Welcome to the Machine

“A time machine, seriously?” Natalie looked at Thomas with a mix of scepticism and exasperation as they stood in the middle of his garage, next to a refrigerator adorned with wires and magnets. Cables ran to the device from each corner of the garage, which was lit by a single work lamp hanging on the wall beside a work bench. 

“What else should I call it? It makes things travel through time.” 

“I just mean, it sounds like science fiction.“ 

“So would an iPhone, if you talked to someone in the 60’s.” 

“How does it work?” 

“Really well.” Thomas smirked. 

“Don’t be a dick.” Natalie shot back, instantly. 

“It creates a miniature wormhole whilst balancing the gravity well by reversing the polarity on the magnets on the outside.” 

She walked around the machine, curious. 

“Do you know what any of that means?” She said, teasing him the way friends do. 

“Not really, no.” He grinned. “I mean, I only have the two PhDs…” 

“Tom… If this works, it’s incredible.“ 

“Thank you.“ 

“Do you realise how much this is worth?” 

“More money than God.” 

“How much money do you imagine God has? Or needs?” 

Tom took a deep breath in and out, which Natalie recognised immediately. 

“A sigh that big is never the start of something good.” She offered, accurately. “This is me, Tom, I’m not other people. What’s going on?” 

“I want you to come with me to 2015.” 

“You’re crazy.” 

“That’s never bothered you before.” 

“Have you any idea what will happen if we use this thing?” 

“I’ve tested it Nat, come on, I wouldn’t ask you to do something dangerous. I mean, except that one time in Paris, but that was for a good cause.” 

“Impressing a girl does not count as a good cause Tom.” 

Tom grinned, and thought to himself that not only was it fact a very good cause (and on that occasion worked out very well), but come to think of it, was pretty much the only reason he did anything. 

“Okay, listen, the way it works is this…” he said as he walked to a white board and started drawing on it, remembering the scene from Back To The Future where Doc explains the timeline to Marty. 

“I sent my watch backwards and forwards to see what would happen. When I sent my watch forward, it arrived at the point in the future I sent it to without any time passing for it, but it also left a copy of itself in place. I just had to remove the first watch before the second arrived in the same space.” 

“And when you sent it backwards?” 

“All I could see from my point of view was the copy of the watch that stayed in the machine, but it stands to reason that the copy went backwards and that strand of time was so altered that we would be unaware of it.” 

“That’s a pretty big leap.” 

“Not really, the machine works sending an object forwards, that proves that my theory of how time works is accurate, it’s basically a function of gravity, and time is compressed with gravity’s pull. With time a constant moving through from a to b, the future is being created constantly, like we’re sitting on a beam of light and all in front of us is black, until we get there. It exists in a state of flux and doesn’t solidify until we observe it. We can send things to the future and have them appear for us because what’s actually happening is that we’re just delaying the arrival from the present, into the future of this bunch of atoms and energy. When we send something to the past, we’re accelerating it backwards and then when it arrives in the past, it’s writing a new timeline from that point, essentially creating a multiverse. I mean, it’s possible that the multiverse already exists and we’re moving things between the multiverses. I haven’t entirely figured that part out yet.” 

Natalie stood looking at the whiteboard, now adorned with dots, lines and arrows. She sighed. 

“You haven’t entirely figured it out yet?” 

“Yeah. But it’ll be an adventure.” Tom replied with as much enthusiasm and charm as he could muster. 

“An adventure…” Natalie repeated, thoughts swirling in her mind. “Tom this is totally crazy, we have lives here. I have Chris, you have a job you love, we have friends, they’d miss us…” 

“Actually from their point of view nothing would have happened. The amount of energy in the universe has to be constant, that’s why the watch didn’t disappear when I sent it either direction through time. We’d be copying ourselves, effectively. We’d keep living our lives here, and we’d also be living our lives, y’know, somewhere else… Sometime else.”

“Why 2015?”

“Because 2016 onwards was awful, and we might be able to do something about that. At the very least we know the result of the EU referendum and the US Presidential election, so we can make more than enough money on those to never need to work ever again.” 

“What about the grandfather paradox?” 

“Once we go back it’s not our universe anymore, so the existing timeline is maintained.” 

Natalie widened her eyes and sighed, trying to buy a moment to collect her thoughts and focus on the most pressing and practical questions. “Why do you want me to go with you? Surely if you’re only going back a short time, you’d just find me again and it’d be like nothing had happened…” 

“I can’t be in the same place as my copy, it’d be too complicated. I’d have to go somewhere else, live a separate life, none of the same friends, none of the same places. What would be the point in that? And what right would I have to disrupt my existing life like that, and do what, split our time half an half? Alternate the times we saw my friends?”

“But why me too?”

“You’re my best friend. You’re the one person I really couldn’t live without.” 

“Tom, this machine might kill us.” 

“It won’t.” 

“How do you know?” 

“I know.” 

“That’s a child’s answer… It’s too big a risk… Surely you see that… I finally have a life I love and I can’t take a risk like that anymore. If you go back and change things can you even be sure you’ll be happy? Where does the meddling end? How can you be sure you’d change anything significantly? How can you tell what the consequences of your actions will be at all?” 

“I can’t promise anything except this; Maybe we can’t change the world. I think we can, but maybe we can’t. We could be entirely different people if we wanted to be – a truly fresh start. How many people get that chance?” 

“Tom… If this works, it’s incredible. But I don’t need a fresh start. And I didn’t think you did either. You don’t need a time machine to go and make a fresh start to make yourself happy, you can be happy here.” 

“You keep saying ‘if it works’, as if doesn’t. It works, I promise you.”

“That isn’t even the point Tom, I’m saying you’re asking me to do something monumentally huge, and it’s a lot to process. We’ve known each other for a long time, but I did not see this coming.”

“Maybe you’re right.”

“I usually am.”

“Yeah, all the time.”

“Look, I have to get back home. Let’s have lunch in a couple of days and we’ll both have had a chance to think about it. There’s no rush right. You quite literally have all the time in the world.”


“And I’m serious. If you’re that unhappy, please talk to me about it, I can help.” 


Natalie walked over to Tom and gave him a hug. “I’ll text you.”

She walked out and Tom stood still until he heard her car pull away. He turned to the door and his other self walked in. Tom2, from the future, noticeably older than Tom.  

“What did she say?” Tom2 asked. 

“She’s not coming.” Tom replied. 

“You knew it was a long shot… Did you tell her about my jump? What we said to each other?” 

“What would be the point?” 

“You shouldn’t lie to your friends.” 

“Even if the truth would make us both miserable?” 

The question hung in the air, neither version of the man able to provide a satisfactory answer. Tom2 tried to offer a sympathetic coda.

“It’s just bad timing. Ironically. Should have asked her when you were both young and still had nothing to lose.”

“I can go back in time, but I can’t make myself any younger. Maybe I’ll work on that next.” Tom joked as he walked to the machine and opened the door, revealing the iPad control panel inside. He set the destination time for 2015 and looked back at Tom2. 

“Does it hurt?” 

“You get over it. In time.” 

Tom closed the door, took a deep breath and engaged the machine. 


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