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Out of Nowhere by Patrick LeClerc.
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CHRONON--Time Travel

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Retro Skelter


Harry J. Bentham

(Please do NOT edit this text. Leave criticisms in reviews only. I never tweak or resubmit anything.)

When I was sixteen, I asked my grandfather, former UK Minister for Security David Cose, why he had suddenly become so haggard and broken. I also asked why he had so promptly resigned, after his mysterious trip through the old sewer system beneath London, but he would not respond to my inquiry. He had rapidly acquired a remarkably close friendship with renowned physicist Dr Alexander Christoff, and would regularly invite the friendly Doctor and his wife to dinners in Ayr. They would be up very late at night, apparently discussing something of great importance and secrecy, and I was never allowed to be present in those discussions.

One of those nights, when the Doctor was not present but his wife had visited anyway, I heard raised voices. I tiptoed downstairs, and heard Julie demanding that Cose tell her the source of her husband’s angst. “Why did Alexander appear to have aged?” she asked, “it is impossible for me to not suspect something is being hidden from me. In my recollection, it seemed he had only been gone for one day, but his body had the look of a year or more of age and punishment. And that seems to match with some of the press descriptions of your haggardness at the time of your resignation. What really happened?”
“Oh. It’s been nearly a year since that old chase,” I heard my grandfather say, reluctantly, “but I will explain how it happened.” Now, I felt compelled to eavesdrop. I crouched on the carpet, neared the glass panes of the double-door separating the hall from the flickering fire-lit living room, and reined my position back to avoid thudding the wall or door. There was some silence, as Cose wondered how to phrase his explanation, and the loud tick of the grandfather clock leaked into the hall from which I listened.
“I resigned because otherwise I would have created a monster, one year from now. Things would fall apart. My old friend, Deputy Prime Minister Hartham, is evil. And I would have empowered him, if I stayed in office and helped him take the Prime Minister’s chair. He needed to be stopped. By resigning as Security Minister, I have given up my place to my competitors and the opponents of Hartham, so the events I saw will not unfold. Alexander and I are from the future, exactly one year in the future. I realize you are shuffling in your seat disbelievingly, but you yourself suggested the strange ageing of Alexander’s body, and you must know from my voice that I am serious. This is truly as it happened, and this is truly the reason of my resignation.
“A year from now, we would have been involved in a bizarre project. Embattled by a popular revolt by armed opposition groups supported by the European Union, Hartham had declared a state of national emergency. He had closed down all the courts and the media, and heaped greater and greater power on his office. He could no longer be ousted by any of us, and I was the principal agent in making his succession of the Prime Minister and his declaration of martial law possible. A brutal crackdown ensued, and opposition forces marched on Parliament. I estimated that we could only hold off the assault of the rebels for three days, and at this critical juncture Hartham called on the military R and D personnel to provide a solution. His fix against dissent, as mad as it sounds, was for Alexander to complete his time travel research and offer up a means of altering history to his benefit. I was ordered to supervise the project with Alexander, whom I had never yet met, and Hartham threatened both of us with execution for treason if we failed to produce results after three days.
 “Fifteen hours into the third day, deep in the bunker beneath Parliament, we had a solution to propose. Alexander required us to search for an already existing structure in the past that adhered to the same physical geometry of his machine. And before we lost hope, we realized that the old winding “skelter” structure of stone leading down to the old sewage system beneath London, its origin and purpose lost on archaeologists, fitted our geometry. Upon it, our engineers laid down the other remaining parts of the machine according to the same principles in our earlier experiments. Now, as we walked down the winding passage of the machine, all the sounds became strange echoes and I saw double, triple, quadruple, and then everything was blurred. After several seconds, it all came back vividly and I saw only the dark stone of the old mysterious skelter structure beneath London.
“In the instant that we finished passing through the structure, we emerged to find that our engineering crew was nowhere to be found. The structure had ceased to be part of Alexander’s machine. Now it was, again, the innocuous stone structure it remains today. The question remains, where did the structure itself come from? It has no purpose other than to function as an extension of Alexander’s machine’s geometry. Did Alexander indeed build it, somewhere, somehow, or were his own geometry and the old structure predestined to come together in the future and find a purpose? To travel back in time, one must necessarily have already appeared out of the future in some form, and Alexander had already anticipated this. It was Alexander’s knowledge of how to avert a temporal paradox that led us to search for already existing remains of his machine from the past, rather than bothering to establish a new machine.
“What could we do with our opportunity in the past, other than to disobey Hartham’s order to subvert his opponents this time round, and rather to sabotage Hartham’s own career? Knowing I myself was instrumental as Security Minister in his rise to power, I saw it moral for me to resign and allow Hartham’s career to come to the humiliating end it deserved. Alexander and I may also appear to have had somewhat humiliating career failures in your view, but our true experiences are much different, and I hope you will continue to appreciate Alexander for his genius and heroism. Hartham wanted to exploit Alexander’s intellect for destructive purposes in the future, but together we changed that and averted many deaths. Thanks to our foreknowledge, Hartham’s regime could never exist and his crackdown could never begin.”
It was now that I, weary from Cose’s story, slinked away from my espionage and disappeared upstairs to bed. I found it was already beyond two o’clock in the morning, and I doubted everything I had just thought I heard from the hall. My senses are fallible, and I could have been hearing things. I was not able to discern Julie’s reaction to Cose’s tale, but I am sure she had as much difficulty believing him as I. Did I even hear him correctly? I have recollected all sorts of crazy things being said in the moments I was tired, including whispers in preparation for a terrorist attack as I dozed in an airport lounge. But Cose’s explanations seem far too detailed, articulate and supported by evidence to be mere products of the overactive youthful imagination of a sixteen year-old.

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