This should be easy. Icarus thought. Perhaps too easy considering the stakes. He knew everything; even to the tiniest of the details - dry leaves on the roads, chirpy sound of evening chatter of the birds, a bustle of students leaving for their hostels after another grueling day.
Ah! I still miss it. But nostalgic affairs can wait. I have to focus now.
He looked again at the swanky white building. The brand new chrome metallic sign glittered as if to welcome its old friend: ‘LASER LAB’. It was here he was blessed with an epiphany. And it changed his life. Today, here, it will change again. He thought. He waited patiently for dusk, when the lab would be completely empty.Well, except for one person.
He looked at his watch. And as if on cue, last batch of scholars left the building. He pulled the hood over his head and walked across to the Laser Lab. It was a state-of-the-art building for its time, crown jewel of the University complete with extensive security arrangements. He wondered if those were for meant for security or just to intimidate novice under-grads. A retinal scanner welcomed him at the door.
‘Welcome student Icarus.’
He ignored the yellow warning of anti-pass back system. The aisles were deserted as expected. He swiftly moved past the small labs on the either side without even glancing. After having spent 18 hours every day for five years, he could find Professor Gupta’s lab blindfolded if he wanted. It was located at the end of the corridor. As expected, the door was open. He stepped inside.
A familiar pungent smell of fluorine welcomed him. It was a fairly large lab for conducting laser crossing experiments. Brand new book-shelves were installed in one corner of the room. Walls hosted several posters depicting scientific layouts and processes. But a large part of the lab was occupied by a giant network of wires and machinery which supported a few emitters. Several lasers emerged from them at various angles and gave a beautiful cobweb of bright rays. Brighter still was a giant green halo in a glass bulb where all lasers seem to merge. But despite the mesmerizing sight, Icarus’s eyes firmly stared at a thin, pale looking figure that was standing next to the controllers and busy taking notes.
For the first time in the evening, he felt nervous. His heart started pounding heavily. He felt a lump in his throat and swallowed hard before making up his mind. And the moment arrived. The moment for which the history had waited for thousands of years. The moment which was man’s greatest defiance of the God. The moment which was created only then and was never destined. The moment when a man addressed himself.
“Icarus,” said Icarus.
“Yes. Who is this?” he asked squinting his eyes trying to see the face of the stranger who had just entered the room. He turned off the power and removed his protective glass.
“I am afraid your work stops here my friend.”
He was confused. “Sorry. Who are you again? I have permission from the Professor Gupta to stay here for my work.”
“Me? I think you know me very well,” said Icarus stepping closer. The green glow of the bulb lit his face as he pulled down his hood.
“20 years could not have changed me that much.”
“It…it can’t be.” Young Icarus was taken aback. “This is not funny. This is some trick”
“This is no trick. Don’t get scared now. Seeing is believing. Isn’t it?”
“But how? Why? I don’t understand.”
“Let me spell it out for you. I am your future self from twenty years in future – 2020. Isn’t that your dream? Inventing the time machine that is? This is your dream in flesh and blood standing in front of you.”
The young Icarus stood there in utter disbelief. He tried to grasp the last words and attempted to make sense of them. For the first time he looked carefully at his older self.
“No, No, No. That is impossible,” he said shaking his head.
“Is it really? Those equations,” pointed the older Icarus, “are the starting points of everything.
“You, 20 years from now, will invent the time machine,” he looked at the still bewildered face of his young self.
Younger Icarus was shaking. He grabbed a chair with unsteady hands without ever lifting his eyes from Older Icarus’s face. “I don’t trust you. Prove it.”
“Still don’t believe me eh? Alright, let’s do it your way. If I were to tell you something which you and only you know, will that be enough?”
“That’d be a starting point. Yes.”
“Well, I did not want to embarrass you but I guess you left me no other choice – so tell me, how is that crush on Susan going? Still taking those stupid under-grad lectures just so you can see her? Still scared to ask her for a coffee? Or tell me who burned that hole in the wall with 20kW laser? Or…”
“Ok, ok I got your point.” For the first time in the evening a half smile appeared on young Icarus’s face.
A good sign. The older one thought and extended his hand.
“Don’t worry. I am not made of anti-matter” he let a hearty laugh. The younger one hesitatingly joined in.
“Now, if I have your trust, you should carefully listen to me.” Older Icarus pulled another other chair.
“This will sound ridiculous to you but you must stop this work immediately. My young friend, the path you have chosen will only cause you harm. And it does not end well. For anyone.”
“But I will succeed right? This is all I wanted to do in my life. You are the proof that I will succeed. How can a man convince himself to fail on his life’s biggest dream?”
“Because this man has lived that dream, and that dream was a nightmare. I know it will be a big sacrifice for you to give up the dream of time travel. If you continue; yes, you will invent a time machine. I know because I did. But at what cost? Twelve years from now, you will make a breakthrough. You will find a theoretical possibility of time travel. An incontrovertible proof. But that will be it. A discovery of that magnitude, apart from a scientific achievement, can be the biggest weapon humanity has ever made. And the glory you are looking for will never come.”
The young one listened patiently.
“There are many things you don’t know. Global Research and Analytics Wing or GRAW is the biggest intelligence agency on the planet. And yet, no one has heard of them, even in my time. They operate with such secrecy that their own agents don’t know each other. They are more powerful than most of the governments and they control the world information. They are the ones who decide which war is fought and between which powers. All, of course, happens in the name of greater good.
“Anyway, I digress. The day GRAW found out about my discovery, they recruited me. I did not want to. I wanted my own day in limelight. But they are persuasive if you know what I mean,” he said with a tinge of sadness. “They gave me everything I ever wanted, to translate that theoretical possibility to a working time machine. Their classified technologies are hundred years ahead of the rest of the world. And I got access to all that to fulfill my dream.
“But that dream came at a heavy price. My whole existence was wiped out by GRAW. They fabricated an elaborate cover-up. That was not the first time they were doing it. And I became a living ghost.
“I had no other option but to continue my work. Eight years later after my fake death, working from isolated underground laboratories, I gave them what they wanted. I built a working time machine.”
He waited for his words sink in. Throughout, young Icarus’ eyes widened as the next twenty years of his life were unwrapped in few minutes, in front of him.
“They took everything from me, even my name. And time machine was my chance to take it all back. And then I took that chance. Time machine was my only way out of GRAW. I could change anything I wanted. And that’s what I am trying to do here my friend. This is my only chance and only you can help me,” he said “...and help yourself.”
“I don’t know. One moment I was quietly working in my lab and the next thing you tell me that I will be a big inventor or something. It’s all happening too quickly for me. I am still shivering from the fact that I have my future self in front of me. Someone who has lived as me. I…I don’t know.
“I will make it easy for you. You don’t have to do much. Just leave your work on this. Go to Professor Gupta right now and abandon it. Take up a normal job, marry a girl and live happily. Or suffer through rest of your life like I did. You have to do this Icarus. For me. For yourself.
“If you don’t, I can promise you that it won’t end well. If it had, I wouldn’t be standing in front of you asking you to stop. Take-up something else. There are thousand other researches which you can work on. But if you ever trusted yourself, please stop on this one.”
Silence erupted between them. Young Icarus thought for a while before replying. He looked at the pale figure in front of him.
“I see it Icarus, I think see it. I promise you that I will stop this work.”
“But now, what will happen to you?”
“Once I get back to 2020, timeline would have been altered. The invention would have never happened; there would be no GRAW in our life and I can live through rest of my life peacefully.
“Thank you Icarus. I will live my life to the fullest. That’s all I can promise.”
“That’s all I want.
“And do ask Susan out for a dinner. You will be in for a surprise” he said with a wink.
Knowing that he had changed the world, he departed with a lightened heart. The aisles were empty as before. He walked briskly towards the bushes in the complete dark, hoping to see a changed world in his time. Suddenly a rustle behind alarmed him.
I can't risk being detected....this will hamper the balance. I can't be found now. He started running towards the bushes where he hid the prototype. He felt a chill up his spine as a voice called his name. He turned around and words stumbled their way to the mouth.
“It…It can’t be.”
“Don’t be shocked Icarus. 20 years could not have changed me that much” He stood there. Smiling at his younger self.
“What…What…but it can’t be.” It was his turn to stammer.
“A trick once is a trick twice.” It was his turn to smile.
And trick it was. Though age had taken its toll and wrinkles had found their place, even at 60, the face was unmistakably his.
“But time machine could not have been invented. I just convinced my younger self. It can’t be invented now.”
“My dear Icarus,” he said trying to maintain his posture with the help of walking stick.
“Just calm down now. I know what you did just now. But that’s simply not enough.”
“What do you mean it’s not enough? I just…”
“Universe is not dependent on us to change its course,” interrupted older Icarus. ”You invented the time machine. I give you that. But Universe is a stubborn creature. It gets its way in the end. Well, mostly.”
“I don’t understand a word you are talking about. Time machine shouldn’t exist. I just made sure it won’t.” The young Icarus realized that older him would already know that. “You also did the same 20 years back. Didn’t you?”
“You are sharp,” said the older Icarus with a wink. His right thumb pointing to himself in a self-congratulatory gesture.
“No time for jokes old man. Just answer my question.”
“Still cranky at your failure eh? All right, I will give it to you straight. Be patient and hear me out. Twenty years ago in my time, I did exactly as you. I went back in my past and convinced my younger self. And then I went back in my time. Good lad, him. He kept his promise. The timeline had changed as I expected and there was no time machine. The new future was everything I had hoped for. I was an everyday Joe with nice family and a desk job. Things went smoothly for a while and I almost forgot about the whole time travel thing. Altering the past helps you forget things that have never happened. I was happy and content.”
“Then how come you are here.”
“I asked you to be patient,” older Icarus gave him a sharp look. “So as I was saying, I was quite happily going through my ordinary life until a few years ago,” he clarified, “in my time that is, when I was 52, I got to know about Professor Gupta’s death.
“Yes. The same Professor Gupta with whom I would have done my research, only if…”
”You and I had not changed the past,” completed the younger Icarus.
“Bingo. In fact, I later got to know, that he was abducted by GRAW for his research on time travel.”
Young Icarus tried to fathom what his older-self implied. What are the chances that two different timelines can have the same future? Different past, but the same future.
“Can’t it just be a co-incidence?”
“I thought so too. I even ignored it for some time. But then there were too many co-incidences to have happened by chance. Eventually, the time machine was invented. Only this time I was an observer than the inventor. It was absolute madness after the invention. And it was worse than I thought. Much, much worse.
“GRAW soon started using time travel to change the history of the world. The way they saw fit. First they did it subtly – few assassinations in the past of key people, or minor adjustments here and there. I got to know most of it quite some time later though. GRAW was playing God with the time machine in its hands. And to their surprise – it did not work.
“But why? Past defines the future. Isn’t it?”
“They both define each other. That is the reason why I am facing you despite all our attempts to prevent the invention of the time machine. Let me explain. We always interpreted Universe to be something that exists in present. But concept of time is only a matter of perception. Time can be felt, but never measured. Universe itself does not differentiate between past, present or future. All the events – past, present or future are merely different states of our Universe. That’s, “older Icarus cleared his throat. “What we call destiny. When Icarus did not invent the time machine, Universe found another way to invent it. ”
“Or as a romanticist would say - In the grand play of the Universe, the plot remained the same, only the actors had changed.”
Young Icarus stood in shock. He wiped the sweat from his forehead with his palm. He did not expect so much to happen in one single evening. Few hours ago, he was being prepared for first time travel in the history of mankind; few minutes ago, he met his own younger self and changed his past and future, and now he was being told by his future self that those efforts were futile. That changes they make in timelines had no repercussions.
“All that I went through… all…all these years patiently waiting for this opportunity. Was it all futile?” Young Icarus’s eyes moistened.
“It wasn’t my friend,” older Icarus put his hand on young’s shoulders. “There is a way.”
“Universe is a stubborn organism. It does have those healing powers for any dent we try to make. Whatever we do, it undones it to prevent the future being changed. However, even those healing powers have to follow nature’s laws – like law of cause and effect. Regardless of Universe’s ability to modify past, it can’t change the effect in future without altering the cause. So, when you decided to convince the teenage Icarus of abandoning the work, the Universe found another way for the discovery of time machine. But most importantly, it took 20 additional years.
“Bigger the dent, longer the Universe takes to heal itself. Make a godamm huge dent, and Universe will take eternity to heal it.”
Younger Icarus tried to understand it. Time was not as simple phenomenon as he had thought. Universe was almost like a living creature. Complete with a defense mechanism and vulnerabilities.
“This is mind boggling.” Younger Icarus shook his head.
“I can empathize with you. Even I wasn’t sure when I was told about this. But I travelled. I travelled far. Even thousands of years either side. And then I was told about this ultimate truth...”
“Wait. Did you say you were told?”
Older Icarus sighed.
“Yes. By the others. You didn’t think that you were the first one to invent the time machine, right?
“Yes. There were others. Time travelers wondering in timelines to seek the greater answers. Some of them from well before even our great-grandfather’s times. I shouldn’t tell you more but this is one thing you should understand- the reason why time machine did not exist before your time is because the ones before us, the time travelers, came to the same conclusion. They travelled and tried and experimented with time. But they realized that the only option left with them is elimination of the prime mover – the time machine itself.
“It’s ironical, isn’t it. Time travelers are the ones who bear the responsibility of preventing time machine’s invention. It happened again and again in various times and timelines, without a fail. All of time travelers before us made a dent on the universe, so that time-machine won’t be invented again; and today we’ll have to do the same.”
“What if I don’t want to do this? What if I just want to live my next 20 years peacefully as you did, slowly turning into you. Maybe I will just make different choices so that Universe will take a different course.”
Older Icarus’s face distorted in contempt. It wasn’t clear if it was meant for his younger self or for the painful memories of histories which he had seen in his journeys. His voice rose higher with anger and pain.
“Because there is no different course unless we change the past. You can live for a few years but what after that. The era of time machine is a nightmare. Shall I tell you about the misery our world lives in? Shall I tell you about the incessant wars fought in all the timelines? Shall I tell you how massive armies are sent in past to defeat one’s enemy? It’s an absolute chaos. No one is safe, absolutely no one. You can protect yourself from present but you can’t from your past. People are not only dying the present, but in past and future, again and again and yet again.
“Do you trust me enough now to help me?” Older Icarus pointed his walking stick towards his younger self.
Younger Icarus replied in a low voice, “Yes. I will”
“But how? You said that we have to create a huge dent. If preventing the invention doesn’t help then what will?”
“Now you are asking the right questions.
““We have to get rid of the prime mover itself. Prevent the creation of base theorem itself. Preventing the basic theory behind all of it. The very basic. We have to persuade a scientist to abandon his work. He is the original creator of those equations. And I need you to come with me as a proof of time travel. He will be far more difficult to convince than teenage Icarus.
“You always wanted to meet Albert Einstein, right?”