The Time Miner. Sci Fi short story.

My body jerks suddenly. It’s a bit like the jerking I sometimes get when I am falling asleep, or when I miss a heartbeat, or start awake from a nightmare, only more so. But then again, maybe it isn’t my body that has jerked, but the body of the giant Cyclops that I’m inside. Perhaps I’m making progress…

This time I am using my enhanced four foot chainsaw on full rev and trying to climb my way up internally to his eye, by carving steps into his flesh. Getting his eye has to be the way forwards, surely. But it’s difficult because I am also tumbling within the motion of his staggering body and I hear his roars and screams from both inside, and outside. His vast internal organs burst and split open against the frantic carving of my violently spinning saw blade, sending warm frothing cascades of blood and entrails against my holo-sheath.

Then, with an inevitability that I have begun to expect and dread, the Cyclops reaches inside his gory body, grabs me between a thumb and forefinger, and snuffs me out, once again, with a simple squeeze. For a second it is dark and quiet, then a blaze of credits, loud music, and flashing red letters:

Carnage Holo 38.
Raymond loses.
Game over.
Play again?

Automatically I press the start button and begin again, with lack-lustre, dogged, determination. Already I am regretting not having exited the game to do something else. It feels like I have been going round and round in this loop for ever, unable to progress within the game. But then again, perhaps this time I can find a way through…

Three attempts with the chainsaw later, the computer interrupts me. It is telling me that there has been a major world disaster. I have told it to advise me of this kind of news – provided the disaster is big enough, but sadly it doesn’t happen that often. I pause Carnage Holo 38, and summon the HV to an international news channel which shows holograms of a huge volcanic eruption just in front of me.

“At 5.49 this evening” says the voiceover “with very little warning, there was a massive volcanic eruption in the tiny remote village of Hofn, in Iceland. It was preceded by a few tremors but no one thought that these were sufficient reason to commence an evacuation and now this blast is already one of the most violent and unexpected on record.” The holo zooms in on a huge plume of boiling flames and hurling rocks.

“All the people within at least five miles of the epicentre are expected, without doubt, to have been killed instantly and the final devastation and loss of life will be far worse given the power and… ”

And now the communication channel inside my head is flashing. Fergus wants my attention – and I know why! I cut the HV, and mentally open a channel to him, so that his thin moustached face and penetrating eyes enter my internal world.

“Ray, have you seen the news?”

“Sure” I say flatly.

“This is it Ray. We just hit the jackpot.”

There are indications that he might be excited – but I’m not yet impressed: “It’s a tiny, remote village in Iceland, Fergus, what can possibly be of value there?”

He blinks, then creases his moustache into what I have come to understand is a lopsided smile. “You can’t have seen all the news that has come in in the last few minutes, Ray. The Icelandic Krònur is plummeting like a stone down a well.”

“So?”

He looks at me with his habitual talking-to-a-three-year-old look. “Ray, it’s plummeting because the news is already out that half the countries gold reserves were kept in a secret mountainside vault just beyond the edge of Hofn village – a vault that is now a molten part of that volcano – we couldn’t ask for better than this.”

I secretly admit to myself that, yes, this does seem to fit the criteria. It’s exactly what we have been waiting for – for the five years since I was made redundant: booty destroyed by disaster. But I am not going to give him the satisfaction of joining in with his excitement, if that is what it is – so I wait a few seconds before replying. He may be the one that masterminded this whole plan, but I’m the one that has to risk my life…

His face suddenly goes tight inside me. “You’re not going to let me down at this late stage are you Ray?” He asks darkly.

I stretch out a few more seconds before responding, letting him stew. I am wondering if this is my opportunity to demand a bigger percentage, but I decide against: “No” I answer eventually, feigning disinterest, and thinking to myself that there will be plenty of opportunity to let him down afterwards, once I have the gold.

Forty minutes later I teleport to his work station, which is inside a shining cylinder of HV information. He’s working frantically, sweat pouring down his brow, shouting instructions at computers, moving his chair in three dimensions to study the information that is flooding in all around us.

He glances down at me, briefly, as I materialise, with a look that I think might be relief: “Ray! What took you so long? We don’t have much time!” Then he starts his instructions: “I have programmed the time machine to send you back 210 minutes” He glances at the Time Machine Visual Interface (TMVI) on his wrist “in – uh – 35 minutes time”. That’s just within the maximum time period that I have calculated is viable. It will give you exactly an hour to parachute in, find the vault, kill the guards – and I already know that there are only two or three of those, blast the safe, get the gold, and travel back, 45 minutes before the volcano explodes. Do you think you can do it?”

Asinine question: “Of course, that’s what you head-hunted me for.”

“You need to teleport first to just over the volcano, I’ve already fed the coordinates into the teleporter. That allows for some margin of error when you time travel – because the earth will of course have moved a huge distance in 210 minutes and the safest thing is to materialise you in the atmosphere just above the earth, so that there is no danger to you if the calculations are fractionally out.”

Fergus has an annoying habit of explaining everything over and over. It’s because he is an absolute genius – he expects everyone else to be stupid. He has already explained this point about the earth moving several times before, I know why I need to parachute, and I don’t need reminding, Jesus, no. The hardest part about time travel, which he has painstakingly explained, so often, is that it also needs to be space travel. It’s no good going back in time and expecting to emerge in the same location that you were in when you left. This is because the earth will have moved dramatically between the two time periods. This is a problem that teleportation hasn’t had to cope with because it is almost instantaneous, though it does explain that horrid juddering sensation. But with time travel you have to take into account all kinds of things that affect spatial location such as the earth’s rotation – which varies according to where you are with respect to the equator, the rotation of the earth around the sun, the sun around the galaxy, and the rotation of our cluster of galaxies. All these speeds, are pitted against one another in a large multi-faceted equation that also factors in the expansion of the universe and ends up with a figure for the earth’s movement which, if I remember rightly, is that we are moving at about 390 km per second, towards Leo.

It all has to be worked out super accurately of course, and this calculation is one of the many things that Fergus has perfected. And he has had to work not just in three, but four dimensions, to include time – which bends with respect to relative velocities – and generates unpleasant infinite regresses – a key factor, he also tells me, in how he manages to engineer in the time travel part of things.

I don’t begin to understand fully how he computes all this – even with his extra, surgically implanted, silicon intelligence, and this quantum computer cylinder that he more or less lives in. But I have seen his dog transfer back and forth through time on enough occasions to have confidence that he knows what he is doing. That dog has been on round trips to a series to remote destinations, into distant eons, at the very edge of the universe (so that it couldn’t interfere with our time line) – and it always seems to return un-phased. I wouldn’t let myself be Fergus’s henchman otherwise – because if he makes one tiny mistake, then I’m toast – at least I think so – back in time, most likely stranded without oxygen in space, or imprisoned below ground in a block of matter somewhere. At least, that’s what Fergus thinks might happen, though of course we’ve never tried it. And it’s anybody’s guess what might happen if the me that has been sent back to a different location survives long enough to catch up in time with the me that transported me back and I end up simultaneously in two locations. It doesnt bear thinking about…

Whilst I am grimly recalling these dilemmas he begins to hand me pieces of equipment like I am a brand new squaddie being kitted out for the first time, not the commanding officer at the SAS that I once was.

“Here’s your explosive – that’s for the safe and the main door to the building, and a couple of grenades in case you need them. Here is a state of the art laser gun; here are holo-maps of the location and the layout of the vault – that’s what I have been researching just now, and you need to study them. I have fed in the precise coordinates of the vault on this homing device, which also includes a device of my own design that should disable any alarm within fifty feet of it” he passes it to me and I strap it onto my left wrist. That widget alone should be worth a fortune, but Fergus always says it would be immoral to sell it. Not that I would care.

“And here is the time machine which needs to go around your waist”

“I know that, Fergus!” It’s not as if we haven’t been through this before. With a silent in-draw of breath he passes me the time machine which is shaped into a belt and surprisingly light. It has pouches full of other equipment that I have selected during our preparation sessions. Spider web ropes, heat sensors, computerised back up, night vision glasses, extra weaponry, emergency first aid. I put on the belt and begin to feel like I am in a computer game.

“Here’s your parachute, please strap it on your back now.”

“I wasn’t going to tie it round my neck.”

He sighs, and carries on: “You can use the parachute rucksack to carry some of the gold bars on your return journey, there is also an expandable force-field container for them, here, but you need to ensure you keep it within range of the time machine.”

I know that too, of course. The time machine has a range of four feet in every direction – it’s an 8 foot diameter sphere that travels through time, which can contain whatever you choose to put in it, but if something is only half in and half out, it gets sliced through, with nice curves.

“OK,” Fergus glances at his TMVI then passes a duplicate to me which I strap onto my right wrist. “You need to teleport in – about 4 minutes, that will give you one minute in the air before you time travel.”

I look at the TMVI screen:

Current time: 19.29.15, 20th December 2213
Time jump: 19.34.00, 20th December 2213
Arrive in past: 16.04.00, 20th December 2213
Return from past: 17.04.00, 20th December 2213
Arrive back: 19.34.00, 20th December 2213

Suddenly I am alarmed: “But I’ll be arriving in broad day light, won’t that attract attention and set up the time paradox thing?”

He makes his face into the lopsided smile thing. “not in Iceland it won’t. This time of the year it’s pretty much 24 hours darkness. As long as you don’t shine any bright light as you fall, and the alarms disable OK, then it should all be fine…” He has thought of everything, it seems.

“…but it is really important that you don’t try to rescue anyone. That’s what would really mess things up.”

This is old ground too. The need to avoid temporal paradox. He has been over and over this point. You can’t travel back in time and change things in a way that might affect yourself – at any point in your life prior to going back in time. Otherwise you wouldn’t be the same person as the person who has gone back in time – and that is clearly impossible – at least within the same universe – as Fergus likes to say – though he also admits he has no idea what would happen in that event, except that he thinks it is beyond any analysis within this universe.

The temporal paradox dilemma is why Fergus came up with the concept of ‘inconsequential change’. It is possible to travel back in time without calamity provided the changes you make to the past are inconsequential. This is one reason why we have been waiting for a disaster. Killing a couple of people who will very soon be killed anyway (and technically could be considered already dead), and taking gold that is already a liquid part of a volcano, doesn’t qualify as consequential change.

The only change is that a few minutes from now, in sequential time, I should come back fantastically rich. But this wealth of course will only commence from the point of my return from time travel – when I come back with the gold – so it won’t consequentially change anything in my past, as it won’t affect the time before I time travelled. Coming back, incidentally, is not half as hard as going, because the time machine already has a precise point in space time – here – to home in on.

The problem of course is in executing the plan. That’s where I come in, and where I am definitely the man for the job. For starters I am a highly trained fighter and a paratrooper, as I said – I used to command an SAS unit. But much more importantly, from Fergus’s point of view, I’m a level four psychopath. It’s the highest level of psychopath. It means that I have zero empathy. They know that from looking at my brain.

I was pretty devastated when I got the diagnosis, not because of having no empathy, but because it meant I lost my job. They only tested me in the first place because they said that I’d been bullying people. And because of what they call ‘my condition’ it’s now illegal for me to work in any position where I might have power over ‘sentient beings’. I don’t really agree with this ruling but I’m stuck with it. Being a psychopath doesn’t seem like ‘a condition’ at all to me, it’s just the most logical way to proceed.

Luckily Fergus recruited me shortly after I was made redundant. He said I was perfect for his plans, that he had to be sure that whoever he sent back before a disaster wouldn’t try to save people out of concern for them, because if they did that, then it would mess everything up by consequentially affecting the past.

He’s right of course. I have no interest whatsoever in saving someone who is going to die anyway, or, for that matter, in saving anyone. I never minded killing people in the first place, whatever the reason. But Fergus worries about that kind of thing. He worries about morals. He said it was very important to him that we didn’t do anything that would hurt anyone any more than they would be hurt anyway, or take anything away that could be missed. That’s another reason he has planned things this way. He says it isn’t really a crime, it’s just a bit of ‘time mining’. Personally I wouldn’t have cared if it was a crime.

Anyhow, however it is labelled, I am at last close to the violent action I love! In the remaining minutes I check through the equipment, adjust a few straps and study the maps and vault layout. Then I move to the teleport platform. Fergus follows me and stands nearby. We are both watching the first figure on our TMVIs.

Current time 19.32.53… 54…

It’s time to go. “Good luck” says Fergus, “I’ll see you in just over a minute.” He is still sweating profusely. Perhaps he is nervous.

I activate the teleport.

#####

I am falling directly towards a massively erupting volcano. It is thousands of feet under me, the air around me is hot, and getting hotter, and there is a clawing smell of sulphur. In the middle of the convulsing, bolder studded clouds, below, I can see a bright lake of orange, giantly bubbling, lava. It is like I am falling into a huge mouth – though it could equally well be the gateway to hell. As I watch it, fascinated, there is a thunderous explosion and a vast spew of magma surges upwards, out of the mouth, directly towards me. I flay out my hands and legs to maximise air resistance, lower my rate of breathing, and watch the fireworks. There isn’t anything else to do.

Moments later there is a loud pop as the eight foot sphere around me joins an eight foot sphere of air, 210 minutes back in time. At first the pressure around me seems immense, but as the air adjusts, and the sulphur smell dilutes, I am suddenly cool in the silent blackness. The volcano has gone! I put on my night vision glasses. Beneath me is the small undamaged village of Hofn. I look at the homing device on my wrist and note that I am right on target. I slip my thumb through the loop on the rip. To save time I need to leave it as late as possible, allowing myself just enough margin to steer precisely to my destination. The fresh Icelandic air rushes past me as I gather momentum.

Several thousand feet of free-fall later I pull the rip, jolt into vertical position and begin the final spiralling steer. I’m heading for a small semi-circular compound in front of a vertical mountain cliff face. The guard rooms and vault have been built into solid rock and can’t be seen from the air. I steer down easily over the high security fencing with its razor wire fringes and drop down gently, inside the compound, fifteen feet from a single heavy duty steel door set in the middle of the rock face. Everything has been carefully designed to look non-descript and unimportant. With my laser gun I slice through some overhead electrical wiring and take out three CCTV cameras. Then I disconnect my parachute. The homing device is displaying five green lights. Five alarms have been disabled, another example of Fergus’ genius.

There are several, heavy-duty, personnel-selective locks on the metal door. Using Semtex would waste valuable minutes, so I stand back and hurl a grenade. There’s a well muffled explosion at the base of the door (muffling being another of Fergus’ tricks) and it blasts wide open, revealing a small, empty, reception area with a flickering emergency light. I take out the light with my laser gun, and race into the room. There are two doors off it, the one on the left I know goes to the toilet and a small kitchenette, and the one in front of me to the main guard room, the other side of which is the vault. I shoot the lock on the guard room door and burst into the room, shooting out the emergency lighting as I do so.

Two guards are sitting frozen at a table with cards on it. In the few seconds they have known something was up, they haven’t even left their seats. Jesus, I’m a professional! And now I’m the only one who can see!

I take out the first guard, and he slumps back in his chair with a neat hole in his head. Then I shout at the other: “Freeze, or you’re dead, like your friend.” He sits perfectly still. Next I shout: “How many guards are here? Be honest, or you join your friend.” There is a short hiatus. Then he responds in a low trembling voice with an Icelandic accent: “Only us two.” I have the information I want, and this guard is no longer of any use to me, he won’t have the keys and codes to the vault, those will be off premises. I shoot him dead as well.

At the back of the guard room is the steel door to the vault. This time, as it’s internal, I go for the Semtex, and ten minutes later, (there’s no rush now), I am staring at my pension plan, about a cubic yard of solid gold bars! I am looking forward to seeing them in day time colour and start carefully filling the expandable force-field container, and the ruck sack. Everything has gone perfectly.

But when I have nearly finished packing, I hear a slight sound to my right, and swivel round on autodrive, to shoot at a spinning coin on the floor. Then a voice behind me calmly says: “Drop the gun or you’re dead” and I am forced to comply.

It’s one of the oldest tricks in the book, and I just fell for it. Slowly, careful not to cause alarm, I turn around to face the black end a large laser gun, rather like my own. Behind it, is another guard, staring down at me. He is six foot six, and muscular. Like me he is wearing night vision glasses. I realise he must have been in the kitchenette, or the toilet, and that the second guard had lied. Shit.

We size one another up. “Give me one reason not to kill you now.” He says, slowly.

My head spins, I have to come up with something that will make sense to him.

“Because it’s against the law” I venture, lamely.

He chuckles: “Not good enough, matie. The law didn’t matter to you when you killed my colleagues, and I could easily put it down to self-defence, you’ll have to do better than that.”

His eyes rove over the time belt and the electronic kit on my wrists. He gestures the time belt with the tip of the gun: “but what have we here?” He brings the gun swiftly back so that it points again directly between my eyes.

“The real reason why you can’t shoot me.”

“Oh really?” He doesn’t sound at all convinced: “Actually, I can do exactly what I want.”

“No,” I reply. “Shoot me, you kill yourself. I’m a time traveller, that’s what this belt is, a time machine”

He looks at me with raised eyebrows and his lips move into a ‘U’ shape. He appears to be enjoying our interaction. “I’ve heard some bullshit in my time but this takes the b…”

But we are interrupted by a violent tremor that throws us both a foot into the air, together with the gold, and all the loose objects in the room, then crashes us all down again. I seize the opportunity and reach out for the gun behind me. But he’s well ahead of me, a laser ray sears through my hand. The pain is instant and violent.

He looks at me squarely, unruffled, his lips still in their ‘U’ shape. “Nice try, sunshine, but you’ll have to do better than that, too.” The ray has gone precisely through the centre of my hand and blood is starting to spurt alarmingly from the hole it has left behind. This guy’s a professional. Keeping the gun trained on me, he walks carefully around me and kicks my gun into the corner of the room.

“Right, now, where were we, before that little interruption? I think you were trying to spin a time travelling yarn…” He seems totally un-phased by the tremor.

This is going to have to be good, I think to myself. Then: “if you don’t believe me, look at the kit, the time machine is in my belt,on this wrist is the TMVI. That’s its’ visual interface.” I glance at it.

Current time 16.39.12, 20th December 2213
Time of jump: 19.34.00, 20th December 2213
Arrival in past: 16.04.00, 20th December 2213
Return from past: 17.04.00, 20th December 2213
Arrive back: 19.34.00, 20th December 2213.

“It’s saying that I will be transported back into the future, your future, in just under – twenty five minutes. Kill me and you consequentially affect things: because if I die now, I won’t have been able to have travelled back to have this conversation with you, and if I haven’t been able to travel back, then this conversation is logically impossible. Which means that you would effectively kill yourself, by creating an insoluble time paradox.”

He is looking at me now with fresh interest and wide eyes. I wonder if it is too complicated for him to understand. “Give me that thing” he says keeping the gun trained on me and gesturing with his eyes. Painfully, using my other, bloody, hand, I unclip the TMVI and pass it to him, he reaches out and takes it, and keeps the gun steadily pointed at me, whilst he holds up the TMVI, so that he can look at it, without taking his eyes off me.

“Hmm interesting; so you are saying you travelled back from the future in just under three hours from now?” I realise with relief that I am dealing with an intelligent man.

“Yeah, you got it.”

“And you have travelled back to steal the gold?”

“Yep.” Still the scorching pain in my hand.

Lines appear on his forehead. “But why time travel at all? Isn’t that unnecessarily complicated? Why not just steal it?”

Another tremor hits us, and once again we are thrown into the air. The lines disappear from his forehead: “Ach, I get it! There’s about to be a major earthquake, volcanic eruption perhaps, and you know about it, and you are stealing from somewhere that was going to be wiped out anyway…” Again his lips are back in the ‘U’ shape. “Very good indeed, I underestimated you!”

I am starting to feel relieved; thank God I was able to explain that to him. Most people wouldn’t have grasped it so quickly. “So you need to hand back the TMVI so I can go back to the future with it” I add, pressing the point home, “otherwise if it doesn’t get back to the future then the whole thing de-constructs and we get the time paradox problem.”

He looks at me levelly, thinking hard. “No mate, I keep the TMVI, I take the time travelling belt, and all your other kit, and I will travel, but backwards in time. That way I can avoid this earthquake and survive.”

But I have an easy answer for this: “No, you can’t do that, you can’t change the time travel instructions once they’ve been set, otherwise you could change them accidentally and enter into all kind of trouble.”

“Bullshit” he says drily. “I don’t believe that for one moment.”

“OK, well, try this: if you were able to adjust the dials, which you really aren’t able to do, and go back in time in order to escape the eruption, you would consequentially change yourself in the past, and that means, because you had avoided the eruption, that you wouldn’t be here, and we couldn’t be talking, and we hit the time paradox thing, once again, which would destroy us both.”

“Hmm, yes, you may have a point there” The lines are back on his forehead. Then, to my dismay, they disappear again: “Give me that belt, now.”

“No, I can’t, don’t you see, if the belt doesn’t get back to the future, you will destroy us both, you…” But he fires a laser into my knee cap and now I have another searing pain to contend with.

“I’m taking the belt whether you are dead or alive,” he says, confident now.

“But if you kill me you will set up the time paradox.”

“No! You are wrong! You’ve come from the future! You have already lived through this period of time, in a different place and form. If I kill you now then I am killing a time traveller from the future, not the other you that lived through this time period, so it won’t consequentially affect anything in my past, nor yours for that matter.

I am struggling to know how to answer this argument. He seems to have a point, and the blood is pumping strongly from my knee, and hand. I can feel myself growing horribly faint and losing consciousness.

“No,” he continues, the only thing that matters is that I take all the gear back to the future, otherwise that could affect things, at least I think so, though I don’t have time to think it through, and whilst I’m about it, I may as well take the gold, and surely if it’s OK for you to travel back to the future, then I can do it too. I can take your place!”

He is moving around the room collecting things up and pretty much talking to himself as he does so, because his voice is starting to fade. It is all spinning fainter and darker…

####

I am jolted awake by another massive quake, much bigger than the first. I must have lost consciousness. It is intensely hot and sulphurous again. The pain in my hand and knee is acute. I look around the smouldering room which glows from beneath the floor, my night glasses have gone! The guard has gone! He’s gone into the future. I’m lying in a huge pool of blood! I’m completely naked! He’s taken my clothes! All the kit has gone! Most of the gold has gone, except for the tiny corner of a gold bar with a tell-tale curve sliced through it, lined up with a circular cavity, where a gently curving sliver of rock, about nine inches deep in the middle, has disappeared from the rock floor. A floor that is now stretching wildly, peeling open into orange…

####

My body jerks suddenly. It’s a bit like the jerking I sometimes get when I am falling asleep, or when I miss a heartbeat, or start awake from a nightmare, only more so. But then again, maybe it isn’t my body that has jerked, but the body of the giant Cyclops that I’m inside. Perhaps I’m making progress…

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