Experiment #238

Tempus Subcinctus Part 1

Samuel had only opened his timekeeping shop three weeks ago, but he was nearly certain customers came in the front door. Yet, there the old man stood behind him at the counter.

The old man seemed familiar to Samuel, like an estranged uncle who resembles your mother. The man wore an old brown coat that fell to his knees.

“May I, umm, help you?” Samuel, ever the good shopkeeper, asked.

“Excellent, excellent.” The man said, ignoring him. “It’s just as I remember it.” Goggles sat on top of his head, mussing the remains of his hair. A scraggly white beard adorned his face. Under his coat he wore an odd mechanical device as a chest plate. It clicked and whirred like a clock.

From what Samuel could see, the intricacy and precision of the mechanism rivaled even Breguet’s delicate work. “May I help you?” he asked again.

“Oh, yes, oh, yes,” the man said more to himself than to Samuel. He turned and his eyes fell on Samuel for the first time. “It’s so very good to see you alive.”

Before Samuel could say another word the front door opened and the bell jingled. His second customer, a young man, entered the correct way. He looked less out-of-place than the old man, but wore a bandanna over his mouth. He seemed to be sweating, and mumbling to himself, “Kill him and the pain goes away…Kill him and it’s gone…”

“Oh, we’re running late.” The old man pulled down his goggles and fiddled with the knobs on the machine at his chest.

“Can I help you?” Samuel asked the newcomer, struggling to gain control of the situation and help someone.

The young man raised a pistol and pointed it at Samuel’s chest. His coat fell open and a device similar to that of the old man’s, but less refined, peeked out.

“Samuel Quinn,” the young man said, “You have brought horrors upon this world.” His hand shook.

“What?” Samuel asked.

“In your future you’ve caused untold suffering by creating the Tempus Subcinctus, the Time Shifter.” He touched the device at his chest with his free hand. ”For this you must die.” His hand shook with such ferocity that Samuel feared the gun would go off accidentally.

“Not his time!” The old man jumped in front of Samuel, putting his back to the gunman, and grabbed Samuel around the waist.

As the gun went off the scene before Samuel’s eyes turned to shades of green then blue then fiery purple then black.

Experiment #239

Tempus Subcinctus Part 2

After a long time, Samuel’s world turned brown and then slowly regained individual colors.

“Okay. There you go,” a female voice said as she eased him into a chair.

Samuel turned his head and puked. Unfortunately the owner of the voice had been standing there. Samuel looked up from his retching, spittle and bile still clutching to his mouth. She was the most beautiful woman Samuel had ever seen, and Samuel had just vomited on her shoes.

She took it as well as could be expected, though. “Hello there,” she said. “Happens to everyone on their first shift.”

“Hello,” Samuel said, trying to sound smart.

“You know Melinda?” The old man’s voice was strained. “I should think your meeting hadn’t happened yet.”

“Only in his branch,” she said with a wink.

Samuel finally took in his surroundings and found himself in a dull brown room. A wide desk stood on one side and bookshelves covered the walls. It seemed like any generic professor’s office in any generic college.

Melinda took a device from her pocket and vaporized the puke. Within seconds her shoes were gleaming white again.

“Who was that man with the gun?” Samuel asked once he could get the words out.

The old man coughed. A red stain widened at his side and his skin had turned an ashen grey.

“Professor!” Melinda jumped to his side.

“It’s nothing,” the professor said. “We must prepare him for the Paradox.”

“The what?” Samuel asked.

The professor waved a hand toward Melinda as if to shoo the question toward her. His face grew even paler as if he might disappear altogether.

“Time is like a tree.” Melinda said. “And as possibilities expand the tree alters and grows and branches out in a complex web. Yet sometimes there are…thicker branches where possibilities converge despite different circumstances.

“Suffice it to say, you’ve been shifted forward in time nearly four hundred years to the twenty-third century. We brought you here to prevent a collapse of the entire time tree.”

The professor coughed again. Blood stained his hands.

Melinda fussed over him like a mother over her son. He waved her away and urged her to continue as he kept coughing.

“Have you ever heard of a paradox?” Melinda asked, urgency now filling her voice. “It’s a sort of impossibility, like two things occupying the same space at the same time, or someone killing their ancestor.”

Before Samuel could answer no, the professor spoke. He stumbled, hacking and coughing, into a story. “Long ago a man saw the injustice and cruelty and horrors of this world and decided that he would do something, rather, that he must do something. He started in the courts, law enforcement. The mechanisms were primitive, slow, error prone. He improved on them and collapsed branch after branch of unjust possibilities. But as often as he eliminated an injustice, a new one arose to take its place.”

The professor coughed and hacked for a long minute.

Samuel looked at Melinda. He opened his mouth to speak, but she shook her head.

Eventually the professor pressed on with his story. “He came to believe he was only treating the symptoms, never curing the disease. The universe was broken, a lost cause, something to be done away with. What else could he do, but reset it, start over, collapse the entire tree. He needed something to break all the webs of possibilities and bring us back to one reality, a reality without time travel. He needed a paradox.”

“Our bodies are living things. Cells multiply, divide and die,” Melinda said. “Even if you were to shift backward in time and shake your own hand, it probably wouldn’t be the exact same atoms.”

“So no para-whats-it?” Samuel asked.

“Correct, no paradox.”

“His initial try for a paradox failed, at least in our time branches,” the Professor said as he hobbled to the bookshelf. He seemed thinner than when Samuel had first met him. “He tried to kill you before you invented time travel. But there were branches like ours where he couldn’t do it, where that possibility never happened. Time travel lived on. He needed something where choice wouldn’t create more branches. Or, rather, he needed a particular choice that would collapse all branches including the ones where the choice wasn’t made.”

The Professor pulled out a particular book from the shelf and replaced it between two others. Suddenly the bookshelf turned orange and then red as if it had been cast in colored light. Finally it disappeared altogether. Behind the bookshelf was a short tunnel. It ended about thirty feet away, at a small cul-de-sac around a table.

“So he created a technology that could track an item, even as small as a molecule down a branch of time. Bit by bit that angry, bitter man,” continued the Professor, “gathered the molecules that had been those in his heart. He scoured the future for decades identifying and capturing those atoms. Then he took them and forged this knife.” He pointed to an ornate knife that lay in the center of the table.

Samuel walked down the little tunnel to inspect the knife. The Professor and Melinda followed.

The knife’s handle was made of stone. White and red and brown folded into each other along the exquisite handle. The back of the blade curved down to meet the tip, making it perfect for thrusting deep into the target. Inlaid all along the blade were beautiful swoops and swirls and curves and crescents. Set into these inlays was a substance of a dull reddish grey color.

“Pieces of his heart,” the Professor said, pointing at the inlay.

“It has an odd poetry to it,” Melinda said.

“The moment is coming,” the Professor said, “when the molecules in his heart will be the same as these and he can put the same particles in the same place at the same-“

Samuel looked up. The Professor and Melinda disappeared before his eyes. Where or whence they went Samuel did not know, but coming towards him down the tunnel from the office was a man.

“They cannot help you anymore,” the man said, “if they died before they came to you. Lucky for me they were both from a different branch.”

As he stepped out of the tunnel into the light of that curved room, Samuel saw the last person he expected: the Professor. He was a little younger perhaps, but it was definitely him.

Experiment #240

Tempus Subcinctus Part 3

“You?” Samuel asked.

“Ever since that day in the clock shop, I’ve been haunted by you. Haunted by your foolish desire to fix what can never be fixed.”

“That was hours ago-”

He laughed. “For me it was nearly half a century. Fifty years of regret that I didn’t pull the trigger in time.”

“The gunman?”

“I could have ended this pain right then. I could have prevented this whole time shifting phenomenon. Paradox plain and simple. But the universe found a way to stay broken, to live on with injustice and cruelty and pain running rampant. It denied me my reset. The universe wants evil to win.”

He laughed to himself. “Heck, I took out Hitler at the age of two. Gave little Gustav diphtheria, but then his brother Adolf took his place. The Holocaust still happened, Gustav Hitler or no Gustav Hitler.

“It’s ironic really. Your death, yours and mom’s at the hands of a two-bit time thief set me on this path. Then your life kept me on it.”

“Who are you?” Samuel asked.

The Professor smiled a cold cruel smile. “I’m Cornelius Samuel Quinn. I’m your son.”

The realization hit Samuel like a backhand to the mouth. Hidden behind that beard were features Samuel recognized. Ones Samuel often saw in the mirror, but mixed with something else, someone else…Melinda.

“But…” Samuel said.

“There is too much suffering in this world. It ends today.” He reached for the knife.

“No!” Samuel shouted and shoved him hard away. “There may be pain, but there is beauty too. There is forgiveness and wonder and joy. Must these things die too?”

Cornelius got to his feet, and landed a punch to Samuel’s right temple taking him down like a sack of bricks.

Cornelius reached again for the knife, but Samuel grabbed his legs and knocked him to the ground. Cornelius rolled over and pounced on Samuel, quickly pinning him.

“Ha. You taught me that move, Dad.”

Samuel’s mind flailed for something, anything that might stop him. “What would your mother say? Would she want this?”

“She’s been dead for half a century.”

“What about your father? I’m here.” Samuel shouted.

Cornelius sneered. “You don’t even know me.” He popped Samuel’s shoulder out of socket. He stood as Samuel writhed in pain.
Cornelius slowly walked to the table in triumph. He picked up the knife. He played with it in his hand. He turned to face Samuel as he raised the knife to stab it in his own chest, to end the world as he knew it.

“This sacrifice I make,” Cornelius said, “is for all mankind.”

But as his eye fell upon his father, Samuel wasn’t where Cornelius had left him. Samuel had maneuvered in front of Cornelius. With the hand of his good arm, Samuel grabbed the knife and plunged it deep into his own heart. “Me too.”

#

Darkness reigned for a long time.

#

Samuel awoke from what seemed a dream when the bell above his shop door clanged. In stepped the most beautiful woman Samuel had ever seen.

“Hello,” she said. “I’m looking for Samuel Quinn.”

“I’m pleased to say you’ve found him.”

He looked down and saw the bits and pieces of his latest project—something he called the Tempus Subcinctus. He put his tools down. He pulled up the magnifying glass he’d attached to a leather band around his head. She was the first customer he’d ever had in his shop.

The lady undid her overcoat to reveal a machine similar to the one on the table, except hers was complete.

“My name is Melinda Jones. I need your help.”