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It was the middle of the night. Another miserable night of failure and recriminations for a wasted life. Who was I? A nobody trying to do the impossible and failing repeatedly. Isn’t that the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result? Well maybe I wasn’t doing exactly the same thing but my results were sure consistent—failure. Time travel wasn’t going to happen, at least not in my basement.
This last experiment not only failed but fried half my components. I had no more money to rebuild. I was already in debt to everyone I knew. It was time to get drunk and then... I slipped the pistol into my pocket for later. After I had a few drinks to bolster my courage. The gun felt heavy and foreign in my pocket. Oddly reassuring. Maybe I couldn’t travel to the future but I could certainly blow a hole in my present.
I walked into town until I found a bar that was still open. The place was mostly empty. I took a seat at the bar a stool away from an oddly dressed fellow. He was wearing a white suit and a shirt of some curious fabric that changed color as he moved and the light hit it at odd angles. I ordered a drink and looked around my eyes drawn to that iridescent shirt.
The stranger caught me staring and turned to face me, “Whater you looking at, buddy?” He slurred.
“I was just admiring your shirt,” I said. “I’ve never seen the like.”
He shrugged but continued staring at me. “What?” I asked.
“I know you,” he said.
“I doubt it.” I downed my drink and ordered another.
“No, I know your face. I just can’t place it. Gimme a minute. I’m good at faces.”
I looked straight ahead not wanting to encourage him. My profile must have triggered his memory because he snapped his fingers and said, “You’re Richard Breakwater. Am I right?”
I nodded in the affirmative for indeed I was indeed Dr. Richard Breakwater, failed physicist, reduced to teaching high school physics in this nowhere town and doing time travel research in my basement. How could anyone know my name? I was the poster boy for obscurity, even my own mother had forgotten me.
I held out my hand to the stranger. “Richard Breakwater, how’d you do? Do I know you? I don’t think we ever met.”
“You wouldn’t know me,” he said, “we never met. Let me buy you a drink.” He signaled the bartender for another round and introduced himself as Wycliff Bombiss. We toasted to odd coincidences. Now I’d heard the name Wycliff Bombiss before, everyone in this part of the world knew of the wealthy industrialist and investor who had amassed a fortune estimated in the many billions.
“Not the Wycliff Bombiss,” I said half joking because the Bombiss whose picture I’d seen a thousand times looked nothing like my drinking companion.
“You’re thinking of my great great grandfather Wycliff Bombiss the first. I’m the fifth freaking idiot to bear that name.” This was clearly impossible since the Bombiss I knew from the papers was not even married let alone a grandfather.
I let the whole thing slide. My companion, whatever his name, had been drinking heavily, was obviously delusional. Also he was buying. I wasn’t going to argue with him about it. So I changed the subject and asked, “So how do you know me?”
“From your picture,” he said, “I recognize your face, it’s everywhere.”
“My picture?” I was incredulous. “What picture? And what do you mean ‘everywhere’?”
“I don’t think I’m supposed to talk about it,” he said. “Rules, you know. Stupid rules but rules none the less.”
This left me totally baffled. “What rules are you talking about?” Now I was convinced my drinking partner was completely unhinged.
He moved over and sat alongside me. “Can you keep a secret, Dick?” He whispered into my ear. He reeked of bourbon. His shirt twinkled six shades of blue.
“Absolutely,” I whispered back.
“You’re probably not going to believe me anyway. At least that’s what they tell us. Most people don’t. I don’t think they anticipated anyone running into you personally. This is so weird.”
“What the hell are you talking about?” I was losing patience with Wycliff’s drunken ramblings.
“Tell me what year this is again, I keep forgetting.”
“It’s November 27th 2020. The last of a rotten year.” I downed my drink and ordered another round for us both. My troubles came flooding back with a rush of grief and pain. I patted the gun in my pocket to reassure myself that I had a way out if I needed it. But right now I wanted answers to this mystery. “So tell me again, where did you see my picture?”
“2020,” He said, “Well that explains it then. You haven’t invented it yet.”
“Invented what, god damn it.”
“Why time travel, of course, you ninny. In a few years you’ll be the most famous man on the planet.” Here he made as if he were reading the headline from an invisible banner. “Doctor Richard Breakwater, The man Who Invented Time Travel. Oops. That was a little too loud. I shouldn’t be telling you this but what’s the harm? I mean you’re going to invent it anyhow, aren’t you? Of course you are so what difference does it make if I tell you.”
“Wait a second,” I stammered. “You’re telling me you’re from the future? That’s quite a claim. Can you prove it?”
He slapped his pockets for his wallet and fumbled through his cards. he showed me his driver’s license dated 2082. I pushed it away. “Anyone can make a phony one of those,” I said sounding a lot more certain of that than I really was. Part of me wanted to dismiss this whole conversation as a crazy prank but another part was proud to know that in a few years I might actually succeed and become a success. “Tell me what you know about me. What do they teach about me in school?”
“Well, lemme see. Geez man, I don’t remember much. Never was a great student. You found a way that’s all I know. My grandpa bought the company I remember. That sort of makes me your boss doesn’t it?” This got him laughing hysterically. “God if they catch us, we’re gonna be in so much trouble.”
“If who catches us?”
“Never mind. They don’t know where I am. This is a private trip. ‘Smy company I want to take a trip into the past, it’s my business. I gotta pee, ‘scuse me.” Wycliff got off the stool and almost fell on his face. He was way drunker than me. I took him by the arm and we headed to the men’s room together. He was laughing and I was trying to cajole a few relevant facts out of him.
“So I finally got my damn time machine to work?” I asked.
“No, man, no machines. Nano tubes. Like these here,” he plucked at his shirt. “This is your time machine.”
I gasped. My head started reeling. Of course. I saw it all clearly. I’d been barking up the wrong tree. I wasn’t going to get anywhere by manipulating chronons. It was fabric. Filters. Expose the body to a stream of pure chronons. I was heady with excitement. I needed to write things down. I needed to get back to my lab. I needed to pee. We staggered to the back of the bar where the signs indicated the lavatories were when two men entered the bar and looked around. They were big, burly, broad shouldered men in dark suits. They had cop written all over them. I heard Wycliff mutter “Oh shit. We’re in for it now.”
The men saw us and started in our direction. We had just enough time to lock the men’s room door behind us before they reached us.
“Who are they?” I asked fearing the answer.
“Time cops,” Wycliff was frantic. “I can’t let them catch me. They’ll take my shirt away. You got to help me,” he pleaded. The flimsy bathroom door flew open and the first cop burst in. I drew my pistol from my pocket. I wasn’t sure what I intended but things were happening too fast. I needed time to think. I wanted a few more hints about my great invention. I wanted time to slow down.
The second cop entered the tiny room and I was pushed against the sink. Wycliff sat on the toilet, blubbering, incomprehensible. I was distracted for a second, that’s all it took. The first cop grabbed for my gun. We struggled. There was a shot. I looked at my chest, it was covered in blood, my blood. I slumped against the bathroom wall. The whole scene growing dim. I don’t know if it was the loss of blood but Wycliff and the two cops grew more and more insubstantial until they faded away completely.
When the ambulance arrived I was still alive but it was clear that I wasn’t going to make it. I knew the secret to time travel. I saw it so clearly I could taste it—the nano tube fabric, how elegant, how beautiful. I saw it but I had also seen Wycliff and the time cops fade away and knew from my studies that by them killing the inventor of time travel before he had a chance to invent it, they had altered their history and their version of the future ceased to exist. All over the world I suspected time travelers were winking out like so many candles.
It was my last conscious thought before I died. Pretty funny when you think about it.
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