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A Bleak Paradox
Silent Despair by Kevin Demers
It was a miserable day. Jim was sitting on the curb trying to figure out what his next move should be. It was cloudy, damp, and there was a chill in the air. He wasn't dressed adequately for this weather. He couldn't afford to. Jim Saren just turned thirty years old this year and he had no more to show for his time on this planet than he did when he was sixteen. In truth, he had even less.
After high school, he went to college and wasted a lot of time flipping from one major to another. He'd get all excited about something only to find out how much work was involved, and then drop that for the next shiny thing. He eventually settled for a degree in communications. In the process, he ran up a huge amount of student loan debt. When Jim was sixteen he might not have had any money, but he also didn't have thousands of dollars of debt hanging over his head.
He sat there on that curb shivering with cold as he watched the cars passing in front of him. He couldn't afford a good coat. Years more use than what the manufacturers had intended left his clothes ripped in places and worn out. His career counselor at the college forgot to mention that nobody would want to hire someone with a communications degree. He spent years after college trying to find work in his area but with no luck. Now his loans are in forbearance. Up until last month, he was still living with his parents. For years after college, they urged Jim to look for a job in some other area. Any job would do really. Jim's parents kept pounding into his head the inconceivable idea that they wouldn't live forever and that he needed to get into a position where he could at least take care of himself. He understood this but every time he thought about the various entry-level opportunities out there, he would cringe at the thought. He couldn't bear the thought of spending the rest of his life doing something he hated. He had tried so hard for the first few years, putting out his resume everywhere and scouring the internet for leads. As time went on, he became more and more discouraged. Eventually, without realizing it consciously, he just gave up. He started spending less and less time trying to get his career started, and more and more on the couch in front of the television.
Then last month the unthinkable happened. Jim's parents were killed by a hit and run driver. They were out for their daily walk when it happened. Unfortunately, no one witnessed the accident. It happened on a residential street. Some of the locals were barbecuing in their backyard when they heard what almost sounded like a thunderclap, (which was strange since there were no storms in the area that day) followed by a thud. When the neighbors heard the racket and came running, all they saw was the dead couple laying broken and bleeding on the ground. The car that hit them was nowhere in sight.
Jim was at home on the couch watching cartoons when it happened. One of the neighbors that found Jim's parents in the street called 911. The ambulance arrived quickly but it was too late. Jim's parents were dead. He remembered sitting there watching TV, and then just as it occurred to him to wonder what was taking mom and dad so long to get home...the phone rang...it was the hospital.
So much had changed since then. Jim's world fell apart. His parents were not rich people. They were retired and on a fixed income. They did not have much in the way of savings. The only major thing that they owned was the trailer that they and Jim lived in.
After getting the call, Jim ran to the hospital. He was in shock. The coroner needed him to identify the bodies. He just stood there watching as the coroner pulled back the sheets on each of the bodies, "Sir? Mister Saren? I understand this is difficult sir...all I need is a nod..." Jim looked up slowly at him and nodded. "Thank you sir, that's all I need." The coroner pulled the cover back up over their faces and escorted Jim back out of the room.
In the days that followed, Jim watched in quiet despair as his world fell apart bit by bit. The only way that he could settle his parent's final expenses and pay for their funeral and burial costs was to sell the trailer, meaning that he was now homeless. It didn't matter anyway though, because Jim could not afford the trailer lot rent anyway. The only thing that he kept was his father's handgun. Jim's father was not a violent man, but he did believe in keeping a loaded pistol for home defense. Jim kept it in his jacket pocket ever since he started living on the street.
At first, he told himself it was strictly for self-defense, like if someone tried to mess with him while he was sleeping in the park. After the first week of eating out of dumpsters, he started to consider seriously the idea of using it to rob a convenience store. He almost convinced himself to do it until it dawned on him that aside from the fact that he'd almost certainly get himself killed or arrested in the process, it also was not a permanent solution. The money would quickly run out and then he'd be right back where he started. What he needed was more time. He needed to get back all the precious time that he had wasted so carelessly. When his parents were alive, he had a roof over his head and access to a shower. He could have done as they had asked him to do for so long. He could have gotten a job outside his field and moved out and gotten his own place. Now it was too late. A month of living on the street has left him with tattered clothes and unrelenting body odor. Nobody would hire him now, not even for a job flipping burgers.
After a while, Jim started considering a new use for his dad's pistol. He started considering using it on himself. Maybe that's what his next move should be. As Jim sat there on the curb lost in the depression of recent events and his own suicidal thoughts, there was a thunderclap and it began to rain. Roused from his dark reverie by the cold rain, he got up and went to seek shelter for the night. He ended up under a secluded overpass. It wasn't warm but at least he'd be dry. He looked around. There was garbage and graffiti everywhere. A wave of despair came over him as he realized that this was his life now; sitting in garbage and waiting to die.
Time by JD
He decided to stop waiting. He pulled the gun out of his pocket and put the barrel to his temple. Just as he was about to pull the trigger, there was a blinding flash of light and a loud crackling noise like some kind of electrical discharge. Out of the flash of light flew a strange pod like object roughly the size of a car, but which looked more like a triangular, three-dimensional arrowhead kind of shape, and it looked as though it was made of some kind of light grey plastic or something. It had no windows and was completely smooth. It hovered in mid air about five feet above the ground for a second or two and then landed.
Jim jumped up and ran, and hid behind a cement pillar now holding his gun with both hands and pointing it in the air as he had seen in countless action movies. Carefully, Jim peeked from behind the pillar so he wouldn't be seen. As Jim watched from his hiding place, an area on the side of the pod started to have ripples moving through it as though it were made of liquid and then this section faded away leaving an opening about the size of a doorway. A young man appeared in the opening. Young man barely even sufficed. He looked more like a boy than a man. He looked in Jim's estimation to be around sixteen years old. He was wearing a brightly colored outfit. It was all one piece with randomly shaped blobs of neon orange, green, pink, red, and purple. The boy's footwear was part of the suit and the colored patterns extended to it.
The kid stood in the opening for a moment looking around and then hopped out and placed his hands on his hips, "Okay, where and when the hell am I?" "Where and WHEN? Did he just say when?" Jim's heart was pounding. The kid walked over toward a pile of garbage that had accumulated against one of the cement walls under the overpass. He bent down and picked up a discarded page from a newspaper, "October 2015? Damn! I hit the right month but the wrong year. Dad was right; this is going to be trickier than I thought." Jim's mind was racing. What was this, time travel? This was incredible! Then the thought occurred to him, and his grip on his gun tightened.
Jim emerged from behind the pillar and pointed the gun at the kid. The kid saw him and jumped startled, "Agh! Whoa whoa whoa! Take it easy man! I know this looks strange to you but I swear I come in peace!" Jim holding the gun in hands that were shaking said simply, "Oh yeah? Well I don't." The kid now terrified pleaded, "Please don't shoot me mister! I don't have any money if that's what..." Jim interrupting him said, "It's not money I want from you. All I want is a ride in your time machine there." Now the kid was in a visible panic, "Time machine? I don't know what you're talking about man; this is a new classified state of the art space shuttle..." "SHUT UP!" Jim screamed, "I heard you. You said where and WHEN am I. You said right month wrong year. I might not be from the future but I'm not stupid! You are a time traveler from the future, this is your time machine, and you and I are going to get in it right now and go for a little ride. It's not far, just a short little one month hop into the past and about five blocks west from here." The kid looking confused said, "One month, why? Why would you want to..." "Because my parent's got killed by a hit and run driver and we are going to change that!" Jim screamed.
The kid putting his hands up in a gesture that he meant to be calming said, "Okay hold on now man, I understand where you're coming from and yes you're right, this IS a time machine, but there are some things you don't understand..." "I don't need to understand! You're going to take me back and we are going to save them!" Jim yelled interrupting him. The kid pleaded with Jim, "We can't! It isn't possible! That would create a paradox!" Jim sneered, "Don't try to confuse me with your techno-babble bullshit!" The kid with eyes wide assured Jim, "It isn't bullshit I swear! Nature... or time...is self-healing, it doesn't allow for paradoxes! Think about it logically. If an event occurs that you want to change, and you go back and change it, then it would never have happened. If it never happened then you never would have gone back to change it because there is nothing to change. If you never go back to change it, then there is nothing to stop it, and thus it has to occur. If it occurs then you are compelled to go and change it and thus the paradox is realized!" Jim laughed sarcastically, "Bullshit! If you can't change the past then what the hell is the point of time travel?"
The kid answering him calmly says, "We travel in time for the same reason that people in your time travel to other countries. People in your time, travel to other countries to see them. We travel in time to see history first hand. Plus, you have to understand that even if changing the past were possible, which it isn't, this isn't even my time machine! It's my dad's! I wasn't suppose to take it out, I don't even have my license yet! I don't know if I even can get you to exactly the time and place you would need to get to. I'm still learning! I'm a student time traveler!" Jim smiled a menacing smile, "Oh yeah, if that were true then why aren't you afraid of never making it back to your own time?" "Because there is a homing failsafe device that automatically returns me to exactly the same point in space that I left from as well as the exact instant after I left...it makes it like I never left. I'm telling you mister, this won't work."
The smile fades from Jim's face, "I'm done arguing with you kid. We are getting in this thing, you are going to take me back to September 29th 2015 at least thirty minutes before 4:00 pm central standard time on the corner of 54th and Moody Avenue five blocks west of our current location like I said. The car hit my parents at 4:00 pm so that gives me half an hour to be ready to save them. Now, let's go." Jim motioned toward the time machine with the gun. Seeing the look in Jim's eye convinced the kid it was pointless to argue, so he turned around and walked back to the time machine with Jim following right behind him.
They entered the craft. What Jim saw inside the craft shocked him. There was almost nothing to see! From the inside, the walls were almost completely transparent, except that you could see your reflection in them as though they were made of glass. It was almost as if they were still outside except that there was a blue floor he could see as well as two blue cushioned chairs and what appeared to be some kind of a smooth glassy dashboard in front of the chairs with various colored moving lights on it. The kid went and sat in one of the chairs and waved his hand over one section of the dashboard. As soon as he did, shiny ripples appeared over the opening that they entered though, and then it became sealed with the same transparent glass like material that made up the walls of the craft.
"I'm telling you mister, this can't work. Time always finds a way to prevent a paradox. Some kind of event will always occur to preserve the past. It's basic temporal mechanics man; in my time, every school kid over nine years old knows this." Jim stood behind where he was sitting and touched the barrel of the gun to the back of his head as a reminder, "Just do it." The kid started moving his hands over the dashboard, "Okay, okay, take it easy, I'll do my best but I told you I haven't got my license yet. I'm still learning. That's how I ended up by you. I wasn't shooting for 2015, I was shooting for 2017. Temporal navigation is a skill; it takes practice to get the hang of it. I can't promise that I'll be able to hit the time that you want."
Wormhole - Experimental Photograph by Karthikeyan KC
Jim looking annoyed said, "Look, if you over shoot it by a couple of years like you did coming here, then we will just try again and again until we hit the right time. Practice makes perfect right? Now do it." With a frown on his face, the kid waved both his hands over the dashboard, "I'll try." As he moved his hands, the dashboard lights got brighter and started moving faster. There was a whirring sound and the craft lifted up off the ground. In front of the craft a bright ball of light formed. The kid made one final motion with his hands and the craft flew forward at high speed directly into the ball of light. After entering the light, the craft was inside what appeared to be an endlessly long tunnel of colored light, "What is this?" Jim asked. "Wormhole, we're en route now. We should be arriving in a few seconds."
Just then, there was a loud thunderclap sound and a blinding flash of light and the wormhole was gone. The craft emerged from the light only to find itself on a collision course with two pedestrians walking down a street, "Oh shit!" the kid shouted as he waved his hands over the dashboard in a futile attempt to avoid the couple. The craft hit the couple despite the kid's best effort to miss them and they flew several feet before hitting the ground. Once they hit the ground Jim realized who they were, "Oh my God, those are my parents! You killed my parents!" The kid, upset, turned to face him, "I didn't kill them! You did! I warned you! I warned you that something like this would happen! You caused the very event that you were trying to prevent! I told you! Time will not allow a paradox!"
All of a sudden, the dashboard lights started speeding up again and the whirring sound started again, "What's happening?" Jim said, "What are you doing?" The kid looked frantically down at the dashboard, "I'm not doing anything. We're being recalled." "Recalled? What do you mean we're being recalled?" Jim said with a look of utter panic. "This craft was directly involved in a major temporal incident; two people are dead as a direct result of intervention by this craft. When something like that happens the offending craft is automatically recalled and impounded by the temporal regulation bureau."
The craft lifted up off the ground again, the bright ball of light appeared in front of it, and the time craft flew in. When it emerged, it was in what appeared to be some kind of a docking bay filled with other time craft. There were men dressed in clothing similar to what the kid was wearing and they were holding what appeared to Jim to be weapons of some kind. The craft's door manifested itself without the kid doing anything to open it, and one of the men entered and pointed his weapon at them.
He looked at the kid and said, "Go to the front desk Rayus, your dad is there and he is not happy. He'd like to have a word with you." The kid, Rayus, scurried past him and out the door without a word, and at the same time, Jim tried to fire his gun. It would not fire. "That's no use; your weapon has been disabled." The man said to Jim, followed by, "Welcome to the 29th century Mister Saren. History records that shortly after the death of your parents you vanished without a trace, so I guess that means that you're going to be here a while..."