Second Chances

A participant in one of my panels at Con-G in Guelph mentioned a concept he had for a time travel story. I liked it, and he said I could steal it. So, David, this is for you.

And our mutual, many-times-mentioned not-at-all friend.

Second Chances


You don’t get any second chances when you travel back in time, he told himself. That was something Professor Starklann had drilled into his head.

It was her favourite mantra, something she seemed to take even more pleasure in than in correcting his grammar. No, Dylan, she’d say, with the kind of patience that was anything but, which was actually the antithesis. That was a good one, one of her favourite words.

But they’d crunched the numbers, drew up the plans, and built the machine. He knew it would work. She knew it would. For the first time ever in the scheme of human history, time travel was possible.

Then the arguments had begun. It was natural enough. She couldn’t do much without his coding, and although yes, she’d had the initial idea for the theorem, there wasn’t much chance that a theoretical physicist without as strong a background in I.T. and engineering as himself would have been able to design the hardware.

So yes, they’d fought. And yes, the heart attack was tragic, and even more so in a woman barely out of her fifties.

No second chances for Professor Starklann. She might have liked that, actually. She’d have told him it was irony. If he’d finally got that one right.

She hadn’t even had time to finish that irritating lecture on paradox for the last time. A person brought it on himself if he was dumb enough to ask Elsie what everyone did, once. He was stupid enough to ask her a second time. “What if you went back in time and killed your grandparents? Or went back in time and killed. . .”

Elsie hated talk about paradox. Whatever the effect you’ll have on the time stream, she said, whatever you can and can’t do, in the future or the past, I can’t see any way past it. When you go back, that’s it. You have one shot. Put one foot down in a time or a place, and immediately, you’ll split the timeline or you’ll change the future. And then, either way, you’ve had your kick at the can, sonny. So none of this idiotic pseudo-intellectual pretense of being the kind of human who’s EVER done something selfless. I know your record, Dylan my boy; you are as narcissistic as they come. Why else would you have been able to spend a million hours away from the family you claim to love working with an old woman you don’t even want to sleep with? To make the world a better place? That’s my job, Junior. You just make the thing work.

time-machineTravel to the future might be another thing altogether. The future is set, or not set, depending on your perspective, she’d said. Go there and go home as many times as you like. You’re just playing with potential. It hasn’t happened yet, at least not for you. That’s why we’ll go into the past first. I’m not interested in the future, except my own.

And where was Elsie Starklann now? Six feet under, moving into the future only as a decaying, desiccating corpse.

Desiccating. She’d have liked that one.

He checked everything again, although he knew it was perfect. Then he checked the gun. If he only got one kick at the can, he was going to make it count.

But as he reached for the ENTER key to start the countdown sequence, a shimmer of light appeared in his peripheral vision. It was the time effect, just as they’d seen it a hundred times in the trials. Was he—was he already returning from his mission? Or was this—could someone else have cracked the secrets of time after all?

A lone traveller stepped through, not tall, not particularly impressive in mien or demeanor. His hair was greasy and his clothing was military in cut. Dylan recognized the insignia, and the tiny brush of hair above the thin upper lip.

The man’s words were heavily accented as he spoke, apparently to himself. “Ach, will these damned inventors never cease their interference!” He raised a gun of his own, pointed it right at Dylan, and pulled the trigger.

Dylan’s last word (or last contraction if you wanted to be as precise as Starklann would have been) was “You’re. . .”

Before Adolf Hitler shot him dead.

The End


Read about THE LAST RITE by Jen Frankel, first in the Blood & Magic series, available now!