Time travel wasn’t that hard to make happen.

Expensive, yes. Complicated, absolutely. But doable, with the right resources.

Inanimate objects forward and backwards, achievable and testable and successful. Animals forward and back, also doable, though not always… tidy.

A human? We go forward with almost no trouble at all, though any information we brought back just confused matters.
But back? Every time we sent a human back, they’d just vanish. We’d still remember them, there’d still be evidence of them having existed, but no trace of their body would remain.

Before the machine, we thought we understood causality, and how it might be affected by time travel. We’d seen the same episodes of the Twilight Zone and Star Trek as everybody else, and we had seven of the ten best quantum physicists in the world at our disposal.

There were three likely causal models for interventionary time travel – that is, what might happen if someone deliberately or accidentally impacted on established events in the past:

The “grandfather paradox” wherein it “breaks” the timeline – a butterfly effect growing exponentially out from the intrusive event, alter the whole future timeline.
The “resilient universe model” that allowed that the timeline could be broken, but that while individuals or events might change, the effects would only be localised, spacetime resolving around the problem like scar tissue.
Finally, and most popular among the whimsical, was the “diverging paths theory”. The idea that every decision, event or possibility that has or will ever happen creates one or more branching realities, spinning out of each other, existing like rivers and streams alongside each other, across some unknown dimensional plane that we haven’t yet discovered and can’t yet conceive. All these infinite alternates, hanging in ether… it might as well be magic, it was so far beyond our scientific language to adequately explore.

Even once we started sending things back and forth in time, and we started getting data, nobody was that sure we could properly discuss that last theory.

The knowledge of events we brought back from the future didn’t work past the first variable – past the first impacted on event – and that meant something. It meant that we were either changing the universe around us, in big or small ways, turning any data we’d gathered from the future into nothing more than stories…
Or we were creating and occupying whole new realities and just couldn’t tell, like sleeping passengers on a train that’s changed tracks.

Where were our travellers to the past going? Were the ones who vanished just… winking out of existence because they had somehow impacted on their own history in a catastrophic way? If that was the case, how could we still remember them?

Were they instead spinning out into another version of the world? We were still here, research and lives intact, so maybe.

We realised too far into our experiment that we didn’t have a control group. Without a control group, we had nothing to compare our data to. No way to establish a baseline against which we could see contrast that we could investigate.

We’d worked out how to travel through time, without considering a way to protect the traveller from causality. To immunise them against consequence.

It was this realisation that, years of research and billions of dollars later, went into creating the Oxnard Quantum Exclusion Envelope.

Built into the machine, Oxnard creates a field around the wearer that changes the way they coexist with the universe at a quantum level. This isn’t my field, so I’m taking a certain amount on trust, but as I’ve been told it, the way all eventualities unfold – from the butterfly wing that causes a tsunami to the murder that sparks a riot, and all weather in-between – is caused by – reliant on – transference of energy and consequence from one object to the next, at every level from the cosmic to the sub atomic, and on down.

These are the mechanics driving Oxnard. The field it creates sets the machine and wearer apart from cause and effect. The traveller can still impact on the world physically, but is removed from consequence.

In theory I could kill baby Hitler, and not get written out of history because of it. Or carry out my more modest mission – go back fifty years, to the urban sprawl of London, and press the button on a stop sign at the city’s busiest intersection. A small change, just to see if Oxnard works.

But we didn’t think it through. Of course we didn’t.

I carried out my mission, and returned to my own time.

But nothing is the same. I’m here, and now, but everything changed.

I arrived back at the lab, but it isn’t the lab, and apparently never was.

I’ve found some some of my old colleagues, in scattered places, using a thing here called “the internet”, but none of them know who I am, or what we did.

I haven’t changed, but I don’t know where I am. Did I break time? Am I somewhere else?

Did Oxnard work? What would it even mean if it did?

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Nicolas Papaconstantinou
Nicolas Papaconstantinou is an enthusiastic amateur creative type, and the chap behind Elephant Words. Be nice to him. He growed up kinda wrong.

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