You know that feeling when you walk into a room and you don’t remember why? Or you’re driving down a known street and just for a second everything looks unfamiliar?
We all have those moments. We assume it’s just fallible memory. Wrong.
I found out the hard way when my last chance at creating a stasis field failed. Another two years of my life and the last dregs of my professional reputation down the drain. I was taking some final, futile readings inside the field where time trickled along completely unhindered, when a powerful current swept through my body. Electrocution is normally quick, but this went on and on. Multi-coloured blobs crowded my vision until I was swimming through the lumpy bowels of creation. I gratefully passed out.
Then I was standing in the middle of the lab where we were setting up for the next stasis field test, and I couldn’t remember why I’d walked in. In fact, I couldn’t remember walking in. Then all the memories washed over me—the test, the failure, the bowels.
I stumbled out of the room in a daze, still clutching my clipboard. Fortunately, it was in the early hours of the morning so I only ran into one security guard who was used to us physicists wandering around muttering to ourselves at all hours.
Verifying the date, I found it was almost three weeks prior to my last memory of the future. I hadn’t managed to create a stasis field, but I had somehow accidentally transported myself into the past. Which meant that I, the me of the current time, would be coming into work soon.
I hurriedly wrote up my observations, and a brief summary of what I could remember from the previous few weeks yet to come for my other self. I was sailing in uncharted waters with no idea how long I could exist here outside of the normal flow of time.
Sounds of movement percolated through the building so I hid in the closet, sitting impatiently through the morning rush of meetings and drop-in chats. Eventually, the afternoon settled down into closed-door working hours. Sidling out of the closet, I tried not to make any threatening moves, but my past self was unfazed.
“I read your email,” they said, turning to face me. “It’s a lot to think about. I was wondering when, or if, you were going to show up.”
“A valid concern,” I agreed, and we immediately began theorizing.
What if the reality we think of as being a consistent plodding from past to future is actually a chaotic mass of different future states all existing beside each other until some external event causes all of them to collapse into one past state, only for the whole cycle to start again?
By isolating a section of space-time within the attempted stasis field, had I managed to continue existing past the collapse that would have merged all the separate copies of me down to one?
The effect hadn’t been immediately noticeable. Like closing the hatch of a submarine, there’s nothing special about the air inside until you’re on the bottom of the ocean and it’s the only thing keeping you alive. That bit of space-time hadn’t been special until the rest of the universe changed around it.
The physics discussion was so easy, since we spoke the same idiom, immediately following each other’s thoughts, but we diverged sharply in our perspective.
“This is such a lucky break!” they said, eyes shining. “With the two of us working together, we’ll crack the stasis field stability problems in no time. We’ll be rich!”
“No. You’ll be rich. I’ll be dust in the wind.” Untethered from the normal timeline, I didn’t expect to survive the next collapse, whenever it came. The atoms of my structure would be merged, and I, the I thinking these thoughts, would cease to exist.
“Oh, yes, you’re right.” They stared at me, able to grasp the physics in an instant, but unsure how to approach the question of death.
We should be better at this by now, I thought, given how long we, as a species, have been dealing with mortality.
“Wait! If we can get the same chamber built in time, you could—”
“I’m not spending the rest of my life as a faded copy.” I said flatly. “Nor am I helping you with damned stasis.” I gestured abruptly with my hands. “You’re standing on the threshold of an entirely new area of physics! Free your mind and explore!”
“I guess you’ve got a point,” they said, eyeing me warily. “The ability to obtain information from the near future does have numerous scientific and practical applications.” I winced inside at my reflexive retreat into pedantry when confronted with something I didn’t want to deal with. Then, finally, they asked. “What do you want to do?”
“I think...I’d like to spend the time with my–our–wife,” I said, knowing it to be true as soon as I formed the words.
“Jennifer would like that.” They sighed, and I knew they were thinking of all the late nights and weekends sacrificed to work, and maybe a glimmer of understanding began to form, but their future was no longer my concern.
So, Jennifer and I took a holiday break. We spent our days hiking, shopping, kayaking, playing video games...everything we loved. It was exhilarating knowing every second could be my last. Lying beside her in the early hours, feeling her deep, even breathing, I regretted losing the wonder of childhood, reduced to racing through life always fixated on the past or future. I had no future. This brief now was all I would ever have.
It would be enough. I would make it enough.