Daniel woke up with a note pinned to his pillow. His first thought was that his home had been invaded. Like most nights, he’d slept alone. He pulled on pajama bottoms and grabbed the baseball bat he kept by the bed.
He searched his one bedroom efficiency apartment in seconds. The bathroom was empty, the two closets unoccupied, and the refrigerator held only leftover pizza and milk with a questionable date.
The door was triple locked from the inside, deadbolt in place, chain engaged, and the hinge lock fastened. He put the bat back by his bed and unpinned the note.
The writing was familiar.
Daniel, this is from me. Rather, this is from you. I’ll, I mean, you’ll write this note in eight years and leave it for yourself last night. God, that sounds amazingly stupid, but I’m who you’ll be in a few years.
Do what I tell you. There’s a group of people who call themselves Timedivers. You, that is we, will become one. Kat will explain everything to you. She’ll knock on your door at exactly nine am. I’d explain it myself, but one of the rules about timediving is that you can’t be in the same place twice at the same time.
You don’t explode if that happens, but the one of you who was there first, can’t see the timediving you. This is hard to explain because I don’t have the words.
Put on some clothes and brush your teeth. Kat’s bringing breakfast and coffee. She’ll explain things. She’ll look different than the Kat you know. She’s eight years older, has blonde hair, and she’s dropped about twenty pounds. You should be nicer to her than we’ve been. She does love us, you know.
Seems stupid to sign this note. You know your own handwriting.
Daniel inspected the note. It was his handwriting, but he didn’t remember writing this confusing crap. Kat could have done this, but practical jokes weren’t her style.
The deadbolt clicked. Kat was at the door, but she couldn’t open the chain or the hinge lock.
He pulled on a shirt and ran barefooted to the door.
She stormed through the door, offered one of the two cups of coffee she held, but quickly pulled it back. “For God’s sake, put on some clothes, we don’t have much time. Well, that’s not entirely true, we have plenty of time, because there is no such thing as time.”
“Whatcha got in that coffee? Slow down. It’s nice to see you. Love your hair. See the clock. See its hands move. Clock, C-L-O-C-K. It measures time. Tick tock.”
“Get dressed. Clocks reinforce our belief in linear time. Time means nothing to me or to the you who left the note you have clutched in your hand, but time runs in a straight line for this you. Time isn’t linear, like you suspected, but you haven’t figured that out yet, but you will. People only perceive time as a straight line – past, present, and future. That perception’s going to get you killed. Put on your damn pants.”
“So now you’re the expert on time. What happened? You lose your job as a barista? By the way, you look great. How much weight have you lost?”
Kat grabbed Daniel and hugged him closely. “Don’t be an ass. I’m not the Kat you saw yesterday. I’m older and wiser and yes, I’m an expert on time. You taught me. We need to hurry. The No-Changers are coming to this moment to kill you.”
“Just shut up and hang on.”
The world flickered and when Daniel opened his eyes, it was midday. “What just happened?”
“It’s yesterday at noon. The yesterday you is in class. Shut up and listen to me.”
Daniel sipped the coffee. “I’m listening. I’m confused and afraid, but I’m listening.”
“Next year, you’ll finish college. Four years later, you’ll figure out that Einstein was right and the passage of time is an illusion. Everything happens at the same moment. Men are landing on the moon, some caveman is building the first fire, and some lucky bastard has figured out how to ferment wheat – all right now.”
Kat continued, “People only perceive time as a straight line. All creatures on earth who are cognizant enough perceive time that way. Your doctoral thesis will say our time perception is linear because the day/night cycle influenced the way our minds work. We process memories as the past, events as the present, and hope as the future, but universal time is not limited by our poor powers of observation.”
“Kat, that could be the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”
“You’ll develop a computer program that overcomes that limitation. Once the program is hardwired into their brains, people can access any moment in time. The Timediver protocol allows that.”
“If that’s true, why are we still in my apartment?”
“Timedivers can go anywhen, not anywhere. The physical location doesn’t change. If you want to be in twelfth century England, you have to physically start in England. You have to be careful when you go to a different time. The world changes over the years. Oceans come and go. Mountains rise and fall. If you go far enough into the past, the building you’re inside will disappear. If you were on the fifth floor, it’s a long way down.”
“I get that. Assume I believe you. Why are you here?”
“Changing anything in the past of a straight timeline, changes the entire timeline. God save us from well-intentioned assholes. They believe if they stop our species from developing, the world will be a better place. No people, no pollution, no bombs, and no wars. The Planet First Society doesn’t want intelligent life to ever develop.”
“Kat, would that work?”
“Killing the first primate who used a tool won’t necessarily make the world a better place. Most of us believe that intelligent life is inevitable. If people didn’t develop in this form, they would have developed in another.”
“You mean like smart lions or bears?”
The lights flickered and Kat slithered across the room on her scaled belly, opened a small cage with her teeth, and swallowed a white mouse. “The anti-intelligence people, the Planet Firsters, stole the Timediver protocol, and those snakes plan to use it to cause the end of civilization.”
Daniel flicked his forked tongue. “We’d know if anything was different.”
The room vibrated slightly and Kat sat up on her strong rear legs and thick prehensile tail.
Kat removed an apple from her belly pouch and petted the baby inside. “I don’t think we’d be aware of any changes.”
Suddenly Daniel and Kat were flying through the open sky above an open prairie. Daniel flexed his talons and wiggled his feathered brow to adjust his goggles with corrective lenses.
“Perhaps not. Things are the same as always, but maybe that means the Firsters haven’t been successful in killing our primogenitors.”
Kat flared her wings and caught an early morning updraft. “We can’t be sure. It’s Darwinism at its best. If we kill all the flies, something will evolve to fill the niche. Nature hates a vacuum. The Timedivers who oppose the Firsters believe if they stop you before you invent the Timediver Protocol, the world will stay unchanged. They’ll kill you if they have to.”
“I’ll be careful. Spotted a rabbit. I’ll meet you at the aerie.”
Daniel made a half barrel turn, tucked his wings and dove. He leveled out three feet about the ground and closed on the rabbit. In the blink of an eye, he was a dog with opposable thumbs tumbling between tree trunks in a dark and ancient forest. He rolled to a stop and sniffed the air. He smelled the pack.
Daniel ran toward the river. The pack leader barked, “Follow me. Catch him. Kill him. The sanctity of time must not be violated.”
A dozen canine throats exploded into the barks and bays of a hunting pack. Daniel ran. Kat met him on the riverbank. “Take my paw.”
Daniel touched her fingers and just like that the two of them were alone on the edge of a dirt road near a wooden bridge. She said, “I told you to watch your ass. Stop wagging your damn tail. It’s a miracle you aren’t dead. We gotta get you a Timediver chip before the pack kills you.”
“I know. Take me to the laboratory.”
“I swear if you make the joke about reading the lab report again, I’ll kill you myself.”
Kat and Daniel, a magnificent mated pair of tigers, strode upright and unchallenged into their laboratory. Kat shaved a small area at the base of Daniel’s skull and injected a Timediver chip. “Now you can dive into time and choose when you want to be. You just can’t go where you already are. Understand?”
“There can only be one of me in the same place at the same time.”
“Something like that. If you go to a time where you already are, the two of you can’t interact with each other.”
“Then how did the future me leave the note?”
“You sleep like the dead and snore like a hurricane.”
“Okay, I’ve got a plan. I’ll go to the day when I developed the protocol and talk myself into not doing it.”
“Pay attention. You can’t talk to yourself?”
“Okay, you go first and take inventor-me to another point in time. Somewhere to live happily ever after. I’ll be right behind you and I’ll destroy the research. You and I will still be together if this works like it should.”
“Great plan. Without Timediver technology, will I have to give up the future you?”
“If this works, there will only be one me and one you. The survivors may be a combination of the different ones of us wandering around the time bubble, or they may be the two of us who are talking right now. I don’t know. The only thing I’m sure of is that I love you and that we’ll be together however this works.”
She blinked away a tear. “Honey, that works for me. Let’s do this.”
A dozen tigers broke into the lab and surrounded the couple. “Kill Daniel. The timeline must not be corrupted.”
Daniel growled, “The timeline has never changed. Things are as they have always been. Time is strong. It will resist and repair any attempts to change it.”
The twelve tigers and laboratory wavered out of focus and Daniel and Kat, large golden squids, drifted in the murky water above the equipment. The other squids attacked. Kat filled the water with dark purple ink and she and Daniel flickered to a different time. Three of the squids followed them.
Daniel saw the world through the eyes of his children. They scampered on six legs through the laboratory. The thousands of red ants shared a hive mind and worked with a single purpose. Countless small claws and pincers assembled the complicated equipment.
Kat’s yellow ants swarmed into the room. They didn’t attack, they touched antennae with the red ants and exchanged information. Daniel, the ant queen, emerged from a stainless steel hive box and met the yellow queen.
Kat said, “We have to leave quickly.”
Daniel’s pheromones signaled agreement. He entwined his front legs with her. Both ant colonies vanished.
Daniel, the Timediver, appeared in the laboratory a few hours earlier. He hurried to the apparatus on his small prehensile feet. He grabbed a set of protective goggles with his tail and placed them carefully on his fur-covered face. He looked for a hammer, but didn’t see one. He picked up three spare copper conduction rods, two with his hands and one with his tail. He tested their heft. They’d do fine. In a pinch almost everything is a hammer.
Six more small primates appeared in the room. They screeched at Daniel. He jumped toward them before they could arm themselves and pummeled them with the copper rods. He bounced from table to chair to wall and back to the table. Bones broke and two of the monkeys vanished. Two others shattered a chair and armed themselves with its legs. Daniel rolled across the floor and spun a web of defense around himself.
“Protect the equipment. If he destroys it, we’ll never stop our species from pillaging the planet. Stay between him and the equipment.”
The four monkeys formed a wall like children playing red rover. One said, “Daniel, don’t make us kill you. The planet is sick. Your Timediver protocol gives us the means to save it. We are a selfish species and must never be allowed to develop. We must stop ourselves for the good of the world.”
Daniel threw a copper rod with his tail and the speaker went down. “If I have to choose a side, I choose us.”
The three primates advanced toward Daniel and attacked with a flurry of chair legs. Daniel scrambled to defend himself. He deflected a blow and his copper rod bounced into a light fixture. A bright arc of sparks cascaded through the room.
Kat appeared. Her scorpion was beautiful and fearful to behold. She leapt on the back of a bright orange male scorpion and buried her tail spike in its head. “Daniel, the machine. Destroy the machine. I’ll hold them off.”
Daniel skittered on eight hairy legs to the apparatus. Kat screamed. “Above you.”
Daniel flinched to the right and dodged a tail spike. The stinger dripped venom as it drew back and slashed again. Daniel ducked and the spike buried itself in the computer. Kat was on the scorpion before it could free its tail. She slashed downward three times in as many seconds.
She shouted, “He was the last one. Destroy the equipment before anyone else shows up to stop us.”
Daniel ripped wires, memory chips, diodes, capacitors, and circuits with his pincers. The dying scorpion shuddered and its embedded tail tore an entire panel from the system.
Several large well-dressed snow-white ursine humanoids appeared in the lab. Daniel flexed his paws and tore another handful of circuitry from the system.
Kat growled. “Hurry, I’ve got this.” She bellowed defiance and lumbered toward the bears. She swatted one aside, but four engulfed her. Teeth and claws flashed and a splatter of bright blood covered the side of Daniel’s face.
He tore the primary memory board from the electronic array and lifted it to his mouth. “Love you, Kat. Hang in there.”
Her reply was muffled. Daniel put the memory board between his molars and ground it to pieces.
Daniel opened his slitted eyes. Kat would kill him if he’d gone to sleep while he was egg sitting.
There were footsteps outside. Daniel growled in the back of his throat and peeked out the door.
The morning was cold and he was slow, but his blood would warm later in the day. He picked up his pistol with his reptilian hand and prepared to defend the clutch.
“Relax, Daniel, it’s me,” yelled Kat. “Sarah’s with me.”
The two female velociraptors laughed and entered the house. Kat put two bags of groceries on the kitchen counter and kissed Daniel. Sarah gave him a quick hug.
“Barry will be by in an hour or so. He’s bringing ribs. Sarah and I finished shopping. You up for beer, barbeque, and bridge tonight?”
Daniel said, “Of course, dear. That’s what we do every Friday. We’re so predictable. Nothing ever changes.”
by Robert Allen Lupton