The Dream Twister - September 2003
Effect and Cause - Simon Matthews
(page 12/14)

Effect and Cause

Simon Matthews

Stuart ran. The thin sound of wailing came drifting through the smoky air behind him. The explosion had caused one of the cars to flip over and go skidding on its roof through the crowd. He could still see it tearing the legs off of the old lady who had been standing in the front row of the crowd. The child beside her had stood stupidly for a second, still clutching her grandmother's hand. Then she had started crying. Stuart had run straight past her, hardly noticing in his panicked attempt to get away from the scene.

David was dead. He had been trying to get at the people in the cars. The plan had been to stop the triumphal procession, peacefully. Where the bomb came from Stuart could only guess, presumably one of the militant loonies had decided to take matters into his own hands and try to put an end to the project once and for all. It was probably too late for that anyway. Even if these few scientists were killed, they had already succeeded. Others would be able to continue the work now; there could be no stopping it. Not by force.

David had been the political figurehead they had desperately needed in order to get the project stopped by parliament. He had been charismatic, persuasive, charming and above all, he'd been honest. People respected him for that. So used to the half-truths and veiled lies that seemed to be the main tools of politicians, people had initially found it hard to accept, but had finally been won over. Their movement was starting to gather support. They had no chance now.

He stopped, out of breath, once he was past the crossroads. Dust had turned his once white T-shirt to a dull grey-brown colour. The right leg of his blue jeans was slowly turning purple where that piece of shrapnel had sliced his thigh open, right where that scar had been. He had to think. It was difficult with those images running through his mind, the sight of David's body disintegrating in the blast; the old lady lying in the street, blood pumping from the ruin of her legs; the panic and the screams. They were clearly finished as a political movement. They were clearly going to loose all credibility in the eyes of the populous now that it appeared they had resorted to terrorism and violence. Like the animal- rights protesters of the previous century, they would now be regarded as a lunatic fringe, not people to be taken seriously.

He knew that he had to do something. The only problem was the obvious solution was so repulsive to him that he could hardly contemplate its use. That he should save the movement by using the very thing they had been trying to get banned and then destroyed was so hypocritical that he could not bring himself to consider it. It was so tempting though. They would understand. It was the only thing he could do. Trouble was that it was impossible. He'd proved that, it was what he'd won his Nobel Prize for.

Half an hour later Stuart stood outside the back entrance to the lab. No one had returned yet, the lights were out and there was a convenient open window on the second floor. The rough brickwork and the window ledges provided him with enough grip to climb up and slip in through the window. He was there. The machine stood at the far end of the room, the plate was glowing slightly and there was a slight hum coming from the machinery. Stuart couldn't believe his luck, the machine was on, ready to go. He knew how it worked, or more accurately, how it should work; he'd lead the first stages of construction, been part of the team, before he'd met David. That meeting had changed his life forever. He'd resigned from the project the very next morning and then campaigned against it. It was dangerous. He'd not been prepared to gamble the whole future, and past, of humanity on whether he'd got his sums right. Quickly adjusting the controls, he stepped onto the plate, activated the machine, and then the world around him dissolved into blackness.

He came to lying on the floor of the laboratory. He was being shaken by the shoulder. "Stuart, I don't know what you've been doing this time but you should take more care of yourself!" Admonished the voice of his partner James. "Look, I suppose that I had better take you down to the common room and fix you up. You look quite dreadful. Like something that had been pulled through a hedge backwards, jumped in a spin dryer and then decided to get itself electrocuted for good measure." He prattled on while Stuart tried to bring the room into focus. The room looked different, but that didn't mean much; there were always different bits of equipment being bought, thrown out, and moved around. It seemed familiar though.

He staggered to his feet and allowed himself to be guided to the common room, and a cup of coffee was pressed into his hands. People were moving around; their conversations seemed to have a familiar quality. A sense of deja vu swept through him. He remembered. This was a few days ago. The machine had worked then! Oh god! This was exactly what they had been trying to prevent; people randomly going back in time in order to change the future. He'd proved it couldn't happen. Well, theoretically it should be impossible, but would he know? If he changed something, would he know that he'd changed it? His mind boggled at the potential paradoxes his being here, remembering the future, caused. At this time the machine wasn't even working properly, couldn't even transmit inanimate objects safely.

What to do? Sabotage the work? That would delay the project, but then he wouldn't meet David, the movement wouldn't exist and then the project would be completed anyway. Maybe just do what he had done before, but try and warn David somehow. Problem with that is that David would hate to think that the movement only existed because of the technology he was trying to have banned. He'd probably learn to live with it though.

Stuart got up and wandered off to the cupboard where the first aid box was and started to dress his left leg. The bleeding had started to get quite severe. The black jeans were quite sodden where they rubbed against his wound.

"Stuart?" Came the sound of the chairman's voice, drifting over from where he was showing a visitor around the facilities.

"Hello? Can I help?" Stuart was doing his best not to sound too crusty, but he really hated these VIPs, with their ill-informed opinions.

"Are you not at all concerned that this project could paradox the universe to destruction?"

Jesus! It was David. Was that today? Stuart knew that he had to convince him not to carry on with his protests.

"Not at all. It's utterly impossible. I've already proven that you cannot change the past by travelling back in time, that's why we got permission to start this in the first place."

"I assume that you are going to say that that means that you can't change the future either?"

"Not if you travel back from it."

"Would you explain what makes you think that?"

"Well, its basis is in quantum mechanics. For any event there are many possible outcomes, each with a possibility of happening. Once an observation is made, i.e. once the event has occurred, only one outcome remains, all the rest are now impossible, all the quantum states that represented them have been destroyed by the observation. Now someone travelling back into the past has already observed these events. Therefore the only outcomes that remain, that can occur, are the ones that he has observed, because for him the event has already happened. Therefore he cannot change an event in our future, his past, by going back and attempting the impossible: to cause an event to have an outcome for which no quantum states remain. However, someone in what the traveller may consider to be the past, what we call the present, can change his future because, as far as he's concerned, the events have yet to be observed and so all the possible outcomes still have possibilities of occurring."

"That makes no sense whatsoever"

"Yes it does. It is a matter of perspective, that's all." Stuart sincerely hoped that he was wrong, otherwise he knew that he would never be able to stop David killing all of those people.

"If you can't change the past, then why are you wasting millions of pounds of public money on something that you say you've proven cannot work?"

"I'm not wasting the money; just because we cannot change the past, it doesn't mean that we cannot visit it. It would be incredibly useful for historians, as well as the law."

"What has the law got to do with this?"

"Well, obviously, if the police were investigating a crime, they could travel back and watch it happen, then come back and arrest the criminal. They couldn't stop it from happening, but the fact that they could always witness it should help reduce planned crime, since there'd be no chance of getting away with it."

"We should probably be moving on now Mr Phillips." Interjected the chairman. "Thank you Stuart."

Stuart shuddered as they moved off, remembering how close he'd come, first time around, to resigning from the project after that conversation, glad that hadn't seeing how things had turned out.

"How to stop him?" wondered Stuart as he worked. He knew what he had to do to get the machine to work, and was humming cheerfully as he tinkered with the lenses and circuitry.

"What are you doing?" asked James as he walked across the floor of the lab. "We had just got it set up for another trial. Now we will have to re-set it. That will take hours!"

"No you wont. I know what settings we need. I'll show you in ten minutes."

"Whatever do you mean? You can't possibly know. It's trial and error, at least for the moment."

"Ahhh, but then I have a slight advantage. I've already seen the machine working."

"When? How?" James was a little surprised.

"Well, I came back to try to avert a disaster. We had a procession. We'd got it working, the government called us heroes. You and I were in the leading car when we ran into a bunch of protesters. One of them set off a bomb. People were killed, including you. I came back to make sure that the protesters couldn't set off their bomb."

"That's a load of rubbish. That accident yesterday must have scrambled your memory. I'm sure that..." James trailed off. "Where did that ball come from?"

"That one?" said Stuart pointing to the ball that had just appeared beside the pad. "Oh that's this one." Taking another ball out of his pocket. "I decided that I'd send it back to now once I'd got the machine working properly. Look, you can see that it's got the same markings on it and everything."

"Yeah, but maybe you just marked two balls the same." Commented James. "Where did that one come from?" A third ball had just appeared from the machine.

"I don't know. I probably sent it back a second time since obviously you didn't believe me. Look, I've got the settings right now, so I'll pop this one back, and then I'll change the target and get rid of the third one as well."

James looked impressed as the balls vanished, one after the other.

"Anyway, why did you bother to come back? You of all people know that what you want to do is impossible."

"Well, it's a no-lose situation: If I got my sums wrong, and I can change the past, then I will; whereas if I cannot change the past then I've lost nothing, I have at least tried, and I have proven my theory experimentally."

"That has a certain logic to it. OK. So assuming that I accept that you have travelled back in time, what are you going to do?"

"What ever I have to do to stop David from stealing the fruits of our labour and claiming it as his own.

The procession was coming down the street. Stuart stood on the top of one of the buildings. Peering through the telescopic sight he could see David moving forward, carrying a bundle in his hands. Sighting on his head Stuart squeezed the trigger.

David slipped. The bullet went through the spot where he had been standing, going on to bury itself in the body of an old woman, clutching her granddaughter's hand. Aghast at what had happened, Stuart dropped the gun. There was only one thing he could do. He knew he had to get to the lab.

Stuart stood at the front of the crowd. David was on his right, clutching a bundle. This was the second day since he had had that conversation with David. The scar on his right thigh was throbbing a bit. He rubbed it, hoping that it would stop. As the procession moved towards them, David and the other protesters started to break through the police cordon.

Stuart stayed where he was, watching. He could see David shouting at the people in the cars. Suddenly the ground shook. He watched, rooted to the ground as fire engulfed David's body, tearing it to pieces. A piece of shrapnel tore his thigh open, right where that scar had been. One of the cars went skidding on its roof through the crowd, tearing the legs off of the old lady who was standing a few yards away. The child beside her stood stupidly for a second, still clutching her grandmother's hand. Then she started crying. Stuart pushed past them, hardly noticing in his attempt to get away. He knew what he had to do.

Stuart ran.