Time management

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The future wasn’t gone, it couldn’t be. Right?

Don’t break the world: that’s, like, the First Rule of science, and yet here we are, drenched in mud from World War I trenches, timesuits scorched in that mishap with the Genghis Khan, with another mission failure on our hands.

All things considered, The End wasn’t that bad. Sure, spacetime broke into pieces, all roads literally lead to Rome and we still can’t find San Diego, but life didn’t really change that much. People adapt. Soon there were quantum mechanics, fixing cars with quantum hammers and particle barbers for people whose hair got entangled. One guy became a millionaire selling Penning mouse traps to people with antimatter rodent problems. We rode dinosaurs, fought Vikings and played video games with our child selves. It was a blast. But we couldn’t find the future.

My team tried everything. Searched every nook and cranny of the past, explored the Pacific Black Hole, consulted Einstein, Bohr and Nostradamus. You could yank your timesuit’s Time Arrow to your heart’s content, push it all the way towards the future – and it still just wasn’t there. Time stopped dead at 21st December 2012, when the Large Hadron Collider malfunctioned and it turned out the Maya were right all along.

Everyone and their uncle had a theory. Time loops. Strangelets. Mirror universes. God’s punishment for playing God. One guy gave everyone a headache by claiming that the future was still here, just happening in the past, and since we were all still somehow getting older, his logic was hard to disprove. ConCERN was established in Geneva, all of history’s greatest minds set upon finding tomorrow, and we – Ramanujan, Wierzbowski, Beckett, me and three time-shifted versions of Sekibo – became the world’s first temporal task force.

Working as Future Hunters was exciting. We saw some spooky action up close: exorcised the Maxwell’s demon, fought the army of undead Schrödinger’s cats, barely stopped a Brazilian butterfly from setting off a tornado in Texas. It was chaos. And danger, like that time Wierzbowski tripped over some one-dimensional strings. I’m pretty sure the good people of Tunguska, 1908 didn’t appreciate the explosion.

In the end, it was our Beckett who solved the big puzzle. One day he just ran through ConCERN’s Quantum Hall in his mammoth wool long johns and his LHC WAS AN INSIDE JOB T-shirt, screaming “HEISENBERG!” – and that was it.

Uncertainty principle. Somehow all the eggheads missed the obvious. The past and the future were paired. The more is known about one, the less can be known about the other. And we’ve explored the past like crazy.

Of course people didn’t just give up. There were brainstorming sessions. There was praying. ConCERN devised multiple solutions which, one by one, failed. Time travelers from the future turned out to be frauds. Creating wormholes only resulted in timeworm infestation. Methods of inducing mass amnesia were considered, but ultimately all discarded. Many believed in Sekibo’s research: he was interviewing people from the past, searching for memories that contradicted history as we knew it. If there were multiple histories, he theorized, then our knowledge of what happened was actually quite poor and that meant some hope for the future. But even as Sekibo catalogued the memories, it soon became obvious that all he proved was that human memory can’t be trusted, people love to lie and history books are written by the victors.

Things went pretty bad for a while. USA invaded itself for oil reserves. The pope collided with the antipope and both exploded. Future Hunters got disbanded. I adapted. Became a tour guide for EnTropics Travels, bought a nice house in the 1920s. Took home a shaggy stray dog and named her Planck. On weekends I visited my past selves, just to relive the glory days. I was okay, life was okay. Me and Planck took long walks on the beach and watched as many sunsets as we pleased. Sometimes the same one, over and over again.

It’s funny how you think you know yourself. There are things I used to put off, like, forever. Sunday dinners with your folks. Friends you bump into on the street and you would just love to grab a coffee, but there’s this thing and you’re already late. I used to think I’ll meet them all one day, when I’m less busy, when I have the time. But then time folded back on itself and I still stayed home, watching lost episodes of Doctor Who and eating strange-flavored quark ice cream. It turned out I actually like being alone. Go figure.

There was still stuff to enjoy. Fighting dinosaurs and riding Vikings. Neutrino diets. We saved Hindenburg, Titanic, Challenger and Pompeii. I went UFO hunting for a while, no success. I watched friends and colleagues settle down and I politely declined baby shower invitations. One by one, we left the future behind us and walked towards the unknown past.

It wasn’t until antiphoton lunar flares that we finally realized. All of history, repeating on an endless cycle, getting more and more crowded as new children are born. And if someone doesn’t break the cycle, reality will soon fail again, this time for good.

It’s funny just how bad things need to get before you start seeing the obvious. I remember walking with Planck through Geneva, angry and sad, thinking how unfair all this was, how much I would’ve done with my life if the world hadn’t just ended. I remember staring at my timesuit, the stupid Arrow stuck at NO FUTURE. And it still took me, like, forever, to grab that thing and yank it, not forwards or backwards, but sideways.

I remember standing there with my eyes closed shut, frozen in place, heart beating fast, afraid that me observing the results will somehow skew them, and it was only Planck’s constant barking that finally made me look.

The Multiverse shimmered, futures bright like suns.

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About the Author: 
Przemysław Zańko – Polish writer and proofreader. He published several short stories in various fantasy anthology books and in "Nowa Fantastyka" magazine. His hobbies include reading science fiction, watching "Doctor Who" and swimming.