“It is of the utmost importance that no one else sees or hears the contents of this tape!” The warning was still echoing in her ears from a few days ago. At the time, the voice sounded familiar, but she was too flustered to recognize it. Hearing it again, she realized that it almost sounded like her mother’s. Immediately after the warning, an older woman appeared on the screen, saying “You are me. Or is it ‘you are I’? I can’t remember if predicate nominatives were a common thing back then. It sounds kind of weird, like I’m saying an acronym. ‘URI’. Anyway, that’s not what’s important right now. You see, I am you. From the future. Well, right now, I’m in the past, but…” She was too shocked to pay attention to what the woman onscreen was rambling about. Had she been duped? Had she really lost a day of work to some sick joke?
“HEY!” The stern voice of the woman onscreen snapped her back to reality. “I know you weren’t paying attention just then. I remember how this plays out. And I promise you, this is not a prank, nor is it a sick joke. Except for that part you weren’t listening for; that was pretty filthy.” She couldn’t believe what was going on. Could this tape read her mind? “No, I can’t read your mind,” the woman onscreen scolded, “Though I admit, responding to what you were thinking just then probably wasn’t the most convincing argument. I just remember how this conversation played out, and am now saying the things that I heard. Well, ‘remember’ is a strong word. I had someone write a transcript for me.” She looked around desperately. Was someone else listening in? “The someone was me,” the woman onscreen said, “Er, well, you. Whatever. You know what I mean. I’ll give you some time to get a pen and paper.” She rolled her eyes and took out her phone to begin taking notes. “No, don’t do that!” the woman onscreen cried desperately, “If you record the secret of time travel digitally, it’ll destroy the universe!” “Then why didn’t you say that in the first place?” she asked, out loud. “Because this is how I saw it. And if I don’t record the video exactly as I saw it, I’ll cease to exist!” She begrudgingly got up to retrieve a pen and paper. When she returned, the woman onscreen was laughing. “Oh, shit, you’re back, aren’t you? I hoped I could get it all out of my system, but it’s just too funny.” “What’s too funny?” She asked, as she began writing what she remembered of the conversation so far. “Just you, scurrying around, doing whatever I say because you really think the world will end if you don’t. I’m just messing with you,” the woman onscreen said. “What the Hell is wrong with you?” she demanded.
“What the Hell is wrong with you?” the woman onscreen repeated, “You are me, after all.” “You’re nothing like me.” She said, angrily. “I’ll say,” the woman onscreen said, “You don’t know a damn thing about time. I know that you’re worried that writing this script so I can read it to you is a paradox. But it’s more like circular reasoning. You are hearing these words because I am saying them, and I am saying them because you heard them. Where did these words come from, if neither of us came up with them? The answer, as you know, is that it doesn’t affect the bottom line, so who cares? We don’t. It isn’t going to cause a contradiction that destroys the universe, and it’s not going to undo the invention of chocolate, so it’s not our problem. It turns out that the chain of cause and effect is actually pretty sturdy.” The woman onscreen gave her a few moments to transcribe her words. “Since I can’t pinch you, you’ll just have to take my word for it. This isn’t a dream,” The woman onscreen said. She hadn’t even considered that it might be. Her future self continued, “At least, not literally. You could argue that, figuratively, it’s a dream come true, since I’m giving you an incredible opportunity: the ability to travel through time. And, to answer the question that you haven’t even asked yet, I’ll tell you how you learned how to travel through time: by paying attention to this video. It’s the same circular logic as before. And that’s the true paradox of time travel. No one has ever invented time travel, yet people know how to do it, because they traveled back in time and taught themselves. All time travelers learn this way. Oh yeah, by the way, there are other time travelers. They call themselves Chrononauts, but you don’t need to worry about them. They’ll find you. But not, like find you in a scary way or anything. They’re mostly pretty chill.”
She started to get impatient. Was she really destined to become this blathering old woman? “OK, there’s no need to be rude. You have all the time in the world. Literally. Or, I guess, you will soon. Fine, I’ll get on with it.” And just like that, she learned how to instantly transport her body to any time period, past or future, with nothing more than the power of her mind. It was the kind of thing that was almost impossible to explain to someone else, but seemed so obvious once you understood it. Luckily, the woman onscreen wasn’t explaining it to someone else, which made it a bit easier. It was so complicated that she wasn’t surprised no one had guessed it before, yet at the same time, so simple as to be breathtakingly elegant. But there was one thing she wanted to get straight before she tested it out. “No, you can’t travel through space. Yes, I realize that the Earth is always orbiting around the sun, which is always hurtling through the galaxy, etc., but it’s all relative anyway. You’ll end up where it makes sense for you to end up, so don’t worry about dying in the cold void of space. Well, unless you’re in a situation where that seems pretty possible, in which case you should really worry about dying in the cold void of space. Anyway, my time’s just about up. You’ve learned all I can teach you. And remember, you cannot discuss the contents of this tape with anyone who is not a Chrononaut. Not even your husband,” Her eyes lit up. Did this mean that she would marry her current boyfriend? Her stomach fell at the next word: a name she’d never heard before. “Well, good luck. You’ll do great. I would know.” With that, the woman onscreen blew a kiss, and the video ended.
Yet the name of her future husband was all that remained in her mind. Was her current relationship destined to fail? Could she stay with her boyfriend, knowing that each intimate moment is just another step closer to heartbreak? And how would she treat this stranger, knowing they were fated to be married? She laughed in spite of herself. “I just learned the greatest secret in the universe, and I’m worried about boy troubles,” she thought to herself, “Thank God the fellas at work can never learn of this.” After spending a few seconds moping, she willed herself to stop. “No,” she thought, as if scolding her own thoughts, “I won’t lose to sadness. I can overcome this. I will overcome this.” She thought of the woman she saw on the tape. “I already have overcome this,” she said to herself aloud. She knew what to do. On the script she penned, she wrote the words “Do not mention husband.” The moment she finished writing the last letter, a curious sensation filled her brain. She felt as if her mind was moving at unimaginable speeds, yet her body was stationary. The motion came to a stop as suddenly as it started. She noticed that she was clutching the manuscript with white knuckles. Something about it looked out of place. Four words: “Do not mention husband”. The handwriting was unmistakably her own, yet she hadn’t written it. She only transcribed the contents of the tape, and the tape made no mention of any romantic partners. A second watching of the tape confirmed this. After pondering it for a few minutes, she gave up trying to understand, and chalked it up to the mysteries of time travel. This was her first time doing this, but it was certainly not the last.
For the next chapter in the recommended order, click here
For the next chapter in “chronological” order, click here