"I wouldn't know about those kinds of things," she said, trying to parse out the best answer. "Maybe if I had more info -"
"You know, I've never been afraid of dying," he said plaintively.
"Doctor, maybe I'm not the right person to -"
"The reason is that oblivion is preferable sometimes, isn't it?" He flipped the bottom of the ball up, but turned it over before reading the fortune. "You can pump yourself full of all the anti-depressants you want, but it doesn't make a difference in the end. She'll still be gone."
"Dr. Izof," Tiffany said, standing up, "I think maybe you should talk to someone else, someone more qualified." She began to back out of the room. "I ... I'm sorry." And she was gone. She never told his colleagues about their conversation.

Peter closed his eyes and held a question in his mind. He concentrated, like it meant something, and when he opened it, the plastic ball held his answer: It is certain.

***

Despite all his genius in creating the device, he was unable to find any other way to change what he truly wanted to change. Vivian was going to die, it was going to be his fault and there was nothing he could do about that, at least not directly.

He worked through it for years as he invented the prototype, and came to one conclusion: He could not save her. If he saved her, he would not be motivated to go into temporal physics and create the time machine that sent him back, thereby negating his entire purpose. He had discovered that such a paradox would not work in the timeline. However, there was another kind that would. If he couldn't save Vivian from the fire his stupidity started, he would have to prevent her from ever meeting him. He would have to kill his past self.

Through several experiments and math that would baffle most men in his field, he determined that traveling back and destroying his past self was not only possible, but would wipe both of them from the timeline entirely, as if they never existed. He was willing to end his existence to preserve hers.

"Wait, who are -"
"You know who I am," Peter replied. The younger man nodded slowly, though Peter could not tell if he was being sincere or just humoring him.
"What are you going to do?" the frightened man inquired, his mind racing with how to escape this situation.
"Proving a hypothesis," Peter said, squaring the gun with his head. This was the moment, the moment he had planned for so many years, so many millions of dollars, so much effort and willpower. In that moment, time ceased to be, and it was just him in the darkness, breathing the pain of his life. He welcomed the end with open arms.

image

Before his younger self could respond, Peter squeezed his finger and the gun fired. The bullet left the weapon and connected with its target, entering through the front of his skull and forcing out a splash of blood.

***

He was distracted as he pushed his way through the trees. The project was merely a few hours from launch, and he had little time to waste. Still, if he wanted the calculations to be perfect, he needed to have downtime at his favorite place. He was concerned about what he had privately dubbed "the curl," wherein the resolution of his hypothesis resulted in time "curling" back in on itself, like a burning strip of paper, forever trapping the participant in a loop that would repeat the same events over and over again. The possibility was so minimal as to be inconsequential; still, it bothered him. Moving through the last of the foliage, he came out onto the dirt ground and walked to the drop.

He stood at the edge of the precipice and looked downward.

Tom Rhodes is a writer currently finishing his first novel. He available through Tom [dot] Rhod [at] gmail [dot] com. Right now he's reading The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell.

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