Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Wednesday Writings # 28 - A Problem of Paradoxes

My "Wednesday Writing" posts were initially created as a writing exercise for me to try and keep myself motivated and on track by making sure that I spend at least 30-60 minutes each week (with the follow-up goal to turn it into a daily writing practice).

Over the past few weeks, I've been continuing the same story with a single post each week. To help you catch up with this serialized story, you can use the following table of contents:
  1. Morning Machinations
  2. Communication Between Friends
  3. Daydreaming Decisions
  4. Off to the Park
  5. Driven
  6. Coming Home
  7. Revealing Photographs
  8. Just a Dream?
  9. At the Tower
  10. Caught
  11. Revelations
  12. Lunchtime
  13. The Watch
  14. Visions
  15. Escape
  16. Evan (part 1)
  17. Evan (part 2)
  18. Evan (part 3)
  19. Formulating a Plan
  20. Testing the Boxes
  21. Betrayal
  22. Julie
  23. Out of Time

There's a lot in this week (and in last week) that is somewhat expository. I debated a few times about removing a lot of it...but then decided I'd just leave it here for now and move it around when I revise later. Just so you know, a lot of the description about Paradoxes (and the experiments there) as well as some of the exposition from last week....I figure I will move to "earlier" in the story when I revise. I'll have a lot of it come in terms of Evan's narration to the girls at a less 'urgent' moment. Part of my worry is that it may make that segment feel way too explanatory and dry...while at the same time making some of the elements forgettable by the time they matter here (in these scenes).

I guess the other question is whether these interludes of description/history from Evan really help at all? Last week there was a comment that the history helps make Dalton more despicable. If that's the case, then is it better to do it little by little (as I've done week by week here) or to get most/all of it over with at once?

Also, I obviously haven't yet explained what happened to subdue Dalton or his exact relation to Evan...that "should" happen next week if all goes well.

Anyway, critiques, suggestions, comments, etc. always welcome.


A Problem of Paradoxes

Both Gabby and Julie stared expectantly at Evan. Gabby began pacing the library, her mind reeling from the revelation that she could be trapped in this strange limbo. An observer of the world but no longer a participant.


Julie broke the silence. She didn't even try to hid the impatient frustration in her voice. Evan looked up at her and then scanned the otherwise empty room. After a long sigh, he spoke. His voice was stern and serious, as if to emphasis the importance of what he was saying.

"The plan is for you to go back in time, go to the hotel, and wake Gabby up by pressing the Bailout button long before the 20 minute mark."

Both Gabby and Julie continued to stare at Evan. The severe tone of his voice led them to expect something more extreme. More dangerous. More difficult. Julie wasn't sure yet she believed everything she was being told about time travel and the people she was dealing with. But even in its most unbelievable state, the proposed plan seemed simple enough.

"Okay. What's the catch?"


"Yeah. You're telling me your plan with the kind of voice a mother might use on her son heading off to war. The kind of voice that says, 'This is what must be done, but I'm not happy about it.' From what I can tell, this isn't too complicated. So there must be a catch."

Evan sighed again.

"There is a sort of a catch. By sending you back, we will be altering time. We've altered time in the past, but always in a sort of generalized and peripheral manner. When you go back, you risk creating a paradox."

Gabby tried to think through the implications of the plan. As she looked at Julie, it was evident she was doing the same. When Evan failed to elaborate, Julie asked for an explanation.

"Okay, so we'll be creating a paradox. What does that mean for me? For Gabby?"

"When you go back in time, you will arrive in your own body at the moment to which we send you. You will find yourself locked in Dalton's storage room. There will be three men in the house with you. At that point, nothing will have changed. However, in order to save Gabby, you must escape your storage room and race to the hotel to awaken Gabby. Meanwhile, I will be with Dalton traveling to meet with Carlisle. Carlisle and I will, um, subdue Dalton. I will then come here, to Dalton's home, send the three guards off on other tasks and free you from the room where Dalton had you secured.

"Except, you won't be in that room for me to save. Which means, you won't be here for me to talk with. And I won't be able to give you these instructions to go back and save Gabby. Understand?"

Julie started to nod, but then her eyes tightened and she shook her head. Taking a step back, she closed her eyes and rubbed her temples.

"So, let me see if I get this. If I go back in time, escape from Dalton and go to save Gabby. Then when you show up to free me, I won't be here for you to tell me to go save Gabby?"

"Precisely. Not only will I be unable to help you and tell you about Gabby. But I will not have given you the time machine and instructions on how to use it. Which means that you will not have been able to escape from Dalton. Which then again means you were trapped in the room. But then I would have been able to tell you what to do and you could have escaped."

"Alright, alright!" Julie held her hands up in front of her.

"A paradox. I get it. But what does that mean exactly? What happens if we create a paradox?"

"For a paradox of this size, we do not know. However, early on, we conducted a few tests into the nature of paradox to see what would happen. We worked with intimate objects. We painted a picture then went back in time and destroyed the canvas before we painted it. We built a fire, then went back and doused the wood with water. In each of these cases, the result we expected was simple. That picture was gone and the wood was not burning. And that's exactly what happened.

"We did more elaborate tests using our knowledge of physics and chemistry. We mixed a pair of chemicals together to form a new chemical and then mixed the result with yet another chemical. Then we took the result back in time and swapped it for the first chemical. As we watched the new trajectory through time, we were startled to observe that the chemical reactions compounded differently than expected. Instead of mixing together based on either their old or new properties, the test apparatus flashed with a strange blue light upon the second mixing and disappeared completely. We came up with numerous theories, but couldn't explain exactly why it happened that way."

"Wait, you're saying I could disappear in a puff of light? I'm not going to be interacting with anything really. I'm just not going to be receiving the knowledge in the same way. But in order for that to happen, I will have already had the knowledge, right? I'll already have the machine and the instructions. So by the time the paradox happens, everything's good. I'll be safe, right?"

"Sadly, it's much worse than simply disappearing in a puff of light. After our chemical experiments, we set up certain rules to avoid paradoxes. We kept our interaction with the world to an absolutely minimum. But Dalton still wanted to push the limits. To see what could happen. One famous paradox of time travel is the question of what would happen if you went back in time and killed your own mother or father.

"Dalton wanted to know just how much interference was allowed. He wasn't willing to risk his own safety and neither Carlisle or I would allow him another human experiment. Not after what happened to Jake when Dalton pushed the limits with him. Dalton even proposed that we use the time machine to go back and wake Jake up early, but we agreed that the paradox potential was too great.

"And so, Dalton bred a family of carnivorous fish and trained them to be cannibalistic. Before long, he had a pair of fish who, when hungry enough, were willing to attack other fish of their own species. He took them back in time, introduced them into the tank of their parents. At first, nothing happened. The fish were definitely not affectionate, but no added anxiety emerged. We set up our video recorder and took turns observing.

"It took nearly four hours, but one of the fish attacked its parent. The battle started slow. A few nips back and forth between parent and child, but after a few minutes, it turned very violent. The child fish made another frantic dash at the parent, and just as its teeth touched the gills of the parent, the world exploded. Quite literally. The fish and the tank vaporized completely. The worktable on which they sat was reduced to a pile of rubble, burning with a strange green flame. The entire laboratory was coated with a thin layer of black ash. Smaller objects turned to dust. Larger objects shattered or collapsed. The cement floor of the lab cracked down the center. Carlisle had stepped away for a moment to go to the bathroom, or else he likely would not have survived. We only know what happened from the video which was fortunately streaming from the camera and being captured digitally in a computer in the next room."

Evan fell silent, staring at Julie, gauging how she was taking the information. Gabby had stopped pacing and now stood leaning against the desk, running her fingers through her hair and breathing rapidly. Julie just stared incredulously. Everything she'd heard recently had been so far fetched and difficult to believe. This new story seemed just as ridiculous. And yet, if it was even partially true, it meant that if she went to help her friend, they would both likely die.

"You're not giving me any confidence in your plan. You're suggesting that I save Gabby by going to her hotel to rescue her. But if I go to her hotel, I'll vaporize myself? And everything around me? Can't I just Bailout after I save Gabby? Come back to this time like nothing happened?"

"No. Once you've changed your own timeline significantly, the Bailout button no longer functions. If you were to attempt a Bailout, you would likely exacerbate the paradox and potentially cause a larger cataclysm."

"You're just a ray of sunshine, aren't you? I can see why Gabby fell for you."

"Hey! What's that supposed to mean?"

Gabby stopped tugging at her hair and turned to Julie, forgetting for a moment that she was invisible to them. Evan responded without commenting on Julie's sarcastic criticism.

"There is a way to avoid the paradox, at least to an extent. After saving Gabby, you must return here and lock yourself in the room again so I can come and save you. You must return Before I get here. After saving you, I will outline the difficulties and we'll have this conversation, or at least one very similar to it. The timeline will be restored with minimal destruction."

"But Gabby won't be here watching us."

"True. I won't be able to observe evidence of Gabby's presence, but I will still suspect the worst and outline this plan."

"And if you don't?"

"If I don't, then we hope for the best."

"And try not to get vaporized."

"Right". Evan chuckled softly, though neither Julie nor Gabby saw much humor in the situation.

"Oh. And two more things. First, you must escape from and return to Dalton's home without being detected. If his guards discover you missing, they'll inform Dalton and the timeline will obviously change. Second, when you return, you will have the time machine that I gave you. You must hide it somewhere that only you can know about and where it will not be discovered. For a few brief minutes, two instances of the same machine will exist. They must not come in contact with one another, nor must anyone become aware of the duplication. Understand?"

Julie shook her head and spoke with exasperation.

"So I need to sneak out of my locked and guarded room without any of the three guards seeing me leave or realize I'm gone. I then somehow make my way to the hotel where Gabby's staring into her machine, press the Bailout button and bring her back to us. Then, I have to get back here before you do and sneak back into my locked room. Again, without the guards seeing me. Oh, and I have to hide the machine somewhere that it won't be found by anyone."


"Yeah. Whatever."

"Julie. It's the only way."

"OK. So why don't you do it then?"

"Because, if I go back, I will show up where my old body is. Either in the hotel room ready to be confronted by Dalton, in the car on the way to Carlisle's home, or on my way here. None of these options present me with opportunity to do anything to help her. It has to be you."

The room fell silent. No one moved. Finally, Julie stepped towards Evan.

"I'll do this. To help Gabby. I still don't trust you. And I definitely don't believe all this. But if there's even the possibility that you're telling the truth, I could never forgive myself if I had the chance to save Gabby and didn't do it."

Evan smiled and clapped Julie on the shoulder. He took out a pair of keys, one to her room and the other for a car in the garage. He proceeded to instruct her on where he found the guards when he came in. He told her how to get to the hotel and gave her the card key to his room. He then gave her the time machine and showed her how to use it, particularly what she should do once she found Gabby. Then he emphasized exactly what time he had arrived back at Dalton's.

"I arrived here at 10:07. It's nearly a ten minute drive from the hotel to here. Given that you need to stay out of sight, you'll need to leave the hotel by 9:45 at the latest. I called Dalton's cell phone at 8:58 and he showed up in my hotel room at about a quarter past nine. I'm not sure how much time he spent here first or what fiddling around he did. I think we should be safe to send you back to 8:58, but you should stay still in your room and listen for Dalton to leave before you make your escape. The garage is just down the hall from where he held you captive, so you should be able to hear him as he leaves."

He placed his hand on her shoulder and stared at her seriously again. His piercing eyes made Julie uncomfortable and she had a hard time holding his gaze, but she listened attentively.

"I know you don't believe this. But as soon as you press that button, you'll be forced to believe. The initial shock of traveling through time will disorient you. The realization that I'm telling the truth may shake your resolve and leave you stunned. But I need you to stay focused. I know you can do this. You may not trust me yet. But for Gabby's sake, I need you to try. At the very least, I need you to trust yourself."

Evan released her shoulder, stared around the library and then started for the door.

"Where are you going?" Julie stepped to follow.

"I'm going to check on Dalton. When you're done, come find me in the dining room. Good luck."

Gabby and Julie watched Evan disappear through the library door. Gabby then turned and watched Julie as she sat in the chair by the fire. She held the box gingerly, lightly fingering the subtle textures. Gabby watched as Julie looked at the empty doorway, wondering at Evan's story, and then looked into the box and pressed the button. Julie disappeared in a subtle whirling of colored mist that ended with a minuscule flash of light. Then, the library was empty.

Gabby wondered suddenly how long before she would know if Julie had succeeded. She closed her eyes and tried to imagine Julie. To picture her sitting in the dining room chatting with Evan about her successful mission. But when she opened her eyes again, the firelight was all she saw.

A log popped in the fire and the sudden sound made Gabby jump. She moved over to the fire and stared at the flickering flames. They danced excitedly between the three logs. She sat in the chair and stared at the hypnotic patterns as they flitted inside the fireplace. As she stared, the flames seemed to change size. They seemed to grow large and ominous, as though they were preparing to jump from the fireplace and consume the library. They also seemed to slow down. Their movements turned from a frenetic, whirlwind of a dance to a still, almost imperceptible motion like the subtle movement of a tall strong tree showing its resolve beneath a calm summer breeze.

Then, the flames stopped moving altogether. At first, Gabby didn't realize what had happened. They'd already slowed so much, that the lack of motion seemed natural. But when they failed to move after a few seconds, Gabby leaned forward in surprise. Unsure what was happening, she stood and walked around the room, listening intently for any other change. Everything was silent. Too silent, she realized and she raced over to the desk clock from where before the quiet, but still perceptible ticking had radiated. It too, was still. Looking at the clock face, the second hand was frozen in place, pointing at the large number 6 but looking like it had just fallen under the pull of gravity and hung limp at the bottom of the clock.

Suddenly worried, Gabby raced through the door and down the hall, craning her neck in all directions as though trying to force sounds to reach her ears. She pushed into the dining room and saw two men sitting at the table. Dalton was handcuffed to his chair. His nose was bloodied, but scabbing over. Across from him, Evan sat, holding a roll in one hand and pointing at Dalton with the other.

Neither man moved. They looked like some strangely staged scene out of a wax museum. Gabby run up to Evan. Pressed his hands, his shoulders, his cheeks. She put her face next to his mouth to listen for any breath.


She twirled in place, looking around the room. Taking everything in. The clock on the wall stared back at her quiet and motionless like the clock from the library. Through the small passage to the kitchen, she saw Carlisle holding a plate and facing the dining room, one leg slightly raised in mid step. He too stared through her like a a statue.

Gabby began to gasp. Her breath came in shallow, frantic bursts. She felt the tingling warmth of blood racing through her body. She felt herself on the verge of hyperventilating. Her fingers and toes felt cold while her chest and stomach felt hot. She closed her eyes. Tried to fight down the oncoming panic attack. She opened her eyes again and looked at Evan, frozen in time in front of her. She forced down a scream but couldn't hold back the sobs that came instead. She leaned against the wall of the dining room and slid down to the floor. She wrapped her arms around her legs. The tears came freely now. Her body shuddered in fear and confusion.

She tried to focus. Tried to force logical thought into her mind. To try and rationalize through what was happening. But she couldn't. Every time she tried, she found herself pulled back to the irrationality of the situation. She was trapped. Frozen in time.

She wiped her eyes and tried again to stop crying. Her breathing stabilized a little but still came in sporadic gasps and sobs. Then, her stomach began to ache. First a small twinge, then it felt like someone had punched her. She doubled over on the floor. The dull pain grew and it felt as though her body was being stretched outward from her stomach. She pressed her arms hard against her stomach and curled up into a ball.

Then the pain seemed to pull from the front of her stomach all the way through her back. It suddenly exploded up her spine and down her legs until she felt as though her body was being pulled inside out. She rolled on the floor, groaning and gritting her teeth. She closed her eyes and shouted, screamed for the pain to end.

"Stop! Stop!"

Then, she felt as though she was falling. The pain continued to grind through her body, but the world around her began to spin as well. She felt a hot breeze against her skin. A high pitched ringing filled the air, first quiet, then growing in sound until it was a loud, piercing sound that caused her ears to burn from the pain. She groaned again and attempted to pull her body into an even tighter shell. To dissolve into herself and leave the pain behind.

She felt more and more as though she were spinning. Falling faster and faster. Twisting out of control. Her body lurched and jolted. She tried to open her eyes. To focus on the world around her. To anchor herself to some point of vision. But the world around her was blurred. The edges of her vision were dim and obscure. She felt darkness encroaching from all sides and she closed her eyes and gritted her teeth to will them away.

"Just let me die!" She screamed through clenched teeth. She couldn't understand why she was still conscious. Why she was still alive. The world was collapsing around her. Ripping her to shreds. She swallowed hard, forcing down the nausea from the pain.

Then, suddenly, the pain vanished. The movement stopped. A cool breeze passed over her bare arms and sent a shiver through her body. Gabby kept her eyes closed, certain she was dead but not sure she wanted to know yet what that meant. Her breathing was still shallow, but with each breath, she felt more calm. More relaxed.

"Gabby? Gabby, are you alright."

Gabby's eyes shot open and she found herself staring at Julie. A gasp caught in her throat and her eyes filled with tears. Then she threw her arms around her friend and sobbed again.


logankstewart said...


"You're just a ray of sunshine, aren't you? I can see why Gabby fell for you." That really cracked me up.

This story is going great. Messing with time-travel can get cliched, messy, or lame, but you're doing a great job of keeping it quasi-plausible and interesting. Looking forward to next week.

(I think you meant "emphasize" instead of "emphasis" early on in the piece.)

Phoenix said...

Well, now my brain hurts. ;)

Another great chapter, Okie! I'm on the edge of my seat with each one I read...and Evan BETTER not screw them over!!

Brian Miller said...

oh man...i for one really enjoy it...i think you have the right idea in moving it around a is a bit to digest at once...and i can concur on the brain