Up to the point we actually invent time travel, there’s really no way to know how it would work. But it’s a fascinating idea, isn’t it? There’s a bunch of examples of it in literature–A Sound of Thunder (if you haven’t read it, click the link) warns travelers about the consequences of their actions. I recently finished How to Live Safely in a Science Fiction Universe, which offers another point of view on the ability to make changes to the past.
From what I’ve read, these seem to be the possibilities:
1) You can’t change anything.
2) When you change something, time splits, and you return to a new reality.
3) Time travel makes a circle, because you’ve already made the changes you will make.
The options, full of contradictions, can be confusing, but it’s fun to pick an idea and explore it a bit.
* * * * *
There was something odd about being bored while waiting to die, Daren thought. But then, he’d been through this so many times, the sharp edges of fear had worn off. Now only boredom remained.
The other convicts in his cell lay on their splintered wooden benches, wearing nearly identical hopeless expressions. The air reeked of sweat and filth, but mostly of despair.
Daren chuckled. “Nor iron bars a prison make…” he quoted to the listless room.
“Something wrong with you?” The dirty and emaciated man next to him asked.
“No, nothing wrong with me, friend,” Daren smiled faintly.
The man looked at him in confusion, but subsided back to his bench without further comment.
Time passed, and the large iron door swung open. A group of armored guards brandished swords at the convicts. Daren snorted. These pathetic excuses for men in the cell with him couldn’t jump a child, much less four grown men.
“You!” One roared, pointing at Daren.
“Me?” He asked. Strolling up to the door, he waited for the guards to react. Two men grabbed him by the arms and hauled him down the dank stone hallway. Daren cooperated—he wasn’t done waiting yet.
They pushed him into another room. The door had many locks and latches, to keep the people unlucky enough to be inside from escaping. And the room was meant to inspire desperation to escape–thumbscrews, knives, and various sharp objects lined tables, and there were irons heating in the fireplace. Someone had made efforts to clean the room, but it still stank of blood, seared flesh, and other bodily fluids.
The small red light that twinkled in the corner of Daren’s vision turned green. The waiting was over. His boredom sloughed away like a chrysalis, and he smashed into one of the guards, shoving the man into a wall.
With a sickening crack, the man’s head hit the stone wall, and Daren disarmed him, using the sword (clumsy things, swords) to cut the next guard’s throat. The torturer yelled for help. Before he could yell again, Daren pulled his sword through the torturer’s throat. Continuing the motion, he stabbed it through the third guard’s gut. In, twist, pull. The man collapsed, clutching his over-spilling guts.
The fourth guard froze, hands on his sword hilt.
“Draw, and die,” Daren rasped.
The man hesitated, but then drew his sword and attacked. Parry, thrust, dance back… Daren immersed himself in the deadly dance of steel for a moment, waiting for an opening. He didn’t have long to wait. His sword sank into the man’s chest, and he gaped stupidly at Daren, not yet realizing he was dead.
Daren pulled his sword out with a faint sucking noise. As he watched, the light went out of the guard’s eyes.
It was a pity, really. But necessary.
Outside the door, the commotion increased in volume and agitation. Daren took a moment to end the suffering of the guard who would die of blood loss or infection.
“Time to leave,” he said to the room, now empty of any other living minds. It was important that no one witness what he did next. With a thought, Daren triggered the cybernetics implanted in his brain, which warped the time-space continuum, and brought him back to his base.
He looked around the bustling lab, located in Berlin, the year 2815. The question was, had he changed things for the better, or worse?
Time travel is tricky business. You can only go to a particular place and time once, and then it’s done. At the time, it’s hard to be sure what’s right and what will only make the future worse. Not that the future could be worse than it was now, Daren thought. The underground cities to escape the poisonous surface, the deaths from disease, famine, and war. The petty dictators who hoarded resources wastefully… Well, these depressing thoughts would get him nowhere.
Daren looked up as Keneth passed by. “Keneth? Any change?”
Keneth nodded. “Yes. Two dictators, three wars. Not bad, Daren.”
“Thanks,” Daren grinned in bashful pride. He called to a woman passing by. “How’s it going, Hanah?”
“Five wars, one dictator, two diseases!” Hanah crowed.
“Good job,” Daren said. It was a busy life, being the time police, he thought. Sometimes, things got worse. Other times, nothing changed. But sometimes, you diverted the river of time in just the right way, and its waters nurtured, instead of drowning.