As head of product testing at Stirling Time Technologies, I break things. Boyd Stirling says my ability to wreck things adds a different dimension to testing. I break the technologies, the smart guys fix them, and we’re ready to go to market.
Now it was time to let me loose on the Stirling Time Portal. Boyd believed it was possible to travel back through time and return to the same point without damaging the timeline. He’d raised £200 million of venture capital to prove the concept, and was on the verge of success. So far so good in the testing. Now the challenge was for a person to go back, spend a few hours in the past and come back safely.
That was down to me. So I chose a specially memorable day – a day that included unforgettable embarrassment and also great happiness.
The happiness was the birth of my third child. And the embarrassment?
Well, I’d driven my car into a river that week and borrowed the Stirling Technologies minibus for the weekend. My wife was nearly 9 months pregnant, and we couldn’t risk being without transport. That’s my first wife, by the way. Technology isn’t the only thing I wreck.
We’d gone with the two kids in the minibus for Saturday shopping at the mall. Approaching the car park, I didn’t think the 6’6 height barrier would be a problem. I knew I could see over the top of the bus, so it had to be less than that. To be fair, my wife did ask, “Are you sure we can get through?”
“Sure, I said”, pressing forward. There was a scraping sound, then a metallic snapping sound. I’d forgotten about the roof rack. In the rear-view mirror I could see it hanging off the back of the bus as we broke free of the buckled sign.
Covered in confusion and embarrassment, I got out to deal with the roof rack. My wife, meanwhile, was in hysterics with laughter. And then went into labour…
That was 25 years ago. And I thought it would be cool to go back and observe that scene as we product-tested the Time Portal.
3-2-1 and wazhooop! I was hurled back 25 years, to May 2014. If our calculations were right, I (the previous me, that is) should be arriving in a few moments.
Ah – there I am. Confidently driving the minibus into the car park. Waving back nonchalantly at people frantically waving at me/him. I see the sign buckle and the roof rack snap. I notice a growing audience of people stopping to watch, and the queue of cars building up behind. Wow, I’m glad I’m not driving that bus …
I need to get closer. I can hear my wife howling alternately with laughter and pain, almost unable to breathe.
A young woman pushes past me. I know her. She’s a doctor who happened to be coming by just as the younger me was calling an ambulance. She climbs in the bus. In due course she would become a close friend of my wife and a godmother. And, eventually, my second wife. But that’s another story.
Then, wazhooop! I was back at Stirling Technologies, sucked back to the present time. And in one piece. The world had not changed. Everyone in the team clapped my back, and Boyd’s back, then cracked open some champagne.
Truth be told, I was concerned about how close I was to the action. However careful we are, we shed bits and pieces of ourselves all the time, wherever we are: skin cells, parasites, microbes and so on – never mind larger bits and piece like hairs and pocket fluff. If it doesn’t all come back with us, we leave behind duplicate matter. What would be the consequence of that?
We soon found out. The portal reopened itself and a white minibus, with its roof rack hanging off, plunged into the middle of our celebrations. As we opened the minibus rear doors, we were greeted with a scene of panic, noise and confusion, as the cries of alarm of my first two children were joined by the cries of a newly delivered baby.
“What the hell’s going on?” shouted the doctor. “Where’s the ambulance?”
And this wasn’t a one-off anomaly. Every couple of days, a portal in time opened and a white minibus would slam itself down in our time lab. We adapted, placing materials to ensure a soft landing, and having midwives and pyschologists at the ready.
It seems the timeline is trying to throw out the contaminants left behind. The doctor brushed past me. I even held the door of the bus open for her. She was in close contact with everyone and everything inside the van. Maybe several new timelines were opened. Now Time is closing them, sending the contaminants back to their source in our own time.
Meanwhile, I have to contend with the mixed fortune of having (so far) 49 younger versions of my two wives here. And 147 children. That’s not counting the present versions of each from my own time. My older kids are getting to grips with their new younger identical siblings. Plus multiple mothers only a few years older than they are.
Depending on the outcome of several lawsuits, the maintenance payments could wipe me out. My first wife can start a ‘first wives club’ all by herselves.
And it seems I may have created some legal firsts, having not yet divorced my first wives, at least not in their experience. So I am both married and divorced to the same woman at the same time.
Simlarly, it is not clear if I am legally married to the 49 doctors who have arrived, and who are the same person as my second (current) wife. In effect I may be in a polygamous marriage with many versions of the same women. Though the 49 new arrivals seem, somewhat too emphatically, to be disgusted at this prospect.
The authorities closed down the company. Boyd and I are kind of famous – almost-bankrupt celebrities. A future life beckons of book launches, chat shows and reality TV.
I’m enjoying the extended family, though. Keeping track of birthdays won’t be hard despite the number of children. I consider them my gift to the national gene pool – though it might be hard for them to avoid marrying a cousin in the next generation. And these fully-trained doctors are my gift to the National Health Service.
I haven’t written up the results of the product testing yet. I’ll tell you when I find out.