by Kevin Mercurio
We emerged from a hole in the ground next to my house and walked inside the adjacent building. When I was seated, he removed my restraints. I still couldn’t believe who was standing in front of me.
I glanced at walls on either side of us, ravaged by the elements. On the far wall, a theatrical stage loomed in the dim lighting, blue curtains partly draped, while a lighting rod hung crookedly from the ceiling fixtures. Bleachers to my left were empty, though posters of Spirit Weeks and sports banners scattered across seats. At my feet, the floor was a dark brown, lines of various colours turned at sharp corners and curved, defining boundaries.
“Where have you brought me?” I asked.
“Not where, but when. The future.”
I struggle to free myself and wind up kicking over the table between us, sending its items flying. He tightens my restraints.
I realized we were situated in the middle of my school’s gymnasium, only divided by a solid black line at half court. I turned my gaze back at him. He looked so, focused. He was bald, slight beard running from side-to-side. There was a scar running along his right ear, like he had been through some combat. He was dressed professionally in grey suit jacket with a green handkerchief folded in the front pocket, overtop a pastel-green collar shirt neatly buttoned and tucked into his matching grey pants. Shoes were polished and pointed, the vintage black reflecting the minute amount of light.
On the table setup, there were bandages, rubbing alcohol and a mirror. Also placed behind this medical collection were four rectangular black boxes of various sizes, as polished and reflective as my captor’s shoes.
I turned my gaze back at the man in front of me. I couldn’t get over his look of determination. It was menacing, but I didn’t feel like I was in danger. His eyes pierced through mine like he had seen them before, like I had seen them before. They were the familiar hazel-green eyes that I saw every morning when getting ready for school. They were my eyes.
“What do you mean, the future?” I asked.
“Well technically that isn’t correct. This is my present time. Your future hasn’t happened yet.”
“Who are you?”
“You already know the answer to that question.”
He reached into his jacket and took out a pocket watch. On the back of it were engravings of a man struggling to carry a large sphere. It was Atlas, a titan of Greek mythology, who Zeus condemned to hold the sky on his shoulders. This was apparently a fitting punishment for the Titanomachy, a 10-year war that finally ended with victory for the Olympians. The watch itself was extremely peculiar, with three wounded clocks.
“Past, present and future?” I asked.
“Not yours, but mine.”
“Why did you bring me here?”
“I had to. I sat in that exact seat 36 years ago.”
“So this has already happened?”
“Not for you. Not yet.”
It must have been nightfall, as windows lining the tops of the walls were dark. You could hear the the wind bellowing, pushing on branches from old, adjacent trees which tapped the pane from the outside. Broken glass littered the gymnasium floor beneath.
“During our time together today, I will have to lie to you once.”
“Why did you tell me that? It’s not like I know what the hell is even going on right now.”
“Each moment is a specific state of reality. Driving it forward to the next of an infinite series of states is what we call the time dimension. Therefore, in order for things to work out as happened, things need to be in place to perform their duty at each moment leading to a function.”
I looked at him, puzzled. Is it that simple? The idea of supplanting a seed in one’s mind to grow and foster seemed too… random. To what amount of control could a warning lead to the desired outcome of biological interactions? Of chemical reactions?
I pressed further, “So I am here in order to ensure things happen the way they should? The way it has already happened in your past?”
“On the contrary. We are here to change what has happened.”
The more I pressed the more confused I became. If he was really who I think he is, he must have lost his ability to communicate sensibly. “Then why are you just repeating what has happened previously? With bringing me here 36 years later? With telling me that you are going to lie to me?”
“Remember, it’s about function. Think of time as a magician who presents you a series of options during a performance. Despite this opportunity of selection, our ability to affect the performance is limited, just like our ability to affect the time dimension. I’m simply choosing the fastest route to an origin moment.”
“Origin moment? What’s that?”
“An origin moment is when the state of reality can go one of two ways, like a fork in a path. Left or right. This happens every 36 years.”
This was madness. It was almost like he was speaking in a different language. At the time, I could just barely follow the flow of his words. But his eyes… His eyes never lost that sense of determination, that focus. He kept ruthless eye contact as he spoke.
“There are things that if changed, do not impact function. For example, I noticed that you were staring at the scar on my right ear. I obtained this scar in an accident involving a workplace explosion that sent shrapnel in all directions. The one before me cut himself when he was just a child. It was the same mark. It was not part of an origin moment.”
“So functions can only change at origin moments? What makes you so sure this is an origin moment?”
“Because that’s what my captor told me 36 years ago, and his captor before that. We all thought we had changed the course of time. Everything that my captor so desperately wanted to change happened nonetheless. We were unsuccessful.”
“What happened? What did he want to change?”
“The same thing I want change, and the same thing you will want to change as well.”
I remembered what I was doing before being abducted. I was working on my town’s annual Science Fair project with my twin brother. We had chosen to showcase time dilation, specifically the relative time experienced by an observer on Earth to another person near a supermassive object like a black hole. This concept can be predicted by Albert Einstein’s field equations first published back in 1915. The closer you are to an object with a large gravitational force, the slower time passes for you relative to a person farther away from said object, or vice versa, the faster time passes for the person farther away from said object relative to you.
“About 100 years ago, scientists used the Laser Interferometer Gravitational Wave Observatory, or LIGO, to detect gravitational waves produced by the collision of two black holes occurring 1.5 billion years ago. Relative to the age of the Earth at 4.5 billion years old, that’s quite recent. Researchers optimized this method of gravitational wave detection and used it to observe the universe in ways we never thought possible. We were able to distinguish black holes all over the night sky, supernovas of stars hundreds of times the size of our own sun, neutron stars spinning at unthinkable speeds. Basically anything that had massive gravitational forces. We contemplated how time would be experienced at these regions of the universe. We wanted to experiment.”
“You sent probes to these regions in space?”
“Worse. We attempted to create our own dense objects.”
“That’s impossible. Even if you collapsed the Earth to the size of a basketball, that still would not be enough to create a black hole.”
“It was theorized that powerful particle accelerators could achieve this feat. Experiments at the Large Hadron Collider, for example, became more and more sophisticated, pumping enough energy for particles to collide into each other at just under the speed of light. We started detecting gravitational waves at these sites, at these particle accelerators. Then, we started detecting gravitational waves at specific places on Earth every 36 years.”
“The origin moments.”
“Yes. And it took the brilliant mind of one individual to pinpoint exactly when these events occurred. This same brilliant mind later invented a machine that harnesses gravity to bend spacetime into a closed timelike curve. It was us. It was you.”
I looked at him blankly. Us? Me? How could I have invented such advanced technology? At this time, I was just an ordinary high school student, not even at the top of his physics class. My brother was the real genius in the family. He had such bad allergies that he stayed inside and read textbooks. I much preferred to play in the treehouse overlooking the construction of the new school. It always seemed like we were similar intellectually, but also physically opposite. There was still one thing I didn’t understand.
“What happened to the world?”
“There was a fatal flaw in the first prototype. The moment you left travelling into the future, you produced a micro black hole that destroyed 25% of the planet in an instant before it evaporated. Civilization crumbled and the world plunged into chaos.”
“So why don’t you just kill me?”
“We tried that. However your disappearance brings motivation to your brother to dedicate himself to similar work and build the same machine. He would often go to your treehouse to study, hoping you would one day return.”
“Okay, I could just do something else with my life instead.”
“We tried that as well. No matter what you end up doing in life, your actions still lead your brother to create the machine.”
“Then why are we here?”
“Because we are going to finally settle this once and for all using randomness.”
My captor pulled the table with medical supplies and the four black rectangular boxes. He pushed the bandages to the side and opened the smallest box on my left. Inside the box was a coin. He put the coin on top of his right thumb and flipped it in the air.
“Call it, head or tails.”
“Does it really matter? Do you already know what it will be?”
“I only know what it was.”
He removed his hand covering the coin. “Tails.”
He then picked up the next box and opened it. Inside was a six-sided die. He place the die in his right hand and rolled it on the table. The die bounced and flipped three times before it settled on a three. He then picked it up and placed it in my right hand. I rolled the die. It bounced twice and settled on a six. He smiled.
“Lowest goes first.”
He picked up the remaining box and opened it. This time, inside was a revolver with 2 bullets lined on the right side of the box.
“Wait, what are we doing?”
“We are settling this once and for all.”
He picks up the gun and loads one bullet into one of four chambers. He takes a deep breath and spins the cylinder as hard as he can. It rotates, ticking each time a chamber passes the hammer part of the gun. He then hands the revolver to me.
“This one particular moment had a probability of 1 out of 125,000. Shoot me. Aim for the head.”
“This is crazy. I don’t want to.”
“Shoot me or else I will kill you myself and do this cycle all over again.”
“Why do you think this will solve the problem?”
“Inside the last black box are the blueprints to the machine, with the fatal flaw fixed. We have to somehow deliver these blueprints to you in the past without directly interacting with you. How can we motivate choices such that you or your brother can create a workable machine, one that can travel through time and return back to the present without ripping the fabric of space. We can do this through occurrences that cannot possibly have been dictated by intent or motive. Randomness. Randomness cannot reveal intent or motive, it is simply chance.”
“So you expect to kill me here in the future? I thought killing me doesn’t change the past?”
“Remember it’s about function. My intention to kill you in order to change the past doesn’t change function. But if you introduce randomness to the series of events, this will change function. Either way, either I kill you and we see a difference in how your brother creates the machine, or you kill me and the process begins all over again.”
“This is insane. There must be another way.”
I look at the revolver in my hands. It’s heavy and cold. I point it at my captor.
I pull the trigger and we hear a click.
He grabs the gun out of my hands and points it at me. He pulls the trigger and we hear another click. Again, he hands me the gun.
“Why did we have to use a gun?”
“Not only does it incorporate my theory of randomness well, but if done correctly it also is the most humane way to kill someone. Now shoot me.”
I raise my arm and point the gun at him. We both can see my hand shaking. I pull the trigger and we hear click.
He takes the gun from my hand and points it at me. He paused, pointing the gun square at my forehead.
I looked once again at the posters detailing Spirit Weeks and yearly sports banners that lined the gymnasium bleachers. It was then I finally realized what he lied about.
“This isn’t the future, we’re in the past. Before my time.”
“The machine and I will time travel to where we emerged from just a few moments ago, near our treehouse beside the school, in the next hour. I must kill him in order to stop him from returning to the his present and forming the micro black hole. I’m sorry for lying to you.”
He pulled the trigger and we heard another click.
“This doesn’t make sense.”
He opened up the cylinder and showed that there was a bullet in the last chamber. Confused, he put the gun back together and aimed it back at my head.
At that moment, I tilted my chair to my right side as gunpowder ignited. The bullet just grazes my left ear. Adrenaline overpowers the pain of my injury as I flip the table at him. The table bounces off his head and pushes him off his chair, hitting the ground hard. His once shiny black shoes now painted with droplets of blood, his professional grey suit jacket ripped in various spots and pastel-green collar shirt untucked from his matching grey pants.
Freed from the impact to the ground, I walked over to him and grabbed the gun from his side. He’s unconscious. I use my restraints to tie him to the chair and put the table back upright. I set the four rectangular black boxes back on the table next to the medical collection, which I used to aid the scar on my ear. I grabbed the 4th box containing the blueprints and walked towards the gymnasium exit. I was careful not to step on broken window glass scattered across the floor.
I walked to where my old treehouse was. My grandfather built it for my dad when he was younger, and he passed it on to my brother and I with a few modern renovations. I placed the black box at the base of the tree and sat down, awaiting my arrival with the machine. But something felt off.
I held my aching left ear and groaned. All of a sudden, in a flash of light, a man appeared sitting in a steampunk-like machine. I couldn’t believe who was standing in front of me. He emerged from the hole in the ground next to my house and walked inside the adjacent building.
“Space and time are modes in which we think, not conditions in which we exist.”
- Albert Einstein