air. “I am not emotionally impacted by your departure. I am merely saying that there is no reason for you to leave today.”
“I can’t figure out why you’re saying that.”
“Nor can I,” Al admitted.
Marie realized she was chewing on her hair again, and she made herself stop. She went to grab the tool that would allow her to zip up her dress. Seriously, she thought, the sum total of all of human knowledge was now accessible via a simple verbal interface, yet there were still no pretty dresses that could self-zip.
“Look, I can’t take you with me,” Marie sighed. “All electronics get fried. It’s a fundamental aspect of the time journey. I worked that out years ago. Five more days of study, heck, five more years, it won’t change that!”
“I mean, shielding, MAYBE,” Marie yielded. “You’re not that big. But that’s not my area of expertise, which means not only having to TALK to people, but years, DECADES more work.”
“I am not saying you have to take me with you.”
“Then what ARE you saying?” Marie demanded, now fully zipped. She was starting to feel irrationally angry.
Again a pause, then, “I am saying is that there is no reason you need to leave today.”
“Oh, for - give me something to WORK with here, Al! Do you think you’ll somehow be lonely?” Marie asked. “Should I give you to some nice young girl who will appreciate you more than I did? Though it would more likely be to some thirty-something, because you’re not exactly state-of-the-art any more, even with your upgrades..."
“As you have yourself pointed out, I will be deactivated. I will not know you are gone.”
“So WHY are you being so damn ARGUMENTATIVE about this?” She brushed down her dress and put her hands on her hips.
Her personal device now rotated around it’s axis several times, a sign that Al was struggling to find an English way of parsing a particular concept. At last, the red light pulsed. “You are special,” he concluded.
Marie was sure she’d misheard. “I am WHAT?”
“You are special. If you leave today, no one will know this. Except for me, and I will have been deactivated.”
“Oh, I’m special all right. Special needs.”
“That is not what I mean. Perhaps I did not find the correct word.”
Marie pinched the bridge of her nose. “Is that what this is about? You think I should be rubbing this in the noses of everyone who told me my research was pointless? That I should stick around to publish a paper? Because I can tell you exactly how THAT will go.”
She sat on the edge of her bed. “My relatives will smile at me but have no idea what I’m even talking about - like normal - my colleagues will pat me on the back and request to apply my methods, hoping they won’t have to speak to me - like normal - my detractors will rush to discredit me, pointlessly attacking my sexuality and ethnicity - like normal - and I’ll never get another date because half the world’s population will believe I’ve become unattainable while the other half will - like normal - think I’m a hopeless geek!”
Her fingernails dug into her palms. “Though apparently it’s been 597 days since my last major night out, so I guess THAT one matters less.” Marie shuddered, then began to chew furiously on her hair. “I don’t need all that stress in my life, Al.”
“I did not mean to distress you.”
“I know.” Marie bit down more gently, before pulling her hair gradually out from between her pursed lips. She stared at the floor. “It has to be today.”
Al didn’t say anything. Marie wondered if it was another extended pause for her benefit, or whether he, in fact, had nothing to add. “I understand now,” he said at last.
“But I do wish others could have seen you as I see you.”
Marie curled down towards her knees, pressing her palms to her face. “Yeah, well, surprise! We don’t always get what we want in life.”
“Indeed. People are such jerks.”
She went from being on the verge of tears to laughing out loud. She couldn’t help it. She looked back up at her personal device. “Al, have I ever told you that you’re wonderful?”
“Not since you were fifteen.”
“Oh. Well, you’re wonderful. And I’m sorry for not saying it more.”
“You are also wonderful. Perhaps that is the word I was searching for.”
“Perhaps.” Marie looked up at him. Slowly, she stood, and walked over, drawing in a long breath. “I’m deactivating you now. You won’t see me again.”
“All right. Goodbye, Marie Melendiez. It has been a pleasure.”
“Yeah.” She plucked him out of the air, running a finger along one of his edges. “Yeah, it has been. Thank you, Al.”
His light pulsed out once more, with no accompanying voice. Marie’s grip tightened slightly. She unset the follow command, and deactivated him. And then stood there, looking down at the inanimate cube in her hands for at least a minute, before carefully placing Al onto her bed.
“I guess, in the end, you had faith in me as well,” she realized. “Go figure.”
It took another minute before she could turn around and walk out of the room, but once she had, she never looked back.
The temporal trip itself was not hard. She’d had the hardware in place for years. All it had needed was a way to target, which Marie could now provide - namely, her twelve year old self. That day, in the park, after school. She knew it would work now, since it had no choice BUT to work. Predestination.
The one hitch was that she was only able to set a date, not an exact time - after all, it was always afternoon somewhere on the Earth - so Marie was rather surprised when the trip ended. The sun was lower in the sky than she’d anticipated.
But that surprise was nothing compared to the reaction she had upon catching up with her younger self. Because there she was, young Marie, sitting on the bench... talking to a woman in a red dress who was definitely NOT her, as that woman was a bit too tall, and her hair was a bit too short, and all at once, Marie realized that her perceptions of the world had been full of distortions.
This changed everything.
Enjoy that? Enjoy time travel? I'm blogging a time travel serial as well! Go see!
Alternatively, you can comment below. Possible topics:
-Whether Marie is a sympathetic character or not.
-How predictable any of that was.
-My writing style. Again, I don't do short stories much, they tend to turn into epics. But I had some feels for these 2,500+ words.
Regular posts on the blog resume this weekend, with the rest of ConBravo.