I know, because she told me, that I haven’t got long left. A few days, a couple of weeks perhaps, She said that some variability caused by her coming to see me would change things, but not by that much. Just enough for a little uncertainty.
She was certainly very strange. She seemed to have the aspect, one moment, of a little girl, and another, of a woman so old she had lived long enough to carry the weight of all the world’s troubles on her shoulders. But truly she looked about sixteen, baggy jeans and baggy t-shirt and a hoodie concealing whatever might have been showing of any womanhood about her, physically at least. I didn’t recognise her, but she sure knew me, everything.
She moved with the ease of someone three times her age, and when I say that she know everything about me, well she seemed to have memorized what I had for breakfast for every day of my life. She knew what shoes I was wearing and when, who I spoke with, who I fucked, and who I made love with. She knew things I didn’t, what brand of toothpaste I purchased at age seventeen, the child I’d never met, or even known about. She knew how long I wore my braces for and what I said to my mother when I took them out.
She said she knew my father, who he was and what he did; and why I didn’t know him. After she told me, I was OK with it.
The way she walked, even in those boots, was strange. She seemed reluctant to let her heels touch the ground, as if there was something wrong, or she was sore, or, after I had thought about it for a while, as if she was always ready to run.
She arrived running, but out of some cloud, a ring of smoke and confusion that just appeared right there in the clearing in front of the shack. She was running out, but not away, and she touched what looked like an ordinary watch, cancelling a timer, or setting one, I could never tell which. Looked ordinary to me.
Yeah, she knew me.
I counted my heartbeats. Seven hundred and twenty beats after her arrival she would turn and start running towards nothing, which became something, which became the ring of smoke and she would disappear into who knew what. And come back again, barely having left, it gave the impression of her trying not to run into herself.
She kept asking me the same questions, about life, about my good works, about my partners. I kind of worked out what she wanted to know, but wouldn’t ask. Pity, because I think in the end she wasted a year and a half on me, and barely survived herself. I didn’t understand that those 720 heartbeats, they were all she was living, for so long.
I think I understand now, I wanted to know, so I got her to explain it, in chunks.
She’d discovered a way to teleport. One minute you’re here, next minute you’re there. No death, just a displacement, and you’re somewhere else. No philosophical conundrums. For the inanimate anyway.
Humans, well humans have something their brains, our brains. It’s a “quantum something or other” and it means that at some level we’re subject to the ultimate uncertainty, but it’s tiny, so we don’t notice most of the time.
But, she said, if you could make the effect big, very big, then you could break a few rules, she said. Like being here, and then being there. So she was revolutionising the supply chain.
Fine and dandy for any entity that is non-sentient, she said.
But people, and the smarter animals. They know about time, could comprehend it. That seemed to make a difference. A lot of difference. Time wouldn’t let them go, except temporarily. It would eventually ‘catch up’ and snatch back whatever was out of place. You didn’t want to be snatched back if you could help it. You needed, she said, to go back to your assigned place in the universe voluntarily when it caught up. Or there would be punishment. She said.
The time it took to snatch you back was based on distance and some complex formula, I didn’t understand it. But the upshot was that teleportation was time travel and time travel was teleportation and she had about 720 heartbeats before she had to go again, and immediately return.
And eventually, she asked me the question. I’d dreaded it at first, but over the days, I had come merely to expect it, and I had decided not to make an excuse. She when it came, I simply looked sad.
“Why,” she asked, “did you kill my father?” Her voice trembled. “Why did he have to die?”
“We fought,” I said, “it was a disagreement, over a girl, how I was treating her. He was angry, I thought he was trying to kill me, maybe he was, maybe not.” I paused, looking at her carefully, trying to gauge the impact of my words, but she gave nothing away. “I pushed him, I was angry, I wanted to hurt him, maybe in my soul wanted to kill right at that moment, so I pushed him, and he struck his head on the corner of the table and died.” I paused again. “Honestly I was glad for a moment, well, relieved. Then I realised what I had done.” I had to pause again, it was difficult to say, I remember seeing him there, lifeless, and feeling so, so furious that he’d died. That wasn’t what I’d meant, that wasn’t right.
And he hadn’t even heard me out, hadn’t listened to my side! What arrogance!
It was only then that I’d seen my dead friend, and that killed me inside. So I’d called the authorities, and she came into the room as I put the phone down. She didn’t scream or cry, just laid her tiny hand on his head for a moment and then said, with the force of a hurricane,
They’d not charged me. Called it an industrial accident. Said the devastation of the lab and being concussed made me confused, I was trying to take responsibility for something I wasn’t in control of.
The lab was rebuilt, insurance and the sponsor saw to that, and we carried on our research. Then we took on a post-grad student, and she worked diligently and brilliantly, showing the short duration of the time travel/displacement for living, sentient beings, and warning us all about the dangers. I didn’t recognise her then. I barely recognised her now.
I didn’t understand how she was sixteen, or seventeen, by the time she finished. I didn’t understand how she got the awesome power of the, I’m going to say wormhole, stable and open for as long as she did, or how she pointed it at the same spot every time.
I just thought she’d come to kill me before I killed her father, but she’d missed, by months. And I said so.
“No,” she said, simply, “not at all.” She raised what looked like a very small-bore rifle, and fired. The dart hit me somewhere about my torso. “I’ve come to make sure you live a long, long time.
“I’m going to need you. In about a hundred years.”