It was the sound heard throughout the world. Buses ground to a halt in Central London, pogo-sticks stopped with a squeak in New Zealand, children fell off their chairs in Tokyo and no one laughed. It was the sound of a yellow and black 2B pencil with a 2mm tip. The sound of it snapping. In silence the shrapnel fell to the wooden floor of the examination room.
“Son of a monkey-humper! It broke.”
“Jeff Turner, will you keep your voice down please,” said a stern-looking woman in her late thirties, dressed in a floral white blouse and skirt. “Some of us are trying to finish an exam here, and some of us are trying to decide if it was a wise choice to place a ‘missed connections’ ad for the guy who accidentally spat on their face during the train journey to work yesterday morning.”
Young Jeffrey slammed his clenched fist against the surface of his desk. “I’m sorry Miss Watson, but my pencil just broke.”
“Nevermind. It’s not the end of the world,” she said.
Yet unbeknownst to all of them, it was. This one event would kick-start a chain of disastrous consequences. A chain which would culminate in global catastrophe, the like of which had not been seen since time’s beginning, nor will occur again.
“What do you mean, ‘global catastrophe’?” shouted Jeff.
How…? You’re not supposed to be able to hear me. Forget what you just heard. Look forward and carry on, as if nothing remotely interesting is happening. Like on CSI.
“No, you just said we’re all gonna die. If you’re gonna be a disembodied voice speaking from the ceiling and that, you’re gonna have to constipate a bit.”
Miss Watson, first name Wendy, stepped forward with her arms folded. “He’s right, we have a right to know.”
Stupid audio-broadcast switch. You kick your feet up to relax a bit, and this is where it gets you. Worst protagonists ever, you wouldn’t get this with the likes of Dostoyevsky, Marenghi or Dumas. They were all looking up at the ceiling now. A pretty girl with straight light-brown hair raised her hand, Shulah Kendall. She started to speak.
“Err, thanks for the compliment… God? But what’s going to happen to us? How does Jeff kill us all, and can we morally strike him down right now if that’s the case?”
“Hey, I’m sat right here,” Jeff said.
The boy on the desk next to him rushed to his defence. Brodie Samsa had been Jeff’s best friend since they were eight-years-old. He was the quiet sort who usually deferred all the decisions to the more outgoing and socially superior Jeff. “Shulah, no one wants to kill Jeff. No one wants to have to throw rocks at him. No one wants to dismember him respectfully. So it’s not so much a moral question as an ethical one.”
“I hate you guys,” Jeff said. “So Mr. God guy, can I call you God?”
“Fine, Mister,” Jeff said. “Can you like, cue a flash-forward or something for us? I’m not really sure what the procedure is on exam interruptions due to angelic prophecies of doom, so I might need to hurry this whole apocalypse thing along and finish the test.”
A white light grew in brightness until it consumed the entire room. The exam room disappeared around them until all that remained was their chairs and desks, accompanied by Jeff, Brodie, Wendy, Shulah and twenty-seven-and-a-half other people. Incidentally, on that day, Thomas Bedworth realised that leaving a room just as a flash-forward was beginning is a very bad idea, no matter how much he may have needed the toilet.
The light dimmed a little and the room returned to normal, except for its lack of walls and ceiling, and the fact that it seemed to be floating in the exosphere of the earth. A large screen appeared in the far side of the room. It would have been nice if it was in HD, or even Technicolor, but visions of the future and the past are more believable when they’re in sepia tone and out-of-focus. A light shimmering effect on the screen also helps. The room dimmed and the titles appeared: “Inter-Dimensional Films presents: The Horrific Demise of Humanity, or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Embrace Full-Blown Panic.”
“You lost me on the title,” Jeff said. “How about…” He held up his hands and mimed a screen wipe as he spoke. “…The Apocalypse!”
“Or Alarmageddon?” Shulah added.
“When Time Ran Out?” Brodie said.
“Class of Nuke ‘em High?” Miss Watson said.
Completely unaware of the legal ramifications of copyright infringement and the sheer stupidity of making lame puns on existing film titles, they carried on like this for longer than a sane person could tolerate while remaining silent. Shut up.
“Follow the travelling thunder and the great rumble! He has returned to us,” Jeff said, in reverent awe. “Please God, show up the way. Also, would it kill you to get us some popcorn: toffee!”
It was really easy to hate those guys, even then.
“In a land without hope, there is a man, one man who will change everything,” the voice bellowed from the huge screen.
They shoved their desks to the side of the spatial anomaly and pulled up their chairs to form four lines of eight with a few spaces to space. All except Thomas, he was still enjoying his dimensional stroke, which made his movements resemble that of a trout when you throw it on the ship’s deck. Jeff gave Shulah a quick smile as she pulled up her chair next to his, she started to return the gesture before quickly turning to face the screen. It faded into monochrome before Jeff’s own face appeared on it.
“Homo!” coughed approximately seven students in unison.
The camera zoomed down to Jeff at his desk, his wrist exerting vast amounts of pressure on the pencil. Struggling under the force, the camera panned as the tip broke in slow-motion. The pencil was called Randall, and now he’s broken. It’s a sad moment which needs a James Blunt song to truly reinforce the horror of the situation. Fortunately the PRS haven’t yet mastered inter-dimensional travel and were unable to levy a fine for this egregious abuse of intellectual property.
“Four Months Later…,” appeared on the screen and the visual transitioned to Jeff opening an envelope in the hallway of his decidedly middle-class home. He nervously pulls out the enclosed letter before reading the giant red text which covered the page: “Fail.”
“Six Months Later…,” now Jeff wanders the streets aimlessly, kicking puppies as he walks. He clutches an empty bottle of White Strike cider, coughing as he goes. He looks like a total mess, the kind of boy you’d take to visit your mother if you wanted her to cry. Ominous music plays in the background as Jeff collapses to the floor. One of the puppies named Aramas comes to his aid, gently tugging at the hem of his dirty corduroy trousers, he kicks it heartlessly, it whimpers away, shedding anthropomorphic tears as it scurries into the distance.
“Two Years Later…,” a fade-in reveals a room of people wearing kilts and dancing to Mongolian throat singing. It’s the future, and things are weird. Still no hover-boards.
“Seventy Years Later…,” the scene shifts to a laboratory. On a giant transparent display board in the corner is written, in large letters: “(1) Dark Energy Visualisation Experiment, phase 58, (2) Buy Milk.” The room disappears in a flash with horrifying screams ringing out through the air. Imagine every death scene from all twenty-three Friday the 13th movies playing at once, the screams are that loud.
The voice booms once more as a montage of scenes flash on the screen. “Jeff Turner will realise that his destiny has been altered by one simple act of sabotage. If he hopes to save life, the universe and everything, he must right what has been put wrong. And now for the science bit: as the result of an attempt to observe anti-gravity dark matter, the viewing will reset the false vacuum’s decay clock to zero, switching it back to the fast decay regime. This will begin a quantum Zeno effect which result in the universe exploding. Sorry for any inconvenience caused.”
It was at this precise moment that Jeff both invented and then realised that his life-long dream of becoming a world-renowned scientist would be scuppered by his failed exam, and the loss of his expertise in designing the experiment which would take place in the future would doom the universe to certain calamity.
“Wow, that’s kind of a bummer,” Jeff said. “Well, I guess there’s only one solution to this then. I’m going to have to use a time-machine to travel back to before the exam and reinforce the graphite core of my pencil, thus ensuring it will be able to endure the entire exam, leading to my getting an A* grade and my fulfilling my destiny to save the world and avert the apocalypse.”
At some point during that speech, he found a desk to stand on, pumping his fist as he went.
“I hate to be the voice of non-dumbassery,” Shulah said. “But where exactly do you plan on getting a time machine from?”
“It’s pure elegance in its simplicity my flat-chested friend,” said Jeff. “I will devote my life to the study of time-travel, build a machine with the next seventy-two-years-and-ten-months. Then, I’ll travel back to this time and give myself the time machine, thus enabling me to travel back and fix my destiny.”
“You know, I could just lend you a pen, right now, and we can all finish the test,” Brodie said, potentially jeopardising any chance of a thrilling sequence of events.
“Shut up Raffles!” somebody shouted from the back row. Jeff turned around with a grimace etched across his face. He stared for longer than is considered polite before returning to his train of thought.
“So it’s decided. But hmm, what shall the time-machine’s form be? I need something stylish, inconspicuous and potentially useful…,” he said.
A tiny machine appeared in the room with them. With two legs barely more than five centimetres long, a square body and arms which were a bit shorter than the legs. It looked like a computer monitor before they all went flat. “Hello Mr. Turner,” it said in a voice which in no way sounded like Stephen Hawking’s. “I am your patent and copyright adviser. All inventions must not infringe on the intellectual property of others, unless you intend to travel back and exterminate all who hold said intellectual property rights. The following forms are prohibited: Hot tub, pub bathroom, TV remote, lakehouse postbox, straight-jacket, old diary, CB radio, the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, phone booth, Delorean and converted apartment building.”
Jeff jumped down from the desk, kicking it out from under him as he leapt. It hit someone of no importance in the leg. They yelled in pain, there was a little blood. Everyone continued not to care. Jeff picked up the tiny machine and stared at himself in the reflection, fixing his hair with his free hand. “Thanks little robot. I have chosen, it will be a BC Rich Mockingbird ST electric guitar with built-in chain-powered axe and a neck housing a double-barrelled, automatically-loading shotgun. It will appear at my feet in twenty seconds time,” he said, excitedly.
The room fell silent as they all waited. Ten seconds, eleven seconds. The suspense was roughly equivalent to one of those submarine films where the plucky heroes wait nervously as Nazi depth-charges explode around them. Nineteen seconds, twenty seconds, twenty-one seconds passed.
“Well,” said Shulah, walking back over to retrieve her desk from the edge of nothingness. “I guess that plan was a huge steaming crock of s-“
The room shook violently, an orange glow appeared in the middle, like a stab wound through space itself. It quickly opened up into an oval portal, the orange flames forming the frame around a shimmering haze which covered the centre. A light poured from the portal, focussing into a spotlight at Jeff’s feet. The light expanded before overpowering the room for a split-second. When their pupils regained function, they saw a crimson red Mockingbird ST where the spotlight first focussed. He gingerly leaned over and scooped it up.
“Red?” he said. “Aww man! I hate red. Can I get the receipt too?”
Examining the Mockingbird, Jeff began to wish they’d included an instruction manual, then at least he could refuse to read it while adopting an air of superiority. He played a few warm-up notes and the amplified sound came back from the fringes of the room, as if he was surrounded by speaker-stacks. He scrutinised the guitar closer, seeing that on the pick-up selector, one of them was labelled: “Engage.” He clicked the switch and strummed an D-minor chord before launching into a few licks. Same as before, the earth shook, the Mockingbird leapt from Jeff’s hands and launched itself into the air, sending a huge electrical bolt from its machine heads. The bolt sliced through the fabric of space, tearing another oval portal behind the rows of chairs. For some reason, most of the class beheld this event with fear, shrinking back. Only Brodie and Shulah maintained their position.
“Who’s in?” Jeff asked. He looked at the two people stood either side of him and they nodded.
A voice piped up from behind them. “I wanna come,” said Dale James, a strikingly handsome boy with smooth features, the beginnings of a moustache. His dyed-blonde hair fell neatly level with the top of his eyebrows. He strode forward to join the others, pushing out his muscular chest as he walked.
“Why do you wanna come?” Jeff asked.
“Why?” Dale said, adopting a suitable heroic stance. “Because ever since I was a boy I felt that I had something important to do. Like I had some calling that I couldn’t quite hear, a calling that pulled me through life. It’s only now that I realise this destiny has directed me through my choices down to this very point. The fate of existence itself is what I was chosen to preserve, and I know this as sure as I know that you need me as your leader on this. The hands of time will guide us through this quest and we shall, nay, must emerge victorious. The loom may stitch our extinction, but we will not be threaded quietly into the night. We will not become a tapestry in the museum of life, we will unravel this patchwork and shall stand together and say: ‘we forge our own path.’ This will be a clarion call which will resonate throughout time and space. For today, we will bathe in the defeat of our enemies, and freedom shall live on! Freedom: now and forever!”
A standing ovation followed from most of the class. “That was beautiful man,” Jeff said. “You’re so in. Gentlemen, ho-bag, Let’s revise history.”
Up until now, Brodie wasn’t exactly renowned for leaps of faith, but he eyed the portal with wistfulness, like he saw the mountain of possibilities it held. He backed up, ran forwards and jumped towards the portal. It pulled him in like a magnet and he disappeared. There was an audible gasp throughout the room, then people started calling dibs on his stuff. Shulah next, she straightened her dress, slipped a band over her hair as she locked it into a ponytail and flung herself into the oval, then vanished.
Jeff turned to Dale. “It’ll be a pleasure to have someone as talented as yourself on board. These things probably don’t stay open long, so stay close behind me okay.”
“Yeah whatever,” he replied. “Let’s do this.” Dale smiled at a couple of nearby girls as they whispered between themselves. They smiled back, waving.
Jeff positioned a chair near to the portal and gave himself a large run-up. With Dale close behind, they both ran at full speed. First Jeff, then Dale quickly launched themselves off the chair. The magnet pulled Jeff through the centre of the oval. As it locked on to him, the Mockingbird pulled itself out of its mid-air flight and flew straight into Jeff’s hand. He disappeared through to the other side, the portal swiftly closed behind him, vanishing in a brief flicker of light.
Flying a good seven feet off the ground with many rows of chairs looming straight ahead, a certain look of panic mixed with anger spread across the face of Dale James. The room around him flashed, returning to its normal state. He started to yell, limbs flailing helplessly.
In a dimly-lit cave flooded with water, a young girl was happily exploring when a burst of orange light exploded behind her. A young man appeared from nowhere, leaving the portal with a fair amount of velocity. She turned to face the approaching boy only to be knocked to the floor. Water, sand and dirt covered her from head-to-toe. She tried to stand up before a young female too emerged from nothingness, sending her back down. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me. Fool me thrice and I might be in need of strawberry-flavoured windows, goes the saying. She stayed down in the muddy sand-dirt as Jeff neatly landed on his feet in the shallow pool of water in the middle of the cavern. Both he and Jeff instantly affixed their eyes on Shulah, at which point she noticed that both of the boys had their hands covering their pelvises.
“Damn,” Jeff said in the direction of Brodie. “It’s not Terminator rules.”
“But you’ve already…,” Brodie said.
“True. But not as an ex.”
“Oh yeah. That’s the best,” Brodie said.
“Not really what I was expecting,” Jeff said. “No circuits of time, no tunnels, no whirly effects, no disco at the colonoscopy. Bit too instant for my liking really. There weren’t even any calendars or grandfather clocks flying through the vast swatches of nothingness.”
Shulah purposefully ignored the entire conversation, looking intently at the portal as it closed itself behind them. “No Dale?” she asked.
“God no. There was a note on the back of the Mockingbird which said, ‘activator must travel last’.”
A coughing and spluttering from the ground caught their attention. As time travel etiquette goes, it can be safely assumed as rude to land on top of people. They have a habit of getting annoyed. Another rule of etiquette is to never ever travel backwards through the portal. This is often to be observed in tandem with rule one. The girl raised herself once more, eyeing the three travellers with hesitation. Only her eyes seemed to have escaped the layer of mud which covered her. Hair straggling in knots, she opened her mouth, but only more splutters emerged. She approached Shulah with anger in her eyes.
“No!” Jeff said, holding up his hand. “Native girl must stop!”
Brodie semi-whispered into Jeff’s ear. “It’s a sexy cave-girl. We must have travelled back to one-million B.C. or something.”
“I’m starting to like the past, Brodie my friend. Those are some huge tracts of land. Can we call her McGee?”
The girl recently re-named McGee shoved Jeff and started to communicate in a decidedly thick Scottish accent. “This ain’t the past you welt, and stop eyeing my paps.” She began to brush herself down and small slithers of colour started to emerge from the clothes underneath. She scraped the dirt-layer from her face, revealing pale white skin with a hint of pink buried beneath a fair few freckles. On the grand scale, it was neither ironic nor coincidental that the girl spoke in a Scottish accent, given that they were at this moment, in Scotland: two kilometres east of the village of Durness.
“Fascinating. She’s developed some primitive form of language,” Jeff said. “I think she’s marking her territory through aggression.” Shulah rolled her eyes and went up to the girl named nothing remotely like McGee. She apologised to her and asked her name.
“Boys,” she said. “This is Paige. She’s on an educational expedition. It’s hard to explain…,” she said, nudging Paige with her elbow in good humour. “…But I think I can understand her language. I’ll try to explain our situation to her.” Shulah relayed their journey’s beginnings to the girl, it’s a bit too early for a recap, so we can skip ahead. Jeff and Brodie shared one of their psychic conversations, coming to a joint decision.
“Shu, see if she wants to come with us. Ask her if she wants to go down in history,” Jeff said.
Easily covering the first seven chapters of Sarcasm for Really Intelligent People, Shulah turned and relayed the message in her best bored monotone. “The boys want to know if you want to go down in-“
Childish giggling ensued from the male corner.
“Oh shut up!” Shulah said.
Jeff and Brodie were made to look away while Paige took advantage of a nearby waterfall as a shower. Gradually the reddish hue returned to her hair, although she had a strict policy of only referring to it as “auburn”. Anyone violating her policy was liable to be executed, or kicked in the shin, whichever happened to be more convenient at the time.
“So how do you choose where to go?” Paige asked.
“Erm, I wouldn’t say we choose per se,” Brodie said. “Jeff plays a riff and I guess that translates to a time and location code.”
With her clothing now returned to normal, albeit entirely soaked, Paige considered the offer. When someone offers you the opportunity to use a time-machine, it’s not a decision which entirely lends itself to a logical deliberation. Like all of the others, she had places she wanted to see, things she wanted to do. At its deepest, the only counter-argument is, “why the heck not!” She quickly joined the other three, while sending a text message to her father: “Dad, gon in time masheen. If not bak soon, feed Sonic pls. Luv u xx.”
“So where to now?” Paige asked.
“Dude, you should play the riff from ‘Sweet Home Alabama’, wouldn’t it be awesome if that’s where we ended up,” Brodie said.
“Brodie my friend, that would be the greatest use of music in time travel ever!”
Jeff started to play the riff before once more, the guitar wrenched itself free from his hands and flew into the air. It struck the ground near the four with a bolt and a new portal appeared on the floor. Through the hazy vision they couldn’t make out much of anything. With a few glances between themselves they arranged themselves in order, Jeff at the back. One by one they dropped through the earth.
♦ ♦ ♦
It was difficult to have much of an opinion of their new location. One by one they emerged. One by one their eyes froze, then the oxygen inside them turned to liquid. Hurricane-force winds buffeted their bodies, picking them up like litter. The blood vessels inside their bodies started to rupture. If all of this sounds painful, it wasn’t, they were all long dead before anything except numbness reached their brains. If the situation ever presents itself, you may want to consider wearing more than a cardigan when visiting the planet Neptune via a time-travel device. They certainly weren’t in Alabama.
Blue. Blue to the left of them, blue to the right, there they were stuck in the middle with blue. The four of them picked themselves up from their positions recreating Lemming Sunday. When you fall asleep, waking up somewhere else is confusing. When you die and wake up in some strange celestial blue screen of death, it’s entirely reasonable to think that you somehow you managed to please a god somewhere. When arriving in heaven, it is also entirely unkind to kick the person who accidentally killed you. Nonetheless, three people hitting him roughly was Jeff’s first post-resurrection experience.
“Quit it! How was I supposed to know that we’d all die. Besides, Brodie suggested the riff.”
The two girls turned to Brodie, Shulah stepped forward and hugged him. “It’s okay Brodie, I forgive you,” she said, before striking out with her leg to hit Jeff once more.
There was only one landmark in the BSOD, a towering polyhedron reaching around fifty feet, plated in shimmering iridescent colours which ran from green to red. Faced with the choice of staying where they were and hitting Jeff some more, or exploring the polyhedron, they found a happy compromise: another minute of hitting, followed by exploring.
There was no discernible doorway in the polyhedron. They circled it entirely before Paige decided to try pressing one of the panels. Instantly, she disappeared inside the building. The others followed suit.
Inside, the interior showed a vista from somewhere on earth. From this day, Jeff always longed to find the place it pictured, but he forgot to ask. The person he forgot to ask was sat in the middle of the polyhedron. A woman who looked in her mid-twenties while giving off the vibe of someone far wiser than their appearance suggested. She wore a well-fitted over-the-shoulder black dress which seemed to merge into the floor, absorbing the colours being projected and running up to her knees before fading to black. She rose from her chair in the centre and walked over to the four, her footsteps not making a single sound on the ground.
“Shulah Nicole Kendall, Jeffrey Percival Turner, Paige Mary-Ann MacDonald and Brodie Dylan Samsa. Hello,” the woman said.
“Who are you?” Shulah asked.
“I am the Architect. I’ve been waiting for you. You have many questions, some of my answers you will understand, and some of them you will not. Concordantly while your first question may be the most pertinent, you may or may not realise it is also irrelevant.”
“How come farts always smell worse in the shower?” Jeff asked.
“What does ‘concordantly’ mean?” Shulah asked.
“Have you just been watching The Matrix?” Brodie asked.
“What is the air-speed velocity of an unladen swallow?” Paige asked.
She gave them the kind of look usually reserved for canine faeces discovered on the bottom of one’s show after a walk. “Fine,” she said. “I’m Yorda, and I ensure the stability of existence itself. Several hundred years after the invention of time-travel it became necessary to appoint somebody to undo any potential paradoxes in the timestream. I am both guide and guardian for your journey. May I first suggest that you engage the auto-life function on your device. Unless you enjoy agonising deaths that is.”
“Auto-what?” Jeff asked.
“Clearly-labelled button on the back Jeffrey. It changes the entered coordinates to the nearest habitable location. Stops you travelling before earth, or into the core, to the surface of Neptune or into the eighties.”
This new piece of information earned Jeff a few more well-aimed kicks from the others. Really, who reads the instruction manuals for anything anyway. Jeff had a feeling that the manual for the Mockingbird would extend to more words than the entire earth could hold, or enough to fill a Kindle at any rate.
“Listen very carefully, I shall say this only once. Each activation creates a duplicate of the current dimension, accessible through a portal. Your device only has enough memory to retain the information for one branch. This means that you can only undo any changes back to the time when you entered the portal in the last branch.”
“Slow down, I should write this down,” Jeff said. “Brodie, lend me your pencil will you.”
Brodie reached into his pocket and passed it over to Jeff, who started furiously scribbling on a notepad. Shulah had the look of someone who was just about to point something out.
“After one day in a branch, two things will occur. First, the timestream will flatten, making any undo impossible. Secondly, if your alter-ego has been born in this universe, you will be genetically-reassigned to a unique DNA entry. This process will usually give you an appearance of equal or improved relative attractiveness. Your gender and race will remain unchanged.”
“There you go Shu, might be a step-up in the face department for you after all,” Jeff said.
“Finally, and most importantly, if you die after the branch has been flattened, there will be no way to bring you back. So if you’re planning to explode, do it within a day of travel. Any injuries you sustain will be undone upon entering the next portal, so feel free to lose an arm anytime.”
“I have always wanted to go as Rick Allen to a fancy dress party,” Jeff said.
“So how do we choose where we’re going?” Paige asked.
“That…,” Yorda said. “… is not for me to tell.”
“Yeah,” Jeff said. “You wouldn’t want to be concordant or anything.”
“You are on the path you need to be on. That is all,” Yorda said. “Now you may take your leave, I’ve got things to do.”
“Like what?” Shulah asked.
“I must monitor the output of dimensional variances and pursue their outworkings to the logical conclusion.”
They stared at her, waiting until she felt awkward enough to elaborate.
“Fine. The polyhedron lets me watch any broadcast from any era and also through any number of dimensional variances. I’m just about to start season fourteen of Firefly.”
“Can I stay?” Paige asked.
“No.” Yorda hit a button on her chair and the four found themselves outside of the polyhedron, facing the world of blue once more. Touching the panels did nothing now. Jeff eyed the Mockingbird suspiciously before turning it over and engaging the auto-life function.
“Well, I suppose this is where our journey begins properly,” Jeff said. “Any ideas?”
“We could kill Hitler and…” Shulah said, before the groans of the others made her cease.
“Every single time. ‘Kill Hitler. Kill Stalin. Kill Meyer,’” Brodie said. “If you want to turn into a time-travelling Dexter, feel free, but if the Twilight Zone has taught me anything, it’s that when you try to pre-emptively murder the source of unparalleled human suffering and torment, you will only bring about even worse events through some darkly ironic twist. Same goes for if you kill Hitler and Stalin too.”
Jeff was bored with the theoretics already, he began to play the solo from “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” The discussion stopped as a new destination appeared before the four of them.
“And you definitely have auto-life on?” Paige asked. “My foot’s still sore from all the kicking.”
Jeff nodded, watching as his friends and Paige branched. He stopped, and raised his eyes up to the blue sky. “Can you still see me?” he asked.
Somewhere far away, an audio-interaction switch was clicked. Yes, but we shouldn’t talk. Somebody will figure it out soon enough.
“Why am I here?” he asked the voice.
You’re here because you needed to make changes Jeff. You’re here because if you weren’t, things would have gone very bad for you very quickly. You’re here because forty years from now, you break into a research laboratory as a last-ditch effort to save yourself and those few you care about from a lifetime of misery. You’re here because you started a conversation with yourself across time, and when you complete your journey, the you in the future can press a button, flatten the timeline, and his entire catastrophic existence can be erased from the annals of time and you get a fresh start. Until then, he will watch your progress, follow your story.
“So no apocalypse then?”
That will come, but not because of you, or a pencil. But you and your friends won’t be able to fight it until you learn. They all have their own problems to face, paths to alter, darkness to light. Help them Jeff, and help yourself. The audio-interaction switch clicked off. Jeff nodded and turned to the portal.
♦ ♦ ♦
“What took you so long?” Shulah asked, as Jeff emerged.
“Had to tie my shoelaces. So, on a scale of one to boned, where are we?”
“Oh yeah, we’re more boned than a skeleton at a gang bang,” Shulah replied.
The four of them watched as two armies bore down on them in the middle of the expansive, dusty field. Thousands of men either side, clad in full armour. Some marched, some rode. Paige folded her arms and surveyed the scene. “I really should have stayed in my fousty little cave. Though it’s a step up from Neptune at any rate. So tell me Jeff, does the chain-axe and shotgun in the Mockingbird actually work? Or should we start wallaping?”
to be continued…