Me and me and me and time
Race against a chronically vicious foe. A short story by Uwe Schimunek
20 minutes until my real time. I program the time capsule and get out. When launched, the capsule looks almost like a normal aircar - it only disappears faster and zooms back to my laboratory.
I turn up the collar of my jacket; the wind blows through the pedestrian zone as if it wants to sweep the city empty. But that doesn't stop me. I might be the last one to stop Frotzki.
The app in my smart glasses reports a time switch probability of 50 percent. So the chances are half-half that I can prevent a change over time. The ad next to it confirms that I'm the minimum distance from my T-zero self. That's why the surveillance cameras don't worry me.
The Sub-Tube station lights up on the street corner. A few drones are buzzing around in front of the entrance. I reach into my coat pocket, find a coin and drop it. When I pick it up, I activate the virtual mask on my smart glasses. At some point Frotzki's algorithms will discover me anyway. But before that, I've been on the tube to the campus for a long time.
I step onto the escalator and try to hurry down past the passers-by as casually as possible. Nobody pays attention to me. The eyes twitch behind the lenses of the glasses, probably following news or entertainment programs. The tubes swing out of the tubes on the platform. I board. There is only one man in the tube. Is that one of Frotzki's people?
"Please take a seat, we're taking off," says a woman's voice before I can take a closer look at the man. It hisses. The acceleration throws me into the chair. Only a blink of an eye later the seat turns. Now the deceleration pushes me into the cushion.
"University" says the female voice. I get up. The man too. Apparently his glasses are only now showing him that I exist. He lets me go first. Good, because I'm in a hurry. 15 minutes until real time. I rush up the escalator. The campus lies deserted in the twilight. I see a shadow in the laboratory building. Frotki?
"Mobile police unit. Routine check! Please show your T-time!" The security bot's standard voice comes from behind. I go on. I can't shake off the bot this way, but I can gain time and a few meters. The unit hovers past me, deactivating my mask and blocking my path. "Please show your T-time!" the bot repeats. I avoid him and ask, "Do you mean me?"
"Yes." The tin mate floats in front of my feet again and extends the grippers with the tasers. "This is a warning of the consequences of non-lethal use of force. The shocks are painful and may require medical treatment for those who are unwell."
I stop and rummage in my coat pocket for the ID. What now? If I show the card, the guy will arrest me. Before that, he'll give me a lecture on the laws of time manipulative travel. I know the explanations because I wrote them. So not the legally secure formulations, but the content. Finally, my team developed the time capsule.
After our physics colleagues discovered the Hawkingsium with negative mass, we engineers only had to build a machine with it. Inside, the space-time structure is so strongly curved that one can tunnel back to a point in the past. This exploits the fuzziness of the granular quantum gravity units, the experts say. Unfortunately, it doesn't go back that far. But an hour or two is already there.
Of course, the security bot does not know these details, it is a basic version for patrol duty. He stands in front of me with his tasers and has no idea of the trouble with time. Because even with trips into the recent past you can do all kinds of nonsense.
Frotzki, for example, has had a meteoric career with the time capsule. It is an open secret that he duped several members of the Parliamentary Time Travel Commission, which was hastily set up, with the double man trick.
First he persuaded political opponents to make delicate arrangements in back rooms. Then he traveled back there to document these deals with the camera and to blackmail his counterparts. In the end he had enough commission members and was appointed head of the institute and chief adviser to the new supervisory authority. Since then he controls himself.
And me. I had to formulate the rules on his behalf: keep a minimum distance from your own T-zero self, always return to the starting point with the time capsule a few seconds after the start time. Ironically, Frotzki and his men are supposed to monitor it.
That's why I built the Time Switchometer. The device shows me the probability of time manipulations - as well as the place and time at which they were triggered. That's why I'm standing here now. According to the data, someone is targeting the Time Switchometer. I bet it's Frotzki. Only my device can keep him at bay.
The bot rests in front of me, only its optical sensors showing that it hasn't switched to sleep mode. It'll probably leave me rummaging in my pockets until tomorrow. But I don't have that much time.
"I must have forgotten my ID at the office," I say.
"In that case, please accompany me to the station for a T-time check."
"The office is right there in the building."
"Regulations require an on-site inspection."
I sigh. The bot vibrates. Sparks fly between its optical sensors. It crackles and smells like burnt plastic. The tin box falls to the ground; it rattles like a garbage can falling over.
I appear behind the junk bot and say: "Wow!" I see the eyes of my self shine. The stun gun in my hand is still smoking.
"Are you my T-Zero?" I ask.
So the time capsule got to the lab on time and my T-zero self took off again just before my little time travel I guess. All the better. The three of us can definitely get along with Frotzki. In my display, the time switch probability drops promptly to 25 percent.
"Hurry!" my alter ego yells. It takes the shocker and starts sprinting. I'm not in particularly good shape. After a few steps I can't breathe. Luckily my office is on the first floor. We storm into the lab.
Frotzki is standing at the new console with his back to us. I see the wrinkle-free suit that politicians and managers wear as a uniform. Frotzki doesn't seem to notice us. His fingers fly over the command lines on my time switchometer's touch display. We must intervene. He may need a few more seconds to erase the software on the device.
My T-two self pulls the stun gun out of his pocket. I look at him and shake my head. T-Two rolls his eyes.
"Hey!" I call out.
Frotzki turns around and freezes. His mouth is open, but he says nothing. Only his eyes look alternately at T-Two and me. For a moment only the fans of the computers in the laboratory hum. My T-Two finds the words first and shouts: "Hands off!" To this, T-Two waves the Stunner.
Frotzki slowly steps away from the device. His face looks like a question mark. He murmurs: "Where are you from? I would have destroyed the device right away! How could it warn you?"
"I have a copy running as an app," I reply, tapping my glasses."A fallback is programmed into the synchro, which allows the values to vary even if the switchometer is manipulated." The indicator still reports a 12 percent chance.
The door opens behind me. I enter. So my T-zero self actually coming too late to stop Frotzki from sabotaging the switchometer. It looks pretty dazed. No wonder, after all, it won't be sending me and T-Two on their way until a few minutes - after Frotzki has sabotaged the Switchometer.
"The game isn't over yet!" shouts Frotzki defiantly. "I also have a time capsule and I know the double man trick. If I'm not back in my office in a few minutes my T-zero will start up again and just bust this friggin' thing sooner. I know you're with the time capsule and I'm prepared for that!"
Don't be provoked, I guess.
My T-Zero self seems to get the hang of it now and says, "Well! We heard. His T-Zero has to stay in the office and not use the time machine." My T-zero points to Frotzki. "Then that one will go away on its own."
"Yeah!" shouts T-Two, whipping out the shocker and preparing to leave. Why is he so aggressive? Is that in me?
"Not you." My T-zero is looking at me. I? Apparently everyone sees my questioning expression, because my T-Zero explains: "T-Two has to get into the capsule and start the journey through time. Then I'll be alone in the office. As originally. Then I'll climb into the capsule. That's how this action should be have the least possible impact on the passage of time. And from my start there's only one of us again," says my T-zero, pointing at me. "Then you take over."
"But I'm second…" says T-Two, looking desperately at the shocker.
"But before that, because for T-One I traveled later and further back", says my T-Zero.
"Then I only have a few minutes?" T-Two asks.
"You're me!" replies T-Zero.
I see. So we. In the ad, the probability of a time switch drops to four percent - our plan seems to be working.
"Okay," says T-Two, sounding resigned. "I'll take care of this Frotzki until he's gone." He puts the stun gun in my hand. "Remember, Frotzki's T-Zero is not allowed out of his office…"
"… until the time switch probability is zero", I add.
I put the shocker in my pocket on my way to the door. I'll clear this up with words. I can do that much better. Or?