The DoorColin Wright
The following is an excerpt from my new short story collection, 7 or 8 More Ways to End the World, which is available today for $.99.
The door was more elaborate than it needed to be. A stylistic touch that Godfrey thought added a hint of elegance to what might otherwise be a truly clinical process.
Wrangling particles across time wasn’t sexy; it was quite boring, in practice. But using a turn of the century cottage door from Sussex — a part of the world where decor still counted for something — to frame his portal was a touch that served as a signature of sorts. Traveling through time would change history, and likely even change the meaning of the word, so it seemed prudent to spruce the place up a bit, and the doorframe was the centerpiece.
He wasn’t as thrilled with the rug, a piece he’d picked up during his time in Turkey, where he was procuring an important but difficult to attain component for the machine. Godfrey couldn’t decide if it was tacky when paired with the Amish-built dinner table. The table on which he’d been doing his most vital calculations, by hand, on artisan-made paper, purchased in the heartland of Germany. He’d bought a ream, not certain how much he’d need to write out his findings — which now adorned the walls of the lab. After a successful test, when the press arrived, he’d be able to show himself as a cultured man of the world, rather than the hermetic stereotype that haunted his profession.
Traveling to the future was the first step, and his machine was calibrated to take him one hundred years forward — to the year 2114. He wasn’t sure if time travel would be mainstream by that point in time, but he decided that at worst, he would be an anomaly in a world comfortable with advanced technology. Though he wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, he assumed scientists of the future would appreciate his brilliance, as much as those in his time would marvel over a 19th century scientist appearing in the middle of their conference and declaring he’d come from the past. A past riddled with greater challenges and burdened with what they would consider to be antique technology, making his accomplishments even greater for the hurdles.
But he was getting ahead of himself. What would be, would be, and if nothing else he would probably be able to grab some doodad from the shelf of a department store and bring it back to the present, reverse-engineer the well-honed tech of the future and make a fortune in the present. Even if no one noticed him, or recognized his accomplishments in getting there, he’d still come out on top. The effort would be worth it. The sacrifices and ridicule and…
It would be worth it. That was the point. But he needed to get started, if he was going to become the honored man he knew he could become. After one last look around the room — and straightening a calculation-ridden piece of paper that was hanging at an unappealing angle on the wall — Godfrey walked to the door and, with a flourish, turned on the generator that powered his machine. His doorway to the future.
He eyeballed a document he’d prepared — scrawled on the same handmade paper that lined his walls — written to commemorate the moment before he passed through the door, changing the world forever. Lifting the paper up close to his face so he could better see his barely legible handwriting, he started reading, using what he fancied to be a deeper, more authoritative voice for added impact.
“On this day, July 7 of the year 2014, I, Godfrey Williams do hereby announce the end of history as we know it. Instead, we are now entering a period of —”
A flash of light erupted from the door, followed by a crackling sound, and Godfrey cursed quietly and set the paper upon which his speech was written on the Amish-built table. Before he could reach down and tug on the cables connecting the door to the generator, however, a figure emerged from the doorway. Godfrey stumbled backward, tearing a piece of calculation-laden paper from the wall as he fell, and sending two others into disarray.
The figure was a six-foot-or-so man, very tan with close-cropped hair, wearing a pair of jeans, untucked collared shirt, and an air of confidence that seemed unusual in a man who’d just passed through a door connecting two disparate points in time. The man folded his arms and took a look around the room, noticed Godfrey splayed against the wall, and offered his hand. Godfrey paused a moment before taking it, allowing the larger and far more muscular man to pull him to his feet. As he was hauled to his feet by the other man, Godfrey said, “Now see here, young man. Where do you get off passing through my door?”
The man wore an amused smile that bordered on a smirk, and said, “How do you mean?”
Godfrey waved one hand toward the doorway, and his other toward the meticulously decorated and arranged room. “I’m trying to do something important here and you’ve fouled it up. I was making history, you know. That door you came through is a door through time, and you’ve stepped through it before me. How do you suppose I’m going to make history now?”
“You could be the second person through a time door.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Godfrey said, huffing and puffing and shuffling around the room, back rounded and hands wringing together. “No one ever remembers the second person to do something. Who was the second person on the moon?”
“A lucky guess. No one else remembers. You only know that because —” Godfrey stopped his pacing and glared up at the taller man with one eye, while the other squinted in doubt. “Say, you’re not from here, are you?”
“Probably not. When is here?”
“Then no, I’m not from here.”
“You’re from the future?”
“The year 2114?”
“July? July 7?”
Godfrey looked the man up and down doubtfully. “But you don’t look any different from a contemporary kid. I’ve seen teenagers wearing those same jeans —”
“Probably not these exact same jeans.”
“— and that shirt, too. There’s nothing futuristic about them at all. Are you sure you’re from the future?”
“So who are you, then? Huh? A scientist? You don’t look like any scientist I’ve ever met.”
The man’s smile stayed steady, as he unfolded his arms and tucked his hands in the pockets of his jeans. “I’m not a scientist.”
“Well what are you then? How did you pass through my door? Speak! I am a scientist.”
“Because I’ve been waiting for this moment, Doctor. And other moments like it. This is the kind of thing I was created for.”
“Created? What are you then, some kind of test-tube baby?”
“A robot, Doctor. A robot with very special sensors that allow me to detect specific energy signatures.”
“Why would a robot have those kinds of sensors? Is time travel common where you come from? What are you watching for?”
“I’m watching for time travelers. People who find holes in the fabric of time and open doors therein. Time travel is not common where I come from because of me. In fact, Doctor, it’s never officially been successful. Because of me.”
“What do you mean because of you?” Godfrey said, stepping over to one of the walls and stabbing his fingers against the figures on a sheet of handmade paper. “Time travel absolutely is possible! See here? See this equation? This alone would be enough to show a clever man all he needed to know to figure out the rest. It’s not only possible,” he pointed the same finger at the elaborately carved doorway, filled with light, “it’s been done. You said yourself you’re from the future. How can you deny something that you’ve been programmed to understand?”
“I’m not denying that time travel is possible, Doctor. What I’m telling you is that time travel has never officially existed because I make sure it doesn’t.”
“And how do you propose to keep it under wraps? Something like this won’t stay a secret.”
“It will if I stop the people who develop the right equations and technology from ever telling anyone else about it.”
Godfrey started to shout a retort, but then realized what the other man — robot — was saying, and shrunk back against the wall. “Oh I see.”
“So you’re going to kill me?”
“What…what if I promise not to tell anyone?”
“That’s not a risk I can afford to take. Grandfather Paradox and all that.”
“You mean you can’t afford to allow paradoxes: you know how history transpires, and where you come from, time travel has never been developed.”
“Meaning no one ever divulged the information to the public, meaning someone like me — who wants to share his discovery with the world — cannot have survived an encounter with you.”
“You understand perfectly, Doctor.”
Godfrey’s mind reeled at the news, but also scrambled for a solution that would allow him to keep his life.
“What if I promised not to say anything? Signed a contract?”
“I’m afraid that won’t suffice, Doctor.”
“Or what if — what if you take my work, and remove the part of my memory where the information is stored?”
“I don’t have that kind of capability.”
“You can’t remove memories in 2114? What exactly have your scientists been working on?”
“Robots. Medicines. We have gene therapies that you would —”
“Nevermind. I don’t want to know if I can’t see it myself. I don’t want to know if I won’t be able to do anything with the knowledge.” He thought for a moment, then raised his finger and eyebrows as an idea thundered to mind. “Wait. I’ve got it.”
“Who made you?”
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know who made you? You’re a robot. Don’t you know everything? You knew about Buzz Albert.”
“See? You’ve got a massive data bank, but you don’t know who built you?”
“I’m afraid I don’t have access to that information, Doctor.”
“Well what if I built you? What if you’re my creation? It makes a lot of sense. Look at what you’re wearing — I swear those same jeans and that same shirt are for sale at the department store across town. And I’ve developed time travel as a theory, but also a technology. I could build a robot like you. Given time, I could.”
“Doctor, this isn’t —”
“No, listen. Think about it. You’re trying to protect the world from a paradox, correct? You even mentioned the Grandfather Paradox — an infinite loop created if a time traveler goes to the past and kills his grandfather, thereby preventing him from being born, preventing him from killing his grandfather, and so on and so forth.”
“Yes, that is my directive.”
“So what if I’m your grandfather? What if I created you? By killing me, you’d be ensuring you were never built. And in doing so, I would live and build you, which would cause you to kill me, and ever onward forevermore. A paradox would emerge and tear that time fabric you’re so concerned about.”
For the first time since he came through the door, the man/robot’s smile disappeared, and he folded his arms back across his chest. He took on a very human pose of contemplation, his chin dipping toward his chest, his eyes focusing on nothing. He said, “You make a valid point.”
Godfrey jumped toward the robot. “I know! And the fact that you see it lends even more credibility to my argument! If I see it, you would be programmed to see it, because I would build you with this interaction in mind. You would be able to prevent paradoxes, but protect your own creator, which in itself would be a paradox-preventing move. It’s all so clear!” He threw his arms in the air and gave what he now considered to be his creation a hug.
The robot seemed to have come to the same conclusion. He shrugged off Godfrey’s embrace and said, “Yes. Okay. Your argument is logical. I’ll return to my own time and watch for other signals, but you may live so that you can build me.” He gave a slight smile and nodded his head before turning back toward the door and walking through. The same flash of light and sizzling sound that resulted from his entrance signaled his exit, back to his own present one hundred years in the future.
When he was gone, Godfrey pulled the plugs connecting the generator to the door, and the light contained within the carved wooden frame disappeared, leaving the room far darker than it had been a moment before. Godfrey looked around, taking in the minor destruction around him.
His papers were disarrayed and one was on the floor, a piece torn from the top where it had been ripped from the peg holding it to the wall. The unmarked papers on his Amish table were askew, and the rug was rippled from his movements, and that of the robot.
As he moved about, setting things right, he started making mental calculations, planning how he would build such a robot and deciding how long it would take him to complete the project.
He also started puzzling out how he would design his creation not to notice the energy signatures from the new, improved time travel doorway he would build. Because threat of paradoxes or no, he, Dr. Godfrey Williams, would be the first non-robot man to travel through time.
You can read the rest of the collection by picking up a copy of 7 or 8 More Ways to End the World for $.99. And if you’re feeling really ambitious, you could snag a copy of my first short story collection, 7 or 8 Ways to End the World for the same price.