Before the short story, I have to give you the setup: I was so excited to be invited to the Queens Library Sci-Fi/Fantasy Author’s Evening (reading from my novel Where the Hell is Tesla?) that I decided to write a short story just for the night. Maybe a time travel story. Sounded good. But what could I do to ratchet it up, make it something a bit more special?
And then I realized: no one there would have ever met Ken, my twin brother. So Ken could play Future Me, coming back to join me reading the short story. Two Robs? Awesome. But there might be a catch…
Watch the Video:
And here’s the text of the short story:
Today I Invented Time Travel
Today I invented time travel. Well, it’s not like I woke up with the idea this morning. I’ve actually spent the better part of the last decade researching the possibilities, and building the car. Yes, I made it out of a car. And I finished it today.
I won’t go into the details. It’s complicated.
But once I tightened the last bolt, and tested the continuum matrix generator, I realized: I was so obsessed with the idea of the capability, the HOW of time travel, for nine solid years, that I never even asked myself the WHY. Why go back in time? (Side note: you can only go back in time, not forward. Again, complicated.)
I couldn’t ask any of my friends why I should go back, when or where, you know, because if this got out there’d be global mayhem of course, paradoxes left and right. An unmendable tear in the fabric of space-time. So I turned to my other trusty companion, my phone, and asked it. And my phone found me the top five reasons to go back in time:
5. Stop George Lucas from making the prequels to Star Wars.
4. Bet on the 1969 Mets.
3. Talk to that girl you had a secret crush on in elementary school.
2. Kill Hitler.
1. Meet Jesus.
Hmmm. Meet Jesus. Now that one’s tempting. Imagine talking to someone who really understood you, would forgive all your screwups, who could give you custom-tailored, divine guidance. But there’s that thing, you know, where the historical records are a little sketchy, like if I went back and started asking around, assuming I could learn Aramaic, people would be like “Jesus who?” or they’d rush me and throw me down a well and drop rocks on me. And there’s all that sand. And the heat. And leprosy.
Okay. Forget Jesus. (No offense if you’re listening.) Is there anyone else that meets those requirements? Total, complete understanding, forgiveness, custom-tailored guidance? But someone who’ll be exactly where you expect them to be, exactly when?
Wait. I’ve got it.
I’ll go back in time to meet myself. How cool is that? We’ll share a couple of beers, laugh about all the same things, root for all the same teams, forgive each other for a lifetime of failings, and guide each other through life. You know what? I’ll go back to tonight, while I’m reading this short story. And I know the first thing I’ll say to myself is probably “Hey Rob, you have ten bucks?” because I never carry enough cash with me, and it costs ten bucks to get in.
There’s a knock on the door. Future me walks in. “Hey Rob, you have ten bucks?”
I don’t, of course, he should know that. And if he’s coming back in time, he should know that he needs ten bucks to get in. I wonder if time travel makes you stupid. He reaches into his pocket. “Nope. Wait. You’re right. I remembered. Thanks dude.”
“No problem.” He walks over, and we shake hands, and I ask him the only thing I can think of. “So, what’s the future like?”
“It’s three hours later. That’s it.” And he looks at me sideways, like maybe I’m the stupid one.
We stand there awkwardly for a few moments, not sure what to do or say. Future me breaks the silence. “Oh, there’s one thing.” He rubs his belly. “Don’t get that burrito on the way home. Trust me.”
“Thanks. And hey, you look good.”
“Thanks. You too.”
And then it hits me. Hits us. Maybe we haven’t thought this out quite as much as we should have. Meaning: is there only one discreet universe and timeline, where just one Rob comes back to meet the only other Rob at this moment? Or is it messier than that? Much messier? Like where there are infinite Robs, on infinite moments of the future timeline, all planning to come back to this specific moment? Oh God. This room would fill up with Robs, then the street, then the city, then the country, and on and on and on. The world would end, choking on a never-ending flood of Robs from the future.
But you know what? That’s not going to happen. It’s silly. I mean, what are the chances?
There’s a knock on the door.