Short Story: Timelines

“How do you keep them separate in your head? I’d have thought you’d be constantly getting them mixed up.” Sara was rummaging in her toolbox for something to undo a stubborn nut in the cabinet between us. Given the amount of swearing I’d heard the last five minutes, I’d half expected her to have dropped the subject.

“Well, it’s like when you’re reading two books at about the same time, and you have one for sitting on the sofa, and another for by your bed. You read each for different reasons but keeping those stories separate isn’t that difficult really.” She continued to scratch around in the box without success.

“Really? I don’t think I could do that.” She frowned and straightened up to look round the room. I saw a monkey wrench on the floor behind her but decided not to say anything. I didn’t want to detract from her sense of achievement when she found it.

“Oh it’s not so difficult.” I said. “You don’t have any difficulty remembering the differences between your siblings do you? You know their favourite foods are…?”

“I’m an only child.” She said. She turned round and saw the wrench, giving a brief triumphant cry.

“Ah.” I said, and juggled my next sentences around. “But you can imagine can’t you? If you had one who liked certain things and another who liked others – you’d remember and tailor your conversations accordingly.”

“Okay,” she said cautiously, “so you’re saying navigating timelines and paradoxes is like reading two books at once?” She’d turned back to the console cabinet and was busy at work again.

“Yes, and at the same time no, because both stories are in the same volume and they keep flipping depending on the moment and what you’re doing while holding that book open. Flicking the pages means you can have a different version of the story each time you flick back and forth.”

“Still sounds like you’re making it up. How come you can remember both versions?” She was plugging replacement components back into place now.

“Oh that’s because I exist in the old one and have travelled into the new one. It’s more complicated than that, but that’s simple enough. How are we doing there?”

“Nearly done. Don’t know what caused that surge and blew the console but should be good as new now. So, where next for you?”

“Oh not far, and yet it’s probably longer than you’d credit. We’ll probably not meet again – thank you, as ever, for your quick work.” I handed over a wad of bills in payment and escorted the engineer out of the control room. She had a frown on her face.

“What do you mean, as ever?” I heard her say as he closed the hatch and hurried back to the console.

“Don’t worry, you’ll have your family back soon Sara.” I said, and flipped the launch switch.

Short Story: Repair Work

The sign was battered and faded, with a couple of bullet holes for good measure. We looked at it with a dull satisfaction of a job well done. While it wouldn’t win any awards, we knew it was a work of art even if it would hopefully never be noticed.

Our lack of joy at this moment of achievement was down to the number of times this week we’d had to do this. I don’t know what it was about landmarks but the invaders seemed to take a positive delight in obliterating them. Maybe it was a psychological warfare thing – that was what some suited analyst from the fifteenth floor had suggested in a briefing when this all started.

I wasn’t entirely convinced. Perhaps it was the cynicism for which I’d received a number of pointed reprimands, but I was beginning to think they were messing with us. We’d hijacked their technology to be able to fight back, that had to be annoying them.

We’d been so close to the brink before our troops had captured enough pieces of the puzzle to realise that they were using time travel to achieve what had seemed impossible feats of coordination and repair. Once the boffins and egg-heads had got their collective heads round it all, then things got weirder than usual – I mean weirder than an alien time-travelling alien invasion. Yeah, let’s use the word weird, it’ll do.

So, bootstrapping ourselves up to their level on that side of things meant we could level the playing field. The first rewind put us all the way back to six months before the invaders arrived, and preparations started. Why that date? I have no idea, it’s above my pay grade; but now you have two sides that have access to time travel.

Just to add another wrinkle, there’s some application of the tech that permits people working with it to retain knowledge of the time shifts. It’s a bit of a headache, and prolongued exposure seems to have a depressive effect on the users’ moods, so that’s where we come in. There are teams of us all over the place tasked with keeping things business as usual until this vast time-travelling chess game is resolved.

Keeping everyone we can in the dark is the least awful option, but remembering that is getting hard to keep fixed in our heads. I’ve heard of teams walking away en masse in recent months – or I suppose that could be days, or hours. I’m losing track myself. I really am. It’s almost enough to make me gather the teams and strike out, to see if we can stop all this dead in its tracks.

You see, what not many people know is that the invaders seem to be human, or at least human-like. It wouldn’t take much to disguise ourselves and make use of the confusion to take both sides out if the battle.

We looked again at the Hollywood sign looming above us and at the ghostly after images of the loops we’re caught in. Maybe we should do this, become the invaders? Are you with me?