Short fiction

Anywhere But Here: a story by: GF Willmetts.

You have to ask yourself why didn’t I kill him earlier? What? And deprive my wife of her son? I don’t think he was even intentionally bad. He just made a bad decision and I decided I ought to go instead. So why didn’t I kill him on the cusp of going bad or simply direct him away from that kind of life? Ever tried to stop a hurricane? You can push forever and it’ll still go in the same direction. You can’t only stop it so long before events change. We are all victims of events. Time travel makes that even more certain. I just took Danny’s place as I had seen the future.

One minute reality was normal. The next everyone was able to time travel. Each with their own machine. My son gave his invention to the world of the future. It was a mistake. People were popping up to see their parents when young or even their grandparents. Everyone was doing it and nobody was left anywhere. Reality was quickly changing. You know, sort of like that ‘Back To The Future’ filmstuff with a sharp reminder not to mess things up and wipes themselves out of existence.

All done in a massive scale. Would people obey the instruction not to change any event? Hell, no. Some people just wiped themselves out of existence. Those who didn’t went off to see some great event. Most didn’t attempt to change events but it just their presence was enough to change things. What was thought to be a standard timeline was constantly being changed. Being Danny’s father, we seemed to be protected from the changes and the only one who could really change things.

There was enough literature on the subject. Some concerned that reality would fragment into a series of alternative realities and not bounce back to normal. Much of it was being able to select the right moment to reverse things. The only person knowing that was me. I knew when Danny first went to the future, so I would have one opportunity to do it and go in his place. Spare his mother, y’see.

I took the new spare time machine in our reality but chose to go forward to just before Danny arrived and wipe out his activity simply by being there. Hurricanes might not be stopped but they might go in a different direction.

I could only be the one time cos even if I knew I couldn’t appear more than once in the same place. I wasn’t there when he left the first time but could still only do this once. It would still need precise timing and what to do with his time machine. This is big stuff. Do I try to smash its controls and hope I can do enough that would stop Danny doing enough repairs and events would go as before. I mean, with time travel you would still get to the same point in the future. Remove time travel and things would bounce back to normal. Things wouldn’t really change. I had to do it just right, y’know. Time counts. Always counts. Tick, tick, tick. It might even save Danny. That would please my wife but would it halt the hurricane?

I didn’t have any choice. I used the time machine. Even more surprising was queues of people were waiting for my arrival. Somehow, I hadn’t changed the event just who was doing it. I had turned myself into the villain.

Thinking quickly, I pressed the button and sent myself further into the future. The quickly rationalised thought being that would change things. Take the time machine away and there would be no time machines. There was a team waiting for my arrival there and even further ahead as I moved the lever ever onward. All no doubt wanting to examine my time machine. If anything it exonerated my son or myself come to that. We were just the delivery people. If it wasn’t us, then someone else would no doubt be doing something similar. All it would take is for me to stop in front of these people and reality would be full of time machines again. Where did they come from?

What was going on here? Were they going to take my time machine apart to see how it worked? None of them seemed like they were to do that. If anything, these were passengers not engineers. I assumed my son had made the first time machine but I’d never asked what he’d been doing tinkering in his workshop. Maybe he had found one and tried to figure out how it worked. I could hardly go back and ask him. I moved the lever, I needed to think.

Did anyone have the answers? Who could I stop to ask? Right now, I needed to go forward far enough so there wasn’t a queue waiting for me. I needed time to think. To ponder on the implications and think things through.

The time indicator pointed out that I had travelled ten centuries before I decided there was no one there and I closed the lever.

Suddenly, there were copies of the time machine popping up in all directions. From the looks of things, they were all empty. My not wanting to do this in front of those waiting people was well-founded. I would have created the menace as they would probably all have their destinations. They didn’t have to manufacture them, I was delivering them wholesale.

But how could one machine make so many other machines. Didn’t that defy the conservation of matter or something? Of course, there was also a temporal loop in there somewhere. What if each time machine could only produce one more time machine. That would make some sort of sense. It wasn’t a geometric progression but a singular one doing it many times over. A synchronisation from the multiuniverses based on every decision. There were probably many more time machines but all mine was doing was attracting the empty ones until the others filled with passengers. Maybe that was already happening in the points I went pass in the past. Was it going to happen without my intervention?

Proving that before I did anything else was a necessity. I tied a rag to my time machine so at least I could identify it. Made a mark on the ground next to it just to be extra cautious. I wasn’t going to walk far. If reality suddenly vanished, at least I would have a chance to grab my own time machine and hope it was the original one. At least my rag hadn’t appeared on the other machines. Well, for the time machines I could see.

How to prove the rest were in sync? Hit one of them with a hammer if I had one. Push one over and maybe they would all fall over like a stack of cards. That was the plan but I never realised they were that heavy. Even with all my effort, I couldn’t turn one of them on their side. Don’t think this was a whim. I’d move the time machine before I used it. Here, the weight had increased. I tried doing the same to my own time machine. Same thing applied. Maybe using them…it…filled them with dense matter.

That plan went out the window. On the other hand, no one was here to take the time machines. If I jump forward again and more time machines appeared then I’m keeping people from them.

Initially, I jumped a century but started to feel that was too long and slowly dropped the time travelled. Every time, when I appeared, so did the other time machines. How many were there before they ran out? Were the multiuniverses infinite? I would be here or there for a very long time. More importantly, why hadn’t I bumped into myself from these other multiuniverses trying to do the same thing I was doing? Surely we would all want to save Danny for my wife’s sake. Maybe they were smarter than me and sent out their time machines without being on-board. The fact that there was a future with no people at all was beginning to worry me. I know I jumped ahead in time so as not to bump into anyone but civilisation seems to have stopped completely. Had they all jumped into the past? Well, they couldn’t yet because I hadn’t stopped long enough in the past to allow them to access them…yet!

Fortunately, there was enough points in the past that I hadn’t stopped at to enable me to step back in time slowly to see what had happened to mankind. Maybe not when they were alive but at leave some physical record as to what happened and where had everyone gone.

It might give me a chance to think and wonder what is going on and whether I can turn things back to normal. That’s even tougher as I’m the one using the time machine which is either causing or stopping this. Oh for days of HG Wells when everything was so much simpler.

Thing is why would everyone use them? Where were the dissenters? I mean, you’re essentially stepping into a machine and vanishing. It could be a disintegrating machine for anyone knew unless someone came back. This would be the worse example of herd instinct ever.

There was no choice, I had to go back to when people were about even it if was only to ask someone. As it turned out when I got back to the 23rd century, still nobody but, after marking my time machine, this time with a flag so I could leave the field of time machines, I found some police surveillance cameras and tracked the wiring to where they could watch. Even this place was deserted and took a while to find a power source that could come on before realising it was a bit more advanced where I was and there was a reserve power source.

The footage was significant. I spotted myself briefly and rows of time machine and then I was gone again into the future. Thing was, all the time machines stayed. It was only a split second. It was enough. Without realising I had cast them all over time. More importantly, no one used them. Reality had changed. Maybe a little further up the timeline. If my appearance hadn’t caused it, why would everyone decide to go? Had they all gone into the past. Surely not further into the future or I would have seen them. Was seeing their ancestors that important?

My mind made up, I decided to return to my home time, my wife and son. Maybe Danny knew? Let people decide what they wanted to do. I can’t judge. I reduced the level to take me back to my own time.

Of course, I expected the time machines to appear here as well or how else had I got my own but hadn’t looked for any others. Getting to where my house was supposed to be was a shock. No house. No wife. No son. As shock sunk in, I started thinking again. If this wasn’t my world, then all the other places might not be as well. Had I been, in part, not so much created a time machine but one that crossed into alternative realities? Did that mean I failed to stop Danny? Had he carried out the original plan to give time machines to the world? Even so, you would think that there would have been some human life left on one of them.

The only conclusion I could come to that although time travel was possible, nature would not allow it to happen. So nature exiled me and all the time machines. I’d make an excellent time machine salesman. A used time machine owner. One careless owner. Shame there’s no customers around to try them.

No end in sight.


© GF Willmetts 2022

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Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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