38 - The Apocalypse, Take Two

Cataclysm was falling. She barely registered that fact before she crashed to the cement floor. The folders spilled and papers burst across the floor. She landed face first but managed to put her arms out so her face didn't smack into the hard ground. The room was spinning, though she hadn't hit her head. Remembering the horde of creatures she rolled to her feet and whirled to face the rest of the room, her hands aflame.

She heard a shriek and saw Juryrig at his workbench, pawing through this equipment. He picked something up and pointed it to her, his voice quavering as he said, "Don't move! I have a gun."

Cataclysm looked around the room. There were no monsters and no time machine, though the random piles of junk looked about the same as before. She looked at Juryrig and the device he held in his shaking hands. With a sneer she said, "What are you going to do, make me a smoothie?"

"Um, what?"

"That's a sonic stick blender. Not much of a threat."

He looked at the device and then lowered it sheepishly. "Who are you?" he asked fearfully.

"Cataclysm," she said, rubbing the bruise on her elbow where she had hit the ground. "Next time you make a time machine, mount the portal flush to the floor," she suggested.

"A time machine?" he asked in confusion.

She saw a computer monitor on his bench. She pushed past him to look at the screen and saw a calendar. She pointed to it, demanding, "Is that date right?"

He looked at the screen and then back at her. "Yes, why?"

Cataclysm sighed. "Eight months. You sent me back eight months. We might have a chance."

Juryrig furrowed his brow. "Sent you back. You mean you were serious about a time machine?"

She turned and scanned the papers scattered across the ground. She spotted the jewel case and walked over to pick it up. She handed it to him and said, "This is a message you sent to yourself. It's supposed to have what you need. Or something." She shook her head. "I was in kind of a rush. Therakiel had..." She broke off, remembering what he said. "Er, I guess I'm not supposed to tell you. Something about information flowing backwards?"

He looked thoughtful and said, "Well, yes, I suppose that would violate causality and create a rift. But, no no no, time travel is impossible. Well, backward time travel."

She shrugged and held out the disk. "Fine, don't believe me. But maybe you'll believe yourself."

Juryrig took the case gingerly and opened it. He looked back and forth between her and the disk skeptically but opened the tray on his computer and inserted the disk. He closed the tray and after a few seconds, a video started playing.

"Hi, me. It's me!" said the image of Juryrig. "If you are seeing this then I successfully sent something back using my Temporal Quantum Displacement Engine. I don't know how far this went back so let's start at the beginning."

Cataclysm listed at first but Juryrig was talking about the theory behind time travel and it quickly devolved into equations and jargon she didn't understand. She paced restlessly around the lab wondering how long this would take. Juryrig was mesmerized by what he was watching, furiously scribbling notes.

Suddenly a thought occurred to her. "Hey, Juryrig, do you have a phone?"

"Yes," he said absently. "I don't have one in the lab because I don't like disturbances but there is a land line upstairs in the-" He broke off and turned to her in alarm. "No! You can't use a phone. Don't you see? You can't talk to anyone in this time."

"What, you mean ever? That's ridiculous!"

"Well, no, not ever. But you can't tell anyone about the future. I mean not even me. Little bit here and there, but we'll have to be careful. And the more you tell and the more people involved the more likely we'll create a temporal flux and disrupt the space-time continuum. I mean maybe backwards time travel is possible -- and I’m still not convinced you're real -- but that doesn't mean it's a good idea."

In exasperation, Cataclysm said, "Look, I have to call Witchcraft. It's important. Besides, she'll wonder where I am?"

"Where you are?" he asked in confusion. "What do you mean?"

Rolling her eyes she said, "She's going to wonder why I'm here instead of Millennium City. OK, fine, I won't tell her anything but at least I can tell her why I've disappeared."

"But you haven't disappeared," he said. "You're in Millennium City. Or wherever you were now. I mean the past you from your frame of reference is the present you from our frame of reference, so you are already here. Or there actually."

Cataclysm stared at him for a moment. "You mean there are two of me?"

"No, don't be silly. There's only one of you. But the future you has looped back and that doesn't affect the present you, at least until the future."

She tried to make sense out of what he was saying. "So in eight months when we catch up does that mean the other me will travel back to now?"

Confused he said, "Well, of course not. Why would she? I mean I assume you came back to stop something from happening, and if you succeed then there is no reason for you to go back in time."

"But I already went back in time!" she said in frustration.

"Precisely. You already went back in time, but that doesn't mean you will in the future."

Cataclysm stared at him. It was like talking to a madman. "But if I don't go back then I didn't go back, and then the future doesn't change and the world ends."

Juryrig looked stunned. "The world ends?" he asked weakly. Then he started and said, "No, don't tell me that! Don't tell me about the future!"

She clenched her fists but tried to get herself to calm down. "Look, the whole point is I came back to prevent something from happening. Are you saying I can't change what happened?"

"No, you can change the future because you know the past, well your past."

"But then the future is changed and I don't go back so the future doesn't change and I do go back?"

Juryrig looked confused. "That doesn't make any sense."

"I know!" she shouted.

Suddenly the light dawned. "Oh, wait. I think I understand the confusion. You think you are going to save your world but you can't. What's happened in your world has already happened and you can't change it."

"What?" she said in horror. "But then they all died for nothing!"

"They all...died?" he asked in astonishment. "Wait, no! I told you, stop telling me about the future!"

She stomped forward. "I came back to save them," she said angrily. "Can I save them or not?"

"Well, no," he said. "But you can save us." Seeing her confusion he said, "Let me see if I can explain this. It's like...um...OK, say you are in a boat full of people that plunges over a waterfall but you jump out and swim upstream. Another boat picks you up and you warn them about the waterfall. You save them, but your boat already went over the falls. Understand?"

"But it's not another boat. It's the same people."

He stammered a bit. "Um, yes and no. I mean they are but they aren't. It has to do with parallel universes and variable timestreams. When you came back, you caused a branch. Another timestream split off, one where you came back. But your timestream has already happened, or at least it will have already happened in the future. And in that timestream you disappeared because you came back to this point and detoured into the new timestream."

Cataclysm stared at him, feeling the grief rise in her. "Then you aren't real?"

"Yes, we are real. As real as the people in your timestream. Or as probable, anyhow. If you dig down far enough in quantum mechanics, nothing really exists but probability waves." He studied her. "Look I know this is a lot to absorb, but this is what's important. Whatever happened in your timestream will happen in ours unless we stop it."

Her head was spinning. This was too much for her to absorb. After all she'd been through, he was telling her it was for nothing, and also that it wasn't. The people she knew were dead, but they were still here. "You're saying you are real," she said, trying to wrap her mind around this.

"As real as the Juryrig who sent you," he said emphatically.

"And so is Witchcraft. And the other Champions. And Dr. Ka. And even that asshole, Caliburn."

"Yes."

Through gritted teeth she said, "And Valerian Scarlet."

Juryrig shrugged. "I don't know that name. But if she was in your timestream then she is in this one."

Cataclysm grimaced. "OK. That's good enough for me."