Issue 43: Time Travel

"My name is Frances Baxter, and my story begins with the words 'Issue 43'. Well, it doesn't begin exactly with those words, but they are around the start of the story, so it’s just easier to say it began with them . . . "

So, my world was turned upside down when I first met Zakhary Hyde. You see, Zak is a genius, and he . . . well, let's just say he put that mind to good use. He made a time machine, and we travelled to future. We saw amazing things. But now, Zak's in jail, his time machine confiscated. And that leaves me, just Frances, to get him out.


2. Zak

I sighed, and slouched further down the wall of my cell, my chin touching my chest. I ignored the aching pains in my neck, and sighed again. Then, pinching the bridge of my nose, I stood and paced the small, confined space. I stopped, and leaned my forehead against the cold stone wall.

The thoughts were bouncing around inside my mind at the speed of light. I could just catch sight of them, but as soon as I reached out to grasp them, they flitted away again, leaving me in ignorant torment.

Not that that’s any different from usual.

I clenched my hand into a fist. The voice in my head that sounded like Frances said, Slow down, Zak. Give yourself time to process all the information; then think slowly and clearly, and the answers will come to you.

Okay, Frances. Slowly.

But where the heck do I start?

I sat again, staring at the opposite wall, the jail-guard’s footsteps echoing in my ears. Right. Think.

Okay, so the time machine worked. I’m pretty sure; as sure as I can be; that time is a pathway, you can move backwards and forwards on it. But, contradicting myself, you don’t actually travel through time, you travel around it. It’s physically impossible to travel through time. You have to go through something else to get to your destination. Also, once you travel to the future, you’re not suck there; you can go back to the past. Also, my time machine theory must have been fairly correct as well, because I ended up ten years in the future, one piece.

The future.

Amazing! Absolutely amazing! All the buildings; and their shining glass windows. Vehicles, soaring through the air. All the sights and sounds and smells! And the people! Extraordinary! I patted my lab-coat pocket ruefully. The police had confiscated my notebook, the one I wrote everything down in. Not to mention the time machine.

Focus! said the Frances-voice.

Yes, Frances, focusing!

Actually getting to the future was very uncomfortable to say the least. Once I entered in the date and pressed the button on the time machine, everything went black. I felt like my insides were going to come out my ears, and that my voice-box would be compressed so I could never talk again. I landed in a street full of different people, their shouts and chatter ringing in my ears.

To my astonishment, no one took a second glance at me. I assumed I appeared out of mid-air, and yet, nobody seemed surprised. I frowned, and I looked around. I’d programmed the time machine to keep me in the same place as before. So; assumptions again; I thought I would be in an apartment. But no, I’m in the middle of a street. I felt a slight confusion before I dismissed this thought from my mind and hurried to write down in my notebook what time travel felt like.

After walking around for a bit, and gawping like a country bumpkin in the city, I noticed something. Other people were appearing from mid-air, too. I stared closely; then started in surprise when I recognised the device they held in their hands. Those distinguishable head-bands, almost like backwards glasses.

Time machines!

More assumptions. Time machines must be a regular thing, in the future. I glanced around again. Now that I looked closer, I saw that almost every second person had one!

Well, I never.


Yes, Frances, I’m focusing!

Now it was time to employ my favourite sport.


I leaned on a wall, scribbling down whatever I saw. Then I walked for a bit, still scribbling. Descriptions of the flying vehicles, theories on how they might work. The new time machines that people were carrying around; smooth and sleek, what they might be made of. Possible formulas for how the buildings can be so tall, and yet still stand. One of the signs caught my eye.


The Attentive Invention Corporation wants you! Your innovation could be the next big seller!

I frowned, and wrote that down. Beside the sign, something else caught my eye.

Hyde Industries.

You could imagine my surprise, seeing a building with my name on it.

Hyde Industries.

I couldn’t believe my eyes. They must sell the time machines.

“Hey! Zak! Zakhary!”

I whirled around in disbelief, my eyes landing on the last person I ever expected to see here.

“Frances! What-what are you doing here?!”

Frances grinned at me, tugging some along by the hand. When I noticed that, I felt a ridiculous flare of jealousy, but when I saw who she was with, that all disappeared.

“Zak, I’d like you to meet someone,” said Frances, smiling. She gestured to her companion. “Zak, this is . . . well, this is you.”

I stared at . . . myself. He was dressed in a smart grey shirt and black slacks. He grinned a sheepish grin and stuck his hand out. Stunned, I shook my own hand. Frances tugged my sleeve.

“Isn’t this amazing, Zak? You . . . well, the future you came around to the apartment, and –”

“Frances,” future me said. “Not here.”

Frances nodded. “Oh. Right, okay.”

I frowned. Future me raised his eyebrows, waiting for me to talk. “Won’t this . . ,” I began, struggling to form my thoughts into words. I waved my hands about. “This. Happening. Meeting. Won’t this cause a paradox?”

Frances looked confused, but future me just laughed. “That’s the last thing we have to worry about. C’mon, I have a lot of explaining to do.” Without another word, he turned and walked towards the towering skyscraper marked Hyde Industries.

 Frances squeezed my hand. “It’s all so amazing, isn’t it?” She pulled me along after future me, though the gleaming glass doors, into the building.

Inside was a mess. Imagine, my apartment, but expanded across a whole office block. An organised mess. People rushing everywhere, shouting at each other. Stacks of papers placed haphazardly. Controlled explosions. Future me strode straight through all that, looking like a man on a mission. He was ten years older than me, so I guess he was a man.

We took a lift, and ended up in a quiet corridor, lined with doors. Future me opened a door nearest to us. It was a long, gallery-like room, filled with black holes. Not the space black holes, that suck in everything in their way, even light. No, these ones looked like a bad Photoshop job. They hung in the air, feathery edges flapping in a non-existent breeze. I ignored the tightness in my chest, the lack of air in my lungs, and out of curiosity, reached out to touch one.

Frances pulled me back. Her lips were pressed in a thin, pinched line. “Don’t,” she whispered. “Don’t touch it. I don’t like them.”

Future me nodded, and he closed the door, leaving the space-holes where they were.

We went to his office. It was just like my apartment. Loose papers stacked everywhere. Tinkering; cogs, gears, spanners, wires, screws, blueprints. Machinery parts strewn across the ground. A dozen coloured cables laid out in a precise order on the desk. The whole room smelled faintly of oil, leaving a metallic taste on the tongue.

Frances zoned out, and I listened intently as future me explained everything. My theory was indeed correct. You don’t travel through time, but around it. Those black holes were evidence of that. They were, in fact, rips in the fabric of the universe. The blackness we saw in them was the inter-stellar universe we travelled through while using the time machine.

My time machines were a regular occurrence in the future, and with everyone using them, more and more holes were being made. Future me predicted another five years, and the whole universe would implode.

Wonderful, isn’t it?

Future me told Frances and I that as soon as we went back to our time, we had to destroy the time machine immediately. Future me said he remembers straight after he returned from his first visit to the future, he was arrested. They took the time machine away. So we had to destroy it, before they did that.

Frances frowned. “There’s one little flaw in that plan.” She glared at me accusingly. “I know that look in your eyes, Zakhary. You’re not going to do as he says, are you?”

I raised a single eyebrow at her, grinning mischievously. “Now, why would you think that?”

Future me cleared his throat. “Frances, do you mind if Zak and I have a quick word? I have something to say that will convince him, but sadly, it’s not for your ears. Could affect the course of the future, and stuff like that. Sorry.”

Frances sighed and got up, shuffling to the far side of the room to entertain herself by poking around, probably fiddling with some tinkering. As soon as she was out of earshot, we broke into a furious, whispered argument.

“Why should I destroy the time machine I made?” I hissed.

“You saw the interstellar holes!” future me shot back. “You can’t just sew them back up!”

“You can think of a way!” I said. “You happen to own your own industry, after all!”

Future me shook his head. “You don’t understand,” he said. “You saw the building next door. The AIC. To the general public here, they’re called the Attentive Invention Corporation, Hyde Industries’ biggest competitor, set on finding the next big invention. But, underground, they’re called the Anomaly Investigative Crew. Remember how I said that as soon as you get back, you get arrested? You get arrested by the AIC, the Anomaly Investigation side. They take the time machine. That’s pretty much where everything starts to go downhill.”

“But –” I tried to interrupt.

“No. everything may look peachy, but it’s not. Trust me.” Future me frowned seriously.

I scowled back at him. “Give me one good reason why I should do as you say.”

He gestured to Frances, giggling to herself about something. “The future version of you is here,” he said. “So where’s the future version of her?”

I closed my eyes, sighed and asked the question he was waiting for. “Where is the future version of Frances, then?”

“She died.”

I opened my eyes and blinked. “What?”

Future me looked at the ground. “The AIC. We wouldn’t give them what they wanted. So they killed her.”

“But-but, why?” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.

Future me looked me in the eye. His gaze was filled with pain. “There’s your one good reason. If you don’t destroy the time machine, Frances will die. You can’t save her, trust me. I’ve predicted every possible time branch I could think of, and in every one, the outcome is her death.”

I stared at myself in disbelief. “She can’t die.” I looked over at Frances, sweet, charming, wonderful Frances, and tried to picture her gone.

I couldn’t.

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