Tuesday 12 July 2022

The Traveller by T G Trouper, Early Grey tea

It’s weird to think that I’m actually one hundred days older than my bio record states.


                The project had taken a couple of centuries since the first calculation back in the mid two-thousands, but the time taken to develop it was irrelevant.


We made small jumps at first, only a couple of days, but with every jump we got better. Jumping back was always spot on, I arrived back at exactly the same time as I left, and this was because the corrections to the algorithms that weren’t there when I left, were there when I returned.


                I always went, I was the obvious choice. No family, no parents, and no siblings. No-one to leave behind if something went wrong and I was stuck there. Or more accurately, no-one to leave forward if I got stuck there. The work we were doing was so intense that I’d simply never had the time to meet anyone.


                My name is Adam, and the year is two-thousand-two-hundred and eighty-five. I have just been sentenced to life in prison with no chance of parole for murder and criminal damage. I am never going to see the outside world again, and I am happy with that.


I pleaded guilty to murder because I killed someone. Then I smashed up the lab where I worked, destroying the project that had been my life. I erased thousands of exabytes of crucial data and shattered the crystal that made it work. My colleagues hate me now, I’d be mad if someone else had done what I did and took away everything that I had worked so hard for. But I couldn’t tell them why I had to do it because it would just keep happening over and over and over again.


They were angrier with me for destroying the work, rather than the murder. Murder is nothing new, since I’ve been talking to you someone will have been murdered in Britain, and another fifty worldwide. Murder is routine, it always has been. Everyone thinks about murdering someone at least once in their life, but thankfully, only a tiny percentage go through with it, and I’m not including war, which we still haven’t shaken our addiction to.


Did I ever think I would actually murder someone, not only that, but a complete stranger? Hell no, at least not until two weeks ago. But ask yourself this: would you willingly kill one person if you knew it would definitely save the lives of over nine billion people? Because that’s what I did.


The plan was that once we’d perfected the techniques, I would go back a few times as an observer and witness horrible events. No matter the situation I would not prevent accidents or save anyone, and I wouldn’t try to assassinate any of the despots in history, no matter how vile or cruel they were. I would not intervene in any situation; it would be hard, as I would undoubtedly see people that I knew were going to die, because if I did, it would change the timeline and who knows what chaos would ensue. My job would be to observe the events that historians argue over so that when I returned the record could be corrected.


This is the twenty-third century, and we still haven’t got rid of nuclear weapons. The world is not the shiny glass and stainless-steel utopia that everyone always hopes the future will be. It’s not all bad, there’s art and culture and for the most part the majority of people are reasonably happy. Everything’s the same as it’s always been; there’s a few people with absurd amounts of wealth, and vastly more people with absolutely nothing.


There hasn’t been a major war between the three superpowers for one hundred and fifty years now, and by the three, I mean the western alliance with America and western Europe, the northeast bloc with Russia their allies in eastern Europe and the China/pacific block that now includes Australia since the invasion. The reason there hasn’t been a war is that we’ve all got quantum computers and we all run the same tactical scenarios, and all come up with the same result: a conflict between any of the two would lead to global destruction.


And in Britain, we sit around and tut, grumbling about how much better it would be if we ran the world like we did five hundred years ago.


Our project is an international effort that was set up to investigate incidents from the past in the hope that we could learn from the past and not make the same mistakes again.


A series of tests were planned. I would go back to specific times, research critical events from world history, not interact with anyone, then come back and the records would be updated. I would find out who was behind the mob that set fire to the British houses of parliament in twenty-thirty-eight. Who really did fire the first shot that started the second American civil war in twenty-fifty-two? Is the man I have called dad all my life really my father, and if so, why do I look nothing like him.


An experimental data recorder implant would store everything I saw and heard and would be retrievable once I returned. Once this technology was proven, it would be used by governments to resolve disputes; a trusted individual acceptable to both sides would be send back to whenever an issue occurred to find out what actually happened; the data would be presented, and the conflict resolved before the shooting started.


We started with fungus. Sent it back two days, then brought it back. When we switched on the machine, nothing appeared to happen, there was no blinding flash of light, no fading to invisible and coming back, but when we checked, it had two days of growth. We tried a plant next; that flowered two days earlier than an identical plant kept in identical conditions. We were building up to an animal experiment, but the use of animals in testing had been banned one hundred years before. Though this project was considered so important, that after extensive checks and even more testing, we were given a special dispensation.


A mouse was sent back and returned with no problems, then a rat that had been trained to perform certain tasks was sent and returned, and it remembered its training. We worked our way through the animals until it was time for me.


The first jump was really strange; I went back two minutes. It was instant, I felt nothing, I blinked, and suddenly everyone was in different positions in the room, but the critical thing was, could I jump back? and yes I could. Everyone was back where they were when I left.  The doctors checked me out and I felt good.


The next jump would again be for two minutes, but I would move around in the lab and interact with people. That jump was really weird, when I returned, everyone remembered talking to me, even though I had been out of the room and alone until immediately before the test.


But on analysing the results, we found that the time was not accurate enough, and although I always returned to exactly the same time, sometimes the jump back was two minutes and fifteen seconds. When the data was extrapolated, it showed that the time difference could grow exponentially the further back the jump; not good.


Then Danika had an idea. Danika was gorgeous, by the way. I was madly in love with her and when this project was over, I was going to ask her out – yeah, we still have sex in the twenty-third century. She came up with a change to the algorithm. I was sent back for ten minutes, everyone left the room, and I entered the new code; when I returned, the history of the code had changed, and everyone clearly remembered it being written before I went; when we analysed the new results, we found the times were spot on.


This allowed us to move onto tests that were far more serious; it was time for me to make a much longer jump. I was going to go back to the early twenty-first century. We did our research and identified an old, abandoned warehouse, a place where I could stay and not see anyone. I was sent back for days at a time, and all in all I did one hundred days, hence me being one hundred days older than my bio data states. We researched up the correct clothing for the period in case I was seen. But on the last day I bumped into someone.


‘Get out of my way, I’m going to miss my train.’


He shouldn’t have been in the building and was clearly taking a shortcut. It was fleeting, and he walked away quickly, but in that brief moment I got very close to him.


Then the time came to return.


The lab was a wreck, the shiny white and chrome was gone, the instruments were old and battered, the computer was a second-generation device and not the sixth generation that had been running the project when I left. Karl approached me, he was dishevelled and emaciated, then I noticed Danika, she seemed sad.


‘What happened to you?’ I said.


‘Don’t you remember?” said Karl


I instantly realised that somehow, I had changed the timeline and had to come up with something quickly.


‘I’m sorry I must have amnesia.’


‘That was predicted in one of the simulations,” muttered Danika. I remembered her as being strong and confident, but her voice was meek.


‘The bastards came in here looking for food, when she wouldn’t give them any they beat her up’. Then Karl looked at what I was wearing. “Where did you get those clothes?’


‘I can’t remember, I must have found them.” It was a feeble excuse, but the best I could come up with on the spot.


‘You should not have done that! You left items there that could have caused a time error, but quite apart from that, you know that the crystal is damaged, and now, until we can get more power, we can only send something back; we won’t be able to return it to our time.’


‘I’m sorry,’ I lied. ‘I don’t remember anything.’


In a way it was not a lie, I couldn’t remember this because it hadn’t happened in my timeline; I had changed something in the past.


I took Karl by the arms and put on the most anguished expression I could.


‘Karl, please I can’t remember. Why is the lab like this? why are you like this?’


‘What do you remember?’


‘Nothing,’ I lied again.


Danika came and sat beside me. ‘This is going to be hard for you Adam,’ she said in the soft voice that I remembered as the trigger for my feelings for her.


She pointed to the walls. ‘Out there; it’s bad. In here we can make our own water, but Karl has to risk everything to go outside scavenging for food.’


‘How long had it been like this?’


‘Since the disease!’


‘What disease?’


‘The cone virus. It emerged in mid twenty-twenty-one. People appeared healthy, then suddenly their lungs would fill with fluid; they died within minutes. All over the world, people just dropped dead. Planes crashed, and people collapsed in the street, they died faster than they could be treated. In days, tens of thousands were dead in every country in the world, and it took just nine weeks for the first billion to be dead.’


‘The first billion?’ I gasped, a shock that I didn’t have to fake.


‘The first but not the last, inside a year it was up to three billion and after… Danika stopped as emotion got to her.


 Karl took over. ‘The final count was nine billion. Vaccines were useless, the virus mutated in the bodies of infected people faster than vaccines could be developed. By twenty-one-eighty the virus had died out. The global population was down to less than five million and it still hasn’t recovered to any significant degree. Stores of food ran out, but there are not enough farmers, and the few that were left had their crops either stolen by gangs or eaten by animals; they were not affected by the virus and grew into huge herds that devoured everything.


‘But we were very lucky, us three. Our family lines survived, our ancestors were scientists and managed to complete work on a second-generation quantum computer and used that to start calculations for time travel. They needed to find a way of going back and stopping the virus; we have continued that work.’


I zoned out to everything else he said, because I knew what the cause was. It was me. The cone virus emerged in mid twenty-one-seventy; it was a highly contagious airborne virus that swept the world but was mild because a similar virus had hit the world a couple of decades before. We all had antibodies from the previous infection that were effective against it, and all the cone viruses did was cause a mild headache. We still have it, we’re all carriers; it mutates every now and then, but we have vaccination programs that stop it. But clearly not anymore.


With our virus, it lays dormant for years before emerging. Once infected with a new variant, a person is contagious within half an hour, but nobody worries about the mutations because a simple nasal spray is all that’s needed kill it. But back in twenty-thirty-five, nobody had antibodies to it. Mass global travel was at its peak then, and if it did lay dormant for years, then the virus would have had time to spread all over the world.


I knew what I had to do; I had to prevent the man from getting on that train.


‘This is all too much; I need to sleep.’


‘Maybe your memory will return tomorrow,’ said Danika as she took me by the arm.


Karl stayed behind. ‘I need to shut the system down; I have to find a way of getting more power.’


I waited until I was sure everyone was asleep then crept back into the lab. I remembered the time of my jump, restarted the machine, and set the control to get me there ten minutes earlier. The place where I had been staying was from a time when fossil fuels were still readily available. I jumped back, quickly gathered what I needed and waited to the side of the doorway where he would soon enter through. I didn’t have to wait long, he entered, and I struck him as hard as I could on the back of the head with a metal bar. He collapsed unconscious on the floor. I knew he wasn’t dead, so I slipped a wire around his throat and pulled it tight.


When I was sure he was dead, I dragged his body onto a pile of wooden pallets, tipped fuel over him and set fire to him, sterilising him. If I was right, then the timeline wouldn’t be altered, the pandemic would be averted, and I would be able to return to my own time. If I was wrong and I wasn’t the cause of the cone virus outbreak, then I would have murdered someone, nine billion people would still die; I would survive because I had the antibodies, but I would be stuck here.


I pressed the button on the control; in an instant, I was back in the shiny white lab. Karl was standing looking dapper in his sharp white lab uniform. Danika came running up and put her arms around me; I think she was letting her feelings for me start to show but it was all too late.


‘You look tired,’ said Karl.


‘I am,’ I lied, I was in shock over what I had just done. ‘Can we debrief tomorrow?’


‘Sure. I’ll let the governments know that they can start their search for suitable candidates.


I smiled benignly and went to my room; again I waited until everyone was asleep before going into the lab. I checked the archive and found the report of a man being murdered and his body set on fire, not surprisingly, the murderer was never found. The files were detailed; the first quantum computer was up and running and had shown that time travel was a possibility. He was the lone voice of opposition to the idea. He had repeatedly warned of the inherent dangers of time travel but was being ignored. It was discovered that he was planning to kill all of the scientists involved.


I was stunned at the realisation; by killing this man, I had prevented some people being murdered, but if he had lived, then time travel would have never been invented, and I wouldn’t have been the cause of billions of deaths.


I went to the crystal, the gleaming chunk of rock that we all but worshiped, the venerated time-stone, as it had been dubbed by the unimaginative government apparatchik that we had to report to. I took a hammer and hit as hard as I could. It shattered into thousands of tiny pieces, then I erased all the data.


I hooked myself up to the data retrieval terminal, and there I am, murdering someone and burning the body. Even though it was over two hundred years ago, I went to the police station and handed myself in.


I pled guilty at my trial so that I wouldn’t have to explain why I had done it. And now, as I start day one of my life in prison I am safe in the knowledge that no-one else will ever be able to go back and cause such a disastrous change in the timeline. But a thought has just struck me; it can’t happen again, but how many times has it happened before?


About the author   

TG Trouper lives with his wife in Essex, England. TG worked in live music production for many years. Only after retiring to look after ailing parents did he find the time to take up writing. He is also a singer and guitarist in a couple of bands. 

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