Many a great wonder had come to be in the 23rd century, Maxwell thought to himself as he sat in the back of his small Personal Commute Pod or PCP – no relation whatsoever to the now-obsolete illicit drug – as it hovered over the magnetic strip-wires which lined the smart pavement just underneath the surface. The PCP was carrying Maxwell to the Committee, formally known as the Committee for the Review of Temporal Queries and Requests, as he had been fortunate enough to have had his request considered under the Last Wish amendment. He still had a life expectancy of a year, give or take, before the Hyper Cancer overcame the genetic palliative stasis bindings in his genes and thus undid him quite literally at a cellular level, but this nevertheless qualified him for an appeal under the law.
Such wonders, indeed! He continued to muse, recalling when he first learned as an elementary school student about the days when a human’s lifespan was not predetermined but rather left to random chance. This was before the time of the great expansion, before the scientific and medical renaissance of the late 21st century, which in turn ushered the discovery and creation of various procedures and treatments that effectively made death obsolete. It had been mere coincidence – or perhaps divine providence and humor, he would oftentimes think snarkly – that the world socialist government had been successfully launched and the world had conformed to it without much of a hitch. The syzygy of such effective health treatments and prevention, and egalitarian political regime, and the wealth of free access to all living human beings, had all proven too good a thing for the species and so overpopulation accelerated exponentially despite all contingencies placed against it. Overpopulation plus a nigh-endless lifespan soon forced the world’s greatest leaders and thinkers to implement a very necessary set of measures. All humans would be given a set lifespan of 200 years with no exceptions – save for the very rare cases where it was, after a great deal of tribulation, decided that extending or shortening a lifespan was in the best interest of the species – and a genetically engineered form of cancer would be administered upon a person’s 150th birthday, set to detonate, as it were, within the person’s cells on the day after their 200th birthday exactly.
A plethora of different advantages were given to the person once they reached what is known as the unwinding stage of human life. They were granted freedom to travel everywhere in the world and the off-world colonies orbiting Earth. They were allowed a great many things. And most importantly, the last 50 years of their life were spent without the obligation to work at all or to be kept under the control of the world government – hence the genetic hyper cancer as it guaranteed the person’s expiration as lawfully mandated.
One of the greatest, if not the greatest of discoveries was time travel. It had been practically proven at the dawn of the 23rd and become a fact of life halfway through the century. It was not, however, something just anyone had access to. No, in fact, it was the most highly and strictly regulated of all scientific advantages of human life. And it was only ever allowed once per lifetime under very specific yet obscure criteria – surely something to do with the possible requests not conflicting with government interests and other, corrupt things, Maxwell often thought.
He had been lucky enough, he guessed, to have been chosen for such an incursion into his own past. His reasons to request this were valid enough, he was confident of it, and the fact that he was now in the last year of his government approved lifespan made his request all the more poignant. He was just happy he would get to solve the one great question of his long and otherwise bountiful life: the exact circumstances under which his wife had died.
She was only 28, Lara, when she was apparently murdered, no suspect ever determined other than Maxwell himself, though he was summarily acquitted for lack of evidence linking him to the crime scene – their apartment – beyond the circumstantial and the eventual fact that he happened to be somewhere else in town, a fortunate thing since his alibi was documented by the surveillance equipment at a store at around the time of the crime and he had no means by which he could have made it to the scene in time. He had found his wife’s body three hours after her time of death, as determined by the forensics team during the autopsy, well into the evening of that fateful day when he returned from his errands.
The PCP glided to a halt in from of the Committee building where he would be shortly questioned, a mere formality given the fact that he’d already been cleared for Trans-Temporal Incursion, before entering the Planck-Device that would take him to the moment in time and space where his wife was murdered.
It often occurred to Maxwell that these matters of time travel were convoluted and, quite frankly, a mind-bogglingly difficult affair to manage. First, there was the question of why the resource was so limited; sure, he understood that allowing all people to freely move about the timeline could potentially cause chaos in unfathomable ways, and the state of matters in general could be unbalanced by the well-documented-yet-still-theoretical butterfly effect. Yet, he found it odd, that it would not be employed for so many issues like solving crimes such as his his wife’s murder amongst a plethora of other mysteries of species-wide interest. Perhaps, he thought, it really was so in order to protect the people, but he found it difficult to trust the institution that failed to catch the person responsible for practically rendering his life meaningless.
And now there he was, walking up the steps, walking down the halls with his dapper shoes’ soles producing nary a sound, getting into an elevator that mere seconds after putting his index finger to a touch panel miraculously transported him to the 75th floor where he would break physical laws believed insurmountable only a little over a century prior.
After changing out of his plainclothes and donning a one-piece suit of a material similar to latex, he was led to the location of the Planck-Device. The room was abuzz with activity; myriad screens with readouts mounted on the walls were attended by technicians and clerks, their work positively arcane to Maxwell. The questioning went by quickly, without issue.
“Maxwell Thorpe Argyle, do you swear on pain of dissolution to disturb nothing of the past?” said one of the clerks. He held a wrist cuff that would monitor his vital signs while also somehow measuring his influence of the time-space matrix and the flow of causality, as it was explained to Maxwell in the briefings when he had signed the affidavits and waivers for the Temporal Incursion, in order to verify if any tampering was done with the events of the particular moment in space and time where he would be transported. In the event of any such violation of the Butterfly Effect Agreement, his hyper cancer would be unshackled by a signal from the bracelet and his genetic dissolution would take effect immediately as damage control for any harm done to the fabric of the past. Other contingencies would also come into effect, released form the bracelet in question, that would isolate that particular moment in space-time and, through processes Maxwell didn’t care to even attempt to comprehend – he knew it would be futile in his case – the fabric would be repaired and reinserted. He’d heard it said that it was very much like working with a holographic hard drive, but that, too, was beyond his comprehension.
“I swear,” such useless formalities, he thought as he said it, the bracelet fastening ergonomically to his wrist, tight but not uncomfortably so.
He entered the chamber of the Planck-Device after a final calibration of the bracelet, a vertical cylinder of some sort of gleaming metal with no apparent circuitry or methods of input, windowless, and stood as the metal closed like a membrane, seamlessly locking him inside.
Ten seconds elapsed, he counted them as he had been instructed, and as he mentally counted off ten-onethousand an aperture dilated in the cylinder until the entire metal contraption retracted to a sphere that hung suspended behind him. He was not bother nor surprised by the miracle of such technology, his mind was focused elsewhere, on another miracle: he was in their old apartment. It really worked!
Despite all the scientific facts and assurances and the volumes of documented time travel, Maxwell had in a way not entirely believed it possible. He wasn’t quite sure what he expected, but a part of him had fully assumed that he would be disappointed, that some last minute issue would arise and his Trans-Temporal Incursion would be cancelled, that it would have malfunctioned and his one chance taken from him, perhaps a sham all along. But there he was, there in the flesh, in a time that was once his own but no longer!
He had been instructed against dalliance, he recalled, so he quickly admonished himself mentally and proceeded to move toward their bedroom, where Lara and he had once enjoyed such love, such joy…
He could hear her, he thought, yes, he heard her. For a second his heart skipped at beat with joy at being able to see her once more, though he knew he could not touch her or otherwise interfere. But this tiny burst of euphoria ceased when he recognized the kind of sound that was being emitted from what had once been their bedroom.
She was moaning. With pleasure.
Frozen at the threshold to the room, the door slightly ajar yet hiding the sight he now feared, Maxwell felt a cold emptiness at the pit of his stomach. Nausea nearly drove him to wretch.
He was, for all intents and purposes, invisible to any person in this location of time-space. He could move and go and, while he did have the potential to alter things and persons, to affect them directly, they would never see him, the temporal disturbance that he was, thanks to the bracelet and the suit.
Bracing himself for what might lie beyond, he carefully pushed the door open until he stood in the room, his then-still-living wife lying on their bed with her pants down to her ankles while a naked man Maxwell did not recognize pleasured her orally.
For what felt like an eternity he could only stare, agog, unable to feel anything. A full gamut of emotions likely stuck at the threshold of his soul, momentarily preventing any one from taking priority, stood pushing within him, a wave threatening to break and overtake all that was at the shore. Revulsion eventually won out, following by a building rage.
For decades longer than he could describe he had mourned her. Even now he had mourned, longing for her, longing for understanding of why she had left this mortal coil. He felt so betrayed.
Still looking on at the painful scene, his wife positively squirming with waves of pleasure, he walked to the end of the bed and, unblinking, placed both his hands on her neck and almost unconsciously began to choke the air out of her.
Her lover, whoever the hell he was, did not register what was happening at first, likely thinking her overcome with ecstasy. Eager lover that he must have been, the fool continued in his endeavor until Lara no longer moved. Maxwell watched devoid of emotion as his wife’s lover looked up casually, moving like a feline to climb over her motionless body, likely to seek penetration but only to find his subject’s face blue, eyes wide open and cartoonish.
Maxwell saw the look of recognition come over the man’s face, the horrified expression contorting his comely features as he pushed himself off of her corpse and off the bed, fell naked to the floor, scrambled backwards until he hit the wall and stifled a scream with his fist.
After a few second’s panic the man picked up his discarded clothes from the foot of the bed, hastily put them on and simply ran out. Maxwell allowed him to. The man was not important.
The room was just as he remembered it, and as he recognized that he only difference was how his wife was lying dead, the manner in which she was laid out, he realized that he should be dead. He had tampered with the fabric, hadn’t he? He should have dissolved.
Or, perhaps… he hadn’t? He didn’t understand. He tried to make sense of it. If he wasn’t dead then… then that must mean that he had been the killer all along… but how could that be? Was there a beginning to the time loop that this would inevitable create? Or had it always been that way, forever to be relived and played out like some cruel play?
He absentmindedly began to clean his dead wife’s nether-regions, taking care not to leave any trance of his presence, but also to erase any sign of her treason. Despite her betrayal, Maxwell still wanted her to be remembered as a good woman. He pulled Lara’s pants and underwear back on her and moved her, placing her in such a way that it would like as though she had been attacked, splayed only partially on the bed.
He then sat, pondering, wondering of the Government had known. They must have, as they certainly had analyzed the actual time-space regional data. And they had allowed it to happen again. Why? Surely this had not been the case under some timeline that no longer was. There must have been a point, somewhere, sometime, where Maxwell had been forced, convinced, or coerced into doing this…
He simply could not know.
He should take action, however. He should take action.
He walked to his Lara’s vanity table and, taking one of her lipsticks from the many atop it, began to write on the mirror with it.
When the time comes to find out who did this, do not. Do not travel the timeline, do not. It was always you.
As he finished the last word and punctuated the period he felt the dissolution begin. With his last thoughts before his very matter became amorphous bits of information floating in space-time, he hoped that his message would be enough to effect a meaningful change.