The Shrubbery -- humor, satire, comedy
advertisement
Shrub Mail   Archives   About Us   Subscribe

Time Travel, Fact or Fiction:
I will never phone myself again

by Jason Morrison

Some time ago, in the near past, I went to see the movie Frequency. I have to admit I was more than just a little interested in the film- for you see, I am the only one who has ever invented a time machine, and Frequency is a film about a man who communicates, back through to time, with his long-dead father.

I should have been shocked by the film, though I wasn't. Three years ago I got bored and traveled to the future, watching all the new movies for the next ten years. Do the math- obviously, I had already seen Frequency, so what's the big deal?

The problem is that the film's plot, though muddled with human interest and other such, is basically a rip off of my experience with the Futurephone, the device I invented before the time machine. The Futurephone, like the mystical CB radio in the film, allowed me to communicate with those in the future. Also, like the movie, it used the strange numbness of string theory-which even today, is poorly understood, and the power of the Aurora Borealis, which is very well understood, even today.

Still there were differences. My Futurephone, for example, could only call five days into the future, not 30 years as in the movie. Five days may seem a bit disappointing, and it was at first. At the time, I knew so little about string theory that I dreamed of talking to people hundreds of years in the future and communicating with Egyptians thousands of years in the past. My first call, however, culled my enthusiasm.

"Hello?" I said. "Is this the future?"

"Yes," an annoyed, but all-too-familiar voice answered.

"You- why, you're me!" I said.

"Of course I'm you," he said. "Who else do you know with a Futurephone? In order to call the future, wouldn't the person you are calling need a phone as well?"

"Of course!" I said, ignoring my future self's belittling tone. "But you don't sound much older- how far in the future are you?"

"Five days," he said.

"Only five days? But why only five days?"

"Listen, I've had enough of this. In case you hadn't noticed, I've been through this conversation once before, and I want to call me from five days from now. Get off the line!"

And with that, he hung up, meaning I will have hung up five days from now.

What was I to do? I spent days- five, it turned out- working over the equations. Five days of prescience would win me the lottery, but it was useless for any real study.

But why waste my time rechecking sums if I could find out from myself five days from now whether or not I had solved the problem? I picked up the phone to call- suddenly, it rang.

"Hello?" the voice on the line said. "Is this the future?"

"Yes," I said, already sick of repeating myself.

"You- why, you're me!" he said.

"Of course I'm you," I said. "Who else do you know with a Futurephone? In order to call the future, wouldn't the person you are calling need a phone as well?"

"Of course!" he said, as if he'd just discovered gravity. "But you don't sound much older- how far in the future are you?"

Moron. "Five days," I said.

"Only five days? But why only five days?"

"Listen, I've had enough of this. In case you hadn't noticed, I've been through this conversation once before, and I want to call me from five days from now. Get off the line!"

With that, I hung up and dialed the future, exactly five days from then, to see what I had accomplished.

"Hello," he said, as if he expected me.

"Yes, did we ever figure out what limits the range of the phone?"

"See, you haven't even figured it out yet," he said, almost ashamed. "You can go ahead and pound your head against the numbers for five more days, like I did. But the answer isn't there at all," he said.

"Then where is it?"

"If you would shut up and get off the line, I would be able to find out."

Over the next five days I had no choice but to go over the equations again. Even though I knew it was futile, that no answer was hidden in the graphs and variables, something in five days of scrutinizing numbers had suggested the real answer to my future self. If I did not do the same as he, who knew if I would ever find the answer?

I dozed off. I felt like the devil of John Milton's Paradise Lost- there was no way I could win, yet I had to press on, because it was the only choice I had. But even in going against my future self's patronizing advice, I was irreversibly doing his bidding in some way I could not comprehendů

I dreamed of a linked list class I had written years ago in elementary school. It was in C, but it was still serviceable. A character, then a pointer to the location of the next one, then that next character and it's pointer and so onů

That was it! I could call my future self, tell him to call five days forward and tell him to call five days forward and tell him to call and so on! The best part was that even as I had the idea, I knew the person I was calling would already know to have done so- I might call and immediately be treated to tales from the far-flung future!

I picked up the phone, but it rang.

"Hello," I said. I tapped my fingers in annoyance.

"Yes, did we ever figure out what limits the range of the phone?"

"See, you haven't even figured it out yet. You can go ahead and pound your head against the numbers for five more days, like I did. But the answer isn't there at all," I said, mad at myself for having to waste so much time playing games with sums. Why was I always so think-headed?

"Then where is it?"

"If you would shut up and get off the line, I would be able to find out."

I hung up, and called the future.

"Hello," I said. "Has it/will it/did it work?" I asked, sure the future me would know exactly what I meant.

"Hello," "Hello," "Hello." I heard.

"What's going on-have I created a paradox?"

"No, no, no," one of the voices said. "Nothing so drastic."

"No, no, no," another added. "Stop jumping to conclusions."

"Dumbass," the third me said.

"Then wha-"

"Let me explain," one of the future mes cut me off. "Within the next five days you'll get an idea- no one calls a friend and tells them to call a friend, and tells them to call a friend, and so on, anymore, do they? And why?"

"Three-way calling!" I said.

"Careful, if you had had that idea five minutes ago it would have been a paradox," one said.

"We just gave him the idea before he had it," another said. "That's already a paradox. Had he come up with it on his own, we still would have had the idea naturally."

"Why do you think I said not to tell him about it- if I had told one of the past mes to stop looking at the equations and just have me call further in the future for him, I would have never thought it up the first place."

"You know damn well we would have just run into another roadblock, as he called up yet another future version of ourselves- you, actually, number 1- and was once again turned away."

"Besides, you hung up on yourself because you were arrogant and impatient. You hadn't even thought about the paradox, and I know that because I'm the one who just realized it, and I'm days ahead of you three."

He was right. When I mentioned the paradox to them earlier, I was groping for an explanation- and in time travel, paradoxes cause most of the problems. And I had hung up on myself twice already out of impatience- who wants to replay a dull conversation every five days?

"If it's a paradox, it would have already destroyed number 3's universe. Three, if you're still here, then this is obviously not a paradox," I said, trying to play catch-up.

"Do you think we haven't already thought about that?"

"Yeah, stop trying to play catch-up, you're only making us all look like overeager twits."

"Like Mark Twain said, it is better to stay quiet and let people assume you're an idiot then to open your mouth and confirm it."

"But that wasn't Mark Twain. I thought that was Abe Lincoln."

"If anyone should know, it's me, because I just bought a book of Twain quotations. Let me find it..."

"Don't bother, I'm you five days from now, I've already looked it up."

"Well?" the three youngest ones of us said, angry and perplexed.

"Actually, I don't remember. All I remember about that book is that I found a web site two days after I bought it with all the quotes it had, plus a fair share more, and I felt like I wasted $6 on that book."

"Stop talking about the future, Three!" One (or maybe Two) shouted. "If you had remembered the quote, we might have caused a paradox!"

"The truth is, none of us knows enough about paradoxes to know. I'm hanging up."

"Me too."

"It won't take me five days to figure out that you're right this time," the last future me said. "I'm not telling this kid anything."

Click. The line was dead.

I tried to forget about the phone for a while. I wasn't sure what to do.

Four days later I found a collection of Mark Twain quotations on the discount rack at a bookstore. Should I buy it? It was only $6, a really great price. But if I bought it, would I find that web site later and feel ripped off? Wait, I thought. I shouldn't know about the web site in advance- not buying the book could be a paradox! But if I didn't buy it, maybe I would have never brought it up tomorrow, and I could have avoided the whole mess.

I was stuck. I could see no way out, no way to save the time continuum.

"Damn you, Mark Twain," I shouted. "Damn you straight to hell!"








More Features
Copyright 2000 The Shrubbery
In Association With Amazon.com