The year was the same, her name was the same, but she was twenty years old again. Lily looked around attic, searching for what else was wrong. Everything was in place, except for the eighteen years she’d lost.
“Are you sure that’s all you lost?” a young woman asked her.
“I don’t know,” Lily said, struggling to pull her thoughts out of the fog that gripped them.
The woman seemed familiar, but Lily couldn’t identify the patch on the baseball cap that held the woman’s blonde hair in check nor was she familiar with the style of jumpsuit the woman wore. Black was a practical color, but the gold edging seemed out of place for any kind of menial work.
“Give yourself a little time to re-orient,” Way said. “I had to shut down your jump before it reached completion so you’re memories are probably jumped together still.
“What happened?” Lily asked. Images of the “jump” skittered across her mind. She was a technologist. An inventor. She’d put together a working temporal interface device. A time machine. Except it didn’t let you travel back in time. Not precisely anyways. It was supposed to be simpler than that. It was supposed to overwrite a past version of yourself with your future memories and awareness.
The device hadn’t been ready for testing though. So why had she jumped?
“Who are you?” Lily asked, remembering that she didn’t have an assistant.
“My name is Way. What you really want to know is why I’m here though. The answer to which is over there.”
Lily looked in the direction Way pointed. Merged with the roof above her were a dozen aliens. Utter revulsion fired through her veins, followed by boundless terror. Nothing about the creatures was human. If octopi had an irregular skeletal structure and other creatures growing on them they might have been able to masquerade as the aliens but that was the closest any Earthly life that Lily knew of came to the alien’s writhing forms.
“You’re safe from them. They didn’t reach you in time and I’ll take them home when I leave,” Way said. The aliens were frozen and grey. Lily could have believed they’d been turned to stone except for the aura of animosity they radiated.
“Destroy them! We have to destroy them!” Lily said.
“They’re not the bad guys,” Way said. “They were trying to help.”
“They’re not supposed to be here,” Lily said.
“I know. That’s why I’ll take them away,” Way said. Her voice was gentle and her posture was relaxed, as though she’d done this sort of thing many times before.
“I don’t understand what happened,” Lily said, “But I know it was because of them.”
“Give yourself more time,” Way said. “You’re still integrating your memories. It’s difficult the first time you do it.”
“Integrating my memories? Lily asked.
“You have your memories from before the jump and after. The first set are no longer real, except to you.” Way said.
“I rewrote my own past? By eighteen years? Without a full chart of my history?” Lily asked.
“You were going to rewrite more than that. I had to stop you,” Way said.
“Why would I?” Lily asked but as the words left her lips the answer appeared in her mind.
She’d detected the aliens. And been detected by them. Her initial forays into retro-chronal charting had drawn their attention. She’s tried to chart them and had been horrified to discover what she’d awoken. Creatures the size of Jupiter, rising from the esoteric dimensions. If they breeched into Earth’s dimensional framework, their sheer mass would destroy all life on the planet.
Her only hope had been to send herself back to a time before she ever began probing the past.
“I only started experimenting with retro-chronation three years ago,” Lily said. “Why would I send myself back farther than that?”
“You may not be able to remember this, but it’s been more than three years,” Ways said.
“I remember when I started clearly. It was three years yesterday. It was my birthday,” Lily said.
“It was three years since you began experimenting in this timeline,” Way said. “But this isn’t the first time where you’ve done these experiments.”
“I’ve changed my past before?” Lily said. It was possible. A trans-temporal event was, by definition, not bound by causality. It was the irrational and yet observable answer to the Grandfather Paradox. If you travel back in time and kill your grandfather as a child, he never grows up to father your father who will then never father you. Time doesn’t care though. The history of the “you” who appeared in the past begins at the moment you appear in an achronal event – one which has no time preceding it. At least from the point of view of the time stream you reside in.
This was less of a problem that it appeared to be for one simple reason. Physical time travel was impossible. The energy needed to cause an achronal event on a macroscopic level dwarfed the energy released by the Big Bang. That had the side effect that, in addition to it being impossible to harness that much energy, the achronal event you would cause would be another Big Bang.
Physical bodies were impossible to move through time except forward and at a pace related to their inertia frame their relative speed within it. Information on the other hand, that was a different story.
“If I’ve sent my memories in the past before, why haven’t they accumulated across each jump?” Lily asked.
“Because your device doesn’t perform as you expect it to,” Way said. “You haven’t been sending your memories into the past. You’ve been changing the past to bring yourself forward. Try to think of when your birthday is.”
“It was yesterday,” Lily said.
“Yes, but what year were you born,” Way asked.
It was a like a door opened in Lily’s mind. She had been born 38 years ago. She remembered her parents, her school, the fashions she wore and the songs she’d listened to while growing up. But she had also been born 20 years ago. Her parents were the same, but the fashions were different and the songs were newer.
“But that can’t be. I can’t have changed that much!” Lily said.
“We’re all connected,” Way said. “If you change one thing, you change everything.”
“But how can my parents be younger too? I didn’t send any information back about them.”
“Lily, you are information about them. They’re part of your makeup on a fundamental level, just as your grandparents are with them and so on,” Way said.
“But that would mean I changed things going back tens of thousands of years!” Lily said.
“You underestimate yourself,” Way said, “Your connections go back much farther than that.”
“How is the world even vaguely the same then!” Lily asked.
“It’s the path of least temporal resistance,” Way said, a response which sounded strangely familiar.
“How do you know that?”
“You wrote about it. Everything I know about what happened here, I got from you, or the you from an previous iteration of this timeline.” Way said.
“Even the things you know about them?” Lily asked, pointing at the aliens that were frozen in her ceiling.
“Yes, although they were what brought me here originally,” Way said. “They’re not here to wipe out the planet. They’re just trying to save themselves.”
“What could possibly hurt them?”
“You,” Way said. “They attached themselves to your timeline, allowed it to give them definition. Then you changed changed your history and the timeline reformed itself. You didn’t notice the change because you changed too, but they can’t. As time moved around, they had to move with it, even if it tore them apart.”
“Why would I do all this?” Lily asked. “The first time I mean, before they were after me.”
“Can’t you imagine wanting to start over?” Way said. “Each time you believed you would be planting your mind in an earlier version of your body. What would you change if you could be 20 again? Or 10? Or 5?”
“I guess the answer should be ‘nothing’ right?” Lily said.
“Why would you think that?” Way asked.
“Isn’t that why you’re here? To make sure I don’t keep making these mistakes?” Lily said.
“Who ever said they were mistakes?” Way asked. “I came here to rescue our cute little friends up there. They’re not supposed to be part of this reality at all and it’s my job to help get them back where they belong.”
“So you’re not here to stop me then?”
“What you’re doing is unique. It has consequences to you and everything connected to you, but there are benefits too.”
“What could those be? I forget everything each time I ‘jump’ and the whole world is jumbled around too.”
“Nothing is forgotten,” Way said. “The things you bring to people’s lives echo across all of the changes. Its part of the path of least resistance. In making a choice, you cut a groove into time. You bias the direction of events and create connections between people and places and things. The world wants to remember those connections even if they don’t fit anymore so, good or bad, they remain in some form.”
“So what should I do then?” Lily asked.
“You’re 20 once more. I can’t tell you what to do but that’s basically where I’m at, so I’ll tell you what my plan is; live. Just go out there and be alive. As long as you can, as much as you can. You’ll never really get yesterday back, but today’s here for you and tomorrow’s wide open.”