by Matt Knight
Sample runs from pages 3 – 12
They asked him to teach a class every week. Usually it was for new recruits; trainee physicists; soldiers completely oblivious to the way in which science made them so much more effective than their predecessors.
Adam closed the door behind him. There were children sitting at the tables. He smiled, he had almost forgotten there was a field trip today. After clearing his throat, he said hello and they replied with ‘good morning’. Their charming chorus warmed him. Though something inside also ached, like a bruise being pressed gently. The teachers leaned against the back wall patiently. Adam brought his display up on the big screen and pressed play on an archived news report. It was decades old.
“Science has retired religion.”
There was just too much evidence, the reporter said. The scales had been tipped. Every discovery, every probing question slowly but surely straining the balance to the side of logic. Religion, quite simply, could not exist. They could prove it.
“What does this mean for the churches, the mosques? Well, they’re not going anywhere soon. In her speech outside Westminster today, the Prime Minister said she was in no rush to raze buildings of faith. Highlighting the cultural and historical importance of these institutions she claimed that talks with every major religious leader in the country would begin over the course of the next few months.”
Adam stopped the video and turned to the class.
“They stayed true to their word,” he said. “…at first. You might know this already, but religious leaders were brought into schools, enrolled into local government; their faith in the eyes of the law, valuable in bringing a moral dimension to institutions and politics that people often found unnervingly lacking in empathy.”
But he could not bring himself to tell these children just how many did not comply to this ruling. The millions of men and women who could not accept their lives were wasted on the pursuit of something non-existent. Yet who could also not refute the evidence set before them. Bishops, Rabbis, Supreme Patriarch’s, Operating Thetans that saw no point in going on. Who instead saw out their days in South American jungles, or atop Asian mountains. Not to mention the others who had decided to end their lives in the country in which they were born.
“Before we go on, do any of you have a question about all of this?”
Every hand shot up. Adam chose a young girl, about twelve.
“Are you the guy they’re going to send back in time?”
He was standing at the bedside with his mother. His father was lying on the bed, face contorted in pain. A green and purple leg lay concealed beneath the sheets. Adam had to lean in, the voice of his father was dry and faint.
“I want to be cremated.”
“Now wait, darling. Think about this,” said Adam’s mother.
“I want to be cremated,” he repeated. “No service.”
Adam’s father said that he didn’t want any trace if of him left in this world. Cremation was the closest thing he could think of.
“But even that…” he said with some effort. “…isn’t perfect.”
He didn’t like the idea that a lone hiker may one day taste him on the wind. Adam’s mother left the room, cursing under her breath.
“Are you sure, Dad? Don’t you want a traditional burial? It’s still allowed.”
“It doesn’t matter anymore,” said his father.
Adam matriculated into England’s best university.
Having been singled out so young, he was forbidden to share classes with other students. He had his own curriculum. Other boys looked at him curiously from across campus. He could see girls’ eyes without any hint of recognition. Adam’s teacher was brilliant. An unbridled mind attached to hands that gestured too much.
“You see,” said his professor as he drew a line in the air with his finger. “At first it was all about concentrating gravity. So imagine, you have a path that feeds into a room packed with immense gravitational force. In that room, time lapses. At least the way we perceive it. From there it arcs back around like a loop-the-loop on a track for toy cars.
“If time as we know it is a straight line until it reaches that room, a traveller could surf that arc within a fixed space – arriving back at the point at which they entered that room, regardless of how long they spent inside it. From there they could ride the loop again or stop. In that sense at least, time would cease to move forwards. The only problem with this, is that no one is actually getting anywhere.
“That’s more or less the basics. It’s the kind of stuff they were playing around with whilst you were still wearing disposable underwear,” he said to Adam with a smile. “But after the Abandonment of Faith – when we enjoyed a technological renaissance, minds free of distraction, wasted time and resources all focussed toward objective goals – well, things progressed at an exponential rate. We would never be where we are today without those vital developments. And thank goodness! Because now… oh mama. Things are so much cooler!”
Her legs spread open before him. A pink orchid, covered in a film of moisture.
Adam bent down and tried to kiss it but she wouldn’t let him. She guided his face up and away, one finger under his chin.
“I don’t want that. Just fuck me.”
He became aware of the sweat on his face. The awesome desire to enter her and the childish fear trying to dissuade him.
“It’ll be fun,” she whispered.
His leather belt creaked under the pressure.
“Let me help you.”
She popped the top button of his jeans open.
“Virgins are so cute.”
The sensation of her hands was too much.
“Oh, come on…”
Adam’s cheeks burned with embarrassment. He pulled up his trousers and ran from the room.
He rushed outside and threw up on her front lawn. After taking a couple of deep breaths, after trying to spit the taste out of his mouth, he looked up at her window and she was standing there looking back at him, disgusted.
Adam rubbed his face tiredly. He had been in his quarters for two days. Just a precaution, they had told him, to cover any variables.
The stress and the science had wearied his mind. He struggled to recall the days building up to now. Could he really pinpoint the moment in which he had entered the room? What the last thing he had done in the outside world was? His brain felt weak. Feeble.
He wondered if he had already completed the mission, perhaps this wasn’t the very first time he had been here. It all felt so familiar, yet he could not source it. A sensation he imagined one felt when meeting the woman he was pre-destined to love.
His quarters were annexed to the lab in which the mission would take place. There was a thick door connecting the two rooms. A steady red light above, neighboured by a slightly green one he had never seen shine. To enter he would have to exit his room from the other door, walk around and enter the lab on the other side.
Viewed from above, the complex looked like a circle.
The teachers came running over.
Adam stood above the other boy. The kid was holding his nose, blood flowing out between his fingers. But Adam was looking in the opposite direction. Sitting at the edge of the playground, the boy he’d protected had scurried off and was wiping away tears. His left eye was already becoming encircled by a dark purple.
Adam’s hand hurt. The skin had flaked loose off the knuckle. Though at the time he had felt no pain. It was all instinct, no hint of self-preservation. The bully had awakened a dormant anger in Adam. The victim was not even his friend. He did not know the bully either.
A male teacher walked up behind Adam and pinned his arm behind his back. Adam let him. The teacher’s voice bellowed indistinct words as he was marched into the school. He looked back at the playground. The boy who had been bullied was now standing, looking at Adam. The bully looked like he had passed out. He was lying on his back with two teachers crouched over him. Red blood slithered out of his nostrils like snakes.
He couldn’t sleep. All the possibilities.
What if the mission was a success? Would there be anything sacred left in time? Would we even record it on our wrists… what would be the point? When would breakfast be, or dinner? Why sleep?
There would be no sell by date on food. Books would be read instantly. People would never be late for meetings that already happened. Wasn’t there a risk we’d never move beyond a single day in an attempt to do things quicker? How on earth could society ever progress if progression became subjective?
How long would be long enough before you told someone you loved them?
His teacher’s hands were going into over-drive. They spun wildly above his head.
“Now we know much more,” he said, pointing at Adam as if accusing him of something. “The self-consistency principle basically boils down to suggesting there can only be one timeline.
“Think of time as a straight line again. Except now at the moment we invent time-travel, instead of staying contained in a small area, imagine the timeline spraying off in all kinds of directions like the frayed end of a piece of string. These are what you might call ‘alternate timelines’. Whilst some of those threads move forward, there are many others that circle back; once they re-connect with the timeline they effect the past instantly and history becomes re-written in a flash.
“Because the past has changed, these alternate timelines then begin to move along the line again, right up to the point of time travel’s invention. As they do so they wrap around our original timeline. All these changes, all these strings of alternate timelines work together and the timeline ends up becoming thicker and thicker like a piece of rope. Where before it was one simple thread, it suddenly becomes reinforced by all the possible changes to the past, lending strength to one single timeline that will never break – our timeline.
“I know it’s a lot to get your head around, but it’s actually pretty reassuring. Because think of this: the moment we invent time-travel, all of time plays out at once – affecting the entirety of what we will call for lack of a better term ‘true time’. We can safely assume that the advent of time travel will not end mankind, blot out the sun, whatever, because it hasn’t, and therefore it never will.
“The only things we are unsure about are what happens afterwards, because those timelines that do not loop back are free to move forwards through time in whichever way they please. It may be that we stop perceiving time linearly… somehow.”
But that did not satisfy Adam. “You say ‘when’ we invent time-travel. But why are we just talking about it in theory? If it’s going to happen, then couldn’t the technology just be brought back to a time prior to its invention?”
“Possibly, but I posit that for us to comprehend the complexities of time travel, our ‘true time’ experience requires us, for whatever reason, to wait on the invention of the technology up to a fixed point. We just don’t know what that reason is yet.”
“That, or we just never invent it,” said Adam.
“Or that,” replied his professor, sadly.
“Well, it’s nice that they were so understanding.”
His mother was painting. She was holding her brush like a pencil.
“Yeah, they really were. The system’s still pretty new, so they had an ex-prophet sit in with us. He showed us the checklist for all that kind of stuff.”
“What do you mean?”
Adam dabbed some colour onto his brush. His hand was bandaged and shook as he tried to paint in precise strokes.
“The morality stuff. They kept using the term ‘warranted violence’. Because the boy I was protecting was in genuine danger, they balanced my behaviour against the bully’s and decided my interjection was the best outcome for all involved.”
She pursed her lips and grumbled. “You’re speaking like a robot. It’s not just about logic, you know.”
He leant back from his sketch book, took two sodas out of the cooler and passed one to his mother. They sat in the grass and sipped their drinks. It was a warm summer day.
She was glad he hadn’t gotten in too much trouble. Yet it still sat uneasily with her, the lack of punishment. It violated her core beliefs. Biases bred within her after years of being a vicar’s wife.
She rinsed her brush in a jar of water. The colours peeled off like smoke.
“I know it’s not easy, Adam. I loved your father dearly.”
Purples mixed with greens and yellows, leaving a muddy black.
“Yeah, me too.”
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