Prose Header

Troubled Times

by Richard Murray

part 1

Time’s the king of men,
He’s both their parent, and he is their grave,
And gives them what he will, not what they crave.
— Shakespeare, Pericles, Act II, scene 3, 1.45

I made my decision long before arriving at the lab. I walked inside and stood at the end of the long corridor that separated the two lab workbenches.

Mieko glanced up, gave me a distracted “Hi, Jack,” and turned back to his computer to resume programming.

I pulled out the wooden rod from my pocket that I had tied rope ends to and swiftly closed the distance between us. I swung the rope down over Mieko’s neck and spun the rod for maximum contraction.

Mieko yelped in surprise and instinctively reached back to claw at the rope. He wildly flailed his arms and legs about, and I barely managed to hold on. Spittle sprayed from his mouth across the monitor and workbench. One of his sneakers flew off and hit a metal storage drawer with a resounding thud.

It took another full minute before his struggle subsided. Mieko’s arms dropped to his sides and his head lolled forward. I removed the rope and his head slumped against the keyboard. I placed two fingers on his jugular. No pulse.

* * *

This could have been avoided, but like a mantra, Mieko had kept repeating, “We must publish, we must publish.” We discovered time displacement for Chrissake. We could both be rich beyond anything imaginable. I didn’t have blue blood in my veins like Mieko and his leisure-class parents. I’ve got a mountain of student debt and a lifetime before it’s paid off. He wouldn’t listen. “We share; we share this with the world.”

I tried to push him out of his tiny reality distortion field, make him understand my side, but he wouldn’t budge. I told him every Johnny and his little sister would be roaming the time stream, mucking things up for people who actually deserve it, know how to manage it, can prevent paradoxes, and stream anomalies. Ignoring my pleas, he began preparing our research notes for publication.

I’d like to work up a little regret for ending the opulent bastard, but sentiment isn’t my strong suit, hence no complicated relationships, no sleepless nights to contend with.

But still, I’m going to have to figure out how to deal with the body. If I get caught, I’ll be charged with murder. No, premeditated murder. It’s hard not to have sleepless nights when you’re sitting on death row.

* * *

The more thought I put into this, the more stressed I got. I’m his lab partner, and if I were a cop, I’d be looking at me for the murder, like a husband who kills his wife. No real difference with lab partners. Mieko and I spent so much time together we might as well have been married.

At a minimum, I had to figure out how to dispose of Mieko’s body. There can be no trace of it left. No trace.

A spark of an idea hit me so fast that I slapped my forehead. Of course, I dump the body back in time! Neat, clean, and no corpus delicti to contend with.

Not wasting a second, I emptied a bin we used for discarded parts, found a plastic sheet to wrap Mieko’s body in and dragged him to the side of the bin. I bent over to pick him up and, with some extra effort, managed to pitch him over the edge. I covered him up with miscellaneous tubing, broken equipment, and fried circuit boards.

I walked over to the cluttered shelving units that sat atop the workbenches and grabbed a parametric amplifier, two lithium-ion batteries, the Higgs singlet field pump, and our spare Chrono-Loop prototype unit. I located a plastic assembly tray and put it on top of the junk pile in the bin.

I placed all the chrono equipment on top of the tray, connected the components and flicked the power switch. The singlet pump went through its usual warm-up routines, and the Chrono-Loop gave off a gentle hum, indicating that the inner toroid was spinning at maximum rpm.

Tingly static made the hair rise on my arms, indicating that the Chrono-Loop had achieved stasis. Twitching my nose at the smell of ozone the Loop always gave off, I backed off a few steps to ensure that I wasn’t within range of the displacement bubble that was forming around the bin.

I use terms like Chrono-Loop and displacement bubble with such ease now. We tried to think outside of current theory, by taking a fresh look at Kurt Gödel’s mathematical solution to closed time-like curves from a differential geometry perspective. That, along with Mieko’s savant-like brain which could visualize four-dimensional space in realtime, is what catapulted us into the realm of time travel.

Despite our stunning success at moving from five milliseconds to a full sixty-second time jump into the past, neither one of us fully understood how the damn thing worked. We knew the how but still didn’t fully comprehend the why. Maybe we or, now I, never would.

* * *

I grabbed the repurposed Logitech TV remote used for time displacement settings. Press the down arrow, you go back into the past, press up, and you return to the present by means of singlet-directed resonance spin reversal. It’s quite magical, considering that, despite the presence of angular momentum, the singlet isn’t really spinning at all.

Lucky for us, the universe seems to run just as orderly forward as it does backward. Nevertheless, after one of my first trips to the past, I was unnerved about returning to the present, which is a de facto jump into the future. I had a nightmare once that the machine glitched, and I overshot too far into the future and ended up being some AI robot’s boy toy.

I pressed the numeric keys on the remote to tighten up the local-frame-bubble, ensuring it encompassed just the bin itself and no surrounding flooring or walls. I placed a hand close to one of the bin’s sides and felt a static discharge on my fingertips a couple of inches from the bin. Just right. The rollers on the bin would get sliced off during displacement, but no big deal.

This jump had to proceed, but that doesn’t erase some of the reservations I have about messing with the time stream. For example, how is the universe going to deal with sending a dead Mieko back in time when confronted with the existence of Mieko’s past self?

If you run with Gödel or Lloyd, you might get served a big helping of temporal paradox pie. If Hawking’s chronology protection conjecture prevails, then no pie for you; time machines self-destruct upon activation. Oops, Mieko and I proved that one wrong. If you took David Deutsch’s position, no problem. Closed time loops avoid paradoxes because of the behavior of fundamental particles which follow the quantum rules of fuzzy probability.

What’s a time traveler to do?

* * *

Hell with it, I’m going with Deutsch. I pressed the remote’s play button activating the Chrono-Loop system for a sixty-second jump into the past. Mieko and the bin vanished!

Suddenly, I heard a loud boom and a wave of hot air lifted me up and threw me on my back, skidding me across the floor. I came to a stop, my head perilously close to a hard metal leg. Spread-eagled on the floor, I tried to catch my breath.

Damn, it must have been the aftermath of the displacement. The bin had vanished, creating a vacuum. The air rushed back in with such velocity it created a shock wave with an apparent thermodynamic effect.

I slowly picked myself up off the floor. No broken bones, but my rump and the back of my head would be sore for a while.

What a rush! We never displaced anything that big before. But no harm done. And poof! No more Mieko.

* * *

The next day I informed the university and called the police to report that Mieko might be missing. It should be a while before the cops start snooping around here which will give me some time to peruse the timestream and see what’s financially exploitable.

I needed to identify some stocks that have shown high volatility over the past several weeks. Five to ten-second chart resolution should be enough to hone in on when to jump in and out of trades. No financial trigonometry here. Just good old-fashioned trading with all the cards stacked in my favor.

I took my first jump one minute into the past which taught me a hard lesson: watch where you’re standing when you make a jump. I had hauled the Chrono-Loop equipment to my apartment and set everything up on the kitchen counter. I jumped to the past, ended up two feet off the top of my kitchen table, knocked my head into the ceiling fan, slammed onto the tabletop and crashed onto the floor. If the fan had been on high, I probably would have gotten scalped. I ended up with a nasty bruise on my forehead.

Like stock charts, time jumps require good resolution. Countless factors have to be taken into account, such as the Earth’s rotation and its orbital position, GPS satellite data, gravitational variations, and real-time versus jump-time. If I didn’t want to end up losing a butt cheek or something worse, I’d better tighten up calibration.

* * *

Finished at the lab for the day, I arrived at my apartment. While fluffing up some leftover salad, I heard a loud knock on my door. I looked through the peephole and two burly men in black suits were standing there with egregiously serious looks on their faces. Better let them in; they’d probably break down the door if I didn’t.

After polite introductions, these two identified themselves as FBI agents. Wasting no time, they told me that they knew I killed Mieko and not to deny it because they had a video as proof. Seems the lab janitor under their employ planted some bugs that got a bird’s eye view of everything that happened and of all our equipment. Who gave them the initial heads up? You’ll have to talk to the NSA about that. I figured they owned me now, so I fessed up to the whole mess.

But my present predicament with the Feds isn’t what made me soil my pants. The FBI was still monitoring the MIT lab during my absence and guess who waltzed in like a real showboat. Mieko! Yah, that’s what I said. What the hell?!

Then the FBI told me that they took Mieko into custody for the same reason I decided to eliminate him. They considered him a liability and didn’t want the technology released to the public. As long as I played along and continued to develop the Chrono-Loop, they would leave me alone and even let me continue my lucrative jumps.

I’m dying to talk to Mieko, no pun intended, to find out how he pulled this off, but the FBI won’t let me anywhere near him.

* * *

Proceed to part 2...

Copyright © 2016 by Richard Murray

Home Page